Not quite a Darkness in the Light – Anime Critique: Gokukoku no Brynhildr

56657Title: Gokukoku no Brynhildr (Brynhildr in Darkness, Extreme Black Brynhildr)
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, action, tragedy, gore, horror, harem
Series Creator: Lynn Okamoto
Series Director: Kenichi Imaizumi
Studio: Arms
Series length: 13 episodes (+ OVA)
Original Airing dates: April 6, 2014 – June 29, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

“The story revolves around high school boy Ryouta Murakami, who cannot forget his female childhood friend whom he let die in an accident. Feeling that he must fulfill their promise of proving the existence of aliens, he has continuously looked up at the starry sky as a member of the astronomy club. One day, a girl named Neko Kuroha who looks exactly like his childhood friend appears as a transfer student. She displays supernatural strength when saving Ryouta from a foreseen accident. It turns out that Neko is a magic user that has run away from an alien research lab. From then on Ryouta supports these magic users, hoping to live normal lives regardless of being pursued. How will Ryouta’s life change now?”


Review:

With such a cross section of genres focussed around a harem here is where I’d pull out The List! But unlike Strike The Blood, Seikoku no Dragonar or DATE A LIVE II, Gokukoku no Brynhildr has absolutely no need for such a bashing in terms of being a generic superpowered harem tale.

That is mainly because the male protagonist isn’t an utter twat who is over confident in his own powers/abilities but constantly needs to be save by more powerful female characters who all want to ride him like the allegorical pony.

No, Ryouta actually possesses a form of agency & intelligence all of his own, which he uses in combination with the powers of the female protagonists in order to ensure their collective, continued survival -even to the point of sacrificing himself so that the others can live a happy life (with whatever days remain to them).

Yet, for all the positives this series does in terms of genre reconstruction, it still falls to some pretty appalling tropes. The usual hypersexualisation rears its ugly head but all nudity is censored by steam (bathing scenes) or random rays of light. Although it’s interesting that after a certain point Ryouta doesn’t get flustered by seeing any of the girls naked (usually by mistake or in a rush to convey devastating news) or mocking Kasumi’s lack of curves. Though what I find most unsettling is the violence directed towards female characters. Granted, it is the female characters who are the ones empowered yet vulnerable, so they take the lion’s share of the brutality but even with the censored violence, it’s not very comforting to see so much violence directed at woman. Granted, it’s not at the levels of Freezing! which combined violence & nudity to disgusting new lows, Gokukoku no Brynhildr doesn’t set easily for someone like me.

This may fit into the social conditioning that violence, even when directed by a strong narrative, should never be directed against (attractive) females. At least in Gokukoku no Brynhildr it’s not truly gratuitous or indulged in but it may put some viewers off. As will some of the other general extreme violence.

One reason for this level of hyper-violence can be found in the series creator, Lynn Okamoto -who is the man behind the creation of the series Elfin Lied -which many fans considered to be the most brutal anime ever made (oh, ignorant, child, you know nothing of anime brutality). Yet at least Okamoto uses violence as a means to discuss human nature & why we are so able to inflict harm on those we consider as non-human (in this case the magicians) then using it for it’s own gratuitous sake. Although Gokukoku no Brynhildr is pretty liberal is splashing the claret around, so don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll only be struck by a metaphysical impact.

One factor that can mentally mitigate the violence is the fact that, at its core, Gokukoku no Brynhildr is a story about survival in extreme odds.

The Mahou/Magicians can die in so many ways, despite all the power that they have. In fact, it is because of this extreme scientifically created power that they are so vulnerable. Each of them are implanted with a chemical command where if they don’t take a form of medication, they will melt into a puddle of goo. Also, if their Harness (the source of their powers) are damaged or a certain button is hit on them, they’ll self destruct & melt. This is done in order to keep them under control & prevent them from escaping. The are also hunted by other Magicians who work for the Lab, all of whom are more powerful then our female protagonists. Not to mention that if they overuse their powers, they’re locked out in a cool down period, leaving them open to attack.

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This is where an interesting twist on genre trope comes in.

Instead of attempting to beat their enemies head on, growing more powerful in each battle, our heroes use intelligence to utilise their skills & abilities in the most effective ways. This is usually done with Ryouta, using his high level intelligence, figuring out the limits of their opponents or how they use their powers & instructing the others -usually Neko Kuroha (the main female protagonist)- the best way to proceed resulting in the least risk to them. Yet even if there is a high level of risk, Ryouta will do his best to see everyone safe, even sacrificing himself so that, at one point, a Magician with the ability to rewind time by a minute, is forced to use her power after he fatally wounds her -even though she kills him for his effort.

