Scattered Thoughts on Multiple Narrative Perspectives in Scum’s Wish

One of the things that I find most interesting about Scum’s Wish is its structure of having multiple narrative perspectives. In the first couple episodes Hanabi immediately seemed to take on the role of the protagonist, the character whom we would vicariously live through as the story unfolded, experiencing her feelings and thoughts exclusively. However, the series didn’t waste very much time before taking a sharp turn in its narrative and character progression and perspective, proving this original assumption to not be the case. It begins to shift in episode two, which ends in Ecchan’s point of view, and from then on it slowly but steadily breaks free from convention altogether. Half of episode three is seen from Mugi’s point of view, followed by episode four being told from four different perspectives, and it only grows more sporadic from there. As the series goes on entire episodes are devoted to exploring the individual stories of what in any other series would be considered “side characters”, making any semblance of narrative consistency completely non existent.

It’s hardly unusual for a series to devote entire episodes to developing the personalities and backgrounds of their side characters. In fact, amongst critics who hold concepts such as character development in high esteem, it’s intrinsically required for a show to do so in order to be considered to be of high quality.However, narrative consistency is also a crucial factor for many of these same critics. Background characters should be developed, but also shouldn’t distract from the central narrative.

Scum’s Wish blatantly defies these critical standards. What we would think of as being the show’s “side characters” aren’t simply given a momentary place in the spotlight before being pushed aside to return to the established narrative perspective. Most series featuring large casts of characters among whom it would be difficult to distinguish a single protagonist generally take a much broader narrative approach, telling the story from the perspective of an outsider looking in rather directly from the character’s point of view. However, in Scum’s Wish, so long as they’re given focus, the story becomes about them exclusively. They become the protagonists of the series, blurring traditional character roles altogether.

While being one of the show’s most audacious ventures from a narrative standpoint, for many viewers it also became its downfall. When the story required the viewer to separate Hanabi from the role of the protagonist to allow the perspective to shift to the other characters, it understandably created some confusion and ambivalence amongst some viewers. According to the MAL statistics, this aspect of the show’s structure wasn’t overly detrimental to the majority of its viewership, but as the show entered its second half I started noticing people becoming more vocal about their criticisms of the series. The story begins and ends with Hanabi, which, for many of these viewers, made her inseparable from the role of the protagonist regardless of how the perspective would change throughout the series, and seeing the writers temporarily put her development and exploration on the sidelines to examine the worldviews and perspectives of completely different characters, for lack of a better term, feels wrong, and even without sharing this sentiment it’s not difficult to understand why some viewers would feel this way. It’s partially because it provides us with little time to get to know and care about each of the characters individually, but perhaps more fundamentally because it’s radically different from how we’re used to experiencing every day life.

As people, we are only able to see the world through a singular lens, that of our own. We’re incapable of fully understanding what the world looks like through the eyes of others, which is why the best stories focus on creating a protagonist that general audiences can easily relate to and root for, and perhaps most importantly, that they can vicariously live through. By removing the role of the protagonist, Scum’s Wish created a void in its narrative structure that is difficult to fill and justify with plot and characterization.

I might as well just get it out there; I wasn’t a big fan of Scum’s Wish, primarily because I don’t relate to or connect with any of the characters personally like some viewers are able to, and its multiple narrative perspectives certainly didn’t help in this regard. I understand that the characters aren’t necessarily supposed to be likable, but none of them were focused on long enough for me to become attached to their personalities and individual stories. It’s not that I can’t become invested in or enjoy a show with unlikable characters, it’s that it didn’t give me the time needed to become invested in them. With that in mind, I can actually agree with many of the criticisms I see of the show and understand from my own experience how it left some viewers unable to relate to it.

Despite its narrative perspective being the source of my disconnect with the series, I think this unique style of storytelling reflects and enhances the interpersonal nature of its conclusion. Thanks to the show’s multiple perspectives, throughout the series we explored how each character saw themselves as the protagonists of their stories. Each had their unique individual goals and wanted to experience a traditional “heroes journey” to achieve them. However, by the end of the show, none of the characters were able to accomplish their goals, or at the very least didn’t gain the result that they would have preferred. But their stories didn’t end just because they didn’t get the happy ending they wanted. In the final episode, each character prepares to move on with their lives with all of the emotional baggage that they picked up along the way, and in this moment I was finally able to make an emotional connection with them. They all seemed to say, “Yeah, we made some mistakes, and now we have to carry their weight, but that’s okay. We’ll live on”, and the show’s structure of having no protagonist allowed me to understand what this realization meant to each of the characters individually, making the conclusion to the story feel almost personal, something I can’t say for most of the show.

