Friday’s Feature: Avoiding the Paradoxes of Time Travel or Plunging Headlong Into Them with Sagrada Reset

This post was written after watching the first three episodes of Sagrada Reset and while it discusses those episodes everything in this feature will be pure speculation and opinion. Keep in mind this post is not trying to tell you that Sagrada is an amazing, must watch anime given there are a lot of issues so far with it as an anime. It is however, looking at the premise of the show and how it is dealing with, or not dealing with, time travel.

And then episode 4 came out and a lot of my speculation has already been tossed out the window. On to the next lot of theories then, still, this was where I was after episode 3.

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Previously I wrote a feature article focussing on the use of time travel in Orange and essentially the fact that no matter how I looked at it, even if the mechanism they used for time travel worked, it made no sense that the future versions of a person would actually take the actions they took. As a result of how time travel played out I essentially found the basic premise of the show flawed because the character in the future assumed that changing the past would create a parallel timeline where her past self could experience the different version of her life while future self continued to live her current existence. There was no evidence to give the character confidence this was how time travel would work other than one off hand spur of the moment discussion by a science teacher back when she was in high school For all she knew she was undoing her entire future life and the life of her child.

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Essentially, while I like science fiction, and quite enjoy stories that use time travel as a mechanism, I find these stories tend to by and large fall apart once you step back and actually question the internal logic of them. Even Terminator makes very little sense given the AI has figured out how to travel through time and sends only one machine with a specific target rather than sending an army to hit multiple targets simultaneously. Assuming there’s an energy consumption reason behind that decision, taking out Sarah Connor is still a really pointless move. Even assuming John Connor never exists it is highly unlikely that no human would stand up in his absence. John Connor became the leader of the resistance, but if he hadn’t been there, someone else would have become the leader and maybe they would be more effective. Let’s be honest, if no one had ever tried to kill Sarah and then John, his childhood (assuming he existed at all given his father is technically also from the future) would have been completely useless at preparing him for the end of the world. Surely the AI is smart enough to draw these conclusions and to realise that given the machines seem to be winning in the future anyway, messing with that timeline is unlikely to tip things in the machines favour.

But none of that has anything to do with Sagrada Reset.

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To start with, Sagrada Reset is not using time travel. Nobody moves through time, the world is reset to a particular point (literally to a save point predetermined by Haruki). In the first episode she tells us that it changes nothing and no one can be saved because even she does not remember the reset until she tries to reset again to the same point (because clearly the same events would occur uninterrupted leading to the trigger that makes her want to reset) and she realises she can’t because each save point can only be used once and she can’t set a new save point within 24 hours of the old.

This made me interested in how this show would deal with time because it seemed like a neat way to avoid the usual time travel paradox  discussion without creating parallel worlds because she was literally destroying everything that had come after the save point and starting over to admittedly let events repeat themselves unhindered. This was more or less confirmed in episode three when we got this line from Kei who is the only character we know of who can remember events that have happened during the days that were reset:

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It’s an ugly way to put it but if the reset works the way Haruki has described then it is rather accurate. Meaning you are giving up the three days that have existed, erasing them from everyone’s memory, and starting over.

But then we have Kei who does remember what has happened and who shares that knowledge with Haruki in order to change events (although far more cautiously after the events of episode 2). All of this leaves the story open to be a fairly basic protagonist goes back three days to solve the mystery of the week kind of story without any further issues of concerns about the mechanism that allows that story to operate. This, by itself, would still be a fairly watchable premise and could even be entertaining if done well (though not particularly original – hardly a sin in the entertainment industry these days).

What got this show stuck in my head were the other complications and mysteries that have crept into the story or been hinted at. We’re only three episodes in and yet there’s an almost endless stream of questions and possibilities.

Episode 2 saw Kei use a reset for an almost trivial reason. I guess from his emotionally stunted point of view it made sense to approach the situation that way but from anyone else’s point of view it was a lame reason to ask the girl you just kissed to reset the entire world. As interesting a discussion as that might make as to the true nature of Kei’s character, what makes this moment more than just a minor blip in the story is that after the reset one major thing has changed and that leads to a character’s death (at least she’s reported as dead – let’s be honest, this is clearly setting up a mystery and the girl died off screen so there is every chance for a return later in the series with a faked her own death story). Putting aside conspiracy, she’s not dead, for just a short moment, this made me draw the conclusion that someone other than Kei must remember the reset and have intervened to change events.

However, another blogger (Marthaurion from Marth’s Anime Blog) had this to say in his review of episode 2:

It seems like the reset changed the timeline, but it also seems like…it didn’t?

Which of course made me question the original conclusion I’d drawn and I realised that both options were possible and weren’t actually mutually exclusive which raised even more possibilities further down the track, and none of that addressed the potential of the character not even being dead.

So let’s go back to how the reset works, or at least how it is explained which could be highly suspect anyway given if it worked the way Haruki describes why on earth would she even know she had the power because technically any memory of it should be wiped from her own mind.

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Now this is where I wish my Japanese was better to know how accurate a translation those subs are but the implication here is that if things are being rearranged to a past state there’s no guarantee that some mistakes won’t creep in to the reconstructed version of the world. Particularly when literally everyone and everything is being rearranged. It would seem very unnatural for it to fall perfectly back the way it started.

If we then assume the robot or android analogy they made in episode 1 was meant to be something more than a throw away thought bubble then we could see Haruki and her power essentially like the save function in a computer game. Save before you face the boss and should the battle go south reload and try again. In some games the boss will always repeat the same attack patterns allowing you to learn how to overcome it. This would be the way she describes her power working. However, in other games, while the boss will still attack you the sequence of attacks may not be exactly the same each time and you may even have a random encounter before you get to the boss fight that didn’t show up in the previous iteration.

So I guess that leads me to wonder if this story is leading us down the path of discussion about whether events are preordained (in which case they would repeat identically without interference) or whether they are more random (in which case even if the reset was perfect anything after the reset could potentially change though most people would be inclined to repeat their actions simply because without any change in the stimulus provided there would be little reason for them to react differently).

Meanwhile, none of this gets us any closer to knowing if there is another person who remembers the loops and is interfering or whether the power itself is something else altogether.

Now let’s go full conspiracy theory on this show just for the fun of it.

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My current working theory is that after the Bureau was confronted by Kei and forced to give up on securing Mari because the mother stayed behind, they somehow realised that Haruki and Kei were messing with time but weren’t sure exactly how, or maybe the figured it out but wanted some more details. The next time Kei and Haruki reset, the Bureau used its influence to make one critical change and removed Soma from the picture (either by killing her, convincing her to leave town and then faking the news story as her memory would be gone anyway, or because she was already working for them in her capacity as class rep – which incidentally explains how the Bureau knew about the power in the first place given Soma was the one who put Kei and Haruki together – they simply asked her to disappear). Possibly this was a field test to determine whether or not Haruki really was unable to reset the same period of time.

We then get a two year time leap where it is strongly implied that Kei and Haruki have used the reset and developed a working relationship, though Kei apparently isn’t keen on using the reset easily anymore, and now the Bureau is directly monitoring them through the creation of a club at their highschool and the known Bureau representative being the club advisor.

