So it seems that I do have some thoughts on the Spring 2013 line-up that I ended up sticking out, along with other stuff I’m watching, that I’d like to get off my chest.
I’ll be just going through the shows where I feel I have something interesting to say, so I won’t be covering everything I’m watching in-depth if I feel that it’s been discussed decently enough elsewhere. So, in order of enjoyment:
Although it’s long running, I still love Space Bros. Like a lot. Many episodes really end up getting to me. Part of the reason is that I’m inherently biased, being an astro guy. But much of the reason is Mutta as the protagonist (plus the cast in general) and the show’s fantastic storytelling ability.
Mutta as a protagonist is fantastic – his neurotic mentality and his frequent daydreaming, among other traits, really help establish him as a very “human” guy. This coupled with his background really helps to bring him “down to Earth,” which is a little bit ironic in a show about space. But it’s not all negative, and his strengths – such as his engineering background and his compassionate nature – really make him a strong lead that we can not only empathize with but really get behind. And when this type of characterization is extended to the rest of the main cast, it really makes the show a pleasure to watch.
The storytelling ability can be divided into two parts – the thematic side and the episodic/arc side. On the thematic side, we find a lot of very moving themes that – most importantly – are well-executed. Many shows tell us to follow our dreams (I mean, look at Naruto), but it’s the Mutta-Hibito story that really makes it hit home for the audience. We can see the journey and the effort that brings Mutta’s within reach, and it makes it almost feel like ours might be too. A further element is that of Brian Jay. He haunts the cast like a ghost, and great care is always taken to use his presence to enhance the current story arc and help flesh out the cast. On the episodic/arc side, we find great use of classic storytelling elements, from foreshadowing to flashbacks among others. Although I can’t describe exactly how all these things fit together, I can say that (almost) every time I watch an episode, I finish feeling like they couldn’t have executed it much better.
OreImo and Oregairu
There’s something strange about how LN straddle the line between trope-using/fan-pandering and telling actually deep stories. And their seemingly “self-aware” nature and subsequent use of “meta” humor. Maybe once I get done watching OreShura I’ll try and write a coherent post on this, but for now here’s my thoughts.
OreImo S1 did this type of thing a lot, and although it’s been a little inconsistent in S2, it still keeps this type of “self-aware and deep yet pandering” thing up. For example, the episode with Ayase obviously had some in-jokes going on and much trope-usage. But the scene with the PSP was a well-done meta-commentary on otaku culture. And the relationship between Kirino and Kyousuke somehow straddles the line between actually deep and incestuous. And then there’s Kyousuke’s “harem” and bland protagonist nature and how it’s utilized. Elements of otaku culture are utilized everywhere, but the show consistently displays awareness on how these are utilized and frequently uses them to make meta-commentaries on otaku culture in general.
Oregairu goes about it a little differently. It utilizes all the classic tropes, but then instead of utilizing them for a meta-purpose it subverts them. The situations, the “harem”, the protagonist, the events – all of them are on the surface quite typical but then are usually twisted in some way. The incestuous sibling relationship is completely shut down, even though Hikki’s little sister is the archetype for inspiring such a thing. Hikki’s personality is a perversion of the aimless protagonist, as is Yukinoshita’s as a graceful queen who “rescues” him. Most of the cast – with the possible exception of Totsuka and Zaimokuza, who I think are included just to highlight this fact – are this way. And the events play out in typical form, but frequently with some sort of twist. The story of course is the more frustrating for this, for it’s elements of seriousness are contained within these tropes.
Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge
So I’ve been an ardent supporter of judging something (whether an idea, show, etc.) on its own terms for quite some time, but I never really had to put this philosophy to the test until I came across Crime Edge and Horizon (below). The premise was just so ridiculous it took me a full 4 episodes before I could take it even moderately “seriously”. I mean, a hair fetishist and the “Queen of Hair” all this “Killing Goods” and “Instead” and “Gossip” stuff? It was tough to take in without laughing at the concept every 2 minutes. This, coupled with the show taking itself not only seriously but SUPER SERIOUSLY (and pulling off only a mediocre job at it), made it quite painful to watch at first. Now that I’ve started taking the premise as seriously as it wanted me to, the only real problem I have with the show was the fact that it is overly dramatic.
