2014 Awards

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Hi Wow it’s been a long time since my last post. Time is scarce these days, but fortunately I can write this post in near-keyword form. So here it is: My Vanihm 2014 Anime Awards list:

(Note – I’m going with APR’s method an only ranking shows that ended in 2014 – Sorry Shirobako)

Best Action: Kill La Kill Killlakill Honerable mention: Rage of the Bahaumut: Genesis

Best Drama: Ping Pong (No I don’t have a sports category ‘cos I don’t watch them very much)

ping-pong-the-animation-2

Honerable mention: Space Brothers (I’ll miss you!), Mushisi 2

Best Comedy: Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun Gekkan_Shoujo_Nozaki-kun_full_1749020 Honerable mention: Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun (Well, I really liked this one!)

Seriously, this is the first time I have laughed so hard since Ouran High School Host Club. Too bad that drama club arc got old too quickly.

Orson Welles peaking-too-early award: Rage of the Bahamut: Genesis

I don’t know why, but the last half just couldn’t live up to the first at all. This is another example of a 12 episode series that feels like it should have been 24 episodes. I thought we had enough of those last year (Garganie, Kyousogiga…)

Hamster-on-wheel award for going nowhere: One Week Friends

Serously, what happened in those 12 episodes?

Bernard Montgomery award for most overrated: One Week Friends (note: I was wondering whether I should call this the Ang Lee award or perhaps the Vo Nguyen Giap award…)

That show reminded me af that episode of the Simpsons where they try to do a non-violent Itchy & Scratchy episode and all that happens is they sit around and drink lemonade and give each other gifts. Or that black&white town in Pleasantville. I dont’t mind nostalgia, but this show was so naive it was almost chauvinistic. I was hoping the guy would eventually choke on all those bentos that she made for him. Did he ever do anything for her? Seriously, she even did his homework for him. If that is the relationship most Japanese guys want then no wonder Japenese women don’t want to get married anymore.

Most underrated: Kill la Kill

I bet you were expecting something less well known there huh? No, I picked this because I have rarely seen a show so popular during it’s run get slammed so hard in retrospect. “Oh, its popular so let’s try to look really sophisticated by saying it’s lame”. Feminists (or wanabee feminists) criticised the themes and the fanservice without noticing all the nude men in the show. Some of the criticism was based mainly on people not getting the irony or the humour. I remember how Sam Raimi’s Spiderman films (particularly the third) got a lot of heat in the states for being silly or mixing humour and action. I (and many other Europeans) loved the third one and felt the comedy fit in perfectly with the source without taking anything away from the suspense. I know the opinions about Kill la Kill aren’t confined to Americans, but it seems people in the US like to have “pure” comedy or “pure” drama while the Japanese excel in taking a completely ridicculous premise and still making it work on an emotional level. This show was silly, yes. It had fanservice, yes. But it was aware of it’s own sillyness and still gave us a plot and characters we cared about while keeping the action going in spectacualar fashion. What more can you ask for?

Coundn’t be bothered: Anything about games (sorry SAO, Log Horizon & No game, No life), everything JoJO (like the first few episodes, but the sheer scale of the frachise is daunting…),Your lie in April (proabably should have watched it but never got around to it), Hunter x Hunter (I’m still working through the 2011 season!), Every feature length anime (man, I’m behind on that one!)

Will probably watch: Barakamon, Silver Spoon 

Best character: Rita, Rage of the Bahamut: Genesis. rita Oh, Zombie Girl. *Sigh*. Were you but 200 years younger and looked 10 years older….

Biggest screw up *WARNING SPOILERS* : Entire cast of Aldnoah: Zero.

Honerable mention: Kana, Parasyte: The Maxim, Tarou, Shirobako

Yes, Slaine really screwed up, but at least he DID something useful in this show unlike Mrs. “I-need-to-yell-“NO”-every-time-Inaho-does-something-even-though-he-has-no-other-choice” or Mr “I-am-angry-I-was-tricked-into-hating-Terrans-and-therefore-I-am-waging-war-on-them”. Or Mrs. “I-have-PTSD-so-I-think-I’ll-just-kill-the-one-person-who-I-can-most-identify-with”? And Slaine wouldn’t even be around to screw up if Inaho (also known as Mr “I-trust-the-psycho-redhead-but-not-the-guy-who-saved-our-ass”) hadn’t left him in the water for the martians to pick up instead of taking him prisoner or killing him. And why didn’t anyone ask what the heck happened to the Martian that just saved their butts? Writing FAIL. Also, Damn Kana (AKA puppy loving, stalking, gangbanger girl) you should have died earlier and rid everyone else of your stupidity.

