Anime Wrap-up 2014: The Best, The Worst and The State of The Anime Medium – Part 2

Click here for PART 1.

Spring 2014 (just when you thought things couldn’t get

worse)

The fall leftovers had protected the multitudes of viewers in their fine bosom, protecting them from the vile beasts that spilled forth from Old Man winter, but even these gentle guardians have to bid their farewells. Disintegrating into ashes, the heroes of year’s past ended their existence. I assumed in this power vacuum a new monolith would rise up and define 2014 with its greatness. Who was this champion of justice going to be? What would become the next Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan, or Steins;Gate? Truly do I tell you, the ashes bore no fruit. Nobody came to conquer the abyss, and nothing existed to prevent the masses from falling for its deceptively colourful charm. What came in the spring of 2014 will only be remembered by those who lived it. Anime was about to change, forever.

The irregular at magic high

The Irregular at Magic High School (meta-enjoyment at its finest)

Anime can be pretty feculent at times, so to make a generic anime that’s so bad it’s good was written off by me as an impossibility. The bar for anime is just too low. How can a show be so bad that it could smash through my worst expectations? Ladies and gentlemen, look no further, for The Irregular at Magic High School can satisfy all your meta-enjoyment desires.

The Irregular at Magic High is the first of Madhouse’s two contributions to the spring season, and follows the usual madhouse ritual of deciding what novel/manga to adapt; with reckless abandon they throw the contenders into a hat, pick at random and proceed to throw money at the project. A lot of money, as can be seen by the crisp animation and smart cinematography. And that’s the unintentional stroke of genius: what makes The Irregular at Magic High so bad, yet so good, is the fact that it has such high animation quality, such seriousness and such care put into its production, even though its plot, characters, soundtrack, fight scenes, dialogue, and pretty much everything else is offensive to basic human cognition. All other things aside, looking at The Irregular at Magic High is a pleasurable experience. It’s like soaking red onions in ice water; you get all the flavour with no bite. And trust me; you want your taste buds free to savour the sweet flavour that is the story behind The Irregular at Magic High.

Nice guy Tatsuya

The plot, oh boy, the plot. It’s like nothing you have ever seen before, and at the same time like everything you have ever seen before. Think Code Geass, minus everything that was good about Code Geass, and only keeping the generic premise of wanting to be every shounen ever. Even this description gives The Irregular at Magic High too much credit, for any sense of proper pacing, foreshadowing and progression seems to have been left at the wayside.

Let’s talk protagonists. Our main character, Tatsuya, who is emotionless, serious, “cool” and successful in every measurable way at absolutely everything in existence, is the ninja/secret government agent/engineer/inventor/sex panther of the show. Despite being omnipotent in power and omnipresent in appearance, he is looked down upon by society because of some institutionalized discrimination based on using magic.

So let’s talk magic. Magic in this universe is some technological, elemental, spiritual, virtual, scientific, pseudo-scientific, incomprehensible mess of undefined acronyms. Some people can use these ill-defined powers, and others can’t, which is grounds for demeaning the later individuals as second class citizens and excluding them from positions of power. Tatsuya is one of these oppressed souls, even though he can “engineer” any magic-power-phone-device he wants, called CADs (convenient ass-pull devices), making him more powerful than everything in the story space combined. In addition, his previously stated sex panther attribute gives him the ability to excrete pheromones that make all women he comes in contact with instantly want to cream his cheese.

Tatsuya's cheese being creamed

So let’s talk side characters. There is every female character, which are mere pallet swaps of each other with different hair, height, and overused anime tropes. There is every male character, which literally look so similar to Tatsuya they are indistinguishable, and possess character traits ranging from none to absolutely none. As stated earlier, every female character wants Tatsuya the way an addict wants crack, but in Tatsuya’s oppressively sad life there is one junkie that stands out from all the rest. Following standard anime protocol, resolution 73, issue IC793 version b, Tatsuya has a little sister that wants to have a not-so-Platonic relationship with him. But, in an act of perverse originality, for lack of a better term, Tatsuya and his sister share a very unique relationship. Unique in that she has no free will, agency or free thought whatsoever; every action she does, every word she mutters must be approved by onii-chan Tatsuya. Tatsuya literally wears his little sister on his arm for some episodes without her muttering a word, and often silences her with a mere flash of his handsome gaze.

