Archive for the 'clannad' Category

Moenetics: The Rise of the Sophisticated Moe Series

Post to be broken up with ridiculously huge images, as is my tradition for longer essays, because otherwise there’s a huge wall of text and no one likes walls of text, least of all me, so you can either stay for the text or just stare at pretty pictures for a few minutes. Either way, you’ll hopefully have fun!

It’s occurred to me in the past couple of days, basking in the warm afterglow of finishing true tears (which, by the way, I think blogging it really helped me appreciate it much more than I would have without such, as doing the entries gave me the opportunity to properly think about each character’s motivations and emotions, even if most of those posts revolved around Noe), that anime in general and moe in particular is kind of undergoing a sort of sea change. We’ve seen, in the past six months, the airing of four very, from a historical perspective, odd galge/eroge conversion series: Kimikiss, ef – a tale of memories, Clannad, and true tears. They’re odd not in the sense that they’re quirky, but odd in the sense that they break from tradition

Three of them were handed to major creative directors–Kimikiss to Kasai Ken’ichi of Honey & Clover and Nodame Cantabile fame; ef to Shinbo Akiyuki’s very capable supervision hands, with Oonuma Shin providing a very strong initial showing; and true tears to Nishimura Junji, who directed Simoun, as well as a portion of that little-known series Ranma 1/2; Clannad to Kyoto Animation’s extremely competent Ishihara Tatsuya, responsible for Haruhi and Kanon. In addition to these four series, I’d like to throw in, partially because I’m very fond of it, and partially because it works very well with the concept, Nishimori Akira’s Hitohira (Nishimori also directed the extremely pleasant Petopeto-san, which I was probably one of the few people who genuinely liked it). I’ll probably talk more about true tears, ef, Clannad, and Hitohira, as I’ve seen them, and I haven’t had the chance to see Kimikiss yet, but all signs point to that series being excellent as well, so I look forward to it.

Whew.

What that all builds up to, then, is a discovery of what moe actually is. As a term. it has a flexible definition, and one way I’ve always looked at it is as a sort of bridging the gap between the male audience and the female audience, at least when accomplished properly. The concept of “cute girls” preys upon the male’s need for eye candy, and the frequently deep emotions and development of the “cute girl” into a more complex character is strongly reminiscent of shoujo characterization. Put another way, moe offers character-driven (or primarily character-driven) series featuring cute female characters and officially targeted at a male audience. It’s a kind of transference of shoujo sensibilities into seinen anime and manga–again, when accomplished properly.

The deep character focus of the five mentioned series (in Kimikiss’s case, it is assumed, but I don’t think I’m wrong) demonstrate moe in this sense effectively. Consider Hitohira, for starters: it’s an entirely character-driven series, as the plot exists only to further Mugi’s development as a character. She is a quite cute character, with somewhat exaggerated traits, but it’s clear to anyone who’s seen the series that she changes over the course of the series. In true shoujo form, we get a glimpse inside the person of Mugi, and then we get the joy of cheering her on as she slowly comes out of her shell. It’s the total opposite of what you’d think a guy would enjoy, but there’s certainly a small (yet devoted) male fanbase for the series.

The extreme example of this shift in narrative focus from “plot” to “character”, from characters existing solely as flat personalities (such as you’d see in a Da Capo series) with a quirky trait to characters existing as a complex whole, is of course true tears. As I’ve mentioned in my posts about the series, the six main characters are incredibly complex, and developed so well that I find it difficult to grasp how so many people have enjoyed the series seemingly without getting underneath the characters’ skin and trying to decipher how they work. (Then again, maybe all these sorts of people just read my blog, where I attempted to do that for them, to varying degrees of success depending on the person) This kind of depth of character is something you only see in shoujo and josei in anime, and is even what you get in women’s fiction here in America, such as The Time-Traveler’s Wife. It’s what females seem to thrive on, this depth of character, and true tears gives it in a package that both males and females can share, if they try hard enough.

