The Fanservice Debate: Sankarea Episode 8

Can fanservice ever be justified in anime or is it a disturbing and unnecessary aspect of the genre? In this occasional series we look at the rights and wrongs of fanservice and other questionable content in anime. A warning: this series will have plenty of spoilers and sometimes NSFW discussions and images. This week, the eighth episode of zombie romance Sankarea: Undying Love.

What’s the deal?

Sankarea Mero and Ranko fanserviceChihiro has always been obsessed with the idea of zombie girls, and by a strange chain of circumstances he ends up living with one. If zombie girl Rea goes out in the sun too much her body will deteriorate but she is keen to do “something a normal girl would do” and persuades Chihiro to take her on a shopping trip. Meanwhile, Chihiro’s cousin Ranko, who has a massive crush on him and makes no attempt to hide that fact, is enjoying “a nice long bath” at some public baths, which are so quiet that she appears to be the only person there, until she runs into Chihiro’s younger sister Mero and two of Mero’s friends, who are about to go into the baths. Ranko decides to go back in again. 15 certificate nudity happens.

Why it’s OK.

The eighth episode of this series might seem like an arbitrary choice for this article. Sankarea is a very fanservice-heavy series, and this is an episode that has very little of it, instead focusing almost entirely on Rea enjoying her shopping trip and then her monster of a father attempting to kidnap her, so it is an episode that largely drives the ongoing story along. The reason I chose it was to tackle the subject of whether all nudity in anime counts as fanservice. I don’t think it does. A good example is Girls’ Last Tour, which is in my opinion entirely wholesome and suitable for young children (disclaimer: the BBFC doesn’t agree and awarded it a 12 certificate), and yet there is a scene with the two girls in a bath and also one where they go for a swim in an… well I won’t spoiler it because we’ll be doing episode-by-episode reviews next year. But it is entirely tasteful and shown in a way that is as far from fanservice as you can get. Sankarea gives us a bit more of a grey area here, but I think it leans towards wholesomeness for the scene in question far more than it leans towards fanservice. Keep an eye on Mero’s two friends when they strip off. They joyfully take their clothes off, look each other up and down, and start giggling. It’s a picture of childish innocence, and a happy little feel-good moment.

Why it’s not OK.

I think context has to be key. Girls’ Last Tour is never a fanservice series, but Sankarea most definitely is. Elsewhere in this episode the animators make every effort to give us the pervert-eye-view when Rea is trying on clothes and being kidnapped (although this is very mild stuff with no actual nudity), and also give us various lecherous shots of Ranko in the baths before the other girls arrive. With all that surrounding this innocent little scene it’s far harder to give it a free pass, and harder still to conclude that the animators’ intentions were not to service the fans.

The Verdict.

Innocent in isolation, but looking at the bigger picture leads to a more uncomfortable interpretation. Undecided.   RP

Read the full series review: Sankarea: Undying Love
Read more fanservice debate articles:  The Fanservice Debate

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Another Episode 9

Another Body Paint Yumi Ogura“Body Paint”

The view from Igirisu:

After a bit of chatter about the cause of Nakao’s death, which doesn’t seem particularly relevant, as running away doesn’t save people from the curse anyway, and then another of Koichi’s nightmares, which feels like a repeated trick for the sake of upping the gore count, we finally get to the main thrust of the ninth episode of Another: the quest to find Matsunaga’s hidden message to the future. The core of three male friends are on the case: Koichi, Mochizuki and Teshigawara. Their plans are almost scuppered by Yumi and Aya, who seem to be there just to remind the viewers that they still exist, as they haven’t featured strongly so far and we need to be aware of who they are for events that will happen later in the episode. They also mention that Chibiki is their club advisor, keeping him in the viewer’s mind as a possible culprit. It would be stretching things, but there remains the possibility that all the supposedly supernatural events could actually be the work of a genius mass murderer somehow, and if that were to be the case then Chibiki is the prime suspect, having been around since the start of the curse.

Having shaken off Yumi and Aya, Mei turns up in the art room. She has a habit of always turning up when something is occurring, which is getting to be beyond coincidence. She just happened to be at the beach and now she just happens to be in the art room at the key moment. Maybe she likes Koichi so much that she’s stalking him.

“You really are weird Misaki.”

Mei continues to be a fascinating character, not at all scared of conventionally scary things. A dark, abandoned building? No problem. Her personality really shines through this episode, having fun at the expense of the nervous teenage boys and teasing them. It’s still slightly hard to read her. Just look at her lack of sympathy for Teshigawara when her foot goes through the floor, causing a shelving unit to fall on him. Is she unable to empathise, or is she just unflappable? What has happened in her past to make her like this? I would suggest we will have to wait for the OVA episode to get a clear perspective on her character.

