ef~a tale of memories continues its march toward artistic and romantic harmony with this episode, which in many ways is about the beginning of the stages of writing–no wonder it’s called “Outline.” I should know, because like Chihiro, I myself have written far more outlines and half-finished stories than completed ones, and it is the outlining process which gives the most joy and pleasure. Even though, in the case of Chihiro’s story, it is a reflection of terrible pain and sadness; it is her cry of life nonetheless.
I wasn’t totally idle in my hospital stay! I managed to finish reading the Welcome to the NHK novel by Tatsuhiko Takimoto, published in the United States by Tokyopop. The anime version of this story was one of my favorites of 2006 and is in part responsible for the very existence of this website, and I was curious as how this novel, which predates both the manga and the anime, would fare in comparison. The contrasts and similarities are instructive.
This is quickly shaping up to be not only the most original, but also the most ambitious show of the season. Shinbo is definitely going to be heavily represented in the Originality Awards at the end of this year…and, if the emotional promise that this show makes is delivered, it just might be one of the more meaningful and affecting ones too.
I think Owen’s right: the beginning of a new season seems to make anime bloggers like me dumber. Already I’ve begun building up a track record of unfair initial reviews, like my Kimikiss one, and trumpeted shows that later disappointed me. ef-a tale of memories is a show that I pretty much dissed just yesterday (though I’d seen episode 1 several days back), and I’m already having to backtrack on my opinion after seeing episode 2…I’m warming to it in a somewhat similar manner in the way I warmed to Clannad by episode 2.
It’s been a long time indeed since an entire anime series has moved through my life so rapidly–in this case, in the space of a week and a half from start to completion, for a full 26 episodes no less. That already tells you something about this infectious, frequently hilarious, and satisfying comedy, which has just enough heart to make it genuinely sweet as well. For once, the harem show has been done right.
The Massacre arc, as one might expect, lives up to its title in this, the concluding episode. But the feeling at the end is that the rules of the game have changed forever, and that there is indeed a way out of the darkness. If it indeed possible to find some kind of hope in the midst of death, Rika sees it at last.
Claymore is a show that’s hard to define. The manga is easier to define. The manga is intelligent through and through. Its emotional impact is consistent and the plots are always good.
In my opinion the anime doesn’t lose to the manga in these departments. But because some kind of closure is necessary for a TV show, it kind of hurried itself a little bit and almost takes the easy way out.
It starts out as a simple show about demons eating people and warriors paid to destroy them. But it grows into something deep and thoughtful that explores human weakness and things that people do to act strong despite the inherent weakness in human beings.
All the pain, suffering, and disappoints are necessary for growth in a world filled with evil, and these things are the essential fuel to fight against the cause of evil. The demons are just allegories of evils in the world that cause people to do things to others in order to feel better, or to have the feeling of resolution. One evil causes another, one destroyed family in term, causes the death of a loved one, a destruction of another family, a trip for a person to the insanity of soldiers’ dark side, and then finally it leads to a squire’s receiving of a precious gift.
At its best, this show even echoes themes in Lord of the Rings, at its worst, at least this show doesn’t provide an easy way out of everything, pain, hate, suffering, and all that’s wrong with its world.
Warriors come and go, but some of them leave deep marks in our hearts by their loyalty and a sense of debt and duty. These warriors never die, they just fade away into the distant underworld.
We can only hope they shall reach the Elysian Fields reserved for those who are honorable, and have fallen in battle against the dark forces so foul and strong that normal humans fall hopelessly under their flesh tearing appendixes.
The living warriors walk on, learning from their mistakes, surviving under the policy that their cruel masters make while disregarding their lives. The decisions of the organization have sent many warriors to their needless deaths.
These warriors – Claymores, fighting under extraneous circumstances, misunderstood and sometimes hurt by the very people they risk their lives to protect, and being overused and thrown away by their masters, still walk upright and proud, attacking demons encountered, supporting one another when the pain of growth and transformation frightens their tender, caring and passionate souls, and mourn over the gravestone made hastily with the large sword over the body of their fallen comrades – some of which are loved by others, and definitely will be missed by the observers (us).
But others will not be remembered at all. They will truly fade into the recesses of the dark world that we the viewers are fortunate enough to get glimpses of.
I gasped at Teresa’s death; I bit my lower lip when Ophelia finally understood her brother’s last wish; I screamed and mourned at Jeane’s sacrificial last act for Clare.
