Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kubo Caper

The schoolwork’s been piling up this week so I haven’t gotten around to much. For the most part, I’m slogging through Blood+ at an incrementally slow pace as I find it hard to stomach more than one or two episodes worth of staggeringly conventional action bloodbaths. The show itself is fine and functional; it’s just that it’s also obnoxiously bland and formulaic.

Aside from that, I’ve been going back through Haibane Renmei, which was been a pleasant experience to say the least. More on that to come one I wrap up the re-watch presumably next week.

No, this week, I wanted to comment on the whole Bleach plagiarizing debacle. I omitted the word “alleged” but there’s honestly not an iota of ambiguity present in this particular case. Nick Simmons (aka Gene Simmons’ son) blatantly and shamelessly ripped off Bleach, as well as other popular manga series’ such as Hellsing.

I’m not a big fan of Bleach or of the much-maligned (at least outside of the rabid Bleach fandom) mangaka Tite Kubo. There’s a lot of credibility in the complaints leveled against him and his lazy artwork. Lack of backgrounds, insufferably implausible plot twists, an unorthodox approach to pacing which involves having the plot shuffle aimlessly, and far too many characters to keep track of. Not to mention the fact that introducing a new batch of one-note mooks to “deal with” writer’s block is completely unprofessional and should carry some form of capital punishment if only for the horrendous frequency at which he indulges in it.

That being said, plagiarism is just plain wrong. It’s entirely unjustified and the sheer audacity of Nick Simmons’ unsubtle copy-pasta skullduggery makes him come across as a flippant idiot. Someone once said that while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, plagiarism is the worst form of affrontery.

It’s just disgusting, in my opinion. There’s a not-so-fine line between “inspired by” and “blatantly forged model-by-model, and line-by-line.” So yeah, this incident shouldn’t be taken lightly and I want at least some form of legal action taken against Nick Simmons. Bash Kubo for frantically pulling ideas out of his rectum all you want, because at least he didn’t resort to pulling them out of somebody else’s with nary an ounce of regret.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Newtype Character Rankings 2010

About two weeks ago, Newtype composed an all-encompassing anime character popularity poll categorized by decade and gender.

Now, I know that Japan is a vastly different culture than the West, but I still found myself flabbergasted at a handful of results from this retrospective popularity contest. It’s more than just one or two characters securing a puzzlingly high or low position as the complete absence or even presence of more than a few characters had me recoiling in disbelief. Consequently, I decided to put together a little analysis of sorts on Newtype’s comprehensive census.

1980’s (Male)
*1. Lupin III
*2. Char Aznable
*3. Saotome Ranma
*4. Amuro Ray
*5. Son Goku
*6. Saeba Ryo
*7. Uesugi Tatsuya
*8. Kamille Bidan
*9. Pazu
10. Moroboshi Ataru
11. Ikusabe Wataru
12. Conan ("Future Boy Conan")
13. Yang Wenli
14. Kenshiro
15. Godai Yusaku
16. Roddy Shuffle ("Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam")
17. Sanada Ryo
18. Chirico Cuvie
19. Adalbert von Fahrenheit
20. Seiya
21. Ozora Tsubasa
22. Hassaway Noa ("Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack")
23. Hoshino Tetsuro
24. Bernard Wiseman
25. Shinohara Asuma
26. Rom Stohl
27. Ichidō Rei
28. Rabi
29. Ladios Sopp
30. JJ

My exposure here is lamentably limited so I cannot go in-depth to any degree. Lupin is definitely no surprise at #1 and Goku earns his spot in the top tier. Aside from that, though, I am completely clueless.

1980’s (Female)
*1. Nausicaa
*2. Lum
*3. Lynn Minmay
*4. Otonashi Kyoko
*5. Sheeta
*6. Clarisse
*7. Tendo Akane
*8. Kiki
*9. Sayla Mass
10. Haman Karn
11. Elpeo Ple
12. Maetel
13. Hayase Misa
14. Momo
15. Ayukawa Madoka
16. Asakura Minami
17. Doronjo
18. Four Murasame
19. Ple Two
20. Kisaragi Honey
21. Izumi Noa
22. Takaya Noriko
23. Shinobibe Himiko
24. Lana
25. Christina Mackenzie
26. Lalah Sune
27. Fraw Bow
28. Fa Yuiry
29. Katue Piason ("Ginga Hyouryuu Vifam")
30. Sakura Mami

I was really surprised and pleasantly so that Nausicaa managed to emerge victorious. Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind is my third favorite Miyazaki film and Nausicaa herself is a high-flying heroine for the ages. It was similarly nice to see that the ever-lovable and sweet Kiki also managed to secure a spot in the Top 10.

