Category Archives: Full Metal Alchemist

How to Enjoy Chuunibyou Media

Mary sue is a loaded term, which is why when appropriate, chuunibyou seems like a much better alternative when describing TV anime; “chuunibyou” is sufficiently new and foreign enough that most people aren’t quite sure what it is yet. To the point, both terms address fundamental complaints in terms of realism and suspension of disbelief.

Of course, when we deal with anime, certain things are going to be taken as is. Realism in this context has to do with the way the audience engages the material. For instance, most of us attack late-night TV anime as character and drama pieces. We care about character development, and often times you see people try to approach even gag 4koma adaptations from that angle, resulting in a mismatch and the resulting 3rd party chagrin. When I watch Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood I watch for what’s happening to who and what plot is being unraveled and realized, and how are the good guys going about to do their thing as far as the hook goes. I don’t really care about the type of ammunition being used in the frozen environs versus the desert, or the type of socks the military issue to soldiers in those environments–but somehow I am suppose to care about the automail people wear, because it’s kind of an plot device. I guess I’m not suppose to sweat the small stuff.

With that in mind, let’s look at choir drama Tari Tari. In a recent episode, a petty thief was subdued by the power of costume play and hot-powered vocals. The marathon bike chase scene where the costumers chased, on foot, the biking thief that leads into the vocal performance probably did not help either the pursuers and the criminal. Still, we are suppose to believe that the guy on the bicycle is some how even more tired than the high school 3rd years in their tokusatsu outfits. When the second bar of the song kicked in, we are to believe the thief was mesmerized by Wien’s brave visage in front of the setting sun, in some way. Perhaps we can swallow that Sawa’s mother somehow had these outfits, that happens to fit these one-size-fits-all Japanese bodies (along with their one-size-fits-all character designs, maybe), along with the opportunity to make some money on the side. This is drama, we can chalk all that stuff up to coincidence, right? Just like how there’s a thief who’s pocketing something in public, during a public event, right? What’s Japan’s crime rate again?

I suppose it is much better to care about petty things like that, than where would Sawa ride Saburo around–there are not a lot of places around there to fit a fine animal like Saburo without running into people. It’s like the scenic shots across Enoshima, with the Choir And Sometimes Badminton Club running up and down the seaside mostly by themselves. It’s strange because it’s probably full of people if you ever visit Enoshima in real life. To Tari Tari’s credit, thankfully we don’t typically ask these kinds of questions, because we are preoccupied with Konatsu’s plight and the characterization of the group. That’s how we engage with Tari Tari.

But why would I ask these questions? Because I was thinking about it. This is the strange tension between going all Chitanda on something, versus checking your brain at the door and just enjoying something without asking too much questions. The former is great if you can get the audience engaged but you probably don’t want them to ask too many questions and poke through the thin veneer–a beautiful production may be reduced to its component gear-works. This is basically what has happened to SAO for me. This is why being too chuunibyou in the story is problematic. It makes the audience ask the wrong kind of questions.

A better example of this is actually Guilty Crown. In that case, the chuunibyou factor was not extreme, but it was enough, that when combined with its convoluted web of messy plot devices, conspiracies, and strange character dynamics, people have no choice but to engage with straight questions that GC’s flimsy web can’t handle. And once we see the underlying mechanics, we can’t help but to point out where it could’ve been better, because we all have seen it done better somewhere else.

On the flip side, you can see how a story like Hyouka can be very engaging without letting people know its ultimately chuunibyou underbelly. After all, it’s just a boy-meets-girl story where the boy feels like he holds all the cards, and the girl is at least kind enough to let him know about how she wants to approach the situation without outright manipulating him. The end result was a less-predictable life for the boy, a knock and a notch down from that specific, middle-school disease. [If you read my blog and you didn’t know Houtarou starts out in Hyouka with a Type A case of chuu2byou, well, now you know.] It’s very Japanese too in how the men have all the face, because the women are great people who save them.

