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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hunter x Hunter Flops, Papa Kiki/High School of the Dead Rises:

Rarely has a manga-ka so wretchedly ruined his own past efforts by making such a horrible continuation of his original work.  In Hunter x Hunter, not only do we see a sudden pulled-out-of-ass deus ex machina bomb that randomly and effortlessly kills the Chimera Ant King they've been unable to beat all this time with their own strength, Gon gets a random pulled-out-of-ass deus ex machina powerup where he can get more powerful for free just by wishing to do so, only at the cost of suffering some minor injuries which can be healed by, guess what, another random pulled-out-of-ass deus ex machina character being introduced who just so happens to have the power to grant wishes of any magnitude at no cost.  That's right.  The person who receives the granted wish is not the person who has to pay the price.  That can be fobbed off onto some victim you kidnap or slave or whatever, while you alone gain all the benefits.  This is the most open-ended and stupidly broken power ever imagined, and of course its invented out of thin air, with no foreshadowing, the moment after Gon gets injured and needs a free heal.

I hate unearned things in anime, and granting wishes for free, with no limit in quantity, of any magnitude you desire, is pretty much the definition of unearned benefits.  Why not just wish to become an almighty God and get it over with?  Why all the pussyfooting around?  I can't go on pretending this series is good when it's so wretchedly awful.

As punishment for how bad the writing to Hunter x Hunter has become, I've dropped its rank down to 98.  It's only ranked that high because I like the earlier portions when the system was still fair, like before they even got nen powers and had to settle things with their own wits.  I don't know how an author can make such an elementary mistake as giving his characters free and non-foreshadowed solutions to every problem they come across.  This is on the level of a 5 year old's version of storytelling, where things happen for no reason and completely contradictorily to the flow of the story, based solely on the author's wishes for where he wants the plot to go, ramming things forcefully through into the plot that simply do not fit and do not work.  It's like a composer who can't even tell harmony from discord in the notes he randomly plops down onto his score.

Hunter x Hunter would have been better off ending at Greed Island.  That's the only conclusion I can come to now that I've witnessed the train wreck Togashi has made of his own story by refusing to quit when he was still ahead.

Meanwhile, I've upgraded PapaKiki to 20th place.  It would be 7th place or so if the anime had continued to adapt the light novels like it should have.  Instead, it only covered basically the first volume of the story (which is now up to 15 volumes), so 20th is the best credit I can give the anime.  Why can I rank it above much longer series that properly reach their conclusions?  Because ultimately PapaKiki is about something more important, more relevant, and closer to the primordial levers of the heart than any other alternative.  PapaKiki isn't about fighting chimera ants with miniature nukes.  Nor is it about giant mechs tossing galaxies at each other like rocks for a battle over the course of the universe.  Nor is it about high school girls who happen to be Gods forming a club together and requiring constant entertainment to ward off judgment day.  It's about something that could happen anytime, and about feelings that are all around us.  It's about family bonds, bonds of friendship, and yes, even bonds of romantic love giving people the strength they need to overcome otherwise insurmountable hardships in their daily life, in the real world, where people have no super powers and can't do much of anything for themselves.  When a collection of powerless losers get together, and lean on each other, and solace each other with their infinitely rich hearts despite their infinitely poor material circumstances, they end up shining brighter and more beautiful than anyone else on Earth.  When a first year student at college who's never had a girlfriend up until this point and has no distinguishing features or abilities, suddenly promises to take care of his three orphaned nieces with his own two hands, through his act of compassion and generosity, he becomes a better and cooler man than any superhero could ever be.  The load he takes on himself is heavier than any mecha powered suit or chakra infused demon fox can lift, the weight of responsibility for the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of these tiny fragile lives in the palm of his hand.  And these three nieces, far from being helpless and useless dolls he has to constantly tend to, despite their young age and lack of experience, all in their own way try their hardest to help out and not be a burden.  Furthermore, it was their choice, no one else's, to be raised in destitution together, rather than in affluence apart.  It was their strength of will that preferred family over fortune.  Even the three year old Hina promises to stop crying to her stuffed doll bunny rabbit, because she realized that whenever she started crying, her older sisters would start crying too, and she didn't want to make them sad anymore.

