Review-Roundup: Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 19/20, Shokugeki no Soma 06-08, Sidonia no Kishi S2 05-07, Hibike! Euphonium 07/08
Yep, two whole episodes of fighting and arguing because two dickheads are just too frigging stubborn to find a compromise.
This time I review:
F/SN: UBW 19/20: Shirou and Archer finally meet in battle which naturally means… A lot of talking! Meanwhile Rin has the most tumultuous damsel-in-distress-arc imaginable.
Shokugeki no Soma 06-08: Soma can do no wrong! And apparently the best kind of school might as well be a tournament in disguise.
Sidonia no Kishi S2 05-07: Tsumugi, Izana and Tanake are having a jolly good time! Meanwhile, evil people do evil stuff with somewhat disastrous results! And those two things barely have anything to do with each other. Talk about plot-synergy!
Hibike! Euphonium 07/08: What do you do as a teenager when you’re not devoting yourself to playing music? Of course, you study! Or you go on a date! As far as teenage-life-tropes go not the most imaginative choices. Maybe the vague romantic tension between two girls will spice things up – is what the script-writers probably thought.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 19/20 Review:
Shirou obviously wins the argument because he realizes that the truth isn’t something you find with the help of your head but with the help of your gut. You don’t think with your head to find out what’s right, you think with your gut!
Once again the series comes to a screeching halt because the overwhelming need for exposition has become too great for this series to bear once again. The series already has to deal with a ton of plot that outstrips this series’ 2-cours-run and so a lot of episodes have done a lot to push the plot forward and rarely with great success. Stuff happens but the build-up to that stuff is lackluster and the whole thing is over before you fully understand its importance anyway. But finally the series had to stop with this type of storytelling because we’ve gotten to a thematically important confrontation in this series. Archer and Shirou finally meet in battle for real and the first thing that happens is… that Archer delivers a VERY long speech. And then an episode later… Shirou delivers a lengthy… something… He talks a lot in contrast to being almost silent the previous episode, I mean.
Already ignoring all the story-details and looking at it abstractly, you know that the script-writing is weak. If a certain confrontation is the whole point of a series, then said confrontation shouldn’t start with a character offering a lengthy explanation for why that certain confrontation matters. Better yet one would tie it to comprehensive character-arcs which would make it easier to understand what each character’s standpoint is. By clarifying the theme that characterizes the confrontation you know what’s at stake in terms of ideology and also by offering a sensible plot-excuse for the confrontation that ties into the current storyline you give the battle stakes beyond the thematic questions. If that’s what the series should’ve ideally done then these two episodes are basically a very shoddy execution of all those points.
Characterization is the first problem here. Archer and Shirou have no character-arcs in relation to their conflict. Both their viewpoints are set in stone right from the beginning. Archer’s and Shirou’s ideologies couldn’t be more different and they have gotten into fights with each other again and again over the course of this series but none of it mattered. By treating Archer’s identity as this big mystery the series always kept those confrontations from becoming too serious. Also, Shirou’s idealistic blindness didn’t help either. Until now the series never really wanted to talk about Archer’s motivation and in regards to Shirou… well, he’s the good guy and Archer doesn’t like that. It’s kinda amazing to see how this lengthy speech from Archer with really good points simply gets shot down by Shirou because he… is a fanatical asshole or something like that…?
I mean, on a character-level it’s already problematic how static Shirou and Archer are but what takes the cake is that NO dialogue happens in these two episode. Archer’s the cynic who having followed Shirou’s path has become a lifeless shell compared to his former self and the flashbacks did a decent job of portraying that (although that’s definitely something an entire episode should’ve been devoted to as those flashbacks really aren’t enough to show the growing existential despair of Archer). Meanwhile, Shirou’s idealistic stubbornness has been taken to the extreme in the following episode. Archer’s having this long speech to present his point of view and Shriou’s just shooting it down by basically telling Archer to go fuck himself. Really, it’s just Archer saying “Your ideals are fucked up, Shirou.” and Shirou replying “Fuck you! Let’s fight!”. There was a hint there when Shirou remembers his past and how that motivated him to become this self-obsessed idealistic jerk. In a good script the episode would’ve made a case for both sides like Archer saying “I have lived the life of a hero and let me tell you, it sucked!” and Shirou saying “I have experienced a big catastrophe without heroes being there to help people and let me tell you, it sucked!”. But there’s none of that in this episode. All this talking and Shirou and Archer barely have a dialogue. Actually despite Saber’s presence one might as well consider Archer’s speech to be a monologue in the 19th episode while the 20th episode just ends up rehashing the same old argument Archer and Shirou had from the beginning. That’s how much that whole thing hasn’t been a dialogue! And so you wonder what the thematic relevance is supposed to be. Of course you find it easily but since Archer simply has simply given a long speech about it to explain the thematic relevance, the whole thing feels very dry and on-the-nose. What Archer has done in the 19th episode might be easily described as “message-time” because of how preachy the setup is.
