What an emotional roller coaster Your Lie In April is: this is the best non-performance episode yet, with some of the best-directed visuals this season, in the service of a teenage melodrama that is so immediate and so true to my own internal experience of that age. I understand that this is, among other things, what repels others, but it’s rare to see a show that speaks directly to my heart, including all of the painful and uncomfortable parts. Frankly, KimiUso transports me back to my own musically inclined, guilt-ridden, and rescue-longing adolescence, and nothing else this season is doing that.
Parasyte 5 is clearly some kind of turning point in the story and for our protagonist, where the full terror of the situation finally, literally hits home. The desperation and growing despair in the final scene is a mini-masterpiece of horror, eliminating whatever vestiges of humor may be left in the series and setting the show on a course for higher stakes action. I can’t wait.
Bahamut 5 continues to astound by not only including well-animated individual duels between Favaro, Kaisar, and others, but also a tremendously epic large scale battle led by St Jeanne d’Arc. Perhaps it’s this show, not Fate Stay/Night, that should earn the nickname Unlimited Budget Works, because very little expense was spared in the volleys of trebuchets, wyverns, flaming arrows, and a collapsing organic floating ship. Studio MAPPA: the Weta Workshop of anime?
Amagi Brilliant Park enters my ballot for the first time with the first truly laugh out loud episode (for me). It was the first episode that truly reminded me of one of my favorite comedic masterpieces, Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, with its quick-witted humor and better pacing. Amagi Brilliant Park had suffered to some slack pacing and potted “serious” sequences in the past, but at last it hit a comedic high that proved to be the funniest thing I’ve seen this past week.
Finally, the always gorgeous, regret-tinged Mushi-shi earns a somewhat lower place this week than in the past. The idea behind the story was great, but the solution was a bit perfunctory and pat compared to previous episodes. Mushi-shi works best when the atmosphere works hand-in-hand with the balanced, nuanced message that each episode is supposed to deliver—often about people who refuse to let go of their pasts. So far, the somewhat more positive tone of this season has been handled brilliantly, but it falters here just slightly. I am confident it will continue to be on my ballots in weeks to come, however.
—Psycho Pass takes a turn toward the jarring and confusing, after an extremely violent episode. We are beginning to see some of Tow Ubukata’s weaknesses on display–its approach felt like, in some ways, the rather muddled final episode of Ghost in the Shell: Arise. I felt curiously unsatisfied by the end, especially with the video game-based twist. Ender’s Game this is not.
–The Sabagebu OVA sadly dispenses with a lot of what made the original series funny (Momoka’s meanness and the surprising twists in plot, plus the narrator) in favor of self-aware fan service. It doesn’t improve things that much to proclaim how much you know it’s an OVA special, guys.
—Fate Stay/Night: UBW is solid, but unremarkable at this point. The battle scenes were well-drawn as always, and it’s always nice to see Rin being tsundere, but I thought this was going to be more about her rather than Shirou. Shirou isn’t as annoying as he was in the original anime, at least, and the appearance of Rider was welcome, albeit brief. But other shows provided more kick this week.
For those who don’t know, the Anime Power Ranking is a vote on anibloggers’ favorite anime episodes of the week. It’s compiled by kadian1365 of The Nihon Review. Members of the APR submit their top 5 episode choices by Sunday evening, and additional comments are encouraged and sometimes quoted in the result posts.
I ended up writing so much in my additional comments for my ballot that I figured I might as well make it a post (and probably turn this into a weekly feature).
Here’s my ballot for the week:
Your Lie in April, episode 4
Mushi-shi 2, episode 3
Rage of Bahamut, episode 4
Psycho Pass 2, episode 4
Shirobako, episode 4
Dammit, I don’t care about theemergingconsensus against KimiUso/Your Lie in April–I’m putting it on the top of my list for this week, for the strength of the musical performance again and for dramatizing, in immediate terms, what being on stage felt like at that age. It hits me right in the gut, and both reminds me of and redeems my own memories of freezing up on stage. I’m going to be writing more about KimiUso later this week, so stay tuned for more developed thoughts about it and the controversy that’s engulfed it.
Mushi-shi would have been at the top were it not for KimiUso’s star turn. It was a fine, and arguably stronger, counterpart to the previous episode, steeped in the atmosphere of folklore that gives it such resonance. I kept thinking of the W.B. Yeats poem “The Stolen Child” and the stories of children being replaced by faeries. No one else is doing anything like this in anime.
Bahamut manages to top itself with some truly swashbuckling, pirate ship action, the equal of any Hollywood blockbuster starring Johnny Depp. It’s going to need more character development soon though. I like my well-directed spectacle as much as anyone, but it’ll take more to win my heart.
Back to controversial opinions: I’m also going to defend the latest Psycho Pass, which was indeed more graphic than usual but brought home of the stakes of the show’s central conflicts like nothing before. Ubukata doesn’t mince words or action, the way Urobuchi sometimes did.
