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.

In My View: What you’re expecting me to have standards?

So I spent my last post talking about the nature of “good” shows, but I haven’t really addressed Coburn’s fundamental conundrum.

What makes a show an all-time favorite? Or put better, what measures do I use to judge a show?

Now, I’ll admit this is a hard question to answer because when I watch a show, I’m reacting to the show. I’m not trying to dissect exactly what I like about the show. I don’t tend to categorize my complaints when I get around to dissecting the show. All of that makes this a tough question to answer.

Expectations, Standards and Biases

Recently, I watched Tokko. Now all-in-all, I enjoyed watching it, which got me thinking. What was it about the show I liked? That answer was pretty simple, I expected the main character to get superpowers about two episodes into the show. Instead, he spent half of the series without any kind of superpowers at all. Then after spending a long time developing the characters, building suspense and creating a level of excitement, he got superpowers.

In short, Tokko exceeded my expectations. For the sake of the argument, expectations are what I expect to see either after the preview or the first episode. My expectations are usually pretty low. If I’m watching a shounen fighting show, I expect to have a young plucky hero who will eventually have to fight a menacing bad guy after discovering his hidden reserves. If I get that, I’m happy.

So if a show does something I’m not expecting it to, then it can end one of two ways. Either I liked it, and the show exceeded my expectations, or I hated it, and the show fell below my expectations. Now my expectations aren’t set in stone, if a show exceeds my expectations, then I expect it to continue to exceed my expectations. (That said, I’ll usually forgive a show for having a few bad episodes.)

Now standards are what I want a show to do. I want a show to have a multi-layered, character-driven plot. I want shows to have flawed heroes. I want characters to be noticeably different at the end of the show then they were at the beginning of the show. To be honest, I don’t expect these things. If I expected them, then they would be, well, expectations.

Standards aren’t an all or nothing category. If a show meets one or two of my standards, I’m impressed.

On a side note, I’ve found a lot of long-term reviewers tend to start replacing their expectations with their standards. Honestly, I find it a bit sad because they’re always going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, biases are just stuff I like. For instance, I like fanatics. I find them fascinating. If a show has a fanatic then I’m probably going to like it. But I don’t expect a show to have a fanatic.

Now it is kind of tricky to separate biases and standards. Standards apply to any fiction. While biases are just things I like, such as fanatics or war epics or WWI-style dogfights or dark, brooding anti-heroes.

What makes an all-time favorite show for me

So how does all of this sort out? Pretty simply actually, but a lot depends on the show. In all of the cases, these shows exceeded my expectations. In most of the cases, they hit at least one or two of my standards and they all featured at least one (or in the case of Last Exile A LOT) of my biases.

Help Wanted, Apply within

Hah, after writing about good and liking stuff here I am asking for recommendations.

Geez, just who do I think I am.

Anyway, I’ve been watching a lot of romance shows lately (Honey and Clover, NANA, Toradora!, Bokura ga Ita) and I’m looking for something else to watch along those lines. But I’m not really sure where to look, since this isn’t really a genre I’m familiar with.

Any help would be appreciated.

In My View: Coburn you have drug me out of the shadows

Coburn, Coburn, Coburn…

You’ve managed to drag me out of the shadows.

Anyway, I came across Coburn’s post when DrmChsr0 linked it, and to be honest it’s a subject I’ve thought a lot about. Of course that subject being favorite shows. Now I’ve didn’t read the responses, mostly because I didn’t really feel like it at the time, but I thought since this blog was the impetus for the original post, I should reply.

Okay, so how I define all time favorite shows is kind of tricky, and it’ll take more than one post. I do want to start where Coburn started because I think we need a frame for what we’re talking about when we talk about good, so I’m going to tread some tired ground and talk about rating systems.

Now Coburn opened by saying he was looking for a perfect “10” series. When he said that I started thinking: What defines a “10” anyway? Can I even classify series I watch as “10s” or without flaws. The assumption Coburn made was, I think of my all time favorite shows as “10s” and I find them flawless.

That isn’t the case.

