Roving Thoughts archives


A note on Infinite Stratos's Laura (and Ichika)

Author in reaction to my revisiting IS:

[...] The best shows of the genre have always had quirky, interesting characters injected into their relatively stock situation ([...]). IS has, well, Charlotte and an honorable mention in Laura.

It is also curious how our psychopath haremette gets points from Chris. My tastes lay, or actually run at full speed, in the opposite direction

The short answer is that I differentiate between attractive characters and interesting ones. I don't think that Laura is necessarily an attractive character; as Author mentions, she's more than a little bit off. But she's not a standard haremette straight from central casting, as many of the others are (childhood friend, stuck up rich girl, tsundere, etc). Her crazyness (and the resulting lack of genuine attractiveness) is why she only gets an honorable mention in comparison to Charlotte.

I would say that Ichika is far from stereotypical in the way harem leads usually are not. If they are not doormats, they are assholes, and there's nothing else.

First off, I have to admit that I don't actually remember much of what Ichika did in IS.

To me, Ichika falls into the general category of romance leads who just sort of muddle along in an undistinguished manner (much like the protagonist in, say, Otome Youkai Zakuro). Ichika is not a passive doormat, but he clearly didn't make much of an impression and I don't remember him doing anything much to take charge of the chaos around him. 'Did decently well for a teenaged boy' doesn't make him interesting.

(Mind you, it's hard for a male lead to do much in a harem setting without destroying the setting since he can't exactly pick someone and tell the rest of the girls to go away. Sustaining the 'harem' bit intrinsically requires that the character at the center not do anything definite. I suspect that this is one reason the genre fell out of favour, since it requires things to spend a lot of time not going anywhere.)

anime/ISRevisitedII written at 18:47:11; Add Comment

Reconsidering Infinite Stratos

Primarily due to Author's quiet advocacy, I've been thinking back about my view of Infinite Stratos for a while now. I've come to think that I (and the echo chamber of the anime blogosphere) may have been unduly dismissive, so I've decided to take another pass at what I think about it.

Stripped of its particular setting, Infinite Stratos is an old fashioned harem action/comedy show done pretty much straight, of a kind that we don't see very much any more (it's firmly in a genre that runs all the way back to, say, Tenchi Muyo! at least). The reason we don't see these sort of shows much any more is that they've been out of favour for a while, partly because the genre used to be overused by a lot of generic shows of this nature.

(I think this genre issue is part of the general dismissive reaction to IS.)

Despite the disfavour there's nothing wrong with the genre as such, and the genre means that IS is a cheerful action show of a sort that isn't very common these days (as Author notes). It's even relatively free of fanservice (which seems to be an ingredient that gets put into everything these days, much like salt and sugar). However, within its genre I think that IS is average. What brings it down to average is most of the characters, who are decidedly ordinary and even stereotypical (some of them almost painfully literally so, such as the pushy childhood friend). The best shows of the genre have always had quirky, interesting characters injected into their relatively stock situation (who could forget Tenchi Muyo's Ryoko and Ayeka, for example). IS has, well, Charlotte and an honorable mention in Laura.

(I don't think it's any accident that Charlotte is a fan favorite; she's one of the few interesting, non-standard characters in IS. That she's aware and smart is an extra bonus, since aware people are rare in harem action shows.)

What's in IS's favour is that it's unusual for today. Genuinely lighthearted action shows are uncommon right now; even something like this year's Sacred Seven had tragedies and death in the backstory. IS skips all of that, at least in what got animated, and that made it (as Author puts it) joyful and live.

(You should ignore my quibbles about the setting; they apply only if you take the show's background seriously, which I think you shouldn't. The background is just an excuse for the harem action fun.)

My short form summary is that IS is an average show, but shows in its genre aren't being done very much today and even an average harem action show is a nice contrast from much of today's anime.

anime/ISRevisited written at 13:53:01; Add Comment


Looking back at the Fall 2011 anime season

As the Fall 2011 season winds down, it's time for me to take an honest retrospective look back to go with my early impressions, to see how well I did at predicting what I'd watch and how much I was seduced by early impressions.

(My reasons for wanting to do this are more or less covered here.)

When I try to order the shows I watched this season, I have a problem; how actively I watched shows doesn't correspond with how good I think they are. I actively watched several shows primarily because they were mindless, undemanding entertainment; other, more demanding shows languished because they weren't quite good enough to overcome the need for more attention and more involvement.

