Though Galilei Donna and BlazBlue tied for “worst episodes to sit through”, Strike the Blood wins “Series I dreaded most week to week” (towards the end), it is Unbreakable Machine Doll who wins my award for “least defensible series” for the Autumn 2013 season.
And how. This entire series was a train wreck without wheels. Or tracks. Which I guess just makes it a bunch of building blocks that keep smashing into each other.
You’ll recall way back at the Line Up, I admitted that Unbreakable Machine Doll wasn’t really on the list of things I expected to dazzle, but I at least expected it to be interesting. Indeed, my biggest concern was that the ecchi would get in the way of everything. While true, it was kind of annoying, Machine Doll’s problems extended way, way beyond that. There were structural, animation, and budget issues that sucked any possible enjoyment from this series. So while I could discuss the basic elements like music and characters and art, it can be all summed up as such. Bad.
Got that? Good. Now let’s do what this show uniquely offers a series recap to be: Every individual theme and problem that made this show suck. Oh boy, this sounds like an adventure!
This is odd. You may ask, “But Anna, you liked the pilot, didn’t you?” I did, in fact, quite enjoy the opening week of Machine Doll.
And that was the problem.
The pilot of Machine Doll not only was basically a terrible introduction in terms of what to expect, it seems to have absorbed the majority of the budget. And I’m not the only one who thinks this, I have read things and had conversations with people who read the manga, and they were mostly confused by the pilot (it seems it is different in the anime).
So in this sense it failed in every way. People who did like the show because of the manga were baffled by the pilot, it seemed like this wouldn’t be the Machine Doll they came to love. And people, like me, who wanted a first glimpse into this universe were offered a setting that, ultimately, had no bearing on the actual plot. The same points address both camps: Emphasis early on of the Walpurgisnacht plot, early emphasis on Raishin’s single minded revenge with mystery (it was explained better in the chapter 1 manga, I am told), and a general lack of the ecchi-harem stuff that would come to dominate the series. Both camps were put off by the pilot, and while the former camp was already invested in some incarnation of Machine Doll, the latter camp ended up bitter towards the series for basically pulling a switcheroo in anime form. The pilot was overall a disaster in the long run, and basically serves to give the first three arcs of the story an even 12 episodes (although each arc could have been three long, honestly)
In hindsight, it just looks like the studio outsourced the first episode to people with talent, and said “Ah, now that we’ve hooked them, we can hand it over to our shit team!”
There is a (mistaken) trend in fiction, for new-ish writers, to avoid tropes. This is because of the perception that new writers (especially fanfic writers) use tropes to the extreme. So, as a fresh writer tries to improve themselves, they get into this bad habit of trying to avoid being tropey at all costs, because they don’t want to seem cliche. Though tropes are NOT cliche.
The big one that Unbreakable Machine Doll decided to forego was “bystander combat”. DragonballZ had Piccolo, and the other Z-fighters, Bleach had Yoroichi, and then other mentor characters in the role, Naruto always has injured or underpowered teammates looking on calling the fights. The point of this style is to give the audience a frame of reference, so when we see something cool, we know what is going on in detail. This is not always necessary (it was probably least necessary in Dragonball), but in a series like Naruto where you are trying to build a magic system with consistent rules and powers that fans can ultimately elaborate on, it is definitely recommended.
Machine Doll is one such series. Raishin constantly yells shit like “Power Strikes 48!”, then he flashes colors to give Yaya energy, and she punches things. What’s the difference between these punches? Yaya’s weaknesses are water and air, elements are constant, what the hell does any of this mean? None of this is explained to the audience, we are just assumed to know it. But this ultimately makes the fights less interesting.
If you do NOT adopt the announcer at ring’s edge strategy, you need to develop your combat system slowly, so you add elements in as time goes on. Going stateside, Danny Phantom springs to mind. He starts out beating everything with his fists, and in-tangibleness as a ghost. Then he gets an ecto-beam reminiscent of DBZ, then he learns how to shield himself with it, then he learns how to make clones, and how to overshadow people. He learns his Ghostly Wail technique, all of these take place over the course of SEASONS, so that combat is very simple to follow. And as Danny’s powers started low-end, so did his enemies, with ever increasing spellbooks of new and fantastic skills as time went on. They did adopt power narration sometimes, but this was mostly in Vlad Masters, aka, metaphorical Danny in 20 years, so we knew that these were things Danny could obtain himself, and we kept an eye out for them. Or in the form of Fenton gadgets, often the way out for an enemy with a unique power. But those weren’t Batman utility belt gadgets. Often, they specifically had to find an object with the specific purpose of countering the enemy, and often in a creative way.
