The month of May may be rapidly coming to a close, but the onset of summer is only a minor contrivance for the second part of our Spring 2010 preview feature.
It is safe to say that the groundhog saw its shadow yet again this year. In fact, it may very well be the same Groundhog’s Day scion rehashed for use in one of this season’s most-anticipated noitaminA features. Did we actually get around to watching that one?
The President is a Maid!
Well, she is. Despite being about a maid, this is actually a shoujo manga adaptation: to the point and by the numbers. Our protagonist is a high school girl who’s aggressively pushed her way through the ranks of success: class president, valedictorian. However, her family’s on-the-brink poor, so she has to work a profitable, but uncharacteristically submissive night job at a maid cafe.
It goes without saying that a handsome, aloof young man finds out her secret. After an initial period of apocalyptic fear and paranoia, our heroine realizes that he only comes to the maid cafe every single day not because he’s using her vocation against her, but because he cares. The two form a grudging friendship and I assume the usual will-they/won’t-they ensues.
The heroine was pleasant, but this first episode felt like it was running down a checklist of shoujo manga cliches— the debt slavery, the dispassionate guy who’s really warm-hearted, the rescue at the end— that its frantic energy can’t cover for. Better a typical shoujo anime than a typical maid anime, in any case.
Betrayal Knows My Name
The opening sequence to Betrayal Knows My Name manages to cram just about every super-powered pretty-boy trope into ninety seconds. Filmed downwind from a pillow factory explosion, bloodied boys in tattered cloaks clutch swords against desolate landscapes dotted with crosses, sprouting black wings and struggling against bonds of chain and vine to stare wistfully into each others’ eyes — and don’t forget the roses. The secondary characters even helpfully attack the camera so we can identify them by their distinguishing characteristics: the guy with the gun, the chick, the mystic, and the hot-head with a flaming sword, respectively.
Hmm… characters with mysterious powers, talking about “resetting the world,” delivering ominous foreshadowing… man, what’s the name of that other end-of-days-in-Tokyo series that ran in Asuka magazine? It’s right on the tip of my tongue. Y? No… V? Oh, that’s it — X!
I couldn’t stop thinking about other, better series while I was watching this. Most of the episode is spent on characters explaining what an utterly sweet and awesome guy the main character is — he reads to the younger orphans, wins sporting competitions to help out the manager, uses his super empathy powers to see the darkness in the hearts of the people he encounters, and worries rather incessantly about being a burden to anyone else. There’s plenty of weird mystical shit going on, like how everyone who was in line for the bus vanished between shots, some stuff about past lives and books of prophecy, plus the aforementioned pretty boy in a tattered cloak, but none of the characters or situations in this episode are the slightest bit interesting. If I want to watch a pretty guy mope about social anxiety and self-reliance, I’ll watch Natsume’s Book of Friends again.
Now this is the meat and potatoes: a late-night Madhouse anime for old guys. Every couple seasons one of these rolls around, it’s good, and it doesn’t get a ton of attention. Rainbow‘s about a group of teenagers surviving prison life in the ruins of post-WWII Japan, held together by the mentorship of an older cellmate.
Some noise has been made about the content warning that runs before the show: a bit of an anomaly in TV anime, which is more likely to open with an upskirt shot. The content is indeed grim, but it isn’t handled in an exploitative or gratuitous fashion: bad things happen to these guys and it’s not shied away from or sugarcoated. A more appropriate warning at the start of this show would have been “You are about to listen to some really bad faux-Linkin Park”.
There’s obviously a lot of teen angst and tragedy here. That’s not exactly uncommon in a youth-oriented medium like this one, but Rainbow earns its angst. The despair isn’t hollow here, like it is when some superpowered ninja or godlike psychic robot pilot goes around moping that nobody understands him. These are ordinary guys living through an awful time in history, in the worst place they could be, making the best of it. You feel good for them when they get their bittersweet moments of respite. That said, the show is nothing unusual: a good TV drama isn’t that hard to find. Unless, of course, you’re talking about anime.
(UPDATE 5/14/10: It’s been so long since I wrote this that Rainbow has actually had time to push its melodrama into mawkish “and I had just one more day on the force until I could retire and live a peaceful, happy life with my wife and kids” territory in the fifth episode. The Colony Drop Outlook on this title is officially revised to cautious.)
