Western anime critics—particularly those featured on Crunchyroll and YouTuube—are now in a position of unchecked power over public opinion. While this is beneficial to the community at large by allowing a rapid dispersion of important or interesting info or criticisms, it is also a weapon prone to misfiring. This misfiring is the result of poor communication, faulty argument, and a general lack of standards. Before I go any further, I want to reiterate that, as with all of these posts, individual creators will be referenced to exemplify my points, but my intention is not to attack or praise them as individuals. I have great respect for anyone who spends time talking about the anime they love/hate. I write this because I respect you all so much. That being said, we have a problem.
To understand the spread and influence of critical opinion and the misfires of the machine that produces these opinions, we can simply look at the r/anime subreddit. Most obviously, comments in reply to any critical content invariably contain instances of users praising said content as truth, as perception-defining, and as final rule. This isn’t anything new. Critics have been influencing public opinion on books, music, politics, etc. for centuries. A basic knowledge of communications or media history could have told you that. I am just arguing that, with so few platforms for visibility, so little history, and such a niched fanbase, this issue is amplified in the anime community. You can read any thread about Erased and see an anonymous Digibro hydra repeat his arguments, oftentimes word-for-word. Cue hegemony, spiral of silence, so on.Read More »
In his book, The Anatomy of Story, John Truby identifies a character archetype/event model he calls the “fake-ally”. The fake-ally joins or interacts with the protagonist under the guise of assistance, but in reality is working for the goals of the antagonist. Truby’s fake-ally is less a character and more a tool used to obstruct the path of the hero. Via the reveal of the fake-ally’s motives and true allegiance, the audience can be thrown for a loop, but, more importantly, the hero can learn something about themselves or their quest—typically something the fake-ally represents or makes clear.
To take an incredibly simple example (spoilers incoming for Frozen, the Disney film), Hans from Frozen betrays Anna by not kissing her to cure her frozen heart. Hans is a fake-ally who intends to take over Arandelle and only pretended to love Anna as part of his plan. Without getting too deep into it, Hans’ fakeness causes Anna to realize what true love is and where she found hers. In an easy reveal, the hero can experience a revelation and the story can deliver some kind of message to the audience, as well as swing the plot. Disney and Pixar love using fake-allies. A bit too much, honestly…
But what does any of this have to do with Hibike! Euphonium?Read More »
Episode 2 of Hibike Euphonium sets the plot ball rolling a bit, while also improving upon some of the cool details we discussed in Episode 1. Once again, I have to admit that a hypothetical first time viewer wouldn’t quite understand the full scope of the season’s conflict, although a lot is done in Episode 2 to build credibility and emotional stakes for later. But we’ll get to that. Let’s start by appreciating some comedy and directing.
All the effort put into the voice acting and animation that I pointed out last episode really comes in handy when trying to fill realistic, grounded high school scenes with comedy. If we take a look at the opening scene, Kumiko’s chipper fantasy plays out nothing like reality—her awkward battle pose and cracking voice fail to gain Reina’s attention entirely, nevermind inciting a hug. Immediately after, the main cast shows off their acting snuff. Hazuki’s catchy and alliterated (in Japanese) “Go, Kumiko!”—with even the effort of her push accented with a “ka” sound—segues perfectly into the sound of Kumiko sliding across the floor and Reina’s sensitive “What’s wrong?” That is then played for laughs via Kumiko’s ridiculously awkward “I’m okay” that grows even funnier the second time she says it.Read More »
Christmas is fast approaching, so let’s jump back in time to take a look at the Christmas Eve episode of Toradora. There’s something beautiful in this show’s simplicity. Like a vine grows only where it can grow, Toradora’s story proceeds in the only way it could. A heads-up that I’ll be assuming you’ve seen the show in its entirety, and will be taking for granted what we would know about the characters and their relationships.
I struggle to express the appeal of this show in so few words, so let’s take a look at three symbols from Episode 19 to see what I mean. Ryuji’s gift for Minori, his scarf he gives Taiga, and Taiga’s father’s suit all begin as very simple symbols and expand in meaning as the episode progresses. Let’s figure out where these three symbols start, and then trace their development one by one. None of them grow to be all that complex, but that’s because they’re precisely as complex as they need to be. There’s not a thread on the scarf that doesn’t hold it together, so to speak.
