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[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_20_[C94B68A7].mkv_snapshot_04.21_[2018.05.31_22.38.26]

If the nape of the neck scores higher with you than cleavage, your weaboo stats are high indeed.

As mentioned previously, today’s entry will be about my favourite use of fanservice in anime. Without beating around the bush, we will talking about Hyouka’s Chitanda Eru.

Eru is the very opposite of a fanservice-magnet character. Always prim and proper, you will be hard-pressed to find her involved in any morally ambiguous situation. For her, even something as trivial as being seen alone with a boy at the wrong place and time is troubling – it might mean unsavoury rumours being spread. Mind you, this attitude is not the effect of some haughty blonde tsundere ojou-sama mindset. Eru is an ojou-sama all right, but in terms of proper conduct she is much harder on herself than on anyone else.

This means that Eru fanservice, in the usual sense, is scarce. Aside from one swimming pool episode, there is little chance to see her revealing any more skin than is appropriate by the highest social standards. The thing is, sensuality itself is something subjective, and it comes into existence through the eyes of the beholder. Come in our perspective character – Oreki Houtarou.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_07_[078F97DC].mkv_snapshot_07.53_[2018.05.31_22.15.56]

Is this one real or all in Houtarou’s head? Mystery fanservice for a mystery series.

Much to his chagrin, Houtarou is strongly attracted to Eru. His eyes wander and add a lens of sensuality to what would otherwise be neutral scenes. One time, the combination of a hot bath and Houtarou’s too-vivid imagination (itself an example of tasteful and delicious fanservice) has him end up in something of a daze. Moments later, Houtarou is more troubled than excited when the object of his fantasies comes to check in on him.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_07_[078F97DC].mkv_snapshot_09.06_[2018.05.31_22.13.25]

What follows is quite the spectacle. Coloured by the lingering remains of Houtarou’s fantasy, everything about Eru seems to radiate sensuality. But it is much more than the light bath robe Eru is clad in. It is in in the dampness of her hair. It is in the warmth of the bath still lending a rosy shine to her skin. It is in the fragrance and the proximity as she leans down to check on Houtarou’s well-being. The fanservice first becomes fanservice when we see what Houtarou sees and how he sees it.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_07_[078F97DC].mkv_snapshot_09.06_[2018.05.31_22.13.32]

May I have a Chitanda check up on me if I overheat?

Like other fanservice scenes often do, this one also doubles as a comedy scene, offering a humorous take on a character’s embarrassment. But unlike the typical “lucky-sukebe” scene, where a protagonist gets to see or touch the heroine(s) because of random factors beyond his control, there is nothing actually untoward taking place in this scene. The protagonist here is trapped not by happenstance, but by his own psyche, and thus there is no easy escape, no resolution through getting slapped by the heroine. Try though he might, Houtarou cannot stop thinking about Eru, and Eru is similarly focused on Houtarou’s well-being, and yet the two could not be more out of synch. And so the conversation drags on, much to Houtarou’s increasing distress.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_07_[078F97DC].mkv_snapshot_09.36_[2018.05.31_22.14.34]

“Somebody get me out of here…”

Run of the mill fanservice targets the viewer directly, while the characters are an aside. Here, we unavoidably notice a degree of disconnect between what we as viewers think and Houtarou’s feelings. As mere onlookers, we can enjoy Eru’s beauty, the cuteness of young love and the low-key hilarity of the misunderstandings. For Houtarou, the situation is much more complicated. He cannot reasonably deny his own attraction to Chitanda Eru, and that is a major problem for him. His life would be that much simpler, that much easier if he could only be rid of this feeling. But Eru has ensnared him as early as during their first meeting, and it is a sweet, sweet poison she infused him with. Houtarou’s struggle between the temptations of romance and the burdens of commitment is a major theme of Hyouka, and something this scene further builds upon.

This is one scene which can be called fanservice, and yet is filled with artistic pride. It proves that well-used fanservice can hold significance within a story, and thus makes it impossible to decry all fanservice as bad by default. At the same time, it does raise the bar for other such scenes.

If you are doing fanservice, you better do it right.

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Fan-service-Misato

Stole this example straight from another blog.

(Note: For the purpose of this article, fanservice refers to mildly sexual content: pantyshots, beach episodes, skimpy clothing and the like. Actual hentai/animated porn is excluded, as is “cute/cool but otherwise pointless” content.)

I used to hate fanservice.