Which brings me to the plot… Now that I think about it the series has never made a big deal out of the fact that both Masters and Servants are fighting in the Grail-War to eventually get a wish fulfilled. It gets occasionally mentioned but it doesn’t have any dramatic weight. Winning the Grail never seems like a big deal in this series. From the very beginning the series settled on Rin and Shirou trying to do good and all the conflicts after that started because of how other people attacked them, attacked innocents and from there it just became “Everyone who doesn’t want to be friends is against us.”. The Grail-War seems almost incidental in this series. It’s more of a lame plot-hook than the influential plot-element it should be. This series has never been very good at worldbuilding but in episodes like these where the particulars of the Grail-War become important, it’s weird how undramatic the whole thing feels. Stuff like Kirei revealing himself, Rin being designated to become the vessel for the grail and Saber talking about her wish: All that stuff feels incidental. There isn’t any drama attached to that worldbuilding. What the drama has actually attached itself to is a very simplistic plot of good vs. evil where Shirou is the good guy who somehow needs to save the day against the odds.
That’s really all there is to it currently. All that fancy worldbuilding that gets thrown around in this episode is thank to poor writing nearly meaningless. Essentially the whole series has a lot of stuff that simply seems meaningless in how it got presented and in how the series never found either the time or the right story-beats to pay proper attention to it.
Shokugeki no Soma 06-08 Review:
I think someone should tell these people to look up education in the dictionary. You don’t go to school to beat the shit out of everyone so that you can reign supreme.
Absurdity is a creative challenge. You try to sell something that upsets the viewer in some capacity by adding a subtext to the absurdity. It’s like you’re constantly angling for the plottwist no one in the audience thought was possible. Absurdity leads to a bigger involvement of the audience as they try to comprehend the absurdity and said ‘understanding’ can then be used by the story to make a point, either comedic or dramatic in nature. Shokugeki no Soma IS absurd and it has plenty of moments which are simply absurd and yet… this isn’t the absurd comedy-series you would think it would be.
This is a perfect example of what a series with a good premise and no vision ends up doing. In the end all this series does is establish patterns and then it repeats them ad nauseam. The author will search for a little meaningless twist each time to keep things somewhat fresh but essentially the series will be turned into a formula with a number of set ingredients. Even at this stage after eight episodes the feeling of the series “going through the motions” has already set in. The inherent absurdity in the series gets chained here to the battle-shounen-tropes of the series and it’s clear how those tropes limit this series’ vision. Instead of using the absurd premise and comedy-style to expand and deepen the battle-shounen-tropes, said tropes limit the effectiveness of the absurdity.
And what’s REALLY weird in this instance is just HOW fucking absurd this series is! The series has the usual school-setting – but it isn’t a school! No matter what this series calls it, this is clearly a competitive tournament-setting! And in the 8th episode the series throws this familiar trope of a school-trip at the audience but immediately adds that it’s actually just another setup for a contest. But there’s no self-awareness here! That’s what disturbs me the most. There are all these obvious absurd comedic moments and the series plays it all with a straight face. When it’s revealed that the school-trip will just lead to more contests and chances to get expelled, the joke isn’t why anyone would then still pretend to call it a school-trip (seriously, if everybody knows that the school-trip is just a pretense for more essential cooking-skill-tests, then why does anyone even pretend to call it a school-trip…?), it’s that Soma doesn’t get frightened by this discovery (and there are a couple of other character-related bits as well). The punchline for that scene is just watching various characters having characteristic reactions to this discovery and to each other. But the actual absurd thingy simply gets accepted. I don’t know whether it’s the script or the director who completely misunderstood what’s going on in this series, but moments like these simply seem like a waste of potential. This series commits to all the battle-shounen-tropes without any sense of humor while building this comedic atmosphere within the confines of said tropes… while at the same time ignoring that the original premise has rendered even the battle-shounen-stuff absurd.
