Musings and Reflections – Summer 2017 Week 13

Ballroom e Youkoso (Ep. 12)

     Surprisingly unoffending start of a new arc. The beginning nicely mirrored the very start of the show, confirming that Tatara now has some friends who may help him, even if they’re Jerks. Yet, there’s only a small step from mirroring to being plain and predictable. You see a class full of unimportant and bland characters and one girl just happens to be a redhead. In a queue only one person wears a hood, and a red one. What are the chances that it’s not a coincidence? Everything else was just a basic episode of Ballrooom, fanservice and awkward moments included. And you tell me that if the Jerk wanted to scream at Tatara so much, he still waited for a convenient opportunity to say what he thinks face to face? And then he nicely reminds me why I hate him and why my opinion of the show itself isn’t the highest. At least Shizuku finally got some lines. Seeing Sengoku dance (finally) was impressive due to the animation but only because it actually was animated. Other than that, it’s just preparations for the new girl and the Jerk trying to act less like one and at times even succeeding. I certainly hope that these developments will have a positive impact because I’m quite fed up with the usual stuff.

Made in Abyss (Ep. 12)

     All the bad stuff now seems far away and the atmosphere has returned to its initial state when Abyss still seemed quite easily conquerable. The episode is mainly spent wandering around and not accomplishing that much so I’m inevitably both missing any more defined immediate goals and at the same time eagerly awaiting the last episode that should be a 1-hour special. Again a segment about life on the ground level was incorporated but I’m not sure what for. Such scenes appear from time to time enough to question their purpose but not frequent enough to form a separate storyline. As far as my general anime knowledge goes, supporting characters don’t get elaborate designs just for the sake of it, and that girl from the caravan certainly looked impressive, so maybe there are some things brewing high above Riko’s grasp. Either way, I wished that these parts would be either cut if they don’t lead anywhere or alternatively a new separate storyline may be established, obviously stating that what happens on the ground is important. Far below Nanachi shows her tender side a bit more, giving a feeling that ultimately she’s just another normal girl, albeit strengthened by the cruelty of Abyss. Getting flustered over her cooking being questioned or sitting in amazement after Reg’s showdown cuts some mystery from Nanachi’s character but certainly makes her personality seem more appropriate to her external fluffiness. Also props for the animation. The movement of that almost unseen fabric was quite well done indeed.

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Musings and Reflections – Summer 2017 Week 12

Ballroom e Youkoso (Ep. 11)

    Well, where do I start? The fact that Tatara’s stamina was the main issue isn’t surprising. Rather it’s strange that the audience might be transformed from complaining about pain in the eyes watching couple No. 23 and in a matter of seconds almost giving a standing ovation for the same guys. The award ceremony again demonstrated the sexual inequality – couple’s prize there clearly represents the ability of a man (and there’re 7 awards) and only one woman gets an award for her prowess. It’s another story that the judges are either incompetent idiots or just trolls because for No. 23 to win Mako should’ve dressed in darker purple or in red. Also the random appearance of the award for the best girl (yep, that’s what it was) comes out of nowhere. Previously I thought that in order to keep status quo neither the Jerk nor Tatara would win, but it turns out that both of them winning is also an option. And then it means that it’s a tie and neither of them has the upper hand. So why then it’s implied that Mako will get back to being the partner for the Jerk? Come on, countless times it has been said that their builds are incompatible, not to mention the kind treatment that the imouto gets. Asspulls aren’t the right way to advance the story, sorry. The school scene after the credits also came out of nowhere. The animation again could easily represent the whole show – there’s a 7 second cut of incredible quality followed by countless still images. The music didn’t help either – there’s just a jarring disconnect between the good and the bad. True, this episode provided more movement than usual but please, can you make at least one episode that could be even remotely close to Yuri on Ice?

Made in Abyss (Ep. 11)

     Is it really implied that that blob thing might be Lyza? Just as Nanachi explained, everyone is told that she’s dead but her body wasn’t there, and now there’s this thing, showing some interest towards Riko. And Riko must be surprisingly lucky to get into the hands of someone that knows how to deal with injuries better than a shocked robot. Nanachi has something in common with Ozen – both feel very confident and look like they have perfectly adapted to their living conditions and to some extent look down on others that have far less experience. I think that if Ozen needed some supplies she could’ve easily sent Reg on a similar quest, also adding some not that absolutely necessary items to fetch. At least Nanachi seems to be far more approachable. Other than the story, the music once more gave the so needed mood of uncomfortable hastiness when Reg was gathering stuff. The theme played in Nanachi’s house also sounded distinctive enough. And the backgrounds again. It took me only a second but I think I fell in love with the spectacular (albeit filled with graves) Nanachi’s backyard. It feels even more like a safe haven than Ozen’s camp. What I didn’t appreciate was the butt-medicine as well as other jokes of the same level. At least it was clear it’s to be expected since there have been instances of such things earlier. Once the show finishes I’m definitely picking up the manga and it’s extremely likely I’ll catch up in one go no matter how much reading it will take.