“You don’t seem to be hurt.”

When they eventually find the message, it’s recorded on a cassette tape which is taped to the ceiling of a cupboard, which seems a little too well hidden for a message that will save lives. I suppose that’s fair enough. The ordeal Matsunaga went through would make a person struggle to think straight. The flashback to his Class 3 visiting the shrine is a great moment, and the lightning strike made me jump out of my skin even though I knew it was coming. I don’t know when I’ve watched a series that made me jump so much. I was at it again when the car windscreen broke, later in the episode. With the message recorded on a tape, of course it gets chewed up before we get to the important stuff. Those were the days. Matsunaga definitely wasn’t thinking straight when he used a cassette tape. Any child of 1983 was well-used to the frustration of cassette tapes getting chewed up, and it was always an important one.

We are back to the old trick of the episode ending in a death, but this time it feels like we’re upping the stakes as we move towards the finale, with not one death but four, bringing the curse’s tally this year to an extraordinary eleven victims altogether. Here’s where we are so far:

  1. Mei’s cousin
  2. Sakuragi’s mother
  3. Sakuragi
  4. Sanae Mizuno
  5. Takabayashi
  6. Kubodera
  7. Junta Nakao
  8. Yumi’s brother
  9. Aya
  10. Aya’s father
  11. Aya’s mother

9, 10 and 11 are all concurrent of course. It turns out driving along a windy mountain road in a storm when you’re trying to avoid falling victim to a curse isn’t the wisest choice. Having said that, Atsushi is just using his laptop when the curse gets him, something I’m doing right now. It doesn’t seem like a very risky thing to do. Wait a minute, what’s that digger doing?   RP

The view from Amerika:

Well the red herrings continue.  It is revealed that the death of Junta Nakao was not the slicing and dicing from the boat propeller, but head trauma.  Those flavorful herrings are there from the start as Junta was seen throwing up, leading us to believe it was car sickness, but no!  He had fallen and taken some severe injury to the head.  This does not help the friends as it means he was effectively dead before leaving the cursed town of Yomiyama.  So the darkness is back in full force.  There is a distinct hint that Final Destinations is still the inspiration as this seems like a direct sequel to the previous episode, but I noticed the year this series was released: 2012.  That means the writers had 6 years to get caught up on Open Water 2: Adrift.  This is yet another psychological horror movie, the category this series firmly falls within.  In this movie, a man is struck in the head by a boat, fracturing his skull and killing him.  There’s also plenty to be said of the cursed shrine, of which there could be countless movies or books.  Lovecraft delved into that often enough with creepy tombs and places best avoided.  I can’t say for sure where the influence comes from and I did prefer it when there was a direct reference because this is just a guessing game now.  To a certain extent, I’m reminded of It’s All Been Done by Barenaked Ladies; everything repeats if you look closely enough.  So my speculations could be totally meaningless but I sure do have fun making the connections.

That said, this episode, to the best of my memory, has the highest body count to date.  While two of them happened in the past, they are shown to the audience in this episode.  One lightning strike victim (which is a morbid and horrible death as it’s almost the whim of a god – one second the person is running, the next, dead) followed by the misstep off the cliffside (also a horrible death as she is shown rolling down the hillside crashing into every rock and branch along the way down).  Flash forward to the present and one girl dies in a car crash that presumably kills her whole family, while the other girl loses her brother to a freak truck accident which has rolled down the hill and crashed into her house.  The curse seems to be gaining in strength.  I’m inclined to think someone or something has a … grudge!

Before I wrap up, I once again took note of a few bonus items that really impressed me.  While I was reviewing The Sarah Jane Adventures, I often commented on how much I loved those little touches, like someone commenting on an alien’s breath, or a lemonade imbalance.  These are such small touches that they add nothing to the episode overall, but create a sense of watching a “real” world, even in the fiction of the series.  Well, with live action, it’s easier.  With animation, it’s a desired approach to storytelling done through very deliberate drawing.  So when I see Misaki stepping over a roped off area, and her foot clips the rope, I realize it’s just the artist saying “this work matters to me.  I care about it!”  And I applaud that.  Or when someone walks past a dusty desk and some of the dust is blown into the air, I say “bravo, animators”.  I care about this show even more, because you did too.  You cared enough to give us that extra sense of realism.  And not just that either.  You also showed that you understand that even in a tense situation, laughter has its place!  Like the Hawaiian shirt as high fashion or the debate about what time to meet.  Yes, this is a tense situation, but we should have a tension breaker.  Or at least a little something to take the edge off.  The danger is still there, still real, but it’s made more believable by the little hints of comedy.  Now if only I could laugh at a spliced tape!  I worked in a video store for years as a kid (let’s not get into what they are); I’ve had to splice my share of tapes due to them getting stuck.  It’s no laughing matter when that happens!  ML

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Babylon 5: Shadow Dancing

b5Z minus 7 days and we are busy Shadow Dancing! 

