Review-Roundup: ERASED 04, Schwarzes Marken 01-04, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 04

[HorribleSubs] Schwarzesmarken - 03 [480p].mkv - 00004That certainly looks awkward…

This time I review:

Erased 04: Satoru continues his personal, secret crusade to save Kayo by aggressively courting her.

Schwarzes Marken 01-04: After this little spat called WWII Germany was split in half. Like in any good bad-cop/good-cop-routine one of them was nice and the other was an asshole. East-Germany was the latter and their bad cops were called the Stasi. Oh, and aliens kick everyone’s asses. But wait… it gets better! One asshole in an elite-troupe of elite-assholes finally gets a chance for redemption as an idealistic pseudo-imouto-character gets dropped into his lap to make him reconsider his asshole-attitude. And *spoiler* his actual sister appears as well soon after that! But even she’s just his “step-sister” – which needed to be clarified for any sort of future romantic moments between the two.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 04: WWII came and went like a nice summer-breeze and now we’re back to business-as-usual. But then some devilish woman intrudes on the idyll of two dudes’ bromance.

ERASED 04 Review:

[HorribleSubs] Boku dake ga Inai Machi - 04 [480p].mkv - 00001What makes Satoru especially sympathetic are realizations like this. Despite all the extra years in life-experience he seems to be bound to repeat some mistakes of his past.

What exactly is Satoru supposed to do? That is the question that was on my mind while watching the 4th episode. What is actually important in this series? Are all the attempts of Satoru trying to prevent a murder from happening just a setup for him to grow as a character? Is his relationship to Kayo a relationship worthy of protecting, even though Satoru only got closer to her because he wanted to prevent her from dying? It all comes down to this: Does the series think that Satoru is doing the right thing?

For a series about a murder-mystery there’s certainly not a lot of procedural in this series so far. Albeit very slowly the focus of the series is actually getting smaller and Satoru’s goals regarding the mystery become less and less pragmatic. The Satoru of this 4th episode isn’t trying to solve a mystery. And this difference in approach is noticeable once one gets distance from the series and questions what exactly Satoru is doing.

Satoru is only sure of a couple facts: One, he knows when the murders are happening. Two, he knows who gets murdered. In the beginning this inspires him to think that protecting the very first victim, Kayo, is the key to stopping the murderer. But from what mystery-series with a procedural teach us the prevention of the crime is tied to the identification of the murderer. But usually there’s no one to worry about as the victim is already dead and therefore is nothing more than the motivation to find the murderer. In this case, of course, the victim is still alive but what differentiates a procedural from Satoru’s course of action is the systematic approach of the former in contrast to the narrow-minded obsession of the latter. Satoru doesn’t try to find the murderer and due to that certainly won’t stop the murderer – even if he’s somehow able to protect Kayo.

The relationship between Satoru and Kayo further complicates things here as Satoru certainly seems more and more to be in love with Kayo to some degree. There’s something selfrighteous about him starting a relationship with Kayo in order to protect her. Like his heroism is what makes him deserve Kayo’s love. The dynamic is always about Satoru protecting her or offering her a chance to experience happiness. And so when you see Satoru expressing a somewhat romantic interest in Kayo, it almost seems like it’s more about how it further makes him look like a knight in shining armor than him having a genuine interest in Kayo as a person.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see how the series itself judges this and if the cliffhanger is any indication then this excessive heroism will get punished. Satoru has gotten so consumed by the idea of protecting Kayo and making her happy that he has lost sight of any sort of strategy that would help him catch the murderer.

Plot-wise the series approach to time-travelling will also matter. Will this be a series where Satoru has to go through a Groundhog-Day-scenario where he has to try again and again to stop the murderer? Or maybe it will end with a time-loop where Satoru eventually finds out that him having travelled back in time will cause the very events he wanted to stop from happening (but this series doesn’t strike me as that dark to choose this path…)? Or Satoru will be successful in protecting Kayo but he won’t stop the killer from killing someone else. Therefore, it would become a series more invested in consequences than just Satoru having to figure out what the right thing to do is.

And one of the most enticing aspects series so far is that it doesn’t pull its punches when confronting Satoru with the inherent flaws of his personality and his plans.

Episode-Rating: 8.5/10

Schwarzes Marken 01-04 Review:

[HorribleSubs] Schwarzesmarken - 03 [480p].mkv - 00003Yeah, it’s impossible to imagine that war sucks unless somebody else’s guts get splattered all over you…

Two things immediately get shoved down your throat in the first episode of this series: That the Stasi is evil (even more evil than the aliens, one might say) and that the series is very serious about this. The former is as historical as saying that the pyramids were built by aliens and the latter is serious despite its over-the-top themes and storytelling-style. As an end-result you get serious that is misguided to the point of being ludicrous.

Just the first couple minutes of the first episode tell you what kind of shitshow this is gonna be. Exposition-dumps are a desperate move storytelling-wise. After all, if your job is to tell a good story and then one character just babbles for a while as if he’s doing an elementary-school-book-report, then you know that the writing will just suck. It gets worse once you get to the alternate-history-elements of this series.

