Valvrave the Liberator Ep. 1-6: I know I am hero!

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I don’t hate this show. I’m not even going to say I dislike it. Is it a bad show? I’m not sure what that even means anymore (more on that later). Personally, Valvrave the Liberator was at least entertaining in all its “animeness,” and this is why I’m going to vomit over three thousand words on only god knows what.

Japanese childishness: Just sing your troubles away

That’s what the first six episodes of Valvrave taught me. Might the (AR)US senator be lying to you? Sing him a song. Trapped in a high school and isolated from the rest of your family (and not to mention your nation as well)? Send them a song over the internet! Don’t forget to paint a giant anime girl in a naked apron to represent your school to the world at large. Bullied in your childhood? Become famous and sing a song as an idol! One can’t deny the ever-growing sense of cynicism and incredulity as one watches Valvrave, but honestly, how would such an escape even be possible when everything about the plot is so goddamn childish? I mean, surely, only a child would think a pretty song and dance could solve everything, right? Surely, a “neutral” nation’s only defense wouldn’t be a giant mecha with a killer OS personified as a barely pubescent girl dressed in the most anime-as-fuck of an outfit. I mean, to take such a thing seriously, one would have to entertain the idea that JIOR’s brightest minds created an incomparable war machine then decided to program and animate an anime girl to operate said war machine. Nobody could be that childish, right?

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The difference between male and female teachers in anime.

But what else could I possibly have predicted from a story in which a bunch of high school students are unexpectedly — perhaps not so unexpectedly — cut off from any sort of adult supervision (save for two teachers who may as well be children themselves). But despite this, their impromptu, makeshift “society” has yet to show any signs of devolving into some twisted nihon version of Lord of the Flies. No, that happened in Guilty Crown. It would be passé for it to happen here! Instead, we’ll have spontaneous wet t-shirt contests instead. But that in itself is not quite childish enough. Although teenagers the world over are often known for their raging hormones, not at this unsupervised school full of thin, sexy schoolgirls — sexy schoolgirls who sometimes don’t even wear panties, I might add. Is Valvrave self-aware? Does the anime recognize the absurd, patently ridiculous childishness of its own narrative? At one point, a foreign (coughAmericancough) soldier tries to take control of Valrave (the mecha this time). Of course, the mecha (or, should I say, the anime babe haunting the mecha) murders him, but that’s beside the point. Rather, what’s more important is the soldier’s reaction to the existence of the machine’s OS: “Good one, JIOR. They even put a bimbo on the dashboard.”

So from there, one can’t help but also (dis)regard Valvrave’s geopolitical musings as equally childish. Ah yes, poor JIOR, the neutral (yet powerful in its own right!) nation that only wants to “herald peace” is suddenly besieged upon by foreign interests. In the left corner of the ring, we have the belligerent, militaristic Dorssia! Regardless, these (strangely pale-skinned) evildoers want nothing but to usurp our virgin soil and steal our anime-powered technology. And in the right corner, we have the duplicitous, two-faced (AR)US! Oh, their sweet-tongued senators (armed with dick pics) will ply you silly with reassurances of a mutually beneficial alliance, but it’s oh-so-obvious that (AR)US seeks only to exploit our poor “neutral” nation of JIOR (and also steal our anime-powered technology). “Baby, please, just let me stick the tip of my warship in your waters,” then pretty soon, it’s naval bases upon naval bases (typical men!). Oh yeah, (AR)US is known for throwing its weight around as the police of the world. Subtle, right? Of course not; children are hardly subtle, and it should be no surprise that Valvrave’s geopolitical message sounds like some kawaii-afied version of a right-wing nutcase. Oh, you know the type; the ones likely to clamor and holler in the middle of university grounds about Japan’s need to erect a standing army in order to protect its interest and independence in this increasingly hostile world in which China continues to threaten the US both militaristically but, more importantly, economically. Oh wait, those warhawks aren’t on university grounds; they’re in the Diet. Whoops.

valvrave 04 Now just relax those fingers….

Anyway, what is all this childishness talk really amounting to? Yeah, yeah, we get it. The anime’s childish and silly, but so what? What’s the grand sociological point that I’m painfully attempting to belabor here? Well, I’m reminded of an argument put forth by the famous contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami:

Murakami argued that the retreat of Japanese art from the adult world into an infantile, “superflat” universe was due to Japan’s political emasculation by the United States and other Western powers following World War II. Superflat, a term coined by Murakami, refers to the flattened spaces in Japanese traditional art, graphic art, manga, anime, and pop art, and by extension to the chronic, empty consumerism of contemporary Japanese culture. With economic growth now more a distraction than a compensation for Japan’s wartime devastation, the culture that MacArthur and other Westerners had envisioned as “juvenile” had mutated into a passive-aggressive playground periodically pierced by incontinent shrieks of impotence. The Little Boy had attained unimaginable riches, but at the cost of retarding his social growth.

