Akemi's Anime World

Akemi’s Anime Blog AAW Blog

Notes and musings on what we’re watching right now, as well as goings-on in Japan.

Sweet Blue Flowers Manga Finale Notes

I just read the finale of the Sweet Blue Flowers manga, and I’m somewhat torn.

On one hand, the ultimate conclusion is relatively satisfying as far as the main two characters go (something I was a bit nervous about), and it confirms that, indeed, the anime was only about a third (half, if you really rushed the second half) of the story, and despite attempting to put a period on the end stopped just as things were getting good.

On the other, the end felt like it came really abruptly; for a slice of life story about people coming to grips with their sexuality, having (major spoiler) Akira’s tentative feelings and relative romantic immaturity finally develop over the space of less than 30 pages—a chunk of which is about other characters—seemed almost like an afterthought—like the author knew where the story was going, but decided that we didn’t actually need to see Akira wrestle with things once it came down to it.  The end, basically, seemed really rushed.  Some earlier parts did as well—there are bits that just don’t seem to get the number of pages they should given the unhurried mood—but the end was glaring even by the standards of this series.

I’d normally blame that on it actually being rushed—either the author ran out of pages or got sick of the story and decided to get it over with quickly—but when you look at the story on the whole, I’m just as inclined to believe that she’s just not that good at narrative.  The series uses a lot of flashbacks and nonlinear storytelling, but frankly it just doesn’t work well—it often borders on confusing, and even when it’s not it rarely seems to add anything to the mood or drama of the story.  It more seems like an attempt to make slice of life more interesting, and one that doesn’t work well.

She also introduced a number of minor other characters that looked like they were being set up for sub-plots or something, but ended up going almost nowhere, and felt like they were cluttering up the story rather than making the world richer.  Again, it felt like the author kept coming up with characters she liked, and couldn’t resist putting them in the story, but didn’t have the time (or energy) to give them the room they needed to develop enough story to make them engaging to the reader.  Most could have been cut without removing anything at all, and I’d much rather have seen those pages spent on the main cast.

Speaking of whom, it goes somewhat with the low-key slice-of-lifeness, but it doesn’t do a particularly satisfying job of wrapping up the other two main characters, either; one gets some time that doesn’t feel at all conclusive or weighty in the final chapter, and the other was more or less written out about halfway through but felt, somehow, like she wasn’t quite done with her time in the spotlight.  At least she got something of a brief epilogue appearance later on.

The anime is an interesting contrast, because it fixed most of the narrative issues with the manga; it smoothed out the awkward or unnecessary nonlinear chunks, significantly fleshed out the rushed parts, and knew exactly when to slow down and spend time on important things and small, intricate interactions between characters.  The only mistake it made, basically, was not being a couple of seasons longer.

And that’s the real tragedy; Sweet Blue Flowers is a refreshingly understated lesbian coming-of-age romance with an unusually frank recognition of both reality and sexuality hampered only by an author who was a little too creative and not good enough with narrative flow to make the story as outstanding as it could be—it was forced to run mostly on the charm and life of its characters.  The production team of the anime clearly knew exactly how to work with and expand on this base material, but didn’t get the chance to take it as far as the story was supposed to go, leaving the anime a frustrating disappointment and the manga satisfying but rough around the edges.

Still, I’d recommend either if you’re in the mood and prepared for the flaws.

Detroit Metal City Notes

Detroit Metal City is a show about a nice guy who wants to be a mellow pop musician. Unfortunately for him, he got hired as the guitarist and lead singer of the popular indie death metal band Detroit Metal City, aka DMC. Worse, he’s really good at it, even though he hates playing the raging, Satanic, misogynistic character Krauser. His two bandmates are only slightly more into their job.

The episodes are only 15 minutes long, and are pretty much all built on the same gag: kind, meek Negishi being accosted by the demons of his alter-ego, ranging from nasty fans to accidentally slipping into character in front of the sweet girl he’s trying to impress. It’s clearly based on a gag-centric seinen manga—reminded me of a much less surrealist Cromartie High School—so the bite-sized episodes work well at keeping the pace up and not wearing out the joke.

And they are hilarious.

What could have been merely funny repeatedly builds to spectacular crescendos of horrifying social disaster or beautifully orchestrated juxtapositions of what DMC’s fans are seeing and what’s actually happening, like some kind of antisocial sitcom on ‘roid rage.  It’s got an utterly vicious, absolutely no-holds-barred sense of humor, great timing, and several times manages to keep adding another layer to the joke just when you think the madness has reached the climax.

You sort of have to cringe at some of the terrible things that befall poor, gentle Negishi and the nice people he knows, but even though I usually don’t go for that kind of embarrassment-centric humor at all—frankly, I usually hate it—I was somewhere between laughing and gasping for breath in nearly every episode.

Notably, the series has a great feel for DMC’s rebellious death-metal fans—they’ve got a mix of genuine malice and middle-class rebellious youth trying too hard to be bad that sort of rings true while being overboard enough to stay funny.  (And let’s be honest, it’s pretty easy to make fun of death metal fans.)

