I like this new policy; rather than actually watch a whole bunch of first episodes to determine what’s good, I wait a few weeks into the season until it’s been determined what the one show everyone absolutely cannot shut up about is, then just watch that one. Obviously to anyone who’s been on Twitter in the last month, that show currently is Madoka Magika. Beware, those who have not seen through episode 4; spoilers abound.
I’m hesitant to call it “The Evangelion of Magical Girl shows,” because that somehow sounds awfully pretentious, but it’s certainly an apt comparison. Mami’s last stand in episode 3 reminded me very much of Asuka’s final battle in The End of Evangelion; both fought in a state of kinetic euphoria, realizing for the first time that they were no longer alone, and the end came as an extremely brutal shock. Also, the soul searching Sayaka does before deciding to become a Puella Magi reminds me of what Shinji would be like if he ever took his head out of his ass for the five seconds it would take to think about somebody else for a change.
It probably is doing a disservice to the show, however, to just keep pointing out the Eva parallels, so I’ll just leave it at that- I think the show is ultimately going for something different. The deconstruction of the genre is obviously similar, but I don’t think the themes necessarily are.
Madoka is currently the weakest link in the show, which would bother me were it not for the fact that I think it’s very much intentional- I’m wondering if the fact that she’s actually considering using the wish she gets by becoming a magical girl, in order to become a magical girl, will create some interesting divide-by-zero sort of situation, hence the “potential” everyone keeps talking about.
I hope her potential isn’t just latent magic power that she was born with or something, because that’s REALLY boring; I’m interested in the idea that she could end up being the best magical girl because there’s nothing else in her personality to compete with it.
Also loving the ultra-modern aesthetic of the architecture on this show, it makes the “real world” look strangely cold and sterile compared to the reality marbles, complicating the good/evil dichotomy. I’m not going to say the witches are good- last time I checked, making people inhale chlorine gas is rather bad- but don’t you think it’s funny that those creatures in the reality marbles are so cute, and the colors are so warm? Meanwhile, Madoka’s house and school look like they’re part of the same giant, impersonal hospital. I’m not sure at this point whether or not that’s the result of the art direction going off and doing it’s own funky thing, or if it’s something deeper; I look forward to finding out.
2. On the Durarara!! Dub
With the first Durarara!! DVD collection hitting shelves now, the normal reviewer-type thing to do would be to say whether or not I recommend it. However, I’m currently sitting here surrounded by my full set of Durarara!! mini-figures, sipping coffee out of my Shizuo-emblazoned mug. I also have my very own “Certy” pencil case, and have written one of the wordiest blogs about the show ever. I think it’s safe to say I’m a fan of this show: do I think you should buy it? Hmm, y’think?
If you’re actually unfamiliar with the show and and are genuinely wondering whether or not to buy it, then I would direct you to Mr. Huber’s review. What interests me, and what I’ve been curious about ever since this show was licensed, is the English dub.
I was initially going to write up some impressions of the dub based on a five-episode screener, generously provided by Aniplex, but my first watch of the dub left me so ambivalent, I didn’t know what to say for a good while. Now that the show is actually, well, RELEASED, I think I’ll wait until my copy arrives and I can watch the full nine episodes properly before I get into analysis-crazy mode.
From what I’ve read, the general consensus is that the younger cast (Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri) are poor and/or miscast, while Celty, Shinra, Simon and Shizuo are good. Generally speaking, I agree with this- although I think there’s something interesting going on with Bryce Papenbrook’s performance as Masaomi that some fans may not have picked up on. Anyway, I think the problems with the dub are indicative of what happens when a dub is made for a hyper-specific, enthusiast audience; they let Izaya say “Shizu-chan” because they know everyone watching knows what honorifics mean, but he has to call Rio “Ms. Mazenda” in episode 2 because GOD FORBID he use her first name; Japanese people just don’t do that! Even though he’s speaking English!
Meh, I’m getting ahead of myself- more dub musings after my copy arrives.
3. Otaku USA Conclusions
Remember last time, when I was trying to decide whether or not to continue subscribing to Otaku USA? Well, I think I have my answer; the latest issue has a cover story about Evangelion by…RevolutionofEvangelion.org. Really? Without getting into my concerns with that particular site, they’ll just run an article that a fansite sends them? More importantly, they run it as the cover story?
