If there’s one thing that’s become quite clear, its that at the very least BlazBlue Alter Memory has kind of found its groove. The groove itself is an odd combination of character moments mixed with a really windey and twisty plot. The action on the other hand, remains a weak element in this series, one that the anime seems to try and side step as much as possible.
We are now fully in anime original territory for the most part, or at least, highly adapted material. The meetings that we see in these two episodes do happen, but the context and how they play out are entirely different. I think its one of the anime’s successes that it focuses on making every event relate back to its central story. At the same time, its kind of disappointing that by this extremely razor focus, some of the side stories that made the world of BlazBlue so vast are either cut down or removed entirely in service of the plot.
I won’t say its all bad, since the story is convoluted enough, and with the rather haphazard approach of the series’ first three episodes, its obviously better to keep things as simple as possible. That said, fans of certain characters have definitely got reasons to be disappointed.
The first of these tragedies is the Aka Oni (Red Devil) Iron Tager. Tager is relegated to a meare plot device that ends up sending Lambda back to Kokone and saving her from Ragna when he’s about to demolish her. The whole battle between Nu and Ragna is actually significantly shortened, with Ragna taking a beating before she starts malfunctioning. Even more interestingly, in the games, the first time Tager and Ragna cross paths, a pretty serious battle erupts, one that’s skipped entirely here as Tager just ends up escaping. Maybe they plan on featuring this battle later, but its doubtful given this series penchant for avoiding action (and part of me is glad).
The second tragedy of this approach to a decidedly tunnel vision approach to the story is that characters like Shishigami Bang get relegated to being side characters, and their own character development gets kind of ruined.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a fan of Shishigami Bang. I’ve played through his storymodes in the games, and the character is best described as loud, brazen, annoying and very flamboyant. He’s got tons of quirks, and beyond just being loud and annoying, is kind of got a crush on Litchi that bothers on stalkerish levels. All of the bad traits of the character are pretty much erased in this adaption though, and he’s actually shown as calm, honorable and dare I say it, likeable.
At the same time, while Bang is a lot less annoying to view, he also lacks much character and uniqueness. He ends up being a nice guy that refuses to take down Jin, and instead ends up helping him recover from his injuries so he can fight him fair and square. Something similar does kind of happen in the games, the backstory of Ikaruga and how Jin was the “hero” who took down that country is something that’s a big part of not only Bang’s backstory, but Jin’s character as well.
While the big parts are largely kept in tact, Bang ends up being little more than another plot device that ends up saving Jin, and then later, preventing him from meeting Tsubaki.
I’ll say the whole rewind and changing events thing that the figures in chairs, the observers (as I’ll now call them), are doing is kind of weird. Its never really happened in the games, but it kind of makes sense.
On the one hand, it explains the whole multiple endings stuff, and even allows for certain bad endings from the games to make an appearance before being reta-conned (the killing of Jin by Tsubaki is one such ending). At the same time though, its a new element and power at play in the world of BlazBlue that has no real rules or laws to it. Its a simple plot device that can be thrown in to change the story whenever needed.
It is nice that this whole thing is addressed as a valid issue in the grand scheme of things, by both Rachel and Terumi, but its still feels kind of forced and out of place none the less.
It is interesting to note, that a considerable amount of time is spent focusing on Jin in this episode, and developing him. Its a curious choice, as while the series and story of the franchise eludes to Jin being a potential big player in the future, he really doesn’t have any immediately huge impact on events that this series will likely close with.
Of course, with episode 7, most of the focus falls back on Noel and Ragna. While the games clearly paint Ragna as the big deal hero of the story, the anime is making the curious choice of actually giving Noel a fair share of the focus, and importance in the story.
I can’t say I disagree with the approach though, as it not only works, but makes sense given how important Noel is and will be to the entire story.
Noel’s meeting with Tsubaki, which occupied the bulk of the episode, was a pretty powerful moment in some ways, and very odd in others.
The thing that absolutely ruined the moment for me, was inner-voice Hazama/Terumi jumping into the middle of the encounter and manipulating Tsubaki on the fly. While its very heavily implied that Terumi messes with Tsubaki’s head quite a bit in the games, its not this direct or forced as it is here.
How does Terumi get into her head and directly talk to her, slowing down time. That’s an awfully convenient power there, and one that makes Tsubaki to be little more than a puppet.
Again, Tsubaki becomes a mere plot device, rather than a character with the clear depth that’s shown in the story of the games And just to be clear, Fight games, even visual novel based ones, aren’t the best at story. Despite giving more time in general, Tsubaki’s inner conflict and her feelings of jealousy and anger for Noel and Jin, are shown as little more than Terumi manipulating her into feeling that way.
Tsubaki is shown as a noble woman who just seems to be caught in between Terumi’s plans. That is not how it is in the games, as Tsubaki very clearly has a descent into darkness and falls from grace during the events of the story, and more accurately when she ends up running into Jin and Noel.
The one thing that did truly surprise me was how clear cut and blunt the story is being about Noel’s true nature, her identity and what she is. Ragna and his meeting with both Relius Clover and Rachel, ends up pretty much laying out everything. There is just one final piece of the puzzle, and one that is being saved for last, around the time when this series will conclude I wager.
Foreshadowing aside, the other thing that’s bothersome is, while Noel clearly gets the best animated fight scenes, she’s still shown as the weak and shy girl that needs Ragna to come and save her. The issue with this characterization, and why I choose to bring it up yet again, is that is makes things seem really weird.
I’m convinced that while the writers did a bad job with the script, the voice work done by the seiyuu is equally contributing to the weak, damsel in distress character. It makes very little sense that such a weak little girl can go on to not only match Tsubaki blow for blow and defeat her (even if she reverts into some kind of machine state) but then also try and chase Tsubaki down.
Its a different interpretation of the character sure, but having played the games (with Japanese voices), I’m curious as to why this dramatic change was put into place.
On a positive note, Ragna swooping in to save the day, and start to piece together whats going on was a step in the right direction. Its been shown that Ragna isn’t a complete idiot, and the development of the guy from a guy that gets pushed around by powers clearly higher than him to someone who becomes a major player himself, is quite nice to see, even if it isn’t as pronounced as it should be in the anime.
The problem though is the weird oscillation that Ragna has, from hating Noel, to outright saving her and acting all concerned for her again. Its probably an attempt to show that whole “soft” side of his, and I say it works in spades. What I do like is how clearly superior Ragna is shown to be to both Tsubaki and Noel, as he’s able to stop their battle in one move.
And while I’m nitpicking a lot of issues, honestly, for someone who hasn’t played the games, this story should actually be looking pretty good. Sure its not entirely deep and nuanced (which is where my comparisons come in), but its definitely well paced and is making cohesive sense and largely, pretty entertaining I’d wager.
The bigger issue, is clearly the animation. I said it was bearable two weeks ago, but the ugliness of the animation clearly sticks out and draws a good deal of attention to itself in these two episodes. The action, and fight scenes in general, have a very unsatisfying quality to them, one that clearly shows that the series has neither the budget nor the talent to get the action right.
Its getting the point where, half the time I wonder if characters will simply avoid fighting, and just talk through everything, much like how Noel was able to side step fighting Litchi a few episodes ago. I was seriously worried that the battle between Tsubaki and Noel wouldn’t happen at all. It did end up happening, but the fight was pretty much, three attacks by each combatant, before Ragna came in and broke the fight.
Even the big moment where Ragna came in and blocked Tsubaki’s attack, happened off screen, or rather, with a black screen that went on to just throw out a sound effect. In a better show with better animation, we would have actually scene Ragna come in and stop said attack, rather than just hear it and then jump to a static shot.
There are tons of ways I can imagine that very scene playing out, and even with a limited budget, it could’ve been done better. Its quite obvious that the animation team just doesn’t have the chops or ingenuity to pull anything even remotely interesting off.
Looking at the experience as a whole, its hard to really say its completely successful, and more or less just say that its passable. I will say that I’m in the unique niche that actually derives some enjoyment from this really unbalanced show, but at this point I feel like I can say with some confidence: “This is as good as it gets”.
note: Again, I actually ended up having to review two episodes in one post (and then proceed to review the next two, about a week after this post…). Its been a crazy few weeks of projects, and I am still playing catch up. This past weekend and Thanksgiving break gave me the time I need to get back on track in terms of blogging. The lack of screenshots is also because of well… publishing 4 episode reviews at once is intense XD
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