Finally, Shirobako enters my list for the first time. It always got the detail and the frenetic atmosphere right, sometimes at the expense of comprehension. But this was the first episode that slowed down and took its time with its central characters, allowing us to see both the hardship and the camaraderie of being in the anime industry effectively. Plus, I’m beginning to finally get everyone’s names and faces straight…I think this show is only going to grow on me more and more.
Honorable Mention that I couldn’t enter: Watamote OVA. Shin Oonuma strikes again with some truly interesting directing (borrowing a technique he used on episode 1 of Dusk Maiden, showing both the poignant and ridiculous/pathetic sides of the Tomoko character. Plus there was a hilarious parody of Evangelion in the beginning, with Tomoko as Gendo. Gendomike approves.
And finally, to close the 12 Days series for 2013 here at Anime Diet, we bring you this year’s works written, co-written, or story supervised by Gen Urobuchi–and their increasingly cheesy 3/4 mark twists! Needless to say, spoilers abound for Psycho-Pass, Gargantia, and Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion! Leave now if you wish to remain plot virgins.
First, to start off the year, there’s Psycho-Pass. Much has been made of the seemingly omnipotent Sybil System, which determines whether a person is fit to be in society or be stuck in brainwashing therapy. Eventually of course, we were going to find out who or what that System was. And eventually, Urobuchi gives us the answer:
The vat of brains is actually not so surprising. What makes it unbearably cheesy, though, is whose brains those are: it’s the brains of psychopaths. The Psycho-Pass system is being run…by psychopaths. Get it? Get it??? And it’s up to, uh, Kana Hanazawa to stop them. From within, of course.
Next, we have Gargantia. Actually, this twist, about the true history and origin of the Hideauze, is probably the least problematic out of the bunch this year. We were set up quite early on with the idea that the Hideauze were sacred to the people of Gargantia, that Ledo’s militaristic society was not entirely to be trusted, and that somebody is hiding something. That’s par for the course for an Urobuchi story. And the big reveal was, all things considered, smoothly told through found footage and old documentaries, though even right before Ledo sees them, this shot pretty much gave the game away:
And true to his unofficial “Urobutcher” nickname, the baby Hideauze are soon slaughtered indiscriminately, with one particularly moe one squeezed to death, Eva-style, complete with requisite scream but minus the BL overtones/fujoshi bait. This is supposed to be brutal and shocking, but for a veteran anime watcher steeped in the cliches of the past 20 years, it was also eye-rollingly typical.
Finally, we have what was clearly intended to be some kind of tour-de-force by Urobuchi, Shinbo, and the rest of SHAFT of their sacred cow: Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion. Up until the 3/4 mark, we have been taken through a thematically consistent continuation of the series, which both expands and reiterates the central themes of the TV series: the limits of good intentions, the sadness and despair that can drive a person beyond the edge, and the redeeming power of unconditional love. We once again see the grand, tearjerking irony of the protagonist and would-be savior, Homura, instead become the saved through the ministration of Madoka, the very embodiment of the Universal Law (of Cycles). It was, in short, a genuinely Madoka Magica story.
Then, we get this, at the very moment when salvation is literally at hand:
Homura, seemingly inexplicably, yanks Logos Madoka’s outstretched hand, and drags her down from heaven so she can wholly possess her, and in so doing, becomes, also literally, an incarnation of evil. (Her words.) The movie, which looked almost done, goes on for another half hour, as it slowly dawns on the audience that the story is far from over and that more movies and/or series are coming.
Granted, this twist, which upset many fans and seems driven by commercial than artistic desires, is more on Shinbo than Urobuchi. He cooperated, however, long enough to pen Madoka: Rebellion, though he appears to have washed his hands of the franchise altogether and will not write any more stories in that series. (Source: this interview, translated by feral_phoenix.) Perhaps so he can go and make more Psycho-Pass and continue, with mixed success, to gain cyberpunk cred by quoting William Gibson and Nietzsche over and over again.
Does this make Gen Urobuchi the M. Night Shyamalan of anime? Well, he hasn’t sunk quite that low yet–it would take a disaster of epic proportions to approach the depths of The Last Airbender. And Urobuchi rarely works alone, so the blame can be justifiably shared with many others. Nevertheless, judging from the stories that came at least partly out of his imagination this year, I’m going to be looking at his future work and expecting the moment where I can say: WHATTA TWEEST!
