Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lost in Translation: A look at BLASSREITER and Tower of Druaga

Sometimes I wonder why some genres don't travel very well into anime. Partially I understand that anime is on the whole a fairly new medium. And it's not a medium that has a whole lot of experimentation that goes on. It's pretty possible to pick up a new show that is really the rehash of an old show which was a different take on another older show which all started with this one show that was pretty novel. So I can't blame them that they haven't experimented a lot, they've gone with what's safe. (Granted I could go into the whole Lain/Texnolyze/Ergo Proxy/Ghost Hound/Kaiba thing, but I'm going to save that for another post.)

And then there's the fact, that there are just some genres that they seem to have a mental block on. Take Western fantasy for example. Now, I'll admit my geekdom started with picking up a copy of Guardians of the West by David Eddings, and after 16 years of reading fantasy I'm pretty jaded when it comes to the genre. When I take something like A Game of Thrones or The Deadhouse Gates and compare it something like Slayers, well let's just say it's like comparing Alan Ginsberg with a well meaning 15-year-old poet wannabe. It makes me want to cry. A lot.

This is why Tower of Druaga is surprising me. I mean it already has one strike against it: It's based off of a video game. That the second strike should mean that it's lingering between being barely entertaining and downright unwatchable.

Yet, I find myself looking forward to Friday and pulling up my YouTube page to watch the new episode. Now don't get me wrong, Druaga won't win any awards or be listed in anyone's top anime of all time. But I still find myself liking every episode I watch, including the first one.

So I keep trying to figure out, where it succeeds, where so many have failed. And I think I have an answer. It takes itself just serious enough without taking itself too serious. See where a show like Record of Lodoss War fails is that the dialogue, plotting and characters simply don't live up to the uber-serious tone it sets for itself. I mean how can I take a mage serious who runs around chanting stuff and screaming, "Fireball." Whereas the sit-com plot of Slayers completely undermines any thing serious they try to do, distancing me from the characters. (It doesn't help that my favorite character is a doofus, who never seems to win.)

Yes, Jin is a loser. But he means well. Yeah, the priestess goes around chanting to Ishtar, but she doesn't strike up a three-minute monologue explaining the importance of Ishtar to the culture of the land and do it in a way that's so horribly cliché that it makes me want to kill some Elves. The funny moments in the show aren't enough to damage the integrity of the serious moments, but they're enough so that some of the ridiculousness doesn't grate on my nerves. Basically Tower of Druaga is a David Eddings book: charming, funny, a little cliché, but mostly good fun.

But oh… BLASSREITER, how you are disappointing me. Now I'd like to point out that the Japanese do cyberpunk well. In fact, right after shounen fighting and epic space battles, anime seems to be made to have street samurai's facing off with class-A hackers. I mean you don't have to worry about gravity or athletic ability in anime. And by taking a step away from reality, makes the impossible seem plausible in a way that would be much harder in the live-action movie.

But BLASSREITER insists on upping the melodrama. See cyberpunk (in my humble opinion) has to be handled with subtlety. Now visually BLASSREITER does a good job. The character designs are in the more realistic style of something like GiTS: Standalone Complex or Parasite Dolls. The scenery all looks real. Honestly I could really go for the story.

If they weren't shouting about Gerd all the time and wondering whether he's a monster or is he a human being. (Maybe they should just make him a number and banish him to some island where he can get chased around by a giant floating bouncy ball.)

In fact, the best cyberpunk stories seem to dwell too heavily on their themes at all. Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex actually spends quite a bit of time exploring the nature of technology and people's interaction with it, but it's always in the context of another story (like chasing a tank down the road or trying to rescue a kidnap victim.) You could watch the entire series without once having to pick out the theme.

But BLASSREITER insists on shoving it down your throat until you gag on it.

And that's unfortunate because it could be a really good series otherwise.

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