krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
Three months ago another new season of anime series was getting under way, but I didn't seem quite able to join in the general anticipation. In half a month I'd be leaving on a vacation, and while I was preparing to bring an assortment of encodings to stay on the self-imposed schedule for the antique series I'd started watching at the beginning of the year as a sort of commemorative project, I suspected I'd have neither the connections nor the time to keep up with streaming too. That had me remembering years past when I'd left on other vacations chased by the feeling the series I'd been watching streaming now seemed burdened by fine cases of contempt from what seemed everyone else on the message board I follow, and in the enforced break from routine found myself mentally rehearsing seemingly clever explanations for why I was dropping the series until not returning to them on getting back was pretty much automatic. Even if I did think at times I'd be leaving so early in the season negativity might not have had the chance to really settle in, with all of that in mind it just seemed none of the capsule descriptions in the licensing announcements were grabbing me. That might not have even taken into account how, once I'd got over the uncomfortable feeling the series Funimation licensed for streaming were disproportionately represented among those I'd dropped, the seemingly wide-spread disdain for its private-label streaming service kept me from watching anything on it at all for the simple fear I might see the point of that negativity, or the troubling sense I'm developing a distinct taste of preemptive "sour grapes" towards the series licensed by Aniplex of America and Pony Canyon USA because of how expensive their video releases will be.

In any case, a new season was under way, and I wasn't watching anything from it. I was completely aware this followed from the season before, where I'd only started watching one "all-new" series, and that on a last-moment whim only to drop it three episodes in. I was a bit less aware of missing the first episodes of the old reliable Ace of the Diamond in its new time slot until all of a sudden I was concluding I wasn't that interested in seeing its high school baseball team start to climb the greasy pole again. Still, as often as I've worried about those who sit around and complain to anyone within earshot how anime has abandoned them, the older series to watch before and during my vacation and the stacks and stacks of DVDs and Blu-Rays to open something from once I got back (there didn't seem quite time to get through even a short series before leaving) kept me from dwelling too much on that.

In getting to the end of Sailor Moon, I weighed the feeling its conclusion was one thing that had made it memorable to a whole generation of people (many just "starting out" with anime) against an impression the series was swinging "darker" all of a sudden, but then wondered if a sense things were continuing to be introduced in an underexplained "you're the good guys and they're the bad guys" way somehow amounted to sudden leaps "like a fairy tale." I was also aware a succession of sequel series had followed the first, but did know I also wanted to move on to a series from the following decade; that first big transition will have to wait for a little later here, though.

Even before that, I'd finished watching the first Cat's Eye series over again, getting back to a "the adventure will continue" leaving-off I could remember from several years before. Now, the second series was available, but it had just so happened that not that long before I could get to it I'd seen a capsule summary of its Anime News Network review dismissing it as much diminished from the first. I attempted to tell myself dismissive "ANN" reviews are familiar enough; I'd read its complaining review of Mazinger Z and then managed to find rather more entertainment in that antique series than it had warned of, although I'd tried not to push my luck by just watching it on the weekends. (As I worked my way further into it bit by bit, Mazinger Z did get a "mid-season upgrade," but Aphrodite A pilot Sayaka also happened right around the same time to replace her sensible, yet appealing to me for being that, piloting costume of a yellow jumpsuit and sash around her waist with a pink and white mini-skirted dress somehow more familiar from the "giant robot" anime following in its decade I've already managed to see.) As I got started with the second Cat's Eye series, though, my very first impression was that the character designs had been changed just a little; the chins looked pointier, and somehow that did somewhat diminish my approving "they sure don't make them like this any more" impression. The action jumpsuits of the three sisterly art thieves had also been cut down to be more revealing. I had wondered if their leaving for Europe at the end of the first series would leave me missing the flirtatious one-sided rivalry between middle sister Hitomi and her clueless detective boyfriend Toshi, but as it turned out they were headed back to Japan in the first episode of the second series; I had wondered if the description on the back of the DVD case amounted to setting up a "recurring antagonist" for the sisters, but as it turned out it had only described the first episode. I seemed to get over that and settle in, but bit by bit the feeling crept up on me this second series was concentrating just on the sisters stealing art from less honourable thieves through ever more elaborate and unbelievable capers, and started missing the more solid emotion of Hitomi being pulled between rebuilding her father's collection to figure out just where he was and the risk of Toshi, who she had genuine feelings for, happening to discover just who she was. At last, about two-thirds of the way through, I realised my enthusiasm was diminished and I was battling the feeling "how much more of this is left?" The thought I didn't have to watch all of it just because I'd paid for it then snuck up on me all of a sudden, and I took the precipitous step of programming a shorter, more recent series in where those last episodes would have gone. I then found myself thinking that if only there'd been more of an emphasis on the sisters making progress towards finding their father instead of it starting to seem like a convenient justification for them stealing art I might have been more willing to push on. In the midst of that mental bridge-dismantling, though, I did think that watching episodes on the weekend surely wouldn't hurt and made a partial return that raised my spirits for an episode or two, only for one episode preview to seem a bit too much of a stretch at last, and I thought with some reluctance that that had to be it.

