First Impressions Digest – Escha & Logy no Atelier, Mekaku City Actors

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Some shows have the merit of at least making mediocrity look good.

Escha & Logy no Atelier – 01

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Atelier - 01 -11 Atelier - 01 -12 Atelier - 01 -13
Atelier - 01 -14 Atelier - 01 -15 Atelier - 01 -17

Escha & Logy has an interesting history – it’s the 15th game in an RPG series called “Atelier”, though the first to get an anime adaptation.  I already had some interest here because I’m fond of Studio Gokumi, which while founded largely by Gonzo escapees seems to have developed just a bit of a Gainax vibe (and has many old Gainax hands on board).  And when commenter friedsiopao compared it to Yokahama Kaidashi Kikou, that really caught my attention – I revere that manga profoundly.  That of course is a bit of a double-edged sword, because it’s almost impossible for any other series to measure up to the comparison.

The first episode was modestly entertaining, and I do get where the YKK part comes in – it’s a post-apocalyptic world focused on the daily lives of the survivors, for whom this reality is normal because it’s the only one they know.  Heck, it even has an android. I see nothing in the premiere that leads me to believe it has a fraction of YKK’s subtlety, depth and emotional power – instead, it’s a pleasant but forgettable diversion, so far anyway.

Heroine Eschy is played by Murakawa Rie, and both the character and the breathy performance are a bit too hyper-kawaii for me.  They tend to take the tone of the premiere a bit too close to the saccharine for my tastes.  The male lead is Logix “Logy” Ficsario (Ishikawa Kaitou), a newly-minted alchemist from the big city (yes, they call it “Central” here too) come to the small town of Colseit to work with Eschy – also newly minted alchemist – in the R & D Department of the local alchemy branch.  He’s as low-key as she is genki, so at least the two of them balance each other out.  A raft of other local denizens are introduced, the most impact being made by Clone (Yamamura Hibiku) the automaton who manages the apple orchard where Eschy lives and seems to act as her guardian.

There isn’t a lot of exposition for new viewers here – a little research tells you about the impending “Dusk End” and such, but it doesn’t get much mention in the premiere.  There are floating ruins above the town that are clearly going to be crucial, but the sense here is of a “not with a bang but a whimper” style endtime slice of life.  As for the look of the series, it’s appealing in the sense that it looks as if it just fell out of a storybook – which is exactly what they were going for – but certainly not as immediately eye-catching as the fabulous premiere of Gokiumi’s Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge.  I’ll give this a couple more weeks to show me its true colors – in principle this could be the story I like a lot, but I’m not yet convinced the writing and execution is going to be up to the challenge.

Mekaku City Actors – 01

Mekaku - 01 -1 Mekaku - 01 -2 Mekaku - 01 -3
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Mekaku - 01 -8 Mekaku - 01 -9 Mekaku - 01 -10
Mekaku - 01 -11 Mekaku - 01 -12 Mekaku - 01 -14

Yup, that’s a “no”.

This is another show, as it turns out, that has a major controversy swarming around it (Mahouka and the author’s right-wing politics is the other) that I was completely unaware of until after watching it and deciding it wasn’t anything special.  Apparently Mekaku City Actors parent mythos, the Vocaloid-based Kagerou Project, is notorious in Japan for having exceptionally rude fans (female and unusually young, or so I read) and thus has reaped a harvest of scorn from more traditional otaku-centric fanbases.  The usual places are rife with posts hoping and predicting disaster for this adaptation and anything associated with it.

For me, all of that is Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care – I didn’t much like the premiere (in truth, I couldn’t even finish it) for completely unrelated reasons.  I continue to be mystified that Shinbou Akiyuki can use the same cheap, tired gimmicks over and over with seemingly no consequences commercially and even critically.  Does no one see that the Emperor has no clothes?  It’s no wonder he’s able to direct so many series, because what he does can’t be all that hard – cut corners by using the same half-dozen or so visual tricks thinly disguised as something different and spew pretentious dialogue.  I’m assuming he’s on some kind of work from home plan at the moment, so he can mail it in literally as well as creatively.  There was a time when I liked quite a few Shinbou series, but I find everything Shaft borderline unwatchable now – with his increasing commercial success Shinbou (who effectively is Shaft) has become more and more repetitive and predictable in his style, sticking with what he knows cashes the checks.

