Sunday, June 26, 2011

Steins;Gate 10: Homeostasis of Complements/Chaos Theory Homeostasis

A bit of titling confusion here, as Wikipedia and ANN lists the episode title as “Homeostasis of Compliments” but Crunchyroll (the actual source of the video) has it as “Chaos Theory Homeostasis”, which is also their title for the two episodes preceding it. I'll use the former here, to differentiate it from episodes 8 and 9.

You are not likely to see Steins;Gate on any kind of “gateway anime” list. It's one of a series of recent series of anime that assume a strong immersion in otaku culture and involves a complex quilt of non-stop referents and obscure jokes. (Popular entries in this sub-genre include Lucky Star and most of Akiyuki Shinbo's work.) This is a show where even the subtitles appear to be in a different language. Whereas the first wave of otaku-centred shows (think Genshiken or Otaku no Video) took a realistic depiction of anime fandom as their subjects and were fairly accessible to outsiders, more recently these shows have been genre stories whose distinctly unreal characters just happen to speak channer.

To make matters more complicated, the language of Steins;Gate includes more than anime. It's equally based in conspiracy theory and complex physics, and while it's more willing to explain these elements, it still takes mental effort to keep up. Steins;Gate is then a kind of all-nerd show whose fast banter and cluttered mythos resembles a nichier version of Community. Of course, the obvious criticism is that this kind of technique is just fan-pandering namedropping, and there are times it approaches the inanity of reference humour, but all of the characters just play off each other so well it still works in terms of comedy.

So I come to this series much like I came to last week's, Dororon Enma-kun, diving into a see of cultural referents that I don't really share, although I have more steeping in current otaku culture than 70s anime nostalgia. But the purpose of the referents are essentially different in these two shows. In Enma-kun, the references harkened back to an earlier time and established a common base for the show and its audience to build on. But in Steins;Gate otaku culture isn't essentially the point – its purpose in the show is to indicate the hipness of both the show and characters as well, drawing a bond between audience and object through shared subculture. The characters reflect back on the audience, hearing their message board posts in the mouths of hot anime girls. The referents are a means and not an ends in Steins;Gate, reflective of a trend in anime to aim at existing anime fans as the target audience and exclude everyone else, making for intimate if niche shows.

The subcultural element takes front and centre in “Homeostasis of Compliments”, following up the cliffhanger from last week's episode: through the latest in a series of time travel experiments, our gang of weirdos has managed to change history so that Akibahara, the nerd capital of the world, has been changed from a kingdom of moe into just a bunch of electronics shops. This is basically the anime apocalypse, and Okabe, the only one who can remember what the world was like before the timeline shifts, expresses a degree of horror comparable to Charlton Heston at the end of Planet of the Apes.

The washed-out colour palette of Steins;Gate really lends a certain gravitas to the scene, bringing out the contrast between the previously colourful Akibahara and its current lifeless form, much in the way the grimy outside world contrasts with the brighter main characters. There's a certain degree of self-hagiography in this choice, portraying otaku as true romantics in an otherwise drab world, but it's subtle enough to be forgiveable.

This is a fairly standard butterly-effect plotline: one small change – in the case of this series a text message sent to the past – can have massive ramifications, completely changing an entire city. Still, this change is fairly comprehensible – in the past episode we learned that in the world of Steins;Gate Feyris was responsible for otaku-izing Akiba and possibly for the moe craze in general (making her public enemy number one for a lot of anime fans), so logically changing her past could create this shift. What's more surprising is when it's discovered later on in the episode that the groups' erstwhile transvestite Rukako is now a real live girl, which would seem to have nothing to do with Feyris's message. The general feeling here is of consequences spiralling out of control as the world gets further and further away from where we started. By “Homeostasis of Compliments” we're essentially at the mid-point of this spiral, where the changes have gone beyond the direct and personal but are no longer quite global.

