Monday, March 7, 2016

Anime Review: Seraph of the End: Battle in Nagoya

With this I am finally caught up with my fall season reviews, wahoo! Straight onto the winter season reviews next week since one show I was watching (a short) has already ended and after that, geeze, maybe I'll have time for a few backlog show reviews too! Hmm, guess that means I'll need to actually finish up a few of them first....

Seraph of the End: Battle in Nagoya

 No matter how much both sides for it, neither humans nor vampires can fully eradicate the other. Both sides are too tenacious and have too many plotters and planners manipulating the sides and stakes for anything to be resolved, even if a few of the higher ups know that they could still incite an even worse tragedy. Yuu and his crew aren't some of those people however, despite being something more than human, they're still just foot soldiers in the fight against vampires and this time around their superiors order them to Nagoya (Tokyo) for a massive strike against the vampire nobles. Mika sees this as another chance to save Yuu from the humans and it seems as if both former friends are doomed to clash once more.

With the first season I watched the show week to week more or less. This past fall I had more than enough shows to occupy me on the weekends so I pushed Seraph back, figuring that it would make a good show to marathon when I needed to watch just something. I should probably mention that I ended up watching it while sick (for returning readers, this was cold #1 in early January which honestly may have been the flu in retrospect) and the show actually did not hold up as well as I expected. I watched it over a week or so, so two or three episodes a day, and found that the pacing really didn't work when marathoning. 

This half of the show (barring the last five minutes or so of the last episode) takes place over the course of a week tops and the majority of the action takes place during a single day. The story isn't told in real-time, and for the most part they aren't overly dragged-out, but after a while I had trouble believing the characters when they talked about how they don't have much time left, they have to go and do a thing now! This is definitely a fighting shounen problem, balancing how time passes in the comic vs how it passes for the readers, and it just didn't quite work here. I don't know how if it could have been slimed down without cutting out an entire fight, and the anime adapted up to the very latest chapter so it needed all the material there was, but regardless that really hurt the show for me and reminded me that it's main priority isn't solving character backstories or doing something grand, it's goal is to show a lot of fights and hope they look cool.

Honestly the series did look fairly cool, when the adaption was announced I saw some folks get nervous/make jokes (depending on their temperament) that Studio Wit hopefully learned something after their adaption of Attack on Titan got a bit messy production-wise partway through. So I was expecting the production to melt down here but actually everything looked fine! There wasn't a plethora of overly obvious CGI (ie "we outsourced it since we're stretched too thin with too many deadlines") and nothing looked widely off-model either. Honestly the moment I remember best from the show is this great effects scene which is so detailed I would have thought it was CGI, no one has time to make something that nice for a one-off, television use! So one positive thing I can say about the series is that it does hold together visually, it's not always the most innovative (the old school style backgrounds did grow on me but I wish the show had been more daring with the color schemes overall) but it knows what it can do and does that well.

While I did marathon this second half, I wonder if some parts of the show may have worked better if I had marathoned the whole thing. Obviously it wouldn't have helped the pacing but there were some character "arcs" that might flow better if you don't see the series with a multi-month gap in-between. I'm thinking specifically about Shinoa and Guren here, I still feel like Shinoa has been toned down from her overly-snarky self in the manga but in this second half of the anime she practically vanishes. After getting reprimanded early on (for an honestly out of character moment, she convinces the rest of the group to leave Yuu behind at one point) she's subdued for the rest of the series and it felt odd that this was The Moment that changed her. She does face other problems in the series and her failure to handle them as well also plays into her backing down from tackling everything with humor (it was nice that the show never made her question her position of authority since she still is the best suited to leading the squad) but seeing her retreat so much was sad, having incomplete character arcs like this is part of the problem of unresolved series I suppose.

Guren is a different problem, either in the gap between seasons or late in the first season I learned that he is also supposed to be a main character (on par with Yuu) and was surprised since the series hadn't set him up that way at all! He is the star of the accompanying light novel series but as a non-LN reader it was a bit of a shock to see him suddenly have many more scenes to himself and a far greater focus on him in this half overall. Guren has never been handled very well in my opinion, I can tell that the anime wants me to like him and think of him as a young man (younger than I keep thinking anyway) who is dealing with a lot of issues and as a result not handling all of them well (like the issue that is Yuu) but going by his actions he just seems like a perpetually unhappy and somewhat angry person who just doesn't care about interacting with people (not "has trouble with", simply does not care and gets away with it in a way that only a fictional character can). Like Shinoa, I wonder if he arc would play out more naturally without the gap (and there certainly were Guren-focused scenes in the first half) but it certainly didn't work for me here.

So, if we got a third season of Seraph (in a couple of years once there's enough material for it), would I watch more, or go read the manga? The answer is probably, the series is good at popcorn entertainment and I can always hope that the pacing smooths out. It's not an unwatchable series but I also think that all of these problems could be allievated with more careful writing and planning

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