Do Artwork and Animation Really Matter?


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Regardless of the amount of time you’ve spent watching anime, you’ve no doubt noticed that people will often put a very big emphasis on the art style of a show, or the overall quality of it’s animation.  At the same time, there are others who loathe people who think like this and insist that shows should be judged for their substance (i.e. story, characters, comedy, themes, etc) rather than their style.  In some ways modern shows further this gap, as certain shows have much bigger budgets than others, and 1080p rips of episodes are now an almost standard way of watching everything that comes out.

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Often times, shows today are characterized and judged by their visual appeal, and to an extent are completely defined by it.  Cencoroll, for example, is an OVA that receives a large amount of it’s praise due to it’s fluid animation and interesting art style, and movies like Paprika and Redline are some of the most imaginative works of animation attempted in a long time.  In the same way, animation studios such as Shaft, Kyoto Animation, and Production I.G. have almost built their reputation around producing very good-looking and recognizable shows.  But because of this, in the same way that people sometimes assume anything a director they like will be good, people will likely pay more attention to shows by studios that they like, something I’m sometimes guilty of in regards to Shaft and Gainax.  While there’s nothing wrong with creating a reputation based upon creating shows that look good, in a way it sometimes does cause viewers to ignore flaws or shortcomings a show may have, simply because they think it’s looks pretty.  Also, people will sometimes get the idea that just because not much effort may be put into the animation, then no effort was put into any other aspect of the show.  The idea that “my favorite studio did this, so it’s good” is also getting pretty out of control as well.

Shaft

Even though judging a show based on purely aesthetics may seem ridiculous, it’s very important to remember one thing; anime is a visual form of entertainment, and as such the creators should actually try to make the shows look good.  If a show has good animation or an interesting or unique art style, then that just gives viewers all the more incentive to watch the show.  I’m sure there have been times when we’ve all had trouble getting through a show, and the only saving grace being “at least it looks good sometimes” (Goddam Guilty Crown).  The fact is, we’re pretty superficial most of the time, and I don’t think anyone would object to a good series having great art and animation instead of shitty art and animation.  What I mean by all this is that your story, characters, and whatnot are, the visual aspect of a show is not a minute thing, in fact it’s a very important part.  Saying that visuals aren’t very important in an anime is like saying cinematography isn’t important in a movie, and that filming something on an iPhone is just as good as filming with a Panavision camera.

Personally, I value aesthetics a lot in anime, probably more than I actually should.  But I think that’s because there are plenty of television shows and movies that show the real world and real people, so what I want from anime is for it to be able to set itself apart from that, sometimes regardless of whether it has an amazing story.  For example; I absolutely love Fantasia, which is nothing but music and creative visuals, with any “story” being told through the scenes.  While I understand people who say that they value the “interior” of a show rather than it’s “exterior”, I still think it’s actually a very important part of any show overall.  After all, artwork and animation are what make anime anime, and without that you’d be just as well off reading a good book.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai Episode 2 – Review


Sasami Blood Classroom

You know, after the first episode of this show, I didn’t think it was possible that I could actually be more confused about the actual plot than I already was.  However, this episode certainly proved me wrong, providing very little detail about anything relevant while at the same time raising even more questions about the show than I already had.  Not only that, but the entire episode felt like a tool to force all of the characters to interact with each other instead of an actual attempt to expand the story.

The explanation for what the giant chocolate monster was in the first episode is very rushed and makes almost no sense.  All that’s given is that some deity is residing within Sasami’s brother for whatever reason and it uses it’s power to grant whatever random desire he has.  Also, apparently this world is full of god-things, which isn’t explained in the slightest; it only mentions the one in the brother is the strongest.  So, if that wasn’t enough to confuse you, it’s also revealed at the end of the episode that whatever kind of god is in her brother was at one point inside Sasami… or something like that.

