Understanding Anime: The Trigger Twist, a Coinable Term Or a Misguided Assumption

darling in the franxx 2

Just about any community in life has it’s own lingo and as I’m sure you’re all aware anime is no exception.  Waifus, Moe, Tsundere, etc.  The list is long and yet here I am making one up – The Trigger Twist.  If the picture above isn’t enough to clue you in I decided to bring out this term as a result of the sudden shift in Darling Franxx’s story, a shift that threw a lot of people but which in retrospect is not obvious per se but is perhaps expected.  There will be scattered spoilers ahead.

The most obvious parallel which one can draw to the Trigger Twist is the infamous Gainax Ending, a term coined because of the number of WTF endings in Gainax shows.  My personal favorite example of this term in action was the sudden end of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, where Stocking turns on her sister/partner apropos of nothing and chops her into tiny bits before walking off to be the presumed villain of a sequel which never came out.  It was so sudden and out of left field that it still confuses the fuck out of me.  I can easily see the same being true for Darling in the Franxx, the shift was jarring.  However I think this deserves it’s own term because A. the confusion brought on by the jarring shift wore off while the aforementioned Gainax Ending is still baffling, and more importantly B. this is a traceable trend in the works of Hiroyuki Imaishi.

Perhaps the Trigger Twist isn’t a totally accurate term as it’s not as though Imaishi is the only director working for the studio.  That being said he not only co-founded the studio but is far and away the name most commonly associated with the studio so I think the term fits well enough even if I’m describing a tendency of Imaishi’s not Trigger behavior on the whole.  Barring Dead Leaves, which I know nothing about, and Panty and Stocking – which as detailed above is a classic example of the Gainax Ending – all of the major projects Imaishi has had a major hand in have the same twist, it turns out the main enemies are actually aliens which threaten humanity’s existence.  This trend predates Trigger as Gurren Lagann is the first main example that comes to mind, but it has continued into Trigger and is present in more of the major productions than not.

Kill la Kill, Space Patrol Luluco and now Darling in Franxx stand beside Gurren Lagann as shows where the story takes a sudden shift and a new existence threatening enemy is revealed later on.  Luluco is by far the hardest sell on this point as the existential threat appears basically at the end and most of the episodes are clear references to Imaisihi’s past works but it counts in my book.  Kill la Kill and Darling in the Franxx are much more clear cut examples of the Trigger Twist in action, and of the two I think Darling in the Franxx is the one where the Trigger Twist was felt most strongly.

Kill la Kill was such an over-the-top, stupid action thrill ride (in my humble opinion the best of such that anime has to offer) that when the final enemy was revealed and the History channel Aliens meme went into full effect it really didn’t take you out of the experience.  It was Kill la Kill, where clothes could talk, clothes made you superhuman, a 20 year old was in high school, Ragyou wore the most hideous clown outfit in human history, Mako could defy any sense of logic or physics (a good thing), and we still don’t know what all made it into Mako’s mom’s mystery croquettes.  Adding aliens to the mix was perfectly in step with the wacky, violent world of Kill la Kill.  It wasn’t necessarily predictable but it wasn’t jarring.

By contrast the Trigger Twist in Darling the Franxx was very jarring and seems to have at least somewhat split the community on the show as a whole.  Speaking for myself, up until the Trigger Twist I had pegged Darling the Franxx as a cross between Evangelion, for obvious reasons you’ve no doubt heard before, and Shinsekai Yori with it’s strong focus on the gaps in knowledge between the adults and the kids, the use of brainwashing to control the children, the use of a control group (the main characters) and a strong sense that the rift between the adults and the kids would become the source of a great conflict.  That potential conflict had it’s legs cut from under it with the Trigger Twist and the big reveal of VIRM.

Personally I thought the VIRM arc of the show was handled pretty well with the confusion when they first showed up during the fight with the klaxosaurs, the big space battle that followed and the separation of the cast where Zero Two and Hiro went off to kill the VIRM homeworld and the rest set about making the foundations for reviving human civilization.  That being said I can see the negatives of this particular Trigger Twist, the shift was so sudden and so different from the direction the story seemed to be heading in that I can see why people were confused or perhaps thought of it more like a bait-and-switch than Kill la Kill or Gurren Lagann.  As much as I like the show I think it’s about a 7-8 which is a shame because I thought it could definitely be a 9 or maybe even a 10 if handled well enough – before the Trigger Twist went into effect.

This is not to say that experience was wholly or even mostly negative but I do think the Trigger Twist definitely pushed Darling in the Fraxx into a different and for me less gripping trajectory.  I still like the show, I like the klaxosaur designs, I like some of the details of moving cities and their society, I like the entire main team, Zero Two is totally a contender for best girl of the year, and I think the mechs with faces that could emote to match the female pilot was perhaps the greatest innovation in mech design in anime history.  No I am not joking, I’m not a big mecha fan but I loved these mechs because they had so much more character than the competition.

That being said there is only one question remaining:  Do you think the Trigger Twist is just some bullshit I made up and should remain that way or do you think it’s some bullshit I just made up that should perhaps be added to anime lingo?  Comment below with your response.