(Incidentally, if Rukako is a girl now why does she hang out with these freaks? The core cast of Steins;Gate is in the “alleigance of outcasts” model. As a cross-dressing man Rukako fit right in, but as a girl whose only apparent oddity is a cosplay hobby she kind of sticks out.)

“Homeostasis of Compliments” was written by Masahiro Yokotani and directed by Kazuhori Ozawa. Yokotani's main writing experience seems to be in comedy, having composed sixteen (!) episodes of the also heavily referential lesbian romance parody Mariaholic. He brings that influence to this series, which still maintains a significantly lower-key sense of humour than a show like Mariaholic but features more in the way of physical comedy (Kyouma groping Rukako and Chris hobbling him for it) than other episodes. Ozawa appears to be the go-to director for this series, having already directed three episodes including the first, and helps to bring the aesthetic and pacing of this episode in line with the rest of the series. (He also worked on Shiki, which had a similar kind of dark grinding pace, although a much different art style and genre.) So from what little I know of the staff I picture this episode as kind of a balancing act between the madcap influence of Yokotani and the darker, slower style of Ozawa.

Series-wise, Steins;Gate is directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki and Takuya Sato. Hamasaki is listed as having previously directed Texhnolyze, which has a kind of similar feel to it, and Shigurui: Death Frenzy, about which I know absolutely nothing. Sato seems to have mainly worked on the Strawberry Marshamallow franchise, a show that even the normally staid ANN Encyclopedia describes as “cute girls doing cute things in cute ways”. Once again there's a kind of fusion of two genres here – the grim sci-fi series (Hamasaki) and the harem-ish anime comedy (Sato). It's a bit of an odd combination, especially the mix-and-match approach to staffing, but it works well enough. The animation is done by White Fox, a fairly new studio mainly notable for the excellent Katanagatari. Unfortunately, this series doesn't have anywhere near the visual inventiveness of that one, although the animation never really looks bad (since the show is largely talking heads, it doesn't really matter anyway.) The credits sequences are pretty uninspired, so I'm not even going to touch on them here.

In terms of plot, “Homeostasis of Compliments” is pretty light. Still dazed from the vanishing of Akibahara, Kyouma returns back to the lab and discovers (in the most awkward fashion possible) that Rukako is still a girl. Then they go grocery shopping and have a party. There's some romance drama later on, and another shift in the timeline, but for the most part the episode is focused on character interaction and plot advancement. This is really the formula for most Steins;Gate episodes thus far: the characters react to what happened last episode, then spend most of the episode bantering with each other about nothing in particular, and then the plot advances forward a bit just in time for the opening credits.

Serial dramas in the U.S. often face deserving criticism for this kind of “hollow middle” plotting. But there's a kind of charm to the length which Steins;Gate allows its digressions to go, and I think it's rooted in the story's origin as a visual novel. The visual novel (basicall an arty word for the “dating sim” genre of games, not to be confused with graphic novels, which is the arty word for comics) thrives on superfluous dialogue – every one (of the admittedly few) that I've played could be cut down to a third of the length without much plot or even character development being lost. However, these long strings of dialogue do have a purpose. As I said, it isn't to develop character so much as it is to develop atmosphere.

The seemingly banal dialogues in these games creates a sense of a relationships, forged not in a few key scenes but over many, many everyday occurences. In, say, a romantic comedy movie a relationship is an event, in a dating sim it's an object that is slowly created. This is the reason for all the hours spent on small-town hijinx in Higurashi before the bodies start dropping, to use just one example. A television series aims for a similar goal in creating an in-depth story space, a group of characters and settings that seem to be permanent icons we've grown to know over a long course of time. Is it any wonder TV audiences (and those of other serial media like comics or book series) get so attached to characters? As our relationship with the characters approaches the shape of our relationships with real people, the firm distinction in our mind between reality and fiction begins to melt away. It's no wonder that the dating sim, a genre which originates in the desire for a virtual girlfriend, shapes its narrative towards a similar end.