Re:Creators (Ep. 22)

     Exactly like the whole show, the last episode is a mixed bag. Well, there weren’t many things this time that were done wrong, there simply were things that were left unfinished. Altair is barely mentioned and her abilities left unexplained and I certainly am not content with getting just “she’s omnipotent”. The episode also lacked Magane quit a lot. And now I’m not even sure if I’m totally dumb or there really was not even a mention about her once the main dude summoned Altair’s creator. Ok, Magane may have just infiltrated the society and nobody saw her ever after but come on, at least address that and don’t stand there happy saying that everyone has left while one of the most entertaining characters haven’t even showed up. The whole departure business also seems weird. It’s told that this mega-doujinshi everyone created is seen as a canon so if Selesia will be alive in Matsubara’s future writings, then isn’t it also true for all of the other creations? Looking this way, the characters that were transported to the normal world were just copies from the ones in the stories and the originals are still safe and sound in their own worlds, fully capable of continuing their own quests. So then what’s the point of returning? And how would you return? What will these new copied characters do if their places are already occupied? Also because the doujinshi was canon the original characters also should know everything that happened. Among these questions I still must find a place to praise the decision to leave Meteora at this world. But again, her game already has its own Meteora so she isn’t at all needed there, as aren’t any others. I guess going through the gate simply means committing a suicide then. By the way, knowing Meteora’s character I doubt her story would be very interesting – too many info-dumping and overlong talking scenes. If it’s implied that it was actually her who wrote Re:Creators, I can understand it because sometimes it’s inconceivable how uneven and full of holes the show has been. It’s certainly easier to believe to have been written by a newbie than an acclaimed mangaka like Rei Hiroe.

Sakura Quest (Ep. 25)

     “I wanna wasshoi!” Seems like the gene pool of Sandal’s hometown has some interesting talking patterns to offer. That as well as other tiny little touches made the goodbyes quite emotional. I don’t think I appreciated enough all the minute details that added up through this half a year to make me attached to the characters and feel rather sad knowing that the girls inevitably were going their separate ways and the project had fully run its course. It can be argued that the very last segment concerning the future of Yoshino didn’t need to be shown and some ambiguity probably would’ve been alright, or that the episode itself somehow felt a bit uneven and bumpy. Still, the conclusion is very fitting – it’s far better to end things on a high note when everything’s going well and there’re some hopeful future prospects than try to elaborate the story further and risk getting repetitive and boring. These lines that applied to the show itself also work well in Yoshino’s perspective. Manoyama has clearly learned much and even if some changes are more on a mental level and the number of immigrants may be as low as ever, the journey still ended right when it needed to. It’s very fitting to see so many people enthusiastically bidding Yoshino goodbye, especially as it contrasts with a shy and quite uncomfortable welcome ceremony way back. I’ll miss you, show.

Scattered Thoughts – why did Gyo fail?

     First of all – why is Gyo important? It isn’t, really. Still, there are a number of reasons why Gyo is worth investigating. For once, Junji Ito is a name you probably encountered if you’ve had any opportunity to familiarize with horror manga. Despite being popular, the only Ito’s work that has received an anime adaptation remains Gyo (which is interesting by itself), and Ito’s relation with anime remains relevant because of the new adaptation of some of his stories that has been announced some time ago. Returning to Gyo, its anime adaptation was made by ufotable, and that’s another interesting fact since at the time it was made the studio was just starting to build up its fame – Kara no Kyoukai movies weren’t as known and Fate/Zero had started half a year ago, but in times of Steins;Gate it was crucial not to be a studio known only for one good anime. Other ufotable’s projects had been even more obscure, so Gyo was a perfect opportunity to show off technical capabilities and affirm the name of the studio as one among the best in the industry. Still, the result seems to be rather frowned upon, so there arises a question – who’s at fault – Junji Ito or ufotable?

The former dental technician - sensei

     Junji Ito is an acclaimed mangaka and arguably one of the best in making horror stories. To be frank, that’s not really the truth. The truth is that Ito is incredible in thinking up how to mess with everyday world in order to bring horror elements and create an ominous and very unsettling atmosphere. His realistic and detailed drawings (especially all the unnatural and monster stuff) make every story far more disturbing. Still, the problem is that even if Ito knows how to get everything started, it seems like he has no idea how to conclude anything. More often than not the horror elements are so powerful that they sweep the ordinary world away and we get effectively an apocalypse. The characters usually are just left hanging with no clear conclusion when the things get so bad there’s no way of returning to at least a partially normal living conditions. On the other hand, Ito’s short works tend to stop right after the climax and thus leave some space to ponder what happened and what might happen next. It turns out that developing a story and providing a resolution sometimes is a worse choice than leaving an open ending exactly after the big reveal or a strong horrifying moment.

A walking fish?..

     Gyo in this context isn’t an exception. I guess the mystery of what exactly the horror elements are in this case is explained right away so it doesn’t really count as spoilers, does it? Anyway, you have been warned because the pleasure of seeing dead fish walking on seemingly mechanical legs is a pleasure you can’t miss. Ito has confirmed that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had been a huge influence on him. Ito just came to think that a more terrifying thing than a shark in a sea would be a shark that can walk on land. And walk on land it does. A story seems pretty basic as a couple of tourists in Okinawa (at first) – Kaori and Tadashi – start observing weird things and how they get out of control in a true Junji Ito fashion.

...yup, this walking shark...

