Code Geass

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First off, this anime ends horribly. People talk about anime suddenly ending with no resolution. Sometimes they overreact – Deadman Wonderland and Attack on Titan end an arc but keep the big story unfinished. It’s frustrating, since the arcs are integral to a bigger story and don’t stand on their own. Code Geass, however, simply ends. Worse, it ends on a cliffhanger. I know there’s a second season, but you don’t separate seasons (Or episodes, or books) for the sake of it. You separate them because they’re different stories. This one’s unfinished and this is a huge blow.

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At first, it’s tempting to view the anime as exploration of Japan under Western influence. World War II wasn’t so long ago, and we all heard about how the Japanese are poor victims. This story is false, and bones have a way of digging themselves out. Japan was an aggressor in WWII and responsible for some true horrors. So seeing a story in which they are oppressed can be bizarre – you have to wonder whether in the world of Code Geass they found the bones in Shinjiku. The big Western oppressor this time is the UK, whose main contribution to the world after WWII was Big Beat and Dubstep.

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It’s not about politics. The Geass is a physical manifestation of power. The creators wisely chose to never talk about how it actually works. There’s no D&D-esque magic system behind it, only a few limits to help us understand power better. A Geass is limited, because power comes in different forms. A Geass can also be used once, but can consume you.

Power doesn’t just come in isolation. Something drives power. The user wants to achieve something with that power. We hear about how some people just want to feel powerful, but why do they want to feel powerful? Powerful is ability and security. Power cannot be an end. If it is an end, it is only because power is the means to get many ends. Power never stands alone.

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Here’s your main problem with the anime. Power here stands alone. Excluding Euphie, the story is an ordinary one about oppressed people rising against their overseers, but so what? What does the British empire stand for? What do the Japanese stand for? You cannot just kill the tyrant but have to replace it with something. A person once said that anarchy is a ‘tyranny of people with guns’. Since humans are pack animals, leaders come by naturally and can be good for us. Leaders work differently, though even when they seem similar. Both the Nazis and the Japanese did unethical human experiments, but for different ends.

The series is soaked by the theme of power. The position of every character is established quickly, and is an important part of everyone’s lives. Notice how Rivalz is obviously inferior to Lelouch, how no woman swoon over him and he’s mostly just there. During high school scenes, we follow the most powerful people – the student council whose head is the daughter of the principle. Lelouch is a person who lost his position of power and that’s the same story for Jeremiah. Cornelia’s and Euphemia’s relationship isn’t just about protecting the little sister – one is clearly more powerful than the other.

It’s a fantastic stage to test what drives power and they squash it. The two sides fighting stand for nothing. Many stories use the typical Hitler-esque tyrant, which is cliched but at least something. Here, the British Empire only protect its own existence without ever answering why it exists in the first place. The Japanese want to free themselves, but they only free themselves into a vague ‘equality’ thing.

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Then again, it’s not a story of simple evil vs. simple good. Many scenes show us the Britinnians, their lives and how they’re actual human beings. The inclusion of school life comedy is brilliant. It shows us there are people behind the oppressors who might be used to their lives of privilege, but they’re still people. When everything falls apart, there’s no sadism but empathy towards the upper class.

If the creators can write vibrant scenes about everyday life, why can’t they imbue their characters with motives and ideologies? Relationships with the same structure work differently. Both Lelouch and Cornelia protect their little sisters, but Lelouch is the soft warm protector whereas Cornelia is the condescending one. A small character arc involving Jeremiah – a clear villain and an asshole – shows us the pain of falling from a position of power. Even while the series sides with Lelouch, it doesn’t shy away from how his power can hurt his enemies.

The ‘Grand Purpose’ is integral to any piece of art. Everything connects to it, and it makes the flaws more understandable. Without the grand purpose, there is nothing to review. Even shows whose only purpose is to show big boobs have this purpose. Often, average shows swing between two such purpose and commit. Code Geass doesn’t even swing between purposes but simply doesn’t have one. It goes through the motions, provides good storytelling that leads nowhere.

