Sunday, 21 October 2012

黒執事/ Kuroshitsuji: OVAs

 I have to say, I didn’t think that I’d be writing any more impressions about Kuroshitsuji, but as it turned out the franchise has been proving enduringly popular with its target demographic (ie young Japanese women), so there have been a stream of vocal albums, a lengthy ‘Red Valentine’ event for the voice actors and these, an extensive list of OVAs. Had there been two or three bits of extra animation, I probably wouldn’t bother to write anything – I never wrote thoughts on Rozen Maiden Ouvertüre, and I loved that – but this was quite a lot of animation. There was a single OVA for the first season – a godawful mess where the cast butchered Hamlet and the writers had a very odd idea of how audiences will react to dramatics – but the second season had no less than six episodes. That’s more animation than there is in quite a lot of the things I review.
They are a very mixed bag, all trying different things, and none of them simply being episodes that could be slipped into the main series, which is quite a nice idea. Unfortunately, the ideas generally aren’t very good ones, probably the best amongst them being ‘The Tale of Will the Shinigami’, which is a flashback featuring William T. Spears and Grell in their early days, becoming qualified in their jobs as shinigami and learning to be heartless. Unlike, say, the absurd caricature in that Hamlet OVA, Grell is written a little better here, flamboyant but still proud and formidable rather than a mere joke. Other than the absence of the main cast, it could have been one of the stronger episodes in the weak second series.
The rest are on the very odd side. The most prominent, perhaps, are the two ‘Ciel in Wonderland’ OVAs, a lazy concept that is also some of the worst crap associated with the much-reviled series. Clearly an excuse to put Ciel in another dress, there is very little to it – over the course of the two episodes, Ciel meets various cast members based on the characters of Alice in Wonderland, and much is made of him growing and shrinking. In the end, nothing much happens other than that Ciel is shown to be greatly dependent on Sebastian, which seems to be rather the titillating thrill for the series’ audience. The only part I found curious and interesting was the way Ran-Mao was presented – here in a daft skin-tight toadstool outfit, her role as a sort of plaything for Lau becomes warped into a figure of overt female sexuality. She goes for cross-dressing Ciel with her large breasts and her shapely bottom, and it is presented as absurd and repulsive. This is an interesting social phenomenon, for me – here is a very homoerotic anime based on a suggestive pederastic relationship, primarily celebrating the pretty men and boys who are attracted to one another. Left to their own devices and delivering OVAs that are very much based on fanservice, the anime makers present being a provocative woman as rather horrific.

But this is not to say that the female is inherently repulsive, as seen in the odd ‘Welcome to the Phantomhive’s’ episode, which hints that a woman is likely to have a wonderful, slightly thrillingly dangerous time in the company of the cast – as long as she is stately and decorous, in-keeping with the idealised version of Victorian England. The episode makes a direct attempt to place the viewer in the role of a woman visiting the Phantomhive house, which is one of the oddest things I’ve seen attempted. The entire episode takes place from a first-person perspective, in the manner of a visual novel. She is introduced to the various loveable but mysterious characters, and is later shown as having a sinister ulterior motive for being there, though is easily thwarted – yet still treated gently. It’s a peculiar and fascinating piece of wish-fulfilment, as blatant as could be, on the face of it high camp but also a glimpse into giving an audience exactly what it wants.
The other two episodes are a little more straightforward, though one is far stranger than the other. One is just another snippet of life with Alois, who I found intensely annoying so didn’t care very much for, damaged goods or no. The triplets getting to speak their minds was quite amusing, but the butterfly element was painfully trite. The other episode, ‘The Making of Kuroshitsuji II’ was peculiar indeed. I’ve seen mini-episodes before where the premise is that the characters of the series are real but act as themselves to make the show – Naruto has done it more than once in post-episode skits – but never quite on this scale, and never quite so self-congratulatory. The episode takes the tongue-in-cheek viewpoint that Kuroshitsuji was an international smash-hit, and that its characters are huge celebrities now. Quite amusing though the exaggeration was, the more subtle effect is of course that the viewer feels part of something grand and inclusive, which is bound to be encouraging.
These episodes are at once horribly bad and quite cleverly-done. They’re only for fans – but that’s rather the point. They know what they’re making is going to look stupid or even reprehensible to the outsider, but that’s no different from what you get in the OVAs for moé series, or in visual novels. But in terms of going to the extreme, being extremely upfront about pleasing fans and casting out all semblance of subtlety, this is a very interesting little set of animations.

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