Written by Fernando Ramos
SNAP JUDGEMENTS: SPRING 2010
Fernando Ramos gives us a Snap Judgment on several series from the 2010, Spring season. These titles include: Rainbow, Arakawa Under the Bridge, K-On!!, KissxSis, Angel Beats and B Gata H Kei.
Produced by: MADHOUSE
Premiere: April 6th
In 1955, during the reconstruction period after Japan’s defeat in War World II, six young men are taken to prison. As they toil under harsh and dehumanizing conditions, they make a pact to endure the next two years of their sentences. Their prides, bodies and sanity are going to put to the test in what are bound to be a bloody and bittersweet series of days.
The post-war Showa Era, in the much of the Japanese media and for many younger people, is often associated with the prosperity of the bubble era and its economic expansion. The colorful images it produced of big hair, fast cars and synthesizer-fueled power ballads still infect karaoke boxes across the land to this day. It mostly remains an earnest reminder of days gone by as opposed to the pure kitsch that it often is in the states.
Rainbow, this season’s darkest offering and largely devoid of such color, seems to say is that the Nissan Skyline is pretty sweet, but we had to break some bones and shed some blood to get there. The narration, delivered by none other than Megumi Hayashibara, underlines this point. Her matter-of-fact delivery on these delinquents and her reflections on the poverty of Japan after its defeat remind of the hardships that no modern kid outside the remotest countryside could comprehend. Surprisingly, the tone of quiet desperation here is most closely matched by Yasuhiro Imagawa’s take on Tetsujin 28, which also dealt with Japan clawing its way to modernity, albeit as subtext.
Rainbow is also, as will be said time and time again, unapologetically violent. It says something when a Japanese anime sees fit to include a disclaimer about the content. Yet, like a Chan-wook Park film, it isn’t just mindless brutality but rather a shock-infused form of social commentary. The opening, with its emo-rock English theme set to with shots of blood-stained imprisoned kids and symbolic imagery of a canary grabbing onto barbed wire should give you an idea. It may be not be subtle, but it’s undeniably powerful and compelling stuff. If I must watch only one show this season, I may well make it this one.
Arakawa Under the Bridge
Produced by: SHAFT
Premiered: April 5th 2010
Kou is a guy on the up-and-up. Heir to a big fortune, going to the best university in the country and a proud personal code, he’s got it all. Until one day a strange blonde girl named Nino saves his life. To repay her, he allows her anything she wants. Nino’s wish? To be Kou’s lover. Now, Kou is stuck under a bridge next to the Arakawa River that runs along Tokyo. And everyone seems to have lost their minds.
The first episode of Arakawa Under the Bridge was a mixed bag of beautiful visuals, clever ideas and slightly too zany characterization. Just sometimes you’d wonder if Kou would just calm the hell down for two seconds before going into a screaming fit about whatever it was in his face. However, the FLCL-style personality of Nino, along with the grungy soundtrack that reminds of the pillows, I was still bound to stick around for another episode.
Glad I did. Episode 2 starts slowing things considerably down but for the better. Kou is still having his freak-outs but he’s starting to adjust and his chemistry with Nino is fascinating. Likewise, Nino is shown to be not unlike FLCL’s Mamimi but with a slightly firmer grasp on reality. Despite her talks of being from Venus and eating fish whole, it appears to be more the spontaneous actions of a free spirit who just Doesn’t Give a Damn more than heart-broken immaturity.
Indeed, the overarching message of the shown thus far is summed up by one of the final things Nino says in the second episode to Kou as he starts to ramble yet again about his blue-blood roots: “Show me who you are. I don’t care what you have.” While the show’s premise won’t allow Kou to achieve enlightenment anytime soon, it’s nice to see a show pushing this kind of message while being pleasant to look at all the while.
Produced by: Kyoto Animation
Premiered: April 7th
The After School Tea Time gang is back, and this time they’re in Senior-year. While split-up before, now they’re in the same class, so they can hang out more! As they sit around drinking tea and snacking, the gals start contemplating life after high school.
Add another punctuation mark and you get a new title. Gotta love this country.
I’m going to fess up here. Outside the inevitable exposure to “Don’t Say Lazy,” I have, thus far, managed to miss out on the K-On! phenomena. I have nothing against the show. In fact, whenever I walk down the aisles of my local rental shop, I find myself intrigued by the simplistic covers of the DVD releases, full of rich colors and simple moments that play up care-free nostalgia for all it’s worth.
So this season being my first actual episode of K-On! in any incarnation, I was surprised by how quickly I got up to pace. There are a few references to events in the previous season, which went unrecognized, but there was plenty to like. The characters were all likable and it was easy to figure whom everyone was and what they’re about. Furthermore, the show is just great to look at, with fluid animation being further enhanced by some beautiful cinematography that keeps the viewer engaged, even when there isn’t some overriding conflict keeping things tense.
On the contrary, the franchise has never been known for frantic action and this follow-up is no exception. The comedy is all low-key character moments and there is little in the way of high drama. But there are little hints of something a little heavier bubbling beneath the surface. There is an overarching theme of transition going through even at this early stage in the season. Given that our group is a bunch of take-it-easy types, it looks like senioritis may threaten to take its toll. As it stands, the folks at KyoAni are master heartstring players, so it will be interesting to see what sweet, funny and awe-inspiring ways they go about it.
