Tag Archives: shin oonuma

WataMote 7: Voices

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Summary

Summer vacation has started, and isolated Tomoko–true to herself–does not bother going out of her room, choosing to while away the hours in front of a computer, a book, listening to more fantasy boys on MP3, playing games…and kvetching late at night, to the continued annoyance of her brother. Eventually even she realizes that she’s wasting her time, so she orders a webcam and attempts to start a streaming live show, only to discover that she has little to say that’s funny or entertaining to an outside audience. Her experiment with webcam stardom ends in failure.

By chance, however, she discovers that she has a ticket to a handsome voice actor’s meet-and-greet, where fans have an opportunity to have him record a line for them. Smitten by the possibilities, Tomoko freakishly prepares for the event, only to discover that she is utterly unprepared when it’s her turn to give him her desired lines. He handles it like the pro that he is, however, and soon Tomoko has an entire collection of his lines to tickle her ears, which she then proceeds to edit together with some of her “responses” into a suggestive audio play. Which, of course, her mother overhears because Tomoko plugged her headphones into the wrong jack.

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Thoughts

This was the most hilarious episode of WataMote to hit in a while, and it’s all thanks to the way Oonuma builds up the episode. One might argue that the first third or half was slow-paced and boring–we essentially watch the passage of time as Tomoko spends most of her day inside her room consuming media (an experience many of us, myself included, are all too familiar with on vacation days). It’s only mildly punctuated with her night-time noises. But what is happening is a slow windup, which builds throughout the webcam story and which culminates with the voice actor recording. By the last third I was in a constant state of hilarity. The ridiculousness of the situation only becomes apparent over time and makes the payoff of the final scene that much sweeter.

One might also judge this episode as a win for Tomoko, given the parameters of the story. She essentially has her fantasies and desires fulfilled: in this case, getting to do what she wants in her room, meeting one of her idols and getting him to do what she wanted, and even using a bit of creativity to take that product and make it her own. Sure, the live stream was a failure, though the camera’s microphone was put to use; sure, her mother found out, but, much like her father did when she was discovered with an eroge and a vibrator, her mother just backs away and lets her be. One can debate whether a good parent should do such a thing, of course, and it was certainly embarrassing, but given all her past humiliations she got let off mighty easy in this episode.

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There is one scene that was woven into the narrative that was a short, separate chapter in the manga: the one where Tomoki (the brother) sees his mother watching tapes of him and Tomoko as small children, when they loved each other and were affectionate to one another. He even declared he wanted to marry her then! His reaction, of course, is one of mortal embarrassment, but I found the scene to also contain an undercurrent of sadness too, given the contrast to their much more antagonistic current relationship. Oonuma, however, never gives in to playing up the sentimental parts too hard in WataMote, so the most we are given as a sign of reconciliation is him watching Tomoko from his window as she lights fireworks by herself.  This realistic emotional understatement is a refreshing contrast to the likes of, oh, another just-concluded show about brothers and sisters that ran in the opposite direction. Both, oddly enough, have insufferable sisters who are at times barely tolerated by their brothers: but in this one, the sister is the subject rater than the object, and the difference could not be more stark in execution.

There’s also something in this episode about the obsessive nature of fandom and producing vs consuming media, but I’ll leave that discussion to my upcoming article/review of that other brother/sister show.

What a difference context makes.
What a difference context makes.

WataMote 6: Delusions of Grandeur

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EVA REFERENCES FTW

Summary

Tomoko suddenly looks…cuter? So she thinks, after a round of otome games seems to make her lose the bags under her eyes. Her newfound confidence, fueled by the belief that girls become cuter when they fall in love and horoscope predictions, carries over into the school day–and isn’t even stopped when she accidentally leads a colony of ants into her pants. Along the way, a couple of boys try to pick off the ants crawling over her, which she misinterprets as friendly overtures: boys are flocking to her! The problem only worsens, but she barely recognizes it as she splashes Coke all over herself, making the ant problem more severe. Only her brother seems to recognize what’s going on, and he’s not impressed.

Then, in an attempt to get a date to watch the fireworks, Tomoko conceives of elaborate plans to target potential loners in the library–all of which are much more complicated than simply asking them to come with her. Her first plot, to talk to one of the girls, is thwarted by the appearance of her friends, who are the typical sort of “bitches” Tomoko disdains. Her next subject, a nerdy boy reading a book, is supposed to be enticed by a fake performance she gives about not having anyone to go with, in the hopes he will overhear and ask her out. He does not. So she ends up on the roof to watch the fireworks, all by herself, when finally two middle school boys show up. Shyly, she asks if she can stay with them, and they consent–only to be not watching the fireworks in the sky, but the fireworks happening in the love hotel across the street between a couple. This, at last, seems to give Tomoko some joy.

