JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

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Imagine if Dragon Ball Z was actually good, or if Kill la Kill wasn’t so weird.

I feel sorry for this anime. It takes a stupid, pointless idea and makes the best of it. The world has dozens of stories about macho dudes beating up other macho dudes because they don’t agree with their morals. In the worst cases, these stories are filled with overcomplicated fight systems nobody cares about, and silly monologues.

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The world of macho dudes who never really die, where time doesn’t exist is a bit tired now. Franchises like Naruto, One Piece and Dragon Ball will outlast the heat death of the universe. It’s bizarre how no author of these mangas pulled a Robert Jordan, but nothing is as bizarre as this anime.

Macho-ness, like most tropes, is bad because it’s boring. The problem with using tropes has nothing to do with sophistication. It’s just that after seeing the same technique for 100 stories, you get bored. You become like JoJo and can predict their next sentences. Bad cliches are used by storytellers who don’t know what kind of story they want to tell. Is it an epic adventure? A silly show about silly people beating each other? An examination of good an evil?

JoJo‘s strength is the focus, unlike all these shows. The anime makes it clear what it wants to be early in the beginning. Then, every single thing that happens connects to that. JoJo wants to deliver a simple story of good and evil. The bad guys are really, really bad. The good guys are really good and charming. If the fate of the world was really in the hands of a macho dude, we’d all be filled with adrenaline. When it’s a bunch of colors on the screen, you need more than this.

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Since JoJo knows its purpose is to deliver excitement, it will do everything it can to raise the stakes. Bad guys don’t come back after being defeated just because you can milk the show a little more. They come back because it raises the stakes, makes us wonder how they can be defeated. The anime establishes that everyone knows what everyone’s next move is, which is exciting because we wonder when will one of these will fail.

Battles in anime always have pre-determined results. Every battle in anime is a man playing chess against himself. So a battle is only as exciting when the writers can challenge themselves, when they find ways to overturn their own schemes. The set-pieces drive the battles, not just meaningless shots of people using fists. Each battle is a progression of moves. It’s an odd way to describe a fight but they’re like a chess game in how every move has a clear influence on what happens next. There’s something thrilling in seeing a person trying hard to beat himself up in chess.

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It’s not the animation that sparks up the battle, which is weird. Most of the time, exciting fights are well animated. They have fluid movements that create a kinetic energy. JoJo opts for more still shots, but its set-pieces and beautiful progression saves it.

The art style itself is very old school and gloriously macho. It’s so old-school it’s jarring at first. Everyone has a Schwarznegger build and dangerously low amounts of fat. Even characters who don’t fight look muscular, with square faces and bodies of an endomorph. This style can be ugly. It does suffer from Same Face Syndrome, but they make up for it in other ways. Where it fails to dazzle in character shapes, it succeeds in customes and hairstyle. Every important character has a unique, often elaborate dress style.

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In fact, beyond the endomorph build, JoJo‘s version of macho is unique. Perhaps it was common in old times, but today it’s rarer. We now love our heroes rebellious, slightly selfish and enforcing their morality in brutal ways. We want Deadpool and Iron Man, heroes who are only good because the plot requires it. The macho-ness of JoJo is the ‘respectable gentleman’, a man who respects even his enemies. The first part drills this the most, but even the second arc with the rowdy second JoJo has it. Wham is an honorable villain. JoJo duels him fairly and with respect, rather than with malice.

So the characters don’t look gritty and tough. Rather, in the language of 12-year-old kids, they look gay. Their customes are elaborate and decorative. They look like men who are so sure of their macho-ness that they don’t mind looking so ridiculous.

