Review-Roundup: Kuzu No Honkai 05-07, Idol Jihen 06-08
Hey, who doesn’t look to Idol Jihen for political commentary, right? There’s nothing weird about a living statue of a famous Japanese politician complaining about globalism to an idol who’s also a politician whose priority is to host a nice little party in the Nation Diet Building. Nothing grotesque about that!
This time I review:
Kuzu no Honkai 05-07: I guess, we can all relate to this series and we’ve all been in this place where it is difficult to find friends to talk to – but we still have a bunch of readily available fuckbuddies (through luck, one-sided attraction or just pure coincidence). After all, what is love? Of course, it’s being attracted to that one person that REALLY doesn’t like you (or doesn’t want to have sex with you… but what’s the difference really, right?!). Lucky for you, this means now you can safely have sex with everyone else without any guilt! And you can still believe in love because you ARE still in love. It’s just that, well, you gotta, at least, fuck sometimes, right?
But! What if the person who you’re in love with doesn’t love you back?!
Who cares?! Just fuck’em anyway (and it isn’t rape because it’s probably just another person in love which means they can’t be together with the actual person they love but they gotta, at least, fuck someone sometimes…)!
Life’s a rollercoaster, man!
Idol Jihen 06-08: Politics is hard. Especially all those parts where you have to discuss politics with other politicians in some building. Of course, the whole thing doesn’t get easier for these idols since they still claim to be idols. You might think: “How can some girls from the entertainment-industry govern a country?” Well, you see, they don’t. They simply go to some guys in the countryside and those guys tell them what they should do. Or the idol has a trippy dream about some statues coming to life and telling her that globalization sucks ass.
Oh, and I guess even Idol-Dietwomen can’t escape the scourge that is “fake-news”.
Kuzu no Honkai 05-07 Review:
Is it maybe the fact that it’s hard to make someone fall in love with you with that shitty attitude…?
What if deep-down we’re all bad people? Furthermore, what if deep-down we’re all sad people? How do we live with ourselves – and each other (but mostly the former, really)? These are the questions at the heart of the series appropriately called “Scum’s Wish”. After seven episodes the show has presented a nice thematic showcase of people whose own views and wants clash with those of the people around them while they’re getting consumed by their desire to be truly happy. Life never is as nice as you hope it to be. And yet, it’s a show that relies on narrative ploys to present its themes. After seven episodes the show is dependent on a very narrow, specific narrative scope that has gotten lost in a couple characters’ forced melodrama.
The title of the show already prepares you for a cast of flawed characters and after seven episodes, this show officially only has selfish characters. The show expresses selfishness in various ways. One of them is the inner monologue of each character. Despite the fact that the show switches perspectives, it’s an introverted show by design. Whoever is “in charge” of a particular scene shares his thoughts with the audience. And those thoughts can lead to flashbacks or visual gimmicks (like when the screen is filled with color or you only see the words of what is said either in dialogue or in the inner monologue – think Shaft-lite but with watercolors). What’s striking is how sometimes these characters keep talking in their inner Monologues while the person right in front of them is confused by their silence or keeps talking (but those “outside-voices” are muted in these moments). This is an indication of just how much these characters are lost in their own little world.
A lot of the drama of this show comes from the fact that its characters are bad at communicating. There’s so much guessing, speculating and philosophizing pent up in these characters’ heads that never finds a release (or finds itself commented on by someone who isn’t just as miserable as everyone else). Take the relationship between Sanae and Hanabi for example. They’ve slept and now Hanabi feels bad about it since she feels like she has just selfishly used Sanae to sate her own loneliness (which is the second important pillar of this series). And Hanabi decides that she should distance herself from Sanae to spare her such treatment – but Sanae wants to have sex with her, even if it means that Hanabi’s just using her. There’s no empathy or compassion. It’s just two characters having two different ideas of what their relationship is and refusing to have an honest talk with each other about it. They’re both equally selfish. Characters in this show always value their own opinion more than whatever other people say to them and since there isn’t a lot of dialogue happening anyway, you can’t help but feel that most of these characters create echochambers for themselves in their own heads.
What’s pushing this series’ characters to give in to its selfish desires is loneliness. Again and again, you listen to Noriko muse about her princess-fetish only to discard it in order to finally feel connected to Mugi. The way characters interact with their loneliness is neither stable nor healthy. Loneliness is treated like some kind of hunger that needs to be satisfied with intimacy in order to keep the feeling at bay and the more shallow the moment of intimacy is the quicker the characters get tired of it. Kuzu no Honkai makes the question of what love is less a moralistic question but rather presents it as a basic need/desire of the characters. And the idea is that only true love provides truly satisfying sustenance. But hungry to feel love, characters in this series constantly try to find the next-best thing even if rationally speaking you wouldn’t describe it as love.
