Tuesday, December 30, 2014

:anime: Ani-Journal - For December 30, 2014

Everyone's favorite scrapped princess…

For whatever reason, I keep thinking that I have done a bunch of these, but in reality, this is only the sixth entry in "Ani-Journal" (or is that "of"? "In" makes more sense because it's like a journal and stuff, but "of" is more grammatically-correct…). So, without further ado, here is an all-new entry in/of Ani-Journal!

—In spite of the allure of Fate/Zero's Ei Aoki collaborating with that novel's author, Gen Urobuchi, for the then-new ALDNOAH.ZERO, I was not exactly enthralled with what was yielded in its first couple of episodes. Its premise was interesting, for sure, with its tale of haughty human Mars-dwellers raining down upon the Earth with their almighty space castles to subjugate it under a cloud of political upheaval on their end and the Earthers having to find a way to stop them with their inadequate mecha (this being a mecha show and all). The way it played out early on, though, also proved interesting, but not altogether exciting or that interesting. If anything, there was more of an air of familiarity and routine to it than any real whiff of originality (and this is not taking into consideration the strange vibe of a more modern, reworked Martian Successor Nadesico). For all of the hype, it was "good" but nothing "great", and if you are pimping out a show (or anything, for that matter), it better be "great".

All of the pieces were there for something enthralling—from the top-quality production work between Aoki's new TROYCA studio and A-1 Pictures, to Hiroyuki Sawano providing the score. Yet, despite that, A/Z felt firmly stuck in first gear through its first four to five episodes (out of 12). Hampering the show the most was its lead protagonist, Inaho, who was that unemotional, cool-&-calm, perfect-in-everything-they-say-and-formulate-despite-how-purposely-unlikely-or-outlandish-their-plans-or-chances-of-success-would-be, Gary Stu-type of character that I have loathed. I can tolerate many character types, even the most egregious ones, but I could never stand characters that were the "perfect/untouchable/'never wrong' genius" types (along with the similar "pure" characters). They tend to be the most annoying, cold, and least authentic, and are often the ones creators tend to focus on if they appear in a story. In A/Z's case, Inaho had all the answers regardless of the situation and if things got too heated, "happenstance" saved the day.

My interest faded into the ether and I was sort of keeping with it, but in that half "seeing where it's going" sort of way, and there were more interesting shows to watch, as well. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later, when looking for something to watch one evening, that I, begrudgingly, decided to give an episode of A/Z a watch, to see if it was anything more worthwhile. Ep. 6 proved to be a little bit more interesting than your average average A/Z installment, so I decided to see what the next episode was like, purely for the heck of it.

And then the next.

And the next.

And the next…

Like a bag of potato chips, each concluding episode had me grabbing into it for another one. The deeper I got, the more I kept looking at the clock, contemplating whether to stop for the night or try and finish it off in one go (and see what happened next). In an exceeding rare move, I chose the latter, and reached the season stop point. Suffice to say, A/Z finally got truly interesting in major, and at times unexpected and enjoyable, ways. It is the type of series that you really cannot talk about beyond the given premise or really delve in deep about why you like it without bring up particular points, but it did redeem itself from its blase first half. Enough to call it a great series, I do not know and that is up for debate, especially with the other half of the series yet to air.. Even to call it "totally worthwhile" is questionable at this point, though it was nice to see a few, ever-so-slight wrinkles added to Inaho, which helped shave off some of his "invincibility" and inhumanity, and make him into somewhat (keyword) intriguing character.

It was far from perfect, but ALDNOAH.ZERO proved engrossing enough to have me anticipating where they will go next (particularly after learning about the possible inspiration [SPOILER WARNING: Don't even bother reading until after you have seen the first half!] of the story…).

—I guess nowadays, after you, a student of the industry, have helmed a big, fan-favorite hit (and usually, having done an under-the-radar critical darling sometime before then), you are able to launch your own studio. Because in the end, who doesn't aspire to have one of their own, where they can call the creative shots and mold works to their vision, not to mention build up their bank accounts?

—Kinda funny to think that both Khara and TRIGGER are more "GAINAX" than GAINAX is right now. Take away Imaishi's Gurren Lagann and Panty&Stocking with Garterbelt, and GAINAX hasn't been "GAINAX" since FLCL, or at the latest, Aim for the Top 2! Diebuster (or erroneously, Gunbuster 2). Hopefully, Uru in Blue will be the rebirth of the once-amazing studio like its predecessor, Royal Space Force: Wings of the Honneamise was its birth.

—Speaking of studios, just what in the world happened at Madhouse when NTV bought a substantial share in the company in 2011? It is a subject I have been endlessly fascinated with, given how drastic and sudden the events that transpired at the venerable and seemingly unflappable powerhouse (and my favorite studio) that year.

In the direct aftermath, seemingly right after the deal was set, there was a mass exodus of its top talent—co-founder and chief producer Masao Maruyama left first, forming his own studio, MAPPA, that very year (with its barely-disguised Madhouse-type logo), its biggest rising star in Tetsuro Araki (DEATH NOTE, Highschool of the Dead) would go on to work with Production I.G (GUILTY CROWN) and its spinoff WIT STUDIO (Attack on Titan), Mamoru Hosada (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars) formed a studio from the ground up (Studio Chizu) just to do Wolf Children, and Ryosuke Nakamura (Mouryou no Hako, Aoi Bungaku Series eps. 9-10 ("Run, Melos!")) went on to direct works at Sunrise (Nerawareta Gakuen) and LIDEN FILMS (AIURA).

The dire financial situation due to a string of high-profile, well-reviewed, but low-grossing works (particularly 2009's Mai Mai Miracle, which the studio was apparently banking quite a bit on for a big payday) was a primary factor in Maruyama's decision. Money problems are certain to cause strife in the camp and when you are the main producer and want to continue to put out high-quality titles, but have to tussle over that and the direction to take the company, I suppose that is to be expected, But seeing who left and have yet to even return makes one wonder how much of a schism developed and whether other factors contributed to it (beyond Maruyama no longer being around to go to bat for them and their projects).

Through everything, funnily, there does not seem to be any animosity between Madhouse and Maruyama, even when he left, nor have I heard of any backbiting from the others who left, either (which tends to be the case in Japan, and maybe perhaps to keep things between them and the studio). At times, MAPPA feels more like an extended part of Madhouse with its logo and feel—heck, both studios came (back?) together for the first time ever to rekindle the magic for Hajime no Ippo's newest sequel this year. Masao Maruyama's newest baby, predictably, appears to be in the process of climbing up the ladder of top anime studios after Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, Terror in Resonance, and GARO: The Animation, including April 2015's Punch Line (debuting on noitaminA, already their third such show).

Madhouse, in the meantime, has not degraded too much in everyone's absence. Though touch-and-go from the outset with their productions, output, and choices (i.e. BTOOOM!, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna, Photo Kano), their adaptations of HUNTER x HUNTER and Chihayafuru (helmed by Morio Asaka, one of their very few top holdovers) has received a lot of praise and love. 2014 and 2015 has given, perhaps, a glimmer of a return of the Madhouse of old, following Parasyte and the upcoming Death Parade (based on their earlier Anime Mirai entry, Death Billiards). Best of luck to them and everyone else in the new ventures.

Well, that's it for this edition of Ani-Journal! Thank you for reading and have a great holiday!


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