Jun 202017
 

Once again I’m talking exercise material: this time it’s The Seven Deadly Sins, a fairly typical shounen anime based on a manga by Nakaba Suzuki. The obvious formative influence on this one is Akira Toriyama. The art hews so closely to Toriyama’s style some of it almost seems traced, and the show plays out like a linear combination of Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball Z.

By this I mean there’s a Euro-medieval fantasy setting where the fights are usually one-on-one affairs where the points don’t matter and the power levels are always going over NINE THOUSAAAAAAND. Naturally the fight scenes also frequently serve as opportunities for the combatants to reminisce about their tragic pasts. It’s all entertaining enough if you turn off your brain and don’t try to construct a consistent picture of how strong anyone is relative to any other character.

Fanservice is at typical levels. Women dress absurdly skimpily unless they are evil, and the main character is a gropey pervert at whom women nonetheless constantly throw themselves. If you can’t stand that kind of shit consider yourself duly warned.

The one thing the show does well is pulling off well-built reveals, though it’s really best to hit the show without having watched any of the promotional materials. The first episode’s reveal of its Sin is skillfully done, and the late reveal of what’s actually up with Gilthunder is both clever and satisfying.

The first season resolution hinges on mysterious new powers being revealed at the last minute, which is a little disappointing, if typical. The “second season” on Netflix seems to consist solely of 4 completely disposable episodes that serve as an interlude between major arcs. They tie up a few loose ends from the first season but can otherwise be skipped without regret. Then again, the same could be said of the whole show.

Jun 142017
 

I watched Kuromukuro because I like to watch 30ish minute shows while I exercise and hey it was just sitting there on Netflix. It’s not a great show… not because it lacks hooky ideas but because it never manages to do a damn thing with them. Ancient Japanese ogre legends refer to a thwarted alien invasion: cool idea. A man out of time who fought the aliens awakens in the modern age: been done, but still cool. The aliens clone humans to do their fighting for them: pretty cool. Earth’s only hope is a high school lout who doesn’t want to get in the fucking robot: oh noooooo. It is pretty neat that for once this character is female, but Yukina is insufferable.

In fact, that applies to almost all of the major characters and most of the side characters that receive any kind of characterization. Kennosuke is at least not actively terrible most of the time, but the show never manages to make anything of his “man out of time” feelings and, in a stroke of incredible stupidity, he goes to the fucking high school. Why are all these people who pilot the only robots that can protect humanity still going to the fucking high school in the middle of an alien invasion? Lack of creativity is my best guess.

I did not care for the high school bits, in case you didn’t notice. The high school stuff doesn’t really go anywhere except at the very last moment, and even that doesn’t feel like a culmination of the character arcs as much as “I guess this will work”. Yukina’s school and her friends mostly exist to create weird coincidences (like a school fair with cosplay) that allow for unexpected attacks, but to get there the show wastes a ton of time and energy on a bunch of stuff I found completely uninteresting. That sets the burden on the war story, but the enemies, inasmuch as they are characters at all, only exist to provide idiot-ball explanations why they don’t do the obvious thing and call for assistance against an unexpectedly troublesome planet.

A consequence of all of this is that the show never manages to establish any kind of tone at all. It seems like the creators couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be a drama or a weird high school comedy, so they go for both and end up nowhere. Kuromukuro is too dumb to be a drama but hundreds of people die every other episode so it’s hard to swallow it as a comedy. Weird touches like the icy loli warrior Sophie, her “butler” Sebastian, and dissection-obsessed Dr. Hauser make it seem like the show isn’t taking itself seriously, but the show asks us to invest when it comes to Kennosuke’s obvious anguish in dealing with the loss of Yukihime and the appearance of Muetta. All the faffing about leaves the show with little time to deal with the serious stuff, leading to a somewhat anticlimactic and expo-dumpy ending.

The only thing that works, really, are the fights, which at their best feature startlingly human animations for the titular mech. Once the mechs leave humanoid architecture behind, however, the action gets weaker, and the really weird enemy mechs are never able to fulfill the promises of their designs. So even here in its best parts Kuromukuro is, as it is everywhere else, a fallow field in which interesting ideas fail to flower.

No. 6 review

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May 112015
 

No. 6 is a short series (11 episodes) that works really well for quite a while, but crumbles in its closing episodes. It starts as a boy named Shion living in a utopian city helps and feeds an injured child named Rat. Four years later, it’s clear that this moment of kindness has essentially ruined Shion’s life, casting him out of the city’s elite area and into the life of a menial caretaker. In this role he stumbles across a secret that is killing the city’s people and is sentenced to death for discovering it. Rat rescues him, and from there the story develops, exploring their relationship and their conflicting attitudes towards the city (Shion wishing to save it and Rat to destroy).

This goes very well for several episodes, although I felt the show should have spent more time with the boys and with Shion’s friend Safu and less with his mother’s travails within the city. When it comes time to actually deal with the city, however, the story falls apart. From a relatively straightforward sci-fi dystopia the story suddenly shifts to one about a magic bee goddess out for revenge. There are some strong character moments in these episodes, but it goes overboard with near-death and actual-death experiences, not to mention a really silly deus ex machina moment.