Still, for all that, there was something in Mekaku City Actors that seemed interesting to me – its unusual genesis, the original art, some of the nuggets of story – and I always go into a Shinbou show thinking this might be the one that wins me back.  But this premiere…  Well, it was better than Sasami-san, I’ll give it that.  But if there’s been a more annoying character (OK, there is Enju) than virtual assistant Ene (Asumi Kana) in the last year I can’t remember it.  I get that she’s supposed to be irritating, but this was just torture.  Asumi is generally on thin ice as a seiyuu anyway, but she crashes through into the frigid waters in the first 30 seconds here.  And I’m also rather put off that we seem to be getting an endless string of series featuring NEETs of late – while they’ve been popular subjects for anime for a while, this is an epidemic.  The Hikikomori/NEET (and yes, they are very different) is a very real problem in Japan and the real-life ones deserve to be treated with compassion and empathy.  But they’ve come to represent a kind of cheap gimmick to give the disc-buying public something to identify with while at the same time feel superior.  It’s an unpleasant trend and I hope it’s peaking now.

If anything, Mekaku City Actors plays like a Nisio Isin wannabe – even more so than most of Shinbou’s shows of late (the ones that aren’t actually Nisio Isin, that is).  I know there’s going to be a focus on other characters besides Ene and annoying mope lead Shintarou (Terashima Takuma) in upcoming eps, and I suppose in theory that might make things better.  But the writing and direction isn’t going to change, and I can’t see any likelihood I’m going to be able to psych myself up to endure another episode.



  1. F

    Awww… I actually liked Asumi Kana's performance in ep 1 of Mekaku. I felt it to be a sort of "prototype" of everything that the vibes of the ep gave off, felt it was intended to do so, and thought it achieved its job marvelously. That being said, I still have no clue what is going on and wish the story could have been laid out in a more linear and somewhat understandable manner. : Will give the next ep a try.

    As for Atelier, I thought Escha was plain adorable, and I thought the ep did a very good job of an initial outline of the series setting for non gamers like myself. I like breezy stuff like this (as you know) but I am hopeful for more detailed world building. If that begins to pour into the series I think I might really enjoy this one.

  2. Well, I can honestly say I didn't hate this as much as Sasami-san's premiere. But I did hate Asami's performance here, and I'm truly mystified that Shinbou continues to get away with this. It's almost as if some kind of mass hypnosis is going on, a subtler version of the Pokemon seizure phenomenon.

    Escha is another example of a performance I wasn't too fond of, and that tied in with the overall feeling that what I was hoping would be subtle and wistful (like YKK, for example) seemed heavy-handed and a little manipulative. I didn't dislike it, and I'll certainly give it at least one more episode.

  3. F

    Fair enough… I was kinda expecting the wistfulness to be slowly built up to for some reason, but if it does not work for you it does not work.

    I hear you about Sasami san as a series, though. I dropped half way through ep 2. :

  4. R

    Before I found out Shaft was going to be the group adapting Jin's Kagerou Project to anime, my own personal headcanon was probably something from IG or Madhouse. The traditional adaptation, because the material itself is more than strong enough to hold its ground.

    Then I read that Shaft was producing it and though, well OK it still can be a good adaptation as long as they stick to the story well. Then I read it was 12 episodes and my heart started sinking, though I was still clinging to a buoy of hope.

    THEN I watched the first 5 minutes and kind if felt ready to cry. I imagine it would be similar to your reaction if it had been announced that Shaft was producing Baby Steps, Enzou. I loved the source material. Some of the most interesting stories and characters and music I've run into in a while. I liked the novels and manga too. But the anime…

    Ugh, I can't say it's a complete mess but its just so…not what I was hoping for. And there's no way they can for the whole story in 12 episodes. And those first 5 minutes of cryptic convos and random shots, why. I'm seriously going to cry. You have to understand, I really loved the source material. Its true the fans can be pretty rude at times, but most of them were great people (at least over here I'm the west as far as I know). I just….I think I finally know the feeling of true disappointment. I've been blessed that none of the adaptations of series I liked before this were bad. Maybe nor amazing, but nothing I disliked or went against my expectations completely. I just…this is a new experience for me, and nor a happy one.

    I want to love this show so much and that just makes it hurt all the more. Its not horrible but its just not the same. I never really understood what you meant until now when you said that Shinbou "painted over" the spurces, so to speak, of series he adapted. But now I do. There's so much POTENTIAL in the story and mysteries he could have presented to hook the audience but instead anything remotely interesting takes backseat to the visual assault that is his "style". Its like watching someone pour orange juice into 100+ year old gorgeous wine. There are soany interesting things but he didn't use any of them as the hook, and instead went for the eccentric scenery shots and cryptic dialogue. In some of his series, I didn't mind. But now that I'm finally watching one based on a franchise I love, ouch. I'm going to watch the whole thing out of loyalty, but I think my heart will hurt afterwards. T_T

  5. R

    God damn auto corrects butchering my post. Hopefully the main point gets across XD

  6. Very much so. I feel your pain totally, though I have to take your word for the quality of the source material – I only have 22 (well, more like 18 for me) minutes of obnoxious Shinbou directo-wanking and pretentious dialogue to go on.

  7. R

    Directo-wanking…I never thought I'd find a word for it, but that actually captures the essence of my problem with this adaptation pretty well. I don't always have a problem with Shinbou, but maybe it was because I wasn't invested in the original works he adapted so far. This isn't even a problem with the strength of the original anymore. Its literally just watching a series you really love be buried under…well directo-wanking

    Well there's a new experience. I'm actually legitimately sad. I can't recall a time I was ever this disappointed in an anime, probably because I never was really hyped for a show that crashed and burned before.

  8. B

    Mekaku was absolutely terrible and this is coming from someone who generally enjoys most of what Shinobu puts out. I could barely even finish it.

  9. k

    I'm not familiar with the source material or Kagerou Project in general, but one thing that caught my attention, and not in a good way, is that Jin – the creator himself of this whole thing – is doing the screenwriting. The source material may be in fact brilliant, but at least in the context for the TV series I find him to be just as guilty as Shaft (as their usual selves, if not worse in terms of animation quality) for this rather underwhelming premiere since the dialogue is his doing, not Shinbou's. In a way I'm actually glad Shaft is behind this, as I allowed myself to be annoyed and distracted at the stylistic antics and not be 100% committed to what was actually being said by the characters.

  10. R

    I can definitely agree that scripting doesn't seem to be Jin's strong point XD Granted the original were a series of songs, so his strong points, aka an interesting premise and more mysteries than you could shake a stick at, could shine more. It was also one of those mediums where fanon had a lot of leeway so people could pick their favorite things. And catchy music. That too XD it really was like a jigsaw puzzle, with each new song revealing a little bit more about how this gs got into such a messed up situation ( a very interesting messed up situation) I didn't get any of that from the anime though… Q_Q

    Although it is odd. Jin wrote the novels too, which were heads and shoulders above this episode in terms of content and pacing. Maybe it's a medium thing? That said, whatever he did write wasn't nearly enough to distract me from Shinbou's style. I don't hate the man, but jeez I never quite noticed how in your face his artistic sense was until it was actually applied to a story I personally knew beforehand XD

  11. E

    Even if Jin is doing the script, Shinbou is also involved in that. Judging by some interviews with people who work with him (see: Urobuchi Gen, for example), I've come to think of Shinbou as a meddler – he constantly convinces people to do things his way and not theirs. For example, taking advantage over Urobuchi's doubts about the ending for Madoka's 3rd movie to convince him to do… well, what ended up being in the movie.

    Jin might have had problems porting his story to TV (you mentioned how the novels are much better than this), but a good director can, well, direct the novice screenwriter to the right, well, direction. Yep. But Shinbou can only point you into the direction HE wants the project to take.

    To be frank, I'm amazed he didn't hire NisioisiN himself instead, if he so wants tired pretentious and fake-smart dialogue as much as he does.

  12. t

    Atelier was..fine premiere. it wasn't bad, but I can't say it was good either since it's not appealing, yet. but it's OK for an opening. I guess I'll give it another chance since I couldn't really feel and measure the series quality/nature with this episode only.
    all in all, the MC are nice, the world has some nice features. but it wasn't really enough (again, not bad, but..not really good enough). the ending is looking ahead and this made me wonder a bit about what will be ahead, whether this show is maybe going to an adventure or something. so I hope it can improve via this interesting notion of "floating ruins" in some way (not necessary an "adventure"..but something that will convince us).
    (side note: this is like how alchemy was suppose to be?the hybrid of cooking and lab chemistry?LOL. I admit it made me miss a little to FMAB just by the name :P)

    Mekaku city actors (MCA)
    oh dear…are you a hater of studio shaft? I know you are.
    I like shaft work in the last years – madoka, monogatari, nisekoi. all worked for me (sasami-san much less I am afraid). and MCA opening shot was a very good one.
    this isn't monogatari where you can say "operation without anesthesia" because that's definitely not the case. and I came to watch MCA really "blank". I have no idea what's about or why all the commotion around it (people say it's gonna sell kinda like SnK..which is a lot). and having watched the pilot episode, I enjoyed it. I love shaft animation. I love the dialogue, which weren't mindfuck or something. well, maybe the beginning and ending chats were weird since I still don't really fully understand them, but I assume it's part of the deal. other than that, I don't think it's "cheap tricks" or whatever because the flow of the episode itself was fine. yes, it give the scent of monogatari in a way, but this is the way shaft are moving through the events and it's very unique. the whole NEET/Hikikomori has some meaning within it and what's so bad with a little criticism combined with a bit parody?

    well, I guess it's a matter of taste, so I don't blame you not to like it (though sometimes it seems like you really more hate shaft than dislike their way. wonder what you think of Madoka rebellion…).
    I still can't say this is the elite/ace of the spring that everyone is talking about, but for me it was good, I really enjoyed it and will continue following.

  13. M

    I expected Atelier to be slice of life, so I was ready for a slow episode. Even so, all the undisguised exposition wore on me. I was ready to fall asleep by the halfway mark. I also found the romance between Escha and Logy far too explicit.

    As for Mekakucity Actors, what even went on in that first episode? Shaft had only 12 to play with, and they wasted the first on what could be just an elaborate metaphor about MC escaping his NEET existence. I don't really see why you hate Shaft's style, Enzo, but I have to agree that the directing here was unexpectedly boring. Wasn't Shinbou even trying to build climaxes in the episode? Nothing that happened had any impact at all.

    Since we're talking Shaft here, did you by any chance watch Rebellion? Any plans to blog it? 😉

  14. S

    "cut corners by using the same half-dozen or so visual tricks thinly disguised as something different and spew pretentious dialogue"

    I dropped Bakemonogatari after episode 1 because I felt exactly the same way, so I'm not even going to try here.

  15. h

    Jackson Pollock's paintings "all look the same." So do Monet's. If Shinbou's style is so easy, why aren't others successful with it? We're dealing with art here. To me, the most outstanding thing about Shinbou is the way he weaves visual, aural, and dramatic rhythms into anime that are like concertos. The "gimmicks" and repeated images are among the means he uses to do this. For me, he may be the greatest director active today, producing work whose strengths lie in a completely different direction from those of most other directors.

  16. R

    I never had a problem with Shinbou's "art" before this, but when that art devours the original work and its own characteristics that made it unique, I finally realized why I had a problem with this.

    It's Shinbou, not Kagerou Project (the source). Its like Shinbou's own overwhelming personality has taken over and I can't find the spark of the original in it. It may very well be art, but Monet and Pollock had the benefit of doing original works, not adaptations.

    I get the feeling these reactions will be very different if you're a fan of the original or not. When I had absolutely no connection with the original source, like Monogatari, I can actually enjoy Shinbou's works. It really is an eye opener.

  17. I

    It's the difference between constructing a fine building and wallpapering a shack. MCA has Shinbo's wallpaper all over it, but nowhere near the accute attention to detail, characterization, and even style that he's shown an aptitude for in the past. Nisekoi already had me worried, but this stinks (-especially- because I love a lot of his past works, the quality of which MCA can't even begin to compete with at this stage).

    If you just want Shinbo's style in any form, here it is.

    If you want Shinbo's style put to good use, this is a disappointment.

  18. I

    I mean, hell. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei practically destroyed MCA on Saturday. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei! That was going to be my "so bad it's funny" replacement for Magical Warfare. I never expected MCA to fall so flat in my life.

  19. c

    Glad to see Eschatology at least interests you.

    Since you stated your expectations now (Though I admit, some fault lies in me as I may have set it rather high thanks to my previous comment and comparison to YKK), I'll say it out upfront. You won't see any depth similar to YKK if that is what you're looking for. I too love YKK and hold it in the highest regard so I was stoked to see another anime with a similar premise. But that's not what Atelier Eschatology is. At the core of it all, this is still based on a game. Albeit a game that relies on character interactions rather than a generally "epic" story as one would expect from a RPG. Though there are quite a few powerful and notable moments from the game, we don't even know if they will animate it.

    Case in point, Atelier Eschatology is a comfy slice of life/iyashikei series with some sort of linear overarching plot. There are also alot of pretty environments in the game so it nice to see what Studio Gokumi's take on them will be. (Albeit the QUALITY frames in animation here is a bit more evident than Gokumi's usual)

    Besides, on a personal note, fantasy anime not based on some hackneyed LN series is a rare commodity these days much less one set in an post-apocalyptic setting that doesn't descend into being too dark or mad max/fallout territory. So Atelier Eschatology is a nice fresh breath of air.

  20. R

    I'm astonished by how GE love so much dansai bunri crime edge. Even sasami-san was a more satisfying effort. Anyway, atelier had a really peaceful first episode and mekakucity was a mess.

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