This weeks A plot has Sheridan and the Army of Light going on a Shadow offensive.  In the B plot, Franklin is finally going to meet himself and come to terms with his life choices.  And in a minor C plot, Delenn is planning to cement the relationship with John by spending the night together.

Considering how mad I was with Franklin for leaving his post, I found I couldn’t be upset with him when crunch time came.  He attempts to help someone from being beaten up and ends up stabbed and fighting for his own life.  In his delirium, he sees himself, dressed in uniform and has a conversation with himself.  Franklin faces the fact that he’s always run away and evaluated himself on what he wasn’t, rather than what he was.  His delirium-self calls him out on the foolishness of his actions which just spurs Stephen on.  He is determined to live.  “Don’t just walk away because it’s easier!”  And he does choose the hard path; he struggles in search of help and eventually finds it.  At the end of the episode, he and Sheridan have a conversation that I found both moving and meaningful.  We have to appreciate the moments and remember that it’s not about what we are not, but what we are.  Sheridan asks Franklin, “And what are you?”  Franklin answers “Alive.  Everything else is negotiable!”  And I suddenly respect Stephen again.  The station has its doctor back just in time, because Z is coming in just a few days.

But what is Z?  Well, we are one episode from the season finale.  Is Z, the last letter of the alphabet, also the last episode of the season?  Or is it something more?  I mean, Sheridan’s forces did just win a big victory against the Shadows.  It’s a great moment when Delenn walks in the room to see if the council has completed deliberations about offering help, and finds only one representative.  The immediate thought is that they are not going to help, but the Drazi that remains says she will have all the ships she needs.  Then, Sheridan tells Marcus and Susan that he needs them on what is sure to be a suicide mission as advanced scouts.  (Now is as good a time as any for Marcus to admit to Susan that he finds her beautiful, but just in case they survive, he does it in Minbari!  A lovely scene, by the way!)  To orchestrate the entire battle, Delenn brings John to a big dark room thankfully devoid of furniture, because there could be many a bruised shin otherwise.  It’s actually a tactical center which uses drop down screens to provide John a complete view of the battle.  Here he is able to offer battle commands, doing what he does best, as built up over several episodes: he uses his tactical and strategic skills to overpower and beat the Shadows.  Still, for every ship the Shadows lose, Delenn says the Army of Light lost 2.  Not good odds.  Garibaldi realizes that sooner or later, they are going to strike back.  And shortly after that, a shuttle leaves a Shadow vessel in hyperspace…

Let me pause.  There are a number of things worth mentioning at this point.  Marcus’s discussion with Susan offers two real-life pieces of wisdom.  When you want to learn something new, “it’ll take too long” is not an excuse.  As he says to her objection that it will take a year, “how old will you be in a year if you don’t learn…?”  Her realization is that she will be a year older in either event.  The point is something I carried with me to finish a degree I started some 20 years earlier: the time is going to go by one way or the other.  Whether you opt to make something of it or not is completely up to each of us.  The second bit of wisdom is when Susan says she thought rather than learning language, the Minbari would have been teaching combat skills.  Marcus says it’s much the same thing.  Yes, language can be used for combat just as much as love, humor, sadness… Knowing how to use words is a skill that can bridge the gap between enemies, woo a potential partner, win business meetings, and make people laugh.  Yes, don’t mock the wisdom of Marcus!  But he’s not the only one showing some degree of wisdom.  Garibaldi says something that stuck in my mind for a long time too.  “Sometimes people walk away because they want to be alone, sometimes they walk away because they want to see if you care enough to follow them into hell.”  I don’t always know if I have the wisdom to know which is which, but I never forgot that sometimes, the latter is a very real possibility.