The female design also enforces this weird form of macho-ness. JoJo doesn’t downplay the female’s femininity. In fact, it shows it with all the glory. Although there are no ecchi moments, the female characters look distinctly feminine – lipstick, eyelashes, gentle features. A common problem in battle shounen is that everyone is so macho, the show is afraid of femininity. So besides having longer hair and breasts, the females look like men. JoJo doesn’t need sexuality to remember its female characters are female. It’s a macho series that doesn’t view femininity as a weakness.vlcsnap-2016-03-05-23h15m50s208

For all its fun (and it’s a lot of fun), there’s a glass ceiling it cannot break. It’s a great macho adventure about saving the world, but that’s all there is. It does a lot with its style, but it’s always limited by it. Dragon Ball Z looks pathetic next to it, but JoJo is overshadowed by Kill la Kill. For all of its weirdness and energy, it never becomes as absurd Kill la Kill. It aims there and it succeeds enough to not become useless. I’ll definitely check out the sequels, but Imaishi’s cartoon prove there is so much more you can do with macho bullshit and saving the world. The fact JoJo keeps up with it and and is still worthwhile is a point for it.

JoJo is excellent at what it does. There are plenty of silly people who think there’s no value in adventure stories about saving the world. It may not be Kill la Kill, but it gets everything else right – the pacing is focused, the art is beautiful, the fights are coherent. It’s the sort of thing that inspires a lot of anime that can’t measure up to it.

6 skedaddling out of 5 here

 

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One Punch Man

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Many bad shows are a case of good ideas poorly executed. It’s rare for a show to miss its target in the premise, but One Punch Man does. For a while, the series assumes that powerful characters are a problem in fiction.

They’re not. Anyone who’s concerned with how intelligent or strong or agile a character is should stop talking about fiction. These aren’t role-playing characters. They don’t have charcter stats and skill trees. If a character has a trait, it’s supposed to be meaningful to his personality.

A character isn’t defined by how strong he is but by simply being strong. It’s not hard to write intelligent characters. Just have someone solve mathematical problems and put the answer in the character’s brain. It doesn’t matter that Max Cohen is a walking calculator. What’s interesting is how his genius affects his worldview and isolate him.

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In the first episodes, the series piledrives into the ground the idea that overpowered characters are silly. I don’t think anyone thought otherwise, so we get something like Kill La Kill only with less charisma. Everyone looks like Arnold Schwarznegger. Everyone screams and every conflict is solved with one punch. Mr. Krabs also makes a cameo appearance in the first episode, but he’s transformed into another bodybuilding loudmouth.

There’s only so much you can do with a character who solves everything with one punch. Thankfully, Saitama is not as bland as his skill. He’s a great protagonist with a personality that’s connected to his super-strength. It’s almost psychological how bored he is of all the macho bullshit, but he’s also vain and wants the attention. The anime remains satirical and exaggerated but the protagonist has a realistic psychology.

It’s Saitama’s desire for stardom and everyone’s megalomania that shapes the main arc. At this point the anime abandons making fun of obvious targets and starts creating actual absurd situations. The villains are rarely interesting. Their purpose is to always get knocked out by one punch. Rather, it’s stardom that’s being satirized.

How ironic it is to discuss the Bandwagon Fallacy in a review of a popular anime? Popularity doesn’t prove quality. Just because you don’t have a diploma from an Intelligence Institution doesn’t mean you’re stupid. Yet we take these things very seriously. People are often more curious about whether my writing is popular instead of how good it is.

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Diplomas or popularity don’t prove you’re talented. They only prove someone thinks are you are. Popularity is even worse than diplomas, though. Diplomas are given by people of authority who take their topics seriously. People can be easily swayed.

The most popular people on earth aren’t the hard workers or the life savers. The most popular people are those with the highest social value. They are the charismatic, the beautiful, the entertaining. Taylor Swift is more well-known than a person who saves a baby from a fire. That’s because Taylor is charismatic, beautiful and writes catchy songs. Just because you save a person from a fire doesn’t mean you’re a desirable social presence. It gets even worse with peolpe who Famous Because They’re Famous.

The series is wise enough not to pull that strawmen. There are these silly celebrities, but here the popularity of most heroes are justified. They’re both charismatic and talented, but they’re never as talented as Saitama.

That’s because, unlike them, he never worked on being popular. He became the strongest hero because he only put effort into being strong rather than being popular. That’s the cost of talent. Sometimes you focus so much on it that you forget to make people notice you.

There’s a major rise in quality once the series finds its satirical target. While it presents it well, pointing absurdities without resorting to strawmen it can never attain a sense of madness it aims for.

In the first episodes, it thinks it will get by having everyone scream and some stupid ideas like a muscular crab and a kabuto macho dude. I used different words but this is the same idea. It tones down later but the series never gives up on this.

