After the revelations of episode 19 of Rahxephon, the expectation – the anticipated progression of a traditional narrative which has just reached its tragic mid-point climax and is surely beginning its turnaround to eventual victory – would be that there would be some focus on Ayato’s response to the tragedy he has experienced. It would be catharsis, after the fight that has just occurred, a clear sign that the story is unlikely to go lower and will begin its narrative upturn. Losing someone close to them is usually the catalyst for a protagonist to toughen up and get some vengeance, but this is shown in narrative terms by showing how they respond to their grief – it is their story, and they response matters. There is no catharsis in episode 20 of Rahxephon. It glosses over, in explicit terms, Ayato’s response to episode 19. He has got over it. How and why is not shown.
Further to an online conversation about the virtues of Barakamon, an interesting point was drawn to my attention about a similarly-themed (in certain ways) comedy animé airing at a similar time; Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Nozaki is about a girl who ends up forming an eccentric friendship with the artist of her favourite comic, a young man employed writing girls’ romance stories despite his crippling lack of knowledge of the subject (and, as the series suggests, talent outside of certain very limited spheres). It is a comedy about art and artists – as, ultimately, Barakamon is. The humour comes from the clashing of artistic temperaments and thought processes with a less whimsical outside world – in many ways it is even a fish-out-of-water comedy, as Nozaki is ill-suited to the world of girls’ fiction, and Chiyo is unsuited to the artistic, high-stress world of comics-writing.
Gundam: Reconguista in G, or G-Reco, is the first “typical” Gundam series on TV since the very unpopular Gundam AGE (discounting the sidestory OVA Gundam Unicorn). “Typical” here means a full-length televised program, with a science-fiction plot (for although Gundam Build Fighters is now in its second series, it is nowhere near comparable to other franchise entries being a “games” animé taking card-game animé cliches and applying them to miniatures gaming). Yet, three episodes in, G-Reco is interesting in a way few Gundam series really are; it would have been easy for it to rest on its laurels with franchise recognition, to go through the motions in uninspired ways – as parts of AGE did. AGE too often dressed interesting concepts in uninspired, predictable execution that robbed dramatic turns of any emotional impact and made much of it feel empty. It was unable to, arguably, properly stand as its own series and simply repeated – via its three-arc structure – expected developments in increasingly ineffective ways.
Fish-out-of-water comedies – the city man in the countryside, the country yokel in the big city and any number of other examples – all focus on someone who has been brought up strongly within one society ending up trying to fit into a very different one. They generally gently mock the displaced person by showing how they do not fit in, and often resent the need to fit in, and simultaneously poke fun at the new society they are disrupting. All generally ends with one party or the other changing their ways to pick up the best of the disruptive influence; the stuck-up city folk will learn some homespun country wisdom, or the stressed-out professional will learn to relax. A good example in recent animé was Rowdy Sumo-Wrestler Matsutaro; its protagonist was a single-minded idiot with a heart of gold who gradually learned to put his violent and blinkered thinking to good use in mentoring an inept trainee sumo-wrestler. He took the consequences of his actions (a pleasant change from some series with violent anti-heroes where their escaping justice is just another quirky facet of their character)
In a previous article about the card game Netrunner, among other topics, I discussed how board games can combine thematic design with mechanical synergy – and how it is something which counteracts the lack of a narrative in something designed to be played over and over again. Board games, and to a similar extent miniatures-based wargames, need to be repeatable, almost non-narrative experiences because they involve large amounts of direct, unpredictable player interaction. Video games, on the other hand, have the scope in offering single-player experiences to tell a story – there may be different routes through that story, or different scenes to be selected, but there is still a story being told and the aim of the game is to experience it. This is ultimately the crux of the story versus theme dichotomy; the level of variance in the experience, and whether the narrative is crafted as part of the entire work, or emergent from interaction with it.
Kickbeat is marketed as an “innovative rhythm game with a Kung Fu theme,” but its level of innovation, when games like Final Fantasy Theatrhythm have explored adding combat and RPG elements to rhythm games in well-developed ways that closely tie licensed music to game theming, seems quite limited. Kickbeat is a straightforward rhythm game dressed up in theming that impedes play to an extent, and with a selection of music that is small compared to most competitors (Theatrhythm Curtain Call, which came out on handhelds around the same time, has a significantly larger and more varied song library – and even free-to-play rhythm games on mobile like Cytus and Love Live School Idol Festival have comparably sized or larger track lists.)
Kapsula is a puzzle game combining the reflex-testing of an endless runner with the block-matching of a game like Columns; the end result is something a little like Audiosurf but without the soundtrack element. It is well-suited to mobile formats, requiring only minimal inputs and – with a simple failure state and an interface designed to make repeat play as efficient as possible – being built from the ground up for intermittent play sessions. The mobile puzzle and skill game market is gaining a well-established set of ground-rules for designing a good mobile game – it should be as minimalist in terms of getting to play the game as possible, and as easy as possible to try again after a session, since mobile games are often played for short periods of time to fill a break. In this respect, Kapsula works well.
With the final preparations complete – in the form of an episode of down-time – Eureka Seven is finally ready to begin its ultimate confrontations. Renton is going beyond the Great Wall to find out some kind of truth, Stoner and Holland are preparing their expose of the Coralians and Eureka, and Dewey is planning his own operations to bring an end to the Coralian “threat.” The shift in focus is established with a new opening theme tune, probably the best of the series’ four themes. The theme tunes and credits sequences have throughout the series tonally reflected what is happening – the third, the punk-esque To the Centre of the Sun, played through the series’ impetuousness and kicking out – and now Sakura, the fourth theme, comes with its very heroic and spiritual sound for the show’s climax – established as something that must be religious.
The side story OVAs to the main Universal Century timeline of Gundam are, perhaps by virtue of a shorter running time, more focused in their approach to using the setting; each tells a single story seated within the world created that tries to be different in some way to other stories in the same world. The 08th MS Team makes aesthetic efforts at a kind of military-SF realism by attention to mechanical detail and at the same time is basically a love story about soldiers from opposing factions. War in the Pocket is even more personal and anti-action in its close focus on Al and Bernie, a soldier and the civilian who helps him try and carry out his mission against all odds – and its child’s viewpoint is specifically used to play with expectations of what this kind of story entails.
Episode 19 of Rahxephon is the end of an arc – the moment where Ayato’s impulsive heroism is finally put to the test as he must come to terms with what “saving” someone actually means – and whether, in this world, it is even possible.
Note: Episode 19 is a particularly unique episode, and probably one of the best-written episodes in mecha animé purely because of how it sits within the wider plot of the series – as a result, the remainder of this article will be placed after this tag so readers may choose not to read it and see the episode without being spoiled.