After the victory, Sheridan remembers the dream he had during All Alone in the Night.  We are given clarity to Susan’s comment “do you know who I am?” relating to her being a latent telepath (though I was shocked that he said that so freely in front of Delenn, unless Susan was aware that Delenn already knew!)  Why Sheridan was wearing a Psi-Corp uniform in the dream could be because they joined forces with Bester to fight the Shadows.  But who is the man in between?  And the hand…?  The hand reminded me of the image Elric has of Londo’s hand reaching out to the stars.  But why would Sheridan be that?  John dismisses most of this in the end.  He realizes he’s putting too much weight in dreams and fears they will start reading tea leaves soon too.  Then he goes to spend the night with Delenn.  “Not like that!”  Delenn explains the Minbari belief that the woman stays awake for 3 nights to watch the man’s face to see his “true face”, not the one he wears around everyone else.  This will help her determine if he’s worthy to spend more time with… potentially in marriage.  He sleeps and she watches.  And periodically plays with a nearby snow globe.

It’s always a shame when they break.  But do we blame her for dropping it while John is sleeping?  His dead wife just walked in the room…  “I’m Anna Sheridan; John’s wife.”  I don’t know if it was the slow motion or the realization of what that flashforward represented from War Without End but whatever it was, I couldn’t control the chills that went down my spine. Z Minus 2 days…   ML

The view from across the pond:

Z Minus 7 Days, Z Minus 6 Days, Z Minus 4 Days, Z Minus 2 Days

OK, now I’m thinking the Z stands for Z’ha’dum, and feeling a little silly for not thinking of that last week. Mind you, this was a bit of a silly episode, so I was in good company. With only one episode to go, it felt odd to have so much time wasted with trivialities: Marcus trying to chat up Ivanova, those annoying sloping beds again (click, click, click), Franklin lurking around, a bigoted tourist going around with a tourist guide. All a bit light weight for this stage of the game. Tourists arriving with guide books didn’t sit well with what’s going on at the moment anyway. People don’t generally do much of that when there’s a war going on, especially at arguably the focal point of the war zone.

Even sillier was Delenn’s Minbari Tradition of the Week™. She seems to have an inexhaustible supply of those, and always previously unmentioned.

“When we’ve finished this, we will spend the night together.”

Aha!

“Not like that.”

Oh. As part of her commitment to Sheridan, she decided to watch him sleeping for three nights.

“What if she doesn’t like what she sees?”
“Then they go their separate ways.”

That would break up many a relationship before it gets started. Sheridan had better not have a curry the night before.

It also seemed a bit late in the game to be doing such a formulaic A plot / B plot episode. The B plot was Franklin finally realising that he should get on with his life and stop running away from his problems. It took a stabbing for him to “find himself”, and enough blood to make the point that this is not a show for children. They really need to carry mobile phones with them in the future. Failing that, maybe he should have taken a friend on walkabout with him. Instead he had to talk to himself, quite literally. My heart sank. One Franklin is enough for anyone, let alone two, especially with the now all-too-familiar blurry picture that seems to blight every special effects shot in Babylon 5. His fight for survival was impressive though.

The main story was a big battle with the Shadows, which almost felt like the season finale come early. In story terms there wasn’t much going on other than a lot of fancy effects shots, but it was all quite exciting. I was most interested by the question of why the Shadows have been avoiding B5, and my guess is that Ivanova doesn’t realise the extent of her psychic abilities and they are staying away from her.

Despite the end of the season looming, JMS seems intent on focusing on the personal interactions as much as the big dramatic stuff, especially with Sheridan’s wife turning up to put the cat among the pigeons. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.   RP

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The Ruthven Inheritance

ruthvenThere have been a lot of Sherlock Holmes references since this series started but color me amazed that it escaped my attention before, Litefoot has a housekeeper named Mrs. Hudson!  Ormand Sacker, the original name for Dr. Watson, is back too, but this’ll be the last time we see him, I think!  And we are in for a decidedly different story with this finale.  This time, I found myself completely hooked as Litefoot and Sacker explore some burial catacombs under the Ruthven estate.  Jago, meanwhile, is tricked out of his theater, and I’m curious to know how that’s going to go down!  “I speak as an expert on bringing the house down!”

