Tag Archives: 12 days of anime

12 Days of Anime #6 – Shiki’s Coming to Your Town

Shiki is one of those shows that few people have seen, but that almost everyone who has loves. Unlike a lot of anime horror (and horror in general, really), which often caters solely in schlockly gore and cheap shock tactics, Shiki thrives on actual substance and atmosphere. Which isn’t to say it skips out on the gore or shock. The difference is that Shiki earns its gore and brutality. It takes a while to get there, but Shiki’s last few episodes are shocking, bloody, and brutally cynical, and also one of the most memorable things I watched in 2014.

WarningSpoilers for Shiki to follow

Shiki 1

If you’ve ever lived in a small town, it won’t take long for you to pick up on the particular set of emotions that 2010’s vampire horror anime Shiki taps into. Peaceful Small Towns are some of the most idealized places in many cultures, often portrayed as oases of serenity, simplicity, and moral superiority away from crushing life in the corrupt big city. You don’t just find this attitude in fiction, either; talk to any Proud Small Town Resident, and they’re likely to have that exact attitude about their perfect little home town. Some of them say it so convincingly and so politely that it’s easy to miss the arrogant superiority and reactionary distrust toward anything from Outside, if you haven’t lived through it yourself.

Shiki understands small towns, from their simplistic concerns to their conservative distrust of anything new to the resentment hiding behind the smiles of neighbors who know too much about each other but are too polite to speak their minds. As the residents of the show’s fictional Japanese town, the isolated mountain village of Sotoba, fall sick with a mysterious illness and die one by one (spoilers: the strange new family that’s moved to town are a coven of vampires), all of those simmering tensions start to rise, until the town’s idilic facade collapses under the strain.

Shiki 2

Shiki starts slow, wallowing in an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread as townspeople are picked off one by one. As the nature of the threat becomes clearer, the boundaries between monsters and regular folks start to blur. Panic and fear show Sotoba’s residents to be callous beasts ready to turn on each other at the slightest suspicion once their passive existence is threatened. Meanwhile, the family of ghouls are revealed to be complex, relatable people who just want what most people want: a family and a home. This inversion of sympathies is complete by the story’s final act, an orgy of brutality that sees the townspeople devolve into the monsters they’ve been threatening to reveal themselves as since episode one, and that only ends with the town in flames and the entire population with blood on its hands (and also on their lawnmowers).

The bloodbath that is Shiki‘s final episodes is inevitable. It’s slow pace and reliance on atmosphere over forward momentum, especially in its first half, all call for an eventual crescendo into a final explosion. But unlike many other horror stories, the climax isn’t a cathartic purge, or a return to normalcy through the driving out of the corrupting, foreign Other that upsets the perfect balance of the world. It’s an explosion of savagery that marks the final collapse of all the pretenses that once held a community together. The horror that Shiki deals in isn’t the horror of outside corruption invading a small, peaceful town. It’s the horror of that small, peaceful town revealing the corruption inside itself at the smell of blood.

Shiki 3

12 Days of Anime #5 – /Fiction

 

Unlimited Blade Works

At the beginning of 2014, Type Moon’s Fate/ franchise was an inscrutable thing that I had no interest in exploring. Twice I’d tried the first episode of Fate/Zero, the anime adaptation of the prequel novel to the visual novel that already had multiple other spinoffs and adaptations, and twice I’d given up after being confronted by a wall of dry, rambling exposition about an impenetrable mythology that unfamiliar characters pontificated on while walking around each other in circles. At that point my impression of all things Fate/ was that it was an overly complex mix of fantasy worldbuilding and RPG elements adapted into nominal story form, and Fate/Zero‘s first episode did nothing but reinforce that opinion.

Fast forward three months. After being goaded by friends and people whose opinions I trusted enough to take the leap, I pushed through the first episode of Fate/Zero one more time so that I could finish the series. Once I made it through the show’s slow, move-the-pieces-into-place first half and arrived at its sturm und drang bloodbath of a finale, I finally got it. I got what people saw in the story. The clash of ideals. The exploration of different ideas of heroism. The Holy Grail-based mythology that tied it all together. It made sense to me. The show wasn’t without its flaws, but they didn’t really matter when measured against its accomplishments.

RIP. Never Forget.
RIP. Never Forget.