I applauded at Clare’s strength in her heart; I admired Teresa for her ease and elegance at slaying the evil ones; I saluted Irene for her offering of friendship and her remaining arm.
Although this show doesn’t have the intricacies of Lord of the Rings, but it has certainly played the chords of my emotional strings delicately and yet shockingly.
I shall be in a certain kind of despair at missing the show but also a certain kind of satisfaction as I look on with the Claymores to the future – in which they shall encounter many more trials and troubles, and fight through it all, being the better humans with stout hearts beating inside their chests and hot blood running through their veins.
“If it were possible, let not one warrior here perish.” Amen.
99% recommended for your daily anime diet because I’m biased. So sue me.
And so the most intelligent and exciting action anime to come along in a while closes its most extensive arc yet, with plenty of room for more seasons to come. (Though my hopes that Yukio, the schoolgirl Yakuza boss, might become a recurring character were, alas, not to be.) The reflective dialogue in this and the previous episodes lifts Black Lagoon into the ranks of the more intelligent action genre films like Michael Mann’s Heat or Collateral. This is also a show that isn’t afraid to develop characters very well, only to kill them off –arguably, Yukio is better sketched than mainstays Rock and Revy, though here we get to see a very, very vulnerable (for her) side of Revy. She’s back in character by the very last scene but we get the impression that when she says “If it were anyone but you, I’d have put two or three holes in you” it is as close to a love confession as she will ever come to.
Some of the broader issues Black Lagoon brings up are very interesting. Rock throughout the show, though more at the beginning, represents “civilian” values or perhaps more precisely the point of view of someone accustomed to comfort and unused to the brutally utilitarian underworld. The show, usually through the voices of Revy and Balalaika, works hard to undermine that viewpoint as being naive and arbitrary (though I wonder: Revy, ostensibly a nonbeliever, blurts out in episode 23 that the only thing that saved Rock’s skin was “God’s grace” and Balalaika’s surprising mercy). Eventually Rock adopts many of the values of the underworld, though never without completely losing any sense of compassion. It’s as if he has come to some sort of balance, of a sort, able to act decisively and coldly when necessary, but without becoming a war addict like Balalaika.
If one wants to push it a bit one can see a little of the realization that the pacifistic attitude among many modern Japanese is based less on principle and more on denial. I certainly agree, if the naive pacifism of many an anime is any indicator of general attitudes in Japan. Now I’m not sure the violent cynicism that passes for cool in this show–a very American attitude, I might add, and one which will make this show very easy to swallow for fans of films like Pulp Fiction and The Boondock Saints–is any better, but it certainly has a better claim on reality, I think. (The characters, Yakuza schoolgirl and Revy included, are also self-aware enough to admit that part of them longs for the flabby tranquility that Rock’s Japan stands for.) I also find it interesting that the prevailing attitude of most of the characters in the show is that they are beyond help, beyond any point where they can change their paths. This fatalistic attitude, laden with notions of “destiny,” is what seems more “Japanese” about it; Americans are more inclined to think that “it’s never too late to start again!” But everyone in this show already considers themselves as living in the twilight, as living dead. The Sartre quotations are oddly appropriate; the existentialist despair that pervades this show demands nothing less. There’s nothing left except to make one’s own meaning and go all the way, guns blazing.
More excellent analysis of this final episode is here.
So: Black Lagoon ends fittingly, with a gun shot, with the characters returning to their posts and ready for more adventures. May they go on many more than we otaku fanboys can see. Preferably with her:
I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of recent anime have been about, or targeted directly to, otaku. Genshiken and Comic Party are about fandom; Haruhi Suzumiya and other “moesploitation” shows cater to otaku fetishes (even if it’s with a wink and a nod); the Densha Otoko phenomenon has even glamorized otaku for a moment in the general culture. Into this increasingly crowded field steps Welcome to the NHK, a show that introduces itself as a darkly comic variant of the first type of show, but only as a wedge to open up bigger, more universal issues. I came in expecting to laugh, perhaps in pity or contempt, at the patheticness of shut-in Satou and his mountains of porn and crumpled tissues. I ended up seeing a group of ordinary, lonely people struggling and often failing to make real connections. People who frequently give up entirely because that’s what lots of people do, but people I grew to care about enough that it hurt to see them fail, and for whom even a small triumph is a cause for minor celebration.
Continue reading Review: Welcome to the NHK!