Well, here’s a story that ends in tragedy: I discovered today that VIZ Media has their own website, complete with a section full of streaming anime, and figuring I’d like to give it a shot, I jumped in to see what they offer. What I was hoping for was a full site-based streaming service, akin to Crunchyroll or Funimation, that offered all (or at least some) of the anime VIZ has licensed over the years, since they own the original Sailor Moon and will be releasing a dub of Sailor Moon Crystal and all. Instead, what I found was that their video pages first pop up an advertisement for one of the DVD sets they have on sale relating to the current anime you’re watching, and then the page loads the Hulu player. It turns out that basically all of the VIZ anime on the site (or all the anime I was willing to experiment with anyway) is hosted on Hulu, giving you the ability to watch more or less everything VIZ has to offer right from the Hulu site directly more or less. While it’s possible some of their anime is hosted in-house, nothing I checked out was, so it seems to be more or less an agreement between the two where Hulu hosts it and VIZ shows it.
I cannot even begin to express what a stupid idea this is.
The most obvious problem here is, why would I even go to the VIZ website in the first place if I can just watch everything on Hulu? I know that we’re in a golden age where websites mostly only exist to give basic product information or whatever, but let’s be honest here: building a site to host your Hulu player app is essentially throwing money down the literal toilet when you can just redirect people to Hulu in the first place. Further, FUCK. HULU. If I can pay eight dollars a month to basically watch a decade’s worth of anime or simulcasts of subtitled anime the day they come out, why am I going to pay twelve to a service that STILL uses ads for stuff I might want to watch? Finally, and this is the most important part, VIZ is literally, if you choose to watch the anime through their website, forcing you to sit through an ad before you can start up the anime, which forces you to see more ads. It’s literally a business model designed to make people not want to watch your anime, and honestly, the anime people care about that they have licensed shows up on simulcast over at, you guessed it, Crunchyroll. The only reason you’d even bother watching the Hulu stream is if you want to see the more obscure stuff VIZ licenses, if you want to watch the original Sailor Moon anime and haven’t bought it yourself yet, or if you’re really desperate for dubbed versions of Naruto. If that’s you, I understand, but if it isn’t, then you’ll probably do what I did: close the website and never look back.
I, and I would assume many others, would rather just hand you my money directly than hand it to Hulu and avoid your site entirely, VIZ, and if you’d rather filter that money through Hulu, that’s fine I guess, but I’d rather not give Hulu that money, so, uh, have fun with that.
Anyway, let’s get down to business.
Ongoing Series Discussion:
God Eater (Seven Episodes):
I was kind of hoping that this storyline would’ve concluded with Lenka, Alisa and Lindow back at the base by now, but the creators had another story left in them, and all told, it’s an interesting one that, while it has nothing to do with the game narrative, actually works much better than you’d expect. The core idea here seems to be as much about building the relationship between Lindow and Lenka as it is about helping Lenka become a better, more well-rounded character, and the good news is that the episode does both of these things with flying colors. Lindow comes out of this episode looking like a pragmatic thinker with a good eye for talent who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect the things he believes in, while Lenka starts focusing on actually making the sorts of decisions that are less “self-sacrifice in the name of saving lives” and more capable of actually being good decisions. The downside is, Alisa’s role in the plot is still revolving around her broken mental state when off of her medications, so while she’s far more pleasant than her videogame counterpart, she’s also more painful to watch. I do like that the issue isn’t weakness so much as actual personal trauma, so Alisa can eventually become a powerful character again instead of a nothing support cast member, but it’s still harsh watching this continue onward, especially in life threatening situations.
