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.

Able Archer ’83

I finally got around to watching the German miniseries Deutschland 83. I love spy stories and this show really scratched my itch. The premise is similar to The Americans, except it’s about an East German spy infiltrating the West German branch of NATO.

It’s a lot more devoted to the material aspects of historical fidelity, which is to say that it’s scrupulous in showing the knickknacks and gewgaws that signify the 1980s to audiences in the 21st century. Plus the spy stuff is more realistic, since a military attache to a highly-placed general in the Bundeswehr is more likely to find worthwhile secrets than a travel agent in DC. But like its US counterpart, this show is also devoted to having a contemporaneous musical soundtrack. At times the music can get rather on the nose and overbearing – I mean, yeah, I know this is the 80s, quit beating me over the head with it.

The personal stuff, more often than not, didn’t do it for me. I kind of got bored and sometimes a bit confused at the stuff dealing with the protagonist’s girlfriend and mother back in East Germany; similarly I got a tad annoyed with the West German general’s son. The amping up of the family drama near the end dragged down the climax for me, as I much preferred the spy versus spy stuff.

Overall, though, I enjoyed watching this show. I’m looking forward to the sequel series set in 1986, with a possible third part in ’89.

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.

Show me the money

I’m currently finishing up the final episodes of Gunslinger Stratos. It’s about kids fighting in the future for a science fiction Macguffin. The series is based on a video game, which is quite clear from the finale because it feels like a boss fight. The episode title even sounds like it’s straight out of Chrono Trigger – “Showdown at the End of Time”.

The whole thing is full of cliches about friendship, fighting for one’s dreams, and some light distrust of adult authority. You know, the usual. The show also keeps making a lot out of the belief that humanity is doomed to conflict and war.

It strikes me, though, that probably most of the writers behind this show have never experienced a day of hardship in their lives. The closest they’ve come to war is watching it on the news, though it’s more likely that their experience of war comes from movies and other fictional depictions.

Pontificating pompously about a subject one has no direct familiarity with seems to me like a very teenaged and juvenile thing to do. Which makes sense since this show is made for juveniles and those juvenile at heart.

Anyway, I think I liked writing this post more than actually watching the last episodes of this show. I guess we have to get our enjoyment where we can get it.

At least it was here

I’ve seen what may possibly be the final episode of Community. This show has never been a laugh-out-loud comedy for me, except for this finale, where I was honestly laughing at three points: when the black guy on the stool was revealed, when the dean was shown dancing behind Chang, and when Jeff was strangling Abeds. This is a deservedly meta finale for a meta show. I especially appreciated the dark turn of the board game commercial at the end.

Also, I never bothered to look up the words to the theme song. Turns out it’s darker than you would expect from the peppy sound. Is it about suicide like M*A*S*H or what? Here’s the extended version:

The 88 – At Least It Was Here

Give me your hands
Show me the door
I cannot stand
To wait anymore
Somebody said
Be what you’ll be
We could be old and cold and dead on the sea

But I love you more than words can say
I can’t count the reasons I should stay

Give me some rope
Tie me to dream
Give me the hope to run out of steam
Somebody said it can be here
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

I can’t count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away

I’m tied to the wait and sees
I’m tired of that part of me
That makes up a perfect lie
To keep us between
But hours turn into days
So watch what you throw away
And be here to recognize
There’s another way

Give me some rope
Tie me to dream
Give me the hope to run out of steam
Somebody said it can be here
We could be roped up, tied up, dead in a year

But I love you more than words can say
I can’t count the reasons I should stay
One by one they all just fade away
But I love you more than words can say

My Teen Romantic WTF-ery

After having watched the eighth episode of the current season, I think My Teen Romantic Comedy Snafu should be re-titled Jesus Christ, What the Fuck is Wrong With These Kids?

I do like how the kids’ social problems aren’t a result of some past trauma, which would have been too pat (remember that Hikigaya was already a loner long before he got hit by a car). They’re like this because that’s just how they’re wired. Some people are shy, some people are gregarious, and some people have trouble connecting with others. Perhaps it’s good that pop psychology isn’t as pervasive in Japanese media as it is over here, otherwise I get the feeling that undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome would be the easy answer for the question of the kids’ social issues.

I wonder now what the writer of the light novels is like. The personalities of the characters are exaggerated for dramatic effect, of course, and most of the situations in the show are too contrived to be realistic, but it feels like there’s emotional truth and perhaps first-hand experience in the depiction of the loneliness of the misanthrope.