A lot of words have already been shared regarding Production IG’s big return to dystopian sci-fi, PSYCHO-PASS, so a part of me felt like there was little else I could truly contribute to the conversation — That is, until a number of things began to collectively gnaw at me over the course of watching it. In the weeks before the first episode aired, and thereby began streaming, much noise was made about this being the return of writer Gen Urobuchi (this time with Blood C movie’s Naoyoshi Shiotani as director). Coupled this along with the team taking on what many (on the internet) had labeled a hardcore cyberpunk cop show. With such a word being so liberally attached, it seemed inevitable that one would have to see just how close the show came to capturing the spirit of such a relic of its time, and a personal favorite place to visit in book form. And while mentioned, I was quite ready to be taken in by the world of the series, it may troublesome that I report that Psycho-Pass is about as cyberpunk as a bowl of noodles, and nowhere near as involving.
Set in yet another dank, and hyper-technological future Tokyo, society is now largely governed by an all-knowing form of artificial intelligence known as SIBIL. The supercomputer has gained enough control over the lives of the citizens that it is capable of determining not only the roles in which we play in the world of employment, but it can also monitor the individual psyche, watching over it to the level that it may deem thoughts and behavior dangerous, or at the very least, borderline. The form of law enforcement that ensues is not unlike the world of Minority Report, where the police are tasked with preventing violent crimes before they happen. And the shared method by which all citizens are checked within this system, is by way of their Crime Coefficiency, which is essentially reflected in their Psycho-Pass, a card that is meant to maintain a clean and healthy blue, otherwise placing those in possession in danger of capture by the CID-a police agency that has the unique function of working as handlers for what are known as “Enforcers”. Often former captured violators, and borderline cases, they do the dirty work of what used to be the realm of officers and detectives. In pursuit of new, potentially dangerous perpetrators, the final judgment comes almost DREDD-style, on site by way of the supercomputer networked sidearms of Enforcers known as Dominator. These modular, multi-purpose guns can deem a suspect worthy of numerous types of judgments that range from “apprehend” to “kill” upon target-sight recognition.
As the show begins, the CID has received a new recruit in the form of Akane Tsunemori, a seemingly ordinary young lady now appointed to the role of Inspector. We are swiftly introduced to her assigned team of Enforcers, ranging in ages and genders, but the quiet, almost sullen Kogami Shinya seems to bear something of a troubled past that haunts and attracts Tsunemori, as she becomes better acquainted with the world of preventative psycho-crime fighting. Her beliefs are constantly put to the test, as the criminals and the program itself come to challenge some of humanity’s most basic attributes & instincts. This is the urban hellscape of Psycho-Pass, and it is in little way of what the internet claims it to be.(And, no. Making backhanded references to Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic, as well as the domestic use of the Eye-Phone and VR gloves, do not a cyberpunk show make.)
Something was bothering me from the opening moments of the series, and continued throughout until they finally began hitting me like a tactical strike. After several episodes, I have come to the conclusion that Urobuchi tends to focus more on the emotional immediacy of a situation, rather than the logic of it, which is something of a strange choice considering the world and the story he is attempting to tell. There are patches of dialogue here that reflect something far more akin to fantasy, or atypical anime.
“I realize you’re strangely connected to him by fate.” – Yeah, this has something closer to fantasy in mind that anything. As non-cyberpunk as it gets, really.
Even for Production IG, a studio famous for producing dense, yet entertaining hard science fiction, this is something of a steep slip downward, as the contradictions of subject matter and approach are loud enough to render a lot of what occurs within the majority of the series pretty toothless. If Urobuchi is attempting to comment upon contemporary Japan’s seemingly inevitable role in Kurzweil’s Singuarity, then it’s not serving anything but an alarmist’s position, which is de-facto for most mainstream takes on our co-existence with technology. And I guess that’s the central culprit in what doesn’t work. For a proper system like this to function, there has to be the human element that manages matters on higher levels, as opposed to letting SIBIL handle everything. (If this is indeed a point that is intentionally being made, then it is a pretty hamfisted way making a condemnation of our current relationship with technology managing our daily lives.)
On to the two large blocks that hinder my personal enjoyment of Psycho-Pass:
One- The Audience Surrogate Is a Problem
In stories such as these, the more accessible approach is to create a character that represents a window for us to better understand the world of the story, and empathize with their reactions to it. Tsunemori, while clearly made to appeal to certain demographics, does not work in this universe simply because I cannot reconcile that someone this pure and naive about the system would ever be made Inspector. Early scenes indicate that she is not even familiar with the Dominator system, as well as how to handle Enforcers. When she later asserts that she is far more familiar in spirit to her ragtag bunch of street cops, it only makes SIBIL look incredibly dumb. And while the bespectacled Inspector Ginoza informs her that they are short on work numbers, this in no way excuses the clear lack of understanding of the job and what it entails. Being that the show begins “en media res” amidst an incident with a potentially bloody violent psychopath on stims, one might assume here that the show was rushed into production, and a prologue was omitted from an early draft. Because if Tsunemori herself were initially appointed by SIBIL to work in data analysis, only to be drafted into the streets by way of error, this would make a whole lot more sense. As it stands? Either a bad committee idea, or forced move by an angry writer. Either way, it’s patently absurd.
