Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Sakurasou and When Dreams Don't Come True

Watching Sakurasou's finale caused a few thoughts to go in and out of the transom of my mind (Do people even know what transoms are anymore?  Not that it matters, Google knows all anyway):

- Is Mashiro somewhere on the autism spectrum?  Or are all artists a little crazy and not completely well-rounded because if they were normal, well, they wouldn't be artists?

- Is it better to keep plugging away at a dream, or to realize the odds are so against you that you should quit?

On the first question, I think you can look at it either way, really - Mashiro not being able to dress herself would certainly be seen as a cause for alarm from a pediatrician even at ten years younger, but at the same time it's not like she's physically incapable of doing it, it's just not in her top thousand priorities.  I still think she's an interesting character, although the whole "pet" metaphor you could argue says a lot about what's wrong with Japan's treatment of women in general.

The second question's more interesting, and I think the anime's ending seems to be sending the message that you should keep trying - Nanami worked her butt off for two years and failed to become a voice actress, but she's going to try again.  Sorata's game idea may have crashed and burned, but going the indie game route, which gives him a better chance of success, and the message there is also he's going to keep chasing his dream.

That's fine, but it'd be a different story if they were out of high school, out of college, and still trying - what if at 35 Nanami is still desperately applying to voice acting schools, no boyfriend, no family, just a single-minded obsession with following a dream that may never happen?  At the end of her life, would a Nanami who spent it all pursuing a career she never got to do look back and regret not throwing in the towel earlier?

It's OK for young people to have dreams, because they have the time to pursue them - we tell our children "you can be whatever you want when you grow up" and "if you work hard, anything is possible" but as adults, we know this is not really true.  If your child wants to be an astronaut, say, that's nice, but the odds are one-in-a-million against them - all the hard work in the world won't guarantee success.  Anime often has a "you can do anything if you try" message, but Sakurasou explores the other side of that a little, that not everyone can realize all their dreams.  Making a hit computer game and being a voice actor are just not the kind of thing anyone can do if they just work hard, since you have hundreds of thousands of people trying to do something only a fraction of those people will be successful at.

The anime's message of not giving up on dreams is still a good one, since you don't want to give up too early, or not even try to follow your dream, and then regret it later.  And if a 15 year old, say, wants to be a manga-ka, despite the huge odds against them, it's not going to ruin their life to work hard at drawing and send manuscripts off to publishers - even in failure, chasing your dream can still be a lot of fun, when you look back on it later.  The trick is just chasing a dream long enough, but not too long - if that aspiring manga-ka skips college to draw and draw but never makes it, finds themselves 30 and living off the Bank of Mommy and Daddy while his or her friends have jobs, families, etc., there's going to be regret on that side of things too.

In some ways, Sakurasou took the easy way out - it doesn't show us that "know when to hold'em, know when to fold'em" decision point that many of us face in young adulthood, where we have to choose between chasing a dream and moving on to reality.  And I think as we get older, we realize more and more that "what do you want to be when you grow up?" isn't as important as who you are when you grow up, your family, your friends, how good a parent you are, what your hobbies and interests are - all those things make up who you are more than what you do from 8 to 5 for a paycheck twice a month.

It'd be interesting to see the cast of Sakurasou make that transition - maybe Sorata makes a few indie games but doesn't become a star of the gaming world and goes on to find a job teaching programming and game design, which is fun enough and he gets to go home to Mashiro and their kids every night so he's satisfied.  Maybe Nanami doesn't get into voice acting even after a third year of effort, but she meets a nice guy who isn't as emo as Sorata and they start an okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka.  Life takes us places we'd never have thought it would when we're teenagers, after all.

Which brings me to the point of this post, which...well, there really isn't one.  I guess you could say I'm a little disappointed Sakurasou didn't take the dreams vs reality theme a little further, and maybe in a future season it will.  But honestly, I think it should have ended with episode 23, tack on a better Mashiro x Sorata epilogue, and call it done - anything from here, especially if they keep up the love triangle even longer, it's just going to feel like the story's drawn out for too long.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Little Witch Academia

Enjoy it while you can, Disney is already calling their lawyers...

I don't normally watch short one-shot movies, but I did watch Little Witch Academia today, and although you might have low expectations like I did because it's a training project for young animators (sponsored by the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency), it was actually amazingly good.  The animation quality was pretty impressive, better than a lot of anime series - the style is probably easiest to describe as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (character designs and action scenes) meets Negima (world setting).  

