Entry #28: Berserk (Original) (Spoilers) (SoA 2017)

berserk 1

(Recommended by a coasting chatter, completing the recommendation trifecta.)

It’s considered among the greatest anime of all time. I’ve come back from Hell to inform the masses that it is, indeed, a series well worth this horrible world.

God forbid we have a series that showcases violence, nudity, and genuine angst in a way that matches the weight of the situation. God forbid we go against the formulas to create a successful series rather than a great series. God forbid we take any real chances, any step outside the comfort zone of the general public’s interest. Very, very rarely do I come across a series in modern times that accomplishes the feat of doing everything it wishes to do with enough strength to bore through the details and cast aside the shackles of triviality. Arslan Senki tried and failed, Parasyte tried and failed, Erased tried and failed. Shinsekai yori is the one series that comes to mind that does what Berserk manages to do with both its story and its characters, creating a lasting experience that deserves its rank among anime’s best and most creatively ambitious stories.

berserk 3

Where will you ever find an anime again that has an albino man sacrifice his entire army to become a demon lord, only to rape his only female recruit and corrupt her unborn child, which she had with his second-in-command? How the fuck do you top that level of outright cruelty? This series has semblances of it, but pray to whatever God you may believe in, there is no sappy POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! present in this series. I truly wish more stories, not just anime in general, had the gall to stomach loss, tragedy, and misery the way Berserk can—on top of still being a remarkably relatable, enjoyable, and invigorating story full of themes to take to heart. Fuck.

Emotions are still reeling, as one can no doubt tell. Even peering through, this series is not flawless. There is a cushy middle sequence that isn’t very interesting in hindsight. Taking siege of castles and battles against armies full of cocky, loud-mouthed foes fill Berserk neatly to its core. One knows who will win, one knows that the plot armor is very, very thick, and one knows that, whatever happens, the first episode tells the fate of seemingly everyone involved in the next twenty-four episodes. Animation also isn’t the best. Certainly not bad, though not quite good; its best comes with the abject imagery accompanied by the satanic illusions scattered throughout and by the series’ end. Animation and fluidity are typically sound, yet suffer in meandering moments.

berserk 2

Oh, how gray this series is. Gray is a color so absolute in its fluctuating state. Good and bad are terms not truly understood, left to the interpretation of everyone. And with so many different representations of motivation, drive… it’s hard not to empathize with the (main) characters of Berserk. Guts (Or Gatsu?) is a spectacular lead who, while slightly hinging upon the typical male lead, grows through his experiences and strengthens himself through not only his technique and physical stature, but his resolve. I whine quite often about the overemotional screaming of male leads and how it makes them able to accomplish anything, but it can—it can—work within a very specific context, one Berserk manages to do. Casca is, if I may be honest, just a tad overemotional, hopefully not because she’s a woman and because she’s just overemotional. With a tragic backstory (like most of them) and her connection to Griffith and Guts, she handles herself as one of the strongest female leads I’ve ever witnessed in anime despite it.

Griffith, well, Griffith is perhaps the most complex character of the whole. I cannot bring myself to hate him, no matter how strong his betrayal. To some apathetic, completely cynical and self-serving twinge of understanding, I can relate to him. Griffith is the embodiment of “The end justifies the means,” and it’s explored beautifully, though only in key moments. How much does a dream mean to someone? How strongly do they feel the need to realize that dream? What are they without that dream? Nihilism is one of many themes present that define Griffith as a character, and one of many more that make up the web of Berserk’s complicated mass.

berserk 4

What it all comes down to is whether or not it says anything. At the core of every great piece of visual media is whether or not it resonates, whether it manages to leave some sort of impact on an emotional, creative, or intellectual level. When I watch anime that involve clichés, pretentious and/or lazy writing, horrendous amounts of sex jokes, or uninspired characters, it doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t shine. It misses. It may as well not even be there. When I watch anime like Berserk, there’s a point. It makes it seem as though my time is of value to the writer, to engross me with their passion and novelty. Creating this sort of imaginary connection, to magnify what the author was intending or to find new value within the words. God, do I love to actually think. It makes me feel alive. Berserk makes me feel alive.

Personal Score: A-

Critical Score: B+

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

Thoughts on Shinsekai yori (Spoilers)

shinsekai yori 5

(All images were obtained via Google search.)

