Review-Roundup: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 14, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid 02, Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu 02, Ghost in the Shell Arise: Alternative Architecture 01/02

_C12__Fate_Stay_Night_-_Unlimited_Blade_Works_-_14.mp4 - 00002If anything, this series has proven that Shirou has been the guy with a plan. So, of course, in this critical situation it should be him who should be in charge.

This time I review:

F/SN: Unlimited Blade Works 14: Shirou and Rin have some dinner and then start a little fieldtrip to find a new ally in their desperate fight. Gilgamesh crashes the party in the most cruel fashion.

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid 02: The evil girl who beats up other people at night turns out to be a little girl with a little problem. The good guys try to help her. Also, Vivio is trying to be Rocky or something…

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu 02: It’s the obvious choice for a Spring-season-series: This is the Christmas-episode! And so Nagato’s little club has a party where stuff happens. Then Nagato remembers having met a certain person named Haruhi Suzumiya and it’s a big deal because she’s uber-crazy… also she’s really important in the original series.

Ghost in the Shell Arise: Alternative Architecture 01/02: The ghostiest of ghosts deals with a very ghost-y situation where viruses do this and that to ghosts. Also, someone in the army is a corrupt piece-of-shit. And with that the fourth story-arc in the Arise-series ends in the second episode of this series.

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 14 Review:

_C12__Fate_Stay_Night_-_Unlimited_Blade_Works_-_14.mp4 - 00001What, of course the woman has to cook something for the dude who just rescued her!

This time around it’s less the odd pacing that cripples this episode but more the overwhelming abundance of plot. There’s so much happening in this episode and yet the episode can’t formulate a comprehensive argument for why one should care. Once again you can’t help but wonder whether 45-minutes-episodes might have been the better move for this series. Fuck TV-scheduling! These 25-minutes-episodes don’t do this series any favors in terms of plot and pacing! Every time a 25-minutes-episode of this series ends I think “Another ten minutes and it might have been good.”. Well, sometimes those episodes are actually just shit. The script-writing of this series is okay as long as you don’t pay too much attention. It certainly isn’t effective or interesting. The script-writer has done his job, is what I’m saying but there’s nothing here to suggest that said script-writer has elevated this series.

And talking about the script… you can certainly cite the Rin-Shirou-scene of the script just rehashing old shit with new context. Where’s the character-development? Where’s the self-reflection here? It’s all just this tiresome sense of repetition and the acceptance of said repetition that informs this plot-convenient storytelling.

In the Rin-Shirou-scene at the beginning you get the continuation of their romantic scene from the end of the last episode and yet… this scene isn’t that romantic. There’s some playfully romantic subtext but it never seems serious. This series delivers this big scene between Rin and Shirou last episode and then doesn’t commit to that. Even if the VN did that, it certainly doesn’t work in a TV-series. We are way past any sort of “Will They, Won’t They”-shenanigans. Now would be the time to establish their relationship and give it an entertaining dynamic which is different from the one where they hadn’t been romantic partners. You’ve got traces of that in this episode except this episode basically makes it sound like Rin’s capitulating and henceforth is just following Shirou’s lead. Rin is prioritizing Shirou’s desire over her own… which is the reason why Archer left her of course (but of course, Archer is alone in thinking that that’s ultimately a bad thing). If you wonder where the drama is in this setup after Archer has left… there isn’t any. The scenes between Rin and Shirou are the most boring part of this episode.

