Winter 2016 – First Impressions Weeks 1-2: Erased and Active Raid

[HorribleSubs] Active Raid - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_18.28_[2016.01.18_00.11.51]

 

Erased/Boku Dake ga Inai Machi

[HorribleSubs] Boku dake ga Inai Machi - 02 [480p].mkv_snapshot_18.06_[2016.01.18_00.21.35]

Shows like Erased prove there are benefits to not completely writing off a show after a single episode, because believe me I was close. Having done absolutely no research into this upcoming season, if you had told me beforehand this was Noitamina’s offering I’d have probably assumed there was mistake. Not that anyone really holds the timeslot up as the pinnacle of intelligent or at least ambitious tv anime anymore, but you can usually rely on an element of polish to the presentation (other than Samurai Flamenco, and remember how that sold?). I figured I was watching one of those super budget web shorts for the first few minutes, what with the minimal animation and ps2 era cg graphics.

I’ll admit to being a bit of a stick in the mud for when it comes to how presentation and plot complement each other (e.g. I hated the comical hair-designs in Shiki because they detracted from the brooding horror atmosphere), however the look just doesn’t work for adults in a serious story. Thankfully, the literal flashback brings a welcome shift in perspective toward a younger group of characters & goes a long way to ameliorate these problems, adding a gentle, almost innocent quality over the darker subtext. It really gets you into the mind-set of someone looking back at their life with both hindsight and a more rounded understanding of the world.

Story-wise the show definitely aims to be ambitious, being based on a Naoki Urasawa-esque time-travelling murder-mystery starring 29 year old Satoru Fujinuma, apparently the oldest a male lead can become in anime before turning into dust. Not that you’d initially guess if the show didn’t tell you, as between the animation and the self-pitying internal monologues he comes across feeling far younger. Honestly I was reminded a little of Haachiman from SNAFU, minus the witty dialogue and depth. Between this and last season’s Sakurako’s Bones’ female lead being essentially a goth-loli archetype in an adult’s body, I’m starting to wonder whether we’re seeing the start of a faux-adult fad or if the people writing these things literally have no personal experience to delve into and need to resort to standard archetypes. The awkward teen love interest subplot hardly inspires confidence that the show won’t veer into otaku self-identification territory, but so far it hasn’t happened.

Again, the second episode does build on the shaky foundations the first lays out, showing the choices Satoru made to fall into his lifeless future and providing him the opportunity to follow a different path. As a contemplative study on the past it can be effectively insightful, even tender on occasion, such as with Satoru’s slightly distant relationship with his working mother, but simultaneously I still don’t quite buy that I’m seeing a grown man in a child’s body but a kid with a copy of the script.

With any luck Erased will manage to realise what its strengths are and focus in on those. Episode two is definitely a stark improvement, but I’m unsure whether that’s purely due to the shift in focus. I like the idea of homing in on the type dissatisfaction and alienation that can cause people to slowly fall through the cracks of society, but it needs to be presented in a way that doesn’t come across as sullen moping. So far it feels like I’m extrapolating a bit too much to get to what I think the show is trying to say. I hope these are just teething problems while the story gets into gear because as a whole there’s the potential to be a thematically relevant thriller. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

 

Active Raid

[HorribleSubs] Active Raid - 02 [720p].mkv_snapshot_19.48_[2016.01.18_00.17.43]

I’m glad to see that the commercial bomb that was last year’s Maria the Virgin Witch hasn’t caused director Goro Taniguchi to disappear into the wilderness for years like he did after Code Geass R2. Instead he’s back with an original work about a security force using power suits to stop crime.

I think the best way to describe Active Raid is as a modern day reimagining of the type of slightly comedic 1980’s police procedurals best exemplified by Patlabor, Bubblegum Crisis and Dominion Tank Police. I’ve seen the Patlabor comparison used elsewhere, but it’s pretty hard to ignore. I mean the show literally opens with an interface boot up screen appearing to pay homage to the mecha activation from the first film. Of course, being updated to current tastes, instead of a plucky tomboy we get a prudish and no-nonsense straight (wo)man trying to act as the voice of reason and keep the other staff in line. In that sense the comparison to Classroom Crisis from a few seasons ago is also appropriate, having the same sense of affection towards a of bunch gifted, but functionally incompetent goofballs circumnavigating the system while going about their tasks in increasingly disorganised ways, usually ending in collateral damage.

I admit to being quite partial to this type of premise, which is why I’m surprised that it hasn’t made a huge impact. Understandably these are little more than introductory episodes, but comparatively Classroom Crisis managed to convey a sense of collective enthusiasm from the get go, and even if the cast of that show weren’t exactly fleshed out, you could tell thought had been put into how everyone interacted with one other. So far Active Raid has been content to follow the bog-standard formula of people introducing themselves in ways that highlights their quirks. The presentation of the characters and technology hasn’t really stood either, being too clean and lacking detail to get a defined sense of how anything fits together. This is a world with augmented reality and robotic power suits as a part of daily life, but little thought seems to have put into how they have affected it.

I hope we get more emphasis on these details in future episodes, because so far the world building formula exists solely to create nouns for the cast to spout, while the power suits feel like they could be replaced with just about any military hardware without affecting the story. I’m not asking for every show to be on a level with Psycho Pass S1 in how much consideration is given to the role technology places on society, but if all it exists for is to add some action scenes while people spout technobabble then the aesthetics in Active Raid don’t stand out enough to pick up the slack. Considering Goro Taniguchi’s flair for drama and spectacle, I’m disappointed by how flat this all feels.

