Reviewers failing at objectivity

Every judgement about a show’s overall quality, has some inherently subjective elements. Whether the basic setting is interesting, whether the heroine is cute enough (or too cute), whether the jokes are funny. We aren’t even pretending to be more right about these than others. (Except for the ones who are building up a comically arrogant “my opinion > your opinion” persona).

And then, there are some cases where we are pretty confident that we must be right about measuring the clues of quality in a tangible way. About whether or not the plot made sense, about it’s number of unresolved plotlines, about the visual quality…

…about it’s amount of kittens…

and then, we have these reviews and first impressions about Little Busters pouring in:

 

 

The initial scenes are attention-grabbing and expertly used to the episode’s advantage, successfully capturing the interest of even someone like me who went into the show fully expecting to hate it. Music aside, JC Staff’s production on this title is quite admirable and unusually high quality by their standards. The voice acting and aforementioned direction are great, while the art and animation remain above average at all times (believe me, that’s high praise for something by JC Staff).

Froggle – Animation Revelation 

As expected, the second episode was an excellent fit to the first episode; we know the characters better, what situations have arisen, and what will likely happen next. The show sprinkles some foreshadowing around, so while we know that some plot is headed our way, it’s still ambiguous what it is. J.C. Staff is sticking closely to the visual novel, almost scene by scene. Can’t really mess that up.

Amoirsp – Desu ex Machina

Sure enough, Little Busters! is far from phenomenal. The second episode was downright painful to watch because I could notice the potential of the jokes lifted from the VN, and yet much of their momentum was lost due to incompetent execution. The sub-par graphical look is a pity as well, as traditionally JC Staff has at least been able to deliver decent visuals if nothing else.

NovaJinx – Jinx!

If you’ve seen a good JC Staff project – Ano Natsu for example – you know what to expect here. Pretty fluid animation, and pretty good depth of field in the backgrounds – a trade-off, to some extent, for the typical JC Staff muted color schemes and soft focus. If it lacks the vibrancy, minute detail and ridiculous smoothness of a top KyoAni project, LB also has very good character designs that go beyond the over-the-top kawaii of KyoAni’s Key adaptations.

Guardian Enzo – Random Curiosity

As for Little Busters, it has its problems story-wise, but most of the problems are related to the direction and editing. And it is baaaaddddd. Simply put, it’s not fun to riff on an anime that is incompetently put together rather than just having a terrible story. Word of advice, never trust a director whose works include something called Kill Me Baby.

flawfinder- Standing on my Neck

You get pretty much the same wherever you look. From people speaking in hyperbole about how unwachably ugly it is and J.C. Staff isn’t even trying, to people praising them for being almost but not quite as good as KyoAni, with every other opinion in-between. About how the great music is “compensating” for the bad visuals, and how the music is lazily and uneffectively thrown in.

I’m not commenting on any of these specifically, but there is something amusing about how  collectively, we can’t even look at the shows that J.C. Staff usually does, then at Little Busters, and decide whether it looks much better, much worse, or about the same.

Just sayin’.

 

 

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Rape season!

So it has come to this. From this new season, we already have two shows that brought in major rape themes, and one other  that had a throwaway rape comment causing a major shitstorm. In case you missed one of them:

