What am I watching in Winter 2016?

I originally posted this over in the podcast group blog. I rather like having everything I write in one spot, so now I’m reposting it here. I picked two shows to talk about out of the assload that I’m currently watching.

Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi posing with lightsabers while clone troopers shoot their guns in the foreground.

Non-anime: Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Thanks to The Force Awakens and the damn Galaxy of Heroes mobile game that I got hooked into, I’ve grown interested in the only bit of modern Star Wars that I haven’t watched. These are actually two different series – one is a 2003 show animated in a more traditional style while the other is a 2008 CGI spectacle. The 2003 version was helmed by Genndy Tartakovsky, he of Samurai Jack fame, and it’s just as excellent as his previous work. It’s a largely wordless action show which reduces a massive interstellar civil war into a series of intense duels across different planets. In style it’s basically a samurai epic in space, which should be unsurprising considering what Samurai Jack was like. Both Samurai Jack and the anime Katanagatari felt very similar to me, probably because they both take a lot of their cues from the chanbara genre (i.e., samurai movies). So I must recommend the Tartakovsky Clone Wars as an action and a samurai fan. Plus it changes General Grievous from the ridiculous robot with emphysema that he was in Revenge of the Sith and turns him into a genuinely terrifying enemy.

The 2008 Clone Wars changes things up quite a bit. It explores a lot more of the titular conflict, but in style it’s much more of a kids’ show. General Grievous has become a cartoonish bad guy who keeps getting beaten by the heroes every week like the villain from an 80’s Saturday morning show. At points I half expected him to shout “I’ll get you next time, Gadget!” like Dr. Claw at the end of every episode of Inspector Gadget. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation, as I realize that this iteration has a different target audience than the previous one (being on Cartoon Network I assume the Tartakovsky show was aimed at hipster animation aficionados).

Anakin Skywalker’s apprentice Ahsoka is the spunky Young Adult heroine one would expect from this sort of bildungsroman, and while I’ve only just finished the first season I expect the rest of the show to build up to her becoming a full-fledged Jedi. But even as a kids’ show this series can get pretty dark and depicts actual characters dying, which I appreciate in that it doesn’t try to keep kids in a metaphorical hamster ball separated from the real world consequences of violence and conflict. Though there’s really quite a lot of fighting in this show. I mean, do people in Star Wars ever just watch Netflix and chill? I know what regular people on Star Trek do to relax, but I have very little idea what it’s like to not be a general or a mystic space knight on Star Wars.

Still, an interesting thing to ponder is that for most 21st century kids, this is their Star Wars. It’s not the original trilogy, it’s not even the prequels, it’s this CGI show that’ll be the first thing that comes to mind when the words “Star Wars” come up. It’s at least a lot better than the prequels, and it’s a pleasantly entertaining show to relax with, so I’m going to stick with my Star Wars viewing project. Possibly I’ll move on to Rebels once I finish.

Anime: Schwarzesmarken

This is just an enjoyably dumb show to bitch about if you’re into giant robots and military porn, which I am. I also have a fascination with both alternate history and the Warsaw Pact countries during the Cold War. The show is stupid but in a creatively-nourishing way – whenever I’m watching I’m either imagining German pop music playing in the background or mentally composing a rant about how remarkably off-base its understanding of history and international politics is. That’s when I’m not criticizing it for its right-wing politics and historical revisionism. God, this anime is shit. But I can’t stop watching it.

Yotsuba and the Slice of Life

More from that interview translation blog: Interview With Yotsuba Artist Kiyohiko Azuma.

I’d like to point out that the guy also did Azumanga Daioh, the slice-of-life series I like to describe as Seinfeld if it was about Japanese high school girls. I couldn’t get into the manga, probably because I had trouble telling the girls apart, but I didn’t have that problem with the anime.

What’s interesting about the slice-of-life genre is that it’s always a slice of fictional life, which is to say that it’s always about the heartwarming and positive aspects of ordinary life. The lives being sliced are those without sorrow or tragedy or money problems or heartbreak. It’s inherently escapist, which, of course, is one of the biggest reasons behind the genre’s appeal.

I’m reminded of something I read a long time ago comparing tha manga Azumanga Daioh and High School Girls. I don’t even remember which blog I read this on, but the blogger observed that one of the biggest things they found unrealistic about Azumanga Daioh was that the high school girls never talked about boys. In contrast, the girls of High School Girls constantly talked about boys, about their periods, their make-up, their teachers, their rival social cliques – which is to say that they talked about the kinds of things actual high school girls talk about. This is unsurprising considering that the author based the series on her own experiences in an all-girls high school.

I quite liked High School Girls and nearly drove myself crazy trying to find copies of the manga. As you might expect, a series where girls talk frankly about menstruation kind of had niche appeal ten years ago. The series was made into an anime and renamed in English as Girl’s High.  Things in the story were necessarily squished for the adaptation, which is why I consider the original manga to be superior, but at least the anime ending was charming and fun.

