Raging Rant: Dressing for the Occasion

So in my recent post about Arslan Senki, I bitched at length about the disparity between the quality of Farangis as a character and the quality of her skimpy costume, this is going to be a broader expansion on that topic.  There will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Let’s start with the basics, good character designs are a huge plus to any series and costume design in one of the main facets of character design.  This applies to all forms of entertainment.  I remember, back in the days when I did highschool plays, how much of a pain in the ass our costume director was because she was so picky, and everything had to be just so.  But her pickiness paid off and we won costume awards.  This becomes exponentially more important in media entertainment though, because in a play you implicitly understand that you’re watching real people playing fake parts so their ability to become this fictional character through their acting talent is much more important than the costume, though the costume helps.  In media though we are trying to watch fake people and worlds come to life as though they were real and their outfits are one of the immediate visual sources of information we can get about a setting and characters.  If you see a generic high school uniform, odds are this setting is modern day Japan and the characters are highschoolers, get a world full of characters with wacky, intricate and over the top character designs and odds are you in for something a little more unique, whether it’s batshit insane or stupid and awesome.  Likewise a good costume can tell us a lot about the person wearing it.  Take a look at Boku no Hero Academia, All Might has this very bright, bold and colorful (and American as fuck) outfight that makes him pop out of the background, and this reflects his desire to be seen as the Symbol of Peace.  By comparison, Aizawa “Eraser Head” has a bland unassuming design save for his googles, which reflects his fighting style and preferences to avoid being seen, avoid media attention and get the work over with quickly.  Point is, costumes are important, they make fictional characters more real by adding life and detail to said characters and often communicating something about said characters.  Now let’s get to the ranting.

I understand, as I believe most people do, that there are always going to be a lot of boring, cut-and-paste, costumes in anime.  I mean there a million shows taking place in highschool, and while the uniforms have some variation the overall look is pretty standard and generic.  Likewise a lot of harem shows will have uniforms where the skirts are really short so we can have panties flashing frequently because that’s what’s expected in a harem show.  That’s not what I’m here to complain about, because frankly the main reasons why those kinds of costume designs are so prevalent is because highschool shows are so common, and harems are so common, and unless those things change first arguing about costume design improvements in those kinds of shows seems like a moot point to me.  I’m here to complain about the costume design fuck-ups in shows I like, on characters I like, and where  feel such poor costume designs are unacceptable.  Let’s get back to Farangis.  In case you never read the Arslan Senki post I linked above, here’s a recap.  Farangis is an aloof, dignified and proud woman, who possess considerable martial skill as well as important knowledge like her ability to hear the Djinn thanks to her profession as a priestess.  All of these aspects of her character would suggest that she would wear pretty normal, practical clothes, maybe on the fancier side, possibly with a military bent or a slightly less practical and more ornate bent thanks to her profession as a priestess.  The outfit she has in the anime though is basically a bikini and a cape, which doesn’t suit her at all.  In fact she looks far more attractive in the scenes and arc when she’s in full clothes because then she looks like a real person not a 15 year old’s horny fantasy approximation of a person.

And like I said in Arslan Senki post it’s not like the skimpy outfit gets you much fanservice anyway.  Sure you get plenty of shots where you can see cleavage or part of a boob, but it’s not like the camera is showing Farangis’ body off for you to drool over (and thank fuck for that).  Instead most of the time you see Farangis’ full body, and by extension the full skimpiness of her outfit, is in battle scenes where she looks hilariously out of place, at that point she is a literal cartoon character trying and failing to look natural in a story full of more realistic characters and scenarios.  To hammer this point home further let’s do a quick comparison of Farangis and Maura Chester from Rokka no Yuusha, the character I mainly focused on in my discussion on hot mature women and why anime desperately needs more of those.  Both Farangis and Maura appear to be in their late 20’s or early 30’s, both have roughly the same body type, they’re fairly tall, not too skinny or too fat and they’re very very well endowed.  Both women have very pale skin and dark hair, though Maura’s is dark blue while Farangis’ is black.  Both have similar professions and similar airs of dignity and authority though I would say Farangis places more emphasis on dignity whilst Maura places more on authority.  Both also have impressive combat skills and some kind of supernatural power and knowledge of other supernatural powers, though Maura is much more blatant about that kind of thing while Farangis is more subtle.  The biggest differences between the two women are that Farangis takes a subordinate role to the main character in her group while Maura generally holds a position of superiority over her group, and that the former wears next to nothing while the other is wearing full clothes.

