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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.

Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing Notes

This is a show that had me both excited and nervous. Excited because I loved Last Exile (musket lines on airships? You just can’t beat that), and the prospect of more wild, beautiful Gonzo mechanical design and aerial action combined with interesting characters and plot is hard to overlook. Nervous because Last Exile had a satisfying, rather final end, and it is way too easy to screw up the sequel to a great show—there’s nowhere to go but down.

Thanks to the approximate J-simulcast on Hulu (so nice to see companies finally starting to get that the best way to avoid piracy is to just give us an easier, better alternative), we’ve been watching this one as it comes out in my weekly anime get-together. So far, it’s… well, really close.

Visually, it’s all there—gorgeous animation and art, wonderful mechanical design, generally stellar action, near-seamless 3D work integrated with topnotch cell art. But then, it’s Gonzo, and those guys know what they’re doing.

Story-wise, almost all there—we’ve got a big evil empire with a relatively believable smooth despot holding the reins for a powerless child leader (good change-up from the loony villainess in the original), several other factions, sky pirates, a displaced princess, wild adventure, some scheming on both sides, humor, backstabbing, and more. The fact that there’s a lot of show left makes it unfortunately obvious that the big plans early on are going to go horribly awry, but no big deal. Lots of characters—a number of returnees from the original cast and even more new ones, plus some work put into developing the politics in the empire as well as the people on the battlefield.

There are a few somewhat incongruent bits here and there (particularly a comedic bit of sort-of-fanservice-or-parody-thereof) that seemed a little too targeted at fanboys rather than in service of the story, but not a deal breaker at all, and pretty low key. I could have done with the not-quite-16-year-old protagonists being a little less able to take down entire battleships with just a little help (I really liked that Claus and Lavie were skilled, but wildly outclassed by the older, professional-soldier pilots), but again, big adventure, so I’ll forgive.

Music wise, confusing—the background score is great, bringing back the same blend of chipper, energetic, sort-of-jazzy-celtic tunes and winsome vocal bits. The opening, however, is hugely disappointing; it’s decent J-pop, but it’s still J-pop instead of the creative, unusual opening to the original show.

As a sequel—hmm. I absolutely love getting to see so many familiar faces, and big yay for vague-yuri ice-queen pilot Tatiana back promoted to vanguard spy-ship captain with her copilot close by. Lots of little nods here and there to things existing fans recognize, but enough its own beast that you could watch it without knowing anything about the original (though I wouldn’t recommend it—it’s very directly connected to what we find out at the end of that series). But the lack of any immediate explanation to what we saw in the last scene of Last Exile, and leaving (so far) out a lot of interim stuff, I feel like it doesn’t quite fit. (I haven’t read the fill-in manga yet, personally, and I’m just watching the anime so I shouldn’t have to.)

That could be remedied, but basically, Dio. He’s back. No surprise, I’m sure a lot of fans loved him (not my thing), and he was undeniably colorful. Except he was not only mind-wiped and driven insane, then mentally destroyed on top of it, but all-but-the-body dead in no uncertain terms. Heck, as abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying as it was, he had to die to properly close out that plotline. And here he is alive and well, if as sad as his bat-poo crazy demeanor allows.

Now, if you’re going to kill a character off just before the finale, and not in any way hint that he is not dead (apart from a postcard bonus insert in the DVD case, which does not count), you have some serious explaining to do if you’re going to resurrect him, which it hasn’t so much as hinted at. New viewers won’t care, but I do, and it’s bugging me severely.

Also a little annoyed that the main characters are all new. New blood is good, but frankly it would have been cooler to have the main characters of the previous show a few years older, rather than new 15-year-old-prodigies. Yes, I’m over 30, so I actually like the occasional story about characters old enough to get a drivers’ license in my country, and frankly the show seems targeted at a mature enough audience (and has enough adult secondary characters—most of them, in fact) that it could’ve done without. But, hey, Japan has a deeply ingrained culture of youth-worship, so oh well. One can dream (and watch Black Heaven or Spice and Wolf).

Oddity—there is an interim recap episode stuck between episodes 9 and 10. What the heck is that doing there? We’re only nine episodes in, and already you’re doing a recap? It’s not like it’s after a break between seasons to get people back up to speed, or even recapping the important hidden stuff (a la Trigun)—it’s three quarters of the way through one season, and half the stuff they’re recapping just happened. Weird.

Undecided—yuri undertones. The story centers solidly around cheerfully crazy pilot Fam, her soft-spoken navigator Giselle, and displaced, out-of-her-element princess Millia. Early small-scale emotional drama is that Fam and Giselle are close, but when Fam goes all-in on helping princess-in-need Millia, Giselle gets jealous. There was already plenty of precedent—the original show had vague-yuri piloting duo Tatiana and Alister plus all-but-the-kiss Yaoi duo Dio and Lucciola, and some very low-key romance between the two straight pilot protagonists, as well.

So it’s unavoidable to start reading a low-key yuri love triangle into the three girls’ relationship (particularly if you were just watching Strawberry Panic). The question is if it’s going to eventually play it as full-on romance (presumably low-key, since the musketeer and the captain were the only ones in the original show to really have any romance), leave it as the close friendship it in all honesty could be if you’re not an anime geek looking for more, or be all vague-yuri and let the fans decide without having to make any commitment yourself.

None of the above would be really disappointing, but I would very much like to see it at least commit, one way or the other.