Surly Summaries: Winter 2018 Roundup

Darling-in-the-Franxx

You know many moons ago I complained about certain anime seasons being total shit.  Today I look back at my old self and give me a “if only you knew” kind of look.  Because this season is legitimately the worst season in years.  There’s almost nothing that’s actually good or interesting despite their being another huge chunk of shows to actually watch.  Also there’s basically nothing in the way of solid sequels to help pad the season out – the only one off hand that might fill that role is Nanats no Taizai season 2, but having read the manga and hating where it goes I’m skipping that one despite really liking season 1.  Since this season was so barren I figured I’d do a 3 episode test on the few shows i’m actually watching.  There will be spoilers ahead.

Basilisk: Ouka Ninpouchou – I’m actually a big fan of the original Basilisk so I was bewildered to see a sequel.  If you want a spoiler free review of season 1, it’s here, and I do recommend season 1 as it was a good show.  However considering the ending I never would have believed it would have gotten a sequel much less one set only 10 years after the events of season 1.  Having seen 3 episodes of the sequel I can say I was right to be wary.  It’s not so much that it has been bad – it’s just not been good – and it has some problems.  For example why are the young recruits from the two ninja villages, Iga and Kouga, split along gendered lines?  In Basilisk season 1 both sides had men and women fighting.  How are Hachirou and Hibiki related to Gennosuke and Oboro exactly?  Both of those characters died before they had kids.  Speaking of which why does Hibiki look nothing like Oboro and why do her mystic eyes not match up with Oboro’s?  The village leaders insist she’s connected to Oboro but they describe her mystic eyes as neutralizing all hostility while Oboro’s eyes simply destroyed unnatural techniques, i.e. all ninjutsu/ninpou.  My problem is not that this show outright sucks but it looks to me like the team putting it together have a surface level understanding of Basilisk.  Forgetting all the details they have which don’t make sense, their uglier character designs and willingness to kill characters off are reminiscent of Basilisk – but nonetheless the whole thing feels very off and I’m not sure I want to continue.

Citrus – Yuri.  Nuff said.  Ok it could be Shoujo Ai… In all seriousness this show is just ok so far.  The story is very basic and while it’s not as slow and irritating as most shoujo shows are to me it is nonetheless carried by the fact it has lots of yuri fanservice to distract viewers from the thus far lackluster story and characters.  It’s a decent time but nothing spectacular – unless you loving seeing hot girls kiss.

Darling in the Franxx – So far this is the best show of the season.  Episode one was top tier with a great battle, weird monsters, tons of explosions and a bizarre looking mech.  I love Zero Two, the whimsical horned girl who has a nasty habit of overwhleming and damaging her partners.  What partners you ask?  Darling in the Franxx pulls a Pacific Rim and it takes two people, this time male and female to pilot a Franxx and fight the monsters, klaxosaurs.  Also emotions and one’s state of mind have a major effect on piloting the Franxx so managing the teenage pilots is going to be a big part of the show.  This in fact leads me to my main issue with Darling in the Franxx.  The world looks like a wasteland and what little politics have been shown give the society a distinctly dystopian edge, though it may be a justified one considering the monsters at their doorstep.  Excuse my sounding tyrannical but this society needs to control the kids better.  Not counting the anomaly that is Zero Two, most of the problems in making the kids combat effective come from their attitudes screwing with their compatibility.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to either control the kids with strict rules to create a less emotional children a la Shin Sekai Yori or to have the kids constantly doing the kind synchronization training Shinji and Asuka did in Evangelion to fight the twin angel?  I feel like either process would have better results than letting these kids run amok and destroying their own squad with huge egos and shitty behavior.  Also the pairs seem to be random considering the swathe of comparability problems, so maybe that needs work too.  Minor criticism of the setting aside this show is great and you should watch it.

Grancrest Senki – In season less barren than this I wouldn’t have even given this show a look.  It’s pretty bog standard fantasy action fare with simplistic and boring politics, bland characters and unexplained magic.  It has a strong military bent to it but while individual parts of the battles are great, overall it’s not that impressive.  I’m probably dropping this because what little charm it had has already worn off.

Killing Bites – This show is trash and I love it.  There’s something special about shitty action shows that know how trash they are just not giving a single fuck and plunging headlong into more fanservice and basic action scenes.  It’s not the kind of show which should ever be taken seriously and because of that it’s kind of fun.  Definitely a better way to pass the time than the last show I talked about.

Koi wa Ameagari You ni – Honestly I don’t get the appeal of this show.  The art style looks pretty but the main girl and her best friend on the track team have all kinds weird proportions.  Both of their upper legs are way too long, main girl’s neck looks too long in close up shots and track club senpai has noticeably bigger eyes than main girl and even her eyes look a little too big for her face.  The romance is between a quiet, seemingly anti-social high school girl and generic nice guy 45 year old.  I guess some people are into that but I certainly don’t see why.  It’s not a bad show and I’ll probably keep watching but it’s not a great time either.

Kokkoku – This one is weird.  So there’s this dirt poor family that has a rock which can stop time and after two members of the family are kidnapped at random they use the rock.  Unbeknownst to them they are being monitored by a cult which worships the rock and it’s time powers and they complicate matters immensely by taking yet another hostage and trying to kill Juri, the main girl.  At the rate this show is going they might have to resolve the entire plot in the pace of one time stop, which seems like a bit much but whatever.  Also the main family has extra powers like teleportation and being able to turned people who aren’t frozen in time into people frozen in time.  This show has a good mystery thriller vibe and the episodes are flying by, but it seems like a lot to resolve quickly so let’s see where it goes.

