Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but Unzen knows the secret: lots and lots of sweets.
|Medaka Box was a bad show. It had a good enough cast of characters and a premise that intrigued me, but its production quality and direction were so awful that it was barely watchable. Yet I found myself genuinely looking forward to this sequel, and I’m not sure why. One part of the show that did excel was its voice acting, with some well known actors like Aki Toyosaki (Medaka Kurokami), Romi Paku (Myouri Unzen), Daisuke Namikawa (Kouki Akune), and Emiri Kato (Hansode Shiranui) putting in great performances in lead roles. And Abnormal promised to tack on even more big names like Kana Asumi (Mizou Yukuhashi), Hiroshi Kamiya (Kei Munakata), and Miyuki Sawashiro (Youka Naze). Another point in Abnormal‘s favor was manga fans’ insistence that it would be based on a more entertaining section of the manga. But good voice acting is nowhere near enough to carry a show, and the first series’s failings had little to do with the source material. Maybe I’m just a Gainax fanboy at heart.
In any case, the god-like student council president of Sandbox Academy is back with her all-welcoming Box, and maybe those manga fans were on to something.
First of all, many thanks to Fosh for providing the screen caps for this post. He will continue to do so throughout the season.
What immediately stood out to me was the complete lack of exposition in this opening episode. It continued right after the climactic fight at the end of the first series, with no explanation of the fight that was responsible for part of the school being under construction. I think Medaka went to the hospital in the last episode, so some time must have passed, though not too much, since Unzen was still healing, leaving a space for Medaka to get recruited to take his spot in a mysterious project run by the Academy’s headmaster. This was when the covers finally started to come off what might turn out to be a main theme of the series: the classifying of people into different categories based on their abilities.
I recall the first season exploring this somewhat with Medaka’s response to the constant praise she would get as the impossibly talented and impossibly popular student council president, but now the show is codifying it. Anime loves doing this, of course, with notable examples like the Dragon Ball series of the 80s & 90s or the Index series of the 00s. Medaka’s unique position as an apparently perfect person and the burdens and responsibilities she carries due to that was a topic that had interested me, so I’m glad to see it coming to the forefront, even if I don’t like this technique of splitting people off into castes. It’s lazy writing; it’s much tougher but also more rewarding to explore the characters as individuals. I do like that Medaka is discovering this Normal/Special/Abnormal distinction at the same time as us, letting us see how such a pure hearted person responds to the revelation that she’s an Abnormal.
Which, based on Unzen’s explanation and demonstration with the dice, seems to be Nisio’s version of the badass coefficient, a running joke between me and my friends describing a physical property which determines the likelihood of someone performing incredibly unlikely but cool feats. It’s as good an explanation of Medaka’s superiority over everyone else as any, and it still leaves plenty of room to explore why Medaka’s attitude towards life is as naively positive as it is. It’s also a convenient way to explain the existence of such crazy students like Nekomi or Unzen or all the characters introduced in this episode, which makes it easy to pivot into the fighting action-type series it seems to be turning into. I’m not sure if that will work to the show’s favor, though, since the action scenes tended to be painfully bad in the 1st season.
But it did improve toward the end of the season, and what we saw in this episode wasn’t bad. The fight between Myouga and Nekomi was shot well enough for us to make sense of the relative positions of the combattants in the room, which is actually praise in this show. And it featured some great pointless touches like the boys watching and egging them on (perfectly natural, but where are the teachers?) and Myouga’s numbers language which Medaka managed to figure out within seconds. Is speaking unintelligibly a moe factor? Anyway, Medaka and Myouga yelling numbers at each other while the students watch in fear and confusion was so absurd that I was laughing pretty hard through it.
I also liked Nekomi’s role as prankster/cheater – you’ll recall she managed to lead her team to victory in Medaka’s multi-club competition at the pool by taking advantage while the student council and the swimming club were distracted. There’s a saying: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” Nekomi clearly follows this principle, allowing her to win against an enemy much stronger than her, in contrast to Medaka, whose honesty lets her lose to an enemy much weaker than her. Combat pragmatism is a well known trope, and one that I’m a fan of; in combat, the only thing that matters is who is left standing in the end, and whatever means to achieve that is fair game. It’s unfortunate that the dialogue was so heavy handed, though I guess I’ve come to expect this of Nisio by now. Subtlety is not that writer’s strength. I would have prefered to have seen Nekomi’s philosophy revealed through her actions and conversations instead of explained to us explicitly by a knowing observer.
I get the feeling that this may be the most we see of Nekomi for a while, considering the large number of new characters introduced in this episode. Oudo really stole the spotlight with his wavy collar and hair (the only person who got to remain animated during the character stats shot), but I’m interested in seeing just what the others are capable of, particularly Miyuki Sawashiro’s character with the knife coming out of its face. These fellas are obviously being set up as the villains, and I hope they’ll be as fun as Unzen and Onigase were last season. And if we’re lucky, they being Abnormal like Medaka will act as interesting foils of her.
Nisio is a tough writer to make sense of. Shaft’s Monogatari shows were wild successes despite his authorship, while White Fox’s Katanagatari anime was wonderful in a large part thanks to it. Gainax’s Medaka Box was horrible mainly due to Gainax, and maybe his overt and hammy philosophical writing will save its sequel from suffering the same fate. This episode was a good start, with plenty to build on. I guess I’m an optimist.