Review-Roundup: Psycho-Pass II 02, Sanzoku no Musume Ronja 01/02, Akatsuki no Yona 02
‘The game’s afoot!’ is what’s actually going through Akane’s mind right now. After all, she’s NEVER wrong nowadays when it comes to deductions and investigations.
This time I review:
Psycho-Pass II 02: The WC-killer isn’t really concerned with the poor state of public restrooms, it turns out. Also, Maki is still a pain in the ass while Akane seems to be the only one doing any serious police-work while also knowing when other people need to do what for the investigation.
Sanzoki no Musume Ronja 01/02: Mattis is the leader of a band of bandits but the real boss of the castle is his wife. The situation doesn’t get much better once his daughter Ronja gets born.
Akatsuki no Yona 02: Yona’s childhood-friend Soo-Won killed the king who was Yona’s father. Nobody can believe it… and so everybody has to double-check with the princess to make sure she knows what she’s talking about. Meanwhile, Hak mercilessly slaughters a lot of people while fleeing the castle with the princess who’s as helpful as a bunch of cucumbers.
Psycho-Pass II 02 Review:
Mika still has to learn that Akane can do no wrong, it seems…
With the second episode this second season further establishes its own identity and at this point, it’s much clearer what this season is going for. Psycho Pass II is a cop-show. Despite all the sci-fi-elements thrown into the mix, this is basically a series about cops. Maki is the one who wants to do things by the book and Akane is the genius-investigator who will save the day. Other characters like Ginoza also have a role to play but this is simply not the same series it had been in the first season.
The first season always was more focused on the why than the how. There were always a couple scenes with the criminals that showed off their motivations and personalities. This first season wasn’t interested in how there could be crime in this seemingly perfect society, what it cared about was the motivation to do evil in an idyllic society. Where these two first episodes are going is the more straightforward mystery-territory of figuring how the crime is happening.
You can see that difference simply by how in the first season Masaoka was talking to Akane about Rousseau to explain the crime while here we get scenes of characters puzzling over a mystery like when the enforcers and Maki ponder the meaning of “WC” that was a message left behind at the crime-scene. The criminal is a riddle that needs to be solved in this case and you notice this shift also in how Akane doesn’t just accept the possibility of tricking the Psycho-Pass-Scanners. But rather than to concern itself with what this says about the Sibyl-System, now the issue is more about criminal possibly getting away with a crime. When the arrested bomber gets released once his Psycho-Pass-Rating had dropped dramatically, it might as well have been a scene of when police-detectives have to release a suspect because of lacking evidence. The parallels between cop-shows and this series really get stronger with each episode.
And Akane is basically the genius-detective of the series. She has the personal baggage, the wise unorthodoxness, experience of the rugged detective who’s the one who figures stuff out. In that scene with her fellow-detective it’s her suggesting that there maybe could’ve been a third person present and it’s her figuring out where the suspect has been running off to and it’s her figuring out what WC means. She’s the one with all the answers apparently and the whole genius-detective-trope is hardly anything new. But she really is a tad TOO good right now. At this point Akane is on a Sherlock-level in terms of her success-rate in the investigations but she doesn’t really have the peculiar charisma of dysfunctional characters like the Sherlock Holmes from the Sherlock-series or Elementary or the main-chara of the series Luther for example. Akane’s role in the first season wasn’t so relevant because she was a charismatic character but rather because of how different her perspective of the Sibyl-system ended up being compared to Makishima and Kogami. So, I worry a bit whether she can really do that role of the genius-detective justice. The only thing she has going for herself to give her more personality is her personal baggage from the last season. And the series seems to acknowledge that by having a nice little moment showing Akane passively smoking the same cigarettes Kogami smoked and apparently she’s only doing it for the smell.
The episode itself felt far more assured than the last one. After the first scene has set up the stage for this first arc (or maybe the whole series focuses on the WC-angle, who knows…), this episode rushes right into the action and feels far more focused because of it.
Also, despite the fact that this is basically a cop-show now, I really hope the series still has space for some reflection because the WC-criminal does have an interesting topic to offer for how the Sybil-system works: What place has redemption in that society? It’s actually a neat idea for a story-arc within this setting and I really hope the series manages to do something interesting with it.
