「鰓呼吸ブルース」 (Era Kokyuu Buruusu)
“Branchial Blues”

Today’s reminder: Don’t get drunk in Hellsalem’s Lot. Ever.

We’re still main-character-of-the-week mode, and this time it’s Zed O’Brien. Which, if we’re going to do episodes focused on Libra members, he’d be one of my top picks (K.K., Zed, Steven, & Chain, in roughly that order—though Chain’s ep underwhelmed, and Steven’s was only partially focused on him). Zed just sort of showed up during the first season, and while we got to know him well enough by seeing how he interacted with everyone in a larger story, giving him some time in the limelight is appreciated.

(Side note: It’s also what’s wrong with this season. A good author doesn’t need to do episodes (or chapters) focused primarily/exclusively on fleshing out specific characters, because they can do it within the context of a larger plot, or do several at once so their subplots intertwine. And I know Nightow-sensei can do this, because he made Trigun fer chrissakes! (Those were an emphasis italics, not just here’s-a-series-title italics.) It’s puzzlingly lazy, and director Matsumoto Rie was wise to remix/add to the source material as she did during the first season. But I’ve said variations of this before, so moving on.)

I didn’t pick Zed for such a sensitive and lonely soul, though it doesn’t surprise me, showing that his characterization up to this point (when he wasn’t the focus) was done well. The funny thing is that Zed didn’t end up being the most interesting character this episode, at least to me. His development was in the surface-level text, so it was clear to see—he’s lonely as the only fish-man hybrid, he thought he was a burden, but his friends helped him, and he even found something special he could do (that was an especially sweet moment, by the way). It was in the subtext that I found the nugget that most drew my eye, and it concerned Zapp.

Zapp is a bully. When he started talking about how he doesn’t hesitate to strike back against those who humiliate him, that became crystal clear. Not that he hasn’t always done stuff like that, but there’s a difference between someone who has bullying tendencies and someone who’s a full-on bully. (Think of the former as a switch, and the later as something you are.) Zapp is the latter. His entire way of interacting with life is that of a bully, and if he has any redeeming quality (debatable at times), it’s this: he’s our bully. Which, er. Yay?

I mean, I get it. I understand the allure of the bully who is on our side. To use a political example (no, not him, though he counts too), think of soon-to-be-former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. During the brief period in which he was popular, he made some serious hay out of being a bully, but on the people’s side. Or at least, on the side of the people who weren’t idiots. Even I’ll admit that I enjoyed watching him rip apart a fool or two, and I’m a big proponent of civility in politics. (Also, boredom. Dear gods, give us back our boring politics please.) And that’s what Zapp is—a bully, but one who will get mad for Zed’s sake. Which, once again: yay?

Because he was the main reason Zed thought he was a bother, wandered off, got drunk, and was subsequently mugged. Zapp is still an asshole, and the best thing Kekkai Sensen does with his character is beat the crap out of him. Whether someone breaks his arm, threatens to rip off his Freedom Magnum, shatters his entire body, or everything Chain does to him, the more he suffers, the better. Kekkai Sensen is generally good about depicting him as a terrible person whose life isn’t that great, which is how it should be, because the dissonance in giving Zapp anything but the most limited of praise would be HUGE. This episode is about the most I want to see of that. And I could do with more Zed too, as long as it’s tied into a larger narrative instead of being sequestered in its own little island. Or perhaps I should say, its own fish bowl.

Random thoughts:

  • I did like the villain this episode. Not only is a villainous Yukarin always appreciated, but they quickly emphasized the points of “She’s extremely competent” and “She thinks she can have anything she wants”, which naturally led to the comeuppance of “You got too arrogant.” All without even bother with a name, which is good because it woulda been a waste. That worked well.
  • Also fun: some of the facial expressions this time. Definitely amping up the hilarious reaction faces!
  • What is this, an issue of Atomic Robo? Put the pilot on the inside! Though that was one helluva Checkov’s Gun, I’ll give them that.
  • Pennies? Really? What a bunch of dicks.

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  1. “It’s also what’s wrong with this season. A good author doesn’t need to do episodes (or chapters) focused primarily/exclusively on fleshing out specific characters, because they can do it within the context of a larger plot, or do several at once so their subplots intertwine.”

    ehhh, I see exactly where you’re coming, as the me from 10 years ago would have definitely agreed with you; however I can’t say I do now. It’s not necessarily about the technique that’s used more than it is how you use the technique that makes the difference between a good author and one who is still rough around the edges. To elaborate, the “problem” with this season isn’t the fact that the episodes are being used as stand-alone interviews of our main cast of characters. Any narrative could easily use the style of storytelling Kekkai sensen is utilizing this season and mine it to produce unforgettable character moments and sublime storytelling catharsis.