On the Clannad front, you’ve got, at its heart, not a complex “love heptagon” plot, but rather the simple story of two people, Tomoya and Nagisa, who gradually fall in love as they help those around them. I haven’t quite seen the second half of this series yet, unfortunately, but I’m led to understand that the conclusion is decidedly Tomoya x Nagisa. The important thing about Clannad is that, while it may lack some of the character depth found in true tears, it makes up for it by telling a simple, honest story of a romance between two people. It’s almost like girl fanservice to see the little tantalizing bits of relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa, such as hands brushing against one another while walking. Again, here the package of sweet, almost girly romance is tied up with a wrapping of a number of cute girls designed to appeal to the male aesthetic.

ef is somewhat more complicated, but, like Clannad, it’s at its heart a tale of pure romance. Fans of love triangles got their fill with the Kei/Miyako arc, and fans of a tale of true love crossing all boundaries and impediments got their fill with Chihro and Renji. Again, the characters are drawn to the bishoujo style, but also, there’s depth of emotion here. The characters may be somewhat on the flat side, but ef truly shines at bringing out their raw emotions and showing to the viewer exactly what it is they’re feeling, which is a difficult act to accomplish. Part of that is due to the clever direction, of course, but there’s enough of it in the writing that it’s not wholly directorial.

On the whole, I think that this trend towards a more characterized moe (rather than an arbitrary character trait moe) is fast becoming the new wave of the future. We saw its beginnings back in 2006 with Toki o Kakeru Shoujo, I think, and there’s certainly proto-series of this type floating around that I’ve forgotten about from even earlier time periods. I’ve also noticed that as we’ve been getting more and more of these sorts of series, we get far less in the way of series along the lines of Rosario + Vampire, which offer little character depth but plenty of superficial and visceral enjoyment for males (and, it should be noted, females of a rather odd persuasion). I think that the enduring popularity of these series with the American and Japanese audience will only go to encourage the producers of anime to create more in the vein of the five series mentioned here.

Maybe someday I can write a post titled “Moe: The Rise from the Ashes” and everyone who hated moe will suddenly comprehend the concept and appreciate it for what it is supposed to be. Or maybe I’m just delusional, or overly hopeful, or both. Surely there’s some middle ground, right?

That was, without a doubt, the worst violin recital in the history of the world

Kotomi is amazing. Thus far, in CLANNAD, we have had three incredibly cute and huggable main characters (Nagisa, Fuko, and now Kotomi) and this series shows no signs of letting up the moe for just about anything. The other characters we haven’t touched on much (Kyou and Tomoyo) are also wonderful, albeit not quite in a loveable, huggable way. Yet.

Bad violin playing is certainly a force to be reckoned with, especially when teamed with her eagerness to be a bad Japanese stand-up comedian and “Bonjour.” Her shyness certainly speaks to me in a different way than Fuko’s irrepressible Nonaka Ai-voiced spunk (I’m thinking here of her amazing line “You’re vaguely horrible” which will probably remain the greatest line in CLANNAD unless the writers have got some trump cards up their sleeves) but, hey, they’re batting two for two right now, so they’re on a roll.

We’re getting hints of possible romantic relationships between Tomoya and other characters (notably Kyou), which might make me have to eat my words I’ve said in previous posts on this series (re: the only romantic relationship being between Nagisa and Tomoya) but throw Kyou in the mix and we may get a delicious love triangle, Key-style. Which would result in heartbreak for Kyou, I’m presuming, but, hey, polygamy’s illegal in most first-world countries.

I didn’t think CLANNAD could top Fuko, but…

Now I get why everyone loves Kotomi.

Her shyness is so hyper-exaggerated it’s absolutely endearing. Since SDS has told me on number occasions that he believes that true moe comes from a character whose personal weakness is similar to that of the viewer’s, I’ve always seen the truth, kind of, in that, but since watching things like Hitohira (and falling in 2d love with Mugi-Choco) and after seeing how absolutely adorable Kotomi is here in CLANNAD, I think I’m understanding what he’s about.

