The Fall 2016 Season’s Done — What Delivered? What Whiffed? Part II
The Fall 2016 season offered not only a wide variety of titles, but a wide range of performance within those titles! Here’s part II of my Fall 2016 writeup:
Note: You can find Part I here.
What do you get when you mix a fantasy world with elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons, with warrior figures pulled from from different periods of Earth’s history?
You get Drifters, of course!
There are three main protagonists in the story. First is Toyohisa Shimazu, who was an amazing swordsman. He died in our world in 1600 and ended up in the fantasy universe. When he arrived, he was still critically injured from the battle on Earth. Two young elves defined the law to bring him to the ruined castle where the two other protagonists had taken up residence. The elder of these two was Nobunaga Oda, a famous leader in Japanese history, who had worked to unify Japan under one leader. He died (i.e., left Earth) in 1582, and Shimazu was aware of Oda’s exploits. The third and youngest was Yoichi Suketaka Nasu, the last son in a huge family, who was an amazing archer who died in the late 1100s.
Gradually, the three of them figure out that they’ve been pulled from different points in Earth’s past. As they’re trying to figure out what to do with themselves, they become aware that the reason the elves were reluctant to help them was the oppression of the Orte Empire. Not only were the elves forced into servitude, the Orte military had taken their women and girls away from them. Shimazu in particular doesn’t respect that kind of behavior, and he ends up declaring war on Orte. They find that they’re not the only Drifters; they also learn that some notable historical figures joined a group called the Ends, which were like the Drifters, but bent on destroying the humans in this world.
Stories of characters swept into other worlds aren’t new. Stories focused on revived military heroes aren’t new, either. But there are several things about Drifters that captured my imagination and made the series stick out in a crowed lineup.
First, in my Fall 2016 Preview, I mentioned that the animation looks like an ancient Japanese woodblock printing brought to life. It kept that style through the whole first season without it becoming a gimmick. The art style became another way to reinforce the realism and feel of that world. The style was also lent itself to the graphic violence that Shimazu either unleashed or defended against.
Second, while it’s not unusual to cull even villains from Earth’s past and put them into fantasy universes, this show did so in a gutsy and extreme way. For example, the founder of the Orte empire was
Third, the show is unapologetic when it comes to violence. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s gratuitous. But when Shimazu fights, he fights to win, and to him, winning means decapitating his enemies. He’s dedicated to what he sees as the warrior code, and I liked how one of the show’s themes highlighted the difference in perspective between the Drifters and others in the world who witnessed oppression, but did nothing to stop it. I also found it fascinating that Shimazu would take good care of the severed heads, even praying for their departed souls. The bodies, on the other hand… Let’s just say that Oda’s scientific knowledge and complete disregard for custom had a military use for the bodies.
Finally, the show brings Drifters into the world from all different time periods. There’re others from classical (and more current) Japan, but there are others like Hannibal Barca (yes, that Hannibal) from Carthage around 180BC, one or two from ancient Rome, and even some from the late 1800s United States. It’s a fun variety, especially as some of them try to work out ancient grievances. The Japanese airplane pilot from World War II meeting a Roman senator was particularly amusing.
The result, combined with a little Drifter’s style humor, means this show Delivered.
Amazon has some Drifters merchandise that might interest you:
You see the Drifters’ review just above this? Imaging taking a deep breath and reading all of the Drifters’ review, out loud, in a monotone, in just 5 seconds. You’d have to read fast, and you’d have to leave out nuance, and you’d have to be careful or you’d end up out of breath. You might even pass out from the strain.
That describes Occultic;Nine.
The show kind of starts with two major events: the simultaneous suicide of 256 people in a municipal pond, and the murder of a well-known occult researcher. Yuuta Gamon runs an occult news summary website in an attempt to generate affiliate income. Ryouka Narusawa is his high-spirited assistant who likes to shock him with her Poya-gun (which turns out to be important to the plot). As the police try to figure out both the murder and the suicides, a prominent amateur fortune teller, Miyuu Aikawa, joins the team. That’s about all of the setup I can give you without divulging some major spoilers, and I don’t like to do that in this kind of post.
By far, the show’s not all bad. The art was effective, especially when it came to conveying the dread and horror at appropriate spots. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, in particular the end theme (Open Your Eyes by Asaka; you can find it here from CD Japan). Even many of the characters had interesting quirks and backgrounds.
So what was the problem? “Too many ideas syndrome.”