Then there are the flashbacks of Caster, of course. Flashbacks, which would’ve been great material for the first episode of this season, I would say. The plottwist of last week’s episode pretty much fell flat as an opening-episode. Does Archer even still seem like a sympathetic character at this point? He should, of course. In light of what his character is supposed to evoke emotionally in the latter half of the series you shouldn’t be too forceful in making him out to be a villain. And yet it’s Caster we focus on like she’s some sort of villain-of-the-week-character. “As long as we know why she turned into an evil person, it’s okay to see how she gets her ass kicked.” – I guess, that’s the logic behind this decision. But you know, if somebody has a good reason to be evil he or she has to earn that evil deed – in order to earn sympathy. Nobody likes a murderer – but someone who’s on some sort of revenge-crusade? It’s all a question of how relatable a character is. The character’s morality is only secondary. As long as the audience truly understands why she or he did what he or she did, any sin can become a matter of perspective. And justice just becomes a matter of drama and not this moralizing guideline for how the story should develop. It’s great how this episode adds depth to Caster’s characterization but it certainly comes a little late. This isn’t a revelation that informs the current state of affairs, it just adds a context to past events. Essentially it’s backtracking flashback that offers more exposition for Caster. And the flashback only happened for the audience’s benefit. With such a lack of dedication it might as well have been shown in the previous episode or why not commit a whole episode to it? Without doing any of that, the flashbacks are really just fluffy exposition without any real narrative purpose.

But this isn’t this episode’s real problem. The episode opens with Rin and Shirou having a… somewhat intimate moment and then planning to meet the little girl-master who controls Berserker. They begin to do that… but never get to have that talk in this episode. Instead, Gilgamesh and his “Master” are crashing the party and Gilgamesh is challenging Berserker. It’s all basic stuff – except it has nothing to do with what happened previously in this episode.

And the way that little dipshit and Gilgamesh have entered the story in this episode… It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gilgamesh and that dipshit and still this episode’s just gonna drop them on the current location where Berserker and her master is without any previous build-up in this second half. Of course, this episode already had gotten plenty of flashbacks with Caster’s past and so there’s no room for any flashbacks explaining what Gilgamesh and his dipshit-Master had been doing.

The episode opens with one particular situation and then ends with establishing a totally different situation. And due to a lack of time this series never finds a way to actually give the chaos of this Grail-War some structure. In the end it all just ends up being a tiresome “And then this happens…”-tirade when you get episodes like this one where there’s no thematic focus or some other thing connecting all the various figures with the story of the series.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10

Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid 02 Review:

_C12__Mahou_Shoujo_Lyrical_Nanoha_ViVid_-_02.mp4 - 00003Her parents…?! What is this series doing?! That’s the perfect premise for a family-sitcom! A teenager going through puberty and rebelling against her parents… while having the memories of her parents!

There are two extremes to how a writer can treat a character in a dramatic situation. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got horror where the writer is kinda sadistic in how he treats the characters and on the other end you got the kind of cheesy romance-stories which only introduce drama in order to make the eventual happy end seem more fulfilling. Of course, in both instances you have to convince the audience to give a shit about the characters’ fate. It doesn’t matter if the characters get a happy end or a gruesome death. What matters is that the audience cares which of the two it is. This episode doesn’t make you care. It’s fluffy and pleasant but nothing interesting happens.

Actually this episode’s tone is SO nice that any viewer should fear to die of a sugar-overdose. The first episode had a cliffhanger, this episode has nothing. This episode quickly defuses the threat of the girl who fights Nove. And said threat just as quickly gets turned into a vulnerable little girl. Normally you would try to build up your story in the first act to make it seem like a big deal but this second episode actually was a step back in that regard. I mean, the next episode could maybe… actually, no, it HAS to introduce some big threat to keep this series going. Otherwise the series would logically end in the next episode. There’s nothing to fight over – unless this series wants to turn into some doku-soap detailing how stressful it is for dominus-queen-chan has to deal with her traumatic past lives. But other than that, EVERYTHING’s fine!

The idea of a kid remembering past lives and becoming insane because of those is an interesting topic. After all, what would happen if in the time where a kid would usually acquire some sense of individuality the kid has to deal with the memories of entire lives lived by other people? Would such a kid even be able to retain some sense of self-awareness or would the kid just become this schizophrenic emulating past lives? Of course, this series isn’t dark enough to really go that far with it. Instead it goes for the lighter the-past-as-a-burden-trope. And some nameless doctor has probably summarized the theme of this series best: You have a lot of shitty memories of past lives but eventually you’ll forget them by making new happy memories. Well, those weren’t his exact words but you get the gist. There’s some blast-from-the-past bullshit going on and Vivio has to kick its ass.