The issue first came up for me around late primary school/early junior high school. I hated fanservice for two general reasons. The first one was that of self-interest, or my own convenience. You see, the existence of fanservice-heavy series somewhere out there had no genuine effect on my own viewing habits. If I had little interest in that kind of stuff, it was enough to watch something else, any one of the seemingly infinite supply of titles which did not at all rely on fanservice content. Fanservice “slipping into” otherwise top notch content probably happened from time to time but was ultimately irrelevant to the weight of those works as a whole. It was a time when I watched things that aired on the TV, too, so if there was anything actually disturbing, it would probably get cut out.

The existence of fanservice did matter to other people, though. The media and the church would roast anime for being in equal parts sex, Satan and the Pikachu. Occasionally, they would raise valid points: bringing attention to problematic scenes, like that one time in early Dragonball when Bulma agrees to flashing her panties in return for a favour. But most of the time, their claims were based on complete ignorance and used to make unfair generalisations, to the point where it seemed dubious if those people had ever watched a single anime episode in their lives.

I thought at the time that if fanservice did not exist at all, we would be rid of most of those people. They would lose ammo for their arguments, and so the social standing of anime would improve. That I would like very much, since it would make my life significantly easier by allowing me to be more honest and open about my interests. Getting rid of fanservice for that purpose seemed like an insignificant price to pay, and so I advocated getting rid of those lesser elements from all series.

The second reason for my hatred of fanservice was at least a more genuine one: I was and largely still am a prude. I did think that some of the scenes contained in anime were improper and potentially dangerous to people of my age (how a teenager analyses what is improper for teenagers is another matter that did not bother my precocious mind). Ever a stickler for the rules, I knew that while I might choose to avoid fanservice scenes, many of my friends would not. And there is also the quandary that you can only turn off some of the questionable stuff after you have seen it, which might already be moot.

Image result for anderson hellsing

Come here, sinners…

My approach to the above two points has now changed, mostly because I have realised how limited my perspective was, based as it was only on personal experience. First some data to give context to this discussion. The following numbers represent the state of affairs for Poland, my country. Most of the numbers ought to be similar for your country if you live in the West. I do encourage you to research specifics for your own region if you have never done so.

Over 50% of children have their first contact with pornography by the age of: 11 years

Average age of sexual initiation: 18,5 years

Average age of marriage: 29 years

Surveyed admit to pre-marital sex: 90%

Christian (Catholic) population: 89% (87%)

The bottom half regarding pre-marital sexual activity in a Christian-dominated society is there just to show that we are masters of not practising what we preach. I was genuinely not aware of that as a teenager, and so I had to bring this up. But I do not intend to dwell on this point too much. It is just that you should take a limited-trust approach to any moral preaching – odds are the authors are guilty of exactly what they speak against.

More important is the upper half. I was shocked to discover late in junior high that the majority of my class were experienced smokers and experimented with drinking alcohol when they could get away with it. If statistics are to be believed, more than half of my classmates also willingly and regularly accessed porn on the internet. We are talking real porn here: vivid and often violent images delivered by real-life actors.

I was worried anime fanservice could adversely affect us at that age, but that sounds like a joke in light of the above data. Anime fanservice is borderline infantile: guys tripping up and nose-diving into female chests, super-wind providing pantyshot support and revealing swimsuits in beach episodes. Anime characters will start screaming about getting pregnant after an accidental kiss. If any minor willingly watched through any one porn flick in existence, nothing of what the average non-hentai anime delivers will make them lift an eyebrow. The levels are just too different.

So is fanservice content entirely irrelevant from a parent’s perspective? Not exactly. But if a child is being exposed to or actively seeks out porn, you can bet they will not be consulting their parents about it. Thus many children are indefinitely exposed to potentially toxic portrayals of sexuality. If your kid wants to read something like Hayate or Negima, and you let them place those titles on their shelf, you actually get a chance to segue into a discussion of what you read when their age and how you acted when you were the age of the characters portrayed. I know people are afraid of talking. It is difficult and embarrassing to talk. Which is what this whole duality is supposed to serve: decry materials that deal with sexuality as evil and forbid them entirely, and you no longer have to discuss anything; pretend there is no inevitability of exposure to those materials or tacitly accept their consumption within the shadows, and there is no need to discuss anything either!