Steins;Gate, despite being a TV show, uses the visual novel approach to building these relationships (lengthy dialogue) instead of the usual televisual one (seeing the cast go through many different adventures and events). The use of repeated gags and catchphrases, such as Kyouma's nicknames for everyone he runs across, tie together the episodes into a coherent character construction. In this episode there's also, as mentioned before, more standard anime humour revolving around comedic violence and assorted girls' inability to cook, which I'm attributing to Yokotani. These kind of jokes are pretty pedestrian, although there is something funny yet terrifying about seeing Mayushii with knives.

The visual novel origins of Steins;Gate also shines through in its harem-esque cast. As is par for the course in that genre, the cast consists of one lead male (Houin Kyouma, considerably less generic than these leads usually are), possibly another dude as comic relief (in this case the fat uber-nerd Daru), and a shitton of women that secretly want to jump the first guy's bones. The girls even break down into standard harem anime types – you have the tsundere* (Chris), the girl next door (Suzuha), the ditz (Mayuri), the wallflower (Moeka), the blatant otaku fetish object (Feyris), the other blatant otaku fetish object (Rukako), and probably a couple others I'm forgetting. Now, Steins;Gate has developed most of these characters beyond the glib descriptions I've given them, but it still reflects the kind of casts visual novels have even when they're ostensibly about something other than which chick you get to bang at the end (as I gather the Steins;Gate game is.)

That one-guy-many-girls romance comes to the forefront towards the end of “Homeostasis of Compliments”. First we have Chris melting down during the party and showing some affection to Kyouma, fulfilling the deredere side of her archetype. The power goes out momentarily, and the normally cool and distant Chris confessions her affection for the atmosphere of the lab in general (solidifying the “series space” created by the relationships among the individual characters) and then later describes Kyouma as a “companion”. Of course, when the lights come back on they're in a compromising position. This scene really kind of reduces Chris to less of a character and more of an archetype. I mean, we even had the “It's not like I like you or anything...”

Later, Kyouma discovers that Suzuha has not just missed the party but skipped town. Despite his concerns about altering the past any further, he decides to use the D-mail to tell his past self to chase her and not let Chris stop him as she did the first time around. This seems to work, although with uncertain consequences.

There are two potential motives for why Kyouma would be willing to risk altering the past in unforeseen ways (after having just seen how easily that could happen) to stop Suzuha from leaving town. The first would be that he loves Suzuha, at least subconciously. In this view he is rejecting Chris, who has just semi-confessed to him, by telling his past self to ignore her and go after Suzuha. In this new timeline it's doubtful whether the heartfelt conversation between him and Chris even happened I think this is probably more likely, although it's unusual for harem protagonists to clearly choose one girl and reject another, much less do so halfway through the series (although Bakemonogatari did it.) While a time-travelling love triangle would be interesting, I think the more interesting option here is that Kyouma did it simply to preserve his current situation, surrounded by friends and cute girls. In other words, Kyouma has fallen in love with the series space just as much as the viewer (well, at least this viewer) has, and wants to keep everything the same. Chris's affection towards him is as dangerous as Suzuha leaving, as both threaten the status quo. As a self-proclaimed mad scientist, Kyouma is obsessed with threatening and destabilizing the world order, whether it be through taking over everything or through bringing down the devious SERN, but he is also starting to fall in love with the way things are now. In both cases Kyouma's decision sets us up for some serious conflict in the remaining half of Steins;Gate, in the first case a romantic conflict between Chris and Suzuha, while in the latter case a more interesting formal conflict between the status-quo elements of the story (what I'm calling the series space) and the overarching science-fictional plot. Maybe both conflicts will materialize.

