This has actually been a pretty decent season for anime so far, at least with shows that are interesting (meaning: intriguing enough at least to make me pay attention) to watch. Nevertheless, most of the shows also are far from perfect despite being enjoyable. Let’s take a look at six shows so far…
After watching the most recent episode, I decided to take a look at who was writing this series: one Hideyuki Kurata, who is credited with both the series composition and screenplay. Looking at his track record—it ranges the gamut from extremely mediocre productions like Asu no Yoichi to ambitious features like, of all things, Now and Then, Here and There and the inventive Read or Die—one can perhaps understand why the show feels so hit or miss, and in extremes. Kurata, in some ways, is trying his very best to transcend the concept and premise of Oreimo: hence the initially snappy repartee and the depiction of what, from all appearances, is still a believable portrait of a bratty teenage girl with an attitude problem. Oreimo is trying on one level to be a well-characterized show, but at the end of the day, the problem is in a sense ideological: it is also trying way too hard to “defend’ eroge otaku through bombastic speeches and, in the most recent episode, indulges in some of the more histrionic melodrama I’ve seen yet. The way Ayase behaves is so unrealistically hysterical it breaks plausibility, especially her uncritical reaction to whatever news stories are on TV (unless young people in Japan are that naive about the media? Somehow I doubt it). Kurata ends up writing lines like “I care about you as much as I love eroge!” and has Ayase wail, “I want to make up with her, but I can’t accept her hobby! What should I do?” The effect is not unlike the way Ayn Rand novels will sometimes stop the narrative in order to issue forth grand speeches by the protagonist. There must be a Grand Point that demands expression.
I get the sense, in short, that Kurata has more talent than this material, but feels constrained by the needs of his audience and the structure of the story, which is almost certainly going down the incest road if the ending of the episode is any indication. Oreimo’s contradictions are thus out in the open, which is probably why it’s getting so much discussion: the term “mixed feelings” has never described my reaction, and others’, so well.
I remember when my anime club showed the first episode of Star Driver, the reaction of the fangirls in the audience to Mr. Galactic Pretty Boy was nothing short of…well, let’s say ecstatic. They were doing the poses at the end of the evening already and squeeing at the fabulousity of Tauburn’s feather, of his cape, his transformation sequence.
Star Driver, of course, is much more than just fangirl baiting though it is an integral part of it—as the most recent episode featuring the school nurse acknowledges. It is a Yoji Enokido (FLCL, Utena, RahXephon) production. Enokido is interested in sexuality, coming-of-age, and non-linear storytelling, and Star Driver perhaps resembles Utena the most in its ritualistic battles and a tale of secret committees and organizations pulling puppet strings from afar. There is thus an ambition and a subtext always present in Star Driver that keeps me watching, though the pacing and the trajectory of the show is as yet unclear: probably because Enokido likes to only pull things together as they approach their end. I wonder if this is one of those shows that perhaps is only best reviewed at that point, actually; there is still so much that is left unexplained that one can only guess at what metaphor or myth is being played with. This is a series that will thus require some patience and the faith that something greater is being revealed along the way.
This is such an NHK show, as concerned with the educational minutiae of how manga is made (by hand, to boot: not a computer or copy of Photoshop in sight) as with the characters. The characters, unfortunately, have not been as explored to the same depth as the kind of pens being used, or even the storytelling and actual idea generation and execution process (which is confined to the most recent episode). Despite some promising maneuvers with Moritaka’s interaction with his parents and the story of his late uncle, we mostly see Moritaka and Takagi being enthusiastic and saying variations of “let’s do this!!” repeatedly, in between occasional bouts of half baked “romance” which mostly consists of shy glances thus far. The “romance” of Azuki and Moritaka is perhaps the most problematic part of the show, from the deeply unnatural and unrealistic premise onward. If there is a sexist aspect to the show, it is much more in the way Azuki is not so much a person as a goal for the protagonist to achieve than in sentences like “men have dreams.” At least so far; only the most recent episode do we even get any extended dialogue with Azuki and the other love interest, Kaya. The setup is more than reminiscent of the ideal of courtly love, in which the lady must be admired only from afar, never spoken to, almost never acknowledged except as a catalyst for achievement.
For a series that focuses so much on being a man—not in as obvious a way as, say, Gurren Lagann, but obvious all the same—I found it ironic that the anime would fall into the hands of Mr. JC Staff Romance himself, Kenichi Kasai, with the pastel colors and the boy band OP.
Bakuman now mostly interests me as a document of what the manga submission process is like. I hope that the characters will finally start showing some growth and change along the way too…
Next time: The World God Only Knows, Panty & Stocking, and Squid Girl.