Beyond a certain point, I now see the idea of completely shielding minors from exposure to sensitive material as unfeasible and potentially even dishonest. And with that out of the way, the other reason I used to hate fanservice was for the sake of anime’s good name. This one does not even deserve a long-winded paragraph. Let us just be real about it: anime is only a medium and all kinds of stories will be told through that medium, regardless of their value or our preferences. People who want to cherry-pick and complain about some titles will always find what they need. We can somewhat affect what gets the spotlight or is considered mainstream. Everything else we have to take in stride.

So, with both my reasons gone, how has my approach to fanservice changed over the years?

Image result for chisaki nagi asukara old uniform

Actually a great scene.

Well, I still dislike fanservice. I suppose it is no longer “hate”.

Again, I have two reasons. One is that fanservice is a major pain when it comes to sharing your favourite series. I would very much like to show and discuss anime more with the common folk, my family etc. and there are plenty of series deserving this, but there is no point if you are just making people uncomfortable. As far as sexy men and women are concerned, the average Hollywood flick might have more of that than the average anime. But anime fanservice will often involve minors or even children, and I can only understand how that makes people queasy. I will defend those scenes when they are an integral part of what is being expressed. Madoka and Homura drifting through imaginary space in their birthday suits during the finale of Madoka Magika is not meant to turn you on. Youngsters treated as still possessing sexuality in Made in Abyss is in tune with the naturalistic approach of the series. I have shown both to my family. But much as I would like to, I can not find a good enough excuse for naked loli shower scenes in Rou-kyu-bu or the unnecessarily detailed bodies in the Nanoha movies’ transformation scenes, except for the honest: “they probably appeal to ‘that’ kind of audience”. It is such a waste.

The second gripe I have against most fanservice is purely artistic, and therefore more important. To put it bluntly: fanservice is a waste of time. Any scene, sound or shape in anime is intended – you do not accidentally capture things on camera in this medium. As such, every detail contributes in some way to creating the setting, atmosphere or plot. And those contributions are by nature indirect. Anime might resort to a few seconds of direct narration, when the viewer is informed of some elements of the setting. But when a group of thugs enter a tavern, they do not announce themselves as thugs – you can more often tell from their nasty smirks, dirty clothes and missing teeth. Necessary information will likewise be slipped into natural conversations between characters, for the viewer to pick up on their own without being addressed directly.

Fanservice does not work like that. As the name suggests, it is about providing “service” directly to the fans. It is a form of fourth-wall braking. If the viewer likes (is stimulated by) the eye-candy, then great. If they do not, then it is bad news, as the scenes often serve no other purpose, failing to further the narrative or develop anything – a waste of time. To keep the fanservice tangentially related to the characters and plot at hand, anime will often resort to tried-and-true tropes, like the aforementioned trip-and-grope ordeal. Notice how the carbon-copy scenes are set up in such a way that we learn next to nothing about the characters even as they supposedly interact – if the guy trips, it is just bad luck. He might or might not try to apologise, but the heroine will reflexively slap him before any actual conversation can take place. That ends the scene in a supposedly humorous way. The template works for 90% of all characters, so do not worry about having to adjust or develop your characters.

[Randomacts] Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS - 02 (BDRip 1280x714 x264 FLAC) [338FC6A4].mkv_snapshot_21.10_[2018.06.01_12.28.52]

However, we are still talking about art, and nothing in art is ever a completely lost cause. Remember that scene in Nanoha Strikers when Caro and Erio first meet? Trippity-trip and the boy ends on top of the girl with his hands square on her chest. And then what? She apologises (first!) for causing the two of them to fall. He apologises for possibly causing her embarrassment. Two seconds later and they are over it and starting off a good friendship. Sometimes I wish we all had the emotional maturity of those fictional 10-year-olds.

So while bad fanservice is the death of storytelling, you can get plenty of fanservice past my radar as long as it actually serves a purpose within the story OR occurs simultaneously with something else that is worthwhile. The gear-users of Symphogear wearing skimpy or tight clothing barely ever bothers me in any way because there is usually too much action going on-screen to think about such things. Or if a character is a seductress, then yes, you better expect them to dress the part.

And then you have the holy grail: fanservice which makes a scene or series better. Fanservice that is storytelling. After years of watching anime I experienced at least one series that made me admit that such a thing exists (and I might be a harsher judge of other fanservice because of it). I hope to introduce that in my next, much shorter, article. Until then, feel free to guess what series it is, or tell what your take is on the best use of fanservice in anime. Until then!

In anime-land characters can get away with both being straight (obviously) or gay (if they show up in the right genre). Bisexual characters, though, tend to find themselves in a rough spot. A love interest in a mainstream series suddenly swinging the other way might creep out half the target audience, while characters “growing out” of their homosexuality and into a normative relationship is one of the more outrage-inducing yuri/yaoi tropes.