Preceding that melancholy point, I'd made it back from vacation, and now I had the time to push up my viewing tempo and start watching "two episodes a day whenever possible." That meant I could open a new series, with unlimited possibilities stretching before me... and then I went and opened Strike Witches 2. Seriously, though, in buying the various short manga series from that franchise now being released (each of them with an ever so slightly different take on things, although all with the familiar megadoses of "fanservice" implicit in the "War on Pants") I had got to thinking I might well run across references that would only make sense having seen the sequel series. Wondering even so about those who seem swift to find particular fault with sequels, I got started. It turned out there weren't any new "major characters" added to the reassembled unit of World War II magical girl aces to perhaps run the risk of seeming to over-dominate the whole thing, although there were plenty of "guest characters" to fill out the story world a bit in a new and somewhat more varied setting, and if the series had begun by stepping back from an idea the first had sort of toyed with in its own last episodes to maintain the familiar antagonists there might have been just a bit more impact to its conclusion. In the end things seemed perhaps neither worse nor better than before, although I was beginning to think there seemed a peculiar innocence to the series' raunchiness and then wondering if that just meant it was all driving me out of my right mind.

With that series still under way, I finished watching Sailor Moon and moved on to a series from the decade following it, one I'd been planning to get to and yet one I was facing some uncertain uneasiness about returning to. A decade ago now, I had at last finished Gundam Seed and been thoroughly impressed by the experience, but as time passed and the viewers who might have been casually accepting of it faded away, the series remained the unceasing target of contemptuous criticism from those who called themselves "Gundam fans." In the quick lack of specificity of their blanket dismissals, though, I might have wound up thinking of a somehow familiar self-reinforcing negativity that could be guarded against, but from my now unpleasantly detached vantage there didn't seem to be any group, however small, of fans willing to focus on the positive side to find succour with. I could wonder if simple accidents had set me apart. It had just so happened that when Gundam Seed had started airing in Japan, I'd just figured out how to, and had the bandwidth to, really get my hands on the new-fangled "digi-fansubs," making it the very first series I watched week-by-week. I'd recognised straight off that where the decade before had brought in "alternative universe Gundams," Gundam Seed had been that much more obvious it was presenting the same "a lone ship and lone mecha with an improvised crew must fight their way through the antagonists" plot that had wound up working for the very first Gundam series. There, though, I wasn't inclined to be offended. I do wonder if having happened two years before on an online magazine article reacting to the surprise success of Gundam Wing on North American cable TV by concluding the obvious thing to do would be for the animation studio Sunrise in Japan to re-animate a condensed version of the first Gundam and use that slick-looking new creation to pull the existing audience into the whole sprawling franchise had left me willing to see Gundam Seed as a that much more distinctive attempt at something very similar; in any case, Gundam Wing had been followed by the first Gundam itself only for things to seize up partway through. (Gundam Seed in any case eventually got on TV over here, perhaps something of a last throw at keeping up the franchise's popularity, but that hadn't worked out either, except perhaps up here in Canada. My charitable interpretation of that was that here it had been better aimed at a target demographic with less of a ridiculous effort made to make it "safe"; my worried imagination wonders if we'd be accused of being "so starved for anime on TV we couldn't tell what a good series looked like.") As well, I suppose I can admit to times when I've tried to think of "stories inspired by" only for them to wind up an awful lot like their originals, just ostensibly different at first glance; with Gundam Seed again I could pick up on differences along with similarities. Along with all that, though, when it had been announced that Gundam Seed had been licensed for eventual release over here I had done what was proclaimed the honourable thing and stopped watching the "fansubs." It had seemed a long wait, but when I'd had the chance to start buying the DVDs at last I got caught up once more and looked forward to the moment when I'd get to the episodes I hadn't seen before... but in the wait I'd decided to also sit out the "fansubs" of the sequel to the very financially successful series now airing in Japan. That meant I was avoiding what I eventually gathered from hearsay to be how Gundam Seed Destiny's production went askew such that its new characters turned out unlikeable yet wound up being not just overshadowed yet humiliated by the returning characters, who nevertheless themselves either seemed deliberately denied some of the developments that had impressed from before or come across as now ridiculously overqualified to save the day in a production congealing to a halt in a mass of stock footage. To make matters worse, all of this wound up being identified as nothing more than accentuating the problems proclaimed for its predecessor, such that the whole subfranchise wound up well-tarred with contempt (save perhaps for some of its own spinoffs made by third parties, which can feel a little familiar too).

