Review-Roundup: Akame ga Kill! 01, Sabagebu! 01, Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun 01

[C12] Akame ga Kill - 01.mp4 - 00006Akame ga Kill! certainly knows how to let characters announce their villainy in a subtle way.

Is it just me or are there a lot more animes this season that try to sell violence as entertainment? I mean, there’s nothing categorically wrong about using violence as a theme within a story but that’s one of those things you shouldn’t just nonchalantly throw into a story when you want to carter to teenagers or kids in my opinion. Hell, even some patriotic bullshit is better as a setup for violence than just dumping it on the audience for shock-value!  Violence NEEDS to have meaning in a story or otherwise every character involved may as well be considered a sociopath. Well, that brings me to these three new series:

Akame ga Kill: Here’s another young guy thinking he’s gonna go big in the big city – but it turns out said big city is infested by evil people. So he has to join slightly LESS evil people on a crusade to do evil stuff to evil people!

Sabagebu: Look, girls are kinda cute, okay? Now imagine them shooting guns… AND LOVING IT! ARE YOU FUCKING AMUSED?! You better be…! Because this series doesn’t really have to offer much else at this point.

Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun: Have you ever thought that the ditzy manic pixie dreamgirl needs to have a male equivalent? Well, here it is! Nozaki is a sensitive shoujo-manga-author… who just doesn’t get that Chiyo (the main-character) wants to bang him! Hilarity ensues (as it usually does) as Chiyo chases a guy who writes about romance but doesn’t seem to have any understanding of it… AT ALL. No, seriously, if it’s not on paper, he might as well think that a stone is coming on to him when it falls on his head and cracks his skull! That’s how fucking unknowledgeable he is about romance!

Akame ga Kill! 01

[C12] Akame ga Kill - 01.mp4 - 00005I guess, this is Akame ga Kill!’s rather futile attempt to diminish the heavy burden of establishing the “good guys” as anti-heroes within a heavily amoral setting.

At the start it’s easy to see this turn into just another fantasy-series that apes RPG-videogames with its presentation of a hero who runs around killing a random monster. But Akame ga Kill presents a first episode with a twist. The notion that nature’s most dangerous animal isn’t a shark or some poisonous spider but mankind isn’t original but it’s always been one that depends on how you portray it. After all, most stories want human characters to be heroic and save the day – even if it means beating the shit out of other human characters. But like with most post-modern things this is just another thing ready to be deconstructed.

It’s easy to look at Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and assume making things more grim and darker is a sure way to success for today’s audience but even that has a longer history than one can imagine. Horror wasn’t invented by Stephen King and Nolan didn’t invent the method of producing grim interpretations of idealized characters. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to look at any piece of fiction and not find anything in it that didn’t originated in some earlier piece of fiction. But still we marvel at certain pieces of fiction, calling them masterpieces and whatnot and it’s because there’s a difference. Stereotypes, traditions, conventions and whatnot simply don’t matter. If something pedantic as a list of stereotypes could actually determine the quality of fiction, I would be writing mathematical equations right now to express this instead of using words. The point is that even now grimness as a theme doesn’t mean you end up with a terrible story.

I REALLY didn’t like this first episode in the first half. The notions of do-good-ing and the stereotypical two-faced portrayal of a lad from the country faced with a big city were too obvious and blatant for me to give a shit. And there were the warnings from the travelers the hero had saved that served as telegraphed that made me somewhat paranoid of any nice gesture the hero encountered in the big city. But for a rather long time nothing nefarious did happen.

Sure, it wasn’t really that much of a surprise when the wanted assassins turned out to be the actual heroes. But the interesting part of this series is just HOW far it goes down the rabbithole to portray the darkness of its story. This first episode sets up a traditional heroic formula with good side-characters helping the main-characters. For very long this is an episode that wants to show that most of humanity is good even when some are kinda bad.

It all changes with the arrival of the assassins to the estates of the noble family that took Tatsumi in. Considering this is the first episode, I wouldn’t have necessarily used an entire episode to set up this plot-twist and bank on the surprise without setting up with the atmosphere or something like that, but whatever… Anyway, the point is that Tastumi is set up as a lonesome hero who’s totally lost in the big city. But he gets taken in by this nice girl when he’s forced to sleep outside after a woman swindles him out of most of his money. And nothing about the dialogues between the hero Tatsumi and the girl, as well as her parents, suggest any danger. I expected some sort of indirectly evil threat to appear at any moment and seriously, there wasn’t one! Except, of course, if you’re a nihilist like me who believes that inherent human kindness is a myth and nobody is ever nice to you without wanting something from you.

