This Week: Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil
Between this and Cool Devices last week, I have watched two series that feature frogs sexually assaulting leading ladies in a fourteen day period. So there is that as a theme.
This one was via On Demand too, so I guess my satellite provider got to be in on monitoring it as well.
I did say I would get around to this last week, especially after the little Yasuomi Umetsu kick I have been on and the right royal self demolition I heard this series engaged in over the course of the Winter 2014 season. Which I guess also brings with it the notion that I knew going into this that the floor supposedly falls out from under it, given the wave of reactions I saw.
And that does happen, to be sure, having now seen it.
But, the series is kind of an interesting train wreck, as it definitely has Umetsu’s crazed handprints all over it. He has almost a dozen different production credits on this monstrosity. As a result, I would think this at minimum makes the show an interesting yardstick for the exercise of trying to get into where his head is these days.
Things this series wants to be about:
A world where wizard law firms are places of professional application. Workplace issues, such as those between title laywer girl Cecil and her bosses, co-workers, and peers at other agencies. Police, crimes, and trials. Social issues and discrimination of wizards by humans (to the point where even the judges in the Magic Court are human, but that is such a throwaway line one would be prone to miss it). Romance. Cuteand / or funnytalking animal familiars. Years old conspiracy plots. Sex jokes. Wizard powers causing explosions and action set pieces. Mecha combat. Family.
Now, to its credit, I think the opening sequenceto Wizard Barristers should be the kind of thing that shows it does not have as much intellectual pretense behind it as, say, any of the three Psycho-Pass opening sequences when it comes to criminal investigation anime. The former has wizard lawyers slicing airplanes in half and leaping off through the air after shots of upending exploding trains while also fitting in butt shots of Moyo and Koromo’s shirt falling off. Umetsu is as ever, if anything, about as gentle with subtlety as a lead brick meeting your foot head on. Likewise, it also means the end user is still fully allowed to double over and yelp.
I just do not think the show should have caught many folks off guard when it did not turn out to be a more serious minded affair, I suppose.
But that does not mean the production lacks for other problems.
Going back to how much stuff this series is trying to be about, there is definitely a lot of design work flying out all over the place.
Over designed, maybe. Umetsu’s art style is generally quite rubbery in general even when kept realistic, and this is certainly more leaning on the fantasy end in this production. A lot of the characters are fashioned to have oddball layers or moving accessory parts, such as Ageha’s bouncing butterfly headpieces, and most notably being Seseri’s retractable and expandable hair.
When the key frames and animation are there to back it up, to give life and fluidity, it all kind of looks nice in a professional showoff sense. So much of it is certainly complicated at any rate, and I can respect that when it comes to making such designs actually move around.
But as time goes on and the inbetweening begins to falter, and then the key frames start to follow, well, these visual beasts rapidly break free of their chains and ravage the eyes.
Strangely, I thought the CG mecha animation actually holds up all the way to the end without collapsing in on itself when new ones are trotted out. And as that work was handled by Dandelion, who are responsible for abominations like the atrocious modeling in Blood-C: The Last Dark, that is saying something. I still do not like CG mecha on the whole. That said, I would rather it maintain consistency for when different units are rolled out over the course of a series like this than it blowing the farm on just Cecil’s model as the lead character.
There are way, way too many characters though.
As a narrative, this materializes as something that gives me some flashbacks to some of the most poorly designed roleplaying games I have ever played. Everything, and I mean everything, comes down to coincidences and checkpoints. I want to just lay episode seven down on the ground in the clear light of day to see if it is set aflame like some varieties of the undead:
An episode where the Butterfly Law Firm heads from Japan to Boston. They just so happen to cross a police checkpoint informing them of a fugitive on the loose in the area. Butterfly Japan just so happen to finish their work a bit early, so Cecil gets to head to Canada on a half day drive with Natsuna via a loaned car that just so happens to run out of gas near a station. Cecil, in turn, just so happens to still have the special Only This Gas Station’s Cards Accepted card on her person from when she lived in Canada a while prior. Natsuna just so happens to know how to fix the car when it runs into more mechanical trouble. They just so happen to meet up with a hitchhiker down a particular road while driving to Canada, who are themselves connected to The Larger Conspiracy. They just so happen find themselves in a diner with the renegade fugitive being searched for at the original Boston checkpoint which is hours away by car. Which just so happens to be immediately followed up by the competing members from the Japanese branch of Shark Knight Law Firm arriving on the scene (in Canada, mind you) for their own plot reasons.
None of this makes the world feel large, complex, or exciting! Instead it feels restrictive and small, trite in spite of itself. The universe of this series is a linear corridor, there is no room for exploration, heart, depth, wonder, or magic.
Yasuomi Umetsu made, in essence, his own anime version of Final Fantasy XIII.
That if he could keep hurling design work out, dredging up increasingly convoluted coincidences, railroading the audience along, maybe it would work out. Just maybe, the viewers would not notice how cold so much of the final product is. But, it looks nice at times, if you are into sakuga for the very rare moments of Umetsu’s frames. As the home video releases were pushed back months, with the last volume now coming out just before the end of 2014, there may even be some more from him during the vast corrections phase it is undergoing to improve quality.
That then said, there is another episode which must be mentioned if I am to be calling out any like number seven, lest the comment section come to string me up for it. In this case, the now infamous episode eleven, which is mostly a series of storyboards given some connective animation tissue.
The thing with episode eleven, from my perspective, is it strangely is probably one of the episodes of the show that works the best on a narrative level (well, comparatively, and it is a low bar to clear). What occurs in that series of events, given the turns it wants to take involving a police raid and ensuing firefight, seems reasonable-ish enough given the direction the show was heading in at that time. Rather straightforward, actually, in many respects regarding what it wants the plot to do. Apprehend someone.
The damning animation problem is the sort of thing that I do not feel translates very well to written word to tear apart unless I used thousands of characters to comment on it more concretely and specifically via a wholly separate post though. A lot of the episode uses static location shots, having characters talk or take action off screen, lingering on a given frame bit for multiple beats longer than necessary for painfully obvious padding, etc.
It is rather difficult to get fully across to others how bad that episode is in execution without committing to one of two options. Either one just watches it themselves to actually experience it, or for me to use way more words than I normally do in this series of posts to get the expression of it all across for the technical details it botches that have little to do with just badly drawn character shots (though it has those in areas too). Screenshots, I could just post a bunch of, in a “normal” badly drawn frame of a show. Like this one from the intro credits bit of episode twelve, where Cecil looks like she is a part of a bad green screen overlay.
But the interesting thing, I guess, is how the way episode eleven went about its insane budget cutting and obvious visual obfuscation actually make it a royal pain in the butt to showcase and make quickly and easily spreadable around the internet the severity of how bad the episode operates physically as a piece of visual entertainment media. Aside from just the notion that it does.
And yet, for all the problems Wizard Barristers does have, I can not bring myself to slam as hard of a gavel down on it as, say, Coppelion, for botching a potentially interesting collection of ideas.
Because that show demanded viewers take it more seriously than this:
Yasuomi Umetsu keeps directing television work, and ever more “anime” anime at that.
I think he would do better, critically, going back to OVA’s or the anthology / short film scenes. He is better in smaller, punchier bursts than maintaining chain fire (and I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt his Treachery segment in that Dante’s Inferno film was kneecapped by Electronic Arts and needing to stay faithful to their video game).
Heck, give him an episode of Space☆Dandy!
I still rather like his Presence short from Robot Carnival, and that is over a quarter of a century old now. I even talked about it for just a little itsy bitsy tiny bit here a few months ago. It would be nice if he could helm something like that one more time.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.