This time they seem to be testing the three days and the save points by setting up the ridiculous scenario with the run-over/kidnapped cat. Evidence for this includes the advisor knowing when the save points are and Kei reporting the use of a reset to him, the timeline for the cat getting killed and the request that Kei and Haruki help, the suspicious actions of the girl who requested help in the first time line where she’s following their investigation and then in the second where she’s clearly waiting for them to show up (thus confirming they travelled through time and thought something would happen at the bakery), and the advisor’s strange request that Kei not reset time until three days had passed even though they had a new save point.

And that’s a lovely theory that essentially the Bureau are orchestrating the whole thing in order to find a practical way they can utilise this combination ability of Kei and Haruki. The only issue is the hole in the wall thing that showed up in episode 3 at the moment won’t slot into that theory at all.

Basically, more information is needed. To be honest, I’m kind of going to have to finish this show at this point, no matter how bland the characters may be at times or how dialogue heavy the episodes may get while pacing continues to be hit and miss. I may end up really hating this story by the end, but right now I just need to know. Time travel without time travel. What kind of narrative paradox can you create?

If you’ve been watching Sagrada Reset, what do you think?


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Friday’s Feature: Discussing Sequels, Prequels and Spin-Offs

When it came to movies, I was always wary of sequels growing up. It was more or less universally accepted that the sequel would be weaker than the original with a few exceptions (which of course proved the rule). I was less aware of prequels until the Star Wars franchise essentially hacked the heart out of their own series by delivering 3 very underwhelming movies that pretty much told us nothing that we hadn’t already figured out from watching the original series. Since then we’ve had plenty of other examples in movies of prequels and sequels just not quite hitting the mark.

So how does this translate to the anime watching experience?

Well it doesn’t really because anime sometimes wraps up the story in one season, but often it doesn’t. What we usually call a sequel in anime is regularly just an ongoing continuation of a story that wasn’t finished. Which means that sometimes that second part is awesome (or third, or fourth, or whatever in the case of very long running series). However, sometimes even if the story isn’t finished it feels like the characters have said everything they needed to and we’re just getting put through the motions of yet more fights and battles for the sake of it.

That said, some sequels are amazing. Higurashi’s second season is fantastic, and totally necessary if you ever want to know why everyone keeps dying in that story. Meanwhile, Black Butler 2 I probably could have done without (and Darker Than Black 2 and quite a few others). What it comes down to is while I will watch a sequel to a series I enjoyed, I always watch with the assumption that there’s a good chance it will go downhill fast, that way if they manage to pull off something decent I’m always pleasantly surprised. And I know some people are screaming Endless Eight right now which is probably another reason to be wary of some sequels.

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The occasional prequel that shows up (such as Handa-kun) doesn’t really register given how infrequent they are. Generally, any backstory that is needed is told through flashbacks and prequels just aren’t needed. That hasn’t stopped various ‘young’ insert character name stories cropping up but they aren’t exactly flooding the market (and please don’t).

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Then, we’ve also got spin-off series which are extremely hit and miss. Some manage to surpass the original where others just end up looking like a watered down imitation. A Certain Scientific Railgun is an excellent example of a spin-off that kind of left the original material in the dust. While I like A Certain Magical Index, the need to explain magic, esper abilities, and Touma’s weird ability which falls into neither category, meant the whole thing was very crowded. Also, Touma regularly faced magical villains which meant despite the show being set in a city of espers, esper abilities sat more as a background setting than a focus. Railgun deals pretty much exclusively with the espers and esper issues and as a direct result the world building is significantly stronger and the conflicts are far easier to convey and explain.

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This season we’ve got Sword Oratoria giving us a different view of the world from DanMachi (Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?). Where Sword Oratoria concerned me even from its announcement was in the focus character. See, Railgun took the most interesting character out of Index and gave her a chance to shine. Sword Oratoria takes the least interesting character out of DanMachi and so far hasn’t done much with her. That isn’t to say it can’t pick up, but you have to wonder why we didn’t just get a continuation of DanMachi given Bell’s story wasn’t yet done.

What it means is, there’s no hard and fast rule in anime (or in movies really) as to whether a sequel, prequel, or spin-off will work or not which leaves a lot of fans wading through poor follow up seasons in the hope of stumbling across a good one.

Winter 2017 gave us a number of sequels to consider and to be honest I found them all lacking. Tales of Zestiria the X had been reasonable in season 1, but season 2 lost all focus and forward momentum before rushing to a conclusion that made very little sense to those who hadn’t played the game because so many things happened just because. It was kind of a let down even for those of us with minimal expectations of it. Iron Blooded Orphans similarly kind of faded during its second season. While it maintained a reasonable storyline, it just lacked the punch of the original. Meanwhile, Super Lovers 2 just left me wondering if the characters actually had made any headway at all and Blue  Exorcist just felt like they thought they could just throw any random villain at the characters because the audience would be happy with whatever.

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Then we got to Spring 2017 and while I’m watching the spin-off Sword Oratoria, in terms of sequels the load is heavy. My Hero Academia, Attack on Titan, The Eccentric Family and Natsume Yuujinchou are all trying to draw me back into their worlds. Natsume has the advantage in that it’s up to season 6 (and I’ll come back to Natsume in a little bit). The Eccentric Family made a strong start. Both My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan have done a reasonable job (and I’ll admit My Hero Academia seems to be getting stronger by the episode), but at this point neither has really convinced me they can surpass the first season (I’d love to be proven wrong and for both to end well).

For me, the main issue always seems to be that unlike a new series, a sequel is stuck with all the expectations of the audience and preconceived notions. We’ve watched part 1, we know these characters and this setting. It limits where the story can go but it can still be very good if there is character development to be found or more story to be told.

There are three series that I want to discuss in regards to sequels.

Kaname

Starting with Full Metal Panic, this series had a season 1 and then we got Second Raid. There’s also a filler comedy season which should be regarded in its own way (its hilarious) but I’m not discussing that here. Arguably, you can stop watching at the end of season 1. You can. Chidori realises she’s got all this stuff in her head and she uses it to save the submarine. Sousuke beats the guy he’s been wanting to beat. They celebrate and then they go back to school. Yeah, Chidori is still going to be targeted and Sousuke still knows nothing about living in the real world, but essentially, it’s a good stopping point.

So why Second Raid?

Because what does Chidori want to do now that she knows she has this knowledge in her head? Is Sousuke actually just going to play the good soldier forever? And what is their relationship? There were plenty of character points still open that had more than enough points of interest to explore and certainly more than enough villains in the world to get the plot moving again. The reason Second Raid works though is Chidori and Sousuke both get pushed to their limit. Chidori is forced to fight for her own life because Sousuke doesn’t instantly save her. He’s too busy going through his own little mental break down which is spectacular to see given everything he’s been through. And while he recovers just a little too fast, it is a mecha series and mental health was never supposed to be the main focus (it isn’t Evangelion).

However, then there’s the announcement about yet another season and the only question I had was why? While season 1 set the scene and the plot really well while introducing us to the characters and season 2 showed us the true effect of everything they’d been through on the characters, what will season 3 offer us other than either more of the same or just another random villain? As much as I love this story and these characters, I’m not convinced yet that another season is needed. Though, there also haven’t been any details about season 3 released (other than a delay) so maybe they have come up with something worth saying.