The intro is must-watch—it is (of course) a straightforward set of DMC’s signature song, which does a great job of establishing the band and their music (and raving fans), the lyrics are believable yet amusingly ridiculous, and there’s a fantastic bit of the band doing repeated takes into the camera that, for some reason, I just can’t get enough of.

Oh, and then there’s DMC’s fast-talking, chain-smoking, sadistic manager. She is the most foul-mouthed character I have ever seen in anime. We’re not talking “uses the blunt verb form,” we’re talking Richard Pryor having an argument with a Quentin Tarantino character. Japanese doesn’t actually have any functional profanity per-se, so to compensate, she drops at least one random F-bomb (in English) per sentence, along with a wide variety of other very graphic imagery to describe just how much things do or do not excite her.  Seriously, to edit this show for daytime TV, you’d have to just delete her entirely.

The characters—or at least Negishi—also has enough functional personality to carry the plot (though there isn’t much of an ongoing one), but just enough of a lame dark side to not feel 100% sorry for (I love that he really isn’t Krauser inside, but when he gets really angry in his pathetic The Office way he has a tendency to let Krauser out because, hey, I’m somebody in another life, really!).  You just feel 95% sorry for him.

The show’s a whole lot of fun, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  Unlike a lot of crazy gag-based things like this, not only is it not wearing out its welcome or running out of jokes, it actually seems to be getting better—it’s building up layers of callbacks to earlier disasters and Krauser’s ever-growing and completely accidental legend of mayhem.

Good stuff.

Eden of the East Movies and Fridge Rage

I watched the Eden of the East TV series a while ago, but it was a while before I got around to first spending the money to buy both follow-up movies and then actually sitting down to watch them.

Having finally done so, while the overall series (meaning the combination of TV and movies) was certainly entertaining and well-produced, I can’t say I ended up being happy with how it came together.

On general principle I’m not a fan of “concept” stories—things (usually seinen manga or anime, it seems) based on some contrived set of rules and/or conspiratorial power structure designed to function as an allegory.  Like, say, Death Note with its notes, Eden of the East with its Seleção game, Gantz with what it is, or, to a slightly lesser extent Code Geas with its geases or Kaiji with its gambling thing.  I’m obviously in the minority, since those things seem to tend toward exceedingly popular, and I do like them sometimes, I’m just not fond of the base structure.

So, that was a strike against Eden of the East based on concept alone—near-magical phones given to twelve apparently random people dubbed Seleção (because these things always have to have some random terminology) by someone mysterious that allow them to request just about anything and get it, limited only by a total budget of ten billion yen.  How do they work?  Why do they work?  Who is behind it all?  Watch, and they just might get around to telling you.

Or not.  Spoiler:  On the plus side, the show and particularly the movies do a good job of having the characters work quite hard to pull back the curtain, find the wizard, and break the game.  They eventually expose a lot of what’s going on behind the scenes and do, in fact, mess it up pretty badly.

On the negative (again, spoiler), the story is set in the very near future and mostly goes out of its way to be very realistic, except they never even slightly attempt to explain how the mechanisms they establish to be behind it all occasionally perform acts that are functionally reality manipulation. They show us specifically that they’re big supercomputers and have to use hacking—including tapping into the characters’ own crowdsourced Eden system—to do things.  No problem so far.  Mind-wipe programs, getting pretty extremely sci-fi, but again, the implication at the end is that that worked because the originator implanted something in their brains to enable that as part of the endgame.  But occasionally you have things like making the wheel fall randomly off a truck driving down the highway with almost no premeditation or transforming somebody’s clothes into hand grenades while sitting in the back of a taxi cab—things that you simply cannot hand-wave away as anything but magically altering physical reality.

I was hoping they would at least give a nod to that at the end, but, nope, nothing at all.  That really annoyed me, especially since it really wasn’t necessary to the plot—they could have kept it to a slightly more realistic level and never brought the questions into it in the first place, and it wouldn’t have hurt the story at all or made getting the characters from point A to point B any more difficult.

Getting back on track, the TV series was a good balance of fun, adventure, conspiracy theory, entertaining characters, and bits of action.  The budget was obviously huge, the production values are through the roof, and it even has actual Americans voicing the walk-on roles when the characters are in the US at the beginning—no ridiculously unconvincing English accents in sight.

It also has about the best hook you can picture—an about-to-graduate-from-college Japanese tourist runs into a completely naked guy with a funny-looking phone, a pistol, and amnesia standing in front of the White House.  The Secret Service is not amused.  That’s hitting the ground running in the right way, and while it isn’t quite that off-the-wall for the most part, it does maintain plenty of momentum right up to the end.

But that’s the problem: Toward the end of the TV series it starts to set up what could have been a series-finale, but the “game” isn’t over yet, the villains are still on the loose, and they haven’t even identified several of the participants.  Then they drop the lead-in for an obvious sequel to follow through.  Second season, no problem—plenty left to do, lots of potential excitement.