Since I’m working my way through Macross SDF as I type this out, I was rather intrigued that Lynn Minmay came in at #3. She’s not a bad character; I just don’t feel that she really stands out enough to warrant such an esteemed position. Well, I guess it’s hard to dismiss the fact that galactic pop idols are more prone to spotlight-stealing than most, especially the fledging days of the 80’s. That being said, I do feel that fellow Macross cast member Misa Hayase would have definitely earned her place here at #3, which is more than a bit disappointing. I guess succumbing to childish superficial appeal is something we’re all guilty of from time to time, and I mean that in the most positive of ways.

1990’s (Male)
*1. Ikari Shinji
*2. Nagisa Kaworu
*3. Kurama
*4. Sakuragi Hanamichi
*5. Hiei
*6. Heero Yuy
*7. Chiba Mamoru
*8. Himura Kenshin
*9. Edogawa Conan
10. Nekki Basara
11. Rukawa Kaede
12. Porco Rosso
13. Tamahome
14. Nike
15. Li Syaoran
16. Urameshi Yusuke
17. Kasshu Domon
18. Spike Spiegel
19. Yokoshima Tadao
20. Shishio Gai
21. Duo Maxwell
22. Shiro Amada
23. Parn
24. Xellos
25. Senpuuji Maito
26. Jean Roque Raltique
27. Loran Cehack
28. Seabook Arno
29. Arslan
30. Arima Soichiro

Of course, I knew Eva was going to flatten the competition here, but I still didn’t anticipate such a staggering runaway victory. Shinji pulling off #1 is rather unsurprising as he remains a groundbreaking character, if a bit too angsty for most people to handle.

What was surprising is that Kaworu clocked in at #2. Now, to his credit, he was a very chilling Anti-Villain that manifested an unrivaled feeling of unease in all of us from the moment he appeared. He was refreshing, complex, and, most of all, penetratingly creepy for the 15 minutes of screentime he received. While I can see why Kaworu is heads-and-shoulders above the majority of characters, I just can’t see him coming in as the runner-up for an entire decade, especially when he was up against the likes of Spike Speigel and Kenshin Himura.

Speaking of our pair of generational badasses, I am more than a bit dismayed that Spike came in so low (#18 to be precise). Where’s the love for Bebop? Again, I realize that Bebop didn't receive the universal acclaim as it did in the West, but Spike’s wisecracking, fancy-footwork-ing, supremely maverick nature splashed with unbridled cool should have secured him a spot in the Top 10 at the very least.

Finally, Xellos at #24 was a bit of a head-scratcher until I realized that there’s something to be said about his greasy, yet sophisticated arrogance. The fact that he repeatedly knifes everyone he comes across in the back like it’s no one’s business is also rather amusing (in a devilishly diabolical way, of course); especially when our heroes end up backing him up time and time again. He’s a strange mixture of both Affably Evil and Evilly Affable, that’s for sure.

1990’s (Female)
*1. Ayanami Rei
*2. Tsukino Usagi
*3. Soryu Asuka Langley
*4. Kinomoto Sakura
*5. Hoshino Ruri
*6. Nadia
*7. Mizuno Ami
*8. Mylene Jenius
*9. Belldandy
10. Deedlit
11. Chacha
12. Inokuma Yawara
13. Tifa Lockhart
14. Lina Inverse
15. Cecily Fairchild
16. Aino Minako
17. Katejina Loos
18. Allenby Beardsley
19. Hino Rei
20. Mikami Reiko
21. Relena Peacecraft
22. Shido Hikaru
23. Kukuri
24. Misumaru Yurika
25. Mōri Ran
26. Tiara
27. Sakura Momoko
28. Pai
29. Kino Makoto
30. Paffy Pafuricia

Not many surprises here. Rei at #1 and Asuka pulling #3, two Sailor scouts thrown in for good measure, and both Sakura Kinomoto and Belldandy to round out the top tier. The only peculiarity I picked up on was the woeful omission of Lina Inverse from the Top 10. Megumi Hayashibara was every bit as brilliant as the spunky, hot-tempered, dynamo of destructive Dragon-Slaves as she was with Rei so I really was hoping for Lina to pull in some more numbers than she did.

