Four Crimes Against Humanity (2000s Edition)

Matt Brown (Editor in Chief) — December 29th, 2009
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This time, I present a list of four things which, in my mind, brought down the collective quality of the anime industry in the last decade. You could say it's kind of a personal pet-peeve list, although I like to think I'm not alone on the points below.

Bee Train

Not every title from Bee Train is worthy of "crime against humanity" status, but I can't think of another studio that so regularly disappoints me than this one — the primary reason being: they're great at animation and terrible at storytelling.

Noir, one of their first major productions, is a perfect example of this. In between its seriously impressive action scenes, the show treats us to a Léon the Professional inspired home life, with Mireille the assassin taking Kirika the amnesiac under her wing. This is where the trouble starts. An amnesiac main character is an absurdly lazy plot device that clues the viewer in to an unsurprising oedipal twist to come, but some directors manage to make the journey interesting, by keeping us as close to the protagonist's mindset as possible (see: Memento). The problem with Noir is: its use of the puppet master device interferes with the oedipal fall by shuffling ultimate responsibility off onto a clear villain, and the show turns into a standard shoot 'em up marathon to the final boss. It's a total buzz kill.

On the other hand, Noir manages at least to get the viewer buzzed. Avenger, by contrast, is the worst excuse for a revenge story that I have ever witnessed. Quoting myself, "the creative team at Bee Train managed, somehow, to craft a vengeful main character that I couldn't possibly care about, in a setting that could scarcely be less interesting." I mean, if following an emotionally comatose girl and her weird android-like sidekick around a Mars wasteland where no children are born (in an obvious invocation of the Japan birthrate "crisis") is your bag, then more power to you, but I couldn't get into it.

I sampled a volume of Madlax at one point, and clued in to the similarities with Noir pretty quickly. And I don't even have to sample El Cazador de la Bruja in order to rightfully suspect the same. I will eventually give both series the benefit of the doubt, but the point is: a viewer familiar with Bee Train's major works has little reason to suspect better with each new offering. I'll admit that it was Avenger that ultimately soured my view of Bee Train, and it is only one title; however, subtle but fundamental issues plague many of the other titles.

I will say that the .hack titles are rather good by comparison (they aren't a Bee Train title per se, but the studio was involved heavily), and they make it difficult to write off the studio as a bad choice for a viewing experience. And to my complete surprise, I enjoyed the hell out of Murder Princess, because it was bad in that entertaining, unapologetic way. It still saddens me that I feel this way about Kouichi Mashimo's studio — I mean, it's Mashimo, the man who brought us The Irresponsible Captain Tylor and Eat-Man!

Geneshaft (2001)

Geneshaft is one of a handful of titles that I simply could not bear to watch. It's that bad. So, being the boss, I handed it off to Mike for review, and I do regret that a little, because I know that he will never forgive me.

Apparently in the future, humanity decides that the ideal makeup of society is to have these space harems where women outnumber men nine to one, and the women even get a ranking as to how pedigreed their genes are! As if that isn't enough, society decided that people over forty-five years of age are worthless (presumably because women enter menopause at or shortly after that age, but of course they cover it up by claiming that it's the age where health and performance degrade in humans). To top it off, the action in the series features the girls piloting the phallic giant robot, "the shaft," to destroy the ring-like weapons that appear out of nowhere and blow things up.

Origin: Spirits of the Past (2006)

At this point I'm getting a bit rant happy, but let me just say: Gonzo bugs the hell out of me. They have so much talent at that studio, and yet it's incredibly rare that they'll produce a title where everything comes together well. Last Exile is one of these rarities, and to be honest, I rather enjoyed Vandread. But I digress.

Origin is Gonzo's stab at eco-politics, but make no mistake: it is no Nausicaä, and it is no Princess Mononoke. Set in a dystopian future where plant experiments on the moon run wild and take over the world, it's all about being touchy-feely with the trees and atoning for how we humans had the gall all those years to try and make better lives for ourselves using technology. Didn't we know that human intelligence is a disease that must be eradicated?

At any rate, the trees become sentient and decide that humans are unworthy to manage the world, so they ration the humans' water supply. Of course, being human, our protagonist and his friend try to steal some water, only to discover a girl in a cryogenic sleep pod and wake her up. Because she's from the old world and thus has knowledge of it, the trees see her as a threat and try to force the humans to give her up. Then a human from a warmongering "take no shit from trees" club swoops in and takes her, and our hero gets a power-up from the trees (a sort of mystic fusion which eventually turns the human into a tree) and runs off to save her. Predictable epic struggle for a coexistence with nature ensues.

The weird thing about Origin isn't that it's bad — plenty of titles are. But this title never seemed particularly salable to me, yet it scored a blu-ray release in the States, which blew my mind.

Ichi the Killer: Episode Zero (2002)

I'll admit I'm not the most adventurous of anime fans, but I like a title from time to time that challenges my worldview or shows me something of the dark underbelly of humanity that I've never been exposed to firsthand. But the animated Ichi the Killer is gratuitous garbage with no real point to it, at least that I could tell. Cliff Notes version: the episode is about Ichi discovering that he gets off on physically hurting people, i.e. he's a sadist nutcase. The episode aims to show, in graphic, disgusting detail, just how screwed up this guy is, and pretty much everyone he comes in contact with. I'd stay away from this title unless you're looking into it for research, in which case I feel sorry for you.