This is still, by and large, by-the-books levels of bad. To get the whole picture we need to talk about plot events. Firstly, they all take place in high school, and range from terrorist attacks, rebellions by the oppressed masses, other men jealous of Tatsuya’s relationship with his little sister, school fights involving lethal magic, guns, some ninjas, some yakuza, something about a Ukrainian-Belarusian alliance selling arms to Japan, definitely something about the filthy Chinese, school competition of magical talent, magical family dynasty wars, people wanting to speak to Tatsuya’s little sister without his permission, the list goes on. Every fight is painfully uninteresting, and every aspect of plot progression makes each event feel like it was written on the spot with no sense of planning, foreshadowing or cause and effect.

Tatsuya and his sister

So, is it good? No. Is it bad? Yes. Should you watch it? You would be doing yourself a HUGE disservice by not watching it. The Irregular at Magic High pushes every trope to the edge of insanity, and then throws them off the cliff into a world where only over-the-top absurdity lies. It is so extreme in being as cliché and bullshit as humanly possible that it makes the horrendous products of the winter look tame, but unlike any of these shows, it is a great time laughing at how bad it is. Unfortunately for The Irregular at Magic High, I don’t consider meta-enjoyments in my ratings, which means I must unfortunately give it a HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium. Objectively it is bad, but subjectively I can put faith in your liking the experience with a group of friends.

And you know, it’s a good thing bad anime can be enjoyable. After all, how often do we actually get good anime being produced?

No Game No Sadness

No Game No Life (when you stare too long into the abyss, the abyss stares back)

In my anime watching career, there have been major events that defined my perspective on the medium. Watching No Game No Life is one of those defining moments. Before No Game No Life, I had hope. Before I watched No Game No Life, I smiled. Before I watched No Game No Life, the world was a beautiful place. But in the post-NGNL era, I am dejected. Anime, from that point on appeared forsaken, an unsalvageable Titanic sinking into the ocean. And entangled in its 52000 tons of metal and steel I left behind a precious piece of myself. A phrase. A phrase that, in the past, was a mere automatic reflex, an everyday piece of my being. When somone would ask, “do you like anime?” My reply would always be, “yes.” That “yes” now sits 20 000 leagues under the sea, trapped in the corroding hull of one of the most wretched, listless, terminally unfunny, intellectually and artistically vacuous of shows anime has to offer.

Some of you – in fact, most of you, considering the general consensus of the anime community – might be thinking, “How can someone hate No Game No Life that much?” Well, in truth I have thought the same thing, but with a slight twist, “how can someone NOT hate No Game No Life?”

Sora's shitty face

There are more problems with the show than one human being could ever hope to express. If I were to write them all out in full paragraphs I would have a textbook, so instead — for simplicities sake and because my doctor says thinking about NGNL for long periods of time is bad for my health — I am going to simply list off the glaring faults with the show.

