Weekly Digest 5/3/14 – Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou, Sidonia no Kishi

Kawaisou - 05 -4 Kawaisou - 05 -11 Sidnoia - 04 -10 Sidnoia - 04 -17

Why can’t all of Sidonia no Kishi look like the eyecatches?

Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou – 05

Kawaisou - 05 -1 Kawaisou - 05 -2 Kawaisou - 05 -3
Kawaisou - 05 -5 Kawaisou - 05 -6 Kawaisou - 05 -7
Kawaisou - 05 -8 Kawaisou - 05 -9 Kawaisou - 05 -10
Kawaisou - 05 -12 Kawaisou - 05 -13 Kawaisou - 05 -14
Kawaisou - 05 -15 Kawaisou - 05 -16 Kawaisou - 05 -17
Kawaisou - 05 -18 Kawaisou - 05 -19 Kawaisou - 05 -20
Kawaisou - 05 -21 Kawaisou - 05 -22 Kawaisou - 05 -23

We’re almost at the halfway point of this series, so the decision really can’t be dragged out much longer.  But more and more Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou is looking like one of those shows that alternately compel me and piss me off, which in almost all cases are shows I wish I’d dropped sooner rather than suffering through to the end.  I always argue that shows that do some things well and others poorly are more interesting than ones that are mediocre in every respect, but this one is really putting my resolve to the test.

I don’t think there’s any great mystery as to why the anime/LN/manga oeuvre is so fascinated with sadistic females and torturing teenaged males – I’ve discussed it before and there’s no need to rehash old ground.  But seeing that kind of thing in a generally crap series is one thing – seeing it taint one that has this much going for it is quite another.  So when you start with a generally unfunny premise and then add the fact that Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou is pretty clumsy with comedy generally, you’ve got a real problem.  Maybe a deal-breaker, if episodes like this one are a regular occurrence (and I might add, the PV for next week’s makes me think of that episode of Sakurasou – talk about deal-breakers).

It’s not just the visuals that I like about this show – it really does have the kernel of something interesting and emotionally valid at its core.  Kawai and Usa are certainly flawed, but that’s fine – it makes them interesting and realistic.  I can do without the way Kawai is constantly used as a prop, but essentially she presents a fascinating study on the nature of introverts.  Is there something wrong with the way she is – or is she just fine, and she should be left to be the person she is?  It’s clear that the mangaka understands what she (I think) has here, but equally clear that he doesn’t trust the audience (maybe with good reason) enough to stick to that theme, and thus loads it up with a bunch of cliches and pandering crap that’s probably what got him his second anime adaptation, but threatens to drown the charm the show really should have if it were allowed to express it.

Sayaka is the biggest problem here, no doubt.  She’s an insufferable, sadistic horror – there’s nothing wrong with flawed characters, but ones as unlikeable as she is are just a chore.  There’s the possibility for something better with Mayumi – we’ve seen glimpses of it, but it seems that Miyahara is content to go for the lowest common denominator with her, and as a result she ends up being almost as unlikeable as Sayaka.  It’s such a shame, because there’s enormous potential here – as an introvert and an inveterate reader scenes like Kawai and Usa bonding over her detective novel brought back a lot of old memories in a wonderful way.  But potential without the talent or will (or both) to realize it is ultimately a burden more than a boon.

Sidonia no Kishi – 04

Sidnoia - 04 -1 Sidnoia - 04 -2 Sidnoia - 04 -3
Sidnoia - 04 -4 Sidnoia - 04 -5 Sidnoia - 04 -6
Sidnoia - 04 -7 Sidnoia - 04 -8 Sidnoia - 04 -9
Sidnoia - 04 -11 Sidnoia - 04 -12 Sidnoia - 04 -13
Sidnoia - 04 -14 Sidnoia - 04 -15 Sidnoia - 04 -16
Sidnoia - 04 -18 Sidnoia - 04 -19 Sidnoia - 04 -20

I was pretty close to abandoning ship here, but the fourth episode was a marked improvement.  It just so happens that the two great flaws of Sidonia no Kishi – horrendous character animation and poorly-written character interaction – overlap with each other.  So when you get an episode like this one that focuses not on those but on what are clearly the strengths of the mangaka – the hard sci-fi geekery – Sidonia no Kishi predictably fares a whole lot better.

It would be tempting to pigeonhole these two series as polar opposites and leave it there – a series where only the visuals keep me watching and one where only the visuals turn me off – but it goes much deeper than that.  Just as Kawaisou has more going for it than the gorgeousness, Sidonia has other problems besides bad CGI.  It’s been suggested that there’s a lot of Attack on Titan here and I can definitely see it, both for better or worse.  But let’s not sell AoT short – it brings a lot to the table in terms of spectacle and intrigue, and so does Knights of Sidonia.

It’s very clear that this is not a cookie-cutter mecha show.  This is hard sci-fi that aspires to the tradition of the likes of Matsumoto Leiji (though it lacks his wit and style).  It has a good basic premise – humanity scattered through the galaxy on these huge seed ships, the aliens who destroyed home unseen for a century but making their return.  Nihei-sensei clearly cares about getting the facts at least close to right and knows something about physics, and that show through in an episode like this one.  The series does very well in the panoramic but not so well in zoom, so I suppose which lens it uses most often for the next two months is the crucial factor in dictating its success or failure.

I certainly do wish Sidonia no Kishi had gotten properly animated by a good studio, but while that would have made a big difference it’s only part of the puzzle.  I worry even more about the one-cour length, which threatens to undercut the series’ greatest strengths.  As for what happened this week, the chaos resulting from the Captain’s decision to use an uneven acceleration to evade the Gauna was convincingly brought off – though I’m not sure her the reasons for her decision were especially well-explained.  The CGI can handle this sort of scene just fine and we get a real sense of consequence in this story – the situation is grim for humanity, and no character is off-limits.  We’re not exactly swimming in science-fiction anime that has that on offer so I’m not dismissing Sidonia by any means, though I still don’t feel anything for any of the characters – not even so much as a sense of who they really are.  I’m not sure it matters to the series itself, but it’s an obstacle that must be cleared for me as a viewer.

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22 comments

  1. Z

    Why can't all of Sidonia no Kishi look like the eyecatches?

    Maybe if it gets a season II?

  2. K

    The reason Sidonia no Kishi makes me sad is because every time I see it all I can think about is "THIS is the studio that's going to be animating Goro Miyazaki's anime series?" ;_;

  3. d

    Ah, the eyecatches look like from the manga — which will be a good read if you ever get to it after the anime.

    Perhaps its personal taste and style preference. I for one do not mind, and actually like what they've done with the character animation.

    Style isn't always photorealism, nor does it have to be ink. The on minimalist animation, only moving one bit or another bit, focuses attention when looking at expresion. The characters do look odd, and not quite human, but that is fitting in a sci fi world where they've messed with everyone's genetics ( who can / wants to photosynthesize here ) and have been off on their own space born culture for hundreds of years.

    They look odd, they move odd, but that's appropriate in my opinion to the setting.

    The scale of physics and destruction, and the old school cockpit and lights are amazing. Trying to stay true to actual physics is such a breath of fresh air in a world of anime where nothing has mass or momentum and flies around with no regard for acceleration vectors.

    Some people hate this kind of CGI, some people are fogeys that hate change. I embrace it when used properly, and I think it is fitting here.

    I'm in love with all this dystopia.

  4. You've certainly every right to feel that way, but painting everyone who disagrees as "old fogeys who hate change" is using a pretty broad brush.

  5. s

    In the case of cgi in anime, i think the problem most people have with it is that its not done well whatsoever rather than just the idea of cgi. Trust me, if it didnt look so cheap, people would have an easier time stomaching it. Just as an outside example (disregarding cel shading cgi). if anime's that opted for cgi ended up looking something like advent children im sure no one would complain (well mostly no one)

  6. S

    Generally I think the character CG works pretty well in this show but there are a few times where it does come across as incredibly awkward. It tends to be when 2 characters physically interact with each other. One scene in particular that struck me as 'OH it's CG' was the hug that the captain gave our ever hungry hero in ep 1 (or 2). It just looked weird like their bodies weren't even touching. What I think CG characters struggle with (apart from not jerky enough movement … people don't move in smooth arcs!) is how our body shapes change when we interact, and that is what I think traditional anime deals with well.

  7. d

    I suppose I wasn't clear in seperating groups. Venn diagrams would be better, but I only have words. There's always going to be people that dislike a certain style, and while valid, not being open to embracing shows they'd otherwise like makes for their loss. Not liking a style (for any reason), and not liking change (as a reason) are seperate different. There's also not liking for particular technical reasons not necessarily about change. There's also not liking for technical reasons because the older style did better for those particular areas. However it is usually all mixed up and not seperated.

    I am glad Enzo seperated the personal distaste for CGI from the strengths of the show. That's a higher cut to quality in judgement.

    My opinion is that the strengths and weaknesses of the 3D CGI used appropriately in Knights of Sidonia.

    Let's not kid ourselves about one thing, almost of anime now a days is Computer Generated Images (CGI). I'll be calling them 2D and 3D. No denying non cel shaded 2D CGI has advantages, but also has disdvantages as well. Compare with the last generation of anime, going back to the hand drawn vs computer assisted comparison. There was quite a bit of gruffing over the loss of having hand drawn cels, but digital art (which is now what you consider 'traditional' — which it really isn't given the advent of computers ). No denying now computers and digital art have made a anime a lot more available by cutting time and money costs.

    The same is true for the 3D used. Animating so many particles, and so many copies of the Type 18 in space, while a challenge for the 3D, would not be practical for traditional 2D digital images.

    I've read that for a studio that specializes in game trailers it takes about 6 months and 20-50 people to do a 3 minute trailer. That's just not affordable for a tv series right now.

    Advances will be made in time– and honestly as a personal take I think the Advent Children's 3D is very dated now. So the 3D CG will advance as well.

    I agree that the hugs and character interaction have been awkward– but I also think that is part of the style and fitting for the setting. Not necessarily the limitations of animation.

    Yes the Captain hugged so awkwardly… but they're strangers in space hugging. It is going to be awkward, especially with someone that's only known one person their whole lives. . . and the rest of these characters being pretty space-crazy by our standards. Sidonia isn't a slice of life school comedy or romance or a Miyazaki film where it is all about fluid animation. It is about survival with mis-steps along they way.

    2D digital art has a lot of time for refinement, since it has became affordable. 3D implentation has time for refinement too, but some of these rough edges are fitting for the shows they represent.

    Using the 3D character style and animation would be a terrible idea for say, Nisekoi or Hyouka where their animation is so fluid and much of the entertainment is dependent on character expression. Sidonia however is more action, plot and uses different forms of character development than pure expression.

    The minimalist expression here supports the plot, action and situations surrounding our characters. The fluid animation and focus in Nisekoi & Hyouka support the development directly within the characters themselves.

    So I think the characters are primarily affected by what's going around them in Sidonia, and react / develop to it– and their awkward expressions are appropriate to the elements of uncertainty in experiencing their world. At the same time, the super-fluid animation in Nisekoi is very welcome for its show, but I think would be inappropriate for Sidonia.

    I believe the awkward animation is at least in part intentional stylization that adds to the atmosphere and characterization of our space farers in a strange land.

  8. Z

    There were some rather respectable efforts to integrate CG in the early days when CG technology was seen as something new and exciting. Unfortunately, the rationale behind its use today is one of cost cutting rather than pushing technical progress and seamless integration. As a result a lot of it is going to look like ass.

  9. d

    I worry even more about the one-cour length, which threatens to undercut the series' greatest strengths

    Can you explain this a bit more? What strength comes from longer cours? Do you mean you'll expect an anime only alternate ending or a to be continued / no conclusion or poor ending?

    I like to enjoy my anime even if it can only be a short one. Beserk (vice its long manga series) was doable partly because it only covered the first parts. The vampire neet had a short series, but immensely enjoyable.

    Sometimes due to the existence of an ongoing series, you cannot have a longer anime… or budget or whatnot. But I'll take what I can get if it is awesome.

  10. My worry is twofold. One, I know this is an ongoing manga. And two, I think the kind of story the author is trying to tell – the big, sweeping space epic – generally takes a fair bit of time to properly lay out. I worry the length will cut that off at the pass.

  11. l

    Funny, like yourself and Sidonia, I too made decisions on a couple of series after their respective 4th episodes – dropped Captain Earth because it was the same old stuff, stuck to Ryuugajou because the protagonist finally showed more of himself. Maybe I should do the "4 episode rule" thing from now on.

    As for Sidonia, I dropped it after the premier. I certainly hope those viewers that stick with it find some entertainment, but I'll continue with the manga. Lots of Nihei's subtleties just can't be portrayed effectively in an anime of this fashion, regardless of series length. For example, there's a very monotone-esque quality to his humor (not to be confused with monotonous, fyi) which can give you chuckles in the manga, but when animated it either comes off as cheap or crass.

  12. d

    very monotone-esque quality to his humor

    Can you explain this part? I do enjoy subtleties, but I don't always catch everything.

  13. A

    I wonder if Sidonia took the same path as Arpeggio of Blue Steel because of the consideration that mixing CG and regular animation often looks mismatched, the CG elements often stick out like a sore thumb. This applies just as much to dance animation in idol shows as it does to mecha animation in mecha shows.