Fast forward another three months. Now I’m completely confused again. Having been converted by Fate/Zero, the next obvious step was to dive into the original Fate/Stay Night visual novel. When I did, I was incredibly disappointed. All the familiar stuff was there: Grail Wars. Thoughts on heroism. Servants and Masters. What I wasn’t expecting was all of this to be hidden inside a bloated, poorly written mess of a story thats appeal completely escaped me. There were plenty of promising ideas, but they were far too easy to forget about when wading through hours of purple, circular prose, endless momentum-slaughtering meal scenes, painfully unfunny bits of sitcom comedy, and protagonist Shirou’s obnoxiously creepy and patronizing thoughts every time he encounters a woman.

F:SN Sex Scene 1
Not to mention the pure erotic poetry that is the sex scenes.

Fate/Zero no longer felt like an entry point into something special; it seemed like a salvage job that had found bits of treasure under a sea of flotsam and bilge. The willful ignorance it would take to overlook the game’s faults was too much to ask, given the weight and volume of those faults to compared to everything else. Once again, whatever it was that inspired such passion in so many people was obscured behind a curtain that no amount of lengthy examination or judicious squinting could penetrate.

But…skip to the end of the year. A new Fate/Stay Night anime is airing, and I watch it religiously. Between my aborted attempt to read the VN and the new adaptation premiering, I’ve continued to read summaries, spoilers, and other info on what happens in the story. It’s been a regular topic of conversation. With a little distance, the story’s strengths have become a lot clearer and easier to appreciate. That the new anime has done some serious editing and streamlining of the material, trimming the excessive fat and sanding down the weirder digressions, makes it even easier (also: holy shit, they made Shirou likable!).

F:SN Ideals

I doubt I’ll ever be a died-in-the-wool Type Moonie. There’s too much wrong with the original source for me to ever love it, even if I’m starting to appreciate it, and I have no interest in most of the side series, spinoffs, and other franchise ephemera that fills Fate/ devotees demands for more. But after a year of fits, starts, and dead ends, I finally get it.

I think.

12 Days of Anime #4 – Surprise X Surprise

Hunter X Hunter 4

I’ve never been a fan of long running shonen series. Even as my fellow nerdy, socially maladjusted middle schoolers were all drooling over Dragonball Z, it didn’t do a thing for me. I’ve sampled a few other series since then, but none of them ever impressed. The genre that is so many people’s entry point into anime and manga always left me cold. It wasn’t that I hated them; I just couldn’t seem to care.

I tried Hunter X Hunter on a whim. I was curious to try something new, the right people were saying great things about it, and I had the some time on my hands. If I’m being honest, I planned to give it maybe 12 episodes, at most. Instead, I ended up watching nearly 150 episodes as quickly as I could consume them. I was addicted. And the show only kept getting better, growing from a fun adventure story with a likable cast to a surprisingly mature, sometimes quite bleak exploration of complex moral and existential issues faced by increasingly nuanced characters, while still never losing track of its action roots. Stories like this that go “dark” often mistake slathering on violence and death as all a story needs to be “mature,” without ever growing in any of the ways that demonstrate actual maturity. Hunter X Hunter‘s “Yorknew City” and “Chimera Ant” arcs bucked that trend spectacularly, balancing out harrowing levels of violence and despair with a surprising amount of insight into an ever-growing cast and empathetic portrayals of even the most monstrous of its characters.

I started watching Hunter X Hunter in June or July of this year. By the time the last arc started, I was all caught up and watched it as it came out. When the final episode aired, it was probably the show this year I was least ready to let go. Not bad for a show that I never expected to care about.

Hunter_Exam_Arc

But seriously, we better get a continuation series.

12 Days of Anime #3- No Jojoke

Remember when Crunchyroll announced they had licensed Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure on April Fool’s Day? And everyone was afraid it was a joke?

Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Just over six months later, Jojo’s has gotten a simulcast, reissued manga volumes, and a partial English dub (that we’ll hopefully be hearing more about sometime soon). And now a campy, endlessly-running shonen series about goofy, superpowered muscleheads and characters named after old rock musicians that began in the 1980s is suddenly the darling of American anime nerds. Old fans are finally seeing their baby get the love it deserves, and new fans (like me) finally get to see what those old fans have been so excited about all this time.

