2014
06.28

*takes a shot*

I’m noticing on other blogs that this is the point where they’re jumping ship. Frankly, I can’t blame them one bit.

This second arc is really setting off an example of what happens when a so bad it’s good show just becomes bad. I remember watching shows like Secret Life of the American Teenager and Valvrave purely on the basis that they were funny to laugh at. But then, the writers had the idea that their show would suck less if they cut out the unintentionally funny bits. While that could make a series objectively better, it cuts out what made the show interesting to begin with, especially when the writing at large hasn’t improved. That predicament mirrors the issue here, where a lack of Randian diatribes turns a hilariously bad show into just a bad show.

On the surface, it might be easy to think that Mahouka would actually improve without the pseudo-political dogma. However, that void has been filled with the same old vices the show has created for itself like magic technobabble and over-reliance on Tatsuya’s godliness. It all just makes for a show that’s too procedural, with a writer that seems too blind to realize what’s going on. This arc is supposed to encompass a couple books, right? And from what I heard, the adaptation cuts out some of the exposition going throughout the story? So how could someone go through volume after volume of this? Maybe I should auto-translate my fanfiction and email it to Dengeki Bunko in the hopes I’ll get published, because that sounds just as plausible as this show ever seeing the light of day.

I know that I haven’t talked about the actual episode at hand yet and more at the series so far, but it keeps getting harder to talk about the show when it just shills more of the same material it delivers last week and the week before. I guess that one point in this episode worth discussing involves the theme of being monitored. The characters keep talking about how the tournament committee is looking through their CADs, which could be the reason why their armory might be faulty during matches. And while I would love for this to be a message on how over-inspecting our personal effects is detrimental to society, it just leads to talking about how we should let the right people (i.e. Tatsuya) to monitor our stuff instead of stuffy adults.

But that’s only a hint rather than an actual question the show considers, which makes theorizing this series all the more aggravating given its complete blindness to other paths than the one it has chosen for itself. This isn’t to say this show is challenging. To say Mahouka challenges the mind is like saying twenty minutes of white noise makes for a good conversation piece. Maybe I’m only seeing the show with a skin-deep perspective, but low tide is starting to set in for this series. If nothing happens in the next few weeks, consider this show dropped.

2014
06.23

Just a reminder that there IS a robot in this show.

One of my associates made a rather poignant statement when he expressed the appeal of Kenzen Robo Daimidaler. He noted it was a love letter to all the shitty OVAs released in the 1990s. I don’t think the word ‘love’ aptly describes the contents of the letter Daimidaler wrote. Instead of wistful nostalgia and gentlemanly kisses to a long ago love, the ‘love’ letter is written crudely with a lot of eager rhetoric detailing weird, bizarre things it wants to do with said shitty OVAs in lurid detail. In fact, if you turned over the love letter there’s a set of crude drawings Daimidaler made that explicitly chronicles what would be a long, arduous, and weird love making session; complete with penguin role-playing, massive groping, erotic martial arts, and something known as the Gulliver Stick.

After watching all 12 episodes of Daimidaler, I can say those are all good things. Pretty much panned moments after it premiered, Daimidaler provides one gigantic middle finger from a hand protruding outside its pants zipper to anyone with pearls to clutch. Don’t get me wrong; as much as people hate it they are absolutely right about what it’s about, the thing is… THOSE ARE WHAT MAKE THE SHOW GREAT! In an industry where really GREAT comedy anime is mired with mundane slice-of-life, imouto complex-laden, and nebbish-led harem shows, Daimidaler’s disposition to own up to its profoundly shameless, absurd, concept is a breath of fresh, perverted, panty-scented air.

The show’s been critiqued as a disparate mishmash of stuff just plugged in at random, and while that can be a recipe for disaster, Daimidaler gets behind their creative decisions, firing on all cylinders, and finding ways to shore up a pleasant surprise. Oh yeah, there’s a Penguin race with giant boners and penguin-themed mecha, and yet they ramp the concept up a notch through cultural mores, backstories, pathos, and awkward malapropisms. The outrageously gregarious and polite nature of the multitude of Western-named Penguin commandoes makes for exciting viewing as every minute they are on screen gets my full, undivided, attention. What are they going to say? What are they going to do? Those questions were raised at the back of my mind throughout my viewing of the series, and there is always something enjoyable to witness like their top flight website design to a wonderful cultural greeting that I dare not share for fears of ruining the surprise.

