The Secret Santa Files: Mystery, Drama, and Baseball!

My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas. We did growing up, but none of us are Christians, so it didn’t make sense to keep it up once the kids were grown. Instead, we celebrated Festivus in 2008, The Feast of Winter’s Veil in 2009, and this year I invented my own winter holiday called Agarwood Day (details in future). Each time, I’ve made up a series of themed activities to participate in, and we have a lot of fun.

Still, I like the mythos of Santa Claus. Maybe it’s just because in spite of being decidedly un-Christian, my mom loves Christmas movies, and therefor I’ve seen them all, but there’s something about Santa that just kicks ass. So while I might not see the fun in just any Christmas activity, something like Secret Santa is still a lot of fun to me.

I hadn’t known about the Reverse Thieves project last year until ghostlightning had already blown up Binchou-tan’s mountain (not actually sure this was the same secret santa, but I found out about it nonetheless then), so this year, there was no way I’d miss out, especially because I *love* receiving recommendations as much as I love giving them. I used to ritually make rec threads on Anime Suki and be a pain in people’s ass by asking for highly specific items and having seen more than most of everyone else. By now, I know all the anime worth watching, but it’s still nice to get the drive to actually sit down with something.

All three of the shows recommended to me were ones that I already had an interest in seeing to various extents. People have been recommending me Asatte no Houkou for years. Bungaku Shoujo had looked interesting, and I got to feeling like I had to watch it when I was working on my Hanazawa Kana post. Ookiku Furikabutte is somewhere on No Name’s 100-series-strong favorites list, and he was all giddy to have me watching the show. So with those on my plate and my constant need to take things to the extreme, I started out to watch all three of the things I was recommended.

Bungaku Shoujo – It’s Time For A Book Burning

My expectations for this were moderate, and yet still managed to be betrayed. I hated this movie. I knew things were going bad right from the start because I disliked the character designs with their Kanon2003 chins and it started so slow I could put children to sleep with it. Things didn’t look good when the plot started to emerge and I had no idea what was going on.

I don’t like mysteries. I hate suspense. I don’t want to spend a whole movie going “what the hell is going on?” because even if I’m genuinely interested, as I was for about 20 minutes of this film, then I’m also frustrated. You have to give me something to abate me until things come together. Kara no Kyoukai 5 is my favorite movie of all time, and it’s two hours of not knowing what the fuck is happening—I loved every minute of it because it dripped with style from the directing and visuals and the characters were interesting, the plot enthralling, and the whole experience just magical. I enjoyed the hell out of Shutter Island because it had breathtaking cinematography and great acting performances. Those are the only suspense-thrillers that I truly love—everything else just leaves me begging for more substance.

Bungaku Shoujo kept withholding information for no reason other than for me to ask the question “what’s going on?” The only thing it does to be interesting is try to be interesting, if that makes sense. Keeping the information at bay does not enhance the information. If I had read this as a 2-page recap told in chronological order, nothing would be different, and I’d be happier to know what was going on from the start instead of spending 50 minutes waiting for a payoff.

Because it doesn’t come. The only satisfaction one gets from a well-made suspense thriller is when the plot twist happens and everything clicks. This movie never clicked. There was no satisfaction. There was no point to most of the events. When the truth was revealed, it left me scratching my head. I got angry, honestly, at every plot twist, because all they did was make me hate the characters more and more for being retarded and poorly written.

Now, less broad strokes. All of Inoue’s friends were useless. Inoue himself had no personality whatsoever, and some of his actions were downright confusing, especially towards the end.

ASAKURA MIU WAS AN ANNOYING, CRAZY BITCH. At first, I thought I might like her. She was cute and clearly insane, which is something that I dig sometimes. Not this time. She wasn’t good-crazy, she was contrived, this-writer-is-just-making-up-bullshit crazy. Maybe I expect too much from crazy people and want them to have a clearly defined mental illness, but seriously, her crazy was so lame that I hated her for it. Doesn’t help that Hirano Aya gave a fucking terrible performance. I’ve never liked Hirano crazy—her voice is the worst part of Kate from Seikon no Qwaser for the exact same reason. If Miu had been played by someone else, there’s a chance I could’ve enjoyed her to some extent, but Hirano made her completely unlikable.

Production I.G. utterly disappointed me on the animation front. This is a movie, but I can barely tell. The animation quality is that of a good-budget TV series, but not even like a Kyoto Animation level one. More like something A.I.C. or J.C.Staff might do without even putting an especially large amount of effort into it. Production I.G. has a reputation as the biggest and baddest studio around with the highest animation quality, and movies are expected to look at least higher than TV quality—in this respect, the movie failed. I don’t understand why it wasn’t produced as another OVA along with the rest of Bungaku Shoujo.

