A Kiss and A Tear: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Harem! (Part 2)

All you do is talk, talk…

This is the second part of an extensive dialogue that Owen and I conducted recently about Kimikiss and True Tears, where I ask most of the questions rather than replying. You’ll want to read the first part, where I do a lot of the talking, on his site!

adiet-icon1.JPG Michael: So would you say that you want to see more straight realistic stories, with no fantasy or SF elements then? It just occurred to me how few there are in anime! Perhaps because the question then always arises that “why couldn’t you do this in live action?”
owen_logo.jpg Owen: Yes. More reality, less fantasy! I think the almost manic desire that some writers have when outlining a scenario for these stories is “How fantastic can I make this?” rather than “How realistic can I make this”? One reason I can think of in their defence is that animation techniques such as those pulled off by KyoAni or P.A. Works weren’t as viable till recently — alternately, they could always be just terrible writers, but eh.While there’s been progress in what Square-Enix has tried to do with their two Final Fantasy movies — The Spirits Within, and Advent’s Children — I don’t think photorealism is the way to go. Conventional animation techniques are more than adequate, so just give us the mannerisms, dammit! It’s all about the subtleties that no amount of impressive CG will be able to match.
adiet-icon1.JPG M: Do you think the game medium is inherently limited in its storytelling potential, and that’s one reason for the issues in bringing games to (animated) life?
owen_logo.jpg O: It would depend on what year you’re referring to, of course. I’ve been playing Tsukihime recently, and one of my first impressions, technical factor of shoddy B-grade prose aside, is how well the visual novel works as a whole. It might not be the next Dickens or Solzhenitsyn, but for something made in the year 2000, Shiki’s battle with Nrvnqsr Chaos left me breathless.

Mind you, that was just a 165MB game, consisting mostly of text and a side-serving of amateurish graphics. I’ll get around to playing stuff like Fate/Stay Night and Clannad eventually, and not only are these drawn with impressive character design, rendered with rich colour and detailed backgrounds, they also come with voice acting. So I wouldn’t say that the fault lies with the medium alone.

Rather, you could say that blame can be placed equally on the shoulders of both the source material and the director. Tsukihime fans regard the anime as a joke that “never happened”, and for Fate/Stay Night — let’s just say that the purists greater fans of the visual novel think it but a mere fraction of what the source has to offer.

adiet-icon1.JPG M: Interesting. It’s like a twist on the folks who liked the book better than the movie in a way. Here I need to confess a point of ignorance: I have played no actual games of this kind. I noted that these are actually called “visual novels” and not “games.”

How interactive are these? Are they like the “choose your own adventure” type things? Or do you simply pick a path or arc and just scroll through a linear story? Because I think a big part of it is how linear it is. If it’s still mostly linear then you can more or less have a traditional story.

owen_logo.jpg O: Well, visual novels is a blanket term, really, since the more anal enthusiasts always insist on getting the labels right, be it “eroge”, “ren-ai”, or “dating sim”. For the most part, it is like a glorified Choose Your Own Adventure?, albeit one with sound and graphics. The decision-making ones, at any rate — there are kinetic novels, where you just press a key to advance the text like you would turn a page, with no choice involved.

The trouble lies with stories so rich and complex that they have several branches, or arcs, and the choice of which one to animate is terrifying. I know I wouldn’t want to be involved in the decision-making process. Kagetsu Tohya, Tsukihime’s sequel, plays out like Groundhog Day. If that isn’t an adaptation nightmare, hey, I don’t know what is.

adiet-icon1.JPG M: Well, Higurashi made the structure work in its favor, I think.
owen_logo.jpg O: ef and Kimikiss in particular have weathered the sticky problem of adaptations pretty well by using what I’ve previously termed a “dual-core processing” approach, as opposed to, say, Kanon’s linear methods.

