A Technical Conglomeration of Suffering (Record of Grancrest War – Analysis and Dissection Part Two)

20170802_013032In last week’s post, I did a brief dissemination on the various story elements of Records of Grancrest War and why, due to writer oversight and lack of understanding of the subject matter, have lead to a rushed and unsatisfying anime viewing experience. Now, I plan on going into detail on the technical side of the anime’s shortcomings, and hypothesizing as to why some of the poor directorial decisions that have been made have been, well, made.

On that note, we’ll start with the Director himself. And this part, actually, baffles me to some extent. Director Mamoru Hatakeyama is actually a very proficient and, at the very least, clever director. While I did not watch many episodes of it, the two episodes of Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû I did see were brilliantly put together with clever staging and visuals. Even the voice actors, whom I’d like to reiterate I don’t pretend to understand, handled their dialogue in compelling and entertaining ways. So why, then, is this show such a mess by comparison? My first presumption is that, working under the A-1 Pictures banner, he’s been contracted in to directing this series, where all the writing is being handled by the writers of the Light Novel series. Or, perhaps he agreed to do this series but wasn’t as comfortable with the material he has to work with?

In all likelihood, I’d put safe money that the issue lies with the former. The writer of the anime series is the same man who wrote the light novel series, and is also the same man who wrote the RPG rule-set for the game.

I wish I was making that up; everything makes a little more sense now.

Because if it’s bad, it needs a bad video game as well it seems…

While rooting around in writer Ryo Mizuno’s career history, I turned up an explaination that Records was, in fact, originally written as a role-playing game, much in the same spirit of western Dungeons and Dragons or Legend of the Five Rings. It turns out that the RPG was created alongside the light novel, one being used as a marketing tool for the other (which is which I cannot be too sure presently). Then, the manga series was written to advertise the previous incarnations, and finally we’re given the anime, which I’m entirely convinced exists only to advertise the RPG. It’s the only reason that so many locations, big characters and cumbersome plot elements. Not unlike the first twenty minutes of the World of Warcraft movie: it’s basically a grab-bag of iconic and recognizable characters and setting elements from the game to wow people familiar with the source material.

Of course, this is not to say that you can’t use an RPG rule-set to create a fascinating and entertaining story. Many great movies out there borrow heavily from these games to make their world more fascinating and exciting. The issue comes when you simply copy/paste the elements into the script and call it a day. Again, this comes down to bad writing: irredeemably so. But as I’ve harped on the literary failings of Mr Ryo for the entirety of the last blog, as well two paragraphs now, let’s turn our gaze to the other primary culprit here: A-1 Pictures.

y4CjgWDh_400x400One of the most frequent compliments I’ve seen of this anime up to this point has been that it looks polished, professional and well animated. I’m just going to come out and say it now: it really isn’t. What it is, however, is familiar. A-1 Pictures, much like all animation studios, has their own particular way of animating characters and settings. In many cases, this can be a very good thing. If you’re fond of the animation style of one studio, you’re much more likely to tune in to their next release, even if you don’t know much about it. However, the issue arises when your animation style does not suit what exactly you’re aiming to show. The artwork needs to reflect the narrative.

Starts fun and whimsical…

If you’ve watched Made in Abyss, you’ll probably agree that the show was incredibly animated. The art style was whimsical and fun, but the animators were not shy about instilling the darker elements into the story when the time called for it. Recall the differences in tone when Nanachi was recalling her time with Mitty before the horrific transmutation, and while it was happening. It was simply grotesque; and that made it all the more brilliant.

…and then you get nightmare fuel!

The art style of Records, however, is better suited for a more mellowed out comedy or even lite-romance anime. The blood effects, when added, are cheap and illogical (they actually remind me of the original gore animations from Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct, and I wouldn’t peg either of those as artistic masterpieces with the blood effects), the battle damage, when the artists can be bothered to add them, look very clean and do not reflect what a reasonable degree of battlefield damage would look like, and the reactions and expressions of the characters are too simplified to work with a political drama.

Each of these faces are pulled from an A-1 Pictures production. You may go ahead and try to guess whose face belongs to whom, but you probably can’t; which is kinda the problem.

Now, in the most recent episode, A-1 did try to make things look more dynamic with their camera angles with the Bellatrix-Kamakaze-Comet attack. Up until this point, they had made no attempt at utilizing over-exaggeration in any of their visuals, they had not played with camera distortion and everything had been very straight-on with the camera angles. Suddenly, they add this new visualization trick, and it was jarring. It pulled me, and my friend, right out of the show as we tried to understand why the Artistic Director had chosen to do that now, 15 episodes into the series. And while it was supposed to be super dramatic and intense, it just played out as comedic: this witch character, who had had a combined 15 minutes of screen time, was supposed to be taken as seriously as the main villain readying their main attack. Then, wand-throw later, her spell simply ends and she is sent blasting off again a la Team Rocket. Disclaimer: if there was some sort of effect that ended the witch’s spell, it was so anti-climactic that I’d forgotten it completely (and it’s not just because I have utter disdain for this series. I remember quite clearly the melodramatic charge of death that the Earl of Villar made on the bridge and the effects used in Margaret’s fire dance thing-y. Admittedly, both reasonably neat and almost well animated).

The battles themselves aren’t exciting to watch. I understand that the costs of hand-drawing all the background soldiers with incredible animation detail and effort is hella expensive. But that’s the cost of a good battle anime: adding cheap 3D models to the background hamstrings the whole effect and kills any sort of excitement that might have been built up. Characters doing battle involve a couple of sword swings, some metal grinding, then a close-up grimace/dead-pan expression as is the character’s wont. Admittedly, even these animations are more “Hollywood” than realm medieval fighting was; but if I wanted historically accurate swordplay to watch, I’d go to SCA faires. Instead, I want to see the anime utelize exciting and sometimes audacious battle manoeuvres that keep me, the audience, riveted to the edge of my seat. It takes more than just cool moves to sell a great battle, granted; but meat-and-potato-style swordplay is another dampening effect.

As a brief aside, costume designer: decide if you’re pulling costume ideas from Medieval periods, or from the Renaissance. The degree of bouncing back and forth between the two is staggering and just hurts the continuity. If you’re going to have peasants, then ensure your ruling class looks era appropriate. Likewise, if you want your ruling class to be wearing suits and ascots, you can’t have peasants. Creative licence is fine: contradiction is not.

As another aside: the music is fine. Not amazing, not bad; and reasonably appropriate for the scenes they play it over.

It’s at about this point that I must end my tirade against this series. Anything I say beyond this point will either be repeating myself, or harping on about issues I’ve already raised. It’s my sincere hope that shows like this die out before too long: as an anime viewer, I’ve come to expect better than what we were served en mass in the 90’s. Anime has evolved to be more compelling and more intricate, and it pains me when garbage like this is handed to us under the pretenses of being amazing. When it all boils down: Record of Grancrest is only a marketing anime. Admittedly, this is also a shortcoming with the structure of the anime industry on the whole, and requires a mass overhaul if we’re to see great shows thrive and inspire others to follow in their wake. It is also my hope that if you who are reading this aim to write your own stories, you’ll use Record of Grancrest as a cautionary tale as to what happens when you write while knowing nothing about your material.

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