Summer Season 2015: Initial Impressions – Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, Million Doll & Classroom Crisis

[HorribleSubs] Rokka no Yuusha - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_02.20_[2015.07.16_19.33.52]

 

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

[HorribleSubs] Rokka no Yuusha - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_09.28_[2015.07.15_12.14.55]

And here we come to a light novel adaptation about a bunch of warriors dressed as circus sideshow acts trying to defeat an evil overlord.

You know, as much as I expected to dismiss this out of hand, the first two episodes makes it clear Rokka is genuinely interested in telling a story, rather than stringing a set of tropes together and calling it a day. Enough care has been put into making the world plausible, with the architecture and rural environments having a clear Mesoamerican inspiration. The only time I’ve anything similar in anime was in The Mysterious Cities of Gold, a series directly based on South American mythology/history. It really highlights the potential for interesting fantasy premises once you shy away of the usual stereotypes like Middle Ages Europe or Sengoku period Japan. Remember how unique the Southeast Asian influence made Final Fantasy 10 look back in the day? I wish more writers would be a bit more creative and do something similar. I’m sick of Tolkien-esque D&D worlds by now.

Presentation is clearly Rokka’s strongpoint and what holds the show together, particularly during dialogue heavy scenes when problems in the writing become apparent. It’s isn’t poor by way of being filled with bad jokes or cliché light novel tropes, just clunky in the way that stories stuffed with in-depth lore and terminology tend to be. I suppose you have to give the show props for not delving into F/SN territory and actually stripping information to its bare minimum, but the dialogue usually serves to exposit backstory more than it develops a sense of the characters.

Fortunately the animation during these moments does a lot to help fill in the gaps and help gauge how the cast actually feel at any given moment. Nashetania might say an awkward line about originally believing that fruit grew on plates, while Adlet mutters “as expected from a princess”, but the way she carelessly picks up lemons from venders, squeezing out the juice and throwing the rest away, while he’s forced to quietly pay them in her wake does far more to highlight their personalities and place within the world. In a story as condensed as this it’s probably the best compromise you could expect.

That said, while the direction is pretty solid and helps the show move at a pretty decent pace (outside of a particularly drawn out info-dump in the first episode), I’m really not a fan of the character designs, which look more suited to sell figurines than fit into the setting. It’s kind of hard to take Nashetania seriously during revelations about her past when she’s dressed like some kind of bunny girl/magician hybrid. I’m aware this is par for the course with light novel adaptations but the rest of the show takes itself far more seriously, so there’s an odd sense of disconnect. When you make characters look needlessly outlandish in a setting that relies on subtlety, it becomes much harder to take the show seriously during dramatic beats. It’s my Shiki rant all over again.

Despite the constant game of give-and-take with the show’s strengths and weaknesses, Rokka still comes out as a mostly entertaining experience that actually tries to elevate itself from its contemporaries. It’s pretty similar to Chaika: The Coffin Princess in that regard. Now let’s just hope this show doesn’t completely fall apart towards the end.

 

Million Doll

[HorribleSubs] Million Doll - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.50_[2015.07.13_19.24.55]

Watching Million Doll reminds me a little of an abandoned puppy. It wants to be loved so much, but is just too ugly for anyone but the most kind-hearted soul to give a second look. The first episode had so many static shots and stilted movements that at times it began to feel like watching a flash animation. After seeing the OP sequence I’ll never give The Idolmaster crap again for its uncanny valley cg. Poor, poor Million Doll

It’s a shame really as there were some interesting ideas in the few two episodes. Rather than the idols themselves, the focus was put on the fandom that show up to the smaller gigs for up-and-coming acts, and often presented them in a less than pleasant light, rather than some vague happy mass serving as motivation for the girls. Instead of positive representations for how the hard-core vocal fandom no doubt view themselves, here we get the perspective of passive audience members who view their constant inappropriate chanting and interruptions during concerts to be the behaviour of rude, childish attention-seekers, especially when it’s revealed that many have no real loyalty to these acts and will jump ship once a new flavour of the week appears. They’re essentially hipster idol fans. While I can’t say I’m sold on the message that this is a betrayal because they’re not devoting their life to one particular waifu idol, at least it there was nothing quite as insidious as claiming online abuse and death threats is a good thing because it helps you to grow as a person and develop into the type of idol nutjob stalkers want to see. Fuck me, AKB0048, what the hell were you doing with that particular episode?

So yeah, there might be something interesting going on here or the focus could shift and it could turn into upbeat girls struggling to do their poorly animated best in a world of giant multi-corporate idol anime. It’s worth a few more episodes at least.

 

Classroom Crisis

[HorribleSubs] Classroom Crisis - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_16.35_[2015.07.16_19.29.08]

I was ready to cut my losses after episode one, but I genuinely believe there is something decent here. The idea of an underperforming and much maligned department run by a talented, but majorly flawed group of people, trying to stay off closure by their higher ups is a pretty neat concept. Hell, it’s basically the premise to Patlabor. Both shows have the same fascination with the mundane realities of employment and dealing with bureaucracy, although Classroom Crisis has the automatic handicap of not having Mamoru Oshii at the helm. There are hints of the same quietly sarcastic and self-depreciating wit in the PR video, but it’s nowhere near as potent because the writing and characterisation is just too light.

I think I get what the show wants to be, with a focus on low key and grounded drama in a futuristic setting. Then again, it may just lack the energy to represent itself properly. At this stage Classroom Crisis seems to be at odds with itself. Does it want to share its love for science and space flight? If so, having most of the second episode devoted to a televised exposition dump explaining the academy was probably not the way to go (I actually liked that touch, but it went on way too long). Maybe it wants to be a workplace or project based drama, but if that’s true making the cast high school students, despite most of them being of college age is an odd choice. The show also loses quite a bit of goodwill once you realise the premise is a glorified ‘save the school club’ scenario.

Honestly I don’t really know to say about the show yet. There’s certainly a lot of potential here, whether it wants to explore corporate vs idealistic viewpoints, become a character drama or go straight up sci-fi like Mouretsu Pirates, but so far it’s just juggling the outlines of ideas with little focus. Despite that I have found myself enjoying the first few episodes, but I’d like it to commit to a path before I lose interest. Passion for science alone isn’t enough. Robotics Notes was a painful enough reminder of that.

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