While we’re on the point about adaptations, though, I’d like to pose this last question to you: What do you think about the symbolism/metaphors/meta-fiction prevalent in recent works? Clannad has an alternate world that I believe is more allegorical than literal, True Tears has Shin’s good old picture book, and ef mostly confused those unprepared for its rampant symbolism. Even Kimikiss shows this to some lesser extent, with Mao buying a cellphone strap of a dog (in a nod to her Flanders tryst with Kouichi as a child), and Kai literally being left in the dark during one episode while a spotlight shines in front of him as he ends a conversation with Mao in the bar. IKnight’s repeatedly refused to get involved with ef due to him “not wanting to play the writer’s game”, if I may paraphrase. While being artsy’s all well and good, do you think it should be dumbed down for your average viewer and slipped in innocently, as per Kimikiss? Or is education the way to go, as per ef?

adiet-icon1.JPG M: You might be surprised to discover that under most circumstances, I’d go with a much more subtle approach a la Kimikiss–which I’m not even sure counts as “symbolism” in quite the same sense–than the much more overt way ef does. I think ef succeeded in large part because it laid its cards out on the table, so we knew we were getting into. Then, viewers who were inclined (such as myself and yourself–hahahahaha) to scrutinize it would have the goods.

At least in written fiction, nowadays, symbolism is to be done sparingly, and without drawing too much attention to itself. It should be something that enriches an already strong story, not become its substance.

owen_logo.jpg O: Argh, you got me with that pun there. I guess the lack of an example of something that didn’t work prevents much speculation on this, if you ask me — so I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there comes a day where an anime tries to outdo itself in what the layman usually calls “being pretentious”.
adiet-icon1.JPG M: Well–classic example, Neon Genesis Evangelion. The show that got me into anime but which I readily recognize the religious symbolism was the very definition of pretentious–impressive looking but ultimately hollow. The show worked in spite it, because it was such an emotional gut punch to me.
owen_logo.jpg O: Then again, this is the anime whose production team admitted to throwing in references from the Kabbalah “because it sounded cool”, so I’ll just leave it at that. Although I was thinking more along the lines of eroge adaptations when I made that statement.
adiet-icon1.JPG M: There will always be shows for different audiences, I think, and that’s all right. I got the feeling that the ef adaptation was really an excuse for Shimbo and Oonuma to be themselves, and perhaps to draw in the crowd not normally in favor of that genre. (Like me!) Kimikiss is real interesting, in that it is a show that either a stereotypically male or female audience could watch comfortably; it is not slotted toward one gender so decidedly the way most other romance shows are. Kind of like…well, Honey and Clover. Which isn’t a surprise! Such shows are rare now.

But back to the main point — symbolism. It should never substitute or detract from character and plot. That’s the other thing they taught me — you discover symbolism in the process of writing about interesting characters. You never try imposing it first on the whole story. When you do that, that’s when it becomes overt and obnoxious.

owen_logo.jpg O: It’s funny how I didn’t find ef all that annoying initially, but maybe it’s due to how it was my first Shinbo work that I sat through — my moment of enlightenment came later on when I started on Hidamari Sketch and went “ah, so that’s what they meant by Shinbo-isms”. It goes without saying that what you mentioned about character and plot taking precedence over symbolism makes good sense — I’ll be sure to keep that in mind while writing in the future. (:

To wrap things up, is there anything you’d like to say to those who’ve yet to catch either True Tears or Kimikiss yet? There’s quite a few of them out there, and like your dutiful Asian son, I was raised to let my elders have the final say on things (even if I’ve never fully subscribed to that idea!).

adiet-icon1.JPG M: Hey, I’m not that old yet — I’m not even married! 🙂 For first timers to Kimikiss who are, like me, suspicious of the genre of game romance adaptations:
owen_logo.jpg O: Whatever you say, Gramps!
adiet-icon1.JPG M: Ignore Kimikiss’s title. Ignore its OP, too. It is not what you think. I have never misjudged a show so completely as I did that one initially. If you enjoyed the romance parts of Honey and Clover, or the romance parts of Kare Kano, you’ll like it.For True Tears — enjoy the animation and don’t be afraid that this is a simple wish-fulfillment fantasy. It’s better than that.
owen_logo.jpg O: You just made me wish all the elders I know watched anime.

This was part 2 of this article. Read part 1 here at Cruel Angel Theses.

Author: gendomike

Michael lives in the Los Angeles area, and has been into anime since he saw Neon Genesis Evangelion in 1999. Some of his favorite shows include Full Metal Alchemist, Honey and Clover, and Welcome to the NHK!. Since 2003 he has gone to at least one anime convention every year. A public radio junkie, which naturally led to podcasting, he now holds a seminary degree and is looking to become Dr. Rev. Otaku Bible Man any day now. Michael can be reached at mike.huang@animediet.net. You can also find his Twitter account at @gendomike.

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