Summer Split Two — #1: The Next Step Forward

summersplit


With four shows out of the way, it’s time to head onto the next batch: C3-buRozen MaidenGatchaman Crowds,  and Kimi no Iru Machi!

Stella Jogakuin-ka C3-bu Episodes 2-3

illegenes: If Uchouten Kazoku takes the first spot for favorite show of the season, then C3-bu takes a strong second place. As my first post mentioned, there’s nothing really original about C3-bu‘s plot; it’s your typical girl meets friends, gets over her social anxiety, find meaning in life, etc etc. And yet, C3-bu stands out through consistent execution and poignant depth. It’s anything but your typical fairytale, as explicitly shown in Episode 3 when it refuses to cut corners and goes for the downright harsh.

Three episodes in and Yura is comfortably setting into her role as a semi-member of C3bu when she enters her first team tournament. For the most part the episode is light and fun; Yura with her teammates slowly defeat each opponent, rising through the charts until they reach the semi finals. Whiles these scenes are filled with slides (there’s only one game where everything is actually animated) it’s not too bad of a drop in budget, though I do wish they had animated some more of the action scenes. Despite this, what’s even more surprising is how Yura is able to win with the help of her teammates (I guess she got some unseen training done in the last episode). It’s only when Yura’s team fights against the infamous opposing team, Meisei Girl’s Academy, that things get a little messy, especially considering how one of the teammates is actually Sonoras partner, Rin Haruna. There’s obviously some kind of past conflict here, as seen in the bathroom scene when Sonora and Rin have a little chat face to face. I do like the tension these two share, and I hope to see more of it later on.

The dramatic change in tone is when Yura’s team is entirely wiped out in seconds by Meisei Girl Academy, and Yura opts to surrender rather than fight. It’s a bit of a sad moment when Rin tells Yura that she’s basically useless, but it hurts even more when Sonora – who has been Yura’s inspiration and support for airsoft and changing oneself – tells her that she didn’t just betray herself; she betrayed her teammates too. It’s here that C3-bu completely turns into something new: there’s no feeling of comfort in these scenes. I was surprised by the sudden shift because I had the idea that C3-bu was a happy and light show, but it’s not afraid to get serious when it needs to. I like that, because sometimes the ol’ good feelings of….feeling good gets boring sometimes, and C3-bu is the kind of show that has the spice and spark to change things up a bit to the point where nothing truly does become repetitive.

I guess that haircut was hinted at the very beginning, huh?

Even with the shift however, Yura finally confronts her fear and in a typical anime moment, cuts her hair as a way of confirming that she’s going to change. It’s here where C3-bu will start becoming a little more interesting (as interesting as it is already) as one hurdle has been jumped over. I’m excited to see our protagonist get ready for the battlefield!

gallifreyians: Gainax has certainly churned out something new with Stella C3-bu. High school-age girls who like to shoot each other with airsoft guns isn’t something that I’ve ever seen before, and certainly something that I didn’t expect to see out of Gainax. C3-bu may be a pleasant surprise, but that does not necessarily mean that we have a good show out of Gainax on our hands.

While the airsoft matches are a real treat — and honestly the highlight of the show for me — I don’t think that C3-bu has much else going for it. I have no emotional connection with any of the characters, and so I find myself watching the show not as a active member of the audience, but rather as a passive participant. Since I find myself as a passive member of the audience, I don’t really have an opinion about the show, nor do I have any sort of emotional investiture in the outcome of the plot and the development of the characters. (It is rather a feat that I don’t feel an emotional bond with the main character of all people, especially considering her social anxiety problems — which I immensely identify with.)

What the show does have going for it is Yura’s empowerment narrative. We’ve all been in Yura’s position, being in a new place with the burning desire to change ourselves — oftentimes only to find that we are just being the same old person that we’ve come to loathe. I think that Yura’s arc is the most important aspect of this show, far more important than the “girly chicks who like guns” aspect, because it is delivered in quite an earnest manner. It would be easy for Yura to change easily, for her to overcome her own anxieties and fears in the first episode and for it to never be spoken of again. Yet in the third episode, the show has shown us that changing oneself is a bumpy, rocky process that is continually ongoing — something that is rather true to real life.

Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen Episodes 1-3

illegenes: When composing our second Summer Split, I was forced with deciding to either watch/blog Rozen Maiden or Genshiken. I hadn’t watched the first season of these shows, and so it was a bit difficult to choose which one was more appealing to me. I’ve heard strong cases arguing that it’d be better for me to drop both and start from the beginning, but in the end, I decided to apply that to Genshiken and instead move on with Rozen Maiden, which takes place in an alternate timeline that is soon to integrate with the first season (and also neatly devotes its first episode to recapping the basics of the first season, allowing me to get a better handle of what’s going on). I’m sure you’re asking, “But Genshiken is a better show! Why drop it for something like Rozen Maiden?” and I’m sure you’re right. Genshiken is probably a much better show that lies right up my alley.