Violet Evergarden – This is the outright prettiest show of the season and good luck to anyone trying to top this show’s visuals.  The story has only been ok thus far as it centers around writing letters and the main girl, the titular Violet Evergarden lacks most human emotions.  But that’s ok because the Violet has spent most of her life fighting in a war that recently ended and everyone’s struggling to adjust – she just struggles all the harder because she has no concept of living a peaceful  civilian life like most people.  I’m personally fascinated by the concept of people accustomed to war suddenly struggling with peace so that’s a big plus for me.  Definitely give this one a try.

Raging Rant: Stop Liking Edgy Bullshit

Edgy is one of the worst possible descriptors a show can acquire.  And yet for some reason blatantly edgy shows do annoying well with a large percentage of the anime community.  A lot of that can be attributed to people being noobs, which is fair enough because we were all noobs once, but at the same time I don’t think it’s fair or correct to write off all the attention edgy shows get as solely a noob problem.  So what is it that attracts people to edgy shows in the first place?  Why do so many people buy into the edgy bullshit?  Well… there will be spoilers ahead you’ve been warned.

I think one of the main draws of edgy shows is that they are dark and gory, and to first time viewers that make them seem very cool and maybe even mature.  I remember the first time I saw Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki, and I thought both of them were awesome and I was ready to fight people who shat on them, you know before someone really broke down why they sucked and I realized the great sin I’d committed by liking these shows.  I hate them both now, in fact the only thing I like about Elfen Lied now is Nyu, because Nyu is fucking adorable.  But I get it, the first time you see a show that’s willing to horribly murder a bunch of people right from the get go, where characters die right and left, where gore and tragedy are everywhere, it can seem like a big step up from all the boring high school stuff.  It can feel more mature and realistic than shounen battles with their huge emphasis on optimism and friendship and marked rarity of death.  But edgy shows are anything but mature and I happen to know a character that illustrates this perfectly, Seiryuu from Akame ga Kill.

Akame ga Kill is one of the notable edgy shows but in contrast to Elfen Lied and Mirai Nikki, it’s one I actually like.  I’ll get into more details on that later, for now let’s look at Seiryuu.  As detailed in one of my early posts, Seiryuu is a well constructed crazy person.  She has been driven to the point of insanity by a clear chain of events, i.e. her parents and mentors are all murdered in rapid succession, and thanks to the fact that some of her mentors are corrupt scumbags themselves, her moral compass and understanding of the world is totally fucked.  This makes Seiryuu a character who believably would act in an overblown, hyper violent, edgy way.  She is a child trying to deal with very adult issues and she just can’t, which ends up with her laughing about feeding people to her dog monster while still believing she represents justice.  This is the essence of what it means to be edgy, adult content written for, and perhaps with, a child’s perspective.  Because any show can be super gory and violent, any show can incorporate tragedy and trauma.  It doesn’t need to be a mature show to have mature content, but that’s precisely why edgy shows generally suck, they just take the trappings of mature shows and throw in some babies first characters and hope no one notices.  And is works on a lot of people, because a lot of people are so wowed by the all the blood and death that they stop thinking about anything else going on the story entirely.  But the effect created by the inherent flaw of edgy stories is present in Seiryuu, she’s far and away the most hateable character in Akame ga Kill and watching her die was one of the most satisfying scenes in the show.

What really puts the nail in the coffin of edgy shows is that the things they are trying to do have been done elsewhere so much better.  Even in Akame ga Kill there were characters who had a more mature perspective and their personal philosophies, ideals and goals were by far the most interesting aspects of characterization in the show.  The titular Akame is especially good because, as discussed in my post on anti-heroes, she follows the all too rare path of the redemption seeker.  She knows how hard she fucked up earlier in life and she fights now to make up for her past evils and ensure others have the brighter future she can never have.  Likewise Bols comes from the unique, at least among Akame ga Kill’s characters, perspective of being a family man while also having done a ton of horrific shit that makes people hate him, but he comes to terms with the hatred of others and resolves to continue doing ugly things anyway because they are in service of the ideals he believes in and the people he fights for.  Now both of these characters were weakened because they were saddled with lame comedic punchlines, but the point stands, these two were the most interesting characters in the show because their stories best reflected a more mature perspective in a show full of mature content.  But those two are pretty minor examples compared to the entire shows and stories which handle the same dark and gory content as edgy shows so much better.

Berserk and Neon Genesis Evangelion are stories with plenty of gore and a buffet of traumatic events.  But in direct opposition to Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied, the violence and tragedy aren’t gimmicks meant to wow the audience in these stories.  Trauma and mental damage play a gigantic role in Evangelion, they are core themes central to the narrative of the story and the kind of message it presents to the audience.  And Evangelion is way darker and more impactful for it.  Forget a yandere killing a lot of people because they touched her Yuki, isn’t it really insane to force a fifteen year old with serious trust issues and an understandable lack of confidence to pilot a crazy mech and defend the world from otherworldly beings?  What’s really more tragic, a kid seeing his sister blow in a blood pinata and forgetting the whole thing due to the trauma it caused him or a girl who had to deal with a mother that never recognized and loved her, a mother who she saw hang herself, and then had save the world from invading aliens despite the deep-seated mental scars her childhood left on her, which she not only could never forget about but which would also put even more pressure on her during her future struggles with the aliens?   What’s really darker, a world full of overblown characters and equally overblown violence, or a world full of people who behave like human beings, humans that suffer from a myriad of terrible mental issues and are constantly confronted with violence, but have to keep coming into the office every morning because that’s what’s expected of them?  In all three scenario’s it’s the latter because Evangelion, in a addition to just being a damn good show, took a mature, realistic approach to mature content and told a story with mature themes.  Mirai Nikki and Elfen Lied use the same kind of content to tell cartoonish stories of overwrought tragedy and mindless violence with no noteworthy themes at all.

