Wednesday, 3 October 2018

ハイスコアガール / High Score Girl

I was wary for a long time about these CG anime shows. CG crept into anime bit by bit – first vehicles in shows like Last Exile, then mecha, then cute girls strictly when singing and dancing, and now we’ve reached the stage where whole shows are made in CG. I’d still much rather see traditional animation, and CG animation on TV still usually looks awkward and stiff, but slowly these shows are winning me over. I really enjoy watching Koneko no Chii even after its transitionto CG, and Kemono Friends is undoubtedly cute even if the animation style is rough around the edges.

With High Score Girl, I wanted to watch no matter the medium. I love shows that bring in characters or references from all kinds of properties that you don’t often see together. Maybe the trend got a bit out of hand lately with Wreck-It Ralph and Ready Player One and all the rest of it, but the prospect of the show heavily referencing nostalgic video games really appealed to me. There was also a bit of interesting history here, with SNK having made a copyright claim against Square for use of their characters in the original manga, later settled out of court. The very premise of these characters sharing pages with dozens of other retro game characters really piqued my interest.

There isn’t actually much of the game characters in the series. Aside from Guile from Street Fighter, who acts as a kind of guardian angel, generally we just see games as the characters play them. A few others pop up from time to time, but this isn’t a story about video game characters or anything like that. It’s a story about a boy who plays games.

Partly, this show is fun to watch because of the nostalgia goggles. Obviously, I didn’t grow up in Japan, but I did grow up at a time when the arcade scene was thriving. It’s so fun to see someone getting excited over Mortal Kombat or Darkstalkers games, and remembering back when Tekken and Virtua Fighter were the new kids on the block.

At its core, this is a love story. A love triangle story, in fact. There’s a funny-looking kid obsessed with games called Yaguchi Haruo, and the only thing that’s important to him is playing video games, right when they’re emerging. Otherwise he’s a bit useless. Useless at sports, useless in school, useless with girls. Except that one day he comes across his elite, rich, ladylike classmate Oono playing Street Fighter 2. The two of them then become close and begin to bond over escaping the problems of their daily lives by playing games. Not only that but a few years later, another girl called Hidaka is drawn to Yaguchi’s passion and develops a crush on him.

Now, on a superficial level, this is some pretty awkward wish-fulfilment with a certain level of objectification that is uncomfortable. Despite being a scrawny, ugly kid who just loves to game, this boy gets not one beautiful girl but two falling for him. Pretty standard wish-fulfilment. To make it even more questionable, the idealised, universally-adored, wonderful love interest Oono has a defining characteristic – she never talks. The perfect girl that everyone loves is the one who doesn’t ever speak. Just blushes, relies on the boy she likes and occasionally gets angry and lashes out at him in slapstick style. The perfect girl doesn’t speak. Not because she can’t. She just doesn’t, or is never seen doing so onscreen.  

But y’know, strange as that is, Oono is very cute at the same time as being mute. I suppose there’s space to project onto her. And Yaguchi being so hapless yet having one all-consuming passion makes him very easy to identify with. He can be crude or neglectful at times, but it seems understandable, and he often gets the chance to demonstrate that he’s a good guy with a good heart. And that’s why I kept coming back to High Score Girl and will absolutely watch the OVA and any more they animate.

I don’t think this show will go down in history as one of the best, but it was absolutely a fun watch and satisfying from start to end. And the little appearances of some great games of the past definitely sweetened the deal.  

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

僕のヒーローアカデミア / Boku no Hero Academia / My Hero Academia season 3

The third season of BnHA just ended, and honestly it feels strange. In many ways, this show is a successor to the big Shounen Jump series of the past – Naruto, Bleach, HunterxHunter. As such, it doesn’t really suit coming out in seasons. The story isn’t designed that way and there’s no real hook to the season openers or the season finales. Plus we had to have much of the first episode taken up by recaps. I’d much rather the show could be continually produced every week like those other titles – as long as there wouldn’t be too great a dip in quality and we didn’t have to descend into filler hell. Maybe that’s just too much to ask for.    
Which is not to say that Boku no Hero Academia is lacking in quality. It’s a great shounen show full of interesting characters, inventive powers and some great humour. Yes, it’s still as derivative as it ever was, with training arcs, tournament arcs and more and more concepts we saw years ago in Naruto or decades ago in X-Men, but everything is done so well, and centred on such likeable characters, that it never feels tired or recycled.

This season follows our academy class through some pretty significant changes. The kids go to a training camp where they get attacked by the villains, acquitting themselves pretty well but ending up letting Bakugo get kidnapped. That leads to a rescue operation that intriguingly subverts some expectations for shounen manga and has Midoriya-kun learn the lesson that trying to play the hero and face up to your foes can often be totally self-destructive, whereas running away and letting your elders and betters take care of it tends to be the better strategy. 

This chain of events, though, leads to the most important part of the series, awkwardly in the middle of the run. All Might faces his nemesis and the puppetmaster of almost all the bad guys un the shown One for All, and in their showdown the big bad realizes that All Might has passed on One for All and is essentially running on fumes. It's a pivotal moment, especially as it unfolds with the world watching, and the final result is that All Might s revealed to have lost his powers and will no longer be the sole protector of the world. In a society with heroes at the very centre, this has vast repercussions as the populace loses their sense of security under a fittingly almighty protector. 

The rest of the season is essentially the fallout from that event. The kids enter another exam, to get their provisional hero licences, but there's a shift in the mood. This isn't just about the kids working their way up the ranks - there's a power vacuum now and people are uncertain and liable to lash out at the system that's supposed to protect them if they feel it's showing cracks. These kids won't just continue carefree student lives if they get these licences, they'll be on the front lines against villains out for blood. And then awkwardly appended on the end before they go off for new, more serious internships, they meet the top students at the academy, including some weird guy who looks like Lucas from Mother got buff.

So in the end, my biggest complaint here is that adapting an ongoing Jump show in seasons makes for unsatisfying pacing and weird cliffhangers, like introducing Overhaul but having no development at all for him. But that being the worst thing I can say about a show means there’s really not a lot to complain about here. BnHA does what it sets out to do fantastically, with a rich and varied cast, a likeable protagonist, great setpieces, an intriguing world, beautiful fluid animation and flawless voice acting. It’s not breaking any new ground, but that doesn’t stop it being one of the most fun things to watch right now – anime or otherwise.