A World in Rhetoric

Lighting up the World with Words

February 10, 2014
Steel
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Thoughts and Counterthoughts on Madoka Rebellion – The Cynical, Logical, Trope Filled Looking Glass

SPOILER ALERT, for those who haven’t seen Rebellion yet, this post contains some spoilers which may ruin your experience.

It’s been a week and a bit since the Australian screening of the long awaited Madoka Rebellion movie, the 3rd instalment of the highly successful original anime series airing way back in 2011. Given how much I had loved the original series, I was heading into this with great enthusiasm with strong expectations. Coming out of the cinema, I could say I was quite pleased with how the movie turned out but for the wrong reasons. Giving my head to clear after a week and a bit, I’ve gone back to think about not only the movie again but other recent developments and I realised that the movie was even more brilliant than I even first thought.

There’s a certain danger being an anime fan for a long period of time. After watching for a few years, you learn a lot more about not just the anime series itself but about the ‘meta-anime’, or the things that make the anime outside of the anime like the habits of Studios, Seiyuu, Mangaka/LN authors and of course tropes and trends. It is very very easy to be caught up endlessly examining meta-anime and ignore certain aspects of anime itself. Sadly, I found myself looking at the Rebellion movie in such a way. No less than 15 minutes outside the cinema, I had already linked Homura with the trope Yandere, and the ending of Rebellion with ‘typical’ Franchise Milking and the possibility of a fourth movie or second season. However a few things have changed for me since then.

Recently on Rocket News, there was a report about some of Hayao Miyazaki’s comments on the anime industry and its current state. As the headline would say, the problem with the anime industry are the anime fans! It is very easy to accuse Miyazaki of being old and cynical but looking at the article more deeply and using my own experiences with the meta-anime of the anime/manga/LN industry you can see he raises some very valid points. The creation of anime these days seems to mark an age of socially distant people with little life experience. A very large amount of anime these days can be summed up by the weight of its tropes, one needs to look no further than your seasonal RomCom or Harem male and female characters to see the exact same personalities on exhibit here and there, albeit with a different face or hair colour. We can link this to a lot of things; in an interview with (possibly) Akiyuki Shinbo, the director of the Madoka series and movies, he mentions a large amount of Light Novels these days are created with intention of anime adaptation which ends up really restricting the creativity of writing and we see more and more animated works fall into tropes. This over-reliance on tropes leaves very hollow, fake and unrealistic characters with little soul and emotion, sadly mirroring most of the industry.

This brings me to my main point, like it or not, the story of Rebellion and the character developments created by Urobuchi are for the series, brilliant. Before we accuse Homura of going insane or being a creepy yandere character, we have to acknowledge that everything she’s done has been very consistent with her character. Looking back at her wish, she wanted to be able to redo her meeting with Madoka, she wanted to be the one to protect her instead of the one being protected. In the new world created by Madoka, she is unable to fulfil that wish of hers. She can neither meet Madoka again, nor can she protect her. Even worse, should she fall into despair or run out of magic, she will be the one to be protected yet again by Madoka by being taken into Law of Cycles. Homura would have never been satisfied with her situation, she had gone through close to 100 time loops (according to an interview of Urobuchi), 100 months of watching Madoka die or turn into a Witch and still she had never been able to protect her from Walpurgis, Kyuubey and other dangers. If there is one thing, one thing I think anime watchers underestimate and industry ignores, it is the soul,power and impact of emotion that (rarely) exists in anime. Just as how we might brush over Homura’s actions as mere tropes or simple desire or obsession, the emotion of love is quite rightly as Kyuubey and Homura state, unpredictable and impossible to truly understand due to its uniqueness to each of us. It seems cheesy, the old ‘power of love and friendship’ trope but in this case Urobuchi masterfully deconstructs the Shoujo Ai concept into what we witness in Rebellion. This is love, this is Homura’s love, which none of us will ever truly understand.

Madoka is anything but a tropefest and to view it through the Cynical, Logical Trope-filled looking glass is to invite disappointment and an inability to enjoy the movie. That being said, the movie as far as I see is optional. The series could have easily ended at the conclusion of the 12th episode just as it starts anew at the conclusion of the Rebellion movie. The benefit of being a fan here is choosing what you like most. For me I accept the conclusion of the Rebellion movie, because I accept that Homura given everything that’s happened and given all the choices again would have done the same thing over and over for the person she loves.

Notes: Most of the interviews are floating somewhere on the Madoka wiki. Check Rebellion Media if you want to follow up.

