Friday, April 6, 2012

First Impressions – Medaka Box

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A new GAINAX series is always a landmark for me.

This series is definitely a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object for me.  The force is my dislike for the writing style of Nisio Isin, whose other works range from unwatchable to very unwatchable to my taste.  And the object is my high regard for GAINAX, the first anime studio I ever loved – and especially Medaka Box director Saeki Shouji, one of the last of the old lions left and a guy who was a vital part (2nd Director, Storyboarder) of FLCL – probably my #3 anime of all time.  Something had to give – and while I tried to clear my mind of both extremes of prejudice, I think my final reaction to the episode was something close to indifference.

In the first place, I mourn the loss of a signature GAINAX style – visually, musically, thematically.  GAINAX has made their reputation on original works, with a very spotty record when it comes to adaptations.  While their last effort, Dantalian no Shoka, had its GAINAX moments and was generally pretty good, the last series that really felt indisputably GAINAX to me was Hanamaru Kindergarten.  And Medaka Box, if I hadn’t known, isn’t a series I would have pegged as GAINAX based on the premiere apart from a few moments of combat in the kendo club.  The character designs and animation are fine, but not especially distinctive or spectacular.  The BGM and both the OP and ED are eminently forgettable (I’ve already forgotten them, in fact).  I just don’t see much style and panache here – and that’s what GAINAX has always stood for above all else, along with insane amounts of creativity and intellectual content.

I guess the positive for me is that I don’t dislike the series the way I do Nisio’s other works, but while the dialogue isn’t as mannered and self-aware as his best-known adaptations I still find that both it and the characters ring false.  I know it’s early days, but Medaka (Toyasaki Aki) is way too perfect to be interesting so far – perfect body, perfect morals, perfectly talented – she’s a bit of a Medaka-Sue.  The childhood friend scenario with Zenkichi (Ono Yuuki) is about as clichéd as you can get, and while sidekick genki girl Shiranui (Katou Emiri) offers some amusing moments, there’s nothing there we haven’t seen a thousand times before too.  Likewise the scenario – seitokai, suggestion box – is stock anime goods.  Part of me wonders if this isn’t intended as a satire of these tropes, and I’m just not seeing it – or it just hasn’t become clear as of yet.

The odd thing about Nisio’s writing is that it never, ever rings true with me – whether relatively straightforward or absurdly theatrical, it’s never natural. I never lose the sense that the characters are performing for my benefit.  I never felt any tug of connection to what was happening here – it was as if I was simply supposed to take it for granted that these goings-on were important enough to care about.  I know this manga has an odd reputation with Nisio’s fans, and I know it supposedly changes quite a bit over the course of its run so far – so maybe there’s some element of this that we haven’t seen yet that will make it all fall into place.  For now, I was pretty much just bored – and with the season looking as stacked as it is, I’ll need to see a lot more very soon if this is going to find a spot in my lineup.  GAINAX loyalty can only go so far – and the sad truth is, GAINAX isn’t really GAINAX anymore.

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19 comments:

  1. Medaka being a Mary Sue is basically the theme of the entire series. It's sort of looking at the "perfect person" under a microscope and showing how inhuman that makes her. So Medaka at least is meant to be anything but natural.

    However, I don't think you'd like the series in general, so prepare to continue mourning GAINAX.

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    1. Well, that's why I wondered if there might be a satirical element to all this - and a deconstruction of the "perfect" character is pretty close. The question is, will it be entertaining?

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  2. I agree about the OP and the ED.

    I don't agree about the BGM. I think it was the best part of what I saw.

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  3. So besides Accel World, there is another translation to anime where i did not like the manga. But find the anime watchable. For now at least.

    Got to wait for the rest to come out before i decide whether to toss these two

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  4. Well, a tip for those choosing if they want to watch this or not is that there will be two major genre shifts in the story. The first one will come after 5+ episodes (depending on how fast the adaptation is). So you may want to wait until after the change to decide if you like it or not. It had to change as it was doing really bad, so one would expect the anime to not be that great during the early episodes either.

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    1. So far, they're right on target!

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    2. You know, many people complain when an adaptation isn't faithful to the source. So far, this first episode has been so dam faithful it's like watching the first chapter animated (I exaggerate a bit), but so far all I've been reading are complaints that it sucks compared to the manga.

      Well like lots of people said, the first few chapters were not mindblowing in any sense. I personally only found the series interesting after the genre shift.

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  5. I have a question! Did you watch Katanagatari?

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    1. I did, and I made it about halfway through the series before Nisio's dialogue finally annoyed me so much I had to stop. For me and Nisio, that's as well as I've ever done.

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  6. The answer to the big change that will happen in the show is simple and you should know about it since you're a fan of Bakuman.
    If you can survive to that point is another matter. Good luck.
    My impressions are the same in RC: exact copy of first chapter, dont approve of Toyosaki, jiggling, I know she has blue hair and keep in mind that Medaka is the main.
    Oh and Nisio Isin so yeah.

