Getting real sick of your shit, Shinbo! – Anime Critique: Mekakucity Actors

61519Title: Mekakucity Actors (Kagerou Project)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, tragedy
Series Creator: Jin (Shizen no Teki-P)
Series Director: Yuki Yase, Akiyuki Shinbo
Studio: Shaft
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 12, 2014 – June 28, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Shintaro Kisaragi is an 18-year old hiki-NEET who has not left his room in two years, engrossing himself with his computer and the internet. However, on August 14, due to the messing about of the cyber girl Ene, who lives inside his computer, Shintaro spills soda on his computer keyboard and is forced to go outside to buy a new one, due to the fact that during the Obon festival none of the stores will deliver until August 17. Shintaro- goes to the department store, where a group of criminals break in and hold the people inside hostage for ransom. Here he comes in contact with a group of teenagers calling themselves the “Mekakushi Dan” (lit. “Blindfold Gang”), who stop the robbery with their mysterious eye powers and force Shintaro into joining their group.


Review:

Mekakucity Actors is the latest work from the prolific & strange director Shinbo Akiyuki, his 2nd series after Nisekoi earlier this year (review here), & based upon the multimedia project Kagerou Project that combines Vocaloids & Light Novels.

It also combines two of my (current) pet hates.

The rushed brevity of this current anime season (which I complained about here in my Chaika critique) & Shinbo’s idiosyncratic style that was once great in Bakemonotagari series.

Shinbo’s distinct style that he 1st brought to the fore in Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei that featured a combination of lingering shots, rapid cuts, flashcards inserted over scenes describing characters’ internal thoughts, weird positioning/posing of bodies as well as non sequitur shots of almost random objects, characters or buildings. This crossed over into the aforementioned Bakemonotagari series, where is was considered bold & refreshing from your standard animation style but now Shinbo has used it so often without variation that it feels trite, tired & cliche.

Separate of Shinbo’s direction, the plot & delivery of the series does not do anything great, interesting or original to give it much merit.

The framing device of each episode is that it focuses on certain characters as part of their story is told in am almost non-linear fashion; where it intercuts past & present experience as characters tell their stories & perspectives, as well as jumps to seemingly unrelated events. Each episode finishes with an also seemingly unrelated coda in a childish/storybook animation style about a lonely (then murderous) monster looking to understand its place in the world.

Because of this disjointed narrative style, flitting between characters, you don’t actually get to spend much time getting to know them all (or the ones that are meant to be important) in any significant way. Plus all of these narrative arcs are told in parallel with each other, so when all the characters do finally come together & the meaning behind their powers, past & connections are all revealed, it has no weight -thus is lacks any true impact. The last few episodes where they do finally get to explain everything have this vexing feeling of being pretty token & hollow efforts; like not much thought was put in to connect things properly. Especially the revelation that they’re operating on an all too cliched timeloop that wasn’t even hinted at in any early episodes.

The characters are frankly pretty annoying & underdeveloped. Some fans have really latched onto them, especially the Hatsune Miku parody/clone Ene. But that is more related to the usual non-canon fan nonsense which I can honestly never be bothered with or can be bothered to understand.

The weird head twist is Shinbo's most cliche & annoying visual form
The weird head twist is Shinbo’s most cliche & annoying visual form

I honestly don’t have the heart to critique this series any further. It’s not something that I can willingly recommend. If you enjoy Shinbo’s previous auteur style work, you’ll dig this but if you want something interesting with substance to the story & characters, you’re far better off looking at any other series out there in all honesty.

Mekakucity-actors

It would only be 3 episodes long if they took out the awkward pauses – Anime Critique: Nisekoi

Nisekoi_Volume_1Title: Nisekoi (Nise Koi, False Love, Fake Love)
Format: TV anime
Genre: comedy, romance, harem
Series Creator: Naoshi Komi
Series Director: Naoyuki Tatsuwa & Akiyuki Shinbo
Studio: Shaft
Series length: 20 episodes
Original Airing dates:
Reviewed format: HD downloads with fan-subs

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

Nisekoi follows high school student Raku Ichijo, the son of a leader in the yakuza faction Shuei-Gumi, and Chitoge Kirisaki, the daughter of a boss in a rival gang known as Beehive. They unexpectedly meet when Chitoge hops a wall and knees Raku in the face. After she runs off, Raku realizes he has lost his locket which was given to him by his childhood sweetheart with whom he made a secret promise. After discovering Chitoge is a new transfer student in his class, he forces her to help him look for the locket. During the search, they begin to dislike each other.