Here’s where the series’ narrow perspective comes into focus: Why is sex/romance the only way to experience intimacy? Why is it so difficult for these characters to escape their selfish nature? Why is it that in episode 07 ends up sulking in the darkness and feeling lonely? Why doesn’t she have any friends who she can have honest talks with? Both her relationship with Sanae and Narumi are entirely about sex at this point. Seriously, when are characters’ relationships NOT sexual in some shape or form?! It really feels like it all comes down to sex all the time. It’s either emotional distance or the urge to fuck – those are the two modes of attitude characters show when they interact. All the nuance of the characterization disappears once you realize that this is the pattern the series operates with. There’s nothing surprising about Noriko’s actions in episode 07 for example. Just like clockwork: Because she’s lonely, she’s fine with going on a date with Mugi despite him dating Hanabi (sort-of) and selfishness pushes her to abandon her own princess-purity-shtick just so that she can finally have sex with the guy she loves. And each time characters lose a bit of themselves because their selfish instant-gratification lacks any sort of moral or virtuous value. The end-result of this downward spiral is Akane who treats relationships like a little game that frees her from the boredom of daily life. The problems is simply that these characters’ problems are SO much bigger than who sleeps with whom but these characters constantly reduce their problems to just that.
Considering that there is nuance in how the characters are portrayed, it’s sad how little variety there is in how the series explores the issues of these characters. Not everything has to be about sex. Especially since the characters’ selfishness goes a little bit deeper than all the characters just being sex-hungry idiots. And yet that’s what the show falls back on time and time again. It keeps you from relating to the characters as it gets progressively more difficult to suspend your disbelief for just how many complexities of life get ignored on this show. That isn’t to say realism is this show’s problem but rather that the show excludes real life to a degree where it’s hard to understand how these character even manage to move through life without looking like sociopaths to the rest of the world.
Personally, it’s hard for me to see any point in the self-pity-circle-jerk that is this series. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series like this one where I want all the characters to just give up on their goals and move on! Cut your losses and start fresh! Because nothing these characters do makes things better! It never feels like we’re watching someone overcome their problems and character-flaws. The characters are almost constantly so self-absorbed that they’re always getting blind-sighted by other people’s self-absorbed actions. It’s like the characters are in a constant state of befuddlement when it comes to the other characters. And they never admit that they simply have no idea what’s going on! Just take Akane, for example, the series efficiently portrays her as the villain of the show by showing her similarities to Hanabi and her modus operandi of seducing men who are secretly loved by another woman. But take a step back and realize what this is: It’s a grown woman plotting against a high-school-student (!) over the love of some random idiot.
When it was just Mugi and Hanabi, I had hopes for an insightful romance-drama but as I said in my review of the second episode, this series simply lost its way by having an entire cast of people who are consumed by loneliness and selfishness. They’re all just enabling each other to join a race to the abyss. And I really have little interest in cheering them on in this race.
Idol Jihen 06-08 Review:
A shy idol-dietwoman has a crisis of confidence. She’s standing in the central hall of the Japanese National Diet Building. That’s when the statues of Itagaki Taisuke, Okuma Shigenobu, and Ito Hirobumi (who were instrumental in establishing constitutional government in Japan) come to life and encourage the girl to find her own vision because “Globalization, my ass!”, one of the statues proclaims. And they point to the empty pedestal saying that maybe one of the idol-dietwoman will get a statue of their own someday.
That’s from episode 06 and I have to say it still baffles me whenever this show actually gets political. It’s clear that the show uses its idols to advocate for a back-to-the-roots traditional, conservative, populist, nationalist agenda. At the same time, it peddles the ridiculous idea of these idols STILL doing idol-stuff while being politicians. I mean, isn’t that a conflict-of-interest? But since all these idols have this saccharine optimism, the series explains it away by indulging in an idealistic image of idols.
And just how effective are these political comments when they come from a show filled with caricatures? I wonder how many people in the general audience of this show recognize the extent of its political commentary and how many actually care…? After all, this is also a show that has established that Shintoism is real and that a little song-and-dance is enough to sway the opposition – although recent episodes have gotten much better at resolving conflicts, I gotta say (relatively speaking, of course).
We start episode 06 with what seems a callback to the meek shit the show has been doing at the beginning. One of the idol-dietwomen wants some festivity to be commemorated with a bottle-rocket and she’s too shy to argue her case well. And some creepy dude from the old-dudes-party is walking all over her, therefore. This show gets better the more confrontational it is with its political content and this festivity-stuff is weak.
And here we get to how the show is advocating populism: The actual politics are a waste of time in this series. It’s the hands-on-treatment and direct democracy all the time! I guess the appeal that the show thinks these idols have is that they actually represent people (which is a good thing, of course). Of course, the series oversimplifies the complications, of course (media wouldn’t just be the episodic event of the 8th episode). The series idealizes what direct democracy can do by contrasting it with the evil-wig-dudes-politicians who don’t give a shit about what their constituents are saying.
