Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cross Ange: A Series Retrospective

Cross Ange is an anime I decided to watch to completion partially because of a masochistic desire to see just how far I could make it before I gave up on it in disgust (assuming it got worse after the first few episodes), and partially because I wanted to see if Mitsuo Fukuda was going to make something worse than the abortion that was Gundam Seed Destiny (I still prefer the SRWZ version of that show as depicted via Youtube, in which I agree with Shinn Asuka's seiyuu about that being the "true version of Gundam Seed Destiny") .

To my surprise, Cross Ange started off horribly, but it got better over time, and while I wouldn't call it awesome, it turns out above average, if only barely.

In fact, I'd rate it a 7.2/10.

As for why I give it that score, let's examine what they did wrong first.

* Pacing - Initially, this was BAD. The first episode has a hurried tone to it, and while getting us to the actual action is nice, I really wish they had drawn it out more first, since they just barely cover the absolute basics before the main character is disgraced. It later displayed in retrospect Ange was basically horribly naive and sheltered and not nearly as much of an unlikeable asshole as her initial appearance indicated, but they could have taken a lot more time to hint at this before her disgrace so the audience didn't spend the first three episodes wondering why the hell we needed to pity her at all. They also could have made the drama bomb more poignant by not hitting the audience over the head with Ange's disgrace and later prison violation as fast as they had, as the version we got forced them to have to retroactively fill in a lot more blanks they could have used that time to advance other parts of the plot. The next episode and a half have more clumsy pacing, and while later episodes give context as the time that passed, they compressed a metric ton of offscreen activity into a few implied scenes in the first two episodes, forcing more flashbacks and retroactive fixing in later episodes, which to their credit they did reasonably well (without clip show bullshit, amazingly enough), but it still could have been avoided in hindsight. They found their footing a few more episodes in and the rest of the show was reasonably paced, but it hobbled out the gate pretty badly and took a while to run properly.

* Bad Use of Fanservice - Again, early on they hit us over the head with a downright tacky amount of lesbian cheesecake. Now, I'm male and heterosexual, but I find it hard to enjoy lesbian rape scenes that could have had most of their details excised without losing their impact when it's obvious the circumstances should not be played for arousal. Thankfully, this only lasted for the first few episodes, and while they interspersed more lesbian cheesecake through the rest of the show, it was in more manageable and less tacky doses as time went on. As for the actual motive behind it, they had a good one (high female to male cast, prison like circumstances, etc.), but the timing they chose was horrible and most of the time the scenes were gratuitous filler early on, only starting to gain some relevance later on.

* Poor likeability of the protagonist: Kamille Bidan was an angsty hothead at the beginning of Zeta Gundam, and while he has his own world torn asunder and forced to fight in circumstances bigger than they initially appeared, but he was still likeable and relatable because he really was screwed over epically, and he eventually grew a pair in short order and decided to deal with it.

Ange was slightly different, having been disgraced from royalty to rags due to the series undercurrent of artificially inflated racism against Norma, so while her denial of reality was initially understandable, they took so little time fleshing out how spoiled and naive she had been prior to that disgrace she came off as hardly likable because gave us so little reason to understand her reluctance to accept her new reality, so for the first few episodes, unlike Kamille, it was very hard to like her character.

They fixed this over time and by the end of the series she matured as a person rather well and fully deserves to be considered a heroic figure by series end, but they could have taken more time to establish why she was so sheltered so her reactions to her cushy life going bye bye were less infuriating for the audience to witness.


....all the above black marks marred the series early on, and while most of the scars faded by the high water mark of Episodes 12-13, these issues made the early episodes very hard to watch.


Now for what the series did right:


* They handled racism slightly better than Gundam - Gundam had racism of Newtypes by Oldtypes and Coordinators by Naturals, but both were rather fantastical and relied on the conceit the differences were really that big a deal. In the former instance, all they had were quasi-psychic powers, and the latter was basically a difference between genetic engineering people versus letting them be born naturally , and in both cases, there was no really profound reason why there should be any racism on any widespread level.

Cross Ange not only included far more tangible reasons for why the racism was plausible, they made the ignorance, fear, and bigotry that racism caused much more plausibly displayed, and the reasons why that racism was utter bullshit in hindsight was also better displayed by the end of the series.

Granted, it was still based on a fantastical premise, but to their credit, they acknowledged this in story and that very artificialness was even a plot point.

* The mecha weren't god moding badasses: Gundam has the nasty habit of allowing it's titular units to have plot armor until no longer required, and while the Vilkiss was one of the few units in series to enjoy such plot armor most of the time, the series at least had the decency to justify it most of the time. Otherwise, Paramail and Ragnamail were fairly realistic in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

* The villain was fairly well written: Embryo wasn't a bad villain IMO. Up until the last couple of episodes, you could make an argument his motives were well intentioned extremist in scope and that he had something resembling ethical standards , but by the end it was obvious this was a clever disguise for the fact he had a god complex (without calling it such), was an unrepentant rapist, and was a manipulator first and foremost. In Gundam terms, he's what happens when you take Paptimus Scirroco's mind hax and way with the ladies, marry it to Alejandro Corner's bullshiting skills, throw in a little of Ribbons Almark's belief in him being the focal point of human evolution, graft on some of Evangelion's Gendo Ikari in terms of Machiavellian scheming, and have it all be a very clever mask for a Disney's Aladdin Jafar style manipulative rapist with severe control delusions.

