Death Note: An Absence of Character
It’s a common sentiment among anime fans that the second half of Death Note is less engaging than the first. Yet, most fans manage to finish the show by riding out the waves of suspense and tragedy from the first half. So, what changed from the first half to the second? Why do so many people use the first half to justify enduring the second? The obvious and unfulfilling answer is that L dies and the careful cat-and-mouse game established between him and Light vanishes with him, but that isn’t true in and of itself. L’s death just causes the anime to fail harder at something it had already begun to struggle with—that is: to be thrilling. We should begin by examining Death Note’s most successful moments of intrigue and suspense.
The FBI arc involving Raye Penber and Naomi Misora is the anime’s most well-executed arc by far, and the pacing and scope of the arc play a major role in this. This all begins in the bus-hijacking scenes, where we are clued into a lot of important details about how Light interacts with enemies of his plot. We are never given all of the notes to Light’s plan, but we can infer a lot based on the rules of the Death Note and Light’s actions and thoughts. When the hijacker arrives, Light thinks, “He’s here!” before the hijacker even pulls out a weapon. Light’s subsequent calm demeanor confirms for the audience that he planned for this hijacking. But to what end? Raye Penber handing over his identification answers that question, completing a logical loop.Read More »
First Thoughts on Your Name
I recently saw Your Name for the third time, and plan on a fourth if I can scrounge up the money for another ticket. I’ve only ever seen two movies multiple times before this: La La Land and The Dark Knight, and for good reason. Movie theaters have become the Russian roulette of the entertainment industry. After emptying my wallet for a ticket, I have to smuggle in life-sustaining water like a convict bringing drugs into the pound. If I manage to avoid being scolded by an usher for not buying the meal-priced water they sell, then I’m still only looking at a 50-50 chance for a pleasant viewing experience. It’s up to fate whether or not you sit next to a fatally rude movie-goer.
I kind of sound like a grumpy old man, but it’s just to make my point: a movie has to be exceptional for me to make a second or third trip back. And Your Name was exceptional. I don’t usually write these early reaction, emotional response kinds of posts, but I’ll try give a sense of my pure reactions to the movie before I start talking about specific aspects that impressed me.
The setting, namely Itomori, is probably the most emotionally moving part of the film for me. Beyond the beautiful background work and lighting that fills every frame, Itomori’s culture and history (and the way they’re presented and developed) absolutely floored me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a rural town where you knew everyone you saw, and kids got singled out for being part of this or that family, and each season was filled with traditions that (while usually not religious in nature) no one could remember how each started in the first place. There were more bars than gas stations and you had to drive at least half an hour to get to any place of interest. There was even a large lake at the edge of town! Like Mitsuha, all my classmates wanted to escape to the city as soon as they graduated. It was a desire I shared for a while, too.Read More »
Nisekoi is Perfect (An Analysis)
This essay is based on the first four chapters of the Nisekoi manga, analyzed via the first two episodes of the anime, which is more or less an exact adaptation. May contain spoilers for later parts of the series.
Judging by the way Nisekoi is discussed online by its detractors (and even its fans), you could easily think the show/manga is just some trashy harem with a plot more convoluted than a Rube Goldberg machine. This is an unfair judgment. While I can’t say Nisekoi isn’t trashy and convoluted—that’s part of the appeal, personally—it is also perfect. Nisekoi is the perfect incarnation and execution of the setup.
Let’s get back to basics. I’m talking barebones narrative structure: characters have desires but encounter a problem that leads to conflict and an eventual resolution. Putting on our grade-schooler hats, the setup is the exposition where we meet the characters and first crash into the main problem. The reason Niseoki is such a popular series—the reason it can get away or even thrive off maintaining the status quo—is that its setup is perfect. Imagine the setup is a car and the second act/rising action is a long road. If you build that car well enough, you can take people on a drive through potholes, snow, T-bones, and popped tires and still reach your destination.Read More »
Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Family/Domestic Melodrama)
This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Fractale. Additional note: it is difficult to pin down who is responsible for what in the making of Fractale. I’ll detail that issue extensively later.