  • EVERY game in NGNL is terrible
    • The first game at the bar involves Sora cheating to win, we have no idea how, it just happens (the same way Sora wins every game)
    • The second game against Steff involves an information dump at incomprehensible speeds, making honestly for the best game in series
    • The third game against Zell is very problematic
      • Premise of the game makes no sense; having willpower move pieces takes away the fundamental rules and restrictions of chess. It can barely be called a game after that
      • Zell using magic makes for an unfair and hence unenjoyable fight
      • Sora’s speech is juvenile and imbecilic. In addition it takes away even more logic from the game
      • The “the power of moe” comes up as an actual plot point and not as a joke. That is cringe worthy
      • Suddenly introducing brainwashing magic makes the game more irrational
      • The way Sora overcomes the brainwashing magic is pure bullshit
      • The end of the game makes no sense. Somehow the use of force to control people means you lose at convoluted chess.
    • The fourth game against Jibril is very problematic
      • The game involves fanservice and the sexual molestation of Steph for the most part
      • The ending of the game (the predicting of Jibril’s final move and countering it by writing it down) is another case of causationless bullshit that NGNL is famous for
    • The game of Othello is very problematic
      • The notion that sora must loose in order for shiro to win is a terrible strategy and the fact that it works is more proof of the show’s irrationality
      • How on earth did shiro know where they were? How on earth did she know where the pieces were? How did she make 3 moves in a row? How did she know those three moves would win the game when she couldn’t see the board?
    • The final game is very problematic
      • The game involves shooting animal girls in a fanservice filled FPS. First this is an anticlimactic finish. Second, FPSs are “skilled” games in the sense of either reflexes and accuracy, making them an unsuitable choice for NGNL
      • Shiro calculating the angles of the bouncing bullets is both humanly impossible and incredibly dumb, as no FPS on earth involves such a thing
      • The conclusion of the game makes, once again, no sense. If Ino is telling the locations of players to Izuna surely he would have told the location of Steph to her as soon as Steph started approaching. Plus, how on earth did Sora predict the movement of the NPCs
    • The games involve no intelligence, no ah-ha moments, no logic and are merely used to exposition Sora’s “intelligence”
  • The art is horrendous
    • The red outlines contrast harshly with most colours
    • The colours blur into one another in a disgusting haze
    • The brightness of the colours, combined with the previously stated points, could induce a migraine in sensitive individuals
    • Character art is very problematic
      • Tet looks dumb. Considering he is supposedly the final boss of Dis Board this is an issue
      • Other characters follow generic anime character templates
    • The characters are dreadful
      • Sora is very problematic
        • He is overpowered in terms of plot mechanics
        • His intelligence is told to the viewer and not ever demonstrated. This is an incredibly poor writing as Sora’s intelligence is central to both his character and the plot. As a result it must be demonstrated to the viewer how Sora is intelligence for the audience to give him the benefit of the doubt, it can’t be told to us by him. This is the main issue that most of NGNL’s problems stem from
        • His preventedness is not funny or amusing, it’s disgusting and he comes across as a rapist (no joke, he is genuinely uncomfortable to watch at times)
        • His speeches are all poorly written and juvenile
        • His cockiness is aggravating and makes him even less likable
        • His statements on life that he spews out occasionally in the show are all very disturbing and feel like a dangerous affirmation of the otaku world-view
        • The fact that he is afraid of people in the real world but interacts with people in Dis Board perfectly fine makes no sense
        • Sora undergoes little to no character development. After all, he enter Dis Board already being infallible and omniscient so what should I have expected, you can’t improve on perfection
        • He treats every woman, except for Shiro, like an inferior being, and eventually like a slave once they are added to his harem. The main point I want to drive home is that I never wished for is victory in any game
      • Shiro is very problematic
        • She is barely fleshed out
        • She has no will, dreams or agency of her own. She merely follows around her big brother, never speaking up against him only obeying his every command
        • She suffers from the same intelligence problem as stated with Sora
        • She looks like she is 9, making fanservice of her both ethically questionable and most definitely repulsive
      • Steph is very problematic
        • She isn’t properly fleshed out
        • She is literally victimized throughout the entire show by our main duo. Making me hate Sora and Shiro even more
        • She is said to have “school smarts” but once again, the show refuses to follow the “show don’t tell” proverb and think we will just believe it if Steph herself tells us she is smart on one occasion
        • Her central role in the story is confusing as we hardly know anything of her. All she acts as is a plot mechanic, not an actual character
      • Zell is very problematic
        • Not enough character exposition
        • Comes across as generic easily embarrassed girl
      • Feel is very problematic
        • No character exposition
        • Is the generic nice girl character type
        • Her magic makes her functions as a plot device, not a character
      • Jibril is very problematic
        • Not enough character exposition
        • Has that dumb attribute of being sexually aroused by the stroke of her wing. Talk about pandering
        • She follows the same vapid character formula as Shiro from Nobunagun. Her interest in knowledge only results in her looking enticed, saying something like, “what is this” and getting that gross drool bubble on her mouth
        • Her main purpose in the story is fanservice. Her tentacle monster soap dispenser is proof of this
      • Isuna is very problematic
        • Not enough character exposition
        • She serves the purpose of both fox-girl and loli
      • Ino is very problematic
        • He gets absolutely no character exposition and his purpose in the narrative is pointless other than helping Isuna cheat. Why is he even a character?
      • While NGNL being incomplete as a story negates some of my critiques, the show has demonstrated no knowledge of good character writing, meaning I highly doubt these problems will ever be fixed, and secondly, NGNL should never get a second season.
    • The comedy is lousy
      • Depending on reference humor to the extent that NGNL does is very bad practice
      • Jokes were either stale or inherently unamusing
      • I only laughed on one occasion, and I had to lower my standards quite a lot to get that one laugh out loud

Unhappy Sora and Shiro

Before I end off this excessively long NGNL review, let me clarify a few things and make my closing remarks:

Frist off, yes, NGNL isn’t evil, it didn’t kill my family and I don’t wish horrible things upon the people who made it. But let’s not play the innocent bystander card with such disregard for consequences. As anime viewers, we influence where anime is headed. When we watch a show, when we buy its merchandise, when we blog, tweet, post and engage with it in a positive way, we say to the studios “Yes, this is what I want, I enjoyed this, make more of this.” Even outside of talk, revenues tell the story alone. Our money and what we decide to spend it on is the wind that pushes upon the sails that guide this great ship known as anime. So let this piece of my year end wrap-up be a resounding cry that NO, I don’t want this to be the direction new anime is head in.

