Roving Thoughts archives


A theory on why cool characters wind up being villains

Here is my theory (springing from the aside in the last entry):

At one point, the heroine of Pumpkin Scissors has to finally grit her teeth and meet her arranged fiancee. There's a lot of ways this could go badly for her, but actually he's a cool guy; he's nice, competent, powerful, understanding, and of course it turns out that he's one of the lead villains. How predictable.

But let's think of it from the other side. From a story perspective, how do you keep her fiancee from taking over the show given that he's a secondary character?

Roughly, I think that there are three main things that you can do in this situation:

  • Somehow sweep the secondary character more or less off stage. This both wastes the character (why introduce them at all if you're going to make them disappear) and is unrealistic in this sort of situation; the better they are the harder you have to work to make them disappear.

    (This works best when you have a clear reason for why the secondary characters are secondary and can't become part of the protagonist team.)

  • Bite the bullet and have them become part of the protagonist team. There are all sorts of drawbacks to this, especially if the secondary character is (very) competent; the more flawless they are the more they dominate the real protagonists (and the less interesting they are), and the more flawed they are the more time you spend exploring their flaws instead of dealing with the actual protagonists. This is where they take over your show.

  • Make them villains, thereby making them part of the main plots without detracting from the protagonists.

    (In theory you don't have to make them literal villains, just people who oppose the protagonists in some plot-relevant way. In practice I think that making them villains simplifies the story in a bunch of useful ways.)

Another way to put this is that unless you have an unusually long anime, you probably don't have much time to deal with things that don't involve the main plots. This implies that secondary characters have to either help move the main plots forward or not be around very much, and there are a limited number of ways they can move the main plots forward. If you need villains, it must be tempting to (re)use a character you need to have around anyways; it kills several birds with one stone.

(Also, you probably only have room for so many characters before your audience gets lost in the cast. If you only have room for ten major characters, you have to make all of the significant roles you need filled fit into those ten characters. If you need a romantic rival and a villain, well, maybe you can combine those together to save space.)

anime/CoolVillains written at 22:12:28; Add Comment

On Otome Youkai Zakuro's foreshadowing


I may be wrong as usual, but I expect the opposing human-youkai team to appear and maybe some conspiracy to rule the world thrown in, which is what the 3 couplings of bumbling lovers are going to face. Heck, I'll guess more: the dude in the mask is probably the adjutant guy who we saw in the beginning of the 1st episode.

The adjutant (he's briefly named as Hanadate) reappears in the second episode as the Lieutenant who saves the day by defusing the situation our heroes have gotten themselves into (by throwing around Army resources, which apparently he can speak for). If one wants more signs that villainy is in the air, there's also the mysteriously ill-tempered lightning beast from the first episode; anime has taught me that any time a normally well behaved creature inexplicably goes berserk, it is due to enemy action.

Sadly this is one of the weaknesses that I grumped at Zakuro for, because the good Lieutenant Hanadate sure feels like a cliche. My immediate reaction to him in the second episode (even before I realized that he was also the adjutant) was that he was so clearly too good to be true that he was probably going to turn out to be a villain, just like a whole string of similar characters before him in other shows.

(Just to be sure, the show gave him the smarmy villain look.)

I hadn't paid enough close attention to the opening and ending sequences, though, so I didn't really notice the bits that Author did. The masked man does seem to have hair that's pretty similar to Lieutenant Hanadate's, including bangs (sort of visible in the unmasking section of the opening), although I don't think we've seen Hanadate with his hat off yet.

This 'too good to be true, turns out to be a villain' thing has gotten to be such a cliche in anime that I groan every time such a character turns up. Just once I'd like them to actually be the genuinely nice people that they appear to be, instead of villains who lead the protagonists on and betray them later on. (As it happens I have a theory for why this keeps happening, but it doesn't fit here.)

PS: to be clear, I'm not surprised by the existence of villains in Zakuro; it was plain from the opening that there would probably be antagonists, given that they suggestively showed us extra characters (in shadowy lighting, just to drive it in). It's the fine details I didn't spot, which shows that Author has a better eye than I do.

anime/ZakuroVillainComment written at 21:32:19; Add Comment


My brief snapshot of the Fall 2010 anime season first episodes

Another season, another flood of first episodes, some of which I've seen and some of which I currently have no interest in. Because I feel like it (and because I want to keep track and make sure I don't miss anything), here's a snapshot in an extremely abbreviated form.

Short summary of this season: I haven't seen anything yet that's likely to make Author happy .

Shows I have seen (more or less in the order seen):

  • Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls: I saw the preview version of the first episode; it was alternately interesting and annoying. The less fanservice in future episodes the better, but I'm probably going to be disappointed.

  • Panty & Stocking: cannot look away. Disturbingly funny; totally over the top.

