Friday, April 22, 2011

On Miscellaneous Consumption

Or:  I muse about the anime I have watched in the last six or so months, and try (read: fail) to keep it brief.

I finished Mars Daybreak today, and this inspired me to put my (metaphorical) pen to (metaphorical) paper regarding shows completed.

Nurarihyon no Mago

Rome's Rapid Rubric* (Action/Fanservice/Plot):  5/4/4

I wrote a bit about this show, and the experience of enjoying mediocrity.

Honestly, what I wrote earlier pretty much holds.  I did, in fact, finish this show, even though I dropped a number of other mediocre shows (Legend of the Legendary Heroes and Iron Man, I'm looking at you two, and especially you, Hakuouki 2) at roughly the same time, and then went so far as to watch nothing  from last season's offerings, which were not short on mediocrity.  I guess I can't watch every mediocre show.

But this one was fun, and actually had a pretty satisfying arc to it.  Characters often used their rather stock powers creatively, which I always like (part of the reason I've been enjoying the game Bulletstorm so much recently).  There were some predictable power upsets, because it wouldn't be a shounen manga adaptation without them, but there were some clever ones, too.  "Even when the sun rises, the moon is still in the sky," after all.

Apparently there is more in the works, though I don't know whether I'll watch it or not.  Probably not, but you never know.

Final Words:  Still not recommending it.  Though I'm still not not-recommending it, either.

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid

Rome's Rapid Rubric (Action/Fanservice/Plot):  6/7/6

Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid is Full Metal Panic! Season 1 all over again.  Great start, entertaining (if far from revolutionary) character dynamics between Sousuke (professional soldier since childhood and thus devoid of social graces) and Kaname (brilliant but wrathful highschool tsundere), and a really big lead-up to an anticlimax at the end.  The first episode of The Second Raid, just like the first episode of the first season, promises GREAT mecha action as a series hook.  And, pretty much just like the first season, it's a bait-and-switch.  It delivers enjoyable but steadily decreasing mecha action (just like the first season), and then disappoints at the end by having a conflict that is much more emotional and introspective than military and full of explosions.

The animation of The Second Raid is gorgeous - that's definitely an improvement over the first season's rapid degeneration of quality - but the plot still lags badly in second half, this time due to angst (instead of poor animation AND angst).

In the end, The Second Raid's greatest failing, though, is that it's essentially the first season all over again.  Much of the relationship development from the first season is undone in the name of comedy and drama, and then redone in much the same way.  It's an easy way to repeat the success of the past than innovate, but it sometimes cheapens the experience.

Surprise Breakout Character:  Chidori Kaname.  I know, how can one of the two MAIN characters from the very start be a breakout character?  Yeah, I was surprised, too, but she pulled it off and really impressed me with her fortitude and resourcefulness.  Perhaps the only really new thing in The Second Raid is her individual character development, outside of her relationship with Sousuke.  If there is a third season, I will be very irked if this doesn't last.

Final Words:  A satisfactory continuation of the plot from the first season, and worth watching if you enjoyed that.  If you're just looking for lulz and don't care about the romance or plot, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu delivers the lulz in a more condensed form.  The action at large isn't bad, but I was left wanting more robots.

Seirei no Moribito

Rome's Rapid Rubric (Action/Fanservice/Plot):  5/0/5

Seirei no Moribito (officially rendered "Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit") is a series about a warrior, Balsa, and a kid, Prince Chagum, who she sets out to protect from various court intrigues like murder and more murder.  There are some other recurring characters (various people from the court, Balsa's not-boyfriend Tanda, and his extremely cantankerous teacher, Torogai the shaman), but fundamentally, it's about Balsa and Chagum hiding from the assassins on their trail, occasionally punctuated by the utterly brutal asskickings that Balsa delivers to the people hunting them.  Do not f*ck with Balsa.

Though it is set in a fantasy world, it isn't written like a fantasy world - it is far more akin to George RR Martin's gritty, historically-influenced fantasy than works of high fantasy.  Thankfully, it isn't anywhere near as dark as Martin's works.

The martial arts in this series, although they don't appear as often as they might, are beautiful.  Production IG lovingly renders the fight scenes when they do show up, though they hardly skimp on the visuals at other times.  Seirei no Moribito looks good - really good - all the way through.

I would recommend this series quite broadly.  The only thing it's short on is humor - it isn't a comedy, and it doesn't try to be.  Though it has funny moments it does not contrive to create them.

Final Words:  Huh, I don't hate slice of life after all.  I just hate slices of boring people's lives.  Also, what's with all the bodyguard series I've been watching?

Ghost in the Shell Stand: Alone Complex: Second Gig

Rome's Rapid Rubric (Action/Fanservice/Plot):  6/6/8

The second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was a show I had seen most of before, back when I watched anime week-to-week on [Adult Swim].  I remember liking the action, but being rather confused by the byzantine plot, because I would occasionally miss episodes, and then be totally lost, and I was watching it over such a long period of time that I could hardly remember the important details (of which there are many).

It's definitely a show to watch over a short period of time, like Lost (or so I'm told, as I haven't seen Lost).  The action is beautiful, the characters are interesting, if a bit secondary to the complex machine that is the plot.  As with the first season, it doesn't give you answers, though it doesn't leave them to nebulous interpretation usually, either - it expects you to pay attention and then figure them out yourself.