August 21, 2012
Steel
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Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita Arc 4 – Procrastination Loop

Time seems like a very straightforward concept. It flows at a steady pace, affecting everything and everyone. From the smallest cell to the giant stars, we all operate on the same mechanic of time. Despite the sheer logic behind time, we often have strange, impossible ideas of time travel, stopping time, even killing our own grandfather because we don’t want to born. We also like wasting time for some inexplicable reason, despite knowing that we have to get eventually from Point A to Point B. We seem to like to take the odd detour, stop and chat to the random friend. In our current modern peak, we have even more options to waste time on things such as Facebook, Youtube, games and such. Anything to delay the inevitable it seems.

Blame the traffic.

Before humanity’s development of surplus, that is our ability to grow and harvest enough food, our time was precious. Food and water had to be found before we could call it a day. Shelters had to be found, locations had to be travelled to once the few available resources were depleted. Delay was death, unlike say a loss of a few marks on an assignment. Nowadays, things seem to drag on and on, we give ourselves as much time as possible, we like to procrastinate.

Instinctive Sweet Making

Time management is an important skill for any aspiring human. Learning to be in the right place and the right time seems easy, but when you’re needing to hand in a couple of assignments in the face of also needing to attend to compulsory meeting, suddenly you find yourself wishing you had a little more time, a few more of You to help handle the job, our maybe travelling back in time to warn yourself of doing the assignments before facing a crisis. Fantastical time management involves all of these thing, and a little more such as unexpected time loops and time paradogs [?!].

Don't take food from fairies!

Watashi in this case is the unfortunate victim of her own humanity and an experimental case of time management. The alluring activity of candy making and her objective of finding the Assistant provides for a slip up of an adventure where she almost becomes her own grandmother, meets herself several dozen times, unwittingly creates the identity of a boy and loses a watch. Now if we talk about detours towards our goals in life, that’s some serious detours. There’s also another party with a goal in this arc, a goal of delicious sweets, they’re smiling all the time, and they’re clearly always up to something, they are the fairies. Now the fairies in this case are like a particularly nagging accountant offering to do your tax returns in exchange for a little something. They take care of an unavoidable problem which requires a great deal of time, although you’re going to have to leave particularly important details to them. The details in this case are the Assistant himself.

This had me thinking of Fry in Futurama

Now this episode made good use of the Bootstrap Paradox (kudos to MAL forums). There’s two particular things of concern here, the origin of the watch and how the finer details of the assistant such as his appearance and personality. Without a time loop, we may never know if these two in particularly would have ever existed, the assistant may very well have been a completely different person aside from the already definitive details of his height, weight etc. However a bugged time loop, a bigger detour than expected allowed for a strange epiphany moment for Watashi, allowing her to close the loop once and for all, giving rise to a personality and a few weird dogs along the way.

How many fairies did I meet today....

This show takes an aspect of modernity, in this case our habit of procrastination and adds a touch of fantasy to it creating a extremely bizarre adventure. In this arc, the fairy factor was incredibly high, turning a small detour into a large one. The message here though, is as much as procrastination creates problems, it can also create unexpected solutions and even that moment of epiphany we sometimes need. That’s not to say let’s all hop on Facebook or Youtube all the time and hope our assignments and jobs fix themselves, but in this busy world, we should still find sometimes to ourselves and think. About what? Whatever you want to. Although I will say, showers are the best moments for inspiration. Why? I have no idea to be honest…

Well I now I hope you aren’t procrastinating while reading this post, and I certainly am not procrastinating by writing this post and watching Jinrui either “cough”, so I’ll leave you folks here now until next time.

Steel

August 7, 2012
Steel
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Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita Arc 3 – Lost In Fantasy

