Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist

Poor

Shimoneta is a light comedy that requires little thought.  However, the title gives away the show’s premise – dirty jokes.  The entirety of Shimoneta’s material comes from dirty humor – ranging from silly to lewd.  If that kind of comedy is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit.  If not, you’ll probably find that this anime tries your patience at every opportunity.  That said, it’s probably best to think of this anime as a protest against censorship, although you need to know a ton of background for it to make sense.

Purpose: Decent.  This anime’s really a nonviolent protest of the censorship culture in Japan.  Of course, it tries to accomplish this in a very ham-fisted way.  Some of it is actually clever – they appear to be using and abusing the censorship rules to get away with the absolute maximum they can.  In fact, the cellphone that allows them to get away with dirty jokes is always displaying the “leeway” they have left to do blatantly lewd things – a total of 3 minutes of material per episode.  Of course to get why this is a protest, you need quite a bit of context.

The basis of modern censorship of material in Japan comes from the current interpretation of the Japanese Criminal Code, which prohibits the distribution of “indecent” material.  What’s indecent?  Well, no one is exactly sure, so it’s ended up doing some odd things.  The general consensus is that, at the very least, pornography had to be censored.  This created some very odd rules, requiring pixelation of genitalia for “live-action” porn, and some bizarre forms of censorship in manga and other print materials that showed more or less depending on the editors.   Things changed quite a bit in 2004 when, for the first time in 20 years, someone was prosecuted under the law.  A hentai manga artist managed to avoid jail time by pleading guilty and paying a fine.  Of course, he appealed to Japan’s highest court, arguing that the censorship violated the “freedom of expression” contained in Japan’s constitution.  The court actually tripled his fine.  This caused quite a bit of a panic, resulting in a sharp increase in “self-censorship.”  In other words, manga artists and editors were much, much more cautious about what they published.  Actually, many stores even removed their 18+ sections to be safe.   This kind of thing happened again in 2013, which is right between the publication of the Shimoneta light novel and the manga.  Of course, censorship is a society-wide issue, affecting even their news media.  Lately, there have even been discussions about increasing the power of censorship laws in Japan, making things worse.

One other bit of context that’s somewhat tangential is related to the other focus of “sex education,” a theme rampant in Shimoneta.  Right now, Japan is entering a major population crisis.  Far more people are dying than being born, roughly 250,000 people a year.  In fact, some estimates predict that Japan’s population will have shrunk to 87 million people in 2060, with over half older than 65.  Part of it is their work/home life culture making things difficult.  Well over 50% of Japanese men and women under 30 have never been married.  Additionally, children born outside of marriage are quite a rarity in Japan.  Some critics attribute the lack of desire for families, marriage, and children in Japan’s youth today to the so-called “clean” and “pure” (read: heavily censored) environment they were raised in.

Characters: Poor.  The characters do not exist apart from their role in the anime.  Predictably, their personalities are strictly determined by their response to the concept of lewdness.  You have everything from excessive, to neutral, to “closeted.”  Of course, any character development is restricted to incorporation or acceptance of lewdness.  The viewer’s point of entry is the character that goes from “this is terrible” to “oh, it’s fine, I guess.”  In addition to this, the characters are all defined by “reaction catchphrases” – ways of reacting to things that are entirely predictable.  The character with the most social commentary potential, Anna, had any depth negated and then she was used as a rather blunt instrument.  Instead of delicate and nuanced commentary, she became (clearly intentionally) perverted into something of an obsessive lunatic.  She’s the best example of what happened to all the characters to some degree or another – turned into a ham-fisted attempt at social commentary that was, instead, a mere excuse to get away with, well, lewd material.

World: Weak.  You’d think the world would be much more interesting, given the subject matter.  The author didn’t really bother to expand the world in any meaningful sense.  The most we got was a vague “everything is censored” and some of the related silliness.  Of course, that on its own wasn’t enough to merit a Weak rating.  It’s the fact that the anime started racking up internal inconsistencies that weakened the world that was built early on.  Again, the world’s place was little more than an opportunity to present the dirty jokes.