Hm, indeed. We know relatively nothing about JIOR. We simply know that other political bodies want what JIOR’s got, and they want it bad. But why? Why must the outside world threaten JIOR’s sovereignty? What does this isolated nation even possess? A fucking robot? Surely, you jest! Let’s revisit the question: why must the outside world threaten Japan-… I mean, JIOR-… ah fuck it, we all know it’s Japan. Y’see, Japan was, according to General Douglas MacArthur, a very bad boy following the Second World War. It had done a lot of very bad things like enslaving Korean women and the Rape of Nanking, but more importantly — perhaps most importantly in MacArthur’s eyes –, Japan had dared to bomb Pearl Harbor. See? Bad boy. But with a little discipline, every misbehaving child can shape up and become a strapping young lad: Japan went from a GNP of $14 billion in 1951 to a whooping $1.04 trillion in 1980. Yes, for the most part, Japan had buckled down thanks to the long, dominant rule of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, a rule that had long prioritized economic growth over social and legal reform. After all, in a multicultural world, you exert global influence economically, not with your mamby-pamby social reforms like the liberation of the sexes and hippy shit like that.

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Rampant economic growth isn’t without its downsides. It turns out those hippy shit can sometimes matter. For example, family-centric Asian cultures don’t just take instantly to rapid urbanization: “…sprawling growth of the new megacity of Tokyo progressed hand in hand with the depopulation of the countryside, leading to a breakdown of the extensive family that left many Japanese feeling isolated and cast adrift. The long hours and pressures of a hierarchical workplace exacerbated these feelings, and a superficial spirit of optimism could not allay the fear that something terrible was about to happen.” Is that what we’re currently watching? Are the students singing and dancing their way into an impending catastrophe? I’ve asked this before, but it bears repeating: is the anime that self-aware? But before we can even answer that question, which we surely can’t — probably not until the series is complete, anyway — at this point in time, we should revisit our more pertinent question: why must the outside world threaten Japan? Could these fears serve as a distraction, fervorously drummed up in an attempt to conceal the gaping holes within Japan’s own society that it refuses to address — gaping holes that can no longer be ignored now that the economic bubble had burst?

I mean, put yourself in the shoes of those who had been promised everlasting prosperity. Yeah, just put aside your social and legal concerns (those hippy shit) for now… for the sake of the State. If we just all do this together — and by together, I mean a man in the workplace and a woman at home –, we’ll have all the money in the world to sate our commercial appetites. Well, where’s the fucking money now? For example, imagine how many women (knowingly or unknowingly) gave up their careers and dreams in order to be the ideal housewife just for the salaryman husband to find himself laid off from the company he had been so unquestioningly and pathetically loyal to? What did these women sacrifice their lives for? In other industrialized, first world nations, it has become readily apparent that the binary structure of a working man and the housewife behind him won’t always suffice. Women are working more than ever before and it’s not just for the family’s sake; it’s liberating (wage slavery is a whole ‘nother issue that I won’t get into now). Yet somehow, it feels as though Japan, as a state, continues to resist. Faced with the reality that Japanese women just don’t want to be mothers as much anymore, the government’s recent proposed solution is to — have you heard this? — extend maternity leave up to three freakin’ years. Yeah, okay, that makes sense. In a recession where both sexes find themselves needing to work in order to keep the family or just themselves afloat, let’s ask one half of the workforce to take three years off. I’m sure those companies, ever-so-quick to fire the salaryman or stick him in dead-end positions until he is forced to quit (Tokyo Sonata goes into this beautifully), will take so kindly to the fairer sex just taking three years off.

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buster-im-a-monster

And what about the men! Yes, what about them? When your entire worth — the definition of your masculinity — hinges upon the idea that you are the sole provider for your family, which often includes not just your wife and kids but your elderly parents as well, it’s a little emasculating to be, well, laid off. It doesn’t help that your wife now has to work. No, I’m not saying that the women of Japan never had to work in the past; that would be a stupid thing to say. Still, it’s quite a leap from a salaryman and, say, a part-time working mom to a former salaryman on a perpetual job search and a mother who must now depend on her in-laws to watch the kids all day. As such, the neighbors are gossiping, y’know. You can’t just tell the guy to suck it up… well maybe you can, but it won’t deprogram decades of ingrained values, values which themselves are derived from hundreds if not thousands of years of cultural tradition. Is this why some men will turn to roricon, the idea of girls so prepubescent that you simply can’t depend upon her, but she has to depend upon you? Alas, that’s a subject for another post.

