Archive for the 'vandread' Category

Tandem crew

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

One small similarity note about Stellvia and Vandread is that both offer a tandem crew arrangement. Moreover, both offer a lovebird crew.

My Vandread screenshot library is lacking.

I’ve read about female gunners flying Il-2 in WWII with objects of their affections. As far as I know, the practice was discouraged, but it’s difficult to find good accounts. Considering the mortality of Il-2 gunners (7 times that of pilots), if a pilot were to return the feelings, he would have to object to further assignments, with consequensies fanning from there. One pair mentioned above was buried together after their plane was downed with a hit from AAA, so at least there wasn’t any extra survivor angst.

Closer to now, I recall reading about a husband and wife flying AH-64. There were articles in glossy magazines like Newsweek, with journalistic vultures digging into possible issues.

Stellvia and Vandread do not make a big production of any possible conflict of interest. In both cases, flying separately provides ample of opportunity still. There’s also no intrinsic assimmetry such as on Il-2.

UPDATE: My Squadron-Signal publication on Il-2 says: “A number of Assault Aviation Regiments had female rear gunners, such as the 804th Assault Aviation Regiment which served on the Kalinin front in May of 1943.”

Stellvia vs. Vandread, abridged

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

When Owen linked me, he chose the “Tandem Crew” entry.

On reflection, the entry made very little sense, because it wasn’t in its context. When I wrote it, the blog wasn’t listed yet and thus not read by anyone. The real pencil note which stated it read “Stellvia === Vandread”.

I did not mean that Stellvia was a remake of Vandread. Their stories are not very similar [^1]. But I meant to note that they a) both are examples of mecha-as-a-backdrop shows and b) made to the equivalent level of quality.

Steven Den Beste summed the mecha question thus:

I’ve now seen at least ten series which featured mechas and I was only really enthusiastic about one of them. Most of them I found to be a complete waste of time; several I didn’t even bother to finish watching. The problem is that the writers, and presumably the fans they’re writing for, are entranced by the idea of the mechas, and concentrate on the gee-whiz equipment instead of such basics as plot, characterization, and human warmth. That also applies to things like steampunk, or fascination with dirigibles. Generally, when the gizmos are viewed by the writers and artists as particularly nifty, everything else tends to get shortchanged. It’s theoretically possible that there could be a good series like this, and in fact I’ve seen a couple which I liked, but the odds are tremendously against any particular one being any good, and it’s a risk I choose not to take, since I do not have infinite time or infinite money.

When seen from this angle, Stellvia is an attempt to tell a character story with heroic action, which happens to have mecha in it somewhere. To illustrate, the Stellvia’s fanbase does not obsess with Keity’s combat loadout (unlike Gundam’s fans). Vandread takes the same route.

I saw Vandread basically because of Steven, after I’ve seen Stellvia. It wasn’t just the review, but the general advocacy too. And about halfway into the show I scribbed the “Stellvia === Vandread” note. They were leaving a similarly sized emotional imprint. Both let secondary characters flourish within reason. Both had protagonists which were a bit irritating (Hibiki with his pseudo-macho, Shipon with her tears). Both were drawn well and directed well. Both have a mid-series climax.

There was a number of dissimilarities, too, but they somehow compensated each other for the comparison. For example, the worst part of Vandread, long term [^2], is the bickering in the kitchen, sick bay, etc. The worst part of Stellvia, long term, was watching Shipon’s breakdowns. Vandread has a tight plot which explains everything, and Stellvia doesn’t, but you have to use Steven’s powers for retcon to uncover it. So for me, Stellvia makes more sense. Not that either of them was in any way realistic anyway.

So, there we have it. I gradually became enthralled with the “Stellvia === Vandread” meme and plug it unconsciously, and well past it “sell by” date, which is how the “Tandem Crews” came about.

^1: You still can find similarities if you are Joseph Campbell.

^2: Ending of Vandread was so phony that it left me livid, but that was an singular moment.

Rethinking mecha

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

It is quite plain that a certain level of anti-mecha sentiment festers among the anime fans. In my recent memory, Impz wrote about it, and so did Steven den Beste. The core belief here is mecha series generally tend to suck because the shiny metal takes the focus away from the characters and the story.

I used to subscribe to this notion, but I am starting to wonder if it’s true at all.

