Review-Roundup: Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 01, Koufuku Grafitti 01, Death Parade 01

[C12] Assassination Classroom - 01.mp4 - 00003I don’t think that’s an “exception proves the rule”-type situation. I would like to think that being a killer (or even wanting to be one) disqualifies you from being described as a “perfectly normal student”.

This time I review:

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 01: An alien tries to destroy the world… but it also wants to teach a class full of society’s worst children. The goal: To be killed by those children. Will those kids get a good education before someone figures out how to kill the alien? Will that great education even matter if the alien survives and destroys the whole planet Earth (or most of it anyway)? If you’ve ever wondered if wanting to kill your teacher while also wanting to be a good student are the same thing… they are! Well, I guess, that’s only the case in this series really…

Koufuku Grafitti 01: Some girl loves to cook to become a good wife (I mean, why else would she learn to cook after all…?). Her granma dead, the parents working overseas and she’s left with an aunt who got better things to do: Turns out that’s a real bummer and her self-cooked food doesn’t taste good anymore. That’s when a little girl enters her life (who’s as old as her but seems more like a grade-schooler) and her appetite teaches the main-girl that the most important ingredient of good food is… family… and I guess, we’re gonna see that message repeated another thousand times since this is just the first episode.

Death Parade 01: Two people die, they go into a bar, play a game, turns out they are both assholes, one wins, one loses and that’s it!

Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 01 Review:

[C12] Assassination Classroom - 01.mp4 - 00000Thanks to this episode’s tonal inconsistencies it’s hard to say how I’m supposed to feel about this shot. Is this supposed to be funny? Or dramatic? Who knows… The way this shot looks like it should be the latter but… those kids are aiming at a yellow Octopus-alien! … which wants to destroy the world… Argh! This fucking series!

The premise of a series is a very important thing. It’s the thing with which you try to get people to watch the first episode and it’s the first episode where you sell it as something the audience should be interested in. It’s also a mission-statement for what the series wants to talk about and the first episode then shows how it wants to talk about that. With that in mind this first episode can only be described as bizarre.

You would think that the synopsis would prepare you for what this first episode throws at you but it really doesn’t. There’s a teacher who’s an alien and he wants to destroy the world – unless his class is able to kill him before their year together is over. And strangely enough, the alien is a very good teacher. I mean, the synopsis is already rather confusing because what is the series saying? Is that alien good or bad? Should those students kill their teacher despite him being a good one? I bet, if Philip K. Dick would’ve created an anime it would’ve looked like this. Just the bare essentials of this series already seem grotesque and nonsensical. Still, I figured the series would figure out how to somehow turn this into a comedy.

But hell, I was in for a quite a surprise when I watched this first episode. It isn’t really a comedy actually. At no point did the episode even feel lighthearted. After all, it’s a dark series. I don’t know which crazy person wrote and directed this thing but it makes me wonder that nobody was like “What is even going on in this series?!”. This first episode was VERY serious about selling the idea that this alien would indeed destroy Earth after one year if nobody would kill it. And the kids who had to kill him are all killers ready to just shoot that alien in front of them. More than that, the series adds this subtext of this class being full of “rotten apples” who are all problematic in one way or other. Oh, and nobody seems to want to kill the alien to save Earth but rather wants to get the promised 10 Mio Yen.

I would like to say that this episode was simply serious and didn’t want to be a comedy… but that isn’t exactly true either. In fact, one of the most disturbing elements of this episode was how the tone of it was just all over the place. In one moment the alien would say something absurd and there would be a comedic reaction-take from the class pointing out just how absurd the whole thing was. A couple scenes later, though, the alien would remind the kids that his contract may say that he isn’t allowed to harm the kids but nothing in the contract says he can’t kill the families of the children – and he shows them a sack full of the nameplates of their families to prove the point. He even goes so far as to threaten them with letting them be the only humans alive after he had killed the rest of humanity. And then there’s an entire arc about the main-dude somewhat learning to appreciate what the alien is doing while also happily swearing that he would be the one to kill the alien. It really feels like a person with a multiple-personalities-syndrome has directed and written this episode.

These tonal inconsistencies lead to a very confusing experience where you’re not sure what the series is even going for. It doesn’t help of course that stuff like how the students of that class aren’t normal at all just comes out of nowhere. The main-dude gets flashbacks of others looking down on him for having to be in that class. I guess, the name “E-Class” is more about all the students being considered failures by society but… what does this have to do with the whole assassination-thing and the alien-thing? There are like five storylines going on at the same time that don’t really fit together tonally.

