Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (Sasami@Unmotivated) is very SHAFT. A useless description as everything the studio produces is by definition very SHAFT, but as an adjective it encapsulates the studio’s infamous approach: an unwavering confidence in delivery, a devotion to pop-culture and often a production led by designers rather than artists and script writers rather than story. In the pantheon of its shows then, Sasami-san has far less protracted banter than Bakemonogatari but a stronger narrative than Tsukuyomi.
But it’s still inescapably SHAFT, and it may be the tired old man in me, but I really wish it wasn’t.
“time travelling golems and family members repeatedly rising from the underworld”
As a modern take on the the collage of stories from Japan’s spiritual history it’s fascinating and barrels through the often mercurial Shinto “religion” with its rich pool of deities and paraphernalia, from Amaterasu to Kagusutchi. This isn’t however My-HiME’s naming of super-powered critters, or the sword naming scheme of innumerable JRPGs, but a fresh story with these multifarious gods and demons set in modern day and all its trappings. Coupled with a dreamy pastel art-style and animation that shoots precipitously from “we’ll fix this in the Blu-ray release” to “three animators died producing this” and all the pieces are in place for a must-watch bonanza. Read the rest of this entry
Medaka Box, despite sounding like the more amenable sister of Pandora’s Box, is proof positive that you need a strong director to make the most of sharp writing. Coming from the same pen as Bakemono and Nisemonogatari it’s hard to believe the protracted, laborious dialogue here could ever be transformed into the wit that his other two animated series showed.
By and large it’s the same type of banter just presented by who has to be one of GAINAX’s most uninspired directors – the one behind such meteoric duds as He Is My Master (shudder) and This Ugly Yet Beautiful World. Read the rest of this entry
Nisemonogatari is a very understanding series. It understands the difference between pornography and eroticism is a fine line and gyrates provocatively on the latter side. It understands that by emasculating the protagonist and slavishly worshipping the otherwise entirely female cast it champions misandry over feminism. It understands family members transcend the commonly held notions of love and hate and that often reason and logic don’t apply. It also understands, and this is crucial, that as a phenomenon, the Monogatari franchise (including Bakemonogatari before and the upcoming Kizumonogatari film) are fleeting. And damned if it isn’t going to burn magnesium bright while it can.
“inspires slavish devotion and cultish adoration because it has passion circulating in its veins”
All the pieces from Bakemonogatari are in place here: art and animation that sucker-punch the retinas, banter that strafes wit and tedium and a supernatural affliction story framework for support. Like Akiyuki Shinbo’s previous role as director with studio SHAFT the production is, sometimes pompous, but always slick and confident and plays strongly to the intended audience. Specifically, eroticism for otaku. Not the flesh markets that series like Queen’s Blade, Yosuga no Sora or Ladies versus Butlers are, but understanding how to titillate rather than satiate and the confidence to put the story on hold for an episode to indulge in this. Read the rest of this entry
You don’t come to Nisemonogatari (lit. Impostory) for the plot or characters, you come to it to watch an art director take an LSD trip through modernist architecture and a paint-palette orgy. You come for the in-jokes and the riffs on other media. You come to listen to what few other series ever dare to try: banter. And what banter. This is not the banal monologues which often pass for conversation but a shotgun approach to dialogue: sometimes funny, sometimes racy, othertimes just oblique.
But nothing happens.
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Perhaps a reflection of a troubled production or the lack of faith placed in the source material, but the opening episodes of Arakwa Under the Bridge are supremely underwhelming. Individual components of the prototypical SHAFT show are all present – the reliance on abstract close ups and over-coloured backgrounds, the ponderous and circular script, the abjectly peculiar concept – however here they’ve all been weathered by time and overuse and sit bluntly against one another. Without a strong story to carry it, the show is forced to rely upon a script which is bereft of the sharp writing past series have been known for. Only memories of past glories and faith in the studio’s ability will determine how much one can both stomach the lacklustre start and how long one can wait for the series to hit its stride.
“the charming misadventures of the outlandish river folk”
After an unfortunate incident with some hoodlums and a faulty bridge support, Kou Ichinomiya finds himself sinking to the bottom of a river. He is saved by Nino, a local blonde waif; unfortunately the mantra of his life is to never be in a position to owe anyone anything, this is how he came to live under the bridge with Nino and a cavalcade of eccentric characters. This includes the mayor of the riverbank – a man dressed in a full body kappa suit – a belligerent man with a face in the shape and colour of a star and a man who can only walk on white lines, making the trip down from Hokkaido using a linesman’s marking machine. This is to say nothing of Nino herself who claims to be from Venus and demonstrates only a fleeting grasp of common sense. Kou’s decision to live under the bridge could, for better or worse, entirely undermine his privileged upbringing. Read the rest of this entry