See here’s the thing, you don’t need a character to be half naked to have sex appeal.  Both Farangis and Maura are stunning, and that has more to with their faces and hair than their cup size or state of dress.  Now I, connoisseur of fine anime women that I am, can tell the you the subtle differences in appeal that both these characters have but setting subtlety aside here’s the big picture, both of these character’s faces are designed to be so hot that they would still be gorgeous regardless of breast size and costume, that’s how well their facial features, hair, eyes, and so on work together to make the overall attractive design.  The only reason I’m ranting about Farangis at all, is because her costume is such a bad match for personality and in-universe background and adds so little sex appeal in exchange for being out of place that I am absolutely stunned that design even got made by any creative, even if I can understand the more cynical reasons why it might be approved by a more business-oriented person.  This attitude I have applies to all characters, and especially strong women, who I feel got shafted in the costume department, because honestly it’s not that hard to get right.  Yes it’s hard to make a great costume but I’m not asking for that, I’m asking for one that fits the character, and that’s pretty simple.  I mean for fuck’s sake most professions have a uniform or semi-uniform look to them, neither Maura’s outfit nor Farangis’s outfit from the Shindra arc (where she has more clothes despite going to a hotter region of the world) are amazing outfits, but they work and they work because they fit the character properly and don’t distract me and mess with my immersion in the story.

And just to clear up any potential misunderstandings this is not about the skimpy outfit in and of itself.  You can have strong and interesting characters who wear revealing outfits and have that work out just fine, it just has to be in character for them to do so.  For example Revy from Black Lagoon never wears much and there are several scenes when we catch her in nothing but her undies, and none of that is a problem because a, it’s consistent with the more adult tone of the show, b, Revy works in a tropical climate where it’s consistently shown to be hot, humid and otherwise unpleasant place to wear lots of clothes unless you want to strike an imposing figure a la Balalaika, Mr. Chen or Roberta, and c and most importantly, it’s in character for Revy to dress like that.  She doesn’t give a shit about what other people think most of the time, she never freaks out when Rock catches her barely dressed for instance, her lifestyle is intensely casual when she isn’t gunning people down, she basically just drinks, smokes, eats, and otherwise makes a mess, and her outfit is relatively practical in combat and comfortable to wear.  And let’s face facts here, Revy owns that look, she owns that outfit and nothing about it distracts from my immersion in the story or detracts from her character or look in the slightest.  Which is really what this is all about, it’s not about nudity or crudeness, not about covering up or being classy, it’s about art and making good art by not fucking up something as basic and relatively easy as costume design.

Look I love it when a show comes out and the outfits are amazing and I would encourage creators to put more thought into costume design than say breast physics, but at the same time it’s not what I really care about.  I care about the story, world and characters and watching those come to life, and as long as the costumes just fit the character then everything is fine.  If you want a character who wears skimpy clothes, maybe make the character someone who likes to be open with their sexuality or enjoys being seen as dirty by his or her peers.  For example Kurokami Medaka from Medaka Box has a personalized uniform that shows off a lot of her generous cleavage and it works because Medaka is pretty proud of her body and she willingly gets into revealing outfits all the time, sometimes just for the sake of it, it’s just a part of who she is and her outfit reflects that.  But when you put a proud, dignified woman, from an honorable and famously prudish profession, in clothes that barely count as clothes at all, and then you throw her into battles where those clothes are totally impractical, it just gets unbearably off-putting.  Looking at Farangis’ outfit without any character context, she looks like the kind of character who should be kind of oblivious to the fact that all the dudes around are staring at her all the time while other women glare or freak out at her for her lack of common sense.

Alternatively, what she really reminds of is Myers from Magi, the half naked whip wielding magic instructor who had some badass scenes but was mostly a comic relief character paired with Aladdin, who was constantly willing to put up with her harsh training and insults because he was really into her boobs.  Neither of those scenarios  happen though.  Instead Farangis is played totally straight as a serious character and is treated as such by those around her, even when it doesn’t really make sense for anyone to behave like that except maybe Gieve and Arslan.  It would make more sense if Elam or Alfreed or Etoile especially freaked out about Farangis outfit, even if that’s not a great way for the characters to interact when you consider her personality.  See that’s the problem, the way you should respond to someone in this outfit and the way you should respond to Farangis the character are totally fucking different, and this disparity is why her outfit is so ill-fitting.  You could conceivably make this work if Arslan Senki was an inherently silly series, then putting a serious character in such a mismatched outfit could be funny and reflect the silly tone of the show.  But Arslan Senki is more serious, sometimes solemn even, war drama epic, and in the context of a serious war drama epic the only kind of character who should be wearing a skimpy outfit would be a stereotypical whore/courtesan or female slave character who is picked up by the main characters along the way.  It doesn’t make any fucking sense for it to be on Farangis though.