Tequila Joseph
If only I had known sooner…

At this point it’s hard to remember that up until earlier this year, Jojo’s was looked at as a show that would never get licensed, a tangled nightmare of music licenses and naming rights that no company would be brave or stupid enough to bother with. It seemed so unlikely, many were more ready to believe they were being pranked than believe that the show was actually coming out legally in the US. Things sure look a whole lot different now than they did back then.

 

12 Days of Anime #2 – Ping Pong

Ping Pong 1

Ping Pong was this year’s Flowers of Evil, a weird, stylistically experimental cartoon that immediately stood out from pretty much everything else around it, and that quickly attracted a fervent crowd of boosters and fans. It’s the shows like these that really make being an anime fan exciting: adventurous, interesting little slices of creativity that allow auteur creators to stretch their wings and express themselves in their own, unique voices.

Ping Pong isn’t just another one of director Masaki Yuasa’s artistic triumphs. It also seems to be the one that has finally made an impact on the American audience beyond the small but enthusiastic cult that constantly talks up Yuasa’s work, but that has never been big enough to get Tatami Galaxy released on home video in North America (cue bitter tears and disappointed sighs). Every time a new Ping Pong episode came out my Twitter feed would fill up with excited praise, and it was recently announced that the show had overcome the dual handicaps of being both a Yuasa show and a sports anime, and will be getting a home video release through Funimation. That unique shows like this get made in such a conservative, cautious marketplace is exciting enough; one of those shows finding an audience big enough to justify getting a release from the big name North American licensor is even better.

Ping Pong Peco

I’m sure Ping Pong‘s success means we’ll be getting that Tatami Galaxy BluRay aaaaaaaaany day now… right?

12 Days of Anime #1- Aldnoah.Zero (Out of 10), or: Slaine’s Delicious Tears

Apologies to Keikakucat for stealing his joke for the title

Aldnoah.Zero was an interesting ride. One of the growing number of anime marketed on writer Gen Urobuchi’s name despite his limited involvement in the show, the show started strong only to slowly descend into mediocrity and disappointment. I hung on to hope that the show would recover its footing and end up being something worthwhile longer than most of my friends did, but by episode 9 or 10 even I had given up. For all its promise and ambitious intentions (producers from Aniplex mentioned in preliminary interviews that the show was meant to compete with the venerable Gundam franchise), Aldnoah.Zero was a dud that squandered its potential on bad plotting decisions and ignoring the development of its best characters in favor of its most boring ones.

And then episode 12 happened.

Shocked Slaine

They say that if you start strong and end strong, people will usually forget about a disappointing middle . Aldnoah Zero certainly got the starting off impressively part right; its ending , on the other hand, isn’t so much “strong” as it is “crashing the ship into a flaming wreck with all hands aboard.” And by the time it was over, I had completely forgiven the show for making me put up with the ho-hum doldrums that were its middle episodes. AZ‘s last episode isn’t good by any measure, but it is definitely memorable. The heights of insane tragedy porn that the last few minutes reach are so overwrought that it makes the show a more memorable experience than a last minute save by a competent finale ever could have.

In its final minutes, Aldnoah Zero went from being a disappointment that I likely would have completely forgotten about within a month to one of the most enduring shows this year, starring one of the most hilariously tragic characters around in Slaine, 2014’s whipping boy of the universe. Slaine was Aldnoah‘s most promising but underused character, a poor dope who spent the entire show helplessly careening from one traumatic personal disaster to the next, only to then get shat on by life so hard that you have to wonder if the gods of the Aldnoahverse have some sort of grudge against the guy. Maybe he kicked a lot of puppies in a previous life?

Whatever the reason for Slaine’s endless misfortune, the amazing spectacle of watching Aldnoah.Zero turn itself into a giant, smoldering crater just so it could unjustly punish the poor bastard one last miserable, glorious time made enough of an impact to change my perception of the show. It was no longer a disappointment that I only stuck with out of inertia and misplaced hope; it’s now something I’m dying to see more of. I’ll be watching the second season when it comes out in January 2015, just to see how it recovers from the complete disaster of its first cour’s ending and what new hilariously incompetent mistakes it will make next. And most of all, I’ll watching with a big bowl in hand, to catch more of Slaine’s sweet, sweet tears.

Slaine Wants To Die