Halfway Into Spring 2013: The Good, The Great, And The Greatest

Amongst the typical lot of dross this season, there are actually three shows that I’m keeping up with weekly and regard as Quite Good.

Suisei no Gargantia

This one’s the weakest link. While really well produced, it’s not terribly complex or deep. Judging by posts on Twitter, people seem to be lauding the show’s world building–and I can see what they’re getting at–but the only thing causing me to pay some attention is the visually pleasing, pixiv-inspired background art. The characters seem to want to be loveable, but given the writer’s inability to comprehend real human actions and emotions, everyone comes off as really fake and archetypical, with no edge or original quirks. Who wrote this anyway? Oh… Urobuchi Gen? Makes sense, then. I liked his cast of sociopaths in Fate/Zero, but I assume that’s because the only characters he can write well are those who are similar to himself.

Naruko Hanaharu’s character designs are rendered well, but something is obviously lost in the transition to clean digital animation. Similarly, while the show has quite a rich look to it, with its busted up rusted ships and weird machinery, everything looks a bit too clean and clinical.

Given the character designer’s history and the show’s production values, I would rather see this as a porno, ’cause the story ain’t really much to stick around for, especially considering the fact that it’s only a thirteen episode affair, and hasn’t gotten anywhere interesting in the six episodes I have seen so far. I assumed the show was twenty-six or so when it first started, with this part being the slow build-up, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

That said, I keep watching it each week. Original anime is always a Good Thing, and even if Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is kind of simple, it’s doing the obvious things you should do with storytelling that most story-driven anime won’t even bother with period.

Shingeki no Kyojin

It’s good to see anime that goes back to what the medium was known for–you know, being not kids stuff–in the glory days of stupidly gory OVAs that populated the shelves at Blockbusters the nation over. To be fair, Shingeki no Kyojin is a TV show, so they can’t go all the way, but their heart is in the right place.

Yeah, the one of the bigger things Shingeki no Kyojin has going for it is how it’s not afraid to be relentlessly brutal. The other thing it has going for it is its serial nature: You just gotta know what happens next. Because of this I can overlook the show’s otherwise by-the-book shounen dialogue, character interactions and archetypes. While all the bits in between giants attacking and eating people are watchable, they do well by throwing in the right plot twists at the right times.

That said, given Shingeki no Kyojin‘s somewhat simple characters and strong dependence on story and shock value, I fear that the show may turn out to be one pulpy ride that’s fun while it lasts, but not one worth visiting again. The way the story develops, the way certain facts reveal themselves, and the way characters are written makes this show feel like some manga editor’s pet project. Or at least, what I imagine a manga editor’s pet project feels like. It hits all the right notes, but at the moment it feels more like eating a bunch of candy as opposed to savoring a delicious meal.

As far as visuals go, while Shingeki no Kyojin is set in a pretty typical fantasy world, its mix of influences is interesting. The traditional fantasy setting mixed with the soldiers’ more anime influenced uniform designs and machinery along with the strange designs of the giants (especially the big skinless one) gives the show a bit of a varied and refreshing look.

On the whole, Attack on Titan obviously still quite conventionally anime in a lot of respects, but it does enough original things to keep itself interesting and offbeat.

Aku no Hana

I have to say, I was skeptical of the rotoscoping at first. While it certainly did well to give the show a very specific look, I wasn’t about to jump on the rotoscoping boat after that first episode. Honestly, my first reaction was: Just make this live action.

A few further episodes and a glance at the manga completely sold me, however. The manga–its first volume, at least–has very by-the-numbers and slightly poorly drawn moe artwork, while the anime sports a distinctive graphic, fluid and realistic style. The show utilizes the real life acting to its advantage in the way it accurately portrays a wide canvas of teenage feelings through movement, be it the jerky and awkward teenage boy mannerisms of Kasuga, the bold, aggressive gestures of Nakamura, or the gentle body language and facial expressions of Saeki.

It doesn’t quite work all of the time, though: Copying some of the manga’s more abstract imagery wholesale with the show’s realistic designs ranges between the staff pushing their luck or them simply failing. There are also moments when everything is static–like normal anime–which comes off as quite distracting, seeing as everyone is moving around all over the place the rest of the time. But all said, the realistic yet abstract nature of the rotoscoping perfectly complements the realistic yet abstract nature of the story.

And what a story, huh? As someone who hasn’t read the original, the story at this point is suitably bizarre and twisted, tapping into the kind of emotions I really want to see when anime makes second year junior high school students its protagonists. Nakamura and Kasuga are both great characters whose minds are filled with the kinds of gross ideas and confused feelings that a lot of us had (and perhaps still have) when we were younger. The events carried out in Aku no Hana are what happens when those feelings turn into reality, and for that reason the show is quite fulfilling to watch.

There are complaints about the pacing, and I can understand them. While the show certainly moves slowly, the slow pace contributes a lot to its convincingly realistic and overbearing atmosphere. I would personally like to see the show cover more than what it’s doing, but given than I’ve decided to start reading the manga, that’s not a huge deal. As a piece of art on its own, away from the original, Flowers of Evil is quite satisfying.

Bonus: I Watched The Saint Young Men Movie

I’ll just come out and say it: This was a date movie, but one I was actually slightly interested in seeing. After having heard rave reviews of the manga, I figured a movie of it would at least be decent. Thankfully, it was more than that!

Saint Young Men is a very pleasant film. As I expected, it isn’t quite laugh-out-loud funny, but it’s a charming set of stories about a delightful pair of young men who just happen to be Jesus and Buddha. The laughs are gentle, and each story’s fun quirks feel nice. I say “stories” because the film is divided into four parts–one for each season of the two men’s first year in Japan. This is a very effective and clever approach, as it gets around trying to tie everything up into one complete story, a mistake that movies based on long-running comedies tend to make. Rather than focus on story, the film does a splendid job of endearing one to the neighbors that surround the pair throughout, resulting in a decently rounded cast of characters by the time the credits roll. It goes without saying that Buddha and Jesus are portrayed nicely as a pair of goofy dudes who are just enjoying everyday life.

The film has a nice deliberately sketchy look to both the character artwork and the backgrounds, mimicking the look of the manga well. I was particularly taken by the care that went into depicting the film’s setting of Tachikawa. While not aiming for complete realism, the amount of detail in the backgrounds and funny visual asides by background characters do well to bring the setting to life, portraying it as a place that you can actually go to for yourself… because you can! The movie made me want to go to Tachikawa, so that has to count for something, right?

Anyway, it was a great film. I’d buy it.