And then there’s Berserk a story where people we like get raped and where people reel back in genuine horror not just from monsters but from Guts and his exceptional skills at violence.  I think one of the best arcs of Berserk was the Lost Children arc because more so than any other arc it really cemented the idea that Guts was fucking scary.  It doesn’t matter that he’s the hero of the story, that he’s in the right or that his feats were badass, in Lost Children Guts scared even the monsters because of the lengths he was willing to go to take them down and most humans feared and hated him for the damage he left behind.  It really showed how isolating Guts’ path and by extension his reaction to his past traumas were, and it took the near death of the only person he cared about to make him change his ways.  That’s a story that speaks to people about human problems, it doesn’t matter that Guts is fighting demons with a stupidly huge sword in a medieval fantasy land, he and other characters around him suffer from very human problems and they deal with these problems in human ways.  In short the characters in Berserk are relatable and human, and at times they showcase the very worst of what people allow themselves to become.  By contrast Mirai Nikki is about a pink haired girl whose kills people because she’s insane.  It’s pathetic in comparison to a story that actually takes a mature approach to mature content, because again in Mirai Nikki violence and tragedy are gimmicks meant to garner a reaction, they don’t really mean anything narratively or thematically.

Another thing that supports the popularity of edgy is shows is their premise.  Tokyo Ghoul and Mirai Nikki are both shows with a strong premise that got a lot of attention, and to sadly large portion of the audience, respect.  Hell I was into to Tokyo Ghoul for the premise, I watched all of both seasons waiting to see if the show could deliver on that premise, and it just fucking didn’t, not in any meaningful way.  It was such garbage that the best character in the show died in episode one and she somehow continued to be the best character despite getting no extra development.  And as I established in another post, premise means nothing.  You can have the coolest premise in the world but if the execution of the narrative, of key scenes, of the presentation vs the themes all sucks, then your show fucking sucks.  This again is where edgy shows trip up, because gore is a gimmick to them, they don’t really have hard hitting themes to match their presentation, so it all comes off as cartoonish, lacking in subtlety and tact, and ultimately tasteless and juvenile.  This is why edgy shows are laughed at as pleb tier anime, because they damn well are pleb tier in terms of writing and construction.  Which brings me back to the one edgy show I will defend, Akame ga Kill.

Akame ga Kill is an odd beast because the reasons I like and defend it don’t really match up with why most other people like it.  That’s not to say there’s no common ground, I’m pretty sure everyone who likes Akame ga Kill likes the action in Akame ga Kill for instance, but generally speaking there is a big disconnect between me and most everyone else.  Because it sounds like a lot of people who like Akame ga Kill actually like the edgy bullshit that drove so many potential fans away, this is especially true of fans of the manga which based on my admittedly limited knowledge appears even more edgy than the anime.  This is ludicrous to me because while I have found a defense for Akame ga Kill’s edginess, I ain’t celebrating that shit.  It’s edginess is by far the worst thing about Akame ga Kill even if it sort of fits in context.  That context being the anime only end of Akame ga Kill, which in retrospect automatically puts me at odds with manga fans.  As discussed in my review, I found the anime only ending of Akame ga Kill pretty incredible.  Not only did we get to see a bunch of great battles in a row, but we saw a final conclusion to the overall story and that’s rare enough that I was happy we got something.  However what really sold me on this ending is the scene where the few remaining survivors of the conflict are talking atop a huge ruined tower on capital city’s wall.  The shot really hit home the idea that, holy shit the scale and cost of this conflict was enormous.  The majority of the Imperial Arms, super powerful artifact weapons that no one can create anymore, used in the show are destroyed.  Hundreds if not thousands of people have died, the capital city is in ruins, a ton of young talent and potential heroes are dead in addition to the established heroes of the empire who have died and the government is being totally reformed by the few who remain.

Put succinctly, the ending of Akame ga Kill gives me the impression of something like the fabled Trojan War of Homer’s epics.  In the world of Akame ga Kill this conflict’s end signifies the passing of age and it will likely end up as an in-universe epic at some point in that world’s history.  I admit this is a weird thing selling point, especially as it doesn’t appear at all until the end, but for me the idea of a conflict which defined and ended an era is overwhelmingly awesome.  Maybe it’s my love for history, or fictional world building, or legends and lore, maybe all of the above; but it was powerful to me and that’s why I really do love the damn show despite it’s faults.  And as far the edginess is concerned, epics tend to have overblown characters with larger than life personalities and traits taken to extremes, i.e. they are kind of edgy in their own, albeit far less cringy, way.  Therefore, if you look at Akame ga Kill as an epic happening in real time, the edginess makes a little more sense and fits the story.  That doesn’t make it good mind, but it fits enough that I’m willing to forgive it and enjoy the rest of the show.