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Credit must go to the designers. The series sports one of the best character design I’ve seen. As pure beauty few anime match it. In fact, the characters are so beautiful that it feels like a plot point. Everyone radiates sex appeal, but somehow no one has sex with anyone. The overly-slender bodies do contrast with this. They’re not just thin but long, but every face is plastic-surgery perfect. Every stare is full of confidence with sensual lips. Even the voice-actors give a sexual smugness to it all. CC and Milly always sound teasing, like they’re just about to invite you to their rooms. It’s nice, but sometimes bizarre.

It’s also fairly expressive. Notice the contrast in design between Lelouch and Suzaku. Suzaku has a softer, cuter look with the curly hair. Lelouch has sharp eyes, black hair that falls in spikes. These designs amplifies their personalities. Rivalz is being stuck with a goofy blue hairdo. The decision to give characters similar but different hair colors is meaningful. Euphy’s pink is brighter than Cornelia’s purple, just like their personality.

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The gigantic robots don’t fare so well. The action scenes are a constant thorn in the anime. Although there are emotional moments in those scenes, they take the chess game technique to the extreme. They become more about Lelouch’s genius rather than the characters. Imagine JoJo but with giant robots. JoJo was nice, but its storytelling was built for shallow stories driven by excitement. Here, the storytelling always aims for something deeper. If the robots had a cool look to them, then fine. The designers went full lazy and just had gigantic hulks of metal with arms and legs. None of the imagination that fuels the character design (A character who appears for a barely a minute looks better than most anime characters) reaches them.

Contrast this anime with Future Diary. It’s another overly ambitious anime with so much going on it couldn’t flesh it all out. When Future Diary tackles an idea, it does so with full conviction. It may need more length, but when it’s about comedy it’s all about comedy. When it’s horror, it’s all horror. More importantly, Future Diary wasn’t about build-up but about arcs. Each arc had its own style. All of the elements in Geass aren’t spread evenly but crammed together into one gigantic arc that builds up to a huge climax. There is very little resolution in this anime. Some may enjoy the cliffhangers, the ‘what’ll happen next?’ but that’s boring. The most exciting anime are those that are exciting because what’s happening, in the present tense. They’ll keep you coming back.

Code Geass fails only because what it set out to do is be the best anime ever. It’s overall a good show with a dynamic story and a wide cast, each with their own point of view. Although it slips often to cheap thriller mode, the characters’ personality dominate it more than conventions. Even if it’s not the best anime ever, most creators can’t even attempt something this ambitious.

3 sexy homosapiens out of 5

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The End of Evangelion

Let’s get rid of the obvious first. The End of Evangelion is inaccessible to anyone who didn’t watch the series. This shouldn’t be a point against the movie, though. There are enough great sequels who needed the first film. The fact this is two episodes smashed together to form a movie has no bearings on its quality.

There are far worse problems here. Evangelion was a brilliant series with a disappointing ending. Instead of using intelligence to lift up its story of saving the world, it went full retard. The deviation is only impressive if you haven’t been to the edge of weird storytelling. It contributed nothing to the series but was just a scattered essay with moving pictures.

The film was supposed to fix that, but sadly it doesn’t. Evangelion was never as deep as people say it is. It attempted subversions, but it lacked a theme to unite it all together. Religious symbolism and psychological portraits do not necessarily mean there’s a grand theme. They are ways to express ideas.

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The problems are already apparent in the beginning. It kicks off into a huge action sequence that lives little room for character development. It also perfectly replicates the intensity that made the TV show so fun.

Nobody talks about how fun the TV show us. The drama was engrossing and the action scenes were beautifully animated. Every metal bending, every hit, every explosion is full of power. The enemies have the unique, Angel-esque design and the scene is clean. The environment is bare, making it easy to follow exactly what’s happening. Michael Bay has a lot to learn from this film.

The film attempts the same psychological-monologue-slideshow thing, and it’s just as unnecessary and messy as in the series. It’s a little better, but the core problem remains.

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Moving to such territory is unnecessary. The story isn’t made for such experimental methods. At its heart, it’s a simple story about saving the world from the Unknown Enemy while realizing that humanity can be its own enemy, too. All you need for this story are characters who are convincing enough.

The monologues just go in circles, bouncing from one subject into another with no ideas concluding or connecting. This technique works in novels, but not so for films. You read novels in your own pace, so you take your own time to digest the word salad.