Nevertheless, there are some crafty characters who managed to swing both ways without causing a storm or a split in the fanbase. Here is a quick look at those characters and the circumstances which let them be who they are without causing a riot.

Image result for suehiro anna

Suehiro Anna (Wandering Son)

…as well as some other characters in Shimura Takako’s works. This is kind of cheating, because the titles in question focus heavily on characters discovering and struggling with their own sexuality, and are not something that people touchy about the topic would pick up in the first place.

Anna is introduced to the reader/viewer as somebody who “likes weird things”. However, unlike the frivolous approach of some genki-type characters, Anna’s attitude is that of a calm confidence in her own preferences. Which is why she remains mostly unfazed when it turns out that her new boyfriend has a penchant for cross-dressing.

Anna does have her moments of doubt when it turns out that her partner’s habit is more than a hobby. As the issue comes to light, causing friction with all their acquaintances, it even leads to a temporary breakup between the two. But through it all, Anna only grows stronger, more accepting of and supporting towards her partner. So it does not come as a shock when Anna, faced with her partner’s eventual decision to transition and officially become a woman, responds with something along the lines of “Well, I guess I’ll have a girlfriend now.”

setsukono

Vector/colouring by LBC

Konoka and Setsuna (Mahou Sensei Negima)

Negima’s shtick is that everyone in the class has some kind of feelings for their chibi homeroom teacher Negi. The two ladies above get their fair share of ship tease with the male protagonist and are one of the earlier students to get a pactio with Negi – kissing their way to a power-up.

With Konoka a supportive mother figure and Setsuna a reliable comrade on the battlefield, either one of them might have been a strong contender for Negi’s heart… if only the two could keep their hands off each other. As we learn more about the connection between Konoka and Setsuna, we find some resemblance to a Lady and the Tramp kind of story, except that the open-minded Konoka could not care less about things like status, race or gender. And Konoka’s gift of positivity is exactly what the eternal worryguts Setsuna needs to keep her grounded in reality. Before we know it, this fan-favourite couple is making an additional pactio with each other, and their wedding dates suspiciously overlap…

Image result for kawasumi mai

Kawasumi Mai (Kanon 2006)

As one of the heroines of the Kanon visual novel, Mai has a close connection to the novel’s male protagonist, Yuuichi. The two meet as children, and Yuuichi becomes Mai’s first true friend as the one person unafraid of Mai’s otherworldy powers. The two get along really well until Yuuichi leaves the town, not to come back for many years. That part of the story can be assumed to be canon for all the novel’s routes. In Mai’s route, the reader can help the two reconcile after their painful separation. There, the two assumedly end up as a couple.

However, by the time the action of Kanon starts, Mai has already given up on ever meeting her old friend again. Instead, she forges a new strong connection with one Kurata Sayuri. The two girls are close, very close. To the point that in the visual novel, we are privy to Yuuichi’s R-rated imaginations of them doing this and that together. In the Kazahana OVA, the two go on to live together as they study abroad.

The most contentious scene regarding this relationship must be the one where Yuuichi questions Mai’s attitude as she attempts to protect Sayuri from danger by pushing her away and preventing her from getting involved. Mai justifies her approach with a deadpan: Sayuri no koto ga suki. Daisuki dakara. I think it has been argued to death which of the suki/daisuki pair is stronger and more romantic as far as confessions go, but it seem like the taciturn Mai is not interested in those discussions, so she just drops both of them in rapid succession.

Still, there is always the interpretation that Mai is just very intense about all her friendships (which she is), so the two factions are never forced into a direct confrontation.

Image result for hinagiku katsura

Katsura Hinagiku (Hayate no Gotoku / Hayate the Combat Butler)

The biggest relationship trouble this superpopular pink-haired tsundere finds herself in involves her inability to come to terms with and confess her feelings for Hayate, resident combat butler, chick and misfortune magnet extraordinaire. Which might be why many people forget about a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when she admits that “for a moment, her heart beat faster because of a girl”. All that in an internal monologue – Hinagiku would not be caught dead making that kind of confession out loud.

The lucky girl is Hinagiku’s dear friend and love rival for Hayate’s heart – Nishizawa Ayumu. But should Hinagiku ever become more open to the yuri side of force, there are apparently plenty of gals waiting for their chance. One of them is another of Hinagiku’s close friends, Hanabishi Miki, who admits that she is waiting for the pink-haired tsundere to notice her, even as she fears that Hinagiku will be forever out of her reach.