So look, here’s the thing: I love this pairing.  These two are delightful and have some truly great adventures.  I was genuinely engrossed as Litefoot and Sacker went exploring the Ruthven catacombs but it fails a bit.  I mean the story is great and utterly charming, but it doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny.  Logic, it seems, took a vacation. First of all, Ruthven invites Litefoot and Sacker over to his mansion during which time, they ask about the animals on the wall; did he hunt them himself with the weapons he has on display?  No, “I killed the animal with my bare hands,” he says.  We’re talking lions, tigers, narwhal and bears!  Oh, my!  Now me?  I’d be on the first coach out.  They take it in stride.  But here’s the problem: Ruthven is the baddie!  Why didn’t Ruthven kill them on the spot?  Even if he waited until they were in the catacombs, why chance them escaping?  If the plan was always to kill them, kill them!  I feel like Scott in Austin Powers.  I’ve got a gun in the other room, we can just shoot them!  Then when Jago breaks into Ruthven’s house later, he decides to talk the audience through all of his inner ramblings.  When I’m sneaking around, the last thing I do is talk!  Jago may have “dibs on witty repartee”, but that doesn’t make this a good time to be using it!  (Although as a fan of the first season, I did love his “lovely wood; mahogany!” as a little allusion to The Mahogany Murderers!)

But, like any good infomercial, wait, there’s more!  At the end, our season 2 Moriarty, (Sanders) has become something of a winged gargoyle and Jago has a plan to dispatch him.  The logical thing to do is to do it without announcing it, but instead he yells to Litefoot that he’s not trying to hit Sanders, but the chandelier!  If there’s one thing I did appreciate about this, it was that from the outset of the play, there was a comment about axe throwers, so it was well placed.  What seemed idle chatter was, in fact, a well placed Chekov’s gun!

Speaking of things I did like, Lord Ruthven goes by the name Varney, and turns out to be a vampire, which is a great hint to one of the early vampire stories, Varney the Vampire (1847).  There’s also a nice little think-piece about nature vs nurture, although under the circumstances, we barely touch upon it.  (I still enjoy it!)  And there’s such a great sense of camaraderie between Litefoot and Ellie towards Jago, that when they find out he’s in a potentially crumbling house, they immediate race back into danger to help him.  And who can’t use a good “buddy story” these days, eh?  And with Sander’s dispatched, there’s a chance Ellie is cured, so good news all around.  (Although in fairness, I did see that coming from the start of episode 2!)  Even the ending has a funny bit with Jago jesting about the next case, featuring lights under the Thames, being one for him and “Phillips!”  After a moments pause, he says “Just kidding!  I don’t know anyone named Phillips!”  It’s Jago and litefoot, as it always will be!  And you have to leave with a smile after a thing like that!

Coming in at just under 1 hour, it’s another easy story to get hooked on.  And I again have to compliment the artist for the “cover art”.  But as I was nearing the end, I thought I’d perhaps take a small break.  With the current Covid lockdown, I can’t drive as much as I had been which messes with my listening enjoyment so I thought it might be a good time to write about something else.  And then Litefoot’s doorbell rang.  He opened it and said “YOU!” and I was utterly convinced it would be another villain.  But when the voice spoke, I felt a chill of joy race down my spine.  An old friend had come back:  Leela!  And they are in for a big adventure.  But first they’re “taking tea, before we save the world!”

Well, just because I’m not driving doesn’t meant I can’t keep up with these stories… Season 3 starts next week!  ML

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Star Trek: Charlie X

Star Trek Opening TitlesWhen I was a kid, we rented a house in Lavallette NJ.  My cousin and I would stay up late to watch Star Trek at 12 midnight, and The Twilight Zone at 1:00.  One combination never seemed to occur.  Charlie X was never on the same night as It’s a Good Life.  I think if it had, the irony would have been too much for the universe and the world would have exploded.  They both feature the same idea.  But we’ll get to The Twilight Zone eventually.  Tonight, let’s stick with Charlie X.  17 year old Charlie Evans is dropped off on the Enterprise like the child of new parents going on their first date in months.  Things are not right and we only get hints of it until things start going seriously wrong.

Ok I got some information in this one that I’m going to have to track!  There are 428 crewmen on the Enterprise.  Now, I’m going in broadcast order, so I’ll assume the number was 432, prior to losing 4 crewmen in The Man Trap.  We see (red gym suited) Sam get sent to the cornfield… ah, sorry… sent “away” when Charlie gets upset with his laughing at Charlie.  He sends (pink nightie’d) Janice Rand away.  He ages a (yellow shirted) woman and removes another (blue shirted) woman’s face (know who else did that?…)  He even turns a blue shirted woman into an iguana.  So that’s 4 dead at least, with one too old to continue to serve most likely… but luckily a fairy godfather head shows up and reverses everything so… we’re back to 428.  Shame he couldn’t bring back the 20 people who died on the Antares.  Weirdly two episodes in and not a single red shirt died!!!

