Category Archives: Fractale

Year in Review: N-Listing

So, the tradition continues. 12 lists of 12 things. Some are ranked, others are not. One this year is not ranked but merely numerated.

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Year in Review: Working Hard Writing

Urobuchi Gen has a breakout year in 2011 between Fate/Zero and Madoka, but we already know Butch is the kind of writer that now more people have come to know. Beats trying to watch Blassreiter or Phantom of the Inferno lol (not a knock, just the truth…I still need to play the game version of the latter). However I want to talk about Okada Mari’s work some more.

Okada is responsible for at least four notable shows this year: Fractale, Hanasaku Iroha, Anohana, and Hourou Musuko. I think it is in Hourou Musuko that her writing really came off well. Given how much that deviated from the original manga, there may be enough space to infer that her style carried a relatively brisk adaptation (Note that it is directed by the director of Fate/Zero, which is probably no coincidence) into the animation medium with a lot of punch. In fact, there’s just something magical about the whole experience. It’s like, laced nostalgia or something potent. And I don’t even care about the whole genderbending aspect at all; the supporting cast of characters are all wonderful and the chemistry is well balanced, dramatic and entertaining enough to keep things moving without getting dragged down by the weight of its seriousness.

I find it so wonderful that if I had to list my top 2011 anime, it would be between that, Madoka, and Steins;Gate. It had me, actually, at the OP.

Hanasaku Iroha is, more relevantly, a Okada original. I think the story is really basically about the nature of work and career in the life of, in some mainline, culturally accepted sense, a woman. However I think it’s important to see how there’s this double talk of sorts in light of what is happening to Ohana versus her mom. I think it is right that so many people hated on Satsuki but I think she is the one thing that makes the story at all credible–it isn’t about societal expectation or doing what society think is right. It’s about actually having that heart of a mom. I mean that is ultimately the issue; people cannot be held to uniform standards when it comes to parenting, or so it would be the framework that I interpret the story.

The career side of HanaIro is probably less thorny but just as tricky. On one hand you have Sui doing her thing at the end of the series, and on the other hand you have someone like Satsuki who pursuits it without regards to the other women in her life. I think it might just want to paint an image where there is conflict and there is no harmony, but people are still able to prioritize what is important in their lives and resolves things in respect to that. It is here that I can see some people raise a stink about its anti-feminist message. It really doesn’t bother me: if I was a feminist I would not be a fan of Japanese animation at all.

The truth is, it becomes more a cultural contextualization problem. If we can either power through or sidestep that, Hanasaku Iroha is a fairly sharp series, perhaps mired in the typical, 26-episode style of presentation that had to feature the backstory of everybody. But make no mistake; it is about a woman’s work. And that is an empowering message in a society where women have always been treated poorly than men.

It made me wonder a couple things: how much of HanaIro was taken out of a page from her life? And what was it like working on that and working on Fractale at around the same time? LOL. As we know, Fractale is the brainchild of Yamakan, cultural critic Hiroki Azuma (who authored that Database Animal nonsense that I refer to all the time) and Okada. I think it’s unfortunate that it didn’t end up doing well, but it makes you wonder what went on between the three of them. You would think that there’s probably potential for something great. I guess it doesn’t always work out that way.

There was also Anohana. It is a very charming and bittersweet story featuring likable characters despite the somewhat predictable path of character development they were on. It is also a little way too sappy, and unfortunately (and ironically) something I find difficult to remember 6 months later. The smiling-crying Menma-face and the sexually-charged nicknames (MANMA wwwww) of our cast of characters aside, Anohana leaves me little to go on besides to wonder how many other references to Forget-me-Not it can squeeze in that 12-episode package. Like Okada’s other stories, it is a very tightly-woven package. I mean if we can boil HanaIro down into the same size it will probably have the same overall format. Both shows have a fairly “slow” segment just after the half-way point in which the story builds up to the dramatic conclusion, and Anohana remedies that drastically thanks to its limited length.

