Guys,…I really tried.
Okay, so I decided to step a little outside of my usual milieu to see what was out there in the streaming ether, and chose two recent shows to see how things were going in regards to some highly spoken up shows licensed by Funimation. And this time, they seem to be more aimed at the ladies with one comedy hit that has engendered several spinoffs, sequels, and even a movie, as well as a supposedly edgy new addition to the noitaminA lineup. Figuring I had little to lose, I dove into them in earnest. How little was I to know that this would lead to one of the more challenging pieces I’ve yet to write on the Diet pages. Because as shows, the diet seems more than a little imbalanced. While many may not agree, a part of me now feels a need to stop by the dentist.(and not for reasons one may expect)
Upon my first notice of American fandom’s response to the web-comic sensation, turned anime hit, Hetalia Axis Powers with masses of cosplay groups devoted fans, already I was under the impression that this was a series that spoke to a very specific contingent of fandom. Sadly so, I was right. The animated version of Hidekaz Himaruya‘s megapopular WWII-era allegorical comedy speaks less like a pointed satire of world affairs, and more of an aimless fluff piece for the fujoshi-esque. Helmed by Bob Shirohata of Gravitation fame, I suppose this should’ve been a no-brainer, but even if Himaruya’s knowledge of the events leading to the second World War are sound, there plain just isn’t enough here to substantiate a TV series.
In a grandiosely broad universe of anthropomorphic representations of the world’s nations, we bear witness to the days in which peaks of civilization borne from the leaps of Roman innovation, leading to the fateful meeting between ever burly/ramrod straight, Germany..& hopelessly aloof childman, Italy. No sooner does this happen, that petty fights have been overflowing on both sides of the globe, including the quiet, industrious little giant, Japan, and later America, have been reaching a boiling point. Now if only Italy could grow past innocent flirting with whoever crosses his path, with dreams of cuteness & pasta. It is in this chance encounter that the madness of Hetalia makes itself something of a minor phenomenon in it’s native country. With tall, blonde rulemonger strongman, Germany constantly in the role of would be great leader reduced often to babysitter, and Japan as the unwilling, stoic accomplice, are among the larger running gags that fuels much of the series.
Now while a part of me had a feeling that this was indeed a fan contingent that I had little in common with, I found it important to see exactly what it was that made the comedy work so well with Western viewers. And to be honest, after several episodes, I still am at a loss to understand it. There’s no pretending here of what this show is aimed for, and perhaps it comes required to come in with a certain attitude. From my view it’s like this; if you enjoy a growing bevy of attractive young men of varying archetypical dispositions & grossly generalized stereotypes in under five minute bursts of one-joke humor, then this show may be just what you’re looking for. And upon closer inspection, this series is another attempt to cash in on the success of a 4-koma style project. Problem is, that taken in the five minute format, the humor is so slight, and the animation so predictably in line with so many other bishi comedies over the last decade, that in the end, the series offers even less value in animated form than it perhaps does in panel form. Point being, for the near hours worth of programming I sacrificed to this show, I could count the number of times I actually laughed….on one hand. Not a good sign for what is obviously meant to be comedy.
It’s a shame, since a lot of potential feels wasted by this, the beginning of what many already know has become a multi-season affair. And again, this could very well be that my own take on World History runs counter to much of what many books often fog up rather than clarify. And bringing such events into such a format begs for something more akin to an actual sprawling narrative, something a 4-koma has little room for. And as a result, the shortened format works against much of the comedic possibilities, as well as my own patience. Oh, sure, we’ve had a fair share of these shows before, but many came in with a full understanding of the format. And unfortunately for Hetalia, it is a case of biting of more than the provided maw can chew.
And then on the other side of the pretty people river, comes Studio Daume’s TV version of Fuyumi Ono‘s vampire mystery, SHIKI that while on paper seems intriguing, but in belated (the original novel is well over a decade old) anime form, suffers from a myriad of stumbling blocks, again namely in execution.
The largely unseen village of Sotoba, a town more famous for the creation of burial stones & farmland than anything else becomes a surreal, isolated setting for some old school gothic horror when a bizarre family moves up the hill. Starting off the mysteries include the strange chain deaths of locals in neighboring towns, leading to the tale of young dreamer Megumi, who’s distaste of her quiet cow town leads her toward the exotic new folks moving into the european-style castle up the hill. Never one to listen to her elders, or ignore her wishes for a life more dreamlike & fulfilling, Megumi’s life soon spirals into the ever deepening conundrums regarding these newcomers who roam nocturnally, and remain eternally youthful. Caught in the maelstrom of questions regarding the strange crimes include newly transplanted recluse, Yuki Katsuno, as well as local doctor, Ozaki & inquisitive priest Muroi, as they are slowly enveloped by a creeping dread that these deaths aren’t the work of some airborne infection.
No mystery here, and yet the atmosphere comes at you from frame one. The disconnect between these polar opposite feelings is at the heart of the problems that burden this vision of Ono’s popular book. For as at times beautiful as the imagery can be (from lush valleys of green, surrounded by seemingly endless arrays of mountains, to some truly chilling animated bursts), there are far too many elements of the absurd that punctuate matters with a lack of subtlety more fitting of a campy live-action art film. Somehow, when one mixes would-be EGL cuties lacking the wit to avoid the creepy castle up the hill, one becomes cloudy as to whether we are to buy into the horror, or just laugh at its absurdity. The central characters, for all of their posturing seem to lack any common sense, which does little to help matters as the body count begins mounting. And it is here, where perhaps this again reaches into realms of taste in regards to horror execution. When dealing with a mystery involving a body count, it is vital to ground us with those looking to solve the mystery. But when the show attempts to dazzle, and ignore the characters beyond mere type, the package becomes a blurry bore.
If the rest of the series’ world had embraced itself as fundamentally not ours, and perhaps had some fun with the proceedings, then maybe excitement could have have been mined from this project, but as it stands, the disconnect is huge as we are expected to take the village’s illogically slow comprehension of events as reasonable. It isn’t, and as such, the series seems to want the cake of kitsch, as well as the bloody cherry cheesecake for dinner. It’s this greedy angle that in many ways hurts the show beyond a cult audience.
While it must be looking to satisfy fringe fans of gothic horror, SHIKI does little to ingratiate itself beyond mere aesthetics (the hairdos & the stunt casting of pop conundrum, Gackt should be enough of a clue), which is a mild tragedy since it seems to have all the literary cards necessary to create a work that functions beyond mere novelty. I’d totally be down for some truly serious anime horror these days, so I guess it’s time to keep shopping the old school.
Moments after finishing the last few sentences, I come to realize that the anime is largely based on the 2007 manga adaptation by Ryu Fujisaki of Hoshin Engi fame. (well..that explains that…)