The show makes the initial meaning of each symbol obvious without bludgeoning us with an explanation. The camera focuses on Ryuji’s gift as he calls Minori to tell her she has to come to the party. Clearly, it represents his affection for her.
I hope you like symbolism because we’re about to talk about a lot of it. I’ll be trying to keep this tied to a theme, so hopefully I maintain the same focus as the previous essays in this series despite the broad topic. Once again, about half of the episode is dedicated to a lengthy storytelling sequence packed with absurd visuals, so let’s figure out what exactly we’re seeing.
Before Gaen even starts telling the story, the backgrounds reflect some of the themes of episode. The clouds and heavens swirling like a grand spiral above Gaen mirror the repetitive, cyclical nature of the Apparition Killer’s death and rebirth. It’s actually possible for us to predict the rough outline of the story about to be told if we pick up on this detail and a few keywords like “revive”.
Immediately, Gaen presents the idea of the sun as a vampire’s (an immortal being’s) weakness. Exposure to the sun is a sort of ‘death’ for vampires, although one they can be reborn from. For now, let’s just remember that the sun is generally associated with the passage of time and the beginning of a new day. Gaen’s explanation will be useful in a moment.
Proving once and for all that dreams can indeed come true, Shinobu returns to the screen in Episode 8. She’s one of the world’s most powerful apparitions trapped in a child’s body, or that’s how Araragi/we perceive her, anyway. If we leap back to Nekomonogatari Black for a second, Oshino says “apparitions are made of human belief”—that “apparitions appear and behave according to the environs.” He goes on to say that Araragi’s perception of Shinobu, and his behavior in light of that perception, affect how Shinbou will act. Well, specifically, he says anyone who acknowledges Shinobu will affect her.
Evidence of this influence can be seen throughout the series (the scene with Shinobu on a throne in Tsukimonogatari comes to mind as good example). In addition, the style and cinematography of the scene changes to accent the changes in Shinobu’s behavior. Since we have two characters influencing the little vampire in two distinct ways at the end of Episode 8, why don’t we take a look at what I mean?
Let’s set up the ways in which Araragi and Kanbaru view Shinobu, respectively. I’d argue that Araragi views Shinobu as mostly cute/moe, like a semi-helpless little girl carrying too large a load up some stairs and trying her hardest to do it alone. Think about the various donut scenes where Araragi acts almost fatherly, as well as that throne scene in Tsukimonogatari where Araragi consoles Shinobu’s wounded pride. I’d also say Kanbaru sees Shinobu as a cool heartthrob. Kanbaru is super-excitable and weak in the knees around Shinobu, and tries to put on mature, laid-back airs when speaking to her. She doesn’t want to protect a cute Shinobu so much as, let’s say, woo/be wooed by her (Shinobu calls Kanbaru a pervert, after all).
Just when I got done talking about all the history Season 1 of Haikyu!! gave us, Season 2 delivers the best backstory of them all. I’m not talking about Tsukishima’s story with his brother, I’m talking about the minute and thirty seconds we get for Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi’s backstory is a masterful piece of simplistic storytelling. As the series’ name says, this is a quick show, so let’s figure out just how much Haikyuu!! can get done in 1:30 (a caveat: I will be referencing and taking for granted what we know from Season 1, but like I said, a sequel succeeds by utilizing what it set up in the past).
Right off the bat, three lines: you’re a freckle-face, you’re puny, you need to bulk up so you can serve us. Each insult contributes something to Yamaguchi’s motivation, and explains why he is who he is now. Yamaguchi touching his freckled face as he stares into the mirror shows us that the person he used to be (to some extent, still is) is carved into his memory. The bullies calling him puny and pushing him around explain that Yamaguchi comes from a place of powerlessness—perhaps lameness is a better word. The complaint that Yamaguchi needs to be stronger to be of use to the bullies parallels his desire to become a better pinch server so he can be of use to Karasuno.