Machine Doll just dumps you into the middle of a giant, high-end tournament and expects us, without any exposition, to just follow around “BECAUSE IT’S MAGIC I DON’T GOTTA ESPLAIN SHIT!”
And when they did try to explain? When, after the Cannibal Candy arc, did an Eve’s Heart ever fucking matter? It didn’t, never mentioned again. Instead we moved onto circuits. Is that the same thing? Hell if I know. This show didn’t tell me.
The trope exists for a reason. If you decide to BREAK a trope, you better have a fucking good reason, and alternative, to do so. We can infer some things about combat, but don’t have the characters look at us like idiots when we got it wrong.
Tied into this is certain details that don’t really leave an impact like they should. Raishin has chosen blood. Really? What might this chosen blood do? Something to do with magic, and magic circuits I’m sure. What? Did someone prophecy that an Asian kid with an incomprehensible sexual magnetism arrive to…go to school in England?
Oh. Yeah. Speaking of Raishin.
One of the show’s biggest weaknesses was its lead, Raishin Akabane. Where do we start?
Well, the pilot rears its ugly head again. Raishin’s character is different from his personality in the rest of the series. Specifically: He seems to have one. The train scene, the scene where he is admitted and tells Yaya that she is his tool for vengeance, the way he targeted Charlotte for her spot, even apparently BEFORE he knew exactly what his rank would be…it all spoke to someone who had a plan and was driven to see it through no matter the cost, with contingencies and anticipating possible future outcomes. A character who could out-think through cunning, if not through book smarts. And someone THAT dedicated would almost certainly leave a scorched earth in his wake, the feelings and welfare of those around him left ablaze if it conflicted with his ultimate goal.
Well, you get to eat shit if that protagonist sounded cool.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have my heart dead set on a character like that, but those were simply my impressions. I could have handled a character who had depth.
Indeed, after Yomi dies, Raishin seems unwilling to commit Yaya to danger, the trauma of seeing her die too much and compromising his judgment. This could be really interesting in and of itself. Combined with that character above? Brilliant epiphany scene.
But what did we get? Nothing. They just dropped it. The whole element just disappeared from the story. The one time I actually gave a damn what our main character was going to do next, and they scrapped it.
Raishin is the most boring person in this entire series. That’s saying a lot when characters are ignored for stretches six episodes long.
His only defining feature is his sense of justice. Definitely a positive trait, do not misunderstand. But this white knight syndrome that turns the women around him into clucking hens is too much. There is nothing interesting about this guy. Everytime he has a conversation with someone, the result is always the other person saying “Wow, even I gave you too much credit, and I thought you were a retard.”
Raishin is not only a character defined by lack of virtues (Save the one), but a lack of flaws. “He’s an idiot”, yeah, no. Not really. Not where it counts, remember? Naruto is an idiot. Shinichi is an idiot. Raishin is a tactical genius who just can’t read English textbooks. But even this is hard to gauge, we can’t tell if he studies his opponents….or if he’s just lucky, we just don’t have the information. What else. Doesn’t understand women? Barring that this really shouldn’t be considered a “flaw” per se, I’d say that leaves him qualified to write for his own series.
He is, in a word, bland. Boring. An ex-interesting parrot…character. And one half-date with this dipshit leaves Charlotte, Tyrant Rex, in love with him? Please. Is it his belief that Dolls are people, too? Because…I got news for us all…the people who think that pets are people too (the closest approximation we have to Dolls) are not the most popular with the opposite sex. They’re usually seen as weird. Crazy cat lady. Unstable.
Does all this lead to crushing on someone? Straight girls, answer me, I am legit confused.
Schrodinger’s Obi Wan
Shoko is the best character in this series, in my opinion, and the most obnoxious due to her use as deus ex obstacle. She was there to spout platitudes about how Raishin should not do such and such.
