Review-Roundup: Black Bullet 04, Sidonia no Kishi 04, Hitsugi no Chaika 03-04
Jesus, Rentaro already said that he would kill her before she turned into a monster! No need to be such a dick about it…
There isn’t really always something interesting to say about each episode of each anime I watch but I guess sometimes gathering together various snapshots of animes to talk about some topic or other is a good enough solution, I feel like. This time around I want to talk about how differently these three series deal with the subject of consequences. Well, and I also share some other stuff about them as well… The point is, I didn’t have enough to say about each of those to warrant their own post so they get this one instead.
Black Bullet – 04 Review
Not to be picky or anything… but technically he’s just saving one city.
Looking back on the last few episodes I would say there was definitely a bit of misadvertising going on. The first episode certainly made it look like Rentaro was a shabby average no-one in his business but with each episode the backstory kept piling up all those absurd explanations or hints. In the end these changes led to Rentaro running to the biggest big-shots of that city screaming accusations and questions at them without suffering any consequences. The same guy who left a Gastrea incident to be handled by the police so that he could catch a certain sale became the single most powerful Promoter of the entire city. And it didn’t happen because he did anything during the course of this arc, the ending made it seem that it had always been like that. The same guy who was basically asked “Who the fuck are you?” when he entered the conference-room where all the promoters with their Initiators waited went all Predator on the evil guy’s ass and single-handedly killed the asshole as the last survivor of the group of Promoters with their respective Initiators. There’s such a huge discrepancy between the image that the first episode sold and what the image turned out to be once the plot started filling in the details of his backstory. And when there’s such a huge difference I can’t help but feel being lied to by the series.
Another thing this series turned out to have been doing a lot was telegraphing McGuffins and a lot of other stuff in general. It really felt like every single thing happening in the fourth act of this arc was telegraphed at some point beforehand. When I figured the series was making some comment about the vile nature of humanity before its fall by talking about the ruins of a weapon of mass-destruction I didn’t really expect this tidbit to become a McGuffin. The ruins of the super-weapon in the background (which I assumed would stay in the background) turned out to be the excuse for why there’s a giant super-weapon conveniently nearby as the Cthulhu-Gastrea is wrecking havoc in the city. That was a seriously disappointing moment. The same can be said for when it’s revealed that Rentaro basically underwent the same procedure the evil mask-guy had… which makes me wonder why exactly he lost the first fight with that evil guy then. It was all talked about and hinted at but it’s just such a cheap way to produce plot-twists. The problem with telegraphing is that while it helps avoiding any deus-ex-machinas it creates this very predictable cause-effect-relationship. It really isn’t good writing when it seems like the story’s structure is built up around stuff like “No, of course, he can’t judge the coffee’s quality in the fourth act without being seen in a coffee-shop in the first act.”. There’s a subtle way of characterization and worldbuilding and then there’s the subtlety of hitting the audience with a brick to make them remember the brick for when it’s used later in the story.
Now I was right about suspecting the grandpa-guy of being behind the whole thing but I really think that was the only thing this series didn’t so heavy-handedly telegraph like most of the other developments in this episode. So I was kinda surprised to see in the final scenes of the episode how the confrontation between Rentaro and Grandpa happened almost casually as if the audience were the only ones who didn’t get the memo that they were enemies. As mentioned before the fact that Rentaro just walked away from it was equally surprising.
But this episode did everything right, actually, when it comes to the opening arc of a story by introducing the world and setting up mysteries and conflicts that will inspire the future conflicts and mysteries. The ending of the arc introduced a whole lot of stuff that actually is interesting to find out and I mean, that’s the whole point of a beginning. Most of the time you have these series that are just sort-of hedging their bets and these series don’t reveal a whole lot about the overarching story but actually the point is to make people wanna know what the deal is instead of keeping them from knowing what the hell is going on. In fact I would even say that this opening arc was too long to get to this point where Rentaro has basically a whole list of shit to deal with.
The thing that good ending-sequences like the one in this episode do is keeping the momentum going. Momentum in a series is such a frail thing when your plot relies on tension a lot and with action-series you naturally ramp up the tension for the action-sequences and the rest of the time you try to build up the tension for these sequences. So the question is what you do at the end of the arc when it’s all about showing the results of the good guys’ victory. And this series rightly shows that it’s all about consequences and revelations turning into mysteries.