  • Star Driver: I have a weakness for empty action calories and this was at least entertaining. On the positive side, I think they intended for the ridiculous bits to be ridiculous.

  • Otome Youkai Zakuro: This had me paying attention from the opening scene, partly because I like supernatural action shows. So far one of my favorite shows of this season, despite occasional weaknesses.

  • Psychic Detective Yakumo: The premise is interesting but the first episode was just acceptable and somewhat paint by numbers. I hope that it intended to telegraph who the guilty party was as strongly as it did. (I wouldn't have really noticed the lack of actual animation if Aroduc hadn't called it out.)

  • My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute (Ore no Imouto ...): It's well produced, competently done, and even funny, but I find that I have very little interest in watching more for various reasons.

    (I watched the first episode because Author tweeted a link to this, which praised it.)

  • A Certain Magical Index II: It seems to be planning to be just like the first season. This is fine by me but may not be fine by you.

  • Iron Man: an unexceptional Japanese version of American superheroics. The original source comics are probably just as stupid (although this cannot excuse what they are doing to the female reporter), and I like how they get that Tony Stark is a total obnoxious prat.

    I would like to wholeheartedly like this, but it really has too much stupid in it and not enough action, and the action is not really all that good. (The character art style doesn't help.)

  • The World God Only Knows: competently done and decently amusing (probably only in small doses for me).

  • Tantei Opera Milky Holmes: the premise is sort of interesting but the implementation is kind of generic. If I watch more at all, I wouldn't be surprised if I got bored very fast.

  • Invasion! Squid Girl: It's both well-made and funny, but I sort of feel that I've already seen as much of Keroro Gunsou as I want to.

    (Also, I find Squid Girl much more sympathetic than I ever did Keroro so I am less amused by bad things happening to her.)

One of the things I've decided is that I need to stop reading Aroduc's summaries before I decide whether or not to watch shows. Aroduc is perpetually picky about things and even though I know that he is more picky than I am, I still let his grumpy reactions influence me. It'd be better to only look at his reactions after I've formed my own.

Still going to see (when available):

  • Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan second season: I watched the first season.
  • Tamayura (OVA): It's about photography.

Have not watched (yet, subject to change) due to show's genre and/or summary:

  • MM!: ordinary life plus sex comedy
  • Bakuman: ordinary life comedy/drama

  • Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru
  • Togainu no Chi

  • Fortune Arterial: you jest.
  • Yosuga no Sora: uh, no (warning: NSFW spoilers, which really says all that's necessary).

  • Super Robot Wars OG: classic giant robots, plus I don't know anything about the setting of this long-running franchise

Have not watched due to being a sequel to something I didn't watch:

  • Arakawa Under the Bridge*2
  • Sora no Otoshimono (Heaven's Lost Property) Forte
  • Letter Bee REVERSE: technically I watched part of the first season before giving up on it.

Forgotten, overlooked, or not yet fansubbed: everything else.

anime/Fall2010Brief written at 23:58:41; Add Comment

Something that struck me about My Sister Cannot Be This Cute

The genesis of this was reading the following by Splitter of Chocolate Syrup Waffles (via Author, who quoted it in his roundup):

[...] After getting everything off her chest, [Kirino] gives the best moment of the series where she chastises her brother for thinking the things she enjoys in 2D is something she wants to experience in 3D. This works on so many levels.

For me, one of the interesting things about Kirino is what I'll call her otaku blindness. This is most obvious in the scene where she shows Kyousuke her collection and immediately starts talking to him as if he was a fellow otaku as opposed to a disoriented outsider being overwhelmed by a flood of information he has little to no context for; a blindness to how he is different from her and doesn't see things the way she does. This otaku behavior is so common that it's almost a cliche.

However, I think that her blindness goes deeper than that. In particular, I believe that she is sincere about why she collects and plays her eroge games; she plays them for the story and because she thinks little sisters (at least as they are in the games) are cute. She is immersed enough in her enthusiasms that she is effectively blind to the eroge/R-17 components; she knows that they exist but she's desensitized to them and their implications, in much the same way that long time anime viewers can become more or less blind to fanservice.

Getting back to Splitter's remark, I thus wouldn't say that she enjoys this aspect in 2D as such; instead she's just null to it. Kyousuke can prod her back into an awareness of it but he has to do so explicitly by things like reminding her about the (nominal) implications of him playing through R-17 portions in front of her, and until he does so it seems that the issue simply hadn't occurred to her.

(Kirino is clearly not innocent about the eroge nature of her stuff, given that she carefully hides an eroge game inside a harmless case instead of leaving it in its own case. What she was doing carrying the game around in her purse at all is a question that may get answered later.)