Now, this is our second televised meeting with Kirk and what’s the first thing he does with the Antares crew?  Offers them “entertainment tapes” and Sorian Brandy.  He also does something magnificent: he changes shirts while riding in the elevator.  He starts off wearing his typical yellow one while explaining why one does not smack a woman’s bottom (unless you’re the first Doctor, which is clearly alright), gets in the elevator, and steps out wearing the green one from the start of the episode.  This is a talented man!  Of the other members of the crew, we learn that Uhura can sing.  We also learn that no one really likes her singing because if they did, when she suddenly can’t even vocalize anything, everyone quickly turns to watch Charlie’s card tricks.  We also see Spock smile some more as he plays his harp.  And he likes chess.  Lastly, we learn that McCoy still doesn’t rate enough to be in the opening credits even though he and Spock both press all the buttons on the bridge.  (A skillful doctor, indeed!)

So what’s it all about? What makes this episode important?  It’s about the struggles of growing up.  It’s about being a kid and trying to find yourself.  And maybe it’s about the dangers of meeting your heroes because Kirk really lets the kid down on a number of occasions.  “We’re in the hands of an adolescent!”  Charlie is a kid who did not know how to be with his own people.  There’s a tragic nature to Charlie’s story and it’s abundantly clear in the end when he wants to stay…. Stay… stay…. (creepy as hell, by the way).  Even Kirk goes to bat for him, which is redeeming indeed, but it’s not enough and the Thasians take the boy away.  The episode does fail for me in one huge way: Charlie is able to control Spock; he makes him do whatever Charlie wants.  So why couldn’t he control Janice?  Would it really have been too much to ask?

Charlie X was never one I liked that much because I always laughed at Charlie when he did that thing with his eyes, but it’s hard to deny the impact it must have had back in 1966.  But I’m just looking forward to what comes next, because I actually know what that is and I can’t wait to see it again!  Let’s boldly go on…  ML

The view from across the pond:

Charlie Evans is the “sole survivor of a transport crash fourteen years ago”, who has apparently survived on his own from the age of 3. It’s immediately obvious that there is something more going on than that, because the captain of the ship he transfers from seems afraid of Charlie and can’t wait to get away, and then his ship blows up. So Charlie is more than just inexperienced in life. He is dangerous.

Before we get to his special abilities, the episode explores the consequences of Charlie’s isolation. He has no experience of human interaction and is immediately fascinated with Janice:

“Are you a girl?”
“Is that a girl?”
“That’s a girl.”

His interest in her soon becomes creepy and awkward, with a slap on the bottom just the start of her troubles. Kirk has a man-to-man chat with Charlie, which he finds very difficult, eventually getting to the point that “there’s no right way to hit a woman”. It really takes him far too long to get to what should be a very straightforward and clear piece of advice, but you would think from Kirk’s hesitation that he was trying to talk about the birds and the bees. But the relationship between Kirk and Charlie is an interesting one. Kirk becomes a father figure very quickly, and is the only person on the ship who commands a degree of respect from the teenager.

After a fabulous musical duet between Uhura and Spock (isn’t Nichelle Nichols a great singer!) and a quick game of 3D Chess (that top level is a bit high up – you’d need a step ladder to see what’s going on up there), Janice tries to deal with the problem of Charlie herself by setting him up with somebody his own age. Poor Tina. Talk about throwing a friend to the lions. It’s lucky for her that Charlie isn’t actually interested.

“All the other girls on the ship, they look just like Tina. You’re the only one that looks like you.”

It’s the giant basket hair isn’t it. That’s got to be the attraction. Kirk has a go at teaching Charlie to be a man, and we all know that real men show off their muscular chests and wear Starfleet-issue red tights, and then for those interested in my Trek Tally we get what appears to be Minor Crewman Death #5 with the man who laughs at Charlie getting zapped out of existence. Poor Tina gets turned into a lizard as well, which is a better deal than actually going on a date with Charlie. These get reversed in the end, so our tally surprisingly remains at 4 this week, at least as far as the Enterprise crew is concerned. We do get two additions to our screaming woman tally though (bringing the total to 3), albeit one of them rather muffled. The lack of a face will do that to a scream.

“We’re in the hands of an adolescent.”

