Sunday, January 30, 2011

Switching to the topic of fictional villains who are just absolutely vile and who I hate through and through...


Hanashiro Chizu, from Aoi Hana.

Chizu first appears at the beginning of the story as the main character Fumi's older cousin. When Fumi was twelve, she went over to visit Chizu at Chizu's college dorm and Chizu coaxed her into sex (Chizu was about twenty at this point). While obviously this was rape even by bizarre Japanese laws on the subject, Fumi, being both an unbelievable shrinking violet and an emotionally confused pubescent lesbian, took it as a sign of love and entered into a several-year-long sexual relationship with Chizu.

On Fumi's first day of high school, Chizu got engaged and had a party to celebrate without telling her, then barely ever spoke to her again.

This would be bad enough--it is indirectly the source of the vast majority of the conflict in the story because it's the cause of a lot of Fumi's trust issues and questionable taste in women--but Chizu makes things even worse for poor Fumi when she shows up again later in the plot, when Fumi is trying to sort out her feelings for her best friend Ah-chan. Chizu tells Fumi that she is sorry, obviously falsely because (a) she then goes on to chide Fumi for thinking that it was going to be long-term and says that it isn't her fault that 'society broke them apart' (all of which is obvious bullshit on its face, since Chizu isn't in an arranged marriage and Fumi was twelve when Chizu started having sex with her) and (b) Chizu raped a twelve-year-old girl who loved and trusted her, then strung her along for years and dumped her.

It's unclear why exactly Chizu felt the need to come back and fuck with Fumi's sense of self-worth by telling her that it was basically her fault for allowing a much older and admired relative to rape her. She does not gain anything by doing so. The simplest explanation is that Chizu is simply a sociopath and gets her kicks from Fumi's suffering, which because Fumi runs with a mostly rather awkward and alienated crowd directly drags down several other people as well.

And the worst part is that Aoi Hana's other characters include bratty jerks, tactless morons, and callous bounders, but none of them are remotely horrible enough to even comprehend whatever the fuck goes on in Chizu's head. It's as if Livia Soprano decided that she was going to make a living by using her maniuplation tricks on the cast of Mary Poppins. Nobody in Aoi Hana is even halfway dark or cynical or evil enough to even begin to understand what Chizu is doing to them.

And...I mean, just LOOK at her.


Semi-review: Kuragehime

So, a while back I watched Kuraghime. Kuraghime is a show about a bunch of bizarre nerdy girls who live in a house together and the cross-dressing male fashionista who upends their lives, especially that of the young and adorkable marine-invertebrate nerd (titular Princess Jellyfish) Tsukimi.

There's a lot to love about Kuragehime, mainly its honesty about who people fundamentally are. It's been said that everybody is a geek of some description, with things like sports and relationships having obsessive fanbases so huge as to dictate what 'mainstream society' is to everybody else. In view of this, Kuragehime depicts Kuranosuke (the cross-dressing guy) as a fashion geek more than anything else, which makes him really endearing. Also, in one episode where he gives everybody makeovers, he does not do so to this one overweight lady in a kimono--wonderfully not because 'OH SHE'S FAT AND YOU CAN'T FIX THAT WITH MAKEOVERS', but because her personal style is 'very traditional Japanese woman', not 'frumpy slob', and that's not really a problem for his immediate purpose of making this group look presentable in a formal setting.

Anyway, what I realised while watching this, and more fully to-day, was that I'd actually consider dating a girly enough guy as long as it was made clear that the relationship would not be sexual. And I'm...really not sure what this says about me, actually!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Giant Writing Project, Part V of Whatever

Hildy’s Story


Lieutenant Wilhelm Weishaupt was the commander of a very small platoon—five soldiers, guarding a border tripoint that had not seen military action for, depending on how you counted it, either sixty-odd years or nearly a century. He loved his job. It was, perhaps perversely for a military position, relaxing, affording a lot of time to go out strolling along walls older than the Hohenzollerns and Hapsburgs, looking over the hills, dales, and rockslides, honest and free in his fatigues beneath the sky.
            The Bundesheer had seen better days to be sure, but that was a long time ago, and besides, any way of thinking that considered going out and raping and pillaging the western Balkans ‘better days’ than standing and watching the birds was a way of thinking that Lieutenant Weishaupt wanted absolutely no part of. This was one of many border forts that had been built in Carinthia and the Tyrol throughout the period when the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation had been a world power. It was one of if not the only one of these forts that still served any military function whatsoever, and Lieutenant Weishaupt was keenly aware that his platoon, 1444 Squadron, existed basically as window-dressing, one of the army’s token ‘romantic’ settings, reminders of days gone by. It was like joining the Foreign Legion and shipping out to Djibouti.
            He had heard from Sergeant Sturmvoraus that 1444 Squadron was getting a sixth soldier sometime soon—new meat, a Private Wildermann who had joined the army at the absolute minimum legal age in order to escape her home situation and get enough money to have at least a fighting chance of getting through some university in Germany. She (Private Wildermann was a she) had taken the train down to Arnoldstein and would probably report for duty at the fort shortly.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: Angel Beats

