Towards the end of the Summer 2013 season I ended being unable to watch a lot shows, probably because of school, which lead to me amassing a backlog of a dozen shows which each only had a few episodes I needed to watch. So now that I’m slowly plowing through my backlog, here are some belated thoughts on a few of the shows from Summer 2013: Shingeki no Kyojin, Gatchman Crowds, and Sunday Without God. Can you guess which ones I thought were pretentious?
Shingeki no Kyojin / Attack on Titan
Overall I think that Shingeki no Kyojin was a decent show, although it often felt a bit pretentious with how hard it tried to be serious and grimdark. It had an alright first few episodes, but then as soon the Battle of Trist District story arc began I started to get pretty annoyed by the overtly slow pacing.
It felt like with it spanning 9 episodes it took about twice as long than it really needed to; which isn’t really much of a problem compared to the other uber long shounen series, but this is just a two cour series so I wouldn’t say it gets a “pass” on the pacing so easily. But even worse was that it’s about three whole episodes of the story arc was just the characters dying left and right in the midst of a terrifying and seemingly hopeless situation, which came off as pretentious with how hard they tried to drive home the point. Like the series tried to be dark and serious, and it seemed like it merely focused so much on death and suffering as a way to seem more mature than it really is.
Also, not much of the setting really made much sense; 3D maneuver gear goes against physics and really no human would be able to use them without damaging their hips, and unlike Walkure Romanze the anachronistic setting just doesn’t work sometimes. The religion of the wall was a cheap and shallow jab at organized religion, and not to mention worshipping walls is stupid as hell. The theme of the wealthy and privileged oppressing the poor was equally annoying; inner government corrupting in the midst of a dire war is certainly something that happens in real life, but I doubt in these circumstances it would go to the point of being this self-destructive—the government officials must be really delusional if to care more about money and protection than holding back the titan threat. Since you know, holding back the titan threat would sort of lead to being safe.
I started to like Shingeki no Kyojin again though about halfway through, since by the time the Battle of Trost arc ended, the story started to drop some of the grim darkness and shift more towards a straight-up action shounen show. Since then the show actually started to be fun to watch, rather than bore me.
Even though I wasn’t as into Shingeki no Kyojin as most other people, I do think it’s always cool to see this level of popularity like this. Something about Shingeki no Kyojin makes it this great gateway anime for those who have watched little to no anime before, and helping to expand anime’s audience in the Western world much like the other ultra popular series such as Naruto in the 00s and Dragonball in the 90s. It’s also nice to see a “dark” anime get such attention, even if the darkness of the plot is largely on a surface level. And hey, the more popular anime becomes in the West, the sooner we can get over the Animation Age Ghetto and make our own serious grimdark cartoons.
Gatchaman Crowds was perhaps the most thematically deep anime of the past season, since it brought up a lot of solid and interesting points pertaining to the problems with the sentai superhero genre, and how the internet could possibly be used as a tool to help citizens to better society and become heroes themselves—and how it could be used against us. I already wrote a post about the first eight episodes though, which explained my thoughts on these themes, so I won’t go into that here too much.
For the first few episodes I generally found it more enjoyable to read blog posts about Gatchaman Crowds than to actually watch the show itself, and even though I ended up liking the later episodes more that still held true to the end. It’s more of a great show because of its thematic depth rather than as a piece of entertainment so to speak, which unfortunately makes it easier for some to ignore the themes. After all, I myself ignored the themes in the first few episodes because of how unenjoyable I found it.
Although it’s understandable to dislike Gatchaman Crowds for being unentertaining, some of the criticism against the show tend to miss the whole point of the show. Specifically those who complained that as a sentai show it needed more action, even though the whole point of the show was the Gatchaman’s shouldn’t automatically resort to violence to resolve conflict. Which is also why it wasn’t until the last few episodes that it really picked up with the action again, because it wasn’t until then that the characters established what it meant to be a crime-fighting hero who uses violence for good. So to say “it should have had more action” isn’t really fair, although I would argue that it could have done a better job at being entertaining in spite of its lack of action.
The characters could have been more likeable and more well-written. Their inner struggles and conflict wasn’t really too apparent, and a bit too subtle to really have as much impact as it could have. It’s telling that I didn’t have a clear picture on what exactly each characters problems were until the narrated recap segment of episode 11, in which each of the characters gave a monologue about how terrible their lives were and how Hajime helped them. Not really a sign of good writing if you have to rely on that to explain how the characters developed.
Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi / Sunday Without God
I’m not sure if the series marketed itself as such or if this is just what the Western fanbase assumed it would be like based off of the premise, but either way I was a bit wary of Sunday Without God from the beginning because it was hyped up as a “philosophical” anime. I have somewhat of a gripe with people who call certain anime philosophical, since it’s often just used by philosopher-wannabes who go on about how they’re favorite animes are ones that are “deep” or “complex,” when really they’re just being pretentious and pretending to be smart.
In a sense there certainly are animes that could be called philosophical, such as Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex or the recent Gatchaman Crowds, but it’s because they actually explore various themes and concepts in a thorough and thought-provoking manner. “Philosophical” as a genre label tends to only be applied to stuff that’s very serious, uses vague messages and faux symbolism, and has an angsty atmosphere to it. Sometimes shows like that actually do have solid themes behind all the symbolism and angstyness, but otherwise the extent of the “philosophy” is usually just be the characters spouting some vague message about life and death along to some sad music, that doesn’t really require the audience to do any critical thinking—rather just something that seems smart and make them exclaim “Wow, that’s so deep!”
Then again, I might just be making a straw man argument here because it’s something that I myself use to do. Hm, anyways please don’t use “philosophical” to describe an anime. Don’t use “deep” either.
Anyways, Sunday Without God exemplifies a lot of the problems with anime that try to be philosophical. It clearly tried to be intellectual and deep about its messages, but all of the messages it tried to tell were too vague without any real substance—just the characters spouting random nonsense. The world building was terrible and the setting often doesn’t make any sense; just about every story arc was solved in a rather nonsensical manner, introducing a new plot development and then never explaining it. Like how the immortal guy got killed off for no apparent reason, someone elses child turned out to be Scar’s biological child…somehow. And although the last two story arcs weren’t too much worse than the first two, it’s dissapointing that they took place in a highschool, since you figure there could have been so much more they could have done with a setting about a world where no one dies. Nothing about the plot was all that well thought out; probably the second-worst anime of the season next to Dog & Scissors.