Moe, to me, has always been a kind of subset of love, a specific word that one could use to signify that you loved a fictional character. That sounds really silly in concept, but it’s not really “love” in the sense that two human beings experience love. It’s almost similar to the response one feels when one encounters someone in reality that has a similar behavior pattern to you–you feel a sense of attachment to that person, not necessarily a romantic attachment, but a kind of emotional, “I’m not the only one in the world who acts this way” attachment. Anime characters, through exaggerating the character’s weaknesses, offer this kind of comfort, this sense that you are not alone in your ways. It’s like through shared experience, one feels empathy with a character. Empathy is almost a default reaction to me; whenever I watch or read something, I rarely hate a character because they don’t act in a mature or sensible way. Stories are, at their most basic, about affecting the person experiencing it in some way, small or large. If one can feel empathy for a character, then in some small way the reader or viewer may recognize a similar fault or feeling in their own experience. Aristotle always said that one of the most valuable things fiction could provide was catharsis, a purging of emotions through the act of crying (or feeling any emotion, really, but especially crying) at a work of fiction that served to heal the reader or viewer and cleanse them. It’s like a mental car-wash.

Derailed by moe, sorry.

CLANNAD continues with the storyline of finding Nagisa some members for the drama club. This derails, however, into making friends for Kotomi, who is shy and quiet and reads a lot. Since this is pretty much me (anime has a habit of creating characters who are me, except anime, and except girls), of course I find her adorable, as mentioned above. I don’t quite think she’s a Fuko topper, but there isn’t a single character in CLANNAD that I’m not gung-ho about (even the guys). It’s already better than Kanon in that regard, but I don’t really hold that against Kanon as it was the first Key title. Whatever her story’s going to be about concerns her parents, so maybe we’ll get at a deeper reason for her shyness and quietness. Which would be delicious.

Year-End Anime Awards for 2007

It’s that time of year again.

The air is cold, the night is swift, and Dick Clark is still alive and no one knows why.

Yes, it is the end of 2007, and that means we get the end of the year “best of” awards ceremony. Criteria: the show must have started its broadcast in 2007. So, everything from winter season to fall season is fair game. So here we go!

Best Drama About Drama: Hitohira

Refreshingly original characters, a slight hint of yuri, and some real emotional power drives this series. I kind of glossed over it, and then heard about it from a friend of mine, and then watched it, expecting it to be some kind of mild schoolhouse comedy. Instead I got an incredible and moving drama. It came from nowhere and socked me with both cute and poignancy. How many of your average moe shows get that done, tell me?

Best Space Opera That Was Based on Seventies Manga: Terra e…

A rather inauspicious start led into a flurry of emotions and an actually epic plot, something its contemporary Heroic Age could have only wished it was. Not only that, the anime actually improves on the original manga, making it much more affecting.

Best Show With Immortal Gangsters: Baccano!

I’ve already said my piece about this show, of course, but to review: incredible characterization and a very tightly scripted plot turned this show into one of the real winners of 2007. The whole series would have flopped, in my opinion, had it been 26 episodes, due to the slow pacing that would have been brought on it.

Best Comedy About Little…Things That No One Knows What They Are: Potemayo

The 4koma nature of the manga this was adapted from led to a totally nonsensical anime. And it was good that way. It’s been a while since an anime comedy made me laugh as consistently as Potemayo did, and doing it all without making references is a plus.

Best Show About Drills: Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann

I don’t think I actually have to talk about this one much. I was relatively unimpressed by the first episode for some reason (hype got to me, I think–I kind of expected it to be a hilarious episode, and not an episode of burning passion for some reason) but I quickly warmed up to the series and ended up loving it all the way through. It was, indeed, manly as all get out. And well-paced past a certain point, too.

Best Romantic Drama Wherein There are Numerous Visual Tricks Because Shinbo is Crazy: ef – a tale of memories

I just wrote a post on this since it just ended, so it’s still fresh in my mind, but it’s definitely one of the top-tier series this year. See previous posts on the topic for reminders on why it’s listed here.

Honorable Mentions

“Honorable Mentions”, in this case, usually means “this show is really good but I haven’t actually finished it yet”.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Minami-ke

We got not one, not two, but three rather clever comedies this year, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei being the funniest Shinbo Akiyuki show to date, and Minami-ke being….Minami-ke. All three of them are worthy of note, but I just haven’t finished these two. For shame.

