Entry #16: Drifters (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by Cake-o’s Bakery.)

It’s ironic that I ended up watching this directly after Arslan Senki (and that it was recommended by the same person), as both series share many of the same flaws. Whereas Arslan Senki managed to make something out of its story through political intrigue and clearly focusing on such, Drifters is more of an anarchist tribute to Mortal Kombat’s early years. Its story is established and little more, leading the way to boundless amounts of blood, gore, and profanity. This is not a series you’d want your kids to learn from.

Here lies the million-dollar question: What does it all mean? The blood shed, the slurs spouted, the input of historical figures parading the battlegrounds of another world. How does Drifters manage to turn this into a coherent and immersive experience for the viewer? By employing the most safe and inoffensive plot in all of anime. A fantasy world after death is in a power struggle between two people, and both are collecting recruits to fight for their side. One is the good side (despite the “non-good” people) and one is the bad side. The good side wins (with no effort) because they are the good guys. But alas, the season ends with an open ending, so that the second season can come through and leave people clamoring for more. How can I ever live without knowing if the good guys win or not? It’s almost like I haven’t seen this story approximately 258 times in the past few years.

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Obvious sarcasm aside, the way the story is presented and how its development is essentially abandoned due to the focus on the series’s characters leaves me to believe that it is something I like to call a “Placeholder setting.” A setting that is only there to justify why characters are there or why certain events happen so that everything else becomes free game. Think of old Super Mario games. Mario runs from left to right, dodging Goombas and Koopas to get to the castle at the end of the path. Why? Because he’s on a quest to save the Princess. Nothing more needs to be established. The rest is explored through Mario’s adventures. Placeholder setting. Drifters is the same way. Characters are transported to a fantasy world to fight for a cause they may not even believe in against an opposing force. Nothing more; the rest is established by their conquest. Placeholder setting. With this context, I can only assume that the story cannot be taken seriously or cannot hold a lot of weight toward the anime’s quality. That, in turn, leaves me with one thing to critique: characters.

The main stars here are incredibly famous figures in the world’s history—most notably people within wars or skirmishes. There’s Oda Nobunaga, because when is he ever not in one of these? Joan of Arc is in here, Rasputin is in here, Adolf Hitler is mentioned at one point, and so on. Adding all of these characters together is evident that this is going to be an all-out war of egos and power, and to some extent it is. What it also is is really boring, and at its lowest points, unbearable. No character really establishes themselves as more than a one-track minded pawn. Nobunaga is what you would expect him to be. The actual lead is a typical shounen lead except he kills a lot. And the archer is, well, not really important. None have the charisma to make one care nor do they interact well with one another consistently enough to make one crave more of it. The humor is on par with Bungou Stray Dogs—some may enjoy that, but to me it’s a death sentence, on top of being incredibly distracting.

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One of the most prominent things about Drifters, at least to me, is its attitude. Its vulgar, in-your-face attitude like a prick with a ten-inch dick, flaunting his girth like it gives him worth. It rubbed me the wrong way, and I had to plead with myself not to drop this after episode three. The gall this anime has to essentially praise how little story it has and how blatantly insipid its cast of characters are for the sake of decapitating every unimportant background cast member made me borderline sick. It’s one of those rare cases when an anime actually offends me with how proud of its emptiness it is. It certainly didn’t help with enjoyment, and should it even try to make a case for why I should care for anything, I wouldn’t complain about it. But at the end of the day, Drifters is an empty husk of a product that prioritizes yelling and violence over anything else.

Art is the only thing worth praising here, as it’s crisp, clean, and uniquely within its own that it can at least hold over as eye candy. My one personal nitpick is that I loathe the way these characters over-smile. It looks dumb, and evokes that same “Lookie here! Ten-inch dick!” attitude that makes me want to break this series’s teeth. Characters all look very distinguishable and the amount of variety shows off the animator’s touch for detail. After all, who would expect a dark anime like this one to have an emboldened transgender leading an army towards the final battle? That’s certainly not something one sees everyday in anime.

