Thursday, February 14, 2013

:anime: Love Comes & Goes…

Most of the time, when you like a show or movie, you tend to keep liking it for as many times as you watch it or, at least, continue to hold fond memories of it when you last saw it. However, there are times when second impressions make less of an impact than your first, maybe to the point that you find yourself not liking it as quite much as before. As such, it is only fitting on Valentine's Day to look back on a couple of rare occasions when an anime didn't quite stand up as well on a second viewing, as well as the rarer few that did the exact opposite…

Oh, why couldn't you have just ended this way?

-The Big O II-

The First Time:
I was a big fan of The Big O, the loving kick-back to an old-school era of giant robots and American comics, but the series ended on something of a cliffhanger. It was a satisfying "well, back to work…"-type of conclusion, but it was left open and dire enough to make you wonder what happened afterwards. Cue the Cartoon Network-funded follow-up, The Big O II, a few years later, which picked right up where the finale left off. I was very excited to see how everything would turn out, especially after catching sight of a few screencaps from the first episode when it aired in Japan. Save for a few shifts in character dynamics and a more acoustically-tinged score, I was not disappointed and it was still the Big O that I liked so much before. There were many surprising developments and revelations, too, and while the series once again ended in an unexpected manner, I was still able to appreciate it. In all, I really liked the show a lot and was glad to see that it got a continuation.

The Second Time:
That is, until I rewatched it. CN was broadcasting it again a while later, so naturally, I tuned in to enjoy it once more. I thought it would be great to soak it all in again and pick up on anything I missed, but right off the bat, something wasn't right--no, make that everything. Sure, Alan Gabriel is cool-looking, but is he really that necessary or a worthwhile addition to the story? Why, exactly, are you lifting from The Truman Show? (Heck, why even go in that direction?) Why are X characters getting the attention they are getting? Why, oh why, is there now a romance between Roger and Dorothy? Their platonic relationship was just fine and one of the series' best qualities (particularly for not going down the cliched route it was on), but now they have a thing developing when it was only played at at best and not too often? Why are they going down the "deep", Eva-ish path? Was Big O II always this convoluted?

A bulk of the criticisms can be connected to the series' ill-fated attempt at placating to American sensibilities--a very common mistake that anime producers make when creating something with American backing. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is ever apt, and the first Big O already did a fine job at paying homage, but its sequel seemed to be trying too hard to play it up, not only in homage but also in perceived story structure (i.e. forced romances/couplings, emphasis of action over story, increased emphasis on fan favorites (ex. Dorothy, Angel), going for the big epic feel and profundity (via Truman elements)). I could go longer on my newly-found points of contentions over The Big O II, but when it comes down to it, I did, indeed, pick up on things I didn't before, but none of them were very good.

In the end, it really wasn't the Big O that I knew, but something that was trying to be something it was not. The first season was simple and straightforward enough and made great use of atmospherics and its trappings, but the second season tried too hard to be complex and clever, running on the fumes of the first half and becoming more of a mess than whatever it was striving to be--and don't get me started on that ending. I tried to rewatch one more time, but nothing changed. It was a bad sequel that I wish was never made.

So Why?
Maybe I got caught up in all of the flash, twists, and mythology, as well as it being a long-awaited follow-up, but none of those elements were very apparent on the second go-around and beyond. There is a reason why I have held The Big O II as the standard-bearer in rewatches-gone-wrong…

-Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex-

The First Time:
In a similar vein to The Big O, I was a big fan of the first Ghost in the Shell movie, but in this case, even more so due to it getting me into anime (…and, well, it was an excellent film). I always thought about how cool it would have been if it were ever made into a TV series (animated or live-action), so imagine my excitement over the announcement of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Albeit different in style and aesthetics, it was nonetheless very good and felt like it was in the spirit of the film and I got up to about Ep. 17 via fansubs (I don't believe I was going week-by-week then) when I heard that it was coming to Adult Swim, so I stopped right there and waited for the dub. And what a dub it was, everyone did an outstanding job on it!

