Dec. 11th, 2009

reileen: (anime - Neuro)
I keep on meaning to update this thing with various posts that I've been randomly thinking about, but then I get lazy or distracted. Myu.

Yesterday night I finished Draft Zero of an experimental/exploratory fic of mine. I already had three chapters done and most of a 4th chapter drafted for a couple of months already, but about a week ago I said to myself: "Self, you are entirely sick of leaving your million-and-one ideas unfinished. So, why don't you knock out at least one of those ideas, and finish a draft of this particular fic within a week?" I set my minimum wordcount for at least 1000 words a day, which I made with varying degrees of pwnage (from "just barely" to "PWNED"). I clocked out last night at 13 chapters and almost 27,000 words. I'm also proud of myself because I made myself write out the important plot scenes, instead of (as I tend to do in things like NaNo) writing "[insert important plot scene here]". The only places where I did that were for a fight sequence (which started and ended with important plot stuff that I wrote; it's the actual action part that's missing) and for some flashback stuff in the last chapter that really only serves to deepen the main character (he's a one-time character from the fandom, and the flashback refers to canonical stuff, with my own personal twists). So I'm taking a break and spending the weekend doing anything but being productive.

This means that I finally sat my ass down and watched something. In this case, it's the first five episodes of an anime called Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra. One of Crunchyroll's newsletters mentioned this anime, and I was sold from the moment they mentioned the "Armed Librarians", which made me think of Yomiko Readman from Read or Die. Plus, well, come on. "Armed Librarians" just sounds awesome. I would want to be an Armed Librarian! They'd be badass and bookish.

Anyway, the series is set in a fantasy world where people's souls "fossilize" into stone tables called Books when they die, which other people can read just by touching it. The Armed Librarians collect and protect these Books and keep them in the Bantorra Library, named for the god of the past. Opposing them is the Church of Drowning in God's Grace, which refuses to give up their Books to the Bantorra Library. Their basic tenet is in self-fulfillment of material desires, no matter what they are, so they can make themselves as happy as possible. This means that when they die, their Books will be perfect and pure and will ascend to God in Heaven. Thus, they refuse to hand over their Books to the Bantorra Library.I was really excited for this...but in the end I was pretty disappointed.

The main character, Volken, is an Armed Librarian who is extremely skilled in battle but with a strong sentimental streak - in other words he's a typical do-gooder hero. In fact, that sentimental streak gets him sidelined from the main action going on in episodes 2-4, and the particular circumstances of that lead him to make a run for it at the end of episode 4. The only redeeming trait so far is his badass action sequence in the first episode, where he controls these bladed rings to attack and float (if he stands on them) - he uses the rings as a moving staircase up the side of a ship. The other characters so far range from "could be interesting" to "snorefest." Volken's (likely) Designated Love Interest, Milepoch, feels like she should be more badass than she actually is. Minor spoilers: As a result of Volken stealing this one priceless artifact with an utterly unpronounceable, unspellable name and fleeing Bantorra Library, Milepoch ends up so distraught that she's distracted from her duties as an Armed Librarian, and gets permission to use this other artifact to wipe out her memories and feelings about Volken. Really? Really? I can see how this is going to end fifty miles away without my glasses on. If the anime doesn't do what I think it's going to do with this plot, good on them. Hamyuts Meseta, the leader of the ALs, is at least entertaining - she's this boobalicious woman who inexplicably leaves her button-up blouse undone all the time, and is laid-back and playful yet tough, to the point of seeming heartless. She has the ability to kill people just by flicking pebbles at them. 'Cause ya see, she's so strong that she can fling pebbles - either with her fingers or with a sling - fast enough to break the sound barrier. Another potentially interesting character is Ireia, who is an elderly maid at the Bantorra Library but also an Armed Librarian herself, one of the strongest. In the opening sequence of episode 5 (they changed it suddenly from the previous four, which I'm actually glad for 'cause that one was pretty boring for the liveliness of Ali Project's opening), they show Ireia lifting up this huge-ass rock above her head, which is pretty epic to behold. Wikipedia was where I confirmed her strength and status in the ALs, but it was also where I confirmed that she's going to die at some point, which is a bummer.