It’s true, I might be taking NGNL a little too seriously, but hear me out for a moment. So far as I see it NGNL has revealed a weakness in the minds of the anime community, and could change the direction anime is headed. What is this weakness you ask? It’s the same weakness that caused Sword Art Online to get so much acclaim in spite of its glaring faults, and what appears to have blinded viewers of NGNL from the shows innumerable dilemmas. The weakness, is gaming. It seems that, so far as an anime is centered around videogames, or the people who play them, standards for what is a good plot, characters and pacing, drop faster than Sora and Shiro in episode 1. Imagine for a moment, if you are an anime studio that wants to maximize profits: will you spend time, effort and most importantly, money, to write an, even mediocre story, when you could write an easy and lazy story that’s based around videogames in some way, knowing that your audience will eat it up regardless of how irrational the story progression is and how undeveloped the characters are? You see, I feel that we are going to see a surge in videogame and gamer related anime that are going to try and exploit this newfound vice in the anime community, and these dark days of anime seasons filled with excessive amounts of garbage shows will continue for quite some time.

So in conclusion… you know what… no conclusion needed. If you don’t understand what I’m getting at after my almost 2000 word long tirade there is no hope for you. No Game No Life gets a HORRIFIC… out of 10. This show is a horrendous, atrocious, and dreadful work that is offensive to anime, as a medium.

3 Anime Cover

Black Bullet (making a loli harem, to save Tokyo!), One Week Friends (cotton candy), Captain Earth (too complex for mere Earthlings to understand)

In the post-No-Game-No-Life era anime just wasn’t the same. My long-standing tolerance for bad anime was gone. Even though I excitedly pledged to myself that I would watch an entire year’s worth of anime to write a review like this, the prospects of following through with that promise seemed to imply a painful struggle (hence why this review is going up so late).

One of the main repercussions of the post-No-Game-No-Life-condition is that I dropped most of the shows I was watching from the spring of 2014. And by most, I mean every one of them, without exception. Since I haven’t even watched ¼ of any of these series, I’m just going to preemptively state that, officially, these series formally receive an UNRATED… out of 10. This show may be the one of the greatest pieces of art ever made, or one of the most retched piece of trash ever conceived. I simply do not know. But even though I didn’t watch them to the end, I still want to give some thoughts on them.

Pre-NGNL, I was watching Black Bullet. It was a show about alien insects invading earth and the loli girls that team up with the ultra-cool, dressed-in-all-black main character to save the world. Looking back after writing that sentence, I don’t know why I was watching that show in the first place. I didn’t make it that far, but from what others have told me, I made the right decision.

One week freinds characters eating lunch

There was also One Week Friends, which is like Ef: a Tale of Memoires except… give me a minute… Ok, there were quite a few differences. The show didn’t reek of Shaft’s far too common art style, where they desperately try to hide their meager budget behind an “artsier than thou” aesthetic that comes across about as genuine as a Facebook cover image edited to death in Microsoft Paint. Plus, the show had no angsty teenage drama. One Week Friends, from what I saw of it, was just a cute show about a girl that lost her memory every week, and the boy that made her his friend after every case of amnesia. But through its minimalist constitution, the show ends up throwing the baby out with the hormonally charged bathwater. Nothing really feels like it amounts to anything, and that’s why I call it cotton candy. It might by utter fluff, but it’s sweet.