Yeah, I realize that the dancing is just rotoscoped actors, but I do like how the way each character dances directly links to their personality – the uptight girl does the frug (I think that’s what it’s called), the extrovert goes crazy with a guitar riff, and so on. And even better, all of the girls are endearingly awkward. It really does look like a bunch of teenage girls messing around instead of accomplished dance students displaying their skills. Plus the ending shows just how much effort the girls put into appearing cute – the make-up, the studied playfulness, the deliberate construction of their social fronts. It’s not Erving Goffman but it’s still something.

This Ain’t the Left Hand of Darkness

You know, I like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. It’s about a bunch of amnesiac Japanese youths dropped into a fantasy world and forced to kill monsters to survive. Yeah, it’s like the hundredth variation on the “trapped in an RPG world” subgenre, except this one isn’t a power fantasy about the uber-l33t players replacing their pathetic offline lives with an awesome new virtual existence. No, this one actually examines what it would be like to have to kill another living being for the first time or lose a close companion or any one of a number of video game experiences that would be traumatic in real life. In other words, it treats the RPG world experience like a war movie.

I like the show, but it ain’t perfect. I’d say the worst thing about this anime is that every week I forget Ranta is an awful human being and every week he reminds me of that very fact. I’ve never liked fanservice – if I want porn I can get porn, anime studios – but I’d take a gratuitous shot of Yume’s naked asscrack every week (and holy shit was that ever gratuitous) over yet another tired line about how Ranta’s female teammates only have worth if he finds them sexually attractive. He could at least vary up his misogyny and insult women for having a different waist to hip ratio than men or having slightly higher pain thresholds or whatever. You know, really open up new horizons of animated sexism.

This is probably the thousandth time I’ve heard the joke that goes “you have small breasts, therefore you are worthless” on various anime series. Even if I thought that joke was funny, I certainly wouldn’t think so after hearing it repeated in one form or another since the 90’s – which is probably the last time someone laughed at that joke, by the way. You know, because it was already old and the person hearing it couldn’t believe someone was still using that joke.

I complain because I actually do like Grimgar. This Ranta thing is like a mouse turd in a bag of chocolate chips. I realize that the light novel author has mental health issues and might not be aware how jokes work (for instance, that they should be funny), but that doesn’t make this part of the show suck less.

Lost in Japan

Remember Kappa Mikey? It was about an American cartoon character moving to Japan to work in the anime industry. It made really obvious jokes about Japan and anime, so it wasn’t exactly good. However, the unequivocally great thing about it was the catchy theme song from Beat Crusaders.

Uh, remember Beat Crusaders? They broke up in 2010.

The Commissar’s in Town

I kind of liked Total Eclipse, once I’d gotten over the gratuitous fanservice boobery, so of course I’m checking out the prequel series Schwarzesmarken. There’s definitely something worthwhile in this alternate history story of East Germany being invaded by aliens in the 1980s. I did also like Deutschland 83, after all.

However, let me call your attention to the introductory graphic explaining the Cold War to the viewers:

Cold War map of the world showing Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea as not being in the US camp

If you’ll notice, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines are very clearly not in the American sphere of influence on that map. Is this a stealth resurrection of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere?

Yes, it is. In this alternate history, Japan also lost the Second World War, but it kept its imperial regime and some of its territory. Of course, such a thing is utter bullshit. If Germany was beaten so badly that it was partitioned, then there was no way Japan would have gotten a negotiated peace. I’d originally assumed Article whatever of Japan’s pacifist constitution had been repealed in light of the alien invasion, not that pigs had been flying.

The type of Japanese military geek who would write a story set in East Germany is also the type of mildly right-wing jerk-off who views the Japanese Empire with nationalistic nostalgia. I mean, it’s at least entertaining, so it’s automatically better than GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There.

Setting that aside, since this is an anime about East Germany fighting aliens in the 80’s. I of course had to make a fanvideo scored to Der Kommissar. What else was I going to do? I had to stick the video behind a password-protected Vimeo thing because of the zealousness of copyright protectors. It’s released under the auspices of that anime podcast I’m in.

Anyway, this music video is dedicated to those unsung heroes of the alien war – the Stasi. Password is “bundeswehr”.

Show those greedy capitalists what we think of their copyright regime, kameraden!

The boy who quantum leaped through time

I’ve been watching way less anime lately. Of the handful of shows I’m watching this season, I’d say Erased is the best. It’s got a pretty cool opening, as is to be expected of Asian Kung-Fu Generation:

Erased is about a 29 year old pizza delivery man who has the involuntary ability to go back in time to fix tragedies. Normally he only returns for a few minutes but when something really bad happens he ends up as a 10 year old boy again living the weeks before one of his classmates was abducted and killed.