In terms of animation, the first episode was really good looking. (I guess it would have to be, since it was action-oriented.) And then it went downhill pretty damn fast. Like, by episode two fast. (Interestingly, the way I noticed was when Hamyuts drops from a flying plane onto the ground below for a mission. When she stands up and stretches, you can really tell that the quality went kaput. This probably says really bad things about my mind.) And although it pulled itself up a little for the major fight in episode four, overall it was rather standard. The backgrounds are quite nice though. The characte designs are okay - I'm mostly confused by the fact that there seems to be some sort of uniform for the Armed Librarians, yet the only significant character who ever wears it is Volken. Milepoch's wearing some sort of military uniform for some reason. One of the secondary characters, Noloty, is dressed as though she's going to a freaking beach. Everyone else is pretty much unremarkable. The music does its job, although I really enjoy the opening song "Datengoku Sansen" by Ali Project.

Plot? I don't know, there's so much going on. And not necessarily in a good way. I'm going to let this review of episodes 1-6 (spoiler-free) speak for me:

With its interesting fantasy conceit (books that, when touched, provide direct access to the memories of the deceased), superior production values, and a triptych of strong, sympathetic and tantalizingly interconnected leads, Tatakau Shisho initially seems poised on the cusp of fantasy excellence. The first sign that there's trouble in paradise comes when the visuals start slipping in episode two, and before long it becomes clear that the series is spinning dangerously out of control. It wants very badly to be a daring mixture of political fantasy, shonen-styled action and transcendental romance, but ends up pulling itself in so many different directions that it simply falls apart. Intriguing ideas are floated (the destructive capabilities of religious zeal, the persistence of humanity in the face of inhuman degradation) only to be abandoned and left dangling; the memory-book concept devolves into a hollow gimmick; the romance gets shunted aside to make way for fantasy riffs on bioterrorism and free will, which are in turn sidelined in favor of destructive action-movie thrills. Far from excellence, the resultant series is a flailing mess.

As it barrels forward, scattering half-finished subplots in it wake, the series somehow manages to hold itself together long enough to salvage a reasonably exciting climax from the rushed and ruined remains of its plot. All else failing, Hamyuts Meseta makes an excellent action heroine, and her train-top showdown with Shindeki nasty Cigal is a genuine jaw-dropper. Which brings the series to episode five where, as if exhausted by the effort of maintaining cohesion, it falls completely to pieces. Without even a cursory attempt to address its myriad of loose ends and orphaned ideas, the series lurches into a second story arc, abandoning with shocking callousness both Colio Tonies and his time-tripping romantic partner Shiron. By episode six Hamyuts Meseta too has basically exited the picture, leaving her dull do-goodnik underlings to carry the story. The series might as well have put a shotgun in its mouth and pulled the trigger. Hamyuts, Colio and Shiron aren't just characters in the series, they are the series, and without them…well, it ends up with its brains—or more accurately, its heart—all over the roof.

While I'm not sure that I'd classify Hamyuts, Colio, and Shiron as the series itself, they are the characters that have (had?) the most potential to be really interesting. But by the end of episode 4, it feels as though they've already ended the particular arc with Colio and Shiron, and it's like, what? Why? Why even include that in the first place? Was the point of it just to provide a justification for the D.E.M.-like ending?

And now I'm reconsidering my impression that Volken was the main character of this series, because if you look at the promo art on both the review I linked and on the official anime website, the most prominent character isn't Volken, but Hamyuts. (And she's listed first on the character list too.) Which makes me feel slightly better about the series, and it would explain why Volken got shafted for episodes 2-5. But considering that the review I linked says Hamyuts goes offstage by episode 6, well...she'd better come back soon.

TL;DR Epic premise, disappointing results. Which goes to show that execution is everything, whether that means executing the premise with style and panache, or executing the premise with style and panache at the guillotine.


reileen: (Default)
Reileen van Kaile

April 2010


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