But here’s the thing: Rozen Maiden, from the looks of the first season (through the recap), is pretty generic. There is an abundance of characters which all range from one stereotype to the next, and the plot seems pretty predictable. Nothing really stands out from the main character enough for me to connect with him, and the villain seems to be even more one dimensional (a shapeless doll?). I understand that a lot of this is basic and biased assumption; I’ve only really seen one episode of the first season, and that was an episode that condensed the entire plot into twenty minutes of recap. Of course I wouldn’t get the character development or plot nuance that I often so desire. But the great thing is, I don’t really need to see all of it to know it. My assumptions are proved wrong within the first few minutes of Episode 2, which focuses on the main protagonist, except a much older version of him.

Zuruckspulen‘s two episodes are pretty quiet: we’re introduced to Jun Sakurada again, in a world where he chose not to circle “I’ll wind it” – a world where he never participates in the Alice Games, and thus never gets to grow out of his NEET shell. As such, he’s a very mellow kind of guy, isolated by his peers because of his introverted behavior and forced to pay tuition by working part time at a job where his arrogant boss constantly throws shade at him. Jun’s life basically isn’t the most interesting, and it shows through his depression and outlook of society. As someone who’s faced some tough times, I find myself drawn to this version of Jun as he attempts to find some kind of hope in his miserable life.

And hope he finds. But it’s not through a complete life changing moment. Jun picks up a book that compels him to start creating dolls (a nice little gender role reversal here) and actually find spirit in doing something he enjoys, rather than living the bland day-to-day life and never being satisfied by anything. You can see the life glow in his eyes a little as he picks up the threads and starts sewing a dress with vigor, in comparison to the dull look he gives at his part time job. Unlike the first recap episode which sticks all the information down your throat, these two episodes rely on show rather than tell, and do it excellently. You really see how Jun has a goal for once, and how he slowly and painstakingly gets there through the help of an unlikely alley, no less.

It’s this connection I find the strongest in Rozen Maiden, because there are so many times throughout our lives where we stop and look back at our choices and wonder, “what if?” Zuruckspulen in itself is one large What If? but with older!Jun attempting to connect with younger!Jun, we see some really great development. There’s the scene where we’re revealed as to what forced Jun to become so afraid of the world – bullying – but there’s also resolution found within that reflection. Jun picks up the thread with self confidence this time, instead of cowering away like he has done for the past years. There are little bits of dialogue in here that are strangely empathetic as well; young Jun wondering if his older self has tried to fit in with society (and guessing correctly), older Jun commenting on how bratty and immature younger Jun is, etc.  The most powerful moment however, is when older Jun must rely on the naive words of his own self to find Shinku’s last body parts and bring her to life. In those few seconds, Jun must battle between his cynicism and his belief in good. It’s a struggle I face with every day as I’m sure everyone does. Does optimism really exist? How do we know we’re making the right choice? Of course, there’s no real right answer to any of these. Jun knows that, and despite that, he tries to find the parts of Shinku anyway. That’s a sign of beautiful and momentary humanity, and it’s something I am drawn to in anime more than anything.

Similar to Artemis Fowl where Fowl must use the aid of his younger self to save the world (while also noticing for himself as to how far he’s come since then), Jun must join forces with his middle school version to awaken Shinku and end the Alice Games for good. Sure, it doesn’t sound special; Rozen Maiden may not necessarily have the most engaging plot or engrossing set of characters, but it’s actually really good at what it does, even if those things are mediocre. These two episodes take their time starting up the storyline again, but in doing so, they reveal a lot about the main character and make him someone worth rooting for – a step that’s largely overlooked these days in anime. There are also some great moments of  reflection weaved in with the typical plot, and I think it has a lot of potential. Not to mention it has an OP that grows on you (a particular trait of ALI Project, who always ends up sounding the same but has some great tunes) and a beautiful ED. I’ll be sure to check out the first season as soon as this one finishes!

Could have given that tip earlier, Jun.

I do like how the ED alludes to time as an important presence in the show.

Gatchaman Crowds Episodes 1-2

gallifreyians: C3-bu is Natasha’s number two show of the season, but for me, Gatchaman is most certainly a close second to Uchouten Kazoku.

