「桃乃今日子 最終章 ハツコイ」 (Touno Kyouko Sai Shuushou – Hatsukoi)
“Touno Kyoko Final Chapter – First Love”
Warm underwear can also be used as a seat.
It’s over. I’m not sure if this is the weakest arc of the series, or just the second weakest, but this final episode wasn’t bad. It doesn’t redeem the arc, but compared to the Hikari arc where the epilogue just seemed silly, at least this one consumated the badly written romance we were taken on.
Because make no mistake, this was stil badly written. The conflict wasn’t organic, the joyful flirting was nonexistent, and I’m not sure we ever saw the decision point where Kyouko got over her concerns and decided to get with Shouichi. Or at least, we never really saw why. Gradual is fine, but this was unstated—that’s less fine. And is a flash-forward epilogue really necessary in every arc?
Actually, let’s talk about that. This is an excellent example of one of Seiren’s (many) failings. Compare this one to the flash-forward epilogue at the end of the Haruka arc. There, the revelation of Junichi’s job was encapsulated in a funny character moment that illustrated their relationship—as flirty, silly, and carefree as it was in high school. Here, they bluntly tell us what Shouichi’s job is, with seemingly the only real point in doing so to make us go “Ohh yeah, they both liked magical girl manga a few episodes ago.” It’s the same way the epilogue of the Tooru arc was mainly a call back to a bus driving game that wasn’t important and no one cared about. It’s a callback without a point, rather than a character moment to be enjoyed.
I’m not going to harp on this particular episode much more, ’cause I have a lot to say about the series as a whole below. (Except, christ, of course the knit underwear came back. What a stupid plot token. And squeeze them to calm down? Like a baby with a pacifier? UGH.) This episode tied off the arc, but it couldn’t save it. No surprise. At least it’s over, they kissed, everyone lives happily ever after. Fade to black.
- Amagami SS rewatch update: I didn’t manage to finish the original series before this post, but I did finish Rihoko’s arc. She still got robbed. Thank the gods for SS+, or I’d still be salty. Though, funny thing: the plot of Rihoko’s arc wasn’t actually about her getting together with Junichi. Structurally, it was about finding a new member of the Tea Club so it wouldn’t fold after the sempai graduated. Which happened—it’s just not what we all thought we were watching. Still, a better arc than any of the Seiren ones, easily.
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for exclusive content. At stephenwgee.com, the last four posts: Guardians of the Galaxy, Glee, & Firesign; That’s not supposed to go there . . .; The Carcer Principle; and Fire, further.
Phew. Glad that’s over. Which is probably the issue I should most address.
If my stated goal here is primarily to entertain, why was I so down on this show? There are extenuating circumstances, I’ll admit. I’ve been working too much at my multiple jobs, and have often had to blog Seiren during late at night, when I’m tired and want to be asleep—not the most conducive setting for dispassionate analysis or happy-go-lucky gushing. (Though I managed it on KonoSuba.) More important is expectations, and the comparisons Seiren invites. As the successor to the beloved Amagami SS series, the Seiren team had to go into this knowing they were going to be compared, which is a wonderful challenge! It keeps you on your toes. But when you know there are going to be comparisons, you better bring your A-game, and hope it’s enough—and with Seiren, it was not. That’s the downside of hype: the failure state is disappointment and anger, and for even more people since hype brings more in the door.
Mostly, though, it’s not a good series. There are many types of failures, but when it comes to anime originals, two types are instructive. First there are the ones that try to do something different, maybe even radically so, and fail. Those are endearing in a way, because at least they tried something new, even if it didn’t work. The second type are the ones that don’t try to do something new, and just try to execute within their genre conventions. That’s a fine decision, and it’s where Seiren planted its flag. And, as we learned, it didn’t work. Without the audacity to try something new, that left us with nothing but a waste of time.
(Side note: as far as my blogging philosophy goes, saying my goal is to entertain is only partially true. My root goal is to capture the magic after an episode has ended. Which is hard to do when there’s very little magic to be had.)
Someone behind the production of Seiren doesn’t appear to understand how stories work. I don’t mean to malign any one individual, or speak to things I don’t have knowledge about—it could be the fault of one auteur, or the committee aspect of communal storytelling, or even the business execs / budget issues / something else. Any number of elements could have led to the failure, but the result is the same: Seiren, as a story, doesn’t know how to tell a story. Almost nothing works.
