Saturday, November 17, 2012

11/17/12 -- Working on Aria While Seagulls Cry

Man it's early to be up on a Saturday. Did I really ever get up this early to watch cartoons?

This week I'm watching Working!!, Aria the Scarlet Ammo, and Umineko, three shows that couldn't be more different. Will this breakfast leave me smiling and satisfied, or will I have to send this one back to the kitchen? Find out after the break!

Remember in my review of Cherry Tree High when I said that I'd talk about things that we'd come back to later? Well it's later. In order to put my opinions into perspective, I thought I'd share what a good slice-of-life show should be. Having finished that game, I can say it stands as a pretty good (though not exactly genre-defying) example of what these stories can accomplish. It's not a bad thing to have a simple story as long as there are interesting and/or funny characters to support the mundane events that unfold.

In the best case, you wind up with an Azumanga or a Cherry Tree High. In the worst case, you wind up with something like Lucky Star. I've been accused of not liking that show due to the fact that it doesn't have a firmly defined story, but it's for all of the reasons I've pointed to that Lucky Star was a dismal failure. The show is built on the premise that as long as the characters are cute-- not interesting, but cute-- that the audience won't notice that absolutely nothing of any note is occurring. You'd think they could still find a way to make it fun, despite the show being about nothing, but it winds up being less of an anime version of Seinfeld and more like the show someone would make if they wanted to remake Seinfeld yet didn't think Seinfeld was all that funny.
"The baseball is preempting my anime, Jerry!"
In a roundabout way, that brings us to Working!!. When I first considered this show for review, I was excited. I mean, how could you go wrong with an anime adaptation of a Stephen Schwartz musical? Perhaps it would finally satisfy my craving for a true anime musical, not the watered-down stuff like K-On! and other shows claiming to be about music.
Look it up. That joke was hilarious.
Come to find out that this show isn't, in fact, a musical, but was based on a four-panel comic, much like Azumanga and Lucky Star. Unlike either of those series, the bulk of this story takes place not in the classroom, but in the workplace of the main characters. It sounds like a little thing, but this actually gave me hope for the series. It was something different in a genre that I found to have largely stagnated. Was it worthy of that hope?

This doesn't bode well...
What we have with Working!!, I'm sad to say, is more of the same. I definitely like it a heck of a lot better than Lucky Star, but this thing is super formulaic and much like the employees at Wagnaria, it's just not very good at its job.

The first thing I noticed was that the opening theme was MIA for this premier episode. This is understandable, but unfortunate. Even for shows I don't really like, I generally enjoy the opening theme. Theme songs are a nice and often enjoyable way to set the mood of a show, and it's a tradition that has been kicked to the curb here in the states. Even in the anime we get in the states ([Adult Swim] and Toonami being guilty of this), the theme songs are either sped up or cut down to a shorter version to make time for commercials. I'll have to look up the opening to this show on my own time, I guess. The creators of this show obviously thought that we didn't need to waste our time with some song on this first outing. We need to dive right into the lives of these diligent workers. Once we met our characters, we'd be too concerned about what their lives have in store to worry about silly songs, right?
I think I found my first running joke... and I stole it from another show...

Work for our lovely cast of colorful characters is a restaurant called Wagnaria. I was happy to find that it was an actual sit-down restaurant that I would have no problem eating at. It wasn't a maid cafe or any other of the stupid cliches that the wave of moe-anime seems intent on propagating, rather an actual workplace that people who aren't otaku can relate to. As disillusioned as I am, something like this makes it easier for me to relate to a story. We've all had crappy jobs in high school and we will continue to have crappy jobs well into our adult lives.

This show is that crappy job, so to speak.

Let's meet our cast. The first person we meet is a shy-looking girl (check) with orange hair named Punchy McGillicuddy  Mahiru Inami. She's a high school student (check) who works hard for her money as she attempts to overcome her crippling fear of men (check). Oh sorry, I'm just checking off my moe-cliche checklist.

