The Third: The Girl with the Regrettable Writing

Tsukasa (Staff Writer) — June 18th, 2011
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Depending on how long you've watched anime — or really, television in general — you've probably had the experience of going into a show with optimism and coming out questioning everything. Mostly why you bother watching these things to begin with when there's countless better things you could be spending your time doing. You could read a book. People still read books, you know. But no, those wacky Japanese cartoons just keep sucking you back in. And yes, The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye is one of those shows.

"The Girl with the Blue Eye, eh?" You might be intrigued by the title extension. You might think to yourself, "This almost sounds like something Stieg Larsson would've written! He liked girls! And things associated with them. And dying before the film adaptations came out." But you're wrong. There's no deeply buried secrets here, no social justice journalism, not even any rape! "WHAT KIND OF STIEG LARSSON ADAPTATION IS THIS!" you'd bellow. Move on. We've already established that this has nothing to do with his work.

Time for some framing. In The Third, the Earth has been completely devastated by war in which 80% of the world's population perished. A solid, albeit tired starting setting. A race of three-eyed beings known as The Third have come to the Earth to monitor humanity's continued progress — fragmented as civilization has become — as well as to limit that progress technologically by ensuring they never pass a certain point in development. Making sure humanity doesn't destroy itself a second time isn't the greatest job in the world, but really, the show isn't even about them. Getting her work largely from Emporium Town, our heroine, Honoka, works as a jack-of-all-trades out in the Rokugo Desert most of the time. We first meet her as she takes down some giant spiders on a job, taking the time out to sympathize with the creatures she had to kill and establish herself as super-deep by quoting poetry to herself. When the job's done, she returns to her tank to get chewed out by her literal hard-ass A.I. partner, Bogie, who runs her treaded home — and basically her life. Their relationship? "You're only kind-of the boss of me, robot dad! PS. We cool."

The Third try to figure out what to do about an alien invader who's just arrived on the planet. Conveniently at the same time, Honoka runs into a strangely calm guy with a pony-tail in the middle of the desert. He's dressed differently from anyone else on Earth and blatantly an alien presence — not that anyone usually notices or comments, since he's conveniently human. You know those pony-tailed dudes. Always chillin' with fireflies. Yes, when he first appears, he's admiring some rare fireflies in the middle of the sand, barely paying attention to the giant armored ants closing in around him. Honoka shows up just in the nick of time to save his sorry ass, but is careful not to kill any of the ants — after all, killing is wrong, but only if you're not getting paid for it. This introduces us to an element of Honoka we see beaten to death over the course of the show: not only does she despise killing sometimes, but she always knows exactly when to drop her sword and hug it out.

Safe on the tank, our intergalactic apparently-not-an-entomologist buddy introduces himself as Iks and shows off his super-cool healing powers. Naturally, this doesn't surprise Honoka much either — turns out she was a candidate to become one of The Third from a young age, so she ended up with a third eye on her forehead like The Third. Unlike The Third, however, hers was blue, which makes her totally uncool and unqualified for Third-dom, and she has to hide it all the time around other humans as so not to be treated differently. Oh, that's just ol' bandanna-head, always wearin' her bandannas. Good thing that tragically life-warping blue third eye has the totally awesome side effect of giving her superhuman strength, speed, senses, intuition, and otherwise making her into the most special, perfect character possible. Which is also why the show feels it's necessary to emphasize how hard a life she's also had but how she completely appreciates everybody who's helped her on her long journey to have literally no character flaws. Unless you count the fact that she has small breasts, which apparently in 2006 when the show was broadcast, was still a character flaw in anime and totally not a cheap fetish pander.

Iks joins Honoka on a journey to learn all about her world, with a quietly predictable mission of his own. He has all the personality of a cardboard cutout and conveniently vanishes whenever he has nothing to do in the story, which is fairly often. Other major characters introduced are Zankan, a genius "Technos" — or mechanic in the normal vernacular — who drops dead too early in the show to be important or tragic; Zankan's young daughter Millie, whose melodramatic story arcs can bring the show to a screeching halt; Joganki, Mr. Cool Guy leader in the Council of the Third, who's both totally fascinated with and totally in love with Honoka, but as a member of The Third expresses essentially no emotion; Joey, another Technos who only occasionally shows up every now and then to tune up the tank, who's totally into Honoka; and Paife, a twentysomething mixture of school nurse and gunslinging badass sexpot, who also happens to be hot for Honoka. Everybody loves Honoka. Everybody. And as conceptually interesting as The Third are, the show spends no time at all exploring their culture or characters. The only character who really matters is Honoka. Everyone else is just there to emphasize how amazing she is.

Over the course of the show, Honoka and Iks' journey largely amounts to running all over the Rokugo Desert in the tank while doing jobs. Honoka deals with loss as Zankan dies, but grows and concludes that it would be wrong to kill his killer — the cold-hearted robot, Blue Breaker — because she's perfect. She stops the reactivated ancient weapon, Gravestone, from wiping humanity out — who turns out to just be a little boy who needs hugs — because she's perfect. She saves creatures from desert folklore from the perfect weapon threatening them and totally even gets a blood transfusion from a super-intelligent wolf — because she's perfect. She saves the Earth from another ancient superweapon when it's reactivated by a member of The Third who'd loved Joganki and kidnapped him — and she saves the Third woman too, with hugs and tears, because she's perfect.