…and what could be more scary than that? I was very impressed with this episode, because the idea was a very scary and troubling one. Omnipotent enemies in sci-fi are always frightening, but put that power into the hands of a teenager and then everyone’s in trouble. It was a shame the resolution was fudged. There were actually two resolutions to the problem here, when only one was needed. Firstly Kirk and Spock came up with a way to use up all Charlie’s energy on controlling the ship, weakening him enough that he could be tranquillised. Then the aliens from the planet where Charlie has been living for 14 years turned up to take him back into their custody. The second one of those was unnecessary and diminished the episode. In basic terms, any threat to the heroes in sci-fi can be dealt with in one of two ways: they can solve the problem themselves, or some outside force can intervene. The latter of the two is always going to be the weaker resolution because it is less satisfying in dramatic terms. We want our heroes to win through. So having come up with a solution that follows the former pattern and works, why spoil it with an outside power coming in and solving their problems for them as well? At least it put into perspective why Charlie behaves the way he does, and almost pulls a 180 on us by making us feel sympathy for his plight at the end.

“They don’t love.”

A race of people who cannot love. That might just be the ultimate horror in the universe.   RP

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Combat

touchwoodInterestingly, my memory of Combat was of a ridiculous Owen episode about him being more of a jerk than normal.  Interesting because while that is at the heart of it, it’s actually an engrossing character piece with some action added to drive home the difficulty Owen is having coping since Diane left.  Owen was by far my least favorite character.  He’s nasty and in most ways repulsive and that was the case from episode one.  I’d love to compare him to Sherlock (from Sherlock), but he is, while sometimes hard to like, always interested in doing the right thing.  Owen is a jerk always looking for a fight.  Noel Clark  (Mickey from Doctor Who) gives us a chance to get inside the head of this crass character.  Meanwhile, Gwen’s story with Rhys is developing and I’m really impressed with Clark’s writing for this sequence.  It’s tense and more believable than Owen’s story.

Focusing first on Gwen, the opening between her and Rhys is powerful and as much as I like Gwen, I have to say I agree with Rhys’s feelings.  It’s how he goes about addressing those feelings, demanding Gwen to sit down, that I disagree with.  Remarkably, more than either of them, Jack annoys me the most in this scene; he should know better, but still pulls her away, then reprimands her for not keeping her life in balance.  Jack is a very hit-or-miss character himself.  (Although in fairness, he’s more likable than not and his “oh, you don’t think I’d have that ringtone, do you?” did have me laughing!)  Gwen later retcon’s Rhys to be able to tell him she’s been cheating on him and wants him to say he forgives her.  It’s a powerful scene, but I think Gwen has totally lost herself in her job.  This is not the way to apologize.  Not to mention, didn’t we learn just 2 or 3 episodes ago that retconning a person can lead to a mental breakdown?  Sure, it was established that greater doses were needed, but still, do you take that chance with your fiancee??

Meanwhile, Owen is investigating a murder as a guy who sells jellied eels.  I’m not even getting into that.  I will however make fun of his negotiating skills.  He goes to the Lynch/Frost agency (clearly fans of Twin Peaks; David Lynch and Mark Frost) to see the guy who runs the place, Mark.  (See, fans!)  Here he negotiates with his back turned to the guy he believes to be the bad guy so he can stare moodily out the window like he’s looking for a clue.  Squint, Owen!  Squint hard!!  You won’t find a clue out the window, dope!  To prove his dope-hood, he throw his gun somewhere in Mark’s flat then leaves without it.  So, this gun, issued to Torchwood staff, is just something you leave behind?  (Don’t get me wrong, in the scene, he and Mark walk off-camera so there is a chance he would have grabbed it!)  But he’s so ill-equipped to be a human being, that he’s willing to get into a cage with a Weevil to be eaten.  The only thing I did like about Owen in this episode is that when Mark calls him out on his lame cover story, he doesn’t even try to deny it; he owns it and starts listening to Mark.  (Maybe he found a clue after all!)

Now, while I rip Owen apart, the story plays out in such an engrossing way, I wasn’t really turned off by his stupidity.  It’s sometimes the little touches, like Gwen reaching for her empty ear and starting to talk to Jack before she realizes she’s not online with him that impresses me.  It’s handled so well by Eve Myles because her eyes convey the shock perfectly.  I also like Mark’s speculation that the Weevils are the future of us; humans who have become totally consumed with rage.  A good commentary.  And I have to ask, why don’t Weevils appear in Doctor Who, beyond just spectators during the Pandorica scene?  They didn’t strike me as the sort of group to go to the theater or play the part of spectator of any sort!   I love the reference to “something is coming…. out there in the darkness”.  Yes, it’s another heavy-handed hint to drive us to watch more, but it works for me even if I do realize I’m being played.

