A fantasy anime that doesn’t suck

Coronation of the emperor in Record of Grancrest War, which clearly takes after Jacques-Louis David's The Coronation of Napoleon
Yes, they styled this scene after David’s Coronation of Napoleon

Say, Record of Grancrest War is actually a pretty solid fantasy show. The promotional material made it look like yet another crappy harem show where the main character shits himself every time an under-aged girl tries to give him a handjob but it’s not that at all. I can’t remember the last time an anime had two people who liked each other get together without any idiotic drama.

My biggest criticism is that it moves through the material a bit too quickly. Okay, there’s a world at war, aristocrats who drain magical powers from the rivals they defeat, vampires and werewolves and plucky allies and exotic locations and massive battles where actual characters die. Can we maybe have some time to dwell on each thing before we move on?

I assume this is because the anime is based on a light novel series. The studio probably was trying to squeeze as much as possible in.

But the animation is nice, the main characters are interesting, and it moves along decently. It’s a competently entertaining anime and it just recently ended so you get a complete story with no cliffhangers whose endings depend on the studio securing funding for a second season. I recommend it for your fantasy action fix.

How not to write fantasy

Still from the opening of Record of Lodoss War where the party of balanced RPG cliches are surrounded by several dragons looming overhead

I’ve been watching Record of Lodoss War today and am halfway through. It’s obviously based on a tabletop RPG campaign since the main characters, despite having differing agendas, keep sticking together for no damned reason. I mean, why did the elf even join them in the first place? The protagonists also keep getting into dangerous situations at convenient intervals and their antagonist seemingly does nothing else besides obsess over the heroes and send low level minions to attack them, despite obviously having the power to crush them in one blow.

I guess it’s neat to see all the fantasy stuff that you have to imagine when you’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, but this show kind of just goes from encounter to encounter without a main plot that holds it together well enough. It’s okay if you’re doing afternoon drinking on a long weekend (Happy Victoria Day!) but it’s not really something to watch for a compelling story or anything serious at all.

The power of friendship

I just finished watching The Defenders. It reminded me of a classic comic book crossover. Specifically, it reminded me of just how contrived comic book crossovers were and how they were mostly just excuses to see our heroes punching bad guys together in between punching each other.

You know that episode with the Defenders standing around in a large empty room yelling at each other? That was basically like half the scenes in Infinity Crusade. Plus Zero Hour had a lot of scenes where the good guys were standing around gaping at a computer screen, which we were at least spared in the show but instead got the exposition around dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Smaller crossovers seem to work better, at least when talking about the Arrow universe.

Anyway, I guess the punching in The Defenders was fun but otherwise we really need better narrative justifications for crossovers.

A lovely day

I was not expecting the Saekano season 2 finale to have an elevator music version of Lovely Day by Bill Withers playing in the background, but there it was.

And for comparison:

Black Series

Holy shit you guys, Série noire on Netflix is hilarious. It’s a Quebec show about two halfwit screenwriters whose incredibly dumb legal thriller is somehow renewed for a second season. Their show has high ratings but is intensely hated by the critics, mostly because the writers only know of the world through Hollywood:

“You should get a legal expert. It looks like you just started writing after reading The Firm.”

“We didn’t read The Firm, we watched The Firm. The Firm is a movie!”

So they decide that they need to do research and they start committing crimes to add realism to their writing.

Anyway, I really like how well the two protagonists portray idiots. One of them even gets replaced by a failed novelist and we think, okay, she teaches literature at a college so she’s probably smarter, then it turns out her novel clearly steals ideas from Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Bottom line, the show starts gloriously stupid and stays that way.

I unfortunately can’t find a trailer with English subtitles. It’s too bad because there’s this one hilarious scene from the fictional TV show which was submitted when the writers won an award for best product placement in a TV show, about serial killers arguing about which brand of garbage bag to suffocate a victim with: “No, that’s a cheap generic brand, it’s just going to rip and tear!”

By the bye, the title is a French expression for a series of disasters.

You damn kids

I watch a lot of anime. I mention this because a lot of anime series revolve around the teenage experience (which mostly means the high school experience). I had been unfairly characterizing this deficiency as a malignancy especial to anime, but I had not considered that I’m not as catholic in my viewing of English-language TV shows.

Which is to say that I’ve been avoiding a lot of teen-oriented shows from the Anglosphere. However, The 100 has mucho recommendations as being an engaging piece of science fiction.

However, it’s also an adaptation of a Young Adult series of novels, which means that most of the time the protagonists are either dumb, horny, or both. How could I have criticized anime for having insipid romantic drama when stories like this exist on this side of the Pacific? Stories where I feel like strangling someone whenever a teenager starts talking?

I’m not sure how much more of this I can take. I’ve seen online joking references to the home network, CW, and its formula of crafting shows around beautiful people getting into relationship drama with each other, but I’d never really experienced the full brunt of such a perfect package of cliches and nonsensical actions.

Hoo boy. Perhaps it gets better. I hope so, as I’m not sure I might survive if this show actually gets worse.

