Thoughts on Fall 2013, part 1 (Arpeggio, Coppelion, Diabolik Lovers)

So I watched a total of 9 anime during the fall season. (The most I’ve kept up with, ever, actually. Man, I haven’t watched this much for years.)

And, ultimately? I should have watched Kyousougiga. That seemed to be the only really good anime this season, and I completely missed it.

Thankfully, unlike the summer season, most of the anime were mediocre rather than terribad. Though there were still some major disappointments. Namely, Arpeggio of Blue Steel.

…Well, let’s just start there. (Obviously, there is a massive trigger warning for Diabolik Lovers. Just a heads up.)

Arpeggio of Blue Steel

In a nutshell: Dude teams up with sentient battleship and other humans to fight other sentient battleships and protect humanity.

So, this was an adaptation of the manga from Ark Performance, and the manga is really, really good. There is some excellent character development, a lot of really great political intrigue, and a huge central mystery that propels the plot forward.

The adaptation? One of the worst adaptations I have ever seen. Seiji Kishi has really outdone himself in the poor adaptations department because this one beats even Danganronpa at it. (Danganronpa was pretty terrible.)

I don’t understand how he managed to fuck up so completely. Like, yeah, dude, I understand you have only twelve episodes to work with, but you could have just adapted this really, really great manga normally (as in: actually follow the story and just cut out the extra bits) and either diverged slightly at the end in order to bring a solid resolution or just leave it as a “their journey continues” story in hopes of a sequel. But, nope, nope, nope. Obviously, Kishi thinks he can write a better story than Ark Performance using their own characters (well, with added moe, of course) because he’s done so well before.

Like, um, does this guy even realize that he sucks at action scenes? Like, really sucks. Episode four was an absolutely brilliant naval battle because Kishi actually adapted from the manga. After that? It was just a whole bunch of shooting missiles and hoping they would hit in the rare instances that we do have a battle.

Or, my favorite: MOE GIRLS SWORDFIGHT. Uh. Wasn’t this supposed to be a series about naval warfare? Apparently not.

(I am still not over his decision to get rid of the Supreme fucking Flagship who appears in chapter six of the manga. That’s episode two in the anime! She’s a pivotal character, holy shit.)

The transformation of Gunzo into basically the typical harem lead, complete with white knight tendencies, is also really disgusting. This guy actually had a personality in the manga, you know? He was a show-off, he was kind of reckless (but intelligent), and most of all he was an actual person. And Kishi basically just chopped all of that off and made him “generic hero number 234.” I could probably replace anime Gunzo with a freaking cardboard cutout and no one would ever notice. (Hey, let’s face it, those CG movements make him look like a cardboard cutout, regardless.)

And Iona. What the hell happened to Iona? She’s one of the oldest mental models! She is the closest to human that the Fog has ever seen! But yet in the anime she acts completely robotic, and even after two years with Gunzo, her conversations with him sound like she had met him only five minutes ago. They don’t seem to know each other at all. They’re strangers!

But Iona’s sassy! Kind of childish! Loves anime! And she’s not the completely subservient girl you see in the anime that keeps going “I’m Gunzo’s ship,” no! She thinks of herself as Gunzo’s comrade, as an equal. While during battle, she obeys his orders because he’s captain, outside of battle, she gives as much advice as she receives. They actually communicate with one another! They have conversations! Not stilted one-sentence exchanges that lead to wasted airtime.

While this might all seem kind of nitpicky, after watching so many of Kishi’s anime adaptations crash and burn, I can safely say that this guy simply doesn’t know how to adapt jackshit.

Because the thing is, Kishi could have fit a lot of the manga into the anime, but he didn’t. He either changed it completely or he adapted a completely useless part word-for-word for absolutely no reason. It seems he has no idea what is an important aspect of the series to keep in the anime and which unimportant aspect to discard.

Ergo, was it really necessary to include the scene in which Makie was dressing up Haruna? Yeah, it was cute. But was it important to the plot? Nope. Pivotal to character development? Nope. It did establish some kind of rapport between Makie and Haruna, but that could have easily been done through the other things they did together, such as dining together. Or the dress-up scene could have been a quick montage rather than the ten-minute long scene it was. In the manga, it had been intended as a way to lighten the atmosphere and ease the tension, but an anime’s pace is a lot different, and there’s really no reason to keep in random comedic moments that serve only to skew the tone.

Andddd, of course, Kishi completely changed Professor Osakabe’s condition at this point in the anime for reasons I cannot fathom. It definitely wasn’t for timing because there wasn’t really much cut out from explanations. I think at this point Kishi is really just trolling the audience. Because even god can’t save anime if Kishi actually believes the tripe he writes is good.

