Fuuka, and the nature of bad anime

In which I talk about an anime being awful but still tell you to watch it anyway.

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Fuuka is incredibly stupid. I’m opening with something that strong because it’s true, this show (for now) is as deep as a puddle with the brief glimmers of originality drowned in a play by play of the romance/harem anime tropes. And yet I find myself fascinated by it. It’s a clear train wreck 3 episodes in, and worse, it’s a predictable train wreck but there a times I’ve laughed out loud at the sheer audacity it shows.

For example the main characters arrange a date and both arrive at the meeting place, but can’t find each other as one is stood on one side of the statue whilst the other is sat down on the opposite side. Various POV shots set up the idea that neither can see the other. So I thought to myself “I bet there going to walk around the statue and completely miss each other”….

Two seconds later they did exactly that, it was oddly beautiful. There were a few times this same line of events played out. They set up a scene, I guessed what would follow and it happened to the letter. This isn’t be petting my overinflated ego either, it’s just so generic that anyone who’s had a passing look at romance shows in general would know what’s coming. So I find myself wondering if this is going to be the next in the long line of genre deconstruction shows the Japanese seem so found of making now a days after the success of One Punch Man, Konosuba and Madoka Magi.

And after a bit more thought, I’m thinking it probably isn’t, this is show is just what you get on the tin, a generic anime with little to redeem it for now. But I’ll still watch it this season, because as stated before there is some perverse joy to be gained from watching something bad attempt to be good and only get half way. Now should I be applauding it for being a bad show, probably not, in theory the industry would only improve with well-balanced critique, I think I am not providing right now. But I would also argue, that you need to keep the bad shows around, to further reveal the greatness in other shows. I spent all of 2016 comparing every film I saw to Batman VS Superman, something I really try to avoid doing due to inherent differences between movie genres but it made everything just seem better. It’s healthy in a media landscape to have a broad range of quality, we have to take the good with the bad and several years from now no-one will remember Fuuka. So whilst it’s here, why not enjoy the fact that shows like it exist? as long as we still recognise the fact that it is bad.

A Eulogy for Regular Show

The final in the trilogy, in which I bid a fond farewell to Regular Show

That’s it, it’s over. Last Monday the very last episode of Regular show aired (although I confess parts of this will have been written before that due to the magic of forewarning) With 8 seasons and 1 movie how do you even sum up a cartoon that’s lasted since 2010. Well you don’t. It’s beyond the scope of anything I could really do in a single blog post. So I turn to what I can do, and that is celebrate it. Thank it for its achievements and draw attention to its greatness. And just to differentiate my piece, from god knows how many others there won’t be a countdown of the best episodes, the best moments or anything like that. I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to ramble. Then I’m going to edit it into something mostly legible, and ship it out. Because, in hindsight, this cartoon meant a lot more to me than any other I’ve ever watched and it’s only now I’m realising that.

So what is Regular Show? Well I have the Wikipedia synopsis staring me in the face right now,

“The series revolves around the lives of two working class friends, mordecai and rigby, both employed as groundskeepers at a local park. Their regular attempts to slack off usually lead to surreal, extreme and often supernatural misadventures”

And as with anything you condense down into a single sentence, it sounds normal, dull, run of the mill and with a name like regular show, you wouldn’t be amiss to think that.

I do admit to not beginning to watch it until roughly its 3rd season, only going back to watch it all the way through once it hit its 4th because at that point I was at the height of my Adventure Time fandom and once I started to watch it, it was the cartoon I most often put down and would always find myself binge watching to catch up. Whole season would be viewed in a day and then forgotten. Because to me, Regular Show was always the cartoon that quietly chugged along, overshadowed by the media giant of Adventure Time and the fan loved Steven Universe. Always there, but never centre stage.

And that is a complete crime because it is hands down the best cartoon of this decade. I alluded to this last week, with it being my favourite cartoon ever. And frankly it is, the more I think about it the more it seems funnier than Adventure Time and more emotional than Steven Universe. Out classing both with ease and after a little bit of thought, I can trace it back to one thing. Regular Show knew exactly what it was all the time, it never tried to be more, or less. It was just Regular Show. Whilst Adventure Time was displaying the bright happy surrealist comedy and Steven Universe was pushing social boundaries further and further Regular Show was being profoundly human.

It was a show that featured a Blue Jay and a Racoon as main characters, their boss was a Gumball machine, and their co-workers included an immortal yeti, a ghost with an arm sticking out its head, a goat that was a spy for the KGB. And all of this was normal to the narrative, somehow this show had managed to take the surreal and make it real. Nothing felt out of left field in this show, no matter how objectively odd it got, it still seemed perfectly, well, regular (I’m sorry that’s the only time I’ll use that joke) The characters never stopped to question why these things were happening, or how it was even possible, they just took it in their stride. Through the medium of just having characters never draw attention to the weird, the writers made possibly the most beliveable world of oddities in cartoon history.

