Hinamatsuri — First Impressions

I have the same sort of reaction whenever my cats do something particularly nasty just before I go to bed:

Hinamatsuri: pretend not to see it

So begin the deadpan comedic stylings of Hinamatsuri, when a strange cylinder is dropped on the head of Nitta, an up and coming yakuza. Ignore it as he might, the next morning the cylinder is still there and once he opens it, turns out to contain a little girl who calls herself Hina. Demanding clothes as she’s naked, Hina isn’t slow to display her psychic powers and destroy three of his prized vases when he isn’t quick enough to produce them. Which sort of defines their relationship at first: she wants things and coerces him into providing them with her powers, whether it’s a stuffed animal or the chance to go to school. They quickly fall into a routine, living together and it’s not long before Nitta wonders why he feels like a care taker.

Hinamatsuri: Hina and stuffed animal

Nitta is a decent chap, but the true draw of the series is of course Hina. Deadpan and expressionless for the most part, she’s as adorable as she’s mischievous in the use of her powers. There’s of course a back story there: psychic girls don’t come just falling out of the sky like that. But all that is for later. For now the focus is on Hina and Nitta building a family together of sorts. When it turns out that Hina needs to regularly discharge her powers or they explode, Nitta takes her to help with a job of his: get a building site cleared.

Hinamatsuri: why should you have to do that

But when Nitta gets a bit too enthusiastic about how Hina could help him, she remarks she’s seen those sort of eyes before. Which makes him understand she had been exploited before and that he wants to be different. So when he has to rescue his boss from the clutches of a rival gang and Hina wants to help out, he reacts as above: why should you have to do that. In the end she still has to rescue him though. But it’s this little scene that solifies their relationship into something like a family.

Hinamatsuri: gross

A somewhat dysfunctional family. As a first episode this was solid. I like the humour and while I find it a bit too brightly coloured compared to the original manga, this is only a minor quibble. There is clearly going to be some sort of overarching plot to this series, but for me just the day to day adventures of the yakuza and the psychic girl is enough to keep me watching.

Saredo Tsumibito wa Ryuu to Odoru — First Impressions

New rule: if a light novel adaptation features pretty boys with fugly swords, it’s not worth my time.

Saredo Tsumibito wa Ryuu to Odoru: fugly swords

Everything in Saredo Tsumibito wa Ryuu to Odoru was cliched. Two pretty boy protagonists, one a bit of an asshole, one a bit stuck up, with a bit of sexual tension between the two that’ll go nowhere because the asshole already has a girlfriend. We get to see them fight dragons with their fugly swords, then it’s off for a bit of political intrigue with various kingdoms and countries I don’t have any reason to care about. There’s also the Church getting involved, which surely won’t be anything sinister before the real plot kicks in. Turns out there’s a serial killer hunting the sort of people that kill dragons and our two are on the list. I’ve seen it all before and there isn’t really anything here that interests me enough to struggle through the drudgery. I’m taking a pass on this one.

Watching television like cinema

How we’re watching anime when we’re watching anime.

So the point made is that when you watch television in your own language, you can get away with not paying a hundred percent attention to it. A lot of television is watched while you’re doing something else after all, like the way we used to listen to the radio. Maybe you’re doing the dishes, or eating, or faffing about on the internet, but the assumption is that you’re not giving your full attention to whatever is playing on the screen. This as opposed to watching a movie in the cinema, where you’re forced to pay your full attention to the movie. But with anime, if you’re not fluent in Japanese, if you cannot rely on hearing the dialogue to tell you when you have to pay attention again, you tend to watch a show in the same way as if you were watching a movie in the cinema. If only because you need to see the subtitles to know what’s happening.

And because, like most television, an anime series is created with the understanding that it will be watched by people who are not giving it their full attention, so there will be redundancies built into each episode. Exposition, recaps, repeats of important information from earlier in the episode, etc. Which is fine for the original Japanese audience, but if you’re a non-Japanese, non-fluent viewer who relies on subtitles for your understanding, this redundancy stands out because you are paying attention all of the time. Especially if you’re binging a show that was originally meant to be watched weekly. You’re watching something in a way that it wasn’t meant to be watched and because you cannot look away, its redundancies are even more evident.

This is something I very much noticed in my own anime watching, where I can sometimes get annoyed by the seemingly unnecessary exposition and recaps because I am paying such close attention to it. Especially with a more ambitious series, I sometimes don’t actually want to watch as much as I want to have watched it, because I cannot look away for fear of missing something yet there are long stretches where nothing interesting seems to happen. At those times I’d rather watch something simpler, a kids show like Precure or Aikatsu which I can watch while doing something else, as they have a set formula that guides when and when not to pay attention. This is occassionally frustrating, but at least I was used to reading subtitles already.