He's not the most original villain, granted, but he did serve as a effective catalyst for the character development of most of the other cast, and at worst, he did an effective job of being a series antagonist.

* It had a very effective twin theme of how bad communication and betrayal create a vicious cycle:

Most to all of the plot revolves around the premise that poor communication leads to conflict, and backstabbing someone today will lead to them wanting to return the favor the next, and given how these twin themes influence the main plot and most of the subplots, I have to credit the creators with finding these two themes to base their writing around, as they were simple and effective, and given how all the sub and main plots dovetailed into each other, it gave the series a sense of plotline continuity and consistency, which only became more and more apparent as the artifacts of it's horrible bad start wore off.


Overall: For a mecha show, I don't regret watching it in full, but going back to the early episodes is not a fun prospect. It was less badly plotted than Gundam Seed Destiny and made far fewer mistakes on average, and if someone put a gun to my head and forced me to watch this or GSD again I'd pick this in a heartbeat. However, it's bad early episodes crippled it from the get go, and while it eventually recovered and finished on a good enough note, the series would have gotten a bare minimum 8.5/10 from me had the beginning been as much fun to watch as the middle and especially the end were.

8 comments:

  1. SRWZ? What's that?

    Also, you mind posting the Youtube link?

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  2. Super Robot Wars Z, a game that rewrote the entire plot of Gundam SEED Destiny to make actual sense. So good in fact, the guy who voiced Shinn Asuka from the series in Japanese prefers it over the original series, and given how much stupid SRWZ excised from the original in their version, I don't blame him a bit.

    Forgot the actual Youtube links, but it shouldn't be too hard to search for, just look for subtitled SRWZ playthrougths

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  3. Yeah, as I said before, it was more middle of the road due to the faults of the early episodes and some flaws that were carried throughout (like the lack of developed character traits for important people like Salia, the missed opportunities that the series could have done, and Tusk being more of a Sue than Ange). Not the worst anime I've seen, but I wouldn't rate it an 8.5 due to those problems.

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  4. Oh yeah, are there any animes that I should watch before understanding this one?

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    1. Nah. They make a lot of Gundam shoutouts, but the show itself is largely self contained.

      Do try to hunt down the High School AU official parody though, it's pretty hilarious and follows the mainline plot (with alterations given the setting) minus the depressing stuff.

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    2. What about Code Geass? I hear that mentioned a lot.

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    3. Code Geass is an acquired taste. Some love, some hate it. Me, I liked it, but it had some really wallbangery stupidity, especially in the second season. SRW Z2 did a great job excising the stupid according to the story guide on the Akarusu wiki, so be warned the stock anime is good, but there are some parts you will facepalm hard at.

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  5. Angelise was a reasonably nice person given her interactions with Momoka and the Iaria teams (her own and the opponents), notably the facts that she considered the former a friend despite being her maid, and that she saved Akiho at the cost of winning the match. Had they played up this part properly (her being Spoiled Sweet in trope terms) within her former life, they could have made the betrayals in 9/10 all the more jarring. Agreed about lack of communication, though it might have been holes in writing. When it came to Sala asking Ange to stop killing dragons, she should have known Arzenal were conscripted into that end since Riza had been spying for them, only for Ange to get pissed instead of communicating they'd escaped Arzenal and she'd already been horrified after learning the truth from the Vivian incident. Speaking of Riza, she opting to have a portal activated over Arzenal, where one of the members of the family she served had been sent, to be destroyed, even though it was clear the Arzenal residents had been nothing more than puppets. Not to mention I couldn't help but feel she had it coming when Sylvia, who she captured, got back at her by whipping her. At least Momoka asked her to apologize, which she obliged.

    Other missed opportunities:
    - Ange should have enumerated her grievances related to Julio (sent to die; having their parents killed; luring her back to have her publicly humiliated and executed while using her sister as bait; massacring everyone) when Salia tried to cut her off in episode 13 and order her to go back to the sub. The only one being "he destroyed Arzenal" just didn't fly. Her motives were all over the place. Her "destroy the world" from episode 10 was the most golden at the time, and this was her ticket. (Just not by Jill's methods.)
    - Conflict with Mana masses. Making them a bunch of sheeple after having Julio as a monster among them just to make way for Embryo resulted in a surfeit of fearsome asshole adversaries, on top of abandoning what was developing as a nice revenge side-plot for Ange and Hilda, the two who made that vow after sharing their stories of betrayal.

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