Impressions: A slightly less oversimplified view of Allison and Lillia

So Author pointed out, my past impressions post contained a vague description of why I liked Allison and Lillia.

It could be I don’t have any taste, but I’m going to try to provide a better review of the series.

In brief, the show is divided roughly in half between four main characters. Allison and Wil start the series off and Lillia and Trieze have the last section of the show. Each of these pairs has three four-episode arcs which deal with a particular problem. The arcs follow a basic pattern, the characters go someplace, a problem arises, they get involved with the problem and then there’s a solution.

At its heart, Allison and Lillia is a child’s adventure story, something which is odd in anime to begin with. It shares more in common with the Hardy Boys than it does with most anime I’ve watched. This does lead to some moments where I found myself saying, “Huh, they’re having a kid?”

But that doesn’t make it inherently bad, but as Author correctly points out, it does make it inherently oversimplified. Would a crowd, which had been riled up by a politician they had come to know and trust, suddenly change their tune if they found out about a long lost line of royalty? Probably not. Would knowledge of a mural suddenly bring an end to a decades old war without any other force? I doubt it.

While it is inherently oversimplified, I expected it to be from the beginning. The show became more complex as it progressed. The saying about, “What a tangled web we weave, when we first try to deceive.” (Note: I probably screwed that up.) is proven true in Allison and Lillia. Each new arc introduces a new lie, or a new secret, which has to be kept. This added a dynamic to the show making it a lot more complex then I expected it to be. Suddenly, lines, which would have been pretty mundane if they were in a normal children’s adventure story, became ironic. Now I’ll admit, I have a fondness of dramatic irony when it’s done well and Allison and Lillia, in my opinion, did it well.

The irony becomes even more pronounced in the Lillia and Trieze arcs when some of the characters know all of the secrets and some of the characters know some of the secrets and some of the characters didn’t know any of the secrets. Now, I have to admit for being Wil’s kid, Lillia is really dense, but she does have Allison’s charm and hot-headedness, which I found somewhat fun.

The other thing I found interesting was neither Allison nor Wil had the upper hand as far as characteristics. Yes Wil might have been a good shot and he might have been really smart, but he was lousy in a fight and he couldn’t pilot a plane. Yes Allison was good in a fight and she could pilot a plane, but she wasn’t super smart. Neither character overshadowed the other character.

Does that mean it was a show without its problems? No, of course not. In fact, it had one really big problem in the Lillia and Trieze arcs. While Allison and Wil were usually at least part of the solution to their problems, Lillia and Trieze only really existed to get into trouble. They were a convenient plot device.

While I found it annoying, it didn’t put me off enough to want to stop watching the show because I wanted to see how all of the lies would resolve. Unfortunately the show didn’t give me a real resolution. It did give me a “well-we’re-going-to-let-you-make-up-your-own mind-how-it-resolves” resolution.

So yes, Allison and Lillia is an oversimplified, easily grasped view of the world. Yes, it doesn’t have amazing world building (although it’s not bad.) Yes, it isn’t an epic on the level of LoGH or even Seirei no Moribito. But for what it was, a Japanese version of the Bobsey Twins, it was enjoyable.

 

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Impressions: NANA, Honey and Clover, Tytania and a lot of other ones

So I haven’t been around, but I’ve still been watching a bunch of stuff. I don’t know if I’ll hit it all here, but I’m going to try to get the highlights.

NANA: So I started watching this show because of Paradise Kiss. I still think ParaKiss is an amazing show, despite leaving the side characters in romantic limbo. As far as Nana though, I’m still undecided. On the one hand, the characters are great. Even Hachi, who doesn’t seem to have a clue, is a fascinating character. I’m also a big fan of actions having consequences. But… it’s emotionally draining. I had to stop watching at episode 30 and I’m not sure I want to go back again.

I’m starting to figure out the difference between shoujo romance and shounen romance is the guy never gets the girl in shoujo, or at least she always wants the daring, troubled, loner rather than the kind, caring person. I’m not entirely sure whether this says something about Japan, or if it says something about women, or both.

Honey and Clover: Despite the loose threads, I thought this was one of the more interesting anime I’ve watched in a while. I liked the characters (all of them.) I could have used the plot to move a bit faster. It seemed like the characters stayed at the same points for a long, long time (with the exception of Takemoto) before their storylines started to resolve.