Bottom line: There needs to be a “Seiji Kishi adaptation” warning.

Coppelion

In a nutshell: Three genetically engineered schoolgirls try to save people in a post-nuclear meltdown Tokyo.

So, um, GoHands. If anyone has watched K, Coppelion is basically more of the same: bad pacing, lots of filters, and… bad pacing. Basically.

It’s really strange because, coming out of the manga, the series is admittedly completely crazy. And after the initial tearjerking moments and commentary on nuclear power, it essentially becomes a shounen power-up manga where the schoolgirls fight other schoolgirls with like super saiyan powers or something. But, the key here is that the pacing is actually really good.

I’m always kind of amazed whenever I read this series because the mangaka paces it just enough to give it the right amount of tension–to make you care about the characters even when everything is batshit. It’s like there are definitely moments that are meant to be emotional, and these moments are woven really nicely into the tense narrative that it makes you feel something even if you’re aware that you’re being manipulated.

The anime? It tries to emulate that but completely fails.

I think the first problem GoHands has here is that it tries to go for a completely different atmosphere than the source material. The source material is going straight for a tense action series sprinkled with political commentary, while the adaptation is trying for the eerie, quiet feeling of inner and outer devastation. The anime purposely tries to turn an action series into a slow-moving, philosophical series on the nature of human existence, and that’s really where it first fails.

While the manga does contemplate human existence, it is also first and foremost an action drama. When the characters risk becoming too bogged down with angst, the action comes and kicks them up again and gets them (and the audience) moving. The audience is able to sympathize with the characters precisely because the action–the tension–exists. In creating a tense atmosphere with action at the center, the audience doesn’t question the protagonists’ reactions. There are no overreactions here where every action could mean life or death.

In the anime, though, since the focus is shifted so far away from the action, the audience has more room to breathe, and more room to criticize. Because it doesn’t feel like a life-or-death situation here at all. The philosophizing feels cheap and forced. We can’t relate to the characters because the atmosphere isn’t letting us in.

And, really, that’s where GoHands’ second failure stems: forcing the atmosphere. The emotional parts of the anime are always accompanied by sobering music that makes you instantly think “this is sad moment,” and because of the slowness of the entire series, the whole manipulation behind these emotional moments stand out so much more. Instead of a genuine feeling of, “Wow, this scene is sad,” we get a feeling like, “Well, I’m supposed to think this scene is sad.”

So, it really boils down to the fact that GoHands is unable to create atmosphere organically and has to forcibly manufacture it, so the entire thing just seems off and fake.

And, finally, GoHands just really needs to learn how to transition between scenes. They have some really awkward cuts in the action that lead to super weird pacing, which is why you have the really strange last episodes which adapt the manga almost panel-for-panel but feel like they’re missing huge chunks of downtime. Their transitions just don’t work. And this all probably ties back to the whole differing atmospheres deal. The last few chapters of the arc are the tensest chapters, and when the anime, which had ostentatiously avoided any tension up till now, tries to adapt that… well, it doesn’t turn out so good.

Bottom line: GoHands needs to learn how to pace. And maybe stop using so many filters; they are distracting.

Diabolik Lovers

[trigger warning for rape and sexual assault]

In a nutshell: A girl gets kidnapped and raped by a group of vampire dickheads.

I… I have no excuse for why I watched this. I knew it was godawful. I knew it was painfully sexist. But me and my friend (both feminists, by the way) decided to watch this just for shits and giggles.

It was simultaneously better and worse than I thought.

Better, because the female protagonist Yui is really amazing and stands up for herself and makes logical decisions and actually tries to get the hell away from the vampire rapists.

And, worse, because since Yui is so intelligent, she never likes any of the guys and tries to run away from them basically up till the last episode. And the guys keep abusing her. And she doesn’t enjoy it.

I have such mixed feelings because UGH if she grows to enjoy it, it becomes super duper sexist because women never grow to love their rapist and rapists have no redeeming qualities and it ultimately creates a rhetoric which says that women are always at fault because we’re always playing “hard to get.” It contributes to victim-blaming and all this other awful shit. BUT. It’s just so painful seeing Yui on screen being repeatedly assaulted, both sexually and physically, and being in such PAIN.

It’s just so uncomfortable and awful and I should have never watched this anime in the first place MY GOD.

The animation is really nice though. That in no way redeems this narrative in the least.

Bottom line: Don’t watch this. Just don’t.

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