After eight episodes a lot of things start to get tiresome thanks to this storytelling-mismanagement. Soma can’t do NO wrong. And his character’s flaws are used exclusively for lighthearted humor. In serious situations Soma just simply is an omnipotent cook who can cook whatever in some awesome way that will knock out whoever dares to challenge his cooking-skills. At this point, I’m really like “Just quit school and open your own restaurant already.”. The series has set up no realistic stakes for Soma as a character. Right now Megumi seems more interesting as a character (despite her lame “I’m REALLY nervous, like all the time”-shtick) because the series has at least offered her an obstacle that isn’t just people delaying her eventual confrontation with the god-king of cooking. With Soma the only tangible excitement you have is him taking on legendary cooks. You only need to look at a series like Akagi as to how this stuff works. If your protagonist is supposed to be infallible and the setting is competitive, what you need are ridiculous stakes and even more ridiculous plottwists which will turn around the tables again and again. With a really absurd setting, an overly powerful protagonist and a competitive plot-structure, then you need to hit for the fences with the ridiculousness. And the series just isn’t ridiculous enough to be entertaining!
Of course, that only applies to a dramatic route. The series could easily be turned into a full-on comedy, like learning cooking-techniques by fighting bears or learning to cook Donburis by joining a Yakuza-gang for a week. It’s the sort of stuff that would give this series room for better jokes. You could still have all the battle-shounen-tropes but now they are part of the joke instead of the joke being how the characters react to the battle-shounen-stuff.
The perfect example for how dysfunctional this series’ tone is the opening of the eighth episode. There a bunch of teachers sit in a darkened room with the blinds closed and that one cook we’ve seen before in the before conspiratorially looks through the blinds (revealing that this scene is happening in the middle of the day) and the teachers are having this ominous discussion about what awaits the students on the school-trip. That scene is completely absurd but soundtrack, direction and voice-acting all beg you to take this scene serious. It’s SO easy to make this scene funny because of how unbelievable it is.
And yet it seems that this series by valuing its battle-shounen-tropes higher than its comedy-tropes has simply decided to become a fantasy-series. Indeed, Shokugeki no Soma is a fantasy-series. Of course the series doesn’t have magic, dragons or knights but whenever the series launches one of those lengthy congratulatory cooking-exposition-sessions, the series might as well say “because… magic!”. The fantastical after all is more than just having supernatural stuff, it’s the story’s ability to make you wonder for a moment whether something’s really happening in a story, to evoke this sense of wonder that for a moment makes you believe in magic before the disbelief sets in. That’s what you strive for with the fantastical. And as complicated as some fantasy-novels’ magic-system can be (like any Brandon-Sanderson-fantasy-novel for example), the cooking in this series is just as complicated and full of wonder.
Not that the series’ execution is especially great in evoking such a sense of wonder but the way cooking gets used here clearly tries to evoke that feeling. Actually more than evoking an emotional reaction in the viewer, the series instead obviously portrays that by including a ton of exposition accompanied by visual bits to support it. The series doesn’t even wait for the audience to have a reaction or to let the exposition talk for itself. It just throws that stuff at you without making a case for why anyone should give a shit what this series has to say about cooking.
Ultimately there’s a fundamental problem here in how this series presents itself. It isn’t dramatic enough to be taken seriously, it isn’t funny enough to be considered entertaining and its story-material gets delivered without any finesse. Just by looking at its premise this shouldn’t just be another bland battle-shounen-series but that’s exactly what this is becoming. I honestly hope that the manga is better than this! Right now the show is starting to become so formulaic and bland that it feels like the show’s daring the audience to stop caring and just come each week for a short dose of superficial drama and stupid jokes without ever really thinking about the series beyond watching it weekly. You can say that this series is becoming comfort-food – and it’s the cheap kind.
Sidonia no Kishi 05-07 Review:
Tsumugi has quickly become a really charming characters on this show.