Although, I really liked the first opener. Eventually, I’ll probably write something up about that.

Nodame Cantabile: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this show. I’m a coming-of-age fan, so both Chiaki’s and Nodame’s character growth through the series really engaged my interest. The pacing for the Paris Chapter was a little off towards the end, but otherwise it flowed well.

But, unlike BECK, for the most part I had to use the audiences’ reactions to judge whether or not people were really getting any better (except for a few parts.)

Black Lagoon: Wow. I really dug this show. Sure it’s occasionally a bit campy, but it’s sure a lot of fun. And it’s nice to have a hero who goes from being a wimp to having some real badass moments. His whole dialogue at the church about the drugs was awesome. I still haven’t finished the last disk though, mostly because I’m not sure if I want to see how it ends.

Tytania: Okay, it’s not LoGH. I’m not entirely convinced it’s trying to be LoGH. It does have enough politics and space battles to keep me engaged in the show, and I like the characters on the Tytania side more than I liked the characters on Rienhard’s side in LoGH. While Fan Hyulick is an interesting character, he doesn’t have same moral conundrums Yang has, which makes him a little less interesting.

All of that said, I’m not sure how in the world they’re going to wrap it up in one season. It seems like they’ve left too many threads loose and tying them up will take too long.

Allison and Lillia: I had a lot of misgivings about this show after the first episode. Hell, I had a lot of misgivings about this show after the first arc. But as the show progressed and the world became developed better and the lies started piling up, it started getting good. Especially after Wil became the soulless super-spy. I really liked how neither Allison nor Wil was perfect and their strengths complimented each other.

I really only have two complaints about the show and they both have to do with the Lillia and Trieze arcs. The first is the characters got short-changed as far as time, which left me feeling like I wanted a clear resolution to their issues at the end of the show. It really could have benefited from one more episode at least. The second was the creators seemed to refuse to let Lillia and Trieze be the HEROES of the show. Where Allison and Wil solved their problems, Lillia and Trieze always needed to be saved by Allison and Wil. I think I yelled at my computer screen a couple times about that.

Impressions: Master Keaton – The Half Blood Prince

So there are occasionally shows that seem to float around the Otakusphere like poorly kept secrets and creep up every time someone mentions a latent desire for a particular brand of program that isn’t widely represented in anime.

Master Keaton is one of those shows.

Now, I’ll admit that I’d heard about Master Keaton well before someone else told me about it, mostly because I have a tendency to watch the previews on anime disks (I actually watch them on movies too. The sad thing is that I do it more than once sometimes if I really like it.) But I had heard it mentioned right alongside the likes of Monster by the folks over at Anime World Order. I do like Monster. In fact, I like Monster a lot.

And on the surface, the two shows do have some things in common. In particular, Naoki Urasawa drew the manga for both shows, so they have similar character designs. They both feature a fairly realistic story (arguably more realistic in Keaton’s case.) They were both directed by Masayuki Kojima. Last but not least, they both have a central theme which ties the episodes together.

That’s where the similarities end. While Monster follows a larger overall arc, while separately investigating the nature of the monster, Master Keaton examines culture clashes in a rigidly episodic formula. Don’t get me wrong, they are both good shows, but comparing the two would be like trying to compare MacGyver to The Saint – an interesting diversion, but largely a fool’s errand.

Like I said prior to this, I had heard about the show years prior to actually deciding to watch it. What had turned me off from buying it was the promo, which made Keaton sound like some sort of Japanese version of Wesley Crusher. The entire promo was capped off with the line, “He will find out that he is all of those things and more. He is a jack-of-all-trades and master of them all. He is Master Keaton.” And if that isn’t a cornball line, I don’t know what is.

The funny thing is that Keaton is easily the most interesting character in the show. In fact, contrary to the promo he isn’t really a jack-of-all-trades. For the most part, he’s an insurance investigator, who really wants to be an archeologist. He is a divorcee, who doesn’t seem to get to spend a lot of time with his daughter (we never see his ex-wife or his mother who also divorced his father.) He’s half-Japanese and half-English, but he doesn’t really fit into either culture fully. He gets clubbed over the head, dropped into a well, has his leg broken and gets left in the desert to die (all in different episodes.) So while, he might be good at what he does, he certainly doesn’t seem to have the Deus Ex Machina luck that Wesley Crusher has.