Two- Dominator Judgment System(and in turn, SIBIL): Counter-effective
Seriously. A established system that has functioned uncontested for years must be so with good reason, no matter how speculative. Especially when dealing with something as far-reaching and for the public good as law enforcement, this is crucial. So when we leave a green character with a perfectly clean psycho pass like Tsunemori to be able to temper something as overt as Dominator’s judgment system without getting a little distressed, it’s a recipe for creating that which you condemn. It isn’t as if the gun’s use of lethal force is clinical, or even efficient. The damned thing fires, ultimately liquifying the target, leaving human parts in a Jackson Pollack-esque splatter on the floor. Call me silly, but to think that such a mess would have zero effect on your enforcement officials is more than a little questionable.
And these two elements alone lead to what is famously known as “shaky foundation, shaky roof”. It doesn’t matter how much a writer tries to cover up these elements after the fact, these niggling details fly in the face of what could have been something more than a petty Shock-A-Minute, which would have been fine if it had a lot more fun with the premise.
Since the days of The Terminator, it has long been the cliche of many a screenwriter to take the human element out of an essentially human-borne dilemma, laying blame upon technology for our greater ills. Psycho-Pass does what it can to swing the needle in an opposing direction, but in the end, the real villain is the central network that overlooks an often messy remains of civilization. Touches such as the drones who walk the rainy streets bearing overtly friendly holographic costumes over their rolling trash can chassis throws it back into almost “Cool Japan” criticism, being that nothing can be taken as remotely serious by the metropolitan population without being glossed over with a “kawaii” mask to lighten any altercation in plain sight. The need for denial to be cast writ-large over humanity’s less than desirable sides is a nice touch, but is often undermined again by the more obvious problems inherent in the central plot. If the world of Psycho-Pass is to be one where those who mete out a greater need for harmony, then isn’t it imperative that they understand the system before being brought into a clearly dense & dangerous fold? To be fair, the core theme of the series seems to be that technology is inherently bad, because it is a reflection of us. And while that may seem balanced on the surface, it never feels as though the rainy, bloody streets of Psycho-Pass’ Tokyo is any different from the funhouse of mirrors planet of Puella Magi Madoka Magika. It’s a mix that simply doesn’t work as well here.
Where Madoka existed in a more flexible, metaphorical universe, Psycho-Pass does not, and thus has less excuses to play fast and loose. It’s no secret that many a film scribe tends to revisit similar themes within their work, often with the best ones exhibiting a certain knowledge about the trappings of each world to make the themes click on a deeper level, It just seems like the team behind this show seems to have a lot less grasp on what they are telling. I say this because I don’t want to feel like dropping this completely on Urobuchi’s lap, although it should most likely do so. With this show, it’s pretty clear where his strengths are, and it isn’t here. While there are many eyebrows-raising moments to be experienced in this series, far too much of it feels like window dressing to cover up a certain lack of depth within the world and narrative. In the end, a lot of the package feels pretty shallow.
In the end, the dystopian nightmare presented here is done do with less a reverence for the type of fiction made famous by names such as Gibson & Stephenson, and more a general lack of trust in our collective ability to manipulate it for greater reasons. It is not so much interested in the science, so much as the morality of living in a globally networked world. It is the antithesis of cyberpunk, it is a didactic dystopian fable punctuated by some frustratingly on-the-nose writing, and a lot of forced logic. When characters who are presented as experts in enforcing the law, one would expect certain hazards to be part of the everyday. But within a world where SIBIL exists, it seems like the very core purpose it is hamstrung on nearly all fronts. For a procedural to function, it’s imperative that these rules are well understood by all parties. Apparently someone forgot to tell the writer..
BTW- Did anyone else squee over the casting of Noriko Hidaka as Dominator? I did.
Finished Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and the remaining of this year, we only have Xmas to go, but I want to celebrate Yurismas instead! The day of Yuri! Oh yes, Goddess of Yuri is clearly Virgin Mary, Marimite. Lolita, Lola, Dolores, Maria de los dolores. Continue reading War On Yurismas! Psycho-pass→
I wrote about my thoughts on Cyberpunk in a paper back in 2007! http://animediet.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/cyberpunk-anime.doc , and I must say, I’ve become much dumber and can’t carry on an intelligent conversation like that. In addition, the entire article or parts of it = tl;dr. But after years of yearning, I can’t believe (Hallelujah), they finally made another hard core Cyberpunk anime…
Why do people commit crimes? What makes people “good” to begin with, and are some people just born to be “bad”? The debate is as old as philosophy, religion, and ethics, and Gen Urobuchi—one of the most thoughtful screenwriters in anime today, and who has broached such subjects before in previous series—once again tackles the question in his new anime, Psycho Pass.