Series Recap: BlazBlue, Alter Memory

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Because I abandoned the weekly recaps of BlazBlue, I did not watch it week to week.  This resulted in me watching several episodes, skipping it for a few weeks, then playing catch up.  At one point, upon sitting down to watch the final leg of this series, I became confused, and went back an episode, feeling that I was so lost by events I must have skipped one.

I didn’t.

And try as I might to come up with a better, more poetic metaphor, I honestly can’t top this story of what actually happened. It is the most informative description of this mess of a series.

This is the review I have been dreading most, hence why I have put it off until the last.  Galilei Donna and Unbreakable Machine Doll were easy reviews, their themes and what was bad about them were obvious and stemmed from simple bad writing and characterization.

These elements aren’t what makes BlazBlue a bad show…I WANT to talk about how there is weak characterization…but I don’t know if there IS. I can’t tell. The whole mess is moving so fast I can only pick up the streaks of color as plot points and characters fly by without seeing the detail lovingly engraved in their features, or the sloppy Chinese lead based paintjob to churn it out as quick as possible.  It could be either, but without ANY perspective, it is impossible to say one way or the other.

But, well, there are a couple obvious problems with this series, so let’s tackle those first.  As always, there are to be spoilers. So if you stumbled into this looking for a recommendation, well, I trust you have enough information by now to make an informed decision.

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Not Living Up to Your Name

BlazBlue is a fighting game.  Any anime based on that series is inevitably going to have combat in it, right?

So does someone want to explain to me why the combat in Alter Memory was so….bad?

The camera cut around too much, there was no focus for the camera.  Usually the centerpoint lay in some set piece, and we’d watch attacks fly by the camera to strike the enemy (Terumi’s fights were particularly bad at this).  Camera angles were really far too close or too far to fully appreciate what was happening, they lost the artistry of the sword swings and the choreography by not showing you a full image or by making the focus very tiny.

For BlazBlue to lose to Outbreak Company in terms of watchable, engaging fight sequences is a crime.  Sure, there was way more action here, but it wasn’t as good.  It was quantity over quality.  Several characters appeared just to hit on Ragna for a bit then vanish by the end of the episode, not really leading him anywhere.  But their appearances were so lackluster as fight scenes I couldn’t tell you their names or combat moves.  Nothing for me to zoom in on and say “I like that, show me more!”

Rachel suffers horribly from this. I’ve seen her fight in game, so I know this is mostly being loyal to the source, but for someone who is sold as An Observer, a powerful demigod who protects the planet from…uh…some kind of death star, her fight sequences were so poor, it made me want to cry that this was the pinnacle of strength in the BlazBlue universe.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

If there is one thing to nail down as the root cause of BlazBlue’s problems, it is the “24” mentality.  The idea that as things happen in “real time” in the series, we must hop between every scene.  In some episodes, this gives us up to six different viewpoint characters, and even MORE settings.  Each scene focuses on a new thread for about 90 seconds, then switches to something completely different.

Perhaps it is more appropriate to refer to it as Sesame Street pacing, but that would be unfair to Sesame Street.  There, each one or two minute sketch has a defined beginning, middle, and end.  Here? It is one long mess that, even if you marathon it, cannot stay in your brain one way or the other.

Mostly, this comes down to the cast.  I understand that game adaptations tend to have lots of characters, and that is because games themselves, even not counting text, can be 40 hour investments of time and story.  Even in a fighting game, five sentences traded before everyone’s story battles can really add up and with only 12 episodes to mess with shit, it can become bogged down indeed.  Just look at Danganronpa for an example of game-compression.

From what I understand, Alter Memory was not based explicitly on a BlazBlue game, or at least not on any single one.  I only have this information anecdotally however, based on my friends who have played the games not being able to follow crap.  Still.  Even if it is, I think that speaks all the worse to the story if people who were supposed to know what was going on couldn’t follow the adaptation.

It is obvious that no one wanted to sideline any of the characters.  They wanted to use everyone’s favorites in as full a capacity as they could.

This is a trend that needs to stop.  There is nothing wrong with compressing a cast down for an adaptation.  There is a reason Tom Bombadill did not appear in the Lord of the Rings movies, even though he is quite popular as a literary figure.  His part did not fit the narrative, it did not help Frodo’s personal journey in any way, so it wasn’t even considered enough to make it into filming (for all we know, it was one of the first things cut from the rough draft).  And while there are detractors who might still say it was some kind of cheapened version of the book they loved, there is no denying that it was successful as its own story, and as a vehicle to encourage a whole new generation, a whole new MARKET even, to go back and read Tolkein’s works.

