New Column -The Habit: Part Of The Problem?

Introducing, The Habit: Musings on the viewing rituals of Wintermuted (aka. Mike Olivarez). I think I may have a problem..

Could it be that this crusty old viewer is borderline getting soft? Or is it more a matter of being acclimated? Sometimes the answer is incremental, as if certain degrees determine where a reviewer sees the oncoming product, and cannot help but be concerned when new approaches come to the fray. It hasn’t always been this way for sure, but perhaps I’ve been weaned far too long on the safe to where I can’t let go of what seems to work most often? As the new season has been well under way, it has become apparent to me that as someone who does in fact defend artistic diversity of all shapes and approaches, especially in a medium so drowned in sameness…that I seem to be more caught up by shows that do small tweaks to otherwise formulaic concepts this time around. So when a certain population of the fan community (myself included) see Hiroyuki Imaishi’s latest, and can’t seem to find the hip within the jive, I begin to wonder if we ourselves have at least a small part to blame for the medium’s evolutionary congestion. We can’t seem to get out of this mire, and yet here I am, actually watching Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt, wishing I was watching more Star Driver, or even Shinryaku! Ika Musume.

Seriously. Have the screws come loose at last or what?

It is no secret that many of my writings, whether they be for this site, or on mine, or even on The Wandering Kaijyu, I’ve often worked to shed light on some of the more strange, independently motivated pieces of work released into the ether. So when something like GAINAX’s latest leaves me colder than a bowl of naengmyeon, I begin to wonder if it is perhaps the fault of some of the more staunchly pro-originality bloggers & critics that studios continue to crank out the same mass production cheese-whiz. It isn’t often when even a well-respected anime studio takes the risk, and goes for broke in the manner that P & S has exhibited, but it also says something about how anime is digested, and by whom that shows like this come out into the world seeking their own lives as pieces of commodity.

Which isn’t to say that P & S is in any way an awful series. In fact, as I had mentioned in my Kaijyu review of the debut episode, it is an eye-raping tour de force in regards to sheer style. But in a time where excess is maligned, and originality of story should take precedence as fringe fans are what are really required in order to ensure a future, a show like this seems ill-conceived, and out of place. And yes, this remains true of the G-folk who for decades as a studio has never been known for their business savvy. But one would consider that for things to in fact improve, it is important to remain focused on the moment, and to shoot beyond mere wankery on par with Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi with sex & scat. It simply won’t do.

So what is it about the more traditional shows I’ve actually been enjoying?

See, this is where I run into trouble since so many of my previous posts run rampant with the expected grumbling about the dearth of ideas in anime today. So I offer this addendum to those wishing to cry foul at my apparent double-standard; it is not enough to have a unique idea, writing compelling stories with interesting characters is damn hard work, and I only wish to see more of this rather than mere animation fan porn. ( Think Kannagi from a few years ago. A tragic waste of great resources imho.)

There, I said it. Tropes are fine, as long as there is a sense of energy and fun to the written proceedings, which is probably why Star Driver has been fun so for for me. And even as the parade of archetypes rolls in, and the pageantry barges in like some kind of acid-laced throwback to the heyday of the so-called “edge-anime” of the late 90s, it is important to consider the writing behind the series. And since so many do not remember the name of Yoji Enokido, all I need say is FLCL, Utena, & RahXephon, and there you have it. It is pretty clear that we’re looking at a classier than normal surrealist take on not merely visual chutzpah, but in the storytelling to boot. And that is pretty exciting to consider. There is an economy of talent that can in fact turn in Studio Bones’ favor should this series continue in this manner.

And really, this is what it is all about for me. Economy of talent, which also…strangely..shows up in some of the least expected places. Had you asked me a few weeks ago regarding the story of Masahiro Anbe’s Shinkyraku! Ika Musume coming to Crunchyroll, I would have scoffed like so many an anime hipster. Flash forward to now, and I’m eating those notions with a giant, Pee-Wee Herman-sized spoon. As stupid as the premise truly is [Squid Girl, embittered by the carelessness of land dwelling humans declares invasion by disrupting a beachside noodle shop, only to become an employee, and friend to the proprietors-See? SEE?], it is the clever combination of fun writing (some by scribe Michiko Yokote), and clever animation that sets it apart from the current pack. A show like this simply shouldn’t work, and yet it does in spite of itself.

