Haruhi Episode 01 Review
Let's try something different, shall we?
Why I watched it:
You know, if I were to be writing this section two weeks ago, by the time that I actually WROTE this review, I would have a much more in-depth answer to this. I guess I found myself stuck in a time warp, seeing as I forgot to express as to why I watched it during the short amount of time where I had the idea floating around in my head. But this isn't concise, so let me be.
Why did I watch it? Because of the hook. Cliche anime characters who desperately try to not be cliche and yet still find themselves in cliche situations. I have a hard-on for deconstructions (though its waning a bit, as deconstructions, at their core, rely on the unexpected the same way that non-deconstructions do and so have lost their novelty on me), and so I decided to watch it.
How it works:
95% of the episode is you watching one of the most effortlessly shitty films in animation history, and it was made that way on purpose. When you see a bad cartoon or a bad anime (though I never watch either because I'm a man of standards, damn it), you can tell the creators put actual effort into what they made, even when it's one of Adult Swim's worst offerings. If their creators aren't psychotic, the cartoons aren't supposed to be bad, because it's far more profitable to make a good television show with a large fanbase than a shitty one with a fanbase that only watches it out of irony, which is why Cory in the House can't go toe-to-toe with Jojo's Bizarre Adventure.
Most failed shows are mundane - they suffer from critical problems such as unlikeable or unrelatable characters, storylines that don't go anywhere or are built on stupidity and so waste the audience's time, animation and acting that is so poorly-produced that the show is physically unwatchable, or simply commits the cardinal sin of not being bloody interesting. Even the shittiest piece of work can be redeemed if there's some entertainment value to it - which is why works such as Undertale and the spectacle fighter genre (Super Smash Brothers, DOTA 2, and so on) are still praised even though they suffer from critical flaws in either story or gameplay. There's some value to it, and the fanbases are blind to all of their problems because they're capitalising on the limited amount of value they find within.
And so you don't come at me with a stick: Undertale has a nonsense plot where things happen to you for no reason with game mechanics that severely limit its potential, Super Smash Brothers has never been a technically well-balanced game, where the mechanics are either too easy to abuse or too hard to bother learning unless you have absolutely nothing better to do with your time, unlike say Team Fortress 2 where the mechanics are dead simple to learn and yet have a depth that caused me to waste 2,500 hours of my life on, and DOTA 2 suffers from adding in too much everything - too many heroes, cosmetics, game mechanics, engine quirks, edge cases for each and every ability, to the point where you are powerless to personally influence the outcome of a match because there are too many variables outside your control and you'll be fucked over by some out-of-nowhere mechanics that no sane person would have accounted for. I believe these types of games fill a niche for people who want to pretend they're playing great games and yet have never played enough variety of games to understand what truly great game design is, but that's my broad brush.
These examples are shitty (and this is just my onion), but you could tell the creators put effort into them. Even if it's in the most misplaced areas, like the inexplicable and irrelevent presence of an anime onion in Undertale, or the presence of over a hundred heroes in Dota 2 when you could remove 60% of them, retool the other 40%, and lose nothing of value gameplay-wise, there's still effort put into them. It's almost cute, really. They try so hard, but they try in all the wrong places.
The failures of the film in this episode come from people who didn't just want to make a shitty film, but who wanted to make a film in the most obviously shitty ways you could imagine - obvious not because it is trying so hard to be one of the most unbearable pieces of trite put to screen, but obvious because the ways in which its fail are so natural, so effortless, that the failures of the film are like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. While Bill was a perfect bastard whose performance was such that you couldn't even tell he was acting, the film is animated as such that if you replicated it with real-life actors and the same budget that the high school students who created it had, then nobody would be able to tell it was originally animated at all.
What I felt:
Its spectacle comes from the fact that the film is animated so well, so much detail put into making a film look as low-budget, low-quality, and as low-effort as possible, with such subtlety in its failures and such natural dialogue from characters who made the film with no motivation and only did so because of a psychotic director, that I could show this film to animation students in order to make them understand just what animation as a medium is capable of. There is that much care put into the supposedly-shitty film.
The comedy is a constant stream of sensible chuckles and "holy shit" moments, though it never reaches Nichijou levels of laugh-until-you-cry. Fuck it. It's a spectacle show, and the spectacle comes before the comedy, and it works because the sheer detail put into the shitty film is the cataclyst of the comedy. It's one thing to go Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff and make your audience laugh constantly because it's legitimately one of the shittiest pieces of work you've ever seen. It's another to go God the Devil and Bob and chuckle constantly because the dialogue is so unforced and the scenarios so believable that it's one of the most mature shows you've ever seen.