Heck some of the protagonists are pleasantly wonderful in their own quirky way, and serve as an effective foil to the Penguin Empire. They are rife with motivations like vengeance (through a cultural greeting that mentally scarred the character Sonan Kyoko’s father), eager fervor to youth and lust (played with utter conviction by Koyasu Takehito), and charming perversion (the main protagonist Madanbashi Kouichi). Like the Penguin Empire, they take their roles seriously in the realm of the show, and have their own righteous causes which in any other show would cause a lot of Bobobo-esque gawking and wimpy beta-male bawling. Sure they’re kinda shallow and two-dimensional for all intents and purposes, but then again if you’re looking for depth in an anime that has a preteen scientist whose dialogue is 90% sexual malapropisms then clearly you’re looking in the wrong one.

Clearly you were expecting a dark, shadowy, past involving abusive stepdads and heroin with this character.

Yet it is not just Daimidaler taking itself seriously that makes it so goddamn fun, it’s also how it does so when taking the piss out of every anime convention it utilizes. Mark my words it does it exceptionally well and in the best tongue-in-cheek way thanks to a very blithe Narrator and little touches throughout the series. Madanbashi may be our hero, but the show has absolutely no qualms in acknowledging his behavior is deviant. Kyoko may have the drive to avenge her father, but the show openly shoots down the idea of her role being more meaningful than fondle material. Finally, when it comes to the love story (yes there is a love story), the show possibly accomplishes many firsts in anime. One accomplishment is perhaps being the first anime to openly acknowledge Japan’s declining fertility rate; another is perhaps being the first anime to have a character be a stand-in for all those otaku who absolutely despise lovey-dovey couples; and finally I could swear that ending arc is a very big dig against Cool Japan. There’s much to respect in an anime where the characters take their fucked-up universe seriously, while the gods above (the Narrator and production crew) don’t to the point that they will occasionally turn to the audience and acknowledge that it is all quite silly.

If there is a low point to this anime it’s probably the animation and the music. Character designs (aside from the dapper Penguin Empire) are rather uninteresting and procedural, as is the music aside from the opening and the ending. There are a lot of corners cut here and there based on the number of still frames and limited movement found throughout the show (there are some AMAZING seagulls around Episode 4), yet when animation matters like in crafting unique fight scenes and the like with its own iconic mecha, the show steps up to the plate when it matters. Even then, I cannot really say if these elements are even a low point. For an anime that wants to take the piss out of other anime and its conventions (as well as do the nasty with a certain set of them), imitation in this regard is the best form of flattery, right down to a rushed reconciliatory ending where everybody is friends and ongoing plot threads are resolved in a the most convenient of ways.

Yes yes, it is all rather crazy that I would sing the praises for such depravity, but quite frankly with the shticks it will pull; the lengths it will go; and the insanity it will unleash? Kenzen Robo Daimidaler is always a shallow, entertaining watch just to remark in the biggest shit-eating grin possible: “I can’t believe they just did that.” If you’ve clutched your pearls like those mentioned above, or you don’t like the show’s brazen, unashamedly ribald disposition? This anime ain’t for you. However, if you’re a fun person who likes his anime to take the piss with much vim and vigor? Well this Kenzen Robo Daimidalar is never a Daimidullard.

I will never regret making that pun.

2014
06.18

Of all the scenes I remember in the original How to Train Your Dragon, it was the moment where Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is confronted by his father Stoick the Vast (Gerard Buter) about befriending a dragon. Eventually it comes to a head where Stoick declares “They killed hundreds of us!” and Hiccup retorts “And we killed thousands of them!” I was struck odd by the peculiar disparity of the casualty numbers between Vikings and dragons; as if Hiccup was insinuating that his Viking brethren were the bigger monsters. It coloured me uncertain about future installments being nothing more than Dances with Dragons or a more fantasy-based Avatar where Hiccup and crew save the innocent Dragons from the evil evil evil evil men.