Things I have clear ordering opinions about:

  • UN-GO: This is by far and away the best show of the season for me. It does essentially everything right. I need to write a proper appreciation for it but in the mean time I want to say that this is plain the smartest show of the season, and it was not afraid to assume that its audience was smart too. One aspect that I particularly liked is that it felt no need to have bad people kick dogs just to make sure we got that they were bad; instead it was perfectly content to just let them talk and have the audience draw our own conclusions.

    I don't know if we'll get another season of this, but I really want one.

    Highly recommended (with the qualifications from the early impressions). Watch two or three episodes and pay attention, then see if you're hooked.

  • Ben-To: This didn't even make my initial list of shows to watch, but once I started doing so it rapidly became my second favorite show of the season. It's not a deep show but I think it's very well done for what it is. (I wrote a longer note about it.)

    In another season it might not have done so well, but for this season it was clearly the best lightweight anime; all of the other candidates were either flawed, too serious at times, or both. Ben-To never forgot that above all it was supposed to be fun, to make me smile, and it handily succeeded.

At this point rankings become split by the watchability versus quality problem:

  • C3: Competent but flawed, this was ultimately a lightweight show, but that's what made it easy for me to watch it on a regular basis. I found it enjoyable and I like that it never descended into predictable harem antics; things always kept happening. It's nice enough that I'd watch a second season if they made one.

    (In short, this is junkfood anime.)

  • Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon: This mixed just enough action to keep me watching despite the incoherence, slow moving stuff, and huge amount of background information needed to understand what was going on. Sadly it wasn't even really good action.

    This was another junkfood show.

    If I was smart, I would skip watching the second season. I suspect I'm not going to be that smart.

  • Guilty Crown: It's been pretty. The action sequences are nicely done by and large. The whole thing makes an acceptable, generic action show (although it may yet end badly). If examined too closely you will become grumpy, so try not to do that.

    I think this is an average show (maybe sub-average), but many of the things that drag it down to average also made it very watchable for me, partly in kind of a train wreck way.

  • Fate/Zero: I had a very bipolar relation with F/Z this season; some times I couldn't wait to watch the next episode, but sometimes I sat on it for quite a while (eg the Rin episode). I think it's objectively better than say C3 but it was clearly the less watchable show for me, partly because it's a lot more serious and heavy; it was never a show I could watch for mindless enjoyment. It's also moving somewhat slowly.

    Fate/Zero has irritated me by going on a season-long pause at a significant cliffhanger. Right at the start of a major fight is not where you should have a three month pause.

  • Shana III: Oh, Shana. What can I say about you? The best I can say is that recent episodes have picked up the pace and interesting things are now happening. But up until recently, things were slow and boring (and I did not like Shana as a helpless prisoner, thanks; the Shana I like is an action heroine). Also, there remain major question marks over where this is going, so I give it fifty/fifty odds that I will wind up disliking the ending.

  • Last Exile - Fam, The Silver Wing: It's okay. It's decently done and decently enjoyable. It's not thrilling. I'm interested enough to keep watching, slowly.

  • Persona 4: There isn't anything wrong with this, it's just that it was never compelling enough to get me to watch it except when I was a bit bored, which is why it's at the bottom of this list. I watched 8 episodes and then stopped for a month before watching the next four, which probably made the pace more tolerable.


  • Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai (#4): once it became obvious that this was going to be almost entirely harem antics, not the amusing action of the first two episodes, I dropped it.

In some ways, I did a lot better this season than in summer in that I've remained interested in all of the shows that I started out watching (and even found another partway through). Although it's disappointing that none of them picked up their game, the flaws of Guilty Crown, Shana III, and Horizon were obvious from the start so I'm not going to call myself overly optimistic about any of them.

(If I was less invested in the Shana series, watching Shana III would be a mistake.)

In another way this was not a great season; the only two shows that I was clearly and consistently enthused about were UN-GO and Ben-To, and I encountered the latter because I felt uninspired about watching all of my other options. There's a bunch of decently acceptable shows and one (Fate/Zero) that I sort of think I should feel more enthused about, but the evidence shows that I was kind of meh about most everything.

anime/Fall2011Retrospective written at 19:08:49; Add Comment

A little something about Ben-To

Ben-To didn't even make my initial list of shows to watch this season; I only looked at a couple of episodes when I saw a passing mention of it somewhere as the most GAR show of the season and thought that was interesting enough to take a look at it (at the time I was bored with most of my other options).

