Log Horizon's weakest part is Minori's plotline
The most recent Log Horizon 2 episode has made me fully realize that the show's largest single flaw is how it's addressing Minori's romantic feelings for Shiroe, and unfortunately this is a serious flaw that significantly lessens the show for me; it actively makes things painful any time the storyline comes up. That the show focused almost all of episode 13 on the whole mess made the episode kind of unpleasant to watch.
The problem is not Minori's feelings as such; they're sort of vaguely realistic and if it wanted to, the show could do a decent plot handling the issues involved there in her mixture of hero worship and a crush. The problem is that the show insists on taking the situation seriously, with characters (starting with Akatsuki but not limited to her) taking Minori's would be romance as a realistic possibility. Various people clearly see what is going on, indulge Minori, and appear to see nothing wrong with the whole situation, when by all rights they should be either backing away quietly or taking her aside and saying 'um, look, you are 14 and he is a college graduate, no'.
In short, any actual materialization of Minori's intended romance would be deeply creepy and that the show strings along the possibility of this is itself not a comfortable thing. It doesn't help that this is a not particularly attractive anime cliche and/or trope in general, one that shows almost never handle well. As it is the whole thing feels very 'light novel', which is not praise.
The whole show would be much better off if it lost Minori's feelings down a well and then never referred to them again. I'm not particularly fond of Akatsuki's angst in general, but removing Minori as a nominal romantic rival and shifting things purely to gaining the courage to approach Shiroe would help a great deal (although not completely, since that particular trope is very shopworn).
The impact of good directing illustrated
It's not often that you get a master class in the importance of directing, and in about three minutes flat. But now we have one, courtesy of a competition between Studio Khara and game developer CyberConnect2. As ANN explains (via), both studios made shorts based on the same character designs (and maybe 3D models, it's not clear), basic situation, and maybe even scenario outline, and the contrast between them is really illuminating.
Let's start with CyberConnect2's version, which you can conveniently see on YouTube. My reaction is pretty much 'well, okay'. That's a perfectly decent exhibition short, with everything you'd expect here; there's some action, some graphics, and so on. But it's kind of unimaginative and pedestrian, and at least for me there were some confusing moments where I wasn't quite sure what was going on.
Now watch Studio Khara's version, again on YouTube.
We have verve. We have dynamic situations, visuals, and action sequences, with clear back and forth moments, reversals of fortune, and even the injection of some character. What's going on is always clear and grounded (and it's set in a distinct physical place to help with that). I think Khara's short goes through exactly the same beats as CC2's short does (attacked, at a disadvantage, attempt to use ranged combat, near defeat, reversal of fortune, ultimate victory), but they are presented so much better. They're interesting. They're exciting.
There's little or nothing in the Khara short that couldn't have been in the CC2 short. The difference is not CG versus hand drawn (and it's not clear to me how much of Khara's is genuinely hand drawn; some sequences looked like they at least had a lot of CG assist). Almost all of the difference comes down to Khara doing a better job of designing and realizing what happens in the scenario, in other words to directing and storyboards.
(When we talk about the quality of directing in anime, it's usually hard to find such a direct comparison. If you're looking at two scenes in real shows, there's so many variables involved; the differences between the scenes, the shows (maybe), the subjects, their budgets, and even how people feel about the two different shows. This situation is free of almost all of those variables.)
(This elaborates on some tweets of mine.)
An example of telephoto perspective in anime, courtesy of Shirobako
Back in The perspectives of the anicamera I said that I didn't think I'd ever seen telephoto perspective used in anime. It turns out that I'm wrong about that, as a recent shot in Shirobako showed me. Let's start with the actual shot itself:
What we're seeing here is a classic telephoto perspective, where everything is stacked up on top of each other and there's very little distinction between close objects and further away ones. Notice, for instance, how little the size of the traffic lights changes at each step backwards into the scene, yet we're given the cue that they're not all at the same distance from us because they partially occlude each other. Even the features of the buildings in the background are relatively large and so look relatively close to us. This use of a stacked, dense perspective is deliberate and conscious on the part of the show. Nothing that the scene needs to show forces this view; in fact this shot is present almost entirely for its emotional effect (the only thing that matters for the flow of the scene is that we know the lights are red, to show why Miyamori stopped for a bit).
