Spring Season 2015 – Closing Thoughts Part 2: Sidonia S2, Punchline & Stardust Crusaders

 

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6. Sidonia Season 2: Battle for Planet Nine

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Pre-season I was of the thought that more Sidonia could only be a good thing, and while I came out this arc with that belief partly intact, it was a hell of a struggle to remember why at times.

It’s not like I thought season 1 was perfect in any way. Of course the sci-fi setting was superb and particularly well thought out, from the way space travel (mostly) worked, to the lived in feel of the ship, right over to the enemy Guana, with their genuinely unsettling half-bioweapon, half-eldritch abomination designs. Careful consideration had been put into making the world believable and the threat of attack a terrifying prospect. Unfortunately it would also lapse into creatively-bankrupt rom-com territory, following the most tried and true scenarios from the last twenty years without a hint of self-awareness. I’m not sure if this aspect was included to appeal to otaku, or if the mangaka wanted them, but he should have really stuck to his strengths.

Unfortunately in Battle for Planet Nine the harem/sci-fi ratio is cranked up significantly, and it becomes a horror of a very different type.

Apparently the anime fiddled around with the manga’s scene placement so that all the slice of life moments were stuck together in the middle 7-8 episode stretch. I’m not sure how much parsing them out would have alleviated my issues; there’s only so much leeway you can give when over half the season is devoted to almost nothing but bad harem plotlines. Just tick all the boxes; accidentally walking in on girls changing – check, wardrobe malfunctions – check, forced dates – check, living with a bunch of cute girls, etc etc etc. The show seems content to pick the lowest hanging of fruit time and time again. Honestly Izana’s exasperated facial expressions are the only thing it manages to pull off well.

Then there’s Tsumugi, who ends up the epitome of this sudden shift in focus. She’s perfectly fine in small doses, but once the novelty of seeing a giant bio-mech communicating via a man-sized ‘moefied’ penis wears off (trust me, it eventually does), you realise she’s just another twist on the whole ‘moeblob adopted daughter’ to be raised by the MC and his pure waifu. That same plot point occurred in Sword Art Online, and while Sidonia thankfully never devolves into Key territory, it still feels divorced from the greater conflict the show should be focusing on. It sucks that for a season called Battle for Planet Nine, the actually fight to save humanity is mainly relegated to the opening and closing episodes. So much plot development occurs in the first season, that by contrast, there’s only about 3-4 episodes here dedicated to forward momentum.

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if the slice of life was used to develop the cast, but they’re almost entirely treated like two-dimensional rag-dolls, especially Tanikaze. Thankfully the conflict with the Guana provides enough of an incentive to keep going, but it’s a little disheartening to realise that for a show dedicated to the survival of the human race, it makes it nearly impossible to care about any of them on a personal level.

 

5. Punchline

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Considering how negative I was in my first season post, I’m glad that the premise delivered more than expected. Not that many of my early criticisms didn’t hold up, with too much of the show dedicated to random twists & haphazardly throwing references all over the place, but overall it was a fairly bold and colourful series with an eye for visual flair, but also had some pretty nice low-key character moments thrown in. I just kind of wish there was more of it.

Even though Punchline ended up different in tone to Kotaro Uchikoshi’s Zero Escape series, a lot of the same Visual Novel signifiers are clearly on display, from the multiple route structure that focuses on each girls’ backstory, to the arbitrary rules and restrictions that prevent the plot developing too quickly, and even the setting, taking place almost entirely within a set of key rooms and locations. It’s a pretty ballsy meta experiment to twist the tropes of one genre into another, but to be honest I’m not sure whether Punchline would have been better suited to just being a straight up VN.

On one hand, I’m glad it didn’t go down the Fate/Stay Night path of meticulously pawing over every piece of information, avoiding huge exposition dumps and moving at a brisk pace. Taking the plot too seriously would have killed the show. At the same time, 12 episodes weren’t enough to fit in all the story elements and character development they needed to make it feel impactful. The cast were fun and the twists were entertaining, but often things moved at such a rapid clip that I found myself just rolling with the punches rather than actually trying to engage with what the show was doing. Maybe that actually worked out for the better in regards to the chaotic narrative, but I would have liked to have spent more time with Yuta and the housemates to get a better sense of weight towards the issues they faced. It’s like condensing Steins;Gate to a 12 episode series and expecting to care the same way about Okarin and the lab members.

I must say though, I wasn’t a big fan the conclusion to the show as it seemed to add cheap drama for the sake it and felt out of place with the generally upbeat tone. It felt pretty forced.

Also, I know I’ve already done fair bit of grumbling about fanservice in this post, but the whole panty subplot was so utterly pointless. Had they committed to it and pulled out some crazy sight gags or had any real impact on the plot I wouldn’t have minded so much, but it just felt a cynical marketing plot to use as an attention grabber in the press releases. It largely gets ignored after the first few episodes, while the whole ‘accidental perving’ shtick doesn’t gel well with Yuta trying to make platonic connections rather than romantic ones. It wasn’t gross, just there, taking up time that could have put to better use.

 

4. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Egypt Arc

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I’ve largely enjoyed watching Jojo’s, but a part of me is definitely glad to see it end and (hopefully) move onto new things. This season was certainly a big improvement over the proceeding one, not requiring ten episodes to actually get into gear, but there was still too much baggage and dud fights. I appreciate trying to remain faithful to the original manga, but I can’t help but feel Stardust Crusaders suffers from a bad case of The Hobbit Trilogy; that by trying to give people what they thought they wanted, the end result suffers. By upping the pace and removing some of the more dull or extraneous fights, you could have adapted a decent 48 episode series into an excellent 24.

As great as some of the Stand users have been (who can forget The Lovers, Death 13, both D’Arby’s and Vanilla Ice), this entire arc of Jojo’s lacks a sense of place, and little in the way of tension or build-up. Throughout the entire run, the central conflict over stopping Dio is constantly left dangling far in the background, while Holly, the reason behind the entire journey, gets two brief scenes. Everything else is just a selection of battles divorced from each other, and while some of the results have been stellar, the overall aimlessness has always got in the way of my enjoyment and highlights the importance of narratives in even the most absurd of series. Take Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency; both arcs were also centred on a collection of battles, but by grounding the events in simple, but easily identifiable points in a story, they developed an sense of rising tension and escalation in both action and drama. It let you care about Jonathan’s feud with Dio, or Caesar’s ultimate sacrifice. It was a good balance between characterisation and skillsets. With Stardust Crusaders the cast mostly serve as props for their Stands, meaning their potential deaths have little to no emotional impact.

The final battle against Dio is pretty much the only point in the show that goes back to actually merging story with spectacle, which is why it ends up being especially tense and exciting. The stakes suddenly feel real, unlike dealing with the previous conveyer belt of throwaway villains with singular gimmicks.

On the plus side, having reading a little of Part 4, it’s a relief to see the arcs improve in balancing the ‘Stand of the week’ formula with a more fixed narrative, while adding underlying social commentary into the fights also does a lot to help you care. I can accept Stardust Crusaders being a trial and error period for Araki to iron out his processes but it does end up feeling significantly weaker than what came both before and after.

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