PS: I am aware that this is one of the least creepy interpretations possible of OreImo's basic premise. As an optimist, that's why I like it.

anime/OreImoBlindness written at 22:42:13; Add Comment

A real commentary on Otome Youkai Zakuro

(Okay, time to write something more serious about this show.)

I feel conflicted about Zakuro.

On the one hand, I'm enjoying it and this counts for a lot. Zakuro herself is the main draw for me (as seen), partly because I always like seeing competent and strong female protagonists in anime (given that they're so rare). The rest of the ingredients are not bad; the setting is novel, the rest of the characters are at least amusing, what's going on is interesting, and the show is willing to be sort of subtle at least some of the time. So far the romance has managed to be amusing instead of annoying.

(I particularly enjoyed Agemaki making conscious use of what I can best describe as his manly shoujo powers to disguise and overcome his fears.)

On the other hand, so far I'm feeling that Zakuro is merely competent and not more. While there's a lot to be said for competence, it feels wrong for me to be getting enthused and excited about it; ordinary competence should be a basic thing that (almost) all anime has, not an exception that I celebrate. This makes it hard for me to say really positive things about Zakuro, because its major positive so far is something that a lot of people want to be in every show that they watch.

(I also feel that it's kind of sad when an anime doesn't even try for more than competence. Since Zakuro is a manga adaptation, this may be forced on it by the original source material.)

As merely competent, I expect Zakuro to be pretty straightforward; what we've seen so far is likely to be what we get for the rest of the show. People hoping for lots of action are likely to be disappointed (the opening of the first episode is probably going to be atypical), and I expect romance to be at least half the show's contents by volume. Overall I expect to enjoy the show, but I also expect it to be ultimately un-memorable, a good way to pass time in the fall season but nothing more than that.

(I would love to be disappointed in this, well, in a good way, but I'm not holding my breath.)

Zakuro also has some weaknesses that it's already showing, which basically boil down to aspects being kind of generic. Even the main characters don't really stand out most of the time, various bits of the story are kind of predictable, and the show is already pulling out the cliches without making novel uses of them. I was particularly not taken by the use of various stock characters in the second episode, complete with an all but moustache-twirling overly Westernized, overly materialistic Japanese businessman (he has a moustache, he just doesn't twirl it). Setting up strawmen and cliches against your protagonists doesn't strengthen your story, it weakens it; anyone can look good against strawmen.

PS: note that I may have fairly strong standards for mere competence. To me, mere competence is being entertaining and decently well executed and so on. Being better than merely competent is creating something that is actively memorable and unusual (what I think Author would call good anime).

anime/ZakuroComments written at 19:01:22; Add Comment


One of my tastes in settings for anime shows

One thing I've noticed over time is that shows where the setting is just ordinary life generally don't grab me, regardless of their genre or premise. This isn't an absolute rule and there are some exceptions (Toradora is one recent example), but the exceptions generally have to be very good. Add something out of the ordinary to the setting and the show has a much higher chance of getting my interest. The usual spice that anime uses is some supernatural elements, but a lot of things will do; it just needs to be something out of ordinary in the setting, even if it doesn't have much an impact on the story itself.

Note that this has nothing to do with my view of the quality of the show or whether or not I like them. I don't dislike (or like) such shows, I generally just don't and can't get interested in them.

One useful example is Natsume's Book of Friends, which is basically slice of life with supernatural elements. Without the supernatural elements, with the stories recast with normal people (which I think would be possible), I probably wouldn't have given the show a second look; with them present, I really quite liked Natsume.

I know that other people differ in their tastes here; for example, I suspect that Author is probably diametrically opposite my tastes in this. Also, given how many shows use ordinary life as their setting, I sometimes sort of wish that I didn't feel this way.

(There is something to be said for using ordinary life as the base setting for your show, because it means that you can concentrate purely on your genre and premise without the distraction of an unusual setting. If you don't need flying cats in order to tell your story, why put them in? (On the other hand, sometimes they're essential.))

anime/OrdinaryLifeSettings written at 01:38:45; Add Comment


Otome Youkai Zakuro episode 1: my reaction

Zakuro herself


(Disclaimer: screenshot not representative of actual episode contents. See also.)

anime/Zakuro01 written at 00:00:18; Add Comment


Why you might need to change the story when adapting it to anime

(For some context, see the previous entry, in which this was originally a sidebar before it got too long.)

To put it one way, anime almost always gives you an external view of characters and events, not an internal one (one where the character's internal feelings and motivations are clear to the reader). Manga and games let you give the reader a somewhat more internal view, and written text lets you give them a fully internal view if you want to.

(You don't have to, of course; lots of written works are told from various detached third-person perspectives.)

In a work written with this internal view available, the external events may not make sense or may not be sufficiently convincing by themselves. For example, it might only be clear how and why two characters fall in love from an internal view; if you just have the external events, it seems implausible or stupid. Since anime mostly strips away this internal view, you are left only with the unconvincing external view; in order to make the story make sense again you may need to add or change external events to be more convincing and to better illustrate the internal story.

