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May 19, 2013 / Bradley

Revenge of the DEAD BLOG: What I’m Watching Spring 2013 Part Two

Just when you thought you were safe, and had time to rally your defenders to your walls, I return…

titan

Attack on Titan

Even though it’s incorrect, most folks I know think of anime as a genre. They might struggle to define what that genre is, given the vast audience and subject matter that anime has, but it makes a kind of intuitive sense to think that way. In America, most of our exposure still seems to come by way of Adult Swim or similar channels, and the anime selected for broadcasting tend to fit a fairly narrow set of criteria for audience and content. It has to appeal to the young male demographic- one wonders what kind of numbers Cartoon Network would have had if they sought the young female fandom as hard- and features good violence, involving story arcs,  and hopefully some nice cartoon tits as a bonus. This is the stuff that most fans would recognize as anime. While I generally think that the fuss over not enough anime being made that fits this narrow conception is both overstated and unhelpful, it’s still good to have more anime that more people would want to watch simply because it’s like other anime they liked. Attack on Titan fits all that criteria nicely, except for one: quality. Most of the anime shown on TV also happened to be really good, whereas for all its cool concepts and attractive pulp drama, Attack on Titan feels overwhelmingly average. A lot of that can be pinned on the characters, a set of entirely one-dimensional, simplistic bores who repeatedly undercut the drama. I could see this series getting better or worse as the episode count grows, but at the moment, it’s merely enjoyable, though sadly unremarkable. Damn shame, that.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Most of what I said about Attack on Titan applies here, with one exception: it has actually been a quality cartoon. Some of this is the lush, attractive animation, and some of it is, yes, the writing. The characters, or at least the ones that matter, are familiar but still interesting, and the culture clash at the heart of its story has made for plenty of drama, even if this is a fairly mundane subject in science-fiction. Taking the time and attention to work out details like alien languages and the particulars of the culture and daily lives of the members of the Gargantia collective all help to enrich the story, making it more convincing and involving. It seems gauche now to praise Urobuchi, and while there’s plenty about his work so far that’s worth critiquing, it’s clear that he’s working on a higher level than most and deserves to remain a Name to anime fans. But anime is also a very collective effort, and without its rich visuals, good music, and confident direction from Fullmetal Alchemist: The Star of Milos veteran Kazuya Murata, the script wouldn’t amount to much. Taken altogether, this is probably my favorite new anime of the season.

Chihiyafuru 2

This series feels like it underachieving, especially in comparison to its excellent first season. I suppose some of this is simply because, at this point, competitive karuta has lost all of its novelty, and the love triangle that was the heart of its most involving has gone inert in concession to lengthy tournament arcs. It’s still enjoyable, though, in part because nearly every peripheral character has gotten some development, and also because the tournament has been a fairly compelling watch. As much as that particular conceit of anime is ragged on, I think tournament story arcs naturally make for good drama, and Chihiyafuru’s current arc is a very good tournament arc. There’s an artform to this kind of story that the series has done a good job with, keeping the audience off-balance with careful twists that keep the drama heightened. It’s true that the series feels less special now, but it’s still one of the best josei series I’ve ever seen, and a treat to watch every week.

This probably ranks as the biggest disappointment this season. Azazel-san has always been a mean spirited series, but the last two story arcs have felt largely vicious, tasteless and worst of all, unfun. Pinning down exactly why has been tough for me, though, but I’ll walk through some of the particulars. The second story arc was certainly the most egregious, in part because it resurrected the hoary, offensive old joke that transsexuals are rapist weirdos, but also because of the gratuitous amounts of gore gushing from asses was unfunny and hard to watch. The return of Undine was more bearable, but highlighted a part of the series I’m increasingly uneasy with. Azazel-san has always had undercurrent of social commentary to it, though that’s generous characterization. A more accurate one might be: this cartoon hates people, and looks thoughtless because of it. Undine, for example, fits an awful stereotype about single women that made my stomach churn as I watched it. The “angels as virgin nerds” gag isn’t much better. That’s not to say pompous nerds or conceited women shouldn’t be satirized, but that good satire should go beyond the broad stereotypes Azazel-san relies on. This series just feels really juvenile and bitter, like an extended Internet rant about how awful the world is from your crazy libertarian uncle. I keep hoping it will recapture whatever made the first season such a fun watch, but at this point, I’m doubtful.

Doki Doki Pretty Cure

I like to cap off my weekend with this series, since it has been such a reliably enjoyable watch. It continues to riff in clever ways on common conceits in magical girl cartoons, while remaining faithful to the Pretty Cure formula. And it deftly avoids some of the weaknesses of earlier Pretty Cure series. I had worried that Ai would be a drag to watch, but she has generally been affable instead of an annoyance, which makes her nothing like a real baby but fun to watch. The series has also benefited from focusing on Makopi, who has a compelling dramatic link to the obligatory Trump Kingdom story arc. So far, none of this has quite reached the best highs of how entertaining Smile Pretty Cure! could be, but it feels like a much more consistent series. The true test of that consistency will be when the obligatory mid-year climax hits here in the near future, and I’m inclined to bet it will pull it off quite well.

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One Comment

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  1. kenyaboi1364 / May 27 2013 4:48 pm

    Attack on Titan is stupendously popular for the reasons you outlines, and something I dearly want to be better than it is. The writing/script simply doesn’t inspire confidence when the teen soldiers endlessly make maudlin statements in between flying across rooftops and the caricatures of nobles and merchants are the most tired villains-types that generate stock conflict. I think folks like Sasha so much simply because she’s one of the few sources of comic relief.

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