Monday, December 23, 2013

Present day... Present time.

Over a decade ago, the first anime DVDs I bought were American imports - the Pioneer boxset of Serial Experiments Lain. The day it arrived, my two brothers and I watched the whole series on a PC in a bedroom in my parents' house, in a single sitting.

Until last week, I hadn't seen it a second time, despite a few aborted attempts at rewatches. I'm not sure why I found it so difficult to get into between the first viewing and now, but I was home on my own and having already burned through Puella Magi Madoka Magica at the start of the week I figured it was as good a time as any to park myself in front of a screen for five hours, and give Lain another shot.

The first time through, I realise now, I was not paying attention. I didn't really follow the story, couldn't understand much of the subtext, and missed many of the references and hints scattered throughout the series. It's an overwhelming show for the unprepared mind, and I certainly wasn't prepared.

This time, I had the benefit of a decade's worth of thinking, reading and talking about the show as a foundation, and a familiarity with the order of events that meant I could focus more on the philosophical aspects - but for the first eight episodes or so, I was still feeling incredibly out of my depth. It wasn't until "God" makes his appearance that the ideas started to gel together, and having reached the end (and thought about it for a few more days) I have a proper theory about the whole thing1.

There's still a lot of the show that feels like misdirection, though - and a few things that remain unexplained, even at the end. At least two thirds of the show is philosophy for its own sake and worldbuilding, bringing up more ideas than it ever intends to fully address - and remains totally unapologetic about it. It doesn't feel like those threads are abandoned or incomplete, however - while it's far from a "coherent" work, the questions you're left with are the same ones Lain herself faces throughout the show - and even she doesn't understand everything when the final credits roll.

I know I've got to rewatch it again at some point, with my theory in hand ready to see how well it holds up against the whole thing. I just hope it doesn't take me another ten years to get around to it.

1 I'm not going to post it here because spoilers.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Valvrave the Liberator

This is the story of teenage mecha-pilot body-jacking space vampires fighting immortal Space Nazis. In space.

Incredibly, that synopsis does not encapsulate half of the wall-to-wall batshit weirdness that is Valvrave the Liberator. I'm having a difficult time thinking of any other show that has taken quite as much pleasure from setting up a cliche and then taking a hard right to crazytown before it gets there.

The first episode opens like it's a high-school romantic comedy; if it wasn't for the mecha in the OP you'd be rightly surprised when it turns out that their school is on a politically-neutral space station and then under attack from the aforementioned Space Nazis for no adequately-explained reason.

Immediately after his primary love interest is hit by an enemy missile1, our intrepid hero, Haruto, climbs aboard a mech that suddenly appeared from underground, resigns his humanity2, and proceeds to slaughter dozens of the attackers with little remorse.

The episode ends when, after being shot and apparently killed, Haruto comes back to life and bites an enemy spy, taking control of his body.

Every time I've thought that I'm finding my feet in this show, it changes its game. The first few episodes are straightforward (..ish) mecha combat, but then there's a break in episode five where the students sing a pop song in an attempt to gain PR points with another country to help defend themselves against the Space Nazis. There's a Galactica-style detour into the political process of the newly-independent Module 77 when they hold elections. The enemy spy possessed by Haruto in the early episodes, L-Elf3 becomes a military advisor for the colony, against his former allies.

I wasn't sure that I liked the show to begin with, but the longer I've followed along the more intrigued I've become. At this point, there's only one episode left in the second season and no news of a third; I just have to find out how the hell they're planning to wrap up the story, let alone adequately explain a 200-year flash-forward from the start of the second season.

1 By the end of the second episode it is revealed that she pulled a Norwegian Blue and was, in fact, only resting - in the most disappointing anime resurrection since Attack on Titan.

2 When he first enters the machine, he has to answer "yes" to the question "Do you resign from humanity?" in order to start it; he is then given superpowers including immortality and the ability to take control of someone else's body by biting them.

3 Or, as he's known on r/anime, "ERUERUFU".

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nice Boat

Nice Boat

There's something of a running joke on r/anime that, when a user asks for a recommendation to introduce a parent/work colleague/friend to the medium, someone will suggest School Days.

Based on a visual novel, the show follows a high school student's attempts to woo a girl he sees on the train to school every day, with the help of a classmate. This setup lasts for all of an episode before things take a turn for the complicated, and the series ends with the most… unconventional resolutions to a love triangle.

Spoilers follow.