Saturday, July 26, 2014

Brief Impressions: Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen, Glasslip

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Anime fandom can be an unforgiving place.

Here are two shows that are meeting with a pretty harsh reception for the most part, and to some extent I think the reasons behind that are similar.  We're talking about series where events are handled at an unusually deliberate pace, albeit in vastly different genres.  In a way it's easier to understand the criticism with Argevollen, being as mecha is a genre where people expect a certain amount of grandiosity and theatre.  Glasslip being basically a slice-of-life romance, it's interesting to see the same sort of grenades being lobbed at it over the latest episode.

Neither of these shows is among my favorites of the season, but the existence of this post is evidence that I can't quite them out of my system.  That's more true in the case of Argevollen, which has a low-key realism to it that I find quite effective.  This episode was quite an interesting one - basically an all-dialogue episode where the characters dealt with the repercussions of events at the Gate of no Retreat.  Samonji got chewed out by his superiors despite having followed orders and done the best he could in a no-win situation.  Tokimune got punched out (at last) by a colleague for disobeying orders and risking the lives of the platoon, and apologized to his captain.  And Jamie came face to face with the corporate reality that exists after the unexpected field testing of the Argevollen.

In a sense, this series may have as little in the way of artifice as any mecha show I can remember – even the soundtrack is understated.  If it weren't for the presence of the mobile suits it would be easy to place it in something like real life - there's much focus on drudgery and bureaucracy, and the limitations of weapons and soldiers are more important than their capabilities.  There's also not much heroism, just people enduring the harshness of war because they've been ordered to.  Jamie's reaction when she found out that she was being put in command of the Argevollen was telling - she just wanted to go back to being an office drone with a quiet and anonymous life.  There's talk of Tokimune's dead sister, and hints that Samonji's role in her death may have derailed his career - as well as that he may be somewhat forgiving towards Tokimune's insubordination because he was guilty of the same, and for similar reasons.

It's not every mecha show that would place an entire episode in a pleasant, leafy suburb, focused on the brass desperately trying to avoid taking responsibility for a war being lost and on the internal politics of a defense contractor.  And I appreciate that Argevollen is willing to do that, even if it earns a heap of scorn in the process.  By contrast, what we see happening in Glasslip seems in line with the sort of show that it quite openly presents itself as - yet somehow, it doesn't seem to be working for me (or that many others).  What I get in Argevollen that I don't seem to get in Glasslip is a sense of why the characters feel the way they feel and act the way they act.  War story or school life, motivation is important - it doesn't matter the scale, you need to understand the people you're watching for a series to really work.

Trying to deconstruct exactly why Glasslip isn't connecting is a bit harder to do than simply saying that it isn't.  For me, there's a sense of artifice here, of a carefully choreographed dance rather than organic movement.  I don't mind that there's not much action, and we've actually progressed romantic plots more in four episodes than in the vast majority of similar series (P.A. Works' not least).  Everyone has a role they're dutifully fulfilling and occasional hints of deeper meaning are dropped in conspicuously significant fashion, but the entire experience is somewhat hollow and the conflicts seem quite manufactured.  It plays like the work of people making the show they feel like they're supposed to be making, but unsure as to why.

In sum, we have two shows that are largely failing to connect with their audience.  In the case of Argevollen it's easier to see why, but more unjust - Glasslip at least seems to be the kind of show its target audience should respond to, but it isn't.  I find myself wishing viewers were a little easier on Argevollen because it deserves a better reception than the one it's received and it's going to be around for two cours, but I get why it's not working out that way.  As for Glasslip it seems largely to be in a bed of its own making, and while I wish it success it's hard to muster much in the way of dissatisfaction over its fate.

12 comments:

  1. I do find the realism in Argevollen generally pleasant. I concur with you that its overall criticism is unjust.

    However, I have to get this out of my system. I feel that the characters in Argevollen are too normal and naive to be soldiers. Like the moment they were scolding Tokimune for his insubordination, shouldn't they be taking it more seriously? And not like "Yeah we let you slide this time cuz you save girl". These people look and act like civilians.

    That being said, I liked this episode of Argevollen. There are far worse examples of Anime Soldiers so I guess I just have to overlook small details such as the fact that the female officer is wearing a miniskirt in the battlefield.