Then again, I doubt the writers have any interest in pursuing some realistic commentary anyway. Episode 07 is about Onimura Industries (or something) building a stadium in Natsuki’s hometown. The people there complain because it’s too expensive and badly designed. The objective the Heroine-party is pushing for is to re-evaluate the project. It turns out that the boss of Onimura Industries is Shizuka’s father and ultimately he gives in and announces he would re-evaluate the project. That story doesn’t come even close to reality.
Besides, it’s never even made clear why there should be a stadium in that little backwater-town anyway. Sure, you always need some contrivance for this episodic story-format but stuff like that feels like a forced idea. Here are some other cheap shots this series could’ve easily exploited for its pseudo-politicial commentary: homeless people, corporation-tax-dodging, cancer-patients, renovating historical buildings, animal shelter, connecting city-companies with companies in the country (ie. creating jobs). A series like this one should always strive to make its episodic content the cheapest kind of tearjerker in relation to a political problem. And you go for the cheap stuff while providing a (VERY) broad political lesson. This series doesn’t seem like it wants to ruffle anyone’s feathers politically speaking…
… Except the series then proceeds to tackle the topic of ‘fake news’ in episode 08. The episode provides the bullet points of the media being partisan, hungry for ‘scandal’ and all too ready to lie. It seems like that episode is trying to set up the finale of this series and, honestly, good on them. Now you’ve got the room for a nice solid third act and around episode 10, 11 or 12 you can do the finale.
Well, back to the ‘fake news’-bit. And this is where it has to get political. After all, it’s a political idea since the accusation is for newspapers to have a political agenda of their own (which urges them to lie and manipulate/hide the objective truth). At least, this series has the idol-dietwomen to argue you can still trust the government. Otherwise, this series would turn into V For Vendetta, I guess.
To get real for a second: What do I think about fake news? Well, are news partisan? Sadly, a lot of them out there are. But that isn’t an excuse not to go into the depths of the web to inform yourself. And just dismissing everything you hear in the news isn’t the answer. ‘Fake News’ isn’t an excuse to not find out the objective truth nor is it an excuse with some alternative narrative that you personally maybe like better. Finding good political analysis is difficult these days and it’s also dependent on what your own political beliefs are. For example,
Getting back to the show, that moment where all the idols come back together is very indicative of how broad the brushstrokes of the term “fake news” can be. In that scene, it seems like every criticism against the idols is supposed to be “fake news”. And yet, I wonder: Are they really innocent? Since this is a fictional story, the problem clearly is the storytelling here. An idol-concert is a cheap way to prove your innocence. In a way, this series idolizes idols much more than the political process – although at the same time you don’t see the idol-dietwomen do a lot of idol-y stuff (besides occasionally giving concerts).
If there’s one entertaining thing about the show then it’s its ability to surprise me what kind of topics it actually wants to tackle. It’s always worth a chuckle to see this show make political references without ever explaining what those political positions actually mean. This show is trapped in this netherworld where it wants to offer edgy political comments but at the same time infantilizes the political process by making it all about needy people depending on idols to solve their problems. It’s a bizarre series, no doubt!
- Kuzu no Honkai… *sigh* Personally, I had hoped that both Sanae and Noriko would be forces of good in the narrative, that their earnestness and romantic idealism would motivate the main-couple to at least better themselves. Instead, they turn out to be just as selfish as they’re lonely (and they’re just as bad as the main-couple). Sanae’s earnestness has almost completely disappeared and the last time we see her she’s musing by herself “Oh, my biting-mark must have healed by now… Well, I can just leave another one next time.” The person saying this started out as Hanabi’s best friend… This series has written itself into a corner – unless it wants to be an episodic melodrama-show.
- Look, I said in a previous review, I’m all for Hanabi mimicking Akane to start her revenge but I didn’t think she would be this desperate and pathetic. Really, she’s going on a date with this slimebag…? Eurgh, at this point it’s just misery for misery’s sake. Maybe she should get some better advice nex-… Oh, wait, right, she only had one friend and that friend has decided that fucking is more important than being a friend. Good for her (I guess…)!
- Populism is all fine and dandy but the show undermines that being a politician is an actual job. You work to keep that position! And that isn’t to just solve one coincidental problem of your constituency at a time! Guess what, being an idol is also a job! Somehow, though, this series keeps allowing these characters to not get into a conflict of interest in this regard! The concept of the series is for these girls to be idols and politicians at the same time: So, how about the series that gives space to explore how difficult this is and how those challenges (supposedly) makes them better politicians! But for that equation to work these characters would need to do genuine idol-stuff beside the stuff that both helps them as an idol and a politician. Show how they ponder over new songs or dance-routines while in their break they read new reforms to some bill that is getting presented soon. Stuff like that. Rather than just the evil-dudes-parts being the bad guy, I think it would be easier to sympathize with the idols if the show would be more invested in showing them struggling (in a way that isn’t cute or gimmicky).