Monday, July 18, 2011

Anime Review: Gosick

The one anime that carried over from the winter season for me and one where I was really curious about the setting, 1920s Europe with mysteries? Mmmm, sounds like fun, although I was rather annoyed when there wasn't a single bit of 1920s fashion or architecture in the entire show, and this show reminded me that there aren't that many mystery anime actually. Quite a few horror anime have a mystery element to them (such as Ghost Hunt) but normally this genre only shows up once every two or three seasons and normally it's mystery plus another genre. Gosick isn't just a mystery show itself, if anything I would call it a drama with a lot of mystery cases in it and an odd genre shift in the end. Also, I do mention events relating to the final arc of the story but I try to refrain from actual spoilers so any huge spoilerphobes might not want to check out the footnotes this time.


Summary: Set in 1924, Saubure (a fictional country located next to France), Kujo is a student from Japan who is having a hard time making friends since the superstitious locals are convinced that he looks like "the reaper who comes in the spring" from legend. One day when browsing in the library he comes across Victorique, a doll-like girl who seems to live in the library and he slowly becomes friends with this young, genius detective who is seen as even more of an outsider than he is.

The Good: Towards the middle of the series the story finds it's feet, the mysteries become a little more complex, the characters begin to work really well with each other and the overall plot of the story is revealed. In short, once the series hit its stride it becomes a really interesting story that manages to balance a number of different subplots without becoming too confusing. Victorique, and to a lesser extent Kujo, goes through a huge amount of character development and their relationship, which is the real heart of the story, also goes through a tremendous amount of change which is a real joy to see.

The Bad: There appears to be just one reason why the story was set in the 1920s and that was to reference both of the World Wars and make WWII an important plot point. The viewers are well aware that WWII started in 1939 but the original author, well, might not have. If it's an alternate history it's dumb and if it's real history then it's doubly stupid and not just because of the historical inaccuracies* but because the characters never give any reason for why they're starting this war in the first place. There's nothing to be gained, no one to fight, it's hard to tell if the people even support the idea (some do but I honestly thought they were brain-washed at points) and considering that this war is sorta-kinda supposed to be the culmination of the entire show these are all really big problems. The beginning had problems too (such as mysteries that could be solved before the witness was even half-way done explaining the mystery and some pacing issues^) but that part of the story got better, the beginning of the final arc works very well but then logic, common sense and a basic knowledge of history fly out the window and leave a mess in a completely different genre than the story started in.

The Audio: The series has one opening song and two closing ones and the first closing song is the strongest out of the three of them. There is simply something about the beginning of the song (quiet vocals and instrumental and then the instruments rise up before falling back to the same level as the vocals again) that makes it such a dramatic song. An instrumental version of the song was used at one point during the show and, IMO, should have been used more often. The opening was alright but there was a rather amusing discovery that if you swap the opening with the opening of Gurren Laggan the images still match up with the pace of the song well. As for the voices, Cordelia had the same kind of slightly husky quality to her voice that Victorique has, a nice touch, and Victorique thankfully has a bit of a deep voice, not the ultra cute moe moe one you would expect from her size/appearance. In the books she is described as having the voice of an older woman and, while that isn't quite accurate here, her voice still seemed like a very good match.

The Visuals: As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there is very little in this series to visually suggest that it's even set in the 1920s instead of the Edwardian or Victorian eras (which makes me even more suspicious that this setting was chosen soley because it was situated between the two world wars). Someone at Bones however had the brilliant idea of doing all the visuals in the era-appropriate Art Deco style (which I adore) and it makes for one of the more distinctive openings of the year. Other than there, all of the visuals were consistently good but it simply doesn't have the kind of action and fluidity one normally expects out of a Bones work, which is odd since this was done by the same team that did Heroman a year earlier. It's true that the series doesn't have a lot of action but the show still feels like an odd choice for Bones.

Once the story really got going, and the mysteries got better, I really did like this series but the last two episodes just left a terrible taste in my mouth. It's strange, I like how that final arc started out but then it just went bonkers and, with the final light novel coming out soon, I hope someone posts spoilers to compare the two. At this point I honestly don't know if I want to buy it, this just feels like the kind of show that would get licensed over here, since I did like so much of it and I can pretend that the last two episodes don't exist but I just don't know. For the moment however it is streaming on crunchyroll if anyone wants to check it out, no harm in trying the series out at least!  

*now, if this is an alternate history, I've never been a big fan of the "oh a couple of things did go differently in history but when the story starts everything is the exact same as it is in our world. Once the main characters get involved however THEN stuff goes crazy" trope, it's just illogical (one of my bigger complaints about the Temaire series). But if Gosick IS set in our world, hooooo boy. In 1925, the start of World War II in this version, it was apparently one of the most stable interwar periods and a full 15 years before events culimated in the invasion of Poland. It's mentioned in the show that Saubure is allied with Germany, which certainly wouldn't have had the resources at the time (Hitler hadn't even written Mein Kampf yet, and they never explain who or what they're fighting, there's no explanation for how Japan apparently gets bombed or where the scenes involving Kujo were (I've seen people speculate Manchuria, which was my first thought, or somewhere in Russia which would match the weather better).
^the pacing issue seems to come from the anime combining the novels and the short stories and not doing them in the correct order. From what I've heard (so this could be wrong, anyone who knows more feel free to speak up), Kujo has already met Avril, Victorique and Grevil by the time the first volume starts and then the Queen Berry arc, the first anime arc, happens. Chronologically however the short story that introduces Avril came first and one major problem for Kujo hinges on whether or not he believes that Victorique is a real person (instead of being "the golden fairy in the library," another local supersition). In the anime this is the second arc and, after seeing Victorique run all around the ship with Kujo and the other characters (plus interacting with them) it's hard to believe even for a second that she's not real and the whole arc feels pointless. A shame since otherwise it would have been nice and, for people debating whether or not to continue the series, it doesn't make a good case for doing so.  

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