And now I find myself struggling to touch all the points I want to, not knowing where to start. There’s too much I want to say about this cartoon I will keep returning too it, hell I’m already starting to watch it through again from start to finish (now that’s actually doable) I think instead of discussing plots, character arcs or reviewing the final episode I will save that for another time. So goodbye Regular Show, you were the scrappy underdog of the Cartoon Renissance, and with you now gone, it seems like that age is at an end.

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The Problems With Adventure Time

The second in a trilogy, in which I bring some heavy criticsm to a favourite show of mine

Okay, so now I’ve proved to myself I do like Adventure Time it’s time to tear it a new one. Or at least put into words a few obvious problems it has that plague its most recent seasons which should serve as a primer for further discussions. It should be noted, that Adventure Time is not the only one guilty of these problems, it’s just that it set such a high standard and did kick off that wonderful cartoon renaissance I talked about a while back. Adventure Time is so far the cartoon of the decade. And if it’s to keep that title all its warts should be given just as much scrutiny as its best parts.

Characters are not punished:
Jake is a god awful Father and Princess Bubblegum is a cruel dictator. To name the two most obvious issues here. So starting with the latter, Princess Bubblegum constantly experiments, abuses and belittles her people. Once they finally wise up to the fact they can depose her, it doesn’t last long and she returns declaring them idiots. There is no change there, she hasn’t learnt a lesson, it’s framed as if the candy people have. That lesson being you shouldn’t self-govern and leave it all to Bubblegum. Which from an outside perspective is frightening but she gets away with it.

Now Jake being an awful father. He ignores his children until he is forced to interact with them or when they appear in his life. He effectively runs away from that responsibility and it never comes back to bite him. His partner welcomes him with open arms whenever he appears, only one of his children ever calls him out on it, and that’s resolved within that episode with the child being put at fault. It’s another horrifying think that just seems to be pushed aside to hold some form of status quo.

Both of these behaviours are normalised in the context of the show by presenting them as funny, we are expected to laugh at these characters when they do these things, but are given no narrative payoff to their actions, they simply are this way, and won’t change and other characters won’t ask them to change.

Relationships aren’t believable:
As a tangent, why are Lady Rainicorn and Jake a couple? With Jake practically ignoring her for large spans of time, ignoring their children. Leaving literally a day after they’re born. I don’t even really think they set up how they met, even in passing. And when they are together it seems a little forced and well, sterile. It’s a little depressing to think about in hindsight.

Plot points are not dealt with or expanded:
This one has a very obvious example. Remember when Finn lost his arm. And everyone was congratulating Adventure Time on the cleverness of its visual story telling as it had been implied several times before the episode that he would lose his arm due to some perverse fate. And then everyone was hypothesising about the new status quo Finn would have to adapt too, with a very obvious disability and how that wou…… or a bee could have sex with his arm 4 episodes later and void the whole thing. Adventure has this issue that it can’t sit still, or think through one specific idea, it is there for 1 or 2 episodes, if you’re lucky it’s 2 right next to each other, if you’re unlucky there was 5 episodes of filler and sometimes it just never appears again or is even recognised by the characters later down the line.

It’s a shame that after basically any large development, the show will inevitably return to a status quo with the characters vastly unchanged from the experience

The world doesn’t progress around the characters:
Everything in Adventure Time appears to happen in a small bubble, all on it’s lonesome. Events from one episode never seem to have a dripping effect on other people and often aren’t bought up again. It’s almost as if people forgot previous adventures leading to a disjointed overall narrative. I could take whole chunks of recent adventure time, reshuffle the episodes and you would never know they were out of order.

And now I think I’m out of gripes, probably because these are all fairly big gripes, and I’m loathe to spend another 1000 words just repeating what I’ve already said so to finish……

It should be noted that, yes, all of these issues raised are non-issues in various episodes, for example whilst Jake and Princess Rainicorn’s relationship is alien, Marceline’s and Ice Kings is incredibly well done.  What I’ve done here is point out that Adventure Times biggest issue is its inconsistency, one episode will be stellar, the next will fall flat and the next will be inconsequential to anything. And it’s obviously not that it can’t be done, as next week I follow up this post with, the more I think about it, my favourite cartoon, Regular Show and how it deals with all these issues.

“You Gotta Appreciate the Food” – Slice of Life as a Genre

In which I lead you through my process in defining a genre

That title isn’t a weird quip or framing device for this article, it’s a point my house mate raised whilst watching Sweetness and Lightning together. “It’s a Slice of Life, you have to appreciate the food”. The weeks running up to this comment I had been mulling over the inherent problems Slice-of-Life anime faces, especially to us western viewers. The chief of which is everyone having a different opinion about what it is. Not just about whether it’s good or not but about how to classify it as we don’t have such a genre established in the west. So in this post I’m going to attempt to explain it, hopefully……. Maybe.

So, let’s try the simplest approach. Word Definitions. Slice-of-Life, can literally mean an excerpt from life. So therefore a show in the slice-of-life genre is something that follows normal life. And that definition sort of works, but it also feels like something is missing. It makes the genre sound too pedestrian, too disinteresting, too generic and most importantly too broad. Technically any show can be defined as Slice-of-life via this definition as long as it justifies it’s self as displaying a normal life, for example take any Gundam series, it shows the passage of life in a world where giant robots fight in space and everyone accepts the fact and takes it as a normal day. By this definition this is Slice-of-Life. We find ourselves with a definition to broad, too much can and will fit into it. So we need to refine it.

