Monday, October 24, 2011

Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam - 02

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After two episodes, I really have no idea what Gonzo is trying to accomplish with this continuation of the Last Exile saga. My sincere hope is that they do.


This is an odd series, and it’s inspiring some oddly ambivalent feelings in me. There were some encouraging signs this week, most notably that after a premiere that seemed more concerned with the next Saimoe competition than establishing story or character, things were somewhat grittier and darker this week. But there were quite a few worrying signs, too. The easiest to tackle is the visuals – while still impressive, there was a noticeable downgrade in budget this week. The CG was definitely less smooth and less well integrated. Indeed, there were moments when I felt like I was watching “ReBoot”. I don’t obsess over visuals normally and things were still quite striking overall, but given Gonzo’s financial history and that this is only the second episode, this is something to keep an eye on.
 
Of much greater concern to me is that they’ve pretty much decided to jump into the middle of a war without going through the trouble of establishing any connection to the characters, or indeed to the specifics of the situation. It’s obvious that Adess = bad and Turan = good, but why? How did we get here? It wasn’t until the end of the second episode that we were given the general premise of this conflict – the Turan represents the immigrants who returned on the Exile, and the Adess the ones who stayed behind and aren’t so glad to have them back. It’s a start, at least, and the most interesting thing that’s happened so far.
 
As to characters, it’s a shame that Gonzo have leapt into the full-on action without doing anything to make me care about them. There’s a sense that this story started in the middle, and if they wanted to do that why go with an all new cast? You can’t substitute cute and plucky and tsundere for real character development, and you can’t substitute emotionally suggestive BGM and hackneyed sob scenes with dying old men for real emotional attachment. Who are Fam, Giselle, and Millia, and why are they someone I should spend 24 weeks pulling for? Why is Hafez such an angry man and why am I supposed to dislike him? It was my hope that the idea was to make a big splash with a lot of shock and awe for the premiere, and then step back and give us some character time this week, but in fact it was just the opposite – this week was even louder and more bombastic than last.
 
Fact is, so far that’s what Ginyoku no Fam is best at. The large set pieces are very good, majestic and impressive in their scope. They’re well and thoughtfully choreographed, too, and the “Star Wars” reminiscent flight of the three heroines through the bowels of the Adess flagship is a great example. But it still feels like a promotional video for the series and not the series itself. There’s a natural and powerful pull to this setting that hasn’t gone away – the backgrounds, the set design, the tech – that draws you in. So the potential is there for the show to raise its game and become something of substance, and it has a head start over most shows that struggle a little out of the gate. But I need some reason to feel something more than awe. As of now, Fam is pretty much a stage prop, and Toyosaki Aki – a very good seiyuu – isn’t helping with her baby-doll performance. Aoi Yuuki is as stiff and bland as I’ve heard her as Giselle, and Millia as portrayed by Kayano Ai is strictly a Wikipedia tsundere princess.
 
When I hear really good voice actors giving flat performances, that tells me they’re not getting much help from what’s on the page. The writing was my biggest concern with “Fam” going in and I see no reason to feel reassured by what I’ve seen so far. If anything, the experience has been like watching “The Phantom Menace”. That film looked fantastic and was full of really good actors giving weak performances. Did all those actors jump the shark at once? Well, Occam’s Razor suggests that they were working with a poor script (and in that case, a director who didn’t care about actors). The original “Star Wars” trilogy had the benefit of writers like Lawrence Kasdan to take George Lucas’ basic story and turn it into something interesting on a human level. When Lucas did everything himself in the prequels we were left with a hollow shell, and no amount of cool light sabre duels and CGI could change that fact.
 
It’s still too early to write “Fam” off as “The Phantom Menace”. All it really has to do is step back and give us some time with the characters and a reason to care about them – sounds easy, right? I still enjoy the look of the series and I’m fairly confident the overarching conflict between those who stayed on Earth and those who left and came back will prove interesting. The last few minutes of the episode, where Hafez calls Exile (one of six Exiles, apparently) down to Earth to lay waste to the Turan capital, were probably the best of the first two eps. Is the influence of director Koichi-sensei enough to lift writer Yoshimura Kiyoko above what the track record suggests is possible and deliver a really compelling series? I suspect the answer won’t be apparent for a few more weeks at the very least, but no one will be rooting harder than me for it to happen.

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11 comments:

  1. We're heavily into "nothing this show could have done would please you" territory.

    I'll grant you every complaint about the visuals (though its still way better than the original was much of the time), but the rest is just...

    Sometimes a story starts in media res, in fact, one of the number one things people have been complaining about this season is shows that actually have taken their time building up the characters and the world (Fate/Zero, Horizon, Shana 3 to a great extent), and here's one that throws us right into the thick of things. And the complaint? "We don't know the characters yet!" Its impossible to win, sometimes. Also remember the number 1 complaint about Last Exile (other than the CG) was that its opening episodes were dull. I don't really agree, but I can see why people thought so.

    As of now, Fam is pretty much a stage prop, and Toyosaki Aki – a very good seiyuu – isn’t helping with her baby-doll performance. Aoi Yuuki is as stiff and bland as I’ve heard her as Giselle, and Millia as portrayed by Kayano Ai is strictly a Wikipedia tsundere princess.

