Friday, April 8, 2016

Boo! ~Kabaneri~

Did you know? I watch anime. Not a lot, but I do watch it. I've played a lot of games, read a lot of manga, and read a lot of books, but those hobbies have degraded. Now, I spend most of my time studying (for myself), programming, and watching anime. Plus shitposting, of course, you can't forget that.

When it comes to books, I've read so much that I don't get that shivering satisfaction from anything that an experienced writer would put out. Yeah, I've seen this literary technique before, I've read asimov and fight club and cs lewis, can you pick a combination of plot tropes that an experienced reader wouldn't probably see in middleschool? And the majority of (be it by format or material) unpredictable books I pick up are full of grammatical ambiguities and punctuation errors that no good editor should ever let pass by their hands. Past that, dropping even a bad book feels inherently wrong, because books are things that are meant to be finished, they have some kind of made-up special status among entertainment or something. It's funny, but aside from a small number of gems, translated stuff is my final remote for interesting written fiction. Foreign literary conventions aren't boring yet. I'm sure they will be after another twelve years of going at them.

In manga, I just read so fast and process the art so without thinking, unless the artist is deliberately trying to hide things or the writing is stilted (hello nonnative fan translations), that I will seriously go through an entire series in a matter of a single day. I don't get any of the buildup. Pulling back on the requirement for dense and skilled prose lets more people with good storytelling but bad writing into the medium, but the fact that I blow through it so much faster basically pushes back in the other direction.

With games, I stopped playing my consoles and came to PC, where I did some emulation, played portal, and so on, hopping games and habits for several years before I handled a barrage of Quake 3 before mostly burning out. I was always terrible at FPSs, but that compelled me to train every day for years on end and now I've got nothing else to game about. I can't beat fair singleplayer games because they don't upset me enough to be motivated to boot them up every day. All my games-related motivation has been funneled directly into programming, reading, and anime instead. Pretty ironic.

What does this have to do with anime? With anime, I don't have to try. I can drop a series that gets boring without feeling bad about it. I can let bad storytelling or character writing slide because the way anime is constructed usually keeps specific instances from lasting too long. Production flaws and rough edges aren't immersion-breaking like they are in books and games; they're endearing and earnest like staticy whiny garage posthardcore. Tropes and styles can be reused nauseously as long as I don't dislike the genre itself because any new combination will end up interesting.

Enter fall 2015. "Wait, isn't this post about Kabaneri?" Yeah, it is, just not yet.

So I picked up a bunch of shows in fall and ended up basically only finishing one punch man and utawarerumono's sequel. The former was entertaining enough the entire time to have no problems, and the latter was entertaining despite having so many obvious production crashes and accuracy deviations. (The game's storytelling has a bunch of problems too, by the way [mostly with in-engine cutscenes], don't let /a/'s echochamber fool you too much.) But here's what comes in here: I like utawarerumono because of the aesthetic. It might fool people, but it's not wholly a japanese-like setting. The clothing designs draw a lot of inspiration from the everyday clothing of bygone versions of modern cultures, as well as native peoples stereotype traditional clothing, particularly those that are easy for the team responsible for the series to be exposed to; foremost the ainu.

left: recent documented japanese clothing
middle: recent documented ainu clothing
right: the earliest designs introduced in utawarerumono, plus a main character from the sequel

It's true that the present stereotypes are much more elaborate and colorful than the influences they've given to utawarerumono's designs, and it's also true that attempts to revitalize or share shrinking cultures cause them to become even more strongly stereotyped versions of their old selves; you might have to try not to think too hard, and just judge the feeling for yourself. In fact, the designs of the sequel, Itsuwari no Kamen, which takes place in a different country than the original, are noticably different from the earlier game's. Now, I won't say that any peoples' stereotypes were appropriated directly or even intentionally, let alone strongly; but it's still very apparent that the outfit designs in the utawarerumono series end up acting like speculation of "What's an alternate way this culture group's aesthetic markers could have developed?". It's a perfect example of the kind of stylistic integrity that can carry a mediocre or crashing series to completion with contented viewers.