She plays his handler, as he is a spy. Sure, why not? Not that ANY of this was apparent at the outset. Not even a quip of, “Don’t forget Raishin, we have another duty here.” from Yaya. That could have sold it. Shoko is the biggest sufferer of one of the later points, but for now let’s just say that even though structurally, there was conflict to be had between Shoko’s nature as an agent of the Japanese government, and her role as Raishin’s surrogate mother figure, it was very much left on the floor, begging for attention.
She gave Yaya a power up though! In episode 3….when we had seen Yaya fight EXACTLY once. This has no frame of reference. It was time filler.
On the whole: My favorite character was used in a bullshit role. This is like when your favorite actor is cast to play the part any generic extra could have done. It may not be a logical reason, but it IS one of -my- reasons.
While we’re on the topic of Shoko though, I am hesitant to pull this card…but I feel that I must.
Now, before we get into this…let me preface this by saying I do not think EVERY female character must be a strong character. And I do not think that a female character must be infallible to BE strong (as many often do). No. I have much looser, and I would argue easy to fill standards before things get my attention.
Hell, you’ve all read my blog, I’m not exactly Ms. Social Justice Crusader here. So I hope you’ll hear this point out, that if even I am thinking there is something wrong here, there have to be problems.
As I said, I don’t expect our female protagonists (or antagonists, for that matter) to be infallible. Hell, one of my favorite female characters this season was Petrarca on Outbreak Company, and she’s borderline obnoxious with how flawed she is. But she still retains her strengths, political cunning, magical power, and wisdom of a seasoned leader with enormous responsibility literally thrust on her that she bears with a smile (all things being relative, for Petrarca).
And hell, just look at KILL la KILL for female characters who are both insecure and strong.
Neither do I have a problem with generally weak characters. They annoy me, sometimes, but not by virtue of BEING weak, typically in how they are handled. Kazuki, in Galilei Donna this season, when she wasn’t being thrown under the bus for cheap drama, was a good example. She fought, but didn’t have the stomach to endure. Miusel in Outbreak Company was also a good example of a likable yet still rather weak personality.
And if you haven’t figured it out yet: Yes. This is mostly about Charlotte and Shoko.
When we first met her, Charlotte, or Tyrant Rex as the students called her, was a tour de force. She was fending off a six-on-one strike with incredible tactical insight and power. While she didn’t seem to LIKE the new Japanese boy, she did feel that by helping her in turn, she might deal with him, such was her loneliness from the strong front she put on, the only person who could penetrate it was the only person who had no prior history with her. This also, if I might be so bold, is tactical on Raishin’s part to pick the one person NO ONE would come help when in trouble, to make his victory against her easier.
What brings this powerful, lone tyrant to her knees ultimately?
The boy she has a crush on turned out to be a monster.
How fucked up is this? A character specifically cited as isolated, alone, and enduring, to be brought low by something like a crush.
Now don’t misunderstand…emotions run high in high school, I don’t think it wouldn’t wound her, per se.
But as established, Charlotte, this powerful, determined girl with a HUGE cross to bear, comes to this school and a guy she has SOME interaction with, and thus is probably just an easy target of her affection, turns out to be a murderer AND admits that he will frame her, which will ruin her family, the reason she’s in school in the first place?
I cannot, for the life of me, imagine Charlotte’s response ultimately being “Sit on the ground and cry while Raishin battles the baddie” instead of “You fucking asshole…I am going to DESTROY you.” Because THAT is as much a tsundere response. It works both ways. While she has trouble displaying affection, she ALSO, should, have trouble handling an emotional wound, which often takes the form of anger and victimization. Which in this case would be to target Felix as the problem, and answer him with violence.
And it doesn’t end there. I even pointed this out in Episode 7 and 8, that when Raishin leaves to the sonic factory, she just sits on her ass. Not because it is in her best interest to do so, but simply because “I believe in the power of Raishin’s
And let’s remember, this is not someone who has even admitted to having interest in her, and frankly, someone she will not admit to having interest in either. At this point they are new friends. Not even a history between the two of them yet. Literally DAYS after meeting. And SHE’S supposed to be the strong one?