Inscrutable world. Of fairies that is. At the beginning of the arc, it seemed the world of Jinrui was doomed to repeat the cycle of human rise and decline as the Great Human Monument Project spurred on through the nurturing power of the overconsumption of electricity. The activity of humans began to expand beyond the fading light of the sunset as celebrations of excess flooded in. Of course, night isn’t so scary and ominous if there’s lights on all around, and neither is the mischief of fantasy which gave rise to myths, tales and legends. Fairies, the fickle fey of fantasy, while not shy to light, are particular shy to the waves generated. What waves? All those invisible electromagnetic waves, infra-red waves, radio waves, microwaves and whatnot. While such waves exist in nature, their natural occurrence is very slight at best and are mostly mitigated by our Earth’s atmosphere and other solid objects. Physics at work and such. But before our age of reason, we had another work of physics play with our understanding of the inscrutable. Let’s introduce f, henceforth dubbed as the Fairy Factor. f is a wonderful constant, with one f equal to an encounter with a single fairy. For those not familiar with Fantasy 101, here’s a quick run down of what happens as f increases. Take for example that you’ve gotten lost in a forest. If f=20 then you’re pretty likely to find a gingerbread house with a nice old lady inside. Perhaps you should go in? When f=15 you might find a small house with three bowls of porridge, one being too hot, another too cold and one just right. Well then let’s cut to the chase. At f=0 you’re going to come to a particular patch of bush and think, “Hey I’ve seen that before! Am I walking in circles?”, and the answer is yes, you probably are.. At this point you’re also likely to trip down a slope and break your neck, walk off a cliff, bit by a spider, or mauled by a bear. Hopefully not all at once. Or you might get rescued, but was that a mischievous smile over there? Who knows? Surely it’s just your mind playing tricks on you. Those…can’t possibly exist right?

Well there goes my regular path back home...

Humankind tends to be a species which forgets things a little too easily at times. When things are no longer reality, they become a fantasy, and as our lack of understanding grows, the lines between magic and science blurs. It just so happens in the far future, we’re going to forget about a couple of science projects here and there, and it just so happens, it’s a bunch of space probes we’ve forgotten. (Not to mention forgetting the printing press and the concepts of factory mass-production and probably a lot of other things.) Now f doesn’t just apply to our understanding of things on Earth, no good law of physics applies to only one circumstance right? Our fear and love of fantasy has long since extended to the reaches of heaven and the unknown depths of space. It just so happens mankind still puts faith in things. Instead this time, we’ve put our faith in science instead of fantasy. What if though despite all those calculations, measurements, assurances, someone had a little doubt? A fear of the unknown, the terror of fantasy beyond our understanding, control and reach. Perhaps a mischievous little creature snuck on board. Perhaps they even lurk in space. Pioneer and Voyager carried humankind’s hopes, dreams and fears. Perhaps somewhere within those probes, it too felt the conciousness of humankind, all our rationalities and irrationalities, our reality and our fantasies.

A Harsh Reality

Let’s now come back to the modern world. A typical five day working week, spend your off-time watching TV, surfing the net, hanging out with friends here and there, maybe going for a drink outside of town and such. Once in awhile, go somewhere nice, somewhere exotic, return and repeat. 0f factor. Hardly our enchanted evening, our magical paradise and utopia is it? While the message is certainly not to go off believing that Fairies will make your one way street into a three way one, perhaps the message is that humanity has lost something amongst all the reason we immerse ourselves in. We can look at the uniformity and idiosyncrasy of the advanced gadgetry in the form of the slimes and the dullness of the city and imagine the loss of the artistic soul and creativity as everything looks more and more the same (Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhones)

Imagine using that as your iPhone

While I’m on the slimes and the city of shut-ins, let me suggest that they perhaps also represent another part of humanity that’s always existed. While we crave progress and reason, there’s always been groups who fear the excessive pace of change and those who shun technology in particular. The wave free city essentially blocks off all communication with the outside world, inhibiting progress, the spread of ideas, culture and renders it essentially isolated. Watashi and Assistant explore the futuristic dome, but the presence of the slimes indicate perhaps another form of fantasy has taken place after all these years. Also is it any coincidence, that Oyage, now known as Voyager was found inside a city for those who carry fears of the future? In my opinion, probably not.

Fanciful Youth

Jinrui has already given us its message on the consumer culture and the world of high fly commerce, CEOs and shady corporations in the background, and it’s this Arc here which delivers to us another rich and wonderfully constructed comment about the state of modernity, that while we may enjoy a fast paced, constantly changing, consumeristic world, we may be leaving behind too much in the form of our artistic soul, our creativity and our faith in a spiritual side of things.

Bleak State of Slate

Well as for me, I’ll leave this post for now, I don’t want a grown man who talks about fairies taking up too much of your time.

Until next time,

Steel

July 24, 2012
Steel
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Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita – Odd Impressions

Rustic watercolours. A far cry from the sharpness and defining feature of modernity. A decline if you will. An entry into a strange, unknown world in an unknown region in an unknown town with unknown people. Met by a struggle of comprehension and solidity. Explained by the weirdest means possible. This is Jinrui wa Suitashimashita, where Humanity has Declined and our knowledge of logic and science is defied by the race of Fairies whose technologies has long seen them as the ascendant race in this fantasy world.