I had heard many good things about this series, but the full impact of just how good it was didn’t hit until I actually looked into my friends’ ratings for it. Three people, whose opinions I respect tremendously, gave this a 9, 10, and 10, with two placing it among their favorites. Some time after I started the series, the one who gave it a 9 confided in me and admitted that she didn’t know why she doesn’t just bump it up to a 10 and put it on her favorites. With that in mind, all three essentially gave the series a perfect score. As a curious critic, this is something I cannot ignore. So, after finishing my recent rewatch of Ano Natsu de Matteru, I placed this series as a first-priority watch.

It’s really quite ironic that I viewed this so soon after posting a piece on the phrase “It gets better,” because Shinsekai yori is a perfect specimen of its concept. Along with the vague “good things” I had heard about the series, I had also heard that it doesn’t “get good” until about episode 12 or so. Conveniently enough, this is true, as the first half of this series is muddled in inconsistent handling of both matters of intrigue and emotional empathy. Truth be told, I almost dropped this series around the ninth episode, as I felt all that they had shown felt forced and immensely abrasive, with little to show any sort of reasoning behind it. It’s a series that remains fairly intriguing throughout, but all the technical talk and fantastic mumbo-jumbo makes it a chore to take all of it in if there’s nothing worth truly listening for.

shinsekai yori 1

One of the things argued in the linked piece above is that the payoff to spending so much time building up to something has to be worth it, or else one would feel let down by the time wasted. Shinsekai yori not only makes up for the time wasted, but by series’ end, it completely envelops any and all expectations it had set up for itself and unveils the portrait of a cunning and beautiful mosaic of creativity. Indeed, the first half of the series can be a difficult hurdle to jump across, as the foreshadowing and intricate lacing of seemingly meaningless ideas come up empty for long periods. Should one do that and persevere, they’ll manage to find that not only is the payoff wonderful, but the realization that every minute detail from before was absolutely, 100% necessary for the impending emotional climax of the series. Again, as said in the linked article, a series worth the wait needs to show that the wait isn’t something they set up to provide filler; Shinsekai yori is a powerful series because of the wait, and not in spite of it.

Oh, how captivating this series truly is! Ambitious isn’t even close to the type of praise this series deserves. Not only does it shy away from 99% of the clichés that make up modern anime, but it feels as though it creates every facet of its world and characters, leaving no detail untouched, no history underdeveloped. Almost similarly to A Monster Calls, its almost mechanical ability to control every twist and turn of the story and its characters reaction to them is like that of watching a mathematician write complex calculations in front of a whole country with speed and precision. Unlike the former, Shinsekai yori manages to remain almost entirely human (in the second half) due to an established understanding of how to sculpt the characters to appear predominantly genuine.

Characters are, however, one of the tricky aspects of the series. It was because of these characters that I almost dropped the series in the first place. One of the things I typically criticize of Gen Urobuchi’s writing (who wasn’t involved with this series) is that his characters better serve the plot than distinguish their independence through their personality. Series such as Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero are anime with near-universal praise, but are series I find severely flawed due to a lack of organic characters. Shinsekai yori faces this issue as well, especially within the episodes where they’re shown as teenagers. The prevalence of homosexual relations in the series is a topic that’s been debated to death ever since the series first aired, but it’s something I feel should be taken seriously. Not because it’s homosexual, but because it feels incredibly out of nowhere. The pairing of Satoru and Shun specifically is one I find to be incredibly random. Saki and Maria, fine. They seemed to be fairly close from the beginning, but Satoru seemed a much closer match for Saki, seeing as he went through the first queerat campaign with her and makes a good opposite of her serious hesitation. Seeing this all play out upon the eighth episode almost gave me an excuse to save myself the effort of going any further. The few episodes afterwards gave even more opportunity, as as controversial as this may seem, I was never a huge fan of Shun’s character.

shinsekai yori 3

Shun is not a bad character, though he is the probably the worst character among the five in “Group 1.” His only purpose throughout the series seemed to serve as Saki’s main love interest. And when he eventually disappears from the group, his only appearances return via nightmares and psychotic visions, only to go full Jedi Master and is able to speak to Saki near the end. While I praise a good portion of the actions that are taken from a psychological viewpoint, Shun’s sudden appearance near the end is among the most illogical aspects of the anime. The one thing in my mind that could be considered a cheap deus ex machina. It is also my one true criticism of the series’s story, as while the subjective monotony felt during the build-up scenes is calculated into my overall impressions, it is ultimately justified.