I’ve been talking about Farangis and Arslan Senki specifically too much in this post, but the same concept applies to all kinds of characters.  Costumes should, at the bare minimum match the character’s personality, occupation and/or background.  They should also hopefully tell us something about that character’s beliefs or personality, like I talked about with All Might and Eraser Head.   Ideally the character should own their outfit, own their look because that’s part of what makes a character really stand out and seem natural, part of the reason characters from shows like Black Lagoon or Cowboy Bebop seem to come alive so much more effectively and are so much more iconic than more generic, if appropriately dressed characters, is because they so thoroughly own their look, they have created their own kind of brand if you will.  The best example would probably be Kamina from Gurren Lagann with the cape and the rad glasses, you see a fucking outline or silhouette of those glasses and you instantly think Gurren Lagann, that’s mostly because Kamina’s a great character and Gurren Lagann’s a great show, but it’s also because Kamina so owns that look that it has become as iconic as it is.  So let us all burn with rage at bad costumes which fail to fit the characters they are attached to.  Thank you all for reading, I hope you enjoyed it, and I’ll see you in the next one.


Surly Summaries: Kiznaiver

Kiznaiver was not a show I expected to be anywhere near as good as it was.  Amid all the hype for Boku no Hero and Kotetsujou no Kabaneri, not to mention sequels I was looking forward to, all coupled with Kiznaiver’s much slower and seemingly directionless start, I was starting to file Kiznaiver away as a show that, despite the great character designs and animation, was going to be ok but nothing that would stack up when compared to the rest of the season.  And I can proudly say I’m so happy to be proven wrong.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Kiznaier was a bit weak in the early episodes, the first episode felt like it came from Shaft more so than Trigger, with tons of dialogue and stylish visuals that nonetheless didn’t move the plot or characters forward much.  Episode two likewise had so much work to do showcasing and explaining the Kizuna System that the characters made baby steps forward.  And the next episode or two after that is similarly slow and seemingly directionless.  This was what caused me to think Kiznaiver was not going to be great.  However after the slower episodes thinks really start to pick up, the drama and tension gets more intense, the characters get fleshed out and the story really seems like it was going somewhere.  I think the summer camp is the turning point, that’s when the plot and characters pick up considerably.  However what really sold me on the series was the huge dramatic event that causes the group to temporarily fracture as they they all begin feeling the pain of their relationships and start hearing each others’ most heartfelt feelings.  This is followed by the narrative shift into Nori’s struggle, goals and all the information about the original Kizuna experiment.  And it’s handled so well, the drama and tension are there, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, just drinking in all the new information and having a blast with the final episodes of the series.  Kiznaiver has a fantastic finish, which after the disappointing conclusions to Mayoiga and Concrete Revolutio, and the just ok end of Bungo Stray Dogs, I can’t be happier about.

Surly Summaries: Bungo Stray Dogs

Bungo Stray Dogs is a show I have some mixed feelings about, it was pretty solid overall but it never got great and it’s ending leaves something to be desired.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Let’s start with all the pros for Bungo Stray Dogs before we get to the cons.  It looks gorgeous, it has a bunch of good character designs and the animation is stellar.  Anyone who likes superpower shows will likely enjoy this one as it has a bunch of superpowers involved and some of them are pretty interesting as they are based on literary figures and their novels.  The characters are sort of goofy caricatures of the authors whom they are named after, the Guild leader who shows up in the final episode keeps using old sport in a bunch of his lines, something he borrows from the main character of The Great Gatsby.  Likewise Dazai is constantly trying to kill himself because the actual author ended up committing suicide.  This can get kind of stupid and/or annoying but I’m generally on board when it comes to shows with goofy, eccentric characters so it mostly works out for me.  The action scenes are pretty good, especially the Atsushi and Akutagawa fight but save for that fight most of the action is nothing to write home about, like the show itself, the action is solid but not particularly noteworthy.  Also the theme music that plays whenever the boss of the Armed Detective Agency enters a scene is fucking awesome. Times for the cons.