The whole thing feels like a haphazardly thrown together effort without a lot of good direction and a plan for how to implement all its various ideas. This first episode is a perfect example of how NOT to do a first episode. It’s not as trashy as Maou no Testament or Absolute Duo but it’s just as bad for VERY different reasons. The problems of this episode and this series as a whole, I guess, can be summed up by one very simple question: What is it about? After reading the synopsis and watching the first episode, I don’t really have a clear answer for that. The whole thing’s just all over the place and therefore I don’t feel compelled to really suffer through the second episode.

Episode-Rating: 4.0/10

Koufuku Grafitti 01 Review:

[C12] Koufuku Graffiti - 01.mp4 - 00003She really should eat Fast Food if she obsesses over every bite of her own cooking like this.

This episode had the best direction I’ve seen this season so far. Koufuku Grafitti is one of those slice-of-life-series that are more about atmosphere than developing a complex plot. You’ve got these series where characters are just hanging out which are then driven by the rapport between those characters and with the help of visual design the atmosphere seems lighthearted just by looking at a scene. But without a lot of plot you hardly will need a whole season to say whatever the series wants to say and even the most charming character will outstay his or her welcome without some conflict to keep things interested. Series like Natsume Yuujinchou or Mushishi actually are good examples for more dramatic slice-of-life. You simply add this theme of episodic adventures as a way to introduce new elements to a slice-of-life-story that is normally very low-key and static. All that needed to be said because this is a very good slice-of-life-episode but this episode didn’t sell me on the idea that the whole series will be as good.

Food is at the center of this episode and the whole series, I assume. And the series not only shows a lot of food but it adds a sensual subtext to it. The faces of the characters flush red while eating and they sort-of enter a trance while enjoying the food. Those shots also have sparkles while also adding a bright, colorful background. More than that, there’s also a slight sexual subtext to it as the shots linger on the characters’ lips rather often. The strange thing is that all this stuff is just there for show. What this episode actually wants to talk about is how good food is an expression of compassion and more importantly – familial companionship.

What this episode is actually about is the importance of family. The little girl is basically running away from her family while the main-girl has recently lost her family (sort-of). The main-girl rediscovers that lesson while the little girl just sorts out her own feelings regarding her family. It’s very telling that when the little girl is offering the main-girl help, she’s offering to take over a familial role in her life, be it uncle, father, mother and so on. It was slightly yuri-ish for the main-girl to add husband and wife to that list but I would say the point was less romantic than just a way to express the need for familial companionship. This episode postulates the idea that having a family is necessary to feel happiness.

It’s surprising how down-to-earth the whole episode felt despite its fluffy and somewhat cheesy atmosphere. The little girl running from home wasn’t some melodramatic “running away from home”-moment but just a stubborn child deciding to do something while the adults just tried to help her work things out in the background. The little girl wanting to go to Tokyo and not understanding her mother’s protests were childish but it didn’t go so far as to make her seem petulant and egoistic. Meanwhile the main-girl was simply the mature type out of necessity since she had been living alone for a year now at that point. And those two girls meeting and spending time together naturally led to them learning their lesson about the importance of family over the course of this episode.

But the problems start at the end of the episode. This episode has a nice poignant ending with the main-girl having a friend now who could replace the hole in her heart left by her dead grandma and the little girl has learnt to appreciate her family more. It’s all fine and dandy! Except there’s one little thing to consider here… This is supposed to be the first fucking episode of a whole series! Seriously, if somebody would’ve told me that that’s it and this thing was over, I would’ve been fine with that! Whatever little drama there was in this episode actually got resolved at the end of the episode! This episode was really good but I have no idea why I should tune in for the next episode. It’s not like the characters are some treasure-troves full of interesting stories. They are okay, they did their job in this episode but really, what’s supposed to be the incentive here to keep watching? This episode was absolutely fine as a self-contained experience but it didn’t convince me in any way to keep watching. Sure, I actually will keep watching because I hope the next episode will be as good as this one – but story-wise there’s just nothing in this episode to make this necessary.

Episode-Rating: 7.0/10

Death Parade 01 Review:

[C12] Death Parade - 01.mp4 - 00000You might as well quote the movie WarGames in such a situation and say “that the only winning move is not to play”.