But there is only so much guilty pleasure to spread around, which is why Imaishi has not impressed me this time around. While it does ease off on the poo-humor, it does offer a nonstop barrage of parodies of not merely US animated shows of the last ten years, but of american culture in general, which could make for some terrific cannon fodder, the problem lies largely within the format. Had this been a series of late night three-minute shorts, I probably could be more open to it, but the assault inherent in every two segment show mows over us only to become boring.-The Worst Possible Sin. Even as a longtime Dirty Pair fan, I have to still dismiss this. After all, I like my Dirty Pair story packed, and FUN. P & S, with it’s stunning colors, animation, and sugary oxygen is just exhausting, and everything but.


So perhaps some of us are in fact getting old. I know it isn’t just me. But I do feel a little bad for defending the tide this season. Revolution works in stages, and this is perhaps one of the longest in history.

5 thoughts on “New Column -The Habit: Part Of The Problem?”

  1. Wow. I don’t think Ika Musume as anything special and I like Panty and Stocking, just not raving about it. As far as Star Driver…What’s with bones and silly Mecha designs, anyway?

    Cool article, thanks!

  2. I dunno. The sillier the designs, the better in my book. XD And Ika Musume wins simply because it knows what it is, and doesn’t pander in a way that makes me want to stab my eyes out unlike most shows nowadays. :)

  3. RE: “Tropes are fine, as long as there is a sense of energy and fun to the written proceedings” — indeed! I’m all about tropes for the two anime I’m following this season and for the third one I’m retrofollowing. OreImo is the latest in terms of anime about/for otaku (following Genshiken, Welcome to the NHK!, etc.) and Iron Man is, well, Iron Man. And Bamboo Blade is just a sports anime with cute girls doing high school slice of life stuff (I’d love to see a showdown between the Keion-bu and the Kendo-bu. I think Yui & friends would still win). What I find in common with all three of these series is exactly what you pointed out — a sense of energy and fun — in that they all know what tropes they’re bringing up, what kind of audience they want to reach (but not necessarily pander to), and you can sense the fun and enthusiasm poured into their creation. I’m speaking as someone who is pretty omnivorous in the kinds of anime I watch, although I haven’t had a lot of time to watch a lot of them. I can safely say there’s no spark of genius in any one of these three series, but then again fun and enthusiasm have their own sparks and sparkles.

  4. Yeah, so it turns out I wanted to act all high-and-mighty this season and jump on the “anime-ain’t-as-great-as-in-past-seasons” train, but I find myself rather enjoying most of the fare so far. Maybe I’m just looking for mindless distraction, but I think I’m truly enjoying some of the shows, such as Ike-musume and Ore no Imouto. Futhermore, art pieces like P&S (reminiscent of Dead Leaves) have always interested me purely on an academic level. (And now let’s argue whether P&S deserves to be called art :P )

  5. @Ehrgheiz

    Well. It can be argued that all completed works completed, and shared with the public can be considered art, it’s more a matter of whether it makes an impression to last well beyond the initial exposure. As much as I’ve let it slack this season, I still find anime to be in a pretty bland place at the moment.. And even if Imaishi & pals have gone for broke with playing with animation as sandbox with P & S, it simply isn’t compelling enough to sustain my interest. For me Dead Leaves works purely due to format. As a series, it likely wouldn’t have had as much an impact on me. My issues with this show run well beyond whether or not it is inventive, but rather that it defies many of the reasons that keep me coming back to tv series. now if they had figured out a way to allow the episodes to link into each other, and carry on a throughline of some kind aside from the American kaleidoscope, then maybe i’d feel a reason to stick with it. But as it is, it’s far too grating, and uninvolving for me.

    Ika Musume..while it doesn’t win any awards, or reinvent anything, has a wily sort of spirit that is at times very missing in most comedies these days that almost reminds me of the work of Kiyohiko Azuma. While nowhere near as brilliant, it is a fun distraction at the very least. And it also sports some surprisingly nifty animation for a show of this ilk.

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