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.
Well, having taken a season break after wrapping up their lovely but ultimately flawed Gosick, it looks the animation studio Bones is ready to try their hand at another mystery series, this time set in a near future Japan. And like with Gosick, the mystery trappings of the show are just that: trappings. It’s clear that the heart of the show is elsewhere.
I suppose that’s a good thing, because if Un-Go was meant to be a mystery series, it fails horribly. Thus far the mysteries have been mostly predictable and easily solved (particularly in the second episode). The feeling of a just resolution that comes from seeing the guilty be caught and punished is also absent, for the guilty more or less get away with it. This show is not about crime solving because solving crime is about discovering the truth. This is show concerns itself with a more basic question: whether it is possible for the truth to win out in an age of mass media and government manipulation.
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.
Shakugan no Shana is one of those shows which is constantly being mentioned here at antiotaku (four times if we count a reference in a caption). It’s one of the original light novel action romantic comedy series that got an anime adaption by J.C. Staff, and certain aspects of it have been enshrined in all the shows that followed it.
Shana has fantasy trappings, with a male protagonist who looks ordinary and powerless but is quickly revealed to have a special ability that makes him able to fight whatever monsters are plaguing the world. It pairs the male lead with a pint-sized, flat-chested action girl, typically voiced by Rie Kugimiya, who falls for the lead even while refusing to admit it. It has an underlying conspiracy and a slowly increasing cast of characters, mostly attractive women. You can see elements of the Shana formula in A Certain Magical Index, Yumekui Merry, and Dragon Crisis, to name just three shows that we’ve covered—with varying degrees of skepticism—on this site.
Given how we haven’t much liked any of Shana’s spiritual successors, one would expect that we wouldn’t like Shana either, but this isn’t the case. Much as most slice of life shows try and fail to redo the magic of Azumanga Daioh, the fantasy action genre owes so much to Shakugan no Shana because Shana became popular by doing it first and by doing it right. Its many imitators might be soulless or simply fail to catch the same spark, but what they are trying to copy is the real deal.
Wagnaria!! (Working!! in Japanese, but called Wagnaria!! on the English DVDs to make the title more unique) is yet another slice of life show based on a 4-Koma manga series set around remarkably unusual people in an otherwise usual setting. Unlike the vast majority of its contemporaries, Wagnaria!! isn’t based around high school life, and wasn’t afraid to have a much higher “adult” population than is usual for the genre. The number of important male characters was also much higher than average, which is to say that there were more than two.
Wagnaria even features a male lead as the official protagonist. Souta Takanashi was continually mistreated by his older, much taller sisters, all of whom have their own odd quirks and neurosis (naturally). This in turn led Takanashi to develop a love for all things small and cute, so when he meets the pint-sized Poplar Taneshima, who is tiny even by Japanese standards, he’s utterly smitten—not romantically, but the way one might adore a kitten or puppy.
Wanting to spend as much time around her as possible, he winds up getting hired at the family restaurant where Taneshima waitresses. There he discovers his own mental hangups are minor compared to those of the rest of the staff.