Monday, September 13, 2010

So, I've been quiet for too long. For the most part, I've just been walking and reading (mostly nonfiction - spent like three weeks on Caro's behemoth biography of Robert Moses) and working through my backlog of DVDs. I've been buying more than I have time to watch, and frankly, I've not the most active of social calendars to begin with. I had some old friends in from out of town on Labor Day weekend.


I suppose I could talk about my recent Kyoto Animation binge. I had a fairly positive reaction to their galge (visual novel? I don't know, I sometimes have difficulty telling the two genres apart) adaptations Clannad and Clannad After Story. So, the next time I spotted them on sale, I bought their earlier Key adaptations, Kanon and Air.

Apparently some folks group them together as Key's "Seasons", Clannad being "spring", Kanon "winter" and Air "summer" - I don't know if one of Key's other visual novels is the missing "autumn" or if it's just the three. The seasonal themes of Air and Kanon are much more obvious and intuitive than Clannad's, which is more notational, and frankly, I think that somebody, somewhere just forced the "fit" by grabbing for the cherry blossom scene at the beginning of that later series.

Kanon turned out to be definitely worth the purchase, and was full of "scenery porn" and sharp writing. There's a lot of excellent animation in that show, and very little in the way of "kwality". Like Clannad, it starts out cheery and light-minded, with a lot of easy, cynical Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya-style humor, but it's all sandbagging in preparation for the mother of all tear-jerkers. The Kyoto Animation Kanon is like a fiendish, diabolical machine for the harvest of the tears of otaku, and it was wrought *very* cleverly indeed.

The strange thing is, is that the Kyoto Animation two-cour Kanon of 2006 was a remake of the original one-cour TV series from Toei in 2002. I made the mistake of tryng to watch Big Dave's archival copy of the fansubs of the Toei Kanon sometime last decade, and came across so utterly, completely repulsed and bored that I only got through the second episode by inventing monstrous serial-killer backstories for all the characters, effectively turning it into a filler-episode version of When They Cry. Even then, it was deadly boring, mutt-ugly, and pointless. The relation between the Kyoto and Toei versions is as that between the lightning and the lightning bug. Still and all, the story in Clannad is sharper, smarter, and more focused. Where Kanon is a exercise in magical realism, full of illogic and set in a town where winter is eternal and spring never comes, Clannad borders on science fiction, has a rigorous and logical underpinning below its leaps of fantasy, and occurs in an actual place, rather than the magical dying marchenland of Kanon.

So much for Kanon; Air is a different story, one of narrational failure and promising apprentice-work. If Kyoto's Kanon is the product of solid, accomplished, even inspired journeymen, and Clannad is a true masterwork, Air is the beautiful trainwreck which justified the resources the latter series were offered. And it is, intermittently, beautiful. You can see flashes of the trademark Kyoto "flushed" character animation, of gorgeous gem-like background art, of the occasional seamless, fluid action scene. But more often, the characters are flat over unincorporated backgrounds, floating, and erratically placed. The early episodes often feature the head-on square-in-the-frame staring-out-at-the-audience one-shots which are so stereotypical of visual novels and dating sim games.

Worse, the writing, which felt like a "rough draft" of Kanon 2006 in the first half of Air, went absolutely to hell in the last third, until at the end, I honestly couldn't tell what the hell had *supposed* to have happened, the emotional dissonance and apparent narration having so utterly derailed the presentation that I'm still not sure what I was supposed to take away from the experience. Happily, the US release doesn't end on the TV series' maddening note, but continues with the two OAVs Kyoto released, set in the middle of the narrative with the Heian-era characters on their fugitive journey through the mountains. A central part of the narrative failure of the TV series, which dropped the modern-day characters for two-three episodes for the adventures and tragedy of their ancient ancestors, was thus somewhat redeemed by the OAVs.

Anyways, Air will probably enrage you if you have any felt need for coherent narrative, but it still is pretty to look at & stops in some entertaining places prior to going smash in a truly spectacular trainwreck in the final episodes.


Wonderduck said...

I don't know if one of Key's other visual novels is the missing "autumn" or if it's just the three.

"Autumn" is the VN Little Busters which doesn't have an anime... yet. I'd expect it to come along any season now.

I'm a KyoAnimaniac. I feel that they can do no wrong, as long as they're covering someone else's work. I also feel that the only thing good about their production of Air is the scenery porn and the three second appearance of the Kanon girls in ep02 (I think it was 02).

So, yeah, Air has its moments, but not much more than that.

Mitch H. said...

OK, Little Busters it is - doesn't sound like a promising title, but we'll see. As for Kyoto, I'm of a mind these days to not take any of the studios for heroes or villains; they're companies, like any other IP companies. I've got the new Bandai Haruhi second season set, and boy, they let things slide *bad* this time 'round. Haruhi and Mikuru look like the older cousins of the K-On! sisters, and even the backgrounds are kind of subdued, muddy, and wilted - as close to watercolor as KyoAni has ever gotten, AFAIK.

I really didn't think much of what I've seen of K-On! for that matter. It strikes me as Lucky Star without Konata, Akira, or, really, anyone in the production giving much of a damn. There's just no "spark" to it.

Wonderduck said...

Yeah, KyoAni apparently decided that the success of Lucky Star was due to the character designs, so now everything they do looks like that. Even Clannad ~After Story~ suffered from LuckyStarification, which annoyed me to no end.

Still, one can only hope that they'll come to their senses.

The title Little Busters comes from the story, which near as I can figure follows a group of friends who have known each other since childhood. They hung around together so much, their little group earned the nickname of "little busters." The VN follows the story of the group now that they're in high school.

So the title doesn't really have anything to do with the story, the way Kanon, Clannad or Air does.

Andrew F. said...

I guess I'm a little late here, but having played a good bit of Little Busters! myself, I can tell you that it's definitely not an "autumn" story. More like late spring/early summer. I've heard speculation that the "autumn" story is ONE, which was made by the founders of Key under the banner of Tactics (another galge studio) before they left to form Key. It was actually adapted into a couple of OVA series, one H and one non-H. I've seen the latter, and wouldn't really recommend it... if you thought Toei screwed up by attempting to fit all of Kanon into 13 TV episodes, imagine trying to fit a story of similar scale into four half-hour OVAs.

For what it's worth, my opinions of KyoAni's Air, Kanon, and Clannad correlate roughly with yours (and Wonderduck's), and what I've played of Little Busters! beats all of them. Definitely looking forward to the anime adaptation.