Dispatches From Winter 2011: PART 2 (Gosick and Kore Wa Zombie Desu Ka?)

Ahoy-hoy, kids. Seiya here with a few early (some might say premature) impressions for the Winter 2011 season. But first, a number of disclaimers.

Before even getting started, I can tell you with some certainty that no matter how amazed I may be by the first episode of a show, I’m probably not going to be sitting down and watching the second episode a week later. I’m confident in this because I have never watched an entire season of any show week-by-week as it was airing. Not once. I’m just not wired that way, and after several years of trying with varying degrees of effort to watch shows at the same time everyone else on the Internet was watching them, I’ve basically just given up.

Without fail, I always end up watching one or two episodes of things that I’m interested in right as the season starts, getting really excited, and then getting distracted by a mosquito or something and basically doing absolutely nothing for many, many weeks before finally ending up marathoning a handful of shows after the season ends, just in time for the process to repeat itself for the following season.

Part of this I can attribute to having come of age in an environment where having access to Japanese cartoons was a matter of alternating feast and famine. Months could be spent watching the same worn-out VHS copy of Ghost in the Shell over and over again, followed by one trip to a local con (or just a weekend spent with some friends) spent scrambling to watch 48 straight episodes of Kimagure Orange Road without passing out from exhaustion. The idea of watching something in a slow, regular way was thoroughly inconceivable. Those old habits die hard, and the rest is just good old fashioned laziness, coupled with the fact that I have the attention span of a gypsy moth. Regardless of the reason, I feel like I lack some of the skills necessary to go into a first episode with an eye for what will or will not hold up for an entire season. I am blessed with the luxury of waiting until all the dust has settled and I can refer to the final verdicts of people whose opinions I trust (or at least understand) to get a sense of the experience as a whole. Of course, in most cases I will then ignore this entirely and proceed to watch the entirety of whatever shows I was interested in at the season’s open, just out of stubbornness and senseless optimism.

Which is kind of the other reason that anything I say should be immediately suspect. See, I pretty much like everything. Sure, I like some things a lot more than others, but I can find the appeal and derive some very real enjoyment out of almost anything. It’s also incredibly difficult for me to effectively get my head into the right space to make even a basic guess at what someone else would enjoy, beyond the incredibly obvious. So just do us both a favor and keep this in mind.


Yes, it's a very nice dress, now what?The mystery of mysterious mysteries

First on the block is a show that I went into purely on the strength of the title and a single promo image. In some ways, it says quite a bit about this season that the shows I’m most excited over are the ones I know the least about, but I’m trying not to get all cynical over it. I have to say, though, I’m kind of glad I didn’t know more, since although the show is not terrible it probably wouldn’t have met any expectations I set for it.

Gosick is apparently based on a long-running light novel series (with a few volumes worth of manga adaptation on the side) but despite being the kind of mystery-of-the-week story that sounds like it should slip seamlessly into either manga or anime format the first episode feels awkwardly paced and shoehorned roughly into an episodic structure. Despite how it sounds, this is actually a good thing, since it kind of prevents the show from feeling 100% formulaic right off the bat. Of course, this was only one episode, so next week could make me eat those words (assuming I’m even watching next week, which we’ve established is a stretch). Apparently the first two novels have been released in English, which kind of blows my mind, so hopefully someone who read and enjoyed those can chime in on how faithful the show looks to be.

The show is…competently animated, and thus far inoffensive for a TV production, but I’d be hard pressed to point to anything that stood out as being either inspired or technically impressive. The show is at its best when it moves outside the school setting (which appears to have been decorated entirely with photoshop filters) and wholeheartedly embraces its faux-victoriana setting. Even then, however, I found myself wishing a few times that the entire show had been animated in the style of the opening sequence, which abandons the muted, fuzzy brown-on-black palette that dominates the show proper in favor of some very heavy lines and some pleasantly light pastel colors.

Compare...and contrast

Story-wise, the show is shaping up to be more or less what you would expect from something originally published by Fujimi Mystery Bunko. We’re presented with an elaborate and contrived mystery that requires the kind of SUPER GENIUS INTELLECT that can only come from a diminutive gothloli girl in order to solve it. There are hints of a larger plot arc, but it would be awfully generous to call that a “story” after these first 20 minutes. It’s more like a series of sleight-of-hand tricks designed to make you think that there might be a story lurking just around the corner, ready to pounce at any moment. There are even a couple of suggestions that something vaguely supernatural might happen, but that mostly just feels like window dressing.

In short, we have a handful of stock characters in the one of those early 20th century European towns that are so popular with the kids these days. There’s a school, and some local legends, and some kids that solve mysteries. That much, at least, is clear.

