Review-Roundup: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 16/17, Nagato Yuki-Chan no Shoushitsu 04/05, Shokugeki no Soma 04/05
Tsundere are really the perfect stereotype for shounen-series like this one. They can be badass in dramatic moments but as far as the main-character is concerned the tsundere can be the most timid person ever.
This time I review:
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 16/17: Illyasviel gets a little goodbye-song from Rin and Shirou who barely knew her. They argue but with the help of Lancer resolve to take down Caster.
Nagato Yuki-Chan no Shoushitsu 04/05: It’s Valentine’s Day! So you know what that means! Girls give chocolate to guys they like! And of course this makes this the perfect moment for a love-triangle to emerge!
Shokugeki no Soma 04/05: Soma had announced that he wanted to become the best cook of the school… but it turns out things are a whole lot more complicating than expected. And of course, it’s all about power. Apparently even cooking is nothing more than a tool to gain power.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 16/17 Review:
And this character is still alive because… why?
It’s becoming clear that this show has a lot of plot and not enough time to tell a proper story. A good example of this is Illyasviel’s death which is essentially a very artificial one-two-punch. You have her fighting for her life, you get a flashback explaining what her deal is and then she dies followed by a sad aftermath. There’s nothing organic about how this episode and the last one deal with this. You just got a story going through the motions of selling its plot to the audience.
And that’s indicative of this whole adaptation. Watching it often feels like listening to someone tell you what happens in Fate/Stay Night. There’s this disconnect happening where you’re not connecting to the series itself but the way it presents itself and it’s that connection which informs the audience’s opinion. For example, questions like why things are happening are presented in this superficial way where characters simply become talking-heads when needed. Just take the scene between Rin and Shirou where they analyze Gilgamesh’s powers. Gilgamesh had already dropped hints about how his ability works and we’ve seen it in action in the battle with Berserker. The reason why Rin and Shirou simply become talking-heads at that point is because this exposition-heavy moment lacked any sort of style. And worse than that, the death of Illyasviel and the emotional scene from before seem to have been forgotten. It’s a scene that is purely functional. It isn’t charming or personal at all.
There’s a very questionable joke-y moment when Shirou and Rin can’t decide who will sacrifice him- or herself to save the other. It’s a nice reference to that earlier scene where Rin talks with Shirou about his “personal problems” but the implication of this joke-y moment is horrendous. The episode had just presented this emotional scene where Shriou seems vulnerable and honest for once caused by his beloved’s distress. And then you get a scene saying “Yeah, actually neither had really listened to each other.”. You would think that such a scene would be the perfect time to develop those characters but NOPE, no change whatsoever! And it doesn’t help that said later joke-y moment self-consciously makes fun of that. Shirou should know that Rin wouldn’t leave him behind and Rin should know that Shirou always wants to be the hero in any given situation. You know why they should know that? Because a frigging scene had JUST happened dealing with that! But that’s so typical of this adaptation: Information like what motivates Rin and Shirou are just that, information. The series barely does anything to use it for anything.
Aside from the characterization, the action itself also suffers from being overwhelmed by the plot. The confrontation between Archer, Shirou, Lancer and Team Caster should’ve been a tense confrontation but this series stuffs so much into the 17th episode that the episode never quite finds its bearings to properly deliver the dramatic arc of this confrontation. Instead the episode rushes from plot-point to plot-point without leaving any room to breathe for character-moments. Just take the duel between Archer and Lancer where the latter talked about how he dislikes Archer. But then Archer reveals that he had just been waiting for Caster to be occupied in order to betray her and Lancer’s like “Oh, so you’re that kind of bastard… well, I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. Bye.”. And Archer’s betrayal then leads to a rather anti-climactic end for Rin/Shirou’s battle with Caster and her Master. You barely get to feel terror for when Rin and Shirou’s plan falls apart before Archer simply saves the day.
Pacing is still one of the series’ biggest problems because it really seems like the plot is just this thing meandering from key-plotpoint to key-plotpoint. Either something important is happening in this show or anything that does happen is trying to set up what happens next. And character-moments are really nothing more than characters talking about themselves. Take the scene between Archer and Caster’s Master. Archer seeks out Caster’s Master because he wants to know what his deal is. That isn’t dynamic at all! In this show you NEVER think “Anything can happen now!”. With so many plots and so little time this show does a poor job of managing its various plot-threads and building up audience-investment. Like Saber’s imprisonment. I care about it on a hypothetical level but this show has done nothing to make this seem important. It’s more a thing of the “Shit happens”-variety if nothing else in this show.
