Big Order

 

Big Order poster
Sakae has a bizarre, messy mind. For all the flaws in Future Diary, it’s a masterpiece. The low points – and there are many – are there because there’s few anime like it. Future Diary had no main tradition to draw from, no main road to follow. A lot of great anime follow clear traditions, building on obvious flaws and emphasizing strengths. Even the abstract Serial Experiments Lain belongs warmly in pre-millenium tension art.

It’s hard to decide whether Future Diary falls more on its good side. Expecting Big Order to fulfill that series’ promise is silly, since there can never be another one like it. If the premise sounds familiar to you, you’ll be disappointed. The structures aren’t similar at all. Still, the little you can expect is that the anime will fail in a spectacular fashion.

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The crucial flaw in Big Order isn’t the lacking characters or the plot. The bad traits of Future Diary are amplified, but at least they have the same energy that one had. The problem is that the core of the anime is generic. Remove the layers, the odd designs, the violence and the messy plot and you’re left with some kind of a battle shounen about saving the world for this one person we love so much because we’re related to them by blood.

I never wanted to say this about a work by Sakae. Big Order is normal. Everything good about is just a cover on a generic story.

The beginning is good enough. The power of Orders is close to be symbolic rather than battle skills. There’s a little exploration about the nature of wills, how our wills are limited and they could even do something the concept of losing loved ones. Two characters get completely different wishes despite losing their family. The conflicting nature of wishes is addressed and by the time the antagonist is revealed, he’s given some time to express himself.

The character design isn’t as expressive, but Sakae still goes wild with it. There’s a nun with bunny ears, a twintailed girl with a flower in hair, two long-haired dudes and a square guy. Everyone wears weird outfits and the design plays with body structure and size. Characters who appear for barely 10 minutes in the whole show get a memorable design.

The highlight of the show is DAISY, a bizarre creation that deserved a better anime or at least a cameo appearance in the revamp of Future Diay, whenever someone gets around to make it. That little touch of having her hang upside down adds a lot. It emphasizes the distance she views humanity from. Although she’s meant to be a fairy who grants wishes, she’s always distant and slightly cynical towards the whole thing. It gets nowhere, but every time she appears she injects some life.

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Oddly enough, the most normal creations in the anime are the main characters. People who wanted a Future Diary copy were disappointed. In fact, it often feels like the anime tries too hard to distance itself from its big sister. Why is that? Future Diary is unique enough to be worth revisiting. If Sakae wants to do something new so much, why is he falling back on cliches?

Yukki/Yuno were deeply flawed human beings. People disliked them for their nature, but they missed the point. They were supposed to be imperfect. Everyone in that series was imperfect, was full of desires and selfishness. This gave them humanity and made it believable at its most surreal. Eiji is a likable guy who only wants to live happy with his sister, but he has no desires, no motivations whatsoever.

He’s responsible for humanity’s worst horror, and that concept of guilt is explored for a while but abandoned. Scenes showing how much everyone hates Eiji are that type of deep moments Sakae can conjure. How everyone gathers around televisions, how they wallow in their hatred for this one person is frightening. Even if he is that horrible, what about this hatred? It’s the cult of anti-personality, and even if you think it doesn’t exist just look at how everyone reacts to Trump or Hitler.

Since Eiji is, at his heart, a generic moral hero who only wants to defend his loved ones this means nothing. His only drive in the series is protecting his sister and the guilt kind of drives him, but was it necessary? He’d want to keep his sister safe even if he didn’t cause a great destruction. We never see the psychological effect of guilt, of knowing everyone hates you. Occasionally there are hints Eiji is actually working alone, but that’s never expanded upon. The whole ‘one man and his sister against the world’ could work even just as a fun show, but it never goes there. The guilt is just another element in the many tired speeches about protecting Sena.

As for her, she’s an object. Everyone cares deeply about her happiness, but why? Her connection to Eiji is only by blood. It’s not that we don’t know how their relationship is. It simply doesn’t exist. Whenever they interact, she’s simply being cute and he’s being nice. If her cuteness was integral, if that charm was emphasized, exaggerated and played with then fine. She’s never portrayed as a character that captures people’s heart. Rather, it’s the lifeless trope of hapless girl who’s convenient to rescue.