     Why Gyo fails as a satisfying manga mainly rests on the choice of trying to explain the strange phenomena. It could be argued that characters also aren’t that good, which is quite true, especially in Kaori’s case. The girl mainly spends time in a neurosis state arguing with Tadashi quite annoyingly. Yet, I think that it at least gives some uniqueness as a fighting couple isn’t what you usually get as the main characters in any manga. Especially when things escalate you can’t really accuse anyone of acting the way they do – human tolerance to weirdness and horror isn’t infinite after all. Still, let’s leave the characters aside because the pseudo-scientific explanation that hardly feels plausible with the best wishes overshadows everything else. Of course you have to have germs that were secretly cultivated for military purposes. Even if that was an alright explanation, there’re still many things left in the dark – for example how does the gas produced by the germs can make dead bodies move in a non-random way and pursue people? Do the mechanical legs multiply? The story finally lost its momentum near the end when a totally bizarre and pretty random circus scene was inserted that doesn’t really feel like being from the same story and that is another recurring flaw of Ito’s manga.

...and a walking arm?

     Ito usually gets inspired by random daily events that are only a bit unusual or unexpected, be it a thought he had, a shop window he saw or a woman that looked in a particular way. Ito then takes these elements and works them into being more unsettling, not necessarily trying to make a horror manga. Such stories sometimes form larger narratives but as the mangaka doesn’t usually try to think particularly good ways to connect them, the end product might become anything from the cohesiveness of Uzumaki’s everything encompassing spirals to disjoint and having very little common elements stories like Black Paradox or Gyo itself.

The quite famous Amigara fault

     To go off on a tangent a bit, there are two short stories included in the published Gyo volumes. The Enigma of Amigara Fault is probably the most well-known and regarded  as one of the better of Ito’s works, examining the claustrophobia and at the same time morbid fascination with confined spaces. The story also can be a perfect example of Ito at his best – not trying to explain stuff too much and just leaving everything at the climax. Nevertheless, it’s the other story that appealed to me almost infinitely more than Gyo itself – The Sad Tale of the Principal Post spans only 4 pages and is impossible not to spoil but it shatters all of reader’s expectations and masterfully provides a totally unexpected conclusion which by its ridiculousness is able to overcome its unbelievability. It’s only 4 pages, please go and read it.

The new Kaori with her red-shirt...I mean red-skirt...
anyway, it's the new Kaori with her new friends

     Let’s now leave the manga and jump right to its anime adaptation, though in some respects it can hardly be called one. The first minutes of the anime already present plenty of differences – Kaori is the only main character (Tadashi’s left in Tokyo which means we hardly see him at all) and it’s two of her friends that the girl starts experiencing the fish attack. As the story moves on, it becomes clear that for the most part Kaori’s and Tadashi’s original roles are swapped. The couple’s struggle to survive gets transformed into quite a simple story of Kaori trying to find her boyfriend in all the confusion. Along the way she’s helped by a random journalist because you can’t have a story without a male lead, can you? Naturally you begin to wonder why there’re so many changes introduced. To some extent it’s understandable because having a strong female lead usually is commendable but the way it affected other parts of the story makes it barely Ito’s Gyo. And all these changes just seem pointless. Why would you introduce new characters and split the original experiences of Kaori and Tadashi when there was a completely normal and reasonable story in the manga? Also, the anime tried to appeal to all sorts of audiences, and that means that the horror isn’t the only thing you get in Gyo. The thing is that the anime in the beginning didn’t shy away from including fanservice, and fanservice of the most ridiculous level – Gainax jiggles, obligatory pointless sex and a woman getting undressed while trying to escape some nasty pursuer. Moreover, the said woman (try to guess which of Kaori’s friends she is) was just an original character made specifically for that purpose and Junji Ito could never have drawn anything like that. But even fanservice isn’t consistent – the creators forcefully added new scenes but somehow missed a shower scene in the original manga, and that scene even had some justification for being there.

Run, Forrest, run!

     When you watch the anime, you find some certain elements of the manga or scenes that clearly were inspired by the original Gyo, but in any case it remains only elements and the essence is lost. In such a case a walking octopus among all these fish becomes a pretext to introduce a tentacle scene. You know, tentacles? Any spirit of the manga and any element that makes Ito’s works recognizable as his own just simply vanished. At least in one respect the anime was equal to its counterpart – the questions concerning the mechanism by which the fish can walk, some other over the top moments involving the gas and a seemingly incomplete (although completely different) ending leave a lot to be desired.

Ito's stories never end well, do they?

     The animation belongs to an interesting period in ufotable’s history. Character designs try to be somewhat close to original manga ones but ultimately they end up being far more simplified and vastly different from the beauty of Ito’s art. At least usual Ito’s same-face-syndrome has been taken care of. The designs also are quite fluid – one moment you can even start guessing whether some rotoscoping was involved and other times you can wince uncomfortably at the seemingly unfinished product. Anyway, the designs come from a period when ufotable still cared to draw not as-pointy-as-you-might-prick-yourself (Tales series) noses, if any noses at all (Fate series). The backgrounds signify the point when the studio started moving to its present aesthetic, that being 3D more times than not, and that 3D looking quite lifeless and at odds with the 2D characters. Some 3D elements in Gyo look surprisingly well-made, as ufotable’s 3D department in general is quite adept at what they do, it’s just that it doesn’t really mesh with the 2D stuff. The studio might be excused because at the time of making Gyo the 2nd season of Fate/Zero was also in works but that’s only a fool’s argument. Even if 3D was done far better, I still think the story of Gyo was just more suited to be told in manga form. Bright colors clearly doesn’t retain the same ominous atmosphere that a usual black and white manga panels are able to achieve.

