January 26, 2014

The problem of a big cast.

Sometimes a story cannot be told without a large cast of speaking parts. That's particularly common in sports stories. I think there are basically only three ways to deal with that, each of which has pitfalls.

First, you can ignore most of them most of the time. If they're opponents the risk is that they become cannon-fodder, redshirts, doomed to die (or lose) without the audience feeling anything for them. What's worse, it can make the victory by the good guys seem cheap and unimportant.

Second, you can try to give a lot of them back stories and screen time. That's what Saki did, and it fell for a different trap: you can drown in backstory. Saki spent an enormous amount of time telling backstory for opponents during the tournament, which dragged down the story telling into the mud. When I first watched it, one episode per week, I eventually gave up and stopped, waiting until the whole show was done before catching up. And when I rewatch it, I do a lot of skipping.

Third, you can split the difference: make them have characters but not very substantial ones. The drawback here is that it can make them seem like "cardboard cutouts" -- and the best way to handle that is to laugh at it. That's what they did in Girls und Panzer, and we got that cue when all the tanks got painted strange colors. "This is not a deadly serious show, folks. Go with it, have fun, because we in the production staff are having fun.

Plus, they effectively treated each tank crew at Ooarai as a single character most of the time. So Hippo team was "the history club" and all of them were into history. Duck was "the volleyball girls". Anteater was "the gamer girls". Rabbit was "the first year girls". Turtle was "the student council". Leopon was "the wrench wenches". Occasionally individual characters from one team or another would have a special role (i.e. Rommel doing a scouting mission with Yukari during the Pravda battle). And they "hung a lampshade on it" with Mallard, the discipline committee. All three girls look exactly the same except for the length of their hair, and they all had the same seiyuu. None of which was accidental; the director is goosing the audience in the ribs with it.

The big advantage of the third way is that it avoids the problems of the other two. The characters don't become redshirts, and they also don't bog down the story telling. The only characters we get backstory for are Miho, Yukari, Hana, and Mako. All we know about Saori's back story is that she's Mako's friend from way back.

Obviously there's no single best answer, but in GuP I think this one was the right choice. There was so much else they had to cover in 1 cour that they simply didn't have room for lots of backstory. And I think the story telling is paced well; it doesn't feel flabby, and there isn't anything I would consider filler, but it also doesn't feel rushed.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Entertainment at 07:02 PM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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1 I was wondering about that history girl with the headband whose left eye is always closed (Saemonza). Does she have an injury or is she just constantly winking? She seemed to open it in OVA 2 when she yelled at her fellow Hippo teammates for sitting wrong.

Posted by: muon at January 29, 2014 06:40 AM (jFJid)


Notice the strange thing she wears that looks a bit like a bra, but only covers one breast? That's called a muneate, an it's protection worn by women archers to protect their breasts from the bowstring. I would guess she only uses one eye because it's easier to aim.

The muneate covers her right breast, which means she's right-handed, and it's her right eye that's open. That's consistent.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 29, 2014 08:40 AM (+rSRq)

3 By the way, she's also the gunner for Hippo, and the gunner uses one eye to aim.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 29, 2014 10:09 AM (+rSRq)

4 A while ago I studied the way muneate is hung and what side archers use, and found no connection whatsoever. I found pictures of all 4 permutations, both in anime and IRL.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at January 29, 2014 11:22 AM (RqRa5)

5 I was wondering if she was an expy of Date Masamune, but he was missing his left eye. Maybe she got into Japanese history because she identified with him. I don't know if this official art is accurate, but she appears left-handed and her eyelid is more droopy as opposed to Erwin and Caesar, who is firing while aiming with one eye. I suppose a manga version can be used to supply back story for some of the characters.

Speaking of muneate, the shipgirls of the standard aircraft carriers in KanColle are depicted as archers with most wearing it.

How well do you think Mouretsu Pirates handled its large cast?

Posted by: muon at January 30, 2014 04:05 AM (jFJid)

6 I thought it was excellent. But it was also possible for them to roll out their cast in three waves: one at the beginning (yacht club and school), one starting about ep 6 (Bentenmaru), and one in the second half (Kenjirou, Show, and the other pirate captains). That helped a lot.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at January 30, 2014 06:25 AM (+rSRq)

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