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’.

 

 

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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Hyou-ka: You can’t escape

The best show of the season is over. And by season, I mean both of the cours that it was airing through.

I could write two or three paragraphs eloquently praising the animation quality, but screw that, you already know that Hyouka is gorgeous. In fact, I kind of have the feeling that this attribute of the show is starting to turn into some sort of passive agressive insult, with people implying or outright stating that it is nothing more than pretty visuals.

But that’s far from being true. Sure, KyoAni’s animation skill was needed to make it visually interesting, for example a J.C. Staff adaptation would have been incredibly bland,  but that isn’t the original plot’s fault. Hyouka has many positive attributes, deep characters, clever mysteries, and a well-presented overarching theme, but it was very obviously intended to be a literary work. It needed the little details, symbolisms, atmospheric touches, body language and facial expressions, perfectly outlining the already existing details of the setting, that only KyoAni could provide in the Anime industry.

It’s also a good proof of how worthless our “first episode impressions” posts can be. Along with Kokoro Connect, both shows were seen at first almost exclusively in terms of “looks like K-on LOL”, and “Predictable character archetypes, LOL”, then episodes later, both series proceeded to have some of the most in-depth psychological analyses and character development in any anime over the past years. Yes, Houtarou is an audience surrogate, but only as much as any point-of-view protagonist is an audience surrogate. Beyond that, he also managed to be a unique character in his own right, instead of just a condescending parody of the target audience.

One of my primary ways to define a great story, is that it is something that I can’ stop thinking about after it ends. What happened next? What could have happened differently? What was going on with the others? I’m so curious!

Hyouka is a great example of that, one of the few since I started following anime episodically. For that, it gets a 9/10 from me, and gets into my top 15, only below the quadrumvirate of Haruhi, FLCL, Death Note, and Legend of The Galactic Heroes.

If anyone  would ask anime recommendations with the intent of getting into the current anime fandom, Hyouka would be one of my first default recommendations (assuming that no special genre interest is mentioned). It has everything that makes anime anime: High school clubs, cultural festival, tsundere, moe, unspoken love interests, giant sparkling eyes, cherry blossoms… and it’s all done well. This is what even the most average, mundane, genre-conforming anime could be, if at the very least it would be well-written, well-animated, and well-acted.

Nothing groundbreaking, just a beautiful story.

Fall Anime List and random comments

I haven’t been posting a lot lately. I do have various themes to write about, actually I’m collecting them on a sticky note, it’s just that I haven’t actually been watching a lot of anime lately, so I first wanted to enrich the blog with some direct anime discussion, based  on my recent experienced, before even more rants about fandoms and phrases and opinions in general.

It’s not that I’m no longer interested in anime, but in the past months, it had to share my time with my rediscovered enjoyment of western media. Specifically, I just got into Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy franchise (those things are ridiculously deep), and also started to watch Stargate SG-1 from the beginning. I’m learning to appreciate anime’s brevity from a whole new angle. SG-1 alone has twice as many episodes as Legend of the Galactic Heroes, each of which are twice as long. It’s not even just the filler episodes, but the whole directing. 30 second  scenery shots, ten seconds of dialogue pauses, even the OP is slow! And this is supposed to be American TV’s idea of explodey action!   If an anime would have this many atmospheric scenes, it would be called an atmospheric ~healing~ anime by half of the fandom, and ~boring~ by the other.  By the way, I like it, it’s just interesting to be reminded of how if we look at this the other way around, even the very basic elements of anime, that we take for granted, like the pacing, might be inherently strange for anyone else.

Anyways, welcome to September, the end and beginning of the eternal cycle. Soon one season ends, another one begins, so here we are, vocalizing our disappointments and pleasant surprises of this season, and our hopes and wishes for the upcoming one. As usual, I’m only listing that I have a reasonable chance of checking out, in descending order of expectations actually, after finishing the list, I just realized that I can barely find anything that I’m truly hyped for, and very few that I truly expect to be crap but still checking out, so no, they are in no meaningful order:

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Phrases that I hate: Fanservice

No, this won’t be about how “fanservice”  used to have a broader definition before it got limited to ecchi scenes. I have no reason to hate it because of that, words change their meanings all the time. My problem is with the “fan-” part, and it applies to both definitions.

When did we, as a fandom, decide that what fans what is the shallowest, most pavlovian, most inconsequential elements of a story? You certainly wouldn’t get that picture just from listening to us. When was the last time you heard a fan declaring that they want more fanservice? Not just “tolerating it in moderation”,  or “not particularly minding it”, but actively demanding that a certain show needs more fanservice?

And when was the last time when you heard a fan complaining about too much fanservice? Or rather, how many times did you hear it today?

Even in our day and age, with “nerd” and “geek” becoming something that we identify with rather than something that bullies insult us with, and with “fan” transforming from the original “fanatic” into a synonym of “liking something”, there are still several ways used to socially pressure us not to indulge in too much fannish behavior, pushing us towards the mainstream, away from any sign of “obsessiveness” or “fanboyism”.

For example I’ve already wrote about the curious case that we have such an annoyingly overused term as “weeaboo” for a type of excessively japanophile fans, yet we don’t even have any term for their ideological opposite, the kind of anime fans who seem to hate everything about anime’s japaneseness, and motivated by wanting to appear as “normal” as possibe. In the previous edition of this “Phrases that I hate” series, I just wrote about “pandering“, and how inconsistently it is only ever used against well-defined stereotypes of fandom groups (e.g.: fujoshi-pandering, otaku-pandering, moe-pandering) , to divide us into hostile groups, but never to describe general cases of other shallow story elements  that are intended to grab someone’s attention.

Even outside of the world of anime, there are many similar examples, with fans trying to put themselves outside of fandoms, to give the impression that they are the only “true fan”, while those under the fandom label are all hive-minded sheeple who are being manipulated with bells and whistles.

The problem with “fanservice” is the same. It’s a phrase invented by the fandom, and popularized by the fandom, to express the feeling that the rest of the fandom is full of idiots. To make you feel better about not being one of those dirty, obsessive perverts down there in the fandom, who can be influenced with panty shots and beach episodes, but a classy, intellectual audience of the series who wants more depth, and more art and more plot.

Which is, of course, a silly idea. Fans are the last people who would want to see a show to become more shallow. The only ones who are attracted to these shallow elements such as ecchi scenes, gratuitous violence, or random shout-outs to other popular series, are exactly the most casual audiences, who just happened to tune to that channel and it catched their attention.  Calling it “fanservice” just pointlessly fuels the fandom’s self-loathing, and hostility against each other.