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But all of this contrasts with my view of SAO in terms of sequels. Sword Art Online was fantastic when it came out. The entire first arc, playing Sword Art Online, was good (I know some people have issues with it but it works). I loved it. Then Kirito beats the game and they all wake up. That’s great. We’re trapped in a game that can kill us and someone finally let us out. Whoo-hoo.

So why isn’t that the end of season 1?

Because some people didn’t wake up. Okay. Fine. Why not?

Technically, this could have worked as a continuation. It could have. But most people will agree that Fairy Dance is the weakest of the SAO stories. While it does tie up a loose end or 2 from SAO, it isn’t necessary. The story could have ended with them waking up and being reunited. They added an additional complication for no reason other then to force a continuation that wasn’t needed, turned a reasonably capable female character into a damsel in distress, and introduced a villain who was so immature and cartoonish in his villainy you couldn’t have taken him seriously if you tried.

Then we have GGO and the Mother Rosario arcs, both of which I kind of regard more as Spin-offs given how little in common they have with the original story at this point. More importantly, Kirito pretty much stops developing as a character (and I know some people will argue he didn’t develop in the original, but we’ll save that argument for later). Essentially, he freezes at the end of Fairy Dance. There’s nothing more to say about him. He does stuff, but he no longer changes as a result of his actions or decisions.

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The last series I want to touch on is Natsume Yuujinchou which is already 5 seasons, with season 6 getting underway. Natsume in terms of story has never really felt like it is driving toward anything. The conflict has always been Natsume dealing with how to live. That isn’t something that can be ‘solved’ or ‘overcome’ and it isn’t something that ends. And it is a conflict that continually sees the main character reflect and grow (admittedly in very slow and small steps). What that ultimately means is that despite the number of sequels, this story still doesn’t feel finished and this character is still evolving. Spending more time with him on his journey is always fun.

Basically, anime sequels (or prequels or spin-offs) all need to be considered in the light of the series they are attached to. For me if they actually are needed or are adding something of value to the character or the story then I will usually find them highly enjoyable. But if I’m just expected to swallow lack luster story telling because someone slapped a name on it I recognise, I’m going to move on.

How do you feel about sequels and prequels in anime?


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Friday’s Feature: Betraying My Own Expectations as a Viewer

Admittedly, this is not so much a feature as a ramble.

If you were to ask me directly what kind of anime I liked and didn’t like most of my regular readers already know that I would put comedy, slice of life, and cute girls doing anything pretty much on the side of generally not liked and horror and darker anime on the side of anime I quite enjoy. Shounen titles and drama tend to fall somewhere in the middle depending on their focus.

So imagine my surprise as I began the process of finalising my picks for reviewing this Spring and realised quite an odd trend. With the exception of Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia (both of which are only medium priority because while I’ll enjoy them well enough neither one had a first season that I would add to my list of favourite anime ever – with these I watch, I enjoy, I move on) the majority of the titles I’ve picked are pretty low key and there’s a lot of cute going on. Though I will admit I’m not even going to try to classify Kado at this point because I have no idea what that is going to become.

Starting with the sequels: I’ve got Natsume Yuujinchou which can only be described as a slice of life with a supernatural paint job just to give me enough justification to say that I’m watching a fantasy rather than a slice of life (it’s a slice of life, I’ve more or less accepted that) and then The Eccentric Family which is much the same. Slice of life with a supernatural paint job. Just for an added weirdness, The Eccentric Family relies heavily on comedy and for some reason I still didn’t run for the hills but actually loved the first season.

The other two titles I’ve pretty much decided on are both fantasy. I’ll insist that forever but both of them also feature healthy doses of cute girls and other suspiciously cute characters and objects. Granblue Fantasy and WorldEnd have both given me enough reason to smile while watching that I’m going to continue. I don’t know if I’ll end up regretting those choices but for now it seems like a reasonable call.

Admittedly, I still have a whole bunch of other titles to decide on before I have a final list, but there’s an interesting number of comedy, slice of life and cute coming through this season. Meanwhile, some of the more action focussed shows have been pretty bland (through to awful) in their first episodes and in terms of horror there’s pretty much nothing going on (The World Yamizukan did not appeal).

Sagrada

Of course, this is why I don’t make a watch list before the season starts. Just because something ticks a genre box doesn’t mean I’m going to like it and if I didn’t at least try some of these other shows I really would miss out on things that I end up loving.

I watched the first episode of Natsume after seeing a random screen cap of one of the yokai in the show. I remember the feeling of being disappointed as the soft music played and the pastel colours filled the screen. Then I remember getting to the end of the first episode and immediately skipping to episode 2. And then binge watching the whole first season in a single afternoon.

Add to this the fact that I kind of enjoyed the first episode of Eromanga Sensei and either my taste has completely warped recently or some of these first episodes managed to execute ideas I would normally find repellent in an interesting manner (of course that doesn’t bode well for me finishing the season).

Spring 2017 is going to be a weird season for me in terms of reviewing and I’m still not sure what my final list looks like but hopefully it will be fun discussing all of the shows with everyone.


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Friday’s Feature: I Am Not a Slave – Man Vs Society

My focus for March on conflict in stories continues as we look at Man vs Society. So far I’ve had a brief look at Man vs Man, Man vs Nature and Man vs Technology so if you missed any of those be sure to check out the posts.

Man vs Society just lends itself to dystopian futures, though obviously this isn’t the only way this type of conflict plays out. Essentially this occurs when a character, or group of characters, feel trapped or oppressed by the society they live in. Whether this is because of overt government or military control or whether it is simply because of societal norms not matching their personal views, the character feels obliged to rebel or escape from this oppression. It’s definitely a theme most viewers can relate to.

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This type of conflict works well on both small and large scales. Whether the conflict is within a family and the child wanting to be free of their parents’ expectations, set in a school with students feeling oppressed by the rules of the environment, workplace, or even the entire country, most members of the audience can understand how a character might feel in the situation, even if they don’t directly relate to the type of control being exerted. However, as I said before, this type of conflict also works excellently in science fiction and forms the basis of a large number of dystopian texts. Fear of control and fear of losing freedom linked to events and trends that we already see around us is a great way to build relatable conflict into a story.

It’s pretty easy to understand why Man vs Society works as a type of conflict but let’s look at the main reason why it is effective.

01. People are constantly attempting to balance selfish desires with the basic instinct of connecting with other people. It is a conflict we face everyday as to whether we act fully as ourselves or act in a way in which others find acceptable. For some this is a major conflict because who they are is so vastly outside of the expected norms whereas for others it is a fairly minor conflict in most situations, but it is an internal conflict that everyone faces every single day. Seeing a character make choices to defy those norms and to act on their own desire (whether it is a good desire or not) has a real appeal to audiences. They see these characters as brave or as true individuals and whether their actions have merit or not they are associate with desirable character traits. The fact that a lot of these characters succeed at causing change in the society they are acting in (whether that be the smaller or larger scale) really plays into the wish fulfillment that people have for making a difference as an individual. In very rare cases we see these characters faced with failure but then they are still seen as noble for having made the attempt.

02. When played on the larger scale, this can lead to some very cool stories. Bring on the Hollywood movie where the single character rallies the downtrodden and brings down the government. It’s sensationalistic but it is so fun to watch play out even as you wonder what would happen on the day after when they now have to face the reality of a transitional government system? But that is not the point of the story. The point is the uprising and the success.