Plot: Poor.  What plot?  The best description is things happen.  Episode plots are strictly limited to finding some new way to accomplish some sort of dirty joke or behavior.  It’s wrapped up in the guise of  “lewd terrorism” and a vaguely-stated goal of sex education.  Of course, all of those are little more than an excuse.

Storytelling: Poor.  As a comedy, the humor seriously underperformed.  It’s not just the subject matter I’m complaining about – many anime can use lewd material to get a point across or get some laughs.  Heck, the standard fan-service/harem genres rely on that stuff.  It’s the setup and presentation of the humor that ends up seriously undermining what it’s trying to do.  However, even anime that use lewd humor can work if they have variety.  Sadly, Shimoneta lacked that variety.  Much of the humor is character-specific, relying on a particular character acting in a particular way.  The first handful of times, it’s mildly amusing.  However, by the end, it’s the exact same kind of gag.  What really catapults it into the Poor category is the fact that they try to keep entire episodes afloat with a somewhat singular gag.  They try to throw little bits of variety, without any real effect.  Sadly, much of the “filler comedy” involves Anna’s increasingly obsessive antics.

PacePoor.  Timing of the humor was a serious issue.  The main problem here was that they’d often dwell too long on the gags.  Normally, in an anime that’s a pure comedy, you need to keep jumping from punchline to punchline so it doesn’t stagnate.  Shimoneta instead really dragged out its punchlines, turning it into the equivalent of “get it?  get it?”  Predictably, it stagnated to the point that much of the humor was lost.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Movie)

Poor

Visually, it’s extremely impressive and incredibly detailed.  The best descriptor for the animation is “cool.”  However, it’s quite clear the budget was heavily loaded towards the animation, but not much else.  If you are a fan of the original Captain Harlock, you will find this movie extremely disappointing.  Really, the best way to watch it is with the attitude that it’s a pretty, but mindless action flick.

Purpose: Poor.  It serves well as your average sci-fi action movie.  The basic setup was: here’s some really cool characters, doing cool things that you get to learn about.   The underlying problem was that there really wasn’t a clear goal to the movie.  Instead of a goal, we got little more than a camera following scattered elements, watching from afar.  It lacked any real sort of hook that draws the viewer in.  Several times, they attempted to throw out those hooks, yet they never delivered on what they promised.  This ended up robbing even the pretty fancy and cool action sequences, turning them into an “I’m rooting for the explosions” type of event.  Sadly, instead of an experience that said “wow! I want to join the pirates right now!” this movie was more of “well, let’s not do that again.”

Characters:  Bad.   If you’ve watched and loved the original Captain Harlock, these characters are nothing short of a travesty.  Even putting that aside, they are bad.  At their best, most of the characters are incredibly shallow, falling even below a plot delivery device.  To put it into words, the characters had little to no presence – they acted like mannequins or hand puppets that did some talking and some fighting, but, ultimately, were completely empty and lifeless.  At all points, the viewer was treated as an outsider, learning little, if anything, about the characters.  Even when we got something approaching a character motivation, it was highly one-dimensional and felt like a label, without any real meaning behind it.  The best way to describe the characters is as if you are watching a sport you aren’t familiar with – you see some people from afar, running around and doing things and sometimes the crowd cheers.

World:  Weak.   There was so, so much potential.  There were extremely cool things happening, but without any sort of foundation to make it consistent.  The problem is: Nothing.  Is.  Explained. While you don’t need a spill session on the finer points of interstellar warp or a explanation of exactly how a super-positron cannon works, you do need to build the world to a point where those things can exist without explanation.  Instead, we have random bits of jargon thrown in and super-weapons that come out of nowhere.  Stuff happened when convenient to do so.  Oops, shields not working?  kay.  Random misfires?  check.  Awesome wheelchair-thingy?  Awesome! (No, seriously.  That was pretty cool.)  I’m not saying that it wasn’t extremely cool or neat to watch, just that the world lacked any sort of consistency.  It was almost more of a sandbox-style game instead of a world governed by its own rules and causality.

