Review-Roundup: Tokyo Ghoul 01, Barakamon 01, Sailor Moon Crystal 01

[C12] Tokyo Ghoul - 01.mp4 - 00001Oh, good thing she’s doing it ‘gently’. Anything else would just ruin the romantic mood of this date after all.

A new anime-season! And that means new series that all have a chance to NOT suck. I had a few internet-problems the last few days so those three are rather randomly chosen. Well, not entirely random, Kelfio already reviewed the first episodes of Sword Art Online II and Glass Lip. So, the first three I wanted to cover are… Tokyo Ghoul: The exciting story of a book-nerd turning into a half-cannibal-vampire-thingy because his dreamy hot date turned out to be a horrible monster. Also, his doctor hates medical ethics. The second one is Sailor Moon Crystal: You still like Sailor Moon? Well, guess what, here’s more of the stuff you like! And finally Barakamon: You know who has produced the greatest art in the history of mankind? Cavemen! And that’s why Handa, a calligraphy-artist, needs to seek refuge in the most backwater shithole you can find in Japan, so that he can hone his craft. Also, country-urchins are great life-teachers!

Tokyo Ghoul – 01 Review

[C12] Tokyo Ghoul - 01.mp4 - 00002If you think this looks bad, you should see the other guy! … or gal in this case. No, seriously, you fucking should! Because the doctor who worked on Ken here spontaneously decided to use his ladyfriend’s organs to heal him… which is a VERY weird decision to make, even if the guy was aware of her being a ghoul.

What makes someone special? There are many animes that start out with a protagonist who seems average. Nothing seems remarkable about that person – or so you’re supposed to think. But would such an average person ever be capable of saving the world if necessary? The heroism of such a person would be a lie, not because he seems average but because he acts like an exceptional person. Not everyone is capable of doing everything and yet animes with their average-Joe-heroes want to separate someone’s appearance from what they are capable of. But Tokyo Ghoul has found another way to make its average main-character special – and that is through suffering.

In the last episode of Penny Dreadful’s last season Vanessa, the main-character, finally musters the courage to seek help from a priest who should be able to deal with her connection to the Devil. But he points out that even though, this connection has only brought ruin and trouble into her life, it made her special. Nobody else suffered the same pain she did and in a way it elevated her above other people. Tokyo Ghoul is asking itself the same question – except it’s cheering for the elevation such suffering brings.

This first episode really wants to elevate its main-character Ken Kaneki at every turn, even when he’s suffering. Instead of showing the horror of Ken’s transformation, even the most angsty scenes have an undertone of adoration for how special Ken now is. The episode may have given Ken the appearance of an average, innocent person but everything surrounding him makes him out to be a VERY special person. The episode opens with him talking to his best friend who acts more like a loyal servant than an actual friend. And he gets a date with this hot girl despite the fact that he’s a guy who goes to the same café every day just to read books. Even when he’s infected by the ghoul-attack he doesn’t turn entirely into just another ghoul. He becomes a special half-ghoul and therefore becomes even special in the community of special, supernaturally-powered people.

And the series just loved to linger on the angst and panic that came with Ken’s realization that he can’t eat normal food anymore. It’s a long scene that had an almost maniacal feeling to it in the way Ken is just senselessly trying to eat normal food again and again that he then throws up again and again. All the while, Ken is just muttering in a panicked voice while his predicament is going in and out of focus with quick cuts. The horror is palatable and the director Shuhei Morita did a good job with it.

It’s sad, then, that when the plot starts to form, it ends up like a very mediocre teenagers-with-superpowers-setup. The horror just seems too blunt and superfluous without the story setting it up properly. In a better show that horror could actually be effective but the plot starts out by victimizing Ken and entrapping him in an inhuman, nightmarish world – except the events Ken finds himself involved in are never very interesting. Even the supernatural elements don’t seem to have much depth beyond the intended shock-value. And that’s when the horror in this episode just becomes tedious instead of shocking. All the while, the episode never stops from pointing out how special Ken is.

Episode-Rating: 4.5/10

Sailor Moon Crystal – 01 Review

[C12] Sailor Moon Crystal - 01.mp4 - 00004Haha, that’s funny because it was funny 30 years ago. Sailor Moon Crystal REALLY seems to know its target audience!

Is Sailor Moon still relevant? Mind you, I didn’t ask whether it’s popular because obviously it is. But often I feel like the reason for such “reboots” or “revivals” of franchises doesn’t really care about the difference. All that seems to matter is that people talk about it, know it and love it. It’s a calculating perspective that doesn’t care about history, context or even progress. Sailor Moon Crystal will sell because Sailor Moon still sells well. And what has worked once will work again.

Repetition certainly seems to be the main-principle behind this version of this rather well-known story of Sailor Moon. All the things that made Sailor Moon ‘Sailor Moon’ are there. What isn’t there is the answer to a simple question: Why does this series exist?

Many anime-series choose a more faithful approach when it comes to adaptations and Sailor Moon Crystal certainly feels like a faithful adaptation of the original Sailor Moon. The problems start, though, when you realize that this is 2014 and Sailor Moon has been a big hit in the past. Many of Sailor Moon’s tropes have become so common at this point that Sailor Moon Crystals approach to its genre-tropes seems almost naïve. This first episode simply doesn’t mind how generic its formula is at this point and all the deconstruction that has happened in response to it in other series gets simply ignored. Instead, this series just doubles its efforts to copy the original version of Sailor Moon.