When even a three year old girl is trying her best for the sake of others, you start to realize how meaningless a millionaire's achievements are.  Or a World Series winner.  Or even hypothetically the guy who cures cancer.  Who cares?  Did they ever overcome a hardship like Hina, and keep a smile on their face?  What have they really done?  With their blessed bodies and blessed brains and in their blessed, advantaged environments, who the hell cares what they can achieve?  God loves this family more than all the Olympic gold medalists put together, who no matter how hard they trained physically for their day in the sun, never had to do anything truly difficult in their lives.

The simple things in life that everyone takes for granted are actually quite hard.  It's a miracle anyone can have a family and raise them to a successful, happy adulthood.  Gratitude and reverence for the people who do so is the least we can feel for these true heroes of the real world.  And yet, PapaKiki was the first and only story to even try to capture this feeling, this challenge, this drama and put pen to paper telling this most basic of all tales.  You can go back to ancient Greece and all you'll ever find is stories of Kings and Queens going to war with each other or at best trading jests with each other ala Aristophanes.  If you look at classical English or Russian literature, you'll see only romance stories between largely noblemen from stem to stern.  You will never, ever have the three main protagonists be aged 3, 10, and 14 respectively.  The first story of a simple family supporting itself when all other support has already fallen away had to wait until the 21st century for anyone brilliant, or in truth loving enough, to tell.  No magic, like in Clannad.  Nothing supernatural, like in Little Busters.  Just doing your best in the real world, in a real situation that could have happened to anyone, with real people who aren't talented or extraordinary in any way.  The only thing that stands out about the people in this story is the size of their hearts.

The fact that PapaKiki only got one season of anime is the worst mistake anime studios (and in part the public which didn't make it profitable enough) have ever made.  There's simply no telling how good the story gets from here, because volumes 4-15 of the series haven't even been translated into English, and the story is still ongoing so who knows how much better it will get in the future either.  Combine the lack of an anime adaption with the lack of a light novel translation, and you get the most infuriatingly good story that's not available to the world in the world.

Meanwhile, I improved the rank of Hanayamata to 80th upon watching the third episode, because the show continues to just get better and better every week.  The Fate franchise is back up to 19th because 2wei is just that hilarious/charming.  And High School of the Dead rises all the way up to 58th.

I've gained a newfound respect for High School of the Dead.  Like PapaKiki, it cuts off at a terrible time and needs many more animated episodes to reach its full potential.  However, even despite that, the story is so good with the limited time it has, telling essential truths that are never told anywhere else.  There are three crescendos of emotional amazement in this series.  The first is in episode 1, where a guy rushes to save the girl he loves even though she's dating someone else.  That someone else dies against the zombie hoard, leaving her alone with our hero.  When she starts smack talking him for not being as good as her boyfriend, however, he gets up and walks off to leave her completely alone in the world, with a basic 'fuck this, I don't have to listen to this shit' cold and silent attitude.  When she jumps up and hugs him from behind, whimpering and crying that she didn't really mean it, and she was sorry, then and only then does he forgive her and continue fighting to protect her from the now dangerous world.

Men need to stand up for themselves like this in the real world.  They don't have to put up with being talked down to by girls, and they don't have to serve girls without any reward.  Men are not just born into this world to be women's manservants, butlers, cannon fodder, taxpayers, etc.  We have our own pride, and our own honor, that is worth enough to get through life on without any dependence on women adding anything more.  And go figure, if men would pay more attention to preserving their honor and their pride, instead of just slavishly granting every woman's wish in hopes of gaining their gratitude like dogs wagging their tails in hopes of treats, they'll end up more popular in the end after all.