A better series would certainly have to offer more consequences to what happened in this first arc but in terms of mysteries and what the revelations are based on the discoveries of the characters this is a fairly solid ending. What it all comes down to is Rentaro calling bullshit on the whole accepted explanation of how the Gastrea-stuff works. And one may say that it’s a bit fast to call bullshit on the setting this early on for the sake of plottwists but I think momentum is more important than worldbuilding in that regard. It’s okay to tear down the world at the end of the first act after it has been just established when you turn the momentum into a character-driven one. I fear that this series won’t be going far enough with this and will waste time doing a filler-episode instead in an effort to “give the audience a break” or some bullshit. But in cases like this when there’s a whole conspiracy-esque thingy going on and the heroic main-character is ready to call bullshit on the whole façade of it, I feel like the plot should just keep going with this momentum. A heroic character who finds out about that kind of injustice should appear driven and since the momentum becomes character-driven as the world-building up to that point is called into question it’s all about letting the character push the plot forward. And in a Light Novel it would be good enough to consider arcs as one unit regarding that momentum since you get an arc per Light Novel generally but with an anime the need for momentum becomes a little bit different as there are weekly 25-minutes-episodes to tell the story of that arc. And animes generally tend to be faithful towards their source-material (except when it comes to the series-finales) so the next episode will probably be a total mood-breaker since it’s the adaptation of the second Light Novel’s first act. But I’m still very curious to see how this series’ story will develop in the future.
Sidonia no Kishi – 04 Review
Sidonia really needs to work on their emergency-zipline-technology…
Talking about consequences here’s a series that does go a long way with portraying that very thing. And looking at the pacing you can already see the structural difference between a series like Black Bullet based on Light Novels and this series based on a good manga-series. While Black Bullet had this obvious arc-like structure where you could really see the curve of tension building up and falling within the space of a couple of episodes Sidonia has a far more immediate kind of pacing. Actually trying to make the most out of a chapter-based manga-release this series tries to sell story-moments instead of story-arcs. And since most animes go for a really straightforward faithful adaptation-method these days it’s easy to see these differences.
So there’s a bit of a theme developing at this point of the series and that’s “hard choices”. There’s no real discussion of the topic happening within the story but in terms of actions you can see characters making choices that are considered too costly by the rest. And I’m not sure whether this will play out like that in the future but I could see how this episode showed the boss-lady’s choice to make that destructive move with the Sidonia-ship as an example of selfishness where her own survival and that of Sidonia is secured at the expense of a lot of people in Sidonia. Meanwhile Nagate’s choice to chase after the stranded girl is selfless with him having no regard for his own survival. I’m not very sure whether I will be right about that since there’s this dour atmosphere in this series where I can imagine some sort of gritty lesson being established here showing that Nagate is doing something foolish while the boss-lady was doing what was necessary.
Nagate, the main-hero, still irks me as a character, especially when I’m supposed to think of him as an “unlikely hero”-figure. He’s just so bland in the way he’s portrayed which makes it hard for me to feel like he actually earned his moments of glory. Because of the way he just seems to be dumbfounded by nearly everything that happens around him it’s hard to imagine him being all witty and shit in a battle-situation. And for the same reason it’s still not really clear to me what his motivation is. It’s hard to root for a character when it’s unclear why said character does… just about anything, I guess. Nagate has this lack of presence that makes sense in terms of his background but makes no sense for a main-character and in heroic moments like in this episode I’m not rooting for him. There’s a distance between me as a member of the audience and Nagate that isn’t there when a character is sympathetic or charming.
And this thing became even more obvious for me as they pushed the death-of-the-elite-team-is-tragic-agenda again in the “Previously on”-sequence. The seemingly simplistic ease with how Nagate can outwit the Gaina just makes it even more obvious how bad the performance of the so-called best-of-the-best was. I mean, headless chickens would’ve been better mecha-pilots than this soap-opera-troupe. His success really called into question how they select their pilots in Sidonia because he made it look rather easy compared to the mess the four so-called “best pilots of Sidonia” created.
