DDA Top 10: Number 1…

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Here we are, after so many months. Number One. What does Doll consider the best anime of all time? Is she really doing this tired blue-balls gag?

I’ve talked about this series before, it’s buried in the comments several times throughout the blog, but I don’t prop it up a lot because of how very specific it is, and how unknown it is.

I reference Madoka a lot as an example because it’s one most people are familiar with. Like a common language for contemporary anime fans. But also because Madoka, on the whole, is probably superior to today’s outing from the purely technical level, in terms of structure, style, and literary reference.

But as we said in the beginning, that is only part of the battle.

Today we examine one of the first series I watched with my girlfriend.  She isn’t as big into anime as I am, and arguably it’s one of the weaknesses in our relationship that I wish I could share this thing with her but don’t often get to.  But this was something she wanted to see, as she heard me watching it and liked the dark atmosphere she saw so she said, sure, why the hell not, let’s watch it together.

During the course of watching this series, she came to associate our relationship with the two main characters (something apt to happen to a lot of couples, I know. Hell we did the same thing with Madoka), but this has a unique distinction.  Perhaps less so for her counterpart, but in part because I am so physically alike with the character attributed to me, and likely similar shades in our personalities, but at one point she turned and hit me in the shoulder, like really hard, shouting “what is WRONG with you?!” I share this to illustrate how close our focus character is to my own heart.

I’ve mentioned all those things in the introduction about what changes my scores.  In a sort of foreshadowing, I was essentially explaining away why this series comes in at number one.  It has girl love elements, I have used it as forum avatars and facebook icons and cosplays, and it is ripe with dark elements.  Unlike Madoka, which had darkness IN it yet is still a relatively optimistic show, this series is a grand tragedy. A Shakespearean bad end that ends in death and suffering, and that’s the end. It holds out no hope, and I love it for that.

And above all, it is, I would argue, the single best character study series in all of anime.

So with that, let me introduce you, to Dataport Doll’s Number One Series of all time. Continue reading

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DDA Top 10: #2: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

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It’s HAPPENING!

You’ve seen the banner for years. You knew this was coming. No big secret that I was going to set this near the top.

Big surprise. What could possibly compel Doll to put this near the top of her lists? Tragedy, darkness, lesbians, magic and a literary theme construct that is among the best in anime history? Can’t fathom why.

So, a nod to a senpai: Much in the same way RedLetterMedia did the definitive Star Wars review, I feel SFDebris’ review of Madoka Magica is one of the most complete, thorough constructs there is in terms of what a reviewer gleans from it.  He’s a little short on the literary symbolism, but one can hardly fault a reviewer for that. I’ll be just as short, I feel.  But I would point you to his series on this anime, which mirrors many of my points. He’s also quite excellent at pointing out the symbolism of the series, of which he maybe hits 1/3 of the nuance.  I won’t be focusing on symbolism unless it reinforces a specific point, because you could build an entire wiki out of the references and hidden meanings in this series. But I want to point out his review because, well…everything’s been said already. And that’s from some asshole who isn’t much into anime. It even earned his distinction of “the series most recommended” out of everything he had reviewed to the time. Outside perspectives are important, and he delivers a nice balance. So for your consideration! I’ll probably echo a lot of the basics, but when it comes to the characters you can expect my personal spin on things.

And yes, we’ll be talking about Rebellion.  I really don’t -want- to, but the stuff there has come to just overshadow SO MUCH that it really has to be addressed.

So I have a confession. When I first saw Madoka, I was not impressed. I admit it.

The big reason was this: Everyone praised it as this SUPAH DARK series. It was wicked and evil and tragic and twisted deconstruction. Every fan, every reviewer said the same thing. “ULTIMATE DARK DECONSTRUCTION! OMGORZ!”  I had EVERYONE in my social circles prodding “WATCH IT! WATCH IT! WATCH IT!”

So when I sat down to watch it some two months after it had aired and hype was at an all time high, I was let down. Because Madoka is NOT a dark series. No, you want a dark series? Well that’s coming next. But Madoka pales in comparison to truly awful heart-fucks (hashtag heartfuck) that exist just to laugh at the tragedy unfolding on screen, and drive the spike in deeper.

It took a little bit of distance to go back and accept the series on its own terms.  There is darkness in Madoka, no argument from me. But it is not overwhelming. It is merely present in an environment where we do not expect to see it, which I think is what magnifies it in many people’s minds.  But in general, the series is quite balanced in how it presents dark circumstances with ever present hope. Many of the “dark” aspects people talk about aren’t even dark, they’re just complicated, and because they’re grey suddenly “DARK!”? If you are so overwhelmed by the dark elements because they seem over the top, I must wonder what small bubble you live in. No, honestly, get me tickets. I’ll have a LOT of fun there.