Less effective is the ending with Owen snarling and cowing the weevils in the Torchwood cells.  It’s not that it was a bad thing if they used it again, but to the best of my (admittedly somewhat hazy) memory, this is the one and only time we see Owen has any “powers” of any sort.  So why bother?  Maybe to make him a bit cooler.  It fails.  However, the only slight recovery I’ll give this is Owen’s hospital room, he questions Jack with, “Do you always know what’s best?”  No, Owen, he doesn’t.  First, he should have let you get eaten because you’re a nasty piece of work.  And second, rewind to the start of the episode for proof that Jack absolutely does not know what’s best.  He’s making it up as he goes, and he really needs a Doctor to help him figure it out.  Better luck next time, Jack.  Owen, go snarl at your colleagues for 2 more episodes.  Maybe the season break will help mellow you out.   ML

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Photo Kano

Photo Kano Mai SakuraDating sim games are something of a phenomenon in Japan. The way they seem to work is that there are a variety of different characters who the player can end up dating, depending on the way they play the game. These often get adapted into anime television series, and the results can actually transcend their origins. Clannad is a good example, and the approach the writers took with that series was to pick one of the girls to be the main focus of the series, and then tack on a couple of bonus “what if” episodes focusing on the other girls, who otherwise form part of something approaching a harem anime format for the rest of the series. There is a natural progression from dating sim to harem anime which makes those kinds of games an attractive proposition for an anime studio. However, I have never seen one adapted quite like Photo Kano.

The idea behind the series is a good one. Kazuya Maeda gets given a camera by his dad, and that opens up a world of new possibilities to him at school. He joins a photography club, and forms new friendships with several different girls due to his enthusiasm for photography. The other members of his club are very funny: three perverted boys and a girl who has a knack for blending in stealthily with her surroundings. The first four episodes introduce all of the main characters and contain Maeda’s first encounter with each of his potential love matches, and then we get to the weirdly literal approach to the dating sim origins of the series. Episodes 5 and 6 focus on Maeda’s developing relationship with Haruka, his childhood friend who is gradually becoming something more. By the end of the sixth episode the series seems to have been resolved and I was very happy with the soppy romance… and then episode 7 starts and Maeda is going after a different girl. My wife was watching with me and said “he’s a bit of a player”, but no, it’s not that. The story branches off from a different point in the narrative for each of the remaining episodes of the series, and pairs Maeda with a different girl. These are eight different love stories, all featuring the same teenage boy. The whole series is a sequence of what-ifs. It’s a completely literal representation of the subject matter, and it nearly works.

The Haruka story arc is the best by far, and that’s because the story has room to breathe over a couple of episodes. There are flashbacks to when they are younger, and you end up really understanding the attraction between them and why there have been barriers to their relationship ever blossoming before. If you stop watching at the end of episode 6 then you’ve actually got yourself a really lovely short rom-com series, convincing and beautiful. But curiosity will get the better of you and you will want to keep going. Your enjoyment of the rest of the episodes is going to depend on how much you like each of the girls. The problem is that one episode is never enough for a love story to fully develop from beginning to end, so they tend to feel rushed. One or two of the episodes manage to transcend that problem to a certain extent, but the worst of them feel like a box-ticking exercise. At the more disappointing end of the scale we have the older girl who is the student council president, who never seems like a good match for Maeda, and also the cookery club girl who has very little to distinguish her as a character apart from being the one with the big boobs. At the other end of the scale there is the quiet girl who is forced to constantly change schools and is afraid to commit to friendships and then lose them, and my favourite (apart from Haruka): Mai Sakura, the friend of Maeda’s little sister in the year below him, who is trying to make the grade as a gymnast and needs Maeda to inspire her. Their story never quite progresses in the obvious manner, and they seemed like a lovely match for each other.

If the current trend for an edgy incest storyline in anime bothers you then you will want to skip out the final episode, which ticks the final box with Maeda going after his little sister. There’s a twist in the tale, and it’s the same twist that justifies an incest storyline in just about every incest anime series ever made.

So the issues with this make it a tricky series to actually recommend, and yet the first six episodes are brilliant and a couple of the later episodes are really enjoyable as well. There are better harem anime series, and there are far more clever ways to deal with a dating sim adaptation than this bizarrely literal approach, but if you’re a fan of soppy romances like me then you probably won’t want to overlook a series that gives you eight of them. It also has an important message that some people might find quite inspirational. If you’re feeling lonely and lacking in friends, then taking up a new hobby might just change your life.   RP

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