The show suffers from being an episodic mystery show, because the mysteries are generally pretty lackluster, the side characters introduced are mildly entertaining at best and frankly the more episodic aspects of this show mostly fail when compared to the overarching narrative, which thus far has not been great but hasn’t been bad either.  Also the frequent flashbacks to Atsushi’s past where the orphanage caretakers constantly call him worthless and tell him he should just die in a ditch was both cringe-worthy and really annoying to hear over and over again.  The ending also presents some interesting problems, yes I realize it was a sequel-bait ending and it’s quite possible Bungo Stray Dogs 2 will appear in the upcoming Fall season (because that’s generally how split cour shows work), that’s not really my issue with it.  It has more to do with where it ended.  In episode 11 they introduce the Guild for about 5 seconds, and I felt like that was all they needed, to me it seems weird to introduce them, have a big battle scene with one of the Guild members and for the series to cut off right after that.  It would have made more sense for it just to have been a low key episode where Atsushi meets the Port Mafia leader and only finds that out later once Kyouka comes to pick him up, in other words the final episode had some decent elements in it and I just thought it was weird for the Guild and Armed Detective Agency to start fighting in this season, because ending before the conflict began but after the Akutagawa battle was over would have been a more natural break in the story.

Anyway, Bungo Stray Dogs is a solid show and if it sounds interesting to you I would encourage you to give it a shot, but I’m not really going to recommend this to someone who didn’t think it looked good in the first place.  I hope you enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Bakuon

Fuck yes, that’s all I really need to say about this show.  You know I usually reserve swearing with regards to moe shows when talking about how fucking slow they are, but Bakuon is anything but.  It’s constantly doing new things and moving forward in the story, even if there’s no particular end point in the narrative.  As some one whose only really gotten into moe shows when they are slow, relaxing experiences like Gochuumon wa Uasgi desu ka or Non Non Biyori, Bakuon was a surprisingly fun change of pace.  It has a little bit of something for everyone, except maybe the action crowd, but it’s main concern is comedy and it passes the test with flamboyantly flying colors.

Bakuon is fucking hilarious, and you don’t need to be into motorcycles at all (I’m not) to have a good laugh.  The shows comedy is mix of silly events, very on-point joking criticisms of certain groups, and some of the most entertaining madness I’ve seen in some time.  For example there’s one episode where they start with a segment on bikers, how bragging rights among bikers is about who has the most expensive bike, and how bikers can be total snobs who don’t obey the rules of the road while demanding everyone  else should, as a guy with a couple biker snob friends myself I can say it was 100% spot on and I laughed through the entire thing.  But if you really want something to sell you, I’ll you about what grabbed me, because I almost skipped this show until I heard about this part.  In the first episode when the main girl goes to the driving school to get her motorcycle license her instructor tells her to listen to her training bike, and then without warning the bike legitimately starts talking for minutes on end, and her advice is split 50/50 between how to ride a motorcycle properly and how to do sexual stuff, because since the bikes a training bike and has “been ridden by so many men” her personality is that she’s slutty and it’s great.  Bakuon is full of ridiculous stuff like that and I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone looking for a feel-good comedy, this was way more fun than I ever expected it to be, and that’s about the highest praise I can give a series really.

Surly Summaries: Concrete Revolutio Last Song

WHAT. THE. FUCK.  This has been one of the biggest disappointments I have sat through in a while.  There will be spoilers ahead.

I legitimately wished they never made this second season, I would rather have been left hanging for all time with nothing but season one and all the potential it had than this pathetic result.  Concrete Revolutio Last Song is a baffling step backwards from the first season in almost every way.  The only thing Last Song did better for sure was the first episode because Last Song’s first episode was fucking awesome, it was coherent, it was on point and it explained how the mechanical detective turned from the straight-laced good guy to a criminal hellbent on killing a lot of people.  But after that the story just falls apart.  The biggest problem with Last Song is that starts with the same slower pace the early episodes of season one had, even though it no longer makes sense to do so.  It tries to slowly tie everything together into the final conflict the way season one did, except it doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because the huge climactic ending of the first season set the stage for power episodes,  where the story and characters are supposed to make big strides and we see big battles, and we get a sense that conflict has escalated until we get to the final battle.  Instead Last Song seems content to show the plot by implication while it keeps the status quo for almost the entire season and introduces a bunch of new characters, plot twists, and concepts, most of which don’t really add anything.