The first thing that I can say about this anime is simply how visually stunning it is. Everything about the show screams a kind of science fiction that strays away from the grim!dark of most scifi and into a sleek and colorful world that is one of the most original things that I’ve seen in a while. I especially have to point out that the design of the MESS — the alien enemies of the show — is a true delight; forgoing all of the typical conventions of aliens (of the animal!alien, human!alien, and alien!alien archetypes) the MESS is a blob of blackness surrounded by a square cage of sorts made up of colorful blocks, which MESS can manipulate at will. I don’t know what I was expecting to have as our otherworldly monsters, but it most certainly wasn’t that!

Another way that it also really breaks convention with a lot of other science fiction (and certainly most science fiction anime) is with it’s protagonist: Ichinose Hajime. Hajime is a girl, and while there are really good science fiction shows headed by women like Fringe, Orphan Black, and The X-Files — and really good science fiction anime like  .hack//Sign, Ghost in the Shell, and Tetsuwan Birdy —, Hajime is nothing like Olivia Dunham, Sarah Manning, Dana Scully, Shouji An, Kusanagi Motoko, and Birdy Cephon Altera. First of all, she is not a cop like most of these women are, and secondly she also does not have that stoic demeanor that they all share. In fact, I would say that Hajime is the opposite of stoic; she is a bubbly high school girl who likes stationary, collage making, and participating/playing an online social network/game called Galax. Hajime is so animated and energetic that I actually was very put off from her in the first episode, thinking that she must be ~one of those girls~ and thus an idiot. Episode two proved me wrong though, when Hajime proved to accomplish the one thing that most human v alien anime would have devoted all of their time to: she actually didn’t kill the alien and instead opted to listen to it (or something).

As for the episodes themselves, ajthefourth at Atelier Emily has already said more than I could ever say about the first episode, so I am going to focus mainly on the second. I think that the second episode really sold me on this show and cemented it as my number two of the season; it is incredibly dense — touching upon a huge variety of topics — without feeling forced, which shows to me that the director certainly has a good handle on what he is doing. Beyond Hajime’s character, I think that one of the most important things that this episode explored was the influence of social media. In exploring Hajime’s character, Kenji Nakamura shows Sugane accompanying Hajime to a Galax meet-up on a train — doing so explores one side of social media: how social media can genuinely help individuals get over catastrophe and tragedy in their lives and build genuine relationships with people that they might have otherwise never have had the chance to meet. The reverse of this situation is shown at the end of the episode though when Jou witnesses three people fall down the stairs, and the man next to him (instead of calling an ambulance) uses Galax to find and notify nearby medical practitioners of the accident, which rewards this man with 750 points on his Galax profile. This is a subtle but important criticism of many of the activities of the social justice sphere and the false sense of accomplishment and involvement that people get from liking/reblogging/retweeting/sharing/etc. posts/messages/articles/etc. related to real life issues that have real life consequences — people feel like they have helped others (and expect brownie points) when they like/reblog/whatever a post/tweet/whatever when really all they are doing is sitting on their asses at home, perfectly insulated from what is going on in the real world. That random man really did help someone with Galax, but would he have done so if Galax didn’t exist? Would he have done so if Galax wasn’t giving him points for his good deed? Was it really right to use Galax over calling an ambulance when there could be serious trauma involved? What if there hadn’t been a nurse conveniently across the street, he would have then wasted precious moments using Galax over just calling 911. And finally, what if someone was lying on Galax when they said they were a doctor/nurse?

Gatchaman raised many philosophic questions in its second episode, and certainly raised the bar for itself.

illegenes: GATC – HA – MAAAAAAN!

Interestingly enough, what draws me me first to the premise of Gatchaman Crowds isn’t its beautiful, almost Pixiv-like character design and, or its seamless fusion with CG animation, but rather the music and the main character. There is something refreshingly…fresh about the series, and it distinctly shows with its mix of techno beats and classic superhero music along with the main girl, who is possibly the most entertaining hyper-energetic character I’ve seen in a while.

Gatchaman Crowds is, well, crowded. That’s the point. We’re overloaded with beautiful animation, a tight and upbeat OP, and tons of information about the world of Crowds and how it might tie into later themes and plot. We’re introduced to a colorful cast; from the eccentric doll-like Hajime Ichinose to the elusive cross dressing genius, Rui Ninomiya, whom we’re introduced to in Episode 2. There’s also the idea of what it means to be a Gatchaman – a disguised superhero who must utilize his or her spirit to fight aliens that somehow absorb humans and turn into geometric cubes called MESS. And at the heart of it all is the system Rui has devised – a sort of perfected networking social system called GALAX, which connects people together and recognizes their talents and behavior. Overall, Gatchaman in a way, reflects the kind of lives we lead daily outside and on the internet; one where we’re constantly bombarded with new sights and revelations to the point where individuality isn’t so individual anymore. But that’s a point to discuss later. One could argue that we’re overwhelmed with so much detail that Kenji Nakamura might have another [C] disaster on his hands. I beg to differ.