Sanzoku no Musume Ronja 01/02 Review:
Moments like these really irk me… Only a few seconds after a scene has shown the transition from Ronja, the baby to Ronja, the little girl, this character spouts something that is SO selfaware and self-referential, it’s simply superfluous. This sort of on-the-nose-commentare is really unnecessary. No character in a series or movie needs to reaffirm the stuff the audience has JUST experienced! When some character manages to kill a T-Rex with a banana, I don’t need some random character spouting too-on-the-nose commentary like “Isn’t it weird how this person has killed a T-Rex with a banana?”
Goro Miyazaki, the director has described this series as a story about the growth of its main-character Ronja and the trials and tribulations that come with growing up. It’s the usual coming-of-age-formula but unlike many animes this series isn’t interested in Ronja, the teenager – at least not primarily. What becomes immediately obvious in these two episodes is that this series takes its time to tell the whole story of how Ronja grows up and more than that starts out with her birth.
These first two episodes don’t concentrate on its characters, plot or story. Sure, it does all that but no element of it immediately jumps at you as the most important. While keeping the pacing slow, the series mostly just concentrates on establishing its tone and atmosphere.
And it starts out with a very poignant scene of Ronja’s father robbing a caravan. The whole robbery has a very playful atmosphere and the bandits disguise themselves with colorful masks. It would’ve been very easy to portray such a scene as dangerous and scary but by showing the forest as a bright place and never making the bandits actually scary, the scene clearly shows that this series is supposed to be enjoyed by children as well. Stuff like clearly showing the ropes the bandits use and then later showing the two bandit-bosses bickering in a childish manner, takes a lot of the edges away from these moments that could’ve kept children away from this series.
Another element is the series’ humor as most of its laid-back scenes actually try to end with a punchline of a joke. In the opening-scene the bandit-leaders end up bickering so much that they even forget to rob the caravan. The jokes are more of the nice variety than the outrageously funny sort but occasionally these two episodes did get a chuckle from me. The best joke was the moment when the bandit-leader rushes back to his castle because an underling told him that his wife was screaming. It was the typical birthing-scene that SO many movies and series use. Dude is outside doing stuff, hears about his wife giving birth and then rushes back. Except in this case he finds his wife still being in bed and nowhere near giving birth and even admonishes him for not doing his job.
Ronja’s mother is another one of those tough female characters Ghibli is known for. Although I really felt like her stern, pragmatic attitude seemed kinda out-of-place in some scenes as all the guys in the castle would rather fawn over baby-Ronja than actually doing any robbing. The thing that didn’t feel right was how Ronja’s mother didn’t just say that they needed the income that robbing brought but instead she shamed the men for not being man enough to do their duties. Then again, all the men in that castle do seem rather childish and it actually fits the general tone of the series. But that’s why it’s so weird to go to this sexist place with the stern comments by Ronja’s mother. Those complaints could’ve happened in a more general manner without focusing on the men’s gender and what men “are supposed to do”. More than that, there are moments when her stern demeanor does seem a bit insulting like when her father tries to build up the courage to propose to Ronja’s mother that she should learn about the outside world by exploring it by herself but then she just shrugs and says “If it were up to me I would’ve sent her out a lot sooner.”. Sure, it subverts the expectation of her being the concerned mother who cares TOO much about her child but her answer is a little bit too blunt, I feel like. And I mean, it’s equally weird how Ronja’s mother is the ONLY female in that castle, aside from Ronja, of course.
And another thing that fits Ghibli is the element of nature here as shown with a lot of nice-looking shots of the landscape and how the tumultuous weather as well as harpies serve as an ominous reminder of what Ronia’s life is fated to be like. There are also nice little touches like when Ronja is about to leave the castle her dialogue with the father nicely shows off Ronja’s fearlessness while also showing off her father’s concern.
Overall, I’m really curious to see how this series will turn out. I’ve read the novel by Astrid Lindgren a LONG time ago so I have some inkling of what is about to happen, so I really hope that Ghibli/Goro Miyazaki will find a way to give this story its own spin.