Psychedelic, but not that disturbing after all

As you see, Gyo is plagued by all sorts of trouble, and some of them came from Junji Ito himself while others were added by ufotable. Ito’s prime concern is to create unsettling imagery and what becomes of it and how it can be incorporated into a story (that should have an ending) seems to be of no bigger concern to him. It’s as likely as not that the longer stories of his will feel cohesive and finished and that is the main problem with his manga. Ufotable changed quite a lot in its anime adaptation and few of these changes were for good, or at least necessary and logical to begin with. From a historical perspective it was quite fun to see how a transition from the old ufotable to the new glossy aesthetic plagued by post-production gradients looked at some point. But yeah, Gyo makes little sense and even somehow you became interested in this cheap horror flick, go read the manga, especially the short stories.

     Have you ever encountered Gyo at some point? What do you think about Junji Ito’s storytelling and current aesthetic of ufotable?

Musings and Reflections – Summer 2017 Week 11

Ballroom e Youkoso (Ep. 10)

     The Akagi siblings’ history was revealed but I still see the Jerk as the Jerk. Only Mako’s wish to be paired with him now may be viewed in the light of knowing that she wants to perform so well that her skills would help her brother to win, and in that way she may repay her debt of having him agree to dance with her at the very beginning. Anyway, the episode felt extremely long and boring. This tournament arc is almost endless – I have no recollection about its start and no idea how stretched it’s going to be. And why is that? I guess one of the reasons is that the stakes are extremely low. Any shounen fight needs some struggling against the odds and it applies to a tournament arc even more. And what would happen if Tatara lost? Nothing, really. Sure, he’d be a bit upset for a day or two and the pairs would remain as they are. And what of it? Tatara should be happy that he managed to get an experienced partner at all in the first place, the Jerk has already shown what he thinks about Mako’s gratefulness and Mako-Tatara pairing is better because of their physicality. I don’t care what the Jerk wants or needs and the less I see him the happier I am. Finally Shizuku only now starts to develop a personality so I can’t say I care about her in the first place. Also I doubt she’ll remain with the Jerk once Hyoudo will get his leg healed. So yeah, it even looks that Tatara would gain more if he didn’t won this competition. So what’s the point in elaborating every single second of dancing? It’s getting anything but interesting. There was nothing really bad about the episode, it just didn’t have any highlights, animation (as always) included.

Made in Abyss (Ep. 10)

     Well. The episode. Right. I can’t remember when was the last time I watched anything like this. Anything as immersive, anything as dark or anything as well-made. Going out of the state of being absolutely astounded I can gloat a bit because I totally called that Riko will have to suffer physically. Still, I had no idea that the magnitude of the suffering would be as high. As if for every last bit of luck the pair already had Riko now needs to pay with her own blood, interest included, and that makes Reg as stressed as ever. Never has he looked as human as now. Don’t mention Reg’s arms and you’ll have no way of proving that he’s a robot. The visuals also definitely need mentioning. At first the surroundings were quite impressive (I wonder how the creators manage to think of so many different locations that change very organically) but it was the painful segments that stood out incredibly. Going extra miles in showing, say, Reg’s trembling hands, unstoppable bleeding and claustrophobic close-ups make the episode stand out by far compared to pretty much anything you can think of this season, and even longer than that. It’s just becomes excessively painful to watch. Still, Nanachi wasn’t impressed. It was actually a perfect time to introduce a new character – Ozen was already left, the pair received some time alone and now the things may liven up a bit once more. Nanachi as a being fully deserves an episode named after her – her origins, abilities and story are very intriguing, and Shiori Izawa found the right voice for the character. I also have to praise the scene were Reg applied first aid to Riko. Probably any other anime would’ve made Reg blush and shy away from a kiss but Made in Abyss once again treated the matter maturely – a life is far more important than aggravating and out of place anime-isms. Overall, it was just an excellent episode. I guess even after five or so years if I remember the show, it’ll be these very scenes that will be the most vivid. May we talk about saving anime again?