Maybe I’m being too romantic about all of this, given I was more than happy to put the series to rest when it finally concluded. However, paradoxically, the part of Scum’s Wish that has caused me to feel so indifferent towards it as a whole is the very same thing that intrigues me about it the most. Its multiple narrative perspectives exemplify a fascinating and audacious style of storytelling that I rarely encounter outside of the literary field, and despite some of my critiques of its application within this particular series, I’d really like to it see done again. If this storytelling method was able to keep me engaged in a series as personally unmoving as this one, then I’d be interested in seeing how I would respond to a show with a similar structure featuring characters that are a little bit easier for me to connect with and relate to.

Youjo Senki: Parallels and the Mistake of Being X

Youjo Senki’s finale was utterly fantastic. It concluded its story in a way that felt like the creators had accomplished everything they set out to do while still leaving it open to future additions, which is no small feat. It didn’t end in a spectacular battle, despite its intense depiction of war being among its strongest elements. It ended dramatically, thematically and decidedly through dialogue and monologue. One of the things that made this finale so fantastic was how it tied its conclusion back to the beginning of the show through the use of parallels, while providing us with further insight into the show’s more subtle narrative.

The parallel it establishes with its premise is displayed most prominently in Tanya’s conversation with the Lieutenant Colonel at the beginning of the episode. She begins by claiming that the Empire’s Strategic HQ was doing a poor job making use of their victory, inviting future conflict, to which the Colonel quickly responds by pointing out that the situation Tanya was suggesting, a country deciding to sacrifice itself to prolong a meaningless war, would be ludicrous. Tanya readily agrees that his assessment is logical and rational, but incomplete. She begins by claiming that despite the Empire’s team of strategists being brilliant and knowledgeable, they were unable to grasp the full weight of the situation because they approached it from a strictly rational perspective. She goes on to explain that humans are not driven primarily by rationalism, but by emotion, specifically hatred. Later in the show she goes on to describe how the collective hatred and fear harbored within the defeated nations of the victorious Empire created the first world war. What the Empire’s strategic team had failed to do was account for the emotional response that would surely follow their victory, and it cost them everything.

The Empire’s strategic team was unable to understand primary human motivations because they had been separated from the battlefield and human desperation for so long that they had forgotten what those foundational motivations are, and Tanya recalls a time in her own life when she too failed to understand the dual nature of humanity as both rational and emotional, and had paid the ultimate price for her ignorance. However, the Empire’s soldiers, despite being first hand witnesses to human desperation, were unable to see its full repercussions because of their lack on analytical expertise. In her reincarnation, Tanya is not only a brilliant analyst, but a soldier working on the front lines with the experience leading to her death still fresh in her mind. As a result, she witnesses more acts of human desperation in defiance of rationalism and logic than the country’s strategists, and therefore understands them more fully. Her knowledge of strategy and human nature were what allowed her to see the temporary nature of the Empire’s victory while everyone else was completely oblivious. This is a fascinating expansion of her character in of itself, but there’s a parallel in this dialogue and the rest of the episode that’s easy to miss but present nonetheless.

Hidden beneath the alternate historical war setting fused with fantasy and the supernatural is a psychological and ideological battle between the worst of human nature and God, a contest between creation and creator, humanism versus theism. As the two exchanged blows throughout the show there was crucial mistake that God, or Being X as Tanya calls it, made that only served to prolong the ideological war, and it’s the exact same mistake that the Empire’s strategists made: they failed to understand human nature and motivations. Tanya’s struggles with working within the military are a parallel to her much bigger struggle against Being X.

It isn’t extremely difficult to imagine how this situation came about. Being X, like the Empire’s strategic team, is separated from the harsh realities of human nature. Just as Strategic HQ keeps themselves protected from outside influence inside the government’s richly decorated meeting rooms, Being X, if truly God, keeps itself separated from mankind in the celestial realm, and by admission rarely interferes with his creation personally, its actions concerning Tanya being a rare occurrence. Additionally, in just about any religious text, encounters with God or angelic beings almost never fail to bring mankind to their knees. However, in episode two when the two have their first encounter, Being X expresses his surprise that despite experiencing a physical revelation of the power of God, Tanya refuses to accept it. Tanya’s ideological beliefs and humanistic philosophies have been so hammered into her throughout her life that the concept of God, even as a physical reality, does nothing more than make her laugh.