There seems to be a lot of stories lately about pathetic single men in their twenties returning to their childhood to fix their lives. It’s obviously a wish-fulfillment fantasy – if you look at the biographies of the writers, the ones who don’t have agoraphobia or social anxiety are horrifically underemployed Millenials. This desire to return to a simpler time and set right what first went wrong is the desire of a person who feels like a grownup loser.

It’s a specifically male story, as women are pretty much raised from birth to expect to play second fiddle in their own lives. The traditional route of female adulthood is of subordination to others, after all, to future husbands and to children that must be raised. Offhand, I can only think of one female lead who time leaps back, in the manga Again!! In that case she was just inadvertently brought along when the male protagonist got a chance to fix his high school shit, and otherwise didn’t want to time travel in the first place.

Of course, the writers of stories that get adapted into anime clearly aren’t doing too badly. But the stories couldn’t have gotten so popular if their audiences weren’t finding in them something to relate to. This type of story could only have been written in an economic climate where the young can expect to be underpaid and underappreciated for not being born in better times. It’s the basic story of the 21st century so far. Kind of a depressing thought, isn’t it?

Goddammit Saekano

From Crunchyroll:

In an exclusive interview with Web Newtype, Shun’ya Senga of Design Coco and Tomoaki Atogami of Aniplex hinted that more life-sized figures of the heroines of Saekano -How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend- may be in the works.

During the interview, the two men discussed the creation process and the difficulties inherent in transforming a 2D character into a 3-dimensional sculpture, such as the challenge of accurately reproducing Megumi’s undergarments (which are never fully revealed in the TV show).

You’re really making it hard to be a fan of your show, Saekano. And I was looking forward to season 2. I still am, actually, but now I might not admit to it so openly.

December anime

So Comet Lucifer is pleasantly brainless watching. No fanservice either, which is unlike Asterisk War and Heavy Object, which are also brainless but otherwise force the viewer to participate in ogling female bodies. I can’t believe the latter show expects me to drool over a girl who looks 12 years old.

As for Asterisk War, I keep getting distracted by the awful costume design. I mean, a lot of mediocre anime has shitty costuming so it’s kind of like wallpaper for me at this point, but every now and then I come across something like this dress:

Julis in a godawful white and yellow dress

Bleargggh, white and yellow? And that frilly boob thing? From the main character’s reaction I was supposed to think the girl looked fetching, but seriously, nothing about that dress is flattering to her figure. It’s about even with a potato sack in terms of being alluring.

It’s a hell of a town

I finally saw the last two episodes of Blood Blockade Battlefront (a.k.a. Kekkai Sensen). The show is set in a near future New York that has become a gateway to a world of monsters and magic.

It’s like Hellboy as an anime, in that it’s interesting but overstuffed. I like the aesthetics but the story and the setting feels kind of like having a shotgun full of supernatural premises blasted at you. That, or it could be likened to hearing the story from Homer Simpson, or maybe Ralph Wiggum. “And then she made a truck come to life and eat other trucks! Did I mention she was a vampire? Well, she was. Also, there are 13 master vampires, but it turns out there are more, and there’s blood superpowers, and the psychic twins made the disaster happen I think. What was I talking about again?”

Self and sensibility

Well, holy shit but Selfie is hilarious. Or rather, it was hilarious, as it was cancelled halfway through its first season. I acknowledge that the pilot was kind of rough, most notably in the misogyny carried over from its source material. What else can you expect from an adaptation of My Fair Lady? But even by the second episode the quality shot up through the roof. I like how the series consistently showed that it was not just Eliza but Henry as well who needed to learn how to be a better person. John Cho’s standoffish workaholic and Karen Gillan’s shallow social media obsessive both reveal emotional complexity that carry their characters beyond mere caricatures. This is thanks in large part to the actors. It certainly helps that they look great together. And it’s sad that so much praise for the show revolves around the unconventional decision to make an Asian man the male lead in an interracial romantic comedy (white guy with Asian woman is far more common), just because it’s 2015 and it shouldn’t be unusual to show Asian men as desirable romantic partners.

The show just had so much potential. The supporting characters were strong and I can’t think of any weak actors in the cast. The show’s slightly cartoonish universe and the way that characters often spoke in rhyme make its world just a bit more like a musical, and the complex and layered allusions are all significant in helping decode what’s going on in each episode. It reminds me a bit of The Simpsons in how references can be both from high and low culture, mixing Gwen Stefani and Philip Roth together for audiences to laugh at.

The show was going places before its untimely demise. This bums me out. So long, Selfie. You were too good for this world.

PS

I’m slightly alarmed now since Selfie is one of those great but cancelled shows that the Onion AV Club hive mind keeps mentioning. Does that mean all of those other things people yell about in the TV Club comments are also this good? Should I have already seen Bunheads and Terriers? I’m not even finished watching season 2 of Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 yet! How could I survive watching so many great shows that were killed too soon? I don’t think I can take this much heartache.