Re:Creators (Ep. 21)

     Knowing how dissatisfied I have been with some of the episodes and just ideas in general that the show chooses, I must say that everything is wrapping up pretty well. Last episode it seemed to me that it wasn’t possible to get a cohesive ending at all and now I stand corrected. Still, there’re things I’m not happy with. That Setsuna girl was created by the main dude, and he did that only basing everything on his memories. And let’s remember, he knew her for quite a short while, plus during the very last months he had absolutely no contact with her. So how authentic is this creation? It seems like the main guy was incredibly lucky theorizing how Setsuna must have felt, and that was a very far shot. Making a character that resembles an actual girl when you hardly spend any time with her and have no way of knowing what she thinks of sounds too good to be true. And Altair was surprisingly eager to swallow the bait, even knowing that everything was a sham. Maybe the real Setsuna died cursing the world and Altair and everything and everyone, spewing bitterness left and right. Who can tell? Well, on the other hand Altair wanted to know her creator in the first place so even a fake one might be better than no one. But still, Altair also had the right to react something like “you try to manipulate me? I’ll destroy you even more painfully!!”. The new Setsuna and the old one are completely different people – the former being just someone who the main guy wants her to be regardless of the actual person. Considering that, it was a gamble that ended surprisingly well. And why did the main guy loose his calmness? He already had broken down saying almost the same exact words. And getting emotional because he liked his creation and she forgave him is a bit too narcissistic, isn’t it? Also, why did Setsuna need to die once more? None of the other creations were affected by their story elements that were yet to happen. I hope the final episode answers the question about the mechanics of Altair’s entry into the world. If it turns out that she summoned other characters only because of her omnipotence, count me disappointed. And please let Magane do something. She’s severely underused.

Sakura Quest (Ep. 24)

     This episode and the final one probably should’ve aired as an hour special considering all the wrapping-up work that has already begun. In many cases the episode emphasizes how much everyone has grown and how better are the decisions that need to be made. Setting up such comparisons naturally adds some continuity and for a longer than one-cour show it’s always a welcome sight. Yoshino has already completed her arc of consciously deciding that a country isn’t that bad and this time she strengthened the notion by adding that the appeal of any job in any place also depends on the person himself and his outlook on everything. The crew as a whole used their knowledge not to trust TV producers who ultimately care only for their skins, and rejecting such an offer is even more important because the festival is being held for the locals as previous events proved that a transient surge of people doesn’t do any good in a long run. The scene also signifies a point when the old chief finally comes into terms with the notion that traditions aren’t necessarily a bad thing and in order to protect Manoyama as it is he needs to preserve what already makes Manoyama unique and any extra-weird initiatives (especially chupakabra related) might not always work. It’s also a bit odd but heartwarming to see the chief finally getting an idea that actually (and finally) might be a useful one. Other than that, exoskeletons and various returning people set a stage for a memorable last episode, reminding about all of the journey. I’ll be sad when the show ends. I guess the most thing I’ll miss will be the weirdness of Sandal. Just remember “watashi no roots”… As always he’s on a completely different level than anyone else.

Musings and Reflections – Summer 2017 Week 10

Ballroom e Youkoso (Ep. 9)

      A shounen protagonist performs normally but then comes a special move with a name that nobody understands! The same problems remain. Tatara improvises on the spot and Mako who should be “the flower” is forced to run after every single random wish of his. It’s ok that she’s able to do that but how a fresh pair in their first competition is able to perform like that? Also, I don’t understand what was the point in changing the music during the waltz routine. Yep, the new track was far more suspenseful and fitting but it’s not even a waltz anymore, is it? How then the visuals are meant to synchronize with the sound? There are countless ways of shifting the tone of a simple waltz music to suit the needs (I’m talking about you, ED) but nope, the show chose the easiest way. Hyoudo’s mom and Sengoku explaining stuff during the dance feels very awkward. They know all this stuff – why would they need to rethink up to the basics? I’m also still puzzled by the fact that Sengoku explains the rules of the competition to Tatara only during the competition. The audience voicing everything that’s clearly told visually can get very annoying. Also annoying is  endlessly repeating“make me bloom” and stuff. I got that the first time, you hear me? And that was the last episode, and that was already enough. I ponder how the show is going to continue since Tatara already seems like the best dancer in the world. There’s just no way for him to improve, and he only recently started dancing. On an unrelated note, with all these head tilts I wonder how this anime would look in Shaft’s hands.

Made in Abyss (Ep. 9)

     Not bad – a whole level per episode, and quite an eventful one. However, the scene in the beginning featuring other kids from the orphanage felt out of place. Yes, it reminded us that they still live high above and that was relevant during the hallucination scene but still. Anyway, for Riko it was a very healthy experience not to rely on Reg too much. Still, I’d expect that after all these events she’d become a little more cautious, but at this point I doubt even a serious injury could restrain her that much. At least Reg should address the issue that she wonders into nests of predators, moves him even after being told not to, finds some animal-eating plant that’s actually also an animal (I guess?) and stuff. So far luck has been incredibly on Riko’s side but I wonder how long that can be until she breaks a leg or gets her arm bitten off. The Abyss won’t go easier on the pair I presume. Getting back on the surface seems absolutely out of question since a mere hundred meters (or so) proves to be an incredible challenge compared to the vast height of roughly 6 kilometers to the ground level. A few fight scenes as expected were animated well enough but these cutesy cat-like creatures at certain moments were too CG. I wonder what fan reaction would’ve been if the show actually ended with Riko coming up with her mother and it had been actually Lyza who found her. In such a case the director should be given a medal for trolling and financial support to make any anime he would like.