As the episode starts off, the trio heads into a forest of… surprisingly odd-looking trees, which Lenka notes probably should have been eaten by the Aragami by now… and Lindow warns the others not to touch, for some odd reason. It turns out the trees act as a sort of protective measure for a small town built for survivors who have been rejected by the larger cities, and Lindow has been directing people who are rejected to this place to help them survive. Before the group gets too comfortable, however, the town is attacked by two Aragami, a Vajra that Lindow goes into battle against, and a Borg Camlann (in its first, unnamed, appearance) that Lenka has to deal with, alone, with a non-functional God Arc. There are some interesting developments here, such as Lenka learning how to think tactically based on the instructions Lindow give him and Lenka figuring out the true extent of the damage done to his God Arc, that are interesting and will hopefully inform more developments as the series goes on. The revelation of what Lindow is doing to support the town is also a bit of an oddity, as is the slight bonding that goes on between Lenka and Alisa early in the episode. The only thing one could say was awkward about the episode, honestly, was Alisa’s mid-episode plot developments, as between the bath scene and the subsequent mental breakdown she has, it was kind of an odd sequence of events. It makes sense, both in context and if you know the events of the game, but I honestly hope we either resolve this plotline soon or go back to Alisa being confident again for a couple of episodes, because it’s written well, but it’s not something I’m enjoying put into action, essentially.
MY Love STORY!! (Twenty Two Episodes):
I’m honestly not sure how I feel about this episode, to be direct about it. The idea of focusing an episode or two on Suna’s romantic situation was certainly an interesting one, especially since he’s not had even so much as an actual date in twenty episodes, and any instance where ladies have been involved has more or less ended with him rolling his eyes and bailing out. I certainly didn’t expect him to instantly jump into a relationship with the first lady he met, obviously, but I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from any romantic interactions revolving around Suna. So when this episode essentially became that thing, I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I am sure it… wasn’t what happened. It certainly made sense in the end, to be sure, and the episode was cute, but it was honestly interesting seeing Suna doing something that took him out of his established comfort zone, especially when you got the impression that it probably wasn’t going to end particularly well, I think. To put it another way, Suna often sees his character development come from his interactions with Takeo and Rinko, because they’re the protagonists of the story, but this might well be the first time he’s been allowed to develop on his own terms, and it was actually pretty refreshing. I just wish it hadn’t had to come as a result of what was otherwise kind of a sad story, especially since it’s a story we’ve already seen from Takeo’s perspective (sometimes you can’t make things better), and it really wasn’t much different from that take on the concept.
Anyway, the episode picks up almost exactly from the end of the prior one; Yukika asks Suna out on a date, after Takeo kind of pushes her to do so, and at his insistence, she makes it a double-date so that everyone will be a bit more comfortable. The group goes to the zoo, which initially starts off as a fairly awkward sequence of events when Yukika finds it almost impossible to talk to Suna, but things quickly pick up as the others push her into trying, and even Suna makes some nice efforts toward trying to get her to open up a bit. Unfortunately, Yukika eventually clues into the fact that Suna probably doesn’t have any real feelings for her, despite her best efforts, and the episode more or less resolves that plot point about as well as it’s going to before moving on to Suna and Takeo having a heart-to-heart as an ending. The episode is fine, in that Suna probably needed to do something regarding his love life before the end of the current season (as mentioned above), and it gave him some much needed solo character development, which was a good thing. However, as I also mentioned above, this plot already popped up with Takeo earlier in the series; specifically, Episode 16, “My Disciple,” already featured the rejected love confession plot storyline, only with Takeo as the rejector and Suna as the person offering comfort. It’s not a bad plot to use over again per say, and Takeo’s reasons for rejecting a lady would be far different from Suna’s, to be sure… it’s just kind of frustrating seeing that same plot concept six episodes later, even if the context is different. A little more space between episodes, or a different ending would’ve helped a lot. The episode still isn’t bad, mind you, but it’s one of the less interesting ones overall, sadly, and so close to the end of the season that’s kind of disappointing.
Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls (Nine Episodes)
Well, this episode marks the official start of a multiple episode subplot that I’ve kind of been looking forward to, based on the manga, but not for the actual episodic content… if that makes sense. Basically, up to this point we’ve more or less been building the world and character personalities, as well as introducing new characters when needed, with the goal of getting the gang together so we can advance the plot proper. Well, we’re there now, finally, so now the anime officially gets to start advancing long-term plotlines, and the first of those is the “threatening letter” arc (even if we’re skipping the exercise side story to get there). The arc itself is nothing special, mind you; Kurusu gets a threatening letter, and takes the girls out on dates as a method of trying to draw out the killer. The concept is fine enough, except that it’s not especially executed in a way that’s satisfying for… well, anyone, honestly, except maybe Miia and Cerea. Rather, the reasons I’ve been looking forward to the story arc are three: first, because it involves more of the MON Squad (which is comedy gold), second, because it eventually introduces another character (who doesn’t want to jump Kurusu), and third, because Suu turns into a kaiju for part of one story, and that’s hilarious.