In fact, his character is best summed up in the last episode when he’s fencing with one of his former trainers in the SAS, “… you’re fighting style is unique, but the problem is that it’s too unique. That’s why you’ll never be a Professor, just a Master.”

And if anything is true about Keaton it’s that he is certainly unique. In fact, he sits as a kind of half-blood prince who doesn’t really have a homeland. And this tension between cultures permeates the series. You have the poor against the riches. The young against the old. Refugees and nationalists. It’s a show (much like Monster) that circles around these themes from every possible angle and as soon as you think you have the message figured out it switches on you. It is definitely a unique show for that.

But I’m not sure if it’s really good.

The problem with the show is that it’s episodic. And like most episodic shows, there are some truly stellar episodes and there are a bunch of decent episodes and there are some hackneyed cobbled together trash episodes that have no business being in the show. I mean it’ll have a tense desert escape episode right next to an episode about growing flowers. It has episodes like “Blue Friday” which is a clever homage to Casablanca. And then it has an episode about saving an endangered Malay tiger from the Tong. This leads to something that Monster never seems to have – tonal inconsistency. This isn’t helped by the horrible, horrible dub.

Both of those things work to undermine what could otherwise be a truly remarkable show. But instead leaves it as a show with some brilliant episodes that is largely forgettable.

 

Impressions: Air, Haruhi, Kurau and Innocent Venus

Yeah, so I’ve watched a lot of stuff lately, most of which I could do something longer on, but I thought I’d just run through my impressions on them.

Air (TV) – This is one of those shows where there was a lot that I liked and some stuff I didn’t. I didn’t have a horrible time with the fairly lacksidasical pacing. In fact, it reminded me a lot of James Blaylock’s In the Rainy Season, another story that combined a somewhat slow pace with somewhat bizarre happenings and had at least one girl in it (albeit in a different fashion.) Overall, I didn’t have a problem with the characters, but I didn’t fall in love with them either.

But what was up with the last couple of episodes? It just felt like they were trying to make up space. It left me wondering whether the rest of the story was picked up somewhere else, or if it was just going to leave me at that “Lady or the Tiger” moment. Overall, I didn’t love it and I didn’t hate it. But it just left me feeling a bit empty.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya – Yes, I finally watched this show. And I know I’m the last person on the planet to do so. But, I have to say, why does everyone have a problem with Kyon? Honestly, he was the saving grace of the show. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much if it wasn’t for the dry rationalism (and the occasional perverted comment) that he brought. It provided a good counterpoint to all of the weird stuff that takes place.

Now I did watch the show in episodic order (versus broadcast order), so I don’t know how much that really affected my enjoyment. But I do have to say the Melancholy episodes were probably my favorite, most likely because they formed the longest arc of the show. But the lack of a real resolution to the fundamental question of why she chose Kyon does bug me. All of that said, I do think it’s a show that was worth the hype, but not necessarily the best show I’ve ever seen.

Kurau: Phantom Memory – I swear only BONES could have pulled this series off and made it as good as it was. But somehow they took a fairly simple superhero type character who’s getting chased by the government and turned it into a fairly complex psychological drama. Almost every part of this series was well planned and had excellent execution. So I do have to hand it to the director on this one.

All of that said, there’s a ceiling on how good this series could be, especially considering the tone they set at the beginning and the plot. And while Kurau surpassed my lowest expectations, it wasn’t earth-shattering either. Especially with the amount of times they shouted each other’s name. I mean you could have a “Kurau/Christmas” drinking game with this series.

Innocent Venus – And on a more mech side of things, I actually watched Innocent Venus. To be honest, it left me feeling a lot like I felt after watching Blue Submarine No. 6, which is to say it could have been a lot better with some more space. But, it does have one of the coolest betrayals I’ve seen in an anime in quite a while. It also has some good action scenes and some fun mechs (which actually remind me a bit of the mecha from Argentosoma.)

Impressions: Higurashi – tentacles and moe, oh my.