Her fear manifests itself by punching men in the face, and this is actually a behavior that intrigues me. I'm actually interested in watching more of this show for the sole reason of wanting to know why she feels compelled to punch men in the face. Knowing my luck, it'll just be a stupid running gag that's never explained, but for now, I'm labeling Punchy as a possibly interesting character.
Probably cool maybe?
The person that Mahiru punches is Souta Takanashi, another high school student who works... Wait a minute... Are you just taking high school students and putting them in a work environment? Damn it, anime! Are you really that reluctant to tell a story about people over the age of seventeen? This is just Lucky Star set in a cafe isn't it? Did someone hit control-F and replace "school" with "Wagnaria Restaurant"? Shame on you.

Anyway, Souta is a high school student who love love looooooves cute things (check) to the point that it effects his relationship with people. Really, he spends the bulk of this episode fawning over things that are "tiny and cute". Even a cockroach is adorable to this basket case, who completely shuts down when he sees one get killed by the manager. Souta is pretty generic as far as anime protagonists go, and I'm not terribly interested in him from this introduction as a potentially perverted weirdo. This is supposed to be our protagonist. I'm supposed to identify with this guy whose only characterization seems to be "cute thing enthusiast" and "fist magnet".
Never type "fist magnet" into Google.
And who is the cutest in the restaurant? That would be Popura Taneshima, the not-Chiyo of this show. Not much to say about her. She's short. That's the joke. Repeat ad infinitum. Her height complex is the butt of many a cruel joke, and part of this episode centers around Souta learning to treat her like a human being instead of his personal loli sounding-board. Of course, it's not fair to call her that, for she's actually a year older than Souta. Look at that. A character who looks younger than she actually is who can't get any respect from her male coworker.

There are other characters whose names I never bothered to learn (manager lady, a waitress who carries around a sword for some reason, the chefs), but they weren't the main focus of this episode. They mostly served as a vessel for causing things to happen to those other three characters. For example, the manager smashes a cockroach and Souta flips out, screaming that killing something so small and cute would be like killing Popura, who is also small and cute and that she's killed Popura and god make this stop.

Beyond that, there's not much that I saw happening in this episode. There were some fun characters, and I feel like I want to watch more to meet them and find out if they have anything interesting going on with them. At the very least I want to know why one of the waitresses is allowed to carry a DEADLY WEAPON into her place of work. Target would have been a much more interesting work environment if they'd let me bring my flying guillotine to work, after all.

All in all, Working!! is a pretty harmless slice of life that does seem to have characterization that is worth looking into. There's potential here, they just fail to represent that with any tact in this episode by not giving equal time to its characters. Characters can make or break a show like this, and skimping on introductions can really hurt a viewer's interest in seeing more of a show. You can't assume someone's read the manga and go halfway.

Either way, we got to see our main cast, and with one exception, there's nothing special here.

I've been informed that viewer discretion is advised for this show. Clearly we're stepping into some dark territory now. Brace yourself. We're in for a wild ride of action and awesome that's TOO MUCH for the kiddies to handle. Get ready to have your socks blown off as your feet are ground to a pulp with a belt sander, because you can't handle Aria the Scarlet Ammo.

This series is based not on a manga, but on a light novel series of the same name by Chugaku Akamatsu. I'm down for this, actually. Baccano! and Haruhi were based on light novels, and a number of studios have proven that stories can make the jump from paper to television with surprising dexterity. That's not fair to say, actually. If Working!! taught me anything, it's that I can't get my hopes up by unfairly comparing it to other, similar creative situations. Let's see what Aria has to offer.

Our adventure starts off with the main character, Kinji Tohyama, fleeing from a segway with a gun mounted on it on a bike that's rigged with plastic explosives. Clearly Obama's drone warfare has gone out of control if he's now attacking japanese students with gun-segways.

He's clearly fighting a losing battle when out of the sky (after a lingering shot of her legs) drops our heroine, Aria, parachuting into battle with guns at hips.
Pictured above: Characterization
She promptly guns down the segway before saving Kinji from certain doom in a way that ensures his face is planted in her breasts... Okay, not a promising start, but maybe Aria has interesting things to talk about.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Nobody told me that Rie Kugimiya would be in this anime! You'd think that I'd have figured that out during my research, but no. I stopped at "based on a light novel" because I didn't want to sour my opinion of this show, but in mere seconds, one single line of dialog, the frequency of Aria's voice has ruined this for me.