Uh, spoilers I guess.
Anyway, this episode starts off with a storyline where the girls are following Kurusu and Smith around because… they think Kurusu is cheating on them with Smith, basically? I have to be honest, the setup for this episode is kind of derpy, since there’s really no reason for the cast to assume Kurusu’s cheating on them just because he goes out with Smith (since she is their liaison and all) but fine, whatever, let’s go with it. Most of the episode is essentially a setup for Suu to show off her transformation skills… and molest some of the cast because that’s Suu’s entire character arc so far: molest people while collecting water and transform into basically anything. Not that this is a surprise, of course, but of course Kurusu isn’t cheating on them with Smith; rather, he received a threatening letter, and the date was to try and draw out the writer. This becomes a running event, as Kurusu is tasked to take the girls out on dates while members of MON watch from the sidelines, which you would think would be an opportunity to write character-centric stories while Kurusu goes on a date with each girl, but is instead a chance for each girl to be paired up with what is ostensibly their direct competition on a two-girl date of sorts. The first date happens this episode, as Kurusu takes Mero and Miia out on a date to the aquarium, which is… really weird, honestly. We’re given our first real hint that Mero is more than she claims to be here, as well as some teases toward a Miia pairing… oh, and we meet another extra-human who’s really into Miia, which turns into exactly the sort of disaster you’d expect. Still, while the first half of the episode is kind of weird at points, overall, this isn’t a bad episode on the whole. The interactions between Miia and Kurusu are kind of cute, actually, and the end of the episode is cute enough. Next week’s episode will probably be more amusing all in all, but this one was a good introduction to the storyline, so overall, it worked.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan (Thirteen Episodes)
Kyon: “Nice to have some peace and quiet, huh?”
Koizumi: “Yeah, it is.”
Haruhi: “Hey guys I’m here!”
Kyon: “Couldn’t you have maybe… locked the door?”
Koizumi: “Now I know for next time.”
– this anime, basically summing up my feelings in one exchange.
Well, this anime went off the rails in a hurry.
When last we left, the characters were spending time in a hot spring, and the ninth episode picks up that thread, as the characters engage in a brief card game that ends in a false plot development, before everyone heads out for stargazing, more or less interrupting Kyon and Yuki from going by themselves. This actually ends up with something of a plot development, in that Kyon and Yuki evolve their relationship a bit by holding hands (it’s a big deal in the anime, I assure you), so rather than developing that thread any further, instead Yuki is almost hit by a car. There’s a glimmer of a plot thread in that idea about learning the value of life (and ostensibly trying to really get her feelings about Kyon out there), but instead, the shock ends up causing Yuki to spontaneously develop a new personality, somehow, which is… certainly a novel plot thread? We spend episodes ten through thirteen with this new version of Yuki, which is surprisingly pleasant in a “everything is very simple and character-based” fashion, before Yuki reverts to her original persona… but not before her new persona confesses to Kyon. This, of course, makes things super awkward, because God forbid we get any actual plot progression; instead we get four episodes based around a character who we won’t be seeing again (presumably), a confession that will in no way resolve anything, and a return to the general status quo. Hell, there’s this whole sequence at the end of the thirteenth episode where Kyon is basically having a mild grief breakdown because the old Yuki is coming back and the new one is leaving where he expresses, basically, that he’s sad about this, but that he never really knew what was going on because she was so hard to talk to, which… why are you going to miss this person? Because she helped you with your homework and thought books were really cool? Because she confessed her love for you when you’ve shown absolutely no indication of reciprocity at this point? Hell, how long has she actually been around, a week? Two? To the audience she’s been around for about two hours, and about half of our exposure to her was through the original Yuki’s memories. Are we supposed to assume she’s been around for a month or something? Because all I can assume is that the writer thinks I’m an idiot.