Every now and then I watch a series that makes me go totally fanboy. The last time was when I watched Code Geass.

But it’s been a couple months since then and even though I’ve watched some good series, I hadn’t seen anything that actually got me excited (in a completely non-sexual way, thank you very much.)

That was until I watched the first season of Higurashi.

First, I have to say… wow. There is so much to talk about this series. I mean I could talk about the structure (It’s broken up into six arcs, two of which are retellings or additional material). I could talk about the really great opening sequence. I could talk about the crazy girls with hatchets as big as they are.

Or I could talk about moe.

Where Elfen Lied tried and failed, Higurashi succeeded in using cute girls as a façade for crazy. Elfen Lied and Higurashi both used moe in similar ways: to set up a cognitive dissonance in the viewer. Basically they’re so cute, but so evil. Elfen Lied forced it a bit too far, making the more powerful characters progressively weaker and weaker, until the most powerful (and inhuman) had to be carried out. Higurashi doesn’t do that. In fact, the characters become progressively less cute as the story arcs progress. I found this twist on the slice-of-life genre both interesting and… well… Lovecraftian.

Yes, I know that summoning up the ghost of Lovecraft is pretty common when it comes to looking at horror stories.

And to be totally fair, Lovecraft wasn’t the first to use the idea of thin veneer of civility covering a wellspring of evil (how you define evil is up to you.) Arguably, Joseph Conrad did it in The Heart of Darkness and Poe did it in the Tell-tale Heart. But where Lovecraft is different is the idea that people are generally sane, it’s the world that’s crazy.

The structure of a Lovecraft story (for the most part) goes like this: Some random guy encounters strange events/items/things. Guy is driven insane by these. Guy either gets divine retribution or gets sent to an asylum or dies. Story ends. There are some variations to the theme. I mean he wrote a lot.

He did this by creating a completely alien landscape. I’ll be honest, the Cthulu mythos is still unlike anything else that I’ve ever encountered in fiction. You have Elder Gods, who in general like screwing around with people. You have the Old Ones (the giant tentacle things that live in space or in the earth), who are creatures of extreme malevolence. In fact, there really aren’t any good things in the mythos he created.

Which is a lot like Higurashi. Now the mythos in Higurashi is a lot more limited, since all of the stories take place in one village and really within the same week or two (although two of the stories dip into the past.) But still you have the Shrine God’s curse, which is that someone will die every year. You have the demon that descends from the mountains to take one person every year. There are other elements of the mythos, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t watched the series. (And really, go watch this show. It’s still available in it’s entirety in fansub form, and since it’s one of the Geneon titles that’s in limbo, I don’t have deep ethical reservations downloading it.)

What I found interesting while I was watching it was the fact that the entire mythos felt alien. Granted, not quite as alien as amorphous, tentacled blobs that live under the sea, but still it felt unusual and unusually cruel. The powers that be didn’t care about the lives of the villagers as much as they cared about their own machinations. Now part of that might be part of being an American viewer who isn’t really steeped in Japanese religion and folklore, but that is how it struck me.

So what does moe have to do with all of this? (Well other than the fact that moe drives at least one character crazy.) In general, the cutesy character designs acted as a reflection of the “sane” world. Much in the same way that educated (or non-educated) first person narration reflected the “sane” world of Lovecraft.

Impressions: Saiunkoku, Kurau, Baccano!, Amatsuki, Real Drive, Druaga and more.

So I went to smoking roll-your-own cigarettes so I could buy more anime. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but I sure do have Haruhi sitting on top of my TV just waiting for me to watch it, but anyway on to some impressions.

Saiunkoku Monogatari: Since it seems that no one has seen this show, I figured I’d give people a little heads up. It’s a show about a girl who’s family has fallen on hard times. She’s decided that she wants to buck the system and become a government official. So I finished the first season of this and… it’s okay. On the good side, it has some awesome characters, a fairly interesting “love” story and enough tension to pull me pretty effortlessly through every episode after episode fourteen. On the other hand, reverse harems are about as tiring to watch as actual harems. Towards the end, it’s just a bunch of them standing around saying, “Oh Shuurei is so great.” It got old, fast. And it has the tendency of getting right up to the climax and then skipping it. So good enough that I’d watch the second season. Not good enough that I feel like gushing over it.