And then they cram so much shit into the final episode that is has no sense of pacing, build-up or climax at all.  It doesn’t make any fucking sense, they spend almost almost all of Last Song doing basically nothing with the story and just adding characters like the Iron Masked Fencer, and showing us that Jaguar was turning evil but no he really wasn’t, and then in the final episode they cram in a giant battle, reveal the final villain’s powers and defeat him in minutes and have all the monsters teleport to an alternate reality which is supposed to be our reality.  Concrete Revolutio is Kekkai Sensen all over again, it has all this color, all this crazy shit, all this heart and soul, and then it fucking implodes in the final episode.  And the worst part is that all they added to the show was mostly crap.  The main bad guy was boring as shit and he was beaten so fast he didn’t have a final villain feel, most of the new monsters and characters are notably less interesting than the characters from season one, and I was not at all a fan of the idea that this was an alternate reality and that Jiro was the energy of the atomic bomb given human form.  Really the only cool addition to the story here was the idea of using monsters as fuel and having the monsters fight back, starting with Emi killing Master Ultima.  And the storytelling was just plain incompetent in Last Song.  In the first season all the flash-forwards where we saw events that would happen in Last Song clued us into the fact that the episodic adventures were going to lead to something bigger even if they didn’t tell us how they would get there.  In Last Song some of the episodic adventures have no relevance to the story at all and you only become aware of those that do tie into the final conflict after the final conflict is already revealed at which point the connection doesn’t even feel clever or vaguely interesting because you have to process the ridiculous amount of information in the finale and have stopped caring.  And the final episode should have been two episodes, one to show the large scale battle and one to show the battle with the main villain and the future stuff where Kikko is a low key witch, because that way you could have at least paced the finale well.  Instead so much happens in the final episode that none of it has any sense of buildup or impact, especially the main villain or Jiro’s transformation into an invisible energy dragon.  But no, that would require thought and skill, and the creators clearly spent all of theirs on season one and we’re left with this clusterfuck of a sequel.  FUCK.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Surly Summaries: Mayoiga

Mayoiga was one the bigger disappointments for me this season.  I will give it credit for not turning into a total gorefest like many informed viewers expected it to be, but it doesn’t offer anything else substantial.  There will be spoilers ahead.

So the big twist was that everyone who makes into Nanaki village is confronted by a visualization of their trauma, their Nanaki, every time they want to leave the village and the only way to get back is by either severing yourself from your Nanaki, which causes you to age super fast, or to accept your Nanaki, which causes you to warp back to the normal world.  This results in a feel-good ending to the show where about half the characters resolve their traumas and accept their Nanakis and about half choose to stay in the village because they are done with society.  None of this is bad, and to give the show some credit a lot of Nanakis are fucking amazingly grotesque and horrifying, and some of the sound effects like the thunderous roars from earlier episodes are stellar.  However all of the best elements in the show are more ideal for a thriller, horror story (which is what most people expected anyway), not a show with a feel-good ending teaching all the characters that everyone has shit to deal with and every has their own traumas.

The problem here is that because the story is more about teaching a lesson than actually telling a story, the story never goes anywhere.  There’s 30 characters, quite a few subplots, several horrifying looking monsters and their accompanying backstories, and none of it matters at all.  The story has a ton of moving parts and some of them are handled pretty well or are pretty interesting, but they all amount to nothing because the only part of the story that really mattered was Mitsumune convincing Hayato to quit being a possessive dick and be his friend, and by extension teaching everyone else to embrace their Nanakis.  Fuck the cool parts of the story was the initial disappearance of Yottsun, the big roars, the ugly monsters (I thought the BB gun girl’s wasp monster especially good) and the weird song Koharu kept singing.  But none of those elements really go anywhere, they were all red herrings, which is a shame because I think this show had the potential to be a great new horror anime and that clearly didn’t happen.  There isn’t much else to say really, this show had a ton of potential and has some superficial stuff that was good, but the core narrative was threadbare and could have easily been told over an OVA or two, but instead it took a full twelve episodes. The only good thing to come out of the final episode was Valkana being a boss and saying he’d try living in Nanaki Village forever, and Lovepon calling Mitsumune’s penguin Nanaki agorable and behaving like the cute girl she is for a second without shouting execute.

Hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Storytelling: Choosing the Wrong Main Character with Tenjou Tenge

So I recently wrote a post about why I thought anime was a better medium than light novels and manga.  While I was writing that, I decided to do a little experiment, specifically I would re-watch the Tenjou Tenge anime, which I remembered being pretty mediocre, and I would read the manga alongside it to see the difference.  The experiment itself has revealed some interesting results (I now realized I can read the manga so long as the anime was in fact mediocre and the manga is better.  Shocking, I know.) as I go to discuss the clusterfuck that is the anime adaptation of Tenjou Tenge.  There will be major spoilers ahead, you have been warned.

