Selasa, 13 September 2011

Shelf Life

Last Friday I saw the Punchdrunk production of Macbeth, called "Sleep No More" and I've been obsessed with it ever since. It was like a videogame and theater and a haunted house rolled into one, but with all of my pet peeves of each removed. Sure, it was expensive (although less than a Broadway play), but I'd pay twice as much to have half as many audience members in my way while I chase actors up and down the stairs.
While I highly recommend "Sleep No More" and can't stop talking about it, I totally forgot all of the titles of the series I watched this week when my coworkers asked what I was reviewing. In two of the cases I couldn't recall the Japanese titles, but after only six days I utterly forgot I'd watched The Mystic Archives of Dantalian.
"Stream Worthy" is such a difficult rating because it's a binary choice. Dantalian lies somewhere in the middle of a range of recommendation. So far it isn't terrible enough to advise against, but it lacks the socks-knocking-off factor I look for in recommendable anime. This series is somehow connected to Gosick, which I've never watched. Sometime in early 20th century in Europe, blonde hottie Hugh Disward inherits a mansion from his bibliophile grandfather, complete with a giant library of some very rare mystical books and a non-human Goth-loli girl named Dalian. Disward can unlock Dalian's magical-girl-like powers when they fight monsters which relate to various mystical tomes (known as Phantom Books) that contain information man was never meant to know. The series references Borges "infinite library," which is super cool.
The show is mostly style-over-substance, complete with clothing design by Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. Gloomy backgrounds add to the mood, and the end credits look like a tribute to the Quay brothers, which certainly earns this show some style points. But how much you enjoy Dantalian might directly depend on your love of vintage clothes, old castles, and English tea service. My love for those things isn't exactly zero, but I also like to take my scones (or buns, in this case) with more story if you know what I mean.
The series gets bonus points for using "real" demons and magic systems with real research behind them. Texts appearing so far include the Epic of Gilgamesh, and, apparently, the Sefer Yetzirah, or Jewish "Book of Creation".
The show loses points for relying too heavily on anime tropes. I hesitate to call Dalian the "T" word based on past experience in our forums, but she is a bit too hot-cold in my humble opinion.
The early episodes are fairly self-contained, and episode three even has an A and B story like an American cartoon. Episode six opens up the universe a little by adding more characters. I'm curious to see where this is going, but my curiosity is mild.
For the most part, Dantalian is slow enough that I left the NicoNico comments on. The commentary wasn't nearly as verbose or as funny as the commentary on Uta no Prince-sama, but occasionally there is a good joke. The peanut gallery is clearly more enamored of the nearly-personality-free Dalian than I am.[TOP]
Somehow it proved to be a week of people inheriting magic items from their grandparents, as I also happened to watch some Natsume Yūjin-Chō.
Crunchyroll lists Natsume Yūjin-Chō as if it were an ongoing series, but according to our database, it's three separate series with different titles. I've been too intimated by the high episode count to start reviewing this show for Shelf Life, but pickings were slim this week so I thought I'd give it a try. Besides, the last time I was in Japan I picked up a gachapon toy of the cat character without even knowing what it was from. If "Stream Worthy" is a loose way of recommending something, I do recommend Natsume Yūjin-Chō; I recommend it to kids watching anime with their grandparents. I recommend it to people with long hospital stays who aren't allowed to get too excited. I'd recommend it to my mother, who likes stress-free entertainment.
High school kid Takashi Natsume has inherited the ability to see yokai, and more than that, he's inherited his grandmother's magic notebook filled with yokai names. Takashi could control a yokai army with the notebook, but instead he chooses to give back the yokai names one at a time because he's such a nice guy. This is a show about relinquishing power, and forgiveness, and kindness. (Perhaps it is the exact inverse of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.) If it were a little more educational, it could be on PBS Kids.
That isn't to say there is no excitement in the show. Takashi's life is often in danger thanks to the yokai he encounters. He gets help from a cat he calls Nyanko-sensei, who is also a demon. Nyanko's grumblings about Takashi's adventures often come in the form of practical advice, as in "this is dangerous," or "you shouldn't help this guy." Takashi calmly ignores much of the advice to do the right thing and help out ungrateful yokai, even if it means endangering his own life. Nyanko may complain, but he acts as Takashi's bodyguard, frequently bailing him out at the last minute. Nothing ever gets too dire, and most of the episodes are stand-alone, so I began to count on Nyanko rescuing Takashi every time.
If this were a lower budget show with poor designs, it would be insufferable. Fortunately the lush backgrounds and delicately drawn characters pair well with a large cast of creatively designed yokai. It's easily a must-see show for yokai lovers. (Heh heh… yokai lovers.)
There are some interesting thematic currents under the surface. Takashi's grandmother, Reiko, was kind of a jerk. She messed up more than one yokai's life by taking its name, and Takashi is essentially going around cleaning up her messes. He's also motivated to feel closer to his grandmother this way. He lost his own parents at an early age he doesn't know much about Reiko. A show about feeling closer to your grandmother is a very sweet concept, so forgive me for rolling my eyes right now. (I'm reminded of this ancient Penny Arcade comic.)
I skipped ahead to episode 36 to see if any continuity kicked in. From the looks of it, episode 36 begins a very InuYasha-like arc (searching for lost shards) and involves more friend characters.
I can accept that there are TV series to help people unwind and relax, to calm down after a stressful day, but usually I'm looking for more adrenaline from television (I prefer strong coffee to chamomile tea). I accept that this is a decent series, but I just couldn't get excited about watching the next episode.

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