This show has managed its story and plot so poorly for so long that it has lost the thread for what keeps this series going. I mean, in theory this series is about the relationship between Archer, Rin and Shirou (and what said relationship implies) but has the series actually given the audience any reason to give a shit recently? Archer’s betrayal was this limp plottwist that will make more sense in retrospect as far as thematical relevance goes and the romance between Shirou and Rin kinda only exists because the series said so. Rin’s just a tsundere falling for Shirou’s honest admiration and other than that Shirou is really just dragging her along on his personal crusade for uber-heroism. The series has all these various elements but does SO little to bring them together in some way. Whatever this show does thematically is very on-the-nose in how characters turn into talking-heads whenever the relevant topics come up. And other than that you’ve got a superficial Grail-War-plot that is just a catalyst for action and straightforward drama.
By just focusing on Rin and Shirou (who are supposedly the main-characters) this would be the Illyasviel-arc: Rin and Shirou decide to seek the help of Illyasviel. They go to her place. In a battle they watch Illyasviel dies. Rin/Shirou challenge Gilgamesh but he leaves (together with his obnoxious Master). Rin/Shirou bury Illyasviel, have an emotional moment and leave again. Rin and Shirou have done NOTHING! They might as well not have been there! So now think of a show that has to get through a ton of plot to tell its story. Would it be wise for such a show to spend two whole episodes for a speedrun of Illyasviel’s characterization and her tragic death? Sure, the 15th episode was actually kinda good but in the grand scheme of things on this show: Did it really matter whether the audience would’ve seen that or not? I mean, that idea is the reason why many Western movie-adaptations of novels end up cutting out stuff like that. You just do NOT have the time for that. And in this case this series doesn’t have the time for that stuff either – but it still tries to make time for it. And because of that the stuff that should really matter doesn’t get as much time as needed.
This has become a real plot-series. This series focuses more on what happens than why stuff is happening. Well, the series tries to explain why stuff happens, of course, but it does so in the driest way imaginable and those explanations use up a lot of time in the quiet moments. Due to a lack of time this series has to be SO pragmatic with what it does with its quiet scenes that there’s barely any sense of personality present. The point of this series, the relationship between Rin, Shirou and Archer, only exists as this intangible hypothesis that disappears for long stretches of time and then only surfaces when it’s convenient for the story.
In a visual novel you can do this sort of plot-structure. You have this string of events that will happen without the protagonist’s involvement but then you, as the protagonist, make decisions and fuck with that with that planned timeline. And so when you get around to situations like in the 17th episode you can think “I caused this with my decisions.”. This series doesn’t have that luxury of course. It has to sell Shirou as a character to audience without them participating. And the solution this adaptation seems to come up with is to portray things in perfunctory way while leaving it to the audience to figure out whether they should give a shit about what’s happening. This series never had never really managed to get its shit together so far. All it focuses on is what happens next and not why it happens.
Nagato Yuki-Chan no Shoushitsu 04/05 Review:
Of course, love is at its most romantic when it turns into a competition. After all, there’s NO way to make a romance dramatic without creating some sort of love-triangle!
This was supposed to air during the winter-season, wasn’t it? First a Christmas-episode, then this little Valentines’ Day arc… Either the production for this anime is fucked up or nobody realized that this adaptation clearly references events that would fall into the winter-season-category or the team behind the anime-series missed a deadline or two. Or they got fucked over in some other way… who knows. It’s just so weird to see this anime with all these out-of-date seasonal references while other series just can’t shut up talking about spring. I mean, you don’t need to air an anime in the spring-season for spring-references, of course, (because God forbid you would start a school-anime with anything but a spring-setting) but a lot of the plot in these five episodes has been really focused on the winter-season. It would just seem more fitting to air a series like that in the winter-season. You know, it’s all about creating some synergy between what the audience experiences and what happens in the series. Especially since the season-stuff in this series is more a plot-thingy than a story-thingy. This series doesn’t have some exposition-scene about how important Christmas supposedly is and Valentine’s Day isn’t some mythical event. What the series does with that stuff is really just to use these events as slice-of-life-plot-hooks the characters have to react to. It’s simply that nobody cares why Christmas and Valentine’s Day is happening. The characters simply accept these cultural traditions and the focus is on the characters dealing with those traditions. And so this series kinda goes out of its way to use those winter-y stuff as plothooks.