There are better stories out there but what about the style? You certainly can see that this series is obsessed with the whole martial-arts-thing. StrikerS already went into that direction but this series REALLY focuses on the notion of martial arts as a sport. You get scenes of characters training, Nove suggesting that tournaments are the place to test your power and that the little girl constantly mentioning her Kaiser-Arts-fighting-style. AND you get a whole lot of shit-talking about power in general. Tonally this series has the fluffiness of a lighthearted shoujo-series but conceptually it’s veering into shounen-territory. It will certainly be interesting to see how the series will manage to connect these two sides of its story. Of course, it isn’t impossible and pulling it off is the least this series can do because without such an arrangement the series just won’t work.

This episode certainly didn’t work properly. Sure, it was fluffy and lighthearted but it didn’t offer any incentive in terms of plot. What should happen next after this episode is just tiresome in how sugary the tone of the series seems to be. Clearly the series will introduce some drama in the next episode to keep this series going and a big thing will be how this series will do it. But the series already misstepped with this episode. If the natural state of everything in this series is happiness, then it needs to create quite a lot of complicated drama to keep things interesting. The first two seasons did a very good job of doing that but these two episodes make me worry that this season’s plot isn’t interesting enough to keep the audience’s attention.

Also, “this is her best friend” seems to be this series’ code for lesbian relationships.

Episode-Rating: 6.0/10

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu 02 Review:

[C12] The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan - 02.mp4 - 00000And going back inside isn’t an option why exactly…? It’s like all those stupid romance-scenes that happen in the rain… No sane person would want to have a meaningful dialogue under those circumstances!

This is a series that will buckle under the weight of its mythology. The reason why this series exists is a complicated story that informs a lot of the roles the well-known characters of the original series perform. And yet this is a series that doesn’t want to deal with that. Even if the series can overcome that, it doesn’t seem like the series will work. As far as official classification goes this series is considered to be a spin-off – but is it really? Unlike other spin-offs it doesn’t deviate from some other character-based storyline or tries to establish a whole new world with familiar characters. In this series you really just get the lengthy version of what one of the original LNs deal with and I guess, the tone of the story changes slightly. Other than that there isn’t a whole lot of spinning-off going on.

So what do you do with the mythology of this series? After all, it’s there. This is an adaptation of a LN that’s slightly different in terms of tone and pacing but the series hasn’t done anything drastic to separate itself from this context. Every spin-off should aspire to stop feeling like a spin-off and yet here we are in the second episode whose big cliffhanger is introducing Haruhi Suzumiya to the setting. Anything that connects this series’ plot to the original series will just make you wonder how exactly this series will address the mythology-stuff. Will it just be all cheap references and characters performing their well-known roles…? That just isn’t enough! Either you want to deal with the mythology or you don’t. But this feels like a series that includes a mythology for the sake of linking it to the original LN. It deals with this storyline while not doing anything on its own as a spin-off to deal with the mythology. The original LN was all about Kyon realizing that Nagato had changed the world so that she and he could have a romantic relationship. It’s an event-driven story that establishes Kyon as the hero of the story who put things right. And the plot is really just this character-based plot of Kyon navigating Nagato’s version of a familiar setting as he tries to reset the changed world to how it was before.

But the hero of this “spin-off” isn’t Kyon, it’s Nagato. And with that you’ve already got the seed for a good spin-off. What if Kyon never realizes what’s going on and the story’s all about Nagato trying to win Kyon’s heart? Maybe some later episode or scene will deal with that but knowing the original LN you still want to know what the deal is with this Nagato. And here’s where the mythology-aspect kicks in. The mythology of this spin-off’s world is Nagato trying to romance Kyon. Most people who watch this show probably know that. Some don’t of course. And therefore you should just spoil it early on. Maybe hide it behind some stupid allegories if spoiling the original LN isn’t an option but the point is: This series shouldn’t give a shit about its mythology. Except… it’s there and this series HAS to deal with it. How about some dream-dialogue the Nagato of this series won’t remember that establishes that the Nagato of the original series is the one who wants to love Kyon but the Nagato of this series is the one who can love Kyon. And even though Nagato won’t remember the dialogue, she’ll remember the important stuff and then her arc is about her realizing that she isn’t just some ordinary shy girl who loves some dude. Just give Nagato some sort of character-arc that lets her grow as a character.

