Entries from the Dead: Hetalia Axis Powers

hetalia

[Dropped after seven episodes.]

I think it’s safe to say that the Hetalia series is the most popular anime-short franchise of modern times. The amount of fanfiction, fan art, fan shipping, fan-girling (Typically this gender, too) seen over the course of my being an anime fan is almost absurd, rivaling the likes of popular Shounen titles such as Naruto or One Piece. All this from an anime short of all things, too! The amount of episodes in this shortened time frame would equal roughly eleven-episodes of standard length anime, with each episode (I assume) being within its own story, with only a casual overarching narrative to fall back on.

So what is it that makes it so popular? The straightforward character archetypes? The way the characters bounce off one another? The overall design that, while (probably?) not originally intended, became a popular aesthetic for bishies? Or perhaps a combination of all of those things and more? Hetalia certainly has a soft and cheery atmosphere that makes for any kind of access to a variety of different anime viewers, so it wouldn’t surprise me that it became an outlet for short bursts of energy. Kind of like popping a peppermint candy after every hour of work or so. Or gorging on said candy one after the other.

Maybe it was this atmosphere specifically that made the series so dull for me. My brother, who is typically strict with anime, even recommended the series to me as a decently funny experience. When I finally got around to it, not only did I find it not funny (never laughed once), but I found it to be rather lowbrow. Even worse (for me), it was the kind of humor that was sure to be a hit with the younger generation of viewers with its plethora of, for lack of a better explanation, “LOL SO RANDOM XD” gags. I entered with the expectation that America would be a violence-hungry tryhard with no brains or that Russia would be a giant bear with a superiority complex that drank vodka all day. Instead, I got Italy being lethargic and always blabbering about pasta. Wonderful; this anime is not for me.

Still, that’s all I can really say in terms of it’s negative qualms; the series is clearly not trying to be serious with its story or critical with its stereotypes of various countries. It’s a lighthearted attempt at being (not) funny with characters that eventually grow(?) and bond with one another despite their differences. Perhaps it is the corny approach to presenting obvious moral foundations that I find such a turnoff. That, and I just don’t think the anime is funny or entertaining at all. Still, that isn’t to say the series itself is a horrid one, just that one shouldn’t expect to go into it with any serious expectations. One should also ignore the rabid opinions of hardcore fans that try to christen the series as anime’s greatest achievements. That will definitely soil the mood of the series.

Technically sound, but not for everyone (especially me). Exuberant personality with characters and the way they portray their one-off archetypal personas, with a heavy focus on humor and subtle character bonding (from what I recall/have seen). That’s all it is. That’s all it probably ever will be. I won’t ever know because I won’t continue it. It’s just not for me.

Entry #23: Selector Infected WIXOSS (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by a coasting chatter.)

Madoka Magica meets Yu-Gi-Oh!. That’s something.

I’ll say this outright: WIXOSS is a s-y-m-b-o-l-i-c series. An anime dedicated to evoking the imagination of those looking for something a little deeper. We get the impression one would get from a card game anime—lots of shounen shouting matches and cool-looking creatures fighting under the player’s whim. Here, there are stakes to the game, something along the lines of Sword Art Online’s “You die in the game, you die in real life,” except not upfront. There seems to be a lot of direct inspiration that makes WIXOSS a culmination of different things, yet holds its own as a series constructing its own path by questioning what would typically come from the genre.

The story of a game, where players (though more popular with girls, for some reason) fight each other with specific “magical girls” of sorts to eventually have their deepest wishes granted. Of course, not every player gets this luxury, as only the “selectors” are given opportunity to make those dreams a reality. Everyone else just sees it as a fun game endorsed by celebrities and the like. To those selectors, it’s a game that will eventually give them freedom.

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Part of the issue with this series is that one of the most integral aspects of a card game is to have a clear focus on rules, power level, and skill differentiation between veterans and newbies. WIXOSS has none of this, as the “rules” for the card game are incredibly vague and dumbed down to “Magical girl ‘grows.’ Attack and hope they win.” It’s really nothing short of the inevitable POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! that come with teenagers and magical stipulations. The female lead is amazing at the game because she’s special and everyone else wins or loses whichever is convenient to the plot. At the same time, there’s a nudge towards the viewer that the focus of the characters and their motivations are more important than the battle itself. Such that the battle is more just a representation of the character’s will than a straightforward game with needlessly convoluted twists and turns. Some would be willing to look past this, others won’t. I’m somewhere in-between.

Another issue is that the series is rather easy-going, picking up only around episode four or so. A lot of downtime can easily induce some insomnia relief, especially if one doesn’t attach themselves to the characters immediately. That being said, characters have more or less a realistic representation of the reality they’re set in, but none have really a distinguishable personality set to them. The female lead is somewhat reserved and good-natured, her eventual friend is a tad spunky and quick to emote expression, and all of their rivals are insane. I won’t go and say these characters aren’t realistic (except the insane rivals), but they aren’t exactly amazing people, people which one can empathize with without the effect of a tragic situation. Following them around before the major plot points reveal themselves feels more like an eventual falling action, rather than something endearing to miss once the falling begins.

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It is also—though almost inevitably—a little on the overdramatic side. Again, insane rivals. Literally insane. Speaking in cutesy voices only to threaten other people with knives when they’re humiliated. Smiling seductively as the battles rage on as though it turns them on. There’s a level of humility a series can employ that WIXOSS flirts with to only a minimal degree. It’s certainly no Kiznaiver or Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, though one can’t help feeling overwhelmed. One can understand the weight of the game on its users, all of whom (except one) have a desire they feel they must have or die trying. I can’t help but think this should’ve been with adults rather than teenagers, because seeing a kawaii little teenybopper pull a knife out on people just makes me laugh. Oh, and that thing I said above about… y’know, the exclamatory remark about the strength of the human emotive system.