Kurau: Phantom Memory: You know BONES could take crap and make it sparkle (at least from what I’ve seen.) Now, Kurau’s not anything special plot-wise. It starts like a superhero story and right now it’s a superhero story mixed with The Fugitive. But the characters are still interesting. And the credits say the story was by BONES, so… take that for what you will. But the director seems like this is really his first time directing, but he’s done a lot of storyboarding and other stuff for the studio.

Baccano!: I don’t think I ever did a proper statement on this show. But on the one hand, it’s awesome and I really don’t know why this show hasn’t been licensed in the United States. I mean it’s practically made to sell to a Western audience. On the other hand, the multiple plotlines and massive cast of characters does end up making the show feel like it’s trying to do too much with too little space. It’s a fun watch, but I can’t say it’s an amazing show.

Amatsuki: And now for a show that didn’t come out years ago, but still no one’s talking about. So far this is one of my favorite shows of the Spring season. Its got swords. Its got demons. Its even got classy fanservice (if such a thing exists.) And it has a complete and utter lack of a whiny boy hero. I know that I don’t have any taste, but seriously, this is a solid show that doesn’t try to do more than what it sets out to do. And surprise, surprise the director on this one worked on Rurouni Kenshin (both the TV series AND the OVAs). And ironically… Real Drive.

Real Drive: I’m still not completely sure about this one. So far, I’ve watched the first four episodes and they’re solid. I just don’t know how they’re going to support another 22 episodes with it. But I really like the main character, who was a diver who got into an accident and slept until he was an old man. I kind of like the sidekick girl. She’s cute, but a little flat so far. But so far, not bad, not great, but definitely watchable.

Tower of Druaga: I have to agree with Coburn on this one. This show is awesome. I mean its tongue-in-cheek funny. And thankfully it never takes itself so seriously that I can’t enjoy it.

Itazura na Kiss: Honestly, I shouldn’t like this show. I mean Kotoko is so incompetent it’s downright insulting. Naoki is a jerk. The little brother deserves a solid kick in the rear end. But… I still keep coming back for more. And I’m not sure why I enjoy it so much, but I do.

Macross Frontier: It’s Macross. It’s cool. Sheryl is one of the few anime women who I will say is hot. Enough said about that one.

Impressions: Kaiba – somewhat better than five fingers and a palm

Oh Kaiba… how people will lavish over you. How you will stroke people’s brains and make them think about things. How you will bring together people.

Okay, so enough of that. When I read one of the first reviews of Kaiba, I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical. Call it Curmudgeon’s Law. Call it “Cameron is a contrarian and will disagree for the sake of disagreeing.” Call it whatever you want to call it. But I promised some folks that I’d give it at least three episodes.

And I have.

Now, Kaiba follows the idea of most hard sci-fi. You take a scientific development (the fact that people have their memories stored in capsules and transplanted between bodies.) Then you examine the effects on society. And I’ll admit freely that part is great. I mean you have a Marxist society. You have a very visible “afterlife” that might not really mean death. You have the idea that there is a “sanctity” to being an original, but copying yourself is illegal. And you have it all without any of the visual confusion that I get from a show like Ghost Hound or Serial Experiments Lain.

In fact, the amount it can tweak my brain makes me interested in the show.

But you know there’s always one guy every season, who stands up in the middle of the parade and shouts: “The emperor has no clothes.”

Well, I guess this time that guy is me.

Because for everything that this show does well, it has one major flaw: Kaiba.

Good lord, this guy isn’t a main character. He isn’t even a plot device. He’s a piece of equipment. He’s a camera for the plot to happen to or around. The only time he actually ACTS is late in the third episode. Otherwise, he’s running away or peeking into people’s memories or getting dragged around. What’s worse is that he doesn’t actually HAVE a personality. He hardly asks questions. I mean he has his body stolen from him and what does he do? Oh, peeks into the room while his body is having sex with a stranger. Good lord, am I supposed to believe this guy is for real?

The thing is that without a character who I can invest myself in, who I care about, all the great world development doesn’t mean squat.

It’s just something that provokes a whole lot of mental masturbation, without the benefit of actually getting off.