drugs

So, I think it’s safe to assume that this is a show that isn’t going to be very adept at conveying it’s story, because even the actual story of this episode didn’t make too much sense.  They explain that a lot of students are missing from school and that they think a large number of them are skipping because they’re playing some MMO game. And so, they decide to pretty much play the game to find out why people are skipping, as stupid as that sounds.  I mean, what are they even trying to find out, if kids are actually skipping school because of the game or not?  Can’t they just ask the students themselves, or maybe their parents?  Also, why the fuck do they need to go to Sasami’s house to use her computers?  I’m pretty sure a robot-person would have a laptop or two lying around somewhere, and a school in Japan in this day and age has to have plenty of computers for faculty to use.   As a matter of fact, Shana-knock-off-girl was even playing some hentai game on one in the first episode.  So it makes no sense for all them just to go to Sasami’s house just for her computers, but like I said, it’s just an excuse to get the characters to interact with each other.

And in my opinion, the characters are all pretty weak.  Out of the three main girls, the blonde girl (who is apparently in elementary school) is pretty much a complete throw-away character.  The other two girls, whose names I can’t even remember, aren’t much better and aren’t really anything beyond what their appearances suggest about their obvious archetypes.  See, I can’t even remember their names, that’s how uninspired and stock they are.  Sasami’s brother is also very annoying and is practically more of a plot point than an actual character.  Sasami, though better in almost every way than the rest of the cast, still isn’t all that interesting in the end.  When everything is said and done, she’s a very standard smart but socially awkward hikikomori character who doesn’t seem to venture too far from that  trope.

Sasami brother fag

Despite Shaft being pretty as always, I really don’t think this will end up being that great of a series.  At this point I wouldn’t even be surprised that directors know they can probably coast on Shaft’s popularity and not try as hard to really make the story  all that great.  The characters are pretty bland and forgettable and there isn’t a much of a concrete story to be found in all of this.  One thing I will say is that I’ve liked a lot of the background music in this show, because for whatever reason there’s been a fair amount of blues/rock music in it, which is kind of odd, but it’s nice to see the show at least has some variety in that aspect.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai Episode 1 – First Impressions


Sasami computers

Before I begin talking about this show, I’d like to say that if you have access to any kind of illegal drugs, you should probably get on that, because this is one of the weirdest beginning episodes of a show I’ve seen in a long time.  Of course it stands to reason that Shaft would chose to do something weird like this, but even without taking the visuals into consideration, this whole episode is really insane.

To begin with, even the main idea of the show is odd, but seemingly rather simple.  It’s about some loner shut-in girl named Sasami and her creepy-ass ridiculously incestuous brother.  Not only does her adult brother obviously want to bone the everliving hell out of her, but for whatever reason he decides to never show his face, instead opting to hold his satchel (or whatever else he has in his hands at the moment) in front of his face.  Instead of going to school, Sasami spends most of her time watching her brother through an improbable system of cameras wired throughout her house, her street, her school, and pretty much every other place that her brother could possibly be at any given point in time.  Now sure this is all odd and quirky, and you know Shaft can’t get enough of that stuff, but just going by that simply plot description, you wouldn’t think it’d be that batshit insane.  However, you’d be really wrong assuming that – Just wait until the end of the episode when three other characters have to defeat a giant chocolate miasma/monster that engulfs the world.

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Yes, the climax of this episode involves three girls – one who acts like a frog, one who is some kind of cyborg thing that shoots missiles from her boobs, and one with some black magic sword – fight a giant chocolate entity that takes over the world, and they bring the world back to normal by magically resting the world to it’s pre-chocolate form.  Apparently all this happened because Sasami’s brother was too obsessed with the idea of buying Sasami chocolate for Valentines Day or something.  I mean, I’m not even leaving out any of the major details about what happens to bring all this about; that’s honestly all they give you to go by.  But, Christ alive, could you even make something that weird if you tried?  I suppose the idea may be that Sasami’s mind is completely destroyed by her constant anti-social behavior and her complete withdrawal from real life, but that seems like a pretty weak excuse to have a bunch of weird stuff happening, and that still doesn’t give the series a concrete story.  That’s another noteworthy thing about this episode – even though it had plenty of stuff happen in it, there still is not actual plot, and quite honestly, this felt like could have easily been just some weird one-shot OVA thing.