What this has all been building up to is me, here at the end, begging you all on my hands and knees to stop falling for edgy bullshit.  You’re allowed to like whatever you like, but please, please stop liking edgy bullshit.  You can do better than that and we all deserve better than edgy bullshit.  I want to live in a world where edgy bullshit is not financially viable, where Tokyo Ghoul doesn’t sell well and is shit on by everybody for it’s overwrought yet hollow tragedy, it’s boring flatlined story, and intense gore hidden behind all kinds of shadows.  I want everyone to get past the Mirai Nikki’s and Elfen Lied’s of the world because then maybe, just maybe, we can talk about more interesting shit and get some better dark, gory anime worthy for all of us to enjoy.  Thank you for reading and I’ll see you in the next one.

Understanding Popularity: Quality and Popular Shows

Recently I saw a short review of One Punch Man by anime Youtuber BaronJ, and it’s one of the best ones I think he’s done because as he reviewed the show he talked about the asinine tendency some people have to instantly  assume or otherwise believe that shows which are popular are bad shows, which is the anime equivalent of arguing that games as popular as say Call of Duty must also be of the same relatively low quality as Call of Duty.  Since I liked the video I just thought I’d give my two cents on the same subject, there will be scattered spoilers, you have been warned.

Just in case anyone who feels this way, as in you believe popular shows are bad shows, made through the first paragraph without closing out the page, I’m going to let you in a little secret, I totally get where you’re coming from.  I don’t agree with you, mind, but as someone who is similar to you, I get you.  I have a tendency to avoid popular shows, well sort of.  Technically I was introduced  to anime on popular shows and when I returned from my anime viewing hiatus I did it with a popular show and from there I watched several more popular shows.  But as I got more comfortable and more familiar with anime I started to avoid popular shows more often, I wanted to be that guy who knew the most awesome cult classic, who found the interesting stuff off the beaten path instead of walking the same mainstream road most anime fans followed.  I mean for fucks sake I have an entire subsection of this blog dedicated to “Hidden Gems,” though I haven’t given it as much attention as I would like to.  Believe me I get the appeal of writing off popular shows and trying to find something awesome and more unique.  One of the many reasons I am such a huge fan Katanagatari is because I know the ending is divisive and I enjoy pettily lording my ability to enjoy interesting anime over the casual anime fan.  But really that’s as far as it goes for me now, and that’s as far as it should go.

See here’s the thing, narcissism, a mild form of narcissism anyway, is a part of this writing off of popular shows.  We are all the heroes of our own story and most of us want to be special, someone distinct from the others around us.  I feel this is especially pronounced in anime community, anime has after all been something of a fringe medium in mainstream culture for decades now and it still is.  However it is less so now than it used to be, between social media, speed subbing, and just general cultural evolution more people are getting into anime than they used to and it’s slowly but surely becoming less of a weird and unknown thing in the mainstream. To those of us who are used to being on the fringe the next logical step therefore is as follows: if anime is getting more popular than by rejecting mainstream anime and finding the good stuff no one knows about, I can remain fringe, here meaning special.  I’m oversimplifying of course but as someone who had this mindset for years and still does to a lesser extent I feel pretty comfortable in my conjecture thus far.  There is however another side to this, the SAO effect.

Now the SAO effect is not specific to SAO or even anime, it’s present in every form of entertainment, I just call it that because it makes sense within the confines of anime.  The SAO effect is really quite simply, it’s when a show which is altogether terrible becomes hugely popular to the point where it’s basically worshiped by more causal viewers and causes major industry changes.  Much of the backlash towards popular shows can be attributed to the SAO effect, wherein the hardcore fans, like myself, get incredibly pissed that a garbage show like SAO is made popular by the masses of casual fans and how that popularity boom effects the landscape of what we perceive as “our” medium.  And as someone who has written several posts bashing  shitty SAO clones, SAO itself and why we need make more creative and original shows, trust me I get the hatred towards the SAO effect.  And the rift between hardcore fans and casual fans is real, even discounting all the venom I’ve seen on Youtube and other sites, I remember getting into a big argument with a casual fan over an episode of Fairy Tail 2014.  I ripped the thing to shreds because the episode was shit, and the casual fan basically told me to fuck off, I responded rather rudely and he did the same and then I tried to dial things back a bit and wrote a couple big paragraphs breaking down all the reasons I thought the episode was shit, no personal attacks, just my reasoning.  And it didn’t matter because that guy didn’t want to argue reason, by that point he had already classified me as a vile hardcore fan who ruined anime for newcomers and just perpetuated the argument by making attacks on me and hardcore anime fans without ever making a point of his own while my analytical breakdown responses got progressively nastier as I continued to explain my position but decided he was fair game to insult by that point.