You might want to add classics like Haruhi Suzumiya, who “doesn’t care if it’s a guy or a girl as long as they are mysterious”. Also be sure to check out the incoming anime adaptation of Happy Sugar Life, whose protagonist has a bed rep from sleeping around with every other guy… until the day she finds her one true love in the tiny angel Shio-chan.

…and I am aware that the powers of my yuri bias have filled this entry with female characters. I did consider Love Stage and Ouran High School Host Club characters for a male representation, but they did not fit all my criteria. So if you have any favourites I missed, fill me in!

Sometimes anime characters start talking… a lot. The main selling point of animation is supposed to be things happening and people moving, so building a scene around just talking is a different kind of art and a test for both the staff and the seiyuu supposed to carry the scene. Here are some favourites for that kind of scene. I would call those monologues, but most of these are technically dialogues in which whatever response one side of the conversation can offer ends up not mattering against the verbal onslaught the other carries out.

hatoko

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace – Hatoko’s outburst (ep.7)

Inou Battle is studio Trigger’s mostly forgettable second series. However, it does have this scene, which is sure to keep it relevant at least as long as Hayami Saori remains active as a voice actress. Type “inou battle hatoko” into youtube and you can quickly get this scene as the top result.

Hatoko’s three-minute-long tirade is a result of years and years of pent-up frustration finally exploding. The initial stage is that of (plenty justified) anger at being brushed off once too often by a dear friend. But as further layers peel off, we see the sadness and finally desperation come to the surface. Were Hatoko just angry, an opportunity to let off some steam might have been enough. But here, the deeper issue is Hatoko’s fear and powerless frustration at seeing someone dear moving further and further away from her, beautifully expressed by the voice acting.

Hayami Saori pulled the scene off with no retakes during recording. Which just makes me imagine her verbally abusing her room mirror in preparation.

[FFF] Tokyo Ravens - 22 [BD][720p-AAC][8FB73474].mkv_snapshot_15.52_[2018.05.20_15.00.38]

Tokyo Ravens – Kon chastises Harutora (ep.22)

As most people already know, Asian languages tend to put a lot of weight on politeness, sometimes to a fault. It can be difficult to talk frankly and firmly with your superiors, even when the situation absolutely requires it.

Kon is a living example of this, as her nature as a familiar and complete and utter devotion to her master make her unwilling to even consider the possibility that Harutora is in the wrong, much less bring up such doubts out loud. But when the situation gets dire and her desperate master is about to get manipulated by the resident pair of villains, Kon is ready to grasp the nettle.

What follows is the most polite trashing session of Harutora’s life. Expertly using both the carrot and the stick, Kon first makes her master realise that he is an idiot and traitor to the memory of his beloved, and then uses his own words to lead him towards an ambitious, but more productive course of action. Listen as her tone shifts from trepidation to a no-nonsense bark, then to honeyed cajoling, and ultimately to a firm declaration of what should be done.

And then tail-wiggling ensues.

kaiki

Monogatari series – Kaiki Deishuu talks Nadeko out of being a god (S2, ep.26)

Well, the Monogatari series is all about characters endlessly talking to each other (or having internal monologues) and is thus ripe with examples. But while the main Araragi-centric narrative tends to get a bit preachy with its take on character flaws, letting two side characters duke it out during the conclusion of Nadeko Medusa/Hitagi End brings something fresh and enticing to the series.

Part of it is the obviously high stakes involved – Kaiki’s words are the only thing standing between him and death. Another thing is that, to quote the show: “Araragi is a bad influence on Nadeko”. During Nadeko’s introductory arc, she is close to being a non-character. Here, in Araragi’s absence, she gets a chance to shine with her own flaws and quirks. Finally, as the show also admits, Kaiki is the right person for the circumstances. As the sly conman somehow manages to steer the potential bloodbath towards a surprisingly wholesome resolution, the viewers are left with full freedom of interpretation regarding the feelings and true intentions of the characters involved.

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A Certain Scientific Railgun – Uiharu’s pretend-conversation with Kihara (S1, ep.24)

The finale of each Railgun season makes sure to give each character their time in the spot light, the catch being that half of the characters can blow up buildings with reality warping powers, while the other half could not handle a rabid dog if necessary. Still, the conclusion to the first season proves there is many a way to be badass as Uiharu figures out the location of the villain’s trump card and passes the information on to her hidden comrade all while keeping the villain in question occupied and unaware of what is going on. The heart of this faux-conversation is revealed in the very first line:

Capacity Down desu ne!? / That’s Capacity Down, isn’t it!?