The head tilt isn't even a joke at this point.

The head tilt isn’t even a joke at this point.

Despite all it not really having an actual direction, or much of anything in terms of explanation about what the hell is going on, it was still pretty enjoyable.  As you’d expect from Shaft, the show is really stylized, but to a much different degree in this case, seeing as how odd most of it is.   The action scene and it’s accompanying music was really cool, and the scene during the credits was pretty funny, but more than anything, I think the visuals just made it interesting to watch.  There really isn’t much else worthy caring about this season, so I’m holding out on this being good, or at the very least, able to hold my interest for a few months.

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha Episode 1 – First Impressions


Maoyuu Boat

You know, it’s been a while since I last saw a medieval fantasy style anime, and even longer since I’ve seen one that was actually good, so I guess I was kind of looking forward to this show.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty generic as far as the fantasy aspects go, but I’ll take what I can get.  Although it was kind of a shaky start and confused the hell out of me at the very end, I think it has potential to be okay. Maybe.

Well, this show is about about an unnamed Hero of a war between demons and humans.  After fighting his way through assloads of demons, the Hero makes it to the lair of the Demon King, who, as it turns out, is a king only in title.  Instead, it turns out shes some love-struck girl with tits that would probably suffocate her in her sleep is she turned the wrong way.  Even though Mr. Generic Hero is set on ending the war, she informs him that in actuality the war is helping both humans and demons alike, and that ending it would do more harm than good.  She goes into a long explanation about the economical and social advantages the war brings to both there people; poorer areas are receiving war funds that they can use to keep their people from starving, large exports of goods are bought and sold to supply the soldiers and both humans and demons are completely united in fighting the war.  So yeah, you can probably expect a lot of people comparing this show to Spice and Wolf, which is kind of justified I guess.  Both have very similar themes and settings, though this world has a little more fantasy in it than that of Spice and Wolf.  

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Although the Hero still wants to end the war, he now knows that it wouldn’t really help anything, and even if he did, both sides would find an excuse to keep the war going because of the advantages it brings to them.  Instead, the Demon King offers him a alternative; the only problem is, I don’t really understand exactly what the hell it is.

She wants to marry him… or something, and have him take her… somewhere…  I don’t know, surly I wasn’t the only one who was confused by exactly why she wants to do, or just exactly how she plans to help stop the war without disturbing the prosperity of both parties.  Maybe it was just the sub I watched, but I had a really hard time following her plan, that is if she actually gave it.  And then they start saying how they’re going to have to do stuff that will be horrible and, wait, what?  I don’t get it, what the hell are they going to do?

Well, beyond not really understanding exactly what the hell is supposed to be going on, it was fairly decent.  The concept that a war is actually necessary to a people is fairly interesting and unique, though it does seem kind of rediculous to ignore the fact that you can’t just keep throwing soldiers at the other side as fodder to help the normal citizens of your Kingdom/Country to live easier.  For one thing, it’s pretty shitty, and second, it’s not as if you have an infinte supply of able bodied  people to go off and die, so you’re going to run out eventually.  Some of the comedy is kind of weird too, because a lot of it seems like it wants to be somewhat serious.  After all you’re handling the financial and social effects a war has on people. But there’s a scene where the Demon Queen is essentially humping an improvised body pillow of the Hero, and… yeah, that was kind of out of place.The animation and artwork were fine, though the main character is so bland looking and has such a boring personality that I’ll be lucky to remember he exists by this time next week.  I’ll probably watch the next few episodes so I can see exactly what this whole journey of theirs is supposed to be about, and to see if they can make economics even as remotely entertaining as Spice and Wolf did.