Maybe we’ll get some interesting political commentary at least, as there’s a lot of references to how bureaucracy and dodgy corporate practices affect the team’s ability to do their job. Currently I’m doubtful as these lines seem disconnected from any larger narrative, feeling little more than grumbling without context. Considering Maria was exceptionally sharp about gender issues and Geass pretty much nailed its anti-imperial stance to its head, I’m hoping Taniguchi means to go somewhere with all this sniping, even if it’s presented in a more light-hearted manner.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Winter 2016 – First Impressions Weeks 1-2: Erased and Active Raid

  1. Well, there’s little need to praise Erased (great show) so I’ll just talk about Active Raid for a bit.

    I think the biggest underlying issue with Active Raid is that it’s being made by a new animation studio (IMS) without the resources (budget and manpower included) to make the depiction of the world feel nearly as alive as it would be in the hands of Sunrise or Production I.G for example. Some of this might be improved when the disk version if released, but it certainly doesn’t help the broadcast look nicer. That doesn’t entirely cover the issues with worldbuilding, but it does have an effect.

    Even so, I’ve been enjoying the show and would argue that the second episode started to do a little more actual build-up with the characters, especially Rin (the boss) and Asami (the newbie), beyond the initial presentation of their quirks. We saw how Rin had to apologize for all the problems the first episode’s operation caused, got a quick look at her home life and saw her confront Asami’s ideals about justice with a more pragmatic vision.

    This isn’t something we’ll get every single episode, I guess, but I think that might be, together with the bureaucratic obstacles and their implications (with the media, politicians, etc), part of what the show will ultimately try to spin into a larger theme (well, that and defeating the villain who has a random loli doing silly stuff in his tower/room, but that’s already too obvious).

    That said, I think Active Raid will probably be the least similar to Code Geass (big ambitious revenge/rebellion narrative) or Maria (big ambitious idea of stopping wars) and more similar to Gun X Sword (though that show also had a higher budget and better animation).

    There we technically had an overarching narrative but (aside from dropping some clues and bread crumbs for the characters to follow in a relatively casual fashion), most of the first half of the show was entirely episodic. The cast ran into a different location looking for the villain and his captive, faced a different secondary bad guy or minor obstacle every week, and moved on with a lot of humor on the side. Until near the halfway point, when things suddenly got a lot more real (eps 11 to 13, I think). Since Active Raid is 2 cour (dislike that term, but whatever), it’ll probably do something like that with its episodic adventures as prelude to something more.

    Which maybe even resembles Planetes too, purely structurally speaking, since there wasn’t really a big narrative arc until the second half with the Jupiter mission and the terrorist plot. That said, this is in fact a lot more lighthearted show than that, so the overall stakes might not increase too much in comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honestly, I can probably cut the show some slack in terms of presentation. Sure, it’s not spectacular, but for even a new studio and original creation it’s more impressive than a great deal of the established studios adaptions airing this season. Many of my gripes are down to personal aesthetic tastes, e.g. preferring real world mecha/power suits to have bit more weight and slow precise movements. I think my biggest issue lies with the world building trying to explain how things work more than trying to naturally show you. Episode 2 does build on this with Rin so I remain hopeful (disclaimer: I actually wrote most of the post after only watching the first episode, so it’s a little lopsided towards that).

      I’ve yet to watch Gun X Sword (it’s been in my backlog for over five years now ^^), but I generally enjoy the episodic formula in shows with big ideas so long as the individual stories work to help make the setting come together or provide interest case studies for topics that will form the central themes of the show. Planetes was particularly good at that in terms of questioning the need to explore the reaches of space in addition to all the socio-political commentary involving INTO and first world inequality, so if Active Raid goes down that path I think my opinion of the show will rise quite a bit.

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  2. >but little thought seems to have put into how they have affected it.

    I’m not sure why you’re getting that vibe. They’re made it pretty clear that the tech in their world has become mundane enough that all that’s left is the “modern tech sucks” stuff, like new-product tutorials and social networking being more trouble than anything, and how despite all of the advancement they still have power-feeding issues and have to hide from a public who are ready to record them with cellphones at the drop of a hat. It’s not exactly Ghost in the Shell, but it’s also a silly show with classic Star Trek sound effects and old-school character humor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Active Raid certainly doesn’t lack for ideas, but so far they seem to a little too surface level to build into any kind of cohesive mass. Sure, we get a lot of eye-rolling about the nature of bureaucracy and the limitations and quirks of technology, but they mostly get treated as nods or jokes as opposed to legitimate world building. I generally prefer to see practical examples of how technology meshes with society beyond just references or one-off shots. Take the first episode of Psycho Pass, which deals with a case about how the rules of technology can turn a victim into a perpetrator, posing both a philosophical question and real-time challenge to prevent this outcome, then compare it to episode one of Active Raid that just tells us that an operation has been cancelled by describing a chain of events. There are interesting things you can take away from this, but the approach in general feels like throwing darts at a wall and seeing what sticks.

      But you’re right that this is a much lighter show that isn’t trying to compete with the likes of Psycho Pass or Ghost in the Shell in terms of depth. If Active Raid merely ends up a light hearted-romp in the vein of Patlabor then it won’t end up much of an issue with me. However, judging by the director, episode length and various hints about how society and technology function (not to mention the villain that’s already been set up), I’d be genuinely surprised if they aren’t building up to some long term plan or message, and if that proves to be case I’d like to see all these pieces naturally coming together, rather than feeling like a bulletin list of ideas.

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