It took three series and countless Super Robot Wars games before I really came to like Full Metal Panic; it was always a series where the core conceit, a sort of high school anime Kindergarten Cop story about a super-genius schoolgirl being protected varyingly competently by a team of commandos never really gelled with me, where the mech combat didn’t quite work and the juxtaposition of humour and serious action was a little disorienting. Yet there was enough there – the all-comedic second series Fumoffu, with its excellent film parodies including The A-Team, Full Metal Jacket and more, fights like the city fight against the invincible yet unstable Behemoth and the climax of series 1, with charismatic and utterly monstrous villain Gauron apparently having won – to make me convinced it was not a bad series, just an uneven one.
Anyone keeping abreast of the latest news in anime will probably be aware that there is a new Cutie Honey series airing, and it definitely opens with a well-rounded pair of episodes that are significantly more interesting than one might expect from something so self-evidently lurid and lewd.
It’s a big, in-your-face kind of series with everything on display from the start, which I feel does a fine job of modernising the original concept without quite being so trashy as some of the OVA versions. Of course, this assessment is based only on the show’s opening episodes, amply front-loaded as they are with action and also exposition to provide a firm backstory for the hero.
There’s no shortage of foreshadowing, suggesting at least there is the intention of telling some kind of deeper story, and I think the decision to hold off on the exposition and origin story until the second episode works.
You could fairly argue City Hunter (1987) and Cat’s Eye (1983) are opposite sides, narratively, of the same coin; one is about a glamorous playboy private eye recovering missing objects and saving beautiful women from peril, the other is about three beautiful women stealing gems and objets d’art. They are tonally and stylistically similar, to an extent, occupying what can be called the imaginary 1980s that is a preoccupation of a lot of pop culture and which is being revived in the modern popularisation of retrowave, synth and vaporwave aesthetics. Obviously, being products of the start and end of the 1980s, they are a more honest and authentic depiction of the idealism that pervades this kind of pop culture than later evocations of it which filter their perception through nostalgia for these original works.
In the grand scheme of things, F-Zero Falcon Densetsu is everything that can be conceptually wrong with an action anime – it is a needless dump of lore in adapting a game that really doesn’t need any (a racing game), it is a sports-action series that shamelessly finds excuses to make the action revolve around sports, and it is often quite ugly because of the sheer amount of flat-textured and obtrusive CGI that it relies on for action scenes. It is wholly forgettable and probably mostly forgotten (save for the existence of a Gameboy Advance game that uses its story), and yet I find myself wanting to recommend it.
Comparing Kakegurui to Kaiji is completely pointless. Which is why I am going to very briefly explain exactly why the two series are not comparable, and then move on to discussing what is enjoyable about Kakegurui. They are both series about gambling, for sure, and both rely on underdogs using smart tricks to try and beat villains at their own rigged games. There’s the same conflation of decadence, inhumanity, and violence – and Kakegurui adds sex. So much sex. Violence is sexy. Gambling is violent. Look at the sexy people risking their lives and fortunes in these glamorous death-games. And right there in two things we reach the reason why comparing the series is fruitless; Kaiji is unsexy, and Kaiji loses. A lot.
It is hard to easily express in which ways Grancrest War is bad; it is, in my opinion, such a combination of failed attempts to be interesting it ends up a singular kind of ridiculously uninspiring. Even trying to consider it from within its genre, a teen-focused power fantasy series, it feels alienatingly stupid. When writing about anime it is often easy to forget that much of it is written as mass entertainment for young people, and that approaching it with the expectations of an adult fandom is rarely fruitful. So anything that seems alienating and other may simply be something that an older audience are out of touch with, a reflection of, ultimately, a foreign country’s trends in youth culture. That is as maybe; I maintain Record of Grancrest War is still not very good.
It took the announcement of a sequel to Cardcaptor Sakura to convince me to watch it, not out of any particular lack of interest in the series (for I had heard from many people it was rather good) but more out of a lack of time and too many other things on my queue of things to watch. Nevertheless, I have now begun watching it, and am rather pleased I decided to because it is proving enjoyable and, crucially, interesting in ways I did not quite expect.
Or, Virtue Rewarded, How I Stopped Worrying & Learned To Love the Bomb,
At Least It Isn’t Cross Ange
It is not accurate to say Buddy Complex is a series that deserves defending, because it is plainly not particularly good, interesting or new. The parts that are good are not new, and the parts that are new are not good. On the other hand, I am finding it a series worth watching because it is so unashamedly unimaginative it ends up the sort of show that epitomises every cliché possible with earnest sincerity. Within five minutes of episode one starting, once you know the jargon being thrown about, any viewer who has seen at least one other military robot anime will be able to predict everything that will happen for at least the first two and a half episodes – and that will happen without any attempt to do anything different.
Is it useful to talk about privilege in the sense of superhero narratives? Is the “us-and-them” fear of the unpowered of an apparently unelected and unaccountable elite a useful thematic line of enquiry? The idea of a majority being forced to recognise the existence of a marginalised group is a strong allegory, and using fear of the unknown and the different to highlight society’s irrational prejudices. Doubly so if the source of the power is random genetic chance. The argument perhaps becomes inverted when one is talking about self-made heroes like Batman or Iron Man; there, there is a very real case to be made for the idea of the superhero as a rich person setting themselves up as an extrajudicial force. Indeed, the arguments behind whether or not superhumans should be regulated and registered drive many narratives in interesting directions; ideas of registration as a means of control and oppression versus the opportunity to create an organisation that can work together to help each other and be supportive.
There is a lot to like about My Hero Academia‘s opening episodes; it is a series which does something interesting with superhero origin stories and ideas of passing on the mantle of hero. I like generational hero stories and the idea that a title and duty can be passed on (indeed, stories where the role of, say, Iron Man or Spiderman can be passed on to a new incumbent offer interesting avenues for characterisation). I also like that it is a story that tries to deal with the idea that being a superhero is something ubiquitous and ordinary without using it as a metaphor for social divides in the usual sense. This is not to say social commentary by means of superpowers cannot be good; it is, after all, a key theme of the X-Men, and Concrete Revolutio.