Sunday, December 14, 2014

Anime and Manga Overview

Hey y'all.  So I haven't posted in a while, huh?  Yeah, due to a combination of things, it's been...well, interesting.  I honestly just need to stick to a schedule, but at the same time, I don't want this to become a chore, especially since there are other things I need to be doing with my life at this point. This blog is here more or less to contain my rants on things, and is a pressure release.  All the same, nothing can be entirely self-serving, or else it won't be fun for others.

The good news is, I've been writing a lot of drafts over my break.  So I do have some blogs on their way to being ready to go.  One is even nearly complete, I just have to finish some work on it before it can be ready to go.

For now, let's move on.

I've been reading/watching a lot of manga and anime, because I want to know what to recommend to people who come into my bookstore.  I could nitpick them in detail, but is that really necessary?  Not so much.  There's a difference between a story one can surgically dissect and one that is easy to summarize.  For simplicity's sake, I'm just going to talk a little about each.

Manga: Kitchen Princess

Kitchen Princess is a popular manga for a reason.  The author brings a lovable charm to everything that happens, and lots of cute recipes are added in the back.  Best of all, there's no pointless fanservice.  It's just the simple story of a girl who received a flan as a child from the boy that saved her life.  Now an adult, this orphan girl, Fujika, has a scholarship to the cooking school where she has traced the boy.  She has to cook her way into the hearts of her disdainful classmates, all while figuring out how to deal with the two director's sons who have fallen for her.

In a way, Kitchen Princess is pretty typical.  Sure, the cuteness is great, but it's just your romance story with a lot of drama.  It's nice that the characters talk about their drama rather than let it become stupid nonsense (for the most part) but all the same, a lot of the things that happened were fairly typical in romance.

Of course, the unique thing Kitchen Princess does do is include a massive plot change that really shakes the foundation of the story.  It's something I've never seen a manga do (and won't spoil).  After that, however, the plot speeds up to a fairly expected ending.  While the plot is enjoyable for what it is, I can't help but feel it would have been better if it had taken more time to truly explain things out in a slower manner, so that the reader can enjoy the details more.  And get more of those fun recipes that the author always includes with the books.

My Little Monster -- Anime

This one gave me really high expectations.  From the title and theme song alone, you think you're getting into something really crazy.  Unfortunately, the crazy really only lasts about three or four episodes.  Then it's just a bunch of typical drama where everyone's problems would be solved if they just told each other the truth about how they feel.

It wouldn't be so bad if there were other conflicts between the characters besides mis-interpretations of each other's feelings.  After all, if you're a super-studious girl who accidentally befriends a maniac guy with absurd family problems and a pet chicken, then you're bound to have more crazy conflicts than simply "I don't know if I prefer studying to having a boyfriend to having good grades."  The premise of the story is great.  There's lots you can do with a romance between two socially inept people.  The execution is just too typical.

I dunno.  I stopped watching after a bit, so maybe it gets better later.  I don't really want to recommend it, though.  There's just not enough beyond the "he said, she said" type drama to really make this anime of serious value.  Hm, maybe the manga is better.

You are Beautiful -- Kdrama

For the record, Kdrama = Korean drama.  In any case, You are Beautiful is the story of a young, would-be nun, Go Mi Nyo who is approached by a manager for the band A.N.Gell, who begs her to pretend to be her twin brother so that the band's producer will never find out that her brother hasn't come back to Korea yet.  This means she has to take on the name of Go Mi Nam and try to hide her true gender from the three hot guys who are also in the band: Jeremy, Shin Woo, and Tae-Kyung. She's also on a quest to find out the truth about her parents, and what happened to her mother.

In many ways, this is a fairly typical Kdrama.  The girl falls for the guy, many misunderstandings get in the way, and then they find a way to be together in the end.  Yeah, the basic romance plot. Kdramas usually have a lot of goofiness and silly incidents, and this happens a lot, which adds charm to the show.

However, there are a few downsides.  It can be too cheesy at times, and the first episode I was tempted to turn it off and watch something else.  After that it did get better, but the trouble was, the stakes were never high enough.  There was no threat of the band falling apart, or Go Mi Nyo getting into legal trouble, or her brother being in danger, or anything like that.  The worst threat to the story was broken relationships and media gossip.  Not exactly enthralling, that, especially when the reporter representing the media is kind of an idiot.

Another trouble is that the budget shows too well its limitations.  There's blur over popular logos, such as on cars or computers, which is extremely distracting for something that isn't a reality show. Also, the ultimate fate of her parents, while interesting in and of itself, wasn't resolved in a very dramatic way.  There are so many things that could have gone wrong with that situation, and yet things resolve fairly smoothly in that regard. Good for her, not so good for the viewing audience.  It also bugs me that none of A.N.Gell's songs are upbeat.  They're all pretty mellow.

Then there's Mi Nyo's nun-hood, which of course would impact anyone's life and how they interact with others.  Only there are few references to Christianity, the Bible, or just any theology that might happen to say it's wrong to lie to the fans of the band.  Surely she'd feel at least a little guilty for being deceitful, or maybe her Mother Superior might find out what she's doing and get on her case.  Instead her background feels a bit dropped, other than a Saint Mary figurine.  It's not a huge deal, but it's a thing.

And finally, the romance at the end, because there are no stakes, is artificially extended by trite misunderstandings.  The pinnacle of cheap romances.