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She really is an innocent, in the end.

Thoughts

This show actually seems to get sadder with every passing episode. Am I the only one who feels this way?

This one is particularly sad because it’s so full of delusions: full of scenes Tomoko thinking she’s succeeded when she’s hasn’t. Though she does look cute(r) without the characteristic bags under her eyes–you wonder if all she really just needs is a little bit more sleep–she continues to rely on specious theories she reads on the Internet or from horoscopes to determine her next steps to becoming more popular. The dramatic irony gets taken to new extremes in this episode, and, as we are at the series’ halfway point, the contrast is starting to look more and more distressing.

It also threatens, as some viewers have already concluded, to become a bit monochromatic and static. There appears to be no narrative arc or much change to Tomoko. Having read the manga now, I know this is not destined to change much should Oonuma choose to remain faithful to it, though he does seem to be ordering manga chapters in a deliberate way that might lead to some sort of character trajectory…it remains to be seen. This is one of those instances where one hopes that the director will exercise some aesthetic and narrative judgment in order to actually improve on the original work, just like the way the anime of Honey and Clover actually made it more than the sum of the manga’s parts and Sankarea added more character depth.

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ef~a tale of mendacities one tells oneself

I keep on, however, because while Tomoko keeps digging herself into a deeper hole, there are more and more scenes where the sympathy also grows. Oonuma even pulls out an old shot from the ef series to illustrate her loneliness, and the tone of each episode since the 4th raunchy one has been notably quieter. Non-comedy tears are beginning to form in her eyes. Earnest moments are still undercut by final punchlines, especially in the last moment of the episode with the love hotel, but the more serious parts are also more emphatic than before. The final ED, an old song sung by Hatsune Miku, is more wistful than anything else. As sad as Tomoko is, I want her to succeed even just a little, at least at the end. There has to be hope for loners like her, right? Or, to put it more bluntly, for a lot of people like us?

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It’s always about more than fireworks.

But I also remember the anime ending I hated the most, the one for Saikano. I hated it because I found it utterly nihilistic, and the nihilism came from its delusional aspect, where the character was thinking/imagining one thing but reality was another. Strictly speaking, I’m not of the opinion that a nihilistic work is necessarily a bad piece of art. Saikano was nothing but consistent, a work of integrity. But ultimately it’s an attitude/stance toward the world that I cannot ever pretend to like or appreciate personally, because I think it’s destructively one-sided. Tomoko, after all, wants what everyone wants: to be loved. We can appreciate and laugh at the foolish things people do for love–we’ve all done it ourselves–but ultimately that desire itself shouldn’t be mocked. Tomoko may be a figure of fun, but for a viewer like me, she’s also recognizably human in her basic needs and wants. That deserves some respect.

It’s still too early to tell what direction this anime adaptation will take with the static source material. I see hints of it going either in a more reflective direction and also it staying the same. Oonuma-san: it’s in your hands now.

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This, potentially, could be the saddest image in the series. Especially how it’s presented like a commercial.

WataMote 5: Personae

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Summary

In her never ending quest to become more popular, Tomoko attempts three different personality changes: first, inspired by an anime, she tries to become a Yuki Nagato-like “expressionless character.” Not only does it make her even more outcast–silence is natural for someone who’s all alone anyway–it ends up making some people (like her brother) angrier or bewildered (the handsome barista). Apparently that personality only works if a guy is already hanging around you. Next, she attempts to follow other smiling cute couples and get a picture taken at the purikura booth, but after being denied by her friend Yuu and her brother, she ends up going alone, and making only grotesque faces instead. Finally, Tomoko believes that becoming a hostess will improve her social skills, and gets herself ready for the role by learning to light a lighter and mix drinks–only to find out that the red light district of Kabuki-cho isn’t so innocent and friendly.

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Thoughts

This episode is more subdued compared to last week’s extreme situations and raunchy humor, and it highlights one of Tomoko’s key problems: she thinks that a single big change, or a single personality shift, will solve all her problems. While some of this owes more to the structure of the gag-per-chapter original manga, it’s also a perennial temptation for many people who are stuck in bad situations: if only I had x, then I’d… What’s also interesting is that in two of the scenarios, they were both inspired by what Tomoko saw on TV: an anime and a talk show interview. As an otaku, media actually is very influential in Tomoko’s life, informing her fantasy life (hence the reference to AkiraHaruhi Suzumiya, and other shows) and what she considers solutions to her problems.

