Category Archives: Zero no Tsukaima

Looking at Anime in More Ways than One

I’ve been swamped with work lately, and the Burning Crusade makes it even more difficult to put in some quality think time about this whole deal, let along writing it. I have some ideas floating around that I failed to write down, but just as well ideas that I did. Like that excuse that I just wrote down about work and gaming.

Sort of to bounce off on the Futakoi Alternative bad rap: just as we all hate to be bored while watching anime as a way to entertain ourselves, we hate it when the anime “goes out of bound”. In saying so I’m trying construct a framework to explain how I see anime–that I put on different hats watching different shows.

I’ll go through some example to explain.

Tweeny Witches. This is a curious little show that is full of visual flare and in a way it oozes a lot of “coolness.” But like Studio 4C’s shorts you have to take them straight on. In some sense you can live without the subtext and background information that the equally visceral Satoshi Kon works live within, but unlike those things Tweeny Witches is asking its viewer to be ready for it, rather than trying to ease you into it more casually. As 9-minute TV episodes, it might be kind of hard to do that.

OTOH, a thing like Paprika, because it is a feature film, means its viewers enter it with the mindset of “it’s a film.” They are not only prepared, the format itself demands a tight, timely package of the full narrative experience. You don’t need a hook as much as a serialized publication would. You’re truly looking for an experience.

It’s an entirely different thing than Zero no Tsukaima. I don’t even know if just calling both “anime” reveals all there is that the two share–the basic, medium-sensitive natures of the shows. Perhaps in a greater, “modern visual cultural” context they are together like Jessica Simpson and Colin Powell are both widely-recognized names in American culture. A rigorous dissection quickly reduces Zero as a parade of troupes hung on the skeleton of a simple yet charming juvenile high-fantasy. And because this is so, it is easy to enjoy and require little effort otherwise.

A little more can be said of something closely related, Suzumiya Haruhi no Uuutsu. What it has over Zero is rather unclear once deconstructed. Perhaps the best way to distinguish the two is in the hype and in the production quality: not only in the animation but in the direction, acting, and thoughtfulness to details. It goes farther to bring you more than just the same, tried tale using the same tried devices, even if it does that for a good bit. Perhaps the “Kyon order” of the story is its greatest blessing.

And there is more. Mushishi was a big thing for me. It’s a well-crafted show (although still using some common troupes, despite unusual for an anime) because it manages to package something very good around a form that I normally dislike in a way that I do like. The catch here is that while you can enjoy Mushishi as casual enjoyment, you have to be in the mood, so to speak. To me what makes Mushishi special, aside from the production value and submergence, is what it actually is–a consistent unfolding of themes upon human imperfection resulting from a lack of understanding, but ultimately bound by the ties that makes men and women who they are. Still, what is troublesome is the unwrapping–for the longest time I cannot just sit down and watch this show, even amply prepared.

I wondered why. I think aside from my own personal nitpickery and strangeness, I felt I just had to be in a certain state of mind, with a certain amount of empathy mixed with apathy. A show like Black Lagoon did well for me because it works both when I am emo-blue as well as when I’m cackling with glee. The show itself is a mix of many different things, and while the inconsistency can be a bit off-putting for someone looking for just one thing, it manages to deliver plenty of, well, a lot.

On the flip side is Futakoi Alternative. To make no mistake, it has great production values. However it’s also a little dry, it suffers from having too little spanned across too much time. The direction is also more fitting of a film format even if it took advantage of the serialized, TV format in some of the episodes, to deliver that slice-of-life feel. A lot of the show worked, but a lot of it didn’t either. It gave us a variety of things, but I don’t know if those things worked well together.

Just like some shows are seasonal, some are equally best-tasted when you’re in the right state of mind. For some, it may means until they’re old and tired; some when fresh and not jaded. Others still just needs to have a fresh day to look forward to, or with the right company.

From Pettanko Running-Board to Gothloli Mode, a Plea for Familiarity–Analyzing Appeal

What’s valuable in today’s TV anime is invariably the means to an end. The end is to sell eyeballs–get a large audience–so you can move those home video releases, sell model licenses, CDs, DVDs, radio shows, and adds value to the franchise when you get it licensed out to foreign distros and other derivative producers. But that’s just the cynical view; we watch anime because we get something out of it. It has some value to us.

I watched all of Zero no Tsukaima just a while ago. It is an utmost well-executed package of … something. I call it appeal. It has appeal. It’s not like the music is wonderful. It’s not the designs are wonderful. It isn’t really either that the artistic direction is wonderful. The characters are admittedly flat, expected, and just as exciting as its predictable, third-rate plot. Its humor is just as third-rated. People may call it “fun” or “guilty pleasure” or whatever. Fair enough, I have a hard time finding the right word to describe the whole thing, as I often do.

In retrospect I don’t regret watching something so lame. Not only because it was a bit of a guilty pleasure, but it gave me a chance to look at something with the focus of what exactly made the show tick. And it really ticked–lots of people watched this little thing. And as much as I may be trashing the show, I think Zero no Tsukaima did something really well. What is it? What is its appeal?

[Pettanko jokes? Tsundere? A really tsun-tsunderekko? The Harry Potter suspension of belief? Boobs and nudity? A very good girl? Camaraderie? A combination of several things? The arrangement of several non-offensive elements? Its mood? Good-alignment characters? The romance? Humor? Compromising situations? Uprising of the lowly common folk against an arrogant aristocracy? Gothloli outfits? Repeat villains? Predictability? Magical talking weapons? I know why I liked Nanoha, I don’t know about you…]

Maybe somewhere on that list I skirt what it really is what makes Zero no Tsukaima, objectively, a fun watch. Maybe there’s more to it. But looking back to the show I feel while I liked some parts and pieces of the overall construction, the whole of it was a totally unimaginative familiarity. It is repackage in a very inoffensive presentation which made it easy to pop down episodes after another, with very little in terms of fillers past the first handful of episodes. We love Kirche’s charm without being overbearing. We love Siesta’s boobs and primness. We love Henrietta for the tragic figure that she is and that regal physical appeal. And knowingly or not Louise is the magical active ingredient to the entire sloshy mix of appealing positive goodness wet dreams are made of, so we actually have a story.

Perhaps that is all there is to Zero no Tsukaima?

But is that all there is to, say, Negima!? Maybe. I hated the original Akamatsu incarnation, and rightly so. I applaud what he created, and I think it is a very divisive piece. But perhaps equally controversial is Akiyuki Shinbo‘s animated remake.

And I think this is much worthwhile of a subject matter to dwell on than Fat Taiyaki Girl or something to do with mornings. An alternative anime. I love alternative anime. And I mean it both ways–a derivative work as well as something that evokes the un-mainstream.

But is the Negima remake all that unconventional? Actually, aside from the fact that I see more of the darker parts of Tsukuyomi and SoulTaker than Pani Poni Dash (an observation that probably betrays my interest to the franchise, expectedly), I think it evokes more, in me, the familiarity of Akiyuki Shinbo’s signature works. It’s like stumbling on something you thought you lost ages ago. It’s comforting, perhaps, even satisfying a deeper longing caused by his earlier works that I didn’t know I had. In fact I think the only radical thing about the Negima remake is that it is an off-beat remake at all.

All this merely illustrates the point about appeal and familiarity. Akiyuki Shinbo speaks a language that I understand, in his direction. And Zero no Tsukaima speaks yet another that more of us understand. It’s a bit like finding a familiar face who speaks your tongue in a foreign land, and no matter if this familiar face is a toddling 2yo or a professional comedian, it’s good stuff.