    First of all what is a "baby doll" performance, precisely? Fam has been a stage prop to the extent that she's not been a driving force (well, other than her choosing to hijack the Lasas is what got her involved in this), we've gotten some looks into her personality over these two episodes. She's a bit brash, but actually has the skill to back it up, and tries to crack some jokes to lighten the mood. Giselle's very serious, much more so than other Aoi Yuuki charactes (especially this season), but we know at least that she has eidetic memory.

    And calling Milia "tsundere" (which she may or may not be) is seriously jumping the gun. Over the last less than a day she's had her entire life destroyed. I think she can be forgiven being a tad irrational about things. Nothing she's done is unwarranted considering the pressures she's under and the fear she must be experiencing.

    Also, so far Milia's a bajillion times the character Inaho is. So in the Kayano Ai column at least, Milia's a definite plus.

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  2. Pick a site and rip me there - no need to tire yourself by doing it on both! ;-)

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  3. RandomC's comment section tends to get useless quickly, here is a bit better for one-on-one discussion.

    And seriously what is a "babydoll" performance? I'm not really certain what you are getting at there.

    If you asked me what a "babydoll" performance was, I'd point to Kayano Ai as the vapid sex object Inaho in Guilty Crown.

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  4. What is a baby doll performance? Well, I'll quote Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it."

    Of course, he was talking about hard-core porn... Seriously - it's hard to describe something like that as if it were a color or a mathematical equation. It's an excess of "perky" and... I don't know - her Fam sounds like a waitress at a maid café to me...

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  5. Thats so meaningless to be, well, meaningless. She sounds like a fairly standard, slightly tomboyish Toyosaki Aki character. Toyosaki's not exactly examining the depths of her range here (thats why we have Un-Go, right?), but its certainly not at all out of line for the kind of character Fam is.

    *checks something*

    Christ, I'd forgotten that Lavie was Saitou Chiwa, being very, very much early days Saitou Chiwa. Anyway, I really don't hear whatever it is you are hearing, and I'm a pretty avid follower of Seiyuu in general, and Toyosaki is one of my favorites.

    Anyway, what do you think she should have sounded like? Grab a character, from any show, any time period, that sounds more like what you'd expect from Fam. I'm curious.

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  6. I think I'll also have to disagree with the notion that Toyosaki Aki's acting for Fam could be considered 'babydoll'-ish. This, especially since I initially watched the episode RAW. She sounded like a tomboy to my ears, and not even the roughest tomboy in animated media either. Okay, she is still a little flat as characterization goes, but that can be remedied if and when the series slows down... And it will have to, given how everything so far seems to have started on such a large scale compared to the more personal beginning of the first series.

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  7. I think I'm one of the few who actually thought Ginyoku no Fam was a step up from its predecessor, at least based on the first two episode. The biggest gripe I had with the original was pacing and to be honest, the first 12 episodes were quite a bore. I thoroughly enjoyed the character interactions between Claus & Lavie, and it was what kept me interested in the show but they took forever to move the plot forward and that's spoilt some (if not most) of the fun. I think Ginyoku no Fam is off to a good start and has certainly kept things interesting as I certainly didn't expect to see a full blown war in just 2 episodes. I agree we still don’t know much about Fam and Giselle to really care about them at this point but I’m sure they’ll grow on me once we learn more. IMO, the one thing Ginyoku no Fam lacks is a good male lead. Maybe Dio can fill the role over here?

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  8. IMO, the one thing Ginyoku no Fam lacks is a good male lead.

    Protip: The "male lead" is Fam. Granted, she's a girl, but she is fulfilling the role typically taken by a male lead.

    The female lead is, of course, Milia.

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  9. The best answer I can give about Fam and Toyosaki Aki is that Fam is such an incomplete character at this point, I have no idea what she "should" sound like". I feel I know as much about Fam now as I did after watching the PVs. As I said in the post, I like Toyosaki Aki as a seiyuu - I just don't get anything out of this performance, and I don't think it's her fault.

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  10. Finally got around to watching this episode. Grr, real life. And despite its obvious flaws, this is probably my third favorite show of the season so far (haven't gotten around to Mirai Nikki yet, though). I just love the look and sound of it too much to not like it, and I suspect there's an interesting world to be seen.

    Actually, with some character development, this would be just about perfect, but I'm a little unsure of just how much we can expect to see in that department; I wouldn't be surprised if the writer is fine with leaving them as the stereotypes they currently are. The character who I'm the most optimistic about seeing developed, actually, is the villain--something about the way the creators have him carry himself makes me suspect he might not just be made of evil and jealousy. I'm ready to be proven wrong (and disappointed) though.

    The character who I actually enjoy the most, however, is definitely Dio--but I suspect that she already plenty developed in the original LE, which is just another point in favor of watching it as far as I'm concerned.

    Wait, whaddya mean, Dio's a guy? I... I honestly couldn't tell...

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  11. P.S. Someone was nice enough to try translating the Travelers from the Hourglass manga, which bridges the first Last Exile with Fam. The first one just came up here: http://www.batoto.com/read/_/43414/last-exile-sunadokei-no-tabibito_v1

    Yep, that’s Fam and Giselle right there at the end. Also this confirms that Prester’s Exile literally WAS the LAST Exile to come back to Earth (so far). Fitting.

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