Another

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What we have here isn’t so much an anime, but an experiment. At least I hope it’s an experiment, because as an anime it’s quite an atrocity. It deserves a place in the bottom of the barrel, not because it’s awful in a unique way. There’s no content, nothing particularly offensive that stick out. It’s just a series of mistakes piling up on one another.

If this is an experiment, it’s an interesting and important one. In fact, as an experiment it deserves the attention of all literary scholars. Finally, a piece of fiction tries to answer the age-old question of what is more important – execution or the idea. Since the end result is closer to vomit caused by excessive drinking (which itself was a means of coping with an awful party), the answer is execution.

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“Execution” is an ironic word to use in the context of this crappy anime, both because a lot of characters die and the anime ends up killing its brilliant premise. Most creators don’t have any idea what ‘horror’ actually means. They think we experience horror when someone holds a knife against us and we need to fight them, but that’s not it. A dangerous situation where there are a few predictable outcomes, some of them bad is thrilling and causes adrenaline but it’s not scary.

People are afraid of walking alone in the streets and of being on the stage, yet no one is going to kill you if you deliver a speech (Unless you’re a politician). The common ground between two is the unknown, and more importantly a fairly hostile unknown. Horror is effective when we know or speculate there is something hostile there and don’t know its nature. The best of horror is striking a balance – having a good enough idea what kind of danger there is, but not enough.

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Horror fiction often features weak protagonists. In order to effective, the protagonists need to know little so they won’t really have a way to defeat the Big Bad. Stories are the scariest not at the climax – it means very little in this genre. Experiencing the unknown is what’s important. A shot of Michael Myers standing outside the house is scary, because we don’t really know what Myers is except the fact he kills people for some reason. More than any other genre, Horror isn’t about a tight structure but strong, atmospheric moments emphasizing how the characters view the world.

The creators commit the horrible mistake of thinking that what works in video games also works in fiction. So the main character isn’t actually a human, but a distinct organism only found in shitty stories called Plotus Moverus. Exploring a mystery on my own is one thing. Merely watching someone else do it is something else. Shows on TV that show you how to cook things have more narrative thrust, more personality. People actually remember all those dudes in TV who talk about food, yet I’ll only remember Kouchi because he starred in this horrible anime.

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Kouchi gives a point of view with less personality than a Wikipedia article, so already we lack any kind of framing for this town. Look at this as a self-insert character, and you get zilch. If Kouchi had a psychology or a personality that would react to the horror, then I could insert myself into him and feel like I’m experiencing the same thing. I could use this story not only to explore the nature of horror but how we can react to horrifying things. Kouchi only gathers data.

The scenary is now responsible to frame this story as scary, and at the beginning it’s actually quite good. People criticized it because ‘nothing happened’, but they just misunderstand the genre. Things don’t have to happen and it may be for the best if they won’t. What should go on is atmosphere. The art and especially the background is fantastic. The colors are varied, yet there’s a slight dark tone to everything – not enough to make it monochrome, but enough to hint there’s something bad going on underneath. This balance is difficult to attain but the series does it. Every scene in the beginning is imbued with uneasiness, empty streets of a small, isolated town and a dark shade over thing because disaster can strike at any moment.

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An episode which takes place at the beach is a perfect example of how well the atmosphere works. There is silence and uneasiness all over it. Every interaction is a bit more hushed. A game of fishing ends with people capturing nothing interesting but kelp and a blowfish. Romance is right around the corner, but everyone is too preocupied with the horror to go with it

Here you get why the premise is so brilliant. By its very nature it’s horror, it’s a premise where people know disaster strikes but not really its nature or how to stop it or how exactly it will affect. Reduce the genre to its bare bones and you get that. Now all you need to do is let the characters do their thing. Let them react to the situation with their personalities. Let it affect their relationship, the structure of the town. Show us the effect of death and the unknown on us, tickle our sense of empathy.