Dropping a magazine because of one article is silly at best, but I haven’t really been enjoying it in general; their article on Excel Saga was of little interest to me, because I’d actually seen the show, and too much of their stuff seems to be like that- either “Hey, this anime exists-check it out!”, or something critically suspect like the Evangelion article.
I wish I could remember whether Animerica, which I loved to pieces, was actually much better back in the day, or I just wasn’t completely spoiled for otaku coverage yet. Rightly or wrongly, I certainly remember it being better.
4. Zettai Hero Project- Dropped, sort of
Dropped for now- currently replaying the early Tomb Raider games on my PSP after getting them through PSN. I do plan to eventually get back to it, but I also want to eventually play Disgaea 2 and Persona 3 Portable, both of which I have yet to touch in their console iterations. I don’t dislike ZHP, but it may be hard to get back to it with that kind of competition around.
Welcome to OtakuBites, the first of a feature I will probably be getting a lot of use out of here- comments on various things that may be of interest to you, without going into ridiculously huge essay-lengths (hopefully.) See, I have way more ideas for stuff to blog about than I can usually get to, so rather than letting them go to waste, I figured I’d periodically do a kind of round-up post of this nature.
1. Otaku U.S.A.
I’ve gotten the last few issues of Otaku U.S.A. (it was Shinji’s Deal of the Day on Crunchyroll, woo), and it leaves me scratching my head. At this point, I’m getting it more because I want there to be at least one print magazine remaining that covers anime- for the principle of the thing- than because I actually want to read it.
One could make the argument that, as an anime blogger as well-ensconced in the interwebs as I, a print magazine is a hard sell for me- however, there are certain things I want from a print magazine that Otaku U.S.A. does not seem to deliver. In theory, the features should be more meaty and in-depth, but instead they’re numerous and spartan.
Who are they targeting here, new, young otaku- the kind who are even less likely to buy a magazine- or those of us who have been anime fans for years, if not decades? A feature on Durarara!! in the most recent issue is presumably meant for those who have yet to see the series (perhaps, those who don’t know about this whole Crunchyroll thing yet), but also contains spoilers- rather non-specific spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless. While I agree with the author’s contention that yes, Durarara!! IS as cool as it thinks it is (and then some) I don’t understand who this article was meant for. I don’t understand who most of this is meant for, except for “Fujoshi USA,” which seems like it would probably be pretty cool if I actually read yaoi.
I got one of those “please renew” cards- should I? Just for the principle of the thing? I’m honestly not sure.
2. Card Captor Sakura, Omnibus Volume 1 by CLAMP
I got the first omnibus volume of Card Captor Sakura for Hanukkahmass (or whatever), and uh…it’s fantastic. It’s wonderful. However, it’s kind of frustrating that I have nothing else to say about it, but that’s just it; there’s nothing to criticize. I could wax poetic about how great it is, but I’m probably better off doing that when all the volumes are out and I’ve actually completed it. I will say though that the lack of Mei Lin is noted and appreciated.
3. Butterflies, Flowers by Yuki Yoshihara
Speaking of manga, Butterflies, Flowers is the first manga I can remember impulse buying…in English (I’m not counting those “1 for a $1” manga they have at Book-Off.) I have the first five volumes, which I think is all that’s been released so far. What’s interesting about it to me is that it basically has the premise of Hanamaru Kindergarten– a man falling in love with a child- and shows the logical conclusion that HK was too wimpy to touch. The sexual encounters in the book are between consenting adults and non-icky (well, mostly- that probably depends on who you ask), but it’s made increasingly clear that Masayuki fell in love with Choko from childhood. Hopefully, when I finish the series I’ll have something more interesting to say about this.
I should note that it’s actually a little different from HK, since Masayuki was technically a child himself when he fell in love with Choko (although much older than her), but honestly, I don’t think it changes things much. He changed her diapers, for crying out loud.
4. Zettai Hero Project
I seem to recall gushing about this game on an episode of Japanator AM when the trailer came out. Well, ZHP was another lovely Hanukkahmas present, and I’m a little more than halfway through the story, I’d wager. It’s not bad in any way, but it doesn’t seem to have that addictiveness that the Disgaea seriesdoes. For example, the other night, I had my PSP (with ZHP ready to go) and Marcel Proust’s Time Regained next to each other on my night table, and I picked up Proust. This usually does not happen with RPGs; in fact, RPGs have ostensibly been the reason that I hadn’t finished Proust (until yesterday- thanks, ZHP!)