The biggest problem with Tenjou Tenge is that it’s a 24 episode anime trying to adapt an almost 140 chapter long manga.  There’s no fucking way Tenjou Tenge could ever get close to completing the story and the show knew that.  Instead it adapted the manga almost exactly as it appeared for the chapters it covered, minus the more extreme stuff like sex, loss of limbs and a straight up rape that shows up in Chapter 3 or so… yea did I forget to mention this show is kinda fucked up, though that mostly applies to the manga, because it’s definitely kinda fucked up.  Where the show well and truly falls apart though is when it goes into the backstory.  In Tenjou Tenge there are a few chapters that take place in the present to start with before we jump into a bunch of chapters about a previous conflict from two years ago that sets the stage for the current conflict.  What this means is that the anime is legitimately split 50/50 between past and present, which is not how any story should ever be.  When your backstory is as long as your main story, you have a problem, or you could just split it into two different stories.  This works out fine in the manga because the manga’s fucking long, but in the anime it’s almost impressive how demoralizing it is to realize you just spent half the time watching the buildup to the conflict the story teased you with early on.

I get why the anime did this of course, most anime don’t venture too far from the manga, and to it’s credit the back story conflict is far more interesting than the current conflict was at the beginning.  However the anime suffers in a big way because of it, and not just because it spends so much time in the past.  In the Tenjou Tenge manga there are essentially two male protagonists, Nagi Souichirou and Takayanagi Masataka, and the story swaps it’s focus between the two from arc to arc, allowing one or the other to play a bit role or straight up vanish without the story skipping a beat.  This doesn’t happen in the anime.  It focuses on only one guy and he’s the less appealing of the two.  Again I sort of see why they chose him, the manga starts by focusing on him and he does have the more stand out design, Nagi is a delinquent with blond hair so he stands out amid all the more normal students.  Takayanagi on the other hand looks like any generic random guy.  But of the two Takayanagi is by far the more interesting, but I’ll get to that in a minute, for now I need to set the stage in more detail.

Tenjou Tenge is high school battle anime set in a high school that is dedicated to preserving martial arts, so naturally everyone can fight.  In addition to the martial arts are people who can perform superhuman techniques using their chi.  Nagi Souichirou and his friend Bob Makihara, one of the few genuinely interesting black dudes in anime, attend the school with the goal of taking it over by force.  They fail spectacularly when they butt heads with Juken Club, which they will later join.  The Juken Club is a three member team who have a long standing grudge with the Student Council, it’s members are Natsume Maya the team captain and a third year student, Natsume Aya, Maya’s younger sister and a first year student, and Takayangi Masataka a second year student and the younger brother of the Student Council President Takayanagi Mitsuomi, who is the antagonist of the anime and a third year student.  Got all that?  I hope so cause it’s about to get more complicated.

Because in addition to chi powers, there are other superpowers related to various Chinese dragons and they are passed down family bloodlines.  Aya and Souicihirou have dragon powers.  Natsume Maya, who doesn’t have dragon powers,  is the younger sister of Natsume Shin, who had the Dragon’s Eye power (which has since passed to Aya).  Shin founded the Juken Club two years ago after his previous group, KATANA was destroyed, thanks to him losing control of his powers and tearing most of his own team apart, and Maya instigating the whole thing in attempt to get stronger.  Mitsuomi was part of the original KATANA group and continued to stick with Shin in the Juken Club.  I feel I should mention at this point that Shin is a huge sis-con and Maya is a bit of a bro-con.  Also Mitsuomi develops feelings for Maya and she reciprocates, and this eventually leads to the death of Shin, the turning of Mitsuomi from a nice guy to cold-hearted leader and sets Maya and the Juken Club against Mitsuomi and his Student Council.  And by the way if you think this is messy and complicated, this is the simpler part of the story in the manga.