Akatsuki no Yona 02 Review:
Ha, look how that worked out for that fella Juman! In the end both the peaceful son AND the warlike one got themselves murdered!
The king was killed. It’s the (not really) shocking twist of the first episode that Soo-Won, the childhood-friend of Yona did the killing. In fact, it’s SO shocking that this series takes an entire episode to just come to terms with the fact. The amount of times characters have these moments of shock where they say stuff like “Is it true that the king got killed?” is simply insane! It’s one thing to be dramatic but another to take an eternity to move on.
This is definitely the biggest problem of this episode because for the most part it’s just spinning its wheels. There’s the usual escape-plot of this episode as Hak flees together with Yona and some other dude also sacrifices himself. But the dialogue plays like a broken record always repeating the same tiresome plot-point over and over again. Instead of just showing characters who are heartbroken, shocked and so on about the murder and who had done the killing, the episode itself feels like it’s in a state of shock as well. There’s a numb, frantic energy to the plot as the characters just go through the motions of escaping without never actually reflecting on the events. Instead, the simple truth of what has happened simply gets repeated ad nauseam.
It doesn’t help that the soundtrack and direction feel rather lackluster here. Rather than trying to make a point with the status of shock the whole episode finds itself in, everything in this episode is basically just playing its assigned role. There are no nuances or hints of anything internally going on. At no point it’s unclear that Soo-Won is the villain now and that Hak will protect the princess with his life. And Yona’s emotional state seems obvious and straightforward. Her reaction seems reasonable but not very personal. If you look even at Cross Ange, its princess-in-exile has a way more complex characterization. Sure, it’s basically just all about making her a bit of an asshole (and everyone else around her is a different kind of asshole for the most part) but at least you know what she’s all about as a person. With Yona you basically just get the most basic template of a naïve princess. And the series isn’t winning any points by having her enter a state of helplessness once she found out about Soo-Won’s evil intentions and doings. Sure, like I said, it’s a reasonable reaction – but something unreasonable would be better! Here’s the thing, though: Making the unreasonable seem reasonable is what characterization is all about. It’s not about what anyone should do, it’s about what that one specific character would do! But with boilerplate-characterisations like this series has you hardly can create compelling drama.
It’s really all happening on the outside and this wouldn’t be as much of a problem except that what this episode shows isn’t very interesting in the first place. The series simply has no sense of scope and worldbuilding. The kingdom is just this nebulous thing that kinda exists. And it even starts with stuff like the way this series shows Hak murdering tons of faceless soldiers as if it’s the most natural thing. The setting of this series simply doesn’t feel alive!
I mean, in the end this episode really felt like a tiresome storytelling-exercise that only existed because the writers couldn’t figure out a better way to handle the story and plot in this instance. It’s that or the writers overestimated the dramatic value of this episode. After all, nothing in this episode is particularly exciting or compelling.
It doesn’t even seem like the series itself likes its story. The series had this weird flash-forward-framing-device for these first two episode as if the series wanted to say “Don’t worry, guys, it gets better!”. At the end of this episode, there’s another (very sudden) flash-forward that shows Yona’s assembled harem murdering a ton of soldiers while the music swells heroically. I really feel like this series doesn’t seem to understand that it’s depicting people killing a LOT of other people. And it really has to be the “It gets better, I promise!”-message that motivated these flash-forwards, because story-wise it makes NO sense to show these scenes at this point. After all, in the “present” Yona is a depressed vegetable that still struggles to even comprehend what had just happened, it seems. At this point she doesn’t have a motivation to do ANYTHING! In a way, those flash-forwards are simply spoilers. But great artistic choice to show SO little confidence in the story you’re working on!
Posted on October 16, 2014, in Akatsuki no Yona, Anime, Psycho Pass II, Reviews, Sanzoku no Musume Ronja and tagged Akatsuki no Yona, Anime, Psycho Pass, Psycho-Pass 2, reviews, Ronja the Robber's Daughter, Sanzoku no Musume Ronja, Yona of the Dawn. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.