Lost in Translation: A look at BLASSREITER and Tower of Druaga

Sometimes I wonder why some genres don’t travel very well into anime. Partially I understand that anime is on the whole a fairly new medium. And it’s not a medium that has a whole lot of experimentation that goes on. It’s pretty possible to pick up a new show that is really the rehash of an old show which was a different take on another older show which all started with this one show that was pretty novel. So I can’t blame them that they haven’t experimented a lot, they’ve gone with what’s safe. (Granted I could go into the whole Lain/Texnolyze/Ergo Proxy/Ghost Hound/Kaiba thing, but I’m going to save that for another post.)

And then there’s the fact, that there are just some genres that they seem to have a mental block on. Take Western fantasy for example. Now, I’ll admit my geekdom started with picking up a copy of Guardians of the West by David Eddings, and after 16 years of reading fantasy I’m pretty jaded when it comes to the genre. When I take something like A Game of Thrones or The Deadhouse Gates and compare it something like Slayers, well let’s just say it’s like comparing Alan Ginsberg with a well meaning 15-year-old poet wannabe. It makes me want to cry. A lot.

This is why Tower of Druaga is surprising me. I mean it already has one strike against it: It’s based off of a video game. That the second strike should mean that it’s lingering between being barely entertaining and downright unwatchable.

Yet, I find myself looking forward to Friday and pulling up my YouTube page to watch the new episode. Now don’t get me wrong, Druaga won’t win any awards or be listed in anyone’s top anime of all time. But I still find myself liking every episode I watch, including the first one.

So I keep trying to figure out, where it succeeds, where so many have failed. And I think I have an answer. It takes itself just serious enough without taking itself too serious. See where a show like Record of Lodoss War fails is that the dialogue, plotting and characters simply don’t live up to the uber-serious tone it sets for itself. I mean how can I take a mage serious who runs around chanting stuff and screaming, “Fireball.” Whereas the sit-com plot of Slayers completely undermines any thing serious they try to do, distancing me from the characters. (It doesn’t help that my favorite character is a doofus, who never seems to win.)

Yes, Jin is a loser. But he means well. Yeah, the priestess goes around chanting to Ishtar, but she doesn’t strike up a three-minute monologue explaining the importance of Ishtar to the culture of the land and do it in a way that’s so horribly cliché that it makes me want to kill some Elves. The funny moments in the show aren’t enough to damage the integrity of the serious moments, but they’re enough so that some of the ridiculousness doesn’t grate on my nerves. Basically Tower of Druaga is a David Eddings book: charming, funny, a little cliché, but mostly good fun.

But oh… BLASSREITER, how you are disappointing me. Now I’d like to point out that the Japanese do cyberpunk well. In fact, right after shounen fighting and epic space battles, anime seems to be made to have street samurai’s facing off with class-A hackers. I mean you don’t have to worry about gravity or athletic ability in anime. And by taking a step away from reality, makes the impossible seem plausible in a way that would be much harder in the live-action movie.

But BLASSREITER insists on upping the melodrama. See cyberpunk (in my humble opinion) has to be handled with subtlety. Now visually BLASSREITER does a good job. The character designs are in the more realistic style of something like GiTS: Standalone Complex or Parasite Dolls. The scenery all looks real. Honestly I could really go for the story.

If they weren’t shouting about Gerd all the time and wondering whether he’s a monster or is he a human being. (Maybe they should just make him a number and banish him to some island where he can get chased around by a giant floating bouncy ball.)

In fact, the best cyberpunk stories seem to dwell too heavily on their themes at all. Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex actually spends quite a bit of time exploring the nature of technology and people’s interaction with it, but it’s always in the context of another story (like chasing a tank down the road or trying to rescue a kidnap victim.) You could watch the entire series without once having to pick out the theme.

But BLASSREITER insists on shoving it down your throat until you gag on it.

And that’s unfortunate because it could be a really good series otherwise.

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5 Comments

  1. I haven’t watched any of these shows yet. Blame my fever and reading assignments. I do see your point, however. I dislike anime, or any medium’s example, for that matter, that shove ideas down my throat as well as disallow thinking. This is probably why I don’t like George Meredith, John Lyly, and D. H. Lawrence. Sure, I still have much to learn, but I don’t like having authors condescend on me. These three assume that you don’t even have imagination enough that they have to expound on EVERY SINGLE THING. It’s irritating.

  2. I agree that it’s no fun being lectured to, but I think that that’s more often the product of bad (heavy-handed) writing than anything else. Ideally there’d be loads of shows that set themselves up to risk looking overserious, and then actually delivered genuine quality. I’m all for ambitiousness in general.

    My reaction to Druaga’s sense of humour remains rather skewed by that first episode, which made me think that this would be a bit more bold and original than it is re. genre – less of a rehash. It seems to have settled for being a fun rehash, which is fine, especially considering the source material. I imagine the writers took a good look at the game and decided this was the best thing they could make of it. And it’s pretty well executed too.

  3. NOES

    Don”t tell me I have to wait for Nitro+ to make the EROGE ;-;

  4. I suffer from Eddings nostalgia now and then too. Objectively I doubt his books have much worth, but I thought when I was a young teen – and I still think now, to be honest – that anyone with the bombast to use an ‘-iad’ suffix deserves some respect.

    I rather agree with your verdict on BLASSREITER, too, when I can look past the motorcycle-morphing-power-rangers element.

  5. @Michael – Damn fevers and reading assignments, damn them to hell 🙂 I agree that a theme that is too simple just isn’t interesting. It doesn’t allow for any thought. And I’ll admit freely that I’m not a big Lawrence fan.

    @coburn – I’m in favor of ambitiousness, but only when it works. I love ambitious shows that do what they set out to do. But I find myself hating ambitious shows that fail (like .Hack//Sign) more than I dislike unambitious shows that fail. Simply because they fail worse. The thing is that I haven’t really seen many Western fantasy style anime that have suceeded in that way. Generally they lack ambition AND they’re uber-serious. So it ends up being a farce.

    That said, I don’t think the first episode is as disconnected from everything that follows. But I’m willing to risk saying that it’s an introductory episode just done in a really over the top style.

    @ drmchsr0 – huh?

    @The Animanachronism – Eddings is one of those authors that I can’t figure out whether he was popular because of what he wrote or because of when he wrote. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those books. I just think he had one good series in him and then he repeated it a couple of times and then he gave up. But mostly I think he was a victim of his time. I mean Robert Jordan only had one good series in him and he managed to drag that thing out until he died.

    You know, I never really noticed that element. 🙂 But that is funny. 🙂


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