2000’s (Male)
*1. Lelouch Lamperouge
*2. Kira Yamato
*3. Athrun Zala
*4. Edward Elric
*5. Kyon
*6. Echizen Ryoma
*7. Shibuya Yuuri
*8. Sakata Gintoki
*9. Sagara Sosuke
10. Hei
11. Roy Mustang
12. Haji
13. Sugisaki Ken
14. Genjyo Sanzo
15. Tieria Erde
16. Chiaki Shinichi
17. Shinn Asuka
18. Araragi Koyomi
19. Kazuma
20. Setsuna F. Seiei
21. Date Masamune
22. Monkey D. Luffy
23. Syaoran
24. Koizumi Itsuki
25. Keroro
26. Ogami Ichiro
27. Coud Van Giruet
28. Lockon Stratos
29. Natsume Takashi
30. Koga. Gennosuke
31. Archer
32. Watanuki Kimihiro
33. Okazaki Tomoya
34. Takizawa Akira

Right, now we’ve finally cut a swath into familiar territory after two decades of cloudy confusion. Starting from the top, Lelouch came as no surprise and I’d argue that anyone who was even remotely connected to the anime-scene would have predicted a landslide victory for our favorite flamboyant terrorist leader. Fangirls love bishie sparkles combined with bishie brooding and magnificent bishie scheming. And yeah, even I’m not afraid to admit that he’s an incredibly likable and convincingly complex guy, what with his ruthless Knight-Templar crusade, bent on crushing the world and reconstructing it to fit his ideal vision.

Having never seen a Gundam series (although it’s definitely on my to-do list), I can’t comment on Kira Yamato or Athrun Zala, but I will say that seeing Edward Elric and Kyon round out the Top 5 was awesome. Ed’s no slouch when it comes to brooding or blundering, but he’s far more sympathetic, almost in an Iron Woobie kind of way (if he weren’t so badass, that is). And Kyon rides to victory on his lemony snarkiness alone, which I guess proves that uncompromisingly deadpan and sarcastic narration is just too appealing to pass up.

A bigger surprise, at least in my opinion, was that Gintoki came in at #8, as I’d always believed the series’ exposure was mediocre at best, despite its objective brilliance. Well, it’s great to see that such an amazing show is getting the recognition it so richly deserves. Gintoki’s ranking also proves that Tomokazu Sugita is quickly becoming a powerhouse seiyuu, with two Top 10 roles under his belt.

I’m a bit dismayed that Hei managed to sneak into the Top 10. While he’s quite an amusing and badass assassin, he hasn’t really done much in the way of breaking ground. Where’s the originality? Sure, it’s a blast to watch him fry thugs using his metallic garrote wire, but the rogue operative angle has been done before and better. Spike Speigel, anyone? How about Kenshin Himura, who can also match him in switching between polarizing personalities?

Ken Sugisaki at #12 is hands-down the most mind-boggling entry on this entire list. It’s not that he’s a bad character, per se, it’s just that he’s, well, artificial. Think about it. The whole “Oh I have perverted tendencies, but am actually a nice guy at heart” schtick feels horribly forced in a series, that, frankly, should have just stuck to straightforward parody throughout instead of trying to experiment with genuine drama. Need I also mention that Kimura from Azumanga Daioh has already pulled off this role and in a much more hilarious and not-totally-contrived fashion?

I’ll quickly wrap this list up. It was nice to see Itsuki Koizumi sneak in at #24 (probably due to far too much Ho Yay with Kyon), as well as Shinichi Chiaki and Takashi Natsume. What I’m most surprised by, however, was the fact that neither Light Yagami nor L made it on this list. That’s not to say that I personally think they’re incredibly awesome characters, but as far as popularity goes, I would have predicted them giving Lelouch some healthy competition. Guess Japan has no love for Death Note either.

