Xamd of the Lost Plot Devices

So I'm trying really hard to figure out why this series bugs me, and writing always helps with that. Let's start with the basics.

BONES makes some damn fine looking shows. RahXephon, which was pretty but aped Eva in too many obvious ways, Eureka Seven, why are Japanese people so hung up on Instrumentality oh right they hate their lives, Darker Than Black, the best Evil Eye character ever drawn, and Soul Eater, who else would make the Grim Reaper the hero of the show?

Bounen no Xamdou is also damn fine looking. The framerate, background detail, character designs, voice acting, all of it feels fresh and wonderful. It is also possessing of perhaps the best combination of OP and ED themes ever put into a single show, and it's the only time I can think of that I've regularly sat through both of them during every single episode, and also downloaded and listened to them on their own.

The problem is that it doesn't exist in a vacuum. As with all anime, there are so many elements of the show that are borrowed from the shows that came before it that I find myself comparing them involuntarily. Misfit crew of renegade airship? Check. Boy-transforms-into-fighting-machine-and-might-just-save-the-world? Check. Love triangle with hot high school sweetheart and jealous best friend who'll never get any? Check. Rogue military commander pursuing research into superhumans/weapons in order to win a war? Check. There's even a bevy of, bless their hearts, white haired red-eyed special religious children who go around the world seeding plot devices by blowing up public transportation. Oh, and the matronly elder woman who is somehow behind everything, manipulating people from the comfort of a stone hideout with lots of fountains.

What I can't forgive is how routine all of it feels. Everyone is going through the motions of telling a story that we've heard a hundred times before, and will hear a hundred times again. It's just like the saying in Battlestar Galactica, except we're not dealing with the rise and fall of civilizations, but merely the inability of anime producers to apply the same degree of creativity to their stories as they do to their visual designs. How long has it been since we saw an alternate universe where things were truly different, instead of just having differently shaped doors and goofy pants? There's not a single original idea in BnX that's lying underneath all that pretty paint. I have no idea what it's trying to portray, if it's not a) the folly of man reaching for power and b) the determination of a young man to find or possibly fight his destiny.

The reasons I will continue to watch it are the aforementioned OP/EDs, and a few characters that I find amusing. Akushiba needs more excuses to run fast, and he's got more personality than anyone else on that ship. Any scene with him in it is automatically more interesting than whatever came before. I do feel for Haru, she's one of the few anime heroines who is completely honest and open with her feelings from the start, and doesn't hesitate to act on them. This is refreshing, though I harbour serious doubts about her getting a good ending.

On a related note, this series has also made me realize that, being so jaded and cynical regarding the originality of anime storytelling, the thing I'm most consistently impressed by in any series is it's ability to kill off main characters and have them stay dead. Ga-Rei Zero kills a lot of people and so far that's what's made an otherwise routine magical demon fighting corps show bearable. Mai HiME killed a lot of people (before the SUNRISE LOL RESET) and that made it pretty fucking hardcore. But it saddens me that this is now the best way to surprise a veteran viewer. It doesn't help that while I was writing this I also read this review of The Sky Crawlers, which is clearly pretty contemptuous of these same trends in anime.

I think that's it.


Feeling rather savage

The third week of this infernal goddamned Joint Pain is closing, and despite my efforts at relaxing, stretching, and generally being crippled I actually feel worse overall. It is disgusting and I'm starting to wonder if they've perfected bionic arm replacements. I would gladly trade these useless skinny broken apendages for something that works.

It is 3:40 PM on a Friday, I am twenty minutes away from leaving work and my cube neighbor has finally started the Music War. We displayed remarkable restraint through this rotten day, even after the awful fat ape who works in the corner yelled out "I guess no one likes... THIS SONG." and cranked some two-minute honkey tonk number that I instantly forgot. But I guess it was too much to expect, in the end, for this man to restrain his remarkable compulsion to share Lite Jazz Hits with the entire office. It is - in his mind - a Sacred Right and Duty, and it is sanctified in the eyes of Jesus and also the President, who this man places on the same weird altar.

Well I'm not the type to tolerate that hoodoo garbage, so I crank up the classic Pumpkins and swamp the endless covers of 90s adult contemporary hits. There is not much else to do on a gray day in Pittsburgh, after all, except to lay ice on every joint on my arms and hands when I get home. The Shock Treatment - who knows? Maybe that's what I really need, just screw it on until everything goes numb. What I really want is to spend a week in the Rehab wing of a hospital, professional massage and hot tub therapies, no work and no distractions. With my luck I would end up assigned to the Large German Nurse, who would take some measure of twisted pleasure every time I squeaked in agony at her ministrations, but I would not care. Any movement is better than being stuck and helpless.