Okay, I’ve gone so far off-topic now that the last couple of paragraphs are only tangentially related to Valvrave at best. So we return to the question that started off this whole rant, and I thus submit a speculative answer: this one-dimensional view (it really may as well be a caricature) of JIOR as a victim of outside interests serves only to distract us from the real issue, which is that we don’t know squat about JIOR itself. What is JIOR? What is its society like? How did it really come to be? What are its internal problems (surely, it must have some)? As an outsider, we just don’t know. We can’t know. We are instead overwhelmed by this conflict brewing between JIOR and its aggressors, Dorssia and (AR)US. Now see yourself as a Japanese youth. You are surrounded by the glitz and glamour of Tokyo, but the recession continues to be all too real. Years and years within the strict examination system has failed to yield the economic prosperity that you have been promised. How did this current state of Japan come to be? What won’t your teachers teach you? Why are people your age so disillusioned and dissatisfied with society? Why are some of your friends withdrawing from the social contract and becoming shut-ins? Why now is the threat of your neighbors and the overbearing presence of the US military such an important topic?

Is Valvrave self-aware? Who knows? Plus, does it really matter? It’s all part of the same narrative regardless of its creators’ intentions.

The Disneyland of mecha shows

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I suspect most people who have seen Valvrave can’t help but compare it to Guilty Crown (although it isn’t technically a mecha anime, but its heart and soul are in the right places). Don’t forget, however, that when we watched Guilty Crown, we couldn’t help comparing it to Code Geass. Then when we watched Code Geass, we blah blah blah so on and so forth. This happens all too often in anime, and it isn’t necessarily the viewers’ fault (we aren’t completely blameless though) that we are often unable to divorce current genre shows from their predecessors. After all, anime is notoriously proud of its self-referential nature. So much so that when we watch the first episode of any mecha show like Valvrave, it just feels all too familiar. And from here, the cries of derivative and unoriginality come pouring in from all corners. But no, that’s not even the biggest crime. Perhaps unoriginality can be pardoned, but (according to some people) not unending stupidity! And goddamn, Valvrave is stupid. It is so confoundingly stupid. So it must be bad, people say. Why? Because a lack of logic is bad? Because a lack of internal consistency is bad? Aha, what puerile tripe then! Back in my day, mecha shows at least had the decency to be… logical?

Really? Eva? Gurren Lagann? These are the pillars of logic and “un”stupidity that Valvrave falls woefully short of? After three years of blogging primarily about anime, I don’t know what good or bad really is or means anymore, but I do know what I enjoy. And when Valvrave revels in its stupidity — when it isn’t trying to take itself too seriously — I enjoy it. Does it mean it’s “so bad that it’s good?” Who fucking cares? I just don’t know what it means anymore to say that a show like Valvrave is so stupid that it’s “bad.” Does it mean you have to hurr hurr turn off your brain? Of course not, and certainly, anyone who refuses to turn off his or her brain would quickly realize that even knowledge can be gleaned from stupidity, of which Valvrave contains plenty of. I certainly know, however, that Valvrave is so disgustingly similar to its predecessors, similar to the point that any mecha anime fan could succinctly summarize the events of the first episode without even watching it, that to even call Valvrave bad, you must certainly have to call every show that it dares to ape equally bad. Well, perhaps not equally, but some measure of criticism must, by some associative property, find their way to the ghosts of mecha past.

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Almost every roller coaster ride I’ve ever come across is essentially the same. There are some loop d’loops and dips and turns, but at the end of the day, you’re strapped into a cart that goes around in a finite loop till you or the cart breaks down. Maybe someone will come along and completely revolutionize the roller coaster, but so far, newer iterations has simply meant bigger loops, faster dips, and sharper turns. And why would we necessarily want the roller coaster to change anyway? The same ol’ Space Mountain is still fun as shit and it doesn’t even have loops! This feels like the trap that a lot of anime shows tend to find themselves in. I grew up loving the shit outta show X and show Y. I’m thus going to write my own story one day and it’ll be the same as those shows… but with bigger loops, faster dips, and sharper turns. But if you can recognize my inspiration, then you’re just as big an anime fan as me. As such, we are in our own special club! So when I watch a derivative anime like Valvrave, yeah it’s stupid as all hell, and sure, it’s logically inconsistent, but it’s just the same ol’ conventions done crazier, bigger, louder, and with glossier fanservice than ever before. And is Valvrave good on some sort of filmic grounds qua anime? No. But does it crack me up in some cheesy, kitschy way that only a hyperreal simulacrum can be? Yeah.

Disneyland isn’t authentic. According to Baudrillard, it is bald-facedly inauthentic: “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real.” Valvrave isn’t so insidious as to trick us into believing in mistaking the “unrealness” of mecha anime as Real (with a capital ‘r’), whatever that even means, but the general idea applies. No, I’m not saying that the creators of Valvrave knowingly constructed a clever simulacrum of a mecha anime. Whatever their intentions, I don’t really care. What matters instead is what is, and Valvrave is so unerringly similar to its predecessors that it can’t help but legitimize them in some roundabout way, intentional or not. Fin, one of the blog’s longtime inactive contributors, can’t help but defend Gurren Lagann in her attempts to criticize Valvrave. The funny thing is that she doesn’t even like Gurren Lagann! Hey, don’t get me wrong; I don’t hate Gurren Lagann. If you put a gun to my head, I would even say it’s one of the better mecha shows (but again, I don’t know what good or bad even means anymore so take that with a grain of salt). But it simply strikes me as funny to advance an argument that there is some value in Gurren Lagann’s “logic,” or the logic of any supposedly superior mecha anime, that is somehow absent from Valvrave when the latter is so unerringly similar to its predecessors that you could predict its plot developments beat-by-beat. Oh, the main character will chicken out of his love confession? You don’t say!

