As Humanity Declines, Metal Slimes Rise

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Jul 292012
 

The new storyline in Humanity Has Declined is tackling yet another facet of fandom: The RPG.

It’s yet another fan reference, but it isn’t annoying me the way episodes 3 and 4 did, mainly because we don’t have a character whose sole purpose is to stand there and explain everything in excruciating detail as if we’re a bunch of fucking idiots. There’s actually an attempt to blend the references into the story, rather than having one of the characters be a walking GameFAQ guide.

What keyed me in on this was the way that cat-eared girl was introduced. She rattled off some generic “I’m searching for X” bit to the main girl, but it was the way she couldn’t quite process her name and the name of the person she was looking for that made it click with me. It was as if she was having to access some piece of data that isn’t inherent to the text she’s spouting– that “data leak” she’s experiencing is like a glitch in your NES game pak that’s making it hard for the game to read the name you imputed when you started the game.

And yeah, the whole set-up of this episode reeks of that first adventure you go on in an RPG. Random adventurer comes to a village looking for something. Villagers go into some old ruins looking for lost magic/tech/whatever. A maze-like structure. Adventurer has to intervene when said villagers run into trouble. Seemingly inconsequential items becoming magical at just the right time. SLIMESSLIMES.

METAL SLIMES!

Then you have that bit where the girl’s reading a guide describing how the number of fairies in your vicinity is proportionate to your chances of survival. Not only does it feel like someone reading a player’s guide to a game before actually playing it, it’s also getting into that deus ex machina shit people like to harp about– the elves are there to make the plot work, and it shows just how many fairies are needed for a particular plot to progress as needed. This stuff isn’t really an RPG reference so much as it’s a way to explain the way these sorts of plots work. It’s that metafiction shit.

So all of this is pretty straightforward. Nothing new’s being said about the RPG. What makes this work a hell of a lot better than the manga arc is the lack of someone shouting out all of the references as they appear. It all plays out naturally as the story progresses. We get the same effect– the same critiques of clichés and how these methods of storytelling can be lazy– but it has a modicum of subtlety. Not much, but it’s like being slapped with a sardine opposed to the full-on trout.

But what’s really cool about this episode is the talk of electromagnetic waves. Given all the stuff that’s been going on with the sun and people talking about the threat of a flare messing up the world’s power grid, it’s surprisingly topical. Then you get the little story about how the people of this city built everything to withstand electromagnetic waves. Maybe a flare from the sun was a trigger for humanity to start spiraling towards extinction. The grid was wiped out and humans never quite recovered. This city built itself to withstand such a disaster, but apparently it collapsed from within.

You could look at this as a critique on our dependence of such technology. We’re doom to extinction if we lose the devices we depend upon, but even if we’re able to hide away and retain that tech, we’re fucked. Both fates are filled with arrogance and  hubris, it’s all a matter of which way we screw over ourselves.

Yeah, this was a major turn around compared to the last two episodes.

I Wanna Complain About Good(ish) Stuff

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Jul 252012
 

Enough positive posts. Enough praising of good shows. Let’s complain about this summer season thing. Things that annoy me which shouldn’t be annoying me.

Moyashimon Returns

It ain’t bad. It’s pleasant. It has some good gags at times. It’s the most watchable noitaminA series from this year that isn’t called Thermae Romae.

But that’s the problem. It’s pleasant. It’s nice. It’s perfectly comfortable, and that’s not something I can say about the first season. The first season had some good gross-out stuff with all of the weird fermented foods. It had  some real conflict with Hasegawa’s engagement. It had Kei. This season? It has a tunnel. While I liked how that “mystery” ended in such an anticlimactic manner, there wasn’t enough build-up to make that letdown feel right. The “educational” parts of the show feel more like the sort of filmstrip stuff I dreaded when I started watching the first season. The microbe bits don’t have the same wit about them.

And yeah, the designs make all of this look like K-On in noitamniA drag. The new designs aren’t terrible, they just don’t feel right.