    It’s more than likely that to you, it feels as if these episodes, when they’re all said and done, feel inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Sure you had fun seeing a certain cast member have an episode to shine, but then at the end of it you’re asking yourself: “Did what i learn about this character have any weight to it? Did I really feel like i got to explore this character’s head space in a way that was poignant and resonant? Was there any thematic significance to what occurred in this episode? Something that i can chew on? I don’t think these episodes are doing that for and as a result, you feel detached from the season and are blaming it on some aspect of storytelling, when in fact, that’s not the problem; when in fact, the first season shared the same blueprint of this season sans Black and white’s dilemma. Yes, the build to black and white’s drama at the end of the first season served to provide the show with focus and a purpose, but outside of that, not much about the writing style has changed dramatically besides some slight adjustments regarding the direction of the series such as a decreased focus on Leo or the lack of instantly recognizable continuous plot thread.

    To be honest, Rie’s addition of Black and White in the first season, while it added a certain vulnerability to the narrative and served as an ongoing plot thread, didn’t capitalize on its emotional gravity as effectively as it could towards the end of the season. Sure, that ongoing plot thread made it easy to see what everything in season 1 was building up to, but you don’t always need an indicator like that in a story to make it engaging. Again, a story can be engaging simply by the characters and themes, whether overarching or singular, that it wishes to explore. See, once again, not the technique, but how the writer uses the technique.

    For me personally, I’m cool with this eccentric cop procedural-like anthology narrative we are getting this season. Kekkai Sensen has always been first and foremost about the zany world of hellsalem lot and watching our main cast of characters deal with the everyday happenings of this world. Rie’s first season kind of gave us a glimpse of what this series could be if the focus branched out to being more character personal but she wasn’t able to completely capitalize on that vision (the difficultly in her being able to do so was one of the reason’s the last episode got delayed the way it did). Overall, season 1 was still mostly an episodic series that was more focused on illustrating the idosyncratic otherworldliness of Hellsalem Lot than it was writing fully fleshed out and empathetic characters. This season is basically: “well, let’s continue to show more of this uncanny world to the viewers while showing off a facet of a Libra member and how they go about living their lives in this supernatural world. It’s an effective way to continue to express the incandescent ebullience of the world the cast live in and what its like for them to live in it. This is less about exploring the characters intimately and more about how they behave within their world. I get that you might want more from the show (and to an extent, I would like more from it as well) but i get what this show is and i enjoy it purely on that conceit. This season has a direction by just its premise alone and that’s all it needs to justify a whole season. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna get a plot-centered arc to close off the season though so I’m good with what we’re getting now; the conceit of the show is more than enough to engage me.

    1. ^What he said.

      The way I see it, Kekkai Sensen has created enough drama in the first season for us to get to know the characters. This season, a very “daily life” feel of a second season, gives us a more in-depth view of the characters.

      Sure you could argue that Steven’s episode was only partially focused on him, but I feel that the choice was deliberate. Steven is a strongly enigmatic individual, what we know about him, especially during the second episode of this seasion where he and Klaus finished what they started, but there is definitely more to him than what it appears. Living alone in a grand penthouse-like apartment, with a household helper, having a personal squad, very mysterious, but also endearing in some odd way.

      The other characters were handled just as sensitively, we don’t know everything about them, but we know enough to understand their value to Libra not just in terms of abilities and capabilities, but also in personality. Even as bad a bully as Zapp is, he is not so bad to be totally unlikable.

      Lastly, if I were to take a gamble in this opinion, the “bigger picture” here is actually Hellsalem’s Lot. The setting itself is a character with its own plot, each of these “nichijou” episodes showcases the setting in better detail albeit in a “daily life” format. We see the daily chaotic threats that people are generally numb to, we also see significant pockets of calm and sanity that prevents the balance of a “livable crazy place” from tipping over to “actively hostile place to live”.

      Not to mention only the great style and vibe that Kekkai Sensen has managed to build up allows it to get away with this format for a season 2. And every week, I do get excited for a new episode.

    2. I’ve always disliked “It’s how you do it!” as a reason. It’s a cop-out. Not that it’s not true! Any “rule”, in something subjective like writing (as opposed to, for example, physics), can be ignored or inverted if you do it well enough. Of course! That’s manifestly true. I’ve seen it done many times.

      But pointing that out isn’t helpful. What I care about here is whether it’s likely. And, most of the time, doing discrete character-focused episodes, when they’re divorced entirely from a larger plot (and in fact, do not have a larger plot at all), is not a good idea. Outside of a pure comedy, where you live or die by the jokes, depriving yourself of an overarching plot/story/theme which can create meaning out of the disparate ideas and characters you’re presenting is not a good idea. It can be done, and it can be done well! But generally it’s unwise, and I don’t think it’s being done well enough here.