Movies set their own pace, so Anno is throwing at you images and words in machine-gun velocity. This could still have a chance of being entertaining, but experimental films often have a plot that works well with the method. You couldn’t tell the story of Pi without going full retard. It’s an abstract story at heart that happens only in Max Cohen’s head.

There is something about loneliness and the desire to connect. I heard this before and searched for it in this film. While the conclusion does touch that in a symbolic way that works, everything else was over the place like I remembered. Shinji is a neurotic and angsty teen, but his type of angst isn’t focused on enough. Is he a person who gave up on connecting to people like Mirai Nikki‘s Yukki? Is he an obsessive person who sees everything in absolutes like Max Cohen?

Perhaps I missed something in the series, but nothing here connected to a single theme. It starts to look like Digimon Tamers is an attempt to remake Evangelion with coherency. At least Tamers has a theme and symbols that point to it.

I once read that Anno said Evangelion could mean anything the viewer wants to. If so, then the show is about nothing. This isn’t how vagueness works. A story should not give simple answers, but it still needs to ask questions. Asking questions means it confronts a subject, and it’s not just about anything. Medabots asks whether weapons only lead to destruction, or whether they can be used for fun. The vagueness is in how the series makes strong cases for both viewpoints.

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The film still gets by because of its visuals. Despite the attempts at philosophy, the second part works in the same way the first part. Its epicness is exciting. It’s not as meaningful as before. We get monologues, instead of seeing characters in action but the visuals are still beautiful, and there’s a sense of self-importance that actually makes it fun. It stretches itself so far so just seeing how crazy it will go is entertaining. Despite the philosophizing, the film never forgets it’s a visual medium and that it should take advantage of it.

It’s an interesting addition to the Evangelion canon, but it supports the haters more than the fans. Instead of giving Evangelion a coherent ending, it shows how the series never had a grand theme to begin with. Knowing your limitations is important. If Evangelion stuck to its story of saving the world, it would’ve been fantastic. Still, a scattered but creative mind still has plenty of worthwhile ideas.

3.5 Angels out of 5

 

Date A Live II

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Expecting Date A Live II to improve was probably too much. It’s obvious from the pictures that something here is going to go wrong. We already have enough goofy characters. We don’t need more. We want to see more of Tohka, Yoshino, Tokisaki and Reinne – all entertaining personalities that tend to light up any scene they’re in. Tokisaki wasn’t really defeated in the previous season, so there’s clearly more to do with her. Why add more?

The additions are not that bad, but they’re bad in a very predictable way. It starts with the twins. The problem they introduce is different enough, but just look at them. The character design is sexy, but it’s more sexy than pretty. The previous Spirits’ design tried to tell us more about their character than to make them sexually appealing. Tokisaki is the only one with an actual sexy design, but in this case it’s part of her character.

It’s not like they’re completely empty shells. They are pretty entertaining in the scenes they’re in, and the conflict they’re in could lead to a very interesting relationship. You quickly forget that they’re dressed for an S&M club because their antics come from the same creative mind that gave us Yoshino’s wide-eyed fear and Tokisaki’s creepiness. Their fights are just as fun as anything in the previous season.

Sadly, there is not enough of that. We spend two episodes with the twins and some embarrassing fanservice. The previous season never had that amount. What happens in these episodes feels like it came from those shows that just want to push the envelope. It’s not funny and it’s out of place. The show still rolls along mostly without ecchi – you’d expect the camera to linger on Reinne when she appears in a bikini, but you barely have time to register there’s a teddy bear between her breasts. What was the point of those awkward scenes in the bedrooms?

Miku is a little better. There is something slightly off-putting in her design. Maybe it’s because she looks like Coco from Mermaid Melody with a new paint job. Still, her character is interesting and she provides a good conflict. Once you get over the over-sexualizing, the new Spirits offer problems that are different enough than the previous to show the creators haven’t run of new ideas.

In fact, they have too many ideas. We have a new antagonist who is interesting until the climax. Jessica appears, which could help add some depth to the whole wing of the AST. Ellen, the Bad Guy’s sidekick occasionally looks like there is an interesting personality underneath that cool hair. There is even a school festival that slides smoothly to the plot instead of feeling tokenistic.