Then we finally come to Studio Bones’ big release, Captain Earth. If I remember correctly the first episode tells you at the half-way point that, even though you might be confused, you should trust us that everything is going to make sense later on. So once I dropped the show after episode 1, I decided to inquire as to if that obvious lie was, in fact, a lie. Sure enough, the cow excrement I smelled that day was not a figment of my petty human imagination. To sum it up, Captain Earth is apparently made up 40% standard mecha shounen, 40% incoherence, and 20% Bones torturing the public by not remaking Soul Eater and giving us this instead.

mushishi-zoku-shou-2014_37521396604467

Mushishi Zoku Shou (a lone sojourner in the abyss)

Resurrected from the long forgotten past of 2005, the Mushishi anime breaths again! I bet you want me to say something about what makes Mushishi and its new season simply the best thing ever. I would love to, but I still haven’t seen the first season. Everyone who watches anime has a plan-to-watch list which harbours at least one series that will make people shout, “dude, how have you not watched that?! Dude, you have got to watch it man, it’s the best thing, ever. Best girl, of all girls. Anime of the year, every year.” Well, for me, Mushishi is that anime.

What do I even know about the series…? The main character is called Ginko, there is a thing called Mushi… yep, that’s all.

I guess you’re wondering why I’m even writing about a show I haven’t even watched. Well, Mushishi Zoku Shou is just too big to be left out of an anime wrap up. In addition, it’s apparently a good show, and this article could really use some positivity. I have heard from enough reliable sources that the show is a real gem, so I guess I’ll be the one taking somebodies word this time around.

Mushishi Zoku Shou: it’s a thing, and you (and I) should really watch it, because apparently, it gets a GREAT… out of 10. This show is simply exceptional and excels far beyond most anime in its genre.

Ping Pong the animation

Ping Pong the Animation (A hero enters)

This narrative I’m trying to construct, of an “anime abyss”, was planned out long before I ever watched Ping-Pong the Animation. Having skipped the show when it was first airing, I still thought I had sampled enough of the year’s anime pickings to construct my story of 2014 anime as a dark wasteland of pain and sorrow. I didn’t think a show called “Ping-Pong the Animation” would change that. Sure, look at that cover picture. It seems interesting, definitely unique, one may say experimental in its art choice; but it was Ping-Pong we are talking about here. No matter how against-the-grain and appealing-to-the-eye the show might be, the nature of its substance meant it could never be something more than a solid sports anime. And thus I convince myself to put it aside until the November long weekend. It was only then I saw the error in my ways…

Ping-Pong the animation is one of the most astounding pieces of anime I have ever seen. Whatever preconception the title gives you, know that this is a crowning jewel of modern anime, a show that raises the bar of what anime is capable of. Every aspect of this show is simply magnificent. The art may look novel, but when put into motion becomes a beautiful spectacle to behold. Dialogue is both imaginative in its expressiveness and engaging in its utter humanity. Cinematography is clever and fresh; the unique framing and transitioning of shots is delightful to the eye while never coming across as superfluous or distracting. The narrative is a work of genius with incredible progression, immaculate pacing and – the true mark of perfection – a fantastic ending. But if all these aspects of the show are more than what could have ever been asked, then the characters are more than what could ever be fathomed.

Ping pong

Even the best animes, such as Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Cardcaptor Sakura, have characters that, while great, nonetheless feel like a sum of human traits and attitudes projected onto a story. But Ping Pong’s characters are a breathtaking example of characters that possess the nuance and depth of experience to feel truly human. They have that magic spark of life that makes their struggles and problems feel that much more compelling.

I could expound on the virtues of Ping Pong for pages. I could even make this review longer than the one for No Game No Life! But it feels more appropriate that Ping Pong get a separate post, rather than have the sum total of its gloriousness be tacked onto a list bemoaning the ills of modern anime. After writing what feels like an endless stream of bad reviews I feel a sense of foreignness to expressing highly positive regard for a show. I feel as if I should just thesaurus the word amazing and write every synonym that exists for it. Maybe then you will understand just how fantastic this show is.

ping-pong-04

Reminiscing on those thoughts now, it seems far too obvious to me (and most definitely to you the reader) that I have been irrationally bigoted against the modern anime scene. But to be fair, there was nothing in the medium to speak against these radical voices, and prove that creativity still has a home in Japanese animation. That is, until now.

Ping Pong is immaculate, engaging, emotion and speaks an incredibly powerful message articulated about as perfectly as I could envision it coming across. Finding flaws with the show feels like pulling at straws, it is honestly, genuinely, just that good. Ping Pong becomes the latest anime to earn the highest rank on my reviewing scale (the last being Puella Magi Madoka Magica) and becomes the fifth anime in my “top-tier” of best animes ever by receiving an AMAZING… out of 10. This show is a masterpiece and can be put on a pedestal to represent what marvelous works anime, as a medium, can produce.

Click here for PART 3

Advertisements