One of the most enjoyable spans in this series was simply the first few episodes. Seeing the cast as children—playing, laughing, interacting, showing off their quirks—was great in establishing who they were and where their place was in the story. They felt like real kids and real people. Once the queerats became involved around episode six or so, it adjusted to this tense, darkened view that typically accompanies grittier popular Netflix shows. To see the characters react so readily prepared, hardly scared, and so stiffly wooden made it boring to watch. Satoru in particular felt he went from 12 to 24 in an instant, despite his laid-back, adventurous nature. This continued through until episode eleven or so, as characters simply filled in the blanks of what characters in their situation would do in general. It lacked so much dramatic tension outside of what the story was kneading in wait that I watched with the idea that betters things were to come, even if I had to suffer within the present. It wasn’t until the appearance of Tomiko, Satoru’s grandmother, that I began to see the series as something of a pleasant viewing.

And then I became horribly addicted around episode sixteen.

shinsekai yori 4

It may be naive to even suggest this comparison, seeing as the series are so fundamentally different, but Shinsekai yori almost reminds me of Suzanne Collin’s Gregor the Overlander series. Both deal with political structure within a certain society, one dealing with more than just humankind. Both portray the humans to be absurdly cautious in their customs, and vain in their outlook of superiority to other species. Both teeter the lines between portraying humankind as a symbol of purity and a symbol of selfish hostility. Both have different species refer to humans as murderers (“Killers” in Gregor; “Death Gods” in Shinsekai). Both (at some point) deal with an opposing force combating humankind with a sort of “Messiah-like” instrument of destruction (“The Fiend” in Shinsekai; “The Bane” in Gregor). Death is a prevalent part of both series. And both deal with prophecies or visions of an untimely future. The Underland Chronicles is technically (I wonder sometimes) for kids, so it doesn’t have the same privilege of pushing the boundaries as far as Shinsekai yori does. Still, there’s a lot of intriguing similarities between the two, and whether that’s more of an insult to Shinsekai yori or a compliment to Gregor the Overlander, I’m unsure. I enjoy both immensely.

Looking at Shinsekai yori through the lens of a cautionary tale, the presence of the queerats and humanity’s treatment of them is so excellently handled that, despite everything that happened, I ended up siding with the queerats. Squealer is among my favorite characters in the series simply for being so astute and forthcoming in his ideals. He makes for a very intriguing antagonist, and a very convincing protagonist. His ability to command and speak his way through trouble is one of the most powerful aspects of the series, as it highlights the irony of where it implies he gathers most of his knowledge from and how strongly humanity ignores it. Even more so, it’s implied from his first meeting with Satoru and Saki that he had his own agenda, betraying them for the sake of his people, only to quickly apologize later and get back on their good side to give himself more chances in the future. The social commentary involved with his high intellect speaks volumes for the comparison between him and all of humanity, as many different people would be willing to side with either one, giving meaning to queerats and humans being one in the same.

shinsekai yori 2

In a short note, animation was incredibly appealing and artistically fascinating, with a wide array of different psychological sequences and elaborate interpretations to keep the series more intriguingly compact. Fluidity, however, was somewhat of an issue. I saw a number of different scenes where characters’ movements were rushed and static, along with some overall bizarre physical manipulation. These were in normal scenes, mind you, not when the series can get away with being absurd within the context of the series’s fantasy genre. It made the opening episodes feel a little more off-brand, and that the crusade of creativity was only in terms of writing than visual splendor.

In conclusion… watch the series. Much in the way that I would actively and immediately recommend anime such as Katanagatari, Toradora!, Dennou Coil, and Spice & Wolf, Shinsekai yori has become a must-watch placement in my carefully structured and 100% objectively accurate chart of great anime. It beautifully blends both mental fascination and emotional stimulation in a way many others could only dream of doing, with every finer detail being used to pursue the conquest of complete quality. Shinsekai yori is as gripping an investment for me since Dennou Coil, a series I watched nearly a year ago. There is no reason not to watch it, so do yourself a favor and watch what may become your next favorite anime.

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

Thoughts on Demi-chan wa Kataritai

demi-chan 5

First of all, I would like to sincerely thank Cauthan for convincing me to watch this series with his fantastic post about why this series isn’t garbage. I may have missed the point a tad with his post, but nevertheless. If not for him, I may have never gotten around to watching this for the foreseeable future, which would’ve been a crying shame. Because I like this more than Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon.

