Place to Place

Not Really Good

Place to Place is a light comedy anime with a touch of romance.  Unfortunately, the anime’s somewhat at odds with itself.  While certain elements promise a more upbeat, wild kind of comedy, the tone is much more soporific.  With a peak of action set too early, combined with an ending without a conclusion, this anime is wholly unsatisfying.

Purpose: Weak.   There are lots of good things in this anime.  The biggest issue is the clashing of tones.  On the one hand, Place to Place promises a rambunctious brand of comedy.  Actually, that’s where the anime really comes alive.  Many of the best and most memorable moments happen when the characters are being wild and crazy.  (For those of you that have seen the anime… bear and paper bag anyone?)   But they don’t really focus on the wild comedy.  The main problem is that they didn’t focus on anything.  You have bits of the wild comedy, little smatterings of romance, dashes of character-specific comedy, and plenty of unmemorable lines.  All of these were impacted by an extremely drowsy mood that pervaded.  Perhaps that’s all forgivable, except for the fact that the anime peaks too early.  The best points come roughly around episodes 7 through 9.  The last few end up trailing off, abandoning some good developments that happen.

Characters: Decent.  Most of the main characters had their really interesting points, yet were sadly under-utilized.   Individually, each of the characters are pretty weak – it’s only though character combinations that they really have something interesting.  However, it’s only certain character combinations that do a majority of the heavy lifting, as it were.  Much of the character interactions come off as surprisingly bland.   Though the anime is supposed to be about Io and Tsumiki, they are the absolute worst character pair for working off of each other to create good scenes.  Most of their interactions feel like something ran out of gas.  Part of the problem is that both of the characters have really slow delivery, so they end up being slow, together.  This is a serious problem when they’re trying to do comedy, which is most of it.  That said, the slowness between them does end up creating some sweet moments.

WorldDecent.  Being a slice of life world, it suffers from the same “normal world” problem.  This means that the world was little more than a backdrop – there was very little the world had to do with anything.  Yet, there was some degree of oddness, with the “normalcy” of the world occasionally broken by one character’s wild antics/inventions.   Even so, the settings were generally interchangeable – there was nothing really context-specific about the interactions that happened.

Plot: Decent.  What can you say other than it’s generally a slice of life?   There’s really no overarching structure other than a little bit of romance.  Perhaps the weakest part of the plot was that there wasn’t enough material.  About halfway through, they start taking the romance somewhere.  That set the anime up for some sort of climax or conclusion, which it never reaches.   Instead, the plot loses focus and fizzles out.

Storytelling: Poor.  This is the single biggest flaw in the entire anime, dragging down several other elements.  The storytelling is responsible for setting up a wholly inappropriate mood that was often at odds with what was going on.  One of the biggest offenders was the soundtrack, which seemed to be something that would be at home in the video game “Animal Crossing.”  Even their most exciting music had a certain kind of slowness or dullness that weighed it down.  For all other parts, the music heavily weighed down on scenes, making them somewhat drowsy in tone.  Essentially, there was no energy or life to the mood set by the anime.  This problem was made all the more serious by the slow delivery of some characters.

Another large problem was with the comedy.  There was a serious lack of follow-through with the punchlines.  Most often, it would result in fizzling out, when they should have pushed the punchline home.  Even then, punchlines were often so understated that they were a little disappointing.  They only reason we know this is that they actually showed that they could hit the mark just right –  occasionally, they’d hit the timing and the follow-through for some really good moments.  That makes the failures all the more numbing.

Pace: Not Really Good.  Lackadaisical is the best description of the pace.  While the anime felt exceptionally slow, I have the nagging feeling that it isn’t the pace’s fault.  If you think about it really, really hard, the timing and the sequencing of the gags and the events felt just fine.  The amount of content per episode also seemed to be fine, neither too little nor too much.  It’s just that other elements brought it down.

Psycho-Pass 2-

Bad

Make no mistake, I love Psycho-Pass, rated MasterpieceHeck, I even bought the season box set so I could share it with people.  However, this installment is just bad.  Don’t bother with it.  Just pretend it doesn’t exist.  Really. It even seems to treat itself as a “throwaway.”  Fortunately, there wasn’t really any significant impact on the world.

I would attribute the entirety of the problem to the fact that Gen Urobuchi, the creator of Psycho Pass, was absent from this anime to work on the Psycho Pass movie.  In the first Psycho Pass, he wrote the scripts, but this installment had several different writers.  The writers were clearly unfamiliar with the way that Psycho-Pass 1 worked.

