12 Days of Christmas 2013: Day One

I only photoshopped one accessory onto this screenshot. Guess which one!

Allow me to extend a warm welcome and a generous cupful of the ‘nog to you, sleet-stricken traveler! Kick off those boots by the radiator, and here, let me take that coat for you. We appreciate you going out of your way to visit us for our second annual celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas. Distinguished readers like yourself are those who understand, as do we, that the most appropriate way to engage in festivities this holiday season is to laugh, cry, reflect, and rejoice in our favorite Japanese cartoons of the past year.

You’ll notice that there are some new faces around this year–specifically one and namely mine. As such, I, Vestenet, will be leading the merriment, but do look forward to upcoming posts by your old favorites Wendeego, Gallifreyians, and Illegenes. We will be focusing on the shows and the moments which kept our heads spinning and hearts racing through another tumultuous year (or perhaps just the stuff we found most amusing). Have a seat wherever you’d like. Let’s settle in and talk about anime for the next 12 days, because what else were you planning on doing?

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

ALL YOU NEED IS M-E-G-A-N-E

The biggest surprise 2013 had in store for me was not the bold statement from Hiroshi Nagahama’s The Flowers of Evil, nor the grotesque honesty of Masashi Ishihama’s Shin Sekai Yori, but the sheer vision displayed by Soubi Yamamoto’s Meganebu! On the surface, it’s a comedy about cute boys with glasses in a club that’s about cute boys with glasses. That is the show’s chief comedic conceit, so congratulations, you now understand 100% of Meganebu!‘s jokes! However, if we were to not be so near-sighted, and if we were to look through a different lens and past the fact that all we have is a formula for another stupid school club comedy, we could see that it has something else, and something so much more.

Everything you need to know about why Meganebu! is fantastic can be seen in its first title card.

Behold the garish color scheme, the deadpan absurdity of the statement, the glasses motif in the bottom right-hand corner–behold the essence of Meganebu! The show becomes a compelling argument for auteur theory, as Soubi Yamamoto elevates the silliness of its writing and composition with her unique and uncompromising directorial style. Yamamoto gleefully plays with palettes and framing, literally injecting color into every object and turning the show into an ever-evolving spectacle. She’ll switch from using halftones and onomatopoeias to evoke the feeling of reading a manga (a la FLCL), to using shadow puppets and heavily-distorted narration to evoke something more sinister. In fact, she’ll do both within the same episode. Moreover, she’ll do both within the same episode that is chiefly about the club president trying to walk past a single praying mantis.

There’s a tendency, I’ve noticed, for anime reviewers to focus more so, if not exclusively on a series’ writing when appraising its worth. While this isn’t an inherently incorrect way to go about judging a show, it does ignore the fact that anime is, like film, a visual medium that engages its audience’s eyes well before anything else. A script is merely a sequence of names and words, and its translation to the screen is a difficult and involved process that I’m not even going to pretend to know everything about. BUT, it appears to me that Yamamoto can be credited with at least two important directorial choices:

  1. Recognizing how stupid Meganebu! is in concept
  2. Embracing Meganebu!‘s stupidity and using it as a license to do whatever the hell she wants

My evidence is as follows:

Yamamoto is very young director, and Meganebu! represents her first foray into a TV series, but her boldness and creativity with the material prove that she has a measure of artistic vision that many other directors lack. Actually, a lot of her work for this show reminds me, in spirit, of Akiyuki Shinbou’s direction for Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Shinbou took advantage of SZS‘s offbeat nature to play around and try out different styles and even different mediums. And while SZS is arguably the much cleverer show, Yamamoto’s direction is arguably even more offbeat than Shinbou’s. Meganebu! is not a show I watch for its writing or characters, but for its vision and character. And really, what’s more appropriate than a show about glasses becoming the year’s best treat for the eyes?

As a parting thought, I’d like you to consider this beautiful portrait of despair (as induced via our intrepid club members failing to procure the glasses wipes of their dreams):

Now just imagine what Soubi Yamamoto will be able to do once she’s at the helm of a show that’s not about boys wearing glasses. I know I’ll be keeping my eyes on her work (eyes that are, of course, looking through glasses).

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