I find it interesting how the comedy is accessible to everyone despite being even more so to people who take the time to look at the little details. That's really impressive to me, to have that Borat quality of being both audacious and subdued, where idiots could laugh at Borat because of how absurd the character is, while smarties understand the satire that there are people who think Borat is a real person, and that Borat is simply the humanised personification of all of their racist thoughts. The actor playing Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen, is one of the best actors you'll ever see, and incidentally this episode has some of the best voice acting I've ever seen, with characters that are either trying too hard to act or not trying at all, and the ability to match the expressions the the voices properly (though with intentionally shitty lip-syncing) is a sign of a great animator.
The audacity is obvious, as that's what it tends to be. From the obvious special effects failures of a lightning blot superimposed onto a wand which rotates under it, to the horrible editing and cinematography, with fundamental filmmaking principles violated every minute, to the film simply giving up sometimes and showing scenes that would have been best for a blooper reel, and yet kept in because the audience would find them as funny as I did. I'm the audience. I found it funny. Good work!
And though the film narrator acts as our internal dialogue by thinking out loud about most of the failures (as well as insisting that bunny girls are NOT FOR SEXUAL), it is more so the film's realism in shitty filmmaking that gave me the most paws for thought, such as a cat who keeps falling one girl's shoulder and she has to shove it back up (and inexplicably talks - I guess this is dramatic foreshadowing), a bunch of kids watching as the film stars use their playground equipment, the pair of old ladies who really fucking liked cabbage and the other who could barely remember her lines, and the awkward choreography of a bunch of high school students lamely trying to threaten a girl whose default mode of thought is "act worried" and who can't even stand on one foot when she's trying to fight her enemy. Yes, they animated her shitty balance.
And then the film ends as it begins - in shambles - and we cut to the last 5% of the episode where we see our cast watching their film. It's awful, but their director likes it. This being the first episode of our show (unless you're somebody who needs continuity spoonfed into you), I get the feeling we'll see a lot more of these characters, unless we're going Cowboy Bebop and introducing two of them just to kill them off at the end of the episode.
And it's interesting to note how well-defined the characters are too, even though we are barely introduced to them. Our narrator is an uninterested man of honour, our hero is a typical cute clumsy girl, our antagonist is a bored young lady, male lead is lost and confused, our director is a lunatic, and the public at large is sick of their shit. Or so it seems - you never know with these bloody Annie Mays.
I don't think I need to spell out how I feel. The idea that I wrote so much about a single episode tells me that I feel positive about it. Perhaps the other episodes will have less content, and I will write less.
What I learned:
You see, it takes a lot of care to make an anime look like ass. While you could be like Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff and create the worst trite ever made, there will be a lot of people who make similar trite, purely by accident, and the alternative is to create something good that's supposed to be bad and let the paradox resolve itself.
Characterisation is a tricky thing, in that the most subtle details teach us a lot about the characters. Even if they have only a few lines in the entire episode, we can learn a lot about their personality. These few lines, especially at the outside, are critical. If a person does not like them, and they're supposed to, then they will not like your character, and you will have failed as a writer.
What is the goal of the first episode? Is it to create intrigue? In literature, the goal of each sentence is to get the reader to continue to the next sentence, until the book ends. Is television the same way? Or does it simply have to be so entertaining that it would be of benefit for the viewer to keep watching a series? Maybe the goal of the first episode is to provide enough positive reinforcement so as to let your users come to the decision that it's a series that they'd like to watch, for whatever reason.
Directing is as critical in animation as it is in live-action. Animation is an ideal medium to test your directing skills on. Is the goal to make the audience stop thinking that it's animated until you burst out with the scenes that only animation can do? Or is it as such to make the audience keenly aware that the show is animated, and then milk that fact for all its got? We see the first mindset in Persepolis and The Iron Giant, and the latter mindset with Panty and Stocking and Nichijou, to some extent. I'll have to see how Haruhi Suzumiya works out.
I would like to thank Digibro for making this possible.
He's not even somber - Froghand.
Today's page was updated on August 18, 2016!
So when you see me shitting it up, I'm trying really hard.