Produced by: Feel
Premiered: April 5th
It was first cute being kissed on the cheek by your cute, totally non-blood-related sisters. Now, at 16 and being much friskier, Riko and Aiko are becoming a total nightmare for Keita. His sisters stalk him as they rummage through his things and make his life a living hell. We’re not spared from the pain either.
Earlier this week, I gave B-Gata H-Kei an astoundingly positive review for being a shameless sex comedy. Now I’m here to say that KissxSis is utter dreck… for being a shameless sex comedy.
The problem lies in that with B-Gata, there was something human to latch onto. Even as these stupid people run around looking to get laid, there was something relatable. Those embarrassing memories and boyhood fantasies of High School coming back in full force…except now they’re hilarious to watch.
This, on the other hand, is completely unrealistic and more irritating than charming. These cardboard cutouts parading in lingerie and playing grab-ass are not anything that could be remotely identified as “people.” The girls are annoying and genuinely terrifying in their obsession for their brother, never mind the last-minute reveal of the fact that they’re not blood-related. These gals, if seen in real life, would be arrested for all sorts of violations of privacy.
Not helping matters is the fact that the music and animation are beyond sub-par. The music sounds like it was lifted directly from whatever ero-game it came from – it sounds like crappy Geocities MIDI from the dial-up days. Similarly, the animation is flat, with single-shaded characters, low frame-rates and even the dance number in the ending credits looking suspiciously like something produced in Miku Miku Dance. It all looks, sounds and feels practically inbred.
Premiered: April 3, 2010
Produced by: PA Works
There’s kids fighting an Angel, and they’re not in primary-colored robots this time. Rather, they’re in the afterlife, which manifests as a schoolground controlled by the Angel. A bunch of robotic decoys populate the place; the sentient ones, however, are stuck in a sort of purgatory. Be a model student, go to classes and do clubs, you disappear. Be a rebel, you remain in limbo. Not everyone wants to be a model. Otonashi wakes up one day with no memory of how he died or even his first name. No time to think now though, because the resistance wants to add another one to their numbers!
Fernando’s Snap Judgment:
The opening premise alone has me somewhat intrigued. On a more personal note, I’ve been on a bit of an existentialist rut thinking about life, death and what comes after it lately. Furthermore, I’ve always enjoyed stories relating to that from Haibane Renmei to The Fountain. Simply put, it’s a fascinating and frightening question, especially as a devout atheist who’s drowned in his sins and, frankly, can rest a little easier with there being nobody watching. Couple this with an obsession for Orwellian plot devices and little girls packing big weapons and Angel Beats’ pretty much got me okay to go.
Of course, this is a goofy otaku-centric show in 2010 and not part of the anime new wave of the late 1990s. As such, Angel Beats is less concerned with philosophical implications and more with the carnal reality, or what passes for it. The motley crew here reasons that as long as they keep opposing the Angel who seems to control everything, they at least keep their lives instead of simply vanishing like the people who do what they’re told. So much for Thanatos.
As for the actual episode itself, I was slightly intrigued by the promise of yashi-gani QUALITY. However, the actual episode was merely passable instead of vomit-inducing. Perhaps not the super-high-quality expected of a new series debut episode but oh well. Otherwise, the story thus far is passable.
I might tune in next week if I remember, but it all feels a little pandering outside of the unusually heady premise. The episode’s climax is a gunfight revolving around a rock concert performed by schoolgirls. Come on guys, we know K-On! is popular and all but still.
On a final note, just why the hell does the blonde guy speak nothing but cliché English in a ridiculous gaijin accent. Mr. Michael Rivas, on the very unlikely chance you would be reading this at all, what’s the story behind that one?
B Gata H Kei
Premiered: April 1, 2010
Produced by: Hal Film Maker
Yamada is a girl. Kosuda is a boy. Could I make it anymore obvious? Yamada is a virgin who wants 100 sex friends. Kosuda is your extremely average joe who takes his camera wherever he goes, presumably to snap pictures of girls. In a chance meeting in a bookstore, Yamada decides to go after Kosuda as her first step towards “womanhood.” Kosuda sure likes the fact that a girl is willing to lock him in a closet and expose her goods, but taken a little aback by the desperation. What shall our heroes do?
Fernando’s Snap Judgment:
Photograpy and panties. Good work Japan. Take the rest of the season off.
B Gata H Kei, much as my cohort Bradley put it, is a show that’s hard to admit you like. But dammit, as a former perpetually-puberty-puckered teenager, this sings to my 16 year-old soul. Hell, even working as a Junior High School teacher, as the token foreigner, I’ve heard a ton of kids ask me all sorts of awkward questions and been the recipient of advances just as desperate as Yamada’s. We’re all sure as hell glad that minefield is behind us, but those with a sense of humor and knack for knickers will find something to enjoy.
It’s nothing particularly award-winning and definitely not something I’m going to go buy on DVD when it comes out. Yet, I was charmed but it in a way that last season’s depressing Chu-Bra didn’t. That other show felt like it was somehow ashamed of its filth, masquerading in a shell of happy to cover up a frakkin’ huge boil of creepy.
On the contrary, B-Gata H-Kei utterly embraces its tawdriness. It reminded me of a toned-down take on the hentai anime classic Frantic, Frustrated and Female. Yamada makes no bones about her need for bones, and it’s all done with a good natured sense of humor that I didn’t feel so icky about it. It’s trash, but it’s fun trash. A Japanese sex comedy that, for once, isn’t ashamed to actually be about actual sex and all the awkwardness and stupidity it drags the unprepared through.
It’s not KareKano and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Gimme more.
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