Thursday, September 8 2005

フワフワとザラザラ

Maburaho, Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, and Haibane Renmei. What do they have in common, apart from seiyuu Junko Noda?

Not much, really, except that I was watching them at more or less the same time. Maburaho is a pretty standard harem comedy, with lusciously drawn girls, some good voice acting, and a plot that falls apart if you so much as look at it. The director knows his fluff, though, and the show makes no pretense of being anything more.

Daphne is equal parts action, comedy, and fan-service, with a plot that could actually be pretty good if they shared it with the viewers. It has the potential to be more than fluff, but the first-time director has pretty much blown the pacing. The first two discs are spent introducing the cast, and a good chunk of the third is consumed by two lengthy, apparently-unrelated expository lumps (one of which is both dreadfully boring and immersion-breaking). Maia is an engaging heroine, and some of the other characters are nicely rounded (yeah, that way, too), but the plot crumbs are just too scattered right now.

Haibane Renmei is so good it hurts, literally, which is why it’s nice to have some fluff around when you need to recover your equilibrium. To discuss it is to spoil it. You just need to set aside an evening or four, relax, and let the story unfold.

What’s bad about them? Beware spoilers!

Maburaho’s magic system just doesn’t make sense, something it inherits from the manga (which has proven amusing so far as well). We’re told that everyone has “magic points,” and each use of magic consumes one. The more you have, the more useful you are to society, and the higher your status. When you run out, you turn to dust. Our Hero has a mere eight at the beginning of the story, and his presence at a top-flight magical high-school is a surprise to everyone.

His typical harem-comedy loserness isn’t the problem, though. His fellow students use their magic constantly, and the more points they have, the more likely they are to resort to magic. Well, if the average student has 10,000 magic points and uses up 10 of them per day (a conservative estimate), he’ll be dead by graduation. In a different genre, you’d suspect that the place was really a secret government plot to exterminate magic-users.

Daphne has two problems: intrusive fan-service and inept plotting. I wasn’t kidding when I called the heroines the ass-cheek sentai, and while they’re not always wearing costumes that look both ridiculous and painful, they do it an awful lot, and usually inappropriately. The sheer gratuitousness of it makes it difficult to take the show seriously, and it does want to be serious occasionally.

Which leads into the plot. After the famine, a feast: disc 3 is stuffed with backstory and infodumps. It all ties into the tiny little hints they handed out on the first two volumes, but enough time has passed that most people will have forgotten those hints by now, and not be motivated enough to watch them a second time. Worse, the second major infodump is boring and stupid. Boring, because it’s delivered by a throwaway character in an over-the-top political display, and stupid because it’s pure as-you-know-bob that explains too much about the setting.

The series is set in a near-future world where sea levels have risen dramatically. At least, that’s what they tell you up front. Turns out that things got so bad that everyone lived in underwater domed cities for an unknown number of years, and just managed to get them back to the surface 100 years ago. It was A Big Event, and There Were Great Losses, and We Shall Not Forget Their Sacrifices, and blah blah blah blah (insert unimpressive political speech here, delivered with all the subtlety of a Hitler biopic). Pop-fiction universes should rarely be explained in detail; for everyone bright enough to get it right, there are dozens of Matrix-y “humans as power generators” screwups.

Some of the plot problems aren’t the director’s fault; my understanding is that the Daphne anime was meant to tie into a manga series set in an earlier time period. That doesn’t get him off the hook for alternating between no information and way too much, though.

Haibane Renmei? Wouldn’t change a thing. There’s a lot of ambiguity and mystery, but there should be. Okay, maybe there’s one thing I’d change: the DVD cover art is a striking series of portraits, but they don’t jump off the shelf at you. They’re entirely appropriate for a quiet, philosophical series, but I think they limit the audience. I wouldn’t have bought it without a solid recommendation.

[Oh, and the title of this post? Properly speaking, the second word should have been ゴワゴワ, the sensation that helps Rakka differentiate between her fluffy dream and a harder-edged reality, but I think ザラザラ is a better fit for the contrast between the three series. Within Haibane Renmei, though, I think one particular definition of フワフワ does contrast nicely with ゴワゴワ.]