Mayoiga Ep. 1: Weirdos on a bus

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A bunch of young, mostly attractive people are on a bus, because they want a do-over, and they think this bus will take them far, far away from their oh-so-terrible lives. If that’s not naive enough for you, they’re headed for some Nanaki Village, a place that is supposedly off-the-grid (except, of course, a whole lot of people on this stupid bus seem to know about it). Money won’t matter in this land of rainbows and unicorns. It’s not on any map, and the police, i.e. our superego, won’t be able to find you and make you return home like some petulant runaway child. No more strict parents, no more familial obligations, no more cram schools, so on and so forth. You can be who you want to be without any worries! As our tour guide promises, once our thirty lucky travelers arrive at their destination, they’ll be “free from the rules and modern constraints of modern society.” That’s nuts, so naturally, most of our thirty idiots are, well, kinda nuts themselves.

The thing that gets me though is how the episode manages to be both intriguing and insanely boring at the same time. It’s quite a feat. First, the intriguing part. There’s so much mystery surrounding the premise. Obviously, this Nanaki Village isn’t going to be the utopia that our characters so desperately want it to be. What is Dahara, our tour guide — our self-proclaimed “Mystery Emperor — up to? Why is he dragging them all out to some unknown location? What horrible machinations do Dahara and his partner-in-crime Koharun have in store for these kids? But you gotta imagine that it goes further than that. After all, these kids can’t really be as gullible as they appear to be. Not all of them, anyway. Speedster, after all, isn’t here because he wants a do-over. Rather, he wanted to confirm that the entire trip is a farce. A bunch of madmen being marched to their deaths by Emperor Madman. But what about the others?

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Can’t you imagine a predator catching wind of this do-over nonsense, and deciding to tag along just so they can prey on a bunch of desperate, wide-eyed fools? I mean, let’s grant for a minute that there are people silly enough to hop on a bus just to get away from it all. That takes a certain level of foolish commitment. You want to buy into a dream so badly that you have blinders on, and that’s when you’re the most vulnerable. Take, for instance, when unsuspecting people buy into the American dream. And no, I’m not denying the fact that lots of families have come to this country and improved their lives. Yeah, sure, it happens. But plenty of bad things have happened as well. Just read this article. But I digress. My point is, if you’re on a bus full of crazies, one of them’s bound to be the serial killer sort. I mean, c’mon. Am I rooting for it? Just a little. But honestly, having said all of that, I expect to be disappointed.

I don’t know where Mayoiga is going with all of this yet, and that’s the scariest part. The setup is there. The show can be really dark and fascinating… but this ain’t my first rodeo. And more importantly, it’s Mari Okada, folks. That’s the funniest thing I got from the episode. After watching it, I sat back and I was unsure how I felt about the whole thing. Really unsure. “I like mysteries, and there’s a good chance a lot of people are gonna get slaughtered, but then again, that episode was pretty fucking boring.” So I looked Mayoiga up just to find  her name staring right back at me: Mari Okada. She always does this. She always writes these semi-potentially-interesting shows that inevitably fall apart due to execution. Ano Hana, Fractale, WIXOSS, M3… I mean, the list goes on. And naturally, the Okada-isms are all over this one too. The character intros, my god, the fucking character intros. They went on forever, and everyone’s gotta have some kooky shit about them. By the end of it all, I had already forgotten people’s names and faces and what little scant personalities they were supposed to have.

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It’s not that the scene doesn’t serve a purpose. Of course it does. You get to see that some of these people — okay, a lot of these people — have a few screws loose up there. You also see that a lot of them are still hiding. They’re on this trip to get away from the real world, so you’d think that people would show their true selves, but they’re still hiding behind gimmicky personas. You don’t get to see who a lot of these people really are. But again, the execution left me wanting. And it’s a classic setup too. It’s very classic. They’re on a bus, and it’s pitch dark outside. It’s raining a little, but not oppressively. They’re driving and driving and driving, but they never encounter another soul. The highways are empty, and even when they make their pit stops, there’s never anyone else there. Is this real life? Sure, they run into Koharun, but she’s part of them; she’s in cahoots with Dahara. So the whole thing is like some descent into hell, and the bus serves as the ferry that will take them there. They all want a first life do-over, but what if their first lives are already over? Not surprisingly, the bus driver threatens to kill them all at one point.

