Review-Roundup: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 15, Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu 03, Shokugeki no Soma 02/03
Guess, someone in the animation/art-department lacked the time to hand in their finest work…
This time I review:
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 15: Rin and Shirou wander onto a battlefield within a castle and… do nothing. Meanwhile, a little girl named Illyasviel is fighting for her life with a big, muscular dude called Heracles at her side. It goes poorly for her. Also, dramatic moments in the middle of a battle are the perfect moment to have flashbacks apparently!
Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu 03: The appearance of Haruhi turns this series into another very familiar series that coincidentally also has a main-character called Haruhi.
Shokugeki no Soma 02/03: Soma is a great cook. And he uses his great cooking-skills to challenge/antagonize everyone around him. Except when he forces innocent girls to taste his experimental stuff which will always lead to them feeling like they got tentacle-raped. Yep, that’s the hero of this series.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 15 Review:
Uhm, why again is Shinji still in this series…?
This series’ pacing is very strange and uneven. There are episodes where a couple scenes take over a whole episode and then there are episodes that cover a lot of time in a very utilitarian manner. And you never quite know what kind of pacing you get when you start an episode. It seems almost arbitrary what the series thinks it needs to devote an entire episode to and what can just get one scene before the story moves on. For example, take the opening-episode of this second half with its odd pacing. There, the betrayal of Archer wasn’t the key-moment the entire episode focused on. From Rin and Shirou solidifying their alliance to said betrayal to Shirou and Rin having a romantic scene you got an episode with a ton of plot. But then you also get episodes like when Shirou, Archer and Caster had this confrontation with VERY drawn-out dialogues. This episode does the same thing in terms of pacing, although the writing is more effective this time around.
That said, the writing in this episode is still very mediocre. The writers are clearly cutting corners here in terms of exposition, plot and story. The episode already starts out with a really embarrassing scene. Rin and Shirou approach the Einzberg-Castle and hear sounds of fighting. The “camera” cuts back to showing Shirou and Rin stand in a forest and that’s when Rin urgently says “Going through the front-door is too dangerous. We should enter through there.”. Rin leaves the screen and the camera lingers on Shirou’s face as he looks grim and whatnot. Then the OP starts. What the fuck?! How do they enter the castle?! The next time we see them they’re already inside… somewhere (who knows where they are in the castle and how they got there). You could say “Hey, it wasn’t necessary to see that.” which is okay to say except by that logic the scene before the OP isn’t necessary as well. The last episode already established where they were headed. So if this episode doesn’t want to tell the audience how they enter the castle then they might as well just appear inside the castle at some point. Well, I could imagine some producer (or the director or whoever) whining about “But what if someone in the audience hadn’t seen the last episode or had forgotten what Rin and Shirou are up to…?” which could also explain this stupid scene before the OP. Ergh, this is a series that’s generally better served to have 45-minutes-episodes but then it also has these simply time-wasting scenes from time to time.
What is more surprising is that with Shirou and Rin being sidelined the Illyasviel-story-arc of this episode works pretty well actually. Again, I felt like you could’ve easily written a whole episode around the story presented in those flashbacks but what this episode serves its purpose. That purpose being the setup for the death-scene of Berserker and Illyasviel (although who knows, maybe she will survive). Of course, there’s always the danger of that not being enough for a particular member of the audience. I mean, who can blame such a person? It isn’t like the series EVER tried to create any sort of emotional investment for the well-being of Berserker and Illyasviel prior to this episode. With flashbacks, dramatic battle and death-scene this episode forces a whole dramatic arc on you within the confines of one episode. That’s a little bit overwhelming in how this episode just dumps it all on you in the hopes that some of its shit will stick and make you feel stuff.
And it’s due to this overwhelming nature of the episode’s approach that the episode ends up working. It’s so blunt and immense in its portrayal of sacrifice and defeat that this episode does manage to hit the right notes at the right time. That doesn’t mean the episode is perfect. Far from it, this episode’s writing is mediocre at best and stuff like Shirou’s and Rin’s role in this episode feel more like a sacrifice the writers made to make this episode work than a purposeful choice. Who knows, maybe the next episode will be really fast-paced because of this episode. This series’ momentum is kinda weird. You never quite know where the series will linger and where it will just quickly move on. And with that odd pacing comes the uncertainty of who the main-character of this series is supposed to be. It’s like the series actually consider everyone in this series equally important while not having the time to actually commit to this ambition.
Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu 03 Review:
That’s probably the best line of the episode.
This spin-off is on the way to get buried by its references to the main-series. The introduction of Haruhi has turned this episode into a rather familiar Haruhi-Suzumiya-episode – but one with a slightly different setup. Except that, though, this episode is repeating the same beats that defined the original Haruhi-Suzumiya-series.
The question of how much one will like this series certainly depends on what one expects this spin-off to do. In this case, it’s a spin-off in an alternate-reality-sense where the world is slightly different while the characters remain the same at heart. And the only thing so far that has helped this spin-off to establish some personality is the bigger focus on romance. In this series, Koizumi bluntly tells Kyon that he’s in love with Haruhi. And scenes like Nagato worrying about her hair after Kyon went out of his way to suggest to Haruhi that a ponytail would look better are what the series should be about. This is a series about a shy girl trying to build up the courage to win the heart of the one she loves. All this Haruhi-stuff is becoming more of a distraction at this point.
It certainly doesn’t help that the romance in this series is so far characterized by its oblivious drama and lack of development. This series has already established that Nagato likes Kyon and what this series is doing to advance that romance, or I guess, NOT advance that romance is the same excuse every time thematically: Nagato is shy. That’s all there is to it! Despite how often this series throws romantic scenes at the viewer, none of them will succeed if they stay this repetitive!
Take the scene for example where Haruhi thinks that Nagato is Kyon’s girlfriend and then the series does this little bit about Nagato having a late reaction, then exaggerating how distant her relationship is with Kyon and then she’s being bashful about how Kyon tells her that she should simply call him a friend. On the surface this is fine. For a funny scene it certainly works. The scene nicely focuses on Nagato here by having her deliver the material for the jokes and she actually becomes the active part as her responses to Haruhi become more important than what Haruhi said to evoke that response. It’s a nice way to shift the dynamic from Haruhi being the main-character to Nagato being the main-character while being consistent in how they are characterized.
On the surface this scene is just fine! But thematically the series is already treading water here. You see, if this were the typical Haruhi-comedy-stuff, this would be fine. Most of Haruhi’s lighter moments value comedy more than plot-advancement. But the point of this spin-off is romance. And right now the only drama that keeps this romance from happening is Nagato not getting her shit together which is nice in funny scenes but is otherwise really boring. You need to see Nagato struggle to make her romance work. How else are you supposed to convince the audience to give a shit? Funny bits and being satisfied with almost immaterial babysteps aren’t enough.
I don’t care if it’s a love-triangle between Haruhi, Nagato or Kyon or if it’s Kyon being a dick in reaction to Nagato’s confession. This series just should do something that makes this romance interesting. Right now I couldn’t care less if this obvious romance works out or not. And making things interesting for the finale isn’t good enough. This series should burn through its obvious plot of having Nagato building up the courage to confess to Kyon early on. It isn’t like the series has much of a plot anyway besides some funny antics.
Hopefully this series will do something in the next episode to make the story spicier. Because right now it seems like this spin-off is essentially becoming a copy of the original series in a roundabout way.
Shokugeki no Soma 02/03 Review:
In this series cooking is something you use to DEFEAT those who eat said cooking apparently. This is necessary because the natural state of any recipient of cooked food is scepticism and/or hostility… according to this series.
There are two things this series’ original author Yuuto Tsukuda likes: Cooking and shounen-series. There’s no way in hell that this person doesn’t care about cooking. Even if you know basic structure of shounen-series such as this one it takes a lot of knowledge to create believable scenarios in this kind of setup. Of course I can’t judge whether any of the cooking-jargon and cooking-based plottwists are realistic but the series sets it up nicely. And that’s why this guy has to love shounen-series because most of the ludicrousness in this series is derived from people taking cooking WAY too serious. Actually, let’s say it’s less that they take it too serious; it’s more that cooking gets turned into some sort of battle-tournament.
I wonder what the author thinks the effect of his shounen-ification of cooking is supposed to be. Does he think he makes it more entertaining or is he self-aware enough to know just how ludicrous this approach to cooking is? So far EVERY time someone has cooked something for someone to eat it has been a contest between the cook and the eater. The person who eats in this series always does so with the intention of judging the meal. And the person who cooks always creates a meal with the purpose of overwhelming the eater with the awesomeness of the meal.
