Review-Roundup: Koufuku Graffiti 02, Death Parade 02, Aldnoah.Zero 14

[C12] Koufuku Graffiti - 02.mp4 - 00000Seriously, it’s frigging mustard, they’re talking about! One of the sandwiches has mustard on it! How old are they? Ten? Mustard isn’t a bullet that will kill those girls. On the other hand, Diabetes might considering how they are fawning over sweet stuff…

This time I review:

Koufuku Grafitti 02: Turns out just visiting on the weekends hasn’t led to Kirin marrying Ryou and moving in with her. Therefore she’s depressed when she finds out that she doesn’t know EVERYTHING about Ryou. That’s how familial relationships work after all. Also, foodgasm is a thing in this series, I believe.

Death Parade 02: Remember the first episode? Yeah, but let’s face it, what we needed was an extensive walkthrough of that episode’s narrative, right? Maybe this episode will reveal who had killed the butler in retaliation for kill… Oh, wait, wrong series, I must have fallen asleep while someone has been trying to explain the obvious to me…

Aldnoah.Zero 14: After months of the Vers-Empire dominating the war, the Earth-resistance has finally remembered it has a space-station with a whole battalion of mechas ready to start a fight with the Martians. Also, Inaho still kicks ass and Slaine has to deal with the jealousy of his beloved princess’ sister.

Koufuku Graffiti 02 Review:

[C12] Koufuku Graffiti - 02.mp4 - 00004If the series actually wants to be about how great good cooking is then it should be a little bit more descriptive than that.

I liked the first episode of this series quite a bit and this episode is pleasant as well but this episode also proved my fears correct. Let’s face it: This series is pointless right now. And it’s really weird how both this episode and the previous one work perfectly fine as standalone-feel-good-slice-of-life-anime-episodes. The way this series focuses more on the emotional context than the realistic one and how these two episodes play around with low-stakes-drama that starts and gets resolved within the same episode, you just don’t get a lot of substance from this series. This second episode is just like the first where I would’ve been perfectly fine with dropping the series and leave it be. These episodes don’t give the audience any motivation whatsoever to keep watching. This is a series you don’t drop out of hate, this is a series you can drop out of sheer ambivalence. In fact, the most poignant criticism you can level against this series at this point is “Who cares…?!”.

I forgot to mention one thing in the previous review: This series is produced by Shaft and well-known anime-director Shinbo is doing his typical Shaft-anime-adaptation-thingy. At this point I think everybody will have seen enough to Shinbo that his staff doesn’t actually need him around to do his job. Close shots, zooming in closely on one particular thing, slow-mo head-movements that end up in weird positions, flashcuts to abstract imagery – this series already feels very Shinbo-esque visually speaking. But compared to some other Shinbo-series, this one hasn’t been going overboard with that director’s ticks. Although who knows what would happen if Shinbo would direct an anime that stylistically seems down-to-earth, realistic and gory, maybe Shaft will sue him for trying to fix something that ain’t broken considering how popular Shinbo’s style still is. I’m saying that because all the Shinbo-isms in this series feel pretentious. Instead of stylizing the narrative on-screen, it’s like Shinbo is waving his hands in front of the screen in an effort to remind the audience that he’s directing the damn thing. When a director becomes too overbearing the style of a series or a movie becomes something that distracts you from what is actually going on and that’s exactly what Shinbo’s style is doing here. It seems almost arbitrary how all the Shinbo-isms are used here and most of them don’t serve a purpose.

Kirin’s and Ryou’s relationship continues to go down a very Yuri-esque route despite all the talk of family. A stereotypical Yuri-romance nowadays is the equivalent of having a sugary donut shoved down your throat. And the fear displayed by Kirin in this episode that she isn’t as close to Ryou as she thought is underlined with such drastic despair that it’s hard to think of these two as just cousins who have become good friends.

Usually you would establish a back-and-forth for a friendship that underlines the honesty that the friendship allows for both of them to display. In a stereotypical friendship you want to show how the friends support each other in times of need. The reason why the relationship of Kirin and Ryou seems romantic is that they don’t just want to support each other, they want to be liked by the other person. In a stereotypical friendship the scenario of one friend revealing a new facet of herself would lead to the other friend either trying to help her friend to overcome her problem or supporting her in pursuing that positive aspect of that friend’s characterization. Stereotypical friendship is pretty much selfless. It’s the romantic relationship where characters don’t want to just help but want love in return. You basically take a friendship but add the need for approval and furthermore the fulfillment of the wish for a romantic relationship. A friend tries to seem reliable but a romantic partner tries to seem dependable. The difference is that a friend is a character that can be approached for help but a romantic partner is someone the character is supposed to approach for help first. That doesn’t mean this series actual is a Yuri-romance. There’s hardly anything romantic about these two episodes. The Yuri-elements only exist as subtext right now pretty much. Add to that an all-female-cast and it’s easy to notice how Yuri the whole thing is.

