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Final thoughts: Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, Zoku Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei

Just wrapped up a couple of series I’ve been watching my way through slowly.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki managed to hold it together right through the final episode. Yes, it gets a bit more dramatic toward the end, but then it got way the heck more dramatic in episode 2, so it was hardly out of character for the series. No downer end, still plenty of conceptual funny in the climax. I mean, you’ve basically got a weenie Galactus asking Cthulu’s human “parents” if he can marry their daughter. Tell me that’s not a sort of beauty.

It did, however, pull one total cheap shot of a cliff-hanger—one of those “Oh no!” followed in the next episode by “Actually, it didn’t happen that way at all.” Hardly an issue in the big picture, but really, that’s not necessary. In the end, the only issue I had with the entire thing was that I would’ve liked the world to be a little more concrete and internally consistent. That’s a personal pet peeve of mine, and it didn’t end up being bad enough to matter in the end, but the general idea of a semi-normal alternate present with monsters and demons walking around openly in small numbers could’ve been more than just a backdrop.

There were also a number of plot threads left conspicuously unaddressed—like what’s up with central character Ouka’s past—but it’s wide open for a sequel, and it was easily satisfying enough that I didn’t feel cheated.

On the flip side, that may have been the funniest Christmas episode in anything, ever. And I’m comparing to The Tick here, so that’s not just saying something, that’s about the biggest compliment I can give when it comes to funny. To explain it would be to spoil it, but really, even if you only watched the first episode (to get a handle on the setup) and the Christmas episode, you’ve got to see it if you like wacky comedy.

Speaking of worlds with monsters and demons walking around, I’m pretty sure one of the last things I expected to see a reference to in Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was Hellboy. Much less an entire end theme done in full-on Mike Mignola style. Hell of a way (hah!) to close out the series, to be sure.

In general the second of Zetsubou Sensei season held it together better than the first, and the longer, marginally more coherent (if even more complete non sequitur) plots were an improvement over the more random first season. There was a completely straight (ok, as straight as it gets) old-school murder mystery parody that ran an entire episode, low-key opening credits included. Relatively funny parody, and a welcome break from “hammer the joke ’till it’s dead.” Contrast that with a “say what?!” weird Ultraman/Godzilla-ish survival of the fittest picture-book… thing that kept coming back through an entire episode. It was probably a reference I didn’t really get, but still, head-scratching.

The best of it, though, was the “don’t hate on noobs” episode; it started sticking huge blocks of explanatory material in the margins through a scene. Most was just funny—character explanations—but when it deconstructed the abstract patterns the visuals use heavily and explained the use, that, that was something else. Of course, it also explained the stick-dog. Ugh. I could have done without that making multiple appearances in every episode. Come to think of it, that series had the only time I can think of that I’d really have liked a much larger censor spot when the inevitable way-too-graphic BL doujinshi joke came around.

Sadly, the season also seemed to run out of steam toward the end; a couple of the later episodes just didn’t have me laughing much. Not as bad, though, and on the whole I’d say definitely a step up from the first season.

Final thought: The giant lists the series throws onscreen to cover the examples of today’s rant that didn’t fit are occasionally funny. However, the classic gamer geek in me was laughing hysterically at two in the list for “things some people got into from the wrong direction”: Castlevania — S&M, and Ghouls and Ghosts — Pants.

Quick Notes: Code Geass, kyouran kazoku nikki, Planetess

Just putting some thoughts down as I roll into the end of the second season of Code Geass and the midpoint of Kazoku Kyouran Nikki.

Nearing the end of the second season of the first chunk of Code Geass and just got to the episode where everything hits the fan. I’m half impressed, half disappointed. It was obvious everything was going to hell, and the more it looked like it might have a hard-fought but happy end the more I knew it was all going to fall apart—the optimistic, nice characters in the series are, frankly, too naive to realize it ain’t going to be that easy. What impressed me, though, was how fast it went to hell, and how completely. Hope to complete bloodbath in literally ten seconds flat. Now the fun of it is trying to figure out exactly how this new, vicious twist will play out—my friends and I have come up with at least three possible scenarios that would result in layered and brutal tragedy of the highest order, depending on who lives as a broken shell and who will kill who, so we’ll see if any of us are right. So far I haven’t done too well other than in the general, but I’m more confident in my prediction this time.

The disappointment was that though the disaster is complete, the way it was done was kind of a cop-out. In that the series has gradually set up layered emotional conundrums (I wanted to write conundra, but that’s apparently wrong) that would eventually result in exquisite tragedy that the characters only realize they have created when it’s too late. The kicker, though, was really just a dumb accident, which, as effective as it was, seemed like a rather blunt instrument by the standards this series has set. Sure, it sets up the impossible actions the characters will have no choice but to follow through on, but I’d have liked it to be done in a more intentional, shoulda-seen-that-coming way.

Also a little worried about how much it’s holding back for the second series; I’ve got a creeping suspicion that it’s either going to veer off into some totally different direction or start treading water to keep itself going.  But, it’s so far held together remarkably well through the soap operatic twists, so maybe it’ll keep it up.  (Also, maybe I’m a little prejudiced against series that go on longer than a couple seasons—it’s one of the reasons I much prefer the finite 1-2 season runs of almost all anime to US TV’s choice of either endless treading water or the overblown mess that things like X Files or Lost turn into eventually.)