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Without the obvious disdain I hold for Drifters‘s cockiness, I can praise its attempt at broadcasting something a little different. Historical figures duking it out with one another in a parallel world full of elves and dwarves in an ultra-violent exhibition of total conquest? On its own, it sounds awesome. The first episode left me intrigued enough, so I can’t say definitively that this series couldn’t be saved. However, the way it ultimately ended up leaves me without hope for the second season, which I wholeheartedly plan to skip. It’s a love of blood and gore that, stripped of that distinction, is a below-average fantasy adventure with little to care about in the end. Won’t stop people from handing it good scores for cool action scenes, regardless!

Personal Score: D-

Critical Score: C-

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Entry #12: ‘Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya’ series (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by an unnamed lurker.)

I cannot take this anime seriously with ten-year-olds. I cannot take the drama seriously with ten-years-olds. I cannot take the drama seriously when the episode before featured ten-year-old girls making out with one another in their underwear. I cannot take this anime’s constant back-and-forth tone of silly and overdramatic seriously with ten-year-olds who are clearly written to be “clever.” Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya is a spin-off designated to sexualize children and shoehorn the popularity of magical girls in a serious light due to the rampant success of Madoka Magica.  The fact that this series got three sequel seasons and countless specials, when many much more deserving titles pray to get even a sequel OVA, makes me sick.

What I say is what I mean, too. This series is destroyed upon the fact that ten-year-olds are running around facing concepts such as sacrificing one for many or the finality of death. Angsty teenagers? Fine. Children? C’mon. Stop it. They’re clearly not developed enough mentally to fully grasp half the shit that’s highlighted in this series… both from the serious and the silly situations. What ten-year-olds are closet fujoshi? What ten-year-olds are hinting at sexual innuendos when opposite (or same) genders are paired? What ten-year-olds can properly react as a straight man to others’ rambunctious antics? I’ve seen ten-year-old behavior. I live with a twelve-year-old. He does not act like the little shits in this series. In the slightest. And he’s twelve.

Many will likely accuse me of being too harsh. I won’t deny that, as I’m being a little too overcynical about a series that probably shouldn’t be taken seriously, as it’s a soulless cash-in spin-off with a familiar (and also popular) franchise stuck to it. Doesn’t help that when the series drowns the viewer in writing that one would expect to see in the main parent series here, where ten-year-old girls are shown naked every other episode and touching themselves to the thought of their onii-chans. It does not blend. It does not match. It destroys any sense of seriousness when a product is trying to parade itself as a self-aware knockoff (lots of meta humor present) and continues to indulge in what it’s supposedly mocking, then trying to be serious anyway. It doesn’t work. It almost never works. The fact that it has “Fate/” attached to it probably makes it more damning.

I didn’t like it. I’m sure you couldn’t get that from reading this to this point. Jokes aside, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya has very few redeeming features, including nice art and spirited voice acting. Y’know what else has those two perks? Most other anime. Enjoyment is shot, and the fact that this is a fine example of Shounen I cannot help but groan at, this was a match made in Hell from the very beginning. But if one enjoys seeing kids being sexualized to death, give this series a shot. It will not disappoint you in that regard.

Personal Score: D-

Critical Score: D+

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Entry #1: Koi Koi 7 (Rewatch) (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by this cheeky bastard.)

This is the worst anime I have ever seen.

There is a character whose name is “Poophead.”

Everyone gets naked at least thirteen times. Average of once per episode.

The male lead looks like my brother when he was twelve.

Every attempt at being dark is completely retconned by the female characters having lesbian sex.

Imagine every negative stereotype you hear about anime in general. That is Koi Koi 7.

I quit.

Personal Score: F

Critical Score: F

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Quick Thoughts on Koe no Katachi (Film)

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I decided to make this post quick because upon further consideration, there really isn’t much to say about it, despite how unlikely that seems with this film’s tremendous popularity.