Ultimately, my feelings on the new season can be summed up with “Hey, that’s some Moyashimon!” My feelings on this series should be so succinctly.

Humanity Has Declined

The first episode was alright. It was saved by Suicide Grand Guignol Loaf.

The second episode was kinda brilliant, especially with its John Woo Chickens.

The third episode was a straight-forward parody/critique/celebration of fan culture.

The fourth episode was someone standing there and painstakingly describing how a manga is created.

Yeah, this show is getting at larger social critiques. Those first two episodes did a decent job of that, even if it was extremely heavy-handed and preachy. The next two episodes?

Barf.

I’ll say this: I liked that new girl they introduced in the third episode. She has style. I like her enthusiasm and willingness to abuse her government position to make gay porn manga. I didn’t like how the series because yet another otaku humor show with this storyline.

I liked the world they developed in the first two episodes, and this yaoi manga club/sucked into a manga and we have to play by its rules story pretty much tossed all of that out in favor of self-aware, referential, meta-humor. That’s cool in say, Genshiken or something like that. The intent of such series is “let’s talk about what it’s like to be a fan.” The point of Humanity Has Declined seemed to be an all-purpose cultural satire, but making the second storyline be a critique on fandom derailed that. It felt like the writers thought the otaku audience wouldn’t remain interested in criticism of other parts of society and needed to focus their attention on something familiar.

And that’s what turned me off. Not only was it heavy-handed and simplistic in its criticism, it was about something all too familiar to the audience. It came off as lazy and unnecessary. I know it’s going for larger topics about fandom and publication and such, but the execution was lame.

Yeah. Barf.

Joshiraku

It’s my favorite new show of the season. It’s funny. Almost as funny as Zetsubou-sensei. I like the characters. Almost as much as I like the ones from Zetsubou-sensei.

That’s the problem with this series. That “almost” bit. While I like it, what I’m really thinking is “Why can’t I be watching more Zetsubou-sensei?” The manga ended recently. From what it sounds like, there’s plenty of stuff for SHAFT to pull from for a new season. The ending sounds brilliant. I want one more season to wrap things up.

But SHAFT doesn’t seem too interested in that. They’re talking about making all of the Blankomonogatari books into anime, be there series or movies. They’re still basking in the glow of Madoka with their movies and whatnot. That stuff probably makes them a hell of a lot more money than Zetsubou, so I can’t fault them for focusing on it, but as a fan I don’t give a fuck about that when it shoves the one SHAFT series I like out of the way.

That makes Joshiraku feel like a pity fuck. It’s as if JC Staff is looking at us and saying “here you go, here’s something to make you feel better while SHAFT is off rolling around on a bed of 100,00 yen notes earned off of the tears of moe cartoon girls.”

Bleh.

But I’m still enjoying these series. Well, enjoying Joshiraku and Moyashimon at least. Humanity is on the hot seat, along with the only other new series I’ve kept up with: Muv Luv. But Updatedude explained why that one’s in trouble in his latest post.

So yeah, best show of the season is Polar Bear Cafe.

Let’s Talk Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse

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Jul 242012
 

Hey, remember The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi? The story in that show sucked, but goddamn was it a well told story. It didn’t matter that almost half the series was crap because of the ludicrous amount of narrative gimmicks they used more than made up for it. From the very first seconds into the show to the anachronistic broadcast order, Haruhi knew how to cover up what is actually a pretty crappy series. Don’t get me wrong, Haruhi was NOT a crappy series, because a show isn’t just about the events that happen, but how those events are presented to the viewer. In point of fact, Haruhi was a great series because it knew how to present itself.

So, let’s talk about the show this post is actually about. Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. The first ep was quite honestly, meh. It presented an interesting world, but despite promising that it was going to “go there”, we the viewer still had doubt that it would. There’s been far too many series that promised to “cross the line”, only to wuss out. We all knew that most of the cast SHOULD die, but experience told us not to hold our collective breaths.