2000’s (Female)
*1. Cagalli Yula Athha
*2. Lacus Clyne
*3. Sheryl Nome
*4. Nagato Yuki
*5. Suzumiya Haruhi
*6. C.C.
*7. Shinguji Sakura
*8. Shinku
*9. Senjyogahara Hitagi
10. Saber
11. Teletha Testarossa
12. Kusanagi Motoko
13. Riza Hawkeye
14. Misaka Mikoto
15. Katsura Hinagiku
16. Ryogi Shiki
17. Kallen Stadtfeld
18. Takamachi Nanoha
19. Hirasawa Yui
20. Higurashi Kagome
21. Kagura
22. Lunamaria Hawke
23. Ranka Lee
24. Makinami Mari Illustrious
25. Fujioka Haruhi
26. Konno Makoto
27. Fate Testarossa
28. Hinata Natsumi
29. Shana
30. Furukawa Nagisa
31. Aisaka Taiga
32. Akiyama Mio

Ironically, the category I have by far the most experience with, I am also least surprised by. Although maybe that should be fittingly, but I don’t really care. Anyway, my only gripe is that Sheryl Nome from Macross Frontier claimed the #3 spot, above the likes of Yuki Nagato and Haruhi Suzumiya. It’s not really unexpected that Gundam would leave the competition in the dust and finish with a clean sweep across bother genders, but it does temper the excitement somewhat. Ah well.

Pleasant surprises came in the form of Riza Hawkeye, whose sharpshooting skills secured her the #13 spot, and Haruhi Fujioka, proving that an unapologetic, outright rejection of stereotypes can usher in immense popularity. I mean, she’s the center of a reverse harem, yet is strikingly independent, levelheaded, quick-witted, and wonderfully snarky as opposed to being a useless piece of plasterboard.

Overall, I can’t say I was unimpressed with the results, although I did raise my eyebrows more and more as I ascended the list towards the #1 spot across all the categories. In the end, it’s just popularity polls, and a character’s popularity is not necessarily a result of their critical excellence or contribution to the medium as a whole. And as such, getting all “srs business” about these kinds of polls is a savagely fruitless endeavor. Who knows, maybe I’ll feel compelled to check out some of these shows that sport allegedly popular characters. And by “popular characters,” I of course mean either fanservice-y lumps of moe or lustful fangirl bait.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh is a series that always reminds me of the simplistic joys of everyday high-school life. After recently going through it a second time, I thought I’d express my views on what made this show such a runaway hit.

First and foremost, Azumanga Daioh is one of the most unique comedy series’ in all of anime. It sports an absurdly offbeat and unconventional sense of humor that only a handful of people can truly grasp. As such, people tend to assert that the series is very much an acquired taste, as viewers will either hold it on a pedestal as comedic gold or write it off as pointless, impenetrable babble.

I might as well get the bad out of the way while I warm up the microphone to sing AzuDai’s praises. While the comedic timing is often spot-on, the series has a lot of trouble with pacing and maintaining consistency in general. As an example, compare the scenes focusing on Chiyo or Sakaki to the ones focusing on Osaka. While all three characters possess quirks that could potentially grind the pacing to a halt (Chiyo being a diligent child genius, Sakaki being a painfully shy introvert, and Osaka being, well…Osaka), it’s primarily the Chiyo or Sakaki-centric scenes that encourage bouts of yawning.

Perfect yawning, maybe, but yawning nonetheless.

Pacing issues aside, AzuDai just outright isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The series is already vacuous enough to begin with and more cynical-minded people will find it almost offensively inane as if it’s deliberately trying to test their patience or waste their time. So it’s definitely not for folks who want a series where “stuff happens” or those looking for an “intellectually rewarding” experience.

With that out of the way, what exactly is it that makes AzuDai a timeless classic? Simply put, it’s the characters.

These schoolgirls comprise the most lovable and exasperatingly eccentric nakama that you wish you could be a part of. The characterization is particularly robust, even if there is little overall development due to a distinct lack of plot. Heck, I would say that AzuDai sports such a brilliant cast that it warrants its own section.