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Valvrave seem so much like an absurd simulacrum of mecha anime that when we watch it, we like to think we know so much, that the previous shows we adored or, in Fin’s case, not even adored are so much more than what is portrayed on the screen before us. Every new season, we proclaim a new king of shit: “These new shows… they’re just so bad! Not like what I used to watch!… even though they just copy each other.” And that’s what I mean. To mock Valvrave for coming so close to the genre it so lovingly apes, to the point of it becoming seemingly hyperreal, any criticism must also be leveled at the genre itself. We are hoodwinked into thinking that our favorite shows from the past are somehow not absurd, somehow not ridiculously childish too in their own ways: from the tortured (to put it mildly) religious metaphors in Eva to Gundam 00’s hilarious implementation of the Rumsfeld Doctrine. What do we fucking expect though from a medium so absorbed and enamored by its own self-referentiality? Instead of bashing Valvrave by continually holding up high the shows of the past, shouldn’t we finally open our eyes to how nostalgia for the good ol’ days is keeping these stories on rails, like a roller coaster with just bigger loops? And thus the absurdity simply builds upon itself. After all, Valvrave isn’t the first stupid mecha anime and it won’t be the last.

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37 thoughts on “Valvrave the Liberator Ep. 1-6: I know I am hero!”

  1. I wrote about this on my own blog, but while I definitely do enjoy some stupid mecha anime, they need have some sort of spins to them that tickle my fancy. For example, I’m not a fan of Gurren Lagann either. It was a well-executed example of a typical super robot show, but it didn’t differ from the format enough to really get me interested. For a stupid mecha I do love, there’s Shin Mazinger Z. Not sure if you saw it, but aside from the fact that I love that Go Nagai-humor in his remakes, I really got attached to the idea of a half-man, half-woman as a complex villain and how awesomely bleak everything turned out. That’s only two real differences (and there might be more), but they were big enough for me.

    Haven’t found much to get attached to with Valvrave besides Saki’s evil character and the usage of those vampire powers, which aren’t exactly prominent enough in the show to keep my attention. Valvrave is definitely self-aware about its camp and all, and just because it’s cliched doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad. But if those cliches and camp aren’t utilized in a way that gets me hooked, then they’re just wasted.

    1. Shrug, my contention isn’t that you shouldn’t dislike Valvrave. I’m just saying that calling it bad because it’s stupid is, well, stupid because the genre is pretty absurd itself.

  2. I think Valvrave is pretty stupid, and sometimes that means I’m guffawing and enjoying it whereas at other points I just feel like putting my fist through the screen. I’m inclined to say that, on the balance, it is bad, although this is more to do with how utterly ass-backwards and reductive it is about gender relations than with its rampant stupidity, although the stupidity plays a role. However, I’m not really a fan of mech shows more generally, so… yeah, who knows?

    1. The show gets no moral approval from me, certainly. If you ask me if the show is morally bad, then sure. But my point is that I didn’t want to get into a discussion of whether or not the show is bad, but rather, some people’s arguments as to why the show is bad simply don’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

      1. Eh, I’m pretty hesitant to call a show bad on moral grounds – I think it tends to flatten the discourse. I think there can be things that are problematic about shows, but calling them outright morally bad is overly simplistic.

        Insofar as arguments as to why badness, is the discussion altered if someone says it is bad because of stupid mecha crap X, Y, and Z, and said individual also dislikes most mecha because of those enduring X, Y, and Z idiocy?

        1. Insofar as arguments as to why badness, is the discussion altered if someone says it is bad because of stupid mecha crap X, Y, and Z, and said individual also dislikes most mecha because of those enduring X, Y, and Z idiocy?

          The discussion was never about whether or not you could call Valvrave bad. If you dislike Valvrave for the same reason you dislike a lot of mecha shows, go right ahead.

        2. What I meant was, does disliking it for reasons of stupid, which are also reasons for disliking other mecha, illegitimate if someone… y’know, I actually know the answer to this already, honestly.

          TL;DR Valvrave is a pretty shitty show… for the same reasons that I think most mecha shows are shitty shows.

  3. A very thorough, engaging, and interesting write-up, about equal parts social commentary and genre commentary.

    I’m going to focus on the genre commentary due to my own history as a mecha fan. I’m largely enjoying Valvrave, and this is primarily because loud and ostentatious can often be entertaining all on its own (hence the secret to Will Ferrell’s comedic success ;) ). I agree with you that those who criticize Valvrave for its “stupidity”, but hold up Code Geass as a shining example of great mecha, are in a bit of a contradictory position.