Over the years I saw a number of series and movies with mecha in them, and taking stock it becomes clear that quite a number of them did not suck outright. Here is the cream of the crop:

  • Banner of the Stars: I’m going to go on a limb and consider the assault ship a degenerative mecha. It is crewed with 20, but we only ever see 5. The amount of gizmo obsession going around there can put Macross to shame (I am talking about the cutaway views of VF-1 here). Fans of the franchize discuss solemnly the imaginary properties of weapons and ships in the way Gundam fans do. So it really is a mecha series, but it provides excellent story and characters.
  • Dai-Guard: An underappreciated series with the goofiest-looking giant robot. Surprisingly deep characters and an interesting storyline, and there’s more going on than meets the eye at first. I think I watched it first at a convention when nothing else was available. What a serendipitous chance.
  • Stellvia/Vandread: Essentially twin series in my mind. Decent story and characters in both, although the mecha is not goofy like in Dai-Guard, just impossible and/or magical. Stellvia I watched because I liked the OP; SDB’s relentless advocacy made me watch Vandread.
  • Gurren-Lagann: This I dropped after the 3 episodes to ease my fansubbing duty because I knew it was going to be licensed. But it’s a very decent series with manic action. Bloggage was quite positive.
  • IDOLM@STER Xenoglossia: Dropped too, but it’s on my list to watch if I have money when it’s licensed in R1. Cutest animation; characters somewhat shallow, IMHO; plot is driven by a conspiracy and girlmecha.
  • Macross, or whatever the right name is. I place it undeservingly low on the list, I know. More about it below…
  • Martian Successor Nadesico: Parts are good, parts are bad. Referrential, breaks the 4th wall, uses patterns too much, has filler, and the harem lead sucks. But it still has a certain amount of goodness. I haven’t seen the ending yet.

To be sure, quite a number sucked as well. I didn’t like NGE much (although perhaps I didn’t watch it right), GiTS:SAC was a silly derivative, Sakura Wars the Movie was ruined by the whitewashing of the prewar Japan, Dual was not too bad as far as mindless fluff goes, but failed to resolve the harem, Escaflowne the Movie was goth, Voltron‘s mechanical tigers were ludicros, Macron 1 was just old rank-and-file series, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs ditto, and the less is said about Zoids, the better (except that admitting to watching that should be as embarrassing as to watching Yu-Gi-Oh).

In the end, the final suck ratio is not that bad. Harems produce about the same divide, too, for instance. It may be some kind of Sturgeon law in action. Why single out mecha for punishment then? There’s no rational reason.

But if done right, mecha provides interesting possibilities. My personal favourites would be the ace and power multiplier. They were provided by air forces, especially during the WWII, in the real life, so they are realistic. Anyone with a martial arts experience knows how a stick multiplies power of an adept user, but is dangerous for an inept one. More sophisticated weapons tend to magnify this effect. This is how Galland’s Experten, Bong, Pokryshkin, and Sakai came about. These people were fascinating. All mecha needs to do is take this a bit further (but it has to stop before the progression reaches the absurd if director is any good).

Now that my worldview is adjusted, I’m going to give mecha a fair consideration. In simple words, gotta see me some of dat. But what?

Gundam is obvious. I always avoided it because the franchize was too extensive, with a truly bewildering array of series. But after reading about it on the Net, it appears that there’s not all that much that stands out. I saw some of the W in the U.S. broadcast and the story seemed overstretched. The 0083 looked like having good comedic moments (I wanna hear the following classic in the original Japanese: “Yes, sir!” — “Don’t call me “sir”, you idiot! I’m your enemy!”), but it was too little. Brickmuppet linked an article about 0080 at ANN, which seemed interesting but not quite there. So, after careful consideration, I’m going to look at 08th MS Team for starters and then we’ll see.

I’d love to see Macross too. I saw bits and pieces here and here, and it looked intriguing. But I still cannot figure out what the definitive version is. Also, it’s long in all incarnations.

Finally, I am going to watch the new NGE movie. Maybe Asuka is not such a bad bitch in it anymore. One can only hope.

These three items should do mecha justice that it was denied, and I’m going to keep an open mind in the future (Kaminaaaaaaaaa).

UPDATE: Nick Istre writes:

Just to throw out one hypothesis, it might be a reaction to the sometimes rabid fanbase of mecha? I know a few people who are hardcore mecha fans. Heck, a few of them form the core of “Mechacon” that’s held here in Louisiana.

Could be.

Reader Michael Gardner asks what is GiTS:SAC a derivative of. Of the original movie, of course, which was quite good. Coincidently, the movie didn’t have any mecha (unless we consider a tank a mecha). It certanly didn’t have a mechanical insect with an outhouse stuck to its butt.

UPDATE: Oh, snap. Netflix lists 08th MS Team as “3-disc series”, starting with v.2 (ep.4). It’s not just “availability unknown”, but seems like v.1 never existed. Now what? RACS seems to have v.1 on sale for $12.98… I wish I knew it last week when the previous order went in (I gave up on hunting RahXephon and just ordered a thinpack). Still, ordering a standalone v.1 seems retarded, so I suppose the best course of action would be to netflix v.2, check if it’s any good, then get a thinpack. Hey, the out-of-order thing is all the rage these days since it worked for Haruhi.

UPDATE: Owen insists that I watched Code Geass. In my judgement, it is too fresh to rub with the likes of 08th MS Team, so I added it to the common queue. It is #40 now. I might see it in about 18 months from now if nothing bumps it.

UPDATE 2007/09/10: Fledge makes a post about upcoming live-action Robotech (which is an ugly child of Macross, or perhaps vice versa). I am not holding my breath, because of two words: Wing Commander. Hollywood is capable of trampling any great franchize into dirt.

UPDATE 2007/10/14: Watched 08th MS Team. I torrented the gaps in Netflix’s coverage.

Clean breast about Vandread

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

I saw a panegyric to Meia at Karmaburn yesterday, and that got me thinking just why she wasn’t my favourite in Vandread. She is quite cool and seems like a pleasant and strong character. I cannot remember well now, it was so long ago.

If I wrote a good summary, Meia would’ve been in it and then I would know why. But immediately after I watched Vandread, I was too upset by the ending to write anything, and all notes are gone by now. All that remains is this draft (verbatim):

– to be edited later

Vandread vs. Stellvia

I was going to write stack them together as twin character-driven shows with mecha backdrop, but I’m so disgusted with the ending that I’m in no condition to give Vandread justice. The main failing of Vandread is in the idea that by constipating hard enough you can accomplish the impossible. I just can’t stand that. Stellvia’s climactic battle ends with a moment of clarity. Shima’s program works, Kouta gets a hold of himself and does the job. In Vandread, well, Praksis is the answer to everything. Think and talk tough enough, Praksis tunes in and its absolute power fixes all life’s problems. This is such a load of crap. With one master stroke the creators of Vandread made me forget all the good things I carefuly collected.

Was Steven Right?

No, she’s all right. Unfortunately, the big crash of the main show made all the small things insignificant.

The later question refers to an exchange with Steven after the 1st half of the series, where he wrote: “[Barnette] changes quite a lot before the second series is over, but from the sound of it, you probably wouldn’t like the way she changes.” I have to say, the gun freak episode was somewhat unpleasant because it designated Barnette as a comic relief, but actually I suspect he meant something else. Key issue for Barnette was her commitment to Jura, which made her a perpetual sidekick. She, however, grasped favourable (if tragic) circumstances to make a sidestep maneuver in the ship’s hierarchy, which pleased me. I do not remember what happened to her androphobia exactly, it seems to have faded somehow when she had more important things to do (although, knowing Vandread, probably there was more to it).

Anyway, after so many months it’s rather laughable to think that a bad ending would ruin the show so thoroughly. I knew I would change my mind on that, which is why I didn’t try to blog the summary hot.

I’m also going to throw a visual retrospective in too, such as at is: I didn’t save many screencaps.

My Meia is no worse than one of Evirus’ ones. In this case she’s taken aback by Hibiki. This is highly emblematic of the whole series.

This is the original Barnette’s eye candy. Vandread is one of those anime where eyebrows go under the hair.

This is how the 2nd stage corrupted her design (and everyone else’s for that matter). Watch for the pointy chin and other deformations.

It’s not always that bad, but he inability to retain the original designs is symptomatic throughout.

Barnette is not angsty on the whole, but it happens to everyone. Notice how the shadowing increases in its square area while following the design outline.

Gascoyne and her ridiculous shoulder pads.

Dita, the sacred cow of the Hibiki’s harem. She would fill a role of female lead in any less inspired anime, but Vandread creators were not afraid to trot out a whole cast of interesting characters.

J.P.Meyer on Vandread

Friday, April 11th, 2008

How can I skip this? It’s the twin and nemesis of Stellvia, Vandread. J.P. says:

Vandread is basically what Dragonaut could have been like, assuming that they wanted to make the show silly rather than it being unintentionally funny. In fact Vandread makes jokes about things like gattais that provided the frame of reference that makes aspects of Dragonaut unintentionally hilarious. The sad part? Gonzo did both shows. You’d think that they’d have kept what they did right with this show when doing that one. But hey, it’s Gonzo.