On the other hand, there's lots of fun to be had.  Mi Nyo is charming and sweet, the guys are fun (especially Jeremy), and if you're the sort of person that just plain likes romances, there you go. While this show isn't great, it's also far from awful.   If you're bored and romance is your thing, just keep your expectations low and you'll have a good time.

The Irregular at Magic High School - anime

No.  Just no.  It's bad enough when shows like Sword Art Online have an emotionally weak girl fall for her brother, but when a show bases itself on a girl who is clearly in love with her brother, and the show lets this nonsense go on, it simply can't be taken seriously.  To make it worse, about halfway through the show, they change the intro to a bit with the naked sister reaching for her naked brother.


What makes it worse is that there are good parts to this show.  For one thing, the school uniforms aren't horribly immodest.  They're pretty cute, and not too hard to create a cosplay for.  The male jackets are especially nice.  Then there's the themes of meritocracy, the natural inequality of life, and not letting one's emotions pull oneself into crime.  Some of the lines in this anime are lines I've wanted to hear in a fiction story for a long time.

Before I go on, the premise.  This is a story about Shiba Tatsuya, a boy who has enrolled in magic high school, but whose talents aren't in conventional magical areas.  Thus, he ends up not being grouped with the more talented half of the school's population.  So he has to deal with the bigotry of the "blooms" while he and others also weaker in magic are called "weeds."

It's not as simple as that, however.  The whole world has become full of magic, and magicians have become powerful warriors whose abilities are competing with conventional weaponry.  Thus, the story often deals with the magical versus the conventional, such as magical clubs versus swordsman ship clubs, and anti-magic terrorist groups versus a world where magic is normal.

Honestly, that's a good premise.  It's all about facing the reality that some people are better at things than others are.  Too many people get bitter at the fact that some people are stronger, faster, more intelligent, or better at attracting the opposite gender than they are.  While on one hand this attitude can inspire a person to work harder and achieve, it also has the potential downsides of self-doubt, depression, and violence against the people they perceive as superior.  The show deals with these themes in its first arc, and it does a great job of them.  It shows that just because a person is or feels slighted, that doesn't mean violence and protest are the answer.  It's pretty refreshing, truth be told.

What's even better is that each story arc takes several episodes to complete -- like eight or nine.  That way the story can be told at a slow, natural pace.  This might not work for every series, but for at least the first arc, it works here.  Pacing is very important for a story, and knowing the proper pace for one's story is a very important part of writing.

But then there's the bad parts.  Tatsuya's sister, Miyuki, is an awful character.  Not only is she in love with her brother, but that's the only aspect of her character.  She's not portrayed as studious, or interested in a hobby, or ditzy, or shallow, or deep, or anything else besides infatuated with someone she shouldn't be interested in.  Not to mention that her obsession with her brother prevents her from having deep relationships or even friendships with others.  This not only makes her demented, but renders her superfluous to the story.  Seriously, she could be cut out of the story and it would only be an improvement.  She's not interesting, plot important, or someone who brings out the best in others. She makes googly eyes at her bro and not a thing more.  I'm always baffled when other people call her a protagonist.  No, she's not, she's just around Tatsuya too much.

What about the other characters?  They're a collection of underused people whose names I can't place with the right faces, even when I remember them.  In a normal anime, the side characters would be on screen a significant amount of time, enough for a viewer learn who they are as characters. In Irregular, the students are introduced by the handful, so much so that it's harder to know who is who as time goes on.  There's the student council, the other "weeds", the bad guys, the competitors from other schools...yeesh, the list just goes on and on.  Since almost none of these characters get enough time to become distinctive to the audience's mind, it's hard to become attached to them.

To make it worse, Tatsuya himself is just too powerful.  The plot is supposed to be that Tatsuya is bad at "practical magic." Only trouble is, there's no real definition of what "practical" is.  He's supposedly bad at magic fighting, but he defeats the enemies he faces in matches with ease and finesse.  Flying magic is "impossible", except that teenaged Tatsuya figures out the spell and hands it off to his sister a few minutes after we learn it can't be done.  He's even creating magical CADs for his fellow students that enable them to be even more powerful too.  I kept waiting for Tatsuya to show some kind of weakness, but he keeps winning.  Instead of him being someone too weak to be recognized for what he has, he's this uber-powerful force that everyone's pretending is weak and pathetic.  He's even worse than Kirito from Sword Art Online, in that regard.

The world of the story itself is good, but the way the magic is explained doesn't work.  A CAD is obviously a device of some sort that helps people cast spells, but it's never explained.  How does it work?  Why does it work?  Can someone cast spells without it?  The realm of magic itself is obviously thought out, but since it's complicated, it's not explained out naturally (when it is explained).  Magic is just taken for granted for a while, and then one spell will suddenly be explained with great detail, then it's skipped over for a while again.  This problem would be fixed if the main characters were noobs with magic, so that they could be learning spells at the same rate as the audience.  That change along would have a huge upward impact on the show.

At the end of the day, however, I had to stop watching.  Tatsuya's too powerful to be interesting, Miyuki's too perverse and it doesn't look like Tatsuya's going to tell her off soon, and none of the other characters get enough to do.  I had to stop watching near the end of the second arc (the nine schools competition) because it was clear golden boy Tatsuya was just going to continue being the darling of every female on the show, and all other plot points would be sacrificed for it.

In other words, don't bother with this show.  At least not past the first arc.  It's just too dull. There are many ways this show could have been fixed, and it had so much potential to be good.  As is now, it's just another time waster on Netflix.

Okay, that's it for now, but look forward to my Top Ten Top Ten on video game soundtracks!

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