There are some interesting visual ideas, but almost everything is given the macho look. It fits with themes, but after the 10th dude who looks like sirloin steak it becomes boring. When Tornado appears and we get a cute girl it’s a shock.

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Just as they are all macho dudes, their personalities are all macho. Besides Saitama’s everyman personality and Genos, who acts like he walked into the wrong anime, characters blur into each other. It makes for a consistent world. At least the anime tried to find variety in macho bullshit rather than pretend their kaleidoscopic. Still, it makes for a world that’s always less exciting than how the characters perceive it.

One Punch Man isn’t amazing and quickly stops acting like the Most Hyped Show of the Season. That’s a good thing. It’s when it realizes its limitations (the world is monochrome and tame, overpowered characters aren’t worth satirizing) and its strengths (satirizing celebrity culture, finding variety in macho bullshit) it becomes a worthwhile show that has enough personality to appeal to those outside the genre.

3.5 one punches out of 5

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

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Mirai Nikki’s mission statement is one of its more obscure characters. Yomotsu barely has 20 minutes of screen time. He seems at first like an out-of-place oddball with his posturing as a Hero of Justice. This posturing is crucial. He says that the way to know who’s just ad who’s evil is according to who wins.

It’s a blunt way of saying it, but it’s true of many stories. Our hero defeats the villain with brute force, and we know he’s right because he didn’t deliver a speech about World Domination. In Death Game scenarios, it’s even worse. In Hunger Games, Katniss never has to come to terms with killing innocent people.

The Death Game scenarios are scary because they force people to fight who’d otherwise won’t. Katniss never has to face her fellow players’ humanity. She just happened to face the cruel ones. No such shortcuts are taken in Mirai Nikki.

Everyone is funny in their head, but no one is outright evil. Some are more crueler than others, but that cruelty is explained. We’re invited to understand these characters. Even when the cruelest of them die, there is tragic vibe to it. Things could have been different for them. Reisuke and Tsubaki are characters who made wrong decisions based on their circumstances.

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Blind and batshit crazy

Even John Bacchus, the character who could most easily become a caricature isn’t. He has grand plans for humanity, but not cheap World Domination. We see his plan’s failure in action, rather than have a boring speech about megalomaniac aspirations.

This approach to the Death Game brilliant. Not only it gets why the scenario is interesting in the first place, but it makes it more thrilling. Some have criticized the show for having a cast of stupid and psychotic characters, but that’s the point.

The best thrillers aren’t just a bunch of intelligent people playing mind games. Playing games is more fun than watching others do it, anyway. The best thrillers are those that are concerned with the emotional consequences of the scenario. They create thrilling set-pieces. They use atmosphere, symbolism and visual style instead of constant feedback.

Mirai Nikki is closer to thrillers like Pi and The Machinist, rather than the constant build-up of Death Note. It has a cast of weirdos who are thrown into a scenario with other weirdos and try to navigate it. The thrill comeד not from wondering What Will Happen Next, because it’s interesting to see these personalities clash.

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Best twintails in the history of anime

There are not highly-skilled badasses. Since they’re all emotional wrecks, that makes them unpredictible. We can expect an intelligent person to come up with a solution, but we’ll never know when a regular person will act on his rationality or on an emotional impulse. Whereas many thrillers just give the characters random skills, Mirai Nikki literally gives skills to the characters based on who they are. A loner is given a diary which records all his future observations. A couple is given diaries which predict their lovers’ future. An owner of an orphan home is given the ability to produce diary owners, like giving births.

If this starts to sound meta, then it only gets worse. Aren’t Yukki and Mur Mur a paralell to the us, the viewers? Yukki was, until the game starts an observer who wrote what he saw but didn’t participate in things. That’s how consuming media often works, especially when you write reviews like these. Mur Mur’s motivations seem like she might be evil for evil’s sake, but her desire for amusement is familiar. Don’t we watch these Death Games stories to be amused, too?