Drum roll please….

Best Anime: Kill La Kill

Close runner ups: Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, Ping Pong

Damn this was a close one. Frankly I feel Kill La Kill needs some love since it seems most people have forgotten it actually aired in 2014. Nozaki kun could have taken the top spot if it wasn’t for the abusive actress-drama club president relationship (which I didn’t dislike because of the violence toward women but simply because it wasn’t very funny). Ping Pong was great as well, but I felt Peco stole the show a little bit too much in the end. Season overall: It’s been hard to find a favorite in the last three seasons but this year at least it was because there were too many stand out shows. In 2012-13 there were plenty of decent shows but nothing that truly stood out. This year we have had a little bit for everyone in spite of the fact that there was a certain lack of non high-school related shows – perhaps next year? Seriously, the fanbase is getting older – they can’t ALL be living in the past!

Random thoughts

Whoa, I took a bit of a break these past few months. Due primarily to familial responsibilities and a need to marathon through Breaking Bad. I’ve got along post coming along, but first here are some random thoughts.

Congratualtions. You did it. You got what you wanted – A Chuu2 season without drama. Instead it’s just repeating the jokes that had already gotten old in season 1.
Without any serious or sombre undertones fantasy scenes in a slice of life show are just lame. It’s like seing a guy get drunk alone in a bar. When he is escaping his sad, sad life to escape into a world of Carlsberg and suddenly imagines he is the greatest charmer in the world only to fall flat on his ass when approaching a woman in the bar it is touching. Melancholy. And terrible in it’s own poetic way. When he is just a drunk dumbass college student who can’t hold his booze it’s lame and embarrassing.

Kyousogiga was initially perceived by some as UNDERRATED (or at least overlooked) and thus said people went on to tout the show as if it was the second coming of Our Lord and Savior.
It certainly helped that the show pandered incessantly to the “Ivory Tower” segment (philosophy majors and introverted self-styled intellectuals among which I once counted myself) by loading the show with existentialist philosophy, mysticism and religious imagery. It basically screams “You must like this show because it makes you look smart”.
Reall,y it was a decent show with some great animation but it suffered from an overstretched plot while still feeling strangely compressed at 10 episodes, with too many flashbacks and side characters that are neither fully fleshed out or whose existence properly explained (like, what were all the “normal” people doing in there?).
It wouldn’t introducte the main protagonist until episode 2 and would then gradually shift focus away from her. It could spend an entire episode on a supporting character then introduce 10 characters (some of which were important) in a few minutes. It could spend five minutes on a scene with a character who has no impact on the story and is never seen again
while skimping over important plot points in a matter of seconds.
Just for the record; crytic does not necessarily equal cool.

OK, Coppellion didn’t turn out to be THAT great. But it seems from reading the forums that people primarily complained about the show not following the Manga 100 percent.
HELLO! Different mediums require different pacing. One thing I did find lacking in the story was the total absence of logic in the first divisions motives, and how quickly they changed their minds about destroying the planet with radioactive waste to instead chose to be friends. WTF? 

Gurren Lagann 2 Kill la Kill continues to amaze me.

Kyokai no Kanata: Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Moeblob

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I hope this isn’t how she normally greets people…

The fall season is upon us. This is usually the season of the year that sucks the most apparently although, of course, Chuu2 was utterly shafted in last year’s APR year-end rankings because a few bloggers preferred their escapism angst-free (I however, being a die hard Heavenly Creatures fan, find the dark side to be an essential component).

Halfway through my general impressions are that:

Coppelion gets more entertainment out of a bad plot than it should.

Kyousogigia does the opposite.

Samurai Flamenco is hilarious though Kick-Ass did it before and..

White Album 2… Honestly I have trouble watching Key adaptations past the first two episodes because I can’t shake the image of fat, greasy nerds living in their mothers basement, surrounded by empty cola bottles watching Moemoe girls on their cum-stained screens… Maybe I’ll come around later when I can summon up the courage.

Monogatari Second season – I haven’t made it past Nisemonogatari yet because, well… This franchise reminds me of getting wasted at a party and suddenly getting a (supposedly)  brilliant idea about relations and psychology amongst your fellow man and getting so caught up in your brilliant understanding of the world that you forget about what is happening around you. And of course end up kicking yourself next day for being so pretentious… Oh, where was I?