Plot:  Bad.   Continuing on this theme of random, this movie lacked any unifying plot to tie disparate narrative elements together.  Frankly, there were more holes than plot and the name of the game was to leap from action sequence to action sequence.   Since the action was the main plot (I think), the subplots were everything in between.   They tried to include too many subplots and give them equal attention.  Even then, they lacked the appropriate, logical steps to make them interesting.   However, the subplots were horrifyingly identical in execution.  They were: give some action, add some little bits of character plots that are unrelated to each other, and then the character the camera is following changes his mind.  Every.  Time.  This ended up creating an extremely jarring mood, that eventually led to desensitization.

Storytelling:  Bad.  Starting off slowly, the movie doesn’t even tell you the names of many characters until over halfway through.  This creates a rather obvious problem on its face because it’s not even telling you that those characters are important enough to warrant a name.  This ends up de-emphasizing many characters and preventing any sort of attachment a viewer might have for them.  Next, they never really clarify any sort of relationships between characters.  It’s an awful place to be, confused as to whether key events are between brothers and sisters, co-workers, friends?   This ended up robbing a great many scenes of a much more potent impact.  It also helped enforce the feeling of randomness on the story – we only get to find out things way after they were supposed to be relevant.  All those things are annoying, but the biggest problem with the storytelling was that it never properly developed anything.  Thus, when the time came, there was no one to root for.  Effectively, all we had were varying degrees of bad/selfish/shallow people that were at cross-purposes.  If done properly, that actually could have been a strong, interesting story.  However, since the storytelling didn’t really carry any weight, there was nothing to make anything compelling.

Pace: Decent.  It never felt like the show was dragging on or even that it was progressing quickly, it just existed.  Actually, we can thank the action for that – it was flashy and spaced at well enough points that it prevented any sort of dragging.  Honestly, the action and the accompanying pace became the only thing to look forward to as the show progressed.

KanColle

Poor

KanColle is another anime that follows the recent trend of making weapons of war “moe.”  In this case, Kantai Collection is based upon a free-to-play online game.  The basic premise is that these girls have the soul of a warship.  I found it difficult to watch more than two episodes at a stretch because it made me want to play World of Warships instead.  This show is probably of a very limited appeal.  If rather uncomplicated “moe” is your thing, with little bits of action and drama thrown in, then this’d be for you.

Purpose:  Poor.  What were they doing?  At its very basic level, it’s either an advertisement for the game or more of a fan-service aimed at fans of the game.  I’m leaning towards latter.  The overall feel is something to the effect of, “hey, watch the girls/ships you’ve already gotten to know playing around!”  They throw in many concepts and situations that are clearly from the game, but, without that context, are pretty meaningless.  I’m not arguing that they failed at their purpose, quite the opposite.  The premise itself is weak.  What is odd is that they do manage to create some dramatic sequences and have bits of darker drama hinted at in there.

Characters: Not Really Good.  There are quite a bit of characters to keep track of.  Unfortunately, it really only limits them to occasional cameos.  The characters themselves are fairly nonexistent, more like very one-dimensional set-pieces.  If you think of the “one-gag character,” the character that you know for a singular response or way of acting to everything, that’s just about each and every character in the anime.  There are little bits of character development for the main character that ends fairly quickly.  Similarly, there are glimmerings of potential behind other characters that only show up for a moment near the end.

World: Bad.  The problem is that it’s not a standalone world.  It requires a familiarity with the concepts in the game.  They don’t really explain anything at all.  Even if you accept the basic premise of girls as warships and even if you accept the basic purpose of fighting an undescribed enemy, it still doesn’t amount to much.

Storytelling: Not Really Good.  It’s not necessarily the storytelling’s fault here.  When there isn’t much more than scraps of a plot, you can’t really tell the story.  That said, they did a fine job when there was a definite story to tell.  They made some good emotional moments and occasionally conveyed a sense of danger for the girls.  That aside, much of the storytelling was absorbed in random frivolities.

Plot: Poor.  What plot?  There was a vague overall purpose – defeat the enemy.  That aside, the plot was shattered into more episodic arcs – one or two at a time.  Most of the plots can be described as “here, watch these girls be silly.”   When it did have plot, usually involving naval combat of some sort, it was quite empty.  Rather, there were more holes than plot.  Things just happened.  It was done in such a way that there was no appropriate buildup or trajectory, really nothing to indicate that the events were happening for any reason other than just because.  The result is that it seems like the situations were thrown in at points to create situations, rather than situations naturally evolving based on previous events and the world acting.