Hidamari Sketch

Notable simply because it marked a point where Shinbo stopped being Pani Poni Dash Shinbo and became the Shinbo I can actually find amusing and interesting to watch. I was apathetic before this show; now I’m as much of a Shinbo whore as the next person. So, uh, yeah.

Lucky Star

I actually did finish this, and it was really fun to watch, and I will be buying the upcoming DVDs, so I can’t really explain why it’s down here. Notable, however, for turning a relatively mediocre manga into a huge otaku phenonmenon. Amazing what Kyoto Animation can do, isn’t it?

CLANNAD

Again, you probably know my stance on this show. The relationship dynamics between Tomoya and Nagisa are great, and the one arc I’ve seen so far has been pretty good. And I hear the Kotomi arc is great.

Moyashimon

Yes, let’s make a show about bacteria! And it will be the greatest thing ever!

Mobile Suit Gundam 00

Nothing’s changed since I last watched an episode. It’s still going strong. 30th anniversaries are wonderful things.

Sketchbook ~full color’s~

The other slice of life show about artists. It’s not as viusally clever as Hidamari Sketch is, but it’s a lot more relaxing and funny, thanks to Team Aria.

Dennou Coil

I still can’t figure out why I’m watching this so slowly. I think I’m trying to preserve the awesome as long as possible. Yeah, that’s it.

Darker than BLACK

I’m still only partway through this, but it’s been fairly good thus far. I don’t think it’ll make it into the top-tier up there, but I like the way every arc is focused around character development over action. It could just as easily have been an straightforward action show, but, instead, it’s a pretty nifty study in character.

Ghost Hound

It’s finally shaped itself up to be a good, creepy show. Even if it’s not allegedly as bizarre as Serial Experiments: Lain, I still like it.

I think that’s everything. As you can see, this year has been quite bountiful with the goods.

Fuko + Party Hat = Win

Fuko ;_____________________________________________________________;

As one of the few Fuko fans around, the actual conclusion to her arc was beautiful. I was afraid they’d kill her off or something horrible like that, but instead we get a bittersweet wedding. The best part of it was the milling crowds outside the school after the wedding–after everyone forgetting about Fuko and the wedding, they all mysteriously remembered the day of the wedding and showed up to wish congratulations upon Fuko’s sister. I, personally, am incredibly happy that Fuko got to hand her sister a starfish–I didn’t quite cry, but it was about to happen.

Speaking of crying, that’s what I like about Key games (or, rather, their respective anime series)–the actual resolutions to character arcs are, when deconstructed into their most basic form, sound really, really cheesy. I’m a firm believer in the power of execution over concept, as there are really no concepts that you can’t boil down into a really silly sounding sound bite, and Key games prove this. It’s hard to put my finger on why, exactly, but, somehow, with a combination of good writing and Kyoto Animation’s always extremely competent directing, even the most trite and ridiculous of resolution can fill one with emotion. They’re not anime masterpiece classics in the making, but they are extremely fun to watch, if your deal happens to be getting all tied up emotionally with an anime girl. They’re extremely good at this, which is something I’d expect from what is essentially one of the pioneers of the moe trend.

Another highlight of episode 9: Fuko forcing Nagisa and Tomoya to refer to each other by first name. They’re such a charming couple, it’s wonderful to watch their relationship take little steps like this. I guess I’m just a big ol’ softy.

And I remember seeing screencaps of Fuko in PARTY HAT in a later episode, so that means I get MORE Party Hat Fuko and I can die of cute overload. Party hats are now the most moe headgear ever.

Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

EPIC THRILLS!

FRIGHTENING CHILLS!

POINTY STARFISH!

Yes, I am watching the widescreen releases of CLANNAD, so I’m three episodes behind, so therefore I have just now seen 6.

It was pretty good, really. We’re starting to get out of the “silly wacky” part of Fuko’s arc and into the more “serious” part. :( What I like about this series above Kanon are the silly moments like FINAL HITODE TSUKAI FUKO and the hilarious RPG-esque popups whenever Tomoya tortures Fuko in a new way. Kanon had its own share of brilliant comedic moments, but since both the anime are dramas with “light” humor, they shouldn’t be the focus of the show. Although, you have to admit, part of what makes Kanon and CLANNAD more fun to watch than AIR is simply that they had a longer run, enabling them to leave in more of the lighthearted moments. And the better character designs adaptations. AIR’s adapted designs weren’t the greatest, but over the course of these three series Kyoto Animation has really done a better and better job of adapting Key designs–CLANNAD looks a far sight better than Kanon, although not as much as the gap between Kanon and AIR.

