Sunday, May 13, 2012

Nazo no Kanojo X - 06

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It’s not too often that I can watch something like a romcom these days and say, “I’ve never seen another show quite like this.”

I can’t speak to the manga, because I’ve only skimmed it (and that doujin that was my introduction to the series, way back when) but it seems as if the TV version of MGX is becoming decidedly more “normal” the last couple of episodes.  One-cour adaptations of long manga are always going to be a crapshoot with it comes to that kind of thing, but what’s striking me about this season is that we’re seeing several difficult manga adaptations (Sankarea and Sakamichi no Apollon come to mind) where the anime staff is doing a phenomenal job of transitioning the material, keeping the essence of it while tweaking it to work with a much different medium and far less time to develop.

For my part, I enjoy this direction the anime is taking.  It’s not as if the fantastical elements aren’t interesting, but the series seems to work best as a very smart commentary on the nature of adolescent romance, using (as Jormungand does, in a very different context) the absurd to shed insight on the human condition.  The last two episodes have been unabashedly sweet – sweeter than Urabe’s drool, in fact.  Love and sex are always co-existing side by side in MGX – neither out of sight, nor out of mind – and the feeling is that the one cannot exist without the other (when you’re 16, at least).  In the real-world there’s plenty of sex without love in high school, of course, but I don’t think Ueshiba-sensei is burying his head in the sand and pretending sex doesn’t exist – I think he’s simply trying to place it in context.  What Urabe and Tsubaki (perhaps I should switch to Akira and Mikoto) are learning is the sense of emotional responsibility that goes along with the physical attraction in a romantic relationship.  It’s a lesson most couples their age never learn, and I think the writer would say that’s not to their benefit.

It’s not easy for those of us outside Japan to understand the significance of something as simple as calling your girlfriend by their first name, of course.  In America you’d quite naturally call your opposite-sex friends – romantic or otherwise – by their first names.  But in Japan, where the transition from formal to casual in a relationship is fraught with the weight of social significance, it’s a big deal to Akira – especially after the very sly and impish Oka teases him about it mercilessly over their chance meeting for ice cream in the city.  Oka is an odd duck, that’s for sure, and she’s certainly lamped out the connection between Akira and Mikoto.  Her feelings in all this are hard to decipher – I think she’s displayed signs she might be interested in either Mikoto or Akira, or both.  I wouldn’t put it past her, but at the very least she has an edgy sense of humor.

If there was a theme this week, it was the importance of seemingly minor things in the course of a teenaged relationship.  Not just first names, but photographs, and chance meetings with old crushes, too.  Tsubaki passes this test with flying colors, turning down an invitation for coffee from middle-school crush Hayakawa.  I was actually quite impressed his explanation to Urabe (though not so much with the wisdom of asking her whether she’d have been upset if he said yes) – he admitted to temptation, and admitted to a wistful “Too bad” as Hayakawa walked out of his life forever.  This was an interesting sequence, culminating in the the tears he shed after tasting Urabe’s drool, and her response.  This relationship of theirs is certainly a strange one, but it’s built on real affection, as is becoming clearer with each passing episode.

It strikes me that MGX is doing a better job than any series this season at conveying emotion through facial expression.  There are certainly prettier shows with better animation, but Hoods is doing amazing work (with the manga as a template, no doubt) at using the characters faces as special effects – these faces are the roadmap for everything that’s happening in the series.  That’s why Tsubaki’s focus on getting Urabe to smile for a photograph (“Bad Cat” instant camera) was rather fitting.  Her insistence that faking a smile for a photo was very much in character, but I thought what Tsuabki got in the end was a pretty honest expression of who Urabe is – and I think he knows that, too.  This is one weird relationship – but MGX is a deceptive story.  Nothing is quite as it seems on the surface, and their relationship is, in a funny way, refreshingly normal.

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18 comments:

  1. A freaking polaroid camera! The last time I've seen one of those was at LEAST ten years ago, so how about that? Talk about anachronistic, which I suppose just strengthens the retro feel of the show.

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    1. Some people prefer to take polaroids even today (it's expensive film though)

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  2. I think Oka understands herself a bit better than the other characters and empathizes with them. She does like to push the Urabe/Tsubaki relationship along a bit. The sexual subtext with Urabe is certainly there (was it the Crunchyroll sub that had her thinking that Urabe had nice armpits?), but she doesn't seem like the kind who would do anything while either of them were in another relationship. Or maybe she just appreciates Urabe's good looks.

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  3. I love how the only person who's out of the loop in this odd relationship is Oka's BF\Akira's friend. He's so unimportant that I don't even remember his name!

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    1. Uhhhhh. I didn't think you were gonna go for the cheap shot either. LOL

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    2. you've just made me realize that I remember his name is Ueno because, well, 'ue' means up and he's pretty tall :|

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  4. It seemed to me that Oka was coming very strongly on Tsubaki - even if whispering his first name in his ears can be written off as a tease, licking ice cream of his nose and going 'sweet!' is a little... hard to explain, if Ueno ever finds out about it. And then she practically bragged about it to Urabe. I'm not sure if transitivity holds over this relation, but if Tsubaki has a special bond with Urabe, and Urabe has a special bond with Oka, does it follow that Tsubaki and Oka are similarly connected?

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    1. Funny thing is, Oka gives the vibe that she's "interested" in everybody - I agree, from Tsubaki's POV it can't help but seem as if she was coming on to him big-time.

      More than anything, I think she's a troll - she just likes to stir the pot and see what happens.

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    2. More than anything, I think she's a troll - she just likes to stir the pot and see what happens.

      Hah! I made that exact point in my entry.

      The only person she doesn't seem "interested" in is her own boyfriend.

      I do like her a lot though, I'd like her more if she'd find a better hairstyle though.

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  5. Somehow the romance series, with a girl's drool as emotional-conveyance device, is the most "normal" of all of the romances this season. How, I don't know, but it's really enjoyable.

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  6. Oka = total lesbian. My yuri goggles are firmly attached on this one. All the stuff with Akira can be written off as just having a flirty tease personality, but the stuff with Mikoto takes place in her own thoughts, which makes it rather harder to explain away. I dunno. Maybe it's because I'm a dude. Do women always think to themselves how pretty their friends are? I know I've never looked at one of my guy friends and thought, "Damn, that is one handsome dude." Is this something ladies do?

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    1. Maybe your friends just aren't very good looking? ;-)

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    2. It's true that being, in general, nerds, most of them aren't. But I do have a few that have always attracted plenty of female attention and I've never ended a conversation with them and then thought, "Wow, he's really attractive!"

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    3. In all seriousness, women do, in general, seem to take much more notice of how their friends look than men do. Men seem much more focused on what kind of car their friends drive.

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    4. Comparative attraction triggers. The prettiest girl in a group or the guy with the best car have the best "quick notice" attraction triggers for the opposite sex. So you'll compare against your competition. Nothing really past that.

      Also, this being a male-audience series, the Yuri-hints always work well. :)

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  7. You know the production values of this show are surprisingly good,you already mentioned the job being done on the faces but as I look at the first scene of this episode I'm surprised by the number of extras as well as cars you see going by,a lot of animes would just have them standing there and not as detailed.
    It might not be something that's noticable right away but I do feel it somehow subconsciously contributes to making everything feel more real for the viewer.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly - this is almost as surprising in terms of QPS (quality per studio) as Sankarea.

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