Pace: Weak. Surprisingly slow, both for its “moe” moments and its action sequences. Pacing was broken up in odd ways that ended up tipping over itself.  It really gave it a stop-start feel that ended up looking like an obnoxiously played game of red-light green-light.

Sankarea: Undying Love (Series + Ep. 13)

Poor

To quote another anime, “What, exactly, is the dark emotion swirling inside me?”  This anime was wholly disappointing, especially in light of the first two episodes.  If nothing else, the writing is notable for knowing exactly how to kill a mood.  Being charitable, out of 13 episodes, about 3 of them were solid.  The reason it’s in Poor rather than Bad is because it seemed redeemable – it had some glimmer, some spark of humanity left within it.  That said, to keep with the zombie theme, my advice is as follows: Aim for the head, that thing is no longer human.

Purpose: Bad.  To be more accurate, the purpose was haphazard at best.  It was clear that the author had several different things he wanted to do with the subject matter, so he tried to throw them all together at different points.  What happened was that different plotlines, character, and world development were taken up and then abandoned when it was convenient, only to reappear later. If they arranged the material differently, perhaps along plot themes, it would have been a competent anime.  As it was, they froze plotlines already in progress to create or attend to other plotlines with a wholly different character and feel.  The final impression was that the anime itself was a zombie – lively at first, but losing pieces as it shambled forward.

Characters:  Poor.  The characters weren’t Bad because they had a small spark – something there that represented potential.  The main problem was the serious lack of consistency within each character.  Many anime mistake mental problems for character depth.  This anime mistook lack of consistency for depth.  The lack of consistency stemmed from the use of plot as a substitute for character development.  In other words, the characters were altered to more closely conform to expected plot trajectories, often ignoring previous development.  This is different from solid development because a good character will be impacted by plot, yet retain consistency even as they change.  For the good character, plot then becomes a part of the character, helping to move that character forward.  For Sankarea, the characters were, instead, wholly part of the plot. The result was that the characters were cannibalized when it was convenient to move to a different plot line.

World: Weak.  The first two, maybe three episodes, had a strong feel for the world.  They even managed to set up the basic zombie part in a way that made it feel believable.  As the anime went on, the world kept becoming more transparent, then inconsistent.  Like the characters, the world became the victim of plot, acting as a substitute for proper development.  Inconsistencies simply appeared and then disappeared when convenient to do so.  Perhaps a good example of this is how the “care of zombies” issue floats around at random.

Plot: Bad. The main culprit behind several of the anime’s weaknesses.  Really, the plot was like a vampire, sucking the life out of everything else to keep on going (pardon the mixed horror genre metaphors).  It’s hard to exactly pin down what the plot was, because there were several different things flying about. You had a really dark, disturbing plotine, a “care and feeding of zombie” slice of life, a high school love triangle,  and a “his family’s secrets” plotline going about. While some combination of any two of these could make a good anime, having all of them in there undermined each other. Strong anime that contain several themes have one main plot theme, and other supporting plot points.  This is an approach that treats the sub-plots as facets of the main plot – you learn more about the main plot even through the other points.  However, it requires recognition of what the main plot is.  In Sankarea, rather than supporting a main theme, each point was treated like a main plot in itself – effectively 4 main plots.  As a consequence they couldn’t spend enough time on each of those lines to make them properly interesting.  Rather, they undermined each other.  Clear evidence of this is how they abandon plot points mid stream to do other things and even leave at least one plot completely unresolved.

Storytelling: Bad.  As I mentioned earlier, the writers really know how to kill a mood.  Every time, after episode 3, they managed to build good moments, they promptly killed it with the interjection of something completely irrelevant.  It was very obvious that they didn’t understand the basics of timing – they couldn’t read the mood.  One of the clearest examples is the use of fanservice.  Both nonsensical and haphazard in execution, it really served little place in the anime.  This goes doubly in light of how disturbing the first two episodes were because it placed the viewer in the awkward place of being almost the same as “Mr creepy.”