Nothing about her position makes rational sense. Originally she attempts to raise logical arguments against Being X, but by the end of the show she’s filling its vessel with bullets, an act of violence that serves as a stark contrast to the refined, rational businessman she had been in her previous life. Despite her inability to logically argue against Being X’s existence she still refuses to accept its identity or authority as God, which confuses and baffles it to no end. The post credits scene in the finale make Being X’s mistake more clear than ever before. Tanya’s actions are no longer rationally driven, but the result of pure, untainted hatred, and Being X completely misses it.

This psychological warfare is what makes Youjo Senki such an interesting show that appeals to me both on a surface and conceptual level. Despite the obvious fact that Being X is far more powerful than Tanya, she completely has the advantage over him because of his ignorance concerning human nature, and the question I continuously asked myself throughout the show was “which side is going to learn first?”. Would Tanya finally see how her emotions have clouded her rationality and accept her defeat? Such a plot twist would negate the show’s whole premise, but I did consider it to be a possibility for the end game, and the way Tanya lowered her rifle in the church scene in the finale almost made it seem as if this she had gone soft. Or on the flip side, would Being X realize his mistake in being ignorant of the stubborn, emotional driven nature of his creation and choose to accept his defeat, either by letting Tanya live on or by eliminating her? Since the story is ongoing, neither of these conclusions came to pass within the show’s run, so the question still stands for each viewer to decide for themselves. Which is the stronger force, hateful and irrational man or ignorant and rational God? Instead of answering this question for us, the finale leaves us with Tanya’s redeclaration of war against Being X, a reminder that she’s as psychotic and unrelenting as ever, and this powerful dialogue scene between her and Erich that, while not directly about the ideological narrative, provides us with a parallel that allows us to better understand the nature of the battle the two entities wage with each other.

Video Version:

ACCA’s GENIUS Details (and Less Genius Generalizations)

ACCAs-Genius-Details

It was the cigarette detail and others like in the first few episodes of ACCA that first captured my interest. When Lotta tossed Jean his pack of cigarettes in the first episode, I think not only considered it to be a great addition to the show’s aesthetics and setting, but was also elated to discover that it played a crucial role in understanding the show’s world.

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A while back Under The Scope Reviews did an excellent video on world building, specifically on the importance of details, and it is details that ACCA specializes in and why I was able to remain interested in the story despite it’s leisurely pace and occasional scenes of exposition.

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Flip Flappers: Magical Girls and Thematic Presentation

Flip Flappers is one of the most well constructed shows in its thematic presentation that I’ve seen recently. Everything about it’s conception and structure are brilliantly designed to communicate its ideas and messages. Even the most fundamental element of its complex infrastructure is in service of one of its core themes. If you strip away the references to classic anime, literature, tropes and conventions spanning across a wide variety of genres, Flip Flappers is, at its core, a magical girl show. Even as the two lead characters traverse through the psychedelic call back to Alice and Wonderland, the barren landscape of Mad Max, the haunted Yuri school, the futuristic sci-fi mecha parody and many more, this foundation is always present. So why magical girls? Out of all the genres the series explores and pays tribute to, why settle on this one as its core element?

The idea of magical girls is often associated with adolescence. It’s something that one enjoys as a child but over time is expected to grow out of. It’s acceptable for one to look back at those genres with fondness and nostalgia, but without actively participating them. Since society dictates that genres of this kind are things one is supposed to leave behind as they mature into adulthood, the fact that Flip Flappers, a show specifically dealing with maturity and adulthood, uses a symbol of feminine adolescence to deliver its themes raises the question at hand. The key factor here is that the show never “grows out of it.” Even as it neared completion and began to abandon most of its fantasy aspects in favor of the science fiction genre, in the final two episodes the magical girls make their return, more feminine and powerful than ever before, almost as if the creators were blatantly pointing to it and declaring, “Yes, this is still relevant, pay attention.”

In the first episode, Cocona is introduced as an apathetic and confused middle school student who is being pushed into the adult world when she’s forced to make a weighty decision regarding her future. This is difficult for her because she’s unsure of what she wants out of life and is confused about her identity. It’s hinted at that her parents are absent from her life and that she isn’t very close to the grandmother she lives with. This would seem to imply that in the absence of adult figures in her life to look up to and learn from she’s had to form her own ideas of maturity and identity, and when those ideas are put to the test as she becomes responsible for her own life she becomes confused.