And this episode has done exactly what I feared: It’s pleasant – without having any incentive to keep watching. Sure, the series can establish some sort of cheap love-triangle between Nagato, Haruhi and Kyon in the future but then we’re back to this series being about Kyon. It’s about Nagato and I feel like this spin-off-series just thinks of Nagato as the shy girl who has to climb some bullshit-wall in order to confess to some dude who will hopefully love her in return. There’s this moment in this episode where Nagato almost confesses but in the end doesn’t because … yeah, of course, she doesn’t. Like I said in the previous review, the only thing she has to deal with right now is her shyness. And so she nearly confesses but then gets interrupted which keeps her from confessing and being satisfied with just finding herself in this indirectly romantic situation. I mean, what the fuck?! Why do female-centered romances seemingly always have to include a moment of pity to describe a dramatic romance-arc. She’s shy, I get it! Then let her have that moment of confessing and then you actually can move forward with the plot. Depending on Kyon’s answer you can create new drama (although Kyon being a dick about the answer would be another whole can of worms in terms of tropes, of course). The point is that this episode still has the same problem as the first episode: There’s NO interesting reason why Nagato can’t have a relationship with Kyon right now. There’s a reason why Romeo And Juliet is a well-known romance-story and it isn’t because one of the two just had an attitude-problem.

The comedy is another problem. It isn’t suited for this series. What this series tries to do comically mostly relies on the tone of the original series but that tone doesn’t fit this series. The shrillness already was scaled back but it still isn’t enough. In terms of jokes this series simply isn’t very good. And I don’t mean the individual moments. The real problems are the transitions between cheesy romance-moments and said still-somewhat-shrill comedy. It’s still too stark to work. There aren’t any compelling moments in this series so far that actually unite these two tones. The series is at its best when it ignores one of its two halves but it has yet to bring its two halves together. More than that, this series has yet to determine how it positions itself in relation to its mythology. In some ways it definitely feels like this series has bit off more than it can chew.

Episode-Rating: 6.0/10

Ghost in the Shell Arise: Alternative Architecture 01/02 Review:

_C12__Ghost_in_the_Shell_Arise_-_Alternative_Architecture_-_02.mp4 - 00000Apparently Ghost in the Shell: Arise gets re-aired as a TV-series without any visual improvements. That isn’t surprising considering the workload of the Arise-production-team but still… kinda disappointing to still see stuff like this knowing that they’ve already released this material to the public once before in this state.

Holy shit! Has Arise’s music-direction always been SO bad…? You’ve got about five minutes of music in the first episode (and that includes both the OP and the ED). And this is a very talky episode as well! Somehow Kazuchika Kise has taken a dull plot and has made it even duller by adding more scenes of talking to a story with too much talking.

In the movie-series the action-scenes were spread throughout the story as if the series didn’t trust its story to sell itself. The story’s just constantly throwing shit at the wall hoping that some of it will stick. There’s this crazily complicated story going on in Ghost-Stands-Alone-plot that never becomes engaging. The dialogue just becomes noise at some point as the characters explain stuff and then explain some more and then explain what has just happened followed up by a revelation that is then explained and so on… Just like the movie the series here never manages to build a compelling connection between its overwrought story and its plot. The plot is just this thing rushing from action-scene to action-scene while the story is constantly in exposition-mode. This arc’s story is delivered to the audience via lengthy and talky scenes that just bluntly deliver a ton of information.

