「黒神めだかがいなくても！」 (Kurokami Medaka ga Inakutemo)
“Even Without Kurokami Medaka!”
So here we are, the anime original finale to the first season of Medaka Box. It’s been rather an up and down ride along the way, but this final episode – despite being anime original – feels like ending on a high note. Of course, the fact that it was written by the original author himself probably helps a lot in avoiding the dreaded ‘anime original syndrome.’
This was actually the first time in the series that an episode has truly felt like a Nisio Isin work to me. Up until now, we very rarely got some excessively diluted hints at his associated style, but his influence was immensely present this time around. From the short discussion on whether trouble originates from Medaka herself (including some minor delving into the age old question as to whether great detectives appear where cases are or whether cases appear where great detectives are), to the sudden launch into meta humour at the expense of the anime industry, and even to Zenkichi actively using logic and metaphor to convince this week’s ‘antagonist’ to relent, in a similar fashion to the many debates of logic present throughout Bakemonogatari and particularly Nisemonogatari. It never quite reaches the scale of some of Araragi’s more notable logical debates, but it comes far closer than anything Medaka Box has used so far.
Two anime original characters were created for this finale and imagine my surprise to hear Tsukihi as one of them. We have Mochibaru Sasae (Iguchi Yuka), a normal student who recently ascended to the position of shogi club president (and is apparently terrified that if she lets go of her head, it’ll roll off her shoulders – talk about quirky!). Of course, the drama this episode comes in the form of Natayama Miri (Kobayashi Yuu), a Special who also happens to be a pro shogi player and was apparently disappointed enough at not being chosen to be the next club president that she stole the king from every single set in the club room. Her quick temper and intolerance of those people who don’t take shogi seriously enough or lack her level of skill are pretty good reasons why she wasn’t suited to be club president, and her childishness when it came to pass only further cements that fact.
It’s just like the Zenkichi we’ve become familiar with to challenge her to a match in order to settle things. But it would be foolish to challenge her to a game of shogi when there would be no possibility of winning and so, in a typically Nisio Isin fashion, Zenkichi ends up making a point about both her mindset and the problems she’s caused by setting up to play mawari shogi, a child’s game that doesn’t involve the use of the king. While this seems like it could be a decent place to stop, things are taken a step further into Nisio Isin metaphor territory, comparing Natayama to the shogi ‘king’ piece. Originally the king piece was called the ‘jade general’ – the trend to call it the ‘king’ apparently derived from a misprint. In essence, when people began calling the piece the ‘king’ instead of ‘jade general,’ the ‘jade general’ was dethroned, losing it’s place as the head of the board to the ‘king.’ Compare this to Natayama who was also ‘dethroned’ by Sasae, losing her opportunity to be the club president, and we see where this metaphor is going. Where Natayama ran away upon losing her place, the jade general ostensibly continues to fight to regain its title – if Natayama were to stick around in the same way, she would also have the potential to claim the title of club president at some point in the future.
There was more than just the single shogi metaphor. Another similar metaphor was also referenced multiple times throughout the episode. Frequent comparisons were posed between the shogi boards with their missing kings and the student council with Medaka’s current (unprecedented!) absence. It’s true that without their central piece things are very different for the student council. They’re quieter for a start and lack that typical reckless zeal that comes from Medaka’s charging into the centre of the enemy formation and attempting to ‘checkmate’ her opponent all by herself. This metaphor is quite different to the previous one though – it’s not actually ideal. The events over the course of the episode reveal a fundamental flaw in the metaphor – whereas it’s impossible to play shogi normally without the king piece, this is apparently not true for the student council. Despite Medaka’s absence, they still manage to complete the task from the suggestion box, functioning no worse for their lack of a ‘king’ on this occasion. The king may be the most important piece, but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate what the underlings can achieve.
And so we close the curtains on this season of Medaka Box with an episode that, at times, felt somewhat Shafty due to the use of imagery and direction. As you may be aware, a second season has been greenlit and we get one extremely short shot of the antagonists for the Flask Plan arc that it will apparently cover just as the episode ends. Honestly, it actually felt like a fairly well executed season finale!
- I love how they somehow have the student council office doors despite the fact they’re now situated in a tent outside!
- ‘It’s almost like Medaka was the cause of all the trouble!’ You’re only noticing this now?
- This episode marks the first time I can recall in which it’s been suggested that there are actually teachers at Sandbox Academy!
- D’awww Kikaijima wanted to say something cool since both Zenkichi and Akune did.
