Review-Roundup: Seiken Tsukai no World Break 01, Junketsu no Maria 01

[C12] Maria the Virgin Witch - 01.mp4 - 00003This first episode of Junketsu no Maria does a great job of portraying Maria’s innocence. I’m less sure about the series willingness to make the loss of that in a sexual sense an important story-element.

This time I review:

Seiken Tsukai no World Break 01: There’s a dude who has fucked two girls in his past lives. Bad news: He doesn’t really remember that. Good News: They DO remember and still want to fuck him. Also, he’s the Chosen One (but he doesn’t know that yet).

Junketsu no Maria 01: A young, innocent witch tries to stop war while also falling in love with an earnest boy. Also, medieval stuff happens.

Seiken Tsukai no World Break 01 Review:

[C12] Seiken Tsukai no World Break - 01.mp4 - 00004The series is self-aware enough to be very straightforward with what it’s doing and turning that very directness into something humorous.

A dude who’s special at a school full of special people who have to learn how inferior they are compared to him and a bunch of girls all too ready to fall in love with him for no reason. A shounen-series that just wants to be trash does all that and this series – does all that. Is it trash, then? Surprisingly, less so than you might expect. That doesn’t mean this first episode was actually good in a conventional sense. The series still seems like trash but it’s in the way how that trash presents itself that you actually can find something worth watching in this episode.

This first episode’s virtues derive from a certain sense of self-awareness. It doesn’t go so far as to subvert the tropes this episode is parading around but at least the episode offers a little bit of commentary and lampshading which makes this already a far more competent effort than Absolute Duo. The way this self-awareness manifests itself is in characters using their broadly-written personalities to react in somewhat natural ways to the events around them.

The most important gimmick of the series is that the characters have had a past life that they can more or less remember (apparently it depends on the person how much they remember of their past life or lives). Naturally this show immediately uses that to introduce two female characters who want to bang the main-dude who of course is a bit of an amnesiac amongst all those people who remember their past-life. Amnesia mixed together with a bit of a “childhood-friend”-sort-of trope (you know in how the girls who love him know him VERY well) is what defines the main-character. The first sign of self-awareness is how these three main-characters are just over-the-top in their behavior. The series takes a stereotypic personality and makes its characters perform those roles with 200% effort. The little-sister-girl gushes about how this time around her love for her brother won’t even be a taboo, the other girl just immediately puts the dude’s head into her breasts in order to seduce him and “lighten up” the mood and the main-dude himself is the most valorous hero-person imaginable.

The series still has the usual troubles of portraying slaughter as something great people do (“It’s okay because the other guys are evil” is a poor excuse for killing people) and then there’s the flashforward-intro… I hate those. It’s not like that’s a completely useless storytelling-device but a lot of animes use them as a tease. Big battle-scenes are shoved into the first episode because some producer, director or whatever feared they would lose the audience with whatever would happen naturally in the first episode. You know what the solution to that is? Writing a better first episode! You want big epic battles? Then make the battle in the first episode epic! Forget about the natural progression of making things slightly more epic but just throw it all at the audience right from the start. And after that, just do whatever as long as you’re not repeating yourself.

You look at stylized series like Kill La Kill for example which never shied away from turning its battles into great set-pieces. I think the biggest problem with these more typical shounen-series is that they take themselves way too serious while also wanting to be utterly ridiculous. One solution is to produce something like Akame ga Kill where you get some gory action without the full dramatic weight of having to develop depth. That doesn’t mean Akame ga Kill actually was a good series (or is, if you’re following the manga). There are a couple shounen-series each season that seem unimaginative because they just can’t decide between being a serious drama or being this flashy battle-simulator. In the end they mostly don’t master either. This series is just the same: You can’t say that the battle-sequences aside from maybe the opening-scene (which was a flash-forward) were that impressive but you can also say that the drama in this episode was pretty thin. The series tried to do both and didn’t manage to succeed at either.

With this series it’s all very straightforward but you can really feel how this series WANTS to be like that. This isn’t some trash-series going through the motions of being sub-par, this series tries REALLY hard to sell its trash and that sort of effort actually makes it kinda charming. Naturally it really won’t win you over just by doing that. I mean, the story isn’t great to begin with so it’s easy to see past the charm of trying very hard and realize that this series is still a very trashy affair. But it’s certainly the best trashy series you can watch this season.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10

Junketsu no Maria 01 Review:

[C12] Maria the Virgin Witch - 01.mp4 - 00002Alone the fact that this series acknowledges ransoms being a thing on medieval battlefields makes this already a more historically accurate than most other animes who have chosen a similar setting.

Someone on the writing-staff of this series really did their homework! Holy shit, this may be one of the most accurate portrayals of medieval Europe I have ever seen in an anime. Well, naturally if you exclude the witch-part… and the part where witches DO exist… and the part where witches were deciding factors in the 100-year-war between France and England… Aside from all that, though, this is a remarkably well-researched first episode for an anime-series.