But let’s examine my favorite character. Shoko. A rude, condescending, sexy, sexy woman…marry me… *coughs* Point being, there was a lot of potential for her as an obstacle to Raishin. But she always, ALWAYS concedes to him. And that is the problem.
It is very much that parody United Nations discipline, “If you don’t stop disobeying me Raishin, I will have to write an angry letter laying out why I am so cross with you.” How can we take this woman seriously as a hindrance to Raishin doing what is right when she ALWAYS lets him go? Where is the conflict? Where are the shades? Think of how brutal (and actually engaging) it would have been if, when Raishin goes to the sonic factory to stop Sword Angel, Shoko beats his ass down with her other two trinity dolls, leaving the dog dolls to be exterminated. You don’t even have to, Loki could free them if you really wanted them around, but it would have made suspense! Or even have Shoko handle it off screen. Point being, it could have been used much more effectively.
Shoko doesn’t seem to be the type to harbor a lot of patriotism. So I can let “her duty” slide in terms of motivation. But then, what is her function? If not her duty and her job, why does she go to these half-measures, and seem GENUINELY pissed, yet ultimately impotent? Why was she trusted here? Is she proving her worth for something greater?
The show never addresses these topics. It is too sucked up in Raishin’s white knight syndrome to bother to level any kind of satisfying conflict, and thus make the show actually be ABOUT something. And I personally feel it is a BIGGER disservice to Shoko as a strong female character to totally ignore her other facets in favor of her affection for Raishin, as twisted as it may be. It sends the message, “Yes, even that powerful woman who probably just has pity for you may indeed go along with everything because she has no other defining character traits.”
Frey had similar problems, but as this series’ Hinata, I am less inclined to deal with her, mostly because her function in the story was less as a character than as comedy, and a convenient tracking system with her dog robots. But at least in her case, it is her mal-adjusted brain that can be blamed for her eccentricity.
Ironically? The strongest woman ultimately ended up being Yaya. Yeah. The one who defines her existence by her crush on Raishin. How messed up is that? But by proving she could move past rejection, she actually has a one up in terms of her woman problems. She at least had goals that were not just tied into her nature as a Doll, but as a loyal servant. While that sounds the same, it isn’t, not exactly. Yaya’s remarks when she’s alone and rational, and not hot-headed watching Raishin with a half naked girl, are really those of any vassal. They have a harem bent to them because she is female, but they could be put into the words of a male avatar instead and be played completely straight, such as her talk with Sigmund about why Raishin is important to her. Blood+’s Haji always spoke similarly, and while it did ultimately BECOME romantic (very, very slightly), it was just as much loyalty and duty as Saya’s chevalier.
A Moral Dilemma
Machine Doll had a serious problem with conflict. That is….it didn’t have any. Bad guys were clearly bad guys, good guys were clearly good guys. There was one time it got close. Magnus appeared once, ONCE, as the Headmaster’s bodyguard and if he had had to fight Charlotte, and Raishin decide how to intervene? Even if it was just to stop the fighting, it would look like he was helping Charlotte. Think of the consequences of that? And it gives a perfect excuse for a warm up fight against an underpowered Magnus.
But we couldn’t do that. Because that would be a moral choice. And that might lead to conflict. And conflict is for pussies.
Machine Doll did not ever give us a single scenario with grey area. This is depressing, because in Episode 10 we had Kimberly giving us the perfect speech about how right and wrong does not matter, so long as you make it grey. How can a show that articulates it so well, fail so miserably to deliver it? Because while the message was “grey can justify anything”, the methods used were clearly black, and we knew they were black, so we had no reason to feel conflicted.
I do still give them credit in the Elf Speeder arc for not taking the easy way out, and having Raishin feel Charlotte betrayed his trust, but you gotta do SOMETHING with it.
Shoko’s constant attempts to get Raishin to ignore the problems of others, all led to so much shit. They were impotent words with no real weight. We didn’t take those scenes seriously, certainly not near the end.