The Second Time:
…In fact, they may have done a little too good a job. Animaze/ZRO Limit did so well, I was actually able to pick up on a number of negative things about the show! I was able to detect an aggravating level of elitism and "too-cool-for-school" aura around the protagonists, something would be a staple of director Kenji Kamiyama's future work (which I also would grow to dislike). It also shed light on his propensity for making those opposing the heroes (namely those with roughly the same goal, but not in agreement with their ways) incompetent or a bunch of stuffy stooges, as well as his overemphasis on and -reinforcement of a strong female character. I love me that type of character, but I don't need every person in the show remarking how utterly great or impressive they are or have her look untouchable and superb in everything she does. I have never liked "perfect" characters, male or female, or excessive hero worshipping, and with the Major, it made all of the praise paid her way and her daring feats feel token and actually subtracted from an otherwise noble cause.

So Why?
Normally when I go from dub to sub, I tend to pick up on more items likely because I'm reading the lines rather than solely seeing and listening. I rarely learn anything new going from sub to dub, though, making my experience with GITS:SAC all the more odd. I wasn't being sarcastic or stretching things when was talking about the dub. Unlike the norm, perhaps this time it was in total reverse: the performances were good enough to make me appreciate and take notice of other aspects of the show, only to find that there was not much for me to appreciate. Its sequel, 2nd GIG, didn't fare any better for me (it was inferior however you slice, and the heroes looked more vulnerable and less perfect that time around), though I happened to enjoy Solid State Society. This is the only time I can remember of anything being so good, that it exposes everything else about it in detrimental fashion.

Of Damaged Goods and Diminished Returns…

Sometimes, its not just a rewatch that can spoil memories of old. An awful addition to an already great work--be it in prequel or sequel form--or even a compilation film/alternative retelling can sometimes impact one's appreciation for the original. This was partially evident with The Big O, but it was much more so with RahXephon--my favorite series--after watching its horrible alternate retelling, Pluralitas Concentio. I tempered my expectations for the film, knowing how those types can be, but unfortunately, it was much worse than I thought it ever could be. It left enough of a bad taste to dissuade my interest in watching the series again for the next couple of months. A more recent example would be Nisemonogatari, the sequel to the exceptional Bakemonogatari, which sucked my enthusiasm out of the franchise by being an uneven and unfocused imitator of its predecessor (which is kind of humorous when you translate the title…). Eventually, admiration for all three of those series would return after time and watching them over, but no doubt that such lesser additions and continuations can have a negative effect on even the series you love.

While my opinion of something usually won't change downward so drastically, it's even less likely that I'll like something that I had not the first time around. However, this has happened only twice…

-Darker than BLACK-

The First Time:
To put it bluntly, I never jelled with the series within the first two or four episodes I watched. It seemed really dull and boring and I promptly dropped it soon after. Not even Yoko Kanno's score couldn't save it.

The Second Time:
Three years later, I decided to give it another shot, and the turn-around was almost as dramatic as the one with Big O II. I actually liked the episodes I initially soured on and in the end, it turned out to be a very good show (not "mind-blowingly great", but much better than before). Nothing boring or dull about it, this time.

So Why?
I don't know, really. Perhaps I wasn't feeling it that day. If The Big O II was the poster child of bad second impressions, than DtB is the poster child of worthwhile second chances.

-The Place Promised in Our Early Days-

The First Time:
I watched this along with Voices from a Distant Star and 5 centimeters per second during Crunchyroll's weekend-long celebration of Makoto Shinkai's work, and while I greatly appreciated the latter two, Place never resonated with me. I didn't outright dislike the film, but it didn't really like it, either, and I had a hard time understanding what was going on.

The Second Time:
The following year, CR was hosting the festivities again, so I decided to give it another shot. It was a much clearer watch this time around and I was able to grasp the film more easily. I came out of it liking Place as much as his other two films, and that admiration continues to grow with each additional viewing. It's a title I am very grateful to have given that second chance to.

So Why?
Sometimes, all you need is another look-over…

Maybe that's the moral of this whole story: sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

At the end of the day, I'm just happy I didn't buy something I would later regret

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