The overly optimistic child prodigy of the group. Chiyo acts as the voice of creativity and motivation. Although she is wise beyond her years in terms of book-smarts and strong-willed determination, her experiential immaturity often leads to her being fairly gullible. Her playful, childish tendencies are often charming and hilarious, such as delicately dashing between streetlights in the middle of the night to reach a convenience store.

Cooking is so fun….cooking is so fun.

As one of the most memorable Shirking Violets in anime, Sakaki is a peculiar case as her intimidating physical stature and perpetually ponderous expression involuntarily thrust her into the limelight. She shares a particularly close bond of friendship with Chiyo as the two of them are the kindest and gentlest members of the group and have a mutual interest in animals. Sakaki’s affection, however, extends to full-blown infatuation and her attempts to pet cats are continually met with abrasive hostility, much to her dismay and our amusement.

Sakaki. Not good with cats.

Sakaki embodies The Woobie quite well as you can’t help but feel sorry for the fact that she draws unwanted attention. People expect her to be “mean” and “badass,” but tragically few people see her for who she truly is (hence, the Shirking Violet).

Tomo and Yomi
These two share quite the relationship. Conceptually, it’s nothing new as far as Vitriolic Best Buds go, but in terms of execution, the interplay between them is nothing short of priceless. Tomo is the hysterically hyperactive (and by that I mean, even the likes of Haruhi Suzumiya can’t hold a candle) and carelessly capricious Genki Girl who injects excitement and vivacity into the group. However, with genkiness comes the desire to be center of attention. Tomo is no exception and takes it upon herself to play pranks on people (her favorite target being her best friend, Yomi), make boisterous, tactless remarks, and just be an indefatigable Jerkass in general.

Fortunately (for the world), she’s at least periodically reined in by Yomi, who plays the role of the Straight Man, i.e. the feet-on-the-ground, stringently sober foil to Tomo’s free-radical nature. Of course, this doesn’t stop Tomo from getting on her nerves (When Yomi is unable to make it to the theme park due to an illness, Tomo is first one to rub it in her face as much as humanly possible). The highlight of their friendship occurs when Yomi gets so fed-up with Tomo’s antics that she decides to sock it to her in the final episode of the series.

While their interactions may be unoriginal insofar as that they all but epitomize the staples of a Boke And Tsukkomi Routine, Tomo and Yomi are an endless source of hilarity rivaled only by Osaka herself.

Speak of the Osakan Oni! Osaka is hands-down the most charming character of the show. She repeatedly steals the spotlight whenever she’s onscreen and is the driving force behind many of the series’ running gags.

For one, her “slow and spacey” open-mounted, wide-eyed, and completely blank default expression which she admirably displays is impossible to look at without laughing. Then there’s the fact that she’s endearingly naïve and gullible, often absentmindedly stating the obvious or being harassed as Tomo’s personal chew toy (Osaka is probably her second favorite target after Yomi).

However, Osaka’s eminent infamy can be chalked up to her vaunted position as queen of Cloud Cuckoo Land. It’s as if her approach to life is to be totally vacant and complacent while occasionally spouting the weirdest lines imaginable. But she does so in such an openly innocent and benign manner that dubbing her an inattentive idiot is always done under the most affectionate of intentions.

“Get it together, get it together.”

To be fair, in a hilarious revelation, Osaka demonstrates that she’s incredibly skilled at thinking literally as she manages to answer Tomo’s trick-riddles without a second thought. All the more proof that she rules over her domain with an iron fist.

Despite being the sixth member in the five-man lineup, Kagura definitely does not play second fiddle and is just as goofy and likable as her friends. She’s the most hot-blooded of the group and is often seen playing the role of the headstrong, almost juvenilely-pugilistic ruffian. As she excels at sports, but not at schoolwork, she makes quick friends with Tomo and Osaka (and thus the Knuckleheads are born) and finds a lofty rival in Sakaki.

Kagura is probably the most well-rounded of the cast as she possesses Yomi’s common sense (without her inferiority complex), Osaka’s unconcerned braindead-ness, Tomo’s bombastic belligerence, Chiyo’s optimistic mindset, and Sakaki’s honed athleticism.