When I see a rating system, I see a completely arbitrary set of numbers. The problem with applying a rating to anything is it isn’t just a measure of how much you enjoyed the show. It’s a measure of how much you enjoyed the show at the time and in the mental state you watched it in. So if I’m tired and feeling grouchy and don’t particularly feel like watching X giant robot show, and I watch X giant robot show I’m not going to like it as much as if I wanted to watch it. The same holds true if a show doesn’t match my tastes, or if I got into a fight at work, or if I’m just feeling unpleaseant, or if I happened to give something else a low mark right before it. Or I happened to read lolkit’s comment about how low his MAL average was before I went on a rating spree.

In fact, it’s affected by so many factors any rating is largely a useless number if taken on its own. The only time a rating is useful to the average reader is when you have a whole bunch of them so you can see what the mean rating is (this is why ANN’s encyclopedia is useful.)

Not only is a rating arbitrary, it’s a cop out. All a rating says is how much the viewer enjoyed the show at the particular time he rated it.

It doesn’t define good.

The problem with defining good

 

The problem we face when we start trying to define what is good probably can be summed up in a quote I’m stealing from iKnight (who stole it from someone else)

“There is a difference between something being good and liking it.”

Now, I agree there is a difference. A rating system defines how much a person liked a show. However, I don’t believe there is an empirical way to prove how “good” something is. Sure I could point out plot, character, world-building, theme, etc. and say they are “good.” But what does that really mean? What if someone disagrees? Is their opinion less valid if they offer proof I’m wrong? Isn’t any judgment on these issues simply a matter of taste?

So I’m left with a conundrum. Intuitively, I think iKnight is right, but, objectively, I can’t prove it.

But I do think there’s a solution. While I don’t believe there is an empirical “good” like this quote seems to hint at, I do believe there is a more honest “good.” The reason why I called any ratings system a cop out is because there’s no accountability. If I say a show is a seven and someone says, “Well I think it’s a nine.” All I have to do is wave my hand and say, “Well it’s just my opinion.”

But if I say, “You should watch this show because I think it’s good.” You have to take responsibility for it one way or the other and on some level that is more pressure than simply saying, “Well it’s good.” There in lies the difference between something being good and just liking a show (or at least I think so.)

Now with my favorites, in most cases, I would say they are good and people should watch them.

But that isn’t why they’re my favorites. They’re my favorites because their flaws are minor in comparison to what I like about them. Now that discussion is going to have to come later.

If you ever wondered what became of me

So it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here.

It’s because I got a job. I am an honest-to-goodness reporter.

Yes, that means I packed up all of my stuff and drove across the country. It was an interesting experience. Maybe not one I would repeat any time soon, but it was an experience.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with the site (I’m probably going to talk to my editor about it.) But if you want to reach me, you can email iniksbane@gmail.com.

Anyways, I don’t have much else to say.

Getting off the High Horse: Picking on Cowboy Bebop

Recently, I read an interesting exchange between Daniel and Michael about Cowboy Bebop.

And by recently, I mean about fifteen minutes ago.

Now, I’ve said my piece about the quality of Cowboy Bebop as a show, but comparing it to Faulkner is a bit unfair – both to Faulkner and Cowboy Bebop.

Faulkner’s biggest strength (in my opinion) is his use of form. As Michael rightly points out, the stream-of-consciousness first person narration creates an immersive environment. The reader is not only seeing the story through the character’s eyes, but also through their perception. So we’re actually inside of the character’s mind. It’s a form that’s often copied, but from what I’ve read of it, it’s never done quite as well.

Where I disagree with Michael is that Cowboy Bebop uses a similar style. In fact, I disagree that Bebop uses form at all. Now I could be a Philistine, but I simply can’t see the largely episodic structure (even with the slight tie-in in the end) as a homage. The episodes are too scattered, too tonally inconsistent and too rooted in third-person narration to be anything more then what they are – a collection of short pulp stories with a larger novella spread out among them.

That said, I think Raymond Chandler is a better writer than Faulkner. Hell, I think Robert Ludlum is a better writer than Faulkner.

