You know what ? I haven’t been entirely idle during the couple of months this project fell by the wayside. I’ve actually been watching a good number of the shows I had selected.
So, without further fanfare, a few comments regarding each of these shows :
It quickly becomes apparent this follows the Excel Saga formula of parodying a different type of cop show in each episode. As a result, it’s more than a bit uneven, and the attempt to inject a bit more of serious drama in the last stretch doesn’t really work. The show really is at its best when it’s unashamedly stupid.
And this shows nowhere better than in the second episode, which is by far the best of the lot (and worth watching by its lonesome). It’s a recap episode that plays as though this was a long-running series that’s been on the air for ages, and as such much of the (completely fake) earlier material being recapped feels quaint and at odds with the “current” set up (such as the Chief being black because the writers hadn’t decided yet he was Lu’s father, and major characters in the magnificently retro “original” OP sequences have been written out long ago). It’s also a series of smaller vignettes within the framing device, allowing each joke to run its course quickly, without outstaying their welcome.
So, as it turns out, this is halfway between an anthology series (“a different couple each episode !”) and a more traditional romance series with continuing plot threads (as the four leads – Kyoichi, Chiharu, Makoto & Yoshihiko – are usually involved in turns). This allows for quite some variety (as not all pairs go anywhere, or are even romantic), while letting some room for some decent character development to occur. The way the series juggles with everything is actually quite impressive, from a structural point of view.
… On the other hand, it’s been two months since I’ve watched it, and I’ve already forgotten about most of it. So, while it’s a pleasant way to pass time, it’s not exactly memorable.
I didn’t think this show would turn out to be so depressing.
What really got me was the impressively realistic depiction of Mayuko’s abject poverty. (And it’s not like her close circle of friends and acquaintances are much more better off.) As the series goes on, this is clearly taking a toll on her, leading her to both reject NieA for her obnoxiousness, and then blaming herself when the alien disappears. Even the relatively pat ending can’t make up for how raw an emotional roller-coaster this is.
The wacky hijinks end up being gallows’ humour : desperate attempts to let out steam to avoid everyone collapsing into clinical depression. That was quite a harrowing watch indeed, and not exactly what I expected.
Wow, you really weren’t kidding about the “no ending” thing ; on the other hand, it plays quite well with the themes of the show. Our two heroines’ presence in this fantasy world progressively makes the political situation deteriorate faster and faster, and there’s very little they can do about it. The series ends with them making an empty symbolic gesture akin to throwing a tantrum in despair at the cycle of violence, and them being suddenly whisked back to Earth by a deus ex machina. And of course, this solves nothing for the natives, and if anything leaves the ones the viewer has grown most fond of in a terrible situation.
I don’t have a problem with this. Oh, sure, the original 50-episode plan would have been interesting to watch, but there’s something fascinating with the idea that the two teenagers from Tokyo didn’t make the fantasy world a better place just by showing up, and didn’t lead any kind of uprising against the terrible status quo. (They kind of tried, but it quickly petered out and if anything it made things worse.)
In many ways, this is the platonic ideal of wacky harem comedies : archetypal, borderline one-dimensional characters (especially in the supporting cast) ; many episodes going into random tangents for the heck of it ; and a main romantic thread that makes very slow but definite progress. The slightly surreal atmosphere helps it out, giving the impression that anything can happen if it looks fun enough. And it usually does.
As it is, the series is decently entertaining, with the couple of TV specials bringing it to an adequate conclusion. I wasn’t blown away by it, but it was fun enough.
… And then I watched Love Hina Again, and argkfgerfgrg. This goes wrong in every possible way : the art direction has taken a turn for the worse, as the new designs are ugly and barely animated ; most of the characters see their character development regress (or get derailed into wholly unlikeable territory, such as Keitarou turning into Seta 2.0) ; and worst of all they introduce a creepy incestuous little sister character who’s not only super-annoying and unwelcome, but warps the whole show around herself.
WHAT THE HECK WERE THEY THINKING ?
That was… interesting. The first episode was so dense that there’s a few major points I didn’t get until a bit later :
– The female warship who captured our few male protagonists are actually pirates, and thus only loosely associated with the female homeworld ; this explains why they have a less hostile attitude to the dudes than average.
– The male warship being inaugurated was actually a refurbished relic from ages ago, and something really bizarre happened when the female warship docked with it ; they kinda fused together, and it also changed the mechas (from both sides) inside. None of the science makes any sense, but then this is a very soft SF show that’s clearly using all this for metaphor. (And a very obvious one, given all the “combining” going on.) I like that none of the technical crew have any clue how any of this works, and after a fashion they just go along with it.
– The combined warship somehow got transported by a space wedgie to the other side of the galaxy, and they’re several months away from getting back to their two home planets. This means that the show takes a very episodic travelogue format, with our heroes stumbling onto a number of other planets with normal male-female coexistence, making Tarak & Marjale an anomaly rather than the norm. Which is a great framework to focus on the crew and give them fodder for character development. (With the looming threat of the Harvesters giving the plot a bit more direction.)
Anyway, this was a great show. Often very silly, but a fun exploration of gender roles, with likeable characters and a clear idea of what it’s doing. I really enjoyed spending time with these people and sharing their struggles, and isn’t that the whole point ? One could quibble about the combining mecha being a really stupid plot device, but they’re used in a fun way that’s really all about the pilots.
This turned out to be quite a disappointment.
At the time of the review, I was actually quite pleased by the absence of an obvious player character avatar dude. Well, he shows up in episode #4, and is very bland indeed. He’s not even mucking the series up by romancing the girls or anything like that : he’s just a generic competent field commander with the charisma of a cardboard cutout.
No, the real issue I have with the series is that it completely ignores the potential of its intriguing setting. The elite mecha unit somehow doubling as a Takarazuka Revue-style theatre troupe ? Never really explained, aside from some lip service as “concentration” training. It’s just the thing the girls do whenever the main plot is on hold. But at least this part of the show is mildly entertaining, if mostly irrelevant aside from the team dynamics.
What really brings it down, though, are the villains. The awful, boring, cliché villains. Including a femme fatale who doesn’t get to do much, a groaning strong dude with no personality, and a creepy annoying kid with mind-control powers that allow him to slaughter redshirts by the dozen. (And of course he’s voiced by Akira Ishida on autopilot self-parody.) You just stop caring by the first time they’re randomly resurrected (and lose any personality or plot relevance they showed before.) Worse than all of them combined, though, is the “main villain”, the turncoat who betrayed humanity 5 years ago for barely explained reasons. I might have cared about the connected characters’ angst about his betrayal if the guy wasn’t just a one-dimensional evil dude who smirks a lot and never shows a hint of depth. (He even unironically calls himself “Blue Satan” ! Seriously ?)
This just doesn’t work. The antagonists are just this traitor, a few zombie generals he keeps reviving, and tons of monstrous mooks. At first it looked like the enemy was slowly crossing over from another dimension, but after a while it turns out that nope, this is all of them. No clash with a parallel world : once the Big Bad is disposed of, that’s it. It’s like all the world building was flushed down the toilet.
At this point I must ask : are the various strings of OVAs (which are set in a parallel continuity, as far as I can see) any better ? I’m not exactly looking forward to trying them out…