What makes thing even weirder for me is that I actually kinda liked the 4th and 5th episode. There are still some problems but this Valentine’s-Day-arc is showing more commitment to the romance-premise of the show than previous episodes. Whenever this series tries to mimic the comedy-beats of The Melancholy Of Suzumiya Haruhi it quickly gets derailed by familiar characters repeating familiar character-beats. Actually if you think about it this series is a REALLY bad idea. It’s like one of those What-if-trailers you can find on Youtube where comedies get trailers that make them seem like serious dramas or horror-films. But in this case someone has committed an entire series to this What-if-scenario. And so you gotta wonder whether one actually can work with all these elements that were created with totally different priorities in mind. This series is supposed to be a romance-series but whenever the characters don’t pursue a romantic plot, the series poignantly falls back into these absurd comedy-rhythms of the original series. And so an arc like the Valentine’s-Day-one is perfect because it’s mostly committed to the romance-premise of this series.
Especially with characters that are more comedic in nature than dramatic a lot of the romance relies on romantic tension. In romance-series love is always a battlefield and it’s the enemy which determines where the romance is going plot-wise. Maybe it’s about finding the “right one” or it’s about holding onto the already found “right one” or it’s about charming the “right one”. Of course, those are only the options if the love is true but you could also subvert the whole thing with a few more skeptical notions of what love is. And with reality usually being less kind than your average romance-story, it’s easy to think of that as the more “believable” take on love. But this series clearly believes in true love and this being a romance-series as well, it’s doubtful this series will ever add complexity to its love-equation.
What it does add is as predictable as it can become very tiresome: Haruhi, Nagato and Kyon become a love-triangle. There’s a nice scene with Haruhi and Kyon which shows nicely why Haruhi has took a liking to Kyon. And the series has already covered why Nagato likes Kyon. But I have to say that currently Haruhi’s reason for loving Kyon is more compelling than Nagato’s (at least as this series presents it). Haruhi is this uber-eccentric running around doing crazy stuff for crazy stuff and she just keeps yelling people, giving them commands while never actually trying to connect to them on a personal level. But here comes this guy who just ignores all that bullshit and says “What you’re doing is kinda stupid.” but despite that he listens to her and stays by her side. It’s just the simply equation of a weird girl being lonely and some chill dude accepting her craziness. Meanwhile, Nagato has lost the alien-angle and her emotionless-girl-gimmick and all you’re left with is a shy girl falling in love with a guy who obviously gives a shit about her and… the girl’s too shy to make a move. That’s all there’s to it. Haruhi isn’t a very compelling character in how she presents herself but her characterization certainly is more interesting than Nagato’s.
The protagonist of the original Haruhi-series had Kyon as the protagonist and so any romance that existed was presented from his perspective. It wasn’t very compelling stuff but the romance-stuff was B-plot-“will they, won’t they”-material in the original Haruhi-series. Now the series is focusing on the perspective of Nagato and Haruhi clearly which is a good idea for a spin-off like this one but what this series is doing with Kyon worries me. I like the idea of Kyon as a character. The totally average male student who reacts to the extraordinary world he lives in with sloth-like skepticism and exasperation. But you have to ground this in something. I mean, right now Kyon doesn’t seem like a character, he’s just a bunch of disconnected ideas that amount to a trophy-dude the girls in this series can chase. As a romance-series it’s important for both sides of the romantic equation to have some agency. The romance in this series won’t seem very dynamic when Kyon has just to play his role while passively waiting for the girls to make their romantic advances.
At the start of the series, I was like “Okay, this series has NO tangible romantic tension whatsoever.” as Nagato loved Kyon and he loved her kinda too but Nagato’s boring character-gimmick was all that stood between them. Now the series has gained some romantic tension at least and it now can introduce some romantic drama to the series. What’s still missing is to make the romantic drama relatable. The series covered why Nagato and Haruhi have become part of the drama but what’s for Kyon at stake? The Valentine’s-Day-arc does a really good job of showing Haruhi, Nagato and Kyon entering a love-triangle-relationship but the series still hasn’t done enough to turn this into a compelling plot. After all, sure, Nagato and Haruhi are rivals now – but so what? This series hasn’t really made a case for whether this changes anything between Nagato and Kyon. The dude in the love-triangle is the obvious weak link here and I hope that the series won’t waste time dwelling on silly comedy-stuff next week.