Though it may primarily be a tool to save time and money on animation, the –monogatari series makes both practical and artistic use of text-on-screen. Note that I am not referring to subtitles whatsoever. I simply mean characters or words drawn or inserted into the frame—the stuff that would be there even if you were watching this as it aired in Japan. This ‘stuff’ on the screen—both in its practical and artistic use—is a way to bridge the gap between light novel and anime.
When I say ‘practical’ use, you may be thinking ‘lazy’ use instead. Title cards to indicate scene changes or leaps in time may be considered lazy compared to showing the change of time via the sun or a clock. Or, you could argue that it’s excessive. A jump cut or fade or a variety of other options can indicate a time or scene change as well as a title card could. These are the tools available to visual mediums. Both of these points are fair, but considering the structure of –monogatari’s plot, neither of those approaches fit (at least not all the time).
Season 1 of Haikyuu!! Was an adrenaline-pumping hypefest. A lot went into creating that atmosphere—a killer soundtrack, a fiery protagonist, creative animation, etc.—and that’s all still present in Season 2. Yet, to just ride the same waves as the first season would be lazy. It’d be unlike Haikyuu!!. Season 2 comes at us with even more tactics to excite us, most of which only work because this is the second season. So, without further warm-up, let’s figure out why we get so pumped.
The questions to ask are: what does a first season set up? and how can a second season capitalize on what’s been set up?
Most obviously, a first season provides a ‘past’ for the story. We know volleyball as it exists in this universe; we know our main cast; we know what the characters have achieved or failed to achieve. We know Hinata and Kageyama have grown from hot-headed rivals to a freak-of-nature tag-team. We know Asahi was convinced to rejoin the team, finding his love for volleyball in the process. We know all the third-years are risking poor college entrance exam grades in order to play one last tournament. Yeah, we know a lot.
This gives us two important tools to start Season 2 with: inherent stakes and inherent familiarity. We go into this season with investment because we’ve experienced this team growing and fighting. Instead of ‘Who are these guys? What do they want? Why do I care?’, we ask ‘How is my boy Hinata going to become the ace? Will Yamaguchi get to successfully serve in a match? Can Karasuno get revenge on Aoba Jousai?’ There’s a promise that the characters we already love will be tested at the end of this season. We don’t need to discover that this time around.
Fall 2015 is a season packed with mysteries, from the American serial-esque Beautiful Bones, to the recoated classic in Everything Becomes F: The Perfect Insider, to Tantei Team (which appears to be a short, shoujo detective series? I haven’t actually watched this yet). Of course, there’s also Owarimonogatari, a series we’ve become well-acquainted with over these past few weeks. Back in Episode 3, I looked at one way the series creates effective mystery. I could go on and on about the various ways –monogatari creates its mystery, but instead I want to use Episode 6 to focus on what the series does with its mystery.
I suppose, more accurately, I want to focus on what the series does to its viewers, and how mystery is sometimes the tool it uses to do so.
If you’ve watched or read any of the –monogatari series, you know the fourth wall might as well be a screen door. You also know that we as an audience are forced directly into Araragi’s perspective (excluding a few narratives told from other characters’ points-of-view). As we noticed in Episode 3, the mysteries in question often play with the knowledge that we’re identifying with, and viewing the story from, Araragi’s perspective. Back then, we thought we were one step ahead of our anchor character and thus slacked off by not thinking outside that character’s perspective. In Episode 6, there’s no tricks being played, but there is a game.
Quite literally, there’s a guessing game. Ougi and Hanekawa have solved the mystery of Oikura’s mother’s disappearance, but Araragi (we) haven’t been presented enough evidence to reach the same conclusion. At least, we haven’t had that evidence presented in such a way that we could reasonably reach the correct conclusion. These hints are aimed as much at the viewer as they are at Araragi. We are the “fool” Ougi talks about. The show doesn’t want to just have a character figure out the mystery and tell us the answer in some lame expository dialogue; we need to figure it out ourselves. Obviously, a character—Araragi—does figure it out and ‘tell’ us, but we’ll get to that.