This should be as basic a Japanese sentence as it gets, except for the single emphatic particle at the end. And when asked what emphatic particles like the above “ne” (or others like “yo”, “zo”, “ze” and the like) actually mean, the usual explanation is that they do not mean anything by themselves, rather adding colour to a sentence. “Ne” can be used to soften a statement while also seeking confirmation or approval from the listener – thus some of the sub groups render it as “isn’t it” in the translation. But the key point in this case is that the particle singularly controls the theme/rheme distinction for the sentence. In other words, it signalizes that the information contained in the sentence is common knowledge and old news (the theme) for both the speaker and the listener, rather than something new the speaker wants the listener to understand (the rheme).

In this scene, Uiharu has to succinctly and clearly explain what Capacity Down is and how to deal with it to Saten, who is listening in on the conversation from her hiding place but has little knowledge of and is unable to experience Capacity Down the way espers do. At the same, she has to use various tricks like the above to keep up the charade that she is talking to Kihara to prevent her friend from being detected. All that while her head is being torn apart by the Capacity Down signal and with a deadly mech closing in on her. Sweet stuff.

People always complain that this or that line of their favourite show should have been translated differently, but you know what? These days, with professional translation almost always done based on a reliable script and the ability to research things on the internet, the really crazy translation errors no longer happen. Let me take you twenty years into the past, to a time when TV stations in this weird country called Poland translated based on translations of translations, and did it by ear.

Image result for goku songo

This guy? You might know him as Son Goku. Well, they told us he was called Songo, and who were we to doubt that? And tough guys don’t need a last name anyway.

The green alien guy? I hear people call him Piccolo, but it’s obviously Satan Tiny-heart. Laugh and he’ll hit you with his evil heart beam.

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I have previously mentioned the poor Demon Lord Death Fog ending up as a Dead Frog in the Polish version of the Slayers, or rather Magical Warriors, as we know them. But there is more to the story.

The scene where this comes up is when Xellos gives Lina an explanation regarding the Demon Blood Talismans. In the original, he explains that the talismans hold the power of/have a connection to the four Demon Lords: Ruby Eye Shabranigdu, Dark Star Dugradigdu, Chaotic Blue and Death Fog. In the Polish version, the poor chaps end up as mere ingredients of the talismans: a ruby eye, a dark star, some chaotic blue and a dead frog.

Another memorable part of the translation concerned the Elmekia Lance spell (among others). Sometimes it would show up as-is. But a week would pass and the spell would return as Thunder Sickle, or Thunder Hammer, or Sicklehammer. There was some serious multiple personality disorder thing going on with the spells…

Image result for shun saint seiyaThis Saint Seiya (aka Knights of the Zodiac) character had many viewers confused regarding his or her gender… and apparently, that applied to the translation staff, too. Rumour has it that Shun would switch genders between episodes depending on who was doing the translation at the time.

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Saving the best for last, a true legend in the history of Polish TV translation. This Sailor Scout calls upon her magic powers to unleash a powerful Crescent Beam.

Beam, beam… it kind of sounds like “bean”, right? Can’t blame the translator for mishearing that one. But wait, why would a bean be crescent? That does not make any sense, better adjust the attack name to something more cohesive. Beans, beans… what goes with beans? Oh, yeah! Now behold the power of Venus:

“Peas and Beans!”

No, really.

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Nope, not this.

There are three common definitions for anime filler I see most often:

  1. Anime-original content
  2. Anime-original content that fully preserves the status quo of a series
  3. Anime-original content characterized by particularly weak writing and/or out-of-character moments (may or may not preserve the status quo)

I’m bringing this up because if we go by the third definition, “good filler” becomes an oxymoron, and that approach to the word is by no means uncommon. And it is no wonder that the word filler has become a pejorative term. How often do we see filler as a response to an actual need – additional development or answers, and how often is it a lesser evil – oh-crap-we-ran-out-of-material-better-drag-this-out? The difference between the two is all too obvious even to viewers with no knowledge of the original material, especially if there is a hundred episodes’ worth of side-quests suddenly derailing the main story.

Still, like some kind of legendary creature, good anime original content (good filler!?) can sometimes be sighted. Let us take some photos of those oddities.