Look, I’m just going to come out and say this: if, as a writer, you’re given the choice between “actual plot and character progression,” or “highly improbable stalling tactic that takes up multiple episodes and essentially develops nothing,” and you go with the second tactic, you are a bad writer. I’m sure that’s a common thing in manga, and I’m sure Pyon tried his (her?) hardest to make it work, but a character got displaced amnesia for four episodes/issues/whatever to avoid making actual plot developments, because every other possible plot development has been ground into the dirt. The romantic conflicts that could’ve existed have been tossed out with the bathwater already, as both of the ladies who could’ve been competitors both decided they ship Kyon X Yuki. We’ve also done everything we can with Ryoko’s jealousy of being left behind subplot for some reason, so that’s out too. We could’ve maybe done something with the fact that, in thirteen episodes, Kyon has never really shown anything approaching romantic interest in Yuki, at all, but no, as soon as Yuki confesses it seems like he’s probably all-in, so who cares if he’s disinterested later? We can suddenly change his mind in a couple episodes after Haruhi has a chance to be WACKY again, because at this point, the only conflicts the anime can create are “Haruhi does something weird” and “Deus Ex Machina.” I don’t know how you could take a promising concept and do the absolute least with it, but here we are and there it is.
Anyway, I turned the anime off with three episodes left, because Google tells me that the next three episodes are basically filler, more or less, until the end of the season, and they don’t actually confess to one another during this season anyway. As such, I’m just not looking forward to three episodes of filler after four episodes of non-plot development, so we’ll probably finish this up next week, and it’s pretty safe to say that anything I’m going to have to say about those episodes can be rounded up into a simple plot summary of the first season at that point. In the meantime, I’m looking into a new simulcast anime to replace this one, and Prison School looks like it might not be terrible, so we’ll see where that takes us, though I am totally open to suggestions.
Overall Series Review
Bubblegum Crisis vs Bubblegum Crisis, or, On Remakes
Upon discovering that Funimation has Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 available to stream, I’ve been catching up with the series in my spare time, and it’s one of the few shows I’ve seen before that I can safely say I’ve enjoyed watching for a second time. This time around, though, as I was watching it, I started making comparisons to a more recent release, in Sailor Moon Crystal, which doesn’t seem like the most apt comparison, I’ll admit. There are certain narrative similarities (ladies in secret identities fight grotesque monsters bent on causing pain and suffering to others, lots of action), but even then, my comparison point wasn’t on the narrative, but on the one thing they both have exactly in common: they’re both essentially reimagings of prior shows. We’ve been seeing reimagined franchises for a while now, of course; Neon Genesis Evangelion, Sailor Moon, Ghost in the Shell, and (as above) Haruhi Suzumiya have all seen reimaginings of some form or another, and don’t even try to figure out how all of the different Fist of the North Star versions fit together. What’s interesting, though, is that while Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is generally considered to be as good as (if not better than) its predecessor, many reimagined franchises… aren’t. Why is that?
Well, I don’t have the answer, obviously, but after watching Tokyo 2040 again, I have a few ideas.
The main thing that a reimagining of a series really needs to do, above and beyond all else, is retain the spirit of the original while telling its own story, and that, surprisingly enough, seems to be the biggest sticking point for most reimagined franchises. Consider the modern Evangelion movies. While they’re ostensibly meant as something of a reimagined version of the original series in some fashion or another, they’re honestly not even close; after about a movie and a half of essentially condensed, similar content, the movies went completely off the rails and time-skipped. At this point, aside from some similar characters, the core bears little resemblance to its originating franchise, and while you can maybe compare the first one-and-a-half movies to the anime, the following one-and-a-half parts are a completely different animal, and we’re not even at the end yet. It’s less like comparing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons to one another, and more like comparing the original comics to the 80’s cartoon: you can like both, but you can barely compare them, because they feel like completely different things. Sailor Moon, on the other hand, is often too similar to its predecessor in a lot of respects; while it changes some elements of the plot, and strips out the vast majority of the filler in favor of emulating the manga, it’s mostly telling a very similar story with mild changes as needed, whether it be to the anime or the manga. The end result of this is that the reimagined franchise just feels like a prettier version of the original series, and while that’s also not a bad thing per say, it often feels like you’re watching a shot-for-shot remake at times, which can get boring after a while.
