Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Anime Review: Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon season 2

So apparently, Horizon is planned to run for several more seasons, to cover all of its light novel source material. (Provided that it keeps selling well enough. The Horizon anime is popular among the otaku in Japan.)

You know what's a good sign that you don't like a particular show? Feeling happy at the idea of not watching more when there is going to be more. The idea of not sitting through another season of Horizon makes me feel... like a bird flexing its wings and soaring into the bright blue sky... like a college student waking up the day after finishing finals and remembering that, yes, I can do whatever I want today... like this persistent Goodreads user, after forcing herself to finish the Fifty Shades trilogy... FREE.

So, while I still have a song in my heart and an extra spring in my step, let's get cracking on this review!

This season continues where season one left off, with our heroes' floating home Musashi, Horizon's equivalent of 16th century Japan, being attacked by Horizon's equivalent of 16th century Spain, Tres España. As in Musashi, the men in Tres España get to wear shirts and pants while the women get leotards and shiny tights.

I truly, truly appreciate the loving care that has been put into the character designs and renderings in this series. Every ass shot is like a painting, brimming with unspoken meaning. Every crotch shot has a story behind it. Every heaving pair of breasts is clearly Horizon's way of telling us to look closely for the unplumbed depths of character development they convey to those willing to pay attention.

This season, going plot thread by plot thread, we have:

Felipe II, an old war veteran from Tres España, who saved a little girl once when he was deployed. She has sent him letters since then. He eventually finds out that Juana, the woman he works with whose boobs are squarely in the "How can she stand?" category, is the orphan and in love with him. I paid the least attention to this subplot. It was easily the most superfluous one.

Having lost his fight against Musashi's Futayo last season, Tres España's Muneshige loses his title. Muneshige's wife Gin seeks out Futayo for a fight, so she can win back Muneshige's title.

Moving on to the Musashi characters...

Most of this season takes place in Horizon's version of England. Masazumi is still the political glue holding everyone's shit together in the Musashi faction as they deal with Queen Elizabeth I after their ships land in her territory. I like Masazumi's personality, despite Horizon's handling of gender issues re: Masazumi.

Neshinbara meets a girl he knew in the orphanage he used to live in. They'd promised each other they would fulfill their dreams of becoming great writers, so Neshinbara feels bad when he sees that she fulfilled her dream while he hasn't. She curses him, he breaks the curse, and she turns out to be tsundere for him.

Malga's weapon device broke during her and Margot's cool battle against that mech last season, so she can't fight effectively for most of this season. She feels like crap because of it. For the most part, she still decently holds her own against opponents, even protecting Tenzo when he's on his way to save the woman he loves, Mary. She gets her full fighting ability back in this season's final episode, and she and Margot fight alongside each other again in a physical position I imagine would be much more awkward for them if they weren't already doing it. It was nice to see Malga and Margot fleshed out more as individuals this season- especially Malga. I still wish I could cut them out of this series and paste them into a show I like.

Tenzo falls in love with Elizabeth I's sister Mary Stuart, who is due to be executed soon. (Tenzo chose the wrong British royal. Elizabeth is loads better than Mary.) Like Horizon last season, Mary passively accepts her fate, until the man who loves her arrives to rescue her. Two damsels-in-distress in a row as the focal point of each season? Are future seasons going to feature any men passively resigning themselves to a horrible fate before being rescued by a woman? Doubt it. Is one of Horizon's many active female characters going to be the focal point of a season? Maybe, but I won't know first-hand since I'm not sitting through another season. ^_^

Now we're at the spine propping up this series. As with the previous season, this season culminates in Horizon's protagonist Toori giving Horizon (an android containing the soul of the dead girl Toori loved as a child) the ability to process a new emotion by giving her another hard-won (by Neshinbara) piece of the Armor of Deadly Sins. I assume that's how it's going to be for any new season- a lot of stuff happens, resulting in Toori giving another piece of the Armor to Horizon. Toori is less obnoxious this season than he was last season, but that isn't saying much. Most of the Musashi characters are decent, competent people. I'm not sure why they're all willing to lay their lives on the line for such an obnoxious twat.