    However, mecha goes way farther back than Code Geass. The Gundam series, especially the ones involving Char Aznable, tend to take themselves pretty seriously. They’re epic tales of war, conflict, politics, philosophy, etc… And they do make up a significant chunk of the mecha world. So some people may well like these more serious and grounded war narratives that you see in classic Gundam, while disliking the more loud and ostentatious mecha stories that tend to dominate the modern scene.

    I just felt that should be thrown out there.

    1. However, mecha goes way farther back than Code Geass.

      Gimme some credit. You really think I don’t know this?

      So some people may well like these more serious and grounded war narratives that you see in classic Gundam, while disliking the more loud and ostentatious mecha stories that tend to dominate the modern scene.

      But that’s the point I’m trying to make. These shows purport to be more serious and grounded, and they likely are, but there’s a grain of absurdity in them too that people will now too easily overlook because shows like Valvrave so heavily distort the perception of the genre’s quality. Maybe another example will help make more sense of the point I’m trying to make (if my points are unclear, it must be the fact that I am simply rusty!). Think of Family Guy. Think of the family within Family Guy. We watch and laugh at their absurd take on the American family, secured in the idea that our own families are hardly like the Griffins. But there comes a point where the “unrealness” of Peter Griffin and his relationship with his family starts to obfuscate the problems in our all-too-real families because our point of reference becomes far too distorted by what we see in Family Guy. Mecha shows, though entertaining, are not perfect by any means, but when fans criticize Valvrave’s stupidity only to hold up previous mecha shows as shining examples of the genre, I find it hilarious. It’s like watching reality shows to feel better about one’s own life when reality shows are undoubtedly exaggerated and anything but real.

    2. @Ryan_R:

      I’d argue the stupidity -as well as the parts that aren’t really stupid- in Code Geass was usually better executed than the stupidity in Valvrave, at least at this point in the narrative. The overall direction, in particular, was better handled in that other production than in this one.

    3. @Ryan_R:

      Oh, I forgot…yes, Gundam is usually much more serious and does provide more food for thought. But does it always really live up to those grand aspirations you’ve mentioned without stumbling along the way? Let’s see…Zeta Gundam tends to be held up (or at least that used to be the case) as a sort of Holy Grail for what Gundam can accomplish at its best.

      However, in practice…the show had plenty of ridiculous situations and characters doing stupid things in defiance of logic, the souls of the dead suddenly power-up a mecha, etc. In fact, even some of the character deaths right at the end, while generally tragic, can come across as more than a little absurd when considered cynically or critically.

      Classic Gundam does have its virtues, of course, but isn’t exactly a shining beacon of realism or perfect consistency and you could even trace some of the current problems with the genre back to several of the odd or outright stupid things those shows were able to get away with.

  4. I don’t know about that one, E Minor. No matter what past shows were or what the current shows are, stupid is stupid. Plain and simple. Even if a show apes another show that is only fairly better, but is still stupid, that simply means anime A was dumb, and now anime B is even dumber since it’s both dumb as it’s own product and dumb as a true-to-form, note-by-note counterfeit of it’s predecessor. I mean at that point it’s just mush contributing to genre stagnation, my man, and that’s a cancer on any genre, no matter how ludicrous or silly the genre is. If the show can’t bring forth anything new it should get thrown back into the pile with the others.
    _If you enjoy bits of it then fine, I can dig it. However, you shouldn’t start getting all “What is even real anymore?” with your review on an anime simply because you think it might be trying to be clever by being “self-referential” and/or because it’s in a “genre that was never smart to begin with” (which is true). Bad is bad, no matter where it came from or what genre it is in or what message it tries to hold or what self-referential perspectives it tries to take up.
    You know this, E Minor. You’re good at cleaving a line between the shit and the good.
    It’s why we wait for and enjoy reading your reviews, mate.
    …Even if you do take random ages to post one up again. haha

    1. Well, first off, this isn’t a review of the anime. It’s more like two rambling essays bolted together because I had two separate thoughts regarding the show.

      Second, I’m not saying at all that the show is trying to be clever in its self-referential nature. I’m not saying the show is trying to intentionally be more than anything but a mishmash of mecha tropes to thrill and entertain fans of the genre. What I’m saying, however, is that by nature, anime is self-referential. Furthermore, genres within the anime medium are self-referential.

      And nowhere have I asserted that stupid isn’t stupid. I’ve repeated over and over that Valvrave is undoubtedly stupid. The larger point I’m trying to make, however, is that fans tend to determine a show’s quality by comparing to its predecessors, i.e. “Valvrave simply apes its predecessors but in a stupid way!” In doing so, fans simply hoodwink themselves into holding up these older shows as paragons of the genre when absurdity and nonsense have long been the tradition of mecha series. Shows like Valvrave are stupid, but they only build upon what has long been stupid.