A Brave New World?

It’s been a long time since my last post, and the absence of any really good shows has hindered my motivation to blog. It was almost another rather innocuous lineup of shows this seasons and Jinrui/JinTai almost passed by my eye. It took a gathering at a friend’s place for me to finally explore the first episodes out this season but when me and my friends did starting watching, we were met with a very hilarious and pleasant surprise.

And we were like woooahhh!

Satire isn’t a commonly seen theme in anime let alone probably in Japan itself. Given the current nature of mass produced shows following the classic but increasingly dull formulas of comedy, it was rare to see such a genuine Western portrayal of satire on display in JinTai. Perhaps it was the bleeding loaves of bread, the headless skinned chickens or the recreation of fujoshis, but JinTai’s brilliantly constructed and executed satirical gold has left a rare hunger for every week’s new episode, a feeling not felt since the masterpiece of Mahou Shoujou Madoka Magica.

I for one welcome our new Skinned Chicken overlords.

It’s hard to say why JinTai pushes exactly the right buttons for my own viewing tastes. I’ve really admired the animation style by AIC (who I really like for their ability to change animation styles) whose use of watercolours sets a deceptive yet appropriate light theme. I’ve also enjoyed the various characters in the show, Watashi (voiced by Nakahara Mai whose roles include Furukawa Nagisa from Clannad) whose timid yet cynical remarks and observations cap off nicely comedic situations and then there’s the morbidly realistic Assistant who while being mute also comes off as a highly interesting character. There is of course also the fairies whose wide mouthed cute yet almost freaky design rounds off their carefree but ominous natures. I’ve mentioned the satirical comedic gold as one of the main attractions of the show but I also wish to point out the great directing done by the Director Kishi Seiji. After watching 4 episodes, I feel as though he’s hit a very solid beat on the pacing of two episode arcs. There’s rarely been any unneeded or forced moments so far and the scenes have unfurled out to their potential. If he keeps up the good directing and comedy, this can easily rate as one of the best shows to come out this year. One last things that has really struck me about this show is how well I feel it is blending elements of Western humour and Japanese humour in creating the satire. While we have Horatian Satire we also see the traditional Manzai comedy involving the Tsukkomi (usually Watashi) and the Boke. This is probably also why the show feels comfortable, familiar to watch in some senses as to not isolate audiences, yet refreshing to keep you entertained.

Suffering in the name of Avant-Garde

March 18, 2012
Steel
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[Anime Review] Nisemonogatari – Better than the Real Thing

Fake, unreal, an impostor. Story. With even more of a play on words than its predecessor, Bakemonogatari. Nisemonogatari is everything you can believe or disbelieve in when it comes to being a good anime. Directed by the avant-garde-ish Akiyuki Shinbo, Nisemonogatari pushes the boundaries of conventionality in anime and even in our own perceptions in more than a few ways. Like Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari splits itself into two character-centric arcs, focusing on Araragi Koyomi’s sisters, Araragi Karen and Araragi Tsukihi.

As a show Nisemonogatari carries surrealist presentation, strong dialogue interactions, characterisation, story, tenets of philosophy and seamlessly integrated ‘fanservice’. It is that final point which I believe draws the greatest strength of Nisemonogatari, not as an anime or show, but in the name itself. The seamless integration of the fanservice in this show brings about discussion whether or not Nisemonogatari delivers a story at all, or whether it is just simply a conduit for the release of morally questionable content, which is a valid point for many viewers and indeed the polarising point. If the latter being the case, then Nisemonogatari has already sold itself strongly as not being a story at all, that the Impostory has always simply been telling us the truth and we refused to believe it wasn’t a story and that it was always intent on showcasing various fetishes. However if it is truly a story, then we can say it is a story about various impostors and believe the falsity or fanservice in some aspects of its presentation as being integral towards it. Either way in this discussion, the great power in the name of Nisemonogatari has already demonstrated what I believe to be an excellent show which will leave you reeling one way or the other as a viewer.