Nekomonogatari Episode 4 – Final


Nekmonogatari SHinobu

And so it seems, at least to me, that four episodes of this show can in fact be much more entertaining and effective than twelve episodes of Nisemonogatari.  The tone is a lot more consistent overall, and it felt a lot more focused, though obviously that’s probably just due to the length of the series.  Although it could be argued that the pacing issues with Nisemonogatari are due to the novel, they could have easily put another one in and trimmed the fat off so it wouldn’t drag on so much.  I mean, hell, they’re already doing that with the next series, so surely they could have done it the first time around.  Also, this time around they did a much better job with some of the exposition, because before, it’s been a little hard to follow exactly what they’re talking about in some of the faster dialogue-driven scenes.  It could be the director and screenwriters are learning how to fit everything in better, or maybe people are just getting better at subbing this crazy-ass show, who knows?

I think that one of the main reasons this series worked so well for me is because when everything is said and done, Hanekawa is just a much more important and interesting character than most of the other girls.  While the other arcs with Sengoku, Kanbaru, etc., are entertaining and all, in the end they don’t really have too much effect on the overall storyline or Araragi himself.  Even in Nisemonogatari Hachikuji, Kanbaru, and Sengoku served very little purpose other than plot devices.  Hanekawa, on the other hand, has been involved with Araragi from the very beggining of the series, and has a much larger influence on him and the story as a whole.

Hanekawa Angel

The scene about the moral ambiguity of Hanekawa’s situation at home was certainly rather different, because usually, you’re supposed to assume that any harm done to a supposedly kind character is completely wrong and unjustified.  Oshino did a fairly good job at explaining how even things that would be considered horrible are never really black and white, and that there are always different perspectives to see the situation from.  But obviously Araragi, didn’t even consider that Hanekawa could be in the wrong, which while may seem closed minded, I see it as more of him saying that to him it doesn’t really mater is she deserved anything that happened to her – that he would automatically side with her no matter what.

While I was kind of expecting some big fight (what, with the eight foot tall katana and everything) on par with the one at the end of Nisemonogatari or the fight with Kanbaru, I wasn’t too disappointed about how it actually played out.  I also really liked the somewhat bittersweet ending here.  Even though Araragi (well, actually Shinobu) exorcised the Cat from Hanekawa, like Araragi said, everything that’s wrong with Hanekawa’s life will continue to go on, and there isn’t really anything she can do about it.  And obviously, she knew it too, due to her willingness to take the Cat back even after dealing with her parents.  The entire conversation during this sequence was really interesting, if only for the fact that there is no cut and dry “good ending” to arrive at after it’s all over.  Hanekawa will still have to deal with her parents and Araragi’s feelings for her are still a little shaky and unclear.  Given that most of the other segments in the Monogatari series end fairly smoothly with everything solved, it was really nice to see something kind of different.

Araragi halved

Probably the thing I liked most about this entire series was the expansion on Hanekawa’s and Araragi’s relationship.  Considering that they’re technically the two main human characters for the most part, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interaction between them as of yet.  It’s very obvious that they both have somewhat of a mutual need for each other, seeing as how at this point, there isn’t really another human they can connect with about the things that have happened to them or their personal problems.  Hanekawa, as Oshino said, likely wanted Araragi’s help all along, but wouldn’t ask it do to her nature and personality.  In the same way, it took Araragi  a while to work out his actual feelings for her and why he had such a strong desire to help her in the first place.

Nekomonogatari Episode 3 – Review


Hanekawa Desk

Now, why couldn’t all of Nisemonogatari have been like this, why couldn’t it have been this serious and focused?  I know it’s probably due to the source material being like that – after all, none of the major conflicts are really resolved in any way – but still, I felt that a lot of Nisemonogatari was just a little too lighthearted in some parts and didn’t really have as many dark moments as the original series had.  Apparently, the director heard my complaints, because this is exactly what I had envisioned the series to be like for the most part.  Thankfully the show also kept with a darker tone this episode, and will it’ll probably carry over to the last one as well.