The first show I’ll be commenting on is probably the most expensive of the this season, but as we all know Money Can’t Buy Me Love..

The backlash against once anime world-ruler Kyoani has been steadily building over the last couple of years. Not the massive wall of hate like what we saw for the Endless Eight but more a slowly building consensus that Kyoani is becoming synonymous with subtly pandering, overly nostalgic slice of life and MOEBLOBS! Notice how the word MOEBLOB! is written in capital letters with an exclamation mark like a warning – the same way one would yell SHARK! when swimming off the Somali coast.

This seems to clearly have influenced the public reactions to their latest effort Kyokai no Kanata, which hasn’t even reached the top 5 on Anime Power Rankings recently (update: it just did, but only three weeks in the dark).While there is certainly some truth to the criticism, it seems to have eluded fans that KNK actually has some quality buried in there besides the excellent production values.

There is no doubt what has motivated Kyoani’s decisions of late. After the fanservice-less Nichijou tanked at the DVD sales (the Japanese – once the pinnacle of technology and business innovation have yet to discover the wonders of subscription streaming services that the rest of the world is benefitting from) they have been reluctant to anger the loyal hordes of Akihabara-haunting otaku (or Fujioshi, as “Free” showed) or nostalgic 30-somethings pining for a nice, respectable housewife who can cook, look cute AND shut up at the same time.

The heavy irony of this is of course that Kyoani’s ticket to ride was the Haruhi-series, which parodied this phenomenon and its built-in hypocrisy with its Mikuru Asahina character – only for her to become the model on which all other Kyoani females have been built. Last year, they tried to gradually expand on the teenage nostalgia formula with the likes of Chuu2. With KNK, KyoAni appear to try to tread with baby steps into the world of serious drama but still retaining a main character who is, undeniably, a MOEBLOB!

I won’t go explaining the main plot, as I’m assuming you’ve already read that elsewhere (if you haven’t how did you get here?).

But even watching the first half of the series I strangely feel like I’ve missed something, What is going on? Is this a parallel universe where demons and spirit hunters walk side by side in the open or is it a Harry Potter side hidden world known only to a select few? So far the series hasn’t given us any answer. In fact, it doesn’t seem to bother explaining ANYTHING to the viewers or making any attempt to make you feel welcome in its universe. Normally what makes fantasy interesting is the way in which it invites you into its universe.

This series not only doesn’t do that very well – it even feels like it has no interest in doing so. The arrogance of some characters seems directed just as much toward the viewer as toward Mirai.

As a result the viewer feels like an unwelcome outsider looking in at the series world through a foggy glass window, something that effectively prevents the characters from properly connecting with the audience on an emotional level.

Back in the old days of my university revue, when writing sketches there was one guy who kept surprising everyone with his original humor and kept having the audience rolling with laughter at the unpredictability of it all. But enough about me. What I’m trying to say is that the humor in this series tries and tries and tries to make us laugh. Only to fail because that’s what it’s doing – trying. It is predictable and thus falls flat. In Chuu2 the humor worked because it kept us guessing as to what would happen next and the TIMING was impeccable (“really..? [pause] LAME!”). Here though it just doesn’t work in the early episodes and tries to compensate later on by overloading us with the characters’ creepy fetishes.

You got a purdy mouth...

You got a purdy mouth…

Now we all know that guy who keeps saying rude, insensitive things because he thinks he’s being funny, only to alienate and offend people instead right? Again, enough about me. Another thing that prevents  identification with the cast is the fact that virtually EVERYONE is a total jerk. Not in a funny Eric Cartmanesque way, but in a kick-you-in-the-nuts-and-laugh, invite-everyone-to-their-birthday-but-you kind of way. Not to mention that they all share some perversion or another that they find no shame in sharing with the world, be it incest, voyeurism, exhibitionism or even in Akihito’s case, borderline pedophilia.

[Deep breath]

So…  Why do I consider it underrated? Here’s why: Because of the awe inspiring visuals as well as the way it creates suspense – The hollow shadow episode gave us a great sense of foreboding while also giving us a sense of how the entire community is dealing with this impending threat. For one fleeting moment I was convinced that this was a tightly connected community working together against an external threat.

If only we could have more of these it might be able to pull the viewers into the universe rather than shut them out. Now if Kyoani can please resist the temptation to overload us with creepy FANSERVICE!