Haiyore! Nyaruko-san W
Nyaruko-san has always been a weird show for me. As a show that relies exclusively on parodies and in-jokes, it requires a lot of outside knowledge to properly enjoy. I’ve always been a bit on the fence as to whether this is an acceptable thing to base an entire show/movie on (see Horizon discussion), but I think that parody is fundamentally different from other means of outside knowledge and should be an acceptable premise for jokes – if done right, of course. What about Nyaruko‘s case, then? I’d have to say, after a season and a half or so, that yes – it is. The key here is that even if you miss the parodies/references, there’s enough slapstick comedy in Nyaruko to keep you entertained. The in-jokes are not necessary for the function of the show, but knowing them adds much more value to them than would otherwise be there. In this line of thought, I’d say Nyaruko is a cross between Scott Pilgrim and Wreck-It Ralph, although more heavily biased towards the former. It definitely is a representation of a specific culture (otaku) much in the way Scott Pilgrim is, but is functional without them, similar to Wreck-It Ralph.
As for the show being a complete empty husk, it’s a bit harder for me to deal with. When does a bad show stop being bad? Clearly not when it tries to be good, unless it’s so bad it’s enjoyable to poke fun at – but even then we still acknowledge we’re watching a bad show. Or is it when it shows that it’s self-aware? That doesn’t work either, if all the recent LN shows, which I sort of selectively defended but which easily can be seen as crap, are an example. How about if it just doesn’t have any grand aspirations? Well, if harem shows can tell us anything, it’s that this doesn’t always work either.
But! What if a show explicitly points out that it’s total crap and has no pretensions of being otherwise? It’s a tough call there. Does this give it a free pass to do whatever it wants? Maybe – if you point out how dumb a plot is, you can join the ride without trying to judge quality. But for anyone who cares about depth, this doesn’t really add anything. So then Is it merely a facade? Yes – the show’s just as dumb as when we started. It’s just telling us what our expectations and our intellectual aspirations about the show should be. Does this make it brilliant? Possibly, although I’m inclined to think not.
Let’s take an example from modern art. I once came across the piece titled something like “Red, Blue, and Green Curved Lines” that, as you can guess, was exactly that – 3 curved lines on an otherwise blank canvas in each color. The parallels to Nyaruko are clear. The only difference is that, while the painting was just stupid regardless of how cool the concept was, Nyaruko is actually somewhat funny (when it doesn’t try being serious, which it fails at miserably) even without this element.
It’s always interesting to compare Nyaruko with another show in the same genre – Lucky Star. Both are parody-based shows centering on in-jokes that end up working for similar reasons. My joke preference tends to be more on the witty end, which is why I like Lucky Star more, but in this light you can’t really completely dismiss Nyaruko, even if the trope element is a lot more played-up.
On a sidenote, the worst modern painting I’ve ever come across was titled “Ghost in a Snowstorm”, which was an entirely blank canvas. Kudos to the guy who actually got that into an art museum, but come on – really?
Kyoukaisenjou no Horizon
Right. So this show has made me question a lot of my premises about what makes a show good and provided a good test for me as to how I judge a show’s quality. As I mentioned above, I’m an ardent supporter of judging something (whether an idea, show, etc.) on its own terms. Horizon really put this to the test with some of the most ridiculous (and frequently nonsensical) premises and set-ups. It was very hard not to judge the show a failure based on the fact that it made no sense. But if you take that setting, which is at least somewhat internally consistent, and go with it, you hit into other problems – fanservice, the protagonist, the cast, and establishing the setting itself.
I’ve always been conflicted over how much fanservice is encouraged/allowed/tolerable given the telling of an underlying story in a given anime. I’ve had problems with it already (e.g. Maoyuu and Zetsuen, as well as in LN adaptations), but the amount present in Horizon is quite extraordinary. I think the conclusion I came to is that if a show’s trying to be very “serious”, fanservice is acceptable only as long as it doesn’t become a major focus or subfocus.