Ok so now that that’s out of the way I can finally get to the main topic of this post, why Nagi Souichirou is the wrong guy to cast as the main character.  For starters Nagi is weak as shit, he’s a tough punk and he can punch hard but he has no skill and no technique, let alone chi powers.  This means in order for him to become a threat he has to power-up unbelievably fast and it’s bullshit, he spends a week backhanding pots and pans and somehow this lets him learn a chi move and makes him about 10x stronger than he was in episode one.  At this point he’s still far weaker than Masataka, Maya and Aya, though he has outclassed Bob.  When we get to the major battle of the current timeline, Nagi powers again up in the most boring way imaginable, he basically gets Sage Mode from Naruto allowing him to draw chi from the world around him instead of being limited to the chi in his own body so he heals super fast, use chi moves constantly and just generally becomes a huge pain in the ass.  Oh and even with all of this he doesn’t beat Mitsuomi and only takes down one important guy and a handful of thugs.  By comparison Masataka takes out 80 thugs by himself and is about to beat one important guy before his older brother jumps into their fight and beats him from behind like a total dick.

See the thing that makes Masataka interesting despite his totally boring character design is that it feels like the show itself underestimates him.  Throughout the anime it is continually suggested that Maya is the strongest member of Juken Club so long as you discount the OVA’s which start introducing more ridiculous powers for Nagi without any proper context if you’ve never read the manga.  However in my judgement, Masataka was already stronger than Maya by episode one and is just unrecognized as such.  In that major battle Maya defeats one major opponent and maybe 20 guys, and again Masataka beats 80 and was totally about to beat a major opponent if  not for his brother’s interference.  Not only that but in the beatdown scene in episode 2 or 3, it’s by far the most well known scene from the show, both Maya and Aya attempt to restrain Masataka while he pounds the living shit out of Nagi and he throws them off with zero effort.  Moreover Maya always feels powerless in front of Mitsuomi and he never attacks her, by comparison he instantly attacks Masataka on sight in most of their few encounters, which implies that he either really hates Masataka or sees him as a threat, though his attitude in both the show and manga express contempt or disregard more than anything else.

What makes Masataka the most interesting to me however is not just his strength, it’s how he fits into the Juken club and the overall narrative.  During the anime, Masataka is solely a bit player, such a side character that it’s almost painful for reasons I will get into a minute.  What makes Masataka unusual by the standards of the Juken Club is evident even by his status as second year.  He’s not a total outsider to the prior conflict from two years ago like Aya, Nagi and Bob are but neither is he consumed by that conflict the way Maya is.  This means Masataka is more versatile than the other characters allowing him to be in the know or ignorant depending on the scene, in the same way that he can appearing overpowering in one fight scene or the underdog in another.  This also applies to his relationships with the other characters, he makes a good rival for Nagi, in the beginning anyway before the show well and truly shafts him, and a good partner for Bob, who has no superpowers or chi powers but relies solely on skill and physical power.  While I’m the subject of Bob I feel like he suffers from the same problem as Masataka, they both get sidelined hard to make room for more Nagi and Maya when I felt they were the more interesting characters to begin with.  Because unlike Nagi, Bob is not stupid, he’s much more perceptive and much more willing to talk things through and figure things out himself whereas Nagi yells a lot, charges headlong into the fray and needs to be told everything like a typical shounen hero.  You know, now that I put it that way I think I’m seeing the problem here.  I think Tenjou Tenge is more of seinen anime in content and tone and that Mastataka and Bob reflect that, while Nagi feels out of place because he’s more like a shounen character, which makes him seem a lot less complex and interesting than the side characters surrounding him.  Yea, that may be the root of the problems I’m having here.

Anyway getting back to Masataka and his relationships, I think his ties to the girls are where the show fails big time.  Maya respects Masataka but more or less treats him like a follower and spends almost all of her attention on Nagi and most of the rest on Aya.  This holds true to the manga and it works pretty well in showing how obsessed Maya is with dragon powers and how they blind her to other important things, she is unable to properly train Bob because she’s so obsessed with training Nagi and his powers for example.  It’s with Aya that the show well and truly drops the ball though.  Now Aya has this annoying clingy romantic obsession with Nagi and that is true in the manga too, but in the manga there’s a large stretch where Nagi straight up disappears and Aya is given more time to grow as a person and bond with Masataka and Bob, as well as some other characters who never made it into the anime.  And the thing is there is one scene in the anime where they could have made this work beautifully.  After the major battle of the current timeline the Juken Club starts to fall apart, Bob has lost some confidence because he feels weak compared to Nagi, Maya and Nagi have gotten closer romantically which badly hurts Aya who started going after Nagi first but has yet to receive the same romantic attention, and Masataka seems to be the only guy who is paying any attention whatsoever to the fragmentation of the group, making him more of an outsider to the club than he has ever been.