Mayoi Neko Overrun
Normally this is the kind of anime we only cover as part of some kind of apocalyptic description of what passes for Japanese cartoons these days, but there’s a story behind this one. Every episode of Mayoi Neko Overrun will be handled by a different director. The roster includes some real stars of the industry, like Akitaro Daichi on episode 4 and that smooth bastard Yamakan on episode 6. Isn’t that cool, all these directors getting together and having a little party?
Well, uh… the only problem is the show they’re working on. The first time I tried to watch Mayoi Neko Overrun (English title: There Are So Many Stray Cats Here That I Cannot Decide Which Girl To Have Sex With) I had to shut it off ten minutes in.
I’ve heard that a lot of otaku-oriented light novels read like anime scripts, and Overrun must have read like half an anime script. Those unbearable ten minutes absolutely rocket through anime cliche, introducing:
- a tsundere childhood friend
- an otaku buddy who only speaks in tired meta-jokes you’ve been hearing over and over again from “otaku characters” since 2004
- a huge-breasted big sister who is not related to the hero by blood
- a snobby, rich high-schooler who looks about eight
I finished the episode later, and am sad to report that not one of these people bothers to exhibit a personality that isn’t comfortably, slavishly by the Big Codified Book of Boring Otaku Bullshit. One character even has two maids who stand by and state directly to the audience how she’s feeling in case they weren’t catching on to her stalking the hero while blushing.
I can say one good thing about this show: there’s no filler. There’s absolutely nothing in this show standing between you and the mainline consumption of undiluted cliche. If you don’t think the state of the industry has anything to do with the anime you watch, keep in mind: things are so bad that Akitaro Daichi’s got to work on this pile.
The Tatami Galaxy
Y’know, I’m not too big on Groundhog Day stories in my cartoons. Much love to Bill Murray, but the time-loop concept’s hard to pull off interestingly in non-interactive media. Perhaps it’s just because of how videogame-esque the entire concept is — the repetition and memorization, learning how to manipulate patterns and events, training reflexes, and so on — but the process just seems so much more gripping when I have a “role,” however scripted and predictable, in how the events resolve. Way of the Samurai is one of my favourite games: it lets me live out my fantasies of being Clint Eastwood, manipulating the rival factions in a setting not at all reminiscent of a certain Kurosawa film to see how the events will resolve, sometimes fleeing the town with my life (and more critically, my blades) when things appear unresolvable.
Without that direct measure of control, as silly as it may sound, I find it really hard to invest myself in stories that are overtly about the same things happening over and over, unless there’s some other interesting aspect (“twist”) to the formula. When They Cry had the LOST factor, providing a convenient topic for insane and frantic theorizing every week, Beautiful Dreamer took great pleasure in exploring the implications of its loop, and “Endless Eight” had massive, steel-plated testicles. What does The Tatami Galaxy have to make its tale of an unnamed narrator and his friends, stuck endlessly repeating the first two years of college and always ending up in the exact same place no matter what he does interesting? Well, the art style’s pretty great, I guess!
Hate to say it, but auteur-of-the-moment Masaaki Yuasa’s new TV series just isn’t drawing me in at all. For one thing, the narrator never shuts off his internal monologue, and the visuals settle for generally just depicting whatever it was he just described without further comment. It’s not only a pet peeve of mine — visual media, guys — it also gives the whole thing a visual novel aftertaste. (The largely one-note characters don’t help, either.) The loop’s conditions seem to be established quickly in the premiere, and despite occasional flashes of insight during repeated scenes in subsequent episodes (“You’re upped your rates again, haven’t you?”) the narrator seems quite content to continually miss what he’s supposed to be doing and simply stumble along each week, which would be fine except much like Trapeze, another recent experimental noitaminA comedy, the show just isn’t nearly as funny as it thinks it is.
Prince of Tennis: The Fandub
A little something we found in the vaults. Imagined lost for years, I believe this counts as a Spring ’10 revival of a long-running franchise.
Back in the distant 2000s, the fansubber that had been translating Prince of Tennis saw fit to dub the show, despite lacking a cast or any knowledge of the process. The resulting episode, composed almost entirely of rote shonen anime exposition mumbled back and forth by a one-man, one-woman cast, is some of the best anime comedy you’ll see this season. Mada mada da ne indeed.