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March 11, 2012 / Bradley

Sunday Morning Coming Down: Weekly Press #01

I’m guilty of putting far more thought than time into this blog, when I should be doing the opposite. If you want to make a good blog, there’s no substitute for simply getting work out there, so in the interest of making some kind of weekly post, I’ll be stealing an idea from the Reverse Thieves and writing a post every week recapping what I’ve watched and whether I liked it. I’ll even throw in some music for good measure.

Tiger & Bunny (13 – 21)

The gap between my enthusiasm for this series and how much everyone else seems to like it is enough to tempt me to throw out the “O” word. But I can’t, in part because I’m struggling to put my finger on what it is that bores me about the series. Some of it must be my general apathy towards superheroes, Western or otherwise. But my usual reasons for disliking superheros- the obscure and complicated mythos every popular hero carries like baggage; pandering to a small group of adult males while desperately pretending not to; forced angst or, even worse, easy and unforced nobility- generally aren’t relevant to Tiger & Bunny. The story is self-contained, the characters are fairly complicated and interesting, and are often driven to be heroes for reasons that are selfish but easy to relate to.

Let me get an ugly suspicion off my chest: the reason Tiger & Bunny has been such a critical success has little to do with its own virtues, and a lot more to do with what it isn’t. The two things that are largely- and deservedly- reviled right now are otaku-centric fanservice shows and moe shows. Tiger & Bunny is a far cry from both, and on top of that, is very safely Western-nerd material. Of course we’d eat it up- we’ve been starved for material like this for a long time.

I have this suspicion because, personally, that’s part of the reason I want to like this series. But I can’t help being bored. I’m bored of the NEXTes’ superpowers, which are largely generic and straightforward. I’m bored by how often it retreads ideas from other properties, whether it’s the NEXTes struggling with racism or Barnaby’s hang-ups over his parent’s deaths. I’m bored of the largely predictable ways each episode plays out.

The most critical failure, though, is the complete lack of compelling villains. For well over half of the series our heroes deal with small-time crooks, most of them silly or generic. Jake and Lunatic come the closest to being proper supervillians, but the former gets a short arc and the latter hasn’t been interested in combating the heroes. That means one of the core appeals of superhero cartoons is missing. Batman wouldn’t be nearly as popular without his extremely colorful rogue’s gallery, and one of the reasons Superman comics struggle to interesting is because of how it is to create a believable threat to him without relying on kryptonite. There’s been shadowy figures hovering in the background for most of the series, and as of episode 20, one of them has finally come out, presumably heralding the penultimate arc. But the series could have benefited from bringing out these deadly villains earlier, instead of dragging out a reveal I anticipated a long time ago.

Current Rating: ***

California Crisis (OVA)

California Crisis is a short and beautifully styled OVA with a lot of love for American 80’s culture. The story is a bit of a mess, with a rough ending that shoots for mystic but largely left me confused, since it dropped a couple storylines to get there, but it’s worth forgiving it for that. California Crisis works as an absorbing mood piece by virtue of its beautiful animation and kitschy music. It isn’t a replication of 80’s culture, but a dreamlike interpretation. Out of everything I’ve seen this week, this has stuck with me the longest.

Rating: ***

Carnival Phantasm 1-12 (Complete)

The Nasu-verse has reputation for being clique-ish and difficult to understand, and you would think that this insular gag OVA would be the most excessive example of that, making it a dull watch for fans like me who have only a casual interest in Nasu’s creative output. But I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even though the only Nasu property I’m familiar with is Fate/Stay Night. Silliness doesn’t need context to be entertaining, and this has plenty of it.

The OVA is basically a collection of shorts that seem to play off the Nasu-verse’s characters’ personalities. The weak male leads from Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night are properly skewered, Saber and Rin get some great gags- I love the “magicians can’t handle simple technology” joke- and the 5th Grail War gets reinterpreted in various absurd ways. It’s a good time for all involved. A lot of the skits don’t feel very different from typical harem comedy, but even those are enjoyable, since they’re not so much lecherous as just silly.

This did make me curious: does anyone know- and by “anyone” I really mean Hisui- if Tsukihime is worth watching?

Rating: ***

Bruce Springsteen – “Wrecking Ball”

Musically, the Boss’ new album is a fantastic return to form from his glory days of Born to Run and Born in the USA. Listening to it front to back is rewarding- it has great peaks and valleys, from dirges to thumping rock and roll, and ends on a high note. Despite its sloppy but heartfelt lyrics, it’s a great listen.

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