Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Jormungand - 02

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For one of the very few times since I’ve started watching anime, I’m wondering if a manga is being adapted too faithfully for its own good.

As a reader and admirer of the Jormungand manga, I’m pretty happy with the direction things are going.  White Fox have really only made two changes, one of which I like and one I’m unsure of.  The first is that they've switched the order (with a bit of mashing-up) of the first two stories – this was the one that opened the manga, followed by the Kroshkin encounter which opened the series last week.  I think that was a good choice, though it’s interesting to speculate on why it was made.  In simple terms, I like the Kroshkin story better than this one, and as a result the first ep – always critical for drawing in an audience – was stronger, too.  In terms of narrative flow it’s probably a tossup, which leads me to believe the choice was made simply to give the series a snappier opening salvo.

The other change is subtle, but interesting for different reasons.  There’s a fairly sizeable amount of first-person narration from Jonah in the manga – not constant by any means, but more than the very brief snippet we heard at the beginning of the first episode.  The anime has apparently decided to go even more remote and emotionally austere than the manga – which is hardly warm & cuddly to begin with.  Koko can’t really work as a POV character, because she’s a force of nature, a tornado – she needs to be observed from the outside.  If anything I thought the anime might give us a little more insight from Jonah’s perspective, to help us get a feel for the character.  But I suppose it’s to White Fox’s credit that they’re all-in here, and they’re not softening things up one bit.  Heck, they didn’t even wait a chapter to establish that the kawaii shounen was a cold-blooded killer, as the mangaka did.

So what we have here is, as the old carnival sign says, a dark ride.  There’s almost no effort to ingratiate the characters to the audience, apart from Valmet’s yuri gesticulations and Koko’s general genki insanity.  There’s also almost no exposition, with the anime – as the manga did – giving the impression that you’ve stepped onto a train that was going 100 MPH as it passed the platform.  About the closest thing to a comforting presence is Lehm, and we’ve hardly scratched the surface with him yet.  We’re left with a bunch of people with highly dubious morals who smile a whole lot more than they should considering everything that’s happening around them.

As to the events of the episode itself, as I mentioned this pipeline episode is pretty much the opening chapter in the manga.  I didn’t generally find it as interesting as last week’s story, but it does offer some opportunity for insight into the cast, should you choose to look for it.  We have another scenario where Koko and her team are selling weapons into a situation where things are already extremely volatile.  The prize is a money-making oil pipeline, and you have the corrupt Americans on one side, led by Major Pollock, (Kosugi Juurouta, excellent here) and the Russians, with their powerful MI-24 “Hinds” attack helicopters (retrofitted with infrared) on the other.  And in the mix this time is also a team from rival arms dealer CCAT, led by Currie (Houki Katsuhisa) and his subordinates Lew (Sakamaki Manabu) and Mildred (Tsunumatsu Ayumi).  There’s clearly a considerable past between Koko and Currie and the two groups as a whole, though we don’t get much insight into that yet.

There are several interesting developments that come about as a result of this dynamic.  Koko’s intention is to deliver her shipment and get out – she senses immediately that Pollock intends to order more supplies and she has no interest in delivering them.  Currie doesn’t either, and maneuvers Koko and HCLI into promising delivery of a much needed radar unit.  On the way out of the besieged valley, one of Pollock’s dogs – sent to guard Koko and Jonah – expresses his contempt for her for pouring fuel onto a fire in which his fellow soldiers are burned, and after the quartet escape an attack from the Hinds, she conveys to Jonah that she has a sort of twisted code about this sort of thing – she wants out and has no intention of fulfilling her contract, because this war “has no more appeal when it comes to selling”.  It will descend into a pointless slog, a stalemate, in a matter of days.  She sees herself as superior to those – like Currie – who just want to sell weapons, irrespective of the situation on the ground.   Make of her moral relativism what you will.

The other interesting scene we’re treated to sees Mildred and Valmet sent off to scout as the others from both groups are trapped in a bombed-out building at the pass – a result of Mildred’s killing of the two guards sent to accompany the CCAT team.  Mildred throws down with Valmet in a knife fight, thinking the darkness will give her an advantage over the one-eyed Valmet.  This is clearly a scene that’s been repeated more than once, and Valmet not only thoroughly humiliates her opponent but lectures her at the same time – both on the flaws in her technique and on the folly of her worldview.  Mildred describes herself – and all fighters – as hollow, and clearly admires Valmet for her strength as a former elite soldier who was betrayed (we’re not told how or by whom) and seeks to emulate her as a way to fill the void inside herself.  One suspects Valmet would have told her this was folly had they not been interrupted by the arrival of Pollock’s men.

Resourceful and ruthless to the end, Koko engineers the escape of her own party by throwing the CCCT trio under the bus (though they do escape, apparently by the skin of their teeth).   Jonah laughs once more, this time at the fact that this is the first time he’s left the battlefield without firing a shot, and Koko gleefully assures him that next time he’ll shoot till the barrel of his gun glows red.  If the aim for White Fox was to communicate to the audience just how hard and venal the world Koko, Jonah and their like inhabit is, they’ve done it admirably.  I’m just surprised that they’ve made no effort to humanize the characters more.  It’s faithful to the manga and it’s admirable that they’re showing so much respect for the source material, as they did with Steins;Gate.  I just wonder if it’s as wise as it is laudatory, and if the audience will stick with Jormungand until the full depth of the character drama at play reveals itself.

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8 comments:

  1. Is it bad that I'm starting to enjoy the previews for the 10s of the rap song? It'll also be an insert song, as it seemed to be playing in the background of a scene.

    I think Valmet is almost going to be our audience stand in, at least through the first 2 episodes. Could be an interesting perspective.

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  2. That would be a pretty major change, if it happens.

    I dig the Koko is loco song, too. I think everybody does.

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  3. As much as I do like the show,I'm not sure I'm watching the same thing you are,maybe it's because I'm not a manga reader,afterall you say:

    " We’re left with a bunch of people with highly dubious morals who smile a whole lot more than they should considering everything that’s happening around them."

    And that's the thing,watching these guys and their reactions has been fun,I've had a few laughs and smiled throughout the episodes,in the end to me the first couple episodes came more across as a comedy,a dark comedy but a comedy nevertheless.
    But from reading your post I get the feeling that you're not watching the comedy I am so I'm beginning to wonder if my reaction is what the anime staff intented.

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    1. Hmmm... How do I go about this.

      Jormungand is a dark comedy, at least in part. So what you're seeing is the "real" series - but only a part of it. What the anime has failed to give us in the first two eps is any context to give meaning to what's happening - we can only take it at face value. If you stick around long enough for that context to come, you see things quite differently.

      That's exactly how the manga is, too - I just figured they'd tweak that a little when they adapted it. So far - no.

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  4. Yeah, this is confusing and going a bit fast for me. Things seem to come and go so fast. I can't grasp the situation quite well and then it all ends. Helps that you clear stuff up on what happened but to rely on another to explain the episode means the show isn't doing well to make things clear. Or I'm just not paying attention :P
    Still, Koko is one loco girl and I like guns and stuff so I'll stick around.

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  5. Frankly I'm sticking around with this one no matter how confusing it is because Koko is a god tier character.

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  6. I didn't quite get that bit about Koko holding the higher moral grounds (in her mind, at least) compared to other arm dealers. It only makes sense to me as an extension of her other sworn policy, not to make business on credit..

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    1. I believe she was telling Jonah that in a twisted way, she sees a sort of honor in what she does - and that she sees a difference morally depending on where she's selling arms into.

      As you get to know Jonah's background, you may form your own opinions on that conversation.

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