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It doesn’t help that the few times we get insight into other characters, it always has to do with protecting loved ones. The Future Diary had the ‘dark past’ cliche, but at least each character had a slightly different past and reacted to it different. Characters may have different Orders, but they all wish they could’ve rescued their friends or family and they don’t gain different conclusions out of the loss.

Loss is one of the worst experiences you can go through. If we all experienced in the same way though, it wouldn’t be so harrowing. Misery loves company, and by listening to how others felt when their parents or friends or spouses died would’ve helped us through. Loss is such a harrowing thing, and how you lose someone affects how you react to it. Big Order only plays with the emotional weight it has. It gives the characters a convenient excuse to do what they do. That’s better than making them plain evil, but it’s not enough to make them wholly human. They’re not given motivations, but batteries in different colors.

The only thing the show has going for it is Sakae’s wild imagination. The little he had left was for wacky set-pieces. There are odd situations and turns all over the anime. Gates open to mental spaces, characters become pregnant by touching their ears, an obstacle course – somewhere here an incredibly fun anime is hiding. But Big Order doesn’t have the conviction Future Diary had.

That one jumped from genre to genre, but it approached each with so much conviction you could create 10 seperate anime out of it. Big Order is more scared of becoming a clone, so it does away with anything resembling Thriller, chucks away most of the romance and piles on the action. There aren’t many tonal shifts and doing away with the death game scenario looks silly with what you have left. If it concludes with people sacrificing themselves to make a non-character happy, what’s the point?

There’s energy and verve here, but Big Order is a mess without directions. Notice the use of plural form. If it was an amalgam of genres that didn’t gel, it would be brave enough to be interesting. Instead, it’s too scared of its big sister. So it pushes forward, one wacky set-piece after another. Without a core, or multiple ones to rely on all it has is cliches. This is a perfect examples of when tropes are a bad thing. The anime uses them only because it has nothing to say, because it’s too afraid to explore its themes and too afraid to pile on the ideas. So yes, there’s a Rock God and a pentagram of some sorts and gates and an upside down fairy, but it’s just another story about protecting the little sister. Try BioShock instead.

2.5 floating girls out of 5

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Ore Twintails ni Narimasu (Gonna Be the Twintail!)

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I’m glad this exists, but I’m not sure if it’s as good as it should’ve been. I do agree with the main character about twintails. It’s a beautiful hairstyle. Sadly, the anime connected to it is less than stellar. What is this? A celebration of fetishes? A satire of it? Is it making fun, laughing with me or all of the above? Why are last episodes so generic?

You’d think that a genre as overflowing as Harem would lead to tighly-focused anime. You have so many shows to learn from and yet the anime is still a confused mess. If it were just cliched, fine. Haganai was also cliche but at least it had focus. Twintails is too busy being confused over its genre to settle for a direction.

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The obvious point of comparison is Date A Live. That underrated anime, while not amazing, was still a unique harem. It had a weird premise that turned the Action on its head and gave a new context for the Harem aspects.

The premise of Twintails doesn’t actually add anything. Our hero transforms into a girl and the enemies give big speeches about their favorite fetish. Every episode concludes with a lightshow and characters giving their attacks pet names. Thankfully we never get insight into how the battle system actually works – it wouldn’t make the lightshow any less dull.

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Beyond the speeches and the fact our heroes all have twintails, the story is derivative and common. The creators clearly didn’t want just another story, but their attempts at turning the fetishes into plot points fail. Most of the time it’s just creepy fetishism. Borrowing the Hero’s Honor bullshit from JoJo doesn’t make your anime more diverse. It only highlights how confused the creators were. What does macho bullshit have to with twintails and harems?

It all ends with a big fight draped in red and black. The hero is full of doubts, about to lose the fight because they don’t have faith. Then suddenly he has an encounter outside of time. A figure speaks to him in a vision and he regains his love, screams the attack name and defeats the enemy. After that we see everyone going to school like nothing happened, with tsundere beating up the big-breasted girl as always.

Again, what does this has to do with, well, anything?

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The whole structure is a mess, and it can’t be saved. None of the ingridients are worthwhile unless you focus on them. Heroic stories are a common template and fetish stories often sexually harass the audience. The anime at least doesn’t go too far in what in subjects the audience. Anyone looking for juicy screenshots will be disappointed. Still, even a messy plot can survive if the characters are good enough.