As an aside, this experience is the big reason I do not do a lot of research or cross-commenting on series I am planning to watch. And it’s the big reason why when you see me take a series like Blade and Soul, I try to praise what’s good about it and give it even treatment to the best of my ability, even though it is so obviously bad.  Even the series I loathe I try to give balance lest my voice ever induce someone to have a similar experience with any other show (Though comparing Madoka Magica to Inou-Battle is pretty insulting no matter how you slice it).  It’s probably why everyone thinks I’m this big anime Debbie-Downer with KILL la KILL and Noragami and its ilk, but I want you to have the most informed expectations, not hype hype hype or trollish hate.

I am kind of dreading heading way out of my league. This is a franchise worth at least half a billion dollars. It has just about as close to a perfect rating on any anime site you can find. This like a plumber being asked to design the international space station, I am out of element, but will strive to do my best.

So let’s get into this. We’re in for a long one, kiddies. Continue reading

Blog in Shutdown

I had truly hoped to get back on track this season. There are so many great shows I feel the most excited about being able to critique stuff than I ever have been since I started this little enterprise.

Unfortunately, certain events have been in motion and the likelihood of me turning homeless before the end of the season is the likely end result. Yes, for those who remember last summer, again.

If my situation should improve, I’ll return. Until then, I’m too distracted to keep up here. I’ll continue to peek in on all of your articles, of course. And maybe ramble my ramblings there.  Thanks for supporting the rantings of a crazy woman so far, I hope we’ll get to pick up this journey again.

DDA Top 10: #3: Shinsekai Yori

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If you have any pretense to watching this show and haven’t done so yet, you should consider this your last warning.  Part of the fun in great storytelling is seeing the themes that were subconsciously reinforced throughout your viewing experience bloom like a flower in the climax.  And Shinsekai Yori does this in perhaps the most spectacular example of any anime.

Of course, at that same token, Shinsekai Yori (From the New World) is, truly, a series that DEMANDS multiple viewings to fully absorb what you’ve seen. So spoilers may not even matter all that much in this story.

I have said it in the past, and say it now: Shinsekai Yori is the greatest science fiction anime of all time.  There is absolutely no contention on this point as far as I’m concerned.

This has been in my post queue for some time.  But, recent current events have made it quite relevant.  And the story’s messages are merely that “this is complicated”. Full of warnings, portents, and red flags about how we think, how we treat each other, and how we view the state and enforcement of order. But short on actual solutions. Continue reading

Spring 2015: Part 2

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Oh, it’s been a month. Quite a month! Lots of things to say and lament, and over much fewer shows than the first installment.

But let’s not wait, let’s just get to it!

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Arslan Senki

Now that the show’s starting to get into the swing of the story it’s picking up a bit from the plot side of things.  Characters remain the strong point along with presentation.  In all the atmosphere of Pars is wonderfully realized, and I love the palatial life they’ve constructed even if we’ve only been exposed to it very briefly.  It has a strange, first-person telling of the history-book presentation we had back in Madan no Ou to Vanadis.

I think that’s the big reason the simplicity of the narrative is easier to swallow now than it was earlier in the series.  As time progresses, this is almost like a direct adaption of a story by Herodotus, very straightforward and embellished, yet methodical and plodding event by event.  And yet it hasn’t needed to fallback on a narrator or other transition device to get this across yet.  In all I think it comes across rather elegantly in this manner.  That’s not to say the narrative has been flawless, it’s still been following a rather predictable formula (Oh, Arslan is going to beat an entire army with his four guys by outwitting them with a simple trick, how unexpected).  The strong parts remain the character interactions as they go about their rather pre-ordained roles, the banter in this series is fantastic and keeps it all rather elevated.

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Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha: ViVid

This show’s suffering from a lot of the pacing issues we had in early StrikerS.  The edge here is that I’m fairly certain the series will always be ABOUT Vivio, so we won’t just siderail a cast change mid-stream. I think. I can’t be entirely sure.  But it does tend to drag from time to time. But the action remains top notch.

I do admit I’m intrigued to see how Nanoha handles the Tournament Fighter format going forward. Or at least I assume we’ll get a few more episodes out of the current arc before the bad guy attacks, we’ve all seen this before, right?

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Knights of Sidonia: Daikyuu Wakusei Seneki

Ugh…where to begin with this one?  You’ll remember how in my recap of the original series I mentioned that the character stuff is the weakest aspect of this series?  Well they decided to make an entire season out of it.

Knights of Sidonia has become a harem series. And a bad one at that.  The glorious parts of Sidonia still pop up from time to time.  The Graviton Cannon scene was spectacular, suspenseful and full of that human hubris that so marked the morality of this series. The looks on the crew’s faces while Kobayashi stood behind her mask, only admiring how powerful she now was despite the abject horror of the weapon she had unleashed, and how everyone was too afraid to challenge her on the matter? Brilliantly directed, acted and blocked, it was a magnificent example of the kind of work that made this series stand out in the first place.