Anyway the point is I get the reaction, I’ve been there and in some instances I’m still there.  I’ve heard great things about the mindfuck that is Serial Experiments Lain or how good Monster is, or for an even more popular example, I still haven’t watched Berserk yet because the first time I tried I couldn’t even make it through the first episode.  And to this day I’ve avoided these shows to some extent because they’re popular.  But at the same time, I have allowed myself to try those “vile” popular shows I kept putting off and here’s what I have to say: popularity is a sign of quality.  You’re probably thinking I’m talking about Evangelion or Cowboy Bebop, both of which are great by the way, but this applies to SAO as well just not in the same way.  See quality is by it’s very nature is subjective, there is no objective quality though I’ve surely said there is in prior posts, in which case I meant they are good by metrics most people agree on.  SAO is garbage but it has certain elements that are made with enough skill to be considered quality, mainly the premise and visuals.  And for a lot of anime fans it would appear that’s all you need.  And sure that frustrating when you’re like me and you want people to celebrate true masterpieces like Katangatari and Utawarerumono, but that doesn’t contradict the point I’m making here.  Popularity is a sign of quality, not necessarily a lot of quality or quality that counts where you want it to, but in order for something to get big, it must have something about it which is good and/or appealing and therefore quality craftsmanship.  Just as I can appreciate why SAO is a pile of shit, I can also understand what parts of it are good and why people might be into that.

The quality of a show’s premise I feel plays a particularly big role when it comes to attracting newcomers.  SAO, Erased, and Shingeki no Kyojin are some of the three biggest anime hits in recent years and all three of them, in my opinion, failed to deliver.  Even Shingeki no Kyojin, my favorite of those three is more noteworthy for the big action scenes more so than the story or characters, and I can get the same thing from Koutetsujou no Kabaneri, a show which I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than Shingeki no Kyojin.  But the fact that all three shows failed to deliver doesn’t matter to a ton of people, because to that mass of people the premise was crafted with enough quality to pull them all in and keep them interested enough to ignore all the flaws of the shows, assuming they don’t just miss the flaws entirely.  This is probably the biggest gap between hardcore otaku and “casual noobfags” when it comes to the differences in those two groups traditionally value.  To a lot of anime newbies, and I don’t mean to criticize anyone by calling them that because we’ve all been newbies at some point, a good premise is all you need or at least is more interesting than a slice of life moe show.  Trust me I know how that feels, it’s so fucking easy to write off all harem and moe shows or maybe all SAO of AoT clones to give a different example, and get drawn into something with a that has a more interesting premise.

Of course easy is not the same thing as smart or right, as I explained in my breakdown of why Erased’s characters sucked because they solely existed for their narrative purpose rather than existing as independent entities in the world of the show, I’d rather watch a decent moe or harem show than watch another show with a great premise that falls flat on it’s boring ass.  Because to someone like me a good premise alone is not enough to impress, you need to have more substance.  This substance can take many forms, maybe’s it’s characters I really like, or good fight scenes or good comedy.  One on the funniest shows in recent seasons was a moe comedy show called Bakuon.  Now I initially passed over Bakuon because it looked like a dumb moe show, and to be fair that’s exactly what it is, however what I failed to appreciate before I saw it was how much fun it was and how much heart had been into the stupid moe comedy, and that heart is what made it fucking hilarious.  Now Bakuon was not a big hit so far as I’m aware, despite the quality of it’s comedy.  This too is part of the reason people  they popular shows are bad, because a lot of people miss the shows that are great all the way through, shows that are overlooked because they don’t look as interesting as shows with a good premise like Erased.  So it is understandable how the idea that popular shows are bad shows came about, because many popular have quality where designed to attract lots of newbies while they lack quality where hardcore fans want quality, like story, characters, pacing and everything that isn’t premise and visuals.

However to assume that something that’s popular is automatically bad is even more close-minded than ignoring all of a show’s problems just because the premise is good.  One Punch Man is a great example because it’s fucking awesome, the comedy is hilarious, the action scenes are insanely well animated, the voice acting is spot on and the dialogue is solid.  Why would you assume it’s bad?  Maybe if action doesn’t interest you or you didn’t think the comedy was good or thought the idea of a hero who kills everything in one hit was boring I can understand why you might not like the show.  But One Punch Man oozes quality from every aspect of it’s design and it seems mindboogling to me that anyone fails to recognize that.  Moreover a lot of the shows that remain popular for any length of time tend to be high quality shows.  I remember I put off watching Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion for a long time because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back to the old 90’s animation, but after having seen I can say without a doubt that both shows are great and their 90’s animation fits them exceptionally well, the Evangelion Rebuild movies look far less impressive than the original Neon Genesis Evagelion despite their shiny new graphics.

Now none of this is to say you can’t dislike popular shows, I think plenty of popular shows are crap and I’m usually less impressed by even some of the truly beloved shows like Death Note compared to the community at large.  I just think it’s stupid to assume that something popular is automatically bad, don’t make assume that until you’ve tried it, or if you’re really averse to that maybe wait to hear about it from a friend you trust.  Lots of popular shows are bad, usually because their only quality constructs are their premises and visuals.  But assuming they’re all bad just because they’re popular is shooting yourself in the foot and making you look like an ass.  Have reasons why you hate something, good reasons, substantive reasons that can justify so someone who isn’t you can understand why you think the way you do.  If you just categorize popular shows as bad you could be missing out on great shows, because while some of the biggest popular shows in recent years are infamously terrible, there are plenty that are great or look promising and you honestly owe it yourself to find out for yourself what shows are and aren’t for you.  That’s really the main point here, more so than all the crap about different kinds of quality, what I really want people to do is stop missing out on good shows for stupid reasons, like assuming all popular shows are bad.  Hope you enjoyed the post and I’ll see you in the next one.