Horizon's setting is rich in potential, and its plot has some neat ideas woven into it. Its execution this season isn't as messy as it was last season- as I said earlier at some point in this blog, there's more of a method to Horizon's madness in this season. But it still doesn't gel well as a whole or compel me to care about its plot- and it still has the irritating habit of not sufficiently explaining some references and plot elements for those of us who haven't read the Horizon novels. This series puts a lot of thought and detail into its world-building and politicking, but its execution still leaves me feeling like I've consumed empty calories after finishing each episode.

Story: This series has a hardcore contingent of fans who think it's the most brilliant piece of speculative fiction since Lord of the Rings. I'm not one of them.
Art: Same as last season. Obviously good budget, wasted on lousy character designs.
Overall: C Better than last season, but still not good.

If Yuru Yuri gets a third season, I'm not watching it either.


dm00 said...

I am hesitant to comment because I'm reluctant to cause you to spend more time thinking about this series you clearly did not enjoy.

Masazumi, Margot and Malga are certainly among the high points of this series --- very nearly worth the rest of the series by themselves. I think they've done a superb job building Malga's character, and I hope we will be seeing more of Masazumi's inner life.

The next season might involve a return to Margot and Malga's homeland, but I'm afraid if it does, it will be disappointing. The Horizon I imagine from the hints and promises always seems a little better than the Horizon that ends up on the screen (I'd hoped for a Japanese Rosencranz and Guildenstern are dead when Shakespeare threw down the gauntlet to Neshinbara, but instead I got a mecha battle).

The camera's tendency to focus on breasts and bottoms is an annoying descent into unnecessary leering that invariably ruins the mood. These scenes make me sad, because I would be ashamed to share this series with others who might otherwise enjoy the series.

I am one of those who think the show is brilliant --- not as a work of speculative fiction (books invariably win that battle, and I have serious doubts about the potential of the Horizon novels), but as a work of animated speculative fiction. For me, the energetic direction and the interweaving of the various characters' stories works quite well. I admire the economy with which they've been able to build this complex cast and the show's complex world. But it's more an appreciation of technique than an aesthetic judgment, and the technique clearly doesn't work for a lot of people.

Mary and Horizon passively accept their fates, it is true, but I hope t that passivity balanced somewhat by the activity of almost all the other women in the cast.

Thanks for the great review, even if a negative one.

Katherine Hanson said...

@dm00- Haha, no worries. ^^ And sorry about the late response.

I do like that almost all of the other women in the cast are active. My problem wasn't so much with there being two passive female characters in a mostly active female cast as each one's rescue being used as the McGuffin for each season so far. The other female characters have been active, but most of what has happened in each season has built up to: in season 1, Toori rescuing Horizon from execution and giving her the first piece of the Armor of the of Deadly Sins, and in season 2, Tenzo rescuing Mary from execution and Toori giving Horizon the second piece of the Armor of Deadly Sins. This season made me raise my eyebrows over Horizon and Mary's roles more than the previous season did re: Horizon's role (even though Horizon's role then was still problematic) because it pretty much repeated last season's damsel-in-distress plot thread, just with a different couple. And again, none of the major male characters are especially passive.

I'm glad you liked this review, and I appreciate you explanation of your perspective of it. Even though Horizon's narrative technique didn't do it for me, I'm glad I got some insight into why it does work for some people.

dm00 said...

For me, the real story is the ensemble: the crew/residents of the Musashi, struggling to win their survival through wits and courage.

It's true that the Toori/Horizon relationship is what puts their survival at risk, and provides the engine that moves the series along, but I tend to view the Tenzo/Mary story as just one of the many in the second season, only slightly more important than the Malga/Margot story or the Neshinbara/Shakespeare story. The Tenzo/Mary story does gain significance by culminating at the end (and given more weight because of the hints of the Mary/Elizabeth story), it's true (and it's the center of the promotional art for this second season, so probably I'm wrong to discount it).

Sadly, the Juana/Phillip story was just a footnote, as it was a case of a woman acting to save the man she loved, even in the face of his resignation to his fate. But they're minor characters and that whole drama was largely lost amid the rest of the series (and, mostly, you see it through Phillip's eyes and not Juana's).

Some of the best reviews of Horizon have been the negative ones.

Anonymous said...

Oh shut up,fanservice show is mindless but quality show makes me show,horizon is half fanserve and quality so that make the show unique