To be blunt, this film is the perfect encapsulation of THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! The patience required to finally see this film subbed was one that I don’t normally experience with any specific anime film, but the super-high average rating for this piece on MAL had me very curious. To my non-surprise, it’s highly rated because it involves the most humanistic qualities of altruism I’ve seen outside of anime directed at children. It also deals with subject matter such as bullying, suicide, and putting on a brave front, so it’s probably dubbed “deep” and “relatable” along with its heavy reliance on viewer empathy. With myself isolated from the crowd, I found the film to be a good attempt at trying to tell the story of a boy’s redemption from his cruel past. And like most stories along this concept, its execution was horribly overdramatic and at times inconsistent.

One of my biggest qualms with this film without spoiling anything specific is how long it takes for things to actually begin to tear down for the inevitable, overdramatic climax. I was surprised to see that, after the time skip, the bully and the bullied were “comfortable” being around each other despite the past, and one even has some inborn fondness for the other. What kind of strange case of Stockholm Syndrome is this? It makes the middle portions of the film feel incredibly empty of any real content, seeing as its deliberately setting itself up for some dramatic explosion and that’s the only purpose it serves. This is doubled when a myriad of characters are introduced that serve their role and nothing more. One character serves to support, another to cause friction, and another to be an inside source of information for the male lead. Not many characters feel more than just keys to the major plot.

Even so, these grievances are the only things I found truly wrong with the film, as the rest are either tolerable absurdities or likable strengths. Nothing stands out, except perhaps design and animation, which was nice throughout. I found the relationship between the leads to be strong after the initial confusion with why they were so comfortable with one another before the inevitable climax pushes them apart. More than anything, I suppose, is that it evoked a lot of sympathy from me and pushed its frivolity of life onto my cold soul enough for me to enjoy it. One could say that on a storied structure, it teeters upon mediocrity, but makes up for it somewhat on the basis of pure entertainment. Kind of like, I don’t know, Kimi no Na wa.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Quick Updated Thoughts on Ano Natsu de Matteru

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A rather hard rewatch, this was for me. As a title that holds something of an emotional attachment to my younger self, I can’t help but think fondly of the time this anime almost made me cry. This, out of all anime I watched in late 2012, was the one that got me closest to actually shedding tears. Since then, only rewatching Katanagatari has gotten me to reach for a tissue. OCD in full effect, I figured I’d keep the rewatch train rolling and see if Ano Natsu de Matteru held up after nearly five years.

It didn’t.

One can almost feel how hard this anime tried to be its own AnoHana, from the interactions between characters to the love octagon that takes effect as time goes on. Both series also deal with an inevitable fact that the characters try to ignore, but are destined to face. The difference between the two is through execution, which Ano Natsu de Matteru does well only in very specific measures.

What is immediately apparent about halfway through the series is that the writing is very, very dumb. The entire purpose of a single character, Lemon, is to push the plot forward and manipulate the cast to her whim for the sake of fucking with them. And because she has a “more than she knows” background, she knows everything that’s going to happen and how to prepare for it. Don’t you love having a character that can destroy all the tension and seriousness of an otherwise tensile and serious plot by making everything feel a-ok through their Godly knowledge and dexterity? Even more so, she more often than not forces the characters to change, instead of the story giving them the opportunity to either do it themselves or slip into situations of genuine, awkward conflict. It’s a shame that she’s so hamfisted in, because the general character roster is… tolerable, with Mio, and to some extent Tetsurou, being the saving graces of the anime.

Without Lemon, the writing still deals with things that have already been done in plenty of other anime, to a lesser extent. Lots of angst, lots of surprised faces, lots of dramatic outbursts and emotional spurs. While not on the same level as a soap opera, some episodes give a little more heart than necessary. Some don’t even feel like normal characters, rather pieces set up to provide controversy.

Animation is pretty nice, which is one thing about this anime that’s fairly praiseworthy. Not always the most smooth of physical activity, but its bright and distinctive in its approach. I wish Ichika was more like an actual alien than a human being (a lot about her alien persona doesn’t make sense), though that’s more of a nitpick.

