Archive for the 'ef – a tale of memories' 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?

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.

Well, that was unexpectedly cheerful and upbeat

I just want to know what that other paper airplane was.

Just when you think the Renji x Chihiro arc is over with, whoops! It’s not! Contrary to my predictions, ef was ultimately not quite a tragedy, or even very bittersweet–instead, it’s something more. Since episode 7, the series has sent its loyal and devoted viewers on an emotional rollercoaster of sorrow and triumph and heartache. As with all things, I value the getting there much more than the conclusion (a value that is almost essential to being an anime fan) but, in ef’s case, the conclusion is very strong indeed. ef really is a romance story done the right way–it’s not comfort food like those slim Harlequin paperbacks you see at Wal-Mart, but rather a twisted, tangled path to the ultimately happy conclusion.

I guess the ending in bittersweet in the sense that all the characters had to prevail over intense emotional suffering before ending up in an ultimately happy position–Chihiro over the pain of trying to forget about Renji, Renji over Chihiro forgetting about him, Hirono over being torn between two girls, Kei over the pain of losing Hirono to Miyako, and Miyako over the pain of a meaningless existence. The video director guy (who I still can’t remember the name of, and I’m sure it was in this episode somewhere) is just kind of…there, to give Kei someone to be foisted on after Hirono chooses Miyako. One weak character in this cast, however, I can forgive.

The coda was quite nice, and we get to see that everything seems to have worked out happily for everyone involved, which is never a bad thing. The ending didn’t feel like they artificially made it happy just because it’s easier to end on a high note. Rather, it felt more like the logical next step. Of course Chihiro wouldn’t forget about Renji quite so easily (although if she was really determined she would have conked herself in the head with a mallet and remained unconscious past the time limit). Of course Hirono would choose the lonely Miyako over the almost domineering Kei, whom he sees more as family than as a potential love mate. Foregone conclusions never hurt something on their own; see previous post for the emphasis placed on execution over originality.

ef is certainly a high watermark for the eroge conversion genre, and if more eroge (and their adaptations) learn from it, this can only be a good thing. I said before I’d like to have strong stories (with sex) rather than sex with a bit of plot in it. Still stands.

Chihiro is messed in the head. I mean, seriously.

Well, then.

It seems that my prediction for ef totally came true: the ending of Chihiro’s arc (or at least this episode) is ridiculously tragic. I did not weep tears, much to my dismay, but, yes, pages scattering to the four winds was really quite…wrenching. When Chihiro says she’s going to break up with you, she MEANS it. LIke, seriously. You don’t mess around with her.

I, personally, am having issues with Chihiro’s logic here, though. She loves Renji, so, therefore, to cause him no heartbreak, she’s going to forget about him? :???: I mean, the sentimentality is fine, but it’s just plain wacky that she wants to break up while she can still say “I love you”. It does, of course, make for a compelling and wrenching scene, but man, she is just totally screwed up in the belfry.

Of course, in traditional SHAFT/Shinbo style, the best scene in the whole episode was Chihiro naked the pages fluttering in the wind. Effective direction lesson #56409: let the audience figure out what’s happened before or instead of you telling them what happened. As soon as you see those pages leave Chihiro’s pocket you, the viewer, if you have been paying any attention whatsoever, thought “Oh shit no.” I’m guessing pages to the wind is what happened to the last person that got too close to Chihiro. It’s kind of sad that she’s so caught up in her condition so much that she thinks she’s a burden on whoever cares for her. If I were Renji, I’d be plopping her down on the ol’ recliner couch for a bit of armchair therapy. Of course, she’s an anime character, so I can’t do that.

At least she didn’t jump off the roof. That’d be even more underscores in the ;____________________________________________; face. And that face seriously doesn’t need any more underscores. Have pity on a poor emoticon, Shinbo.

Hirono-kun is trying to be a player and likely failing

In this episode full of emotions run rampant, we get TWO tearful scenes of love lost and found again–both featuring the same guy. I don’t know about you but I sense some kind of problem coming on.

