Monday, January 26, 2009

Why not Berserk?

I've been inspired by Martin's post on Berserk to offer my own thoughts.

I've always jokingly called Berserk, "The story of the Anti-Christ and his best friend."

That said, Berserk is the perfect show. Really, I mean it. The characters are well-crafted and not only that, they actually move the story forward. Every one of their actions lead to a reaction. The relationship between Guts and Griffith reminds me of the relationship between Brandon Heat and Harry MacDougall. They are a pair who are necessary for each other. Guts derives his self-worth from Griffith and Griffith derives his self-worth from controlling Guts.

The plot is one of the most tight I've seen. Even when there is a plot hammer, it's so well-hidden and natural it just flows in like it was meant to be there. The setting is internally consistent and fitting for the tone and mood of the show. (Even if it's a little bit bland.) The themes are well-presented.

Even the oft-complained about ending of the show neatly ties up the show if you consider the show to be about their friendship and not to be about fighting monsters. In fact, I would have problems reading the manga after watching the show because the only way the story could go from here is downhill.

In fact, I would recommend any anime viewer watch Berserk once (because I'm going to have some spoilers after this.)

So why not, huh? Why don't I just make it my number nine and have done with it?

The answer is pretty simple. Berserk is not a show I enjoyed, it was a show I experienced. It didn't make a mistake with its plotting or structure or character or theme. It didn't make a mistake other than its final solution to its central question: Can a person challenge fate?

Berserk says no and it doesn't say no in a fun, campy way of most American romantic comedies. It doesn't even say no in the "this is why this has to happen" way Donnie Darko uses. It says no in a "the God hand will crush your petty existence" way.

It doesn't let you off the hook. Martin is certainly right, you will like the Band of the Hawk. You will care about Casca. You will want Guts to figure out what motivates him to fight. Even if you don't agree with him, you'll even find yourself rooting for Griffith's Machaevellian plots.

Then it will proceed to destroy those things, one by one, until they are lying bleeding and broken on the ground.

Because really, who's rooting for the Ant-Christ?


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Impressions: A slightly less oversimplified view of Allison and Lillia

So Author pointed out, my past impressions post contained a vague description of why I liked Allison and Lillia.

It could be I don't have any taste, but I'm going to try to provide a better review of the series.

In brief, the show is divided roughly in half between four main characters. Allison and Wil start the series off and Lillia and Trieze have the last section of the show. Each of these pairs has three four-episode arcs which deal with a particular problem. The arcs follow a basic pattern, the characters go someplace, a problem arises, they get involved with the problem and then there's a solution.

At its heart, Allison and Lillia is a child's adventure story, something which is odd in anime to begin with. It shares more in common with the Hardy Boys than it does with most anime I've watched. This does lead to some moments where I found myself saying, "Huh, they're having a kid?"

But that doesn't make it inherently bad, but as Author correctly points out, it does make it inherently oversimplified. Would a crowd, which had been riled up by a politician they had come to know and trust, suddenly change their tune if they found out about a long lost line of royalty? Probably not. Would knowledge of a mural suddenly bring an end to a decades old war without any other force? I doubt it.

While it is inherently oversimplified, I expected it to be from the beginning. The show became more complex as it progressed. The saying about, "What a tangled web we weave, when we first try to deceive." (Note: I probably screwed that up.) is proven true in Allison and Lillia. Each new arc introduces a new lie, or a new secret, which has to be kept. This added a dynamic to the show making it a lot more complex then I expected it to be. Suddenly, lines, which would have been pretty mundane if they were in a normal children's adventure story, became ironic. Now I'll admit, I have a fondness of dramatic irony when it's done well and Allison and Lillia, in my opinion, did it well.

The irony becomes even more pronounced in the Lillia and Trieze arcs when some of the characters know all of the secrets and some of the characters know some of the secrets and some of the characters didn't know any of the secrets. Now, I have to admit for being Wil's kid, Lillia is really dense, but she does have Allison's charm and hot-headedness, which I found somewhat fun.

The other thing I found interesting was neither Allison nor Wil had the upper hand as far as characteristics. Yes Wil might have been a good shot and he might have been really smart, but he was lousy in a fight and he couldn't pilot a plane. Yes Allison was good in a fight and she could pilot a plane, but she wasn't super smart. Neither character overshadowed the other character.

Does that mean it was a show without its problems? No, of course not. In fact, it had one really big problem in the Lillia and Trieze arcs. While Allison and Wil were usually at least part of the solution to their problems, Lillia and Trieze only really existed to get into trouble. They were a convenient plot device.

While I found it annoying, it didn't put me off enough to want to stop watching the show because I wanted to see how all of the lies would resolve. Unfortunately the show didn't give me a real resolution. It did give me a "well-we're-going-to-let-you-make-up-your-own mind-how-it-resolves" resolution.