Previously on Robotech

I’m watching Robotech for the first time ever. I’ve only seen two episodes so far but I kind of like it. It goes down easy when I need something uncomplicated to watch in between getting home from work and going to the gym.

I probably would have enjoyed watching it on Saturday mornings when I was a kid. Oh well, I had The Tick and X-Men to tide me over. Speaking of which:

The 5 minute story

Anime poster of 3 Japanese teenagers in a school library

I finally understand the appeal of those short anime skits that you see on Crunchyroll. My understanding is that in Japan they’re quick palate cleansers wedged in between longer shows being broadcast on TV, but I could never understand why someone would seek them out on a streaming service when longer and more narratively satisfying series are just a click away.

However, they’re perfect for when you need a quick distraction, like when you’re in the subway and don’t have a consistent signal. I’ve been watching Miss Bernard Said in this way and it’s been pleasant enough. It helps that the show is about a high school book club where they mostly talk about science fiction and other genre books that I’ve already read.

I suppose that’s the other part of the format’s appeal to me: watching it requires no great intellectual effort on my part. I just turn on, tune in, and drift away. It’s nice to watch something unchallenging every now and then.

Giant Robots and Why We Love Them

Originally posted by me on PodCastle in the Sky

A quick glance at the lineup of a typical anime season will reveal a large number of shows featuring giant robots. In the recent winter season alone we can count among giant robot anime the series Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded OrphansSchwarzesmarken, Macross Delta, and probably a bunch more I’ve overlooked. Point is, giant robot anime are like cockroaches and herpes – they keep coming back.

But what’s so great about giant robots? Yeah, I know, to ask the question is to answer it. Giant robots kick ass. I mean, have you seen Robot Jox?

Or Pacific Rim too, I guess.

Fine, but why giant robots? Why not, say, giant tanks, like in Heavy Object?

I think it ultimately comes down to power fantasies. A giant robot perfectly embodies the juvenile dream of invincible domination that a tank cannot. Realistically speaking, a tank is a better weapon. It’s smaller, so it’s harder to hit; it’s cheaper, since manufacturing tank treads is easier than a bipedal walking machine; and it’s safer, since it’s easier to knock over something on two legs than a machine that rides low to the ground. Tanks are pound for pound the deadlier weapon, yet they don’t feel that way.

Consider that riding in a tank is akin to being jammed into a broom closet. Who feels invincible when the walls are pressing in everywhere?

Michael Peña driving a tank in Fury

Even were they roomier, though, tanks are fundamentally more like a heavily-armoured house on wheels. It’s a place to hunker down and hide in. One feels safe by virtue of being enclosed.

Melinda of Heavy Object holed up in the perfect otaku bunker

Look at the image from Heavy Object above of a tank driver in her native environment. It looks like a shut-in’s dream room – no windows or doors and ample monitors to watch TV and surf the Internet. The outside world might as well be just another program on the computer screen. It’s a perfect metal womb to hide in.

Feeling safe, though,  is not the same as feeling powerful. By contrast, a mecha is more truly worn than ridden. It’s human shaped and therefore more of an extension of one’s self – like the perfect battle armour or a second skin, or a new metal body that replaces vulnerable flesh.

It’s also important to remember that the heroes in giant robot anime are all teenagers, even the ones who aren’t. The modern iteration of the giant robot subgenre tends toward the melodramatic and the angst-ridden (as opposed to the gleefully consumerist giant robot shows of the 70’s and 80’s). There’s usually a sense of persecution and oppression being unjustly visited on the protagonists, whether it’s the outcast mercenary troop of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans or the underdog defenders in Argevollen.

But who are the villains who bedevil our heroes so? The enemies are often generic imperialists who fight for poorly-articulated and nonsensical political objectives. They aren’t fighting for anything specific because ultimately their goals aren’t important to the narrative. They’re just there to be roadblocks, to harass and  obstruct the hero and provide them something to punch.

The enemies of giant robot anime are so generic as to be universal. Look at the nickname bestowed upon the protagonist of Valvrave: The Boy Who Fought the World. This says it all. The enemy of the giant robot anime is no one specific, but rather everyone. Parents, teachers, bullies, rivals, friends, classmates, adults – which is to say, the generic “they” that persecutes the suffering hero of the show – are all the bad guys. They’re who he’s fighting against.

The giant robot pilot is like the Incredible Hulk – he wields incredible power but is misunderstood by the world. In the end, Hulk, like a surly and emo teenager, just wants to be left alone.

The Incredible Hulk pursued relentlessly by the US Army as he punches a tank shell and screams about being left alone

And here we come to the ultimate answer. The giant robot anime is the perfect teenage fantasy, for it’s a metaphor for the teenage condition: an innocent hero is possessed of unwanted new abilities which cause him to be unfairly beset on all sides by powers desperate to control or crush him.

This is the secret of why giant robot anime is so eternally alluring. Even adults who have their shit together will still occasionally feel like the world is picking on them for no good reason, and wouldn’t it be great if you had a magic wand that could make everything disappear? That could stop the world from pissing on you for just one damn second?

Why do we love giant robots? Because we all wish we had one of our own.