Summer 2015 Closing Thoughts: Shirayukihime & Gangsta

[HorribleSubs] Gangsta - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_20.36_[2015.09.26_01.32.09]

 

Part 2 of my Closing Thoughts posts. I decided on just lumping these two shows together seeing as my reaction towards them is about the same. Which unfortunately isn’t much of a compliment.

13. Akagami no Shirayukihime/Snow White with the Red Hair

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If there’s ever a series I wanted to like more than I did, it’s Shirayukihime. I’ve become burned out by the lack of originality & rapport found in most shoujo romances but here we actually had a story about two adults (well, they’re sure as hell not high school students) in a relatively low-key fantasy setting, casually communicating with each other rather than just blushing & giving moon-eyed stares. There’s also socio-political subtext surrounding the class divide between lowborn foreigner Shirayuki & second born Prince of Clarines, Zen. I couldn’t get enough of that stuff in Emma: A Victorian Romance!

Yet for all that, Shirayukihime doesn’t grab me in the same way. As characters, Shirayuki & Zen do eschew many the tired old tropes of romance stories. They’re intelligent. They’re upfront. They (usually) don’t run away from confrontation and misunderstandings or spend huge chunks of time digging themselves deeper into angst-lined holes of self-doubt. They actually want to understand & be of use to one another. They also happen to be exceptionally boring.

You can definitely design well-adjusted people, but you need to make them entertaining and fun to watch. Both characters are essentially friendly, open and upfront, if a little naïve and overeager to prove themselves. This is what makes up the majority of the show; watching two slightly insecure, but near-saintly characters interact with one another.

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Such an arc would work as a backdrop to something greater; Akatsuki no Yona proved that a few seasons back. However, in Shirayukihime the romance is nearly everything. There’s some emphasis on the roles both characters have to perform as a court herbalist and the prince, yet most of these plot points just feel like small bouts of world building to a greater story that doesn’t actually exist. Everything feels in service to simply watching a relationship occur, and in all honesty it quickly becomes tiresome. Even the subplot about certain palace factions showing resistance to Shirayuki & Zen spending time together feels so far in the background that there’s rarely even the hint of tension.

It doesn’t help that the series in general feels pretty folded-in & uneventful. It’s not completely humourless, but the moments of legitimate amusement are few and far between, with the drama being too dry and serious for its own good. Bone’s production, while colourful and consistent, also lacks any spark or flair in direction.

I’m likely going to be in the minority with this opinion, especially compared to people who really dig their shoujo, & that’s fine. The show does a lot of things right. It’s neither as sickly sweet or brainless as Ore Monogatari (although nowhere near funny), nor contains many of the more unpleasant tropes or beliefs towards relationships as, say, the (similarly) entirely relationship-focused Mysterious Girlfriend X. Still, it’s essentially a one-note fluff show, no matter how earnestly it takes itself. I’d like a little more in the way of actual entertainment, or at least drama I can get invested in. Watching nice people simply being nice to one other just isn’t enough for me without some added hook.

God, I need another season of Chihayafuru or Nozaki-kun to knock me out of this slump.

 

12. Gangsta

[HorribleSubs] Gangsta - 11 [720p].mkv_snapshot_11.45_[2015.09.26_01.26.22]

This show clearly focused on the wrong characters

For the sake of convenience I could just as easily copy and paste my initial impressions post on Gangsta from back in July & call it a day, as it never really offers any great variation to the formula episode one sets up. It’s still more or less a by-the-numbers mafia-meets-noir drama with super-powers thrown in to make the action scenes more energetic, while neither the characters or plot ever break free of their entrenched genre typecasts. From beginning to end you’re treated to cynical worldviews, villains with hearts of gold, put upon victims, scenery chewing psychopaths & all other manner of clichés to be expected from the premise.

On one hard it isn’t like Gangsta fails to at doing any of these things, but on the other there really isn’t much to distinguish itself it in any way (other than the limited use of sign language), and unless you’re completely new to such stories, I can’t really recommend it as anything more than hollow entertainment. I was never exactly bored during each episode, but there was little to excite or motivate me check out the follow up. Sadly an ambitious story that drops the ball is usually preferable to a solid one that fails to make any last impression, and in Gangsta’s case it too often comes across as merely aping the successes of more ambitiously written and directed series like Black Lagoon or Jormungand.

[HorribleSubs] Gangsta - 10 [720p].mkv_snapshot_02.28_[2015.09.26_01.14.57]

At least it became a little more engaging towards the end once the show decided to stop focusing on disconnected arcs that vaguely attempted world building & actually ramped up the stakes, but even then it remained difficult to care for a cast whose personalities are generally comprised of recyclable gruff, stoic and sardonic tough guy archetypes. The humour also began to improve in the final stretch, particularly regarding Alex. I can also appreciate that the show thankfully didn’t go into full-on exploitation territory for shock value like the initial episodes hinted at. If anything, there’s more focus on depicting the male leads as buff and shirtless – apparently the manga author is a woman, so it might make sense to try & appeal to the fujoshi. I’m not complaining – I’ve seen too often what happens when a guy has a script like this any tries to sell it to a male demographic.

We don’t get too many seinen adaptations these days so I probably had raised expectations with Gangsta. Still, even with that in mind it feels more like one of those mid-level shounen anime like Code Breaker or Zettai Karen Children: The Unlimited that the industry routinely churns out, only to be entirely forgotten within a year. If that’s all you need from it, then you may as well give it a try.

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