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Getting weird with my weird friends

While the Death Game scenario is the main theme the series questions for a while, there are a bunch of other ideas scattered around. Romance is being satirized with Yuno. Her character is more clever than people give her credit for. She’s a response to people’s desire for someone to love them deeply. Yuno’s love is serious, but it’s also selfish. She’s concerned more with protecting Yukki than what Yukki wants, although she matures a bit as it goes on.

There’s also some things about the nature of God. If Deus’ death seems like a giant plot hole to you, then you’re unfamiliar with mythology. Gods die and humans replace them all the time, and Gods are often limited in their power. We also get a Badass Switch, which addresses the topic at hand. Yukki doesn’t simply become a gun-packing OG. He’s suppressing his sensitive self, but still acts on his desire to help others. We even got a Metaphysical Rebellion thing going on. The owners are all given the ability to change the future, yet do they really change it? Yomotasu appears again. He’s being told he will die, so he just kills himself.

Some of them try to rebel, to do something other than become Gods. Mostly, they all go along with the circumstances they’ve been given. That’s the reason why many of them became crazy in the same place. It’s not an accidental detail. The whole Final Battle is one big metaphysical rebellion. It sees the characters trying to create an alternative future.

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Where do you think cruelty comes from?

All of this sounds very clever on paper, but the execution is closer to the violent use of that word.

The problem with Mirai Nikki is that it’s too original and has too much to say. It’s full of ideas and it wants to deal with them on its own rules. We get a few pretty women, all of which spend more time being characters rather than let us stare. There’s an extended sequence where Yuno is in underwear but it never slows down to give us good-looking shots. There are shifts in tone that feel appropriate. Such an overblown story can’t work without some humor. The progress of the story is more thematic than realistic. Things exist and happen because they fit the tone and meaning. Questions like ‘how did Rei get the poison?’ are left unanswered because they’ll most likely not add much.

The problem with creating your own rules is that you’re a first-timer in the game. Digimon Tamers might be brilliant, but it’s the result of past failures. The story is archetypical. The creators looked back on similar stories, saw where the holes were and filled them.

Mirai Nikki has no such tradition to draw from. It borrows freely from School, Death Game, Psychological Thriller, Action and Fantasy. It’s both excited by what it has, and unsure of itself. That’s why the pace is too fast, but the series never runs out of stream even when it’s off the rails.

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Everyone suffers eye damage, for some reason

Normally I’d complain about a few unnecessary episodes, but this one needed more. The characters all have quirks that point to a personality, but that’s all they do. Their defining features are too often external – a tragic event in their past, an ill son. We don’t get enough of moments that show us how these things affect them.

They are affecting them enough to feel different. Both Rei and Tsubaki have their tragic pasts, but one is full of hatred and the other is just cruel. That’s a pretty significant distinction. It’s not explored, though. These characters die too quickly.

What made the Cult of the Sixth so exciting is because it threw all these weirdos together. Instead of having boring one-on-one match, we have different people doing their things according to how they see fit. You can’t do it for 26 episodes if everyone is constantly dying. They kept some of them alive for a long while, so why not all the rest?

There is also an added mechanic which might feel like an asspull. It actually fits the theme of the series and is necessary for the metaphysical rebellion thing. The problem is, by the time it appears our story shifted focus. We’re no longer following a cast of weirdos and their plight, but see the metaphysical rebellion itself.

It’s interesting enough, but it calls for a different series. A story ends when its ideas conclude, not when stuff stops happening. In this case the survival game ended, therefore the first story is over. Shifting a focus just causes unnecessary confusion. If they dedicate 26 episodes to their ensemble and expanded the final battle to a short second season, it’d be better.

At least the the series never runs out of steam. From the beginning the show feels like it will go off the rails, and it does. The train keeps going forward though. The track might be lost, but you won’t reach your destination by standing still. Even when it loses itself it refuses to play by anyone’s rules but its own.

There’s something admirable how it keeps going forward. Better anime than it fall to convenience when things get too hard, but Mirai Nikki just speeds forward. If we compare anime to Icarus, then Sword Art Online gives up on the sun and drowns. Mirai Nikki forgets about the sun and tries to fly to outer space, but burns in the atmosphere.