Let’s turn to Wikipedia for our next attempt at having this done easily. A “mundane realism depicting everyday experiences”. Okay, so that’s a little better. Realism is the crucial word there that now grounds this genre in portraying situations that seem realistic to the audience. There we go, we’re done. Except. My Neighbour Totoro is a thing. A film which is unquestionably a Slice-Of-Life and there is nothing mundane or realistic about a giant forest spirit hanging out with two young girls.

So with that to fit I have to remove realism, and I find myself at the very beginning again. It seems like there’s no easy way to find this answer other than going through what makes a Slice-Of-Life anime. And at this point we will be dipping into a big old pile of opinion and generalisations

WHAT IS SLICE OF LIFE:

  • Simple
    • Not simple in that it’s lacking in character, plot or ambition. But that’s it’s simple in scope, it’s focused on a single point, this could be a small cast of characters or a particular setting. Perhaps Focused would be a better word.
  • Slow
    • In most cases due to being a chronological run through of people’s daily lives an episode will rarely cover a large amount of plot, opting instead for a small point or two per episode.
  • Character Driven
    • Running off the two previous points of slow plot but large cast of characters, it stands to reason that a slice-of-life show will put the focus on these characters. A main character is still recognisable however, often the first shown on screen.
  • Comedy
    • They will often feature jokes as a driving factor as well, to make up for slow plot. Reasons for this can vary from anime to anime, but a large chunk of adapted slice of life have their roots in Yonkoma style manga, where each page is structured like a joke, Set up, Delivery, Punch line. Once you know it’s there it’s easy to spot.

So at the end of that I put forward that the Slice-of-life genre can be defined as “Simple, slow moving, character focused drama”, and I could in theory leave it there. But I think it could do with some work. Let’s start with some discussion on setting, and see where that takes us.

SETTING IN A SLICE-OF-LIFE

My mind instantly hops to high school when I think of Slice-of-Life, thanks to the prominence of shows like “Toradora!” and “K-ON!” in the genre. It’s become synonymous with the genre to thing that slice-of-life is always in a high school. However, it’s at this point I get fussy and wave my almost finished media degree around the place. The high school is definitely a genre convention of Slice-of-Life but that doesn’t mean of course that every show is in a high school or set around one. Shows like “ServentxService” and “Wagnaria!” are both set around work places. Shows like “Flying Witch” and “Non-Non Byori” Draw more attention to the rural locals they are set in than a school and that’s even before I bring up shows like “Sweetness and lightning” and “Poco’s Udon World” that places a large focus on the characters that physically can’t go to high school due to being too young.

What I’m trying to say really, is that the setting of a slice of life is always mundane. But I hate that word in relation to this, it will act like a weight on the definition, making it sound boring. So at this point I bust out a thesaurus:

I find myself quite fond of quotdian meaning “occurring every day; daily.” But because I’m trying to make something that can be understood I think I should stick with something normal. That can be applied not just to a description of the common settings of slice-of-life but also its plot threads. “Everyday” seems to fit this bill. Shows are often set in an “everyday” environment and deal with the “everyday” events of the characters. Now to just slot that into the definition and see what we have.

The Slice-of-life genre can be defined as “Simple, slow moving, character focused drama fixed in everyday locals”

I think we are almost there. One little piece could do with being discussed, even if I find no way of slotting it into the definition.

WHY WE WATCH SLICE-OF-LIFE

This is probably the easiest thing to answer. Slice-of-life provides an effortless medium for the viewer to live vicariously through the characters. Taking joy in the familiarity of the situations on screen and drawing a bond with the character of their choice. It’s important to note that this is not quite the same as gaining voyeuristic pleasure from watching, there are distinct differences between Slice-of-Life and Harem anime the most obvious of which being the sexual content in the latter.

To include this in a definition of the genre is probably the missing piece of the puzzle. If we state it has vicarious tendencies then it suddenly means we can skim a lot off the top. The show has to be a believable realism. Just detached from our world enough to offer some form of contrivance, like the fact that only 4 girls seem interested in playing music in the whole school (K-ON!) or that witches exist (Flying Witch) or that the people working in Waganria can get any work done (Wagnaria!). Whilst we can say we can relate to a sci-fi space captain, we still feel a detachment from him that you don’t get when looking at a school student going to class. The screen is a lot thinner in slice-of-life. (To use an analogy I should’ve at the start to cut down on word count.)

TO STOP THE RAMBLINGS

So in conclusion I define Slice-of-Life as:

“Simple, slow moving, character focused drama. Fixed in everyday locales suited to vicarious living”

I’ll probably return to this at some point, and test it out on various shows to see if it does work. But seeing as I’m nearing on 1300 words I’ll leave it here for today.

Header image: Non Non Biyori