I would be offended – but unless it’s a slice-of-life-series no anime ever seems to care much about history (even when it’s Japan’s). This time around we got a series that took post-WWII-Germany and somehow thought that Stasi being evil was all you need to know about East-Germany. Oh, and here and there a few key-words like Warsaw-Pact get thrown around without any meaning or substance. It’s an obvious farce and it’s just another sign of the bad writing that it’s very noticeable how little research the writers actually had done in this series.

What makes matters even worse is that this series wants to be grim-dark. It’s one of those shounen-series that tries to tickle your fancy by being very violent and depressing – but never in a substantial way. But the same thing that troubles such dark series also troubles this series: A lack of humanity. It’s so easy to demolish all ideas of goodness and hope but these series find little to replace this with. These grimdark series get too fixated on what’s absent than what’s left. What is humanity without the hope to be good? In this series the answer seems to be a mix of rudeness, whininess and apathy. Likeability is scarce accordingly and with goodness out of the equation, what are they really fighting for? Sure, you get the idealistic speeches from time to time – but the world never seems to acknowledge those as worthwhile. The disconnect between series like this one still trying to fulfill the basic beats of shounen-series while also going for these over-the-top violent story-beats is simply absurd. I have yet to see a shounen-series that successfully nails the theme of grimdark.

With all that weighing on you as an audience-member it’s hard to see exactly where to turn to as a point of comfort in this series. Theodor, the main-dude, is a real asshole as shown in the first episode. But with the appearance of Katia Waldheim (who’s the idealistic, naïve imouto-type that most anime-fans could probably write lines for in their sleep) his attitude changes. More than that: It really seems like somehow everybody knew that he’s hero-material before he even stopped being an asshole. With the writing being a mix of obliviousness, hamming it up and just straightforward stupidity, all the grimdark elements of the characterization and the plot end up becoming preposterous emo-pornography.

This is the sort of shounen-series that doesn’t feel like it was written for teenagers but was written by teenagers. You’ve got an elite-squad protecting humanity – but there’s also this EVIL authority-figure in the form of the Stasi. In this setup laws and government are just there to stop the good guys from doing what they think is the right thing to do. And it IS the right thing to do, of course! Tie that to an idealistic vision of how a “united Germany” will definitely kick these aliens’ asses and you get right into heroic territory with this. If you look at the basic beats of this series, you can actually see how it could work on a more basic, mythological level that eschews any sort of post-modern moral complexity in favor of more straightforward moralizing and idealism. But then the gore comes into play and the forced need for angst and depression in how the plot is written. And that stuff is very nihilistic in contrast to all the idealism that’s supposed to drive the story forward. And so far the only way how the series manages to reconcile its idealistic side and its grimdark side is through really stupid writing.

It becomes already apparent in the 4th episode with the appearance of Theodor’s long-lost sister. Already the idea that the little sister captured by the Stasi was still alive is cheesy. That she comes back like THIS in the FOURTH episode is just ridiculous, though! To reveal that Theodor’s sister should be a BIG reveal – and this series just dumped that on the audience in the 4th episode! In a rare moment of self-awareness everyone immediately assumes that she’s a spy sent by the Stasi – because what else is she supposed to be? If she is a Stasi-agent, everybody in the audience probably saw it coming. If she isn’t, then they wasted a big reveal on a very cheap plottwist. Really, it’s just a no-win-situation storytelling-wise. Well, then again, a series like this one might just introduce a character like this sister to stage a gruesome death-scene for her.

Schwarzesmarken is a series that tries VERY hard to have pathos and style – but ends up failing to have either. Mediocre art and animation do little to help a VERY badly written script. The characters are unlikeable, the story is completely dumb and the series seems completely oblivious to those facts. At least you get a laugh or two out of each episode for how ridiculous the writing in this series has been so far.

Episodes-Rating: 4.5/10

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 04 Review:

[C12] Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 04.mp4 - 00002Hey, talk about standing in someone else’s shadow…

So this is the third episode spent on this flashback with no end in sight. Structurally it’s anybody’s guess what the series story-arc is supposed to be. Right now it’s certainly a valid question to wonder why the series even needed to establish this flashback as a “flashback” if it’s that dedicated to it. And I still think that the one who matters the most in this creative decision is the director Mamoru Hatekayama.

Last week I talked about how the direction seemed rushed and also very perfunctory. DP said, though, that he felt like the writing was more to blame here. And looking at this episode, I agree with him. Mamoru Hatekayama didn’t offer great direction in episode 02 and 03. But his direction is neither mediocre nor incompetent here, it’s at a level where you can actually see him doing something with this series – and it’s these decisions I don’t like in the second and third episode. What the first episode and this episode make obvious is that Mamoru Hatekayama revels in directing low-key talky scenes. Compare that to the narrative rambling that is the second and (especially) the third episode and the writing is very much to blame here for how ineffective those episodes have been. The direction-choices are very direct here and are most effective when an episode can linger on specific moments.