It doesn’t build to anything. The climax is the real weak point of the series.. The previous climax was also messy, but Tokisaki lead it. It felt unhinged, out of control and unique to the series. Somewhere around the eight episode, the series becomes one extended action scene Shido mows down a lot of mooks, but the real causalties are the personalities.

Some characters are already halfway to gone before the finale. Kotori and Yoshino are barely there, which makes no sense. The few times Yoshino appears, struggling with understanding a soap opera are what made the original so fun. The climax finally kills them all. Kotori and Yoshino go AWOL. The twins are pushed to the back, almost as if they were never there. Jessica is thrown into the action scene with a conclusion that deserved a much better build-up. Origami is still an unnecessary part of the harem. Miku becomes a tsundere. Bad Guy reveals he’s bad because he’s bad and Mana is still just as useless.

Tohka is the only one who’s given some room to do things. Her clinginess to Shido is pretty annoying, but there’s enough of the fish-out-of-water antics that make her fun. She eventually becomes the center. If so, why introduce the new Spirits, if they’re just pushed to the back in the end?

Why is this so generic? What happened to the bravery? The series used to flinch at violence, to question whether it’s a legitimate method to solve problems. It was its whole charm. It forced the hero to interact with the ‘bad guys’. Violence is frowned upon. Now Shido mows down faceless soldiers like he’s Sylvester Stallone in a generic building. There aren’t even cool visuals to accompany it. He just swings his sword and people fall down.

Speaking of Shido, he hasn’t changed. He’s still boring and has no charisma. He’s still given a lot of situations that can be great for character development, and he does nothing with it. How can you even write such a dull character? Asimov isn’t exactly the master of creating human beings, but he gives the game pieces (In Asimov, there are no characters, just game pieces) some traits that make them recognizable. Shido is nothing but a plot-mover. The story is clearly about him. He’s the star of the climax this time, so make him worthwhile. Alas, everything he does is just for convenience.

It’s not a problem of length. 10 episodes is a little too short, but there was enough time that was better spent on other things. We didn’t need all these fanservice and the finale could have been a bit more exciting than just killing faceless people. There is still some fuel in this franchise. Most of the new ideas that were introduced are pretty good. The new Spirits are a worthwhile addition. This season does even less with everything, and the result is just a shopping list of cool ideas. The series doesn’t deserve this as a swan song, but I worry that feature developments will stay, will, undeveloped.

2 dates out of 5

Date A Live

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Everybody knows that great record with great ideas that the record label choked with cliches. Date A Live is that record. It takes influence from Evangelion both in terms of style and purpose. It wants to be a fun, humorous story while also have engaging characters and challenge its format a little. Whenever it does that, it succeeds. Whenever it dabbles in Harem cliches, you reach for some funeral music.

The premise is nonsense, but not without hope. The why’s are unimportant. The premise forces a non-violent solution to defeat an enemy, and one that relies on character interaction. This forces the creators to make the Spirits into actual characters instead of an ‘unknown enemy’. It also means they have to write actual character interactions, instead of just making a light show of explosions.

It does work, for the most part. The Spirits are all vastly different, and quirky in their own ways. Some of them may seem cliche on the surface, like Yoshinon’s shy girl antics. They do make them weird and silly enough to make them memorable. There are plenty of fun fish-out-of-water moments with Tohka. There’s also Tokisaki, who’s a great antagonist with a weird modus operandi and an atmosphere of real danger. The show also has some moments which satirize dating sims, and they’re brilliant whenever they appear.

Date A Live also has a unique relationship to violence. There are some explosions for the hungry, but its view of violence is very different. In most action films, we’re encouraged to cheer for violence and to enjoy seeing people get hurt. It’s not that we’re told to enjoy the suffering of others. We’re told to ignore it, so we could enjoy a beautiful, violent dance.

Date A Live acknowledges that violence is pretty awful. It’s not just in Origami’s dull, “My parents were killed so know I’m an avenger”. Characters are afraid of killing others. Characters can’t remain indifferent to violence. Evangelion created alien enemies which looked nothing like us. It was easy to look at their deaths. Date A Live admits that enemies are humans and asks if there’s a better. It’s a pretty uncommon response to the aestheticization of violence in media. It’s even less common in shows like this.

