Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Kannazuki no Miko: Shipped (pun intended)

Source: www.kannaduki.net

One afternoon last year, September 10 to be exact, 3 DVDs from Amazon entered into the shipping system. At least, the shipping information was entered into system, but the DVDs arrived shortly, either the next day or the following day. I draw attention to this to highlight the fact that I bought anime. To make matters more interesting, or worse, I bought Kannazuki no Miko.

There are better series along the same lines as Kannazuki no Miko, hereafter referred to KnM or KannaMiko. Escaflowne comes to mind as having a much more cohesive story, incorporating mecha, mysticism, relationship elements into a compelling experience. Where Escaflowne consistently does well in all three areas, KnM excels at none of them for the duration of the series.

Let's talk giant fighting robots for a moment. The concept requires some buy-in to begin with on both ends. If a team is going to go to the trouble of sketching out some mecha designs, even if they're bland, it's reasonable to expect that they'd be used, and by use, I mean fighting. But no, the mecha in KnM are placed arbitrarily like sex, because it seems that both sell. The mitigating factor is that KnM is is based on a manga of the same name by Kaishaku, so it's hard to fault the animation studio exclusively. If anything, they salvaged a mostly watchable anime from a mostly unreadable manga.

Although uninspired, the mecha is eye candy. Nothing important to the story happens for the duration of these battles, and there is little in the way of actual combat. I think all of the battles save for the final, extended showdown, are token in their brevity, and short battles are usually so lopsided that suspension of belief gives way to eye-rolling.

Combat takes place according to the following formula. Opponent(s) open fire on the Good Guy. Good Guy falters under the attack for the briefest of moments, meant to engender some kind of tension. Not to worry, though, as God Mode is quickly switched back on, the Good Guy utilizes his secret attack, which is the same attack used repeatedly so it's not really secret, which has a name, and which requires said name to be screamed like IT'S OVER NINE THOUSAND. Opponent(s) bail out, and the Good Guy gets the girl. Or not.

From trawling around a few dominant discussion threads on the series, mecha criticism is the most immediate and dominant. If one watched it in part because it technically fell into the mecha genre, they were more than disappointed, they were embittered. To others, the combat was a skippable irritant.

There's not much to comment concerning mysticism. It's used as an ability and serves to turn the plot in some series, but here it's used solely to form a premise. The outcome is very weak, because there is no plausible ability seen in KnM since it goes out the window with the mecha battles. As a premise, it manifests itself in a significant way only in a few key scenes, not nearly enough to be pervasive. Mysticism merely takes a back scene to the only element that was executed with non-catastrophic results.

That's not to say that the relationship element was spectacular. It, too, is not pervasive. It has the dubious honour of being the most controversial, though. This is yuri, after all, with fighting robots. Some might argue that the wrong crowds were drawn together, who were waiting around for the obvious (in their minds) pairing to come out of the wash. When the straight crowd lost, so to speak, denial is a great trolling tactic.

The intention, if there was any serious one, was to set up a love triangle. It wound up being cut and dry instead. At no point in the series except the end (of course) was their two contenders. There was the straight pairing, and the token third wheel. Worse, the third wheel character knew it and accepted it. Without any additional information concerning the manga or spoilers, one might have been convinced that the guy does get the girl. I don't know if the creators were trying to be deliberately clever or inadvertently disingenuous, because the guy doesn't get the girl, but you should know that already.

I have Escaflowne on DVD by the way, so why would I want what I've made out to be a much weaker (and shorter) incarnation? It seems like a naive answer, especially one that put me out some seventy-odd dollars, but I wanted a certain moment and a certain character immortalized (barring disaster and disc rot before I die) on a piece of plastic and glass.

KnM is an extreme example of cost-benefit, risk-reward undertaking. The bits of story, the sparsely used premise, the characterization, are only present for the purpose of build up to a single defining moment. No, it's not that one from the eighth episode; it's at the end. Characters have to be viewed in a certain way, or else the moment loses its power. Opinion is forged, literally manufactured through black and white actions and characterization, and premise creates this epic sense of tragedy.

Prior to watching KnM, I've never cried for a character. I've come close a few times, usually in situations where the journey's over, and they're finally going home. I've never gotten that attached to a character, but it's also because bittersweet moment are just that. What struck me with Himeko's redemption of Chikane, and Chikane's acceptance, was the immense solemnity of it all. Much of the potential joy is tempered by weighing all that has happened to create this moment. From a technical standpoint, so much was sacrificed that the resulting epiphany is enough to make me sit back and take notice.

At the same time, that much more was sacrificed by Chikane, rationally or otherwise, that I am moved to tears every time I watch the final episode. Her tragic journey's conclusion begins not with pretty flowers but in war, drenched her own blood. It was stark, poignant and very human. For that, Kannazuki no Miko, and Chikane, sit in a well-earned slot on my bookshelf.