03. A lot of the time these stories challenge viewers to question what they accept as the norm. They make audiences think and reflect about the expectations we have of others. While they may probably won’t change too many people’s behaviour they at least start the conversation about why certain things are the way they are. It lends itself to being the starting point of a dialogue that might be badly needed.

How does this work in anime?

This is one type of conflict we come up against time and again in anime and it isn’t surprising. Japan is an incredibly ordered society (not overtly oppressive but there is a lot of social pressure to conform to expected behaviours).What is interesting is how characters in anime respond to the pressures they face as, unlike so many Hollywood movies, their first impulse isn’t usually to bring things crashing down but rather to work with people to bring about change. That isn’t to say there aren’t some characters reaching for the explosives.

Case 1: Psycho Pass (not yet reviewed)

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This was probably an obvious choice for Man vs Society but what I find interesting about it is how many characters are trying to work within or outside of the social norms surrounding them. The three main examples are below but pretty much every character has some sort of conflict with the society in this anime.

Kogame is an obvious discussion point. Originally an inspector, after the death of a colleague he became obsessed with revenge and he became flagged as a latent criminal. Even after this he continues to pursue revenge for his friend regardless of whether that puts him in direct conflict with the Sybil System or his current colleagues. He literally throws away everything for the sake of bringing down his target. What makes this interesting is that it is hard to decide whether Kogame is actually wrong for this approach.

Makishima is similarly working outside of the Sybil System though in his case it is because the system does not actually recognise him in the first place. His crime coefficient can’t be measured and so the system cannot judge him leaving him feeling alienated from everything. I’m still not sure that is sufficient justification for intentionally helping other people beat the system to commit horrendous crimes,  but it does highlight the dissatisfaction felt by those who feel ignored by society.

Though if both Korame and Makishima are finding ways around or defying the system, Akane is the character that honestly understands that the system is needed, even if it isn’t perfect. That doesn’t mean she accepts everything at face value and isn’t going to work to change things, but it does mean that she accepts her limitations at the time. While the end of season 1 may have seemed unsatisfying to some people, I preferred this ending to the usual blowing it up and thinking everything would be better approach. Akane understands that her society is not in a position where it can function if Sybil stopped immediately even as she has learned that the Sybil System isn’t the ideal solution that people have been told.

Case 2: The Devil is Part Timer

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This is an interesting anime in terms of how it sets up the conflict. Originally Maou is the person in power apparently oppressing humans and generally doing all the things you would expect from a demon in control of a country. However, he is overthrown and forced to flee. He ends up in Japan with limited use of his magic and no authority. However, instead of surrendering to despair, Maou sets about conquering the new world through working his way up in a chain food store?

While this concept is played for laughs there’s quite a few moments when you are forced to consider what is really going on with this story. Could Maou actually succeed at rising to a position of power from part time worker? That’s basically the question they want us to consider. Because as kids we’re told hard work will help us move up and rise to the top. We are told this over and over. Yet the reality is most people won’t. Maou, a demon lord, succeeding at rising as fast as he does to shift manager raises some real questions about what it actually takes to get ahead (admittedly the anime isn’t really interested in dealing with the topic seriously).

Even then, the challenges Maou faces are regularly not from his home world. He faces challenges of rival shops, needing identification, paying rent, and even his housemate getting scammed online. All of these things highlight the way people get cornered and trapped everyday by the mundane functions within our society and given they at times stump a hero and a demon from a world of magic is both hilarious and incredibly telling of how complex life really is in the modern age. My number 3 reason why these sorts of stories work was because they challenge us to think about what we accept as the norm and The Devil is a Part Timer beautifully highlights some of the things that are considered everyday and yet create challenges and complications for people just trying to live. It doesn’t tell us to eliminate these things, merely asks us to look at them from a different point of view.

Case 3: Terror In Resonance

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It would be impossible for me to visit the idea of Man vs Society without looking at this anime. This story tackles acts of terror head-on from the viewpoint of two would be terrorists. That said, it isn’t willing to really take on the role of terrorists, choosing instead to make the main characters opposed to actually killing anyone even as the commit various crimes and destroy massive amounts of property with explosions.

What is interesting is that the main character ultimately only want their story to be heard and believed but they know early on that even if they simply told their story and released it online it would be buried, covered up and denied. They had to make enough of a scene that it could not be covered up any more. Their actions and logic might be faulty but the actual criticism that stories that need to be told aren’t getting the attention they need, and that truth has become incredibly irrelevant to global discussions, is well made and quite timely.

This anime makes it clear that it isn’t about what is right or wrong. It isn’t even about what you can prove. It is all about how people perceive things that matters. Nine and Twelve take advantage of this and allow people to perceive them as terrorists because it suits their interests. The story isn’t perfect but it definitely has a lot to say and the journey is quite an interesting one.

Conclusion

There are so many other anime I could have gone into for this topic. Jormungand, Bleach, Sunday Without God, No. 6, and so on. Even My Love Story has the basic notion of defying expectations when Yamato is forced to defend her choice in Takeo to her friends. Basically Man vs Society is an inevitable conflict as we try to balance individual ideas and goals with overall benefit for the masses so these sorts of stories aren’t going anywhere and that’s probably a good thing.

What is your favourite Man vs Society focussed anime or what is your favourite dystopian movie?


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Friday’s Feature: The Strange Case of Madoka Magica

There’s been a lot written and said about Madoka Magica (or Puella Magi Madoka Magica) since it came out in 2011. For the most part people have viewed this series as a critique of magical girl series in general or at the very least a subversive entry in the genre of magical girls and certainly the show can be viewed in this manner.

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Since it came out there have been countless other ‘dark’ magical girl stories and almost universally people have either compared them unfavourably to Madoka Magica or just not felt the same kind of emotional punch that Madoka delivered. While it isn’t really fair to dislike a series like Magical Girl Raising Project because it isn’t Madoka, the comparison from the start was pretty much set in stone and unfortunately the opening episodes of that series didn’t have anywhere near the visual or emotional impact needed to sway an already fairly jaded audience. From reading the reviews, those who stuck with it mostly felt it was a rewarding watch, but many, including myself, abandoned ship early on.

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What I find interesting about Madoka, more so than any comparison we might make to shows that have come out after it, is that it is consistently called a magical girl show. What actually sets Madoka Magica apart from every other magical girl show that I’ve watched and every satire of the genre, is that Madoka isn’t a magical girl. This is an origin story for a legend that will be told by magical girls in the world that is created in the final episode of Madoka, but it isn’t a story about a magical girl.

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If we make the obvious comparison to Sailor Moon we can immediately see the difference. Episode 1 of both shows starts with a flashback or dream sequence to some major conflict and then our protagonist wakes up in the very mundane and ordinary world and goes about their morning business. These openings are almost perfectly synchronised really and these two aren’t the only ones. Card Captors has pretty much the same opening sequence as do dozens of other shows in this genre. Okay, so I’ve just proved Madoka is following along in the path of a standard magical girl show. Where does it change?

By the end of episode 1, Serena has met Luna, been given her brooch, transformed into Sailor Moon and defeated the first villain (with some help and support from Tuxedo Mask). Sakura has released the Clow cards and partnered up with Kuro to hunt them down in Card Captors. If we look at Shugo Chara, Amu has hatched her first egg and had her first character change. In all of these shows, by the end of episode 1 we know our protagonist is special and can use special powers.