That’s pretty heavy. Don’t mistake Date A Live for more than a light-hearted romp. Nevertheless, this attitude towards violence sure helps raise the series a little, and makes it more fun.

Just as its willing to turn that format upside down, it’s also neck deep in Harem cliches.

Why do series’s like this create a fun, quirky cast of female characters only to have the male lead dull? Shido’s given a little more to do. It feels like he can be a good character. Yet, has no personality to speak of. He does what is right just because it’s convenient to the plot, but that’s it.

There were so many things you could do with him. He could have been a megalomaniac who enjoys the attention. He could be a neurotic, like Evangelion’s Shinji. He could be a White Knight who’s overdoing it. All of which would have added plenty of more comedic moments. Yet, he’s just a convenient tool to move the plot with less depth than an FPS character. This is one series that deserved so much.

Since the male lead has no personality, the romance is also not that exciting. Seeing a man having to juggle three girls could be fun. It’d work here because the series gives them a little more to do, but Shido is nothing. The girls fall for him mostly because it’s convenient. If love was so convenient, it wouldn’t be a staple in the arts. There was also no reason for Origami to be a part of the harem. It added nothing.

Date A Live falls too much into cliches to be great. When it’s good, though, it’s better than another anime where the only effort is in the character design. It’s a lot bolder than it looks, and turns the nonsencial premise to more than a punchline. If you can stomach the occasional cliche harem, there’s good entertainment to be found here.

3 dates out of 5

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Everything you heard about Evangelion is true. It gets almost everything right. If you ever wondered what’s the big deal over anime, Evangelion sums it up pretty well. It’s an all-around great work of animation. It uses the strengths of the medium while not abandoning the old qualities that make for great storytelling. It also loses itself in the last two episodes.

It’s not the awful ending that Death Note has. It doesn’t make all the time spent seem fruitless. It’s an icarus kind of thing. The last two episodes are where the series gets truly experimental. It abandons traditional storytelling and tries using inner monologues. It’s a bold idea, especially in an anime that’s until then just upgrades the Mecha genre.

It doesn’t work, though. The monologues are not just about the characters but discuss the various themes that pop up in the anime. As the anime progresses, it makes it clearer and clearer that there’s more than well-constructed fights to this. Instead of using some creative method to wrap the themes, and maybe take advantage of all the symbolism they left lying around.

Sadly, they chose monologues. That’s just a way of beating the viewer over the head with your themes. We don’t need them. The 24 episodes that came after that make an excellent job of developing characters. The backstory of the Angels is barely revealed, and that’s great. The creators know that why things happen is less important than the reactions to the characters. We don’t always know why things happen but we always react. That’s the series’ greatest strength. Beneath the giant robots and the fighting, it’s an excellent chronicle of relationships and how they develop and change.

Not to say that it’s a pretentious thing that believes that great dialogue make up for anything else. Another reason why Evangelion is so brilliant and why it deserves its classic status is because it takes advantage of the format. There’s just as much effort put into the design. Developed characters aren’t an excuse to make bland looking characters. Rei, Misato, Suzuhara, Gendo, the Fifth Child each has a unique design that doesn’t try to be real but look cool. There is no excuse for bland character design. If looks aren’t important in your story, it should be a novel.

The Angels are where the design choices shine the most. They are unique at every aspect. Every single one has a distinctive look, and each one functions differently. The variety is so big that the idea that they’re of the same ‘race’ comes off as pretty far-fetched. Either way, they make for both cool-looking enemies and interesting ones. The unique attributes also means the fights aren’t just extended sequences of stuff exploding. There’s a problem-solving elements to it. Each battle is a puzzle the characters have to solve. It may be not as meaningful as the relationships between the characters, but it’s great that the series is also willing to have fun.

Evangelion is an anime that wants it all. The characters are both developed and good-looking. The battles are pure fun, but the drama is strong. Evangelion wants both the fun energy of Mecha and the qualities that make for any classic story. The last two episodes make for a very underwhelming finish, but they don’t undo the other 24 episodes. Evangelion is worth watching regardless of your opinions on anime. It’s a great piece of storytelling at all fronts.

XTC’s logo also makes a cameo appearance.