Shokugeki no Soma 04/05 Review:
“Ten students to rule them all”, I guess. This is quite a school for mercilessly putting students into this Machiavellian scenario. Makes you wonder whether this school is preparing kids to be great cooks or great sociopaths.
This is a series with great comedic moments that this series doesn’t commit to. For all its comedic absurdity this is still a very formulaic shounen-series. You would think that the series that would go that far with its absurdity would at least become a parody at least if not a satire. But from the looks of it this series tries to take all the stereotypical shounen-stuff pretty serious. Underneath the absurd comedy you’ve got the most generic kind of shounen-series here.
Most of the plot-mechanisms in this series work like clockwork so far. And the mechanisms are fairly predictable for anyone familiar with the shounen-genre. You’ve got a firm power-based hierarchy, you’ve got the talented rebel upsetting the status quo, you’ve got an underdog-philosophy associated with the rebel, you’ve got a setting-based setup for one-on-one-duels and you’ve got a whole lot of technical talk about how awesome the strong characters are. Also… of course, the actual setting-template is a high-school. There’s nothing original about this and the only saving grace is that the author clearly has a very good understanding of how these tropes work. Despite that, though, everything’s pretty much straightforward and all these tropes get used barely without a hint of self-awareness.
And this lack of self-awareness is SO frustrating in this series! This series can be pretty ridiculous but you never get the sense that any character takes the position of the audience and tries to put the events into perspective. The characters and their little cooking-based setting exist in their own little bubble. Of course, that’s how animes usually portray schools anyway. Schools are a refuge from reality that exemplifies an idealized version of the outside-world. I mean, just look at Owari no Seraph where all the setup of vampires, death, gore, tragedy and apocalypse leads to the main-character attending classes in a stereotypical school-setting. In a school-setting the drama can easily get turned into a soap-opera without heavy drama. You seldom get drama like a girl saying she had a one-night-stand, found out she got pregnant and now doesn’t know what to do with her life anymore. By keeping things within the paradisiacal school-setting the drama becomes sentimental and soft. And that’s exactly what this series’ problem is: It’s just too soft.
Characters take cooking SO serious in this series which is as absurd as it is funny as it is entertaining – but it’s pointless. All this series does thematically is to go through all the old shounen-tropes using cooking as a premise. This series hasn’t presented any reason why it needs to talk about cooking. You might as well rewrite the whole series as a martial-arts-series. Personally I would say it’s part of the joke that the series is using cooking in such a way in this story but… seriously, the series does NOTHING interesting with this premise. The world-building just sucks in this series. Shokugeki no Soma isolates itself from the real world to such a degree that its story just seems irrelevant. The style of the series is the typical over-the-top-approach but why should anyone give a shit about cooking? What’s the point of cooking this series is trying to get at? Right now cooking seems like a lot of flashiness and posturing (which includes lengthy exposition on how a particular meal got cooked and a hallucinatory sequence which is usually used for fanservice). There just isn’t enough pathos in this series right now.
And the weirdest thing is that there’s ton of story-material in this series but this series simply ignores it. By being so ignorant of reality this series seems to ignore obvious story-beats on purpose. For example, the relationship between Soma and his dad is simply ripe for some good drama. But Soma never makes a big deal out of his relationship with his dad. In fact, Soma tries to rationalize his dad’s decision to leave him suddenly. And Soma immediately embraces his dad’s order to attend this elite-cooking-school. This is a very poignant moment of where you would think that this would be a great character-beat to make fun of but instead this series treats it like any other stereotypical shounen-series would and all of a sudden Soma’s attitude is considered to be heroic. In such moments this series is more interested in recreating shounen-series-tropes than actually playing with such tropes in interesting ways.
Shokugeki no Soma has a very energetic presentation which makes it one of the better battle-shounen-series out there. It also helps that some of its comedic moments are quite absurd and work pretty well. You can’t help but notice, though, that the series kinda doesn’t want to do anything interesting with its style and premise. This series simply doesn’t do enough right now to actually distinguish itself from any other battle-shounen-series. Right now this series is just a decent interpretation of predictable shounen-series-tropes. A lot of this series’ storytelling right now seems to be by-the-numbers. It’s generic shit supported by decent writing. Mostly it’s because the series just doesn’t decide whether it wants to be a straightforward shounen-series with comedy or an absurd comedy-series with battle-shounen-elements. It simply isn’t clear what this series is getting at right now…!What’s the fucking point of this series?!
Posted on May 3, 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. 6 Comments.