Allright, that's all for now. The hour has come and I will leave this place with a heart full of malice, which feels good in small doses. Shit, it also feels good to write, except when you have the arthritis of a 100 year-old man. Ah well.


Bromide Meter

This is a draft proposal for the Seamus O'drunky Anime Cliche Rating system. The idea is to measure the degree to which an anime series adheres to common stereotypes, and thus provide a specific way to determine their quality / watchability. The fewer the points, the more original the series.

Takes place at / main characters attend a High School
Involves Giant Robots
- Robots are humanoid
Involves Magic
Involves Cybernetics (specifically, neural machine interfacing)
Begins on land and concludes in space

Male lead is romantically desired by at least two females
(Add one point for each scene where females fight each other over lead)
- Lead displays little interest in or actively attempts to repel females
- Lead develops feelings for female who displays little interest in or actively attempts to repel him

Male lead possesses unique ability
- Allows piloting of Giant Robot
- Required to save mankind

Female lead / supporting role enjoys cooking
- Starts with no cooking skill (add bonus point for awkward first tasting scene)
- Wishes to improve cooking skill in order to please male lead

Female lead is a combat expert (one point for each weapon specialization)
- Lives in constant danger yet wears tight revealing clothing
- Has implausibly sized breasts

- Put female characters in compromising position

Humanity in danger of extinction
- Threatening entity is one superconsciousness
- Humanity "trapped" in cage / underground / otherwise restricted

Ancient / Alien device discovered
- Lead character is only one who can control it

Power Battle
- Between lead and main antagonist (one point each time they fight)
- Lead is saved from death at last second (bonus point if saved by female lead)
- Fighting Spirit allows lead to win final battle

Alien / Magical Emissary
- JUST SO HAPPENS to take the form of an attractive human female
- Blank slate - must learn human norms / behaviours
- Returns to original race / form
- Fights with lead characters until remembers time spent as a human

Reset Butan
- "I wish we could go back to the way things were" said at some point
- Things actually go back to the way they were

That's what I have so far. Let's apply this to two shows, the older Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, and the newer Solty Rei

BGC 2040
Setting (3) Does involve giant robots, however they are generally not humanoid. Person sized robots feature prominently, and Cybernetics is also a key plot device. Story begins in Megatokyo, and reaches it's conclusion in space.

Character (5) Females lead the series, and while they are not combat experts with normal weaponry they each use cybernetics to fight. Only one case of genuinely unreasonable breasts. Clothing is surprisingly pedestrian.

Plot (7) Humanity threatened by superconsciousness. Only one real "Power Battle," which is won through force of will. Avatar of superconsciousness based on a lead character, who JUST SO HAPPENS to be an attractive female.

Overall (14) Despite relying on some very old ideas to form the core plot, BGC 2040 happily avoids most of the stereotypes we associate with scifi thrillers that explore the "line between man and machine." Thanks to realistic and well paced character development and good (for the time) production values, it's one of the few series that I watched then immediately decided to own.

Solty Rei
Setting (3) Again, involves giant robots, but not prominently and not in humanoid form. Cybernetics again heavily involved in plot. Begins in an unnamed city and ends in space.

Character (6) Female lead wants badly to cook to please male lead. At least one awkward tasting scene. Lives in constant danger, but does not wear oddly revealing clothing. Male lead refreshingly normal and flawed.

Plot (12) Humanity lives in one city beneath an impenetrable aurora. Existence later threatened by ancient computer. Lead is an emissary for this computer and JUST SO HAPPENS to be a fit attractive female. Major reset butan pushed.

Overall (21) Solty Rei thrilled and disappointed me in turns. It did a few things that were bold and fun to watch, that tugged at the ol' heartstrings and exposed some genuine human emotion. But then it reset a great deal of what had taken place, which always leaves me feeling cheated. Male lead is pretty powerless, actually, however this bumps up the number of times he has to be saved at the last second by the female lead. I enjoyed watching it, and some of the english voice acting is top notch, but I won't be adding it to my library.

Edit: I can't believe I forgot about tentacles. Noob.


The Fountain

Evidently wrecked my friends and roommates when they viewed it. I came away largely unscathed, and it took me a while to puzzle out a possible reason for this. Simply put, I've faced that kind of loss before. And when your loved on is lying in a white bed surrounded by tubes and beeps and every time you leave their room you turn around because this time might be the last time you see them alive at all, you learn how to accept it. Hence our hero's journey. I've followed his path before, but not over the brink. My loved one survived on 1:10 odds.

But the time comes, when everything that can be done has been done, and you just have to accept whatever happens.