Like the time-travel and other mad science its characters get up to, Steins;Gate is an experiment, sticking concentrated elements of hard sci-fi and harem comedy into a beaker and watching the sometimes violent reactions. It's not as though these two genres have never been fused before (hello, Tenchi Muyo) but Steins;Gate is so deep into each rabbithole that it's hard to see how the two genres can be reconciled in the end. Whether or not this conflict continues to play out or is brushed aside is the true task for the upcoming second half of the series.

* For those of you not fluent in otaku fetish lingo, a tsundere is a female character who outwardly dislikes and mocks their love interest to the point of abuse (tsuntsun) but is inevitably revealed to have a soft, tender side that actually cares for him (deredere). This started out as an attempt to develop multi-layered characters but has turned into a cliche of its own, albeit one with legions of fans.

Next Week: A look at the unofficial season premiere of Futurama.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dororon Enma-kun Meramera 9: Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu

Looking at the slate of summer movies just seems to confirm how central a driving force nostalgia is in popular culture. I mean, what else could explain a trilogy of big-budget massive-grossing movies based on fucking Transformers? Just released is X-Men: First Class which not only contains the inherent nostalgia of a movie based on a fifty-year-old comic book franchise that everyone thought was the coolest thing ever at ten years old, but is set in the 1960s. (Writing this I'm actually beginning to feel nostalgic for the first X-Men film, watched in seventh grade almost a decade ago). The just-released Super 8 is an extended homage to the films of J. J. Abrams' own childhood. On the docket is a remake of Conan the Barbarian and a movie based on the freaking Smurphs. This isn't confined to the popcorn-scented world of the mass market either. Even arthouse flicks are getting in on it, with Palme d'Or winner The Tree of Life starring a 1950s nuclear family of the most classical variety.*

It's easy to denounce this as a cynical cash-grab or studios playing it safe, and that's because it partly is. But nostalgia is a powerful emotion – the sight of even a shitty pop cultural icon will send the viewer's brain back to days of childhood simplicity and freedom (we tend to forget the difficult and restrictive parts of our childhoods). It's an emotion that is perhaps easy to invoke, but no less powerful than the sense of sadness or awe one experiences at a well-wrought tragedy, and (at least theoretically) no less legitimate. Of course, great art has more than an emotional appeal, but I think that emotion shouldn't be dismissed so easily.

Which is all a very roundabout way of getting around to Dororon Enma-kun Meramera (which roughly translates to the ungainly English title of “Bamf! It's Enma! *cricklecrackle*”.) In addition to having some great physical comedy, Enma-kun trafficks in a nostalgia that is completely foreign to me, and perhaps gives an example of the phenomena of nostalgia culture that can be seen from an outside perspective. In other words, it might give us some idea of what aliens would think if they discovered a copy of the A-Team movie.

Enma-kun is based on a '70s anime and manga franchise of the same name by the legendary (and somewhat infamous) Go Nagai. Wikipedia alleges that in Japan it's one of Nagai's most well-known works, although virtually unknown elsewhere, even more obscure than his other sex-and-violence concoctions like Cutie Honey, Devilman, and Violence Jack (whose titles really speak for themselves). It's a action-horror-comedy story about a group of demons, lead by the titular Enma, who fight renegade demons that have escaped from hell. The 2011 series plays heavily on the comedy, although apparently some other versions have not.

The soul of almost every anime is contained in its credits animations, and Enma-kun's are about as distinctive as they come:

The (hella catchy) opening credits song is a direct homage to the kind of deep-voiced hyper-enthusiastic anime openings of the days of yore, as performed by Masaaki Endoh, and the repeated syllables at the start are very reminiscent of the opening Endoh recorded for GaoGaiGar (more on that later). The kind of over-the-top vocals and lyrics (I mean, the song is called “Soul Burning at 1,000,000,000,000°C” for Christ's sake) come off as both childish and reminiscent of the past – the key ingredients for nostalgia. The ending theme “Everyone's Exhausted ZZZ” is similar, a kind of lullabye-like tune set to fuzzy drawings of all the characters sleeping, harkening back to an even earlier part in the audience's life.