Then episode 2 happened, and lo and behold, the promises were kept. Stuff happened. Shit got real yo. It was like Ga Rei Zero episode 1 all over again, only instead of 3 minutes of awesomeness, we got a full episode of it. Episode 1 of Muv Luv was forgiven, faith had been created in the show’s creators. Faith that was immediately put to the test in episode 3.

See, here’s the thing… technically, episode 3 was bleh, but given what happened in the last two eps, we got faith in the animators. And you know, in a normal series, the main girl is just your generic tsundere commander who talks the talk but ends up having a pussy traumatic back story where she only ALMOST lost her friend to aliens. But that’s where the narrative tricks that were prevalent in Haruhi come in. Because we saw shit go down in ep 2, we can excuse her attitude in ep 3. Because we know it ain’t a lame back story she’s got. And we think that maybe the main guy has a legitimate traumatic past as well.

But then, episode 4 happened. Yeah, episode 4’s a smelly pile of crap where we get the cop-out and generic and wussy story that most anime adhere to. The scene where the main girl berates the main guy was cool because we knew she went through actual hell and thus, we could accept her credibility. But otherwise, episode 4 has pretty much used up all the good will that the second ep created. I mean, jeezy pete, the main guy’s beef is that he’s half Japanese? I can sorta accept that in the Muv Luv world, the Japanese have a reputation of being “cowards” because they employ hit and run tactics or guerilla warfare, but c’mon!

Grandpa: The Japs are cowards!
Mom: No! They are polite and diligent and humble!

That scene was barfilicious.

The only good bit in the entire episode? The only scene that didn’t leach onto the bike riding the coattails of episode 2?

When that Italian guy snuck in to the women’s shower for a, well, a shower. Italian guy is sorta awesome because he was totally there just to shower.

But yeah, narrative tricks are only going to get you so far per narrative trick. Haruhi (heavily) peppered the gimmicks throughout the series, that kept it fresh. Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse’s run outta “narrative preservatives”. It needs to pull something spectacular off by the next ep or two. If it continues to be mindnumbingly generic and below par, I’ll probably drop it after that. As far as I’m concerned, this show’s back on square one right now.

The Law of the Wild (in the City)

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Jul 222012
 

An otter (or a gang of otters) devoured Polar Bear in public. Grizzly catches word of this. What does he do?

He doesn’t attack the otter out of revenge. He doesn’t call the police. He’s wracked with grief over the death of his friend, but he does nothing to bring justice to what’s essentially a murder.

What’s up with that?

If the characters in question were humans, we’d assume that this would play out differently. Someone would go to the authorities. Someone would hunt down the assailant. Something would be done to make sure the guilty parties are punished in some way.

So why does Grizzly do nothing in this situation? Sure, you could say this is all played for laughs, since turning this into a police procedural to find out the truth wouldn’t elicit the intended situation, but I think there’s more at play here.

I think the world of Polar Bear Cafe plays by completely different rules.

Animals eat animals. They aren’t like us humans, who breed cattle for slaughter. They all live in the same “community” in the wild, inhabiting the same woods or plains or whatever, and when one of the carnivores gets hungry they chase down some animal that’s lower on the food chain and gobble it up. Just because animals have been integrated into human society to some degree doesn’t mean their instincts are gonna cease to operate.

The way Grizzly reacts, it seems as if public hunting like that is common place. If some animal eats another animal, that’s just the law of the wild, even if it’s going down on the streets of a sleepy little town like the one in this series. So even if it’s unnatural for a gang of otters to chow down on a Polar Bear, animal-on-animal violence is accepted in this society because that’s the natural way of life for animals.

So you gotta wonder if this changed laws in general. Is any form of murder acceptable? Are humans exempt from this law? Can a human kill another animal in public? Can humans kill humans? Is there some condition where the ingestion of the victim is necessary for the act to be legal? If you only eat certain parts of the body, do you have to pay fines?

