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Monday, May 5, 2014

Gochuuman wa Usagi Desu ka?, Soredemo, Sekai wa Utsukushii Dropped:

Gochuuman is so boring and forgettable that I didn't even mention it in my previous post about the failure of Hitsugi no Chaika and Black Bullet.  As a slice of life, it simply fails to make appealing characters.  To this day I still can't tell them apart or know anything about them.  There are few jokes and they're all too repetitive anyway.  Really, it feels like all the girls do is sit around sipping coffee for 24 minutes each week.  "Cute girls do funny things together" is a wonderful formula, which gave us great shows like Kin-iro Mosaic, Kitakubu, Non Non Biyori and K-On.  But this show just does not deliver on the promise of that formula, constantly going off into surreal crap like talking bunnies (ala Tamako Market, an awful, terrible, vomit inducing show.)  The European city setting even though everyone is Japanese and still wear traditional Japanese clothing is also bizarre.  The whole show is a tangle of contradictions, apparently not sure what it even is trying to be.  If it's going for cuteness, there was no need to include so much fanservice, none of the other shows I mentioned provided anything like that.  I like the genre so much, and the art was so well done, that I gave this series way too long a benefit of the doubt.  It's just an empty show propelled by bad writing, a giant bundle of false advertising and disappointed hopes.

Soredemo, Sekai wa Utsukushii has its own share of problems.  The fact that a king isn't even willing to kill an assassin in the midst of a battle of self defense is outrageously absurd.  This is so far from reality, where if a king even became suspicious of a plot against his throne, he would kill all the suspects and their families.  Now we're not even allowed to kill an assassin in the middle of a sword fight where we're directly protecting our own life?  I really hate these sorts of kiddy shows, where no one is willing to kill even though they constantly involve themselves in battle.  If you aren't willing to kill your enemies, don't fight in the first place.  What a bunch of cowards and eunuchs.  Note, this is different from shonen action series where it is okay to spare your enemies -- this is because in shonen series, once you reach a certain power level, your previous foe is no longer a threat to you in any possible way.  You are simply immune to his low level attacks due to your power level.  Sparing someone therefore represents no threat to you in the future.  In addition, in shonen action series our heroes are always on some sort of journey or quest.  This means the people they spare are people they'll never meet again anyway, so there's no way there could emerge bad consequences from it later.  When you take those two factors into account, it makes a lot of sense to spare rivals out of respect for the good fight they gave you.  This is totally different if you're a foreign princess and a child king, surrounded by enemies and with a court that's mostly outside of your own control.  If you want to keep your grip on power, you must quickly act to kill as many conspirators as possible and put the fear of God into the rest.  As you are not a superhero, your power level is as low as any schmo off the street, and a spared assassin can easily kill you on his next attempt.  Since you are sitting on the same throne every day, there is no way to escape your spared enemy, he'll be right back on top of you in a matter of seconds.  This is as surreal as fighting off a burglar who breaks into your house, and once beaten, is allowed to sleep in the room next door as you go back to bed for the night.

If the author does not want to have a 'dark' theme that involves killing, then he shouldn't have written in this genre in the first place.  A good story about the difficulties of Kingship is Berserk.  In Berserk, killing both on the battlefield and behind the scenes is routine, necessary, and central to the story.  Berserk is reality.  Anything short of that is a joke and a fraud.