Except, oh wait, there isn’t a second season, there are two movies instead.  Not side stories, two movies instead of a second season.

Well, now I’m feeling a little bit ripped off having to buy two movies instead of a big juicy chunk of TV for about the same price (probably less at Funimation’s price for big-name shows like this), but oh well, I can live with that.

The first movie, King of Eden, feels exactly like the TV series—same visuals, same quality of animation, same writing, same storytelling style.  That’s not really a complaint—the TV series was so expensive-looking and polished that it easily works as theatrical animation, and the speed and mood being so similar made it segue seamlessly from one to the other instead of feeling like “Okay, now we’re in a movie, everything is different.”

And then it ends on a cliffhanger that feels, frankly, like the halfway point of a movie or a mid-season finale.  Like, basically, they had one movie worth of plot but split it into two to milk it for more money.

Or really, like they had about six more episodes worth of plot but mashed them into a couple of movies instead for the same reason.

But, hey, let’s see what the second movie,  Paradise Lost, can do.

Not all that much, it turns out.

It’s a much lower-key movie, focusing more on Takizawa’s backstory and finally finding out who the man behind the game is.  Which was welcome—I’m always happy to see emotional drama and answered questions—but it still feels like it leaves out several important logistical points that I wanted answered.

Mostly, though, was the end—instead of a big, flashy finale, like the TV series ended with, or a somewhat flashy finale, like the first movie, it puts a low-key period at the end, then adds two more periods and a question mark. I understand that a story about how to save Japan can’t have a clean ending—that’s fine—but it’s unsatisfying, open-ended, and predictably sets up a sequel, if they feel like making one.

A lot of the series, and particularly the second movie, was about either piecing together who Takizawa was, or rebuilding his character from nothing.  Then it ends up deciding not to really commit to anything—he remains more of a symbol than a person.  And in a series where the rest of the cast felt quite human and real, that really stuck out—his motivations never did end up coming together as part of a coherent person, which was annoying to me.

But that wasn’t my real beef with the whole thing, which comes back to the title up there, Fridge Rage.  Fridge Brilliance and Fridge Horror (warning: those are TVTropes links—if you click through and waste half your day, I’m not responsible) are well known—when you watch something, and then, a while later, you’re getting something out of the fridge, and it suddenly hits you, “Wait, that was brilliant!”  Or some fact about the story that you hadn’t realized before suddenly clicks into place after you’ve finished watching it and you realize that that makes the whole thing horrifying.

Well, there may be a proper trope name for it (I’m not going to burn a day of my life finding out), but I’ll add my own Fridge Rage to that—what happens to me when I watch something that I more or less enjoy, but then a while later (in my case usually laying in bed that night) I’m sitting there thinking about it and suddenly I realize that something about it really cheeses me off.

An easy example would be Howl’s Moving Castle—it’s easy to get swept up in the magic while watching it, but the more I thought about it afterward, the angrier I got that it was such a narrative mess for no good reason.

Well, Paradise Lost is a prime case of Fridge Rage.  The movie was a bit disappointing for its anti-climax and lack of exposition, but while actually watching it I was more or less enjoying it.

Then, a while later, it hit me:  You know what?  Those two movies were a total cop-out. They set up this big, fancy conspiracy and multiple antagonistic goals, had one big, indirect, flashy showdown in the TV series, then set it up for an even bigger showdown in what should have been a next season.  And then they cranked out two movies that, instead of following through, did essentially nothing with that, and ended by saying “Whelp, good show, that was fun, let’s call it a draw!” and then functionally hitting the reset button on the main characters yet again.

Or the whole subplot about Takizawa being installed as the son of the former Prime Minister.  It spends one and a half movies setting it up, then does absolutely nothing with it, one way or the other—it ends up being irrelevant to the plot and just sort of tossed aside.

You could argue that it was all a backhanded message—we look like enemies, but really our goals are the same, and who we were doesn’t  matter, or something like that—but even if it were true, that’s not much of an excuse.  You’re talking about a movie that people either payed money to go sit in a theater and watch or, in my case, payed around fifteen bucks to own on blu-ray and got a complete non-end out of.

And in reality, it has all the hallmarks of writers who either didn’t know how to pull together another big-bang finale, or didn’t have the time and budget to do so, and opted to just call it a day, throw something open-ended at the viewers, and go home instead.

Again, Fridge Rage.

Also, that totally did not have to be two movies.  The second  movie was paced very leisurely, which I have no issue with in general, but could have easily been trimmed up a bit in order to add it to the first movie, in which case the whole thing wouldn’t have felt like such a rip-off—at least there would have been a semi-finale in the film that way, and I wouldn’t have payed twice for one movie’s worth of story.

No, six episodes worth of story, because that’s what these two movies really are—half a TV season.  And I want the other half.

Not saying I wouldn’t recommend the series as a whole—it’s still overall a lot of fun, and the TV half of it was roundly entertaining in all but a few spots—but do not come expecting a satisfying end of any sort, or even much of a climax at all.