Dororon Enma-kun is helmed by Yoshitomo Yometai, whose work is basically a history of retro-anime, the most famous being GaoGaiGar, a late 90s mecha series that looks like it belongs at least a decade or two earlier. The animation studio is Brain's Base, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite studios, having produced in the last couple years Baccano!, Durarara and Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish. As usual they do a great job here, making sure that even if the art style is retro the animation is much better than an actual 70s anime (which is interesting – I guess one thing we're not nostalgic for is technological inferiority.) ANN lists the directors for this particular episode as Nanako Sasaki and Tomoaki Koshida, about whom I couldn't find much information except that this is the first episode of the series they've worked on and the former has a lot of credits for shoujo and josei (women's) anime. I have to say that this episode does feel like it has new, fairly inexperienced hands at the helm, as it lacks a lot of the dynamic feeling that previous episodes had, but I'll get to that later. The scriptwriter is Hiroaki Kitajima, who took over from Yoshitomo in episode 4 and has really done a bang-up job, elevating the gags while introducing more of an ongoing storyline.

The series has really been playing with the fire and ice dichotomy that's embodied in its two lead characters, the fire-spewing Enma and ice demon Yuki. Last episode started with Harumi (the schoolgirl who would in a normal show be there for the young audience to identify with, but here just seems to be here to make meta-jokes) arriving at school to find it encased in snow. “Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu”'s opening is a mirror image of that, with Harumi arriving at school only to find that the sky is full of fiery spirals, even though she seems to be the only one to notice anything wrong. She then descends to the underworld to talk to the Demon Patrol about it, only to find them under seige by a giant fire tengu. (This is also a mirror of episode 8, where the Demon Patrol had to go up to Harumi's world, the school, to fight off the fairly incompetent demon invaders.)

The elemental theme continues as the fire demon challenges Enma to prove that he is in fact the master of fire, which he tries to do only to find that his demon staff is once again out of batteries. The series has done this gag before, but I think the repetition works here: only Enma is incompetent enough to forget the batteries for his weapon repeatedly. This leads to the Hell House being under seige by the extremely powerful fire tengu until Yuki summons his ice-powered counterpart, which leads to a full-on elemental battle that has the demons caught in between alternately boiling and freezing. Meanwhile Enpi, Enma's exhibitionist sister and the closest thing the series has to a major villain, infiltrates the Hell House disguised as Harumi and activates the self-destruct mechanism, which is of course a giant dick.

This is reminiscent of the very phallic monster in the first episode, and like that guy it's funnier because no one acknowledges or seems to realize that this mystical artifact is shaped like a schlong. It kind of seems like when Disney animators would sneak something naughty in, like all the dicks on the Little Mermaid cover.

This is related to the paradox at the heart of Enma-kun's humour and nostalgia value. It's a show that at least presents the exterior appearance of a kid's anime, but airs at 2 AM and is chock full of sex comedy. I think this relates to the recent popularity of YA novels and snarky children's entertainment among adults – it allows the simplicity of storyline and character that most people want but has enough meta-jokes and other humour that would fly over the head of the kids that adults don't feel bad about enjoying it. But of course, actual kids don't watch this show – they watch their Narutos and all that stuff. It's a series that anime hardcores can enjoy nostalgically without feeling talked down to. And it also creates some humour when the creators seem to go out of their way to see how over the top they can make the sex comedy while maintaining the facade of a children's adventure show.

But there's also a darker side to the kind of show that Enma-kun is nostalgic for, and that makes its way into this episode. The Enma-kun franchise, like pretty much all of Nagai's work, involves a lot of sex comedy and fanservice. Worse, this fanservice isn't of the “oops, my tits fell out of my shirt” variety but mostly involves someone (usually Enma) attacking and disrobing or groping a shrieking woman (usually Yuki). While the new series is remaining true to its source material (although apparently it's actually toned it down), no amount of homage or send-up (i.e. Episode 2's “Wait, why am I naked again?”) can really excuse playing sexual assault for laughs.

Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu” does see Yuki get some measure of revenge for Enma's series-long abuse. As the elemental goblins battle over their fortress, it changes the temperature rapidly from boiling hot (reducing Yuki to a quivering and abusable mess) to freezing cold (doing the same to Enma). When Enma takes advantage of the hot temperatures to molest Yuki, Yuki fires back during the cold phases by stripping Enma of his own clothes.

While this is a nice gesture of opposition to the kind of misogyny and objectification that comes with the territory of fanservice (a kind of “See, both sides are doing it”) that does so in a comedic way, ultimately this kind of isn't the case. After all, Yuki isn't interested in using Enma's body sexually, only in getting revenge on him, and Enma is a pale blobby figure as opposed to the more human and sexualized Yuki. So the extremely problematic nature of the sex comedy here remains.

(Of course, without the constant skeevy sexuality it wouldn't look like a '70s Go Nagai anime, but there are some things that don't deserve paying tribute to. Even if you set aside the political stuff, the molestation gags just come off as kind of perfunctory and derivative.)

Quality-wise, this episode is also kind of a let-down. Coming off a series of hilarious installments, this one sort of feels like it doesn't have enough premise to sustain a half-hour episode and is mostly interested in setting up pieces for next week. I've seen episode 10, and it is a doozy, but it doesn't really feel like it needs a seperate episode as prelude. Don't get me wrong, “Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu” is okay, but it doesn't really live up to the standards of comedy this show has set.

The central tenent of Episodism (TM) is that every episode of a show has to be valuable on its own, not simply as a prelude to something greater. This episode fails this test, and really highlights that comedies have to hew a lot closer to this rule than other shows. In a serial drama it's perfectly fine to have an episode of build-up, but in a comedy we expect at least the jokes to stand on their own. Interestingly, it seems like in a drama we're more accepting of holding off “the good stuff” until later. This may be part of the reason that while serial dramas have been perfected in both American TV and anime, serial comedies are still a work in progress.

What's also interesting about “Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu” is how thoroughly it, and many other Enma-kun episodes, violate the idea that the narrative focus should be on the protagonist's actions. The major plot events of the episode seem to happen around the protagonists: the main battle is between the goblins and the major plot event is Enpi undoing the seal. Meanwhile the Demon Patrol is just trying to survive while being frequently sidetracked by their libidos. Despite being the protagonist Enma seems to spend more episodes than not rendered useless – in the past he's been turned into a baby, inflated to balloon-like proportions, and ran out of batteries at least once. For a group sent to Earth to fight demons, they're remarkably bad at, you know, fighting demons. This is even lampshaded in this week's episode, as Harumi goes to warn the Demon Patrol because they never show up on time.

All of this is fairly standard comedic territory, for both anime and TV in general, although Enma-kun takes it further than most by frequently sidelining its main character. But it's interesting that TV, hardly a common vector of revolutionary ideas, nevertheless has a long tradition of portraying those upon which society depends (whether real or fictional (demon-hunting) groups) as basically incompetent. Rebellion is not allowed, but cynicism is. I'm not really exploring this thought fully, as it's only kind of sort of related to the show, but I think there's an interesting paradox in TV comedy's treatment of authority figures.

Lastly, since we're discussing a work in translation, I would be remiss not to credit the translators. I watched the gg fansub of “Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu”. One of the most difficult tasks for translators is puns and other jokes which depend heavily on wordplay or culture. This is especially a difficult decision in anime subtitling, which is generally supposed to be a fairly literal translation,as opposed to dubs, which are often extensively rewritten to sound better in English. (Then again, with the gradual disappearance of dubs this distinction may be becoming moot). The options are generally to either do a literal translation of the pun, putting in a sidebar about how it's supposed to be funny but generally making it a non-joke, or replace it with a vaguely equivalent English pun, which preserves the spirit of the original but is more an act of rewriting than translation. gg opts for the latter here, and do a pretty great job at it. The key is that the puns aren't really funny, kind of groan-inducing, but often provoke a laugh due to the sheer pile-up of jokes (such as the repeated nose jokes from the battling tengu) or sheer audacity. The jokes gg provides do a good job of capturing that balance. My only quibble is the replacing of “tengu” with “goblin” -- they're very different mythological figures and turning tengu into goblins is more Westernizing than translating. But on the whole an expectedly great job from gg.