Credit must be given to the visual style. Mirai Nikki features some of the best character design in anime. No one is spared. Many anime have talented designers, but only the women get this treatment. Just look at Date A Live, which has brilliant designs like those of Yoshino and Tokisaki, but Shido might as well be a stick-man.

Here, we have an attention to detail. Yukki isn’t just another black-haired hero but given an actual style, even if it’s less flamboyant than others. Everyone has their own facial expressions, their own hairstyles and their own outfits. It speaks volumes about the series when it creates pretty women but doesn’t linger on their bodies, and finds room for a deformed one too. There’s something beautiful in the picture of the ending theme. We see all the owners’ shilouttes standing, each with his own unique shape.

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This isn’t Freddy Fazbear’s!

This makes everything feel so alive. It may look unrealistic. Marco’s hair definitely can’t stand like this, but that’s not the point. Animation is expressing ideas using visuals. Human beings are often weird. I lived with many of them, and few turned out to be normal. Their personalities are closer to Mirai Nikki‘s flamboyant design rather than Mushishi‘s, where everyone looked the same. Now what is more realistic?

Mirai Nikki is full of flaws and little holes. There are       average anime with less obvious problems. There are also not many with so much life and energy, that play by their own rules rather than someone else’s. There is a masterpiece here somewhere, but the pacing is too rushed and there are too many ideas than it can carry. It’s never boring, it’s rarely convenient and it’s always unhinged and bizarre. In this case, I’m willing to forgive the flaws.

The biggest plot hole that nobody talks about is Uryuu Minene never wearing her twintails again. These are the best twintails in the history of anime. Why not use them?

4 blind eyes out of 5

Digimon Tamers

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It boggles the mind why so much anime try to prove their maturity by using bleak colors, adult characters and realistic design. Digimon Tamers has none of that. On the surface, it’s a child-friendly battle shounen about kids and their cool pets.

A surface is easy to copy, though. Putting things beneath the appearance is harder. Like Medabots, Digimon Tamers is a subversive, original and challenging work that doesn’t think children are stupid. This is not the dull Adventure, which was just about beating bad guys. Evil is not being fought here. It’s an anime that imbues its adventure with ideas and emotions, rather than just telling us the bad guy is powerful. It constantly raises questions and it stares suicide, depression and death in the face.

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A truly meaningful and engrossing journey would not consist of only victories. What makes adventures so exciting is because they’re supposed to be a roller coaster of emotions. Tamers uses the adventure not just to have the characters beat up the bad guys by powering up, but by seeing how they cope with breakdowns. In fact, no bad guy is actually being beaten up here.

Every character has a clear worldview, and they modify each scene they’re in. It’s not just the main characters who have differing views on what they should do with their Digimon. The brilliance is not even in how they bring to life side-characters like Kenta, Kazu and their parents. The show’s treatment of its so-called antagonists is where it shines.

Yamaki is first presented as a stereotypical antagonist. He wears a suit, sunglasses (even when inside) and works in a government agent. He’s out there to destroy the Digimon, but he’s not an attempt to sell DVD’s by hating the government.

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Yamaki is a real person. He’s a man of control, who loves order and wants to bring it to the world. We don’t get the false dichotomy of joyful chaos and depressive order. The Digimon who bio-emerge into the real world are causing destruction and mayhem. The children may enjoy their cool pets, but the world suffers because of that. Yamaki isn’t an antagonist but a person with a reasonable worldview. He, like any other character, reaches his breaking point. It’s not a complete 180-turn. Since the show knows that humans are only rational with what they got, Yamaki adjusts and improves his worldview. He doesn’t simply switch sides but becomes a better version of himself.

Impmon is even better. To have such a character in a kid’s show is brilliant. He’s a perfect example of an Antichrist Superstar. Impmon rejects society, which also rejects him. Yet, he can’t truly exist outside of it. He relies on feedback from people, even if the reaction he wants from them is fright.

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He wants to subvert and change things. He needs to power to do that, but his power becomes his objective instead of means. Power alone can’t make him feel any better. You don’t fix a car by just having a wrench. So he goes around, demonstrating how powerful it is only to realize he’s leaving worlds destroyed. Society can reject you for being weird, but it will only hate you and actively try to destroy you if you try to harm it. All his power and data he loaded only worsened his troubles.