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Mentioning the Saw film at this point, because they’re an example of how this anime failed. The first Saw film featured two dudes locked in a rusty bathroom which is quite frightening, but that’s also because of the mystery – what the hell is that bathroom? The anime does contain a mystery, but instead of letting it be one they solve it in – get this! – one episode. No, really, there is no build-up or any psychological thrust to the discovery. One day a character info-dumps the whole equation. Now the characters only need to find the X, literally.

Remove the mystery and the psychology and all you have left is a dull process of elimination. The side-characters are slightly better than Kouchi but even they don’t do much. The last episodes consist of fire and brimstone and that hardly makes for an effective climax. As an action scene it might serve, but its main role is to revel and swim in the blood of the characters.

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What it reveals is what I tried to suppress all along – that the mystery isn’t actually a symbol for our fear of death, but a plot tool to kill characters. Instead of experiencing this anguish and angt, understand the meaning of fear and trembling and reflect upon the nature of death you enter a guessing game. Every episode is a game of ‘who dies next?’ until it ends with a massacre that might’ve been effective with a different build-up. Too bad it’s just has everyone smiling psychotically while chanting the same sentence.

In the beginning of the anime Stephen King is dropped, a popular writer with great ideas and horrible execution. Even he wasn’t that bad, but the series is loyal to his style. It took an idea so good you can use it to explain the nature of the genre and turned it into a who’s-gonna-die game. The final twist isn’t that surprising either and doesn’t add any meaning, although it could’ve lead to a powerful character moment if Kouchi had something resembling a personality. Write off the popularity of this anime as pure shock value.

1.5 spooky stuff out of 5

Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace

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Shitty authors often fill their books with useless details. It’s a sure sign the book is bad, but it’s understandable. If you have no idea what works, just throw everything in and hope something sticks. The problem with this shotgun approach in novels is that novels are whole pieces, and so it’s hard to isolate the good parts. Some good authors fill their books with details, and then chop off what doesn’t turn out to be a buried gun (see also: Chuck Palahniuk). Why do talented authors leave a lot of details is puzzling.

There’s no need to put a cover on Alias Grace. Buried in it is a brilliant mystery novel that uses it genre to create meaning, not just to create a puzzle. Atwood made a career of exploring the female experience, and the novel is almost the definitive one about our perception of women.

The phase ‘benevolent misogyny’ sounds crazy, and too bad the other term to describe it is ‘victim privilege’. These things exist, though. When people perceive you as lower than them, some of the ways they treat you differently will benefit you.

The perception of women was so narrow that it even excluded some terrible prejudices. Since women are viewed as pure until someone has sex with them, the idea they can be violent didn’t occur to people. The only reason Grace has a chance at redemption is because she’s a woman. No one thinks James may have been innocent, or cares what his reasons are. Boys will be boys, and James is just a boy who couldn’t control his violence.

The question of whether Grace is innocent or not isn’t answered, because the definitive answer isn’t the point. The point is what’s reader answer is and how much of it is based on Grace being female. The purpose of the puzzle is not the right answer but to examine our reactions.

Sexism is more complex than just making one group feel bad. Sexism goes both ways, with positive ideas about an oppressed group stemming from them being considered inferior.  Atwood realizes that and this is why Atwood is one of the best authors on the subject.

Even in her comfort zone where she writes about discrimination, she’s still great in it. Her treatment of the subject is never black and white. There are sexist pigs. There are women who accept their position in society. There are men with savior’s complex. The contradicting sexism takes place in the same mind. Dr. Jordan seeks to help the outcasts and the insane. When you give him a woman desperate for love and an ugly servant, he’s regressing to the sexism he grew up with.

A common problem in Historical Fiction is that the authors give the historical characters a modern mindset. A third wave feminist in the 1800’s looks silly unless we get a reasonable explanation how she stumbled on these ideas. It’s like a person who talks about digital property before the internet was invented.