But this series is actually about food, right? I’ve already talked about the obvious sensual context of consuming good food due to how the “camera” focuses on the lips of characters and usually shows the characters in a state of bliss while eating. This episode, though, adds drawings to its repertoire of emotional expressions. This series isn’t about food, or art for that matter. This series only uses these things to express the emotional undercurrents of a scene. After all, the first episode made a point of showing how enjoying food isn’t really a matter of cooking but a matter of company. And in this regard it’s poignant that Ryou’s aunt would end up eating the sandwich with mustard since she started eating by herself. Her horrible experience with eating in this instance is in direct correlation with the series’ ethos of how food tastes best in good company. In that regard the visual presentation and the voice-acting of the whole thing are indispensable. The script itself is far too shallow to actually find poignant words for the joy the characters are feeling and there isn’t a lot of reflection happening either. The series really is just delivering these fuzzy warm feel-good scenarios that are driven by low-stakes drama. I don’t hate the series but it’s just fine and not much more. The more cynical approach to this would be to describe it as simply forgettable because it doesn’t offer anything worthy of note to the audience. So, if you’re in the mood for a trivial feel-good-series this one does the job, I think.

Episode-Rating: 6.0/10

Death Parade 02 Review:

[C12] Death Parade - 02.mp4 - 00000Argh! I hate it when that happens in a dialogue scene! Never let an exchange be a statement and another character asking whether that first character meant what he said! It never should be like “This is what happens.” and then someone else replies “You  mean, this happens?”. I don’t care if some people even do that in real life. Let’s just assume that everyone is smart enough to not restate the obvious and be fine with that.

Well, that was a curious choice for a second episode. An entire episode focused on explaining the first episode. Usually you have the first episode serve as a bit of an “appetizer” in order to arouse interest and get the viewer’s interest. The second episode will then draw back from the first episode and try to establish the status-quo in a more serious manner. In this case, the first episode’s been used to present the premise of the show which is (at least) two people competing for who’s the nicer one of the two.

I have to give this series credit for this episode: Normally a series like this one wouldn’t go out of its way to reflect on a case like this. The most interesting element of this episode is the idea that Decim can be fallible. That’s a pretty big deal if you think about it. Usually in these “supernatural judgments”-series the supernatural judges are somewhat infallible and it’s only up to the mortals to find some way to redeem themselves before judgment hits them. But this episode establishes the premise that the judges actually have no idea how to judge who before the to-be-judged people arrive. Despite the supernatural help, Decim doesn’t seem to fully grasp what had been going on in the first episode.

That said, I don’t think it had been necessary to spend that much time on the first episode’s couple. Most of the subtext had been pretty obvious to me – with the exception of the wife’s declaration that the baby wasn’t her husband’s. That declaration came right at the end of the episode and essentially proved the husband right in suspecting his wife to be unfaithful to him. Did she tell the truth when she said that? Normally I would’ve said that she’s trying to take the blame for what the man she loved has done but… here’s the thing: Like I’ve explained in the previous review, this series’ premise uses sudden flashbacks to push the characters into a certain direction. And this episode hints at the judges actually manipulating the to-be-judged people using their memories (which the to-be-judged people conveniently have forgotten) is also a nice premise for more morally grey future episodes. But the whole episode is really just restating the premise from the first episode and adds a few, albeit interesting details to it.

The thing with these supernatural-judgment-series is that it should NEVER get formulaic. It’s very easy to establish a comfortable rhythm and repeat it ad nauseam. Crime-Procedurals have the same problem in that regard. With these kinds of premises you establish a formula to subvert it again and again. After all, no matter what your premise and episodic formula is, it will get predictable at some point if you don’t subvert the whole thing or add new elements to it. So, hopefully this series will manage to do that but this episode focuses on another possible solution for that problem: characters.

You don’t necessarily need to change the formula for the episodes, of course, if the audience is already satisfied by just following charismatic, likeable characters around. And this episode would have been a good attempt to establish the main-cast of this show, their rapport and what the meta-story of the show is. But like I’ve said, most of the episode the characters just talk about what happened in the first episode. It isn’t so bad as to be called a recap-episode but considering how little this episode actually adds to the series despite its changed point-of-view, the series would’ve been better served with using its tidbits of revelations at a later time.