As an aside, this is partly why I have a hard time watching shows like FMA and mainstream shounen stuff, because precisely I think too much, and those shows ultimately reveal their underbellies if you batter it enough for long enough (most things do). From experience, outside of One Piece, it’s probably never pleasant. I think there are shows that also target this specifically, to their benefit: Simoun comes to mind as a great example. I also think of certain meta shows like Seitokai no Ichizon as a way to both celebrate that problem and bring to catharsis that sort of frustration.

Lastly, I don’t have to explain about shows where that do require checking your brain at the door, right?

PS. I think I just used chuunibyou two different ways in my post, I hope you didn’t get confused.

When Character Development Pisses Me Off…

Sometimes a great story pisses me off because of one little thing. The fly in the ointment.

L stands for Lame

When we’re talking about a movie or a TV show, there is more room, more possibilities to annoy. With a written piece, at the very most, the pensmanship can get in the way. In an anime it can go from terrible music to voice acting to an odd character design.

But there is something worse than all of that. Something much more fundamental. In fact, nothing pisses me off more than a strawman that is not only not disguised, but obviously elevated, highlighted, and having neon lights pointing at it, saying “LOL WATCH MY CARTHARTIC MOMENT 20 EPISODES LATER!” that is typical of the mainstream, serious genre of action and drama. It’s like the show first kicks me in the groin and then reassures me I’ll feel better after I finish the show. Right.

What do I mean by that? Like Ed from FMA; or Light from the recent favorite Death Note. I’m going to use these two as examples, but there are many more out there. I’m also going to contrast it with an example to the contrary, like Yoko from Twelve Kingdoms.

Let’s look at Light first. He is passionate about his notion of justice and his notion of idealism, but obviously out of boredom he takes those ideas way too far. As the main character, his drama will drive the story as well as the various themes to the show. These motivations are fine and all, but I think every time when he mentions anything about crime, punishment, or justice, a little bit of me died inside BECAUSE IT IS SO DUMB.

To dwell on this point a little more, when I said strawman a few paragraphs up there, I mean it exactly that. The writer to the story sets up a character or a symbolic concept within the story that mirrors a position on a grey, moral issue. However when it’s established in a “round” character, this character has to grapple with this position and over the course of the story, change his opinion on this moral position and gain a better understanding behind the overall topic. The writer, knowing that there will be this change, will often set up the main character on a basis that is outright wrong, or overly idealistic or emotional, because this position is just a strawman for the story to attack and abandon later on.

Likewise in FMA, as the story progresses, Ed learns more about what his world is all about, and uncovers things that changes his understanding. Yep. OHNOES SCIENCE > J00? Give me a break.

On the other hand, Yoko Nakajima, as we all know, is kind of this sheltered girl with the same problems similar to Light’s problems. The differences in their abilities may give them different reasons to respond to the same, commonly critiqued Japanese school life experience, but both are annoying characters at first. I think Light goes as far as to embrace from one bad stereotype (the phony, perfect good-doer) to a worse one (a remorseless criminal), while Yoko goes from one common stereotype (whiny, irresponsible girl) to something that’s much more “well rounded”–a person who knows her place and has her moment of carthasis.

Of course, it’s expected that Light will run into the same, and Death Note is just building it up; but when the bulk of the story is about Macbeth fighting off his eventual fate rather than his spiraling down into corruption, to draw a parallel example, it acts as if the story is walking away from resolution and into the void. There is nothing that holds me to be sympathetic to Light. Yoko, on the other hand, is a mostly-helpless girl in a strange land and has to fight to survive, and she wises up accordingly.

To sum it up:

1. Hubris is to be realized over time, not explained from the onset.

2. Sympathy is important if you want the audience to care.

Of course, the fact that both Death Note and Full Metal Alchemist are very popular shows would suggest that my view is wrong, or a minority view. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, of course, since both shows boast large marketing efforts, high production value, as well as interesting plots, set-up, and secondary characters. But I just can’t get past the highly artificial, semi-predictable, kick in the groin. It’s sooooo 3rd rate. It’s what you expect from crappy Hollywood summer blockbuster-wannabes.