So episode 1 of Madoka?

Yes, there are magical girls and Kyuubey has appeared in all his evil cuteness. Madoka has not become a magical girl. Neither has Saya at that point. Madoka remains an observer of the magic in the world.

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And this remains true for Madoka until the very end of the series. The story explores the agony of whether or not to take that final step from the ‘safe’ and normal world into the world of magical girls where you can have a wish granted but the cost it comes with is enormous (and mostly not spelled out in the contract).

To go back to Sailor Moon, this would be like having the story told from the perspective of Molly. She watched her friends transform, doesn’t know the whole story but knows something is going on, wants to help but ends up fretting and hoping from the sidelines. That’s Madoka’s role through the vast majority of the story. The only difference between Madoka and Molly is that Madoka has the chance to change her circumstances whereas Molly is just destined to be a side character.

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This is where Madoka actually does become a critique of the magical girl genre. In most of these stories we are seeing it from the insiders point of view. And more importantly, the initial transformation from ordinary to magical is over in an instant. One episode and done. While the character might later have doubts or second guess themselves, they are already transformed and have power so to not use it would be a tragedy. Their path is set and more or less locked in stone and any protests they may verbally make or threats to quit are more or less futile and the audience knows that.

A truly subversive magical girl series might have a member of the team actually quit for real and not have some epiphany and come back. That would actually really mess with the audience expectations to have them genuinely sit on the sidelines and let the tragedy unfold when they have the power to stop it and they choose not to act.

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Madoka shows us the story almost entirely from the outsiders point of view. Madoka is the outsider and while initially Saya is also an outsider, Saya jumps in to the world of magical girls and becomes yet another case study for Madoka in the tragedy that is unfolding (and one day I will focus on Saya as the definition of a tragic character but that isn’t the point of this post). This extended belaboring of the ‘choice’ magical girls face finally makes audiences face all those characters saving the world at the risk of life and limb and makes the audience really understand what is sitting beneath all the pretty costumes and love hearts. Madoka isn’t about tearing down the magical girl genre, it is about rethinking the reality faced by the characters and putting a new voice into the forefront of people’s minds.

That Madoka will eventually also choose to step into the world of the magical girls, knowing exactly what her decision will lead to and finding a way to still use that in her favour is a remarkable way to end the show because it combines her transformation, final battle, and transition into legend all into one sequence. Madoka doesn’t become a magical girl and then fight to save the day. She becomes a magical girl and uses that to save those she has come to treasure, creating an entirely new reality where she exists only as a dream or memory in the lives of those she touched. We never get to see Madoka in her own reality as a magical girl because she never exists as one in the time sequence we follow. We only see her as a magical girl in flashbacks to other realities and in dreams.

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For me, Madoka Magica will always be kind of special. There’s certainly issues with the narrative in places and some of the characters aren’t as well developed as you would like, but it has done its job at reframing what magical girls are and it has done it in a way that doesn’t take away from the tiara wearing girls before it.

Ultimately this is why the so called imitators that have come after have fallen short. And I know some of them aren’t actually trying to imitate Madoka, but they feel like the writer just grabbed the idea of dark magical girl story because Madoka did well without understanding that it wasn’t the shock deaths and darkness that held the story up. What holds Madoka up is an understanding of what had been missing from all those other magical girl stories and Madoka neatly filled in that gap. This is the origin of a magical girl. This is the agony they face as they leave behind what they know and go to face a monstrous danger. It is also the end of a magical girl as she gives her life and entire being to save the world (with no do-over or last minute reprieve or rebirth). That is why simply calling it a critique or a subversive magical girl story does not begin to do it justice.

What are your thoughts on Madoka?

 

Friday’s Feature: On Bad Romance in Anime

Last week I looked at some of the common elements of anime romances from the positive point of view. This week I want to look at some of the more problematic aspects of anime romance that seem to crop up again and again from personalities to full on stalking and imprisonment. As always I’d love to hear your point of view in the comments below.

01. The guy doesn’t just come off as being a bit of a jerk, he is actually a jerk. Maybe there’s a reason for his damaged and warped personality but what he does is emotionally destructive to his love interest. Yet somehow, we’re supposed to be convinced that the girl will put up with this and should actually pursue this character despite the emotional trauma she’s dealing with, and that this is romantic. While I know that there are many, many people trapped in emotionally abusive relationships it would be nice if so many romance stories didn’t glorify this. For a non-anime example we could most definitely point straight at Twilight. Edward is a controlling bully and his leaving Bella caused her to become nearly catatonic. This is not healthy. However, let’s go back anime and look at Wolf Girl and Black Prince. Whatever redeeming qualities Kyoya Sata may have or may develop later in the series he is a bully and the argument that Erika got herself into the mess with her lying doesn’t make it any better.

Of course there are plenty of other candidates out there for girls putting up with guys who manipulate them. Then again, we could easily turn that around and look at some of the truly horrendous girlfriends anime has given us over time.

02. Following on from number 1, we have the guy who wants a more physical relationship than the girl and is willing to push for it even when she clearly isn’t comfortable. While in comedies the guy in question will usually get slapped and dropped to the floor or beaten with a broom (hilarious, really) in serious romances what usually happens is the girl allows herself to be convinced. Generally speaking I avoid anime that goes down this road. One I did watch was Say I Love You. While it isn’t too far over the line, Say I Love You definitely hovers on that borderline during the earlier episodes before the relationship starts to balance out a bit. For the most part Yamato is a generally nice guy (with a couple of rough edges) who helps Mei out and seems to like her but he is definitely more experienced in relationship and at times he is clearly pushing for more than she is willing to give.

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Though mostly this is nothing compared to what happens to some guys in a lot of BL so maybe we should just be thankful for that and move on to the next point.

03. Anime romances tend to normalise stalkerish behaviour. Secret photo taking, finding out someone’s entire schedule, likes and dislikes of food, their home address and phone number, it seems nothing is off the table for some determined would-be partners in romantic anime. It would be an adorable display of affection if not for the creepy real world consequences of actual stalking. However this particular behaviour has been normalised to the point where it is now parodied in comedies and played for laughs. Momokuri last year with Kurihara took this to extremes and while in the show it was played cute and for laughs with Kurihara having no ill intentions, one has to wonder what would happen if Momotsuki had ever tried to break up with her. Of course, we see the far darker side of this behaviour in Mirai Nikki through the notorious Yuno Gasai who will genuinely do anything to keep Amano ‘safe’ including tying him to a chair and holding him in captivity.

This is probably my least favourite trope in anime romances.

04. The characters know nothing about each other but declare they are in love. How many times do we see the scene where the girl confesses to the guy having never actually spoken to him before? Why are you in love with someone you don’t know? There are so many assumptions being made here and it really makes me wonder how they expect a relationship to last when they can’t even speak to the guy properly. Of course, there are just as many male characters confessing to girls they’ve only ever admired from afar so this isn’t exclusively a problem of the heroine of the story. I love it when they follow this up with an internal monologue that says they’ve always been watching that person. Yeah, because that will tell you everything about them, or you are journeying into the stalker territory from number 3.

