Checking in on the Fall 2013 anime season 'midway' through
It's time for the traditional midway update to my early impressions. Past time, really, but this time the delay hasn't been because I've been disenchanted with stuff.
- Kyousougiga: I have nothing coherent to say about this that other
people aren't saying better. It's hitting lots of my buttons and being
clever about it. Both Koto (the younger one) and Myoe are excellent
characters and the others aren't bad.
- Kill la Kill: This has sustained its level of frenzied fun and
over the top absurdities; in short it's still BURNING ANIME. It's not
flawless (you can read lots of discussion about questionable things in
various places around the net) and there are plenty of uncertainties
but I don't care.
- Arpeggio of Blue Steel - Ars Nova: I have no particular
justification for this, I just keep whole-heartedly enjoying it.
- Yozakura Quartet - Hana no Uta: This is another series that's
just plain fun, especially when it cuts loose. Surprisingly it
has the best fight animation of the season.
(I could live without its apparent compulsion to flash us at least one pair of panties per episode no matter what.)
On the edge of boredom:
- Kyoukai no Kanata: I'm getting some pretty gorgeous drawings,
a reasonable amount of fight animation (although it's no Yozakura
Quartet there), and some reasonably interesting (secondary)
characters. I'm not getting the appealing character interaction I was
hoping for and I could have done without the episode that was a giant
shaggy dog story.
- Log Horizon: This is perfectly good and entertaining but it's a bit slow and it's not quite thrilling enough to elevate it out of this category.
Almost certainly a miss:
- Valvrave: This season has turned down the crazy and it turns out that when Valvrave does so it's a much more ordinary show. I don't really care about the angst of the characters and the show got rid of several of the potentially most interesting characters the moment they got interesting. I think I'm going to drop this although I make no promises.
- Yowamushi Pedal: I wrote an entire entry about how this sadly
failed for me. Other people are apparently
starting to get unhappy about how slowly it's moving.
- Galilei Donna: Oh boy. The short, rant-free version is that at least all of the writing having to do with the plot is terrible. Regardless of any other virtues the show potentially may have, I can't get over feeling that the writers are lazy and insulting me.
As far as shows continuing from earlier seasons go, I'm still watching Monogatari. It's okay and the final arc looks to be better than earlier ones.
I finished watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199. It was excellent.
Sidebar: Why I am not so impressed with Kyoukai no Kanata's fights
One of the marks of quality fight animation is not only that there is animation happening but that you can actually follow the action of the fight and it makes sense. A lot of KnK's fights have had animation but not quite so much coherent action. Yozakura Quartet's fights are not as pretty as KnK's but they are clearly coherent action. A good example is this beatdown from episode 7 (spoilers of course); at no point in the entire sequence of animation are you in any doubt about who did exactly what to who (and for that matter where everyone is). KnK's fight animations have lots of things flying around very fast but not as much coherent action. If I was being unkind I'd say that they look impressive but are ultimately hollow.
(I'm sensitive to this for reasons beyond the scope of this entry.)
Why Yowamushi Pedal fails for me
I wanted to like Yowamushi Pedal, I really did (in part because the story resonates with my own experiences), but instead it's become the first show I've dropped this season. I've spent a bit of time thinking about why and I'm going to put it this way.
Roughly speaking, a sports anime has two options. It can take the fast Initial D approach of almost immediately throwing us into important action, or it can take the slow Cross Game approach of getting us hooked on the characters and their interactions and then only slowly bringing the sport action into the picture. In the fast approach we'll forgive the characters being a little flat because exciting things are happening; in the slow approach we'll forgive a lack of action because we're invested in the characters.
(Of course you can do both at once and a really good fast show will do so; Initial D has reasonably interesting characters from the start. And to be honest it turns out that Initial D is actually slower moving than I remembered it being, although it sets up the critical stakes in the first episode.)
