Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Riffing Anime

As of recent, I've been finding myself in a very satisfying relationship with Mystery Science Theater 3000, which I'd only just been introduced to a few months ago.  And when I say "satisfying," I mean it's the perfect show for me and, as a comedy, wins a place in my heart.  It's precisely my kind of humor delivered through my preferred brand of deadpan sarcasm.

Naturally, I got around to thinking about other media that would lend themselves to being completely eviscerated by withering retorts and dry commentary and the first stop on the Snark Express was, of course, anime (yet another thing the Devil created!).

The official criterion that RiffTrax provides is rather vague as it's just what I stated in the above sentence.  The real question is, of course, exactly what makes something so damn riff-able?  And the answer is rather straightforward: cheesiness.  Yes, a movie need not necessarily be terrible, so long as it indulges in so many wonky gimmicks, churlish clichés, and melodramatic moments that it's completely lost sight of the fact that it's taking itself way too seriously. 

So, without further ado, here is the Megacheese Mashup; a line-up of anime that aren't so much outright bad, but are definitely so exasperatingly hokey that they're best served with a heaping side-order of snark.

Code Geass
Just glancing at the size of my Code Geass stupid pictures folder could give you good indication about how many things this series tries to pass off as "dramatic" or "cool" but end up at triple-A meme-fodder.  The most flagrant offender is the recurring Spinzaku kick.  While any series with a modicum of humility would have either admitted defeat after Episode 1 saw Suzaku pirouetting through the air like some sort of spaghetti pinwheel or stared poking fun of it in an ironic manner, Code Geass decided to shamelessly flaunt it as the successor to Chuck Norris's roundhouse.  I suppose it succeeded in terms of its contribution to meme-dom, but I doubt that was the effect they were aiming for.

And sadly, Spinzaku is just the tip of the iceberg because the folks in charge of Code Geass seem to be just asking for punishment.  From the absurd, completely over-the-top anguished facial expressions, to the hamminess of Zero's speeches, to the gaudy (and at times, downright disturbingly so) attire of the nobility (not to mention Lelouch's fashion choice for his subordinates towards the end of Season 2), Code Geass should be ashamed of itself for trying to dress up a mature ideological struggle in a rainbow-splattered gimp costume.

So why does Code Geass bring up the rear, you ask?  Well, I must grudgingly admit that, as ridiculous as the series is overall, it still manages to boast a fair number of genuinely intense, emotional, and dramatic sequences that I would hate to see sullied by the deprecating twang of a vicious riff or two.  "Bloodstained Euphie" for one still results in some honest-to-God wincing, as does the final episode's crescendo up to the cliffhanger.  The payoff would still be worth the sacrifice, I think, but just barely.

Fate stay/night

I've heard that the visual novel that this series is based off of is actually supposed to be decent, but if the job of the Fate/stay night anime was to get me interested in the Nasuverse, then it kind of screwed the proverbial pooch so hard that animal services was called to bring in therapeutic implements.  Again, this series isn't half-bad; it's just incredibly dull and overwrought. 

First off, the concept itself is a tad cliché.  The Holy Grail war is like a Pokémon tournament with historical warriors.  Then there's the fact that every other fight is about as engaging, involving, and fresh as shounen-filler.  They all boil down to the stock formula of having the villain:
1. Taunt arrogantly
2. Exposit about something incomprehensibly arcane
3. Cross swords with the hero for all of four seconds
4. Flee to the tune of cavalier mockery.

And as for the climactic encounters that actually are required to have a resolution, you ask?  Just replace the last part of that template with having the hero respond by screaming loudly and then filling the screen with a column of white-light before killing off the bad guy.

Finally, there's the fact that Shiro Emiya is one of the densest protagonists known to man.  Every single movement he makes or action he takes is dripping with idiocy like the misogynistic, pajama-wearing, twig-wielding, jack-jawed, thickheaded bellend he is.  Kudos go to Rin and Saber for at least owning their roles admirably, however.

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha 
(StrikerS specifically)

Don't get me wrong; I do like Nanoha.  But like Fate/stay night, it seems tragically dead-set on scaling drastic situations that are silly and cliché all the way up to apocalypse on the serious-meter.  I'll admit that the fight scenes are pretty phenomenal, but beyond that, it's just the standard rigmarole of brood, recover, friendship, fight, repeat cranked out assembly-line style strung together with unbearably corny dialogue and camp melodrama.  It doesn't help that there's more yuri subtext on display here than one can even imagine.
But for me, it's the villain that takes the cake. When it comes down to it, Scaglietti oozes so much genericness that it's almost impossible to not to play it for for laughs, what with his obtrusively hammy bravado, loopy pretensions to mad scientist-dom, and harem of female androids. Despite what the series desperately wants him to be, he isn't all that cunning or sophisticated in the least and neither are his nefarious plan nor the supposedly world-rending conflict that he instigates.  By no means is he a terrible villain, but the series would have been better off treating him as sympathetic comedic relief whose laughably ineffectual schemes the StrikerS routinely brushed off like errant pieces of lint.

Toaru Majutsu no Index / Toaru Kagaku no Railgun
Not once throughout the entirety of Index or Railgun did I ever budge an inch in response to the series' feeble attempts to get me worked up about, well, anything that it tried to sell as drama.  Every speck of purported "awesomeness" instantly transformed into a suffocating miasma of hackney;  I honestly felt a bit insulted at how obnoxiously banal and, at times, flagrantly stupid each and every climax turned out to be.  From the instant that Touma "ingeniously" revealed that his plan was to have the water wash off the ink of Stiyl's slips of magical paper and not the paper itself (shock horror!), all the warning alarms in my head went off like an ambulance siren.  And it just got worse from there.

First and foremost, is it just me or does everyone seem to use their incredibly broken powers in the most insufferably retarded of ways?  Am I supposed to believe that a reality warper can't just manifest an insta-kill AoE grenade and be done with the spikey-haired punk in his way?  And Touma's slugfest with Accelerator?  It had me going up until Accelerator "lost it" and started forming a giant ball of plasma through the air particles and was subsequently defeated by reversing the direction of the air currents using energy-gathering windmills.  I hope anyone who read that sentence now feels creatively superior to whichever braindead chimpanzee came up with that idea because I certainly did from just typing it out.  Bravo, Index

What's even more horrendous is that the series actually attempts to make the audience believe that it's built on a scientifically-sound foundation when it's obvious that the writers are just haphazardly inserting words from Wikipedia into the script.  Pro-tip: Having someone fashion a chainsaw out of metal particles is fine just so long as you don't attempt to explain how it works because you'll just end up cocking it up all the way into the freakin' stratosphere.  Christ, at least Strike Witches had the courtesy to pay historically-accurate homage to WWII. 

I could go on about how the stable of villains are stale, the conflicts inane, and the humor droll and unfunny, but that would have me wandering dangerously close to calling the series a wretched pile of cow entrails, which is most definitely not the angle I'm going for.  If the Toaru series hadn't aspired to be the next superpowered drama-bomb and followed in the footsteps of something like Gurren Lagann, it probably wouldn't have so rightly earned the title of uncontested Champion of Cheese.