Ongoing Investigations: Case #222

narutaki_icon_4040 I enjoyed reading up through volume 4 of Dengeki Daisy but it does have me questioning the ability of the story to continue for so much longer. It is still running.

At this point, Teru has discovered that Kurosaki and Daisy are in fact the same person (which we the audience knew all along). But she doesn’t confront him with this knowledge nor does Kurosaki realize Teru has figured out the truth. Each has admitted their growing feelings to confidants, with Kurosaki failing miserably to push his aside. Their closeness and the precipice of love is very obvious now.

I found the growing friendships, especially in vol. 4, to be particularly satisfying. Especially that of haughty Rena who is quite hilarious in her feigned indifference to Teru’s life and problems. Kiyoshi having the upper hand (since he knows Daisy’s identity as well as Kurosaki’s affections for Teru) when it comes to Kurosaki is also quite entertaining.

As I’d hoped, more haunts from Teru’s brother (and maybe Kurosaki’s) past turn up at the end of the volume. I am also starting to suspect Teru’s brother may not be dead after all.

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hisui_icon_4040 Never say that I won’t listen to a decent recommendation. Recently I had several people directly and indirectly recommend that I watch Girls und Panzer. I’m not exactly sure what exactly about me says, “This guy would love Girls und Panzer.” Is it that I come off as a person with an open mind and broad tastes? It is because I’m half German and therefore must love Blitzkrieging? Or do people just think I’m some sort of horrible icky moe fanatic?

Then again I’m not sure I want to know what about me says that to my friends. It might just be a secret that is best unexplored.

Girls und Panzer exists in an alternate timeline where tanks warfare is VERY different from what we know. For one thing it is a competitive sport descended from a military science like fencing or jousting. Tanks fire nonlethal shells which set off sensors that gauge hits. The major difference is that tankery is almost exclusively considered a pastime for women.

The shy Miho Nishizumi comes from a long line of tank commanders but goes specifically to a school without a tank program to escape her panzer related fate. Despite her timid nature she makes two fast friends on their first day.  But the student council president blackmails Miho and her two companions into join the tank club under the threat of making their lives horrible otherwise. Can Miho love to love the roar of an M1 Abrams? Can she lead the school tankery team to victory?

Girls und Panzer is a better show that I thought it would be. I’m hardly amazing but it is far better than it has any right to be. That is both a mixture of faint and legitimate praise. Overall the cute girls doing things genre can be pretty awful or just plain tedious so a show that is neither is an accomplishment. But “It is not complete torture” is hardly a ringing endorsement. Beyond that Girls und Panzer has some actually parts that are enjoyable and fun.

Miho is your fairly standard shy but warmhearted female protagonist. She has trouble making friends but is a good person who supports her friends when the chips are down. She is likeable if a bit bland and most of her character beyond that comes from her checked past with tanks and family. Hana Isuzu is a very Yamato Nadeshiko styled character to the point where she comes form a family known for flower arrangement. She is actually be a rebel by being in the tank club. And the main trio is round out by the best member of the team, Saori Takebe. She thinks she is a Gentlemen Killer that is a mixture of Mine Fujiko and Lum Invader that all the men can’t help but fall in love with. In the end she is mostly just a cheerful dork.

Later on the team is rounded out with Yukari Akiyama who is a crazy tank otaku which makes her insanely popular with the show’s target demographic-. If anyone is an audience surrogate character it is her. Mako Reizei is the last to join the team and she is brilliant but lazy.

The girls mainly stick to broad archetypes which is sort of the broad personalities the genre is known for. If you’re looking for innovate characters the closest your going to get is Saori with her odd delusion of being this hyper sex goddess despite being horribly naive. But if you’re sick of the standard cute girl tropes you are mostly going the be massaging your head the whole time.

There are four other groups that make up the other teams at school. They mostly seem to be there to get hit and show how formidable the other teams are. Since there are a lot of them they generally have a group personality with each member having a strong quirk more than distinct characters. The Student council team is there to move the plot and have the President be a manipulative bastard especially to her two underlings. The former volleyball team is filled with girls with “Hard Work and Guts” emblazoned on their souls. The Reki-jo team has to be the oddest bunch of them all. They are obsessive history fan girls who cosplay historical figures. Narutaki put it best when she said it was like they were what would happen if a group of Hetalia fangirls got a hold of a tank. And the six freshmen girls mostly seems to exist to be the absolute worst. At everything. They are distinctly NOT the team made up of Strong Female Women™.

A question I know that will be asked about any of these shows is how bad is the fan-service. While it is not omnipresent it is distinctly present. While there are no major panty shots or lingering cleavage shots there is usually one piece of distinct eye candy every episode. They will go a whole episode without anything major and then the busty member of the student council will be washing their tank in a bikini or they will recruit Mako in the bath. It’s hardly oppressive but it is still very clearly there when it wants to be.