Usagi as a character is hardly a person at all, but behaves more like a crazy slapstick-caricature of the generic innocent schoolgirl-type. Her character is SO extreme, though, that it’s hard to see how anyone would be able to identify with her. She’s not very smart and her behavior seems too spontaneous to seem reasonable. Also, she’s clumsy enough that realistically speaking, she would’ve ended up in a hospital just by getting out of bed and walking to school. And she’s lazy enough to dream of jewelry, a good guy and nice life while also wishing that it should all happen without her doing anything. Still, she ends up being the most pure-hearted girl around who doesn’t want to buy jewelry just because she could and she’s all too ready to accept her powers if it means saving someone.

In 2014 nothing of this is new, interesting or especially funny. But by sticking SO close to these generic, rather old genre-tropes Sailor Moon Crystal has inadvertently become the best Sailor Moon parody, there is. With the plot and the story being so predictable, it’s easy to notice little details and it’s there where Sailor Moon Crystal ends up losing any sense of dignity. It feels like a badly edited scene from a B-Movie where the clothes of actors change from one shot to the next when Usagi despite the many injuries she should’ve sustained always ends up looking completely fine in the next shot. And most animes don’t really animate lasting injuries when they are insignificant but the sheer number of times this episode has pulled this cheap move is simply startling.

There’s also this dream-like logic to how un-self-aware this episode is sometimes. Many characters complain about Usagi’s behavior from time to time but none seem angry or concerned. The atmosphere is just jovial from start to finish – except Usagi is a girl who comes late to school, flunks tests, goes to a Jewelry store and an arcade after school, comes home when it’s dark and whines about her mother getting angry that she flunked her test. The way she isn’t the ideal school-girl certainly has appeal as a character-concept. Due to how unreasonably good-natured Usagi’s environment reacts to her and how her faults are presented as cute, little jokes, the whole thing just becomes absurd, though. Both the actions and the reactions matter when it comes to a presentation of a character and Usagi’s characterization in comparison to what’s going on around her in the story lacks self-awareness to the point where it stops making sense.

It was fascinating to watch a reboot that seems to be SO unaware of its own history but aside from that, this first episode didn’t offer anything of interest. There just doesn’t seem to be a point to this series. Sailor Moon Crystal might’ve planned to sell itself with nostalgia but that would imply a perspective on the past. And this series doesn’t have such a perspective. It’s SO close to the original that it’s basically a mirror-image. And what made the series a hit back in the day just seems silly from today’s perspective.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10

Barakamon – 01 Review

[C12] Barakamon - 01.mp4 - 00008And I guess, there’s nothing funnier than an old guy saying that…?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed society corrupts people’s inherent goodness. So, instead of living in the corrupting, alienating influence of society, the idea was to just wander out into the wilderness of nature and experience its inherent beauty. Because being shat on by some bird is way better than to deal with whatever shit the assholes in society produce. Equating our modern society with alienation and arguing for a return to the country with its different lifestyle is hardly a groundbreaking concept for a story. Luckily, instead of preaching, Barakamon opts for a more pleasant slice-of-life approach to this philosophy.

The trope of a tortured artist seeking inspiration isn’t that groundbreaking, either, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that this is more about Handa, the person than Handa, the artist. His lack of artistic inspiration becomes more of a joke than a plot-defining story-bit. Art is more about personal expression than any sort of style or philosophy in the way it’s presented in this episode. That way, the story sees Handa’s troubles more in his character than in his art-style, as the latter is just an expression of the former.

But the actual drama only exists in Handa’s flashbacks and any plot happening on the island is either played up as a cute joke or serves as an expression of goodness. There are no bad people on this island, it seems and Handa seems like someone who has forgotten how to be a good person. The plot is more a gradual healing-process for Handa instead of developing him as a character in this episode. Handa doesn’t become a better artist through his encounter with the little kid; he’s unlocking the potential he always had through the experience of human goodness.

Slice-Of-Life is tough to sell as a series in my opinion. You have barely any plot with barely any drama and the story is kept simple. Most series bring some sort of episodic storytelling-format to the series, like for example Natsume Yuujinchou does with Natsume’s encounters with spirits. In this case, Barakamon seems to build up a plot by having Handa meet up with various problems and follow whatever story results out of that encounter. So, if Barakamon is going to be a good series or not depends a lot on how well the series can stay interesting in those episodes. And considering the mundane setup these characters have to be interesting but also serve as effective plot-devices.

Another thing that I personally like to see in Slice-Of-Life-series is a sense of continuity. It’s so easy to introduce some guy with a problem that the main-character has to solve and then let that character disappear again without the main-character mentioning the whole episode ever again. But these episodes should serve as a way to expand the world around the main-character and enrich it with a new story-element. Slice-Of-Life is all about atmosphere and a world that actually seems alive helps a great deal with this. The other thing is that a lot of slice-of-life-series portray character-developments that happen in spurts whenever the series decides for things to get serious. But lacking a complicated plot that needs to be followed, Slice-Of-Life-series have the time to concentrate on characterization and find subtle ways to develop characters. If Barakamon manages to do both of these things, then it would be a really good Slice-Of-Life-series.

Episode-Rating: 7/10

 

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About M0rg0th

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

Posted on July 7, 2014, in Anime, Barakamon, Reviews, Sailor Moon Crystal, Tokyo Ghoul and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Well, the MC of Tokyo Ghoul didn’t get infected in the ghoul attack…just saying. Perhaps you were a little too harsh in its assessment.

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    • Well, as far as I understood it was the transplantation of the organs from the girl that got him infected, right? When I said the ghoul-attack infected him… it was a little more indirect than that but the attack certainly led to him getting infected.

      As for the harshness… *shrug* It’s the first episode. I will watch the next episode because first episodes are always kinda funny in the way they are presented. But that episode had a nice direction but everything surrounding it was kinda bland.

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