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  2. I guess the problem with Argevollen is that it can't seem to answer the question of "Why are you telling us this again?" Its message is clear (that of young people losing their innoence in war) but the series can't seem to give a reason why it chose to convey that message.

    Take the case of Majestic Prince, for instance. It runs on pretty much the same themes as Argevollen (it even had its shots at the bureaucracy behind the war effort). But it managed to shine a new light on these themes. Through the contrast it made between its humor and more serious parts, it effectively showed how the kids struggle to keep their innocense while slowly and inevitably being made by the war into hardened soldiers.

    As for Glasslip:

    Man, this is waaay too familiar. I do hope they are just trolling, because Kakeru and Yanagi just gave too much Tsumugu x Chisaki vibes in this episode. I loved that storyline in NagiAsu (despite some issues), but PA Works going into the same theme again this early just won't do any good for Glasslip.

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    1. Yeah, not only is Argvellon standard, it should be a lot better considering the experience of key people involved. It probably falls on the rom-com director being out of their depth in honing the right elements.

      Like Kyoto Animation, I have no great love for PAW. So not sad (slightly relieved) to see their usual stock in trade sink. Hopefully they will venture more out of their comforts from now on.

      I'm basically not interested so much in "good" textbook examples of genre shows this season. Give me something new.

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  3. Eeeehhh, I wouldnt say that the criticism behind argevollen is unjust. Dont get me wrong, I think the show is okay and i do see its strength's, such as the reflective and political aspect that encompasses war. But the show lacks the ability to accurately convey the tension of war; the despair and turmoil that festers a subject like this. The show takes leaps in logic and at times the narrative doesnt keep in line with the characters and their actions properly. Those two are my main problems with the series. The last problem i have with it, which is very apparent when you watch the series, is the animation. Some may not think it true, but animation really matters; it is a key component in story-telling as it mediates the story and the characters and presents it in a way that the audience can be engaged. How can someone be fully engaged in these battles if the lack of clean animation continues to distract? How can one be invested in the intensity of the war if the animation is not up to snuff to properly convey that? (I dont want to see tanks that dont even look like convincing tanks because they are not drawn properly, or battles that should have movement but is a far distant still-frame with sound effects) Those are the three problems i have with Argevollen, the first two being the most inportant to me.

    But it's as Divine from RandomC said in his post of Argevollen. Patience with this series is starting to pay off because this ep in particular played to its strengths and did so fairly well. Out of all the eps, it was this one i was engaged in the most and im positive that things will only get better from here...hopefully. The show is ok..but after this ep, i can see that it does have what it takes to be better.

    As for Glasslip, that series works for me. I do agree that some events feel manufactured (though not as much as people make it out to be), and ep 4 was very guilty of this towards its end. For me, glasslip works because it's one of the view animes that make a group of high schoolers feel like people. I feel like im watching my old group of highschool associates all over again trying to figure out how they feel about each other. The story isnt presented in a conventional style of progression, but rather as a set of vignettes; as if you are just peeping into the daily lives of these kids who are trying to figure out their emotions and its that aspect that works for me. The audience is being led slowly by the hand and you connect with the characters little by little every ep. It's not instantaneous, which is why i think people are of the opinion that the characters arent lending themselves for the audience to be invested in their issues. But as the story goes on, we will and it is that build up that seems to work for me. I am still aware of the series' issues, but i feel that the presentation of this show and how it delivers its narrative has been much more consistent than argevollen and puts it slightly ahead of that series.

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    1. For me, glasslip works because it's one of the view animes that make a group of high schoolers feel like people. I feel like im watching my old group of highschool associates all over again trying to figure out how they feel about each other. The story isnt presented in a conventional style of progression, but rather as a set of vignettes; as if you are just peeping into the daily lives of these kids who are trying to figure out their emotions and its that aspect that works for me.

      I guess that is one of the issues that some people has with the series. It relies a bit too much on the audience's own experiences to connect with the characters (hence the whole " I feel like im watching my old group of highschool associates" part). Not that it's bad, however those viewers who might not have the similar experiences, will find it difficult to connect with the cast. Also, those who wish to see a set of characters distinct from them (the viewers) might find it difficult to do so since Glasslip has yet to give anything that would highlight that distinction.