It’s all very impressive, but none of that compares to Jeri’s story.

Death, depression and suicide are all connected in a sick cycle. They cause peolpe to question their whole existance. Just read Dylan Kebold’s mother’s essay. How to cope with death, or with your own desire to die is perhaps the greatest philosophical question.

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The D-Reaper is not just a personification of death. He’s a standing symbol for suicide. His whole program exists to reach the conclusion that death is better than life. It was initially meant to get rid of excess data, but any desire to ‘get rid’ can get out of control when no one’s watching.

The D-Reaper distorts every emotion it encounters to turn it into an argument for death. Love is a weakness. It makes us rely on people and we get sad when they go. Hate is terrible. It just makes us want to hurt other people.

The problem with suicide and depression is that almost anything can be distorted to fit the conclusion. Some people complain that a friend is sexually attracted to them. Even such a positive thing can be turned into a nail in the coffin.

The D-Reaper has no choice, though. He’s a program. Humans, at least according to many are not just programs. We have free will. We can distort every good thing to give us a reason to die, or we can hold on to its beauty. It’s no easy to task. Jeri fights hard, but even she couldn’t do it alone. Tamers doesn’t provide an easy, comfortable answer. Yes, we should look for the good things in life, but we should also help each other to do so.

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D-Reaper shares common elements with Terminator‘s Skynet. Both are ways for us to look at ourselves, our self-destruction and question it. Like Skynet, D-Reaper is so frightening because he’s logical. It’s not destruction for its own sake but from a coherent philosophy. A villain is only effective if we understand him and recognize that a part of us is in him/her/it. The D-Reaper is not something from outside that comes to wreck our world. It’s a thought many people have.

There are things to talk about, like animation, pacing and all that fun stuff. Yet none of that is as interesting as what I’ve just described. It’s better in every aspect than the first Adventure. Even the Digivoltuion sequence aren’t as annoying as before. They’re more dynamic now, coming off like a cool music video. The action is still not much to talk about, yet the only two serious fights are driven by their meaning and not movement. Who cares, though, when you got all that D-Reaper symbolism?

It’s worth mentioning that the design of the Reaper and all his agents is also brilliant. They’re similar to Evangelion’s Angels. They look completely alien, but the creators found a different enough style that separates them. Each of the agents’ design is unique and beautiful in a grotesque way. As for the Reaper himself, if I will ever be able to design such a thing my life will be complete.

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The few flaws, like some episodes dragging feel like nothing. A brilliant show is one that overcomes its flaws. Talking about a dull action scene or an unnecessary episode feels pointless when you could instead discuss the characters, the brilliant design of the Reaper and the meaning underneath it all.

5 reapers 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.

Medabots

Medabots
This is a show where one of the bad guys’ schemes is to redesign every house in a city. They wreck the house and rebuild as a Moai, a Pinocchio or a ukulele.

A little introduction so you’ll know what we’re talking about.

It can be scary to revisit an old childhood favorite. We’re easily impressed when we’re young because we haven’t experienced much. The first chocolate always tastes great, but it becomes ordinary the more types you try. Old favorites can have something cool in them, like battles and explosions but after a few years they made you glad you’ve grown.

I am a critical man who often tires people in discussions. How surprised I was that Medabots was as good as I remembered. Sometimes, it’s even better.

It’s part of the wave of shows that were one big advertisement, like Yu-Gi-Oh!, Beyblade and Pokemon. Yet it tries its best to rise above it. This is not an anime that creates a battle system and a story that’s completely unrelated to it. Medabots‘ story is tied to its setting. You can’t tell the same story in Pokemon‘s or Yu-Gi-Oh!‘s world.

It often feels like Medabots was made by a bunch of guys who looked at battle shounen cliches, and decided to mess with them. Subversions are everywhere. The bad guys often make no sense at all. Their schemes involve building weird houses and a zoo full of penguins. It’s a response to the litany of dull villains who are evil because they’re evil. It points out how goofy the whole world domination is.

The RubberRobo Gang may not have an opposing worldview (although the series gets to that later). They remain evil for evil’s sake throughout the series, but their goofiness gives them humanity. They stop being villains, and become just a bunch of crazies who watched Digimon Adventure and thought they could be Miyotismon.