Looking back, I think again the TV anime packing issue is still the one most consistently problematic thing for me when I poke at these works at the big picture level. Urobuchi’s style, in contrast, makes tighter packages–think of it like a HBO mini series–for the same format. Still, it makes me wonder how much you could fit in that 22-minute package every week, with enough of a build-up and release, and keep enough suspense for next week. It cannot be that easy.

Yet if you think about it, given how prolific Okada is in 2011, for whatever the reason, she is probably batting above average overall. I am someone who typically puts down the contribution of writers to quality of TV anime narratives, because I think in general fans elevate that aspect beyond its due worth, but certainly writers (especially people who come up with this stuff from scratch) are important parts to the creative core that brings every anime to their inevitable conclusion. Between them and the directors, the fate of many anime is in their hands even before the horse is out of the gate, and if anything 2011 is definitely the year that demonstrated this.

Something to leave you with: Okada wrote 9 episodes of Simoun and worked on True Tears (both Nishimura projects). She is credited for series composition for Bantorra.  This is somehow NOT a coincidence either, I believe. To go back to the same baseball analogy, I’d safely say she’s batting the proverbial 300. And not entirely a coincidence, in 2012, Okada is thus far tapped for the new Kenshin Shin Kyoto-hen remake,  Black Rock Shooter TVAquarion EVOL and the AKB48 animeOh boy! I’d say that’s about 300, how about you?

PS. Meeting Nagai Tatsuyuki and Tanaka Masayoshi at AX this year remains one of the highlights of con life for me in 2011. It was wonderful to see some of the people responsible for all that Taiga mania.

PPS. I’m not sure why I’m going with Japanese name order in this post, but oh well.


On Guilt, On Glorifying Needs in Popular Media

And by Popular Media I mean super niche late-night TV anime. Right.

But I do feel kind of guilty of doing:

  • Eating a bento while watching Ben-to.
  • Walking in circles while talking…and in general.
  • During an engaging discussion, suddenly think of OTPs (and the discussion has nothing to do with that topic).
  • Thinking the anime I watch is better than the anime you watch but I don’t watch.
  • Being confused about Horizon.
  • Thinking Haganai is actually funny.
  • Trying to get people to stop using “bokutomo” as a shorthand. This honestly made me feel kind of bad about myself, but please don’t.
  • Thinking Chihayafuru is more titillating than any anime this season. Maybe tied with Guilty Crown, maybe.
    • For that matter, thinking about the poor passengers on the train having to deal with two loud teenagers. Even during those touching-sobbing scenes.
  • Looking at a fanservice-y character’s boobs as the protagonist do the same, at the same time.
  • Being confused about the characterization of Fam.
    • Confusing Fam with Inga.
  • Seeing shows like Persona and Last Exile getting their dues, but not feeling really warmed up to them.
  • Making fun of Fractale.
  • Unfortunately, the list probably doesn’t stop there. What is actually unfortunate about that is I don’t even get a silly crown to go with!

    Do I get it now? Was that bad enough?

    ===

    I was going to talk about the nature of Ben-to and the underlying notion of glorifying those half-priced leftover dinner boxes that can be found in some Japanese supermarkets and convenient stores. But it isn’t something words can fully describe. Rather, I think during the coming-of-age of all healthy middle-class individuals, at some point you will experience something similar in person. And that is the tie that binds us to Ben-to as an intense, personal experience.

    I mentioned it before, but Ben-to is an intense anime. It plays the jokes off intensely, and it is very much reminiscent of Air Master, which too had intense animation with intense jokes that don’t always make sense. (Only if Kanetomo-sensei will make an appearance!)

    I think ultimately that intensity is magnified when the story can establish some kind of visceral connection with the viewer. For example, Initial D was able to do this with aplomb and those who can connect to its autocross and high school romance roots often find the experience rewarding and well-justified the silly animation production (at least in season 1). Ben-to does more or less the same, although it plays the competitive fighting aspect in a way that is probably most similarly described as some kind of pro wrestling thing. But unlike live acting, you can easily suspend your beliefs in an anime!