Just as GALAX says it.

Whereas [C] had plenty of creative ideas and potential (shafted by a time constraints and shabby writing), Crowds is fundamentally built on the interaction between characters; similar to Kenji Nakamura’s previous work, Tsuritama, which predominantly focuses on friendship. Yet Tsuritama and [C] are polar opposites; plot takes a backseat in Tsuritama until the last few episodes, but is the forefront of [C] for the entire run. Gatchaman Crowds, as far as I see it, is a solid mix between Tsuritama and [C]; it shares [C]‘s ideas, but contains Tsuritama‘s heart and soul. Crowds may end up becoming a commentary on social media and individuality, or rather how we relate to one another on a larger scale through the internet, but it utilizes both plot and character interaction to get that point across. In that sense, it’s a sign of maturation from Nakamura’s side as he tries to combine two creative and yet different works and give the audience something explosive, insightful, and well-executed at the same time. It’s not an easy task, and it doesn’t help that Nakamura is re-imagining an old show in an entirely new context. But what Gatchaman so far has succeeded in is catching our attention, whether it be through visuals, music, character traits, or storyline. Crowds‘ true roots are slowly opening as we delve further into the complex world of social networking and the secrets behind MESS, but make no mistake: Gatchaman Crowds is not a MESS. It has a plan, and it’s already taken the first steps to hook us in. All that’s left is the execution (which has been remarkably strong so far!) Be sure to check it out for all of the above, if not the brilliant style that oozes out in every shot.

Kimi no Iru Machi Episodes 1-2

illegenes: I admit it – my reasoning for watching Kimi no Iru Machi is pretty transparent. I don’t know anything about the show other than it’s a hotspot for shipping feuds (not that I’ve been there before, hello Harry Potter fandom, but that’s a story…for another day) and that the series has already sparked more controversy because it jumps the gun and settles in 70 chapters ahead. There is nothing that really grabs me in terms of characters or plot. The music is pretty decent as well as the voice acting. So why am I compelled to watch this show?

Two words: Shigeyasu Yamauchi. You may remember him as one of my all time favorite directors simply because his taste for aesthetics is beautiful. There’s no denying it: anything this man touches turns into a visual treat, as seen with the gorgeous Casshern SinsDream Eater Merry, and those two episodes of Shinsekai Yori (along with Episode 18 of Mawaru Penguindrum). The same can be said with Kimi no Iru Machi, which screams of Yamauchi’s style the first few seconds in.

Saturated setting? Soft lighting mixed in with close ups on the face and body parts? Gymnastic and dramatic body movement? All check. Shigeyasu’s ability to express human emotion and soul through beautiful scenery and direction has once again been shown through Kimi no Iru Machi which so far seems to be a tale about forming lasting bonds and connections. There’s notable improvements outside the visual area as well – the main character is much less annoying (partially due to the fact that he’s voiced by the mature Wataya Arata’s VA) than he is in the manga apparently, and there’s more focus dialogue and communication rather than dramatics. Though I’m much more enthralled by the art of Kimi no Iru Machi than the actual story, there are some strong points to both sides, and that’s a start. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more of each in the time to come!

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2 responses to “Summer Split Two — #1: The Next Step Forward

  1. Uh, were we watching the same KNIM? Because the voice-acting in the one I saw was pretty bad. Worse than s-Cry-ed’s. That scene when Nanami yelled that Eba fainted in the hot springs. Painfully phoned in.

    Also, whilst I appreciate how Yamauchi is doing his best to cover up the show’s cheapness, it still looks pretty cheap. And whilst his closeup shots probably worked well in his other stuff (I’ve only seen Casshern Sins and the fifth episode of SSY), it looks creepy when he uses it on what is essentially a highschool romance anime where most of the population consists of teenaged girls.

    • I didn’t think KNIM’s voice acting was horrible? That said, I’m not very picky on voice acting to begin with so I was pretty pleased with how things went.

      I do think Shigeyasu has a limited budget on this series (hell, it’s just unfortunate that he was chosen to adapt this series in the first place) and while the first episode wasn’t necessarily the most smooth in terms of framerate, I do think that suggesting the entire show feels cheap would be getting ahead of ourselves here. Many shows tend to start off on an inexpensive first episode, and then dive into the bits that need the budget, and I think KNIM might be the same. We’ll have to see!

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