05. The girl starts changing herself entirely based on the guy’s preference. She asks his opinion on everything and ceases to actually make any decisions on her own. It is like being in a relationship was akin to lobotomising the character and suddenly their brain has stopped functioning independently. I know this one isn’t fair but a character who pretty much has no identity outside of her relationship is Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess. Realistically, what little we see of her before Keiichi makes his wish doesn’t really reveal much of a personality to start with (other than sweet) and then she’s bound by his wish for most of the rest of the show. In this instance it kind of works but I still find these sorts of characters frustrating.

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That’s it from me on bad romance trends but feel free to suggest your own or provide more examples of the ones above.


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Friday’s Feature: On Romance in Anime

As we get ready for Valentine’s Day (or get ready to be totally indifferent to anything that might resemble a public declaration of affection) I thought it was a good time to focus on romance and how it is portrayed in anime. This week I’m looking at the warm and fluffy side of romance. Next week, I’m going to look at some of the less pleasant portrayals of romance.

One of my first top 5 lists was a list of my favourite romantic anime. I’m going to draw on a lot of examples from these anime in my discussion this week. So what are the common features of these sweet and romantic anime?

01. For the most part they are focussed on the female in the relationship. While some shows (particularly a few in recent years) have portrayed romance from a male’s point of view (or at least a male character’s point of view) to majority of romance focussed anime follow the girl. This isn’t really surprising given the target audience for most romance anime are girls and as a general rule the romantic genre appeals more to a female audience. And while there are a lot of self-insert girls out there with limited personality besides a love of cooking and cleaning, because romance is such a prolific genre what we find are an array of female leads. From the super shy and fairly stereotypical right through to the oblivious and aggressive.

But that’s what makes romance so great is that if one doesn’t work for you there are plenty of other characters and romances to follow.

02. This one isn’t in every anime but it is a common feature. The love interest starts out being kind of a jerk and the girl doesn’t like him very much. Then something happens and suddenly she sees him in a new light. This is actually pretty standard in all romances really (and a staple of romantic comedies) and it probably exists because otherwise you have to introduce external tension and conflict early on before the characters have really been established. By creating tension between the two you can focus more or less entirely on the characters without boring the audience to death with their adoring stares.

I’m not the biggest fan of this particular cliché because I’ve never understood why the girl continues to interact with someone who is that much of a jerk, but I do understand from a narrative point of view why it works. Besides, Tomoe may have been nasty to Nanami but he still ends up being one of my favourite male leads in a romance.

03. The epiphany moment. Despite being in a romance, the characters tend to be unusually dense about their emotions and the state of their relationship. Either one or both of the characters needs to realise they are actually in love or that the other one actually likes them or something. Usually this is accompanied by sparkles, tears, or sometimes a punch because why not. However it is the reveal moment for the character that the audience have been waiting for forever because the character is usually the last to realise it. But hey, at least most of us don’t believe we have arrhythmia because our heart starts beating fast at the sight of the guy.

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04. There’s almost always a rival. Again, this is one of those necessary staples in order to inject some sort of tension or conflict into a story that is basically two people staring into each other’s eyes ad nauseum and rivals can add quite a bit of personality to the story. Probably my favourite rival ever is Kurumi from Kimi ni Todoke. That’s mostly because she pretty much demonstrates every charactersitic a rival might have rather than just being one type. It’s kind of interesting to watch her character transition.

While I don’t like her manipulative efforts early on (and we aren’t supposed to) you have to admit, Kurumi is a hard worker and ultimately she wasn’t really a nasty person so much as someone who was very driven by her goals. What makes her truly exceptional is that when she finally does confess and get turned down, she accepts this with reasonable grace and uses it as a chance to grow a bit as a person. A little bit. She still stirs the pot occasionally but mostly she moves on.

05. In anime romance tends to only get to the confession and dating stage, again there are exceptions. The vast majority finish the final episode on the confession, the first date, or a kiss and that is as much as we are getting of that story. Then again, given how red most of the characters get just trying to say the name of the person they are in love with I guess we can’t expect much more from them and it really isn’t needed given its the emotion of the relationship that has been conveyed.

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There’s probably a cultural reason for this trend and it isn’t as if the romance is any worse for the lack of physical displays of affection, however it is interesting watching teenage characters get flustered over eye contact or brushing their finger tips.

Well, that does it from me today. What are your favourite parts of romantic anime or what is your favourite romantic anime?


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Friday’s Feature: Fuuka – Fiction Filled with Faults

As many of you know, at episode 5 I decided to cut Fuuka from my watch list. It hadn’t reached the bottom of my watch list and it wasn’t even in the ‘they made this’ category meaning functionally the show works just fine and yet this is the first show that I’ve gotten any number of episodes into that I decided to throw in the towel on. Which made me really think about why, of all the shows I started this season, I first chose to watch Fuuka and then decided to drop it.

The problem with that line of reflection was that there are just too many reasons that could be the main reason I dropped it. I featured this anime in my line up of bland romances in an earlier feature and while this was the best of the bunch that I looked at, I wasn’t exactly complimentary. In my  5 episode reviews I note both good and bad things about the series, though I noticed myself becoming increasingly tired of the show even during episode 4 so it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that I was over it at episode 5 but that doesn’t tell me what went wrong at least for me as a viewer.

Just to be clear, as I didn’t finish the show I’m not reviewing it. For all I know, it could turn out to be a sleeping masterpiece. However, if that is the case, I just haven’t seen any evidence of it in these episodes. So this is a discussion just to look at why this show did not end up working for me.

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So I made a list. I went through each of my reviews and noted every negative thing or comment I made that might have contributed to my overall impression of Fuuka.

From episodes 1 and 2:

01. Fairly generic high school set up.

02. At times animation seems off when characters are walking.

03. Character does not learn from previous mistakes (though this was a positive in episodes 1 and 2 for humour value it quickly wore thin).

04. Fuuka is an overly energetic character who might annoy me (scratch that, she did annoy me).

05. Standard story.

06. Panty shots and totally unnecessary bathroom scenes.

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Episode 3:

07. Pep-talk from Fuuka totally changes Yuu’s character in space of 1 minute.

08. Near character drowning used for cheap plot contrivance (honestly, if you have to nearly drown someone at least do it for something for meaningful than teens thinking about a kiss when it is mouth to mouth and given he’d be hacking up sea water after that there’s almost no romance involved in this actual process).

09. Writers seem to not understand normal human interactions and only present characters through the lens of how other characters have acted.

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Episode 4:

10. I don’t care about these characters and their possible romance.

11. Teens fighting and not speaking to each other for most of an episode is boring.

12. Characters lack any sense of self-awareness about their own actions.

13. Yet another plot contrivance, now all the characters are a band.

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Episode 5:

Yeah, I didn’t even bother because between rehashes of the mouth to mouth sequence being viewed as something embarrassing and romantic. a main character tripping and landing face first in a girls breasts, and a band attempting to play a song when they don’t have music or actually all know how to play their instruments this was done.

Despite all of that though, I will admit I have watched worse anime through to the end. I’m watching worse anime that if I were to list every flaw would probably reach beyond the 13 points in 4 episodes I reached here. So while listing was fun and I very nearly wrote a break-up letter to this show just because I was annoyed, it didn’t get to the core of what is actually wrong with Fuuka.

And then it hit me.