    So why not do the whole thing in the same style? To be fair, that way it all looks a bit clunky, but at least the style is consistent.

    Time (and sales) will tell whether the style catches on, I guess.

    Maybe if this show does well it'll get a second series to continue the story. If nothing else it's made me want to read the manga, which I'll probably start doing once the series has ended.

  14. Poor Kawaisou, sawmped 8-nil…

  15. w
  16. w

    I dunno, the comedy in Kawaisou actually really worked for me this episode. Which is strange because I'd normally agree with you that it's generally its weakest totem. I think if nothing else, the jokes were at least very well executed this time around. I really don't know though, maybe you need to be in a certain mood to enjoy it.

    I also don't really see this as a 'torture the boys' series. I mean yes there is undeniably an element of that present but I don't think it ever suffocates the narrative. I'd say there's an almost realistic amount of teasing from the adults to the teens here, and they and they are trying to help them grow as people. Even if they clearly haven't grown up themselves.

  17. "Trying to help them grow as people" – seriously? It's all good, but wow – we're sure watching a different series!

  18. w

    Lol yeah I thought you might disagree with that one. It is pretty slight, but I do think that behind the sadism/envy they are trying to help guide Ritsu and Usa through their teens. Mostly via counter-example.

  19. S

    Na … they are just taking out their frustration on the current state of their lives on Usa. I doubt there is any thoughts at all of helping them 'grow'.

    Lets face it Sayaka is a bitch with a capital B. She treats guys like crap and only cares about her self gratification. She is a pain to watch. BUT .. there are really people like that, and a lot of them in my experience. The big question is do I want to see someone like her. The answer to me is only in small doses and perhaps with that plastic bag over her head!

  20. E

    I like the way Sidonia no Kishi handled it's physics. It's not really scientific in any way (I think the photosynthetic humans should be green skinned), but it has done some things pretty well, which often brushed aside in other sci-fi. One of them is, I like how there is a very limited distance on how far you fly away from your mothership. It's only logical since a humanoid mecha should only be able to carry a limited amount of battery.

  21. J

    Speak for yourself but I find it embarassing how little Captain Earth has accomplished in five episodes compared where Sidonia was by the time episode 2 had wrapped up and 3 brings it even further. I haven't seen episode 4, but I find the worlds setup and how it's established it's characters and interactions pretty riveting while Captain Earth I'm not even sure what's going on with half the cast or why I should care anymore after a pretty good start. Sidonia seems to have a much firmer grasp on it's premise and handling of it's sci-fi stuff as well while Captain Earth just seems to be filling time right now and failed to really flesh out much of anything . I just find it kind of shallow while with Sidonia it really makes you feel the plight of the characters as well as their emotions and actually allows you to steep in the atmosphere a little. It lets you feel the history of Sidonia and the politics and caste systems and all that stuff hold quite a lot of potential as well. I particularly liked the scene in episode 3 where they go to the quarter of Sidonia that looks like an old Japanese neighborhood and the interactions the characters have there as well as the encounter with Kunato.

    I don't know it just feels to me that Sidonia no Kishi is doing everything it needs to do for it's premise right such that any issues with the CGI are rendered moot. It's the kind of mecha sci-fi show I've been waiting for for such a long time that it just doesn't bother me in the slightest cause all the positives vastly outweigh any negatives I can find at this juncture.

  22. d

    Oh hell yes. I didn't do a side by side comparison, but now that you bring it up… Sidonia is the tip of the spear, or a sharpened blade, tightly focused in narrative and story.

    Captain Earth definitely meanders in comparison, and is so vague about its threats they become strawmen and meaningless. Barely defined enemy groups of adults (which I appreciate its adults at least), doing a cold war that doesn't make sense? Clearly the threat is muddled in Earth– while Sidonia's threat is clear. Utter annihilation by Gauna with internal strife and damage completely secondary to immediate survival or destruction. Sure, there are shadow organizations and disaffected pacifist factions mentioned, but Sidonialys is clear and immediate while Captain Earth's threat isn't even certain it will destroy the earth. We're apparantly some sort of libido food source, and killing us isn't what kiltgang want.. so… where's the real threat? What a waste of breath weak-villain hopping.

    The episodes are so good they fly by for me. I have to rewatch to realize I am even watching them because there's no empty unused space. Every scene and word moves things forward.

    I think you're spot on, and it is the kind of show I've been waiting for a long time and I honestly forgot I needed.

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