The six elements of this show as mentioned above are seamless in their integration together which is primarily why I feel Nisemonogatari succeeds well in encapsulating the viewer in its mysterious world. As a show driven strongly by its dialogue, it is well backed up by the developed personalities and quirks of its various characters. The opening episode helps us reminisce the sharp personality of Senjougahara, her borderline sadism and her ‘tender’ love for Araragi Koyomi and hammers in what this show is all about, the powerful dialogue and serious yet occasionally comedic exchanges between the often powerful personalities in play. Within this scene, viewers are also treated with the surrealist presentation, the quick scene cuts, the magnified close ups which delivers a powerful intimacy, an almost voyeuristic, teasing approach to observing the relationship between Koyomi and Senjougahara. In terms of the story, this opening exchange would not have seemed significant at all, however the proceeding scenes and the effectiveness of their dialogue allows for seamless transition as the story is revealed to the viewer, bit by bit. Nisemonogatari continues in this vein albeit after this scene, exchanges grow even more unconventional, including the make or break element of fanservice. Combined with the surrealist approach and voyeuristic directing, the exchanges between Koyomi and various female characters have put many viewers on edge and an amount on high. However because these scenes generally carry some story significance or at least are serving as a transitional point, the fanservice slips itself in as a strange necessity almost. It is also important to note that these scenes serve as the intimate observation point of the developing feelings of many of the girls have for Koyomi.

When I discuss fanservice, Nisemonogatari also strays far from the typical conventional ecchi like scenes found in various harem shows. That is to say that the fanservice in Nisemonogatari is different in terms of impact, presentation, time, location and case. One of the first things I should mention is how normalised the fanservice is in some cases. The character Kanbaru Suruga is an example of where her flirtatious personality results in her being intimately nude in her own room. The setting of her room is different to say more traditional fanservice locations such as the beach of hot springs and this also brings me to another point. As is with Shinbo’s directing, Nisemonogatari’s fanservice brings about this intimacy which is only exemplified by the surroundings and the scene cuts and close-ups. In some cases, the fanservice occurs in the room of the girl, or in one case Koyomi’s own room which adds additional characterisation elements and heightens parts of the dialogue. Additionally, the fanservice brings forth extra dialogue which helps to proceed to the next element of the story. Some say you could compare it to Phoenix Wright, with a little more intimate action from examining witnesses in attempting to unveil the mystery. Also unlike other shows with fanservice, I feel that the fanservice here is not forced per se, but as mentioned integrated well into the story. Because the fanservice was done with story intent in many cases, and done seamlessly I feel that this element contributes to the success of Nisemonogatari as a show and to itself as a name. There is also the impact of a certain scene in Episode 8 which will not be forgotten any time soon.

Regarding the core of Nisemono (The Impostor), Nisemonogatari brings forth various intelligent exchanges regarding that topic. Whether it be fake love, fake feelings, lies, families, justice, relationships, Nisemonogatari has excelled at keeping towards its particular core topic. Some of the best exchanges are a result of discussions between Koyomi/Senjougahara and a self described villain and a self described good guy and they have raised interesting philosophical points of things we perceive in society such as good and evil and the power of lies. This is partly due to the excellence of the source material written by Nsio Isin, whose manipulation of language has proven to create powerful dialogue.

Regarding some of the more technical aspects such as music, voice acting and animation, this is probably one of SHAFT’s better works in terms of animation. Many will recall how horrible and non-existent the animation for Bakemonogatari was and will notice that Nisemonogatari relies far less on full screen cuts and has much more fluid animation. The voice acting for Nisemonogatari has also been excellent, in particular the voice of Kaiki Deishu, voiced by the experienced Miki Shinichiro. His deliverance of lines which were lies and compliments with sarcasm and scorn enhanced the many scenes he was in and certainly heightened the personality traits of his character. Kamiya Hiroshi also remains excellent as Koyomi Araragi, delivering comedic, serious lines along his character. I felt the OST remained a little under the radar, but proved to be good enough for the situations they were played in.

Nisemonogatari presents a mature, comedic, intimate, emotional rollercoaster of a show with its avant-garde methods of presentation, backed up by its powerful characters and their exchanges and dialogues. As a sequel, it will prove more difficult to watch without watching Bakemonogatari, and as what I would deem a seinen show, difficult for newcomers to anime, especially those unaccustomed to degrees of fanservice. If you enjoyed Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari will be familiar to you and I would recommend you continue even if you don’t enjoy fanservice. Fans of SHAFT shows should also explore the Gatari series and watch up to Nisemonogatari. Mystery, Fantasy and Comedy fans should also try watching Nisemonogatari, through watching through Bakemonogatari first. Nisemonogatari for me has few weaknesses as a show aside from it being a sequel and I’d rate it a 9 for enjoyment. Critically, Nisemonogatari also fares very well as a show, I think of it as the smooth, silky tapestry located in an art museum with all the statues and nude pictures, it’s captivating, flowing and intricate, yet you don’t stare at it for all the naughty bits. It scores a critical score of 9.