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    2. True, and i acknowledge that being a hurdle that the series needs to cross, but at the moment, due to the presentation of the series, i feel like it has given itself that leeway (at least for me) to slowly create distinct characters as the eps go by. I think that's a problem that will definitely fix itself as the series continues. Right now, you are just meant to be invested in the quiet, humdrum character interactions of this group of friends and i think it comes down to whether the style of glasslip works for you personally or not

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    3. What can I say - I went to high school too, and there are plenty of anime that make me feel that way, like I know this group personally (Hyouka quite acutely so). But I don't get that connection with Glasslip at all - it simply feels too rote and artificial. Different strokes, I guess.

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    4. Another thing that might be an issue here is the vignette structure. I would agree that it works fine as a glimpse of the daily lives of the characters (this is SOL after all). But the problem is, the series has a plot point (the whole seeing into the future part) that requires a more conventional progression to tackle. it. So, the series really needs to decide which way it would want to go soon.

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    5. @enzo
      Glasslip hasnt made me feel like i know the group personally yet due to the fact that i havent gotten quite invested in the characters yet; I just feel like im watching a real group of highschoolers is all (I never really cared about my highschool associates but i do remember what it was like to watch interactions and their drama unfold). I tried to make that distinction when i explained why Glasslip works for me. Hyouka is an anime that made me connect with the characters more than Glasslip has, but with Glasslip, the conversation and interactions between characters feel a bit more like what you'd see in a real group of high school friends. While Hyouka has the advantage of having more depth in its characters, there was more of a focus of the characters doing things in response to actual plot related things so it felt more like a well-constructed story. Again, glasslip just feels like a vignette of the daily musings of a group of friends which is why i think glasslip nails that "real" vibe better. Heck, i think Hyouka is the better show both in terms of story-telling, animation (no if, ands or buts about that part), and writing but glasslip just works for me. Different strokes indeed.

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  4. The problem I have with Glasslip is that it is too similar to Nagi No Asakura. Nothing much happens each week except for love triangle after love triangle after love triangle (just like Nagi no Asukara). I wanna see a little more of the seeing the future/supernatural part of the story and a little less “Days Of Our Lives”.

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  5. I liked this week's ep of Glasslip a little more than the previous ones. Not enough to turn the show around for me yet, and I honestly can't say what that would require. I can't put my finger on what is off about it, but the characters feel annoying too often. Maybe it's the fact that they are whining and pouting too often for characters who have had no time to build up an affinity with the viewers. Maybe it's just poorly written and that's why it isn't entertaining.

    As for Agevollen I'm liking this show more and more each week. Not only is it presenting itself in a unique way (well as unique as one can get in mecha or anime in general these days) but it has this feel that things are going to get a lot bigger despite how slow it started. I like the realistic feel the war has. As you said, it's not about heroes or justice, it's realistic people acting very much how they would in a real war, but with mechs. I also like the MC a lot. He reminds me of Rygart from Break Blade (which I said before this show reminds me of that one a lot) he's new to war and killing, generally a compassionate person who lets his emotions get the better of him, he does what he feels is right even if it's against orders, he blames himself when things go wrong, and he even pilots a special type of mech. What I liked most about Break Blade was the way they had a very realistic approach to how the characters reacted in wartime situations, and you get a sense of that here. I can understand why people expect more action from a mecha show (and TBH I did early on too) but I think this is less of a mecha show, and more of a war drama that happens to involve mecha technology. It isn't GUNDAM, the mechs aren't so powerful that one can destroy giant fleets of ships. The mechs here are essentially tanks. They have different types with different abilities, none of which are particularly unstoppable on their own. That's what I like about Argevollen though, it's not your standard "get in the best mech and destroy the whole universe's army by yourself". The Argevollen is strong, but it can be destroyed, even in a 1v1 fight. I think the key to Argevollen is patience: patience to let the story play out and let the emotions build up because I truly believe there's going to be a huge payoff for anyone who sticks with it.

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  6. Yup, yup. Agree on both counts—especially with Argevollen. I have been very impressed with the show, and there are a lot of small things it does very well that get overlooked because it isn't what people are expecting. Argevollen looks like it could end up being a legitimately good show, and I want to be there when it happens.

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