      If fans really want to watch shows that, as you say, “bring forth anything new,” we have to let go of these supposed classics of the past. My point is thus that shows like Valvrave only serve to reference the past in such a way that makes us continue to legitimize past shows as more than what they really are. If you want to say those past shows were good for their time, I might concede that. If you want to call Valvrave bad, that’s fine too, but it isn’t bad because past shows are somehow “un”stupid or less stupid. It’s bad because the mecha genre as a whole needs a serious overhaul that it’ll likely never get because Valvrave’s stupidity heavily distorts the discussion of how the genre should advance.

      1. Ah You know I did see that point of yours in your dual-rant, but I decided not to comment on that since it’s an easily understood and obviously correct point. Can’t see how it can be expounded upon, really.

        I was primarily just commenting on how you said you didn’t know what was “bad” anymore. Maybe it was just a short tangent that stuck with me or something, or perhaps I took it the wrong way.

        “It’s bad because the mecha genre as a whole needs a serious overhaul that it’ll likely never get because Valvrave’s stupidity heavily distorts the discussion of how the genre should advance.”
        Excellently stated.
        You know, I’d genuinely like to see a discussion about how mecha anime can be improved from both fans of the genre and casual observers of it.

        1. As a first attempt at starting that discussion, from a fan of several mecha anime (Eva, TTGL, Code Geass) and watcher of several others (Guilty Crown, Gundam 00 & 8th MS Team, Valvrave, Full Metal Panic, plus some others I can’t remember right now).

          One of the main opportunities for improvement is the general perspective taken towards the mecha themselves. Most mecha series are either explicitly optimistic regarding the power and potential of their mecha (TTGL, Valvrave, 00) or simply fail to explicitly take a position (Full Metal Panic, Code Geass), leaving the mecha as an unexamined, yet highly unusual weapons system. (The second option, unsurprisingly, seems to mostly occur in series in which mecha are present but not the focus of the narrative.) While there is certainly a place for optimism, ambivalence towards the mecha and what they represent or even outright negativity (mecha, especially of the super robot variety, as analogues of the atom bomb, say?) is, I think, a rather untapped vein. The only example that comes to mind is Evangelion, which, under the mountain of symbolism, arrives at the conclusion that using god-monsters to fight other god-monsters is only a good idea because there are no other options and that the costs of doing so are (almost) unacceptably high. (I suspect that more example that I am not aware of exist, obviously.) Negative and ambivalent mecha series are rather rare, and so while, depending on execution, they might not be out and out good, they will certainly be novel, solving the problem of the excessive same-iness of mecha.

          Another potential angle for improvement is to play around with the techniques of storytelling. A major problem of the standard normal-guy-falls-into-the-cockpit-narrative, aside from the demographic uniformity of the normal guy (always male high-student, *sigh*), is that since the falling occurs in the very first episode, the viewer has little opportunity to get a sense of the character and thus little sense of why they, of all people, should be entrusted with piloting the machine that will accomplish . By starting the series in media res and presenting a first impression of a (semi-)capable and powerful hero whose successful actions justify that great power and responsibility placed up on them, the viewer is likely to acquire both positive feelings towards the character (a plus for viewer retention) and a desire to learn just how a (seemingly) ordinary person became such an extra-ordinary hero. The hero’s journey is powerful, yes, but a sense of mystery is equally piquant of interest, and far less utilized in mecha anime. To offer an example, part of the attraction of the Children of Evangelion is that they are presented to us first as pilots and then as people with backstories. The knowledge of who they are, who they have become, makes the revelation of how they became that way that much more poignant. (Asuka is, imo, the prime example) In other words, the angst and general teen stupidity common to the developmental process of the average mecha protagonist is a lot easier to swallow if the viewer is given at least a taste of what they will become first.

          Hopefully this is coherent, as it’s being written at 4:30 in the morning.

  5. I’m not sure if I should say welcome to the dark side or not.

    These days the greatest sin an anime can make is to be boring; whether that’s by dimensionless characters, thin plots, banal direction, or shitty acting. (I used to make an exception for this assuming SOMETHING must happen but these days I haven’t the time) Valvrave is entertaining as shit. Whether it’s from the Dorssia cyclops dude continually yelling about ERUUUUUERRRFFFF or how everyone seems to spontaneously burst into song all the time. For a moment in the episode with the music video I lamented that this anime wasn’t directed by Shoji Kawamori as I’m sure he would have had them lip-dub to some Macross song (which would have been more appropriate with the attempts at modern social media interaction).