Final Impressions huh? Let’s see… When it was suggested that I blog Medaka Box, it was not really a series I was familiar with. The entire extent of what I knew could be summed up in that it was written by the legendary Nisio Isin and somehow dealt with a box. Before actually deciding to take it on, I did a fair bit of research into it, read the first chapter, heard about the genre shifting, and found out how much of a following it seemed to have. All in all, it sounded like it could be a pretty interesting anime to blog – the first chapter had some interesting concepts, there was much name dropping of Nisio Isin, and despite the genre shifts, it still maintained enough of a fan base to make an anime adaption feasible.
That’s not to say I had high expectations though – if anything they were still wavering between the two extremes. Expecting a good Gainax adaption is pretty much the same as expecting Shaft to do something vaguely ‘normal’ – it happens, but it’s damn rare. This was pretty much one of my biggest problems with the anime. Static backgrounds, often with very little in the way of detail; corridors in which the same figure is passed more than once; random deviations from normal proportions; and hideously drawn faces from certain angles. These are just some of the things that come to mind when I look back over the series’ art and animation. There were times where it almost reached the animation quality that was once present in Gainax works, but they were few and far between.
I can definitely say it was a series with interesting characters. Medaka was one of the first things to draw me to the series – a ‘perfect’ superhuman girl taking control of the school as its student council president and devoting herself to helping the students. Unfortunately, her personality was pretty well detailed after only a few episodes and remained pretty static and easily predictable from that point onwards (up to the introduction of War God Mode at any rate). There were still more than enough unique characters among the cast, though there’s something a little off when they so easily overshadow the lead in terms of interest generated. It’s also a little disappointing how infrequently several of them actually made appearances – I would have loved to have more of a focus on Shiranui, Nekomi or Hyuga. In a sense, the good side-characters are both a point in the series’ favour and a point against it – the number of characters I would have liked to have seen more of is pretty high but therein lies the problem… we did not see more of them. From the frequent spoilers I’ve been exposed to, it also seems as though we never quite made it far enough to be introduced to some of the better antagonists either.
With Nisio Isin’s involvement as the writer being one of the bigger selling points for the series, I was surprised by how little of his usual style shows through. Sure, we do see some of his typical musings on topics such as innate good/evil and saints vs justice, but nothing quite to the extent – or as in-depth – as what I’m used to seeing from him, at least not until the anime original finale. I hesitate to do so, but I want to bring some of his other works, particularly the Monogatari and Katanagatari series into the equation. There are times when his extended dialogues can become tiresome, but still they usually contain some element of wit – an aspect that seems to be sorely missing from Medaka Box. There is definitely humour, but it’s this lack of witicisms that stands out as one of the starkest differences to Nisio Isin’s other works for me.
The music was decent, but also not quite the pure epic glory I’ve come to expect from Katou Tatsuya. There were some great tracks in there, particularly during the final stages of the battle arc, but beyond that not much sticks in my mind. I see part of the problem in how low the music was mixed compared to the rest of the audio – it was barely audible for most scenes and only ever came close to the forefront during the extremely rare occasions when no-one was talking over it. Despite a lot of complaints from readers of the manga, I felt that Toyasaki Aki did an excellent job voicing all the sides of Medaka we saw. Had I not already known it was her, I probably never would have guessed – it’s a testament to just how varied a seiyuu she can be. In fact, most of the voices seemed to be well suited to their roles so I can’t give anything other than praise on that front.
If I were to pick my highlights, they would easily be episodes seven, eight and nine. Seven and eight showed some of the aspects that truly made the anime enjoyable for me, from Kikaijima’s awkward first interactions with the student council to Onigase’s ceaseless attempts to fulfil her duty despite Medaka’s interference, these were the types of antics, humour, and depth of personality I enjoyed watching. Episode nine I enjoyed for a completely different reason. Had the rest of the disciplinary committee arc played out in a similar fashion to the crazy feats Medaka performed to protect the other members of the student council from their would-be assassins, I imagine I would have enjoyed it far more.
So was it entertaining? The answer is yes, but it depends on what you’re looking for. With a series that changes genres so frequently, keeping interest could prove an issue in the long run – in only this single cour, there were people who were turned off by the slower pace of the early episodes, missing out on the later battle episodes and vice versa. Over an extended period of time, it could potentially prove much harder to retain interest when the target fan base seems to be shifting along with the genres. I’m fortunate in that I have an especially diverse taste in anime and putting me off through genre shifts (when there’s forewarning such as there has been from the manga readers) is not likely to happen. Overall, I enjoyed a fair bit of Medaka Box, though it probably wouldn’t rank within my top three for the spring season.