 

Understanding Apocalypse: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Casshern Sins & Ergo Proxy

The post-apocalyptic setting, once a rarity in storytelling, is everywhere now.  It has become a normal type of setting for works of fiction to take place in.  But as post-apocalyptic has become normal some of the things that used to make it so effective have been abandoned or forgotten.  Back before post-apocalyptic settings were popular anyone who wanted to make their story take place in such a setting had to have a very good reason to do, because otherwise there would be no benefit in choosing the setting since it was not popular nor well accepted.  Today that’s no longer an issue, and that has some unusual side effects.  There are countless zombie apocalypse movies ranging from terrible to pretty damn good that have been well received, and Shingeki no Kyojin and its clones are set in post-apocalyptic worlds.  But despite all of this widespread  success for the post-apocalyptic setting, in my mind the true meaning of post-apocalyptic is being lost in the volume of works that have latched onto the idea of a post-apocalyptic world without bothering to understand what that scenario truly entails.  From here on there will be minor spoilers for the three shows mentioned in the title you have been warned.

No doubt some of you are wondering how anyone could get post-apocalyptic wrong.  I mean it just means a story set in a world that has experienced a world shattering cataclysm, what else do you need?  The long answer will take the whole post to get finished but the short answer is this, we are using apocalypse as though it were a single unified idea when talking or thinking about it, but post-apocalyptic settings spring from two very separate traditions that we collectively call apocalypse.  The first tradition is Judgment Day, the end of all things when God judges the world and destroys it.  This kind of apocalypse is the style used in the shows mentioned in the title, in these shows the worlds are either in the process of dying or threatened with death.  Meanwhile shows like Shingeki no Kyojin and many zombie apocalypse movies use a different apocalyptic tradition, that of Ragnarok.  Since I don’t expect most of my readers to know Norse mythology off the top of their head, I’ll spell out the difference.  Ragnarok is the end of the established world order and the death of the Norse gods, however Norse mythology explicitly states that it’s not the end of all life but that new life will spring from the destruction of the world we know.  What this means in a practical sense is that stories based in the Ragnarok tradition will be more about hope and fighting for a new, better life while those born from the Judgment Day tradition tend to be about fear, despair and failure.  I’m not saying Ragnarok stories can’t be full of darkness, violence or moments of hopelessness, but its overall direction will be about making progress in the face of calamity.  By comparison a Judgment Day story can have its light and happy moments but the direction the story goes in will be a downward spiral that ends in calamity or explores the calamity that has already happened.  Which brings me to my next major point.

There is a character in Book 5 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher called Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is possessed by a fallen angel and his plan is basically to spread a new Black Death throughout the world.  When the hero calls him out for trying to restart the apocalypse Nicodemus says something like this “apocalypse is not a physical event, it’s a state of mind.”  And if you look at human history you’ll see it’s true.  There is a near universal fear that the world will end found in religious texts and movements and it springs up all the damn time.  Some sects of faith boomed specifically because they struck the fear of the apocalypse into the world so well.  This is what Judgment Day type stories seem to have mastered if done right, they focus on the psychological aspects of apocalypse.  Ragnarok type stories usually don’t do this.  This is probably going to sound like I’m contradicting my previous post on how Shingeki no Kyojin understands psychology, but I’m not.  In Shingeki no Kyojin the author makes a point to emphasize the psychological aspects of powerlessness, however that emphasis disappears later in the show when Eren gets his powers and Levi kills everything he fights.  At this point the story takes on the quality of desperate struggle, fraught with peril for sure, but ultimately a struggle that has some hope of victory.  That’s not really the case in the series I mentioned in the title.  Before I really dig into those three let’s do a brief comparison to get everyone on the same page.

Odds are you’ve heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion, if you read my post about despair for some reason you’ve now heard of Casshern Sins in case you hadn’t already, but unless you really know your cult hits, odds are you’ve either never heard of Ergo Proxy or know nothing about it if you’ve heard the name.  So what do these three shows have in common?  They are all science-fiction in genre.  All of them involve man and machine in varying ways, in NGE the machines are the huge Evangelion mechas, in Casshern there are a wide variety of machines ranging from androids to larger robots shaped like mecha suits that are usually hostile to humans, and in Ergo Proxy all of the machines are androids who serves as bodyguards and assistants to the humans.  All of them take place in a world where some form of calamity has occurred and the fallout of said calamity is central to the story in some way.  All three shows share similarly muted colors and gritty environments.  All three focus on very dark aspects of psychology and all three have varying degrees of religious symbolism which draws on Christian lore.  That last bit in particular firmly lands all three stories into the Judgment Day tradition of post-apocalyptic storytelling.  And in my mind the Judgment Day type of apocalypse is the correct kind.  It’s not that I think Ragnarok type stories are all bad, I’m a fan of quite a few, however I do think that hope and progress are ideas that do not belong next to the word apocalypse while despair and fear are.  In my mind the latter is more appropriate to the word apocalypse, especially taken in the context of how its most frequently understood by most people, while the former is more along the lines of “dire straits” or “hanging by a thread” or something.  So now that we’ve properly defined apocalypse, how do these three shows convey it?