  •   The first episode of Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun had a scene, where the socially clueless and sometimes unpredictably silly male protagonist suddenly grabbed the heroine, covered her mouth, dragged her to an alley, and said “if you make one sound I will rape you”. Then she nodded, and they had amusing random adventures together.
  •    The first episode of Psycho-Pass demonstrated the police team’s job, and the sci-fi setting’s functioning, with the case of a psychotic madman on the run, who kidnapped and raped one passerby woman during the episode. The same psycho-pass meters that first warned the police that the man is about to go crazy, now also marked the rape victim as unstable. After even more traumatic experiences, she was so screwed up that she almost had to be put down (according to the same psycho-pass system), but then the newbie protagonist policewoman managed to calm her down and merely institutionalize her.
  •    The second episode of Btooom! presented the backstory of the heroine Himiko, as the following: she got involved with a band of obviously dangerous-looking boys, and introduced her girlfriends to them. Later they invited the girls to their apartment. Himiko got there last, and found two of the girls raped and unconscious, while the third one was crying to her for help. She ignored the cries, escaped and called the police, who arrested the rapists.  The three girls were transferred to another town and the friend she abandoned now hates her for it. Then Himiko got to the video game island where there are no rules. There she almost got raped by a fat smelly loser, and felt that this is her punishment for her crimes, but then activated a bomb, choosing to kill both of themselves rather than getting raped. The fat loser saw that and tried to  run away, so she threw the bomb after him.
  •    Oh, and there were two other shoujo shows, with lots of nonconsensual kissing, and bishies pinning girls against walls in that typical bishie pose, and generally acting shoujo-ish.

So, yeah. Rape has been discussed in the aniblogosphere a lot recently. First of all, let’s clarify my own stance: I don’t think, that rape should be held to any different standard than other kinds of violence. Explicit glamorization of rape porn is not different from explicit glamorization of violence. Black comedy gags about rape are not different from any other black comedy gags. And gratuitous Rape as Backstory isn’t more offensive than any other badly executed gratuitous tragedy.

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Zetsuen no Tempest – The expectation blaster

I am no ordinary blogger: My dreams come true! Just after I finished writing my bitching about K being too pointlessly original, here is the best first episode of the season I have seen so far, from Zetusen no Tempest, demonstrating everything that I just said.

Zetusen no Tempest has it all: Dead little sisters, a secret society of mages, the looming end of the world, an obsessive antihero… and it works! The orchestra music, the ham acting, the Shakespeare quotes, and the rawness of the plot add up to a feeling of a larger-than-life heroic epic,  much in the same way as the apples and the Dies Irae chants in Death Note give a mystical effect, or the classical music and Prussian costumes make LogH appear as deep and sophisticated.

It also helps, that it didn’t try to shove dozens of made-up words, and yet unknown characters in my face. Too many shows feel the need to give some sort of hook to make me watch the next episode, to prove that they have lots of content figured out, and show that I’m being thrown into deep water, and they do that by hinting at lots of backstory, and presenting incomprehensible character motivations. But the ting is, that I don’t need that. I already know that stuff will happen in the following episodes, because that’s what stuff does: It happens. I don’t need to leave an episode with quastions like “how did those giant swords appear over the city”, or “why is this character supposed to be the protagonist acting so strange”. You can just show me the premise of Mahiro, Yoshiro, and Hakaze fighting against evil mages, with good presentation and writing, and I will make the assumption that twists and turns will follow them on their adventure.

Thanks.

K, and the dangers of originality

It is common, both in the anime fandom, and in other media fandoms, to use phrases such as “originality”, “innovation”,  as synonyms of “good”, while dismissing all “formula”, and “trope” and “cliché” as signs of being bad.

Then again, it is also common, to argue against that, and claim that there is nothing truly original in the world, and it is the execution that matters, not that it is comparable to the things before it. In my experience, that argument usually takes a back seat, and normally only brought up as an excuse for why the speaker’s favorite show still happens to take place in a high school, or involve a mysterious girl dropping into a boy’s life.  But in principle, we all seem to agree, that the more innovation the better, and the more clichés the worse. So what’s behind this?

The way I see it, we all like to be surprised by the stories that we watch, but at the same time, to be surprising, every story needs to build from pre-existing expectations. We sometimes dismiss a show like Accel World or Sankarea with the claim that they are unoriginal, because they are so predictably following their genre conventions, that  you can pretty much tell how the characters will behave based on their hair color, and when starting an episode, have the unshakable feeling that the last scene will end with the protagonist shouting “Eeeehh???” while a girl moves in with him. They fail at surprising you so spectacularly, that you might as well be watching another show for the second or third time, and that would be just as exciting.

Then we have a show like K. Everyone can see that it’s original, even the first few scenes tell that much:

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