      I do agree that the first season wasn’t able to totally capitalize on what it did, but Black & White’s story still ultimately did what it set out to do: provide meaning and week-to-week intrigue to bolster the story as a whole. Most episodes were still episodic, but we always knew the season was driving toward something. With this season, we have no such indication, and if there is a plot-centered arc at the end, it will smack of those comedies or romcoms or whatever which suddenly get dramatic in their last two episodes, because they feel like they need a big finish. I always think of Kannagi. I enjoyed the series, but the tonal shift in the last two episodes gave me whiplash.

      I also think it’s unwise to consider Hellsalem’s Lot as the bigger picture (@Dude). I agree that Hellsalem’s Lot is a setting with so much personality as to warrant being considered a character in its own right; I’ve argued as much before. But people don’t empathize with settings, and while Hellsalem’s Lot is awesome, merely exploring it lacks purpose. (Side note: exploration w/out meaning works better in games, where you can take part in the exploration yourself; it’s not a TV show’s strong point.) People empathize with people. If they were zeroing in on Leo and Michella’s story, I’d likely be on board, because then the season would have connective tissue. But they’re not. What attempts they’ve made at it have been weak, and leaned heavily on the same recycled scene. We’re left without that connection.

      Yes, sonicsenryaku, you’re correct that I feel each episode is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. What I disagree with is conflating the two seasons as being the same, if you brush aside that one small issue of the Black & White arc. That’s a huge issue! That’s what kept me coming back each episode, and enjoying the whole endeavor all the more because I knew it was leading somewhere. Princess Principal was the same way, it was mostly episodic but there was this overarching plot that we were driving for. Without that, we’re just screwing around. That small issue is HUGE.

      1. “It can be done, and it can be done well! But generally it’s unwise, and I don’t think it’s being done well enough here.”

        But stilts, you saying that is much different than you just stating that a good author knows not to develop characters in a single-episode fashion. You’re calling the archtypical “it’s how you do it” argument a cop-out but if you think about it, that’s the entire essence of powerful storytelling. Yes, good writing has certain guidelines that one should follow, but just pointing that out doesn’t really add much to the conversation either because again, while there are guidelines conducive to good storytelling, they are subjected to the talents of the writer. The writer knowing that a good story needs fleshed out characters with clear motivations and then actually knowing how to use those motivations to mine powerful character moments are two different things. Sure there are writing elements that an author should not commit; for example, writing characters that are mary sues or gary stus and having them frontline a narrative. However, if a writer is going to write a mary sue character, can they do it in a way that is conducive to the quality of their story? Most of the time its very risky (which is what you were getting at by saying that there are certain things a writer shouldnt do) so the best option is not to do it, but you could if you knew how to make it work for your story such as making the character the butt of satire or making some deconstructive commentary of the mary sue character. Just making the statement that a good writer knows what traps to avoid is an inefficient statement; it’s too simplistic and doesn’t get to the heart of what goes into good writing, which is how the author uses their pen; that’s my main point.

        Having a narrative be divorced of a plot isnt the issue usually; the issue is not having a continuing throughline of anything in particular period, whether it is a thematic arc or character arc; the plot is just the most basic and superficial way of achieving tying things together and engaging a viewer. The sense that there is a continuity and a destination is what makes narratives so enticing. So as long as there is a thematic arc or a character arc, a story can be completely divorce of a plotthread. Take your example of princess principal, which i dont think was the best example to use to support your argument because princess principal barely makes it’s overarching plot salient for almost 9 ep; that’s 75% of the show’s run. The overarching plot is brought up superficially, but it never adds anything to story nor does it ever feel like there is progress within that plot. What made princess principal a show worth investing in was because of the character arcs and thematic presentation throughout its run showing continuity and growth. It was engaging to see these girls episode to episode, who had been done wrong by the country they lived in or people of their past to ban together to try to make a difference in their life as well as the lives of others. It was cathartic to see the team grow as individuals and to accept their own weakness while nurturing the strengthens they had. This was a continuous theme throughout the series that was fleshed out by standalone episodes. The plot didnt have any consequence in this development, nor did it feel like the narrative had to remind us of an overarching plot in order to make anything the girls did salient. Me knowing that the team had a motivation was all i needed. The show could have been them strictly doing stand alone mission and the same effect could have been achieved so as long as the character and thematic arcs stayed in tact. Again, it’s not about the technique, it’s how it’s used. You do mention a story needing an overarching theme/character focus in your comment but i dont feel like you get into the nature of why this works because your argument sort of ends up circling back to having a larger plot, which really isnt the issue here when considering the quality of a story. It can certainly help, but that’s not the core behind making feel relevant in a story.