Atwood avoids this flaw. She knows that people who grew up in a sexist environment will think sexist thoughts, including women. I’ve seen plenty of women spit misogyny, such as slut-shaming and victim-blaming today. Of course Grace will buy into her role as a woman, and of course Dr. Jordan will treat ugly women in disgust if that’s all he knows. Thankfully, as time goes on and events pile up, events that challenge these perceptions take place. That’s Grace’s murder role. It’s there for people to question their ideas about the sexes, both the negative and positive.

These ideas are fully explored, so at least Atwood’s shower of details isn’t meant to cover up a lack. It doesn’t make it any less puzzling. It’s not a difference in prose style. Even at her most maximalist Atwood retains a gift for sentences that flow easily. She overcomes the challenge of writing in a less modern style, but unnecessary details remain unnecessary no matter how easy they are to read.

Everything little thing is described. These are not the purposeful descriptions of McEwan. Atwood has no modus operandi for choosing what to describe and what not to. The effect is similar to the shopping lists of Dragon Tattoo. They revealed nothing about the characters. Women had an obsession with appearances back in the day, but these aren’t descriptions that are focused on the beauty of things.

If Atwood wanted to express the characters’ obsession with things looking good, then she’d focus on the beauty of things. The shopping list is a static technique. It exists to give you a blueprint of how a room looks like, but it’s only important so you’ll understand the characters’ movements. Beyond that, telling us the color of the rag is unimportant unless the color or the rag has importance.

Less annoying are the words of wisdom that are dropped between paragraphs. There are many quotable moments, but they feel like they came out of an unpublished Words of Wisdom. I’d love to read a book like this by Atwood. Every novel I read by her paints an intelligent women, but it’s not believable when it comes out of Grace’s mind. She’s portrayed either as enigmatic or simple-minded. Intelligence isn’t a trait, so why do these pieces of wisdom tell us about the character?

The fairly-complex structure isn’t as harmful as these techniques, but it also feels like an unnecessary complexity. The exchange of letters is interesting, but they belong in a story more focused on Dr. Jordan. His main role here is to show a contradictionary sexist mind. He has an interesting psychological arc that gets drowned in too many descriptions and fear of exploring him. He never becomes the presence that the men had in Life Before Man. He exists to show us how Grace looks from the outside. There are too many passages on his life in general that are more than necessary to show he exists beyond the plot, and not enough to make him like a hero of his own story.

The news clippings in the beginning of chapters are better. In fact, Atwood should’ve used them more. She could have used a variety of clippings to show the subtle differences between sexist opinions. She has enough negative capabiliy to paint sexists as human beings while not justifying them. More clippings would allow her to experiment with the sexist mind.

The flaws in this novel prevent it from being great, but it’s still a success. Atwood is too good at prose, so even the filler writing is pleasant to read. The treatment of Atwood’s favorite subject is also the best she did so far, and it’s only over-writing that keeps this behind Cat’s Eye. Atwood said she doesn’t see herself as a feminist writer, but her literature is the ideal feminist. She doesn’t present a cliched narrative of bad men and angelic women (which is just another form of sexism anyway). She uses feminisn to question how think about sex and gender roles. There’s a lot to learn from her.

3.5 simple murders out of 5

Digimon Tamers – The Hypnos Arc

The D-Reaper is where it’s at. It’s a personification of death in a children’s show. After the disappointment of the first Digimon Adventure, I just hoped this will be good enough until that arrives. I did not expect it to be this subversive, well-written and exciting early on.

The original Digimon Adventure was very basic. It was all about becoming more powerful to defeat a senseless enemy that wants to destroy in order to destroy. They somehow managed to drag it for 50 episodes. It’s a remarkable achievement for such a thin premise where even the action is unexciting. Throughout the first arc, Tamers constantly questions it.

We get Villains of the Weak whose sole purpose is to be defeated, but they are not the center. It’s Yamaki and Impmon – two characters closer to being antagonists – that define this series.