All of this leads to one big problem: There is no conflict here, just an obvious villain who needs to get his shit pushed in. And no one ever sides with them, you’ll notice. Not even Sword Angel, when having established Loki as a good person, but still having him side with Sword? That would have been good drama. Nope. Not here. As soon as we figure out the bad guy is up to no good, so do all of the characters. Even Kimberly. You’d think if she was this on top of shit, she’d have these people put away and taken out. But she can’t, because then Raishin couldn’t do it. That would make Kimberly some kind of protagonist, and we can’t give that role to a mere girl.
Yaya was woefully wasted as an overly emotional Doll. She could have brought us into light with the sapience of Dolls and how the world still sees them as tools. But ultimately, Raishin’s automaton was so inconsequential to both the story emotionally and plot dramatically, that I have barely acknowledged her existence. That alone says way too much about her. Raishin could have fought with a robot brick, and it would have been the same. Except it may not have tried to rape him. Maybe.
Dat budget. Dis bitch.
Machine Doll’s budget really did get in the way. I am not typically concerned with such things, I can deal. Hell, did you look at my site name? Andromeda is one of my favorite series and it is
infamous for its budget issues.
But fights took place at night. Always at night after the pilot. Because there’s less lighting and shit doesn’t look quite like shit. Though sometimes it STILL shined through as terrible.
I can’t determine why, either. I mean, I feel that each arc may have been stretched from 3 to 4 episodes, but with almost every episode having fight sequences anyway, did that really save money in the end?
Another distracting feature was the art style, which, Machine Doll has decided, will be in the lazy style of an amateur eroge artist. Little facial definition, simple shapes, more for representation than authenticity.
Which is fine! Heretical as it may sound to some people, I don’t care how you want to present your series, just make sure I know what I’m looking at, and it’s good enough for me.
Only, that was the problem. By the end of the series we had so many characters running around, and ESPECIALLY Henri and Charlotte being practically identical when they, by the script, were clearly not intended to look that way. Similar, but NOT like twins. So, in the instance of “Do I at a glance see what is going on?”, Machine Doll fails even my low standards of animation.
This was not a crippling deficiency, as I said, this only really became a problem towards the end with an expanded cast. I didn’t even notice it really until the Elf Speeder arc. But it was just one more thing I can’t overlook in a series riddled with problems.
Ring Around the Rosy
Most of Machine Doll’s arcs could be condensed into three episodes. So many of them would start in Location A, Raishin gets injured, goes to the hospital, sneaks out of hospital before his wounds are healed, and head BACK to Location A to fight the same person, in nearly exactly the same conditions. It was so much walking without going anywhere. None of these things couldn’t have been handled in more interesting ways.
I cite Episode 11, Elf Speeder. As I pointed out then, it starts with Raishin fighting Sin, and ends with Raishin fighting Sin. What changed? Well, Raishin had a talk with Charlotte. So that way, he can fight alongside her this time! But wouldn’t it have made more sense, both from Charlotte’s character and structurally, to have her intervene in the first fight, the one where she thought Sin was going to kill Raishin? Make it a moment that FUCKING MATTERED. Her confession that it’s irrational, but she will help Raishin, he has become that important to her.
No? No, of course we can’t do that. That would be
Overall Machine Doll suffered from this serious problem with its narrative flow. But that was really all for one reason.
White Knight Syndrome
I realize harem series are a sort of fantasy fulfillment. I understand that. But why do they also have to be BAD? I hope I’ve pointed out that they can be good, with some simple changes.
Hell, we did have a GOOD series with harem elements this season. That show was Outbreak Company.
So this is telling the audience that yes, even you, Mr. White Knight, can win the girls. All the characters, all their backstories, all the conflict is secondary to the fact that Raishin is just a swell guy and wants to help people.
By being as boring and uninteresting as possible.
We know why. It’s the same reason Twilight worked. Raishin is boring because he is Everyman.
And that is the only solace that prevents me from getting TOO worked up about this show.
Is that this is anime Twilight. You’re welcome fans. Enjoy your crap show.
(In all honesty, you are completely in the right to agree or disagree with me)
Is bad. It’s just bad. Don’t watch it. Avoid it. There are MUCH better shows about people fighting with magical automatons. Like Pokemon.
Just…don’t. Let this thing die the death it deserves.
Unless you take pleasure in seeing how bad a show can be. But this isn’t even really “so bad it’s good.” It’s just bad.
You were warned.