In the end, it’s not nearly the anime I used to see it as, with a lot of issues in its writing and how it incorporates its characters. Strange as it might seem, the final episode still left me with a good emotional impression, something that even surprised me considering how cynical I was of it up to that point. I really wish the audience was treated to more of Mio and her active and understandable change halfway through the series, something only a few characters get a snippet of. Lost potential and all that; Ano Natsu de Matteru leaves viewers waiting for the translation of AnoHana: Alien Edition.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Early Impressions: Shingeki no Kyojin (Season Two)

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Three episodes in, I’m beginning to wonder what I liked about this series in the first place.

While the comparison may be repetitive at this point, I never found myself fond of viewing Shingeki no Kyojin as an anime version of The Walking Dead, until just this most recent episode. I found myself pondering to myself, “If I were to devise a drinking game for this series, noting every common cliché it shares with The Walking Dead, would I be dead?” The answer ended up becoming “Yes.”

For context, I don’t like The Walking Dead.

Not to turn this post into “Thoughts on The Walking Dead,” but my disdain for the series is a combination of two things: its mood and its writing. I’ve stated on many occasions that I don’t care for shows that are overly moody in its apathetic murkiness—shows that are constantly manipulating subjects of fear, angst, frustration, or an overt seriousness that overwhelms all over aspects. More than this, however, is the writing, which dedicates itself to being shallow, predictable, slow, and too reliant on the threat of zombies to ramp up excitement. Now, if I had replaced “zombies” with “titans,” and cut out the first sentence in this paragraph, would you really have noticed I was talking about The Walking Dead instead of Shingeki no Kyojin?

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Thinking back on it, I liked how the first season started out with showcasing exactly what titans are capable of, then immediately afterwards slowing things down and developing the characters/civilization that made up the remains of a once populated world. I liked that the titans weren’t always the focus of every episode, though they were always a looming subject on everyone’s minds due to their numbers and tenacity. Too often stories will try and go for horror and thrills without making the effort of making the viewer care about whom it’s happening to. Despite the jokes and recurring oddities of its first season, I came out of the experience rather amused.

Its second season is beginning to fester into a trap of making everything about titans. Characters no longer matter, as they’re either marked for death or survival. Titans suddenly are more than meets the eye, with a new threat showing to have a high capacity of intelligence. And those who once served a role through their embellished personalities and charms have resorted to acting out the words of the script like they’re paid to. Years it’s been since I finished the first season of Shingeki no Kyojin, and suddenly they want to open up with developing Potato Girl and Connie? Two characters that hardly mattered? Not only do I not give a shit anymore, but it basically puts giant targets on their head to be eaten. Not that I expect them to be dead within mere episodes (Akame ga Kill), just that it puts it in the back of my mind. On a final note, boy, do I feel so much empathy for two random characters I don’t even know the names to who deepen their bond in the middle of a perilous expedition that could kill them. Really doesn’t kill the mood or heighten transparency.

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Though I wasn’t exactly excited for the second season of Shingeki no Kyojin, it’s still somewhat disappointing to see it follow the line of many other stories like it that try to do too much to have the viewer care. Or maybe I’m full of it because the series is currently within the Top 50 on MAL’s database after three episodes. Regardless, for me, the series is off to a very poor start. Not in the sense that the show is atrocious in a technical sense, but that it screams “Monotonous!” in its execution and constant shoehorning of the various tropes that rent out the genre. Look at these sad people whose lives are devastated by this fatal threat. Let’s split up into groups and devise a plan to face this thing. What about my family?! I need to become stronger to protect the people I love! A dark secret looms within a high-ranking organization of society. What?! How is this possible?! How, indeed, is it possible to become so drawl?

Day Nineteen: The Blind Side (MotM 2017)

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I don’t have an excuse for getting this post out this late tonight. Just ended up being this late.

Sandra Bullock won an award for her role in this film. Her character is caring, traditional-minded, and strong-willed. She has sass, with a number of biting remarks for a number of different characters. She’s likable—about as likable of a character as it sounds. But does this deserve her an award? If the rest of the movie is any indication, she’s the only bright spot in a world of muddy water.

