When I got down to looking over the offerings for this fall season, there were three works in particular that I singled out as pathetic pieces of trash that wouldn’t even be worth one episode to watch through. Those series were C3, Mashiroiro Symphony, and Maken-Ki! As it happens, I was wrong about the first two; neither would qualify as high art, but C3 is far more effective in its drama and Mashiroiro Symphony is far less offensive in content than I was expecting.
By contrast, Maken-ki! was exactly what I was expecting: non-stop, unmitigated perversion. It’s pretty upfront about being as trashy as possible, such that I don’t even know if this review will do justice to how disgusting it is. To do that, I’d need to break my own personal rules about what was acceptable to include as a screen cap.
Slice of life shows can sell themselves in one of two ways. The first way is through humor, trying to create funny situations out of normal events. Usually this happens either from making the cast a bit crazy, or appealing the common absurdities of everyday life. The other way is something which I think only exists in anime: through a wistful celebration of youthful innocence. This is the sort of show where nothing really happens, but it doesn’t happen in a soothing way.
The thing about the second method is that it never really appealed to me as anything worth spending my time on, at least on its own merits. That’s not to say I’ve never liked a series that fell into the second camp, but when I did, it was for another reason. Natsume Yuujinchou, for example, has actual drama and character development (not to mention a real plot every episode) to keep the show engaging. You and Me has a low level but constant sense of humor. Even Ikoku Meiro no Croisée played around with dramatic themes involving class divisions in a modernizing France.
I went in to Tamayura: Hitotose not expecting any of those things, and was almost pleasantly surprised during the first episode. Not enough to put up with the return to soothing nothingness in the second episode, but it was a surprise.
I wrote yesterday about a series that I went into with extremely low expectations, and how I was thus pleasantly surprised when it turned out not to be the bottom of the barrel sort of show I anticipated it would be. Mashiroiro (“Pure White”) Symphony is another show I thought would be utterly wretched, and, to be fair, it’s not. It’s not particularly interesting or innovative, or even worth your time. But it’s not flat-out offensive, which is a shock in itself.
The basic premise is that Shingo Uryuu’s school is closing down, in preparation for a merger with a local all-girls academy for the elite. That by itself should set off multiple warning bells, partially because it would make absolutely no sense for a school whose reputation is built on providing a female-exclusive educational community catering to the upper crust would let in plebeians of any sort, much less male ones. But aside from destroying the school’s brand, it also offers a hackneyed excuse to get Shingo into a female-heavy classroom with an opulently wealthy setting.
For reasons I might explain in a later post, I made a pledge to myself to cover every series debuting this season, with the exception of obvious kid stuff and Hunter x Hunter. (I’ll let other people have a flame war over whether I just repeated myself.) That did not get me out of reviewing C3, even though it was a show I didn’t even want to waste my time watching. The basic outline sounded suspiciously similar to last season’s The Dark Rabbit has Seven Lives: a contemporary fantasy harem show whose pretensions to horror would be promptly deflated by harem antics and absurd amounts of panty flashing.
I was not wrong about the harem problem, or about the fanservice. Where I was wrong was in thinking that these elements would overwhelm the show, keeping it from succeeding at the darker content inherent in the show’s premise. Because, when C3 decides it does want to be serious, it pulls that off far better than it has any right to.
At antiotaku we’ve spent a great deal of time complaining about the encroachment of harem tropes into action, comedy, and even drama series, making every loser protagonist the anime world can come up with a chick magnet despite all the odds against it. We’ve warned about the constant temptation to use female characters as sex bait. And we’ve noted in despair how often plot lines or characters lack even the appearance of common sense, much less internal consistency.
Ben-To, objectively, should qualify for condemnation under each of those categories. It’s clearly taken a page from the harem genre, as its protagonist is surrounded by lovely women, and the only main male character aside from him looks to be an antagonist (at least if the opening is any indication). It’s willing to be sexually suggestive with its cast, from their basic character designs to the choice of camera angles in documenting them. And the basic concept is so ridiculous that, even without the science-fiction or fantasy elements of many of the other series airing this fall, the series is still in the running for being most unrealistic.
Ben-To is, on paper, a show I should hate. So why I am enjoying it so much?
Funimation spent 2010 simulcasting every noitaminA show it could get its hands on, which gave us gems like Tatami Galaxy, Shiki, and Princess Jellyfish. This year, the company has been much more selective about its simulcast choices in general, including with the noitaminA block. It selected the high-concept sci-fi dystopia series with thinly veiled social commentary over the carefully crafted character drama in winter and spring, and didn’t even pick up the dystopia show in the summer. That last decision was wise, as No. 6 was the worst noitaminA show we’ve had in years, but Fractale and [C] were also far weaker than their less political counterparts.
Guilty Crown is the latest show set in a dystopian future; here Japan has been taken over by a shadowy multinational organization and a band of resistance fighters seeks to liberate the country. One would think that Funimation would still be a bit shy of this sort of series, given how their last picks turned out, but instead the company is doubling down on their pick, running ads on anime related websites about how Guilty Crown is “the most anticipated new series” of the season.
Given the show is vying with the swan song of one of the most iconic series of the past decade, and the lavishly produced prequel of the popular Fate/Stay Night, that was and is a rather grandiose claim, but it may well be true. The more amazing fact is that all that anticipation looks to be justified.
Anime genres are fairly well established by now; so are the medium’s target demographic audiences. The interesting part is when and how genres one would expect to appeal only to one type of demographic are directed at, and succeed at drawing in, an entirely different clientele. The shift in magical girl shows from being targeted at pre-teen girls to college age men is one of the most obvious shifts of this type.
Mostly, these shifts come from adapting a type of genre meant for a young audience to an older one, trying to match the change in tastes and emotional development one would expect (or hope) a grown-up audience would have. The recently finished Kamisama Dolls gave an example of a shounen genre being adapted for a seinen audience, not just aging up the characters, but also the content.
These are the sort of shifts that make sense. The shift represented in You and Me (Kimi to Boku) does not make sense to me: The show takes a concept that looks, acts, and feels like it was meant for a classic shoujo, or even josei, audience, and pitches it at the shounen crowd. I’ve doublechecked, and the original manga was and is still running in a shounen magazine alongside several action series, and is obviously popular enough to get an anime adaption. I have no idea how this happened. Maybe it has something to do with the fact the series is just plain good.