But NONE of that changes the fact that we are now spending 15 out of 22 minutes each episode exploring the day to day slice of life antics of teenagers supposedly on the brink of extinction.  Anyone who wants to make a defense of this series needs only look to the image of A GAUNA BLUSHING LIKE A TEENAGE GIRL.  REMEMBER THIS IMAGE. Any time you want to defend this series’ science fiction elements, remember this image: Brainless Harem flick.  Even a Gauna, the mighty, flesh devouring, apocalyptic Lovecraftian horror….blushes when the protagonist says something nice to her.

I won’t be dropping it, I have history with this series and still want to see how it ends. But if there’s a third series rest assured I won’t be covering it unless I feel it’s been too long since I ranted about harem bullshit.

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Kekkai Sensen

Still an enjoyable series, all told.  There isn’t a whole lot to say now that didn’t apply last month.  Stories are still solid, comedy is still strong, characters are still adorable.

And because the series is so episodic and doesn’t really try to character build or advance a plot, there isn’t a whole lot to criticize.  It has a narrow focus, and it performs that focus well.  I do wish we had more substance to what we were getting, but frankly they’re doing a good enough job at what they’re doing without needing to complicate it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Series Recap: Death Parade

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This was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Death Parade has some of the best atmosphere and mood of the past decade. It has style and attitude in spades. It’s easy to forgive a few flaws because the series is so damn cool doing its thing.

On the other, when we do sit down and examine the substance, it’s like finding out Fonzie has recently been reading Mein Kampf.  It’s just one of those double takes where you kind of still want to think of them as cool, but there’s that one really harsh detail that you just can’t work past. “I’m sorry, what? Did you just say Mein Kampf? Uhh…I’m gonna sit at this booth over here…for a bit…”

This is ultimately the problem I have with Death Parade. Looking at its moral judgments through hindsight leaves an uncomfortable taste in my mouth.  And we’ll get to that, but let’s start off with some simple stuff first, hm? Continue reading

Spring 2015: Part 1

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Yeah, I’m on break this season, but still want to maintain a sense of life on this blog.  I have been buried in my work and barely get to watch anime this season (serves me right for trying to do pulp serial stories xD), but I have (mostly) caught up on the first month of every series I think I’m going to want to sample this season. So here’s just a brief overview of what I’ve been watching, just to keep my opinion out there. Continue reading

Double Feature: Death Parade 10+11

Oh god it’s winking at me!

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Time for conflicts to come to a head. Time for the veil surrounding Kurokami to come undone. Will you care about her plight, or will this peter out and waste your time? Let’s find out!

I made no secret last time that Death Parade has been trying my patience. Not to the point of where the series is broken, but just a series of questionable choices from the story side of things. Production remains quite strong, and while the acting leans to the hammy, it isn’t really to the detriment of a work where mood is so important to the presentation.

We open with Decim asking to be suspended from judgments, parroting Kurokami’s words from last time. There needs to be more purpose behind them. But Nona quickly sniffs out it’s Kurokami’s influence saying these things, not really Decim himself coming to the conclusion.

Kurokami’s body is breaking down. It seems Human recreations have a finite existence in this afterlife place.  Nona orders Decim to judge her finally, and adds in she will send a special guest.

But Decim is aghast. He doesn’t think that darkness is Kurokami’s true nature.

Again, back to this utterly confusing thing about darkness being their metric.  That is not what we’ve seen, and why is it the goal?

This is the problem with the dilemma.  Arbiters have this dogmatic way they judge, perhaps it is so old a metric that no one lives who was around when it was conceived, as we are led to believe all the arbiters were born at some point. Centuries past, perhaps, but still born. Even creepy grandpa god isn’t REALLY a deity, just a powerful Arbiter type.

“Why do we judge Humans on the lurking darkness within?”  “Because.”  “But shouldn’t we have a goal?”  “Nope, it’s jsut the way it is.”   “Okay, so, how about I judge people based on something else, if the reasons behind it don’t matter?”  “WHAT? YOU FUCKING HERETIC! DO IT THE RIGHT WAY!”

There needs to be SOMETHING behind this. The argument of tradition is very powerful in Human minds (very much so in Japan), but often those supplement the basic idea of tradition with something.  Gay marriage isn’t tradition, therefore it’s wrong.  But the argument is also clothed in the idea that it is “immoral”, that there are no children to be conceived therefore the state should not have an interest.  Now I’m not trying to debate the merits of those arguments, but merely illustrating that there ARE rationalizations, no matter how flimsy, behind the fact that it is tradition.