Unfortunately, the show’s one and only mystery to date has been a bit of a dud. Actually, strike that. That’s a gross understatement. The only “mystery” we’ve been shown in the first episode was so bafflingly childish that I actually had to pause the show for a couple of minutes while I tried to work out whether the puzzle was deliberately paper-thin to help establish character or if it was just incompetently written.

To be honest, I’m still not sure.

Which brings me to the only part of any review or impressions that anyone actually cares about. The characters. We’ve got a bit of a mixed bag here, without any major surprises. The male lead, whose name and background are not worth remembering or repeating, is about as bland as wallpaper paste, in a move that I’m sure will shock no one. This isn’t even worth complaining about, as I maintain that actual primary characters (and especially male protagonists) can just fuck off in general. The only lingering concern here is that he may not entirely fulfill his role as audience surrogate as well as he should, but it’s early enough to offer up the benefit of the doubt.

The female lead, Victorique (pronounced “Victorica”, apparently) is more interesting as a design than an actual character, and even then only just. For the most part she looks like a Rozen Maiden cosplayer who happened to wander into the frame of this show, but standing next to the other characters she still looks like a proper Yoshitaka Amano painting just by comparison. Her one interesting characteristic is the tiny white pipe that she pulls out when she deems it time for serious thinkin’.

Honestly, even if everything else from this show disappears down the memory hole in another 23 episodes, I hope the pipe catches on. I’m not too heavy into the Gothic and Lolita scene, but this was a new one on me and I actually find it quite charming. Mind you, she’s not actually smoking anything out of it (which is how you can definitively tell that we’re in 1920s Europe and not modern-day Japan) it’s just a prop for gesturing and looking pensive, but it definitely gets the job done.

If, by the time this show is over, North American cons are not completely flooded with girls waving around plastic replica pipes then I will officially declare Gosick a failure.

The only real standout in the cast is obvious crowd-pleaser Grevil, whose hairstyle alone has more personality than the rest of the cast combined. You can actually watch it upstaging both the central cast and the overall plot arc itself in pretty much every scene where it makes an appearance.

OBEY MY HAIRHmm...yes...quite...

So basically, at this stage the show has two things going for it. A pipe and a pompadour. Everything else is just filler.

If the show is something that looks interesting to you on a stylistic level, go ahead and give it a shot. I don’t feel like it makes any promises that it doesn’t keep, but if you can’t get excited just from the look of it, I don’t imagine there’s anything in there that’ll change your mind. At least not in episode one.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have a show that could be called interesting for almost every possible reason except its looks.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

Magic chainsaw. You know, for kicking.Yeah, I don't even know

Prior to watching the first episode, I had heard more about the outrage and confusion stemming from Crunchyroll’s decision to leave the title untranslated than I had about the content of the show itself. This is kind of a shame, since the show has just the sort of outlandish premise that just begs to be inappropriately summarized.

The main character is a zombie (which kind of defuses the questioning nature of the show’s title, but no matter) who, in a plot point that feels more than a little evocative of 3×3 Eyes, is being kept alive by the supernatural powers of a decidedly otherworldly woman after he had an unfortunate accident. In this case the woman in question has a name that sounds like something thought up by a first-timer at a tabletop roleplaying game, “Eucliwood Hellscythe”, and dresses like she thinks she’s in an epic fantasy series. On top of this, she’s inexplicably mute and communicates only through hastily scribbled messages on notebook paper.

The fantastic thing is that this isn’t even the plot of the show, this is just the background. The actual story is even more nonsensical and over the top.

To be fair, this is pretty much how I always felt in class tooAn...interesting interpretation of visual perspective

In a season that’s already ripe with shows which are all too easily defined as being combinations of older, established shows, it’s almost refreshing to see a show that absolutely revels in being shamelessly derivative. There is no pretense of originality here, just a melange of things that we have all seen before played off each other for comic effect.

Visually, the show is bad. Bad as in bad. Not good. It’s not clear if the characters are perpetually off-model or if the original designs just legitimately look like the product of an untalented grade schooler’s idle doodling, but either way the end result looks like a C-grade ero-anime.

Also, this has nothing to do with anything, but I really need to mention that the main character’s living room is host to a Dyson Air Multiplier™ bladeless fan. I can’t explain why, but this was so bizarre and incongruous that I had to rewind the episode more than once after I missed a chunk of dialog because I was busy staring at that damn fan.

Do people actually own those things? WHY IS THAT THERE??Can't decide if this would make a good plushie or not

Anyway, the show is a mess. But it definitely has the potential to be an amazing mess. There is zero pretense here, and the show never runs the risk of taking itself even remotely seriously. Ironically, though, I find myself more interested in this show’s mysterious elements than I am in Gosick‘s Big Serious Mysteries. My only real concern is that the energy seen in the first episode won’t be able to continue for a full run. I mostly expect the show will fizzle out in another episode or two and degenerate into predictable stupidity, but I’d love to be proven wrong.


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