It wasn’t just the Geass that made Code Geass (Or why Re:Creators doesn’t feel coherent yet)

This will contain Code Geass and Re:Creators spoilers.

In Code Geass, the very first episode sets the main theme of the rest of the series with a single line: “The only ones who should shoot are those prepared to get shot.”

Initially, the full meaning of Lelouch’s assertion is obscure to us; even if we take it literally, does it simply mean that what comes around goes around, or is there more to it? As the series progresses, the theme becomes clearer as we come to understand what it means to wield power. Through the deaths of Shirley’s father, Euphemia, Shirley herself, supposedly Nunnally, and Rolo, the series asserts that power is nearly indistinguishable from the ability to hurt others, that it is truly distinct only in theory.

Finally, just as Lelouch ascends the throne as what appears to be an evil despot, he stands to face judgment for his crimes. As he falls before Nunnally in a pool of blood, he remembers all those he hurt, all of the people whose worlds he destroyed in creating the world anew. “The only ones who should shoot are those prepared to get shot.” Those with power must be prepared to atone for whatever evils they commit with that power, unconditionally.

What, then, is the main theme of Re:Creators?

Mamika questions the common sense of the world that she once knew; Meteora comes to terms with the death of her creator by playing the game she is from; Alicetaria questions her existence and the meaning of her and her entire world’s suffering; and Souta answers her with an impassioned speech, that we write characters whose virtues we aspire to, whose actions give us hope.

But before Souta made his response, I had been losing hope in Re:Creators. Because while each of these questions are asked using the premise of fictional characters entering the real world, none of them truly embody it the way the Geass embodies power. As it stands now, they’re still just a series of one-offs that don’t tie together all that well, and in the case of Mamika, might never get the chance to.

It’s pretty evident, especially with the latest episodes, that this series means to interrogate why people tell stories and what it means to be a storyteller. But at the same time, the characters from those stories almost feel neglected by comparison. They are the physical manifestation of stories that have grown beyond their creator, the physical representation of the power those stories have to move the hearts of people in the real world. So why does it feel like sometimes they only exist to move the plot forward?

Wam vs. Sansa, or how I learned to stop worrying and just watch cartoons

Seikaisuru Kado has been a little underwhelming lately. Of course, I went in expecting a sci-fi drama not unlike Arrival, and the first arc mostly met those expectations. The alien Yaha-kui zaShunina offers humanity a source of infinite energy, Wam, and much like with the Heptapods in Arrival, their mysterious gifts coupled with unclear motives threaten to throw the world into chaos, and our main characters must learn to communicate with zaShunina to resolve this conflict.

Once the issue of the Wam is resolved, however, zaShunina then puts forth the Sansa, a device that makes sleeping unnecessary for humanity. It is at this point that Seikaisuru Kado transitions from a drama about human communication and understanding, set against the backdrop of politics and close encounters of the third kind, to your more typical sci-fi thought experiment. “What is it that makes us human?” it asks, rather bluntly. And once the strengths of the initial premise are discarded, it becomes easier to notice how flat the characters are overall, like how Shindo is basically your overpowered web novel main character but as a diplomat, and how stereotypically moe Tsukai is.

With episode 9 finally explaining what zaShunina desires from humanity, I would’ve thought that Seikaisuru Kado would return to its initial themes based on negotiation, but just as with the resolution of the Wam, it opts for plot twists instead. Although, if I really think about it, that didn’t start with the resolution of the Wam, but with the introduction of it. None of that talk of negotiation being about understanding others ever really played a big part in the direction this series was going. And for the most part, I’ve enjoyed it and all of its stupid tropes anyways, so heck.

also hi im alive

Tsuki ga Kirei impressions

If I had to describe Tsuki ga Kirei in one word, it might be “subdued.” In some ways, it even lacks a driving force for the plot; there are no goals, no antagonists, simply the passage of time moving the story forward. Yet, to call it relaxed would be mildly understating the focus it gives to the day to day anxieties of its characters, episode to episode.

Take the first episode for example: the two main characters who ostensibly will be the romantic focus of the show meet for the first time, but it isn’t until nearly the end of the episode that the two actually introduce themselves to each other. Most of the time, they live in separate worlds, Azumi in his literature and Mizuno in her track club, only occasionally and one-sidedly observing each other. But it’s these wordless moments where they simply stop and look, often for 10-20 seconds at a time, that give the audience pause to think about what the characters are thinking.

When Azumi is at the bookstore and picks up a novel called “Schoolgirl,” we might imagine that he’s thinking about Mizuno. When Mizuno is watching Azumi and squeezing her potato sack, we can guess that she’s nervous about asking for his contact information. And when the two sit in silent, mutual awareness of each other at the family restaurant, we can feel their embarrassment at their own family being seen by the other, as teenagers tend to feel.