    Perhaps also unlike pro wrestling, I think Ben-to carries a fundamentally sound and healthy message. Because it is with sincere gratitude that I thank and bless the hands that made my meals every morning and every evening (except mine I guess). This is the origin of giving thanks, regardless if you are Shinto or Catholic. I mean, yeah, food, water and oxygen, right? And I can talk about this because it is the central “joke” to Ben-to. It is almost like a self-suggestive way to hypnotize the way you taste food. And if that means my meals are more delicious and those who feed me are more blessed, why not?

    So, to go back to the title of the post: I think there is something to be said when we create fun and enjoyable popular entertainment that help glorify the way we meet our needs. It’s like learning to cherish your janitor or dishwasher or some other forgotten, lower-class cog in the machine of modern, first-world society. They are a much harder sell than starving African children. They are burdened with political baggage. But they are no different than anyone, if we subscribe to the notion that all man are created equal. It’s easy to fish out all these semi-social/political messages from a show like Ben-to, and I believe that is where a particular sort dialog occurs under the current of popular culture. And sometimes it’s interesting to look into that.


    Last Christmas I…

    Just going to toss these thoughts down before they fly away with the Spring breeze.

    Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? – Korean Zombie Desk Car – It’s my most enjoyable, uh, romp this season. It has just the right kind and right amount of randomness. It’s the sort of otaku show that they make every season, that has the kind of self-referential humor that pisses some cancer-speaking-people off and just annoying enough with its senseless plot to highlight that the point of this exercise is all those things otaku like about…things otaku like. Mousou Yuu! Boobs! References to Kira Kira! Of course the drama was pretty amusing that they can even pull it off, but I am not sure if it was used to the show’s benefit.

    The only thing left to do is to make Korean Zombie Desk Car our version of Ankoiri Pasta Rice.

    Level E – Really enjoyed the show, just as it is. It’s just retro enough, and I really like the ED for some reason.

    Fractale – It’s a nice try Yamakan. The story and the composition is all “there” but it just didn’t come together. Which is probably more unusual than I would expect? How many shows like this fall flat? I think noitaminA is flushing them out.

    Hourou Musuko – Best show of the season, and I didn’t even read the manga (nor do I really want to). Pretty much everything about this show is spot on, except how we had to squeeze episodes 10 and 11 together. It does have the “you don’t really need to have a vested interest about transgender issues” thing to it, but I think even that is done just right as to not alienate people unnecessarily. OP and ED are not my bag of tea but they are very well done.

    Freezing – It was pretty okay except for the horrible pacing for a boobs show. I don’t get why people say the manga is good either. It feels a bit like High School of the Dead, just much less well-produced.

    Infinite Stratos – This is the true moe show for this season. Half of which is because of Charlotte. The other day I karaoke’d Straight Jet, and it went down pretty smooth. It’s a quality tune. The ED, as mentioned previously, is cool ensemble stuff.

    Dragon Crisis – This is the moe show for the season, and except Yukana’s character, it’s not even that moe. The one quiet girl was more WEIRDO than moe, the Kugyuu character is Yet Another Kugyuu Character and Rose isn’t setting any records there (not even sure if it sets the “most number of times Kugyuu repeat the same word per episode” record). Maruga and everyone that comes after only offer boobs, and not much else. Maybe you can make a case for furry girl but I don’t want to waste my time. Oh wait, oops, too late.

    Star Driver – Save the Best Kiraboshi for Last. What he said.

    Kimi ni Todoke – I like the first season more, but this one at least pays off. That said, I’m indifferent about the overall story the series covered in season 2. It doesn’t even make me RAEG like it does for some others. The thematic content, however, was pretty interesting terms of talking about communication.