On a broader note, the style of storytelling changed wildly, often to the detriment of the anime.  Episodes 1, 2, 9, and 13 (OVA) used character-based perspective storytelling.  Everything else was more about following the characters around, only occasionally hearing their thoughts.  What this did was de-emphasize the characters for much of the anime, instead focusing on their actions.  Episode 10 was almost of a hybrid in this respect – somewhat character-based perspective and somewhat following around.  Thus, episode 10 was only partially competent because, while interesting, it was more of an information/ backstory dump than what should have been character and world development.

Pace: Weak.  Again, the first two, maybe 3 episodes had a really good pace.  Everything else was pretty bad.  Since the plot was in pieces, the pace had to wildly change to try to keep everything together.

No-rin

Poor

I would be hard pressed to call this a cohesive or even a coherent anime.  For much of the anime, it contains “baser” content that could be charitably described as “in poor taste.”  It is rare that an anime gives me almost a negative physical reaction, but this managed to do it for about 5 or 6 episodes.  My reaction could best be summed up by this – a mixture of horror, disgust, and betrayal.

Purpose: Bad.  I believe this describes the purpose more concisely than I could.  Really, the whole feel of the anime was that there was no real purpose to it and that the anime was sort of a slap-dash compilation of half-finished ideas and plotlines.  There were elements of a farming-drama anime, a high school drama, a parody-type anime, a slice of life anime, an over-the-top high school drama, and a character self-discovery/healing journey, to name a few.  Most of the anime felt like it was written by a young teenager, both in the flow of ideas and the subject matter of the “humor.”  Heck, even the fan-service was terribly done.  If I had to describe much of the anime in one word, it would be “vulgar.”  “Crude” is a solid alternative.  In the latter half of the anime, the vulgarity slowed down and some parts became almost passable, although by that point, it was too little, too late.

Characters: Weak.  Well, you have a fairly plain cast of characters that are based on stock character archetypes.  The problem is that they aren’t even competently done-archetypes.  If you’re keep your characters tropes, you really can’t afford to weaken them or water them down, as happened here.  One marginal deviation was the teacher having some role to play here and there.  The teacher was one of the “problem children” of the anime, both in the level of crudity she brought to the anime along with the in-your-face nature of it.  The weakness and relative blandness of the characters already made them feel out of place for the setting.  There were some points here and there that showed glimmers of what the anime could have been – using farming as a means of character “healing” or introspection.  So, aside from a couple relatively minor forays into character development, the characters were pretty much worse than flat.

World: Weak.  Well, we’re dealing with several different worlds, pretty much based on whatever was convenient at the moment. The anime rarely seemed to keep consistency of world between two different episodes.  In this anime, the world was used as an excuse for proper element development – when in doubt, throw something else in.   Personal showdown with a corporation?  Sure.  Lessons in superficial marketing?  Why not?  Crazy school “Elite Four?”  Yes, please.  Shotgun wedding? When can we start?  These are examples of world acting as a substitute for proper plot. In some cases, the crazy can be understandable if the world itself is crazy.  However, there was no indication that the world itself was the kind of surreal atmosphere that would give rise to random situations.  Again, the world even lacked consistency in its randomness, which is weird to say the least.

Plot: Bad.  As above, it seemed like this anime was a haphazardly thrown-together jumble of random plot points.  Really, it’s the plot equivalent of a 5-year old banging on a keyboard.  Without any cohesion, the plot is… well, nonexistent.  There were some minor plot threads that felt more like 4-panel manga or some randomly done short-stories.  Not all were bad, just most.

Storytelling. Poor.  Perhaps a function of the bad plots.  The story isn’t as bad because they did manage to do a competent job with the better plot points.  Random plot points weren’t being really closed off.  Even slice of life anime manage to close off their short plot points.  Honestly, the blame seems to be on the original material, rather than the anime studio here.  It has to be awfully hard dealing with inherently weak subject matter.

Pace: Poor.  Again, all over the map.  Mostly, it was too slow for its own good.  Even the humor they were attempting was ruined by over-using or dwelling on the punch line too long.  It’s like that kid that tells a joke and then keeps saying “get it?  get it?.”  They dwell too long where they shouldn’t have and went too quickly over where they should have stayed longer.