Thankfully that’s not the case with How to Train Your Dragon 2; an animated sequel that I wouldn’t hesitate in saying is the new Gold Standard for such fare that doesn’t have the words “Toy Story”. It not only gave me a new perspective in seeing the human/dragon dynamic (in so much that they’re more value neutral, like dogs who can be bred and domesticated for good or ill), but expands its world and deepens its mythos, propelling the franchise forward without losing what made the original great.

The five-year gap between this and the original helps to give the characters the time to orientate themselves into top-flight dragon riders and as a result give us a top-flight aerial sequences. There are plenty a scene of flight in this movie and each one does not disappoint in showcasing the aesthetic and technical mastery of the production crew. There is exhilaration to be had in them, and the competence gained by our heroes to take new risks and fly with confidence amplifies our excitement even more as we are then left to wonder what crazy thing they will do next now that they’ve trained in dragon riding.

And boy is it necessary for them to do such, what with a rather ominous human villain (played with seedy, savage madness by Djimon Hounsou) and his plan to use dragons to conquer the world. It is a markedly procedural plot to be sure as this is the first cinematic event in the franchise to have a main human villain, but it is bolstered by the story’s ability to handle the arcs of the main players in an effective, compelling way around a humdrum plot. Hiccup while markedly more buff and toned than before (along  with CG teen whiskers), still maintains his eccentric, sardonic, demeanor all the while finding out what he wants to do next now that he has his father’s love and acceptance. It feels like a natural plight in his stride towards adulthood and works alongside his struggle between having to fight Bludvist or politely parleying with him to stop without ever coming off as sanctimonious or forced. His interaction with Toothless, who remains ever so charming and wonderful, helps in that regard as well.

Even more impressive is Gerard Butler’s Stoick, who reveals a depth to his character through moments where Butler displays a certain touch of softness and sentimental feeling that was pretty much non-existent in the first. There is a poignant moment midway through the film where Butler has to sing, and once it gets going it becomes without a doubt the best part of the movie, despite the lack of riding dragons in the scene. Cate Blanchett does a serviceable role as a new Dragon Master, mixing tenderness, uncertainty, and poise in a role that could’ve been really obnoxious. These good performances are finally rounded out by Craig Ferguson’s ever so jocular Gobber who will always have your attention whenever he says a line and America Ferrara’s Astrid, whose hardiness for battle complements her unconditional support and love for Hiccup that surprisingly lasts throughout the entire film. That’s something really, you’d think in the second one they would be written as starting to have spats and an act-long fallout with one another, but it does not come to that at all. It is actually kind of refreshing.

Unfortunately the rest of the cast is not really given much to do in terms of interest. The quartet of Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Ruffnut (Kristien Wiig), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) do a serviceable job with their vocal performances but most of it was in the service of unnecessary flirting subplots, one between Ruffnut, Snotlout, and Fishlegs and the other between Ruffnut and a new dragon hunter character (Kit Harington at his most procedural British rogue). The latter one is home to the worst part of the film: absolutely cringe-worthy, anachronistic dialogue from Ruffnut on the aesthetic appeal of her crush. What could’ve been used for more charming Gobber or Hiccup dialogue is wasted on the girl with a chin so pointed it could be used as a pneumatic drill.

Still you should probably watch How to Train Your Dragon 2, especially if you liked the first (duh). Great set pieces, great character arcs, great visual and oral aesthetic, and just a bunch of great everything except the awful flirting subplot. If this is any indication of how well the production crew fares in progressing the story of Hiccup and Toothless, who knows what amazing ideas will occur if they set the next sequel another five years down the line.

Small note: If you’re still on the fence on watching the movie and have yet to watch the trailers, please don’t. Too many spoilers and it ruins many a surprise. Just go and watch it, THEN check the trailers. You’ll thank me.

2014
06.18

An accurate recreation of modern Olympic scores.

I remember what I said last week about the textbook comparison, and that analogy is in full swing here. With all of the sporting events in this episode, the show always goes into such detail about what the characters are doing as if this really is an example in a hypothetical Magical Physics book. They always discuss it in terms like “Watanabe is manipulating her relative position using a particle-based form of magic that allows her to say in place-blah”, like this is genuinely meant to be some sort of educational tool to teach us about the exact values of magic. And to the show’s credit, I do feel like I’m watching an instructive video from high school. After all, they had the monotone narrators, artificial environments, and actors doing a crass job at being perky.

