Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Bottom 10 of 2014: What Just Did Not Work

I am not normally a negative person. When I watch shows, I watch them with the full intention of liking them, which does more often than not mean my overall evaluation of a show leans toward the positive side as I overlook various flaws the show might have. That does not mean I ignore those flaws, though, and sometimes they do noticeably detract from a show. And sometimes, the best way to know what works for me is to note what does not work.

So here are the parts of shows from 2014 that just did not work for me the most. Many of these come from shows I otherwise liked; in some cases they keep the show from ranking significantly higher, and in other cases they are just black marks on otherwise fantastic shows that I more or less overlook.  I'm not going to bother with stuff like "fanservice" or, say, the yuri in Sakura Trick, since that was aimed at a particular audience that I'm not a part of; rather, I'm looking at those things that were aimed at someone like me but failed to deliver. And, of course, this is my opinion, so you are certainly going to disagree with me; just be respectful and leave a comment on why you disagree, or what you felt the worst parts of 2014 are, or if you do agree with me on one or more of these.

My reaction to these moments.

#10. Mushi-shi's time-loop episode

Mushi-shi is an absolutely amazing series in all sorts of ways, but as an episodic show, one can expect the episodes to vary in quality a bit, with some episodes being weaker than others. Episode 12 of the second season (or rather, episode 2 of the second half of the second season) is what I consider the show's weakest episode. It features a mushi that can somehow throw the living things it consumes into a time loop. While it's meant to make us think about having regrets in life, for me it just makes me think about just where on the time-space continuum the show is actually supposed to take place. Time travel is already one of the hardest story mechanics to execute, with even shows dedicated to it requiring a lot more suspension of disbelief than normal; for a show that's actually rather grounded in its own reality like Mushi-shi, I just feel something like time travel does not have a place here.

#9. The World is Still Beautiful overuses its one rain song

Get used to hearing this... a lot.
When Nike, this show's rain-summoning female lead, first sung "Tender Rain" (actual name: "Ame Furashi no Uta ~Beautiful Rain~") in episode 2, it was one of my favorite anime moments of the year. Sure, it was a cheesy song with gratuitous Engrish, but it worked well in a sort of Disney song way. When the same song was repeated for the seventh or eighth time, though... I just rolled my eyes. I guess the show had budget issues, but the constant re-use of the same song really took away from many of the show's otherwise good rain-summoning moments.

#8. Golden Time's Ghost Banri gets vengeful

Some spoilers about this show, so highlight for the rundown: Ghost Banri is already a bit of a misfit as a somewhat supernatural element in a show that is otherwise grounded in reality, but at least he could represent Banri's pre-amnesia consciousness that occasionally surfaces now and then, which worked for the show's drama. What did not work was one moment when this ghost Banri gets vengeful over actual Banri's ignorance of him and actually started "cursing" Banri with various misfortunes. Sure, it could all be coincidences, but the whole thing really just felt out of place. At least after that arc, Ghost Banri mostly faded into the background.

#7. Super Sonico's detective episode

After episode 7 provided one of the best episodes in the entire year, I was worried that episode 8 wouldn't be able to live up to it, with the show's rather inconsistent episode quality, but that episode failed even harder than I could have expected. The episode was intended to be a detective mystery episode, but the whole thing was boring, and made even more intolerable because the detective, the little sister of one of Sonico's bandmates, is an annoying brat. Nowhere is the inconsistent quality of this show more apparent than here.

#6. Yowamushi Pedal's Midousuji

The opponent that is grossly overconfident in his abilities and will also use underhanded means to win is a staple of competition shows that usually causes at least some annoyance, but Midousuji from Yowamushi Pedal, particularly at the end of the first season, takes it to a whole new level. Not only does he resort to nasty psychological tactics against his opponents, but he also spends a whole lot of time just talking down to the other teams, with what has to be some of the most annoying voice and mannerisms in anime. That was probably his biggest problem; he spent more time talking and less time actually racing--it's the whole "show, don't tell" thing of storytelling. Not even some backstory given in the second season made him any more likable.

#5. Le Fruit de la Grisaia's myriad problems

This is the only entire show that I'm putting on the list. It's the lowest-scoring show that I finished from 2014's shows, and it's also the only show that scored below 7.0. I mentioned the reasons for why in my first part of the list, but what it basically boils down to is bad pacing and the sheer ridiculousness of the scenarios taking away from their emotional impact. I'm also hearing of some odd changes from the original visual novel, which I'll find out for myself when they officially get released in English. So yeah, this whole show had issues. Still, I did get at least some enjoyment out of it, so it's not as bad as the individual moments below.

#4. Girl Friend BETA's extreme drama over a cultural misunderstanding

Like Super Sonico, Girl Friend BETA's quality can vary greatly from episode to episode. In this case, the low point of the show comes in at episode 11, and man, is it a bad one. The show takes a dramatic turn as Chloe, the transfer student from France, is asked by her parents to return home as they do not feel she is safe living by herself in Japan. This initially provides for a nice moment for Chloe's friends to show their support for her, and at first, it looks like they might get through to her parents... but when Chloe's father himself shows up to take Chloe back, still thinking she isn't safe, it's revealed the real reason for his concern... and it's really stupid. Turns out, because Chloe didn't describe some Japanese customs well enough, her parents thought she was in physical danger from a bunch of Japanese traditions. It's a miscommunication that is resolved quickly and just makes all the preceding drama just fall flat on its face. That the music tried to play up the big reveal as something serious and dramatic only makes the moment worse.