Without sugar-coating it, I don’t think Bullock deserved an award for her performance. I think this was a case of the judges liking her character more than her acting, as there was little here that could justify Bullock’s finest quality of acting. I could put any number of actresses here and very little would change about the film. Some of this is due to her character not having much of a personality outside of her usual demeanor, while some is simply Bullock acting as she should. I suppose 2009 was a thin year for lead actresses.

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Popping the biggest zit on the metaphorical forehead that symbolizes The Blind Side as a whole, let’s continue on with the greasy skin which groomed the zit to substantial size. Bullock’s character is an interesting point to start off with, as she is the only positive one. Despite my claim that she doesn’t deserve the award she received for this film, she did do a decent job. And her character is likable, if not a little too stubbornly within her role. Everything else about this film feels forced, uninspired, and far too safe to impact the viewer with the messages it tries to convey.

For those who kept up with the month, recall my review of Space Cowboys and how I demolished it for its use of one-role/one-joke characters and by-the-books narrative structure. In that film’s case, some interesting characterization and two likable characters save it from being completely derivative. In The Blind Side’s case, Sandra Bullock is the only savior. It’s amazing how watchable Space Cowboys feels in comparison, as The Blind Side seems to have read up on every “How To” book on creating dramatic underdog stories and threw in every detail without developing a single one. It’s to the point where it’s almost insulting; insulting to the viewer and insulting to those who actually have to face the reality that’s only hinted at in this film.

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So self-indulgent in its own masterpiece, the scenes play out and garner all sorts of strange, tonal shifts that go from inspiring to traumatic to… funny? One scene goes as such: the son of the woman who adopts Oher as her own, and Oher himself are driving the family car down the road, goofing off and singing to a song on the radio. Not paying attention, Oher crashes the car into a truck that’s slowly backing out into their lane. It cuts to the woman receiving a phone call notifying her of the accident. Cutting again to the scene of the accident, she rushes to Oher, who’s sitting down on the sidewalk away from the accident, who tells her to check on the kid. Seeing that her son is being tended to, she shoves an officer out of the way and runs to him, asking if he’s okay. To this, he replies: “Mom. Do you think the blood will wash out of my shirt?”

It was at this point I decided not to take the film seriously anymore. Here we have a kid, who’s bloodied from a car accident, being tended to on a stretcher, making one-liners to his mother, who is worried sick about him. On top of that, she smiles and answers his question seriously, only to go back to Oher and tell him that everything’s fine and that it happens to everybody. Not one ounce of anger. Astounding. The film doesn’t have the guts to have a single lingering negative circumstance surround the characters for any extended period. Not only that, but the guts to show any negative event that would shock the viewer into believing the hardships of Oher’s life. All throughout, things are simply stated, and if shown at all, are shown only to the most minimal degree. Nothing truly gets any attention, other than Bullock’s face and Oher’s rise to football stardom (though even that feels lopsided).

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So the story is laughably benign of all tension and personality. Are the characters any better? Unfortunately no, as they all stick firmly within their characters’ roles and nothing more. Oher’s a tragic hero, bullied by life and mistreated by just about everybody. A sad sack who’s good at heart and couldn’t hurt a fly. Bullock’s character is the sweet-hearted angel who takes him in and provides him all he needs to survive and flourish athletically. Her family is there. The teachers and football coaches are there. They receive next to no development as people and hardly provide anything worthwhile to anything. Bullock’s husband and daughter may as well have not been in this movie. Bullock’s son I wish wasn’t in this movie. The more I think about it, the more I realize that nearly every character is only to provide a single driving point: Oher is to be pitied, and Bullock is to be praised.

It doesn’t give a single shit. It doesn’t give a shit about Oher or his real-life struggles. It doesn’t give a shit about the traumatic experiences that happen behind the scenes. It doesn’t give a shit that everything about this film is but a big-budget straight-to-VHS movie. It doesn’t give a shit that its own narcissistic telling of a genuinely interesting story ruined everything about this film for me, and likely others. It doesn’t give a shit how the only real thing they wanted to do was make a flimsy “zero to hero” story without any effort. The Blind Side is blinded by its own grandeur, which may have been the most insulting thing involved, and what makes it so easy to forget.

Final Score: 3/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!