There needed to be more focus.  Ragna needed a more prominent role.  They kept him in the episodes, he was never sidelined, so it was obvious they wanted him to be central here.  But in order to do that his actions need to be given weight.  As it is, Ragna is a tourist who wanders around for about seven episodes, before randomly deciding he does have a conscience. He encoutners a lot of people, but none of them are related to the important aspect of this plot, that of the Observers, Terumi and Noel.  Ragna was basically “meta plot cut away”, anyone who could not fit into that meta plot, made an appearance fighting Ragna for the bounty on his head.  It does work, sometimes, as a way to acknowledge the characters who won’t be the focus of this season (and it seems pretty obvious to me they want a S2). But do too much of it, and it makes Ragna feel wholly inconsequential to this universe.

There were some engaging episodes of this series. Episode 8 stands out to me, it was focused almost entirely on Ragna and Lambda.  What few cut aways there were, were mostly on Tager and Kokonoe.  And these tied into the conclusion of the episode, so they weren’t just crazy diversions to get jumbled up in your head.  And basically all the episodes from 10 onwards were more focused, but that was mostly by nature of bringing the cast together to the same geographic point.

And yet…

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When Did That Happen?

The final two episodes of the series are basically an extension of the same big final showdown.  It was really more a two part finale than two individual episodes.

…And I liked it.

Strange, right? But somehow, over the course of this colorful set piece vomit I had picked up just enough about the characters personalities and their motivations that it gave JUST enough weight to the proceedings for me to really get into the series, at last, at the final outing.

Am I still lost? Oh yes. Certain details are beyond me still.  The Imperator is the one making Saya clones (like Noel and Nu), so I took away, but why does Kokonoe have them all? Why are some of these characters deemed important to the master villain over others who the story abandoned in Episode 4?  I mean the ones who have little to do with the overall clone-Grimoire-plot.  I understand Jin has new purpose, but what was his old purpose?

Just a sampling of things I just don’t know.

But I was watching the fights more intently in the finale. I was focusing on the dialogue. Perhaps that was because Terumi FINALLY gave us exposition dialogue and after so many episodes of WTF I needed the smallest hit of explanation before going crazy.

Perhaps having some exposition about Terumi was what made him interesting to me, but I enjoyed him as a character.  Well. I enjoyed his gentle persona, his crazy over the top laughing man impression wasn’t quite so interesting.  On the whole, his character could benefit from being more subdued. Or perhaps, we just, by the over the top nature of this series and the abrasiveness of our protagonist, need a subdued villain PERIOD to counterbalance the atmosphere.  But this goes back to the source material, I’m sure.  It may work there, but here? It kind of kills the mood.  If you truly love this over the top furry paradise that is BlazBlue, wouldn’t it make sense that the one to oppose it is a quiet, smiling man who pushes on his “order” in spite of the angsty, heroic efforts of our protagonists?

But I liked Ragna, I liked Jin, I even teared up a bit when Lambda/Nu reveal what it looks like from their mind.  And I was definitely captivated by Noel’s transformation, her gentle, moe-moe personality uttering the words “Hate. Hate. Hate.”  And her declaration that “The world hates me” gave her such an interesting layer, a great extension of how a sweet, really innocent person can develop such a loathing for all of creation.

There was the light of hope somewhere in this series, but it was buried far too deep to save it.

As a side note, another serious positive of the series was the opening. I loved the opening, I’d rank it just behind KILL la KILL for this season.

The Verdict

Alright, full disclosure? I cannot recommend this series. Not outright, not to a random passerby who is looking at this as a generic anime fan.  The plot is so disjointed it makes for horrible drama, there is no great humor here, only the barest of effort put into it. There’s no deep characterization and the only thing that saves you from being able to tell one character from another is their sex and hair color most of the time.

However, if fighting series appeal to you, if you like a dose of tongue-in-cheek meta humor in your plot, are a BlazBlue fan, or curious about said game and its story…You can safely check this series out.

The asterisk is, this series can ONLY be fully enjoyed at all in marathon.  Don’t let yourself go more than 24 hours between episodes, especially the early ones, because that is the only way your brain will hold onto any slight detail you are supposed to pick up on. Even so, there are better series out there. Lots of them.

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