So, the assassins are there ruthlessly killing the guards of this noble family and Tatsumi rushes to their defense but it turns out… The assassins are the good guys! And THIS is where this episode starts to shine! I don’t really like the setup for this plottwist but that plottwist is great! I mean, morality-wise there’s a lot going on here. The people who have been set up as nice turn out to be evil and the people who appear to be ruthless killers are the good guys.

What sells the horror of this plot-twist is the enormity of the evil that’s revealed at the end of this episode. It’s this Lovecraftian sense of horror where it’s become too big to be actually overcome as idealistic stories want you to believe. There’s an existential horror to how even the innocent young daughter of the family ends up loving to torture people. This seems like a society akin to the Dark Eldar of the Warhammer 40k setting (and if you don’t get the reference, shame on you, for not being nerd enough to have played any WH40k tabletop-battles or have read any of its fluff… well, I don’t fault you for not getting into that hobby nowadays considering how expensive it has gotten (not that it was really cheap at any point, but you know…) ).

Ultimately, Tastumi is faced with a sort of vileness that makes vigilante-murder seem like a virtuous deed. Morality is hardly ever a subject in anime-series because usually series go for a rather stark black-and-white-sort-of-morality for its story but this series delivery a VERY dark setup with its first episode. It sets up a world where people are SO bad that murder is okay, if it seems righteous. Really, that’s all that differentiates the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys do evil stuff for good reasons and the bad guys do evil stuff for evil reasons. That’s the sort of world this episode sets up,

So, I’m concerned that there ARE attempts to make this somewhat lighthearted in some scenes. The good guys get moe-like shticks that make them cute and whatnot just for the sake of making them more “appealing”. If the series commits to its brutal story-setup this could become a great series. But it might as well start to do moe-like slice-of-life-joke-routines to “lighten” the mood and ruin the series forevermore. It’s a first episode with promise but it’s not good enough to be the start of a sure success.

Episode-Rating: 7.0/10

Sabagebu! 01

[C12] Sabagebu! - 01.mp4 - 00005Wait, it’s okay, just because a VERY self-aware narrator points it out…?! No, it isn’t! Metafictional humour should be more than just pointing fingers at tropes!

A group of girls does stuff and there’s a new girl who somewhat gets drawn into this circle of girls who do stuff. She’s sceptically at first, but eventually she finds out it was her destiny all along to do stuff in this club and be the best at doing that best. And that’s ironic because all proper girls, like this girl-character is, are too humble to have any sort of aspirations (or at least not be fanatically committed to being somewhat mediocre). The group is a Survival Game Club and the girl is a transfer student called Momoka.

But it turns out this series doesn’t really care about youth and life-challenging questions that much. Instead, the series wants to be funny. There’s this moment where slice-of-life and comedy part ways as the former would just choose to cotintue with its current setup whereas a comedy will go straight for the first punchline – because, essentially, most anime-comedies are based upon one-line-jokes.

At least this first episode doesn’t go the tiresome route of doing poor puns as punchlines for its jokes. Puns either need to be delivered by quantity or by good timing. Anything else just makes that sort of thing tiresome and dull. So, it’s a good thing that this series seems to concentrate its efforts on meta-jokes.

The problem is, of course, that meta-fictional commentary actually needs a somewhat good fictional story to use as a basis for the jokes. You can’t just create some stupid, generic series with some character and narrator going “Look, how stupid this shit is!” all the way. The whole thing isn’t even aimed at the story, it’s aimed at the culture that motivated those tropes. That’s why all those lame jokes of “Hey, that’s just like something I’ve seen in an anime some time ago.” isn’t really great artistically or funny as a joke.

The first episode doesn’t really get into any trouble due to this, mostly because of its length. One 20-minute-episode hardly has the potential of ruining a meta-fictional joke-setup. If they would’ve fucked that up, the producers should’ve fired the entire staff of this anime immediately. So, the first episode is a mixture of the main-chara playing the straight-guy and calling out the survival-game-club on its bullshit and getting involved in the absurd bullshit of the club. And it really hopes that you can perceive the references and tropes it references for its straightforward jokes.