Re:Creators (Ep. 20)

     Well, I don’t buy it. It’s a mess all around. What’s the point in all of the buildup if you still are going to throw omnipotent characters all around and revive anything you can? Probably there’re many people both in the anime and in real world that approve of such twists but I’m definitely not one of them. In principle anything that is omnipotent is boring as hell because it can win against anything. The idea of two omnipotent characters fighting or someone reviving dead people like crazy (come on, then let’s go from the beginning, starting with Mamika, Alice and Selesia) is in theory just a deadlock for any story. Escaping such a deadlock is even worse, so say what you will but my acceptance got as low as it can. I don’t even want to think why they got Altair’s creator involved at all if everyone thought that making Altair’s copy was a perfect plan. The whole idea of Sirius negating Altair is also shady to say the least but I can’t say anything because we have damn omnipotent characters. And why did Altair became so popular in the first place? How does a random scribble become more popular than decent characters in widely known stories? Is there a precedent for that in the real world? Please name any such character more popular than, say, Goku. And why doesn’t anyone else have these fanfiction abilities? And one more – I don’t really get how Altair is planning to destroy everything, why does she need so much acceptance and why doesn’t she just kill everyone with her pinky? I probably could think a thousand more damn questions and some of them might be unfair or plain wrong but I just got a bit emotional because for me everything just doesn’t make any sense.

Sakura Quest (Ep. 23)

     Somehow the problems encountered in this episode seem to be very artificial. Well, more like artificially implemented. First of all I doubt there would be only one shop whose owners wouldn’t live on the second floor. For the movie arc quite a few empty houses were found so why there’s only one suitable shop in all of the town? Also, if that Akiyama guy was burnt only because of monetary reasons and he is conscious about that, isn’t it possible for someone else to be a witness in any financial transactions? Chitose herself could’ve easily given her word that Akiyama would only need to give the keys and receive the money without being concerned at all. Come on, if you’re so cautious, ask for a lawyer and make a contract. If a shop is able to withstand the competition in Tokyo, they probably mean business. I was also annoyed by the final few minutes when the incorporation plans were revealed. That bigger city came out of nowhere. Why we haven’t heard about it until now if it’s so big and growing that Manoyama could stand in a way of it? Well, the first problem could’ve been easily resolved only by decent arguments and no such fuss, and the second one just came out of nowhere. Sure, the girls need some stuff to take care about for the show to be interested, but please make more effort in thinking everything up. By the way, it’s admirable that the characters try to reach decisions that would benefit each and every one of Manoyama’s citizens but actually that’s the drawback of democracy – you either end up being in a deadlock because the opinions of some people are simply incompatible or you have to stay with the majority in order to accomplish anything but that at the same time inconveniences the minorities. Any way you think, it’s not an option in order to run a town smoothly.

 

Light Novel Corner – Baccano! Vol. 1 The Rolling Bootlegs

     To start from the very beginning, on this blog I’ve been mainly sharing my thoughts on various anime and just occasionally glossing over some manga. Recently this trend was challenged by a random post about a JRPG. Still the main focus remains anime and it only happens that sometimes I feel a need to share my opinions not about a particular anime itself but about its sources. It’s no secret that nowadays it’s almost exceptional to get an original anime – manga adaptations have been an ongoing trend for a long while but another similar tradition hasn’t been represented on this blog in the slightest, and that is the popularity of light novels. Without much search it seems to me that light novels aren’t that widely talked about, so there’s a niche that could be filled. On the other hand, reading isn’t something you can do easily while eating your breakfast or multitasking in other ways so the audience of light novels isn’t that big. Usually the interest declines once the anime adaptation ends (more often than not in not the most satisfying way) and a statistical person even with the best wishes to know “what happened after that?” gets his hopes smashed by unavailable (or available but in a pretty bad fan-translational way) and often enormously long series that keeps growing every second month or so. Recently there has been some quite convenient improvements in the sense of availability but it’s still a big investment to get into any light novel series. So yeah, the niche seems to be here and as someone who doesn’t shy away from a decent read, I thought that giving an opinion or two about some quite well known (or not) light novel series book-by-book wouldn’t hurt, especially if you as myself want to know what really happened next, even more so if an anime adaptation left you unsatisfied. And even among rather well-received anime adaptations I doubt there has been many series that fans craved to be translated more than Baccano!.


Author Ryohgo Narita
Illustrator Katsumi Enami
Genres Action, Historical, Supernatural
Published 2003 (JP) / 2016 (EN)
Pages 224
.

     The first volume of the series, subtitled The Rolling Bootlegs, wastes little time to throw the reader right into New York City of 1930. As expected, gang business takes a prominent place in such a setting but on the other hand it’s balanced by other elements, such as unexpected inclusion of things like an elixir of immortality. Probably a third of the appeal of the story comes from the fact that such a weird combination of ideas actually was made to work. The Rolling Bootlegs basically examines the idea of what would happen if alchemy truly existed in the Prohibition era.