#3. Denki-gai's overused "girl power" joke

While all of the above things are problematic, the top three "earned" their spots by being potentially offensive. First moment to gain this dishonorable distinction is Denki-gai, which already has a number of questionable comedy moments, though for the most part those work in their own way. However, one episode features a rather distasteful joke in which "Sensei", the resident mangaka who has a crush on the relatively normal Umio, is forcibly taken aside by some of the others, only to be shown a video of her activities and how various things she does are taking away from her "girl power". The big problems with this sequence is that it goes on for far too long, even bleeding into future episodes, and that it gives bad messages on what sorts of behaviors are "girly" enough to appeal to guys. It does get forgiven somewhat by a brief moment when the same girl that is pushing all this "girl power" stuff on Sensei later comments, albeit drunkenly, that she actually does have plenty of "girl power", but it's still a joke that should not have been taken as far as it did.

That said, the top two of this list are, honestly, miles worse than this. And as such, I will be talking about them in more depth.

#2. Love Live's poor attempt at a weight loss episode

Whenever a show does an episode on dieting and weight loss, it's a subject it has to be careful with because of the message such an episode can send to those actually considering losing weight. And while I'm a big fan of all things Love Live, the anime's second season's attempt at a weight loss episode (in episode 7) was an absolute disaster. The show already starts with a dubious moment of Honoka having gained weight, and being told to lose it as maintaining a good figure is an important part of being a school idol--already a questionable message, and one made worse when some other girls compliment Umi's and Kotori's figures but not hers. So she and Hanayo (who's also overweight because, well, she eats a lot) go on a big diet and exercise regiment. And at the end, Hanayo manages to get back to her normal weight but Honoka does not because she keeps sneaking in snacks. But that's not where the real problem comes in.

The real problem comes when a subplot is introduced, in which Honoka, Umi, and Kotori, as the student council, must fix an issue in which a club's budget was prematurely approved. In and of itself, it's an okay subplot, one that could have fit in fine in any other episode. The problem comes when, at the end, it's revealed that Honoka returned back to her normal weight... because she was so stressed out over the issue that she forgot to eat.

Hanayo is not amused.

No. Just... no. This is not how you conclude a weight loss episode. You should never make any kind of insinuation, intentional or not, that the way to lose weight is to stop eating. It is absolutely irresponsible for such a script to be approved and is a massive black mark on what is otherwise an amazing show. It's also worth nothing that the Love Live! School idol festival mobile game has a better diet-related storyline, making this one of the few times when an anime's story is beat by a mobile game.

And all things considered, it is just one bad episode that doesn't really affect the main storyline. But the worst part of 2014 is something that poisoned an entire show, and while it did not kill the show, it seriously kept it from reaching its full potential. So let's look at the worst of 2014...

#1. Terror in Resonance's treatment of its female characters

Oh, where did this go so wrong... After the first episode of Terror in Resonance, I seriously thought this show had a chance of becoming one of the best shows of the year, not because of the provocative imagery of two boys blowing up the Tokyo Metropolitan Building in a way reminiscent of 9/11, but because one seemingly innocent girl, Lisa, inadvertently ends up with them and entangled in their plans. This had the potential for all sorts of great development, whether in seeing how the boys' plans are complicated by her presence or how Lisa herself might get twisted through her involvement. However, the show ultimately failed to live up to its potential. Why?

Well, the introduction of an actual villain in Five did not help. Not only does her presence remove a lot of the moral ambiguity of Nine and Twelve's actions, but she herself is not an interesting character at all, instead just being an obvious "femme fatale" archetype with her only notable trait being "wanting to play with Nine and Twelve". Given her history of being from the same institution as those two, she could have had a lot of moral depth to her, but instead she ends up more like a victim than anything else, just to show what kind of a monster such an institution has created.

And then there's Lisa. Despite all the potential her character had, amplified when she took an active role in Sphinx's plans, all that potential fell apart when she was caught by Five and ended up as just a damsel in distress that Nine and Twelve had to save. And then, she stops taking any sort of an active role as she just keeps needing to be rescued. Her only role is to be a morality pet for Nine and Twelve, someone who is just there to be innocent and helpless so that Nine and Twelve are compelled to protect her. Ironically, it's a description that is often used to criticize "moé" characters, and while I'm the last person to have a problem with moé, for a show like this that is obviously trying to distinguish itself against that aesthetic, that Lisa comes off as a stereotypical moé character really feels out of place.

Yes, that's a bomb strapped to her. Always gotta strap the bomb to the girl.

The greater problem is that, in the end, for all that Terror in Resonance might have wanted to stand above the shows commonly put out nowadays, it shot itself in the foot by having its main female characters being passive, flat characters who are entirely defined by the significant males in their lives. Whether intentional or not, it's a type of sexism that might be forgiven in a less ambitious show but has no place here. And especially in a medium that I believe has some of the strongest female characters in fiction, even among "moé" shows, for this show to fail in writing its female characters is just that much more of a disappointment. Terror in Resonance is still an entertaining show for other reasons, but it could have been so much more.


Well, that's enough negativity for 2014. Stay tuned for the next installment of my favorite anime from 2014. They might be bringing up the rear half of the list but they are all great shows.

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