There were times I wondered if it would have been better to have been offended like it seemed everyone else had and turned my own back on the whole thing too, but when the tenth anniversary of Gundam Seed rolled around and, seemingly still financially successful in Japan (on a very brief stopover in that country the year before that had had me lucking into a store with a floor of anime-related merchandising, I'd seen a model kit poster I'd been able to tell was setting up for the anniversary), the series was rebroadcast, I took some fresh interest for all that it seemed the English-language "Gundam fandom" was using it mostly to reinforce their contempt. Rather later than some, I did find the chance to get around to the rebroadcast version, but I might have been slowed before and was still troubled by the thought that, just perhaps, a decade's worth of battering had got me to the point where I, too, would "see what the problem was" and it might be better to just remember I had liked it once upon a time. On a less fanciful and paranoid note, I could also remember that when I'd first seen Gundam Seed I hadn't seen quite as much of the whole franchise as I had by now, and at that particular point I might have been thinking most of all of having seen just some of the "dubbed" version of Gundam Wing on TV and, having perhaps been influenced by some contempt towards it from those who'd proclaimed themselves "well-versed with the whole thing," having interpreted it almost with a "camp" perspective. I'd been inclined to see Gundam Seed's characters as much more relatable, but along with becoming aware some would be swift to accuse me of holding the minority opinion there I'd also managed to see the series just preceding it, Turn A Gundam and Gundam X, and wound up concluding (although I'd needed to give Gundam X a second chance, just as giving Gundam Wing a second chance had left me wondering if the constant shifts in alliance in fact could keep up my interest for most of it) their casts were "likeable" too. I'd also managed to see the original "TV version" of the original Gundam; regardless of the improved animation in the "movie versions" I'd managed to start the whole thing with years before, I could find the original somehow more "digestible" as half-hour episodes rather than largely self-contained units strung together at length.

I bit the bullet and stepped off the deep end, though (to say nothing of mixing my metaphors), and right from the start I did seem able to get caught up in things all over again, and soon quite pleased to have my schedule turning back to each episode. I'd heard the old early digital animation, visibly slicker and brighter (some would be swift to condemn it as "garish") than the somehow subtly similar three older series I'd been watching, hadn't just been cropped to "TV widescreen," but had been to some extent redrawn. There, I could remember complaints that at just a few episodes in the already distinctive yet slightly peculiar character designs (from the designer Hisashi Hirai, long accused of having a unisex "protagonist's face" he just put different hairstyles on) had slid off-model to look even less impressive; it wasn't until close to twenty episodes in, when opinions might have been set one way or another, that some of the old artwork really started cropping up again; I just might have been able to think even it didn't look quite as outright "bad" as the improved work might have had me imagining. I'm still at a point where things remain either "too much like the original" or "setting the groundwork for what's to follow," but more inclined to reflect on that second possibility, once more not inclined to find fault where there's the chance to enjoy things instead.

As I finished Strike Witches 2 I moved on to a series I did know could be called rather more "dignified" and "thoughtful." While I have bought a certain number of video releases after having seen their series streaming by now, making the time to go back and watch them over again is rather more difficult. From the New World, though, seemed worth making the effort for; I might have found a special amount of motivation in recently having finished reading through the manga adaptation of the original novel (the Blu-Rays had a few Japanese commercials which happened to proclaim something seemingly "unadaptable" had at last been adapted), if an adaptation with rather more "exploitative" content than the anime's own take. Knowing how the whole thing fit together now, I was able to identify a few early moments as the sort of seemingly insignificant events on which larger fates hinge. As before, too, there were ideas to mull over and thoughts of some themes perhaps not looked at all that much in "thoughtful" English-language science fiction any more being developed in a way that didn't indulge in easy answers. At the same time, though, I was still contemplating some impressions that even with all its gratuitous "fanservice" the manga had managed to do something interesting by itself too at the very end (where the anime just might have indulged in a "twist ending" that might not have seemed absolutely necessary to provoke further thought from me), and wondering if I might get back to it as well. Making the time to read manga over again seems even more difficult than managing to return to anime series for me at the moment, though: maybe I'm still convinced I can work my way through the manga I've piled up if I work at it, whereas with my stacks of anime I just don't think about that at all.