Well I already told you, it’s because of the psychology. But since that answer would be lame and unsatisfying let me explain how they tap into the apocalyptic psyche, because that takes a lot more work than just throwing everyone into a world ruined by some great cataclysm.  If you read my post on Casshern Sins some of this will no doubt sound familiar to you.  In Casshern Sins’ case the world looks like it’s already dead, it’s a barren wasteland full of decrepit ruins and crumbling cities.  Moreover the inhabitants are literally falling apart as they fall victim to the Ruin, a strange disease-like force that causes the robots who dominate the world to rust until they break down.  This was reflected well in the art too, the colors were lifeless as though the whole show was buried beneath a layer of volcanic ash.  Ergo Proxy does a similar thing except better thanks to its more realistic art style, in Ergo Proxy the world looks like a dark grey wasteland but in addition there’s lots of shadows and fog/dust clouds that obscure the barren landscape, making it look not only dead but somewhat foreboding.  This is a world that encourages the people of Ergo Proxy to stay locked up in their sheltered cities.  On top of all of that, what little life that can be found out in the wastes is either clearly dangerous, very strange or some combination thereof.  Ergo Proxy makes its world one part dead, one part imposing and one part eerie which culminates in a world that is haunting and unnerving.  Of the three shows I’m comparing I would say that Ergo Proxy has done the best job of creating an atmosphere that taps into the apocalyptic psyche between its visuals and setting details.  Neon Genesis Evangelion doesn’t quite convey apocalypse the same way in its art but it does have some amazing shots that convey various psychological effects, such as the frame where we can see a bunch of generals whose faces aren’t in the frame giving commands.  However the visuals alone are only part of how these shows convey apocalypse to us.

The characters involved also make a story more apocalyptic.  If you look at NGE most of the cast is comprised of people with deep-seated emotional traumas bound together by a twisted web of fucked-up relationships.  Dealing with Shinji’s psychological roadblocks at varying points in the series is central to the storytelling but more so than any one character, the impression that jumps out to me is that we are looking at a bunch of damaged and quite possibly broken people trying desperately to maintain an air of normalcy and ultimately failing to do so.  In Casshern Sins the story revolves around Casshern, who has lost his memories, and a large populace warped by fatalism.  These “people” are not happy nor healthy and there isn’t really a solution to their physical and mental ills, so what little remains of the population is tearing itself apart while the doomed robots vent their rage or turn rabic when the merest hint of hope shines through.  Likewise in Ergo Proxy, the human population seems stagnant and largely robotic themselves, they do their assigned tasks and that’s it.  With the exception of our leading lady Re-l and the immigrant worker Vincent, who also has amnesia, everyone seems to align themselves with a strict and orderly governance system that has caused human society to freeze in place without progress.

Art and characters are vital parts of conveying apocalypse but the part that really seals the deal for me is the mix of science and religious symbolism.  Remember NGE, Casshern Sins and Ergo Proxy are all science fiction stories, so many aspects of their worlds and occurrences have a rational, scientific explanation that the audience can understand so long as we are given some context.  But amid all the science there some events in each story which defy rational explanation.  In NGE Shinji’s mecha, Evangelion Unit 1, occasionally goes berserk, even though it’s a machine and rage should be foreign to it and it shouldn’t be able to move without the pilot’s or Nerv’s control.  Likewise there are scenes where Rei’s “ghost” hovers in Shinji’s sight despite the fact she is either dead or unknown to Shinji at the time her “ghost” appears.  In Ergo Proxy you have the Proxies, beings that are neither human nor machine which no one really knows about but are extremely dangerous.  There’s also the Cogito Virus, a disease of sorts that afflicts machines and grants them self-awareness, and the most common result of contracting Cogito Virus causes the androids to fall to their knees and pray.  There is no scientific explanation for the Cogito Virus nor the different reactions it causes androids to have.  And in Casshern Sins while most machines are milling about destroying each other, some have unexplained compulsions like the android who was obsessed with building a bell tower or the one who wanted to paint the entire city he lived in white.  There’s even an android who makes it his life’s mission to escort humans to safety despite the long running hostility between man and machine.  In the case of these few there isn’t really any kind of logic to their actions, nor is there a clear emotional cause behind their actions as other machines often demonstrate.  They are just sort compelled to do what they do and if you think that’s out of place in a scifi world I would agree with you.  However it’s not a mistake, the creators of these stories deliberately placed elements which conflicted with the more grounded science of their stories to create a sense of otherworldliness and eeriness.  I think youtuber Demolition D+ said it best, in this video he explained that Evangelion had a strong sense of omnipotence, that there was some kind of magic in the world of science.  And that this is part of what makes Evangelion feel brooding and unnerving, because the humans of the story have no agency in the face of this godlike entity.  Now the post comes full circle, all that Judgment Day versus Rangarok crap which didn’t seem like it was too important or relevant back when I first brought it up comes back to the fore.  These stories have a definitive lack of agency among the players, they are made insignificant by the wider world and the forces, natural and supernatural, that govern these worlds.  This is what makes them truly apocalyptic, this is what separates them from stories made in the Ragnarok tradition, the presence of something that transcends science, machines and man which makes the characters of the story look small and insignificant by comparison.  This is what makes the three shows I’ve been discussing convey apocalypse in both its physical and mental aspects, and it’s something that could never be in a Ragnarok type setting.  And this what makes a show truly post-apocalyptic in my mind.

Anyway this is a long post and I haven’t much else to say.  If you’ve made it all the way to the bottom, thank you for reading.  Hopefully you enjoyed it and I’ll see you in the next one.