(To me, 'GAR' connotes a kind of more or less deliberate over the top nature in the spirit of Gurenn Lagann. This is probably not how most people use the term.)

The description is right, at least for my version of GAR. Ben-To has been plain fun (although I could have done without some of its attempts at sex-based humour involving Satou, the lead character). While it follows standard tropes of shonen action that may grate on some, I'd describe it as earnest but not serious; to put it one way, it has a light touch. I think it helps that the premise of 'people fight over half-price bento' is inherently hard to take seriously.

(Another thing I like is that Ben-To's willing to be subtle and not completely spell things out.)

Ben-To is not really about the fighting, either. It spends almost no time on the actual fights or on shonen fighting tropes like the characters powering up (there are a few fights that get animated but not in any real detail). Instead it focuses on the things around the fights, especially the characters, and the characters are interesting enough (sometimes in an over the top way) to sustain my interest.

In a pleasant change it had relatively little fanservice and what fanservice it did have was generally confined to specific scenes instead of being thrown in your face every so often. (In short, no panty shots despite a fair number of girls fighting in skirts. It kind of makes me sad that this is an unusual thing.)

(I will admit that I was probably always predisposed to like Ben-To because it has that rarity in anime, strong female characters that kick ass.)

Its conclusion is satisfying (in a predictably heartwarming way) but isn't an ending. Ben-To is not the kind of show that has an ending that way. I don't think it needs any more episodes; it's said everything that it really needs to say.

Liked: yes, definitely.
Rewatch: possibly but probably not. However, I'm going to have fond memories of it.

anime/BenToNote written at 18:39:17; Add Comment


I've given in to the Twitter bandwagon

Long after this particular train has left the station, I've decided to climb on board. You can find me as cks_anime.

It's already proving vaguely handy for quick reactions and snarky comments that are too short to make entries here, or at least to make entries that make me happy. Expect more of the same and maybe some conversations with other Twitter people. I may someday start aggregating the standalone tweets here, but who knows.

(Entries here feel kind of heavyweight, since they need a filename and and a title and so on. Maybe I should let go of that.)

anime/OnTwitter written at 14:29:37; Add Comment


Being surprised by the programs of noitaminA

noitaminA is a programming block that is either derided or saluted (depending on your perspective) for running 'arty' and experimental shows instead of your usual fair. I don't usually pay much attention to things surrounding the shows that I watch (like staff), so from anime blog reading so far I've vaguely had the impression that it was mostly uninteresting (and often pretentious) anime with much more misses than hits.

(For example, Fractale was a noitaminA show. The general consensus is that it was not a success.)

Today, for reasons beyond the scope of this entry, I decided to actually look up the facts. And the facts surprised me. For a start, noitaminA is much older than I had vaguely thought; the programming block started in 2005. But the real surprise was that noitaminA has run a significant number of shows that I've enjoyed and a surprising number of shows that I would not have expected to be their fare because they are action-oriented shows.

All of the following shows are noitaminA ones:

  • both Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile, which are notable for being slice of life romance shows that I really liked despite not liking either slice of life or romance.
  • Moyashimon, which is both crazy and educational (really, it makes microbes fascinating and cute).
  • Eden of the East

(Other notable, eye-raising shows include AnoHana and Usagi Drop (aka Bunny Drop).)

Surprising action shows on noitaminA that I've watched include Toshokan Sensou (which I did not finish), [C] and this season's Guilty Crown. Arguably Eden of the East should also be considered an action show.

Looking at the full list shows me a significant number of clearly successful shows (even if a number of them are not to my tastes and I didn't watch them), many of them relatively conventional series from an artistic perspective. It's clear that noitaminA doesn't have anything to apologize for, and if I discuss a noitaminA show I have no reason to prefix it with 'even though this is on noitaminA, you should totally pay attention anyways'.

(Oh sure, there are also failures and drastic artistic experiments like The Tatami Galaxy, but far less of them than I had vaguely thought.)

PS: I don't think you can even argue that noitaminA may have started out strong with things like Honey and Clover but has fallen down lately. Just this year I have read plenty of praise for AnoHana and Usagi Drop, for example.

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

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