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Yamaki is first seen as an evil, detatched Government Agent who wants to destroy Digimon because he’s cruel and wears a suit. Very early though, it’s shown he’s more than that. Yamaki is not villainous. He’s a person in need of control, but because he sees what chaos does. The Villains of the Weak wreck havoc and cause nothing but panic. It’s only logical to want to stop them.

He’s not like the kids, who got their Digimon and felt like their dream was coming true. He views things from a wider, but more detatched angle. He sees all the havoc that’s going on and doesn’t mind to hurt a few kids’ feeling if it means peace to everyone else.

But Yamaki is a person who wants control so much that this desire controls him. He tries to tighten his control more and more, moving from observing to trying to destroy to trying to eradicate all Digimon. Yet his own technology spins out of control, just like the Digimon are a technology that’s gone out of control (doesn’t it happen all the time?). Yamaki eventually breaks down and even gets a little violent. But what makes it so powerful is not because his violent reaction is cruel (it’s not), it’s because we’ve come to see Yamaki is like us when things go out of our control.

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Impmon is another case. Impmon is a person who found out he doesn’t fit in society. He had his chance, but he couldn’t do it. So now he tries to live outside of it, bragging about his independence and not being a slave like all the Digimon.

He’s like that kid who made fun of you for being a slave for Pop music, when his whole existance is letting people know how special he is. Impmon doesn’t live outside of human society because he relies on their feedback. He pulls pranks and scares them for fun. Without humans to be scared of him, he’s nothing.

He’s an Antichrist Superstar, a person who couldn’t fit into society yet can’t live outside of it. Like Manson’s character, this leads to a desire for power to overcome this. Impmon can’t help but feel weak. His pranks are nothing but a nuiscance. As the series goes on, Impmon realizes how pointless his whole quest is. He’s starting to reconsider his worldview, but not his hatred for humans.

He sees the hero’s Digimon evolving defeating enemies, and he mistakes that for success. Since he has no alternative to society, all he wants is to destroy. This is developed further later in the series, but it’s hinted at early on. Impmon isn’t a buried gun that plays in the background until the series needs him. His downward spiral already beings.

These are the first of many breakdowns that this series will feature. It’s shocking at first to see it in a kid’s show. That’s why it’s brilliant, though. It creates characters and puts their worldview through challenges. Call Mushishi mature all you want because it doesn’t have fighting, but Mushishi never puts his characters through these breakdowns.

The whole idea of power, which the original Digimon and many shounen shows rely on is put into question. Digivolution is not plain getting stronger. The power it gives the Digimon is violent and destructive, and you can’t stay indifferent to it. I remember the first time I held a gun and how it felt.

Power does change people. We all think of changing our environment, but when we’re given the means to do it that’s when we start taking it more seriously. The series gives us three different viewpoints. Takato is a naive kid who, if he’s going to fight will do it for fun. Henry is a pacifist who can’t unsee the harm violence does to others, even when they’re enemies. Rika is a subversion of the Shounen hero. Ash Ketchum wanted to be Pokemon Master. So does Rika, only for Digimon. It’s a violent path to mastery.

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Gargamon’s Digivolution illustrates this best. It’s a shocking episode, one that takes the first series and flips it on its head. Getting stronger, instead of solving the problem creates a worse one. Gargomon has a great design. He’s cute and cuddly, but instead of arms he got two revolver barrels. The series acknowledges these weapons were meant to hurt. How many shows question violence like this?

While these characters don’t experience the serious breakdowns of Impmon’s and Yamaki’s, their viewpoints are constantly being challenged. Henry’s pacifism, Rika’s bullying ambition and Takato’s naivety are all put under constant testing. This will get more serious as the show goes on. Already in the beginning, though, Tamers is brilliant. It makes it look so easy. You don’t need realistic art or no fighting to have a ‘mature anime’. Just continue to test your character’s worldview.