The only bright point in this film was Hanazawa Kana, and God I’ve come a long way to be able to say that (by now you’ve read my post on her, but at the time of writing this, it hasn’t been published yet.) Her character was decent. Had she been a character in a series and perhaps actually had anything to do with the plot of that series, I might’ve really liked her. Here, her character is just sort of there for no good reason but to be cute and wrap things up at the end. Hanazawa is great for the role, but with so little to go on, I just don’t really care.

Overall, I think this movie was a total failure. Would not rewatch, would not recommend.

Asatte no Houkou – Mastery of Writing

I’d planned to write something profound for this series but I didn’t get around to it, so here’s the summed-up version.

Asatte no Houkou is beautifully written. The series moves at a very slow but deliberate pace and not a single moment nor line of dialog feels wasted. The plot and characters are interesting and deep and Nogami Shouko, the best character in the series, ties everything together with a beautiful bow. Even though she has perhaps the most development to do, she facilitates the growth of all the other characters in the series. She’s the keystone and, being an adult mind in a child’s body, I absolutely adore her. She’s very much the type of character I want to write.

The first thing I noticed about this series is the gorgeous background art that I knew could only have come from Kobayashi Shinichiro working with J.C. Staff. Being a dialog-driven drama, there’s no reason for it to need fantastic bouts of animation, so it focuses instead on looking very nice and having attractive character designs, at which I think it succeeds.

There’s no unlikable character in the show and everyone comes into their own by the end. The human aspect of the series is very poignant. In some ways, it reminds me of Honeymoon Salad in the strange but beautifully heartfelt way that the family of no blood relation comes together. I’ll always remember Shouko as a loli, but I’m happy with how everything turned out.

The trouble with the series is simply that I can’t see myself ever wanting to watch it again. It’s a series that makes its point and moves on, and there’s nothing I could really stand to gain from watching it again. I love Shouko, but not enough to rewatch the show. For that reason, it can’t approach being a favorite of mine, but it’s a series I can easily recommend to others.

Ookiku Furikabutte – Actually, I Didn’t Watch It

I said I set out to watch all 3, not that I succeeded :p That plan was made before another plan to watch almost everything that aired in 2010 before the year clocks out. So far, the latter plan has been successful, which hasn’t left me time for a 24 (36 if you count S2) episode series. I was gonna watch the first episode for the sake of giving an impression, but the files I got from No Name are really low quality (must’ve been from his earlier days) so I said fuck it, maybe some other time. I’ve been assured that the series is great, so I’ll probably get around to it sometime.

Well, that covers my secret santa recommendations. I’m certainly interested in knowing who recommended these to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if my secret santa recipient already knows that I was their recommender, because I totally forgot that I’d been their secret santa (and recommended them some of my favorite shows), and talked about what the person watched with them without realizing, which is kinda hilarious.

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20 thoughts on “The Secret Santa Files: Mystery, Drama, and Baseball!

  1. the character designs… I hate them. That glasses girl looks hideously not human. I care about animation and illustration too much to force myself to enjoy these. If I wanted a great story I could watch a film or read a book. Animation needs to wow me with animation.

  2. I didn’t like the Bungaku Shoujo flick, either, for many of the same reasons. Crazy Bitch was just an thoroughly horrible character to the point where if she got any sort of comeuppance — which she doesn’t; apparently it is preferable to forgive and forget the actions of a total fuckhat — it would not have made her existence worthwhile. And, yeah, the main dude is just awful, the blandest of the bland. I have no clue how anyone could possibly wring any enjoyment out of this movie.

  3. Book girl lol… I remember you complaining a lot about it on twitter. Oddly enough I didn’t find it that bad and generally you know I hate most things with a girly fluffy theme like this. I totally wouldn’t watch it again either but I would recommend it to people that do like that kind of crap. I know one person that REALLY really enjoyed it but he’s a mystery in his own anime taste wise :P

    Asatte no Houkou…. lol… I’m pretty sure I was one of those people that told you way back when that you should watch it. I didn’t overly care for it either but it didn’t leave that bad of a taste in my mouth either.

    Ookiku Furikabutte for some reason I can’t picture you enjoying but I hope you do. Being a baseball anime I go into them carefully since I don’t give a crap about the sport but the boys are just <3

    • I’ve come to realize something very important over the years: 90% of sports anime kick ass. Liking sports has nothing to do with liking a good story, after all.

      You prolly did tell me to watch it, amongst others. It was one of those I knew I’d get to someday.

      2DT apparently liked Bungaku Shoujo when he saw it in theaters in Japan, which raises all kinds of questions about his sanity. Especially since the thing he *didn’t* like was Hanazawa Kawa’s performance (the only good thing in the film).

      • Yes that’s exactly what I’ve come to realize with sports anime. One Outs really did it for me and then this year’s Giant Killing just enforced it more. 2 sports I don’t give a shit about but the characters and their drive! AMAZING.

