Thursday, 28 April 2011

shinryaku! ika musume (squid girl)

When the main character in Squid Girl shows up, she talks a lot about how she's going to invade the human world and take over. The reason she gives for this is that humans are polluting the oceans and generally make a bit of a mess of the world.

The BBC recently ran a series called Human Planet. Interestingly, the idea of this was something along the lines of treating humanity as if it were the subject of a Nature Documentary. The episodes were divided up into the various habitats of the world (so, deserts, oceans, the frozen north, etc) and it showed some example so the strategies people use to survive.

I found the series to be a weird mixture of both fascinating stuff and appalling stuff. It was like for every clever idea or thing we've come up with, there was an example of us raping the natural environment - often, the two were one and the same. One of the things it tried to emphasise was that for most of the environments, the people were broadly in balance with the surroundings.

So, where they killed a whale every bit of that whale would be used and they'd only take a handful every year - sufficiently low numbers not to have an impact. This was only not true when it got around to modern, city-based living and things like mono-agriculture that are needed to support it.

Overall, I actually found the result a little depressing. It kinda backed up the notion that we're like a plague upon the planet.

I raise this because I think it may well have coloured my feelings about Squid Girl, which I watched at around the same time.

See, my problem was having turned up and given the feeling that it would at least involve some sort of environmental message, instead it was simply a daft comedy. Not that there's anything wrong with it being a daft comedy - it did raise quite a few smiles from me, after all - it's just it would have been nice if it had slipped in a few little environmental things as well.

I mean, okay, she spends quite a bit of her time picking up trash on the beach, but that's about the extent of it. Indeed, the overall theme of the show is more about how she becomes good friends with the humans she meets and how she almost abandons her squid-ness to become human.

In other words the sub-text was almost the exact opposite of what I was expecting - it was about how great humanity is.

Not that I was expecting it to come down badly on us, but tackling a few "issues" wouldn't have gone amiss. Even if it had avoided stuff like global warming, it could easily have gotten pollution in there. Heck, it could even just have been more head on about the rubbish on the beach.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Chu-bra is a very odd show.

In structure it's a bit like one of those cartoon shows for younger or teenage audiences where the characters experience problems and issues and thereby help the audience realise they're not the only ones having those problems. So, for example, they might enter puberty or have their first relationship with the opposite sex or hey, maybe the same sex - you get the idea.

But it's about underwear.

The title - Chu-bra - is one of those Japanese abbreviations like Cos-Play where they've truncated words to get it. So where Cosplay is Costume-Play, Chu-Bra is Choose Brassiere, as in choose your correct underwear.

The central character is a young girl who seems to be obsessed with underwear. In particular, with her friends and helping them pick the right underwear.

Now it should be noted that this does make her odd in the anime. She's not positioned as having normal interests that go un-remarked and occasional mileage is made of her essentially being like a lecherous old man.

Similarly there's a degree of weirdness over the ages of the characters - they're pretty young and the art style does emphasise their youthfulness. It isn't going so far as to be properly peado-bait or loli stuff, but there is some fan-service. Depending on how you generally feel about that sort of thing, it could easily be too much, but I dunno, it's not generally presented in a sexual way (the main character is oddly innocent) unless a point is being made or there's a gag to be had.

And don't let me hood-wink you - the series is about young girls and underwear.

But as I think you can tell I actually kinda liked it, but not for that reason. My liking it came back to the first point I was making about how it's like one of those 'growing up' and 'issue's shows and if you take it in that context, it hangs together rather well.

For example, it also explores things like friendship, first love, loneliness... as well as panties.

I dunno, there's a point to be heard that it's indefensibly pervy, but at the same time it's surprisingly well done.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

asobi ni ikuyo (bombshells from the sky)

I make no bones of the fact that I enjoy fan-service. Indeed, it's a big part of the reason I watch anime.

I use that term in its broadest sense. By fan-service I mean everything from gratuitous gun-play, through giant mechs and on down to the flashing of female flesh. Generally speaking, though, the term fan-service is most normally trotted out as a criticism aimed at the amount of gratuitous nudity in a show.

As I say, I've no problem with it myself, but I will happily acknowledge that this kind of thing has gotten quite extreme in recent years. Indeed, nowadays, fan-service in regular shows has started to blur the line between soft-core pornography and mild titillation.

The reason for this escalation is to ensure sales to the Japanese Otaku. Piracy has been having a big impact over there too and one of the ways to help sales has been to push the level of fan-service that little bit further.

Why do I mention all this?

Well, it's because the increase in nudy bits has led to a bit of a problem with TV broadcasts. There's a lot of misunderstanding about how the anime market works in Japan. One of the things that most people don't know is that most anime is shown very late night on TV and that the producers often pay the TV companies to air it, which is backwards for most telly.

They do this because, in effect, the TV screening is a gigantic advert to get the otaku to buy the DVDs and Blu-Rays (well, plus all the figurines, bath-towels, hug pillows and other merchandising that's produced as well). So you've got a situation where they're screening it on TV, but they need to ramp up the fan-service to such a degree that it's not really broadcastable.

The answer is to censor the broadcast version. However, there's a tendency for this censoring to be extremely ham-fisted. Sun-rays, steam or even little "stickers" will be slapped over the naughty bits, but in such a way it's obvious they're artificial additions (I'm not sure if this obviousness is part of the approach, or just a hallmark of a low budget or what). You can therefore get the otaku interested and sell them uncensored DVDs, but still show it on TV.

It's probably still not clear why I mention all this - the reason is because there is no uncensored version of Asobi Ni Ikuyo, but it still has the ham-fisted censorship. So why?

Well, this cuts to the heart of my problem with the show.

See, I think it's meant to be something like a parody. It's meant to be taking the piss out of shows that do that. But where it becomes a problem is it appears to be trying to have its cake and eat it too. It's trying to give you that fan-service for the same reason, but also criticise it.

And it does this throughout - you get what sometimes appear to be parody elements, but often presented with a kind of affection too. I found it horribly confusing and more than a little annoying.

The only real saving grace is the ending, which resolves in a much more satisfying and definite way than is usual for harem shows.