Take the rakugo-scenes for example and how much direction is happening in those. This episode offers another great example of this. When Sukeroko is performing he isn’t just sitting on a stage telling his story, the camera cuts between angles on him as if the scene was a dialogue. These shots carefully take the location of the characters into consideration in the same way you would expect of a normal conversation as for one character Sukeroko is facing to the right while the other character is facing to the left while the narrator-voice is looking straight at the audience. That and the voice-acting as well as the writing are what makes these lengthy rakugo-scenes work. It’s the series at its best. Compare that to any scene of the third episode where Kikuhiko’s rambling about this and that the direction is doing nothing more than offering very implicit visual subtitles for the dry voice-over-narration. If the series wanted to prove that Kikuhiko is a bad storyteller, the series passed the goal-line a long time ago with what it did in the second and third episode.

But then you get two scenes that are basically nothing more than mundane conversations between Kikuhiko and Sukeroko. And it takes up the first five minutes of the episode. Both the writing and the direction really are at their best here when they don’t have to worry about the plot. Seeing these two talk at length about their situation is way more fulfilling than anything a stream-of-consciousness-narration might offer like in the third episode. There’s a lot more subtle characterization happening in such a conversation like setting up the conflict with the appearance of the geisha-character as Sukeroku is looking after a girl that walks by while Kikuhiko completely ignores her. That’s the sort of subtlety that was sorely missing in the third episode. Instead of expanding on what the boorish narration offered, visually it seemed confined to just confirming what the narration said. Even stuff that should be ambiguous (like Kikuhiko’s past relationships for example) felt more like the series is shrugging instead of committing to it. But where would we be if the series had given those sections of the story the same attention it has shown towards rakugo?

With that we come back to the narrative structure of this series. This is a series that really comes to life if it has the time to play out seemingly mundane scenes. But as a 1-cours-series time is exactly what this series doesn’t have. Properly paced this anime could’ve easily taken the story-arc of Kikuhiko and Sukeroko and turned that into a 1-cours-series. But as it is now I worry about the relationship between this current flashback-arc and the present-day-storyline. While it informs the present-day-storyline, the drama of that is completely different. It’s about two young rakugo-students who have to fight against the odds to become good, accepted rakugo-actors (one because of his criminal past and the other because of her gender). That’s very different from the challenges Kikuhiko and Sukeroko had to face so far.

But all in all, the fourth episode is a return to form for this series and what made the first episode so great is once again present here. Good writing coupled with very active direction makes this very mundane-seeming episode feel more alive than you’d expect. From a distance it is worrying, though, how the series is pacing itself. While entertaining, this series storytelling is at its best when it’s also very time-consuming. Who knows when this flashback-arc will even end…? What’s certain is that for a 1-cours-series it already has spent way too much time on the past of Kikuhiko and Sukeroko if the series actually cares about the present-day-characters.

Episode-Rating: 8.0/10

About M0rg0th

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

Posted on February 2, 2016, in Anime, ERASED, Reviews, Schwarzes Marken, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Episode 4 of Erased left a strong impression on me, and your review makes me think of some other points. I like that the show is staying true to its theme as a deconstruction of the save-the-day time traveler. Satoru finds himself making a lot of the same choices (and mistakes) because he is the same person as he was 18 years ago, but he remembers the finer points of his past too late to deviate its course. I appreciate that the killer didn’t decide to show his face just because Satoru acted to keep Kayo out of danger. Another series might make the killer continue to pursue Kayo, for some unspecified reason, leading to his capture, but not Erased. At best, Satoru forestalled Kayo’s death, or if he really did prevent it, he just changed the murderer’s target to someone else.

    How I feel about Satoru’s logic depends on the intention of the writer. Satoru had a narrow-minded focus on saving Kayo, but he seemed to forget the part how that would lead to him catching the murderer, which is his primary goal, supposedly. There is no rule that states “If Kayo lives past the day she was supposed to die, the future will be changed” and Satoru should know this. Now, if this is an intentional part of his character, I can consider it both brilliant and a tragic deconstruction of this kind of story. If not, well… Satoru was written to be kind of dumb.

    Satoru is definitely heavily invested in protecting Kayo but I don’t think it’s with romantic intentions. The guy is 29 years old after all. I don’t think Satoru even saw Kayo as a person beyond her part in the murders until he saw the amount of abuse that she was subjected to. He probably feels a sense of duty in saving her and finds joy in altering the course of fate. I’m not sure if that qualifies as “self-righteousness” or not, but it’s worth examining. Satoru’s new focus (or perhaps more accurately described ‘loss of focus’) is particularly interesting, because there are much bigger things at stake than the life of one abused child. There are at least 2 other children who are also murdered, his mother who died in the present day, and Yuuki who was wrongfully (as far as we know) blamed for the crime. Perhaps it’s intentional that Satoru can’t see the forest for the trees. He was emotionally blindsided by Kayo’s abuse that he didn’t realize that saving her was only a small element of preventing a greater tragedy.

    This show really gets you emotionally invested.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Hibike! Euphonium OVA: Dash, Monaka – Review | auroradownloads

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