This isn't the only problem with Soredemo.  I find it unlikely that Livius would fall for Nike, because she's not cute.  Her patronizing, disrespectful attitude towards him is a total turn-off.  She treats him like a child and at best feels maternal affection for him.  This is not what guys want from girls.  As the Sun King who conquered the world and made his lands prosperous, he could find any number of girls who actually respect him and genuinely lust for him.  Why on Earth would he go with this hag instead?  She's more likely to slap him than kiss him.  Another thing that's just so totally off, why would he choose a girl older than himself?  It's so unnatural.  Neither boys nor girls want anything to do with that type of arrangement, and it just makes the boy look emasculated whenever she's around him.  If he had chosen a girl his own age or younger, even if all she could do is blush and look down at her shoes, she would be a thousand times more charming and welcome match than this girl who acts like she's your boss and mother at the same time.  This wouldn't be such a big deal if they were both adults.  If he were 20 and she was 25, say, it would be odd but overall you'd just shrug.  But with him at age 12 he still looks like a tiny child.  Her adult form right next to him makes him look like a worthless child being lectured on not stealing cookies from the cookie jar.  It doesn't project the strength and majesty a king needs.  Kings need the respect of their citizens when he appears in public.  Having this enormous woman always around him like he's on some sort of leash and can't be trusted to go places on his own is the most demeaning, ridicule-inducing scene imaginable.  From a public image standpoint it's a total disaster.

Also, I get really tired of Nike's 'woe is me' act.  As a princess taken out of poverty in some fly-bitten country and suddenly made the Empress of the world, to hear her whining about how she has to diet and wear restrictive clothing is absurd.  Every girl would jump at her chance to be at the center of money and power, and to give birth to heirs who will someday rule the world.  This is what every woman across all history strived for, and here she is whining about achieving the dream she stole away from everyone else in the world.  If you don't want it, quit.  If you don't quit, shut up, because obviously all of these problems are worth the benefits so why talk about them anymore?  Perhaps modern feminism has so changed values that even being queen of the world is no longer as attractive as getting to wear pants, but in that case, this story should have been set in the present, not in a fantasy Medieval past.  In historical settings, her character is completely anachronistic.  Honestly, I find it hard to believe even today that women have so far changed that they are no longer interested in wealth, status, or their children's future prospects but care only about the freedom to dress and eat as they please.  But supposing that's true today, it certainly wasn't true back then.  There's no point writing a fantasy if you aren't a separate culture from modernity.  A modern culture grafted onto a fantasy world is a farce.  With that kind of culture, a fantasy world could never emerge at all, it's a contradiction in terms.  Culture determines your level of technology -- the reason we had the industrial revolution wasn't because suddenly God made available all the geniuses and natural resources necessary to invent machines.  It was because we for the first time had a culture of innovation and logical thought, as well as the freedom of commerce and speech to develop these ideas into useful products.  It was the stifling natures of mysticism and despotism that held the world back for thousands of years, and which continued to hold the rest of the world back even when Europe was plowing ahead into modernity and colonizing the world.  If you plant a modern culture into 500 BC or 500 AD, you'll instantly return to the industrial revolution and 500 BC or 500 AD will look no different from the 20th century was on this timeline.  The only difference between then and now was our culture in the first place.  Change the culture and you've simply fast forwarded time.

A fantasy world should be a beautiful logical consequence of the thinkers and beliefs of the people who live there.  A Song of Ice and Fire does this perfectly, as does Wheel of Time.  Those were different worlds precisely because they were composed of a different sort of people.  Even within those worlds, the radically different beliefs from region to region made for a variety of very different regions.  None of whom resembled each other, or the modern world, because none of their beliefs matches so obviously they'd evolve along different lines.  If you don't want to write about a world pre-feminism, you're free to do so, but don't talk about mythological feminist pasts because it's just absurd on the face of it.

The good news is that not all series have gone from bad to worse.  Mekaku City Actors' 4th episode was its best one yet.  That awesome sudden twist at the end of the episode, which just leaves you in awe of the boy you previously felt nothing but pity/contempt for, is some of the best writing imaginable.  It completely changes your perspective about everything that came before.  It was just mind blowing.  I don't want to spoil what happens so I'll just leave it at that.