I’ve described Fuuka as a romantic comedy most of the time but when I really thought about it, is Fuuka a romantic comedy? Certainly we have a main guy and a girl and early on they met under poor circumstances (generic and contrived though they might have been) and formed a false impression of each other. But that was cleared up nearly immediately and soon after they went on a kind of date and then they went to the concert together. The fight between them in episode 4 wasn’t used for comedic effect and didn’t advance their relationship so is this story actually a romantic comedy? Or do the romantic comedy elements just kind of give this anime some vague shaping and framework upon which it is…

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Well, what is Fuuka trying to do?

Is it about Fuuka finding herself through this starting a band idea? It might be. That may be where it goes given after the fight in episode 4 it has given every indication it wants to head down the club/band route. But where does that leave Yuu?

See, while the anime is called Fuuka, Yuu was the one we were seeing events through the eyes of. And if the story is about Fuuka finding herself through the band what is Yuu doing other than learning to play bass?

And why did we need a random beach episode at all if the story was going to focus on the band? There seems no reason for this episode to exist because we could have got to much the same point by staying at school and just having idol girl come visit Yuu on her day off. According to MAL there’s 12 episodes so at episode 5 shouldn’t we know what the point of the show is and should they really waste large chunks of episodes?

As far as I can tell, Fuuka is following Yuu (the anime, not the girl but she’s doing a bit of following too). That could make this a slice of life but if so I’m not really sure what the point of any of what we’ve seen might be.

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So my conclusion from all of this is that my issue with Fuuka is that it lacks identity and direction. Stories can get away without a clear path if they are interesting and novel in their approach and give the audience something else to divert their attention away from a plot that might not be altogether there. In the first episode, Fuuka was kind of borderline too generic but episode 2 kind of hinted that we were going to follow these characters and watch them grow and maybe fall in love. That was enough to make it worth giving a go. But that aspect of the plot, while there, is pretty sparse when you actually look at what the characters spend their time doing.

Fuuka can’t get away with it’s murky plot path because there is nothing else to hold our interest. Any romantic elements of this show are far too emotionless to hold our interest. The ‘comedy’, if you could call it that, is entirely focussed on clichés and overused tropes, the characters lack depth or consistency so their daily lives and dilemmas can’t fill the void, and there’s just no reason for me to keep watching this show.

While Fuuka is most definitely not the worst show this season has to offer, it represents my least favourite of all anime types. The type that it isn’t really worth criticising because its just walking over ground other anime have before and it isn’t doing it in a particularly terrible manner, but neither is it doing it well.

Friday’s Feature – Remembering Haruhi Suzumiya

If you weren’t an anime fan ten years ago, you may have missed the fuss around The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (then again, given the persistent internet presence of Haruhi its possible that you’ve since caught up on what was a massive craze that then pretty much completely dissipated). Whether you loved or hated Haruhi, you couldn’t ignore her if you were part of any anime community and today I want to look back at this fad that all but sparked its own religion (Haruhiism – not joking).

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For those who still have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a brief overview. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is an anime based on a series of light novels and it follows Kyon, a typical highschool boy who is just a bit jaded with life, as he starts highschool and has the ‘pleasure’ of ending up in the same class of the girl who works hard at being the weirdest student around, Haruhi Suzumiya. And so begins the adventure as Kyon is literally dragged into Haruhi’s little world and she starts a club, dragging other students into it. That in and of itself is pretty standard and would work for a story but of course there is more.

It turns out that Haruhi really wants there to be magic in the world. She wants to meet aliens and espers and time travellers. Little does she know she already has as the other three members of her club represent each of these groups. Kyon, on the other hand, becomes very aware. As he is also aware that literally everything Haruhi wants, happens, though she’s all but clueless. Haruhi is in simplest terms, rewriting reality at her own whims. The main job of the club members is to keep Haruhi happy and on an even keel so she doesn’t decide to destroy the world. No problem.

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Still, even with its off the wall protagonist and mish-mash of science, magic and religion why is it that Haruhi gained so many followers (and lost most of them just as quickly)?

For full disclosure I will point out I am a major fan of Haruhi Suzumiya including the Endless Eight (which we will get back to). It was kind of exactly what I was looking for at the time so even though other shows have done more or less the same kinds of things, the combination of elements in Haruhi just worked for me. I will get around to a review of this series at some point but like many of my favourites its actually kind of hard to review. But as this isn’t a review I won’t be examining Haruhi’s core character or some of the more problematic elements of the show.

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I’m going to start with the format of the show. The DVD collection of this gave you two options for viewing. Broadcast Order and Chronological Order. Chronological Order mixes season 1 and 2 together and the events run in the actual order they occur which makes things much easier to follow but certainly takes a lot of the wow factor out of the series (particularly as the season 1 climax ends up at episode 5 – they need to warn people that things will never be that intense again). Broadcast Order is the order the episodes originally aired in and they are literally all over the place. No Haruhi wasn’t the first anime to mix up time like this and it certainly wasn’t the last but it is a defining feature of the show.

With the events all out of order the question is how do viewers figure out what is going on and how it relates to other events? In Haruhi they give the viewers their landmark which is the clubroom, which was originally the literature club’s room that Haruhi kind of took over given they only had one member. Over the course of the series the room gradually fills up with different artefacts (as noted by Kyon our narrator) and while some of these are simply functional, the vast majority are specifically linked to key events in the story. Therefore, by looking at what is and isn’t in the club room at any given time, you know where in the narrative the episode is taking place. Admittedly, the first time you watch it through this won’t be a big help to you as you won’t be familiar with most of the artefacts anyway.

Some purists absolutely believe you should only watch Haruhi in broadcast order but I disagree. I don’t mind the fact that we don’t end up with a climax if we watch it in chronological order because I like watching the character journey play out (though some will argue there is no character journey). I genuinely like how Kyon and Haruhi’s relationship changes and develops over the course of the show (even when those changes are at times miniscule). It’s kind of like real relationships where you aren’t sure when they started to change but they did and you end up somewhere different.

However, while not unique, the fact that Haruhi was originally aired in non-chronological order was one of the things that made it stand out from the vast array of anime of the time and the fact that it works in both broadcast and chronological order just makes it better as it gives people options. That said, this novelty isn’t enough to give the series staying power so while it contributed to the momentary popularity, if this was the only gimmick the show had rolled out it was never going to be remembered as anything more than vaguely quirky.

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Other than the format, we have the fact that Haruhi is completely full of references to other stories (a lot of these are anime but we have references to a wide range of literature). Actually, watching Haruhi and counting the references could become one of the best drinking games ever.  We’ve got Gundam references, Full Metal Panic references, Evangelion references, even a couple of obvious Dr Who shout outs, and while some of these work to create extra meaning in Haruhi, most of them are just plain entertaining.

Again, Haruhi is not the first anime to reference other anime or texts. Nor has it done it better than other shows, or in a unique fashion. However, what it did was to fully integrate those references within its central narrative. These characters live in the world (a real world even if it is one of Haruhi’s design) and as a result they read and watch TV and they do speak and refer to events in stories and discuss the parallels between the weird situations they end up in and works of fiction. It makes these characters more believable as characters even while the show mocks itself for being derivative.

This is both part of the short term draw of the show and part of the reason it became harder for newer fans to get on board. There is definite pleasure in recognising the reference and some of the references were old even when Haruhi aired. It got around this by mostly referencing very classic texts that were likely to still be known but there are still some comments and visuals that are clear references to something that I just don’t get and I know that a lot of the references go over the heads of people these days. It isn’t funny when you know a character has just said something in reference to a show you’ve never heard of.