I certainly hope that Kei and Hirono can somehow manage to fit Miyako into their lives. I’m getting far too into this anime, I’m starting to want to sit down and have long talks with everyone in the show and try to work them through their problems as a neutral third party, a feat which is quite patently impossible. Part of the thing that gets me about this anime is that I care for every character to an absurd extent, which means no matter how things end up, it’s going to be bittersweet and heartbreaking for me. Not a complaint, mind.

Kei’s confession to Hirono was quite a scene, but I got the sense that Hirono was trying to blow her off as gently as he could. I don’t think he quite succeeded at that, as this is no doubt going to lead to Problems in the remaining two episodes.

Hirono confessing to Miyako, though, now there was a classy scene. The countdown from 100 was a nice touch, as was the fade to monochrome after the sudden disconnection, and the subsequent surge of color. As mentioned before, the monochrome world of Miyako without Hirono is a great touch to illustrate her worldview.

The only problem with this episode was lack of Chihiro and Renji, but I assume we’ll fix that next episode. Two more episodes to go. I will be sad when it is gone. Need more romantic soap opera dramas.

“No, I’m just sleeping naked in his bed for the warmth, I don’t know what YOU’RE thinking. Pervert.”

I think the most beautiful scene in the whole episode was Hirono and Miyako on the beach, kissing. Sure, implied sex is fun, but that scene was just perfect. I wish all visual novel conversions were as touching as this, but, sadly, they seem to be in short supply. I know there’s happy, positive, romantic visual novels/eroge out there SOMEWHERE; why must us old-fashioned types be so maligned in our quest for cute girls falling in love? ef is exactly the kind of romantic drama I’d like to see more of in anime–mature, but not without heartfelt emotions behind it. Considering when I first heard of it I thought it’d be yet another silly eroge conversion (this was before I heard about Shinkai Makoto’s involvement in the original game, though). I posted about visual novels before in reference to CLANNAD and Kanon; ef is another one of those pinnacles of the format that needs more imitators. And subsequent anime spinoffs.

And speaking of romantic drama, Renji got pretty “angsty” over Chihiro there at the end. “Angsty” in quotation marks because I’m one of those rare people in anime fandom who isn’t turned off by a character not being in control of his emotions–it only serves to deepen my empathy for them. Renji crying while telling Chihiro an outright lie and then collapsing on the beach in agony was also a wonderful scene. The Chihiro arc is my favorite, and it’s also the one I expect is going to totally destroy me with heartbreak and sorrow. Maybe I’ll even cry; catharsis is always good, and I’m man enough to break into tears. The Miyako arc I expect will have a happy ending, with Kei forgetting her sorrow at the loss of Hirono to Miyako with Tsutsui, which might provide a wonderful antidote to the anticipated bittersweet of Chihiro.

At any rate, we only have three more episodes to go. I will be sad when this one is over.

ef is Probably Going to Break My Heart

Which is a good thing, because that hasn’t happened in a while. I don’t think it’s properly happened since I read Bokurano.

There are spoilers in the following, so if you’re squeamish around spoilers, watch the episode FIRST.

I certainly didn’t expect Chihiro to lapse past the 13 hour time limit. The question now, as I see is, is if Renji is MAN ENOUGH to stick by a girl who runs a constant risk of lapsing back to the mentality and memories of a twelve-year-old. If he is, that’s for the better–that’s the kind of bittersweet conclusion I love.

I don’t really have any “predictions” or hopes for the Hiro/Miyako relationship, although the fact that they ended on that phone call was probably a sign of terrifying things to come. And Kei was still such a vindictive bitch in that opening scene. The best part of that scene was the water in both scenes–the fountain representing the torrent of emotions that Miyako was currently feeling,  the solitary drip of water representing the complete apathy of Kei. I kind of want Miyako to be happy, as she seems to have absolutely nothing going on (notice how when we’re seeing through her eyes the art is monochrome), so I feel sorry for her. She’ll probably jump off a bridge or something by the end of the series, though, for tragic++. Who knows.

I don’t really foresee a truly happy ending for this show. :)


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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