With that, all of my issues with the series are covered. Now let’s talk about the good: IT’S NOT A STUPID ALTRUISTIC MESS. Dear Lord in Heaven, it is so refreshing to see a series initially pander towards that direction only to have the rug slipped out from underneath. I’m starting to remember why Madoka Magica was so well-received; not just because it tried to have an involved narrative, but because it was something differentWIXOSS is something different. Paving the way for intrigue and thought-provoking ideas that others take for granted. Granting wishes? Yeah, cool. But what if the wishes were stupid shit that one could likely do with actual effort? Are they using this game as a means of escaping reality? Is one really so gullible to trust everything as a talking head within a card is telling them? Can one be altruistic and at the same time self-serving? These things and more are explored here, in this deliciously wrapped (and open-ended) season of flipping expectations.

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Now, don’t let this one paragraph dissuade you from everything else I said above. WIXOSS is far from a fantastic series, but it serves as the foundation of a series that could be great if handled correctly. It left more of a positive impression than a negative one, however overall, I can’t say the series isn’t flawed. Animation and design aren’t even really that appealing, even in those typically interesting dream sequences foreshadowing later events or battles involving fantasy fodder. There’s nothing entirely wrong with the aspect, it only doesn’t stand out. It’s serviceable and nothing more, much like the initial reaction to this series when it first aired (see: average rating on MyAnimeList). In hindsight, though, when even ThatAnimeSnob is championing the series as a modern… well, not “masterpiece” but something that should be praised, then perhaps there’s something there.

As it stands, it’s a decent series, though I shudder somewhat at the thought of continuing it, as I hear nothing but “it gets worse” from those who moved forward. I adore its willingness to try and showcase something more than its genre would dictate. If more series would take that leap, that would be more than enough to have hope for the future. And with a whole two anime about card games under my belt, I think I can officially say that WIXOSS is my favorite one!

Personal Score: C+

Critical Score: B-

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

Quick Thoughts on Emma: A Victorian Romance (Season One)

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Seeing as this season ends rather abruptly, leading to a direct conclusion via second season, my thoughts will be kept short this time around. I will direct my thoughts to the basic foundation of what Emma does right and wrong, saving some of the more intricate details for the inevitable second season post, whenever that comes around. I only do this because, well, I have a nagging suspicion that the second season will have more to talk about.

Kaoru Mori has a bit of a reputation as a history nut, and it’s displayed through her multiple works, including Emma itself and her current work, Otoyomegatari. As someone who’s been reading Otoyomegatari, I’ve noticed some similarities in character and story cues that Mori seems fond of putting in her works. For better or for worse, the style of Emma is mature, graceful, and without a lot of emotional flair. Its slow pace allows the viewer to soak in every detail of the characters’ everyday lives and mannerisms, along with the chummy chemistry of just about every character familiar with one another. This is similarly so in Otoyomegatari, however, I feel the premise of the latter, which has already established the closeness and familarity of the major characters, better suits this type of atmosphere. In Emma, the main drawing point is the romance, as is shown by its inclusion within the title of the series. The series’ lead female, Emma, is a maid uninterested in the prospect of love, but finds herself charmed by her master’s old student, William Jounes, and his naive demeanor. This leads to an aloof, yet serene journey of developing a romance between them, though they aren’t always the main attraction.

The biggest flaw of Emma is that if one isn’t enthralled by the characters in the manner they’re being portrayed, there simply isn’t anything here for you. It’s not until about ten episodes in does the overall mood and style of narrative drastically change. And better yet, its timing is cliché. There aren’t any one-dimensional characters to make one-dimensional humor. No animated festivities to fluff up the dry air. Emma as a story is incredibly cut and dry, and relishes within the belief that characters should behave realistically within their settings; in this case, as gentlemen, mistresses, and maids. Those with a historical kink would likely enjoy the aesthetic, but to spend so much time going along the ordinary hijinks of high-class and working-class citizens in a time of peace and pleasantries is a challenge to those used to something far more upbeat.

The characters themselves are just that, they suit the environment they’re placed in. Only Hakim immediately comes to mind as someone who hopes to challenge the status quo of the benign lifestyle of others. Only issue with him is that his only purpose within the story seems to either be William’s rival or support. Much in this sense, the characters end up playing a game of “Red Light, Green Light;” basing their behavior and mannerisms around either encouraging or disapproving the relationship between Emma and William. Truly, the story revolves around Emma and William and their relationship, while also showcasing a bit of Emma’s past and relationship with her master. How they decide to pace all of this is questionable on its own.

Let’s not forget visual style now, as evidenced by my recent Twitter activity, Emma has a tendency to go a bit off the rails. Episode six. Episode six in particular (with snippets of other episodes, as well) is bestowed some of the most atrocious animating I’ve ever seen. Characters’ limbs moving too far frame-by-frame, pouring liquids disappearing in an instant, and the incredibly blunt movement of characters, only to come to a dead stop in the most obvious of ways. The entire series isn’t entirely bad with its animation, but has those occasions where the effort (or budget?) is just laughable. I sure got a hoot out of it. Aesthetically, however, the anime is very tranquil. Almost as though one isn’t watching an anime at all but was transported to the UK millenniums ago. Design-wise, I have no complaints. It’s just the movement of it all.

More to come as I finish up the series’ second season, but as it stands, Emma is enjoyable for the right and wrong reasons, while also very curt in its expressiveness, which can lead to some very blank viewing up to a certain point. It has the Mori stamp of approval, with simplicity winning out over everything else. Should that not be an issue for you, Emma will probably serve you well.

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