Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Anime Review: Mekaku City Actors

A couple of years ago I first heard of the Kagero Project and went looking for information on it, I wasn't even sure what exactly it was, and was horribly confused when I tried skimming tvtropes and wikipedia articles on it. The basic set-up is that an editor, Jin, used the vocaloid program to make a series of songs, which were later put to videos, that sort of told a story and then were later adapted into a light novel series, a manga, and then eventually this anime, think of it as the story becoming more accessible each time it was adapted. So I tried out a few videos and liked some but was just plain confused by others and decided to wait it out until the adaptation to see if the story worked any better here, especially since in an odd twist Jin himself was doing the writing for the series (I can't find a staff listing that credits him with a particular role so I'm assuming he helped with the series composition or scenario instead of writing the actual scripts). So, while this is certainly the easiest version of the story for people to get into and finish, is it the "best" one?

Mekaku City Actors

After the death of the only person he could call his friend, Shintaro hasn't left his house in two years and barely socializes with anyone other than his mom, his younger idol sister, and the weird virus on his computer. He's half wondering if she's sentient when she forces him to go outside on a shopping trip and his already strange life goes from bad to bizarre as he falls in with other strange characters who seem to know the same people he once did and all share an power.

To get straight to the point, this story had a number of issues plaguing it which kept me from both enjoying it whole heartedly or really recommending it. None of it's flaws on their own are deal breaks but put together and it feels like a bit of a sloppy show. It has a hard time balancing all of it's cast and I'm of the opinion that even if they aren't all main characters that they all do need enough screentime to grow due to the craziness in their lives which only happened for some of them (I'm finding it especially ironic that the most "important" character in the end is the one who didn't change at all during the story itself and most of her characterization came from flashbacks instead). This story was also way too big to fit into just 12 episodes no matter how much they cut, the pacing and choices on how to focus on got very weird at times. For example, I ended up liking the character Momo a lot but she had much more screen time here than the parts of the manga I checked out and, since she isn't "a main character" I'm not sure giving her that much screentime over the other characters was a smart choice. Also, this is a story that involves time-loops and with such limited time the way that this version of the story handles it is just sloppy. The way it's introduced is just fine but towards the end I felt that I would have missed out on a lot if I hadn't tried out the other versions of the story, plus with both more episodes and an element of time-looping the story could have been much more interesting*.

There's no real alternative for the "best" way to experience this story either, ignoring the fact that the anime diverges plot wise from the manga and the light novels (as I understood it, this is the "true" path of the story so I'm assuming both of those versions will eventually have similar endings). For the alternatives, I personally find the music videos a bit hard to decipher and I'm amazed that a fandom was able to exist around those alone ("if it exists there is a fandom for it" must be another law of the internet). I haven't been able to try out the light novels but I did read some of the manga and, ehhh. It has it's strengths and weaknesses as well, the pacing still isn't perfect there (I couldnt' help but think that early on, where they still align, that if you combined the manga and the anime you'd get the perfect balance) but many of the scenes in the early episodes that I found overly long and boring are absent here. It's painfully obvious to me that this is the work of a young, new writer who really needs more time and possibly more beta readers/editors to help get the story to where it should be structurally and, as I often say when I have this complaint, I'm surprised that the anime didn't tighten up the writing more especially since Jin did have a chance to change things and must've seen at least one or two places where things should have worked differently.

For a series that's based on a series of music videos, honestly I don't have much to say about the production of the series. AJtheFourth already pointed out that the art style in the original videos looks a lot like Shaft's house style to start with and my only thoughts were yup, this sure reminds me of Bakemonogatari (although I did wonder if the terrible CGI in one episode was terrible on purpose or just another example of how Japanese CGI of people is usually terrible). I did like some of the songs quite well but only some of them, it would have been rather nice if they could have included more of them into the series but I can understand why they only tried to fit in one song per episode. Ironically enough out of everything this franchise has given me that's what I want the most, the covers of these songs and any others they make covers of, and yet that's what they know people want the most so that's the hardest and most expensive part to get! So for the moment I'm stuck with this series that was entertaining enough at times but not consistently good enough for me to want to rewatch or buy, for everyone else it's streaming on crunchyroll and licensed by Aniplex so expect an over-priced physical media release sometime next year.

*I'm not the only person whose proposed redoing the general structure of the story too, I've seen one person suggest that the story go completely chronologically from it's distant start to the modern day. I've proposed starting where it starts here but also jumping between more character points of view, which would involve some changes in time, since I felt like that would better up the suspense and seeing the same reveal happen to two groups of characters at the same time would make for a much stronger impact on the viewer as well.