 Can things get even worse when you're falling at terminal velocity from a high tower?  Yes, they can.

Although they only had 24 minutes to work with, this tells a solid  story, with a small, but entertaining cast of characters.  The basic premise is a girl studying at a magic academy, who was inspired to study magic by a show her idol put on when she was little.  It turns out her idol's not held in the highest regard by other wizards, seen as more an entertainer or fraud than a real magician, but our heroine is still her biggest fan, and when she ends up on a dungeon crawl of sorts with her friends and her rival, she finds something that used to belong to her childhood idol, that gives her a shot at proving herself.

I suck at plot summaries so I'll stop there, but I'd highly recommend checking it out - there's nothing new to watch until the spring season starts anyway, so there's really nothing to lose but 24 minutes of your time.  You won't regret it.

Burning up - Akko's an RPG fan, apparently...

 The action scenes in particular seemed really well animated to me - of course, I draw at about a four-year old level, but still...

 Best Side Character.  Seriously, do not f**k with her and her potions.

Love Live Ends

Love Live is over - and I'm left with the thought Kotori's the one who really should have gotten smacked upside the head instead of Honoka.  The evidence against her?  Kotori dragged her feet telling Honoka she was studying abroad.  When Umi called her on it (and God knows how much longer it would have taken her to tell Honoka if Umi hadn't forced the issue), Kotori then tried to blame not telling her on Honoka - got to like the "blame the victim" strategy.  Then it turns out that all along Kotori didn't really want to go at all, but didn't have the balls to say no herself until Honoka asked her to at the 11th hour and 59th minute.  Umi and Honoka should have ganged up to slap her maido ass silly.

I realized I left out Love Live in my last post, but it wasn't a bad series to watch - I can't believe any poll would rank it best anime of the season, but I have to admit it was fun to watch.  Umi was entertaining getting dragged into things at the beginning, Maki is so tsundere she's hilarious, Nico's split personality was always entertaining, and Honoka herself reminded me a lot of Haruka from Idolmaster (generally positive and the glue for the group, but not immune to getting depressed when things go south).

It figures I'd like this since generally I'm a sucker for idol series, partly for the music - although honestly I liked the J-pop in AKB0048 far more than Love Live (which figures, I guess, when you consider AKB0048's music came from the real AKB48 which breaks sales records on a regular basis).  Love Live was incredibly predictable, the drama was a little forced (see Kotori - and why did Eri take so long to join them again?), but in the end it was entertaining enough.  It wouldn't surprise me to see a second season, which would be cool - this was definitely watchable, and maybe even re-watchable (but probably not for a while).

Looking Back at Winter

I swear every time I blink, an entire season of anime passes - between work, building Lego towers and coloring with crayons (having a four-year old is an awesome way to get to play like a little kid again), and then the fact watching anime takes priority over writing about it, this blog is once again turning into a desert.  Was that a run-on sentence?  You'd think after almost 40 years I'd be a master at the English language, but having a four-year old correct your pronunciation (granted, for dinosaur names, but still) makes one lose one's confidence a little...

Anyway, without further ado, a few random thoughts on this past season:

Tamako Market

This was my favorite of the season - I know, I know, this says a lot about my taste in anime, since I didn't say Shin Sekai Yori or anything else from the list of more serious anime.  But to be honest, as I've said before, I don't watch anime to reflect on the darkness inherent in humanity, I watch it for entertainment, and Tamako Market delivered there in spades (whatever that means).  It had the kind of ending I normally hate - no resolution on Tamako x Mochizo specifically - but somehow it seemed to fit the series well and didn't bug me.  I wish they'd done more with the cast - Shiori had a whole episode to get introduced and then it felt like they didn't do much with her, and I could have lived without either Anko episode.  The whole talking chicken thing made me very wary going into this, but Dera was hysterical, and enough reason by himself to make me look forward to it each week.  I was half-expecting a Wal-Mart to open two blocks away and kill the Bunny Mountain Shopping Arcade completely, but in the end, it didn't go anywhere very serious, and that's fine.

Mondaiji-sama ga Etc. Etc.

