Where animation can excel as a medium for adaptation in a way live-action visual media cannot is in copying aesthetics or creating them; this allows for visual experimentation in a way which goes beyond attempting to recreate a character’s appearance and instead permits an exact visual replication of a world. The adaptation into television animé format of the video game Persona 4 provides a clear example of this total recreation – the first two episodes begin with very precise reproductions of the settings and characters of the game permitting all the stylisation which defines it to be recreated. This level of aesthetic faithfulness immediately establishes the series as an adaptation focused on recreating, if not the plot’s exact progress, but the entire experience of playing Persona 4.
In my previous article about the series Black Lagoon I wrote predominantly about its first season and the often repulsive and unsympathetic violence of it. The characters within were alienating – the sympathetic fish-out-of-water protagonist was often more than simply the butt of jokes but actively presented as an impediment to the expected lifestyle of those he was forced upon. What this did was make the group of characters that would usually be presented as relatable and entertaining seem particularly unlikeable not in a comedic fashion but in a way which undermined how entertaining the series ended up being. Many of the conflicts, once the initial introductions were out of the way, were ultimately petty and inconclusive ones with high body counts but no real catharsis in the violence.
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There is an ongoing tension by this point in Eureka Seven between the desire for normality – and the concessions that must be made to make this happen – and the repercussions of the traumas that the cast have encountered. Too much has changed for there to be any hope of the life that anyone initially wanted; Holland cannot have the life with Talho and Eureka he desired now Renton has entered the scene, Renton will not get his naïve dream of a fun life spent with sportsmen and rebels. How this has manifested is in an increased sense of responsibility, shown perhaps most clearly in Talho’s change of image. Her more modest outfit and short hair is a simple visual cue of “seriousness” – she is not the casual, figure that she was before but instead a mature adult.
The initial draw of Super Dimension Century Orguss is its gentle introduction into the world at a pace led by the characters; the process of discovering the mysteries of the societies Kei encounters and trying to understand what is happening is made into the main narrative driving-force. As the series develops, and the viewer learns more about the setting (and how it ties into the main narrative), some of the finer setting details develop into miniature plot arcs that contribute to a further development of the world being depicted; such digressions are interesting, and presented in a way which is not simply expository. The act of “in-character” worldbuilding suits a story like Orguss well, in which a character unfamiliar with a new world must live within it – but the risk is ever-present of an overreliance on explanation to benefit the viewer. Too much exposition in too short a time breaks the illusion of it being in-character and makes it too plainly artificial.
Note: This article will contain specific plot details for Super Dimension Century Orguss
Episode 6 of Rahxephon was perhaps the first to properly follow the structure of a super-robot animé episode, with its setup of an enemy showing its power, the creation of a plan to fight it and then the fight itself, in which the enemy’s unique ability caused setbacks which had to be overcome with special abilities from Ayato’s machine. Yet it was something more than that formula mostly due to the history within the setting ascribed to the enemy. Most super-robot series have a new monster each episode created at its start by the enemy to do battle with the hero, but the Dolem from episode 6 was shown to be a seasoned weapon of the Mu which had previously destroyed much of Australia. The episode was thus as much about Kim’s coming to terms with this and taking part in the fight as Ayato’s continued quest for acceptance and understanding his position.
A fairly common theme in science-fiction – both in animé and outside of it – is the reduction, in the future, of war to a game or some kind of challenge of skill with minimal human cost. It is a kind of compromise between anti-war themes and a desire for action – replacing the mass-combat elements of a war story with personal rivalries and hero-centric combat, while also preserving the thematic ideas inherent in a nation-scale conflict. If anything it is a narrative progression of the most desirable and relatable aspects of a war story while also keeping the tone inherently light and innocuous; the idea that with the increased possibilities of future technology, grand-scale crises and problems can be reduced to amiable disagreements resolved between dedicated champions is an interesting one.
Some games feel overly mechanically designed as reliant on a single strong or innovative mechanic; the emphasis is on foregrounding and promoting that mechanic and the result is an experience which feels unbalanced. One such example is the recent board game Exile Sun – its slider-based conflict resolution mechanic was uncommon among games of its type but outside of this there was little substance to it. Each other mechanic within the game was focused on drawing the players into using this conflict resolution system as much as possible, in order to draw attention to the limited pool of design strengths and discount the weaknesses in the overall. Such a game can be called a combat engine – a developed idea which ultimately lacks any kind of framework to be anything but abstract mechanics.
The fifth episode of Rahxephon built up to a series of guarded revelations that both explained more of what the future holds for the story and also explained how powerless Ayato actually is within it; the conspiratorial confusion that defines the action is given a more cruel, personal aspect in how it is denying him apparently simple answers to genuine and reasonable questions. It is clear he is being used to the audience, and his realisation of this is the main dramatic conflict within the episode. Yet it ends with some measure of harmony; while his life with Megumi and her uncle is a strange one based on necessity over genuine friendship, the way it is visually framed in the cliches of young love suggests there is hope for the future. Episode six begins some time after this, immediately revealing its core conflict. The personal is apparently being set aside for the human-versus-alien war that one might expect from a mecha animé.
The recently-begun animé series Suisei no Gargantia attracted my interest primarily because of how similar its premise seemed to the much earlier series Super Dimension Century Orguss; in both series, a pilot is thrown into an alien world as a result of some kind of space phenomenon and must cope with the culture shock inherent to it. It is currently too early in Gargantia to see where it is taking this premise, but watching its opening episode led to me rewatching the opening episodes of Orguss to see how they compared, and subsequently continuing with the series past the few episodes I had seen.
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Episode 30 of Eureka Seven seems to be, after so much seriousness and trauma, a return to the endearing oddness and youthful exuberance of the now long-distant first arc. It begins – as, in fact, several such early episodes did – with Renton and other members of the Gekko’s crew on some unspecified mission, completing it in a charmingly amateurish way as they struggle with a large bag of some sort. Indeed, this quite now uncommon style of episode is highlighted as unusual by Renton himself, who talks about how life has returned to normal in a way that he has not seen for some time.