Where does kabaneri come in? The style, of course.

Cut the memes and echo chamber of complaining about events in the story that don't have their causes explained yet. I'm not here to complain about pandering or similarities to other shows. All writing is the same shit mashed up in different ways. Not even cyberpunk is anything but the result of extremely slow and accidental stylistic iteration. Unless your memory reacts to "Sy Berpunk", you don't have the validity to say otherwise.

Any premise you'll find for Kabaneri online will give you the rundown. A society that was still undergoing an industrial revolution is hit with paranormal-seeming zombies, and they quickly use technology to hide from nature and barricade themselves in secluded stations. These stations play on the scale of small cities. While it's uncertain what happened everywhere else, the anime's instance of this happened in hinomotojapan (hinomoto vs nihon) at a time when they had gunpowder and weak steam engines but apparently didn't understand electricity very well yet. Oh yeah, it sure is steampunk in here.

The station we start in is on a scale of several thousand homes. Neighborhoods are interspersed by small fields, indicating the society's cadence to not crowd itself so closely that further crowding problems start happening (That, or, the city artists just thought it would look boring if it was nothing but houses there). There still exist megastructures in the form of a fortress and a powerplant-like construction, to which all the roads run, showing that whoever's organizing this system is still very much self-serving and idiotic when it comes to centralizing things. Maybe, of course, that powerplant-like thing needs to be highly guarded in order to prevent madmen from fucking shit up or something. Later scenes show that the houses are fire-lit, which becomes a problem.

But what do they eat?

"Supplies" come in on steamtrains. So do people and nobles move around on them. People evacuating from a station that's been overrun take on trains and get investigated before they're allowed out of the train. Yeah, I can already see where this is going to go soon. Anyways, our protagonist hates how people act about the zombies, how paranoid they are, and how lazy they are to make up spooks and hide away. So he builds a gun. Here's the thing: He doesn't care about the outside world. He just wants to know that he can defend himself. He, apparently, has a childhood trauma that makes him not respect the way that authority is implemented on the streets, especially because he works on the trains and has to clean them and gets to see all the nasty finger-pointing and abuse between the "cops" and the laypeople on the trains.

Literally none of this is original. If you really object to this show's setting, plot, or similarity to Attack on Titan, then the above three paragraphs should have been sounding off very loud and very long alarms in your head. If they didn't, your objections aren't developed. Every single thing I just described about the story has been done before, in various combinations, and nothing it could possibly show me through the entire course of the story could possibly be new to me. It might show, like, a single novel element out of several thousand details. And some writer or designer might pick up on that and make it be a five year fad ten years later. But that doesn't matter, and I don't care. I just have to be entertained.

Protip from someone who reads more than you: Absolutely all creative work is derivative beyond belief on all levels, and those sources don't matter even a little.

So I don't care about all the cliches or derivation. They don't matter. They don't get in the way to me here. I want my violent steampunk zombie action on trains. And I want it especially if they start trainwrecking. It's going to be fucking glorious.

Here's the personally subjective part: I'm a sucker for those self-mutilational scenes where the character is really fucking hotblooded about a serious morbid problem and just has to make it work. As someone who's read a lot, I don't care that that scene isn't explained yet. Complaining about pulp setting logic is the lowest hanging fruit anyone could possibly have with something. There's a million small problems with this episode, but the logic of that scene is not one of them. There's no deus ex machina or asspull here. It's obviously foreshadowed and the writer didn't "write themself into a corner" that they could only get out of by pulling that. That was the whole entire point. It's like complaining that umineko fucks with the narration or that robots and empire has too many changes in narrative perspective. This is part of how this kind of story is told. Deal with it or watch something else.

Oh yeah, and necropost I guess.

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