It does also firmly exist in the pink zone. Anyone who is a main cast member is female. Men exist. We see them in the town around the school, watching matches, and interacting with the girls on occasion. But so far nothing close to a supporting character has been male. That said the yuri bait has been fairly minimal. When you have a cast like this the fans are going to make it but the show itself does not overtly cater to it too much. Binbogami ga! had far more in a single chapter than the first 4 episodes I saw combined.

So the real question is should YOU watch Girls und Panzer? The answer comes down to a simple question of “What is my opinion of the “Cute Girls Doing Stuff genre?” If you a sick of it then this is not the show to change your mind. While it executes the formula well it does not particularly innovate  other than the fact that the subject mater is hardly the standard girl joins sport team X and learns the power of friendship (and perhaps sapphic love.)  On the other hand if you still enjoy the formula then this is a nice variation of the theme.

Will fans of fans of tanks like this series? I have no idea. Those people are just weird and hard to please. But so could be said of any military hardware fanatic.

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #178

I like nerdy documentaries, even if (or maybe especially if) they are about hobbies that I only just have knowledge of. Afterall, that seems like what documentaries are for, learning. So when I saw the trailer for Indie Game: The Movie, I knew I wanted to see this movie.

I am not much of a gamer and I’ve never played or even knew about any of the games in this movies, but that isn’t important. What matters is the connection they build with the audience as we watch and hope for their success. Though if you do know the games a bit of the suspense is taken away, still the filmmakers do a great job of building the tension regardless of their outcome.

To me, the movie is about three tortured artists and one guy who loves games. IGtM really shocked me with how delicate the balance of these developers walk, teetering on the edge of losing their sanity and being penniless. They truly are like painters desperate for success, acknowledgment, and a paycheck. By their own admissions, they were likely to do something rash should these games fail at this point.

And then there was Edmund, the guy who loves game which I mentioned. Thank God he was in this movie to ground the entire thing otherwise it would have been a real downer. Edmund is tired, brain drained, and worried about money but he is also excited for his game with a positive energy about him. It came across clearly how much Edmund loves video games and the movie needed that. The other guys clearly loved their games too, otherwise they could never dedicate so much of themselves to it, but they let the fun be taken from them whereas Edmund still shows that joy.

I would have liked to see more about the community surrounding indie games. They mention a few little things off-hand, like Johnathan Blow responding to any comment anywhere on the net about Braid, but overall they don’t give the community a real voice in the movie. I assume they are an important aspect, and seeing a player talk about and waiting for a game would have been a nice touch.

I really enjoyed this documentary, I felt that sense of impending doom as the approaching release date of Super Meat Boy; I felt the heartbreak of a glitchy demo with Fez. I don’t know much of anything about indie games, but now I know that the phrase “this isn’t as easy as it looks” applies to this scene like so many others.

I had been interested to see Indie Game: The Movie ever since I heard about it when it was raising funds through Kickstarter. Like most nerds the creation of video games has always been an intriguing process but indie games in particular have a much more raw and personal feel. Plus indie games, sort of like writing a book, is something a lot people secretly want to believe that if they just sat down and really put in a crazy effort they could do themselves. And much like writing a book for most people it is something that mostly remains a theoretical concept or an eternally barely started project.

This documentary does provide a remarkable amount of insight into the chunk of your soul that goes into making any decently ambitious indie game. It very clear how much time and energy goes into making a game and how perilous it can all seem. None of the people profiled has large teams or companies backing them up. That sense that these guys were taking a real risk to follow their dreams was very apparent.

The contrast between the two guys working on Super Meat Boy was fairly interesting. Edmund McMillen seemed fairly positive and energetic whereas Tommy Refenes seemed very dour about the whole project. It sort of reminded me of another duo. Edmund McMillen game philosophy and off beat sensibility seems the sort of aesthetic that would only be allowed in an independent environment. But overall despite several setbacks and grueling deadlines Super Meat Boy eventually crosses the finish line as a winner.

Fez on the other hand seemed more like proof that Murphy’s Law always finds a way. Phil Fish’s story seems to be more about how every time he gets somewhere it seems like there is a bear trap waiting for him here. When he tries to show off the latest demo of his game at PAX he has a major legal snafu with an ex business partner it only gets cleared up so he can realize that the demo he is presenting is very buggy. So he is forced to baby the machines running the demos for no end of agita. I will say that Phil Fish did come of as slightly unhinged. Not “he needs to be locked up” crazy but definitely “we only invite him to certain parties with certain people” nutty.

I do have to agree with the guys from Fast Karate. Jonathan Blow does come off as an enormous tool. Especially in contrast to the other creators who are profiled in the movie that really seem to have to pay a pound of flesh for their creations.