Anyway Aya overhears Nagi talking to Bob about he loves Maya, and Aya in her sadness and desperation (in addition to freaking about the sadistic damage she did during the major battle when she let her dragon powers take over), takes a ridiculously long katana from her house to replace her sword that broke earlier in the show while she mopes about all heartbroken.  This katana is called the Chokutou Reiki and it amplifies dragon powers, it also drove her older brother Shin insane.  Maya understandably freaks the fuck out that the Reiki is gone and in Aya’s hands, and since it’s one the few things she and Mitsuomi can set their differences aside to deal with, Aya is forced to run away from home for the night and she goes to the only person not chasing her, or who won’t report her to Maya, Masataka.  Masataka, being in love with Aya, and just generally a decent dude goes ahead and lets her spend the night.  Now this scene follows the manga where Mastaka almost pervs on Aya in the shower but hears her crying and stops himself while Aya is met by the ghost of Shin later that night to get a warning about the Reiki, yea the dragon power related parts of Tenjou Tenge are fucking nuts.  What they should have done was make this a scene where Masataka learns about Aya’s dragon powers and their potential dangers but chooses to stand by her anyway because, a, that’s what’s in character for him to do regardless and, b, because he is the character in the show best equipped to handle Aya since he won’t be inclined to suppress her powers like Maya, attack her for the potential dangers of her power like Mitsuomi, totally exacerbate her problems like Nagi or just not be anywhere near strong enough to protect her from anyone, including herself, like Bob.

Now to be fair to the show, the manga does not take this route either because it’s dead set on having Nagi and Aya be a pair that never really gets together for some stupid reason.  But the point I’m trying to make here is that no matter what angle you look at the story from, be it in the manga (which I’ll get to shortly), the anime (which was pretty shit) or re-imaginings of how the story should have gone (in case you’re like me and just do that sort of thing), Nagi is always far less interesting than Masataka and the show’s decision to exclude Masataka from significance is a fatal error in a show already riddled with serious problems.  Maya and Aya also suffer from similar problems, the focus is mostly put on Maya because she’s the leader and she’s involved in both the current and prior conflicts, but her character arc is more or less finished by the end of the prior conflict, leaving her with little room to grow.  By comparison Aya has all kinds of potential and for whatever reason the creators used that potential to make an obnoxious, clingy girl who never grows at all in the anime and takes a pretty long time to go anywhere in the manga before she ends up behaving as though she went back to square one at the end of the manga.

The manga gets past most of these problems by being long as fuck compared to the anime, but even then I think it’s interesting to note that the big arc where Nagi and Maya are both missing was probably the best arc of the manga. Because it finally gives Masataka, Aya and Bob some much needed character growth and because it gets away from the insanity that is all the dragon powers of Tenjou Tenge and gets back to more manageable martial arts.  And the weird part is that I get the impression that the creators of the manga figured out along the way that Maya and Nagi were the more boring characters, because Nagi-focused arcs are mainly just battle arcs, while Masataka focused arcs generally include more narrative and character development, and in the later chapters Masataka and Aya play a much larger role with Masataka ending up as the final hero of the series (and totally kicking his brother’s ass, proving that he was in fact stronger than Maya), though Nagi does play his part as a heroes as well.

So in summary, don’t have the main character of your seinen anime behave like a shounen hero, and in retrospect I can’t believe it took me until I was halfway through writing this post to figure out that that was the root of many of Tenjou Tenge’s problems.  In a similar vein when you have a story full of complex characters or characters with the potential to be complex don’t focus most of your attention on the simple characters or those done with their character growth.  Because credit where it’s due Maya is an interesting character in the show and the manga, but Aya has so much more potential than Maya ever did and that potential went largely untapped because of the initial obsession with Nagi and Maya which trapped Aya into a simpler and, in the anime in particular, more annoying character.  Amidst all the chaos and WTF elements of Tenjou Tenge there are well written and interesting characters and character relationships, things which make the overall story far more bearable and interesting.  It’s just a shame that so few of those made it into the anime.  Though I will say in the anime’s defense, I think it does do the part of the manga it covers better than the manga, the Bunshichi and Shin fight and Masataka’s beat down of Nagi were definitely better in the anime.  But because the anime is so much worse as a standalone piece of work, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  This is one of the few times when I will in fact recommend the manga over the anime, though the manga is more than a little chaotic, insane and dark, so unless you’re ready for that I wouldn’t really recommend it either.  Thanks for reading my meandering ramblings, I hope you enjoyed them and I’ll see you in the next one.