This episode (and this entire series) did a lot to help develop the character of Hanekawa, surprisingly enough, with her even actually being in it.  The explanation about her home life was kind of vague and abstract, but it did a good enough job at explaining that it obviously isn’t very good.  Although last episode I complained about the show hardly ever actually explaining what the hell the Oddities actually are, what they do, and how they come to exist, this episode actually gave a surprising amount of backstory and depth to what the Curse Cat actually is, how it works, and all that.  Also, the “Duality of Man” aspect that it incorporated was actually  pretty interesting, as you wouldn’t normally expect someone with the personality of Hanekawa to be a candidate for exploration of that theme.  Under most circumstances, she should be to very obvious and noticeable example of the good that exists in people, but as Oshino said, there is no human who is only good.  In addition, it makes Hanekawa seem like a much more interesting character now that she isn’t the unshakeable pillar of morality that Araragi clings to most of the time.

Oshino

Like I said, the scene with Oshino explaining exactly what the Cat is was very well done, and for the first time helped me to fully understand one of the monsters in this series.  Also, coming from Kizumonogatari and Bakemonogatari, you kind of picture Oshino as this all-knowing unstoppable force that can pretty much bail Araragi and his friends out of any bad situation, but that obviously isn’t the case here.  I think knowing that Oshino can’t really do anything more than Araragi can makes this series feel a lot more serious and pressing, because with pretty much every other problem he’s faced, Araragi has either had him or Shinobu to kind of be a deus ex machina and save the day when he can’t quite pull it off.  Now that he can’t do that, the show seems much more interesting.

Hanekawa Cat

The final scene in which Araragi talks with the Cat was fine enough, but it seemed like a lot of it went back over what Oshino had already told Araragi before.  I feel that this scene in particular, as well as the entirety of the series, if focused a lot more on Araragi’s relationship and attitude towards Hanekawa.  Obviously, considering the events of Kizumonogatari and this series, it should normally be fairly obvious that they would be love interests, but the Monogatari series is very odd about the way it goes back and forth on this.  The fact that Senjougahara is introduced into the series later doesn’t simplify things, but it would seem at this point that Araragi has much stronger romantic feelings for Hanekawa at this point than he does later on in the series.  Also, to it seems that throughout the series Araragi justifies his fondness of Hanekawa to the fact that he feels indebted to her for pretty much saving his life, but I still don’t really know if that’s how he really feels, or if he’s just using that as a way to cover up something deeper.

Nekomonogatari Episode 2 – Review


Neko

Well, that didn’t take too long, but after all, it’s probably only going to be another day at the most until the last two episodes are subbed and all that, so expect these rather quickly I guess.  Also, just a PSA, if you haven’t read Kizumonogatari, you really probably should do that in order to help you understand some of the stuff that’s going to happen in this series.

With this episode, we actually get into the main story of the show and get to see Hanekawa in all of her catgirl hotness.  As I’m sure I’ve said before, the story for this series feels a lot more like Kizumonogatari due to the lack of the other main characters, such as Senjougahara, Kanbaru, etc., and it’s focus on mainly Hanekawa and Araragi (and to an extent Shinobu).  This episode also had a decidedly different feel and atmosphere to it than the previous one.  This episode was much darker in tone and felt a lot like some of the darker episodes of Bakemonogatari.

Shinobu

Beyond getting to see a small scene explaining Shinobu’s affection for doughnuts, there’s also a bit of explanation about his attitude towards her at the current time.  It’s only been a few weeks since everything that happened in Kizumonogatari took place, so this would have obviously been when Shinobu was still not talking to Araragi.  But regardless of that (and seeing that she’s one of the only actual characters in the show) they do make an attempt to still let her show some emotion and characterization in this episode and hopefully the rest of the series as well.  In my opinion, Shinobu is definitely the best character in the whole Monogatari series, so I’m always up for seeing her get to do some more stuff besides sit around moping the whole time.