So yes, Allison and Lillia is an oversimplified, easily grasped view of the world. Yes, it doesn't have amazing world building (although it's not bad.) Yes, it isn't an epic on the level of LoGH or even Seirei no Moribito. But for what it was, a Japanese version of the Bobsey Twins, it was enjoyable.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Impressions: NANA, Honey and Clover, Tytania and a lot of other ones

So I haven't been around, but I've still been watching a bunch of stuff. I don't know if I'll hit it all here, but I'm going to try to get the highlights.

NANA: So I started watching this show because of Paradise Kiss. I still think ParaKiss is an amazing show, despite leaving the side characters in romantic limbo. As far as Nana though, I'm still undecided. On the one hand, the characters are great. Even Hachi, who doesn't seem to have a clue, is a fascinating character. I'm also a big fan of actions having consequences. But… it's emotionally draining. I had to stop watching at episode 30 and I'm not sure I want to go back again.

I'm starting to figure out the difference between shoujo romance and shounen romance is the guy never gets the girl in shoujo, or at least she always wants the daring, troubled, loner rather than the kind, caring person. I'm not entirely sure whether this says something about Japan, or if it says something about women, or both.

Honey and Clover: Despite the loose threads, I thought this was one of the more interesting anime I've watched in a while. I liked the characters (all of them.) I could have used the plot to move a bit faster. It seemed like the characters stayed at the same points for a long, long time (with the exception of Takemoto) before their storylines started to resolve.

Although, I really liked the first opener. Eventually, I'll probably write something up about that.

Nodame Cantabile: To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this show. I'm a coming-of-age fan, so both Chiaki's and Nodame's character growth through the series really engaged my interest. The pacing for the Paris Chapter was a little off towards the end, but otherwise it flowed well.

But, unlike BECK, for the most part I had to use the audiences' reactions to judge whether or not people were really getting any better (except for a few parts.)

Black Lagoon: Wow. I really dug this show. Sure it's occasionally a bit campy, but it's sure a lot of fun. And it's nice to have a hero who goes from being a wimp to having some real badass moments. His whole dialogue at the church about the drugs was awesome. I still haven't finished the last disk though, mostly because I'm not sure if I want to see how it ends.

Tytania: Okay, it's not LoGH. I'm not entirely convinced it's trying to be LoGH. It does have enough politics and space battles to keep me engaged in the show, and I like the characters on the Tytania side more than I liked the characters on Rienhard's side in LoGH. While Fan Hyulick is an interesting character, he doesn't have same moral conundrums Yang has, which makes him a little less interesting.

All of that said, I'm not sure how in the world they're going to wrap it up in one season. It seems like they've left too many threads loose and tying them up will take too long.

Allison and Lillia: I had a lot of misgivings about this show after the first episode. Hell, I had a lot of misgivings about this show after the first arc. But as the show progressed and the world became developed better and the lies started piling up, it started getting good. Especially after Wil became the soulless super-spy. I really liked how neither Allison nor Wil was perfect and their strengths complimented each other.

I really only have two complaints about the show and they both have to do with the Lillia and Trieze arcs. The first is the characters got short-changed as far as time, which left me feeling like I wanted a clear resolution to their issues at the end of the show. It really could have benefited from one more episode at least. The second was the creators seemed to refuse to let Lillia and Trieze be the HEROES of the show. Where Allison and Wil solved their problems, Lillia and Trieze always needed to be saved by Allison and Wil. I think I yelled at my computer screen a couple times about that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Help Wanted, Apply within

Hah, after writing about good and liking stuff here I am asking for recommendations.

Geez, just who do I think I am.

Anyway, I've been watching a lot of romance shows lately (Honey and Clover, NANA, Toradora!, Bokura ga Ita) and I'm looking for something else to watch along those lines. But I'm not really sure where to look, since this isn't really a genre I'm familiar with.

Any help would be appreciated.

In My View: What you’re expecting me to have standards?

So I spent my last post talking about the nature of "good" shows, but I haven't really addressed Coburn's fundamental conundrum.

What makes a show an all-time favorite? Or put better, what measures do I use to judge a show?

Now, I'll admit this is a hard question to answer because when I watch a show, I'm reacting to the show. I'm not trying to dissect exactly what I like about the show. I don't tend to categorize my complaints when I get around to dissecting the show. All of that makes this a tough question to answer.

Expectations, Standards and Biases

Recently, I watched Tokko. Now all-in-all, I enjoyed watching it, which got me thinking. What was it about the show I liked? That answer was pretty simple, I expected the main character to get superpowers about two episodes into the show. Instead, he spent half of the series without any kind of superpowers at all. Then after spending a long time developing the characters, building suspense and creating a level of excitement, he got superpowers.

In short, Tokko exceeded my expectations. For the sake of the argument, expectations are what I expect to see either after the preview or the first episode. My expectations are usually pretty low. If I'm watching a shounen fighting show, I expect to have a young plucky hero who will eventually have to fight a menacing bad guy after discovering his hidden reserves. If I get that, I'm happy.