After a couple of quick looks at teen melodrama, I think it’s best to develop a second grouping of modal elements to exemplify how such groupings can differ. As with the first teen melodrama essay, I’ll mostly be talking about what elements give this grouping its identity and how we might recognize them in a specific anime. This time, I chose Fractale. It’s far from a simple example, but it most clearly demonstrates the important elements of this grouping. Keep in mind that I’m just detailing core differences and there will still be a lot of similarities because these two groupings are still melodrama at the end of the day.
That being said, I haven’t seen a true family melodrama (in terms of Elsaesser’s classification based on 50’s Hollywood films) in anime. Nor have I heard of any shows that seem to be classic family melodramas. I’m sure they exist somewhere—probably as a film rather than a TV show—but I imagine you can count them on one hand. Although the origin of my grouping of “family melodrama” is rather specific, the elements are absolutely influential in contemporary anime. The treatment of expression and oppression, the tropes, and the modal duality we discuss here originate from Thomas Elsaesser’s analysis of a specific trend, but can be reapplied here.
But enough babbling, let’s talk about family (aka domestic) melodrama.Read More »
Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Kiznaiver)
This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Kiznaiver.
Now that we’ve established a melodramatic basis and looked at the particulars of teen melodrama, we can start to criticize those particulars and flesh out the complexities of melodrama. Mari Okada herself engages in this criticism via her writing of Kiznaiver. I think it’s fair to assume that, after many years of writing for and adapting melodramatic projects, Okada has some opinion on the mode or has learned something from it. This might sound like an endgame essay topic (like we’re looking at the culmination of Okada’s career), but discussing this early on allows unique insight into the melodramatic mode and why Okada would be continually asked to/interested in working on these projects.
Digibro explained Kiznaiver as The Breakfast Club told in the style of Cabin in the Woods, and I think that’s a hilariously accurate description. Kiznaiver is quintessential teen melodrama manipulated and ramped up to the point the narrative doesn’t make any sense if you stop to think about it. Yet, that’s why it’s so interesting. (Side note: if you haven’t seen either of those movies, do so immediately. The Breakfast Club is my favorite film of all time and Cabin in the Woods is one wild ride). But anyway…Read More »
Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Teen Melodrama)
This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo.
I want to dive into all the social commentary and Okada’s experimentation with the “generic” (“modal” in this case) mythos as soon as possible, but we’ll take things step by step. Most people have been exposed to teen melodrama in some form—especially with its recent resurgence via Twilight and teen fiction in general. So we all know what teen melodrama is, but it can be hard to put into words. Things can get even trickier if you think about how “teen” or “young adult” labels are really just a facet of marketing. However, we can still pinpoint unique elements of teen melodrama and investigate how Okada utilizes them.
The defining feature of a teen melodrama is its particular “situation”. This is kind of a vague concept, but the general idea is that certain kinds of characters are in certain settings under certain conditions/stresses. The situation of teen melodrama involves archetypal teenagers in a school or home who are in some kind of identity or agency crisis. All of this is then soaked in the woes of puberty and sweet, sweet angst. As with all melodrama, the climax takes the form of an honest release of emotion. I quoted Douglas Sirk last time, so now here’s actress Molly Ringwald speaking on the melodrama in The Breakfast Club:Read More »
Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (A Melodramatic Basis)
This is the second part in a series of essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, start at the Introduction instead! No spoilers ahead for now.
Before we can start talking about anything relevant in Mari Okada’s work, we have to establish a melodramatic basis for analysis. In other words, we have to know what melodrama is and where it comes from—which means chugging through some history and exposition. The history of melodrama is actually quite interesting and I’ll be keeping it light and to the point, since it’s way more fun (and useful) to talk about the gritty details once we’re engaged with some specific anime. In addition to history, I’ll give a brief overview of the most universal elements of melodrama to be expanded upon in future essays.
Melodrama originated as a method of performance in the theater, not as a genre or tone. Music was used to add or fine-tune emotion within a scene, hence melo+drama. Here’s the entirety of Ariadne auf Naxos and an excerpt of Medea so you can get an idea of what this would look like onstage. As you’ll quickly notice, theatrical melodrama is not far removed from opera, and the functioning of melodrama (i.e. the method of acting, the emotional impact of the music) has greatly influenced modern media. Most notably, early cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and most silent films (Nosferatu as a random example) rely heavily on a melodramatic mode to better convey character motivation and emotion. I’m leaving out some details about the overall bombastic nature of melodramas, but this is a fine starting point.Read More »