If you put “It is tradition” in a vacuum, it ceases to be a moral dilemma, and becomes a black and white argument with only one clear answer for us to conclude. Having a bad guy whose motivation is clear is important, and we lack that here. It’s doubly confusing because they are so dogmatic, while simultaneously saying they couldn’t care less. Continue reading

Double Feature: Death Parade 8+9

If I ran the toll booth at the River Styx…

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I am dreading how long this review will get.  Because we still have a lot of unfinished business with this series that the show seems to want to move away from.

Central to this story, beyond the characters that are introduced, is the function and facilitation of judgments.

In the past weeks, we’ve tried to discern what the “rules” are supposed to be.  For example, why does Machiko get sent to the eternal dark for sleeping with someone who wasn’t her BOYFRIEND (remember, they weren’t married yet, they had no “sacred vows” or anything), yet her husband, Takashi, is given a pass to reincarnate because he wants to throttle his WIFE.

Why does Miura and Mai’s game not feature any Arbiter dickery?

Why does Yousuke get reincarnated yet Misaki get eternal dark, when both were as sorrowful and regretful over their lives? Because Misaki hit Yousuke during the game? How is that different from Takashi literally BEGGING Decim to release him so he can “hit the bitch”? Maybe it’s because Misaki did it during the game, and the game is the only part that counts?  No, wait, we see from this week that isn’t true either.

In short the judgments so far have been very confounding. Perhaps that is the point, but this set of episodes is going to behave like there are ACTUAL rules here.  Rules that we REALLY should have an understanding of before the characters begin picking them apart.

Now we’ve understood the part about “drawing out the darkness” for some time.

But I always figured that it was a sort of “you don’t truly know someone until you fight them” motif.  Lots of people hate that phrase, but I subscribe to it. Perhaps more eloquently, “you don’t understand the content of a person’s character until they are your enemy”. The difference between the “good ex” who parts amicably and you still talk to, vs. “the bad ex” who texts you death threats for weeks and weeks following your break up. That sort of thing.

I always felt that was what was at play here.  Break someone down without social constraints restraining them, and see the true content of their soul when they have nothing to hide behind, no excuses to make.  See what a person must do when they are entirely self-contained emotionally and see their sides emerge.

But this story seems intent that, no, the darkness itself IS the scale we’re using. Which is an entirely different animal. Not only is that the opposite of a method that exposes someone’s base nature, it obfuscates everything about their personality.

Even Mr. Rogers on his worst day might not pass this test. WHATEVER THE HELL IT’S MEASURING.

There’s a lot more to say, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Let’s examine the episode properly. Continue reading

DDA Top 10: #4: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

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It’s been a long time coming, but here we are.  The final four. The best of the veritable best.

And, much like Black Rock Shooter, I’m using this to accredit the entire franchise, as opposed to a single specific season. But the praise falls mostly on the span of the final half of Lyrical Nanoha through A’s, for the sticklers. But being such an expansive franchise, it’s hard not to just talk about everything.

Many people credit Madoka Magica as being the quintessential deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre. While it may be the revolutionary deconstruction, its forbearer is this series: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha (Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha).

Sure, the themes don’t get AS dark (exactly…it’s hard to judge one tragedy against another), and its structure is not nearly as theatric as the Faustian elements that permeate Madoka. On the whole the Lyrical Nanoha series is still an upbeat one.

But I rather liken Nanoha to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitchcock, if you can’t put a face to the name, is of course the father of suspense and thriller film. The Birds, Psycho, his resume is impressive indeed.  But one thing he did that almost no horror/mystery/suspense directors do, is he played very strictly “by the rules”.  He rarely pushed the boundaries, which is probably part of why he became such a sensation. He rarely went for “shock value”, instead relying on cleverness and storytelling to illicit your reactions to his works.

Nanoha is similar in the regard that it plays by many of the traditional rules of the magical girl genre, but it bends the way the material is presented.  While it doesn’t twist the magical familiar into a Lovecraftian horror like Madoka would, it does present the life of a magical girl as a curse of sorts, and not a blessing.

For example, while there is combat like in, say, Pretty Cure, in Nanoha that combat often ends in hospitalizations for one or both parties. The evil witch in Nanoha, Precia Testarossa, doesn’t JUST want to be evil like Queen Beryl does, she beats her daughter and flogs her for failure, while we have to grimly sit and watch.  And while Madoka often explores the “dark” aspects of love, the selfish preconceptions and such, Nanoha explores the evils good people will commit FOR pure love.  Battling evil isn’t a sacred duty, it is a last resort, and in a sense, Lyrical Nanoha could be considered an anti-war series. I’ll get into that point deeper later.

Which is why, as a fan of both series, I wince whenever anyone proclaims Madoka Magica changed the magical girl genre forever.

Yes, but not as much as you think.

As always with the Top 10s, there will be spoilers. But! If you are new to the series but not sure how to get into it, read the next section, it’s for you, and basically spoiler free. Continue reading