Nevertheless, I’m super bored. Okada tries to inject moments of absurdity into the episode, like the group singing that hippopotamus song, but it doesn’t quite draw the unsettling, this-is-quite-not-right juxtaposition that I feel she was trying to accomplish. I don’t feel like I’m trapped in some surreal Lynchian contradiction, where death and society decay is bracketed by white picket fences and plastic smiles. And why is that? Why does the juxtaposition fail to come through? It’s the characters. They’re super generic. Super anime generic. All of them. They drag me kicking and screaming back into the reality that I’m watching some bog standard anime. Even the fact that Mitsumune has the potential to go nuts despite his cheerful demeanor is terribly unoriginal. And sure, it’s possible that we’re grabbing a bunch of cardboard cutout anime personalities so that we can twist and subvert them later. That’s always a distinct possibility. But again, it’s Mari Okada, and history hasn’t shown me that she can pull this sort of thing off.

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But whatever, not like I’ve got much else to watch, right?

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15 thoughts on “Mayoiga Ep. 1: Weirdos on a bus

  1. kenshirojoestar

    Good post. This was a really bad episode. The characters are bland, cliches and the guy that looks like the main character is the most generic of all. The problem is that Okada has to much control in the plot of this series. The only good Okada anime that I remember in recent times was Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans, because the director(Nagai) had much more control of the story than Okada, but in Mayoiga she will have more freedom than in Gundam IBO.

    Reply
  2. Akeem

    Kyahh! I missed you so much man. Enjoyed the post as usual and i can agree with being intrigued and by it. I wasn’t bored though i appreciated that something was always going on, someone always talking. Fast paced might not be the best way to describe it but it kept me paying attention.

    Reply
  3. phantomphonesringing

    You’re back!

    I get what you mean with Okada, both AnoHana and Wixoss are painfully mediocre — she takes a premise that sounds a bit different and then tries her best to make it as predictable as possible. But she’s all right when she’s working with other people’s concepts, I guess maybe in spite of her involvement, like in Canaan and Koufuku Graffiti. Hanasaku Iroha is also surprisingly okay.

    What other shows do you think sound promising? I desperately want PA Works to redeem themselves but I don’t have much hope that’ll happen with Kuromukuro.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I haven’t taken a good look at the season’s offerings yet, so I don’t know what looks promising. Just kinda blogging as I go along.

      Reply
  4. striffy

    I have yet to be impressed with an Okada show. The first episode already hints at it being a train wreck (or bus wreck hurr hurr <–see what i did there). Anyway it's going to be bad so I'm setting my standards really low. Hopefully Jack (lifeless kid who hits the bus driver) goes bonkers and kills everyone – or better yet, the driver decides to do it. But this time he succeeds.

    Reply
      1. striffy

        Ok I laughed. Good catch. My avatar’s been the same for years so it didn’t even cross my mind. There WAS one Okada show I liked, Kuroshitsuji II, but it was possibly for all of the wrong reasons. I watched Kuroshitsuji II as a comedy more than anything, and if Mayoiga is also able to throw everything under the bus (hurr hurr bus <–see what I did there) and just be incredibly silly and self-aware then I’ll definitely enjoy it.

        Reply
        1. insert anything

          I see. Personally, I liked Kuroshitsuji II more than the original series.
          Okada’s drama can be definitely hammered at times, but that’s what I like about it.
          I recommend M3 anyway (if you are not allergic to mecha).