Worse, the show ends with an off-putting moment of ambiguity as Rat kisses Shion and then departs. This works better (but still is not fitting) in the manga, where we are at least told (if not convinced) that Rat is a free spirit who needs to wander. The anime does not emphasize this idea, instead adding immediately before this a moment where Rat resolves to stay with Shion and die in a collapsing building rather than flee and save himself. In this context, where if not for the intervention of Magic Bee Jesus, Rat would have given up his life to stay with Shion, his decision to walk away moments later is inexplicable and alienating.

The late turn into fantastic nonsense and the forced ambiguity of the ending doesn’t undo my enjoyment of the preceding episodes, but it makes the series feel incomplete. The show I was watching for 8 or 9 episodes never ended, and the show I was watching in the last 2 or 3 never started.

Love Stage!! review

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Feb 092015
 

In my last post I briefly mentioned the existence of Love Stage!!, so I feel I should give it a review, too. Love Stage!! is terrible, and every straight dude for whom it would not be triggering should watch it.

I should note that I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies generally, even when they actually are funny, which Love Stage!! mostly is not. Nearly every stab at humor, from its piss-take on shoujo anime to the ludicrous awfulness of Izumi’s art, to the situational comedy moments, fails. I loathed Izumi as a character—he’s stupid, clueless, and overprivileged, and his great source of angst in life is that he doesn’t want to go into show business like the rest of his famous and wealthy family. That said, he still deserves better than this “romance”.

The story is that 10 years previously, Izumi played a girl in a television commercial alongside his famous parents and a young boy actor, Ryōma. As the series begins, the group are requested to update the commercial and Izumi reluctantly agrees. He participates, dressed as a woman, and is surprised when Ryōma kisses him as part of the filming because his own parents had actually hidden this part of the script from him. This is Izumi’s first kiss, by the way.

Ryōma, as it turns out, has been obsessing over the “girl” Izumi for years, and used his memory of “her” to propel himself through the ups and downs of his career. With surprising speed he reconciles himself to the idea that Izumi is a guy and then begins pursuing him. This is a romcom, so of course he eventually succeeds, even though Izumi is not apparently gay to start out with.

I’m not a fan of this plot where two ostensibly straight guys suddenly go gay for each other, but that’s not what I actually hate here. What squicks me out is what a thorough “Nice Guy” fantasy this is. The show cheers for this romance because Ryōma obsessed over Izumi for so long and because he does nice things like help Izumi with his manga and take care of him when he’s depressed. The show’s unambiguous attitude is that because Ryōma is so nice and so helpful and has pined for Izumi for so long that he deserves for Izumi to return his affection. Never mind that Ryōma knows literally nothing about Izumi during those years of obsession, that he bombards Izumi with texts and shows up uninvited at his house and university, or that he helps Izumi primarily because he wants to get into his pants. Ryōma’s “niceness” is meant to excuse—or even justify!—stalking Izumi, kissing him without permission, and even nearly raping him.

It’s the “nice guy” attitude given full form, and this is the reason all straight dudes should watch it. Seeing this grotesque attitude turned against another guy might conceivably make them realize how revolting it is. I can’t think of any other reason to watch this.

K review

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Jan 292015
 

I remember seeing an early trailer for K that made it look like it was going to have a lot of shounen-ai going on. It does, sort of, but it’s less a consequence of intentional romance and more a product of gender balance. In terms of its major characters, K is such a sausage-fest I half expected it to turn into a sports anime. The only major female character is a fetish object, a catgirl who has a dislike of clothes as an actual character trait. The less prominent characters — the improbably busty lieutenant of Scepter 4, the gothic lolita girl from HOMRA, the sweet high school girl whose most important plot activity is to get possessed by the villain — also tend towards the fanservicey and thinly-realized. This pushes relationships between the developed male characters to the fore.

That’s not to say that the show doesn’t have any male-male sexual tension. This is obviously going on between Mikoto and Munakata, but in the context of the show’s juvenile approach to women (and the existence of stuff like Love Stage!!) the decision not to make this more explicit feels like cowardice rather than narrative restraint. Dramatic ineptitude also characterizes the dynamic between Misaki and Fushimi, which is shot through with useless flashbacks that take up valuable time (even in the finale!) without really explaining why they made the choices they did. Nor does it bother to bring their conflict to even partial resolution. I don’t know what else to expect, though, from a series where the whole plot hinges on the main character’s amnesia and a series of ridiculous coincidences.

Tonally the series doesn’t work either. Out of 13 episodes, one is given over significantly to comedy and ends with Kuroh’s bizarre decision to become Yashiro’s live-in cook. In a series that wants to be big and dramatic, this episode is a waste, and it sucks up a lot of time that could have been used to develop the rest of the cast, which badly needs it. It’s not all terrible; the show does a good job of showing why HOMRA are so keen to avenge Totsuke’s death and the final scene of their chanting is appropriately powerful. But it’s much less than it could have been, in large part because it doesn’t seem to realize that it should be a show about HOMRA and not team Yashiro.

In short, K is a bad show. The thinness of its female cast, both in terms of numbers and realization, is symptomatic of its larger dramatic deficiencies. It rarely sets up its character dynamics completely and essentially never pays them off. The writing is sloppy, the tone is inconsistent, and the story’s focus is misplaced. Don’t waste your time.