This will further ruin my credibility as an anime guy, but I really don't like Rie Kugimiya. I am so sick of these twin-tailed tsunderes who are delicate flowers wrapped in a tough exterior. Why does Japan seem to think that the only way to make a credible female lead is to make them a bit of a... well... you know...

Yeah, one of those. Anyway, Embodiment of the Scarlet Devil here saves Kinji from certain doom at the hands of an unfortunate mode of transportation. What happens after that? We don't get to know for several more minutes.

Instead we flash back to Kinji's morning, wherein his buxom friend shows up with a bento box (check) and a handful of apologies for calling him by his cute nickname. Because women are either action heroes or tearful wusses. As the two are enjoying their morning, Kinji happens to notice her breasts are looking particularly shapely today, a fact wich the show wants to make abundantly clear, even telling us the color of her underwear.

This causes Kinji to freak out and stand by the window, ashamed by the tiny tent he has pitched at this point.
Phallic imagery

After watching these two do nothing for FIVE MINUTES, Tits McGee points out that there might be a guy trying to kill special law enforcement operatives called "Butei", which is what Kinji is training to become. Kinji, being a total prat, shrugs it off and leaves for school. Unfortunately he misses the bus and decides to bike to school.

Oh my god! Kinji was riding a bike at the beginning of the episode! It's like everything has come full-circle! IT'S LIKE A TARANTINO MOVIE!!
But with boobs instead of feet
We are then treated to watching the opening scene of the episode again before we hit the commercial break. When we return, the explosion has carried Aria and Kinji far away, with Aria posed seductively atop Kinji, shirt pulled over her chest. I can identify with Aria. I can't tell you how many times I've tripped and had my bra pop out for all to see. I need to start tucking in my shirt.

It's then that we really meet Aria, a shrieking, twin-tailed wench who seems angry all the time despite being a very capable fighter. You know, a Rie Kugimiya character. The same one she always plays.

The two are pinned down behind a bulletproof vaulting box (in case gymnasts find themselves involved in mid-range combat, apparently) and a gaggle of doom-segways armed to the teeth with deadly Uzi SMGs. Things look bleak as Aria's breasts continue to arouse Kinji. Finally, Kinji can stand it no more.

It is then that he becomes an entirely different person. Apparently boobies turn Kinji into a tactical genius, because he mows them all down with startling efficiency, firing a volley of shots directly into the barrels of the Uzis, causing the drones to explode in terror.

Are you kidding me!? This show clearly wants me to like it, yet it goes out of its way to be bad. The gunplay is exciting and engaging. I'd even forgive the fanservice-y nature of Kinji's "Hysteria mode" as it makes him a more interesting sort of unlikely hero, but so much of the moe-crap has nothing to do with his combat efficiency. The amount of lingering shots on short skirts an breasts is just insulting, and very often they have nothing to do with what Kinji is actually seeing, thus having no impact on his character.

Aria is about titties and guns. It is insistent on treating its female characters like a utility of the male lead, a trigger that he uses to actually become competent in a fight. It's hardly anything I intend to continue watching. Aria is no friend of mine.

Umineko is one that I'm surprised I haven't checked out yet. Based on a visual novel by the same team behind Higurashi. I loved me some Higurashi, in fact I may check out the Umineko visual novel, even if I wind up not liking the anime. Let's hope this one fares better than the other two.

Yup. It's pretty swag.
In my research, I noticed that this show had something of a bad rap among anime fans. In truth, it wasn't as great as Higurashi's first episode, but I think it had charm and intrigue and I really enjoyed Umineko.

We begin by meeting our hero, Battler Ushiromiya, who doesn't completely hate his life despite having a name so stupid that it would've been laughed out of Gundam 00. He's on the verge of throwing up while riding out the choppy waves on a boat ride to an island called Rokken, owned by his family.

Battler is traveling with his extended family, namely his cousins George and Maria, along with his aunts and uncles. He is greeted by his cousin soon after, causing him to go into a frenzy over her breasts. His cousin. Okay, this definitely bothers me, but since the fanservice and moe elements in Higurashi served as a contrast against the horrors that lurked behind the overarching plot, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that it wouldn't be the focus of the show. Unlike, say, Aria.