There’s also C.C. and the related Geass business getting ramped up with the addition of some ancient artifacts and the Emperor doing some creepy stuff.  My first reaction was “oh, great, ancient ruins and hidden magic powers” until I reminded myself that the entire foundation of the thing is the Geass powers and C.C.’s background, so it’s not like it didn’t put the supernatural stuff out front from episode 1.   I suppose it’s so solidly grounded otherwise it’s easy to forget the whole concept is pretty whacked.

Kazoku Kyouran Nikki, I’m completely sold on. The series is flat-out awesome as far as deranged, hyperactive comedy goes. Every time I think it’s put the cherry on top of the towering sundae of crazy it goes and adds another scoop of wow. Even the odd, sort-of-prequel episode tossed into the middle had multiple kinds of wonderful madness in it (though why they didn’t give you some signal at the beginning as to the fact it took place before the series proper, I don’t know—I’d have spent less time trying to figure out how it fit in that way). That you also empathize with and to some degree even care about the family members and side characters is icing on the cake (doubling up on my confectionary metaphors there, but then this series is on a perpetual sugar rush so it’s appropriate). It’s like Excel Saga with the nutty heroine factor cranked a notch higher (yes, I’m serious) except the world is at least a little bit functional and you actually care about the characters. The tears-to-the-eyes hilarity is chocolate sprinkles on the icing on the cake (…on the sundae?). Usually I fear a series this good falling apart at the end, but thus far it has ignored every opportunity to do wrong, so I’m remaining unusually optimistic.

Speaking of optimistic, Planetes was recommended to me quite some time ago by M Man, a fellow of impeccable taste, but I just recently got around to adding it to my weekly viewing get together. I should have listened sooner—it’s like all the best parts of Wings of Honneamise (one of my favorite films) in TV form with lots and lots of good science. The best parts, for reference, are low-key humor, an air of realistic adventure, cool science-based mechanical design, and a sense of wonder (tempered by jaded pessimism) about space. It’s a bit preachy on occasion, and I could picture it getting too heavy, but so far I’m loving what I’m seeing.

Also: I’m still not sure how Honneamise is supposed to be pronounced when speaking English without sounding weird, a fact that has been brought to the fore by Bandai’s Honneamise blu-ray label. Sometimes writing is easier—it always sounds fine in your head.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki Early Impression

A few episodes into the deranged comedy Kyouran Kazoku Nikk and so far I’m rather surprised I how much I like what I see. The premise is sort of brilliant: There was some ancient demon or evil god or somesuch that was defeated long ago, but it’s bloodline lives on in beings destined to destroy the world. The government doesn’t want this to happen, so they do DNA scans of everybody to identify the descendants. Killing them would be barbaric, though, so instead they just legislate them into a family to live together and be kept as happy as possible so none of them will WANT to destroy the world. Whatever it takes to keep them happy, the government will supply.

Thus you have a family composed of a top Paranormal Investigation Agency agent as dad (he’s the straight man), a flat-out insane, hyperactive cat-girl who has some telepathic powers and thinks she’s god as mom, and the kids are an innocent combat robot, an honorable talking lion, a good-looking ex-gangster (by far the most functional) who happens to be gay and extremely girly, not to mention older than “mom”, a cheerful, abused teenage girl from a mob family, and a pink jellyfish. Nobody knows what’s up with the jellyfish. There are hints that it’s basically Cthulu, though it mostly seems to like eating sushi. They eventually add one more girl who’s determined to turn the guy straight.

All of them know why they’re in this family, all of them know exactly what’s going on, and all of them are pretty much committed to leading a happy home life—the only one who seems that they might have any inclination to destroy the world is the jellyfish, and it’s still as helpful and participatory as a jellyfish that can’t talk can be.

The series is hyperactive like nobody’s business—Kyouka (the cat-girl-mom-with-a-god-complex) has ADHD and talks faster than Excel, and yes I’m serious. Half the time she’s in the background of a scene ranting about something to do with her incredible ego while everybody else is talking about something important. It’s obviously completely nuts, and generally in a very funny way, at least so far as my taste goes.

Weirder still, it’s maybe 25% relatively heavy emotional drama. Insane comedy with occasional stiff shots of near-shoujo-scale cruelty sounds like a daft idea, but then daft this series doesn’t have a problem with. Shockingly, it actually sort of works. The characters are nuts, but they appear to have functional personalities, so the drama actually sort of works. It’s a long series, so there’s a lot of room to go too heavy, but if it keeps the mix reasonable and continues to end on a light note (usually the completely insane plans of mom) I’ll be impressed, and will probably call the insane fusion a success.

High points thus far are two scenes where there’s an argument going on over mom’s spectacularly bad cooking. Yes, “girl can’t cook” is a given, but the food in this case is glowing purple and talking. Nobody’s listening to it, and I’m not entirely sure if it wants to be eaten or not, and if so whether it’s just to be put out of its misery, but I found that mind-breakingly hilarious. There’s also a couple of particularly crazy mom-plans, continuing cat-like moments for Kyouka (random distractions and thinking that she is the center of the universe), Excel Saga-scale high-speed delusional rants, and in one of the more dramatic moments someone telling a character that they’re being kind by only breaking their mind a little. Had a Code Geass flashback there.

Oh, there’s also the opening and endings—the opening is high-speed crazy that’s hard to come up with a parallel for (Kyouka rants at the audience over the song) with seriously wild visuals (wall of toilets!), and there is an end for each of the characters. So far that ranges from Kyouka’s hyperactive end theme to the lion’s dramatic solo with appropriate visuals. A couple are far, far too cool for anything in this series, which is just sort of awesome. I can’t wait to see what the jellyfish’s will be.

It’s the sort of series that can go completely wrong toward the end, but so far so good.