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Thirdly, defining Haruhi Suzumiya as a genre. It’s pretty much impossible to nail it into one category. The closest you could get is a high-school slice of life but that severely diminishes the importance of the fantasy and sci-fi elements that come through in the show. At times we get mystery, others romance, and there’s also a healthy amount of comedy thrown about. The slice of life stuff works as a frame for everything else and they literally cram in everything else.

This gives the show both broad appeal and limited appeal. There’s probably some parts of Haruhi you will like depending on your favourite genre but there will be other parts that just won’t work for you personally. So while you can get people to watch the show by dangling whatever genre might appeal to them in front of them, the show itself won’t be a brilliant anything because it doesn’t fit in to any genre exclusively.

Okay, there’s a bunch more stuff I could talk about but this post is already getting long so the last point I have to talk about is the Endless Eight. If you haven’t heard of this and want to know just how much the Endless Eight annoys some people just google it and you will find both a collection of some of the most intensely written justifications for eight almost identical episodes and some of the most vicious rants I’ve ever seen attributed to an anime.

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Again, love or hate the Endless Eight, it is a defining part of Haruhi Suzumiya. Part of season 2, it is essentially eight episodes of a time loop. Literally. Each episode starts at the beginning of the loop and we watch the characters live about two weeks of their lives before they fail to stop the loop continuing and the episode ends. At least for viewers it is only eight episodes. For the characters they experience the loop 15,532 times which apparently equates to 595 years (googled that as I couldn’t remember).

For me, I enjoy watching the very minor changes in interactions and costumes that occur throughout this sequence am happy enough to watch through the eight episodes. For most people this is nothing short of torture and when the second season was only 14 episodes having 8 of them playing a time loop could be considered kind of a cheat. But it is very Haruhi. Yes, we’ve seen shows with time loops before. Yes, we’ve seen characters become aware they are stuck in a loop and struggle to break it and fail. What most shows don’t do (for good reason) is stick the viewer in the same loop. That frustration you are feeling at the fifth episode, imagine you are the character now.

It is again a defining trait of the series and one of the reasons it exploded across the internet but it is also one of the reasons why people turned away from the show and it clearly divided the fandom.

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As I said, one day I’ll actual review this series, and look at the spin-off about Nagato (not such a fan), but today I just wanted to look back at an anime that whether people enjoyed it or not certainly got them talking. What are your thoughts on Haruhi?


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Friday’s Feature: Popular Vote and the Aftermath of Yuri On Ice’s Winning Almost Everything

A while back I wrote a feature on the cycle of love and hate in anime where pretty much anything that gained momentum through hype and popular appeal then became scrutinised to death and soon the negative bandwagon would start rolling down the hill trying to obliterate everything in it’s path (okay, I wasn’t that melodramatic but it kind of feels like that’s where this post needs to go). At the time I was commenting on the sudden popularity of Yuri On Ice and how I hadn’t intended to jump on the hype train but after watching it I was kind of dragged along (and of course we all know what happened next, I fully got on board because it was fun to be there).

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Anyway, toward the end of the post I said the following wondering what the aftermath for Yuri On Ice would be:

It will be interesting to see where the love/hate split for this anime ends up once the anime has ended. Will the series fail to maintain its standard but still keep those on the hype train sitting there? Will it falter so that those of us who came in out of curiosity (who aren’t totally in the fan category but are really enjoying it) start to pull more of the faults apart? Or will the hate bandwagon gain momentum and eventually win out? Or, will it actually be an incredible anime from start to finish?

I was kind of hoping that we’d end up in a happy middle with the major fans enjoying their fan moment, the rest of finding something to enjoy even as we picked at it, and the few haters throwing rocks from the sidelines. And though it may not seem like it, we have kind of ended up there. After Crunchyroll announced the winners of their anime of the year awards (other than the anime of the year) the results were clear. Yuri won every category it was nominated for. The fans were thrilled, others were a little more guarded in their response, not disliking Yuri so much but also not convinced that it should have taken out so many awards, and some people were pretty annoyed.

What followed on Twitter was an explosion of tweets both positive and negative either supporting the vote or tearing the result apart, though some were fairly level headed.

Before we get to the tweets, I want to put my own thoughts out there. Yuri On Ice was my ‘best’ anime of the year but my selection was entirely based on entertainment value. And while I loved the animation (it was pretty) as a general rule other than something being visually appealing or not I don’t really care or comment on the technical side of anime because I am hopelessly unqualified to do so (I can’t draw stick figures let alone actually animate something). Yuri On Ice also won my reader’s poll by one vote. As no one had to justify their votes I’m certain most of my readers just voted for what they enjoyed most from the year.

So was I happy that Yuri On Ice won a lot of awards? Absolutely. It shows the fans of the show were active during the voting and that it was loved by a lot of fans. Do I think that from a technical point of view Yuri should have won all of those categories? Probably not, but it wasn’t a technical score but a popular vote so all anyone can do is accept the outcome.

If you made one of the tweets below and want it removed from the post, please contact me and I will remove it. These have been chosen as examples of the range of opinions that were on display and are not intended to pass judgement on any individual’s opinion. Any inappropriate language has been crossed out.

I’m listening to the Yuri on Ice ending and it’s so beautiful it deserved winning best ending award! Thanks! ^^ #yurionice

IF ####### YURI ON ICE COULD WIN BECAUSE IT USED CHOREOGRAPHY WHY COULDNT ALL-OUT WIN THE ANIMATION AWARD FOR THE

yuri on ice is great but like it’s not great enough to win every anime of the year award? it was great but there were other amazing anime –

I’m still really upset that Yuri on Ice won the best animation of the year award instead of Mob Psycho but that won’t change anything

Okay which dumb### voted for Yuri on Ice to won most of the Crunchyroll award,get the #### out from my following list

I still can’t believe that Yuri on Ice has won so many undeserved award on Crunchyroll just because the fangirls are scary human beings

Congrat to Yuri!! On Ice 👏 won almost every anime award!! I’m so happy 😘😘 😂

I think this is reflective of the community at large, the issue being that those negative voice are getting louder and it isn’t the show they are criticising all of the time (which would be fine because there’s always some issues with a show you could point out) but there are a lot of posts attacking the fans of the show (and yes, I didn’t post some of the more offensive tweets I’ve come across because I don’t really want that sort of thing on my blog). Amazingly enough in a popular vote, something that is popular (not necessarily good/or bad) will win. That’s a basic issue with awards being given through votes rather than some sort of criteria of selection panel (which is also able to become totally disconnected from the fans or just completely corrupt).

The other thing a lot of people haven’t considered is that for most categories people were given four choices that had already been selected (yes there was an other option but the likelihood of enough write in votes to overturn the options given is pretty low).

So the whole thing needs some perspective. These awards simply give the community a place to have their say about what they enjoyed, for whatever reason. Because it is a popular vote, whichever fandom has the most momentum at the time within the anime community is almost guaranteed to win. The only way for the results to be any different  in a popular vote is for a concentrated PR campaign to mobilise other fandoms prior to the voting commencing and getting sufficient voter turn out. And at the end of the day, it’s an online poll of anime shows.

Your thoughts on the awards and the fall out?


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