(The other version of this is when a character is more sympathetic or interesting because you see their internal perspective; if the story is told purely from an outside perspective, they wind up looking unpleasant or nasty or bad.)

There are at least two ways for an anime adaptation to fumble the necessary story changes: it can simply do a bad or unconvincing job of them, or it can do a good job of them that still doesn't fit in well with the other external events and feels out of place, like something awkwardly grafted in.

(The worst case is stories where the internal view is an intrinsic part of how the story works, for example where the story being in first person narration is fundamental and it would be very different in third person. But I suspect that those don't get anime adaptations very often or in fact at all.)

anime/WhyChangeAnimeStory written at 17:31:46; Add Comment

A thought (well, a speculation) on Oh! Edo Rocket's quality

I watched Oh! Edo Rocket several years ago (before I started writing Roving Thoughts) and enjoyed it quite a lot; ever since then I've felt that it was an underappreciated gem, and I am glad to see people like Author discover it.

(Yes, yes, technically Author 'discovered' it ages ago, back when it originally aired, and merely watched it recently. You all know what I mean. Ironically I think one of Author's old side comments about a bit in the first episode that helped push me towards watching it, although my Google-foo isn't sufficient to find it now.)

One of the interesting things about OER is that it not an original anime work; it is an adaptation. I find this interesting because anime adaptations have a terrible track record; most of them have ranged between bland and bad, even when the source material is pretty good. Good anime is rare, but my impression is that good anime that started in another media is even rarer than that. But the really interesting thing for me is that OER was originally a successful stage play, not a manga, a book, or a game (the usual three sources for anime series), and for a while I've wondered if this is one of the reasons that OER is so good.

Here's why I say that:

The way you tell stories in manga, written text, or games is very different from how you have to do it in anime; this means that adapting any one of them for anime may require fairly significant changes in how the story is told and even call for changes in the story. However, it seems intuitively sensible that a stage play would wind up using techniques similar to what anime uses, which means that adapting a stage play for anime would require much less changes and thus has a higher chance of preserving what made the original material so successful.

(Stage plays and anime are not quite the same, in the same way that stage plays and films are not the same (as early cinema discovered).)

Note that I may well be talking through my hat. If you want an expert opinion, find someone who understands how stage plays and film (and ideally animation) tell stories and how they differ, and see if they fall over laughing at this idea.

PS: this entry absolutely is prompted by Author's roll call of the sleeping and the dead, although the thought has been rattling around in the back of my mind for a while.

anime/OERQualityThought written at 17:28:40; Add Comment

An aside on the timing of my previous entry

It is mostly a coincidence that I wrote my previous entry on Panty & Stocking right after Author posted his roll call of the sleeping and dead. I watched the episode last night (after reading Aroduc's summary, which pushed it up the 'I want to see this for myself' list) and immediately wound up thinking about how to write up my reaction to it, since it's one of the few anime lately that I have had a distinct reaction to.

However, I can't deny that his entry made me get off my rear to put my thoughts into action and actually write something for once. Really, I should do this more often.

(At a minimum I want to write something about my overall view of Ookami, since I wrote about the first episode. But that would need me to actually watch the final episode.)

anime/OnAuthorTiming written at 16:36:19; Add Comment

My reaction to Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt #1

It is not often that the first episode of an anime series leaves me boggled as my major reaction.

The best way I can think of to describe P&S is that it feels like Gainax decided that they wanted to make a modern American cartoon and then turn the age limit up (without turning up the maturity level, which appears to be set firmly at the Ren & Stimpy or Beavis & Butthead level). The result is extremely unlike almost all of the other anime I've seen, including Gainax's other work.

(In a very bad way, Gurren Lagann is the closest other anime that I can think of, in that it started out as a deliberately over the top take on Japanese giant robot anime. You could perhaps say that P&S is an even more over the top take on modern American cartoons, given a Japanese twist and a much increased age limit.)

Aroduc's summary of the first episode will give you a more detailed rundown if you want it. Do not worry about reading spoilers; P&S is not the sort of experience that can really be spoiled.

I don't know if I like it, because the question feels inapplicable. This is not a show that you like, this is a show that you watch in horrified fascination because you can't turn away. (Or that you flee from with all due speed. It is possible that this is the most sensible reaction to P&S.)

I fall into the 'boggled and unable to look away' camp, so I will be watching the next episode. Of course I have no idea what it will be like; P&S is already so bizarre that it would not surprise me in the least if Gainax changed things majorly every episode (or every few episodes or whatever), depending on how thoroughly they want to run the current joke into the ground.

anime/PantyNStocking written at 16:20:10; Add Comment

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