As I mentioned earlier, what I really like about this anime is that it feels much more like a simple love story (between Tomoya and Nagisa) than it is a “Tomoya trying to mack on all the ladies at school” anime. Of course, we won’t get any actual progress on the relationship between the two, but little things like Nagisa saying “We sound like Fuko’s mother and father” and then getting all embarrassed and trying to play it down are the kinds of romantic gems I like. This probably makes me sentimental, but I don’t care. I’m a sucker for cute romantic things (and more sophisticated romantic things) so, eh.

Future Fuko/Nonaka Ai greatness to come. I should have benn a Nonaka Ai fan back when she was still kind of new. I only kind of realized that I really liked her voice when I watched Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and went “wow, she’s awesome” and now she’s up on my seiyuu lists.

Enough blather. I want a Fuko starfish carving.

CLANNAD, Kanon, and Key’s Nontraditionalism

Just finished up CLANNAD episode 5–Nonaka Ai is totally awesome–and it got me thinking on how “non-traditional” it is, especially compared to something like Kanon.

Kanon, of course, is a classic of the dating sim/eroge versions of visual novels, but, as far as I’m aware, Kanon was the first game that could be properly called a “visual novel” in the sense that it focused more on story than other, similar games (although Sakura Wars came first, it was more of a tradtional game than a visual novel), and certainly the first to have such a tragic story.

What I find interesting about Kanon (here referring to the 2006 version) over other eroge adaptations is that it doesn’t quite feel like a dating game. I mean, Yuuichi does spend and awful lot of time talking to the various girls, but the impression I got was that he was less trying to get into their pants and more trying to help them. This, of course, leads me to believe that the sex scenes in the original Kanon visual novel were tacked on as a kind of afterthought to better be able to market the game to a more receptive audience; one who wouldn’t buy a game for the PC featuring a lot of pretty girls if they couldn’t have SEX with them. That’s the way Kanon always seemed to me, less an eroge than a visual novel with porn in it.

So fast forward to CLANNAD, which began as an all-ages Key game. The anime (and, I presume, the game) feels as different from Kanon as I imagine Kanon (the game) felt from other games at the time. With the porn removed, Key is left able to tell a story without having to insert romantic undertones to justify the sex (or resort to rape, for that matter). And so, what we get is even less of a “harem”/dating sim story than Kanon was–although we’re only getting started on Fuko’s arc, it honestly feels like Tomoya is helping Fuka because he wants to, not because he’s trying to date her. The only possible romantic storyline I see in CLANNAD is between Tomoya and Nagisa. And this really impresses me–for a genre as cluttered as the visual novel/eroge scene is, for a company like Key, who has success and popularity on their side, to take a bold stand and ditch the porn is an admirable thing. I can only hope companies like TYPE MOON follow suit. Not because I have some kind of moral objection to sex and porn–I most certainly do not–but because it just interests me what kinds of stories could be told in this format could be told if the focus on sex was removed. We see steps toward that in CLANNAD and TYPE MOON’s games, but, honestly, I’d love to see a game come out that actually is a visual novel. I think that’d be a great step to take it–turn what essentially started out as cheap titillation for bored PC owners into a new style of storytelling itself. We’ve gotten mostly there, I think, so it’s probably just a matter of time until we get people taking risks in the industry.

This post turned into less about CLANNAD and more about me blathering on, so I will conclude with cute and very much relieved Fuko:

It’s Futarou, actually, but a.f.k. saves the day again with another brilliant joke-conversion. Would you want to be called Fubob? Thought not.

Oh, and if any of you who know more about visual novels than me (which isn’t a hard feat to accomplish) and bring to my attention just how wrong I am, then I will most certainly give you a high-five, Fuko-style.


NOTICE SHAMELESSLY STOLEN FROM G.K. CHESTERTON

I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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