While I've said I wasn't dwelling on how I wasn't watching anything streaming, the thought did come to me all of a sudden that I had the chance to watch something "older" with my Crunchyroll subscription, something older than "a few seasons back" in fact. The streaming site had made available the very first Original Video Animation from the early 1980s Dallos, and I was curious enough about it to start watching its four episodes (although I'd let my iPad application for the service sit long enough I had to re-enter my password into it to keep commercials from being put into the feed to my streaming-video TV add-on). The animation did look slicker than the TV series from about the same time I've managed to see, although not quite as slick as OVAs had become by the end of its decade. As for the story of moon miners rebelling against the colonial administration, though, I did find myself supposing that while I've never read Robert A. Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress," a book I suppose to be the most deceptively palatable "late-period Heinlein" out there, it must have had a better take on the subject of "the moon rebels." Trying to articulate a sense of things not quite adding up to what they "ought" to halfway through might make me a little more charitable towards unspecified general condemnations, but something about the mysterious face named Dallos on the moon intervening in the last episode not so much to settle or finish anything as just to have the protagonists and antagonists all survive a little more bitter than they'd started did seem a bit easier to criticise in specific terms.

While I'd planned to watch a particular series from this decade once I'd finished Cat's Eye, once I'd thought of watching something else in the place of its last episodes (and, I realised on starting that, stepping completely from a total focus on "older series" at the start of these three months to just keeping up with Mazinger Z on the weekends) I decided to open up something else new yet shorter. A few candidates narrowed to one when I thought of more more case where I'd started piling up manga before even seeing if I liked the anime; that did seem more of a risk with a title like High School DxD. While I seemed to recall some positive comments about this fanservice-heavy series from unexpected sources, I could remember times when, not opposed to the thought of fanservice on general principles, I'd started watching series looking for nothing more complicated than "trashy good fun" only to find not much of the second part of that yet not even enough outrageousness to think I'd even got the first. Right from the start of High School DxD, though, things did seem different. The tale of a protagonist killed off by a fallen angel only to be restored as a devil by someone who the term "succubus" doesn't quite apply to with the usual "look but don't touch (too much)" rules in effect, and yet it somehow keeps coming to mind all the same, had enough unapologetic outrageousness (more than enough), good spirits (for a certain use of that term), and even a plot more complicated "one humiliating accident after another," to start to appeal to me; the characters of the female lead's chess-themed coven all somehow began leaving me with the sense they were managing to transcend the possibility of seeming annoyingly familiar had things not come across just right. In any case, I also found myself anticipating getting around to the sequel anime and the manga I'd managed to pile up, which was what I'd been hoping for.

As I finished From the New World, I figured I had just enough time left to watch a short series; as it turned out, one had just been added in totality to Crunchyroll when Amagi Brilliant Park had changed from "one of the Kyoto Animation series that fall through the cracks, apparently not requiring whatever the foreign market can still contribute these days" to "one of the 'KyoAni' series that just took a while to get licensed." What I'd heard about it when it had been airing in Japan had managed to catch my attention; it's easy enough to think of "shabby amusement parks" as a familiar subject for comedy. There was a twist to why this particular park had to be turned around, though, a twist established by the end of the first episode but one I stumbled on just before starting to watch the series. Fortunately, that wasn't too much of a letdown, but I still find myself trying to be a little vague, saying only that something about the series had me thinking a bit of the "toon" animation made over here in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There was also a bit more of the stuff instantly identified (and sometimes condemned) as the most conventional kind of "fanservice" than "KyoAni" series tend to be associated with, but it wasn't too much for me. I might, though, have been thinking just a bit of series whose protagonists are still in high school even though it might seem they wouldn't have to be, and the possibility this just amounts to "everyone else does it."

October 2017

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