    Casulties: Rio, Gosick, Beelz (I should’ve just go watch Gintama), Merry, LOLOL Index.

    The Other Type of Casualty: Madoka


    Hourou Musuko, Wandering Seiyuu Madness, What Fractale Is Not

    I think noitaminA is fortunate to show Hourou Musuko after Fractale, simply because Wandering Son is a great animation. It’s not to knock on Fractale, but it is overshadowed by Hourou Musuko “stunning” presentation.

    This is kind of amusing in a sense. From what it appears on the surface (and we are really doing “Judge-by-Cover Part 4, Winter 2011″ here) Fractale has actual plot chops. It has a rich setting and some pretty amusing characters from the get go. It is exactly NOT what people like Daryl Surat is whining about when they talk about Hiroki Azuma’s Database Animal book, about character trait.

    On the other hand, what makes Hourou Musuko so great is these superficial things. Granted what is presented to us on a watercolor, sparkly, white-filtered platter is character drama, I can’t help but to notice the stereotypical otaku elements are largely present: the tsundere, the trap, the tomboy, the cooldere, the fast-to-mature, the flirt, the shota (this is a Josei TV segment right?) and the loli-appealing. That gorgeous animation and those masterfully-done characters are what make this show so good at the start. But that is exactly what fuels the desires of the database animal.

    This is what we get if we skip 30 some odd chapters, I guess. I don’t know, I can’t offer any of the whining and gensaku hakai outrage those who have read and adored the original manga can offer you, because quite frankly it is outside of my interests. All I can say is it was directed so well that it didn’t confuse me much, if at all, even if the show drops you deep within the original narrative.

    And I’m not even done listing all the “elemental” things about Hourou Musuko that appeal to the otaku. Cross-gender forbidden romance? Awesome seiyuu cast? Ball-busting sakuga? The soundtrack? It goes on.

    Hourou Musuko makes Fractale looks like the least pandering piece of work on noitaminA ever. And yet people call that stuff moe. I don’t understand it anymore. Or rather, comparing these two show is probably the best example of showing up that people who complain about moe are just talking about shows they don’t like but others do, for no real substantive reasons.

    Oh right, the awesome seiyuu cast is well within my range of interests. Let’s just say this. And that. And Nana Mizuki cracked me up. The last time that happened in an anime was probably never, though I managed a chuckle during her Aoi Bungaku segment.

    If there’s one negative thing I want to say about Hourou Musuko, it is that the whole gender identity issue aspect feels tangential and is really just a plot device to get drama juicy. Watching the show, I feel not really compelled about Nitori’s gender struggle as much as his attachment to Takatsuki, or what happens between them. Which is to say, episode 1 of Hourou Musuko is like a well-done template for teenage romance. Instead of a cute okama-to-be it could have been several other things (drugs, depression, etc), and it would not have changed the look, the feel, and the awesomeness of episode 1 of Wandering Son.

    Unless you have a thing for shota traps, of course.

    Fractale, on the other hand, is quite wholesome. Even with nudity, it merely pushes against the line that is dotted with the kind of nudity found in mainstream anime in Japan. I think a part of this is attributed to how unusual, lack of a better word, Kobayashi sounded in the lead male role. I suppose we are just getting started with this episode though, and it wouldn’t be wise to judge this book by the cover. Because despite wanting to say “hey Yamakan went to all these Ghibli and mainstream TV anime and stuck those iconic elements in,” it’s not what is carrying this narrative. Basically, I would probably watch this for the plot and setting.

    Okay, Phryne is pretty moe during that scene when she’s talking about smiles. But that is more like moe for Kiki or Nausicaa, right?

    As for flaws, Kurogane is pretty succinct, and I would be among those who find the BGM clashing a lot more than it should, despite if the music when consumed on its own, may be pretty okay. The animation is not perfect, but a Toradora-7/10 sort of rating would be more than what I can ask for out of Yamakan’s latest bid to bet the house. I think he’s on a good start towards that.