The terror of fantasy

Witch Craft Works kind of has an image problem. Nothing in all the marketing I’ve seen for this anime indicated it was anything besides a typical high school comedy-romance with a twist – he fights ghosts, she’s a superhero, it’s a school for magic, whatever. In this specific anime the twist is that the male protagonist is the damsel in distress. “Don’t worry your pretty little head over it” is basically the central message repeated over and over to our hero. Otherwise the show’s early episodes have the sort of things you’d expect from a high school anime – a student council with ridiculous amounts of administrative authority, a beloved school idol, teenagers running wild, and so on. All of that was to be expected in this setting. What I didn’t expect was to discover that this anime was also about the War on Terror.

The rising sun peeks out behind wrecked skyscrapers
Not a picture of Ground Zero.

Continue reading The terror of fantasy

It’s witchcraft

Promotional picture featuring the titular Yamada and all 7 witches

I watched the entirety of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches over the weekend. It’s about a teenage boy discovering that he and other students at his high school have powers related to kissing, with the first one being body-swapping. It’s a decent comedy – I actually laughed at several places, especially at the scene where the protagonist’s friends experiment with the limits of body-swapping with each other.

However, while the show is pleasant enough, it’s nothing absolutely great. There’s not a lot that makes it really stand out. The fanservice isn’t explicit or prevalent enough to draw in the pervs, the romances are too low-key to really get the ‘shippers, the comedy peters out near the end and is replaced by plot drama seriousness, and the plot drama stuff itself isn’t really that compelling. I think this is one of those shows that people will forget about in a few years.

The brave ones

Braves of the Six Flowers is the shit. The shit.

It doesn’t have anything deep to say, it’s a just rollicking good fantasy adventure story. The animation is great and the backgrounds are lush and detailed, but that would just be putting lipstick on a pig if the pace of the story did not move so quickly. Even the fanservice is mild enough to be easily forgiven, though I still think it shouldn’t be there.

I appreciate the pseudo-Aztec setting, which is not something you see everyday in anime. The story isn’t anything original – six chosen heroes must band together to defeat a demonic invasion – but the series just puts everything together in a satisfying way. In this way it reminds me of Argevollen, though this show looks a lot better.

Praising a work as competent may sound like faint praise, but producing art that’s merely satisfactory is not as easy as it may seem. I was particularly aware of this fact since I’d watched Chaos Dragon before turning to this show.

The cast of Chaos Dragon posing all action-like.

Chaos Dragon has an interesting pedigree. The project was spawned from the tabletop roleplaying game sessions of a group of top writers. However fun playing that RPG was, it did not translate very well to a similarly enjoyable anime. I found the first episode cliched and uninteresting. There’s a country, it was conquered and partitioned, there are rebels fighting the occupation and there’s a dragon killing people. Ho hum. The bad guys were cartoonishly evil, the hero was impossibly good, the tragic origin was predictable, and the politics was naive and simplistic. Plus the animation was so-so.

I realize that black and white morality and naive politics are prevalent in much fantasy fiction, but just because something happens a lot doesn’t mean I have to like it. During the viewing my mind kept wandering as I added to my mental list of criticisms. I won’t be watching any more episodes.

Anyway, there you have it. One hit and one miss from the current anime season.

Shadows of the black empire

Junot Díaz on the relationship between minorities and science fiction:

Look. Without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as people of color, nothing about fanboy and fangirl culture makes sense. What I mean by that is, if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the extermination of so many indigenous nations, most of what we call “first contact” stories don’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understand that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible. We are… in the Green Lantern Corps? We are the Oath. We are all of those things. Erased, and yet without us? We’re essential.

That’s some good stuff. Maybe I should finally finish The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

True romance

I recently watched the first episode of the anime Actually, I Am, which revolves around a love confession. It wasn’t my thing, but while watching I had to ask: do Japanese kids actually do this kind of thing?

Haru confessing his feelings to Shizuku: I think I like you. In a sexual way!
It’s from My Little Monster.

See, the classic love confession from anime and manga goes like this: a school-aged character approaches in private their secret crush (normally a classmate and one who they may not have even spoken with before) and tells them, “I like you, please go out with me”.

I’d never really thought about it, as this cliche is very common in anime and manga, but I realize now that this is a pretty damn awkward situation to be in. When approached by a near-total stranger – who you may only have spoken a few words in passing to before – and asked for a date out of the blue, the normal reaction is to tell them no. With this in mind, isn’t the classic love confession approach basically a recipe for rejection?

Considering it further, the love confession strategy seems like something a socially awkward person would do. They know they want to go out with someone but they don’t really know how to approach them so they go all in. They skip the getting-to-know-you part and go straight for the asking out part.

Really, a more reasonable approach, and one more conducive to success, would probably be for the besotted party to befriend and hang out with the object of their romantic interest first without immediately going for the metaphorical jugular.

It’s such an obvious stratagem that I have to wonder whether Japanese kids actually do the love confession thing at all. Is this basically just a cliche that mostly exists in the minds of anime and manga writers? One wonders.