And I don’t even want to think about those people who haven’t seen the movie-series and start watching Arise with this episode. Just objectively I can say with some certainty that this isn’t the best way to start an Arise-TV-adaptation. After all, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to adapt a series by starting with its last episode. This episode shows the beginning of the fourth Arise-movie which naturally is thematically and story-wise linked to the previous three movies. Why start with the fourth movie?! Thematically it doesn’t make sense either. The point of the Arise-series is how Aramaki recruited Motoko and how she then assembled her team of specialists. In the fourth movie we pretty much get to the state the SAC-series started out with.

Otherwise, what has bugged me about the original movie still bugs me here. The lack of stylishness has become more pronounced in this format, though. It’s like watching someone trying to emulate the SAC-formula while getting constantly distracted. Distraction #1: All the groan-worthy references to the SAC-series. Distraction #2: The script doesn’t rely on visuals and instead overexplains everything.

The amount of times characters basically turn into prophets in this show makes this the worst kind of prequel. Motoko IMMEDIATELY comes up with the idea for what Section 9 would be like in SAC and the four movies were nothing more than this long-winded negotiation between Aramaki and Motoko to get there. And in this episode you also have an example of how Batou references the SAC-Tachikoma-design with his random throwaway idea. The future of a prequel is pretty much already determined at the beginning of it but the point of a prequel’s story should be to distract the audience from that fact. A prequel shouldn’t just go into obvious direction of immediately connecting itself to the original series. It should differentiate itself and create its own personality and story-arc whose end links to the original series. Before that a prequel shouldn’t make it seem like the beginning of the main-series was just a little matter of time as everybody involved somehow already knew that things would go into that direction. A prequel just shouldn’t trash its own story with a need for blunt causality. But that’s exactly what Arise has done. Well, with a few exceptions… Saitou, for example, has become the dumbest character of this series.

And the script has good ideas but no style. Characters just play roles, the story’s just a big heap of exposition and action can seemingly happen at any moment for whatever weird reason. It feels like someone tries hard to create a smart story but in reality the story’s just convoluted. I have no idea what Arise’s story really is about with all those debates of weapon-testing, water-cartel-talks and Qhardi-terrorists. It’s not like it’s impossible to understand but I just don’t want to. The series creates this complex net of information but the story always talks about it all at the same time. This isn’t like SAC where the complexity is distributed among layers allowing the series to resolve parts of its story as it moves forward which freed the viewers’ attention to focus on the new revelations. And the series always had one particular theme to connect all the layers. You don’t get that here: Everything’s connected and there are no layers to it. You just have a ton of information to deal with and characters who somehow manage to walk towards some sort of conclusion. When SAC’s big storylines ended you got a feeling of satisfaction since the heroes had managed to resolve this complicated situation. In the case of Arise’s storylines you just feel relief that despite all the complications the good guys had somehow done… something to put an end to something.

Also, isn’t it insane that this series exists? I mean, first they released the Arise-movie-series, then they release this series with extra footage and completely new episodes and then there’s also a new movie coming out. And it’s all directed by Kazuchika Kise and written by Tow Ubukata! No wonder the direction of this episode has been so lackluster! Apparently Production IG is ready to drown its audience in Ghost in the Shell stuff. Maybe they’ve realized that something being called Ghost in the Shell and somewhat being like Ghost in the Shell is enough to make a lot of money. So now they just want to produce new stuff as fast as they can. And there are a lot of younger people out there who probably haven’t even seen the SAC-stuff or the two Oshii-movies. For them Ghost in the Shell is just this famously great anime-franchise and so naturally they watch this new stuff. I guess, in the end Production IG will handle the Arise-series just like the SAC-series. They will support until it stops being a super-success and the creators probably will get tired too at some point. Making Ghost in the Shell isn’t your usual anime-project after all.

But for now, I will see how much worse the Arise-movies can get as they get turned into TV-episodes.

Episode-Rating: 5.5/10


About M0rg0th

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

Posted on April 13, 2015, in Anime, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Ghost in the Shell: Arise, Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid, Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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