Her treatment of her brother Tomoki appears to be worsening. She seems to be in the habit of stealing his food and drink–ramen last week, his sports drink this time–and even her lame attempts to be nice usually end up backfiring. Tomoki reacts with predictable irritation and now puts her in a face lock. I remember watching my teenage cousins–also an older sister and younger brother pair–get along not much better, so this sort of interaction is based in reality, minus Tomoko’s doubtlessly anime-fueled attempts to get Tomoki to do things by saying “but it’s your sister…” (Welcome to a non sis-con world, otaku girl. It’s sad that this is actually refreshing in light of all the recent anime trends, but I’ll take what we can get.) I’m beginning to feel more pity for him now than ever before. Enduring someone like Tomoko on a daily basis would try anyone’s patience, and he’s starting to lose it.

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There are some bravura Oonuma directorial moves in this episode, though less on the spastic faces this time and more on the way the scenery moves. The sparer emotional mood, which depends less on outrageousness this time, actually feels somewhat sadder than before. I felt a pang of sympathy when Tomoko fell down at the Starbucks, spilling her terrible concoction of condimented coffee. On the other hand, her bad attitude toward Tomoki is getting less admirable by the episode, which is a reminder that as hapless as she is, she’s also incredibly self-absorbed. It exists alongside her painful self-consciousness and attempts to be someone she’s not, an effort which is always going to end in failure if one isn’t a fantastic actor or actress. The strain is too much. So many of us learned that the hard way in our teenage years. The cost of fitting in is often higher than can be paid.

The Short Review: Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

The anime adaptation of Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (Tasogare Otome x Amnesia) is a lot like its title character, Yuuko: both have wild, inconsistent mood swings and moments where you wonder whether you’re still watching the same person, or show. The clumsy cobbling together of different moods and genres makes for a mediocre anime series.

The staff pedigree of Dusk Maiden held out some promise. Silver Link, the spin-off studio headed by SHAFT veteran and Shinbo acolyte Shin Oonuma (ef~a tale of memories/melodies), did a fine job with the Baka Test series in combining quirky humor, Oonuma’s Shinbo-esque visual stylings, and even the occasional serious scene.Maiden’sfirst episode, while gimmicky, promised at least some degree of cleverness in directing and approach. However, in retrospect, the basic strengths and weaknesses of the series were apparent even then: annoying side characters. Yuuko’s mostly appealing capriciousness, occasionally undermined by unnecessary fanservice. A rather diffident, blank slate of a male lead, the sort others have labeled “Insert-kun” or “Yuuji Everylead.”

The promise that is implicit at the beginning of every show, of course, is that we will see changes as it goes on. With the exception of Yuuko, the characters more or less remain the same as they were in episode 1. Our two leads fall in love, of course, though all of the personality and development is on Yuuko’s side. She is the most varied and thus interesting character, though the transitions between her moods are often clumsily handled; she is, in short, the most human character. And she’s dead.

The best moments in this show are simple ones like this.

Only two points seem to make Dusk Maiden stand out. First is Oonuma’s directorial technique, which was first shown to the world as being uniquely suited to portraying trauma in ef, and used to both comedic and dramatic effect in Baka Test. He repeats the performance in the single great episode of this series, episode 10—the flashback to Yuuko’s past. Oonuma’s ability to blend subjective and objective viewpoints, to actually show the fractured feeling of pain, is palpable. The overall way Yuuko’s light and dark halves interact is rather simplistic, but the execution of the flashback elevated it for a moment.

The second is the apparent subtext of the dark/light Yuuko story. Perhaps it is no accident that Yuuko is a ghost from the 1940s, who lives in denial of the terrible things that happened in that era, refusing to remember the acts of brutality that caused her to haunt the characters in the present. Could it be an allegory, albeit a clumsy and inexact one, of the way Japan has often been reluctant to face its own past in the Second World War and acknowledge it as part of their history? The analogy breaks down somewhat when pressed—Yuuko is the victim, not aggressor, though the images of human sacrifice cannot help but remind one of Unit 731 among other things. But Dusk Maiden is not the only series that features haunted schools from that era, and the show’s ending can be interpreted as a call to make peace with the past by taking it on directly.

That, frankly, is more interesting than what the show actually does with Yuuko’s character arc, which is a conventional anime romance marred by the standard “reset” ending, the bane of so many stories that won’t follow through on its convictions. (Even the otherwise wonderful Ano Natsu de Matteru did it.) When creators will learn that such endings destroy the emotional investment of the audience, I do not know. But that, the uneven pacing, and frequent resort to cliche preventDusk Maiden from being more than a mediocre series with occasional high points.

Short Review Rating: 7/10

12 Days, 12 Moments 2010: Male, Female, and Hideyoshi

Today’s moment is brought to you by the gender benders at Silver Link and director Shin Oonuma, who together have brought to us one of the comedy hits of the year: BakaTest. And one of the most memorable traps in recent memory: Hideyoshi.

Continue reading 12 Days, 12 Moments 2010: Male, Female, and Hideyoshi