Also, I don’t find it as funny as everyone keeps saying it is, but that could be because I’m listening to the Japanese track. I like roguelikes, but there seems to be something missing here I can’t put my finger on. Anyone else feel the same way?
6. Arc Rise Fantasia
I’m not actually playing this- I’m peeping over Rangoric’s shoulder while he plays it. As traditional JRPGs go, it looks pretty good, but I defy anyone to understand what the holy hell they are saying in this game without having played/watched it for the last twenty hours, and even then it’s questionable. You know how they make up their own terms in Final Fantasy games, or give standard terms new definitions, like “Fayth” and “Sending” and “Focus?” Well, imagine that, only in ARF they have to say at least three of them in each sentence, and the voice actors apparently haven’t been told what any of it means, whatsoever.
I guess that compares rather favorably to FFXIII however, where I got the impression that the voice actors knew full well what they were saying, but kind of wished that they didn’t. The fact that the voice acting was uniformly good just meant that the dialogue was generally beneath the dignity of everyone involved.
Also on the plus side for ARF, the voice actor for the evil (I think?) Prince Weiss appears to be Adam West. I don’t believe this is confirmed, but the character talks with a certain cadence that is definitely reminiscent of him. Your mileage may vary, but hearing Family Guy’s crazy Mayor West as a typical JRPG villain is pretty amusing.
Also: They are conducting a War on Pronouns.
7. Winter Anime Schedule:
Where is Durarara!! Season Two already? That is all.
Well, actually I plan to watch the second season of Kimi ni Todoke, and check out that magical girl show everyone’s talking about. To be honest, I thought about picking shows to cover weekly as I went along, like a proper anime blogger, but on second thought I decided to leave that to Japanator and other intrepid anime bloggers, and do more of my own thing. I reserve the right to change my mind if anything this season actually turns out good, however.
Note: This was written before the releases of episode 12.5.
You know, I kept meaning to do this academic-type analysis of Durarara!! It would be all deep and brilliant and stuff, and I’d win all sorts of awards for literary analysis that exist solely in my mind, but the more time I spend thinking about it, the more I’m confused about what to make of the show. What I’ve realized is that I can point to a lot of themes in the show that I find interesting, but I can’t cobble my analysis of those themes together into anything terribly coherent. Rather than continue to wait for that magical day when I truly start to “get” Durarara!!, I figured maybe I should just share with fans of the show the things that I find so darned fascinating.
Themes of Durarara!!:
1. Real power pales in comparison to virtual power
One of the things that makes Heiwajima Shizuo so endearing is that, despite his overwhelming strength and the fact that he’s made of about fifteen buckets of liquid sex, the guy is kind of a loser. He’s constantly complaining about his own cowardice, and seems to be stuck in a rut in his life; being an enforcer for a loan shark may be fitting work for a man of his talents, but I don’t think it’s exactly what Little Shizuo (of the brown hair*) was hoping to be when he grew up. While he has what characters on the show call “overwhelming power,” what exactly does he use it for? More often then not, the vending machines and garbage cans he throws don’t actually hit anybody (although I still think it’s kind of bullshit that Izaya didn’t bite it on the spot the one time he nailed him with one, but I digress.)
Mikado, at first glance, appears to be more the lovable loser-type. However, over the course of the show, he proves to be more powerful than Shizuo. There’s obviously a hard power vs. soft power divide (Shizuo moves things; Mikado influences multiple people to move multiple things), but it actually goes beyond that.
Shizuo’s power is predictable; he knows that when he picks up a vending machine and throws it, it will indeed travel a certain distance. Mikado’s power is much more nebulous; if he tells the Dollars to do something, they might just do it. They might also misinterpret it and do something else. They also might subdivide into smaller groups, some of which will do what he wants, and some of which will do the opposite.
Anri thinks that she has total control over the Saika army, and does; Kida thinks he has far more control over the Yellow Scarves than he does. Still it’s Mikado’s nebulous, pretty much completely unreliable power, in the form of the Dollars, that proves the most effective, and gives the show it’s name.