Image result for slayers trySlayers Try

The year was 2001. The now long-defunct RTL7 TV station had begun airing the initial Slayers trilogy with one-man Polish voice-over. All insults about the main character’s flat chest carefully edited out so as not to blemish the young hearts of the children watching and the demon lord Death Fog coming out as Dead Frog thanks to the wonders of by-ear translation, this was indeed a magical time.

In Slayers Try, our trusted brigade challenges a new continent and an even greater evil. Importantly, with the addition of the Golden Dragon (spoilers!) Filia Ul Copt to the main cast, we had an even number of heroes, and people could label their fanfiction with the shorthand “trad couples” instead of typing out Lina/Gourry, Amelia/Zelgadis, Filia/Xellos.

Little did we know that Filia, well developed though she might be, was an anime-only character. Moreover, Amelia and Zelgadis were kind of shoehorned into the new adventure because there was no way the anime crowd would stand them sitting this one out!

Actually, I still kind of can’t believe it.

Tags: Anime, Pixiv Id 3936903, Naruto The Movie: The Last, NARUTO, Hyuuga Hinata, Uzumaki Naruto, Fanart From Pixiv, Fanart, Pixiv, NaruHina

Fanart by anele

Naruhina filler

Now, I am actually pretty lukewarm about Naruto pairings. While I cheered for Hinata finding confidence and happiness in life, I could have probably accepted Naruto ending up with Sakura or some other character. But honestly, if you have two characters married and expect people to watch a show about their children, you could, like, show them interacting or something? Pretty please?

At least the anime had the decency to give the two some filler screen-time together.

(Barely watched any of it, as I dropped the anime version when the first wave of fillers came, but I did see Hinata’s version of the 64 palms and it was cool.)

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Yu-Gi-Oh! Doma/Orichalcos arc

Not all of it by any means – the finale involves multiplying infinity by three to make it greater than infinity (Japanese maths). But there is something going on when possibly the most famous scene of a show comes from a filler arc (if you have never watched this part of the show, or the show in general, feel free to type in “berserker soul” into youtube).

In other news, the overpowered main character gets his first genuine loss (spoilers!) as his inner darkness, hinted at throughout the entire show but never fully addressed outside this arc, comes back to bite him. This is a daring filler arc that leaves itself just enough of an excuse with the whole Orichalcos stuff not to derail the main show.

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Railgun filler

While A Certain Scientific Railgun itself stands out as a spin-off I consider better than the mother series, many of its best moments are delivered in anime-original arcs. If I am allowed to name only one scene in the show that left me with my mouth hanging open, it would be that one time when Misaka screams her head off and starts charging a shot, somehow assuming that Kuroko is around to hear and will deliver a projectile right into her arms in the nick of time… and that actually happens.

A fan of the other characters? Uiharu dissecting the villain’s master plan and its weakness while making sure the good guys’ last comrade remains undetected? Here you go. Saten overcoming state-of-the-art technology with the use of her trusty baseball bat? Coming right up!

While the main characters are busy showing off, side characters receive well-deserved closure (Ganbare! Kiyama-sensei!). And in the final act of the second season, Academy City itself takes a stand against some of its dirt, fleshing out the setting beyond what the eternally-busy original series could afford. While some dislike Railgun for its Hollywood-esque cheese, it is some tasty cheese indeed.

Then there are series where the anime-original content devoured what it was based on and somehow ended up being better (coughK-On!cough). But that might be a different topic altogether.

So, what is your best filler?

 

The Art of Failure

Yamcha death pose

Failure is not an option, at least if you are one of those DBZ villains. Once the main heroes overcome the hurdle you represent, their power levels will jump to values that make them invulnerable to your attacks, and your only choice is to be forgotten. Your options broaden slightly if you are the protagonist. In this case, you are allowed to lose as long as that lights the fire of your determination and leads into a training montage. Top it all off with a rematch that settles the score once and for all… sending your rival to the sidelines, right next to those DBZ villains.

Defeat feels bad, and victory is sweet. That much is obvious, and it makes it difficult to blame authors for how they use the two in crafting their stories, the good guys having their way in the end. But there are problems involved, too. In shounen stories, discarding a character after a loss means that you have to create dozens of them just to move the story along, and not all might end up with any depth to them. And to establish the threat level of a new villain, you will have to show them victorious over one of the good guys – creating many a Yamcha on the protagonist side, gawking and commenting but forever unable to contribute to the story except as fodder.