Ideas of love & sacrifice overcoming self interest are at the core of this series, raising it above so many other action based series of recent seasons. Redemption also plays a huge factor. With Ryouta being unable to forgive himself for the being the cause of death for his childhood friend, so he works to redeem that act by saving Kuroha, who resembles his deceased friend, as well as making the other Magicians happy in their short lives. Yet it does have some moments which bother & confuse me (aside from those already mentioned).

Yeah, River Song quote here, but in the final episode, Kasumi literally gets cut in half by the series big bad, Valkyria, & dies; yet in the coda of the episode she’s standing there completely healed & alive. One reason could have been she was revived by other Magician with healing power yet no hint of that is given. Same with how, Kana, once completely paralysed, is suddenly able to appear in front of Kuroha to save her from Valkyria’s attack. In the manga is it explained she can give up her future telling ability for super speed but the anime makes utterly no attempt to explain this.

Other issues that I have is with the rushed-brevity that plague other series this past season yet that is mostly due to having to condense a 9 volume manga into a 13 episode anime. The open endedness of the final episode was also annoying but that is from the aforementioned adaptation factor.

In the end, if you can get passed the hyper-violence & hypersexualisation, Gokukoku no Brynhildr is a series that is worth watching for how is attempts to subvert so many standard tropes of harem & action narratives. It is pretty emotional & brutal but worth the watch, from my point of view.

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Surprise of the Season – Anime Review: KILL la KILL

Title: KILL la KILL
Format: TV anime
Genre: sci-fi, parody, comedy, ecchi, action
Series Creator:  Hiroyuki Imaishi
Series Director:  Hiroyuki Imaishi
Studio: Trigger
Series length: 24 episodes
Original Airing dates: 3/10/2013-27/3/2014
Reviewed format: download with subs
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Synopsis:

“Set at Honnouji Academy a fictional high school in Tokyo Bay set in Japan that is dominated by its fearsome student council, led by Satsuki Kiryuin. The council members wear special uniforms called Goku Uniforms that grant them superhuman abilities, which they use to oppress the rest of the school’s students and staff. Ryuko Matoi, a student wielding half of a scissor-shaped longsword, transfers to Honnouji Academy in search of the owner of the other half of the scissor blade, the person who killed her father, Isshin Matoi. Defeated by the council after interrogating Satsuki over the killer’s identity and whereabouts, Ryuko comes across a sentient sailor uniform she names Senketsu, who puts himself on Ryuko. Using Senketsu’s special abilities, Ryuko stands up against Satsuki and her henchmen, the Elite Four, to liberate Honnouji Academy from their iron grip and solve the mystery of her father’s murder. She befriends fellow student Mako Mankanshoku and lives with her family in the slums surrounding the academy.”

WARNING: A fair few spoilers to come!

To say that KILL la KILL was the surprise anime of the last two season is a massive understate.

Despite all of its flaws (which shall be addressed later) was an incredible stand out amongst many very good (& some very mediocre & beyond terrible) anime series from the past 24+ weeks. It was constantly engaging, witty, silly & appropriately dark when needed. Like Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann before it, KILL la KILL parodied established genres & tropes exceptionally well but, unfortunately, does overstep the boundaries a bit -especially in regards to sexual tropes & imagery.

The plot is genitals out batshit insanity to the point that if you tried to describe it to someone who has no idea about anime, they’d walk away vowing never to watch any Japanese media.

The basis of it is: typical angry heroine Matoi Ryuko goes to the strange Honnouji Accademy to find who murdered her father, only to be confronted by the extreme weirdness of the students wearing Goku Uniforms, which grants them super human abilities. The academy is ruled over by the tyrannical Kiryuin Satsuki & her Four Devas (also translated at the Elite Four), who wish to use it as a staging ground to take over other school in Japan. After attempting to challenge Satsuki & being defeated, Ryuko returns to her ruined home & discovers the sentient God Robe Senketsu, who grants who super powers in exchange for drinking some of her blood. Now armed with a weapon to take on Satsuki, the Devas & the empowered students of Honnouji, Ryuko & her new best friend Mako seek to find the truth behind her father’s death as well as stomp as many heads in as she can. Only to find herself beaten & manipulated at every point along her journey.