The easy summary is that, in a world of constant, instantaneous communication, an idea is the most powerful thing in the world-okay, fair enough. However, what is the key idea behind the Dollars? There really isn’t one; it’s the idea of having an open-ended idea. It’s an ideology based solely on the idea of not subscribing to other ideologies. So, perhaps, the most powerful thing in the world is the idea of people sharing a group identity that changes according to each person’s individual needs; people join in the belief in their right to carve their own identity. The desire to find the perfect balance between community, belonging, and independence.**
2. In a world of constant communication of ideas, real identities and mythic identities become interchangeable.
One thing that continues to puzzle me is Celty’s relative normalcy compared to the other characters. In the second half of the show, the mysterious faerie creature from Ireland becomes the closest thing we have to a POV character. Early in the show, it seemed like the exploration of Celty’s background in episode 4 marked the descent of the series from a solid, meat-and-potatoes drama with a hint of magical realism to a realm of supernatural hijinks galore. However, rather than dragging the show off to magical la-la-land, never do we feel more grounded then when Celty is there, being her sensible, likable self.
To use Mikado as a point of comparison again, both characters have a kind of mythic status on the internet; Celty more literally, as an urban legend whom people actually refer to as an urban legend, and Mikado in a more general sense. People believe that there is a “leader” behind the Dollars, but no one knows who he is, or if he really is just one person; he’s an urban myth in his own right. Now, Mikado is actually a flesh-and-blood human, while Celty is something that logically shouldn’t exist, yet as far as the show is concerned, it doesn’t seem to matter. If both of these characters are “myths” in the opinion of the majority of the characters that populate the world of the show, how much does it matter that only one of them is actually a creature of the faerie realm?
Yes, it’s one of those annoying “if a tree falls in the forest” questions; even though Mikado is an average, everyday human, if the grand majority of the people in the world see him as otherwise, does it really matter that he doesn’t have cool Dullahan powers like Celty does? Is he any less a myth because he happens to have a pulse?
To return to Shizuo, he doesn’t have mythical powers- there’s a quasi-plausible explanation for his feats of Herculean strength. I’m honestly not sure what to make of this; the framework of the show certainly allows for him to just have magical powers without needing any sort of half-assed, ‘realistic’ explanation. He could have just been born really strong for no apparent reason, and it would not be remotely strange in the world of the show.
To be honest, I’m confused to what extent Shizuo is a mythic figure, which is probably appropriate considering that that’s how characters on the show feel- the reporter certainly does. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
3. Even when they are distinct, choosing between myth and reality is a matter of choice
Honestly, I was wondering what the hell the point of Walker and Karisawa was for a while. Constant otaku in-jokes? Really? Is that all there was to this pair?
It wasn’t until late in the series, when Erika Karisawa revealed her doctrine of reality-by-choice; things that happen in reality have equal value to things that happen in your favorite fictional world, and you can choose which ideas you subscribe to at any moment- that I started to see a point to them.
They don’t reject reality in favor of fantasy worlds like complete otaku shut-ins do; no, the part I find fascinating is that they give them both equal value. They don’t run away from reality, but their reality is subjective; they shape it to their needs. That’s how the seemingly harmless Walker can become a bad-ass supreme when necessary; he just channels a little bit of verve from his favorite manga hero, and suddenly the whole enterprise feels different and he’s a different person.
It may seem irresponsible to live like that, but how else to respond to a world where an Irish faerie and a normal high-school kid are both equally mythic figures, because the shared consciousness of mass communication has destroyed the traditional divide between myth and reality? If reality has gone screwy, are they wrong to make sure it goes screwy the way they like it?
The Dreaded “in summation”
Okay, I think all I’ve really done here is confused myself more, however, I have ascertained this much; in a world where so much of one’s identity is determined in other people’s minds via the accessibility of mass-communication, it almost doesn’t matter who you are behind the keyboard, the iPad or the phone. The only difference between the world of Durarara!! and our own is that we still have that ‘almost’ in there. The show has taken the idea to it’s logical extremity- it might be a high school kid behind that handle, or it might be a centuries-old Dullahan; in the end, it’s all the same, because no one really knows who anyone else is anyway.
I’ve just realized that I wrote this much about Durarara!! and didn’t even mention Celty’s head. Oh dear; maybe next time.
*By the way, I think the implication is that Shizuo dyes his hair blond to a)break with his past and b)make himself look more distinct from his brother. He’s certainly not doing it to get attention from the ladies.
**I mean, I think the idea of finding a balance between losing oneself in a community and staking out one’s own identity is at the heart of the show, but summing it up in that sentence doesn’t really do it justice. I think there’s more going on.