But as tricky an ingredient as defeat is, it can be used to produce unique and strangely enticing dishes. You can show a character failing, and make that the highlight revealing exactly how cool they are.

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One of my favourite scenes in Princess Principal involves one of the heroines confronting a powerful antagonist in order to protect her friend… and getting one-shotted in the process. The nine-second scene allows the character, Beato, to achieve nothing against the antagonist, neither wounding them nor even particularly slowing them down, and the audience knows for sure that even Beato’s survival is the result of pure luck – getting hit in just the right place.

The thing is, that scene makes me respect Beato more as a member of the protagonist team. It is not the emotional aspect of her willingness to self-sacrifice herself for her dearest friend – we already knew that part and its nothing unusual among protagonists. But Princess Principal is a non-chronological series with time-skips between each episode. While Beato became part of the team for her specialized espionage skills, we had never seen her conduct any kind of combat, and had every reason to suspect her of being completely incapable of handling such situations because of her background as a nobleman’s daughter with no combat training.

Open the box and the result is something of a surprise. Remember how I mentioned the scene being only nine-seconds long? That includes character reactions and a few short lines from by-standers. Which means that there is no time for hesitation, facing fears or the like. Beato takes maybe two seconds to take her position, steady her aim and fire a single shot. The audience gets to see the moment the bullet collides with the wall from Beato’s perspective, and it turns out to be a well-aimed headshot, if one that the antagonist effortlessly dodges. Even the sparks from the the bullet’s collision seem to be following the antagonist’s dive to the side – maybe an artistic hint that Beato was trying to adjust for the last moment dodge.

Through a scene which does not in any way undermine, but rather solidifies an antagonist’s superiority, we learn that the weakest member of the main group could still ruthlessly take down an ordinary soldier with no hesitation. It is because of the vast and obvious difference in ability that we can see the character as overperforming even as she gets completely destroyed. Beato seems to have a knack for that kind of scene – a few episodes later we learn she is versed in lip-reading when she fails to do just that because of an antagonist wearing a veil.

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Then there is the quality of failure. I hold many things against My Hero Academia, but I can tell a good scene when I see one. Ochako forcefully dragging a foregone conclusion into “just maybe” territory during her clash with Bakugou is one such scene. It skilfully juxtaposes the shallow comments of an audience caring only for the likely result and the combatants in full awareness of the possibilities. Ochako latches onto the possibilities, while Bakugou is as determined in tearing them apart. By the end of it all, the mutual respect between the two makes it feel like a victory was achieved regardless of the referee’s decisions. And when tears are shed after the match, every one of them feels hard-earned and a worthy foundation of a tomorrow.

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At times, portrayals of failure may even cause a small revolution in the viewer’s perspective on things. The second season of Overlord treats us to a rematch between Brain Unglaus and Shalltear Bloodfallen. Their first meeting was not much of a battle, to the point that Shalltear does not even remember who the poor bloke facing her is, while Brain is crushed enough that he ends up on the streets, despairing over the meaningless years of effort he had poured into his swordsmanship. We see Brain pick up the pieces over the course of the second season, and when he faces the vampire for a second time, he is very much like the traditional protagonist, ready to overcome the demons of his past.

Only, he is well aware that reality will not bend to his will and that he stands no chance in hell to win the fight. And then, based on the very assumption that he is worthless trash in the face of his opponent, he comes up with a strategy that allows him to deal the smallest bit of laughable and insignificant damage. That is infinitely more than the zero achieved last time, and the achievement acts as the crowning moment of Brain’s recovery arc. However, even as we are shown Brain’s relief and exhilaration, the audience knows that the success, if it may even be called by that name, has been achieved by moving the goalposts. By a lot. To a large extent, Brain’s story is a parody of a hero’s journey, its dramatic moments amounting to nothing. But the remaining part is genuine praise for the man and the answer he finds: at the end of his journey, Brain becomes master of his own inevitable failure and manages to squeeze something out of that nothing.

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If you try looking for it, those kind of scenes can be found in most well-written series. A simple narrative locks the viewer in a simplistic world-view of black and white, success and failure. A complex one makes him notice and appreciate the many shades of grey. But most importantly, we, the viewers, are bound to fail at least as much as we succeed as we deal with the challenges of everyday life. And it is reassuring and inspiring to be shown and reminded that there can be greatness in failure. That you can be cool even as you are defeated. We need that message, because while a hero’s miraculous victory is fine for a momentary emotional rush, none of use can magically pull out a 100000000% punch just because the 100% one failed.