Saturday, October 20, 2012

[Anime Survivor 2] Final: Binbôgami Ga! vs. Humanity Has Declined

It is the spectacle, the enamoring uncertainty, which lurks in Survivor that has made it last for such a long time. All of the competitors are so unknown that first glances do no good at predicting a winner. The weak may be able to outsmart the strong, the strong may be able to out-muscle the weak, and those in the middle may end up victorious due to both eating each other in the process.

That apparently isn't the case with Anime Survivor. If anything, this was more a Lord of the Flies approach to survival, the weak constantly getting picked off each week, while the strong survived due to momentum (the strength of previous episodes) or genetics (how well the staff had performed in other shows). Those shows that had a bad premise didn't stand a chance at making it to the final round, while those with weak plot lines were exposed in the middle of a feeble season.

Really, Anime Survivor was a miserable idea I came up with. Better than BTOOOM!, perhaps, but certainly worse than Battle Royale.

And that leaves us two shows that many predicted would have legs this past summer. It was all between Natsuyuki Rendezvous, Binbôgami Ga!, and Humanity Has Declined (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, or hashtagged as #Jintai) from the starting gate, and while shows like Kokoro Connect and Moyashimon Returns pulled hammies halfway through the race, these three showed staying power. That is, until Natsuyuki Rendezvous displayed one of the weaker dramatic endings and collapsed yards from the finish line.

So which show—Binbôgami Ga! or Humanity Has Declined—wins in this photo finish in the last ever failed Anime Survivor experiment? Well, let's just say that the cameras weren't required for the end.

Concept: Jintai. Between the two shows, there was at least a spark of intrigue. Binbôgami Ga! provided a humorous glimpse into fortune and misfortune, trying to smooth the gap by showing how hard both the fortunate and impoverished had in live, but realistically both have a disconnect to actual society. At least it was a fun way to watch the haves and have-nots butt heads.

However, Jintai gave us a hefty thought in how humanity could be perceived in the future when the whole race just fizzled under itself. The narrator's cautious exploration of commercialism, popular culture, and the nation-state served as a dire warning when production blossomed to the point of over-stimulus, the fairies acting as the heat for these powder kegs. While all of this served as comedy, it certainly put a poignant period on how we as a collective farm concepts too much, leaving just a dry husk.

Animation: Binbôgami. While I liked the designs and background art that Jintai gave us, some of the artistry looking like watercolor blots on paper, I found there was very little it terms of actual animated motion. It felt like the characters were tired, giving up on wasted motion. With Binbôgami, I appreciated more of the movement and the moment—the over-reactions were heartily appreciated, and odes to shows such as Fist of the North Star, Dragonball, Lupan the 3rd, and Detective Conan were fun to see. This felt like a show that the animators had fun drawing, so I have to give the nod to Binbôgami.

Connectivity: Binbôgami. If there was one thing that was a huge strike in Jintai's column, it was the way that all of the individual episodes were stitched together. I had always felt that Haruhi Suzumiya broke the mold when it came to episodic sequencing, so much so that any other anime that attempted the same thing would produce more resistance than praise. While I commend Jintai's attempt to shuffle the cards and present a jumbled order, it left me empty. The first two episodes had promise, but were unrelated to the next two, as were the next two after that. In all, it felt like I was watching six different shows that were all branded under the Jintai label—I mean, why introduce the narrator's moving hair in Episode 2 if it were to never be used again? Binbôgami, therefore, wins by default.

Characters (Human): Binbôgami. Other than the narrator and perhaps the yaoi-mad Y, I couldn't identify with characters from Jintai. Since they were either there for only two episodes or so under-developed that their presence was dull over the span of the season, I could only appreciate the narrator, and even that was a stretch. At times, she was sharp and acute, but at others she was slow on the uptake and unable to deduce the threads.