Even there the series fails, despite trying hard. Everyone is exaggerated and our main character, for a chance, has a personality. Although it’s not much, being an obsessive over something is definitely progress over typical heroism. In fact, there’s a specific moment where the MC reveals he’s driven more by his selfish obsession than saving the world. For a change, our Harem MC isn’t just a convenient moral compass.

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Too bad everyone around him is an exagerrated archetype. If the creators could imagine funny situations in which these archetypes are effective, fine. How many times can the flat-chested childhood friend beat up the big-breasted new girl? There’s no difference between each time it happens. Twoearle makes something sexual and Aika beats her up.

The line between failures like these and successes like Neptunia are blurry. Both rely on silly archetypes, but Neptunia has wilder situations. Its archetypes are more well-thought out. They don’t govern just the funny situations but every aspect of the character lives. Here the quirks only rear their heads when it’s time to beat up the perverted girl. At some point, it becomes characters abuse. When your Harem comedy resembles Saw in its treatment of characters, something is wrong.

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Even the visual design doesn’t rescue it. Shows like this are an example why sexy character design is a positive thing. Although all the girls are meant to be pretty, nothing about their design is interesting. Twoearle is closest thing to a good visual idea. Although twintails are an awesome hairstyle, the show does nothing with it. Generic big eyes are all you have left. The battle suits are also typical pieces of metal stuck on bodies. The enemies are equally just blobs of metal, a macho mess inspired by an animal but no different than a Transformer

The series starts off being some fun and the concept is ridiculous enough. This is another case where a Harem anime doesn’t take advantage of its silly premise. What’s disappointing in these anime is that they’re never as outlandish as they promise. In the end, this isn’t a story about how glorious twintails are. It’s just another anime with heroes in dull outfits who shout attack names and beats blobs of metal.

2 twintails out of 5

Mirai Nikki (Future Diary): Redial

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The original series had a lot of great ideas that weren’t enough for 26 episodes. What a surprise that this OVA has more ideas that can fit in 30 minutes. Redial doesn’t feel like an epilogue. It feels like a sketch for the third season.

The obligatory beach section rears its head, but it’s not here for fanservice. Once again, the franchise takes a trope and plays by its own rules. The jokes and the focus is on the cast, which is as lively as ever. The ecchi moments don’t feel like tacked on but emerge organically. They involve only the characters who will deal with sexual confusion at that stage in life.

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The re-appearance of the diary holders has the same vivid characterization as the original. My theory was true. Each time a diary holder is allowed to do stuff, their personality comes alive. The 12th remains a hilarious, energetic presence. Everyone is crazy, but he’s so far out there that everyone else backs away.

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The 12th gets the most development, but others get some development. John Bacchus gets a few jokes of his own. The humor here stems from the characters themselves, rather than specific punchlines. Such comedy is more than funny, but builds the character. The impression these scenes leave is that Future Diary could develop a Slice of Life anime with its cast.

Things get fuzzier when Redial goes back in touch with the plot. It tries to develop the romance concept, but it ends up being confused on what it wants to say. The original was satirical about it. It presented an intense love, but showed its danger. Yuno’s obsession with Yuki isn’t healthy or productive, and the original knew that.

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The conclusion hints at a love-conquers-all message. The original always dealt with extremes, so a love that defeats such barriers isn’t out of place. It doesn’t align with the satire, though. As an exploration of Yuno’s psych, it’s too short.

The changes in the new world weren’t enough to change everyone completely. Rei still has a sadistic side to him. Expecting Yuno to be psych-healthy is ridiculous. Psychological problems often take time until they manifest. Give this a few episodes, and you could get a true psychological series. A psychological story doesn’t need a seriel killer. It’s enough just to follow a character, and this OVA hints they could do that.

Even Deus and Uryuu get some development in their brief appearances. 30 minutes aren’t enough to develop all of these ideas. It’s a nice addition and it’s great to see these characters in an alternative setting, but that’s it. There’s so much steam left in this franchise, it’s odd nothing else came out. Attack On Titan is getting so many spin-offs it might as well be a carousel. As good as that one was, it doesn’t have Future Diary‘s lively madness.

Hopefully, someone will pick this franchise again one day and give it a new spin.

3 blind men 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