Oh, and despite the fact that this show is almost 10 years old, the CG in it looks about as good as it does in their newer shows like Dragonaut. Has Gonzo not actually improved at all here?

Double ouch!

Funnily, J.P. didn’t say a single word about:

  • Excellent initial pacing of the series. With so many of them taking way too long to show their true colors (even Manabi slips on it; and as for Twelve Kingdoms, I only groan), doesn’t this deserve a mention?
  • Plot which actually makes sense (well, maybe not the entirery of the world creation, but still, they even made a good excuse for the the Sorting Algorithm of Evil [Opponents]).
  • Characters (e.g. reboot of Bart, Barnette, etc. etc. Heck even Jura is a bigger woman than merely her chest).

I probably could add more and expand on these, but the picture is clear and it’s not like I’m a fan of Vandread. It looks like J.P. wanted to select a couple of key issues due to lack of time and so Gonzo and gattai were it.

P.S. Did he see just the 1st half of the whole of it?

P.P.S. I’ve seen the comments right now, he’s seen the 1st half only. I hasten to add that the ending was unsatisfactory, if “magnificent”.

Animanachronism on Vandread

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Daniel is back with a catch-up post, and among other things mentions Vandread:

Wrapped up the first thirteen episodes of Vandread. I’m surprised at how amiable this series is, a diverting combination of naval pursuit and a comedy of genders. Interestingly, I even like the fanservice: it’s amusingly innocent, almost prelapsarian (don’t think too hard about the theological implications of that, I’m sure they’re incorrect).

Nothing new for those who paid attention, but a great quote to paste, isn’t it?

The first volume of Divergence Eve came through the letterbox today. (If you haven’t heard of this one, it’s one of those rare anime which both (a) has mecha and (b) received a thumbs-up from Steven Den Beste.)

You mean, like the aforementioned Vandread, right? I think we’re seeing him being tsundere about mecha: dismissing it officially yet admitting the samples which broke through the filters (e.g. Kirameki Project). At this point, admitting that mecha is not all bad is an empty formality.

Ranting about Stellvia

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

This post spoils heavily.

But first, here’s a tidbit from the review @Wolf Hurricane that prompted the present post:

In all of this, I would say the only real drawback is the male lead, Kouta Otoyama, who is honestly pretty boring – Shima and the others totally steal the show, although Shima as the heroine rightly should. It’s too bad that her love interest is so bland, but it isn’t a deal-breaker, so you should be able to deal.

The above is an example of plain looking at things wrong, since Stellvia is not a romcom or 08th MS Team. Tatsuo Sato went out of his way to demonstrate the enormous patchwork of relationships and characters, each minding their own business, yet managing to save the humanity in the end. All of that is told with the focus on Shipon as a whole, not Shipon-Kouta relationship specifically, which is why Kouta is not as developed. In short, Kouta is not the “male lead”, Shipon is not a “female lead”, she is the lead, period.

Note that as far saving the humanity goes, Kouta is the keystone, and Shipon is the supporting character. He could’ve done his job with someone else in place of Shipon (for example, Ayaka). It’s not, however, the story told in Stellvia.

But now, to the business.

Most of the anime choses to deal with yuri themes to disgust me unless there’s some interesting twist to it, e.g. Vandred, where Barnette’s growth and Jura’s support of it were marvelous to see (Barnette is easily my favourite in the show). Stellvia, however, makes unusual efforts in the disgust department, thanks to Ayaka.

As I mentioned before (on Usenet), the biggest issue here is the attempted murder of a student by another student, twice. When it happened for the first time, the issue was hush-hushed and written off as a training accident, which emboldened Ayaka to do it again. A typical dynamic, isn’t it? Needless to say, it was harder to smooth over for the authorities for the second time, but Ayaka’s lesbian lover, and, coincidentally, her first victim, refused to testify and thus helped Ayaka to escape accountability again. Talks about the battered wife syndrome! Moreover, are we supposed to believe that, after a little bit of crying in her room over being foiled again, Ayaka will be squeaky clean thereafter? It’s inconceivable!

Time after time, if yuri comes around in anime, it’s accompanied by depravity, as if all creators are soft bigots. There’s a very specific exemption for high-school adoration, typified by Kaorin, which they allow themselves to play straight. But otherwise you can count on it. Is such a signifier a good thing? Certainly I learned to avoid any anime which promises yuri for that reason.

STEVEN DEN BESTE adds examples.