That’s the start of it but it goes well twisted beyond that point.

The real & utter strength of this series is the fact that no matter how batshit insane the plot gets, it still keeps you utterly hooked through its humour, plot twists &, especially, its characters.
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Ryuko is your typical action hero, angry at the world so she lashes out before thinking, but she goes through a lot of character development during her arc -coming to terms with who & what she is. Similarly, Satsuki begins like your typical arch-villain, found of posing & pronouncing but she has a lot of depth to both her character & motivation to het background. Because of how my brain works, I guessed one of the major plot twists very early but it still didn’t ruin any of the reveal. One reason for that is because even if the protangonist & antagonist do seem very stock, they are surrounded by crazy & interesting side characters.

Mako is Ryuko’s self appointed best friend (& possible love interest) who is always at her side. She is also utterly (intelligence wise) stupid & prone to spouting bizarre inspirational monologues along with equally bizarre physical gestures. Yet her utter stupidity, randomness & inability to be shaken by anything that she sees is what makes her so awesome to watch. She is the ultimate wild card whenever Ryoku finds herself on the ropes or despairing over another lose to Satsuki’s forces & plans. Reality has hold on Mako & that means that she can do almost anything to help support Ryuko in her battles.

The Four Devas also have a huge amount of depth to them, going beyond mere minion status to full characters.
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They are each given time on screen to develop, especially Gamagoori Ira (Disciplinary Committee), by showing how they first came to serve under Satsuki (whom they all refer to as Satsuki-sama). They also seriously beat Ryuko over the course of the 1st half of the series, which subverts so much of the normalcy of anime narrative. They are never shown as true villains & stay true to their own personal goals whilst still loyally serving Satsuki. There are no usurpers in the wings or overly caricatured characters but there is a hell of a lot of parody on many conventions of character creations as well as very clever subversions of trope.

And then in the 2nd half of the series (eps 13-24) it truly goes insane as it is revealed that the true enemy of all humanity are living clothing called Life Fibres & that Senketsu was created for Ryuko (along with her special Life Fibre severing scissors) so she could successfully battle them. Also that the organisation known as Nudist Beach (they are all actually naked) was created by Ryuko’s father in order to help destroy the Life Fibres & save the world.

At that point, all attempts at logic & sanity are shattered -especially with the introduction of Satsuki’s mother, Ragyo, and her twisted pixie-like assistant, Nui. Who are the ones behind the Life Fibres & part of the reason that Ryuko is able to bond with Senketsu.

Unfortunately it is that bonding it is that bonding process that draws my ire & almost stopped me watching early on.

That is because the transformation is so hyper sexualised  (especially the Box Shot [won’t explain, watch the vid in the link]). The costume is intentionally revealing & plays into Ryoku’s character development but I still felt as though it was a huge step backwards for what could’ve been something more interesting &/or inventive. I know the how transformation is a parody of the old Magical Girl transformation but it still irks me for some reason.

At some point, pretty much every character is sexualised in some way (especially some of the men) but it still feels cheap. At least they actually play it straight for the most part & when they draw attention to it, they do it for the sake of parody & comedy (such as Mikisugi’s magic glowing nipples).

Everything in this series is turned up to the proverbial 11 (again, if you don’t get the reference you are way to young or a bit thick), especially the sexualisation of the body & the violence (blood flies everywhere in weird ways), which is both a positive & negative. Positive: adds to the parody levels well. Negative: a lot of people are too mentally ill-equipped to know that it’s a parody.

Yet despite all this excess & hyper-ness (or because of it) I utter adore this series. It has its fault but they can be overlooked because of all the great things that is does well.

Also a quick mention of the soundtrack. That is another thing that works really well. Especially the character leit motifs (the songs that play when characters appear or do an action). Many of the people who worked on the music also worked on Attack On Titan’s OST but they sound poles apart. My favourite track from the series is the transformation theme Until My Body Is Dry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNo0EhDhpBE

Basically, when it boils down to it, the extreme originality & oddness of KILL la KILL is the main reason that you watch it. It does to the Action & Magical Girl genres what Gurren Lagann did to the mecha genre (only better in my view).

It’s fun, it’s stupid, it’s (literally) genitals out insanity & you’ll kick yourself for not enjoying it.