I suspect that this shot will feel familiar to you even if you haven't watched Shirobako. I'm pretty sure that this kind of compressed view into an urban distance cluttered with signs and wires and other parts of the city is actually not an uncommon shot and may even be common enough to be cliched. Certainly now that I've seen it here I'm sure I've also seen it before, undoubtedly going back a long way. It just didn't come to mind when I wrote the initial entry, partly because this effect is somewhat more subtle than a clearly exaggerated ultra wide angle view.
(I'm pretty sure that Neon Genesis Evangelion has similar shots and I'm sure that NGE didn't originate it. In a way it's such an obvious way of doing things if you want this effect on viewers.)
Checking in on the Fall 2014 anime season sort of midway through
This is not exactly 'midway', but let's let that go; it's more than time for the usual midway check in on my early impressions of this season. I'm actually glad I waited this much because the latest episode of one particular show has caused a drastic change in my attitudes to it.
- Mushishi second season: In contrast to the first half of this
back in the spring, we're back to
powerful stories that fully engage me. Since Ginko has still
been a relatively oracular presence in a number of them, I think
that part of it is that the stories have moved away from being
horror stories and have become more about humanism and people
being very human.
- Shingeki no Bahamut - Genesis: This has flowered into a
full-throated, no holds barred adventure show. The characters
have settled down a little bit (in particular Amira has quieted
down, which makes me a bit sad) but they've kept developing in
interesting ways, while the story beats and the directing continue
to more than hit the mark. This show has verve and swashbuckling (and no
pretensions of being deep literature).
- Shirobako: After throwing jargon-laden situations at us in the first few episodes, the show has slowed down and found conflicts and problems that are intricately tied to the anime business but that don't require deep technical understanding to really get. In the process it's given us powerful episodes that are painfully real and without easy answers.
Things I'm still watching:
- Garo - The Animation: I want to love this as much as Bahamut
but with rare exceptions it simply doesn't have the verve of the
former show and the potential depths and sophistication it hinted
at in the beginning have yet to emerge. It doesn't help that it
had a run of decidedly conventional episodes before deciding to
finally do some interesting and powerful things.
(It doesn't help that it's too fond of setting its action scenes in very dim surroundings where, well, you can barely make out the action.)
- Hitsugi no Chaika - Avenging Battle: This remains Chaika. There
isn't much more I can say except that we're finally getting both
answers and character development, which is really what you'd hope
for at this point in the show.
(Sadly it is doing a few irritatingly cliched things. Really, a straight amnesia plot? Hasn't that been done to death by now?)
- Log Horizon second season: This has continued onwards in the
steady Log Horizon manner, putting one brick on top of the other
and building up over time to nicely done climaxes. The show has also
done a very good job of elaborating the world this season and doing
interesting things with it that simply feel right.
- Fate/Stay Night - Unlimited Blade Works: On the good side it has a budget and some nice fight scenes and Rin and Archer. On the negative side, it's Fate/Stay Night, Shirou and Saber and all. There isn't really anything more I can say than that. Well, there is one more good thing; I'm pretty certain that the writers and the show are fully aware that Shirou is kind of a prat. They certainly do kick him a fair bit and I don't think it's particularly designed to make us sympathize with him.
Flamed out spectacularly:
- Psycho-Pass 2: The show was limping along with both potentially
interesting things and eye-raising what the heck moments (including
a bunch of bad directing), which made it okay but not as nice as the
first season. Then episode 8 happened, with terrible writing and
This episode was simply bad on all fronts and I don't expect it to get
(See also eg The Cart Driver's overall reaction to the show these days.)
- Ore, Twintail ni Narimasu: It's funny but apparently not funny enough because I don't feel any real interest in watching the latest episode. I'm probably going to listen to my gut and not force things.
- Madan no Ou to Vanadis: I lost interest for various reasons.
I will say that depicting battles through markers for the various
units moving around on a map is less 'showing' and more 'telling',
even if you pause periodically to show us bits of actual fights.
- Seven Deadly Sins: This wound up with too little fighting for
me. The 'that's enough' moment was when one episode ended on a
fight cliffhanger and the next episode ended the fight in about
thirty seconds flat.
- Amagi Brilliant Park: I didn't wind up watching any more after my early impressions and nothing I've heard about it since has pushed me to change that.
Apart from the unpleasant surprise of Psycho-Pass 2 and the surprising excellence of Shirobako, this is pretty much what I expected to happen. I'm maybe a bit disappointed in Chaika and Log Horizon, although that may be because of overly rose-tinted memories of their first seasons. Three excellent shows, three good ones, and a decent one is actually pretty good for a season, especially after summer.