Ikki himself is a fairly different hero. He starts off as a loser, and remains a bit of one. He’s not given ‘sheer determination’ or ‘heart of gold’ for defining attributes. He’s defined more by his naive passion towards medabots (who are actually weapons). Sometimes anime love to give a quality like recklessness for a ‘flaw’, but it’s often one that ends up helping the hero and gives him charm.

Ikki is a narcisstic and brat who swings from adoring himself to giving up. He’s an average dude with dreams of glory but who actually has to go through hardship to gain it. He’s never truly heroic. He’s allowed to lose and to be an asshole. Ikki often loses not because he deals with a strong opponenet, but because he thinks too much of himself (or not enough about his partner). It’s the opposite of characters who shoot fireballs because they have enough faith in themselves.

Where the series truly outshines everyone else is when it questions its premise, and presents characters with alternative worldviews.

Rokusho is a pacifist. In a world where everyone is obsessed with shooting missiles at the other’s robots, he just likes to look at insects. A series of events lead him to a breakdown and eventually, to a robattle. This isn’t the fun battles of previous. This is a robot fighting because he genuinaly wants to hurt to destroy. This is also the moment when Robo-Emperor appears, who is classified as weapon-type.

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This is when the series doesn’t just let the premise give us cool battles. It questions it. It forces the viewer to be reminded that, even though these medabots are cool they are in the end weapons. The whole final arc revolves around this theme. Unlike Evangelion, Medabots can explore its themes without having to resort to two episodes of inner monologues.

Its treatment of the subject matter is also very mature. It looks further than the pacifist/violence dichotomy. It’s a series where weapons are both used for fun sports and for destruction. It gives us various views – Rokusho’s pacifism, Ikki’s naivety, Victor’s cynicism and Aki’s greed. Even the way it ends is not by just getting stronger, but by destroying two giant weapons of war. Medabots’ view is that violence is fine, so long as its for sport.

The series doesn’t use this exploration to go slack on any other department. In fact, because everything else in the series is so good that it can be easy to miss this little bit of philosophy.

Before it goes deep, it’s a hilarious slice of life anime full of odd characters. It celebrates the characters’ goofiness. There is a running theme of narcissism here, where everyone thinks of themselves as bigger than they are. That sometimes ruins the halo of even the talented ones, like Dr. Aki. Spike remains a loser who doesn’t progress by becoming a winner, but by still trying. Karin is a love interest who refuses to play the role and remains oblivious to her admirers.

This is why the climax feels so powerful. The series establishes that all these people have a life of their own. These characters don’t just live for the journey. Rather, the journey is what happens between ordinary days. This is the role most of the lighter episodes. Some of them are pretty weak, but they’re an integral part of the experience. The climax wouldn’t be so powerful if the climax was the only thing there was.

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The series also doesn’t forget to let us enjoy the coolness of medabots. Almost everyone of them is beautifully designed. Whereas most Digimon are just exaggerated versions of real-life animals and objects, Medabots has a style of its own. It creates a template and then forces various things – gorillas, beetles, kings – fit it. It’s always interesting to examine every medabot and see how they morphed the original subject to fit the style.

The action scenes are often brief, but intense. Despite the Medaforce serving as One-Hit-KO in many episodes, plenty of time rely on an actual startergy. The oppponent’s medabot has a certain style that Ikki and Metabee have to overcome. It means most opponents are defeated by just one missile, but first Ikki has to get them in a position where he could shoot the missile. The last robattle between team Japan and team Kenya also deserves an honorable mention. A fight so intense and beautifully animated it will keep me coming back.

There is also Mr. Referee, who teleports whenever there’s a robattle. It’s a complete absurdity that everyone is fine with. Then again, isn’t life absurd?