Ultimately it feels like this second episode is basically the series relaxing while throwing a few new bits of information at the audience. The episode doesn’t really do anything with the new information about the premise it offers and the rest of the time the episode basically just spends explaining the first episode. Maybe if you’ve watched the first episode and weren’t able to follow the whole thing you might need to watch this second episode but anyone else doesn’t really need this second episode.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10

Aldnoah.Zero 14 Review:

[HorribleSubs] Aldnoah Zero - 14 [480p].mkv - 00000I guess, Inaho’s character-arc is supposed to be him becoming more and more like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Space, mechas, princesses, talented teenagers, battles: Aldnoah.Zero starts to feel like a Gundam-clone. The first season of this series had started out with the despair of every Earthling (Slaine included) being confronted with a wholly pointless war whose origin was based on a lie – that one being the death of the Vers-Empire’s princess. Said princess, though, ends up travelling with a ragtag-team of earthlings, one of whom is super-smart. This dude basically becomes that princess’ personal knight. At the same time, her former best friend is struggling to find his place within the empire as he figures out who’s behind the attempted assassination of his beloved princess. Ultimately he decides to block out reality and make the best of it. Now some time later he’s a respected knight within the empire but surprisingly his rival has survived. Inaho, the super-smart earthling is hellbent on getting his princess back and that basically puts him on a collision-course with Slaine (not very surprisingly, I might add).

Aldnoah.Zero has become a very narrow-minded soap-opera that seems to have lost touch with its starting-point. After all, let’s remember how this series started: The Vers-princess is coming to Earth for a diplomatic visit but ends up getting killed by Earth-terrorists – allegedly. In retaliation for that the Vers-Empire attack Earth – and they basically overwhelm whatever little defenses Earth still had left from the last war. Whoever survived became a fugitive, none more so than Inaho & Co who had the actual Martian princess among the crew. The whole thing led to a gamble that would end this pointless war but ultimately most of the involved characters died trying to achieve that. Considering how nihilistic Saazbaum had been in initiating this pointless war this seemed like a fitting ending.

But now this episode shows scenes of Earth-military planning attacks and unleashing whole battalions of mechas. When I said that it feels like this Earth-Vers-Empire-War went back to square one, I didn’t imagine this whole thing to be exactly that. I mean, there’s barely any resistance on Earth left – and the Vers-Empire bothers starting a space-battle with a puny space-station? That space-station probably can’t survive on its own without food-deliveries from Earth and since the Vers-Empire had already conquered most of Earth in the first season, that space-station won’t stay active for long… or at least that’s how I would like to interpret the narrative of the first half. It certainly feels like this series is suddenly treating Earth as this stubborn nest of resistance that somehow against all odds managed to beat back the Vers-Empire. All of a sudden we’re not following a bunch of survivors fighting for their lives while trying to stop a pointless war against all odds, now we’re watching a bunch of underdog-heroes trying to fight for justice and to free a princess. I have to admit, I liked the premise of the first half more.

Also, considering how the first half did a real good job of establishing the pointlessness of the war and then reveal a villain who was all about “All wars are pointless! How about instigating a war that is as suicidal as it is easily winnable?!”, we’re now safely in the narrative territory of battles having become tools of righteousness. When Inaho is killing Martians left and right, the episode doesn’t want to show us how much of a sociopath Inaho is, no, the episode wants us to celebrate Inaho for being such a cool dude. And Inaho’s genius is already getting tiresome. Seriously, I liked it in the first half when he was the underdog who beat his overpowered enemies using deductions and other smart stuff but the first half had established this in a very thorough manner. It’s time to move on. And no, turning Inaho into even more of a robot is NOT the solution when I say “move on”. That’s just another tiresome shounen-stereotype to deal with raised stakes by giving various characters a power-up.

On the Vers-Empire-side the new princess Lemrina is certainly the most interesting character right now. She actually has some depth and you can really see that by how much dramatic weight her actions have. Serving as a replacement for her more popular sister while also hating the whole family, wanting to get Slaine’s affection while also hating her sister he’s actually in love with and in general the manipulative attitude she shows: All that makes her the most interesting character right now. It’s a bit dull how the “good princess” is this avatar of purity and innocence while the “bad princess” is manipulative and resentful but whatever, you take what you can get, right?

I still like watching this series but so far I can certainly say that I don’t like the direction of this series’ narrative. I probably would’ve been more satisfied with what the first season had done except I would’ve added another episode exploring the aftermath of the finale where Inaho, the princess and Saazbaum had died. With the hero, the damsel-in-distress and the villain dead, the only surviving character was the struggling rival of the hero. I mean, in general it would’ve been an interesting idea to just clear the board by killing off most of the cast of the second season and then let the few survivors enter a second season with a wholly new cast and let those characters deal with the consequences of the drastic events of the first season’s finale. You would get intriguing character-scenarios like that childhood-friend of Inaho who’s obviously in love with him but never confessed to him and now the object of her love has died before she had ever could’ve been honest about her feelings for him. That would’ve been a good way to subvert anime-tropes: You present them in a typical fashion and then you interrupt their arcs with a heavy dose of realism. But yeah… that’s totally not what this second half is going for. This series is playing it safe and devolves into a soapy space-opera. At this rate it will get boring and/or dull at some point, I imagine.

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 17, 2015, in Aldnoah.Zero, Anime, Death Parade, Koufuku Grafitti, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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