Everyone Else
Surprisingly, one of the most entertaining characters in the show isn’t even a member of the main nakama. Yes, homeroom English teacher Yukari-sensei is unfailingly amusing to watch in action as she is somehow less mature and significantly less responsible than 99% the students in her class (the exception of course being Tomo who is probably a good indication of what “Yukari-chan” was like as a student). She’s prone to flying into a frenzy whenever things don’t go her way (which is often), much to the chagrin of her fellow co-worker, Minamo Kurosawa.

The two are as hilarious to watch play off each other as Tomo and Yomi. Whereas “Nyamo” is levelheaded and professional, Yukari acts like an adult child, constantly making bets with her and roping her into heated competitions such as the yearly sports festival. Nyamo usually responds with either indifference or a snappy, snarky retort of her own, which always leaves Yukari pitiably dejected.

Behold, the horror of the “Yukarimobile”

Finally, there’s Kimura-sensei, notorious for his unrivaled eccentricity despite being a kind-hearted, devoted, and charitable husband and father. His stalker-esque obsession with school girls truly knows no bounds.

Poor Kaorin.

With an outstanding cast of characters, AzuDai warmly invites you with open arms to chill out with a quirky and sugary, yet pure and empathic (as in not overly-exaggerated) group of high school girls. The heartwarming feeling of just kicking back with them hits so close to home that you might even take one of them as your waifu by the time the bittersweet graduation rolls around.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Code Trainwreck Part 2

Episode 20 contained more set-up but man did R2 jump the shark with Episode 21. Three words. Neon. Genesis. Evangelion.

So apparently, the Emperor and Marianne’s (I’m still dumbfounded as to why they even bothered to write her in) plan was Instrumentality. That’s it! It was literally Instrumentality! I’m still having trouble believing that the creators were so desperate for ideas that they casually ripped-off one of the most infamous mecha franchises ever just to try to be theatrical and (huge airquotes) “cerebral.” It felt like they were contractually obligated to fit something Evangelion-y into the show somewhere, so they shoved it in by the most insultingly obtuse and ham-fisted method imaginable.

Likewise, the rest of the series can be summed up in three simple words. Too. Freaking. Fast.

I’ll revisit what I wrote way earlier about how disjointed pacing ends up being nothing short of a catastrophe in retrospect. Since the beginning of Code Geass, Lelouch had been unsparingly trapped in the center of a very ostensible harem consisting of plucky everygirl, Shirley; right-hand lieutenant and ace-combat pilot, Kallen; and mysterious, pizza-loving accomplice C.C.

Throughout all of the first season, the relationships between these three female characters and Lelouch developed and were eminently compelling to follow. It certainly helped that all three were strong complex characters in their own ways, and each girl’s life was profoundly affected by Lelouch.

Now, Shirley’s relationship with Lelouch began and finished strongly with the aforementioned brutal heartrender of a death sequence. The frustrating problem encountered by the end of R2 is that neither Kallen nor C.C. have any sort of significant emotional closure with our protagonist whatsoever.

Sure, Kallen gets a sensuous kiss, but it seemed too much like a formality and even a bit, dare I say, compulsory? It was so out of place and abhorrently insincere that I almost cried at such a savagely abrupt ending to a relationship that was meticulously erected on such scenes such as the beautifully penetrating heart-to-heart between Lelouch and Kallen from season one. You know, the scene in the hangar in Episode 13.

So now that Kallen has been effectively Put On a Bus, I guess the time is right to sever the bond between Lelouch and C.C. as well. Admittedly, LuluxC.C. carried on all the way through to R2’s overwrought finale. However, it still wasn’t as anywhere near as pronounced as it should have been. Oh sure, she cradled Lelouch’s head and comforted him when he was having doubts about the Zero Requiem and yeah, she let loose a sparkling stream of tears for his death, but I wanted something memorable.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the cave scene from Episode 11 of Code Geass will forever be etched in my memory as one of the sweetest and most powerfully heartwarming scenes ever, if only because it was one of the first I had witnessed. Add to that the “If you’re a witch, then I’m a demon” bonding that took place in the first season’s finale and that whole business with Lelouch entering C’s World (as slipshod as it may have been) and I really was expecting something more satisfying. Instead, while C.C. clearly came out the winner, it was arguably only out of obligation.