There are some flaws, of course. There are explorations that remain undeveloped, including a weird alien thing that doesn’t feel like it belongs. The battle system isn’t exactly well-thought-out in terms of specifics. There are some useless episodes and the Medolarian backstory needed more screen time. A series’ greatness isn’t measured by its lack of flaws, though. A series that just avoids flaws is like a food that avoids unpleasant tastes. More impressive is a series that overcome the flaws. It’s an anime that could be trimmed and polished on the sides, but the end result is full of fun characters, a deep exploration of a subject, goofy scenarios, intense fights and a fantastic. The last six episodes can only be watched in sitting. Despite the occasional flaw, it’s a rich anime full of many good things. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t so popular. It’s far more experimental. Thankfully, the experiment is more successful than anything I hope an anime can be.

The Wu-Tang Clan logo appears a few times, for some reason.

5 medals out of 5

Digimon Adventure: The Devimon Arc

This is not what I signed up for.

The vague memories I have of Digimon is that it worked like Medabots. They were a part of a better shounen genre. The “Boy and his cool pet” may seem childish, but Medabots kept it at 52 episodes while the ‘mature’ Naruto, Bleach and One Piece are still dragging on. Digimon was supposed to be this weird, hallucinary epic adventure.

During the first 14 episodes, it only hints at that greatness. I’m giving it the benefit of doubt. Maybe it was the English dub, or because they had to do all these introductions. Maybe I just remember how effective Tamers’ climax was that I hope the previous seasons were just as good.

The Devimon arc introduces a lot of great ingridients, but none of them are cooked into a good story. It feels like they’re too busy holding back, talking about every new Digimon that appears instead of exploring the main characters.

The cast is especially strong, or at least can be. Juggling 6 characters can be hard, but their personalities are related. Sora is a mother figure, which contrasts with Tai’s slightly megalomanic and reckless leadership. T.K. is a little kid, which makes him pretty useless for the gang (In a good way. It’s the sort of thing that breeds conflict). Matt is always in competition with Tai, and Joe is neurotic.

Any time the creators stop dumping puzzles for the characters and let them interact, it works. Joe is the highlight. His neuorotic nature puts him more in conflict with the environment than anyone else. His also fairly mature personality puts him also in competition with Matt and Tai. This fairly big amount of leaders isn’t excess, but a way to explore different aspects of leadership. Joe is also the only one who has a developed relationship with his Digimon. Gomamon has a more carefree nature, and this makes for an interesting relationship. T.K.’s useless is also touched upon, and putting him as the key to the main conflict shows the creators know the importance of character. They defeat Devimon not just because they wrote one character more powerful than the others.

The DigiWorld is also fascinating. It’s strange and unpredictible. Elements of fantasy and sci-fi drop randomly. It doesn’t make for a incoherent world, but one whose unpredicitibality is its defining feature. This leads to plenty of interesting set pieces. Phone booths appear in the middle of nowhere. There’s a town ran by toys. There’s a factory that sets up and then dismantles the same thing, over and over. These are cool ideas in and of itself. The creators don’t do much with them, but just throwing them is enough to make it entertaining.

There’s not enough of that. Too many times the group acts as one. It’s as if you have a single protagonist, instead of six characters. They don’t make use of the character’s conflicting worldviews, and this makes the series stiff. A brief fight between Tai and Matt about whether or not to climb Infinity Mountain inject so much life you forgot about every dull moment that came before. It doesn’t help that most of the Digimon don’t have enough character. Without a personality that relates to the children, they become just a tool. It’s true that they become friends with them out of nowhere, instead of letting the relationship to develop over time. I could let that slide. You let the creators get away with the easy plot device of prophecy if they only knew what to do with the game pieces.

There also isn’t an antagonist interesting, or dangerous enough. Devimon’s design is beautiful. One thing that always works is the Digimon’s design. Yet, beyond looking dangerous and devilish there’s nothing to him. He manipulates Digimon and turns them evil, but it’s generic evil. Creating a dangerous villain is easier than a deep one. The arc could have made it with a bad guy who’s bad because he’s bad. Devimon’s badness is not bad enough. This is made more obvious once you move to Etemon’s story, who’s a much better antagonist.

The first arc of Digimon Adventure is disappointing. There are the ingidients for something brilliant, but the end result pretends it’s not there. I will continue watching. The good memories involve much later episodes, and so far Etemon’s arc is much better. Hopefully, Digimon Adventure will recover from this slump and justify its popularity. There’s always Medabots to watch again, if worst comes to worst.