The show gives us a couple hints as to her ideas about maturity. When we first see her room in the first episode, what stands out to me is how ordinary and empty it is. There’s a book and a phone on the table, implying that she’s been studying diligently, a few books, a painting, a cage for her pet rabbit and very little more. In contrast, in the final episode when Cocona wakes up in Sayuri’s home, there are hair supplies, clothes hanging on a line, and anime posters on the walls. What this and some of Cocona’s actions throughout the episode tell me is that she has abandoned her personal identity in an attempt at maintaining a guise of maturity. She’s long since put away any personal interests or casual enjoyments because she’s convinced herself that such things have no place in the life of a mature adult. She appears to be disconnected from all of her classmates except for Yayaka, who she sometimes criticizes for not being serious enough. When Papika comes into her life and drags her into the world of magical girls, Cocona refuses to go with her a second time immediately and without hesitation, symbolizing that she’s she believes that concepts such a childish adventuring, magical girls, and other ideas associated with adolescence, are things she shouldn’t care about. In the few moments that she finds herself having fun, she immediately buries it within herself, returning to her facade of apathy. However, in the end, the magical girl gig is what leads her to an understanding of true mental and emotional maturity and a discovery of her identity. This childlike adventuring that she had been so adamantly opposed to was the very thing that enabled her to grow and develop as a person.

The fact that the show uses the magical girl genre as a symbol for Cocona’s personal journey says volumes about the intentions of the creators and the specific messages the show attempts to convey. Cocona had tried so hard to bury her childhood and personality underneath a guise of apathy that she stunted her personal growth. In order to come into her own as a mature adult, she had to search deep within herself and return to her childhood, a time when preserving her self image by pretending to be mature was something she didn’t care about. She had to let go of her preconceived notions about what it meant to be an adult and learn to enjoy life, abandoning the burden of the identities of her parents that she had carried for so long and learning to accept herself for who she was.

As mentioned earlier, the moment in which Cocona decides to separate herself from the identities of her parents, act on her desires and become her own person is accompanied by another magical girl transformation. Cocona realized that maturity doesn’t mean abandoning who you are and what you enjoy in favor of more “adult” things. The creators couldn’t have made their point any more clear; adulthood and childhood are inseparable, and maturity is embracing who you were, are, and want to become, and when you tie this unique metaphor back into the show’s theme of queer discovery, it becomes even more fascinating and relevant.

Just by being a show about magical girls, Flip Flappers tells us more about Cocona’s personal journey than dialogue ever could.

Why I Didn’t Like Izetta: An Cynical, Analytical Dissection

I don’t regularly write negative posts because normally the things I get the most excited and passionate about are the things that I enjoy, but in Fall 2016 there was an anime that I was deeply disappointed with, and ever since the finale the world has seemed intent on not letting me forget about it. Even now it continues to pop up in my social media, forcing me to think about it more than I normally would and develop lot of clear negative opinions on it. They’ve culminated to the point where I have them all sorted out in my mind and written out in analytical format. Hopefully by the time you’re reading this you’ve already finished Izetta: The Last Witch, because if you haven’t, be prepared to have the entire show spoiled for you. However, I’m going to avoid discussing any major plot points for any of the shows I’ll be referencing for the sake of contrast and comparison.

Note: I know a lot of people enjoyed this show, and I by no means expect everyone to agree with my opinions on it. If you enjoyed it, all I ask is that you consider it from the opposing point of view. And by all means, please share your opinions in the comments, especially if your views are in opposition to my own. I often find I learn the most from the people who disagree with me.

I can’t confidently say that all the facets of Izetta are poorly comprised. It’s never a particularly strong series, but it’s no throw-away show, either. For starters, I thoroughly enjoyed the first and last episodes. The first is set up quite nicely; it introduces its characters, hints at its story, delves into its concepts, briefly depicts real world politics and war, and shows off some competent and vibrant animation. The last episode was enjoyable not only because I was happy for it to finally be over, but also because it was genuinely fun to watch. Some scenes carry real emotional value and others relish in mindless self indulgence, making it an enjoyable viewing experience. Secondly, I’ve been enjoying this recent trend of anime with LGBT+ themes and protagonists that don’t fall into the typical yuri/yaoi genres, so I’m thankful that Izetta is counted among them. Finally, while I have a difficult time calling any of the characters “strong”, in the way that I define character strength, Izetta and Fine are enjoyable to watch because they have clear motivations, personal beliefs and struggles, and good chemistry to boot.