So, basically, two recklessly rushed relationships turned out to be devastatingly disappointing. Again, this may have not been the case had there not been so much attention and care put into forging said relationships in the first place. At least make the effort to finish strongly if you’re going to start that way.

The final causality I will add to this dizzying trainwreck is one last woefully ruined relationship, which is the one between Lelouch and Suzaku.

While I agree it was handled much more elegantly than with Lelouch’s (other) love interests, there was still quite a bit of polishing that could have been done. It was pretty hard to accept the fact that the two bitter rivals made amends in the time after they had defeated the Emperor, but I expected that the Unspoken Plan Guarantee aspect of the plan they had collaboratively conceived was too difficult to avert. Having said that, I expected their little conciliatory chit-chat to be revisited before the series was over. Problem was, we were given too little material. Again.

It was nice to see the origin of the Zero Requiem as Suzaku was on the verge of skewering Lelouch in a wonderfully heartfelt scene, but, as with everything else, I wanted to see a bit more. How about the moment right after they had stopped the Emperor? Did they just kiss and make up on the spot or something?

It was clear that the Zero Requiem flashback occurred after Lelouch had already taken the throne so what happened between the two of them during the two months leading up to the usurpation? The relationship between Lelouch and Suzaku up until they met in front of the Emperor was as fascinating as it was complicated. It was brimming with deep-seated feelings of betrayal, grief, and soul-piercing scorn just begging to be explored. And yet, that two-month span where the true reconciliation occurred was nonchalantly glossed over with nary a backwards glance.

As I was intentionally being negative about R2, I’ll admit that anything I didn’t mention was just fine and more than likely highly enjoyable. I did like the ending (as aggravatingly stodgy and ambiguous as it may have been) and the series was wild, unpredictable, refreshing, and, most importantly, fun throughout. It may have been unable to hold a candle to the original and ultimately turned out to be a triumphant train-wreck but isn’t it awfully difficult to not stare in awe at the sight of a major-scale disaster?

The slickest, most stylish trainwreck imaginable.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Code Trainwreck Part 1

I’ve got one hell of a bone to pick with Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2. Now to be fair, I loved the original series. It boasted an ambitious alternative-history universe full of multicolored mechs, pulse-pounding political and at times emotional drama, and a delightfully merciless protagonist in the form of Knight Templar Lelouch Lamperouge. After a heart-stopping Wham Episode, the series concluded with a frustrating cliffhanger that all but promised a sequel full of pure, nonstop epic.

So, imagine the disappointment by the time the final credits of R2 had finished rolling. Yare yare. All of the spoilers in the world lie ahead, so beware.

Let me make this clear. R2 did not start falling apart right out of the gate. Slamming the reset button right off the bat worked quite well, even if such an act was expected. The main problem arose when R2 decided to take things a bit too far with regards to its return to the status quo.

Episode 1 was nothing more than a lukewarm welcome back to the series. Appreciable, but nothing to get too excited about on its own. It more or less mirrored the events of the first episode of the original Code Geass, with Lelouch regaining his memories taking on the role of Zero once more. Not great, but not bad either.

However, things started getting a little shaky when Episode 2 turned out to be…well a carbon copy of Episode 2 of the original series as well. Complete with a “mysterious” super-mech that appeared out of nowhere and everything. This would probably mark the first warning light that things were going to eventually come crashing down.

We thought we were in the clear immediately following said episode as R2 had at last found its sea legs and started delivering new content. The next few episodes involved getting re-acquainted with our favorite characters and there were plenty of great cliffhangers to be had such as Lelouch confronting Rolo for the first time or Suzaku’s devilishly manipulative plan to bring Lelouch into contact with Nunnally.

If anything was off, it was probably that there was this unshakable, niggling feeling that things were moving a bit too slow and were a bit too unsettlingly familiar. Even more so when Zero pulled his magnificent “Million Zeroes” gambit and shifted the battle to China. Battle of Narita redux, anyone?

Admittedly, there were some priceless additions such as a hilariously angsty Lelouch in Episode 7. I just wish there was more stuff like that sprinkled throughout the early stages of R2. The next batch of episodes, however, was quite the spectacle.