There’s also a less noteworthy plot of the main-character Momoka being one of those directionless characters who needs the god of chance to lead her to self-fulfillment in the form of some weird club. Also, in terms of character-dynamics, it has this Haruhi-feel to it where Mio Ootori is the energetic, crazy club-president who takes a liking to Momoka for no reason at all. Except that it turns out, that she instinctually somehow knew Momoka was perfectly suited for the club all along.

Overall, this series really needs to have some development for some comedy to work as a series. That whole meta-fictional shtick will get old pretty fast and anything aside from that is pretty uninteresting. In many ways, turning this one into a success is more challenging than some random shounen-series with fan-service. This series needs to sell its jokes again and again with each episode to keep the audience’s attention and that’s a really tough job.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10

Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun 01

[C12] Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun - 01.mp4 - 00001I think, the comedy was at its peak during this first episode when it made fun of Shoujo-series-tropes through the oddball-behavior of Nozaki. The way he unwittingly sets up romantic scenarios with Chiyo while warping them for the sake of experimentation is a good setup for a joke.

Romance usually talks about the love between two people. Do you even need to have a main-character in a story that’s SO concerned with TWO characters instead of one? Love exists between people and NOT in one person. Sure, there’s unrequited love but it still would include the other person’s rejection as a major element in the story. There’s no way around it: Every romance-story is about TWO characters.

And yet, love has become stereotypical in fiction. It’s a gimmick with various tropes that somehow turns into a hamfisted plot that fulfills the minimal requirements for a romantic comedy. Romance has becomes this amorphous mass of stereotypes that only needs to have two people in love who end up happy. Aside from that nothing seems to matter in terms of plot or character-development. That’s why all the other side-plots can be as insanely stupid as possible (as long as they are also cheesy and sweet).

When a girl falls in love with a guy, romance-series rarely bother to introduce some chemistry between the two. It simply happens. You may believe in love at first sight, but there’s nothing more boring than two people looking at each other by chance and falling in love. Love doesn’t exist naturally between two persons, therefore it needs to be a character-development. It’s just a cheap way to present love as something that just “happens”. It simply takes away all meaning from it, if it just happens. After all, do you think that shitting each day is meaningful? Or that snoring in your sleep matters to some otherworldly presence? You might as well think that it rains every time a frog gives a blowjob to a duck, if you believe in love at first sight.

So naturally Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun doesn’t even bother to explain why Chiyo is in love with this hunky weird dude. She just is and now tries to fuck him. Well, at least it got the romantic comedy setup right. After all, it’s all about a person in love with another person and trying to fuck that person. Her flirting attempts are failures because she’s not blunt enough and because she can’t convey her feelings in some cheesy, straightforward speech. That’s the obstacle Chiyo has to overcome.

There’s also another obstacle: Nozaki is a manic pixie-dreamgirl. Well, let me clarify: He IS a guy – but he is NOT a person. Nozaki is the dreamy version of an oblivious, somewhat-fun-and-crazy dude. And many scenes revolve around him NOT being normal. In fact, that’s the series biggest concern: Nozaki is NOT a normal dude. And the comedy results out of Chiya’s unrelenting attempts to date him and Nozaki just not getting it.
In Gekkan Shoujo’s defense: The jokes presented in this episode are fine. This is a good episode. It’s just that it lacks substance. I mean, sure, I get it now why Chiya has such problems to fuck Nozaki. And it’s clear just HOW weird Nozaki is. Also, Chiya’s inability to confess her feelings is somewhat cute as a plothook for a romance-series and a setup for absurd comedy.

But what about Chiya?! This first episode is nearly ALL about Nozaki! A romantic series needs to focus on TWO characters. Sure, you don’t need to focus on Chiya for some cheap, absurd jokes resulting out of Nozaki’s weird behavior, but making Chiya a more complex character is fucking important! That’s where the series can get depth! It’s very hard to create deep drama with monologues and stale characterizations! You know what they say: Comedy is tragedy plus time. You create great comedy on top of great drama and NOT by ignoring it!