All that being said, those are the only parts of the show that I genuinely enjoyed. If you’ll have me, let’s dig into why. I’ll like to start by dissecting the surface aspects of the show, and we’ll continue to go deeper into it and in more detail as we progress until we reach the core and source of Izetta’s failures.

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Occultic;Nine: The Struggles of an Ambitious Creator

     With today’s anime industry cranking out more shows per season than ever before, many of which instantly forgettable due to lazy writing, sub par production and generic characters and stories, the fan community is quick to jump at any show that differentiates itself from the norm, praising these rule breakers for being inventive, creative, subversive and even deconstructive in their methods of storytelling. In late 2015, the show was One Punch Man. In Winter 2016, it was Konosuba and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. More recently in Fall 2016, it was Flip Flappers. This season, it looks like it’s Kuzo No Honkai. However, while many fans consider shows like these to be fresh and inventive, there are an equal amount of people ready to jump on them from the opposing point of view, accusing them of being pretentious or pointless. Often, the most hotly debated shows within the community are the ones that are doing things differently, for better or worse.

     In the Fall 2016 anime season, no show was more divisive than Occultic;Nine. As a member of the Science Adventure series originally written by Chiyomaru Shikura, the creator of Steins;Gate, it attracted a lot of high expectations prior to its airing. However, after the first episode aired the general reaction seemed to be, more or less, confusion. Structurally speaking, Occultic;Nine is the opposite of Steins;Gate in almost every way. It’s extremely fast paced, its characters are all fairly stereotypical and don’t develop very much throughout the course of the show, and the dialogue is constantly exaggerated, almost to the point of being ridiculous. Most viewers walked away from the first episode with mixed feelings, some dropping it right away and moving on, criticizing it for being pretentious or simply bad.

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Hibike! Euphonium: Character Analysis

Introduction:

Character development is a term thrown around a lot in discussions on storytelling. It’s often a sizable factor in how many critics view whatever media they are reviewing. Briefly, because I don’t feel like doing a full article on it at the moment, character development is important to me because while we, the audience, are viewers and observers of any given story from the outside, we also vicariously live out the story through its characters. A great story does more than look pretty from an outsider’s point of view, rather, it drags its audience kicking and screaming into it, forcing us to experience the characters’ emotions first hand as we find ourselves desperately wanting them to succeed in their goals. When a lead character never changes or develops, the audience can’t experience that because there’s nothing to experience. As humans, we are constantly changing and being changed by our experiences, so seeing a character change and develop only feels natural. When it doesn’t happen, it feels dull and even unnatural, causing me to feel like I’m being ripped out of the story and forced to be an observer again. A great story uses its characters to keep the audience thoroughly engaged and immersed throughout. The line between good and bad character development, however, is extremely subjective. For me, when I think about anime with great character development, a few immediately come to mind, one being the extremely popular high school music drama Hibike! Euphonium.

Whatever your opinion of the show, it’s not difficult to understand why it’s popularity has exploded within the last year. Kyoto Animation (Free, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!) are masters of what they do, specifically slice of life and drama series. From a production standpoint, Hibike is, as the kids are saying these days, on fleek. The animation, soundtrack, voice acting and directing are all top notch. However, while production quality is an important part of how I rate the media I consume on it’s own, we live in a world in which technology is developing so fast that high quality production values have become standard and are no longer a guarantee of a worthwhile story. Anime such as Sword Art Online, Guilty Crown, and more recently Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress have flaunted impeccable production values but still failed to capture the hearts and attention of a widespread audience. This isn’t only true of animation, either. Television, film and literature can all be perpetrators as well. A skilled team of artists doesn’t necessarily guarantee an equally complex product. The way I see it, Hibike is a solid seven out of ten in production alone, but what is it that has caused me and many others to give it an even higher rating? You guessed it: the characters.

A better reviewer than myself could write a massive article detailing why each character in this show is intriguing and important to the story in their own right. However, right now I’d like to examine one of the most obvious and interesting character arcs, that of Kumiko Oumae, the lead character, and a couple things I found interesting about it that weren’t immediately apparent to me upon my first viewing. I’ll be diving into some spoiler territory for season one so if you haven’t watched it, I’d highly recommend it if you don’t mind a bit of musical melodrama. It’s currently available on Crunchyroll for free. Let’s get started.

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