Purpose:  Bad. Gen Urobuchi’s purpose was clearly there in the backdrop – some themes in the beginning, end, and a couple of plot lines in the middle were reminiscent of him.  However, all the delicacy and nuance from the first season was lost – this season lacked the intelligence of the first.  The effect was to change the anime into more of an action-focused cop-drama show.  Roughly the first third of the anime was handled in the cop-drama style, and it was fairly competently done.  I started off in the “Good” category, but recognized a definite, constant leak as the elements fell apart.  As the anime tried to wade into deeper subjects and discussions, the wheels really came off.  In sum, it was clear the writing didn’t really understand how to connect the beginning with the end properly.  In turn, this lack of connection probably stemmed from  a failure to understand Gen Urobuchi’s original purpose and the world with which they were dealing.  Without a clear purpose, many elements seemed to be thrown in there haphazardly.  The best way to sum them up is “just because,” and that theme pervades this anime.

Characters: Poor.  There were tremendous flaws in character development, both in the characters we knew and the new ones they introduced.  Part of the problem stems from the loss of purpose.  Without the characters’ depth and personality representing a particular view of the world, they lost a great deal of their place within the story.  They defaulted to “cop.”  In order to compensate for this, the characters’ personalities were somewhat reset.  To be more precise, the complexity of the characters was reset so that the growth that happened in Psycho Pass 1 seemed to be reduced to a particular phrase or tagline instead of a guiding principle of the character’s actions.  This problem compounded storytelling problems because characters were then telling us why they were doing something instead of it being shown through the characters’ actions.  What’s worse is that for a great many actions, the reasoning behind those actions wasn’t explored – it was “just because.”  What this created was a character that was easily reducible to a couple of phrases.  Fairly true to cop drama form, the characters remained relatively unchanged and were merely static fixtures reacting to the crazy events going on around them.

Now for the new characters.  Aside from the main villain, they didn’t really serve any purpose in the story whatsoever.  On the one hand, we have a person that suffers from “small dog syndrome” – constantly yapping and biting at your ankles, but easily intimidated by the slightest attention.  The other was a Norman Bates wannabe.  If you took those two out of the story, really nothing would change at all.  Thus, their purpose wasn’t to drive or affect the overall story.  The biggest problem is those characters were used as cheap attempts to artificially create pressure upon the main character – a substitute for proper character development.  What it created was a situation for our known characters to react to, rather than as an opportunity for growth or discovery of the world.  Again, “little dog” contradicts our main character’s view, but without exposition, reason, or explanation… it was “just because.”  In sum, the new characters’ only purpose was to drag our main character down, literally, figuratively, and metaphorically without adding anything to the world.

World: Bad.  In comparison to the characters, the world was the real victim of the lack of purpose and storytelling.  Since this is a sequel, it used the world developed in Psycho Pass 1 as a foundation to build upon.  However, every time the writers wrote themselves into a problem, they undermined the world’s foundation by contradicting world developments in Psycho Pass 1.  Everything from hues to the psycho pass, to the Sibyl System itself were misunderstood and used in a manner completely inconsistent with how they were supposed to work.  As painful as that was, what is more unforgivable is how they created significant world inconsistencies purely within Psycho-Pass 2.

Plot:  Weak.  The main plot involving the main villain was very straightforward, almost 2-D in what it was.  While amusing, it amounted to little more than a “this statement is false” situation that’s supposed to short-circuit logic.  Aside from the main villain, we had two other plotlines that did nothing for our main goal.  What is completely incomprehensible is how many plot holes they employed in these simplistic plot lines.  Really, it comes from a lack of understanding of the material.

A plot hole can best be described through the animation process. (For an example of making Key and In-Between animation, watch this) Plot works like key animation – the big, more detailed pictures that represent important stages of movement.  Storytelling is more like the in-between animations – many more pictures that constitute movement to get from Key animation to Key animation.  A plot hole is like a missed key animation or two – it creates a significant “skip” or “jump” that is a little jarring.  In that way, a plot hole is a missing step in the logical progression of those plot “pictures.”  In this case, they later attempted to “fill in” the plot holes by undermining the world.

Storytelling: Bad.  On a broader note, the storytelling really was simplistic and straightforward.  However, the biggest problem is that they were mostly telling us things, rather than showing us things.  For example, the professor’s role in the anime was to tell us what was going on.  It wasn’t through discussion or exploration of how people and events intersect, like Psycho-Pass 1.  In many cases, the storytelling was serving as a substitute for proper character, world, and plot development.  Think back to the first scene with the main character’s grandmother – it really served no purpose except for her to tell us something about the character.  Something that wasn’t even really necessary.  Perhaps the best example of this is Norman Bates’ backstory. This was the cheapest and laziest way to tell us about the character – literally killing puppies.  This doesn’t count as a “show” because it has no depth or reason behind it – it was a “just because” moment to tell you he’s bad to the bone.  And on that note, all that was told was the story of relatively generic cop-show type villains without any real motive behind their action – they were “just because.”