Love Live had a great episode focusing on the little-used character Rin this time.  Season 2 has been getting better every episode.  Isshukan Friends adding an additional female character to the lineup is also a great step.  Honestly, a boy and a girl hanging out isn't divine, because it's 90% fired by lust, an animal instinct.  Every episode of Isshukan the boy spends his time trying to police his instincts and restrain himself from jumping her and doing what he really wants to do with her.  All he wants from her is to get inside her clothes.  Nor is he a bad person or especially lusty or whatever.  That's just how men are.  Men and women cannot be friends, because this looming specter of wanting sex creates an ulterior and base motive behind everything you ever do together.  The girl must always be on her guard and wary around you, constantly trying not to send signals that somehow sex would be okay just because you're willing to talk together or be in each other's physical presence.  The boy, meanwhile, is constantly battling his own demons in his own mind, barely able to focus on the girl or what she's actually saying as a human being while they're together.  Even if the guy and the girl were both in love with someone else and dating someone else, it wouldn't matter.  The guy would naturally find himself attracted to the girl that's right in front of him despite himself, and have to fight his inner demons anyway.  Meanwhile the girl would constantly have to be on guard not to send signals or flirt in a way that would be emotionally betraying her significant other.  Of course, this is assuming they're virtuous people and don't just end up cheating on their significant others with their 'he's just a friend' partner.  But the psychological stress is still there all the same.  If they only hung out together as part of a larger group, it might work, but the fact that they're seeing each other alone together creates a sexual dynamic that's implicit in every meeting.  It just sits there bubbling and boiling inside their heads every second the situation continues, even if no one ever mentions it directly.

I don't mean to say that girls and boys can't be alone together without instantly becoming sexual.  Humans aren't animals, and the vast majority of them can control their instincts.  Furthermore, girls are choosy and unlikely to want sex with every guy they're simply willing to talk with or tolerate being around.  Parents and jealous lovers should not get paranoid every time a girl and a boy become alone together.  99.999% of the time nothing will happen, because neither party wants anything to happen.  The problem isn't the actual deed, but the mental tension pushing people to do the deed, that will 100% of the time occupy the minds of any two heterosexual, mixed sex pairing.  That mental tension is like the rotten apple in the barrel.  It just spoils the whole crop.  Sure, the feelings can be contained, but they cannot be extirpated.  They will hound you, dog you, and ruin your fun at every turn.  Sooner or later the boy won't be able to stand it any longer -- he'll love his 'friend' so much that it hurts to be around her but unable to touch her.  He would prefer nothing at all to this constant tantalizing torture.  And then you break it all off anyway.  Why not just cut to the chase and not bother in the first place?  Since the friendship is destined for disaster from the very start, there's no point waiting around for all the grisly details.  Just quit while you're ahead and don't make friends out of potential sexual partners.  The two do not mesh and will not work.

Isshukan Friends should give up on the friends part and be a romance.  If it isn't willing to be a romance, the guy friend should just leave the picture and this new girl-girl pure friendship, with no ulterior motives or desires lurking in the background, where no one is in constant torturous pain because she can't reach out and caress the girl two feet away from her (not only is she not tortured by this concept, but she actually could go ahead and do so with no penalty simply because they're the same sex and thus there's nothing sinful about it), should become the entirety of the show.  You know, like Yuru Yuri, Kin-iro Mosaic, or K-On!.  Good shows.  Shows with friendships that could actually happen and actually work.  Man, those were the days. . .

With these critiques in mind, here's the new spring watching lineup:

1.  Fairy Tail
2.  Dragonball Kai
3.  Love Live 2
4.  One Piece
5.  No Game No Life 
6.  Gokukoku no Brynhildr
7.  Atelier Escha & Logy
8.  Soul Eater Not
9.  Mangaka-san to Assistant-san
10.  Mekaku City Actors
11.  Hunter x Hunter
12.  Happiness Charge Precure
13.  Jojo's Bizarre Adventure 
14.  Isshukan Friends
15.  Tonari no Seki-kun
16.  Break Blade
17.  Naruto (when it gets off filler)

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