    Some thoughts that bubbled to the surface of my brain while reading this:
    -No really, why was the supposedly neutral nation developing a weapon like the Valvrave that takes away the humanity of its pilot and commits Seppuku when it overheats.
    -When you mention the impending catastrophe the anime is pretty clear that JIOR is one missed electric bill from turning into Lord of the Flies. Everyone lost their shit when the power grid shut down. Not to mention their solution both to restarting the power grid (push the big red button) and getting a steady income to pay said bills (music video) is as you say completely childish. When faced with real responsibilities and consequences what is JIOR going to do when singing won’t solve the problem?
    -The last bit reminds me of people who said the Star Wars prequels were so bad they retroactively ruined the originals. Yet I went back and watched the originals and man the DIALOGUE there are some truly stupid/awkward things said in that movie.
    -But there has to be something upon which public perception of the anime hinges. Something must separate the Guilty Crowns and *shudder* Kurogane no Linebarrels from the Gurren Lagann’s and the Eureka Sevens. Personally I feel the devil is in the details. Certain twists or characters or acting performances or writing/directorial styles that the audience latches onto.

    Lastly what IS up with all the attempts at shoehorning social media into the narrative of Valvrave? What is subtext there? Virtuality of communication makes it feel like JIOR actually has some kind of people supporting it?

    1. Something must separate the Guilty Crowns and *shudder* Kurogane no Linebarrels from the Gurren Lagann’s and the Eureka Sevens. Personally I feel the devil is in the details. Certain twists or characters or acting performances or writing/directorial styles that the audience latches onto.

      I’m not trying to make the point that all of these shows are made equal. My point is more along the lines of… well, I’ve tossed out so many analogies, another one wouldn’t hurt. You got a little brother and he really, really looks up to you. As such, he tries to emulate you in every way. But your little bro also wants to impress you. So everything you do, he tries to do too but with much bombast. You look at his behavior and you’re like, “Bro, quit being stupid.” But at the core of your little bro’s actions is your own actions. So yeah, there’s no doubt Valvrave is dumber and louder than a lot of its predecessors, but its roots lie in the mecha anime of the past. I’m not trying to say at all that Valvrave can’t be criticized or even compared to previous anime, but when certain people do so by suddenly whitewashing the glaring problems that previous mecha anime share with Valvrave, I just find that equally absurd.

  6. I love your first piece of analysis here; my own assumption is the show is only self-aware insofar as it willfully accepts a level of moment-to-moment narrative incongruity that other shows often try to avoid. I think the very obvious historical parallels, and the way it reflects its viewers’ (and I guess creators’) psychological needs, are pretty much all just raging id, and even though I agree we can’t draw a real conclusion without seeing the series through, it seems so far to have only intentionally been built as a roller coaster ride with no strongly intended thematic ax to grind.

    I also love the connection of an outward aggressor you can apply your resentment to with the desire for a helpless affection object your own limited agency can protect and care for. But as you say, that’s another massive article in its own right.

    Regarding your second point, I think you might be simplifying standards of evaluation too much here, which is understandable considering most of the viewers your points are relevant to generally do the same when describing how they like things. But at least for me personally, mecha has always been an inherently ludicrous genre, and the things that appeal to or impress me in Eva or Gurren Lagann have had little to do with the pieces you mention. I agree that no coherent religious metaphor can be drawn from Eva, and that the sci-fi mecha plot is garbled and absurd – what impresses me in that show is the character work, which is illustrated through a fantastical set of outward plot variables, but not in itself ludicrous. The outwards narrative “dishonesty” of its mecha elements are in my mind just a vehicle for the internal honesty of the way the characters are written and explored. I also think the dialogue, direction, and pacing are all quite strong, but again, none of these elements make the base nature of the mecha genre any less ludicrous. And Gurren Lagann actually *basks* in this absurdity, and celebrates hot-blooded action in the same way something like Redline does – the only internal consistency that show pays tribute to is a determination to continuously one-up itself. I think Valvrave is far closer to Gurren Lagann than Evangelion in its goals, but that it still attempts to create narrative tension and at times to evoke a grim, warlike air, and I think the massive disconnect between those goals and the nonexistent internal logic or stakes of their world, as well as the wildly varying tone and various overt moments of singular absurdity (‘Call me Moses,’ L-Elf’s daring escape, etc… and yes, these moments aren’t inherently any more absurd than the existence of giant mecha, but the existence of giant mecha is the conceit the audience has gotten *used* to accepting), are what people are responding to.

    1. but that it still attempts to create narrative tension and at times to evoke a grim, warlike air, and I think the massive disconnect between those goals and the nonexistent internal logic or stakes of their world, as well as the wildly varying tone and various overt moments of singular absurdity … are what people are responding to.

      I think the grisly spectre of intentionality continues to cast a shadow over how amateurs, which includes myself, evaluate anime. For me, this disconnect is ironically amusing and a large source of why I enjoy the show. But absent of any creator coming out and directly saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, that disconnect was purposeful to juxtapose (insert some pretentious reasoning here)…” then fans are all the more willing to double down on the idea that “This is stupid and inconsistent, therefore it is bad.” I don’t personally understand how the calculus works out to such a conclusion unless I presume some sort of logical standard holds in art, but I’m not willing to go there. So this leaves us in a strange spot, I think.