But before that, let’s get the really annoying parts out of the way: Witches. This may be one of the worst fantasy-tropes out there to be used in a medieval somewhat-realistic setting. Here you have this period where women were unrightfully persecuted for being supernatural beings (which they weren’t) and that whole thing led to them being tortured in the most gruesome manner. On the other hand you have this rather popular trope of “But what if the Inquisition was right…?!” which is as delicate as making a WWII-series about how the Nazis were partially right about the Jews trying to take over the world. Demeaning propaganda from a dominant political force that has turned out to be false are poor material for a “But what if they were right…?!”-story. This isn’t really a criticism of this series in particular but more a criticism of how this trope is treated in general. Most uses of the witch-tropes seem far too ignorant in acknowledging that witch-hunts were a very horrible and very real thing (also, technically its heyday wasn’t during medieval times).

But back to the actual episode… The synopsis made this series sound worse than it actually turned out to be. Who knows what will happen next episode (when the synopsis comes true, I assume) but this first episode served as a rather good introduction to the cast and the world. With a series that’s that concerned with the virginity of her heroine this episode didn’t do a whole lot of fanservice (except when it comes to the chara-designs of the female characters). And the virginity of the heroine is used more for characterization than anything else. Maria is portrayed as innocent and her best buddy, a Succubus, is there to tease her about the fact and reveal her innocence to the audience with innuendo that flies right over Maria’s head. It’s a good way to handle that.

The medieval stuff in this episode is also VERY detailed and compelling. Stuff like a mercenary making a noble give himself up for a ransom are nice moments to show that the writers know their shit. Taking noble prisoners who would get freed for a ransom was indeed the best way to make money on a medieval battlefield. Also stuff like the English Longbowmen and the way the portrayed battle developed before Maria appeared were obviously written by someone who knows European history. That doesn’t mean this is a historical series, of course. It’s not THAT accurate – but it does get more things right than most animes that claim to be set in medieval Europe. Just take the portrayal of the actual battle: The model for that battlefield were clearly all those historical samurai-battle-stories where mostly it was supposed to be just one-on-one-duels where only rarely others interfered. This representation didn’t even come close to the chaos that were medieval battles in Europe.

In the end, it really is just an introduction-episode, though. The episode presents a bunch of characters that do things which have no real consequences. The synopsis actually was a bit of a spoiler in that regard because this episode didn’t tackle the subject of angels at all. But let’s talk about what the synopsis is hinting at: Maria is supposed to lose her power when she has lost her virginity. And there’s some angel also there to watch over here.

Her virginity, really?! That’s such a sexist thing to do! It’s always women who lose power because of such things whereas for men it’s often even a prerequisite for becoming more powerful that they should lose their virginity. Girls always have to accept a loss of power for becoming women. Boys on the other hand have to prove their worth to be accepted as powerful men. That perspective is simply outdated at this point. I mean, it’s even somewhat mainstream now. Look at the Peter Jackson Tolkien-films: In The Two Towers the women and children had to hide in a cave whereas in The Battle Of The Five Armies the women and children decide it’s better to try to help the men instead of just hiding somewhere (I’m not saying that this makes the latter a great movie overall, though).

This series… It’s fine. It does a lot of things right but also doesn’t deliver anything that would make you think it’s great. There’s a surprising amount of accurate historical references in this series but it also doesn’t commit to this enough to be called a historical series. It’s less lewd than you might expect but it still tries to make womanhood a more problematic thing than manhood considering how it’s treated by the story.

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 12, 2015, in Anime, Junketsu no Maria, Reviews, Seiken Tsukai no World Break and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Seiken Tsukai has a very interesting premise, but if the flash forward is a sign of what’s to come, I don’t think it’s an encouraging sign for it’s premise, because it is a super cliche LN arc climax.

    I do want to like it though, for the premise alone, even if execution is both over the top and tries to stuff the premise through tired, staid conventions. In a world with reincarnations, where some souls are able to remember their past lives, what happens if you put the present incarnation of these souls all in one School?

    This is one of the few cases where I don’t have to put my Suspension of Disbelief to the max for the harem to make any lick of sense. It is very likely that these souls would have taken many lovers throughout their different life-times, unaware that they swore “eternal love” to someone else already in a previous life-time. And perhaps some of these lovers may also have been able to remember their past lives in their current incarnations. It’s an interesting premise which alot can be done with (perhaps, just as the personalities of the various incarnated lovers differ, so to has the Hero been a slightly different person in each iteration of himself), but I don’t see Seiken Tsukai exploring that well.

    Worse still, while it’s an instant gold mine of gags within the harem genre, the very nature of harem genre itself means you are going to have to give almost every incarnated girl the short stick, and make the protagonist the key focii point irregardless of what happened in their other cycles of reincarnation.

    Now, if the show is sufficiently self aware, they could try to subvert it – for example, several of the protagonist previous lovers have gone on to take other lovers in their next life, which could make for a very interesting commentary on relationships in a world with Reincarnation. But I don’t think they’d go that far – the moment you allow the other females to be influenced by their other reincarnations other than the one that their lover is present in, is the moment you betray the harem genre’s hypocritical insistence that the girls all have to faithful to one very unfaithful man.