In an event that will go down in infamy, Kobayashi has been dethroned as seasonal MVP by a series that follows along the same lines. Demi-chan wa Kataritai does what Kobayashi does without the need for moe or constant colorful barrages of cuteness. Some people prefer this, while others see it as a transparent attempt to cover up the artificial reality that has been established. Part of the appeal to Demi-chan was being the opposite of that; it felt real. More real than anything I’ve seen in a long while.

demi-chan 4

Of course, it’s not completely real. Not in the pragmatic sense that everything is an anime and fictional and I will never be able to interact with darling Hikari, but the way the narrative is structured. What Kobayashi overindulges in moe, it makes up for by having a relaxed tone undeterred by heavy bouts of drama (until the final episode). Demi-chan seems to believe that a constant stream of good vibes is evil and should be blocked by a dam, rock, or bridge every once in a while. Its core structure is lovely, though it falls victim to setting up conflict for the sake of setting up conflict, which hurts the overall genuineness by riling up evil, one-off characters only to have them do 180s by the end. While the standard formula is noticeable, it’s at times like these that make it hard to swallow.

But what makes the anime so great is its cast of characters (not including the male lead). It’s rare to have me like one or two characters from any particular series, even rarer to have me like most. To like most of the characters and love one? Not since Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge had I felt such a rush going in to each episode, looking forward to the amount of screentime a particular character could get and how they interact with others. This character is Hikari, the fun-loving vampire, whose personality is very similar to one Kyoko from Yuru Yuri!. Her energy and enthusiasm is adorable, with her penchant for driving most of the humor and zany situations to be a nice touch to the pedantic nature of the anime. What’s more is that she’s not just a ball of enthusiasm, as her reserved side comes out around topics of romance or intimate details. Her well-rounded character effectively makes Demi-chan much brighter, growing stronger as she interacts with the rest of the cast.

demi-chan 2

Thankfully, the rest of the cast are no pushovers. Despite some varying degrees of importance, each character gets enough attention to feel as though they matter to the series. Their development is predicated on whether or not they really feel they need to be developed, with Machi, the dullahan, receiving less genuine development due to her already mature and calm demeanor. Yuki, the snow woman (whatever that is), actually changes based on her first appearance and the end of the show. Her development is a little more “triumphant” in tone, with a lot of screentime dedicated to making her a welcomed member of the group of Demis. Finally, Sakie, who is not a student, but a teacher, is among the more one-dimensional of the Demi-humans. Her humor is predicated on her timid approach to romance, contrasting the stereotypical nature of a succubus, and development with her comes with a more reserved force. Her general behavior doesn’t change much, and her importance to the plot is only slightly higher than sexual fan service bait. I still found her cute.

So we come now to the male lead. Personally, I thought he was tolerable, and did more to deserve the affection he received from the Demi-humans than others in a more Harem-like setting. His blandness is alleviated only by his fascination with Demi-humans, something he’s prone to droning on and on about. I feel his distance and lack of a personality is somewhat justified by his position amongst the cast, in which he serves as a superior and, in a sense, “father figure” to the teenage girls (despite the romantic attentions). Almost like he were a guidance counselor, in which he feels close to them and wishes to help them, but can’t bring himself to relax around them, as the difference in age is a slight disconnect. Again, he’s tolerable, though that doesn’t excuse that blank, dot-pupil stare of his from populating the screen at every turn with hardly a twitch of anything different. This being said, I liked his inner fights against Sakie’s sexual pheromones.

demi-chan 3

Many have criticized this series’s approach to “monster girls,” normalizing them to the point where they basically have nothing special about them (aside from Machi). With this mindset, there’s nothing really all that special about Demi-chan, which is a valid perspective to have. The essence of Demi-chan is to look at it from the viewpoint of the male lead, intrigued with the prospect of learning about these new creatures and figuring out their kinks and quirks. But aside from that, these characters are more than test subjects, showing the same sort of insecurities as normal folk, with an added layer of discrepancies. This stigma of “Being different” is lightly addressed, and, as stated above, feels more like conflict for the sake of conflict the way it’s handled. The true beauty of the anime is simply getting to know what these different people think and feel, depending on their nature, their differences, and their perspectives. It’s a shame they shy away from that later on.

I suppose in a more objective sense, Kobayashi-san is a better series due to the lack of obstructions in its flow and narrative. However, Demi-chan turned out to be a lot more emotionally resonant experience. It appealed tremendously to my own preferences for how a slice-of-life should play out, adding a more “scientific” vibe that I really felt was unique. My only regret is that it could’ve been more. More controlled, more bold in its direction, and less perturbed by having to place unnecessary drama to liven up the circumstances. Imagine what it would be like if they made it an actual drama! I’m getting ahead of myself.

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