Now, I’m not go into the whole depth issue. Frankly, I haven’t really seen a good way to judge depth. But I do think that the comparison to an “airport thriller” is also incorrect. Bebop is noir. Maybe not quite in the way that Chandler describes hardboiled detectives, but more in the way that noir has become. Spike is Chili Palmer. He’s the classic repentant criminal, who’s trying to forget about his old life, but can’t. Jet Black is… well… Philip Marlowe (or perhaps it’d be more fair to compare him to Matthew Scudder or Spenser). He’s the classic disillusioned cop, who still believes in justice, but can’t seem to work inside of the corrupt system. Faye Valentine is the femme fatale (there really are too many of them to name.) Really, the only thing that’s unusual that Bebop brings to the table is Ed and Ein. Everything else is a stylish re-hash.

But that doesn’t make it thematically empty. Yes, it does play out some rather familiar themes like identity, repentance and betrayal. But it leaves this viewer with enough questions to think about after it’s all done. For instance, is identity determined by memories? Once an identity is formed can we willingly leave that identity behind? What happens when the things we based our identity on betray us? And if this is a good measure of depth, then I think Bebop succeeds.

Riding on the Space Train: A note on internal consistency

A long time ago, I did a post about Galaxy Express 999, looking at its often confusing, occasionally silly, but still satisfying world. In short, Three Nine’s world rarely makes “sense” in any logical way. And it’s completely unapologetic about it and often flaunts it. I mean, why wouldn’t the space train run on coal?

But, I am a bit of a Matsumoto fanboy. Okay, I am a lot of a Matsumoto fanboy, so I set out on his current trip on the space train – Galaxy Railways.

Now overall, I think it’s a good show. It’s definitely enjoyable. But it definitely does need some comparison with the original as far as world view goes.

What makes Galaxy Railways interesting, is that it does concede to trying to build a believable reality. Gone are the trains floating through space riding some sort of invisible track, and in comes an almost Cowboy Bebop-esque set of rings that seem to hold this invisible track. Sure, there are still scenes where the crew walks outside of the train without any breathing apparatus, but now there’s a forcefield that seems to hold the air in.

But all of this got me thinking, are these things really realistic? Let’s take the wind ruffling the hair, when the crew is outside of the train or has the window open. Now if we assume that the train is carrying around the pocket of air (a safe assumption considering that they’re able to drop their shield) then there shouldn’t be any wind because the air is moving at the same speed as they’re going. Oh yeah, and smoke evidently can filter out of the shield, but air doesn’t escape? And then there’s the big one:

They’re riding a train. In space.

But really, I could pick on Galaxy Railways some more. But it really is a good show. Usually I am a stickler for internal consistency, but in a lot of ways the show reminded me of AIR. They were both shows that paid the briefest lipservice to internal consistency. In AIR’s case, it set up a mythology about a winged girl and then expected everything else to fall in around it. And for the most part it did. And for the most part it did.

This all brings up a question. Do I expect my shows to be internally consistent or don’t I? Do I expect a world that sets out rules that make sense? Or will I willingly extend my disbelief to cover even the most unbelievable things? (A lot of this reminds me of some of Coburn’s comments on mechambivalence.)

And I think it depends. In the case of both AIR and Galaxy Railways, I think the shows appeal to the viewer to discard logic in favor of feeling the show. To not pay attention to the astral projections, or the train riding through space. Instead, they ask us to form a bond with main characters and cheer them through their trials. For the most part, both of them work.

Well, except for the last two episodes of AIR.

(Obligatory spoiler warning.)

The thing about Galaxy Railways is that it didn’t force you to ponder its inconsistencies. Much like Three Nine, it worked because it didn’t try to explain itself. So those problems with the logic of the show become kind of like asking about the paradox in the Terminator movies or the existence of bi-pedal war machines. They just aren’t important. The show doesn’t dwell on them. And it certainly doesn’t build a mythology around them.

And that’s the problem with the last two episodes of AIR. They just aren’t consistent with the rest of the story. They ask the viewer to accept that somehow turning into a crow and then hugging the current vessel of the winged girl will somehow free her of the curse. That somehow, this is what previous generations intended all along. And even after that, the show proceeds to even ditch that concept in favor of the main male character needing to hunt down Misuzu because his work isn’t done. Isn’t done? He turned into a crow, traveled back into the past, and then came back and his work still isn’t done? Come on.

See my problem with the end of AIR isn’t that it’s inconsistent. But that it highlights those inconsistencies to highten its emotional appeal. And in the end, it backfires.