I don't want to make it seem like I don't like this show, because I do. Enma-kun may be problematic in terms of its invocation of nostalgia and frequent use of sexual assault as a gag, but it has a madcap energy and goofy sense of humour that usually carry the day. I consider it the best anime running right now, although with this meager season that's not really high praise. The thing is, when you have an episode without that much of that energy (like this one) the problematic elements really stand bare and are a lot harder to ignore or wave away with the brush of irony. Dororon Enma-kun is like a shark – it has to keep moving or it dies, and in “Warm and Toasty Mr. Tengu” it slows down for the first time.

*Disclaimer: This may be based entirely off reviews of The Tree of Life and not the actual movie.

Next week: More current anime, specifically the oddly punctuated Steins;Gate.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Welcome to my humble internet abode

My name is Rob, and I like TV.

That doesn't really seem like a bold statement. Everyone watches television. Even the hipsters who talk loudly about not owning a TV watch television. Moreover, in the past decade TV shows have gained a critical respectability through programs like The Wire and The Sopranos. At the same time, however, there's a serious lack of critical language to talk about television. How many reviews of The Wire have praised it by describing it as "novelistic", as though the main goal of television was to not be like television. (And, as much as I love books, there are oceans of terrible novels, so "novelistic" isn't really a great complement.)

I want to celebrate the form of television as well as the content. That form is serial storytelling, where every episode should be worthwhile as a cultural artifact in itself, while also contributing to a larger whole. This is a fine line to walk, but the best TV does so with startling ease. I also want to focus on the visual language of television, which is often ignored by contemporary TV bloggers, as well as the individual creators who are often ignored as the entire show falls under the aegis of one creator or just some abstract entity like "HBO" or "AMC".

So here's the deal: at the end of every week I randomly select a TV episode I've watched during the week, and spend the following week writing up an analysis on it. I'll then post this on Sunday, if all goes according to plan, providing the latest breaking commentary on an episode that aired at best about two weeks ago. How up-to-the-minute.

More seriously, I'm hoping this delay will allow this blog to become the "sober second thought" of the tele-blogosphere, which I find is too often all about gut reactions. Look at a post on a current show from TV Club or Alan Sepinwall and you're likely to get 40% recap/40% evaluation/20% analysis if you're lucky. I'm going to mostly leave out the recap portion and focus more on analysis of how the episode works (through visual and narratological technique) as well as its thematic ideas. What this means is that:

-If you want a reminder of what happened in the episode in question, pop over to another TV blog or Wikipedia or something, because my posts will assume you've watched the episode and have at least a vague memory of it.
-There will be spoilers for the episode in question and possibly one or two episodes after it, although I'll try to keep those to a minimum.

The overall focus will be, as I said, on analysis and not review (by which I mean the everpresent question of "Is this show any good?"), although I'll still touch on the latter. The shows I watch are predominately anime and American cable TV. The list for each week includes both currently running shows and shows that are... less so, with a couple curveballs thrown in there for fun. I think (hope, really) writing about a different series every week will both keep me from getting burnt out as well as allow more in-depth analysis than if I was scrambling to cover everything.

With that slightly pompous preface out of the way, it's time to pick up my remote and start watching some damn television.

Up: I kick the blog off with a post on obscure retro-anime Dororon Enma-kun Meramera. Boy, that'll put butts in seats.