The scene with the Cat version of Hanekawa was also done very well, and was obviously very reminiscent of the last few episodes of Bakemonogatari.  However, one of the things that kind of irritated me about it (and I guess the whole collective series itself) is that there’s never much of an explanation to exactly what the hell is wrong with Hanekawa.  I suppose it could be because of the insane Japaneseness of this show, and these creatures are perfectly normal in the folklore there, but still not really having much of an explanation for some of these things other than “They’re monsters, they do this” is kind of annoying at some times.  It’s not as if all things in the series are a complete mystery, as I thought that Kanbaru’s arm and Sengoku’s curse were explained relatively well, but some of the others really leave me scratching my head.

cat and arm

Anyway, I thought the dark nature and tension of the scene worked very well and just got me even more excited for Kizumonogatari as that’s pretty much all that movie could have in it.  I do however think that “censoring”, I guess you could call it, of the bodies of Hanekawa’s parents was kind of odd, and took away from the violent nature of the rest of the scene.  But I guess never showing a person who isn’t a main character or villian is kind of a staple of the series, so I probably shouldn’t be too surprised by it.  It’s also been a long time since I saw some actual gore in anime, so that was definitely and entertaining scene to me.

Nekomonogatari Episode 1 – First Impressions


askdfh

I guess this is really the first anime series of the new year, so happy 2013 to all.  While this technically isn’t really a series, the other three episodes haven’t been subbed yet, so I suppose I’ll just go ahead and do a normal episodic review of the series.  But, before too much more, let me attempt to explain this shit show of a chronology this entire series has in an attempt to help those who may not know too much about it, understand exactly what’s going on with all this.

Nise

Okay, well the main problem with this is that, if you’re just watching the anime, you still don’t know what the fuck happened in Kizumonogatari, all because Shaft just had to make those Madoka Magica movies first.  The way the novels were released makes perfect sense, because you really need to know what happened in Kizumonogatari to completely understand what’s going on in Nise and Neko, or at least actually know who Shinobu and Hanekawa are, respectively.  But the anime just really fucked all that up, especially since there still is no definite release date for Kizu.

nisemonogatari karen

Anyway, this series takes place between Kizumonogatari and Bakemonogatari, and deals with Hanekawa’s whole cat-demon-spirit thing.  Along with Kizumonogatari this is one of the only ones in the series that has a regular linear plot, which is the reason I think that Kizu is the best in the series.  There wasn’t a whole lot of that in this episode, but it was a lot better than Nisemonogatari since they don’t have twelve episodes to screw around with this time.  Also I guess it’s to be expected, considering that this series was directed by the guy that directed Nisemonogatari (but not Bakemonogatari), but there’s probably going to be a lot of fan-service stuff put in to chew up time and sell more DVD’s.

The first conversation with Tsukihi was all fine and good, considering that most of it actually dealt with the plot of the series instead of just rambling on about nothing and was fairly entertaining for the most part.   Also the only fan-servicy part was played up more for humor  than to be sexual.  The scene with Karen was a lot more…. eh.  It obviously had little purpose other than to have some more boobs and ass thrown on the screen for a little while, and the idea of a 15 year old girl coming home and getting naked in the kitchen in front of her brother was pretty unrealistic to say the least (though not a whole lot in this series is realistic, so whatever).  The last part of episode, dealing with Hanekawa and her family situation, also deals with the main plot of the series, and if you’ve seen Bakemonogatari, you probably know how that relates to what’s going to happen.  However, the seriousness of that part was cut short in a fairly humorous way, which I suppose is to be expected of the Monogatari series.

As you would expect, it’s absurdly obvious that this show was made by Shaft, and at this point you’ll either love that or want to stay as far away from it as possible.  Because this is a much shorter series, and in a way is more like a movie, the plot has (hopefully) been streamlined and is so far focusing much more on the main story of the series which is definitely a good thing.  There really isn’t a whole lot to say about this show, because by now, you know if you like Monogatari shows or not, and you pretty much know what to expect from most of it.

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