        A show I really, really want you to watch though is Kita e ~Diamond Dust Drops~. I actually think you’ll enjoy it but either way I kinda just want your opinion on how you feel about it after viewing haha

  4. Huh. I do remember people saying that the charaters in Bungaku Shoujo are quite odd and the moral compass in the original book is quite bizarre. Your review seems to reinforce that opinion. It seemes like that movie was a choice to watch.

    I am therefore glad that Asatte no Houkou worked out so well for you. It seems like the series was firing on all cylinders for you. I know it is a series that gets a bunch of good reviews so it seems to have an excellent pedigree.

    I myself LOVE sports series but Narutaki and I could not watch Ookiku Furikabutte. But you might not want to listen to us. We are apparently in the minority in this opinion. Most people see it as a powerful sport series. We see it as the most homosexual sport series ever (and that is saying a lot) with the most unappealing moe main character. YMMV.

    Well I hope you had fun, found something interesting to watch, and will participate again.

    – Hisui

  5. I am somewhat surprised that your opinion of Bungaku Shoujo is diametrically opposed to my own. I get the feeling I had a dramatically different context, going into the movie, from having watched the “Kyou no Oyatsu – Hatsukoi” short and the first OVA. (BTW, I recommend “Hatsukoi” if you hated Miu and loved HanaKana in Bungaku Shoujo because it has a lot of the latter and none of the former, and it’s only 10 minutes or so wasted if you don’t like it.) Looking back at my own review ( http://mduo13.com/blog/Anime+Review%3A+Gekijouban+Bungaku+Shoujo ) , it’s funny: the statements we make about the characters’ believability and maturity are diametrically opposed, which either means one of us is off our rocker, or goes to show just how subjective those qualities are. I suspect that the core of our differences is Miu. I empathize with her. She’s crazy and a bitch, but I understand her pain and envy about being unable to write. I feel like, if you pushed me a little bit harder, if I’d been a little unluckier, I could be her.

    Asatte no Houkou is a show that, while not exceptional, reminded me why I like anime in the first place. It reaffirmed my belief in the medium, merely by being a little bit above average in every regard. I find it ironically amusing that you latched onto Shouko so hard, because honestly, to me she’s just a clever twist in a show about someone else (Karada).

    oh, and Oofuri’s gayness? while undeniable, it’s vastly overstated.

    • As I mentioned briefly above, I’m picky about crazy people. If a character is insane, I want their insanity to be something clearly defined, to where I could use a medical term like “oh, she has post traumatic stress disorder” or something. I want there to be a reason for the insanity that makes sense. It made no sense to me for her to have lost it the way she did. When they gave her backstory, I thought “if this happened to someone in real life, they would not turn out like this.” And to make matters worse, her actions seemed horribly inconsistent.

      re: Asatte no Houkou, as great as Karada’s story was, I didn’t care about her. For me, the most important factor in anime is what I care about. The things that govern what I care about are often all over the place (design, voice, plot elements, story, chest size, etc.) I cared about Shouko almost immediately during episode 2 and she was the brightest light in the show for me.

      • It makes sense: my opinion on crazy people is different. I believe that most specific mental disorders are just names for a broad spectrum of problems that have similar causes and/or treatments. Consequently, there’s plenty of room in my worldview for being crazy in a way that doesn’t have a name. Difference of opinion I guess.

        And the fact that her actions were inconsistent was a big part of why I say she’s crazy rather than merely a bitch. ;)

  6. Pingback: Secret Santa 2010 Project Reveal « Reverse Thieves

  7. I was split on the Bungaku Shoujo movie. I expected it to be better than it turned out to be but I’m not quite Shinmaru in that I did manage to wring some enjoyment out of it: the allusions to Miyazawa Kenji. Parts of the movie are love letters to Miyazawa Kenji and particularly his novel “Night on the Galactic Railroad”. I’m a big fan of the Night on the Galactic Railroad movie, it’s has a mellow atmosphere that joins with the fantastical journey across the stars to creates a movie that places me in a contemplative mood. (speaking of recommendations) It’s heavy on symbolism (that’s not really explained) and light on plot. It also has great music. Anyway, the parts that made allusions to the Miyazawa’s work were my favorite. It was interesting how Miu managed to get such a twisted idea from the novel. It’s somewhat legit if you know what the movie is about. However, I don’t think Campanella’s wish was quite the same as Miu interpreted it.

    All I’m saying is watch Night on the Galactic Railroad.

  8. Okay, Bungaku Shoujo WAS on my To Watch list, because of one even tin it I’d read about. Having read what you had to say about it though, it just sounds frustrating and is now being removed from the list. There are better things for me to spend my time on, especially when I plan to finish everything I start next year, even if I hate it.

  9. Pingback: 2010 Anime Review | My Sword Is Unbelievably Dull

  10. Apologizing in advance for being such a douchebag:
    therefor is actually therefore

    I’ve been trying to hold in my inner grammar nazi for a while, but you just keep spelling it wrong.

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