Death Parade’s first episode is very gimmicky. I’ve already talked about how slice-of-life-series have episodic stories to introduce drama to a meta-plot that’s very low-key and down-to-earth. What Death Parade is doing is less about the characters but more about the episodic story, that and a very basic introduction of the setting. This episode didn’t really try to build up investment or tried to help you understand the recurring characters. It was more interested in presenting the gimmick that serves as the setup for the episodic stories most likely.

Episodic stories have to be very poignant. When you have to think of brevity you better should have a story that is on-point from beginning to end. And so the question becomes just how well this episode handles its story. In this first episode it’s the story of a married couple landing in a weird bar where they are forced to randomly select a game. And with the help of this game they will be judged. Yep, it’s a moralistic tale depending on the existence of an afterlife. The entirety of the game might as well be just an allegory for the state of their relationship and the purpose of the game is a final confrontation between the two.

There are a lot of supernatural elements in this episode that essentially just serve as a gimmicky allegory for a confrontation between two people who are dead. The audience doesn’t know either person but it’s made clear early on that they are competing for where they would go after their death. It essentially becomes a mystery-story of the audience supposedly trying to figure out what led to their death and finding out which one of them is evil or good. The drama stems from accusations the two lovebirds level against each other while each tries to maintain their innocence and their righteous hatred at the other person for accusing them. And the game is basically them hurting each other for points. What happens on the dart-board happens also in the dialogue between them. The whole supernatural element of inflicting pain via the dart-board is a rather blunt expression of that.

And this could be an interesting episodic story but a couple things hold this episode back from being good. The biggest problem is the way this story gets told. We don’t see two lovebirds who secretly hate each other try to maintain their mask of a perfect husband and wife, what this episode presents are a good husband and wife who have forgotten that they secretly hate each other. Yep, the episode starts with both of them suffering from a bit of amnesia. They don’t know how and why they died and they don’t seem to be aware of their marital problems at all. And what drives the episodic story forward is them having sudden flashbacks that remind them what their problems were with each other. But those flashbacks are delivered by an outside force. Sure, the writing would’ve needed to be smarter but it would’ve been far more interesting to see those two trying very hard for their dirty secrets to remain secret, but as accusations get thrown around you get the typical “You can’t handle the truth!”-moment. The confrontation between the two isn’t that, though. Since you can’t be sure what a character would remember next, you basically were condemned to just wait for the episode to reveal the whole gruesome tale.

I didn’t like the game-portion, either. The dart-game was a nice idea but one I immediately thought of them just losing on purpose and so getting a draw as a solution. That they only would be made aware of that after they both had scored a different amount of points already is just lampshading the exit-option those two characters weren’t made aware of by the writers. If a character can be smart without some specific kind of knowledge, then a character should be that smart. Unless you’re making a point characterization-wise, characters should always seem smart when it comes to simple logical problems. Even if a member of the audience didn’t happen to think of that solution before the series would lampshade it after its usefulness has ended, you still shouldn’t construct a plot with presuming idiocy. They don’t call it smart writing because some character points out what other character could’ve done if they had been smart. Also, I would’ve thought it to be a very suitable plottwist that instead of hitting the dart-board which would then in turn hurt various limbs or organs of the other person, you could hit the other person with a dart and get points that way as well. It would’ve been a nice brutal escalation to see the two attack each other with darts, thereby exposing both their hateful natures. Just in general I would say that in the end neither deserved to win. I wasn’t exactly sure whether the women had been lying at the end about having an affair but even if it was a lie, it was still a mean thing to say and so… they weren’t both really “Heaven-material”.

Then again, I’m not sure what sort of afterlife-model this series is following. At one point heaven and hell are mentioned but in the end, it was said that one got reincarnated and the other got the bliss of non-existence. Those are two very different models of “afterlife”. I mean, these stories are about good and evil anyway. It’s black-and-white-storytelling – unless you have really smart writing. And this episode certainly didn’t prove to me that this series will excel in that regard. Good and evil are easy to write and even easier to judge with the gimmick of this series but the series has to earn its value by making this very thing as difficult as possible. This episode tried to do that but shenanigans like amnesia and idiotic behavior aren’t the way to go. From the previews, it looks like the next episode will be more about the meta-story of this episode, so that will be interesting. I mean, especially because this series does have a meta-story, I would say you should definitely watch the second episode even if the first episode wasn’t that good.

Episode-Rating: 6.5/10

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on January 10, 2015, in Anime, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu, Death Parade, Koufuku Grafitti, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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