The show's title is something of a misnomer. The seagulls are not crying in this episode. They mention early on how strange it is that the gulls aren't anywhere to be seen. What the heck, Umineko? Give me what I came for.
*sigh* Fine. No seagulls it is.
The party arrives at the mansion, and Maria notices a rose in the garden that looks sickly. George marks it with what looks like a candy wrapper for later reference as the family makes their way into the mansion.

Battler marvels at an unsettling portrait of a woman upon entering. We then learn that the woman is named "Beatrice" and that she's (allegedly) a witch. Granddad Ushiromiya seems to think that this Beatrice is real, but Battler can't touch its breasts, so he doesn't take it seriously.

Battler informs us that his family made good money from spinning mills, but it all fell apart after the Kanto earthquake. His granddad, through a combination of luck, moxie, and tons of swag, was able to bring the family back into wealth, leaving plenty of room for speculation as to how exactly he came into so much money.

We are then treated to a really WASPy inheritance dispute in the sitting room. The adults all seem intent on getting in one backhanded comment after another upon each other. One of Battler's aunts, Eva, is being particularly WASPy as the family discusses the state of granddad's assets.
Visual Approximation

Meanwhile, Battler is fixated upon an epitaph next to the Beatrice painting. There are no breasts on the marble pedestal, which confuses Battler as he ponders the poem. Allegedly, the epitaph points to the location of Granddad Ushiromiya's Nazi Gold(tm). The cousins decide to have a picnic on the beach as they continue to puzzle over the epitaph.

Meanwhile, Eva and her fellow WASP rangers are negotiating the share of Granddad's gold, agreeing to allow Klaus to handle the distribution of his assets if they all get a share of said gold. This is clearly important, and if I know my 07th Expansion stories, someone's dying over this.

The cousins return from the beach to find Maria's rose is MIA, and this is where Umineko does what no Naku Koro Ni stories do best: Beating small children into submission.
Maria cries over her missing flower, which causes her mother to BEAT THE HOLY HELL out of her NINE YEAR OLD DAUGHTER. Gee, I wonder why Maria is so emotionally fragile.
Maria, sobbing and thoroughly bruised, vows to find her flower on her own as her mother angrily storms off. Confused as to why her daughter won't see things her way.
She continues her search as an unsettling silhouette lurks in the background. The grey skies give way to a thunderstorm as Granddad screams at the heavens, casting his ring to the ether as an offering to Beatrice, who appears behind Maria.

The cousins start to worry that maybe leaving a small child alone in a Higurashi spin-off was a bad idea, so they set out to the garden to look for her. They find her searching for the rose with an umbrella, which is weird considering that she didn't have an umbrella to begin with.

Her mother embraces her, tearfully apologizing for her outburst. Battler asks where she got her umbrella, to which Maria nonchalantly replies that Beatrice gave it to her.

OH SNAP! This show is pretty snazzy, and I definitely enjoyed it. The cutsey elements are very effectively contrasted by the subtly unsettling nature of the setting and plot creating a delightfully suspenseful concoction that I want to see more of.

The characters are interesting, and I found myself wanting to learn more about what motivated them. I'm even interested to see where the inheritance dispute will fit into this and just what "Beatrice" is and how she managed to insert herself into the family lore. What does the epitaph mean, and more importantly, how badly is this going to end for Battler and the gang.

I'll definitely be watching the rest of this series. Working!! and Aria might have been a bust, but Umineko made this a wonderful breakfast indeed.

Until next week, this is Jake O'Jack, wishing you a pleasant morning!

1 comment:

  1. Even more so than Higurashi,each arc of Umineko takes a while to get going but is then a gd speedboat of awesome.

    It's actually not a Hig spin-off but set in the same universe. (Umi episodes 1-4 are considered When they cry 3, and Umi 5-8 are considered When they Cry 4.) Also, the whole seagulls crying thing is a lot more obscure than the cicadas of Higurashi. Not super important atm.

    The good: its amazing, especially in the arc endings and plot twists and its a perfectly fine adaption although the VN adds a lot.
    The bad: The anime only covers the first 4 out of 8 VNs. So yeah, save up and play the games. :)