Concerning the protagonist, Tori, I came across another problem – how to deal with leads who are (or seem) like incompetent buffoons. By doing absolutely nothing except being an idiot, speaking simply, and getting into trouble, somehow Tori amasses a huge following and is supposed to be the character we all follow and care about. But I just can’t. Maybe I’m just so sick of these types of guys, but I can find no sympathy/empathy for Tori and thus can’t bring myself to care about anything he does. This is in direct contrast to Space Bros. No matter how grave someone’s problems are, if you can’t bring yourself to give a shit about him, it doesn’t really matter to you.
Then is the cast. It’s huge – large enough to require a sheet to keep track of most of them (even though you don’t have to). However, much of the characters are given screen time only to not only never be fleshed out but even worse frequently just fade into the background or used as placeholders for archetypes/battle scenes. It’s not a problem you can get over, and shows an attempt to overwhelm us with breadth to imply depth where there is none – a common tactic in many forms of media (for example, The Inheritance Cycle does a lot of the same thing early on, which comes back to haunt the later books). It does the same with dialogue and portions of the setting also.
Finally comes the setting. Horizon‘s setting is so complicated that the only way to get a good understanding of everything that’s going on is to use outside resources. Does this devalue the show? I’d say yes – a show should be a self-contained package. Outside material may enhance the viewing experience, but it shouldn’t be a partial necessity for it. Now, this doesn’t mean a show can’t use extensive outside knowledge or references, but they must be an additive element rather than a necessary one. A reference should make a scene better, not be necessary for the scene to function at all (the exception to this is parody which I discussed when I talk about Nyaruko-san).
Even judging Horizon on it’s own terms, for me these factors deem it a failure across the board.
Aku no Hana – I’m not going to really discuss the rotoscoping too much here – it’s been done already. All I have to say is that the realistic body shapes (e.g. thighs, as referenced in episode 1) are actually quite refreshing, and that I absolutely love the atmosphere and scenery.
Chibi Devi! – 2 minutes. Plus the possibility of attempting to watch without subs.
Cyclops Shoujo Saipuu – It’s just so blatantly fanservice that I can’t rail on it too hard. Plus it’s like 2 minutes.
Hataraku Maou-sama! – It’s been discussed by others why this show is good, and goes to show that good directing really go a long way to maximizing the potential of source material.
Hellsing Ultimate – It’s not as good the second time around. Although it’s a nice exploration of our fascination with violence, monsters, immortality, and all that, there’s a lot of dialogue in-between.
HenNeko – This type of thing’s been done before, but so far it’s managed to keep my attention.
Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Bride – It’s sucks. It demonstrates though that I’m willing to watch utter crap for cool animation sometimes.
Karneval – So pretty boys, pretty girls, and some world-building. It’s not been the most interesting show, but it’s managed to stay above boring and/or plain bad.
Line Offline: Salaryman – Something about the humor in this show just resonates with me as being genuinely…funny! Maybe it’s because I can see myself in a similar position in the not-too-distant future. *shrug*
Photokano – So I stuck around because of the animation and the opening, and so far…have not really been rewarded so much. But it goes to show again that animation is enough to keep me watching a show.
Shingeki no Kyojin – There is nothing to say about why I like this show that has not been repeated everywhere else. One point I’d like to make though is the resemblance between the human-bakenezumi relationship in Shin Sekai Yori and the titan-human relationship in Kyojin (others have also noticed this). Maybe one day I’ll get around to expanding on this a bit.
Sparrow’s Hotel – It’s 2 minutes. Otherwise, it sucks a lot.
Suisei no Gargantia – Again, it’s been discussed quite a bit, so I don’t have much to add.
So that’s that. Working on preparing for finals plus catching up on other things, but I’ll try to get another post or two up before crunch time really begins.
Pictures again snagged from Google. If anyone wants credit let me know.