      Anyway, certainly, some shows excel in areas such as characterization and subtext, and thus can be regarded with higher esteem that Valvrave. I’m simply attempting to move beyond this particular notion, however, that stupidity matters in Valvrave when all it’s seemingly trying to do is aping what has been done before.

      1. Ugh, I hate these taking these baby steps around implying intent in storytelling choices – so much of writing craft, visual craft, and aural craft just always works in the same ways that it seems silly to deny the known effect a culmination of many choices will almost always produce. It’s like saying it’s absurdly presumptuous to stare at a cake and assume the baker’s intent was to make a cake – I mean, cakes don’t just happen accidentally.

        But setting that aside, I think my point can be phrased as “the way certain scenes evoke a sense of weight, tension, and self-seriousness *to the viewers we are referring to* contrasts strongly against the scenes where no internal rules or stakes are created or followed” and mean pretty much the same thing. That way the assumption is on the expectations and behavior of the fans, and they actually *are* telling us how they perceive it. Does that work?

        Either way, I agree, the disconnect that *I* perceive, which I am assuming is the same one you perceive, is a great part of my enjoyment, and my wholly unsupportable assumption is that the creators are also enjoying creating a story that can sometimes pretend to care about internal logic, grounded drama, and tonal consistency, and sometimes overtly not care at all.

        Regarding your second paragraph, I think we pretty much agree – these genre elements have always had no inherent clothes, Valvrave is just more upfront about this than some other shows, and seems to almost mock the viewer for investing in it.

  7. I have no problems liking something stupid as long as it’s entertaining and Valvrave surely qualifies so far. This doesn’t mean I will rate it particularly highly, to say the least, but I am currently enjoying this.

    I’d also say the self-awareness of Valvrave has been made rather transparent at times. Like when the OS girl goes “Is this sexual intercourse?” right at the end of episode five, for no other apparent purpose than breaking the fourth wall with a punchline. And that’s not the only example I could mention, when you have things like Shoko’s return from the “dead” or her coming up with ridiculous ideas that somehow work but the other characters still tend to explicitly call out as preposterous.

    Of course, the show is still mostly stupid but I don’t think it’s accidental. There seems to be a particularly deliberate effort to create a silly, over-the-top show despite the presence of a few serious elements at the core (and, of course, I’m sure we’ll see more death and suffering in due time as a result of them). Honestly, even Guilty Crown had a thicker veneer of darkness and seriousness, in my experience, regardless of the dry humor and cynical undertones that were previously discussed in this blog. Valvrave is evidently more childish but also less pretentious, both at face value and in terms of whatever one might try to salvage from its innards.

    That said, I do think Valvrave risks getting too old for me relatively quickly if things don’t get a move on soon. Which seems likely to happen. For instance, JIOR is definitely serving as a stand-in for Japan right now, but there seems to be a small implication in the air that they literally or figuratively had to make a deal with the devil in order to acquire the Valvrave robots. Everything seems to be working out just a little too well at the moment, but I feel that’s not going to last. If you want some speculation, I wouldn’t be too be surprised if the show actually makes the government or leadership of JIOR into an antagonist faction later on, effectively flipping the whole “liberation” scenario on its head. Which would make some of the real or imagined geopolitical aspects rather confusing if not irrelevant in the long run.

  8. sure, valvrave is stupid, generic and cliched but if I acted like I was too smart for everything I probably wouldn’t enjoy anything at all.

    After seeing the first episode and the “ordinary boring teenager who accidentally began piloting a mecha” trope with a little mix of code geass and vampire gundams vs the bishonen invaders I felt like dropping it almost instantly.

    This show almost seem a bit too formulaic and unoriginal to me but maybe im just a little jaded because I never really liked mecha genre anime that much since for every minute of actual mecha battles there’s about 10 or 20 mins of pointless drama and borings politics

  9. The geopolitical aspects of this anime and of Japanese media in general continue to morbidly interest me, especially in its similarity to Gundam SEED, the first mecha anime I can think of off the top of my head that featured a ‘neutral’ Japan-expy as the source of moral authority in a bitter, apocalyptic war.

    What’s interesting to me is that SEED was supposed to be a modernized spiritual reboot of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, but the political overtones hardly align between the two except on the broadest points. War is hell, weapons of mass destruction are evil, soldiers can be sympathetic on both sides.But SEED and Valvrave seem to emphasize the moral virtues of ‘dynamic independence’ over the military hegemony of either of its primary powers, where in MSG, Amuro Ray can’t help but stick with the Federation (the US expy) despite its missteps.

    Probably speaks to resurgent Japanese nationalism that Amuro eventually DOES split from the Federation in later Universal Century anime to act uncompromisingly on his political ideals.

    Thanks for the summary of Valvrave; I can’t really bring myself to watch it, despite my interest, because it feels a little too much of a personal attack on me, as an American servicemember currently stationed in Japan.

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