Imagine if Star Wars stopped the plot every five minutes to explain to the audience exactly how the Milennium Falcon worked, how lightsabers function, how Luke could dodge so many Stormtroopers, and so on. That is what it feels like to watch Mahouka. They spend so much detail in the technical matters, while doing it in such an unnatural way. It’s just the characters stopping for a minute to explain how one character can accomplish such a magical feat. I know that some fantasy writers can create a very complex and thought-out magic system for their story, but the good ones would make sure to weave it in with the story in a way that doesn’t feel like a How-to guide.

But that feels like the only purpose for the sports so far, because it’s not like any of the characters are going through any real trials. This is Mahouka, where the characters can get a perfect score while their opponents only get 30%. And I know when Tatsuya gets the chance to play against Suzaku, he’s going to win. This show isn’t about stakes. It’s about perfect people doing perfect things while everyone who doesn’t follow their perfect ideal is either a terrorist and/or stupid. But in this insistence to make this society seem perfect, the show only highlights the cracks that lie within the setting.

Like, why are they going to a sports tournament and playing with all smiles despite a terrorist attack and an attempt to bomb their bus only happening just a few episodes ago? Some of the characters saw it with their own eyes, and they’re still just as bright-eyed as ever when watching people play tennis with guns for whatever reason. It seems like a variant of the bystander effect, where people who were the victims of an attempted attack go on with their lives as if nothing’s going on. And instances such as this are occasionally used as examples of a socially disconnected society. Could this show be seen as a critique on these societies, and how such a civilization is detrimental to one’s livelihood?

Of course not, since that line of thinking would be too smart for this show. Not to be dismissive, but this episode feels just like last week’s in being another celebratory romp for the characters without even the hint of a risk following their move yet. Yes, there will be another bombing or attack in the future episodes, but those aren’t risks. Those are just ways for Tatsuya to show off his next chapter on functional magic while asking the viewers to take notes for a pop quiz. Even by Mahouka’s standards, this episode felt so thin and dragged out. I’m starting to wonder if I should just drop this in a few weeks and go blog Sword Art Online instead. At least stuff happens in that show.

2014
06.10

Screencap from the 2002 movie featuring Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes.

After a break, I hope the show has changed enough so I have new things to disc—

“Well, criminals and terrorists are cowards to begin with.”
“And that big brother… well, he’s a badass.”
“It’s very becoming, and you look lovely, but I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
“But it’s like gender doesn’t even matter anymore… looking at you, Miyuki…”
“Onii-sama…”

—well, nevermind. I didn’t write an article for last week due to a combination of illness and sloth, with hallucinations on how to write about Mahouka without complaining about Tatsuya’s lack of character or Miyuki’s hypocrisy regarding social relations for the third time in a row. But if the show’s going to keep generating these perceived flaws, that just means having to look at these issues from another angle.

I’ll take the party as the focal point for this episode, with Tatsuya and Miyuki mingling with other nobles while Erika makes do as a maid. Looking back to this scene brings to mind another show with often-questioned ideals, Downton Abbey. Like Mahouka, Downton has a perspective on class relations, but often leans toward the Crawleys for a sympathetic point-of-view rather than the servants. While some of the narrative paints the servants like Bates and Carson as people, the working class also features the repugnant members of the cast like O’Brien and Barrow. That becomes a criticism I’ve seen when looking at this show, that portraying the privileged Crawleys as curt but overall upstanding human beings offers a disconnection between the audience and story. What the Crawleys go through might not correspond with what a viewer might go through, causing difficulty in seeing the show as a human drama.

And that viewpoint ties to Mahouka through the party scene, since you see all these characters among high society, but it doesn’t do so much to open up their characters but instead to seem a bit self-congratulatory. After a few rescues from attempted murder, let’s give Tatsuya a pat on the back by briefly forgetting his Weed status and have him dine with the “finer” folk. It seemed to be a point to establish ideas for the next arc, especially with the black-eyed guest who will probably do something evil for whatever’s sake. But few points are really cemented, as Tatsuya has not even had an actual interaction with his rival Misaki yet despite the opening showing otherwise. It’s the tenth episode, and that portrays them as sworn enemies at a standoff. But here, I don’t get any feeling that these two have even a surface appraisal of each other.

