Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cabbage Project: Yoakena 11-12 and Final Thoughts

Episodes 11-12 (finale)

So we start out with Tatsuya and Karen sneaking past all the Moon's defenses and breaking in to one of the domes with the help of Mia, who opened a dock for them. You could say it's unrealistic one fighter could get past all the defenses of the Kingdom of Sphere, primed for war, but there was that German guy who landed a Cessna in Red Square during the Cold War, so I guess anything's possible. Someone in the Lunar Air Force is so getting fired over this though. Tatsuya and Karen make their way to the throne room, Feena and Mia escape as well with some help from everyone's favorite photographer, and the Big Showdown comes as Tatsuya and Feena try to convince the King to stand down the Moon's forces, while Jurgen wants to start a war to wipe out the Earth as soon as possible, using Karen's "defection" as a pretext.
It looks like with the help of a recording by Feena's mother that Good will triumph over Evil--Jurgen was about to take over by force and start an attack on the Earth, but Karen's girls-in-tight-uniforms-with-machine-gun squad conveniently breaks in, and Photographer Dude has been broadcasting everything that's going on so everyone knows Jurgen's an asshat. Cue the happy ending...except as Jurgen's being led away in handcuffs, he breaks free, shoots at Feena, and in his first real useful act since he got to the Moon, Tatsuya takes the bullet for her. He looks like he's going to die, angst ensues, but then aliens appear and shoot their Mikuru Beam into the palace to heal his injuries and save him. No, I'm serious. Aliens. Wreathlit? She doesn't do squat--I thought she'd be the deus ex machina, but nope. Instead with no warning this big-ass alien spaceship appears and decides to save Tatsuya. Turns out Tatsuya's father, Indiana Jones, got abducted by aliens, saw the whole thing go down on SpaceCNN, and had his new alien friends come to the rescue.
Anyway...a few years later Feena and Tatsuya get married in a big-ass stadium on the Moon, pinch each other's noses, and everyone's happy.

Wow...could have done without Tatsuya getting shot and then saved by aliens...that's one of the more WTF moments I've seen in the end of an anime series. Things were really moving pretty well up until that point too--sure, Tatsuya getting shot by Jurgen adds some drama, but aliens? If Wreathlit/Fiacca had used their powers to save him instead, I think it would have been much better. Although the animation quality was solid again, and I liked the wedding epilogue at the end. Tatsuya needs to get a new shtick though, the nose-pinching thing's getting a little old.

The Good
- The animation quality didn't suck monkey balls the last two episodes--clearly the 'A' team got the call here.
- I give them credit for doing a proper 'a few years later' epilogue with the wedding. Much better than the open-ended Futakoi original type "ending" that doesn't resolve anything.

The Bad
- Holy Plot Device, Batman. I mean, aliens? You've already got Wreathlit, why couldn't she have saved Tatsuya? And these aliens just happen to show up five seconds after he gets shot? When I could write a better ending (and my writing skills are pretty sucktastic) you know it's pretty bad.
- The King should abdicate right now in favor of Feena-hime, because he's worthless. He trusts Jurgen, the Moon's resident nutjob, over his own daughter? His late wife wanted peace with the Earth, so to honor her wishes I guess it's OK to mobilize the fleet for war? It's OK to let Jurgen fire warning shots at Karen's ship because he's just so trustworthy of course he won't have peepz shooting to kill?

The Verdict
Three stars.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed re-watching Yoakena much more than I thought I would, and probably more than I did watching it the first time--it's a good romantic story with a great cast of characters, especially Feena, who in my book belongs in the Saimoe Final Four, if not winning it outright. The romance between Tatsuya and Feena was done very well, with some good drama as a result of their coming from different worlds and social status. Unlike a lot of 'harem' anime, the focus is just on Tatsuya and Feena, and Tatsuya isn't your typical indecisive 'loser' male lead--he loves Feena and does everything he can to be with her, in the process showing that he's got some real guts. Feena is also an excellent female lead, not the meek, doormat stereotype we see all too often in anime, Feena kicks ass and has the bearing you'd expect from a real princess. The supporting cast is good too, it's hard not to like Natsuki, Mai, Sayaka, Jin, and the others...even Takano-sensei, after an annoying start, becomes more likeable as the series goes on. While Yoakena gets the most flak for its animation quality and the infamous cabbage, other than all of episode three and the second half of episode seven, the animation quality was perfectly watchable, even if it wasn't Kanon-level or anything. I think knowing there'd be some quality issues with the animation going into it, when they came up I wasn't banging my head into the wall like I was when it first aired.

Having said that, Yoakena has some serious flaws, most glaringly all of episode three and the second half of episode seven, where the animation quality was so horrifically bad it was hard to watch at all. And while this got fixed to some extent on the DVD release, the story itself in the second half of the series is kind of weak too, with Lyones not acting like a very good father or king, Jurgen almost a caricature of a typical Bad Guy, and Wreathlit/Fiacca strangely underutilized. And then there's Indiana Jones/Tatsuya's dad and the aliens, which made for one of the more WTF endings I've seen in a long time.

If you haven't seen Yoakena and are a fan of romance/bishoujo anime I'd recommend watching it, even with the flaws in the animation. For me, it's worth watching for Feena-hime alone. Just be prepared, if you're watching the fansubs, to cringe at that episode and a half when Team Cabbage is doing the artwork. If you're not a fan of the genre, this won't make you into one--Yoakena's not Kanon, the kind of series you see fanatic followings around. I think for me the biggest disappointment of Yoakena was the wasted potential--if it had a better animation studio doing the work, a better ending, less Feena as Rambo, more Tatsuya-Feena moments--maybe it could have been more memorable. Instead, it's still a fun series to watch, just not quite what it could have been...but who knows, maybe tomorrow Kyoani will announce they're doing a remake--right after I win the lottery...

UPDATE: Pete Zaitcev of Ani-Nouto, aside from having the distinction of being one of probably only two or three people on Earth who read this sorry blog, also managed to link to my first Cabbage Project post less than a tenth of a second after I posted it. His thoughts on Yoakena are here, and as usual are more coherent than mine. Reading his post drew my attention to the fact that in 14 Yoakena-related posts I inexplicably failed to mention the OP song, which I agree is really, really good. And the this point, for me it's more an avatar for everything wrong with the animation than just a mere simply-drawn vegetable. Simple character designs and simple vegetables won't drive me insane, but off-model maiming of facial expressions I just can't forgive...

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