Sidonia no Kishi’s premise has always doomed its plot to feel sort-of incidental. Its story is one with little meaningfulness beyond the stark notions of survival and heroism. By relying so much on its characters and its limited setting the series has started to reach the point where it’s spinning its wheels just to create drama. And this process has been sped up immeasurably by the series refusal to widen its scope. The cast of this series is large and varied but it hasn’t changed in a long time. Characters have died but there haven’t been a lot of new characters to replace them. The villainous threat of this season even arrived by replacing characters we know. By limiting in such a way this series has had little opportunity to not make it obvious how meaningless most of its storytelling is.
The series is very similar to the newer Battlestar Galactica series in how its story paces itself. First, it’s just the fight for survival against a dangerous foe, but at some point the series starts to throw curveballs at the audience to keep their attention. Finding survivors somewhere, settling on a not-so-great plant and in the end it finishes the story with mythology. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this series take a similar path. But with that said, Sidonia no Kishi isn’t a copycat of that Battlestar Galactica series as so much one with similar storyelements that naturally lead to some similar creative decisions. The whole idea of Ochiai’s chimera-technology is one such example of the series trying to keep the audience’s interest as the old formula of simple survival is starting to get old.
Where this series falters, though, is in creating momentum. The arrival of the villains doesn’t so much drive the action but rather have their own storyline that occasionally comes into contact with the good guys’ storyline. There isn’t a whole lot of drama present in this series these days and its tension is light and inconsequential. Right now the series clearly shows us two storylines: One is the story of Nagato, Izana and Tsumugi having a nice time and the other story is the villains conspiring to create dangerous technology. Both are stories without goals. In the case of the former it’s basically just a pleasant slice-of-life-comedy and in the case of the latter it isn’t really clear what the point of the whole thing is supposed to be beyond being ruthless people doing dangerous stuff and innocents suffering the consequences of that.
The idea of Sidonia trying to take on a large Hive-Cluster with the Chimera-technology and the idea of maybe trying to converse with the Gauna instead of fighting them remain vague and nebulous at best in how relevant they should be to the viewer. Maybe the series wants to confront these two extremes of discourse at some point, but right now you just see characters occasionally muttering these ideas bluntly without actually discussing them. And since the series has eschewed any ambitions to explore a mythology up to this point, the series’ ideals remain wishy-washy moralizing.
At least the series doesn’t fall apart completely since the slice-of-life-portions are actually pleasant. The lack of expansion in the cast has led to a good exploration of the individual characterizations and so quiet scenes like Nagate, Izana and Tsumugi fooling around actually work and seem believable from a character-standpoint. It certainly helps that Tsumugi despite her amorphous shape is an adorable moe-blob. Actually she’s one of the better moeblobs I’ve seen in animes. There are a couple things which make her a good moeblob instead of an obnoxious one: 1. She talks. 2. She doesn’t have a stupid catchphrase or adds some stupid “moe-suffix” to her sentences. 3. Her personality is energetic and innocent but she isn’t overly naïve and ditzy. 4. The voice-acting nails that character (but then again, I doubt that the current anime-industry would even accept a voice-actress who can’t voice a moe-character).
Tsumugi’s actually one of the few new characters in this season and she’s a nice addition to the cast – although a not very interesting one. Tsumugi isn’t a very subtle or complex character and while her charm has helped a great deal in integrating her into the storylines of Nagate and so on, it has left that character with little room to be ambiguous. And one can probably say the same about the evil characters in this season. This season doesn’t leave a lot to the viewer’s imagination who you’re supposed to root for and who against.
The simple problem this series faces right now is that essentially nothing’s happening. At least it feels like that. The story is structured in such a way that nothing REALLY dramatic happens and instead all you’ve got are premonitions and little incidents building up for the sake of such a dramatic event. But this series has done this for so long now that it’s starting to get tiresome to follow good guys and bad guys doing their thing without actually having a conflict. If the next episode is just all about the good guys goofing around and the bad guys trying to do bad shit, then the series endangers itself to lose the audience’s interest for when the drama actually starts to happen.
Hibike! Euphonium 07/08 Review:
Still the best character of the show.