        Black and white’s involvement in season 1 didn’t provide the show with its connective tissue because there was some developing plot concerning them. Season 1’s connective tissue came from the fact that white’s interactions with leonardo gave the series the vulnerability it needed for viewers to connect with the episodic nature of the series more. Almost always after some crazy shit went down, Leo would go see White and the episode would build on his relationship with her, giving the series the respite it needed after all the wacky antics preceding it. It made Leo feel like he was an average joe schmoe trying to adjust to his new world. There was an air of personal reflection and character building whenever white and leo interacted, and their budding friendship was endearing enough that you wanted leo to find happiness within this kooky world he was introduced in; to make us hope leo would make it through the endeavors of every episode so that he could see white again and reflect on how his day effected him as a person. The important factor here was this overarching bond permeated its way throughout the series’ run. This created a motivation for the viewer to want to continue to see Leo grow and his bond with White deepen. It’s that tenderness in the storytelling that drove it forward; not there being an overarching plot, but from characters behaving meaningfully with each other, juxtaposing all the insanity that was occurring around them previously. It felt that whenever things were all said and done, Leo had a shoulder to lean on in this insane world. Their relationship literally grounded the series, investing its viewers in a simple but emotionally engrossing way. The overarching plot thread with black and white could have been exercised from the plot entirely and season 1 would have still felt relevant; why? because that wasn’t what that gave the events of the show meaning. It created stakes, that much is for certain, but those stakes could have been crafted in another way.

        Also, I don’t completely agree with your statement that falling in love with worlds without purpose does not work within tv and movies. First off, you’d have to define what purpose actually is within the context of the narrative. By default, the purpose of exploring a world is the rewarding feeling of exploration itself; you just want to find/show some cool shit. Now if you wanna say that exploring a world without “purpose” is harder to effectively achieve in tv, then that’s a stronger argument. Sure with video games, the effect is larger due to games demanding the player to interface with the world one on one through some device, creating a more intense feeling of reward through the synergistic harmony of the interfacing device and the human being; but in tv, the rewarding effect can be achieved through the viewer self-inserting themselves within the characters and living vicariously through them. In video games, exploration is more rewarding because the operant/limbic pathways in a person’s brain are more active as a result of interfacing with the game. That same effect cannot be achieved in Tv, but that doesn’t mean merely exploring “without purpose” cannot be efficient in television. If done well enough, a viewer can be satisfied simply by watching characters interact and live in a world that feels boundless in creativity. The affordance comes from just watching people do stuff in the world, and vicariously feeling the rush and woes that they are feeling because you yourself find their momentary experiences to be analagous to what you’d imagine yourself doing in that context. It works because the world has enough concepts and ideas to maintain your interest; to peak your curiosity; to get you thinking, to excite you, etc. Even if you don’t truly care about the characters, as long as you can be immersed by the presentation of the world, you can be distracted enough from the fact that there aren’t any real arcs occurring. You said people empathize with people, but that doesn’t mean that if you dont empathize with people in
        a narrative, you can’t find yourself engaged with anything else. People can empathize with people not just by becoming intimate with them, but by becoming intimate with their culture; with their environment. Now granted that this is not as effective as being intimately connected with a person; and that this kind of storytelling in general is not as effective as getting you to love characters or presenting thematic arcs (I think that’s what you’re trying to get at and that i definitely agree with you; you’re absolutely right), but even that at the end of day kind of depends on your mileage; if you’re okay with a show just being an excuse to be stylish with quirky character and you appreciate how the writing goes about presenting its visual ideas, then the show has succeeded.

        I think ill close this long, unnecessary comment by just stating that I think there needs to be an understanding between good writing, effective storytelling structure, and an overall effective story. The interplay between good writing (which has a shit ton of sub-layers) and effective storytelling structure is what makes an effective story. You can argue that season 1 had both good writing and traces of an effective storytelling structure while season 2 has good writing in regards to how it makes its ideas salient to the viewer, but it doesn’t use its storytelling structure as effectively as season 1. As a result, season 2 feels less of an effective story than season 1 (to you anyway; which i can perfectly understand and won’t take that from you). But that’s fine, because in a way, someone could argue how this season’s storytelling structure is a positive aspect of this season’s quality.

  2. This ep was pretty heart-warming. Zed was afraid of being a burden on the new people who he considers family, so he went through all of that trouble to find some source of income to support himself. I’m not really sure what was hinted about his origin story, but to me it seems like he was either the (unwilling?) captive or creation of this shady “count” fellow, only to be eventually saved by his (and Zapp’s) eventual sensei…

    lmao @ the pennies and dicks comment bc i totally agree; pennies are completely useless.

    1. Far worse if you live in Hellsalem´s Lot, being arrogant in that city is like having a giant neon sign that reads please kill me now!. You have to be a badass to make it throgh the day but a really inteligent badass to actually live there!.


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