Yowamushi Pedal did neither (for me). I gave up on it after I fast-forwarded through most of the fourth episode, and I did that because I didn't care about either the otaku interactions of Onoda and Naruko in Akihabara or the reason the show invented for why they wound up bike racing there. As you might guess, part of the problem is that the characters never really came alive to me; they still felt too much like descriptive phrases instead of people. I cared a bit about what they were doing but not enough and the show was otherwise just too slow moving.
(An important part of being slow moving is that the stakes of the action are low. Initial D took four episodes to start the race, but from the first episode we understood how the upcoming race was a big deal with a lot on the line for the locals. None of the action in Yowamushi Pedal so far even comes close to this level of importance.)
Sidebar: Why Yowamushi Pedal resonates with me
To elide a long story, I bike a lot these days but I didn't use to do so; I just started biking one day (relatively recently by my standards) and slid into more and more of it. My mental image of myself has always been set to 'sedentary computer geek and reader and inside person' and it was kind of a shock to realize one day that I'd become someone who felt an ideal summer Sunday or holiday involved spending most of the day biking around. So I found Onoda's self image of 'I'm not athletic, I just bike to Akihabara to save money for otaku stuff' to be totally believable and realistic, and I was looking forward to seeing him come to terms with the idea that actually yes, he was athletic and had become so without realizing it.
(If the show was interested in taking this seriously, the high school setting offered a lot of potential. To put it one way, I suspect that even in Japan good athletes are given a lot more respect than colourless otaku.)
Some thoughts on the gamification in Gatchaman Crowds
One of the thematic clashes in Gatchaman Crowds is between Rui's idealistic vision of the world as a place where the population takes care of things through altruism without needing leaders and power structures and his actual implementation of this vision, both with the carefully selected Crowds users and that GALAX gives people rewards for their actions (and sometimes frames things as contests). By the end of the series Rui has thought better of one of these, giving the Crowds power to everyone instead of a select few, but that still leaves us with the contradiction of theoretically altruistic action versus GALAX's gamification of it.
The conventional view of this is that it shows the inherent contradictions and unworkability of Rui's vision. Appealing to people's altruism is all well and good but it doesn't actually work; in practice the large mass of people only act when they get paid for it, even if you're only paying them in social kudos. Rui is smart enough to realize this, which is why GALAX gamifies the whole thing despite Rui's professed views.
But there's an alternate view that starts with the observation that GALAX's rewards are not, say, money or anything comparable to it. Instead they're basically meaningless and I find it notable that in a show as aware of social media as Crowds is, no one ever talks about how many GALAX update points they have. Rather than being people's motivation for action in place of a nonexistent or stunted altruism, GALAX's meaningless rewards instead simply serve to give people a little push towards action and also to give them feedback to reassure them that they have successfully done the right thing. Or in short people are altruistic but also passive and GALAX's gamification exists simply to overcome this passivity.
(People may also be uncertain about what actions they should do, although having GALAX provide answers there edges into potentially darker territory. See this blog post by r042 for more elaboration of this idea.)
In support of this view, note that many of the things that GALAX asks its users to do are all out of proportion (in terms of time, effort, and risk) to any possible reward that GALAX is providing. In the course of the show, Japanese teenagers openly defy their teachers and school authorities, off the clock medical people dash into bad situations and hazards, and people spend significant amounts of time doing boring work to help strangers, all for nothing more than GALAX updates. It's hard not to call this altruistic.
Link: Gatchaman Crowds essay by Joe McCulloch
‘Gatchaman Crowds’: Four Flights Inside The Most Radical Superhero Reboot of Right This Minute is an excellent and well-informed 5,000 words or so on Gatchaman Crowds that says a lot of smart things about it. One of the reasons I love it is that it points out negative things too and makes me (somewhat reluctantly) agree with them, despite my fondness for the show. Because the essay's on Comics Alliance it takes a comics oriented view of the show, although one that's also informed by a lot of context.
(Note that there are some mild spoilers in the essay.)
If you like McCulloch's writing and want more of it, you can find him on Twitter as @snubpollard and at his Tumblr blog, where he holds forth on (among other things) Kill la Kill and other currently airing shows. I find both well worth reading and quite recommend them.