The second emotional crescendo to this short but hard-hitting series is when a young girl's father is killed right in front of her and abandoned to the zombie horde.  The high school band of survivors which forms the nexus of our story rushes to her rescue when the adults had selfishly left her out to die while trying to preserve themselves.  Putting all their lives on the line for a girl who could offer them nothing in return, no added strength in numbers, but just a burden they would have to take care of from here on, simply because she was a young girl and thus the whole world should die trying to protect her, because she was innocent and didn't deserve to die yet at the hands of some awful zombie.  I love it when people trump their selfish, materialistic concerns in order to stand for some principle that's worth more than their lives.  When our hero arrives to whisk the troubled girl away, who's crying over her father's corpse, he takes quick and decisive action to save her.  He picks a nearby flower, hands it to her, puts a sheet over her father's head, and tells her that her dad died protecting her, and was therefore a great man to be honored.  She did just that, by laying her newly acquired flower onto his chest in an impromptu funeral, and then nodded with the willingness to be taken away, somewhere far from the zombies, in order to carry out the last wish of her father that she might live.

The third emotional crescendo is when everything was looking positive for our heroes and it seemed like the zombie menace was no match for their martial prowess anymore.  Taken by surprise by a barbed wire fence impeding their car's path, they suddenly get stranded and cornered in the midst of a zombie horde.  Everyone fights their hardest, but as their ammunition runs low and their tactics can't cope with the enemy numbers, the last thing they resolve to do is toss the little girl over the fence so that she, at least, can survive.  The fence, which in essence killed all of them, will suddenly become the guardian spirit that saves the young girl who's light enough to get over it, separating her firmly from the zombies no one else could escape from.  When she cries and complains that she doesn't want to be saved, that she doesn't want to be the sole survivor, separated from everyone, all over again, the man holding her ignores all her pleas and selfishly makes ready to toss her over anyway, not for her sake, but for his sake, of not wanting to know he could have saved a  girl's life but didn't at the very end.  Then, thank goodness, the people who strung up the barrier in the first place arrive to save  them from very problem caused by their barrier (ie, it's not a deus ex machina because without the misfortune there would have been no need for the fortunate turn of events), and everyone lives after all.

Almost every scene in this series packs a powerful emotional punch, because everyone's always on the edge of life and death.  Even the romance in this series is a raw, almost primeval need to bond in the face of danger and shortened life expectancy, where lust and need take priority over anything fancy or courtly.   And in this raw, uninhibited world, where you have to shoot people yourself when they try to rape your woman, because there's no police left to protect you anymore, where you don't take orders from adults anymore because in the new world the meritocracy is defined by how long you can survive the zombies, not what fucking college degrees you might have earned in some ivory tower, where sex is a bargaining chip for how to keep the strong men closest to you, where everything you want is free for the taking and you can steal any motorcycles, drinks, guns or food you come across because the only law left in zombie land is do what it takes to live, you get a sense and a relish for what life could be if we just broke all the rules already and lived according to what our instincts have been calling for all this time.  It's by no means a dystopia.  The characters relish their newfound freedom and power.  Life tastes sweeter than ever in a world where it's mostly been stamped out.  The survivors are having the time of their lives, and so are the viewers, who get to imagine such a full-course life of freedom and live it out, where every action they take has enormous consequences, where you have the power to save people's lives or kill the people you dislike in your own bare hands, even vicariously.

Quite simply, civilization is just too damned civilized.  We need a zombie menace, a nuclear apocalypse, or something, for this world to tilt away from crocheting and towards blood spattering everywhere.  High School of the Dead, like Sword Art Online, throws out all the old rules about needing to study 18 hours a day in order to gain the privilege to sit in a cubicle 16 hours a day for the rest of your life, and simply puts a weapon in your hands and tells you to live off the wild, the way you were meant to live.  It's such a better life.  It's so ridiculously better than the real world, that you wonder why we built any of these worthless concrete city-wide dungeons in the first place.

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