The way I see it, in order to accommodate the nature of these integrated animals, all forms of murder have been made legal. What keeps the peace is the very fact that murder can happen at any time. There’s an uneasy truce at play. Anyone rounding around the corner could be eager to gulp you down, so everyone is ready for such a situation. You rarely see someone eating someone else because they don’t want to be the next victim. It’s a cold war of sorts, with no one willing to take the first bite in fear of everyone being eaten. The only time you see something happen is when a group of individuals work as a pack and take down an individual, much like how Grizzly imagined Polar Bear being eaten by otters.

Yeah, that’s the most logical conclusion.

Jul 202012
 

While I’d been an anime fan for roughly five years by the time 1999 rolled around, I saw none of the following series during the year of their release. Most of these series are ones I bought on DVD when they were released a year or two later in the States. I was probably buying episodes of Cowboy Bebop on VHS while these series were airing in Japan, so if I wanted to make a 1999 list from my own perspective it’d probably be Bebop and Those Who Hunt Elves or something like that.

That’s not how these lists work, so here’s the shit from that year that I didn’t even see that year but makes up my list of best series from that year. Yeah.

10. Ojamajo DoReMi

I haven’t seen a whole lot of this series. Just a few episodes here and there, and mostly unsubbed. It’s typical magical girl fare aimed at actual little girls, but it had a good amount of charm to it. It was more about the girls getting powers and doing stupid stuff rather than fighting monsters and saving the world, at least the few episodes I saw, and that’s pretty cool. It also has a kick-ass disco theme song, and that’s the main reason why it’s on this list. Seriously, it’s probably one of my top ten favorite anime theme songs.

9. Excel Saga

Excel Saga doesn’t always work. Hell, it kinda flounders most of the time, repeating jokes that weren’t all that funny initially. But every now and then it manages to turn out some brilliant shit. The episode where Menchi goes off on her own is bizarre, what with the character designs becoming more and more anthropomorphized as the episode progresses. And I gotta give it props for keeping things relatively fresh, since the topic of ridicule changes with every episode. The series also advocates eating your pets in times of duress. That’s an important strategy to know in these trying times. Excel Saga was quite the forward thinker.

8. Reign: The Conqueror

Can I defend my love for this series? Nope, don’t think so. It all stems from my irrational love for Aeon Flux. Reign has character designs by the guy who created Aeon Flux. That creates an association in my mind that keeps me from being able to see this series in any other light. I know people say it’s horrible. I don’t give a damn. I like its weird take on the Alexander the Great story. I love the creepy, absurdly thin character designs. But fuck it. I’m gonna be all defensive about this. I like Reign: The Conqueror.

 

7. Ruroni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen

This is the only part of the Kenshin storyline that I can tolerate. This shows us the part of his story that’s actually interesting. We see his past life as the cold-blooded murderer he so despises in the “present.” We see the mistakes he made that turned him into the whiny, obnoxious pacifist he is in the TV series. This is all of the cool stuff that Kenshin so despises and that the TV series does its best to avoid. This is what I wanted to see while toughing it out through the painful TV series. It’s some good samurai drama stuff. Maybe a bit too melodramatic in the wrong ways, but I can forgive it for everything else it does right.

6. Great Teacher Onizuka

Being a teacher doesn’t work this way. No. You can’t buck the system. The system bucks you back twofold. This is porn for those of us who are or have been in the education system. This is the way we wished we could deal with kids. This is the way we wished we could deal with administrators. You wanna give the system the proverbial and literal middle finger and do thinks the Great Teacher way. But you can’t. Your force of personality can’t trump bureaucratic red tape, petty teacher politics, and vengeful parents. Just like how you’ll never be able to sleep with that plastic surgery laden super model chick in that porn you watch, you’ll never be able to pull off the sort of artificial antics of Onizuka. That’s why Onizuka is awesome.