Notice how the word FANSERVICE! is written in capital letters…

What happened to horror anime?

I nostalgically remember the late nights when I would turn on the TV, open a bottle of Morgan, switch on the PS3, open a bottle of Havanna Club, bring out the Bacardi Gold
and settle down in my couch to marathon some Higurashi or Ghost Hunt. Maybe not masterpeices, but good, solid creepy mystery/horror that scare and intrigue without trying too hard to gross us out. How much has changed since then. First off, I have passed my rum phase and moved on to bourbon, my supposedly clinical depression turned out to be no more than a vitamin d deficiency (truly a lesson to all basement dwellers out there) and I’m no longer a recluse. More significantly, there are absolotely NO decent horror
anime being made anymore.
I’m not talking about “Vampire Wolf Brigade EX III – Raid on the demon womb, extra blood and guts edition” style fare, but genuine old fashioned thrillers.
The closest we came recently was Another which, despite having a cast so stupid you’d think it was evolution killing them off, was still sufficiently creepy and atmospheric
to satisfy my needs. For a while. But these days even Hollywood is skimping on the horror – remeber when Horror films were decent, had large budgets and top name actors? Now it’s mostly assembly line stuff intended solely for the video market or for 15 year olds who don’t know what else to watch on their dates. The fact that Another got made into a Manga,an Anime AND a live-action film in spite of it’s logic-defying plot just shows how big the dearth of good horror is these days.

If someone doesn’t get going again soon I might have to create some horror of my own… Townsfolk beware!

The Japanese/Chinese anime paradox

Normally, growing up tends to diminish one’s consumption of anime, but not for me. In fact, being in a shotgun marriage (immigration rules really do help bring back traditional family values) to a Chinese woman probably increased my anime consumption tenfold. Why Chinese you ask? Wouldn’t Japanese women be a better choice for an anime fan? Well, not really. Being from Denmark, If I met someone from abroad who said they loved listening to Aqua might make me feel sorry for you but it would still leave at least a small tingling of national pride in my chest. If one is to mention to a Japanese person (or a Japanese American – like this guy http://bitterasianmen.com) that you love anime a common reaction would be more in the vein of “Oh, well f*** you too!”.

You see, anime is seen as a subculture for the uncool in Japan, and Japanese people who I have met often point out how westerners fail to see the negative rep anime culture has. By contrast, China has quite an interest for Japanese anime (and everything else that can be pirated), but are currently still about a generation away from universally adopting the western understanding of being “cool”. After all many of them are still in the stage in which they find academic success and material wealth more important than showing off your sexappeal at next weekend’s booze-fest. Hopefully the Japanese will once again find the appeal of the animation medium to tell stories interesting again (even when they aren’t made by Studio Ghibli). Otherwise I wonder if the Chinese might take over that industry as well (if the Koreans don’t get there first).

So it begins…

Welcome to my blog – yes, I have actually decided to make an anime blog long after blogs became considered an obsolete dinosaur and real hipsters moved on to things that don’t require you to, uh, write so much. But I’m lazy – heck I’m so lazy that I am using WordPress to make my blog despite having taken two different degrees that include web page design courses as part of the curriculum. But in moments where I’m more inclined to let my mind wander than do something productive I still need some kind of platform to get my thoughts out – rather than just sitting around mumbling to myself.

About me – I’m from the Old World (so forgive the bad punctuation), but have spent a sizeable amount of time in the US and Australia and have relatives on nearly every continent (if you include in-laws).

Oh, and I’m probably way too old to watch anime, but I apparently age backwards, Benjamin Button style. 

Why we don’t need Haruhi Suzumiya season 3

(yes, I have posted this one elsewhere, but given that I have started my own blog, and the last book is coming out in English in about a month, I’ve decided to re-post it here).

Fans of the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise eagerly hope – even over 7 years after the first series, that a third season will be made, regardless of the fact that the initial fans are most likely having kids by now. Not only do I doubt that it will ever happen, I honestly couldn’t care less about the series largely because the source material leaves so much to be desired.

Anime had been a forgotten memory for me for years until I entered the Anime society at UNSW in Sydney, when I visited Australia for a semester way back (in Anime terms anyway) in fall 2006. Being suddenly reunited with the phenomenon I had shunned for the best part of a decade (except for Studio Ghibli films which were hip enough to be watched by high school/college students without risking instant ostracizion) I set out to cover all the anime I had missed in my absence. One anime repeatedly came up on peoples’ top ten lists: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I nonetheless avoided this series for years, partially because I thought it was a sappy Shojo series, partially because being a recent college graduate I just couldn’t imagine going back to something concerning high school – especially since Japanese people appear to treat high school the way Europeans treat middle school in terms of what stage of your life you are in (where I come from, legal drinking age was 15 for example!).