Best was the Tooru arc, which I would describe as “needs editing.” It had a better foundation and heroine than the other two, and the pieces were kind of there, but they weren’t tuned to maximum effect. Or particularly good effect. If what we saw was a first draft, it would have been fine—first drafts are always shit. But since it was released, someone done fucked up. This is a problem I have with many anime, which I think is a weakness of large-group storytelling that the anime industry exacerbates: when it’s no one person’s responsibility, it’s no one’s fault. If one of my books is crap, you know who to blame—me. But with an anime? Who knows. This exists in Hollywood too, though as the renaissance of American television has shown, it need not. But the dynamics of Hollywood too, and both industries inflame the problem—too much money, too little time, too many cooks, etc. The Tooru arc could have been saved.
The other two . . . well. Not to say that they couldn’t have been saved, but they’re both messes to the core. And talking about the series by arc obscures the fact that all the little things that needed to work—the flirting, the dialogue, the supporting characters, the other-heroine digressions, the mutual starting point of all the arcs—none of it works. And perhaps most emblematic of this is the series’ main character, Shouichi.
Here’s something to consider: one of the best ways to make a main character sympathetic is to give him or her a desire and a flaw. The desire forms part of the backbone of the story, because it is that which the protagonist will seek, be denied, struggle for, and either attain or fail to attain. The flaw can’t be something like Kyouko’s “is a little bit childish” nonsense; better would be Hikari’s propensity to lie in order to save face, if it had existed in all arcs instead of just the final one. (For a better example of this, once again turn to Masamune-kun no Revenge). A flaw like that provides the Point A which, if overcome—the character grows and learns, thereby reaching Point B—would make for a satisfying character arc.
In Amagami SS, Junichi had this, and it’s directly thanks to something that I’ve heard some criticize: Haruka going first. A few commenters mentioned that they almost stopped watching at the end of episode one, and I guess I can see why: boy does his best, girl shoots him down because she likes a different sort of guy, and it ends on a downer note. It didn’t bother me, because I knew it was setting the stage for the struggle (also, effort does not ensure success), but I can see their point. But it also did something crucial: gave Junichi a desire.
He wanted to be in love! This is something that wasn’t so clear in other arcs, but since Haruka went first, the residue of that desire carried forward into alternate Junichis, laying the foundation to make, for instance, the dense-as-hell Sae-chan arc Junichi still work. (Every version of Junichi had a desire, but this one was the most clear.) The first episode also provided his flaw: he was scarred after being stood up on a Christmas date, and scared of love thereby. Him struggling to overcome that with Haruka is what made him instantly sympathetic, and made that and all the other arcs work. Haruka going first might be a large part of why the series worked.
What does Shouichi have? Where is his desire? He’s listless and uncertain in the Hikari arc, and as I’m fond of quoting, “Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.” In the Tooru arc he’s got a puppy love thing going on, and that is a desire, but it’s rarely a strong one. (The Kyouko arc actually does better with this, with him asking her on a date early, but it gets muddled as hell after that.) Shouichi as a person has no strong desire, nor does he have a flaw. He’s just some kid. Why do we care about some random kid?
Junichi shows that the flaw doesn’t have to be large or dramatic. A dull trepidation of relationships from being burned in the past is not world-shattering, but it provides an ur-character arc for him which all the arc-specific character arcs fall under. When he gets together with each girl, he’s completing that arc, even if it’s not explicitly mentioned. Not that a character must have a flaw for a story to work, but it’s damn useful, as Shouichi shows. Stories can star normal people, but they can’t support boring ones, and Shouichi is utterly replaceable. He’s poison to the audience.
And that’s just one of Seiren’s problems. Several in quick succession: It lacks a point; Amagami was always about the flirting while they come together, and Seiren has no comparable wellspring of joy. I would forgive a lot if the dialogue was good, but it’s not. The animation is no better than seven-year-old Amagami’s, and frequently worse. And so on.
If I had to be honest, I’d say that I don’t really hate Seiren, now that it’s over and done with. I’m just disappointed. It’s the disappointment reserved for that which could have been so much better—it’s what you feel when your normally well-behaved child does something colossally rude, in a way you wouldn’t if it was someone else’s shithead kid. With a few more passes at the script, a better editor, more time, less people in the way—whatever the problem was, with less of that, it could have been much better.
But it was not to be. If this is getting a second season, I don’t see myself blogging it, and I may not—well, I’ll probably watch it, but that’s just because I’m a colossal maso. Par for the course for a RandomC writer, Orz.