After groaning my way through all this, it came time for the end — for Iks to serve the only real purpose his character held in the writing. As he and Honoka headed for Steel Gorge — an area quarantined by The Third due to the technology there — they were met by a massive, overwhelming army of robots and tanks. Honoka drew her sword once and cut down the entire army in an instant. As this happened, I said to myself, "Fuck this show." As the trio of characters central to the finale descended deep into the Earth to meet a sort of god-figure, who lamented the massive destruction humanity had wreaked, I said to myself, "This is really fucking predictable." When the god-figure thanked Honoka and decided that her tears and regret were enough to save humanity, she alone being the one figure perfect enough to give him faith in the species and world again, I said to myself, "This is some of the worst fucking writing on Earth." And then it was over. I tend to curse a lot when upset by terrible writing. You would too, if you sat through this show.

As mentioned previously, I went into The Third optimistically. I thought, "Hey, this reminds me of a '90s series — in a good way!" The regular poetry quotations Honoka did were almost charming early on — if used sparingly, they could have been quietly poetic and meaningful. But as the show continued, the poems repeated, and it became clear how few they'd actually written for it — none of them were very well written, either. This redundant element quickly turned from presenting Honoka as a thoughtful, poetic figure to one of those shallow teenagers who feel the need to plaster, "Dance like nobody's watching; Love like you've never been hurt" all over everything. Obnoxious.

Sadly, the poetry is the tip of the iceberg. Worse, rather than having the characters show you what they're thinking or feeling most of the time, the show is outright crippled by a narrator who constantly intrudes to tell us what we should be experiencing as we watch the show. This is flat-out insulting. On top of that, we have the show's previously noted anti-war and anti-violence themes, which it often contradicts and ultimately beats to death in the most heavy-handed, vacant manner possible. The whole show is a clumsily constructed set built around showing off a horribly written Mary Sue. I try to avoid going out of my way to cast accusations of fanfiction-level writing on shows — usually fanfiction pander shows are at least technically more bearable than the best fanfics you'll find out there — but in The Third's case, it's completely warranted. If you took Honoka out, the entire universe of the show would collapse — there are no other real characters but her, and everyone else is defined by their relationship to her. She always knows exactly what to say and do in any given moment, even when it involves something as ridiculous as putting away her sword and hugging whatever superpowered being was trying to kill her just seconds before. You're supposed to find her endearing, and she is, early on. By the end of the show, her only supposed character flaw is essentially, "Haha, she's a teenager so she's still developing physically." There is no going easy on this level of writing. How the hell this was categorized as a "seinen" work for older readers and viewers, I'll never know — no thinking adult would enjoy this.

The animation's all right overall, though nothing stands out. The character designs are more appealing than any of the actual characters, though — I have to give the show that. The scenery is fun to look at, early on — the constant focus on desert wasteland made me think of the two Eat-Man TV series, which I loved. But Honoka is no Bolt Crank, and her Earth wasteland is nothing like the worlds Bolt wandered. The Rokugo Desert becomes an increasingly dull place as the series progresses, despite their efforts to liven it up with fantastic creatures, hidden monsters, and attempts at contrived poetic images like sand fireflies and flowers shining brightly at night. Also, episode 13 was apparently done by a different animation studio, and had a completely different tone which felt horribly inconsistent with the rest of the series.

The show's music is okay — nothing more, nothing less. It's passable, but you'll forget it as soon as you're done watching. The background music can be kind of catchy and might occasionally stick in your head, but it's sorely lacking in variety. The entire soundtrack feels like it's composed of maybe ten or so songs that they feel the need to play over and over again in the background until it's grating. The opening theme, "Sajou no Yume" by Yuko Sasaki, is pretty appealing, but still forgettable. It reminded me of the vastly superior Now and Then, Here and There's opening tune, but with Sasaki's welcome vocals. All things considered, it's one of the high points of the show. The show's two endings — "I.N.G." by Chou Hikou Shonen and "Late Show" by SUPER FLYING BOY — are both completely forgettable, bland rock songs utterly devoid of any memorable quality. While the opening animation itself isn't bad, either, the endings are appropriately accompanied by scrolling sketch-like still images of the characters moving in panorama as moving lights filter through behind the art. Absolutely dull.

This being my first Nozomi Entertainment review, I can say that the quality of the set box is quite nice — the artwork on it only somewhat resembles the in-show animation style, but highlights the good character designs well. The translation and extras were all pretty good, too, with the character profiles sometimes helping with getting to know certain supporting characters when the show didn't even bother to tell you their name for nearly half the series.

As a writer myself — devoting my life to the constant refinement of the craft — I'm very sensitive to bad writing. I stopped being able to touch fan fiction a long time ago due to both its relative redundancy and consistent poor quality. I've cringed through some painful shows in the past, and now, The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye, joins their ranks. The concept had potential. The setting wasn't bad, the character designs were good, and the intention behind its anti-war and anti-violence times was admirable. Too bad the show completely derailed all that by masturbating over what a perfect character Honoka was. I'm all about character writing, personally. I'm perfectly fine with there being minimal plot in a work, so long as the character writing is good. In the case of The Third, the writing derails the show early on, and the rest is a slow-motion trainwreck culminating in the world being saved by one young woman's utter flawlessness. A world you never get to know or care about. There's no kind way to put this — The Third is a terrible show. Do not watch this. You can do better.