neoranga_coverI wish there was more (or even some) translated online criticism available, because I have a number of questions about Japanese audience reception. Not why is X character more respectful to Y than Z, or why do all the girls seem to brook an unusual level of abuse. Those questions can be legitimately explained by cultural differences1. No, the most pressing question I would require answered is thus: is this crap as incoherent to you as it is to me?

Neoranga as case study: the show’s about a great big Godzilla-type monster (the eponymous Neoranga) and the girls who own it. They happen to be the kings (not queens) of a small island nation. Ushio, the middle girl in the decidedly unsensible short skirt, is in a constant state of confusion, as we are often reminded by the narrator. Yuuhi, the youngest, wants to use Ranga to improve their social status. The eldest, Minami, is something of a money grubber, yet she cannot see the profit potential in Neoranga. They have a nephew, Joel, who appears out of nowhere carrying a little white dragon no one sees fit to comment upon.

The base for character conflict is suitably stable, but Neoranga has a problem with consistency in character motivation. At times Minami seems a money obsessed jerk, but she comes to Ranga’s defense at a press conference (to the apparent surprise of her sisters) and just two episodes later she has sold Ranga out to the military – or at least as far as I can tell. There are large narrative gaps between most episodes that are jarring, particularly when watched in quick succession. These gaps are concombinant with character shifts that aren’t motivated – in on episode Ushio will be Ranga’s defender, the next Yuuhi will be his main girl.

Neoranga’s concept is fairly clever, however, and the show has enough charm to pull through its defects, especially after the 4th episode when it ceases to be just a Godzilla clones, and focuses more on life with a Godzilla clone.

The show looks fine as well, despite the ever present softness of color that digital animation brings2. While the first episode is a little off-putting with a lot of fan-service totally from left-field (including a conversation about panties that left me a bit uncomfortable) there are a number of surprising and subtle details that standout. Occasional little flourishes of animation actually makes Ushio and Yuuhi seem like young girls instead of generic ANIME FEMALE who is just as likely to be some sort of sex demon, magical girl, or death kitten. My favorite little detail like this is when Ushio and Minami are talking: Ushio is in a doorway, and she grabs the top of it and hangs there for a moment, because it is there and because she has hands that need occupying, and because she’s young. It isn’t at Miyazaki level of detail or sensitivity3, but it counts in a genre/medium where the generic tends to win out over the specific.

Neoranga is like a cat – half the time you wonder why the heck you bought the thing when it’s just going to be aloof and obscure, but then it turns around and is engaging for a while, and all is forgiven4. It is occasionally funny, often intriguing (though, ironically, not when it is trying to pull out some government intrigue – not every freaking show has to pretend to be Evangelion, does it?) and generally entertaining. The format, fifteen minutes a pop, seems to encourage watching a lot of these in one fell swoop. I’d recommend spa
cing them out. In the small doses provided, Neoranga is, at least, enjoyable enough to justify its existence.

1It is without fail that, when someone viscerally likes something that’s from another culture and can be objectively written off, said petitioner will fall back on the ugly saw of ‘cultural differences’ when it comes to why this or that movie should make absolutely no sense. Not empty characterization or inept plotting – cultural differences.

2The problems with digital animation are manifold – as manifold as its clear economic benefits. In early, digitally drawn anime, most of the problems were glaring and objective: the ugly digital pans of Amazing Nurse Nanako, or the dragging of drawings across the screen with no animation at all in the first episode of Black Heaven. While animators seem to have gotten better (and indeed, I think even the cheaper shows are starting to look better), what hasn’t changed is the color pallette – it’s still soft. I’m not smart enough to know why this is, and though it isn’t present in all anime (is Princess Mononoke digitally colored? The reds in that movie are vivid… But the budget difference between that and a TV show is obviously a determinant.), it does make for slightly annoying viewing. Sure it means more anime can be produced, but is that objectively a good thing?

3Among the many amazing things in Miyazaki’s Totoro (and his work in general) is the care given to naturalizing and personalizing character movements and making them specific to age. Watch the early scenes with Mei and Satsuki running through the house: Satsuki has grace, as befits her age, while Mei clomps and stomps, moving like a bull moose (or a baby).

4This may be the worst metaphor I’ve used. Blame my cat – he’s tying my hands down with his head.
Rating: B


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