Bubblegum Crisis, on the other hand, manages to avoid this pitfall by starting from the same basic concept (four ladies fighting monstrous robots to protect mankind) and simply changed the aesthetic. By making the aesthetics a little darker, the creators were able to essentially take a lot of the same storyline concepts that made the original work and tweak them, essentially making the series less 1980’s Batman and more 1990’s Batman. This actually helps out the anime quite well, as it turns out, as the tonal change keeps the concept and themes intact, but allows for edgier, more human stories that help the anime feel like its own entity. It doesn’t, however, lose what made the original enjoyable, as the characters still mostly fill in the same archetypes they did in the original; Sylia is still a genius leader, Nene is still a technically masterful goof, Priss is still a defiant rocker with a mean streak, and Linna is still the agile and athletic everywoman. As such, fans of the original will instantly recognize the team in the update, and will be instantly able to jump into the story being told, even if it’s a different story altogether. It doesn’t go in a completely different direction, so fans can still enjoy it, but it manages to tell a different story so that even if you are a fan, you’re not watching the same old thing you already saw.
What’s interesting, though, is that because both of them are comparable in quality, both of them have their own unique failings, which also, in its own way, helps to distinguish them from one another. The original starts in media res, so we know the characters get along fine, but we don’t really see too much character development (which, to be fair, is probably due to rights issues as much as anything), and the plot wraps up most of the issues as soon as they pop up. Some aspects of the plot are also a bit archaic (Linna as an aerobics instructor in a future that probably wouldn’t have such a thing), and some things (Leon and Priss’ relationship) also never get resolved, at all. On the other hand, Tokyo 2040 makes Sylia into more of an adviser who occasionally goes out into battle, which is kind of depressing for those who like her as a character, and while the swerve in final villains is interesting, Largo is a far more interesting villain than Galatea. Also, while there’s a defined ending to Tokyo 2040, it’s less interesting, as instead of the “power of teamwork” ending the original aimed for, this ends with Priss being God King Shitkicker instead of giving her a Crowning Moment of Awesome earlier (which the original did) and letting teamwork save the day. Regardless of which one you like better and the reasons you have for feeling that way, however, the point is that both have their strong points, even if you exclude the animation quality and aural presentation, and fans of both can clearly define what each does better and why.
The reason I mention this now, of course, is because we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that as the years go on and older anime franchises start being redone in modern style, so it’ll be interesting to see how many of them actually manage to accomplish the task of being good, not just on their own merits, but in comparison to their predecessors. We’ve already seen several (aside from the ones I mentioned above, Space Battleship Yamato 2199/Star Blazers 2199 also popped up recently), and as time passes even more will come out, because that’s just a thing we do with media that garners feelings of nostalgia. It’s only a matter of time until they start remaking, oh, Mobile Suit Gundam for example… oh, wait, they’re already doing that. They’re also doing a manga retelling of Macross so hell, we might as well expect a remake of that any day now. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we’re talking about remakes of Cowboy Bebop and Trigun ten years from now, and you probably shouldn’t be either, really. I’m more interested to see how these remakes turn out, and if anyone learns any lessons from the successes and failings of the remakes we’ve seen in the past two decades already, or if we end up with a bunch of retreads, a bunch of stuff that goes crazy-go-nuts, and a couple of really good remakes of classic favorites. That’s certainly how the pattern has held up so far, anyway, and while it’s nice to imagine that we might well end up with a lot of awesome classic remakes… so far, that hasn’t borne out. It’s still certainly possible, however, as Bubblegum Crisis has shown, and if nothing else, even if other remakes fall apart in some way, there’s evidence that such an idea can work, even if it never does again.
Though if they could pull that off with a Gunsmith Cats remake, that’d be nice.