Nonetheless I eventually picked it up if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss was all about. And I was deeply impressed with the first 6 episodes (yup, I bought the DVD and watched it in chronological order, silly me). It just kept keeping me guessing as to what would happen next. Since then though, I realized that the only reason I kept watching was to see what cute facial expression (or outfit) Mikuru would make/wear next. It seemed that the very conventions Tanigawa was mocking were being embraced in later episodes, and the perceived epicness of the story was but a bluff. He could talk the tawk but not walk the wawk. I nonetheless sat quite happily though season 2 and Dissappearance though the latter didn’t impress me as much as it did many others – perhaps because I had already seen “It’s a wonderful life” and so the story thus  didn’t seem as fresh.

Curiosity alone kept me reading the light novels (fan translated of course – no way I was waiting three years to catch up with the story), but my initial suspicion was only confirmed more and more. Tanigawas was good at hooking his readers only to disappoint them later – Epic quest to correct time hinted at in Disappearance? Nope, resolved in a prologue. Conflict between time travellers and espers? Nope, they make a truce before anything happens. Big rival faction of espers? Nope, just an utterly useless teenager. He manages to put in just enough teasers to keep people reading only to follow up with a load of filler before deflating their hopes. Particularly book 10 felt almost unreadable in its endless philosophical mumbo jumbo and unnecessary conversations. That entire ark felt like a pale imitation of the first book, only padded out to three times the length. Some believed of course, that the series was going somewhere again and that books 10-11 were but forerunners to a slew of new “adventures” by Haruhi & co., but two years on it looks like Tanigawa has once again fallen into the same slump he fell into in 2007 – about the time he realized that he had made more money that he would ever need.

In honesty, looking back, the series had numerous inconsistencies in it. Was Haruhi a stone cold psycho, a clueless aspie or straight up sadist? Those aren’t mutually inclusive disorders and Haruhi seems to switch between them at will even in the first novel. Is Mikuru the moe or the fanservice character? Is she moe played straight or deconstructed? Even Kyon’s memories of some events like the movie screening changes throughout the series. Later in the series Tanigawa seems to have forgotten what people liked in the first place. Where is the black humour? Where is the suspense? Where is the satire? 

I honestly think many people are being polite in their reviews of the latter books in the series because of the anticipation that the series will somehow justify everything and reveal all that meandering as set up for the long promised “epic Sci-fi plot” that many have waited for. Having read the Surprise ark with some disappointment, I expect the official English release in november to be met with some disappointment from critics as well. Should this be the last of the series, it leaves the series with a legacy of broken promises.

We should perhaps commend Tanigawa for at least trying – ever since the first novel (which he was expecting to be the only one) he has been mired by the stories’ own premise: That the numerous factions he hints are in existence can’t reveal themselves as Haruhi must be left in the dark.

But even without this problem, I doubt that Tanigawa truly wishes to do anything with the Sci-fi universe he has built up; Going full-on Sci-fi adventure would ruin the series appeal as a nostalgic high school slice-of-life comedy. However much we may see this series as for teenagers, the truth is, that the most rabid (and lucrative) fans of the series are single men in their thirties. They love reading about high school life, because it reminds them of a recent past where the world (ie Japan) was simpler, companies didn’t lay people off, filthy foreigners were rarely seen and women didn’t entertain any silly notions of independence from their husbands.

But he knew he couldn’t go on with a story that went nowhere without some of his fans feeling had, so the result was this half-hearted anticlimactic ark that for all it’s talking did little except cancel out many of the promising elements that had been introduced in previous books.

So this is where I’m going at – why should we see a third anime season of Haruhi Suzumiya? Intrigues would be almost nothing but internal monologue from Kyon (this was getting annoying already in dissapearance). The rest would likewise feel like a slow moving march to (nearly)nowhere. It would take 20 or so episodes (at least) to get to the big finale in Surprise. And by the time we got there most people would wonder why they had to wait 4-5 years for that. If the purpose of animating the series is to promote the books, Kadokawa would be better off leaving it alone and leaving potential new fans of the series to buy the latter books in the series in the hope of reading the epic story development that will never come.