Current opinion: Looking very promising, and I’m enjoying it plenty, but depending on how it eventually ties itself in to the previous show—particularly that very last shot of the folks at home in a wheat field, which by age of child should be after the events of this show—could knock itself down a couple rungs for sequel-mangling.

Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari: Weirdly entertaining mecha harem

Been watching an episode of Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari here and there with some friends, and I must admit, I’m enjoying it more than it seems like I should be.

It’s a fairly hardcore fanboy-type show—a lengthy series of hour-long OVAs (boy, you never see that anymore) with surprisingly high production values, a blatant harem premise, and a boatload of fanservice.

The set-up is yet another insulting Tenchi Muyo spin-off not involving the actual Tenchi Muyo characters fans from the old days love. Here we have Kenshi Masaki, another Tenchi look-alike (though at least he has reason to, being a half-brother, unlike GXP‘s pointless-clone protagonist) getting sucked into yet another alternate world where he’s surrounded by oodles of attractive women with an inexplicable interest in him, plus some wacky magic-powered fantasy mecha to supply the action. About the only way to make it more generic would be if he had amnesia.

The series is certainly good looking; a wide range of memorably attractive character designs in the large harem cast, a decent amount of alternate-world architectural flavor, quality art, and relatively high-budget animation. And the world—which is either set in another time and place in the Photon universe, or borrows nearly every name in that show as well as the Ryo-ohki-substitute Koro designs—has plenty of interesting cultural twists, including a passably plausible reason for a large group of women being abnormally interested in one guy.

So that helps. It also starts out quite well; rather than the standard “guy gets sucked into alternate world on his way to school” setup that these things almost always have, it starts out from the perspective of the natives, who run into the transplant kid when he shows up working for the villain. That works because a) for once the hero didn’t just stumble into the good guys’ castle, and presumably had no idea that who he was working for was the villain, b) the world feels more “real” because our point of view starts there, while the Earth-kid is the one who feels out of place, c) it bypasses the whole “I’m in some crazy alternate dimension” section that we’ve already seen way, way too many times, and d) the hero is introduced right off the bat as being a serious badass and none too happy about what’s going on. He doesn’t even need some inexplicable reason for being really good at mecha piloting—he’s been here for a while, and presumably already got sufficient instruction added to general non-mecha-specific prowess.

So that’s a good start. Also breaking with tradition for a harem show is that Kenshi has more personality than the friendly everyguy intended to serve as a mental placeholder for the viewer usually does. He’s also anything but an average Joe—being from the Masaki household (and not female), he’s hyper-competent in pretty much every possible way. For once you can see why so many women would take notice of him.

He’s a badass both inside and outside a mecha, he cooks, he cleans, he builds, he hunts and gathers (yes, seriously), he’s polite, he’s relatively intelligent, he’s a fast learner, and he’s a dangerously good masseuse. A significant portion of the humor comes not from “what situation has the loser gotten himself into now” but the other characters wondering if there’s anything he’s not absurdly good at. I liked a hugely self-sufficient hero who is in no way unsure of his abilities for a change—sort of the anti-magical-girl. Him being a bit feral (Tenchi’s profession was a farmer, after all, so there’s precedent) is a nice touch, and he even unapologetically kills small animals with his bare hands because they’re tasty.

But that’s not really what’s most unusual about the series, either. What’s really surprising is that nothing happens. After the relatively dramatic, action-heavy first-episode, the next four—and that’s four hours of anime—consist of nothing but Kenshi getting familiar with a boarding school for the world’s rich and powerful and learning about the culture, or at least as much of it as pertains to their ritualized form of warfare based around ancient magical mecha.

There is essentially no action—a few sparring matches here and there—and the “plot advancement” consists of somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds of the pleasant teacher-with-secrets talking to subordinates about some plan he has that the viewer knows absolutely nothing about. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest, either—easily less than a minute per episode, which does nothing at all but remind you that there will, presumably, be a plot eventually.

And that’s why I’m so surprised; despite nothing happening but a mix of education and rampant fanservice, I’m actually rather enjoying it. (And no, not because of the fanservice—I’d have liked Kanokon and Popotan if that had anything to do with my criteria.) I’m guessing it’s because I’m a fan of well-realized alternate worlds, so I don’t really mind getting to experience this one in no particular hurry, and the general schoolyard hijinks/infighting/politicking is handled in a casual, consistently entertaining way. Come to think of it, the casual slice-of-wacky-life sections are one of the reasons I love the Tenchi OAVs so much, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Fans of plot-driven anime would probably hate it, though something will presumably happen eventually on that front as well.

One other strength as a Tenchi spinoff: While half of me is annoyed that they stuck what is a completely unrelated story nominally as a branch of the Tenchi-verse, it drops a handful of very good in-jokes when Kenshi mentions his upbringing. Specifically brief mentions of his various sisters, and the fact that he was pretty frail growing up “compared to his family,” despite being obviously borderline-superhuman. That crew would make just about anyone feel frail. Also some funny offhanded comments when he suddenly realizes that, actually, space ships don’t exist in his world… so why did he grow up around one and didn’t think anything of it? The shadowy implied answer is rather hilarious to the Tenchi fan viewer, of course.

Anyway, the fanservice is pretty shameless, but it’s still entertaining enough to keep watching, and while the jokes are rather obvious there are still a number of good laughs.