Tsuki ga Kirei uses these simple associations to keep its slow pace engaging, trusting the audience to make the connection between eye contact and social awkwardness, squeezing a potato sack and nervousness, and the beauty of the moon and a confession of love.

What to expect from Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records as told by its second episode

Disclaimer: I’m writing this having read up to the resolution of the class competition arc in the manga and the novel, and hindsight is 20/20.

To provide a necessary summary of episode one, Glenn Radars is a NEET who gets asked to be a substitute teacher in a prestigious magic school. He completely refuses to teach his class at all and then makes a fool of himself by losing in a magic duel to his student, Sistina. The entirety of the first episode is dedicated to setting up Glenn as a lazy good-for-nothing who doesn’t care about magic at all.

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A textbook, nailed to a chalkboard.

Episode two starts strong, with Glenn offhandedly challenging why Sistina and the other students value magic so much. Sistina responds that magic is about studying the principles of the world, but Glenn asks what use that is to humanity, and quickly descends into a one-sided rant criticizing magic as being only good for killing, only stopping when Sistina slaps him and runs away in tears. In just a few minutes, the show establishes the cynicism underlying Glenn’s terrible attitude towards magic, as well as his immaturity for taking it out on his students.

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In the next scene, Glenn shows a glimpse of his original love for magic, helping another student, Rumia, complete her magic circle. As they’re walking home from the school, Rumia explains how being saved from evil mages by a mage of justice inspired her wish to make magic an institution that actually benefits humanity, which further highlights Glenn’s immaturity in addition to outlining his path to redemption through making a real effort to reform magic.

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Gee, I wonder who that could be…

The next day, Glenn apologizes to Sistina and begins his lecture on magic, starting with the spell he lost the duel with, Shock Bolt. By deconstructing the incantation used to cast Shock Bolt, Glenn explains that magic is not the study of the world’s principles, but the study of human autosuggestion that allows the subconscious to interfere with the world’s physical laws. In short, magic isn’t a study of the world, but of how humans interact with it, reinforcing its status as a social construct that can be abused but also reformed.

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This nicely ties together Glenn’s cynicism, Rumia’s idealism, and magic as an institution, and it would honestly be great if the episode ended here. However, after some brief success as a teacher, Glenn then steps right into the world of conspiracies that drive the plot of so many generic light novels. As foreshadowed by the implications that it was Glenn who saved Rumia in the past, Rumia is again abducted because she’s actually a princess, and Glenn ends the episode by showing his magical, or perhaps anti-magical, combat ability. All of that well-thought-out characterization and setting becomes merely dressing for the salad that is Glenn’s history as an imperial military-level combat mage, and though it is a dressing which compliments that salad very well, it is one that would have had much more potential as its own salad.

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A real bait and switch.

And that’s what you can expect from Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records, as told by its second episode. That being said, I’ve seen anime adaptations add nuance to the source material through good direction in the past, so here’s to hoping my expectations are broken.

(That uniform is seriously illegal, though.)

Demi-chan wa Kataritai 11

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Episode 11 of Demi-chan wa Kataritai begins with an ideological challenge to the way Takahashi-sensei supports demi-humans, or colloquially, demis.

It’s a familiar concern, particularly when it comes to personal relationships. “Helping people makes them dependent.” Perhaps it’s even more familiar as rhetoric used to criticize anything from welfare to “safe spaces” in America. But without getting into the individualistic and meritocratic version we hear in America, the vice-principal is moreso concerned that it would be better for the demis to form more relationships they can depend upon other than Takahashi-sensei.

However, the vice-principal’s suggestion is for Takahashi-sensei to stop supporting demis as much as he does, which depends a great deal on non-demis knowing how or wanting to interact with demis to begin with. By shifting the narrative’s perspective to that of the secondary characters, episode 11 is able to put the lens on the rest of society to naturally explore that assumption, and what we find is about as much as we might expect.

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The side characters reflect on their lack of knowledge about their demi classmates, cleverly paired with this shot of the demis’ usual hangout spot without anyone present, and perhaps even more cleverly, reframing the other episodes’ focus on the main characters as a lack of interaction on the part of the side characters, stemming from the apprehension that comes with that lack of knowledge.

Non-demis, as the majority, can make it through life without ever needing to confront that apprehension or even be aware of it, but demis will have to do so throughout their entire lives apart from those rare occasions where they can build rapport with other demis. And even then, the demis are so different from each other that all they really have in common is that shared experience of being categorized as demi-human.

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In the end, the vice-principal concedes that having Takahashi-sensei support demis allows him to be an important role model, inspiring the other students to get along better with their demi classmates. His position as a teacher, as the face of a social institution, allows him to set a standard for others to meet, and asking him to stop would be lowering that standard.