  5. Flanimes

    Really interesting post, and you touch upon a great point I’ll bring up later, but I just found it interesting that you read (or open up the possibility of reading) the bus trip as a kind of aspirational migration (i.e. Moving to America in search of the “American Dream”). I actually read it as the opposite — a withdrawal from the normative aspirations of Japanese society. I don’t see it as much as a “do-over” or starting over (although they call it that), as a kind of withdrawal that comes from a deep dissatisfaction with Japanese society and the limited options available to youth. With the continuing decline of Japan’s economy, the post-war normative aspirations of Japan Inc. (i.e. The family-corporate system, where the Salaryman’s consistent wage both stabilizes the family and his identity) recedes further from view and is becoming an impossibility for many. However, as the anime shows, it is still an ideal that many hold onto. The bus driver who laments his precarious working conditions, the mother charged with child-rearing who texts her son to make sure he goes to cram school, the elite who’s expected to marry and takeover the family business — all of these show the ways that the previous ideas of family and work persist into the present and make people’s lives miserable. Furthermore, cases like the guy who had to care for his parents, the woman who is bullied/sexually harassed at work and the rapper whose “thread has been cut” show how lonely and unsatisfying life in a modern Japanese society based on neoliberal individualism is. The bus trip, for me, is a kind of hopeful leap into a future/place that is yet to exist. It is a move toward a society you want/think should exist — one where Family and capital don’t mediate relations between people or limit what kinds of possibilities you can imagine. What intrigues me is how the show will deal with the utopian aspect of this — how will it affirm or deny this desire/orientation toward a new society?

    This is probably why, though, the hippo song got me. For me the absurd scenes were effective because I was already invested in the narrative. As you had said in your post, though, — and had I not been completely intrigued by the concept — I would have probably been turned-off by the all-too-familiar, plasticky CG characters that PA Works seem to specialize in. The dissonance is similar to seeing a famous actor like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Nicolas Cage in a leading role, where you can’t really separate the actor from the previous roles they’ve played. True enough, the director/team of Mayoiga are the same people who did Another, and maybe this is all we really to need to know, to know that this anime will be shit. I’m not so cynical though — and it is still only the first episode — so I’m still really interested in seeing where this one goes.

    That being said, I do think there is the potential here for a social critique on the same level as Welcome to the NHK, even if it won’t be as acerbic or biting. If the old ideas of family and labour fail to produce a home that can sustain you, what possibilities does withdrawing to a village without either provide you? Even though it is looking like this village will actually be more dystopian than utopian, I’m still intrigued how their hopes and desires for a different society are either affirmed or rejected. Will the show thwart their desires in order to reinscribe neoliberal notions of personal responsibility, hardwork and gumption or will it thwart it in order to provide a critique of the heartlessness of a “relationless” society.

    Hopefully, you do end up blogging this show because I really enjoyed watching it and then reading your take on it.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Really interesting post, and you touch upon a great point I’ll bring up later, but I just found it interesting that you read (or open up the possibility of reading) the bus trip as a kind of aspirational migration (i.e. Moving to America in search of the “American Dream”). I actually read it as the opposite — a withdrawal from the normative aspirations of Japanese society.

      I mean, it’s two sides of the same coin. You leave to pursue a dream, because you’re dissatisfied with where you are. Withdrawing from Japanese society is a very salient point, but it’s not like our interpretations cancel each other out. I agree a lot with what you brought up. In my post — and in that moment when I was writing it — I was merely focused on how probable it was that these people were about to be exploited. I bring up the American Dream, because in recent times, something that used to be, as you say, so aspirational has become perverted. I see these people in the same light. They seem so hopeful, and on that note, so innocence in their hope that it will make their fall so much greater.

      Reply
      1. Flanimes

        Withdrawing from Japanese society is a very salient point, but it’s not like our interpretations cancel each other out.

        Totally, what I liked about the American Dream angle was that it was something I would have never considered myself. Aspirational migration opens up new possibilities of reading the anime in relation to things like Nikkeijin return migration or the general xenophobia (for lack of a better word) towards foreign migrants that exist in Japan.

        Reply

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