The Tachikomas are still fun, and get to play perhaps an even more integral role in the plot this time.  The Tachikoma Theatre shorts at the end of each episode are something I won't claim to fully understand, though.

Final Words:  The Major's outfit is slightly less unreasonable in the second season, since she wears what actually amount to real, full-length pants most of the time.

Senkou no Night Raid (Lightning-Fast Night Raid)

Rome's Rapid Rubric (Action/Fanservice/Plot):  4/1/6

Senkou no Night Raid is an extremely problematic work, and one that isn't easy to write on, especially because I am so poorly versed in the history that it covers.  It situates itself in China in 1930, beginning in Shanghai, and follows a special para-military unit of psychics working for the Japanese Army.  Shanghai at the time was an extremely international city, and a huge number of nations had significant stakes in it.  This is a fascinating setting, but obviously, a troubling one.  The show has definitely prompted me to do a little bit of research on my own into less openly fictional accounts of the events it portrays, but I'm no expert on these matters.

Where Senkou no Night Raid succeeds is in its portrayals of its main characters, and in the fascinating ways each member of the team uses his or her rather limited psychic powers (especially in conjunction with one another).  The first arc of the show, which takes place in Shanghai, while tensions are mounting, is very compelling.

Where it falls short is in its attempt to launch itself headlong into the semi-fictional, semi-historical territory of political intrigue between China, Japan, and the League of Nations in 1930 while still claiming the auspices of being "a work of fiction," as it frequently reminded the viewer.  Every time the show portrayed a "historical" event, I questioned the accuracy of it, and then the spin that might have been put on it even if it was technically correct, and then the spin inherent in history books themselves.  The fact that the fictional main characters fell out of focus, to some degree, in the second half did little to improve the situation.

The resolution of the plot was somewhat rushed, because of the focus on "historical" events in the second half of the show, and the clever uses of psychic powers mostly fell by the wayside, only briefly returning for the finale.

It does have a really good OP, though.

Final Words:  Senkou no Night Raid was definitely thought-provoking, though perhaps not in the ways it intended (or perhaps so - it was hard to tell what, if any, messages it carried).  The first few episodes are significantly stronger than the rest of the series.

Mars Daybreak

Rome's Rapid Rubric (Action/Fanservice/Plot):  5/5/4

When I picked up Mars Daybreak, I knew only a few things about it - it was by Studio Bones (who I like), it was about pirates (cool), and it featured giant robots underwater ('nuff said).  The first episode begins with a look at the impoverished dystopia Mars has become in the far future, languishing under colonial rule by the Earth, in a situation not entirely unlike the Space Colonies of Universal Century Gundam.  However, despite the frequent implications of a GRIMDARK backdrop behind the action, Mars Daybreak is anything but.  

Mars Daybreak is basically Star Trek on a pirate submarine on Mars.  Bones drops you right into the universe with nary an explanation as to how things work, because they're much too busy getting down to the HIGH ADVENTURE!  The cool-as-a-cucumber main protagonist isn't surprised by anything, so the viewer is left in the awkward but not entirely unenjoyable position of being alone in shouting "LOLWUT!?!" every few minutes for the first couple episodes.  The crew contains such characters as a talking cat, some kind of Vulcan, an empath of some kind, and a dolphin in power armor (or possibly some other small toothed whale), and besides a few short glimpses, their backstories are largely closed books.  But Mars Daybreak isn't about backstory.  Even the main character barely gets his backstory fleshed out, beyond necessary details.  It's about sailing towards the horizon of tomorrow, and being totally awesome doing it.

Although it doesn't delve into the past, the secondary characters are all satisfactorily, if not deeply, developed (as are the primary characters, fortunately).  This lack of depth comes in part from the large cast, but also seems to be a part of the aesthetic of the show.  Mars Daybreak doesn't aspire to great depth.

On an note few people but me care about, the mecha action falls into that all-too-common category of "decent, but not great" occupied by so many shows that would be absolutely amazing if they'd just put a bit more effort into this aspect of the show (Full Metal Panic (1&2), Eureka 7 (until the last quarter or so), Xam'd).  Combat tends to be low on both stakes and fatalities, and both mechanical power and pilot skill tend to be determined somewhat arbitrarily.  There are some mechanics of the universe that ameliorate this slightly by offering a form of explanation (enemy mechs are controlled remotely, and so they have slower reaction times, relying on attrition over skill to win battles), but the protagonists' victories often seem hollow because of this, too.  The mechanical designs are really cool, though.

Surprise Breakout Character:  Poipoider, the power-armored dolphin pirate voiced by the Lich King.  This is the dolphin Jesse would play if he were ever to play a dolphin or other small toothed whale in an RPG campaign.

Final Words:  Mars Daybreak is a fun, lighthearted, and mostly character-driven adventure series without much depth or the desire for such things.  This format lets Bones take advantage of their biggest strengths (great characterization and versatile animation), while avoiding their most glaring weaknesses (stupid, incomprehensible endings and big, unanswered questions).  Also, Poipoider is a badass.


*As always, I must mention that Rome's Rapid Rubric only accounts for "objective subjective" factors.  As such, it is not an indication of quality, merely of content.  "Good" and "bad" action (or fanservice, or plot) are weighted the same on this scale.  Fanservice only denotes sexually-oriented fanservice, since other forms of fanservice are too difficult to measure on this (intentionally) simplified scale.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still laughing at that picture of Poipoider.