- Newfoundland, Canada
- I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
In the Shadows of Clannad
I recently watched Amagami SS Episode 9.
It had slick artwork and solid animation, it showcased mostly good character designs, and it was rather benign. Few people who are already very familiar with anime would find it disturbing in the least, and the only scene that would even possibly raise the eyebrows of even a total newcomer to anime is the flashback scene of one girl giddily gleefully rubbing another girl's breasts.
Junichi may be a bit of a pervert, in the very broadest sense of the term, but he's the most innocent type of one. He gets aroused by even the slightest of physical contact with an attractive girl, even through layers of clothing. There's nothing in Junichi's approaches and reactions to girls that even a shy choir boy at the age of twelve would find alarming, or hard to appreciate. There's also nothing even coming close to the degrees of slapstick violence found in Love Hina!, Negima!, or even your typical Jun Maeda produced comedy bit. So Amagami is incredibly inoffensively innocuous.
But then, while this might be a strength raising Amagami's level of viewer accessibility if it were a greater work, it instead simply serves to make the weaknesses of Amagami that much more glaring and unshielded. After all, controversy and titillation can often serve to effectively veil paper-thin plots, or cardboard cutout characters. This is the main reason why pornographic movies can get away with plots that could be completely summed up on the back of a paper napkin, along with characters about as deep as that same napkin.
Amagami's characters are generally nice, inoffensive, and even charming or sweet. But none so far contain a deep and captivating backstory that can effectively add drama, suspense, and intrigue. Furthermore, the majority of Amagami's characters do not leave a strong impression on me in any sense. Haruka Morishima was exquisitely eccentric enough to get me thinking a fair bit about her, but thus far, the other potential girlfriends of Junichi have done little to interest me.
I don't dislike them, and they're nice enough that I wish them well, but they're a bit, well, boring.
I think that the weakness I'm seeing here is related to something that 0utf0xZer0 mentioned in his response to my review of the Haruka arc of Amagami SS.
"What the seinen romance drama genre needs right now is girls who bring a dramatic story to the table in themselves, not attempts to adapt a romance-comedy storyline into a dramatic one by introducing love polygons" - 0utf0xZer0
And that, I suspect, is the key. And speaking of Key, this is also why Amagami SS is so thoroughly caught in the shadows of Clannad.
In fairness, the Clannad game is a family-oriented game, and not an eroge in the strictest sense of the term. Nonetheless, eroge adaptations into anime are themselves rarely focused on actual sex. And this is why titillating scenes can not save an anime adaptation of eroge games from looking bad, or simply being boring, if the actual characters and plot fail to engross and/or entertain the viewer.
Clannad, it must be said, is like the finest of wines. It truly gets better with age. Its stunning strengths shine more boldly breathlessly brilliantly with every passing day. And the key strength of pertinence for the purposes of this discussion is how the girls of Clannad do bring dramatic stories to the table, in and of themselves. The girls of Clannad are interesting, in and of themselves, irrespective of the presence (or absence) of romance or romantic conflict.
The perfect example of this is Fuko-Chan.
Starfish Girl is truly one of a kind. Her story is both dramatic, and unique, now that I really stop to think about it. I mean, you have to admit that a character that's all about making starfish shaped crafts to give to people to entice them to attend her sister's wedding is pretty darn original. And that's before we even get to the supernatural aspect of Fuko's story (which, now that I think more about it, almost seems excessive; like making Batman a vampire as though a guy dressing up as a bat wasn't original enough as it was).
And that's the basic story of Clannad: Too eccentric and original, if anything. But just like I hold that it's better to overact an important role a bit than it is to give a flat uninspired underacted performance, it's also better for an anime to be downright trippy than to cause viewers to be tripping out over its blandness.
Beyond this, romances, be they comedies or dramas or both, tend to be character driven. And that is why, for romances especially, the characters themselves have to be good and interesting. There ideally should be a real depth and distinctiveness to them.
And making characters that are good and interesting with real depth and distinctiveness is something that Jun Maeda excels at, as the following image demonstrates.
Maeda's weakness is that he struggles a bit when he tries to handle multifaceted complex plots that incorporate serious conflict. However, even amongst the plot weaknesses of Angel Beats!, it's characters are ever a coolly captivating crew, full of winsome quirks, gripping backgrounds, and comedic eccentricities.
With this in mind, I hope that Maeda returns to his eroge/visual novel roots, because he could arguably do more good for anime there than as an actual anime scriptwriter.
In the meantime, I hope that Little Busters finally gets animated soon, as I think it could really help the particular genre of anime that it is based upon.
For now, though, the eroge-based animes are sadly lacking character, precisely because their characters are so lacking. I hope that they don't stay within the shadows of Clannad forever...