Still, to come back to the consequences-part, the momentum coming out of those is way more dynamic than in Black Bullet. Here there’s a very clear chain of events with scenes pushing the story forward. In the case of Black Bullet, though, the episode was more static in nature as it was really about ending the plot-threads of the first arc and setting up future arcs while the tension is wounding down. Sidonia no Kish is just a pure thrill-ride in that regard as the shock of the death of the elite-team is immediately followed by the Gauna not only surviving but now being VERY threatening with the boss-lady causing all these deaths in Sidonia to avoid the Gauna and that is then followed again by the Gauna also developing new powers when Nagate and his buddies go out to greet him themselves. Even though the act of heroism from Nagate still irks me from a characterization-perspective, tension-wise it’s a great idea how simplistic the killing of the Gauna and the heroism of Nagate seem in comparison to all the death and tragedy that came before it. The tension when Nagate just quickly rushes the Gauna and stuns it in the right moment to give it the killing blow seems more like a sigh of relief than the celebrated moment of victory you would get normally. Generally you would build up tension and then release it to build it up again but by creating onslaughts, like in this case, the atmosphere of the story is changed in very interesting ways (provided, of course, the story knows what to do with this change – as this series does). In terms of action-anime this is definitely one of best ones in terms of setting up tension.
Hitsugi no Chaika – 03-04 Review
So, instead of a stoic warrior-noble-woman she’d rather be an annoying little girl!? Guess, there’s really no accounting for taste when you’re just a giant heap of metal with shapeshifting abilities…
This series on the other hand probably has the most interesting arc in terms of consequences and tension from the three series I talked about here. For one thing this series did what I fear could happen in Black Bullet’s next episode: It settled down. After the introduction of the characters and giving a general sense of what the hell is going on this series just sort-of continues. There isn’t really any momentum created or continued from that first arc as the series is very straight-forward with what the characters try to do and how they go about making progress. There’s a feeling of this series really just playing around with what’s on the table already which makes it hard to really give a shit about the plot.
And maybe that would work if the characters were more interesting but I still don’t buy the saboteur-sibling-story of being some kind of lost soldiers who are glad to have a mission again. They just don’t seem like the kind of characters who seem weary and out-of-place enough to make that story believable. And Chaika is naturally still the same bubbling moe-blob she’s always been and considering that she’s at the center of the story at this point with telling the saboteur-siblings where to go and what for is certainly NOT the role Chaika is made for. All the important dialogues where she’s involved just become aggravating since it’s like talking to a 5-year-old. She’s really THAT dumb of a person. How the hell does this story expect to create momentum with such an idiotic moe-blob at the centre of it?
Another thing that stops this series from becoming anything compelling is that it’s holding its cards VERY close to the chest at this point. I know that this series is probably really proud to make the whole “What’s REALLY going on”-bit a big reveal at some point but this series is avoiding the truth about its story so hard that the story is simply lackluster at this point. Chaika is gathering remains of that dead Emperor. Why? I don’t know. What for? I don’t know. Is bringing the remains together good or bad? I don’t know! With Scrapping Princess there was at least a more solid core-concept for the story to sink its teeth into but in this case there’s just a whole bunch of mysteries with no hint to their answers whatsoever. That’s why there’s no momentum or any consequences in this series – or that’s at least what it feels like. This series just doesn’t want to tell the audience why it should give a shit about what’s happening. And the characters aren’t that great to carry that show on their own.
Well, speaking of characters… There’s of course the Dragoon-lady. At the start the prospect of her maybe joining the band of the heroes sounded pretty good. And the fighting-sequence against her was again very well written with the emphasis on teamwork and planning. Her story of being a shapeshifting dragon who mimicked her dead master out of love and respect was a fairly good one. And she was also an adult who seemed to be the stoic no-nonsense type. But fucking hell… After she had lost it took the series just a few moments to just take a big dump on the character – and turn her into an annoying little-girl-stereotype! And the worst is that it makes NO fucking sense why that character would act like that in light of her behavior in all the other scenes!
At this point there really needs to happen something, something big to precise. Not only do I not have a clue what’s at stake in this series, from the looks of it most of the characters in this series do not either. There’s this B-plot of these knight-like-people in their tank-wagon who hunt Chaika and deliver one infodump after another but… they’re still as clueless as the audience. I have my suspicions what is going on but I’d rather hear the characters say it then me guessing right and be proven right in a couple episodes… or proven wrong for that matter, I guess. The point is that there’s not enough story right now to make this plot interesting or seem important enough for me to give a shit.
Episode-Rating: 3rd Episode: 5.5/10 4th Episode: 5.0/10
Posted on May 6, 2014, in Anime, Black Bullet, Hitsugi No Chaika, Reviews, Sidonia no Kishi and tagged Anime, シドニアの騎士, ブラック・ブレット, Black Bullet, chaika the coffin princess, hitsugi no chaika, Knights of Sidonia, reviews, sidonia no kishi, 棺姫のチャイカ. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.