This was the dark horse for me this season, that came out of nowhere and got me completely hooked - the animation quality was average, but the cast was a lot of fun to watch, and the setting was really cool too.  Between Kuro Usagi's tsukkomi, Izayoi's attitude, Shiroyasha's logic for Kuro Usagi's wardrobe choices, the ED credits where Yo and Asuka blow Kuro Usagi off and her reaction - I pretty much loved this series from start to finish.  It's just a shame it was only ten episodes - I'm not sure it's likely, but I'd love to see a second season.

Da Capo III

I really wanted to love this, but honestly it's probably my biggest disappointment of the season.  It's insanely servicey, which isn't a terrible thing, but is a little jarring given previous Da Capo anime wasn't nearly as in your face with the service.  I thought Junichi's harem was huge, but Kiyotaka's ability to get every girl in school to fall for him without doing anything in particular to make him a teen heartthrob just makes my eyes roll a little too.  The plot also seemed to go nowhere - but given it supposedly just follows the demo and not the "real" gameplay, we'll probably have a second season that actually moves the plot along.

AKB0048 Next Stage

I still hate CG.  But this was a fun ride, with lots of great J-pop, and while the plot got a little out there with AKB0048 being like The Force or something, it was still a worthy successor to the first season.  Nagisa is MUCH better than Acchan though - Acchan still just looks creepy to me.

Robotics Notes

The plot didn't exactly launch like a rocket - it felt like this was planned for four cours and then about 4-5 episodes from the end got shortened to two, so they suddenly shifted from neutral to high gear.  I understand that's the way the visual novel it's based on went too, though, and in some ways it works since you get a leisurely introduction to the cast before the shit hits the fan.  In the end, though, it seemed like a lot of the cast really didn't have much to do - but I can forgive it for that easily, since episode 21 and the whole Kai-Akiho scene there was one of the best confession scenes I've seen in a while.  I'm a sucker for endings where the main couple actually does get together, which segues into...

Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo

Twenty-four episodes, a full year, and all we get is Mashiro kissing Sorata on the cheek?  I also can't stand Nanami - just confess already and lay off the Kansai-ben, for the love of God.  Sorata whines way too much too.  In real life, if you pick your dream to be something only one in a million people get to do, how naive are you to be shocked when things don't turn out exactly like you planned - but maybe this is age and cynicism talking.  Overall, I did like the series - I just felt a little let down since the first couple episodes gave me a Toradora-like vibe, and it just couldn't live up to that.

Senran Kagura

I liked Asuka's character, but honestly aside from that this didn't have a lot going for it.  The plot was...well, the less said the better.  I guess in hindsight, this is probably a series where if I could send text messages backwards in time I'd send one to myself saying to save the 24 minutes a week for something else.

Vividred Operation

Good character designs, interesting enough story, decent combat scenes - but with the camera zoomed in on their asses a hundred times every episode...it's a little embarrassing to watch.  Let's just say this isn't on my "introduce my daughter to anime" list for the future.  The "punch from low Earth orbit" at the end was cool, I guess, but seemed a little too easy too given a few minutes before that everyone was doomed.

Girls und Panzer

Girls and tanks?  It may sound stupid, but they played it straight and it really worked - the long wait for episodes 11 and 12 was worth it, and this goes down for me as nothing spectacular but still a fun series to watch.

Yama no Susume

I normally avoid three-minute long anime, and this would have been better as just a normal-length OVA, but it was a cute series about two girls climbing mountains and one of them maybe coming out of her shell a little, which I can relate to.  It's a good series to just relax too - like Tamako, don't expect anything deep, but you could argue Yama no Susume has more character development.

Little Busters

I dropped this because of Komari - her character honestly made me want to throw my laptop out the window instead of keeping watching.  But after skipping her arc and picking it back up, Little Busters grew on me, although the writing makes me think Kyoani probably made the right call passing on this.  Haruka's family belongs in jail, Kudo's whole arc just had me scratching my head, but it is a likable cast, and now we seem to be getting into Rin's arc and the main part of the story, so I'm looking forward to more.  Does it look as gorgeous as Kyoani's Kannon or Clannad?  No, but I'm not sure that would make a difference in terms of whether I enjoy it or not anyway.

Overall, it's been another great season for anime - I've been watching anime since '98 (not counting Voltron and Star Blazers as a kid back in the Cretaceous) and it amazes me that each season I can't imagine turning away from it.  Here's hoping the spring season will be good too - there's a lot of potential among the new entrants out there (as usual, Random Curiosity has a complete preview), and getting to see Oreimo's finale and more Railgun alone has me excited for the next couple weeks.