   Still, it’s not the story that makes Baccano! unique. The Rolling Bootlegs has quite a few quite diverse characters and naturally quantity and quality are interchangeable. The characterization is minimal but often strong enough to leave deep enough impression so that the reader won’t begin to wonder why everyone is so one-dimensional and more often than unchanging. There are some noteworthy individual characters like Firo, a young almost-member of one gang, Szilard, an old evil dude, Ennis, his homunculus (that meaning an artificial human that can be mind-controlled), Dallas, a wealthy thug, and Isaac with Miria, a pair of ridiculously lucky idiot bandits. The level of characterization can be seen from the mere fact that Isaac and Miria have a single wiki page dedicated for both of them. Some cheesiness in such motives as “I was looking for you because you were attractive” also must be pointed out. As you see, characters come a dime a dozen and limited length of the volume doesn’t really let to explore much, especially since the web of interconnections takes some time to be established. Generally that’s not a problem because the characters are just tools for the story to evolve. Sometimes you can wonder if the story isn’t a character itself – wickedly pushing one character or another in a particular way so that all the individual little stories intertwine into one giant intricate web of coincidences. And that’s the biggest charm of Baccano! – as you run through the pages you aren’t that interested in the fortunes of most of the characters – the main question remains how everything will continue to develop and what will come out of different encounters between the characters.

     Characters themselves might not be aware of all the connections and coincidences and it gives the reader even more satisfaction when you can sit on your high (and all-knowing) horse and smirk because you get that two characters that for example crossed each other at a street had far more in common than random passerby should have. Knowing the full story when the characters are aware only of some parts of it somehow is very satisfying. However, that feeling is restrained because some remarks by the narrator point out that he knows even more than the readers.

“We’ve robbed eighty-seven places, and in all that time, have I ever put you in danger?”
“About eighty-seven times.”
“…………”
“…………”
“There, you see?! It’s not even a hundred yet!”
“You’re right! That’s amazing!”

—Issac and Miria being Isaac and Miria—

     One thing I was left wondering about was the nature and summoning of the demon who granted the immortality elixir. Sure, it was portrayed to be an extraordinary event but also it was given only the smallest part of the book and its purpose was only to justify having immortal gangsters. Still that leaves a lot of unknown during this earliest time period not to mention the idea that a demon can so easily manifest to people. All these problems and lose ends basically arise from the limited space of the genre – I’m sure sooner or later Ryohgo Narita will be (or have already been) forced to elaborate aspects of the story that need that and at the same time can provide some entertaining story material.

     As a starting point of the long series (Baccano! as of now has 22 light novels and it’s not finished yet) the first novel isn’t the best example of how you should do it. The Rolling Bootlegs can even be viewed as a self-contained story that doesn’t absolutely require much more exploration. The mindset of the grand story in the first place is just portraying a segment of characters’ lives and they naturally extend more than can be stuffed into a one specific story, so inevitably some minor quips are here. Still, the main plot is resolved (the culmination was enormously and unexpectedly lengthy though) and even the very ending is a few words short of “and they lived happily ever after”. This stand-alone quality doesn’t retract anything from the bigger picture, it’s just not a very usual way of wrapping up things when everyone wants to grab attention and make enough space for future sequels at the same time strongly hinting at them.

     I guess some words about the relationship between the light novels and the anime need to be said. The anime adapts first few novels but there the storylines are all intentionally mixed up. On one hand you get even a better impression about the hectic swings of fate but for me it felt a bit too confusing. You need to pay all your attention not to get lost between the storylines, even though by themselves they are fairly simple and linear. Shared characters, especially when you still aren’t familiar with them, suck you into a mess that’s quite hard to disentangle. I’m not even talking about the first episode that screamed “hey, I’m complicated, hey, sucks to be you, hey!”.

“Quietly, the spiral of destiny turned.”

—The Narrator knows it all—

     Another quite apparent difference is that the novel uses a framing story that is absent from the anime – a Japanese tourist just hears the story from a certain someone. The fact that the whole immortality (and fast wound healing) is talked about in the framing story detracts some of the mystery elements that surrounded the anime where a fresh viewer didn’t know that he could expect such things. To be frank, it’s a bit weird how matter-of-factly immortality, alchemy and summoning demons is presented. I think in this case I prefer the more subtle reveal of everything in the anime. Compared to the realistic world of 1930s (minus immortality but that isn’t a game-changer) the fact that you have to use demons (do demons ex machina exit?) to justify the core events of the story feels like pushing too far, especially since at least at this volume no demon has any prominent role at all.

     Reading Baccano! makes it very clear why the genre is called light novel – the text easily flows through your eyes and you’re left with a wish to get more of the same but after some time you begin to feel like having eaten some fast food – it was tasty but still not the best food in the world. To be praised and remembered, Baccano! needs to elaborate its characters, maybe offer a longer story and some explanations about elements that were just glossed through.

 I believe, this light novel is

 2Decent

     Should you read it? If you enjoy insanely paced fast-food books, yeah, definitely grab a bite. Still, it’s not as attractively complicated as the anime seems to imply. Nevertheless, reading enjoyment at least for was certainly there, and not only because I want to know the source material well and then take advantage of the opportunity to know what happened after the anime ended.