Somehow this series always seems to find the path of least resistance despite all the drama it conjures. Where you would expect conflicts to happen the series just moves its characters around as if they were pieces on a chess-board in order to dodge another dramatic situation. When you follow the plotlines for the individual characters in this series you usually get to see the hint of drama leading to a tense moment that then quickly finds a reason to relieve the tension and let the story move on without a big incident which has to be dealt with.
One flaw that’s increasingly becoming an issue for this series is the feeling that there’s no commitment here. It’s especially in the resolution-parts of the individual dramatic scenes where it’s often baffling just how easy it is for the characters to forgive, cut their losses and move on. The scene with the girl from episode 07 who quit the ensemble has been a good example of that. Here’s this girl who goes to cram-school and ensemble-practice but basically is unable to juggle both these things and so she has to decide. And everybody wants her to stay because naturally this series prioritizes music as an essential part of the students’ life but this girl has different priorities. Then you come to this scene where the teacher is bluntly telling her that she isn’t good enough to play in the ensemble if she doesn’t improve soon. Here, the series could turn this character’s motivations, the ensemble’s ambitions and the teacher’s expectations into a full-blown character-arc but instead this girl just stands up and confidently proclaims that she will leave the ensemble citing her different priorities as a reason. All the series does after that is to further elaborate on the logic behind this decision but it never turns into a discourse. Instead it’s more or less just this girl saying goodbye.
Of course, there’s something like too much as well, where the series would turn this same little story-arc into an overblown operatic cheesefest. But Hibike Euphonium almost does too little here to even make a point. This story-arc doesn’t so much fall and rise with the tension and resolution, it more or less just suddenly appears and then gently drifts into non-existence. Her decision to leave just gets used as this inessential storytelling-tool to underline the pressure provided by the teacher’s announcement that there would be auditions. You could cut out this whole portion of her having troubles which lead to her leading and it wouldn’t make a difference. The way the episode tells her story is competently handled as always but the tone is so calm and lullaby-like that it ends up being not a very affecting story.
And sadly this lullaby-like tone influences the love-triangle of Shuichi, Hazuki and Kumiko as well in the 8th episode. Once again the series comes up for a reason to not only avoid the maximum-drama-scenario but it also quickly resolves whatever little drama did exist. The confession-scene with Hazuki and Shuichi can only be described as anticlimactic in how it turned out. It’s a bit strange to see just how understated the resolution for this emotional conflict is.
More than that, things start to get a little confusing when you watch the “date-scne” of Kousaka and Kumiko parallel to that. That scene most certainly felt like Kousaka was also confessing to Kumiko in the same way Hazuki confessed to Shuichi. Actually, if you just look at this episode the sensible pairing would be for Kumiko to actually start a relationship with Kousaka. One of the big things Kousaka talked about in regards to Kumiko was that behind her good-girl-façade she hides a rather cynical personality and the series has already established that the only time she really shows that is when she’s together with Shuichi but there are also hints of that when she’s together with Kousaka. If anything I would say that currently there isn’t only a love-triangle between Kumiko, Shuichi and Hazuki, but there’s also one between Shuichi, Kousaka and Kumiko.
I’ve already said that this episode certainly made it seem like a relationship between Kousaka and Kumiko would be the sensible choice as far as a romantic sub-plot is concerned but Shuichi is clearly in love with Kumiko. And here’s the thing: I’ve also said that this series likes to find the path of least resistance. Kumiko actually not returning Shuichi’s feelings would create a fuss. This series doesn’t like to make a fuss about anything! Therefore I imagine the series will avoid any sort of yuri-content and instead just turn the romantic sub-plot into Kumiko needing to learn that secretly she has always been in love with Shuichi.
Another thing that makes me worry is the pacing. I really hope that the series has a second season but I don’t think that this series can’t end with the ensemble being at the Nationals with the pacing it currently has. Then again, it could just end with the characters starting to play at the Nationals and letting this open end speak for itself. It’s just that it’s hard to see how this series will get anywhere significant with only three or so episodes left.
Posted on May 26, 2015, in Anime, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Hibike! Euphonium, Reviews, Shokugeki No Souma, Sidonia no Kishi and tagged Anime, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma, Hibike! Euphonium, Knights of Sidonia, Knights of Sidonia: Battle for Planet Nine, reviews, Shokugeki no Sōma, sidonia no kishi, Sound! Euphonium. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.