After nearly half a cour of manga-adapted content that was practically filler, albeit rather relaxing filler, Demi-chan wa Kataritai concludes on a more serious and emotional note (not including the incoming beach episode) in what appears to even be an anime-original episode.

If a beach episode is any indication, this series isn’t without its flaws. For example, after I praised this episode for putting the lens on the rest of society, it might seem a bit strange that the episode is framed primarily around the criticism and personal redemption of Takahashi-sensei (maybe you even felt a bit strange about Takahashi-sensei being the only person named throughout this entire post). But it is still worthy of every bit of praise it receives for the empathy and thoughtfulness it, at times, demonstrates.

(And the beach episode turned out to not be a beach episode after all.)

First episode impressions of 3 magical girl shows from a complete newcomer

Even though I wrote about Madoka last week (which now that I look back on it was basically just an overview of Madoka’s interest curve), I haven’t actually watched a lot of more traditional magical girl shows. And while Madoka is very moving, sometimes I’m just too tired for more despair, so here’s a short post about my wanderings into more light-hearted and episodic territory.

Mahoutsukai PreCure: To be honest, it was kind of hard to get emotionally invested in this. The main character, Mirai, sees the other main character, Riko, fall out of the sky. Because that’s sort of just the way things go, they meet up and then beat a bad guy. Apart from really liking her stuffed animal, I didn’t feel there was very much in the way of emotional characterization, though there was a decent amount of foreshadowing future development.

KiraKira PreCure: The first episode begins by introducing the main character’s, Ichika’s relationship with her mother through baking shortcake. Even though we don’t see much of her mom, you can really feel how much Ichika loves and misses her through the effort she puts into baking, and I almost wanted to cry when she’s about to give up on those feelings, believing that her feelings don’t matter since her mom can’t come home to eat the shortcake she made for her. I’m caught up to Episode 6 now, and every episode is very heartwarming.

PriPara: I decided to watch this after reading about how the characters in it struggle with and overcome social expectations, and it certainly succeeded in setting that up in the first episode. PriPara is quickly introduced as an idol paradise, the object of admiration and dreams for the main character, Lala, though she is quickly characterized as too nervous to perform rather than just watch. Furthermore, both the mean elementary school headmistress and Lala’s mother expect her to help out at home, which really help to further instill a sense of worried nervousness when Lala gets dragged into an idol performance while out on an errand, breaking the expectations others have of her. I’ve watched two full cours in the past few days, and I have yet to watch an episode where I haven’t thought, “I can’t believe this is happening,” with an enormous smile on my face.

Madoka and Escalation of Tragedy

A recent post by Karandi got me thinking about Madoka. In it, they note that throughout most of the story, Madoka has the role of an observer, watching her friends dive into the world of magical girls, and that this difference in perspective doesn’t necessarily subvert the genre so much as reframe it. Rather than watching magical girls succeed with hope, we watch them fall, with greater tragedy and despair each time, until the culmination of Madoka’s wish.

And for me, it’s that escalation of tragedy that sets Madoka apart from all of the other dark magical girl shows. It isn’t simply the repetition of tragedy for the sake of being thematically dark (coughWalkingDeadSeason2cough); each tragedy directly contradicts the character it falls upon, and each tragedy is more systematically inflicted than the last.

Mami, granted the miracle of life by her wish, very much embodies the optimism and hope of traditional magical girl shows, but we can only watch as she is struck down again by the simple unpredictability of life, or so it seems.

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Sayaka and Kyoko both make wishes out of an idealism reminiscent of Sentai shows, and both are subsequently punished through direct consequences of those wishes. At first this simply seems Monkey’s Paw-esque, but while Kyoko protects herself by putting on a facade of cynicism, Sayaka falls into despair, at which point it is revealed that magical girls turn into witches when their souls are corrupted by despair. We’re faced with the fact that not only is life simply unpredictable and tragic, but that the world has been constructed explicitly to create such tragedies.

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And Homura… oh boy.

Everything that Homura does to save Madoka simply serves to make Madoka’s fate worse.

But not just by any simple coincidence. Despite Homura’s constant opposition to the Incubators, Homura perfectly emulates the Incubators’ emotionless, ends-justify-the-means approach. She is more invested in their magical girl system than anyone else, as it is her only means to save Madoka from that same system, and the realization of that contradiction, that rewinding time again and again simply makes Madoka a greater magical girl and a greater witch, that we can’t change anything, is soul-crushing.

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In comparison, Madoka seems like a fairly simple character. Her wish, her answer, is simply hope itself. And yet, in her role as a powerless observer, with all of the despair that she has witnessed, to still be able to say that despair needn’t be the fate of magical girls, that the system can be changed, and perhaps even the laws of reality itself? The light of that hope is made all the brighter in the overwhelming darkness.

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Sources for the images are Leviathyn, Leviathyn again, Wrong Every Time (according to Google Images anyways), and some MAL thread.

(rebellion tho)