Upon returning home, Raku learns that the Shuei-Gumi and Beehive gangs have agreed to settle their feud by pairing their leaders’ children. Raku learns that his girlfriend-to-be is none other than Chitoge. For the next three years, they must pretend to be in a relationship to maintain peace between the gangs. This turns out to be quite a challenging task, not only because of their hatred for one another, but also because Raku has a crush on another schoolmate, Kosaki Onodera, whom he secretly wishes was the girl who bears the key to his locket. Various developments complicate the situation, including Chitoge’s over-protective bodyguard, a female hitman, a girl who claims to be Raku’s fiancée, and the existence of multiple keys.”


Review:

There isn’t really much to say about this series, other then it finds a pretty cliched formula within the romantic harem comedy genre & goes Hell-Bent-for-Leather to stick to it.

Naturally, there are some changes to the formula, such as the central protagonist Raku not being caught in situations that make him seem like a pervert but still ends up in huge misunderstandings due to people not actually expressing themselves (which is actually an on going social issue in Japan & more & more in the West as well).

But the other hallmarks are all there within the harem structure: Chitoge is the tsundere who lashes out with violence when flustered but has a surprisingly sweet side to her, actually just wanting to be normal & fit in with her classmates (despite her mafia family); Kosaki is the sweet, quiet shy girl who has a distant crush on Raku but is too timid to say anything because she doesn’t want to be rejected or upset the status quo; Marika is the loud obsessive openly declaring her love whenever she can. The cast is rounded by the hitwoman Tsugumi Seishiro who gets easily flustered due to unknown emotions; Raku’s best friend Shu, who, because of his sharp observational skills, loves putting people in awkward romantic situations; and Kosaki’s stoic glasses wearing best friend Ruri, who’s constantly trying to push Kosaki into confessing to Kosaki into confessing her feelings to Raku, physically if necessary.
nisekoi-episode-9-12
As the series progresses Chitoge & Raku going from despising each other to becoming friends & then maybe something more. This is mainly through Raku genuinely being a nice guy & helping her out whenever he can, such as with trying to make friends with others in the class (which is hard because she has more limited Japanese language skills yet speaks in a complex fashion). But this kind of development is pretty basic & by the numbers. Same with Kosaki slowly coming to terms with her own feelings & the introductions of other “love interests” as the series progresses. Because it’s part of an ongoing manga series, some parts felt rushed whilst others dragged out too long & they added some twists far to late for such an oddly episoded series (20 instead of the usual 24).

Well, since there isn’t much plot to speak of, let’s talk about the visuals for a bit.

Nisekoi, despite having two directors, has the visual fingerprints of Shinbo Akiyuki all over it.

Shinbo, a very prolific director, is most famous for his work on the Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei & Monogatari animes -which brought to the fore his more unique & disjointed visual style.

Nisekoi is stung by so many of Shinbo’s now cliched hallmarks. Such as how female characters clasp their hands behind their backs & twist around to talk to camera (a feat that is physically impossible), linger external shots, scenes absent of people, sharp contrasting colours, characters staring at each other from either side of the screen with the eye focussed on the empty space in the centre of the screen & random non-sequitur animations.

Shinbo does add some interesting little visual gags. Such as every spit-take being depicted by little puppetry like cutouts held up by sticks yet these are really dwarfed by Shinbo’s typical and grating visuals.
horriblesubs-nisekoi-04-720p-mkv_snapshot_10-36_2014-03-10_21-52-53
Everybody get ready as I get out the old whacking stick for that old bugbear: hypersexualisation!

From his work on Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei & Monogatari, both Shinbo as a director & Shaft as a studio have employed especially degrading & stupid ways to depict & look at female characters on screen. Usually these are just the camera focussing on clothed chests or thighs as skirts flutter above them but Shinbo loves having his female twist into impossible & suggestive poses as they spout long monologues to the point it almost becomes like a bloody fetish for the man. He seems to be the anime version of Rob Liefield in terms of hypersexualised poses but with, you know, actually drawing talent & that.

Yet every anime that Shinbo touches is visually pretty & interesting, even if the content is disturbing or stupid. The man really knows how to control the mise-en-scene as well as challenging what is perceived as typical anime style. It’s not for everybody but he does bring an exceptionally amount of visual polish & interest to Nisekoi, more so then his other 2014 production Mekakucity Actors -which is just a basic rehashing of all his tricks from Monogatari.

In the end, Nisekoi is an extremely competent & visually pretty if very cliched series but it does at least stand above your average pathetic harem series (coughOnigaisenseitwinscough). If you don’t have much else to watch, there are worse ways to spend your time. But they said the same thing about the waiting room of the STD clinic too.

nisekoi-4