Episode 13 was arguably the zenith of R2. It finally felt like the series was starting to catch its stride as the pacing was perfect and the whole episode was exciting and shockingly emotional. Not only was there the heartfelt scene between Lelouch and a deliriously washed-up Jeremiah, but, of course, there was Shirley’s death.

It was a monumentally memorable moment to be sure. An anguished Lelouch with tears streaming down his face hovering over the one person he had genuine feelings for whilst desperately ordering her to not die was painfully poignant and the scene was undoubtedly one of the most triumphant examples of Alas Poor Scrappy. It was a masterfully executed and thoroughly tragic death scene that marked the gloomy height of this sequel.

From here on out, however, it was all downhill and terrifyingly fast.

Episode 14 was a mess as it marked the moment R2 decided to go for broke. In theory, starting slow and finishing fast sounds like it would balance out nicely. However, the problem that one inevitably encounters is that innumerable plot threads get woven in the slow parts to kill time and then are hastily abandoned or even forgotten altogether during the fast bits. The Geass cult is one such example.

From the first time we peered into C.C.’s memories, we were intrigued by this shadowy religious organization. But Episode 14 of R2 revealed them to be nothing more than a bunch of anachronistic researchers whose entire headquarters gets decimated by a few mechs in a matter of minutes. I cared less about them then the freakin’ old people who got perforated in the Shinjuku ghetto in the original series for Christ’s sake!

One that note, way to freakin’ go with handling V.V. guys. A heartless, enigmatic mastermind with something magnificently fiendish up his sleeve had so much potential in a universe like Code Geass. And then bam, dead after a brief, two-minute shootout.

I don’t even want to talk about Episode 15, which was a complete disaster. Evangelion, anyone? Since when did Code Geass feel it needed to resort to some of the most superficial and amateur philosophical rumination to grace anime while simultaneously trying to pass it off as thought-provoking and “artsy”? Lelouch and the Emperor ending up in an alternate dimension and the “Thought Elevator” was completely indecipherable garbage as well.

...are they slow-dancing?

I’ll just breeze through the next few episodes, since they don’t contain much of note, good or bad.

Episode 16 – Breather Episode. Wait, I thought we had to pick up the pace since we were going too damn slow in the beginning!

Episode 17 – Lelouch and Suzaku reconcile (sort of). Fairly intriguing.

Episode 18 – Ah yes, a return to form with a bombastic mecha blowout. This episode was actually pretty well done in terms of beefy, exhilarating action, but the ending was way too laughably melodramatic and shamelessly cliffhanger-y, even by Code Geass standards.

Episode 19, on the other hand, was the series’ disheartening nadir as of the Black Knights got together and played a game of hot potato with the Idiot Ball. It was singlehandedly the most openly retarded episode of the entire series.

The issue can be easily summed up with a single question. Why did the Black Knights side with Schneizel?! I’ll concede that Zero was acting more than a bit off as of recent and was making some morally questionable decisions such as going behind his subordinates’ backs with the Geass cult assault or blundering in the midst of the Tokyo showdown. But was that seriously enough to convince the entire army to jump ship and side with the enemy after a 10-minute conversation over a conference table?

This is Schneizel! Even if he wasn’t renowned for being a manipulative bastard, the Black Knights aren’t really going to trust the enemy they’ve been fighting for the past two years over their commander, who’s won them countless victories just because the silver-tongued snake seems honest, are they?! But wait, he also has some easily-fabricated recording of Lelouch admitting he has a supernatural ability to control people and a testimony from a Britannian soldier who their oh-so-righteous deputy-commander had a tryst with!
I hate to admit it but Tamaki has the right idea here:
“A prince with Geass? Where’s the proof of all this bull?”

That’s right, two years of unwavering devotion and trust that was established due to a wealth of actual, tangible successes completely forsaken because of an absurdly stupid fairytale about mind-controlling powers from the enemy commander waggling a dinky bit of concrete evidence. What’s even worse is than the entire mercenary group somehow arrived at the decision to defect in unison, including all of the higher-ups. And all in less than a day! Give me a break.

Okay, okay, Rolo’s death was a touching interlude and even a bit heartbreaking. Another fine example of Alas Poor Scrappy.

Part 2 coming shortly.