Episode-Rating: 7.0/10

 

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on July 8, 2014, in Akame ga Kill!, Anime, Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun, Reviews, Sabagebu! and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I thought Akame ga Kill! was awesome – in a really abrupt sort of way. I somehow haven’t read any of the summaries for this season’s new series, so the super-crazy-violent-and-disturbing plot twist totally took me by surprise. What I liked most, but also found jarring, was that the overall tone of the show (dopey hero boy from the country with a slice of life vibe) didn’t change at all after he murdered the girl. Also, the fact that he had no hesitation or long-winded second thoughts or personal revelations before killing her was unexpected…. and refreshing.

    “You might as well think that it rains every time a frog gives a blowjob to a duck, if you believe in love at first sight.”

    ^^^ And…. That’s the most M0rg0th thing I’ve read all week. 😉

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    • > What I liked most, but also found jarring, was that the overall tone of the show (dopey hero boy from the country with a slice of life vibe) didn’t change at all after he murdered the girl.

      Yeah, the biggest challenge for the series, if it wants to continue showing all this gruesome stuff, is to get the tone of the story right at all times. With the good guys being nearly as bad as the bad guys in how they approach their goals, it’s important to make that stuff matter even in lighthearted scenes. You don’t just kill a person and then have a big laugh about it with your friends. That would be the actions of a sociopath. And the horrible nature of the people the good guys kill may be a motivation – but it isn’t an excuse for their actions. The series REALLY needs to make sure that this is clear.

      > That’s the most M0rg0th thing I’ve read all week.

      But love at first sight really is a stupid trope. It’s the naive fantasizing of a lazy mind which is unwilling to cope with the labyrinthine complexity of the human psyche and is striving to put a simplistic formula in place of the human experience that’s riddled with nuances and ambiguity.

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  2. I’m really late to this series (and the review) but I heard Akame ga Kill was the bee’s knees so I thought I’d check it out. I thought most of the plot elements were rather hamfistedly delivered. The hero is a generic looking country bumpkin who is strong and cares about his nakama, but is naive and susceptible to large-chested woman… Okay, that’s playing “shonen hero” as straight as can be. The plot is “humans are the real monsters” which is delivered by some random travelers the main character meets because that’s totally natural dialogue. By the end of the episode the main character is recruited into a group of vigilante killers because… he’s standing there looking ‘main charactery’. Um, okay.

    I think the problem with this episode (I haven’t watched any further yet) is it can’t keep a proper tone. It jumps so fast between action and slice of life style humor that it’s like watching two completely different shows juxtaposed against each other. Scary dragon shows up and and hero slays it. But now he’s being dopey. Assassins brutally murder a bunch of people, but they’re kind of silly, aren’t they? Hero finds that his friends have been tortured to death, but he’s then recruited into the band of silly crusaders so who can really stay sad in such a situation?

    The most bizarre contrast is the behavior of the family that takes the hero in. “Outwardly friendly people with dark secrets” is by no means a bad trope to use but this family and their retainers do not foreshadow sinister intentions and actively do things that subvert their alleged evil nature. The guards are in on the batshit crazy family’s actions but they make small talk with the hero and tell him stuff about the city even though it’s pointless considering they plan to torture and murder him later. The father calls the assassins merciless for intending to kill his whole family…which does not sound at all like something a sadist would say. Talk about calling the kettle black. Finally we have the daughter herself who insists she had no idea what her family was doing but when pressed further she quickly switches to “SO WHAT IF I’M UNREPENTANTLY EVIL!? EVIL FEELS GOOOOOOD! MU HA HAHA”. Was the family suddenly possessed by evil spirits? I could almost forgive the insanity if something was corrupting them.

    From what I’ve seen so far, the show has the intellectual depth of a wading pool.

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    • Yeah, Akame ga Kill certainly hasn’t been the show I had hoped it would be after watching that first episode. I actually was fine with the contrasts you described since I took them to be this crass for a reason. And that reason was those people being psychotic on a Lovecraft-story-level. Something along the lines of villainizing these people to the point where they cease to seem like humans. You know, adding a little horror to the mix.

      What the show ended up being was a rather bland thing with a few somewhat unique ambitions. It’s a typical battle-shounen-series – except it’s darker than usual. And this is mostly expressed by a multitude of character-deaths and a gory depiction of violence. Also, you got dramatic moments aspiring to seem “badass”. At the same time the series still uses comedic relief in each episode to balance the build-up and release of tension.

      Personally I would say it’s better than your average shounen-battle-series but it doesn’t go far enough to revolutionize the genre or show you the best version of the many tropes it’s using.

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