Clearly this series is less concerned about cooking and more about implementing the typical plot-mechanics of a shounen-series. In that regard, the series actually does a really good job. It’s all completely ludicrous but if you buy into the setup in terms of tone and plot, then this series is a really good example of how battle-shounen-series should look like. You know that the author understands battle-shounen when he’s capable of turning a cooking-school-dynamic that shouldn’t be this competitive/confrontational and transforms that stuff in really ludicrous ways. There’s no way anybody teaches cooking or learns cooking with the mindsets presented in this series. I mean, according to this series the purpose of a school is to single out “special ones” and just discard the rest by expelling them prematurely.
Already in terms of setup this series is overly confrontational. NOBODY likes Soma, the main-character. He’s more than just an outsider, he’s considered to be a parasite that needs to be fought. People try to sabotage his efforts to be successful just for the sake of satisfying their thirst for blatant pettiness. The series doesn’t doubt for a moment that Soma is the GREATEST COOK EVER! But the drama comes from the whole world wanting to believe that this isn’t true. The arrogant God’s-tongue-girl from the second episode and the pathetic dudes from the third episode are nothing more than obstacles for Soma. Those confrontations are all about overcoming them without consequences. After all, in neither case the obstacles end up mattering. Soma got into the school despite the tsundere’s disapproval and he cooked a great meal despite the pesky dudes sabotaging his cooking.
The way this series deals with its plot in these instances is through being talky and having Soma being confident AT ALL TIMES! Well, except when the series is trying to deliver comic-relief with how naïve and perverted he can be (I guess… not sure whether he’s purposefully making girls experience tentacle-rape or if he just doesn’t know how his own experimental cooking tastes). Usually, though, Soma’s this boisterous young cook who’s better than everyone else. He simply is.
And there’s this point where I’m not sure whether the author is aware of just HOW ludicrous this series is. Does he think he’s being witty and cool when Soma delivers stupid lines like that he has more experience cooking than the God’s-Tongue-girl because he held a kitchen-knife when he was three? I can certainly say that the director Yoshitomo Yonetani of this anime-adaptation doesn’t get this series. Just take this scene where the tsundere-girl declares her superior education but then Soma answers that he may not have attended some elite-school for a few years already but he had learned about cooking since he was three (I’m paraphrasing here), so in terms of years he has far more experience than her. Like I said, this is ludicrous. But it’s clear that the director of this series tries to frame this as Soma being awesome and cool – which he isn’t. This is a comedy above all else! After all, why should it matter that Soma held a kitchen-knife when he was three? That’s a really over-the-top perspective of how learning cooking works. And yet this anime’s director is forcefully trying to make this a “cool shounen-series”. It’s like the director is completely missing the point of the context of this series and just looks at the shounen-series-tropes without actually caring about the individual character of the series. The direction of this series is simply superficial. All the nuances of the great comedic writing of the manga are wasted by this blunt style. When someone watches this anime and doesn’t pay much attention, he’ll just see an average shounen-series with occasional funny bits. This series won’t work because the director clearly cares about making Soma seem like a badass while turning the series’ comedy-elements into practical stage-effects to relieve the tension.
This series is wasting a lot of its potential by concentrating on its more dramatic shounen-genre-elements while ignoring the oftentimes comedic subtext of such elements in this series. The presentation of this series as an anime actually seems to diminish the potential of its source-material. There’s a great comedy here and the adaptation treats it like an average shounen-series. The direction seems almost oblivious in relation to the metanarrative that gets presented in these three episodes. Shokugemi no Soma is full of absurdity and this adaptation doesn’t try to sell it. What this adaptation does is trying to turn the source-material into a formulaic adventure of some cocky kid who’s REALLY talented – which is a far less interesting story than what this series alludes to.
In the end, this series’ presentation makes this series out to be some sort of obstacle-race for Soma as he cooks great meals to overcome whatever the plot throws at him – which is a really uninteresting story. And the really sad thing is that it could be so much more.
Posted on April 18, 2015, in Anime, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu, Reviews, Shokugeki No Souma and tagged Anime, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma, Nagato Yuki-chan no Shōshitsu, review, Shokugeki no Sōma, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.