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    1. Good point. The series is much more interesting when you view it from the perspective of the creators. There's definitely a three way conflict between the writer, the artist, and the editor over which direction to take the series in. Just imagine everyone involved as characters in Bakuman.

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  7. GE if you don't like Medaka Box because of Nisio Isin and I'm only watching it because of him, I find interesting that we both have the same problems with it.

    -It's boring or at least for now it isn't as spectacular as something from either Gainax or Nisioisin(story-wise)
    -The characters are pretty generic (this isn't Chihayafuru after all)
    -Animation and sound is pretty plain, though this could be due to the fact that other Nisioisin adaptations are so unconventional and none of the pizazz of Gainax

    I love Nisioisin stuff and Gainax but this match made in heaven doesn't seem like either of them were involved. What a shame.

    If you really have problems with it, I suggest you stop blogging it or put in the weekly post, until the interest picks up again.

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    1. It's funny you say "generic" because that's exactly the word that's been running through my mind since I finished the post. It's the most generic premiere I've seen since Itsu Ten - generic characters, generic music, generic plot. That's why I really wondered if it was intentional - that this was a kind of commentary on the tropes depicted.

      It's GAINAX, it's Saeki - I'll give it another ep or two at least. But it's funny, some people are saying the manga sucks and then shifts genres and gets better, some are saying the manga starts great, then shifts genres and jumps the shark. Maybe it's like you watching for Nisio and me in spite of him.

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    2. It really depends on where you stand on the genre shift issue. As a reader, I know that the manga progresses through at least FOUR different stages: SOL-romcom, then Shounen Battle Manga, then shounen battle manga with self-aware metacommentary, THEN full-on Metafictional deconstruction of what it means to be stuck in a universe that adheres to Shounen manga tropes.

      The manga itself actually starts to become popular (meaning it breaks through the top-ten barrier in Shounen Jump, a big thing given it was close to cancellation numerous times) around the third phase, and this is where many think that Nisioisin was FINALLY given leeway to write dialogue as he usually does (meaning wordy and self-indulgent)... Which he does so with gusto.

      Just an example of Nisio finally letting loose: http://img842.imageshack.us/img842/9705/hitow.png

      Anime-only watchers, however, will very likely start to lose patience in the SOL portions of the show.

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    3. Well, no one will doubt that I'm not a Nisio fan. But why in the world would you serialize the guy to write a manga and not let him write the dialogue that's the main reason readers like him? I don't care for it myself (and that's putting it mildly) but there's no denying it's popular.

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    4. If bakuman is anything to go by it seems editors at shonen shump don't exactly always use their authors in the right way ;)

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    5. Miura in charge of Medaka Box, eh?

      Not even Hattori #1 could make Nisio less annoying, though. But give the people what they want - he'd be smart enough to leave him alone and let him be his annoying, self-indulgent, pretentious and moneymaking self.

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  8. As a manga reader, i must say that Medaka Box never "picks up". This is not Shiki, nor Hunter x Hunter. It is not going to reward your patience. It is not going to become more sophisticated and gain a significant meaning. If you don't like Nisio's writting and feel annoyed bit it, know that the series will become far worse.

    Since the very beginning, you can tell Medaka Box doesn't have any likeable characters. The characters seem more worried about looking cool and delivering their dialogue than properly being part of the anime. Nisio Isin's narcissism prevents his works from feeling immersive, as he writes for himself, and not for his audience.

    Which means that, in order to enjoy his works, you have to be immersed in his mind. It was possible in Bakemonogatari because not only the dialogues were long, refreshing and imaginative, but Shinbou's style was the perfect choice for the adaptation. Kataganagatari had worse dialogue, worse characters and worse atmosphere. Medaka Box is even worse in all those aspects. Therefore, if even hardcore Nisio (Bakemnonogatari) can be annoying and pretentious, casual Nisio (Medaka Box) is certainly shallow and gimmicky.

    As the manga progresses, Nisio tries harder and harder to make Medaka Box interesting. And the more he tries, more evident it becomes that the manga was not a good idea at all. The school setting is uninteresting, the fights are broken and predictable and the genre parodies are very amateurish. Gainax would be better animating Shingeki no Kyojin.

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  9. When Medaka Box was finally announced to be an anime, I don't really have many positive expectations for the anime. Really, when I saw Medaka Box for the first time, I thought it would be interesting. But then again, Medaka was, in fact, too perfect and too overated for my taste. After for many chapters (20 or 50 I forgot) I read, Ishin-sensei had made Medaka itself plotless. From the Medaka I knew who was a student council president who had established 'suggestion box' (that explained Box, though.) to Medaka that fought countless and pointless battles between students--or not students that was strayed away from the original story (about the box, again). Even the characters developments are not as good as I expected. That were the reasons I had less (very less) expectation of Medaka Box (that too explained why I dropped it). I can imagine Medaka Box as Bleach the second.

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