Friday, September 24, 2010

Save Me From Summer's End (Black Rock Shooter & Hen Zemi!)

Oh boy. It's been quite some time since I've delved into the dwindling bin of made for video anime for some material to write about. And even if anime has been in something of a transitional period, the two titles I went ahead and gave my time to are glaring reminders of how much that needs to change before the medium can at least has a semblance of a life after Akiba-kei. As flashy, and at times daring these two completely unique of each other shows are, there's something inherently telegraphed &  programmed behind them that renders them devoid of the life that animation implies. They exist as husks of work; artifacts that remind us of the potential that is being squandered on what could otherwise be more than what they are. In fact, they barely register as shows at all. And even if one bears some smidge of character-based narrative, there's little of anything else to hold on to.

Yes, these are offerings that came about over the summer. Would they be any fresher had I seen them sooner? Doubtful.

First in this duo of time suck, is the much-hyped OVA based upon the popular Huke image turned Supercell track(and ensuing popularity via the mass media juggernaut VOCALOID), Black Rock Shooter. Produced by recently formed Studio Ordet, and directed by newcomer Shinobu Yoshioka, BRS takes the popular black-clad imagery of the original music videos/figures/marketing campaign, and turns it into a two-layer narrative involving a newly sparked friendship between two young middle school girls whom eventually encounter strife when one of them begins to spend more time with a younger, sprightlier newcomer. All the while we are intercutting with a completely otherworldly battle between the title character, and her nemesis Dead Master on an enigmatic island seemingly made of cathedral trappings. Both of whom bear strange similarities to our young protagonists in story one.

So looking at both worlds as a sort of metaphorical juxtaposition, the OVA quickly careens into music video territory as the destinies between the sporty Mato, and the tall, demure beauty, Yomi begin with friendship, and ultimately into unspecified drama of friendship in danger. Taking the two-pronged story approach seems novel at first, until one considers just how the visuals are so starkly different. Something so visually striking mixed alongside the mundane, while an interesting choice, leaves something to be desired in the writing front, which tragically comes up short for something supposedly scribed by Nagaru Tanigawa (famous for being the creator of the Haruhi Suzumiya series). And therein lies the biggest problem, for such a slight story, and in a medium that has evolved so dramatically in regards to data collection, and distribution, the OVA seems to only have enough for a commercial, and strangely wishes to drag the whole affair for nearly 50 agonizing minutes. Even as the characters seem ready for more than archetypical treatment, the project is about as deep as a tchotcke one would find at a convention. A curio rather than a companion piece. And what we are left with is a pretty succession of moving and still images lacking anything resembling a soul. Being from a background of marketing, this is something that comes squarely out of desperation to an already rabid fanbase. A fanbase content with sheen, rather than emotion. Manufacture, rather than handmade pride. Its no wonder the franchise has about the depth of an internet meme. With noone to give it a heart, the world in which BRS & Deathmaster inhabit seem to be the place in which these ideas are made. In a cold, dark place where thoughfullness is a dream, and feelings are a luxury. A soulless exercise in selling. Now if only the work were honest with itself and have been done within the five minutes it truly deserves.

And therein lies the painful part. So much talent is clearly on display in this piece. The animation in areas is fluid, and thrilling as it captures action angles, and human movement with loving ease at times. There are some truly cool images throughout, but only come in service of what folks would consider when one thinks of the source material, which was merely a piece of art made popular on Pixiv. Outside of this, it comes off as nothing more than an excuse to work, and less like something that felt aimed at something remotely human. It is as if an alien produced a show in hopes of better understanding human jealousy, sans the steps necessary to convey it in any impactful manner. Story is one thing, the telling is the measuring stick to quality, and all we have here is blatant product that lacks the common decency to lie to us as it gives us a business lapdance. Even shows made for kids with lesser budgets aimed at selling robot toys achieved this decades ago. If one is to be a prostitute, at least be honest about it.

Considering the pedigree involved, including head producer Yutaka Yamamoto, one would expect a little more from such a team.

On the other hand, Hen Zemi makes no bones about what it intends to be, and could hardly be more repellent as a result. Based upon the five volume Seinen manga, Hentai Seiri Seminar, this college-based ball of ecchi glee centers on students under the study of "deviant sexual behavior" via a hopelessly creepy doctor named Meshiya, who's web of bizarre curiosities regarding the strange private lives of his students working on their respective studies while partaking in fulfilling the wiles of their mad teacher . And do we have a cast of souls with respective leanings toward exploring the outer fringes of carnal life. There's the would be lover with co-dependent partner, a girl with exhibitionist tendencies, a would-be porno director, a panty-stealing love interest with a penchant for NTR - (Um...a love of seeing one's significant other coupling with another-YEAH.)!! All willing to give it the old college try for the professor's grand experiment, making it clear that the majority of the cast is pretty unique...Save for our protagonist in one Nanako Matsusaka, the one girl without a single unique bone in her body. Perhaps acting as the variable in the grand scheme, her wishes to excel in her studies runs counter to the often shocking nature of her cohorts, making for tons of humor raging from awkward, to just plain ol gross-out. And for this viewer, the only natural reaction was sheer revulsion. Not so much at the subject, but the treatment of such inherently human behavior.

As much as I'm for all-inclusiveness in the world, there's something clearly bereft of taste in how Hen Zemi handles our lead characters, as less like average folks with their own needs and wants behind closed doors, and is more content with making it seem like some kind of freak show. Oh sure, for some..talking fetishes may not make for good dinnertime conversation, and it can also be seen that certain japanese can only talk so much openly regarding sex life, but this is closer to middle-school plop talk. (yes..that's what I said) All I can imagine that came to mind when hatching the original manga was a desk adorned with newly rented copies of Sex Is Zero & American Pie, where someone figured it'd be fun to make a comic just as juvenile, and twice as retch-inducing. Something made all the more glaring when considering the globby art style adopted by Xebec (Seriously guys?) for this Ryouki Kamitsubo directed adaptation. The juxtaposition of gak-geared comedy, and cutesy designs makes for something less revealing of a not-so-widely understood realm of scientific study, and more an exploitation of individual taste. While it is understood that Nanako is the classic audience/reader surrogate, watching her lose her lunch while talking with her increasingly lame love interest makes less for smart comedy, and more for a sadistic viewing experience.

Provided this is the type of experience one is inclined toward witnessing on a Friday night, it could either be the kind best absorbed with mildly inebriated company, and best not discussed in the morning.

And not a single rock was shot...

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