In conclusion then, it pays to take into account for which audience and medium a series is made, whether it was intended to be watched week by week, or binged like a Netflix series. Whether or not it was intended to be paid close attention to or rather had built-in redundancies for an audience not expected to pay full attention to it. It’s still fair to criticise a series for over exposition or a reliance on recaps or repeats, but if you don’t take into account these things, you cannot understand why a series does what it does.

SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online — First Impressions

How do you make a good Sword Art Online series? Drop Kirito, set the story in Gun Gale Online and make the new protagonist a girl who prefers to wear all pink armour while kicking ass.

SAO Alternative: pink is a warrior colour

This first episode managed to do what the original series never managed: make this look like a game people would actually play. The plot hasn’t kicked in yet, if there’s going to be any, so instead this whole episode was one long team match played in Gun Gale Online, which, as you may know from the second Swords Art Online series, is a sort of modern or post-apocalyptic shooter VRMMO. The way it’s presented here it seems to be a fairly serious sort of game, realistic enough that there’s a team of “pros” in the battle, a group of soldiers using it as a training exercise. Why they don’t use a dedicated server instead of mixing with actual gamers is a mystery. In any case, it all looks and feels like a proper game, even with all the virtual reality nonsense in it.

SAO Alternative: Team LM

Our protagonist calls herself Llenn and her team mate here is M, so obviously their team is called LM. M, with his tactical camouflage gear and general build contrasts well with the adorable tiny, pink Llenn. They’re an odd couple but they work well together, with Llenn the nominal leader but M guiding her all the way through the fight. Which for most of it consists of actually avoiding fighting and letting the team of pros deal with the other teams in their neighbourhood as they keep themselves out of danger. It’s only at the very end, when everybody else nearby has been killed that they enter the battle themselves and it’s Llenn’s turn to shine. I liked their team work and how the anime didn’t feel the need to over explain their choices. There was still a bit of hand holding, with M explaining things to Llenn she should’ve already known, but it wasn’t intrusive.

SAO Alternative: priorities

Llenn’s whole GGO personality has the cuteness factor build in, but she’s serious about her gaming. Her first thought after surviving an ambush is that she nearly died without firing a single shot. She’s smart enough to realise when her team mate uses her as a decoy and pouts adorably about it. Her team mate is less fleshed out, the silent stoic type, but then he doesn’t need to be. How and when they teamed we don’t know and we only get to see Llenn in the real world at the very end of the episode, when it turns out she’s very different from how she presents online. It will be interesting to see what the series will make of this and how much it’ll be just GGO battles and how deep it’ll go into Llenn’s background and motives for playing the game.

Megalo Box — First Impressions

It’s the future. It’s not nice. And ordinary boxing is no longer enough to placate the jaded masses. We need super boxing:

Megalo Box: Super Boxers

Yes, that’s the way my mind works, that the first association Megalo Box would trigger for me would be a long forgotten, not very good 1984 graphic novel. But the setup is so similar Ron Wilson should’ve gotten royalties for it. You got your cranked up boxing, your mildly dystopian future where cooperations rule the world, an underdog hero from the wrong side of the tracks who would be the best at megalo boxing if he could enter the ring legally instead having to fight in fixed, illegal fights. Even without that particular association this is far from an original story, but the difference lies in the execution. Because hot damn, is this done well.

Megalo Box: real weight to the fight

Just look at that. There’s a real heft and weight to those punches, a meatiness that shows that these jabs can do real damage if they land. Also look at the faces, not your normal featureless, smoothed out high school faces. They actually have real noses, not just a modest indication of where a nose would be on a real person. When they get hit or injured, you see the damage it does. That level of detail and grittiness carries over outside the ring as well. I have no problems with modern television anime, but this is what anime looked like when I first started watching it.

Megalo Box: Junk Dog

Junk Dog makes for an interesting protagonist, even though he’s very much a cliche: underdog fighter from the streets with ridiculous but unrecognised talent. For a start, when he’s asked why he’s not entering the Megalonia tournament that will be driving the plot of the series, he says that it’s “open for all citizens”. And since he doesn’t have a citizen ID, he therefore cannot enter. It’s new for anime to have an actual undocumented citizen as its hero and it’s equally rare for the protagonist to be a person of colour, as Junk Dog seems to be. The setting is left somewhat undefined but seem vaguely South-West America to me, with a lot of the secondary characters looking Mexican or Latinx. It’ll be interesting to see if the series does anything with this.