Category Archives: Anime Analysis
Episode 3 of Re: Zero introduces a character who is, quite literally, a white knight. Reinhard van Astrea is a member of the Royal Guard and is apparently so powerful and righteous that he’s known as the Sword Saint. He is also, incidentally, a minor character.
As anyone watching Re: Zero would be aware, the character with the white knight complex is actually Subaru, a hikikomori who is summoned from modern Japan, armed with only a cell phone and his wits. If Reinhard is supposed to represent the unattainable white knight ideal, then Subaru is the white knight whom the audience can relate to, a hapless young man who struggles through life (and multiple deaths) in the best way he can manage. So far in the story, he is motivated almost exclusively by his desire to save the girls he meets from death: initially the heroine Emilia, and later the twin maids Rem and Ram.
We’re not told much else about Subaru (to the detriment of the storytelling, frankly), but we’re expected to immediately understand and accept his obsessive desire to save these girls he barely knows. Why?
Love it or hate it, here’s one thing Clannad undeniably excels at: character animation. If you observe the visuals closely, much of the characterisation is expressed through body language and subtle visual cues. Even when the anime goes for low-brow, physical humour, the characters’ entire bodies remain quite expressive and dynamic. This is in contrast to the rather “stiff” delivery in most anime comedies.
If you don’t believe me, just observe Nagisa’s drunken scene and Chitoge’s one in Nisekoi. It boils down to the same joke, but there’s a world of difference in the delivery. It’s not so much that Clannad is more skillfully animated (although this is definitely true), but rather the storyboards themselves were conceived with quite different intents in mind; each shot in Clannad draws attention to the movements of all the characters inside and outside the frame, leading to a natural escalation of the situation, whereas Nisekoi’s scene is full of choppy transitions from one key frame into another.
Clannad’s visual strengths were particularly noticeable in the After Story portion of the tale, especially as far as Ushio’s characterisation was concerned. It would have been so easy for her character to become Generic Moeblob #85934, especially given that her role in the overall narrative is mostly one of symbolic importance. Yet Ushio never failed to have presence whenever she was onscreen, and much of this comes down to the way her body movements were animated. It was clear that the key animators put extra care into making her move like a real child.
Last month I discussed the Gate anime, a series which many commentators on both sides of the Pacific have described as propaganda. If we regard propaganda as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”, then one could certainly apply this descriptor to Gate, along with many other works of media. However, I have found no evidence so far to support Matthew Brummer’s claim in The Diplomat Magazine that the Gate anime was “produced, designed, and funded in coordination with the JSDF”. It seems more likely that the JSDF jumped onto the Gate bandwagon after it became popular.
Today, I’d like to discuss a work of propaganda that actually was funded by an arm of the Japanese government. Megumi is a 25-minute documentary anime about the abduction of a Japanese schoolgirl by the North Korean government. It can be watched for free in multiple languages on the official website of the Government of Japan’s Headquarters for the Abduction Issue.
Here’s a video of the English dub:
Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship is supposed to be the heart and soul of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, but for some reason their interactions have always left me slightly cold. It’s a strange conundrum, because Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is everything I told myself I wanted out of a shojo romance: a story where the main characters actually communicate and are not douchebags/morons.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the manga is how Sorata Akizuki goes out of her way to infuse those old fairytale tropes with a modern, egalitarian spirit. Zen might be a dashing prince who falls for a commoner, but instead of eloping with Shirayuki or turning her into a princess, the story is all about Shirayuki rising to Zen’s level of esteem through her hard work and merit.
On closer inspection, the egalitarian message clashes with the story’s setting. Monarchism and egalitarianism don’t mix well, after all. But of course, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is not really making a point about social equality. It is simply trying to sell a fantasy about a kind prince from a utopian kingdom to a modern audience, for whom gender equality has become a romantic ideal.
This is the main reason why I don’t find the romance in Akagami no Shirayuki-hime interesting. It is the kind of story that sets out to reaffirm what the audience believes about romance instead of challenging our preconceptions. This is not to say that I think Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a bad series, because it is exceptionally well-crafted comfort food. But it does mean that I enjoy it primarily for the relaxing atmosphere instead of its romantic moments. Every time Zen and Shirayuki display their enormous trust in each other, I think, “This would be great for a couple in real life, but as fiction it’s boring.”
Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There was bound to be controversial anime. Not only is the author of the original Gate web novel, Takumi Yanai, a former member of the JSDF, the JSDF uses Gate characters on their recruitment posters. It is no surprise that from its very first episode, Gate has attracted criticism for its right-wing and nationalistic overtones. Even The Diplomat Magazine weighed in on the issue, describing Gate as one of many recent “military moe” series to use cute girls to sell JSDF propaganda. 
I found it surprising that Gate’s politics would garner so much debate on places like Reddit. It’s nice to see that so many Western anime fans are familiar with the debates around Japan’s wartime atrocities. On the other hand, Japanese perspectives on the anime are being ignored here, which is ironic considering that the whole point of these discussions is to shed light on the Japanese cultural and political context.
I wrote this post in an attempt to address the imbalance somewhat. This isn’t a rigorous study or anything, nor should you consider the excerpts I’ve translated a representative sample, but it should give you an idea of how some online commentators have been approaching the issues. I also decided to include some Korean perspectives as well, simply because a good deal of the Japanese commentary on Gate has been in reaction to what foreigners (mainly Koreans) have said. However, bear in mind that I can’t read Korean, so I am really just reporting on the Korean reactions that have been translated into Japanese.
tldr; 2ch users angrily insist that Gate is “just an anime” and that Koreans and leftists should stop being offended. Blog reactions have been more varied and nuanced.
WARNING: This post is full of spoilers for the entire series. Also, this is a personal post.
BokuMachi piqued my interest before it aired because the two actors playing the protagonist’s character, Shinnosuke Mitsushima and Tao Tsuchiya (shown above), are live action actors who have never had an anime role before. Normally, haiyuu (actors) and seiyuu (voice actors) occupy separate niches, despite the crossover in their skill sets. While it’s not unheard of for a seiyuu to have live action roles or for haiyuu to have anime roles, it’s still uncommon enough to be worthy of attention. Thus, I was extra curious to see how the BokuMachi anime would turn out, as I had the feeling that it would be a very off-beat and distinctive work.
The narrative progression of Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is a bit all over the place. There’s a charming story about how Shirayuki chooses to become a court herbalist, but once she succeeds in that goal, the plot ambles for a while. At some point, the story ends up being more about Zen and his past than it is about the titular heroine.
Towards the end of the first season, however, Zen and Shirayuki’s struggles start to come together. Their romance (and the underlying conflict around their class differences) serves as a way for them to share each other’s burdens. Shirayuki’s journey as a court herbalist is no longer just about proving what she can do for her own sake. She now has to prove herself in front of the entire kingdom.
Season 1 feels like the calm before the storm. Season 2 is when I expect things to get real.