Pace: Good.  If you don’t know how you’re getting from A to B, can you really fault how fast you get there?  The pacing overall was fine.  Taking into account the irrelevant portions, they did manage to get the story worked out in a relatively efficient manner.  Perhaps it was because the plot holes served to accelerate the pace where it would stall out due to lack of understanding.

Psycho-Pass (Season 1)

Masterpiece

The creator of Psycho-Pass, Gen Urobuchi, is known for having a distinctive dark style.  He did the script and series composition for Puella Magi Madoka Magica and he authored the Fate/Zero light novels.  He personally wrote the scripts in this anime as well.

Purpose: Masterpiece.  This was exceptionally done.  It displayed a huge degree of delicacy and intelligence in the goal for this anime.  In sum, the anime is a discussion between the creator and the viewer about very deep concepts such as human nature, the role of society, and the nature of the law.   Everything in the anime helped develop different perspectives and worldviews that were then presented to the viewer for evaluation to see which one appealed the most.  On a bit more of a technical side, the anime paid a great deal of attention to where they were going through the way it was structured.  The first handful of episodes don’t do terribly much with the characters – the characters are mostly serving to expand the world at the early point.  Once the world was firmly developed, then the anime starts using the characters to display varied insights and opinions as to the world that developed, but in a intelligent way.  The way they handled the overall path was exceptional.

Characters: Masterpiece.  The characters were also exceptional in a couple of senses.  First, they were all strong, unique, and distinctive characters on their own.  They were developed in a way that gave them a great deal of life and personality.  Second, and this is where they really shined, was their use as a vehicle to discuss the world with the viewer.  The characters all had unique perspectives on the world based on their past and experiences.  Basically, the characters represented a different worldview.  However, they weren’t simple view “priests,” where they loudly proclaimed that view to convert others to their side.  Rather, the views were almost represented as the personal views of the character – a person’s perspective on the world and events happening.  The views for several characters developed, grew, and even changed based on the events that happened, giving both life to the character and credibility to the view they represented.  Thus, character conflicts (as often happens in real life), stemmed from a difference in opinion – a difference in how they viewed the world.

World: Excellent. Highly interesting in itself, the world is also part of the dialogue between the creator and the viewer.  The setting borrows quite a bit from western works, both film and literature.  The world is set as a utopia/dystopia, similar to what you’d find in Minority Report, with strong influence from Philip K. Dick’s novels.  The world has a great deal of character and, itself, represents a certain viewpoint.  It’s through the character interactions with the world that it really hones, refines, and polishes their worldviews.

Plot: Excellent. There were two kinds of plot present here – the world plot, and plots involving the characters.  The world’s plot involved what the characters were doing within the world.  These were the plot points that progressed us through the story.  The second set of plot points, the character plot points, served to refine the characters within the world.  They both worked well together since they played off each other, representing a constant evolution of both world and character.  One thing I usually find commendable is when there is a difficult or painful plot point that has lasting impact.  By that I mean, the plot point itself is strong but also that the story doesn’t pull the punch.  When characters are forced to deal with really impactful plot points like that, it leaves an impression because it usually marks a very large contour in the path of a particular character or event.  I really appreciated what they did here.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  They way they managed to interweave the two different kinds of plot was exceptional.  It was essentially seamless storytelling that wove the plot points together in a way that would either work off each other or use each other as steps to raise both to the next level.  In addition, it was the storytelling that added a tremendous amount of power to scenes, making a great deal very memorable.  Most memorable, perhaps, was the handling of the plot lines that tested a character.  Now, tests of characters are exceptionally difficult to do in a believable manner because they require that the storytelling convey the appropriate information necessary to develop a deep character.  Then they have tell the story in a way that conveys the true nature and depth of the challenge to the substance, the essence of the character.  In accomplishing that,  they have to make sure the challenge itself is presented in a powerful manner to represent a genuine threat to the character they have built.  Finally, they have to manage the dramatic tension to really strike those points home.  There were two such scenes that were attempted and successfully accomplished.  Brilliantly done.

Pace:  Excellent.  The pace did a lot of heavy lifting here, so was relatively unnoticeable.  It managed to convey an astounding amount of information, yet keep it in a relatively digestible manner.  You weren’t overwhelmed with information, yet the pace ensured that a tremendous amount of depth was accomplished.  The depth was built in a way that wasn’t rushed  and gave you what you needed to know, when you need to know it.