Overall I think while the documentary did focus on projects that came out on top it did present the struggle fairly well. I think it also proved that very often more than anything these indie game’s worst enemies could be themselves. With often no one rein them in they can get absorbed in the minutia and lose site of the grander picture. At a professional studio there is usually someone to keep the creative types in line. But without that a vital limiter projects can spin their wheels with no one to just pull the trigger and say “good enough.” That can lead to unique products but seemingly with much wasted energy. It seemed like the people in documentary got the most done when they were under the gun to get something out for an event.

It reminded me a lot of the eternal delays on Type-Moon games. With no one to keep Nasu in check the games seem to take forever as it always seems something can be tweaked or fiddled with. The vitriol from the fans about those delays was also the same in both cases.

The biggest complaint I usually hear about the movie is that it only focuses on success stories. It did seem like they picked games that already had a decent amount of buzz for the film. They did not pick any one who was a complete unknown and all three games profiled were big successes when they were finally released. Considering how many indie games never go anywhere I know some people felt the documentary made it seem like all you needed was an idea and some hard work to be a success.

Might the documentary shown a bit more of the struggling  indie game developer? Sure. In fact I think that would make an excellent follow-up documentary by either James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot or someone else who wishes to follow in their footsteps. But what is presented here is a fascinating insight to what goes into making a game outside of a major studio. It will crush some people’s casual dreams but strengthen others.

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Ongoing Investigations: Case #175

I think I have always had a bit of a heretic opinion when it comes to the Space Battleship Yamato. I realize the enormous impact the series has had on the industry. It changed the game for anime on a variety of levels. It certainly helped cement the idea that anime was not just for kids in Japan. I just don’t think it is as timeless as the old school fans. But that aside I feel that if you have any interest in the history of anime it is an important show to at least be familiar with for how much of it inspires what comes after it. So with that in mind I decided to watch the first episode of the new Space Battleship Yamato 2199 OVA.

Space Battleship Yamato is now almost 38 years old. Anime has come along way since the first voyage to Iscandar. I was curious to see how much they could modernize the story while still keeping the magic that made the original so popular. It is far too easy to make something bland when you reinvent it for contemporary audience. There are a pile of 90s OVA rermakes that will attest to that fact. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 changes certain things for the better, one or two for the worse, but most of them are lateral moves that have a very “Your mileage may vary” feel to them.

The most notable are the animation changes. Being a show made in 2012 all the ships are CG. It is never brilliant but it is usually serviceable. But gone are the hand-drawn feel of the original. The other major shift is in the character design. The more realistic the character design in the original they less they changed. Captain Okita is pretty much untouched from this original design while Kodai and Yuki have the distinct sheen of modern character design but are still instantly recognizable as their originals.  But some characters like the very cartoonish Dr. Sado get a complete makeover. Sado looks more like Heaven Canceller than his original design. They also seem to have added a bunch of new character who look much more like modern anime characters than updated Leiji Matsumoto characters. Shockingly enough there might be more female characters than just Yuki now.

The beats of the plots so far are largely unchanged. It is all in the details that the difference lies. I found it a good move that they upgraded Yuki from being a bridge bunny nurse to a more Misa Hayase styled military professional. Also Kodai is still impulsive but a great deal less whiny. When he confronts Okita about the death of his brother it comes off as much more natural. At the end you know he still takes issue with how his brother died but he comes off much more as a military man than a bratty child. He is still running off with experimental fighter craft during an emergency but even then he seems a bit more properly restrained.

I will say that one scene near the beginning where that one young engineer dies calling out for his mom is tremendously ham-fisted. It just comes off like amateur hour drama. And it is not like the series can’t pull off cheesy but strong. The part where Mamoru’s crew sacrifices themselves while singing comes off more like a WWII movie tribute than cheap emotional ploy.

I am curious what the die-hard Yamato fan think of the first new episode. Since I am not super attached to the first series I think I can be a bit more objective about the changes. Where they go with the show from here? I think it has some distinct potential to be a strong re-imagining. The real question is how much the fan base approves of the modernization? Do they still think it contains the heart and soul of the original?

I watched the live action movie adapation of Kimi ni Todoke and it renewed my love for the series.

I haven’t read the manga yet, but the movie covers roughly the first season of the anime with some minor changes. We see the girl that everyone is scared of slowly make friends and open up. We see Kazehaya fall in love with her and Sawako learning what love is. You also get more of a solid conclusion between Kazehaya and Sawako happily. It is a simple story that is very satisfying.

I really liked the casting for everyone especially Sawako and Kazehaya. Haruma Miura is not only a good fit for how cute Kazehaya is, but his expressiveness really added a lot to understanding how Kazehaya felt. He also has a killer smile which is essential! Mikako Tabe also lights up when she smiles so they really fit together.

I cried the last 15-minutes and while I don’t measure all films based on this, it proves how very much it got into my heart. It was really lovely.

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