Musings and Reflections – Summer 2017 Week 9

Ballroom e Youkoso (Ep. 8)

     It pisses me off that the tournament is made to look like it’s Tatara dueling with the Jerk and their partners (who just can’t keep up with both of the dance geniuses) are there only because the rules say so. Come on, it’s a pair sport, isn’t it? Even Hyoudo who tells Tatara not to dance alone seems to treat women only as if there were some props: “You need to make Mako a better dancer…”. Well, maybe just talk to Mako then, wouldn’t you? She has danced for quite a while and knows everything far better than a plain copycat that Tatara is. As if there is some magical switch that Tatara needs to find in order to make his partner better. And no, Mako has no say in this thing. Why would she? When Shizuku gets in the competitive mood it’s only because she wants to impress her ex-partner, and Mako also does the same exact thing. Even if the show’s focus is rather on the relationships of the characters I think it still should give more information about the dancing itself, not to mention ANIMATING THE DAMN THING! Some of the character interactions this time definitely were expressive but come on, I know that you can make a dancing cut longer than 2 seconds. I understand that Tatara is a beginner and Sengoku also just took a new mentor role (wait, that’s just like Victor from Yuri!!! on Ice) but simply forgetting to mention the importance of stamina is unbelievable. Is Tatara so unhealthy that every single person dancing only loses a breath when he seems to be on the verge of asphyxiation? Stamina needs to be built but didn’t Tatara practice his whole routine even once to see his capabilities? Please tell me what does the show’s fixation on Hyoudo’s mother (well, more often than not a certain part of her to be more exact) gives to the story.

Made in Abyss (Ep. 8)

      I wish the show spent more time revealing how Riko and Reg spent their training days. Apart from annoying flies and that hippo thing (yep, Kou Yoshinari again but as always the monsters get awfully little screen time) the trip seemed to be going rather ok and problems only mentioned could’ve been a good way for further characterization and development. Still, even if the level wasn’t explored to my satisfaction the overall mood of the show has gotten more serious compared to the sunlit school-walks during the first episodes. You really need to push yourself and level up in order to go deeper. The flashbacks a bit humanized Ozen showing her fondness of Lyza, may I guess the only friend she had. The Abyss truly is powerful if it’s able to connect two so different characters who on the first glance shouldn’t have any common points to share. Lyza has been featured quite a lot lately (and only now I realized she’s voiced by Maaya Sakamoto. Cool!) but Riko’s father remains a mystery. Was he truly just a usual bland anime protagonist, loved for his “kindness”? Lyza definitely couldn’t get an overall satisfying friendship from Ozen and seemed to be fairly outgoing person so having lots of very different friends wouldn’t be unnatural but still Riko’s father is another intriguing part of the show.

Re:Creators (Ep. 19)

      Well, that was something. I guess I wasn’t the only one who doubted the show and was if not annoyed then at least disappointed by endless stream of recaps (to be frank it wasn’t bad, but a recap remains a recap) and episode-less weeks. Now I think it was worth it. Animation alone compensated quite a lot of static talking scenes in the past – the show’s really determined to gather all of the fan following it has been slowly losing. When there’s plenty of action scenes Hiroyuki Sawano may feel like a god – he’s in his own territory and even if the insert songs were not unique, their task of pumping excitement up to eleven was accomplished well. Turning now to the meat of the episode, I don’t think Alice’s death was as impactful as Mamika’s. Of course it did give more gravitas to the story, especially when paired with such phrases like “you only have a supporting role in this story”. Nonetheless, I feel that Alice reverted to the rightful side too quickly and almost completely off-screen. After that she was featured only marginally so Alice with a changed worldview wasn’t seen enough for me to start caring about her a lot. Yes, she was a nice girl but not more than that. Her death also brings an ongoing issue – we still have no idea how much the creators are able to influence the ongoing story – did Alice’s creator really killed her off? If yes, then was it done for the approval of the viewers (not the most elegant way of getting that then)? If not, then to what point he has written Alice’s storyline – did the reality negate that? Even if we take another matter – Matsubara was clearly astounded by Selesia’s decision so that would mean that he wasn’t the one who crafted such a twist. But then again – to what point has he written everything and how much freedom do the characters really have? I don’t think Selesia died – killing two pretty important characters in a single fight isn’t as impactful as killing them separately over a longer time. Plus, we didn’t see the pixels that appear when a character dies. Anyway, knowing that Meteora was able to revive Blitz’s kid I wouldn’t be so sad neither about Alice nor about Selesia no matter their fates. Not to mention that Magane and the main guy so far haven’t shown their cards. Still, having ability of revival is a double edged sword and I’m afraid the show may cut itself in some way. Speaking about other matters, there’s still stopping to talk mid-fight and fighting weirdly (why didn’t Selesia and 2nd-rate-Shinji fight Charon together? Don’t tell me two robots (and one of them a giant-ass one) can’t obliterate a single one). I guess that’s just how things in many anime are.

Sakura Quest (Ep. 22)

      It seems like with Erika’s tooth also came out a bit of her childish stubbornness. It’s very true that sometimes any arguments of a third party simply can’t make a difference and only a very close person can help to appreciate other opinions. It’s also a lesson of maturity for Erika – she may as well go and live in Tokyo but even if her mother’s opinion isn’t relevant (probably because of dim future prospects), she isn’t the only one who deeply cares about Erika. The ending also very satisfyingly made things click – ideas borrowed from Warabiya also brought more light to the streets of Manoyama – just the thing Erika wanted. Maybe that also had some effect since in the end (as expected) Erika decided to settle down for a time being and even acknowledged Shiori’s opinion as having right to be valid. Maybe there might have been more to this story but with only 3 episodes left the festival stuff will probably completely usurp the scene. Somehow it’s comforting that as with other two treasures, the search of the Golden Dragon also turned out not be that trivial.