August 16, 2010

Asobi ni Iku Yo -- good storytelling

There are a lot of things I like about Asobi ni Iku Yo and I don't mean Eris's breasts. (Well, I do like those, but that's not what I'm here to write about.)

The writing in this is extremely good. I've noted before that they don't pound the jokes into the ground. They may use a joke a few times, but they stop using it before it becomes stale.

A different, and more subtle, demonstration of quality writing is that everything I'm seeing makes sense. There's lots of humor, but none of it feels like deus ex machina. Everything I'm seeing is believable, once you buy in to the series gestalt.

Eris is a scout. The Cathean ship is surveying this part of the galaxy, looking for inhabited planets, in hopes of establishing peaceful diplomatic and trading relationships. Or so it seems right now. So the main ship sailed to the area, and then dropped off a bunch of scouts. Eris was one of them, and she hit the jackpot.

Given that the mother ship is in the Sol system, it seems as if she was the only one who did. Likely inhabited planets are very rare, and the scouts have to check a lot star systemms to even find planets with life, let alone planets with civilizations.

Her report was that she'd found a planet with a technological civilization which was probably within a couple of hundred years of developing star travel on its own. The Catheans are now investigating that planet.

And they want to get the low down on humanity. Are we awful nasty people, like the dogs? Is it possible to deal with us honorably, to the benefit of both races?

They sure won't find that out by talking to our diplomats. They won't learn a thing from diplomats, and it's clear that they know it. But they need to know the truth about  us. So they've planted Eris in that house. As the one who found the planet, it's her duty and her privilege to do this job: she's bait.

Her job is to be there and to try to find out what's really happening on the planet. She's going to deal with humans on a day-to-day basis and do her best to be attractive and friendly and unthreatening. She's going to seek out a wide variety of experiences among us. That includes allowing herself to be kidnapped, for example, even if she could avoid it, because she learned a lot about the kidnappers. (Like smelling dogs on their leader.)

The mother ship is monitoring her very closely. If she was ever in real danger, there would be a "beam me up, Scotty" moment. That bell around her neck is very high tech and it isn't just for control of her ship. It's also communications and sensing, and through it the mother ship always knows what's happening around her.

Why a bell? why not? That's an example of a joke that makes sense. If you think of it as a standard communicator and control device, then it makes sense that they'd wear them all the time, even when nude in a sauna, and hanging something around their necks is a completely reasonable way to carry it. (A bracelet or an earring would be reasonable too, but maybe they can't make them that small.) The fact that it looks like a bell to us is just an example of interspecies miscommunication and confusion, which I'm sure invariably happens in these kinds of encounters.

One of the ways that the Catheans are learning about humans is by having a close-up look at three of them. That isn't statistically significant, in some senses, but in other ways it's very revealing. If you think about it, to a space alien, all humans are more alike than different. When we think of ourselves, we obviously consider our differences to be particularly significant. But our differences cluster around a modal point. Having a close look at three humans provides a lot of information about the general area of clustering, even if they aren't necessarily median examples.

By ep 6 we can see that it's working extremely well. The Catheans have learned a hell of a lot even in just the short time since Eris arrived on Earth. Some of it is more significant than other things, from our point of view. Some of it is frivolous, like study of manga and/or porn. But to the Catheans, it's all important. They need a top-to-bottom view of us, and that's part of it.

And there have been some huge wins. For instance, Eris has managed to make the doggie break cover and reveal herself. That's a big deal. And what they've learned about Aoi's power suit reveals a lot more about what the doggies have been up to.

Another aspect of their investigation is the way each of the three humans they're studying closely has been assigned assist-droids. They're each customized to appeal to their respective humans. And it's a nice gesture by the Catheans. But it's also information gathering: each of those assist-droids is studying their respective human, and the Catheans are learning a lot through them, things they probably couldn't learn any other way. (Simply the fact that they are robots. Do the humans abuse them, take them for granted, act cruelly towards them? They don't, but that was definitely a possibility.)

I've mentioned before that this series has the same feel as Tenchi Muyo:GXP. This is another way in which they're alike. For all the strange things that happened in TMGXP, I believed all of it. (Except NB. He was totally contrived, and several of the things that happened because/about/to him helped break my suspension of disbelief. I wish Nabeshin hadn't included him. Except for him,) It all made sense within the story setting.

I'm getting the same feeling from this series. I'm impressed that what seemed initially to just be a fan-service romp is turning out to be an exercise in skillful story telling.

Credit for that seems to be due to Takayama Katsuhiko, who is listed in the credits as "Series Composition". (He also wrote the scripts for the first four eps.) He has the same credit for Baka to Test, which had much the same kind of surprising craziness surrounding engaging characters.

He also did series composition for Ga-Rei: Zero. I haven't watched that one, and won't because it isn't my kind of show. (Dead girls!) But Wonderduck did, and loved it. That one was a lot different, in part because it wasn't a comedy, and in part because he was stuck with the ending. It's a prequel to a video game and it had to end where the game began. Even so, Wonderduck says that the story telling is very good. (As long as you don't mind dead girls.)

He's listed as doing "series composition" for the two Ef series, which are widely praised. And he did "series composition" for Natsu no Arashi, which is yet another series which betrays a keen sense of humor and an unwillingness to follow standard tropes.

He looks to be one to watch. So what's next on his plate? Seems to be Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, scheduled for this coming October. Definitely going to be worth a look.

It's too bad he doesn't have a short memorable (nick)name, like Nabeshin or Shinbo. (Shinbo is directing that next one, and putting both of these guys on the same show promises craziness in spades.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at 07:43 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
Post contains 1259 words, total size 8 kb.

1 Arashi had the same mix of silliness and seriousness, and pulled it off with the same grace, that Asobi does.  I think you may be right that it's due to that one guy, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for him in the future.  

Posted by: tellu541 at August 16, 2010 09:01 PM (pJ1uW)


You've got me curious. I never watched that one because the publicity art put me off. (Arashi looked like she was cross-eyed.)

But now I'm going to give it a try. Downloading...

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 16, 2010 09:48 PM (+rSRq)

3 It's another one that the first episode isn't exactly typical of the series.  Hamaji was what put you off the first time, I think, but if you listen to the narrator (an older, wiser Hamaji), it comes across that he knows he was young and immature at the time.  But it still has a strange mix of the silly, the touching, and the fun.

Posted by: ubu at August 16, 2010 10:08 PM (GfCSm)

4 Nobody likes KimiNozo, I see.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at August 17, 2010 09:25 AM (/ppBw)

5 Why would you come to that conclusion?  No one mentioned it one way or the other.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at August 17, 2010 11:17 AM (+rSRq)

6 Probably because KimiNozo was listed on Takayama Katsuhikos ANN page under it's official English title of "Rumbling Hearts", yet is nothing than anyone has chosen to raise specifically as being of note.

Posted by: DiGiKerot at August 17, 2010 12:56 PM (myDs8)

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