    It could even go the old gender bender route – there’s one incarnation where the protagonist was female, and loved a male, in this reincarnations, their genders are swapped, and to add to insult, there’s bevy of girls lining up to continue their relationship with the Hero back where they last left off.

    Or it could… gasp! introduce more traditional male comrade at arms, and the plot could fully leave the Harem-Shounen for a time to talk about how male-centric action-Shounen conventions play in an reincarnating world where some people remember their previous lives. Even if World Break was to do this (which I suspect is what would happen once the author runs out of harem cliches to mine and mock using his premise), I suspect any such character would be relegated to the role of the Harem Wingman or Harem butt monkey.

    World Break could even have been a Shoujo show, with love rivals not being distant cousins out of nowhere, but other reincarnating female lovers trying to also reconnect with their old lover. And the Shoujo male cast all being prior lovers of the previous incarnations of the Female Shoujo protagonist.

    There’s lots of potential in World Break, that I fear is going to be wasted, especially if what they put up in the Cold opening was the best they thought they can offer.

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    • Yeah, the past-life-stuff is used for some neat little plot-developments in this episode that justify the existence of some typical tropes in a really good way. But the series also doesn’t do anything to subvert those tropes or do really interesting stuff with the premise in this episode like you’ve mentioned. And the flash-forward sequence doesn’t really look promising either. I guess, it’s just a slightly better trash-series in the end.

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  2. Like Andmeuths said, the idea of reincarnations and how they would effect interpersonal relationships COULD be an interesting premise but I seriously doubt the writers have any intention to make use of it other than to take shortcuts on both the relationships of the MC and his personal growth. Don’t bother working for those fighting skills, past!you already got em! Does it make sense that this pack of girls wants the protagonist’s dick even though they just met him? No, but if they are in love with past reincarnations of him, it’s okay!

    Contrary to what your review suggested, Morgoth, I don’t think self-awareness of how cliched and asinine your story is makes it better. Old Spiderman cartoons were hilarious because they were campy as hell. There’s “so bad it’s amazing” and “so bad it’s terrible”. Older American cartoons thrived off of the former but Seiken seems to fall completely into the latter. It’s just a bunch of anime and fantasy tropes thrown against the wall hoping at least one sticks. The writer of the second season of PsychoPass might be a talentless hack but you could at least tell he tried to make something happen. I don’t even see an effort being made by the writer of Seiken.

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    • As for Junketsu no Maria, I was actually rather impressed. The setting seems interesting enough and the characters got a satisfactory introduction. I was surprised they so unambiguously referred to “adult” subjects such as oral sex and Jean of Arc being executed. Which is not to say those things make an anime good per se; their balance with the more innocent contributions of Maria give the anime a unique charm.

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    • “Contrary to what your review suggested, Morgoth, I don’t think self-awareness of how cliched and asinine your story is makes it better.”

      Self-awareness is more like an attitude the writing shows, I would say. It’s not like self-awareness is equal to better quality but I would say it’s one way to improve the show. It’s just a starting-point. The end-point is like endmeuths suggested the actual subversion of the tropes that are being used. This doesn’t happen here. Still, I would say that there’s self-awareness here at least to a degree where the writing feels more confident.

      There’s this moment in the episode where one of the girls throws herself at the main-dude and he’s like “You shouldn’t do this – because it’s devaluing women.” The series acknowledges what it’s doing but instead of going so far as to subvert this lampshaded trope, the series just doubles its efforts in showing off that cliché. It doesn’t make it less trashy but the presentation of the whole thing is a bit better than usual.

      “The writer of the second season of PsychoPass might be a talentless hack but you could at least tell he tried to make something happen.”

      Hmm, sure, he tried but ultimately his ambitions don’t really count for much when the series starts to fall apart on a fundamental level. Those parts are at least working on a basic level in “Seiken-whatever”… or at least they do in the first episode.

      As for Junketsu no Maria…

      “I was surprised they so unambiguously referred to “adult” subjects such as oral sex and Jean of Arc being executed. Which is not to say those things make an anime good per se; their balance with the more innocent contributions of Maria give the anime a unique charm.”

      On the surface you would either expect some shallow fanservice-fest with how important the main-girl’s virginity is or you would think it’s just some shounen-show about a witch battling whatever in a pseudo-medieval-Europe-setting. But there’s a surprising attention to detail in the setting and the atmosphere as well as the characters are relatively charming. In fact it’s so charming that stuff like the Succubus and how the main-girl’s virginity will play a big role kinda feel out-of-place considering how the rest of the show is more like this girl-in-a-historical-setting adventure.

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      • Seiken could probably be renamed “Ironic shit-posting is still shit-posting” which is 4chan parlance for “Mimicking shitty posts to mock them is still making a shitty contribution to the community.” Anime like Slayers or Katana-gatari also had scenes to poke fun at their own absurdities but what these anime did right was have believable and endearing characters to back that up. Seiken on the other hand parades around it’s cookie cutter characters and thinks it’s being clever by pointing out how horrible and nonsensical they are. We mostly agree that Seiken is garbage, so discussing whether it’s bad or very bad is probably splitting hairs.

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