On the other hand, I really liked the characters in Binbôgami. Ichiko and Momiji aside, there really wasn't a notable trope that was overused in other shows. The ojô-sama character was thankfully driven into the background, leaving perverted monks, dog-eared masochists, and masculine girls in male gakuran outfits and geta clogs (Ranmaru definitely wins the Best Supporting Character award this season). When the main characters are factored in, Ichiko and Momiji's bitterness towards each other works so well that, at times, they have a teamwork almost feels like Yuri and Kei from the old Dirty Pair shows. I hope the prospect of a second season continues that harmony between eternal enemies.

Characters (Non-Human): Jintai. By a landslide. Yes, Kumagai was surprisingly comedic, but this has to go to the show that had memorable misfit mascots. Animatronic loaves of bread splitting themselves in two to gush (carrot) blood, headless and plucked chickens smoking stogies—while the creativity behind these mascots waned in future episodes, those wonderful wide-mouthed fairies took the center stage, adorable in design, but so dreadfully pessimistic and quixotic in their answers to the simplest of questions. If I was a voice-actor, I would be proud to have my name associated with them. :D :D :D :D :D :D


Acting: Binbôgami. Speaking of voice-acting, I have to give the nod to Binbôgami on the quality of the actor's voices. I was rather negative about the idea that Kana Hanazawa (Mayuri, Steins;Gate; Nadeko, Bakemonogatari) would be voicing Ichiko, a headstrong and haughty character totally opposite to her past roles, but I thought her performance was exceptional. She absolutely destroyed any preconceived notions that she couldn't play a brash character, taking her quiet attitude as Kuroneko in Oreimo and adding volume to it.

Don't get me wrong about Jintai, as I felt the scriptwriting was bar-none. However, the delivery from the likes of Mai Nakahara and Miyuki Sawashiro just didn't draw me in. The lines were good, but the acting from Yumi Uchiyama and Hanazawa were sharp and well-rehearsed. Hell, even Hiro Shimono, who I feel kills some acting momentum with his roles at times, was cast perfectly as the masochist Momo'o. Credit to the actors for playing their roles to a T.

Script: Jintai. As I mentioned before, the lines felt like they were delivered better in Binbôgami, but the lines themselves were written a lot better in Jintai. The discussions involving the narrator, whether they were with others or just in the confines of her own mind, were complex and deeper than the actual plot, and the fairies were given lines that completely befuddled the audience in their vagueness. That doesn't mean all lines were good ("Time...paradogs."), but for the most part they were sharper.

Music: Binbôgami. I didn't pay too much attention to the music in these shows, but I definitely got into the songs from Binbôgami more than Jintai. Yes, the bounciness of Jintai's OP was infectious, but I still lean towards the selections on Binbôgami. I mean, DAKARA ONE WAY TWO WAY is the new SOMEWAN WAN WAN.

Final Judgment:
Binbôgami Ga! is your Anime Survivor 2 champion!

Despite what the numbers say, this was really a no-brainer. While the competition flamed out with weak characters and weaker ways to give those characters a pulse, Binbôgami Ga! was really the only show where my desire to watch increased over the span of the season. Jintai's stock basically rose and fell with every reset of the show every two weeks, while I wanted to see Binbôgami's class warfare more and more each week.

Yes, it certainly is a demonstration of struggles between the proletariat and the bureaucrats in Binbôgami, but at the same time, the sensible side of me really didn't care. Ichiko may be rich, but she's impoverished in faith and trust, while Momiji doesn't realize just how much she depends on materialism to keep this personal vendetta against Ichiko alive. It's a war where the other side could easily switch allegiances in an instant.

That being said, I want to see more of Binbôgami in the future. Kokoro Connect, Tari Tari, Moyashimon Returns, Nobuna Oda...heck, even Jintai itself could end right now without a thought about continuing the story, and I would be content never to see another episode, but I honestly want to see more back-biting and brazen statements coming from Ichiko and Momiji. And when the battle does continue, I hope that both are content in the knowledge that they need to keep the fight going to make this show continue.

So bring back Binbôgami Ga!, producers. Don't know how, when, or where. Just do it.

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