But the show seems intent on portraying events without detailing the character behind the actions. Like the car crash at the beginning, there’s no dramatic tension. Absolutely none of the characters will face injury. And in the end, it’s just an excuse to explain how magic works in a way that could cause a car to crash like that. It feels like an example straight out of a textbook warning of the dangers of magic rather than something that could happen to the characters, posing no risk at the expense of characterization. The characters aren’t allowed to do their own thing, instead spouting out rules of magic or what the author sees as ideal social customs.

And by ideal social customs, the author paints his idea of a desirable woman in an unfortunate light. First off, there’s that scene where Miyuki scolds Mizuki for wearing a blouse that shows off her cleavage. Then, there’s the hot springs scene where all the girls admire Miyuki’s body but in a “Not too gay, because that would be weird” sense. If Tatsuya’s going to be seen as the resident Gary Stu, then it would be logical to see Miyuki as the author’s idea of an ideal woman. And if the past episodes are anything to go by, that’s a bit unnerving. Why is the author painting her as the character the other girls should look up to? By doing that, Miyuki becomes the author’s mouthpiece for acceptable behavior in the show. Miss Jane Bennet would think Miyuki was too uptight. Admittedly, it would too much of a leap to think the creator made Miyuki as a self-insert love interest, but the way she’s portrayed while with her brother makes it not too hard to cast such a statement.

2014
06.07

SOMEBODY DIDN’T WRITE AN ARTICLE THIS WEEK (says the man who hasn’t written on M3 in over three).

Don't we all?!?!?

So Mahouka’s first arc was fairly remarkable in that it somehow made Sword Art look marginally intelligent. Oh sure it was fun to make sport of Tatsuya’s blatant over-powered Gary Stu shtick for a couple weeks but then suddenly everybody became overpowered, completely confounding the whole “Blooms Vs. Weeds” plot angle they’d been playing up. Then Mibu and the French Dadaist terrorists showed up and what had just been a so stupid its hilarious cheesy light novel show went to being a so godawful it hurts exercise in insulting my intelligence. The writer’s philosophy of “We can’t eliminate social castration or else we forfeit nice things” was childish at best and Randian at worst with Tatsuya coming off as a bigger submissive tool than he was when Miyuki was fawning over him. How it was all resolved with “Oh we’re not racists Mibu, you’re just an idiot!” before brutally murdering some random characters we don’t care about was merely the icing on the cake. In summary, Enrollment was nothing more than a slog and when it finally ended two weeks ago I couldn’t be happier.

BUT WAIT! There’s 18 more of these left right?

Yes! The start of Nine Schools Tournament began two weeks ago and so far has proven to be something of an improvement…

…in that its just really, really boring filler..

Nothing of note is happening in this arc. Nothing. Oh sure there’s a 1-dimensional rival character who looks like Kirito and kills and subordinates in cold blood. Who cares. Oh sure there’s this B-plot about Tatsuya developing anti-gravity magic. Who cares. Oh sure there’s more wince inducing Miyuki-service. Who cares. Its like the last arc has completely sucked out any life this show might have. What’s left is… 30 minutes of what feels like filler stretched about set pieces that mean nothing and go nowhere. Which brings me to last week’s installment…

Surprise, surprise. Nothing happened. AGAIN. Tatsuya has his own personal scientific testing facility for his anti-gravity device. Who cares. He gets chewed out by the family butler because he’s…gasp… A WEED!… Who cares. The glasses girl is a moron… Who cares… There’s a bus crash. Who care-oh ok. Yes the show finally decides to do something, but its already too late. The episode is already 95% over and I’m half asleep. Yeah whatever.

Despite this I’ll probably keep watching Mahouka out of sheer desire to survive the endurance test that it is. The possibility that Madhouse will adapt the Chinese Invasion stuff remains on the horizon and that will probably add a much needed shot of adrenalin and stupidity to this bland dull waste. I know I could use it.