Key Visual Arts is a Japanese video game developer best known for its work in the genre known as 'visual novel' (aka The Only Type Of Video Game That Nathan Can Or Will Sit Through). Visual novels are, basically, works that are written as if they were conventional (in form, not necessarily subject matter) Japanese literature and then transferred into text files that are mixed up with pictures and music and some (typically low) degree of interactivity, essentially creating the equivalent of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I devoured when I was a kid. [This is a little hard for me to explain so here is a random section of one of the most famous and influential visual novels, Tsukihime ('Lunar Princess'; by the author of Kara no Kyoukai, Nasu Kinoko). And here is the beginning of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni ('When the Higurashi [a type of cicada] Cry'), a more recent and extremely groundbreaking horror story by a younger writer who Nasu discovered.]

Key's visual novels are typically romantic, fluffy, yet rather sad, sort of like a cross between Latin American soap opera and Henry James. They are almost all set in very traditional, often somewhat bland (from a Japanese perspective), but oddly narratologically self-aware environments. They are known for their heartbreaking stories and subtle treatment of the odd supernatural element (as opposed to Nasu or the pseudonymous Naku Koro ni author, who are explicitly fantasy-horror writers from the get-go).

In 2009, somebody working at Key decided to start work on a non-video game project, which was to be fairly multimedia, incorporating a television anime, a manga series, and a series of actual bound text novels. This series, which started to be rolled out later that year and continued through 2010, is Angel Beats.

Angel Beats tells the story of Otonashi, a young man who has a horrible life, dies, and is reborn in an odd complex similar to a Japanese high school but larger and with enough amenities to be self-sufficient. He has spotty memories--which is apparently unusual among the denizens of this purgatorial universe--and is unhappy with the situation. Otonashi meets a girl called Yuri (that's her with the assault rifle in the picture) who press-gangs him into an outfit called SSS, a paramilitary group that commits terrorist attacks and industrial sabotage against the student council and faculty of the high school in an attempt to provoke the intervention of God.

One unfortunate part of this is that, other than the SSS, the student body president Tenshi ('Angel', the...well, the angelic girl in the picture, obviously), and a few other key players, nobody in the entire world (that they can access) seems to have free will or even be self-aware. Yuri refers to everybody else as NPCs, non-player characters, in an example of Key's aforementioned self-referential narratology. There are many, many NPCs and they can be easily mobilised from their normal 'lives' to attack people, seemingly at Tenshi's discretion. The main saving graces of this setup are that the NPCs are easily distracted and--key to the entire plot and theme of the text--Tenshi does not actually seem to be using them in a way that plays along with SSS's war games...


Of course, no such series involving an afterlife--the genre called 'Bangsian fantasy' in the West--can come out of Japan without bringing the masterpiece Haibane-Renmei to mind. If you haven't seen Haibane-Renmei, and have any interest in this sort of story at all, you as a matter of course eventually will. Angel Beats is no Haibane-Renmei, mainly because nobody at Key Visual Arts is ABe Yoshitoshi, but too its credit it does not try to be. The main things that Angel Beats has to recommend itself are that it is emotionally real despite the ersatz Philip José Farmer premise (Tenshi, at least in the early parts of the story, brings to mind not so much a Christian angel as an Ethical from the Riverworld series), it takes life and death seriously without making any potentially alienating grand religious proclamations (although it does not pull this off as masterfully as Haibane-Renmei, mainly because nothing perhaps ever can), it allows individual characters to have their own beliefs and agendas and values in the context of its purgatorial environment (thus eliminating part of what makes Dante's Commedia sometimes difficult to read), and the very things that sometimes make it hard for the series to hold itself together also set it apart from Key's earlier body of work as something that brings the production company outside of its comfort zone in a genuinely interesting way.

I would not recommend Angel Beats to everybody. It is, as I keep saying, not Haibane-Renmei with its timeless genius. What it is, however, is a full-throated, good-hearted, smartly-executed addition to an odd little fantasy subgenre that sometimes struggles to find its place in the world of modern fition.

Monday, January 10, 2011

First post of the new year?

So, a couple of days ago I watched the first episode (the only one out yet) of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It's a magic show with cutesy character designs that I was only watching because it's Kajiura Yuki's first full soundtrack in about two years.

Then I realised something.

This has the same director as Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei. And the same writer as Saya no Uta and Fate/Zero.

And I watched the rest of the episode. And. AND.



It's grim and disturbing and amazing and I hope it keeps up the first episode's quality (or even improves on it, since first episodes of anime series tend to be a bit bland).