Thursday, April 26, 2007

"If it wasn't for dissappointments..."

Subject: Noir
"...I wouldn't have any appointments" ...or so the song goes. Oh, wait, I've used that joke before. *Sigh*

I'm talking about "El Cazador de la Bruja", of course. When I first posted the blurb from that interview with Koichi Mashimo back in 2005, I was shocked and pleased and excited to read:
Mashimo tells us that though the titles aren't directly related, he's always envisioned Noir and MADLAX as part of a trilogy of works featuring pistol-packing babes. He tells us that he already has a successor to MADLAX in mind. (Though judging by the double takes all around the table, it has yet to be confirmed -- you heard it here first...)

This one little bombshell was enough inspiration to spawn a web site and ignite two solid years of rampant speculation and unbridled anticipation.

Quite a lot to live up to, you think?

Now, I'll interject here to say that, in fact, I'm really enjoying "El Cazador" so far. It's fun, it's funny, and it's full of great little sparks of life and little touches of the kind of properly-crafted animation that is missing in most anime. There are delightful surprises in Yuki Kajiura's soundtrack so far, as well. And the OP and ED are endlessly fascinating and chock-full of little details that I'm sure will all seem so obvious when the show is over.

However, I can't seem to shake this little nagging feeling of dissappointment. I can't help but feel that, despite it's lineage, it's missing a vital aspect about "Noir" and "MADLAX" that attracted me to those shows and started these three years of obsession.

My little mental word-association game came up with "maturity". But it still seems kind of inadequate to just say that "El Cazador" lacks maturity. I still feel that the show is plenty mature compared to most everything else that's been recently broadcast. And since it's intentionally more "laid back" and comedic, it's too easy to write off "non-seriousness" as "lacking maturity", though it's not the case at all.

"Noir" and "MADLAX" were far and above more mature, however. There was a dry wit that kept them from being totally humorless, so it wasn't that they were always deadly serious. But there was something about the style and the storytelling that didn't coddle the viewer, nor did it disrespect the viewer either. There were multiple layers and facets and threads to pull on, and even thought they were shrouded in mystery (and Huge Teasing™) they were simple. Not simplistic by any means, but elegantly simple.

And I think that word gets to the root of my struggle with "El Cazador": "simplistic". I can't really say that it really does apply yet, however. But I think it's teetering on the edge.

All of the characters are introduced right up front and they all seem to be telegraphing their traits and personalities loud and clear. There doesn't seem to be anything left to discover about them as characters except their backgrounds and circumstances -- even the mysteries around those are plainly in view, telling us how to follow them.

The use of Jodie's voiceover as a prime exposition of plot points and narrative is chafing against some old predjudices of mine from film school. Episode 4 solidifies the reason why we're being subjected to them, but overall, I can't quite shake the notion that voiceovers are a crutch for weak storytelling. Again, simplistic sort of thing.

Also, while I find a lot of gems in the animation (Nadie has a great spark and expressiveness to her, and her movements almost always have weight and gravity and a hint of realism), there's some awful clunkers, too. There's definitely a "cheap" and "rushed" feel to a number of scenes, both in style and pacing. Episode 3 was particularly messy like that, which is what brought on this whole uneasyness in the first place. There were moments in the dialogue that saved it (the lines around "Who's Moses?" and "This isn't some samurai show" were brilliant and funny), but really, the dialogue shouldn't be the thing saving the show.

I'm being too over-sensitive to it, I'm sure. Both "Noir" and "MADLAX" had more than their share of shortcuts and "rushed" moments, and it's only due to the fact that I've been training myself these last few years how Mashimo works and what his techniques are that I see these details so readily.

Plus, my expectations were far too elevated going into this. When I first saw the character art samples that hinted that this would be a "comedy", and hearing about who was writing it, I really tried to make an effort to reduce my expectations a lot. But I didn't really succeed. I wanted more like "Noir", more like "MADLAX", and I guess I'm a bit greedy to think that I'm still not getting that yet. I need to kick back and relax and enjoy the show for what it is. And I know I can, like I said, it's a lot of fun! It's a lot like a "Cowboy Bebop" sort of show more than it is a "Noir", which is just fine.

But... when can I have more "Noir"? *sniff*

1 comment:

nae said...

A few fans have congratulated Mashimo on finally understanding the nature of mainstream, but I fear that El Cazador may be catering to the lowest common denominator.

And it's not just you - most viewers are complaining about the voiceovers as a clumsy way of conveying information. A while ago, I was surprised to find that the technique is used in a few eps of Utena as well. But it was done in a style that suits the series to a T; mysteriously, with a lot of visual humour that undercuts the serious messages.

Reading your post, I thought of the word "style". For me, that's what EC lacks. Enclosed within that is the idea of subtlety and, well, coolness. ;) Maybe it's due to the protagonists being more reluctant to use their superhuman powers. (I was going to say they are "more human" but took it back.) Mashimo said, towards Noir, that he didn't mean it's okay to take lives; this could be his definitive message that it really is not.

I share many of your opinions. I'm trying not to think about it too much. ^^;