So if a show does something I'm not expecting it to, then it can end one of two ways. Either I liked it, and the show exceeded my expectations, or I hated it, and the show fell below my expectations. Now my expectations aren't set in stone, if a show exceeds my expectations, then I expect it to continue to exceed my expectations. (That said, I'll usually forgive a show for having a few bad episodes.)

Now standards are what I want a show to do. I want a show to have a multi-layered, character-driven plot. I want shows to have flawed heroes. I want characters to be noticeably different at the end of the show then they were at the beginning of the show. To be honest, I don't expect these things. If I expected them, then they would be, well, expectations.

On a side note, I've found a lot of long-term reviewers tend to start replacing their expectations with their standards. Honestly, I find it a bit sad because they're going to always be disappointed.

On the other hand, biases are just stuff I like. While standards apply to any show, biases don't. For instance, I like fanatics. I find them fascinating. If a show has a fanatic then I'm probably going to like it. But I don't expect a show to have a fanatic.

Now it is kind of tricky to separate biases and standards. Standards apply to any fiction. While biases are just things I like, such as fanatics or war epics or WWI-style dogfights or dark, brooding anti-heroes.

What makes an all-time favorite show for me

So how does all of this sort out? Pretty simply actually, but a lot depends on the show. In all of the cases, these shows exceeded my expectations. In most of the cases, they hit at least one or two of my standards and they all featured at least one (or in the case of Last Exile A LOT) of my biases.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

In My View: Coburn you have drug me out of the shadows

Coburn, Coburn, Coburn…

You've managed to drag me out of the shadows.

Anyway, I came across Coburn's post when DrmChsr0 linked it, and to be honest it's a subject I've thought a lot about. Of course that subject being favorite shows. Now I've didn't read the responses, mostly because I didn't really feel like it at the time, but I thought since this blog was the impetus for the original post, I should reply.

Okay, so how I define all time favorite shows is kind of tricky, and it'll take more than one post. I do want to start where Coburn started because I think we need a frame for what we're talking about when we talk about good, so I'm going to tread some tired ground and talk about rating systems.

Now Coburn opened by saying he was looking for a perfect "10" series. When he said that I started thinking: What defines a "10" anyway? Can I even classify series I watch as "10s" or without flaws. The assumption Coburn made was, I think of my all time favorite shows as "10s" and I find them flawless.

That isn't the case.

When I see a rating system, I see a completely arbitrary set of numbers. The problem with applying a rating to anything is it isn't just a measure of how much you enjoyed the show. It's a measure of how much you enjoyed the show at the time and in the mental state you watched it in. So if I'm tired and feeling grouchy and don't particularly feel like watching X giant robot show, and I watch X giant robot show I'm not going to like it as much as if I wanted to watch it. The same holds true if a show doesn't match my tastes, or if I got into a fight at work, or if I'm just feeling unpleaseant, or if I happened to give something else a low mark right before it. Or I happened to read lolkit's comment about how low his MAL average was before I went on a rating spree.

In fact, it's affected by so many factors any rating is largely a useless number if taken on its own. The only time a rating is useful to the average reader is when you have a whole bunch of them so you can see what the mean rating is (this is why ANN's encyclopedia is useful.)

Not only is a rating arbitrary, it's a cop out. All a rating says is how much the viewer enjoyed the show at the particular time he rated it.

It doesn't define good.

The problem with defining good


The problem we face when we start trying to define what is good probably can be summed up in a quote I'm stealing from iKnight (who stole it from someone else)

"There is a difference between something being good and liking it."

Now, I agree there is a difference. A rating system defines how much a person liked a show. However, I don't believe there is an empirical way to prove how "good" something is. Sure I could point out plot, character, world-building, theme, etc. and say they are "good." But what does that really mean? What if someone disagrees? Is their opinion less valid if they offer proof I'm wrong? Isn't any judgment on these issues simply a matter of taste?

So I'm left with a conundrum. Intuitively, I think iKnight is right, but, objectively, I can't prove it.

But I do think there's a solution. While I don't believe there is an empirical "good" like this quote seems to hint at, I do believe there is a more honest "good." The reason why I called any ratings system a cop out is because there's no accountability. If I say a show is a seven and someone says, "Well I think it's a nine." All I have to do is wave my hand and say, "Well it's just my opinion."

But if I say, "You should watch this show because I think it's good." You have to take responsibility for it one way or the other and on some level that is more pressure than simply saying, "Well it's good." There in lies the difference between something being good and just liking a show (or at least I think so.)

Now with my favorites, in most cases, I would say they are good and people should watch them.

But that isn't why they're my favorites. They're my favorites because their flaws are minor in comparison to what I like about them. Now that discussion is going to have to come later.