Basing the the series’ premise on Nicola Tesla‘s research? Great idea! The writers even get bonus points for poking fun at Edison, who, let’s say, made liberal unattributed use of Tesla’s ideas (as pointed out in this post from The Oatmeal, which is as informative as it was funny).*
But adding dozens of different plot twists and permutations of the core idea just diluted what was otherwise a fresh and interesting look at wireless capabilities. Sounds dull? That part isn’t, actually. And it’s a shame the story didn’t focus on that.
What’s worse, since the series was only 12 episodes long and it tried to cram so many ideas into its short run, many of the episodes ended up as characters just talking — and talking very, very, very fast. And often over each other. So by the time I figured out what one had said, the show had moved onto the next ten scenes.
I’m hard on series that had great promise but Whiff because of basic errors. If the show had failed because it was too ambitious but still managed to convey interesting ideas, I can accept that. In many ways, that describes Concrete Revolutio, which I think Delivered on its promise despite difficulties in sticking the landing. But Occultic;Nine? Too many ideas, too much fast-paced exposition, and too little time to develop the interesting ideas ruined the experience for me.
* It’s actually criminal what Edison got away with; and it saddens me that Tesla’s legacy is so often ignored. And by saddened, I mean actually “pause and consider the inequalities of life itself.” But that’s not a topic for this post!
Amazon didn’t have much (anything!) about Occultic;Nine, but here’re some interesting anime series about vampires:
Karibuchi Hikari idolizes her older sister Karibuchi Takami — along with the rest of the civilized world! Takami was the hero of a battle against the Neuroi, the extra-dimensional antagonists of this series and the series Strike Witches, and her fame is nearly as great as her humility. Now she’s going to deploy to the 502nd Joint Fighter Wing. Unfortunately, before she can deploy, the Neuroi attack in force, and she has to use her special ability, alone. She’s seriously injured. Here little sister, already a poor student due to her lacking magical power, nevertheless tries to step up and fill her sister’s shoes. In a nutshell, this is Brave Witches‘ dramatic thrust, and the show stays true to it through its run.
Initially, many the witches of the 502nd don’t want Hikari to take Takami’s place. Some of them welcome any new witch to their ranks, as they’re under constant Neuroi threat. But others are less welcoming. For example, Kanno Naoe has no patience for weakness, and she had been looking forward to fighting beside the famously powerful Takami. Gundula Rall, the 502nd’s commanding officer, is hesitant to take in someone who’s supposedly weak and inexperienced. Gundula and Aleksandra I. Pokryshkin, the unit’s top ace and instructor, come up with a series of tests for Hikari. If she can pass the tests, she can stay; but neither of them expect her to pass.
The series foreshadowed what happens next by showing how dedicated Hikari was to her studies even before her sister’s injuries, despite her lack of native, raw magical power. For example, she ran distance every morning to keep her body in shape. She worked within her means. And that’s how she approached the tests that the 502nd sent her way.
That kind of thing was the show’s strength. It stuck to its core idea, much in the same way that Drifters did, and it explored the implications. Hikari’s struggles to become stronger despite her weakness, and her progress towards that goal, was rewarding to watch. I also applaud the show’s use of the entire ensemble cast. Certainly, Kanno and Takami were central and had a lot of screen time, but the other characters were well developed and helped Hikari in their own ways. I think that in the end, that camaraderie was what I liked most about the show. I like the idea of a team that supports its members and helps them grow.
I only have two negatives about this show. First, the cast, especially the lead, is really similar to Strike Witches. It didn’t help that Hikari and Miyafuji Yoshika strongly resemble each other, at least at first glance. It was only after the show really got going (say, after the first four episodes) that it began to carve out its own creative niche. Finally, it did stand on its own, but it took a while.
Second, why can’t the women wear pants? Seriously. Look, I’m as big a fan of appropriate fanservice as anyone. I love High School DxD. But even Rias Gremory is allowed to wear a dress when she fights. Even Haruna from Is This a Zombie? gets to wear her magical garment as she attacks baddies with her chainsaw (when she can power up, that is). Why can’t these poor witches have something to cover their bottoms? To illustrate my point, consider this: it’s the last episode. The witches have come up with a plan to attach the Neuroi. They gather the materials they’ll need for the final push. They dramatically fly in formation to assault the enemy — but the camera’s showing their panties (or tights — some of them try to protect themselves from the cold with tights, since the show won’t give them pants) front and center. Do you know how hard it is to get caught up in dramatic tension with panties on screen?
Panties are the antithesis of dramatic tension!
In spite of that, the show still gave us a satisfactory and dramatic resolution to Hikari’s conflict with her sister. It also showed the power of teamwork in the face of long odds. Those are time-tested and enjoyable themes. That’s why I say that this season of Brave Witches Delivered!
Here’s some anime about witches, including the original Strike Witches series: