1/09/2008

Series Review: Myself;Yourself

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"What are you saying? In love, age and gender does not matter."

Myself;Yourself is a strange show. It's kind of like a do-it-yourself visual-novel show would look like.

You know, the kind you see in magazines and TV ads. Quick to set up, easy to assemble, and cheaper than a name-brand. Certainly, a lot of Myself;Yourself is almost cookie-cutter harem/visual novel fare, and a lot of it is put together following the simple included instruction manuals and diagrams.

An appealing female cast outnumbering the males? Check. Replete with the loli, the tsundere, the dojikko, the nice girl, and the older woman? Double-check.

Light-hearted opening episodes leading into serious drama and conflict? Yup. Revolving door of characters getting their turn in the spotlights? Got it. Myself;Yourself is, largely, by the numbers, at first glance.

But like a well-assembled kit car, it has that special touch that makes it more than the sum of its parts. The show has a shiny finish to its paint, a personal touch, that sense of caring that most machine-assembled shows lack. The drama's a bit more dramatic, the characters a bit more fleshed-out, it's more enjoyable and fun a show than one would believe.

Unfortunately, there are flaws by this same hand-assembled approach. It's not as professional as the ones the pros make; the pieces of the show don't always fit together exactly, and some of the parts show clear signs of a rush job, of time suddenly running out.

And for this reason it's tough for me to pass a judgement on Myself;Yourself. It's a good show - definitely one of the better in a season full of visual novel conversions - but not top tier, and it struggles to compete with the Shuffle!s and solas. I don't regret my time spent watching it, but really wish that it had been just a bit longer - Myself;Yourself pushes the boundaries of a 1-cour show, but in the end is dragged back to reality by the physical limitations of time.


(Listen to Aoi.)

One of the elements, that will likely be one of the polarizing elements of M;Y, is the drama element. The show, like many recent ones, evoked cries of School Days upon the shots of a bloody knife, and this is one case that I'm willing to say it's not too far off the mark. Myself;Yourself, while it doesn't push itself to the same ridiculous levels, definitely has some intense character-vs-character conflict (although of a slightly different kind), and I consider it a sort of barometer for these types of shows as a whole, a sort of Dorama Lite.

The drama itself, as some have said, was a little unrealistic at times; Asami's personal story, I'm willing to forgive, but the amount of trauma that heaped up on the Wakatsuki twins, from the parental mess to the school troubles to what Asami added, was simple insane. You have to admire them for staying sane through it all but you have to wonder how much drama is too much for a show like this.

I enjoy shows that can make me angry, that can shock me, that can make me laugh in insanity, and so Myself;Yourself worked well for me in this regard. It really gave me a reason to anticipate Wednesday evenings for thirteen weeks, really was one of the few shows that I could simply not wait for the next episode. Some may call it melodrama, some may call it bad storytelling, and I don't blame them. But in this case, for me, it was a hit, and not a miss.

Probably the second stand-out thing about Myself;Yourself is the broad scope it has, doubly shocking for a 13-episode show. It devotes time to nearly every one of its characters; while it could have gotten away, maybe, with just the main paths of both Sana and Shuu (and thus, Nanaka and Shuri), M;Y instead gave a lot of screenspace to Asami, her side characters (Grandma Kaji among others), the teacher, Yuzuki, and what seemed to be the throwaway loli, Hinako.

What results, on the most part, is a well-developed cast full of likable characters. Nearly everyone has a story, a defined personality, and if not an appeal a plea for sympathy. Nanaka seems to be the ice queen, but she's just a girl recoiling from trauma, willing herself into a normal life. Shuri seems happy all the time, but she's hiding away her true feelings. Yuzuki's outreaching personality stems from her desperation to be recgonized. Hinako's mix of maturity and childness is surprising for someone of her type. And Asami's double personalities, one of jealousy and one of kindness, simply astound. Only Aoi is truly left out, and that is something that I cannot decide is a good thing or a bad thing, considering how Asami factored into the story at the end.

Somehow, due to how the show is spread out, the cast seems quite memorable. They're a standout bunch, and I enjoy the fact that none of them particularly stand out as a "good character" or a "bad character". Certainly, Asami is more the villain, and Nanaka more the victim, but all of them have two sides to them, at least subtly, which makes for a cast which isn't spearheaded by one or two main girls stealing the show.

On the other side, of course, the plot suffers as a result. Part of the reason that the drama bounced so harmlessly off many viewers was the fact that it was, pretty much, out of left field. There was a definite crush for time near the end of the show, with multiple stories needing to be resolved, and so there wasn't as much foreshadowing as would have been liked; I bow down to anyone who even had a hint of Asami's shock twist without spoilers.

Instead, a lot of time was devoted to side threads which arguably went nowhere. Two and then some episodes spent on Hinako, who really had no appearance beyond that in the climax final three episodes of the show. A plot involving Crazy Grandma Kaji that fizzled out, a cheap lead-in to Asami's reveal. And, of course, all the light-hearted time-wasting in the early parts of the show. Why?

For good reason, of course. Myself;Yourself, despite its looks, is a show that isn't afraid to be different - Owen calls it "post-harem" - and its free-roaming plot is just but part of this concept. Without the side storylines, Myself;Yourself would be very streamlined, very no-nonsense; certainly the Sana/Nanaka is quite intense at points, but it does fall on the predictable side, and the added side stories allow for more mystigue, more intrigue, and in the case of some of them, a sort of mellow break. Hinako's story of discovering love versus a simple crush, is warm and pleasant, while not being boring, a good example of how loli-style characters can work without setting off the pedo siren.

Additionally, the multiple-plotline style of M;Y, while not as apparent as other shows in the same season, allowed for all this to go on without horribly compromising the show. Sana and Nanaka might be the 'main' couple, but arguably they didn't really feel that way overbearingly. Hinako's development was aided by not just Sana, but also Aoi and Shuu, and the Wakatsukis had an arc to their own, with the focus on Shuu instead.

Speaking of the Wakatsukis, the subtle elements of their relationship, which others might label siscon, are refreshingly done as well. Instead of leaping over the line hand-in-hand like many have been apt to do, Shuu's caring for Shuri blurs the line between brotherly love, and true romance. It's definitely well-done, and brings more of a warm sensation to the show; whether they are lovers or not, the bond that they share is admirable.

But, on the other side, there are chances that Myself;Yourself takes that don't pan out so well.

As much as I hail the side plots of this show as something essential, I do wish, sometimes, that we had cut back on them a little bit, if not only so that the last episode was not so rushed. Even if we had just cut out the OP or ED in the final episode, it might have been enough. But the rushed conclusion that M;Y had to pull in its closing moments left bad tastes in many a viewer's mouths.

As far as time jumps go, it wasn't a horrible one. But M;Y seems to stretch the "leave some ends open" thing a bit far. It's never really revealed what happened to Asami to have her turn into a good character, nor is the Wakatsuki's relationship, 10 years on, expounded on. (We don't even see their faces...) Sana proposes to Nanaka, but they cut out the actual reveal - blasphemous in a show that, ironically, lacks in romantic aspects itself.

Confessions, kisses, you name it; Myself;Yourself is surprisingly devoid of the kind of thing you would expect in a show like this. It might just be a different approach to the genre - Mike at Anime Diet calls it a story "more about self-realization and discovery", and this is enjoyable too, but, after all that effort to get Nanaka to open up, Sana must be at least a little dissapointed.

Still, I think the ending was passably done. Given how quickly the sand was sinking through the hourglass, I was pleasantly surprised with how M;Y managed to conclude most of the stories, in one way or another. Certainly it could have been done in a better way, but given what it did, it's a closure, one that felt at least moderately fulfilling.

I think Myself;Yourself is stuck in kind of a hard place in regarding to scheduling; there isn't quite enough storyline among all the characters for a full 24-episode show, but the main plots can't fill 13 episodes alone; as such, instead of trying to drag out the main stories to silly length, trimmed versions of the other characters' stories were added. It seems the better choice of the two, at least.

Touching on the sense elements briefly, the music of Myself;Yourself wasn't spectacularly memorable, being your typical visual novel fare. There were one or two ace violin pieces, especially the arrangement of the OP/ED themes, though, and the OP and ED were both musically enjoyable and upbeat if not that powerful.

Graphics were equally kind of 'there', with no glaring defects nor shining moments. Picky viewers may take offense to the fact that everyone bleeds WD-40, but that doesn't concern me a whole lot.

Voice acting was above average - Asami managed to make her monologue emotionally affecting, despite being, well, entirely random, Shuu and Shuri managed to put impact to their powerful moments, Nanaka and Sana I don't remember much about, in either way. Aoi's childish Chiyo-voice was survivable by me, and was kind of cute at times, but the way she screams is pretty awkward.

Fanservice in the show was delivered courtesy of Miss Aoi as well, although it only lasted a few episodes and was quickly faded out. The show managed to make it kind of amusing as well, if not in delivery but in concept (it surprises me when I see a new way to do fanservice, in this case, chopstick groping), so this doesn't affect the show adversely.

A dramatic visual-novel-type show like this warrants the obvious comparisons to School Days, but personally it seems uncannily similar to sola in the way it goes about. Both shows are extremely intense, with plot and emotions, at the expense of a smooth flow. Depending on who you ask, both shows' conclusions are great full-circle exercises, if not a bit ambiguous. sola is arguably the more well-timed series, while Myself;Yourself is more all over the place, but the two shows have a lot of differences as well, the latter being much brighter, much more unabashedly harem-alike.

For reasons like this Myself;Yourself is probably not going to appear out of nowhere and win Japan's vote for best 2008 anime, but I have no doubt in calling this anime one that's vital for those who enjoy visual novel conversions or harem-slash-romances. It's not a harem show in the typical sense but only in the cast sense, as Myself;Yourself revolves more around the individual story of each character, and tying these stories together, than around how each character ties to the main character.

It's a kind of a restyling of the well-worn model of visual-novel/harem; it retains enough similarity to the ways of old, but changes enough aspects to liven things up. Some changes might be unnecessary or unwanted, but given the resources and timeframe available, the amount of freshness that Myself;Yourself brings to the table makes it a highly recommended watch for fans of the genre.

-CCY

(Not much extra to say for once...well, in retrospect, it sounds like Aoi's story doesn't intertwine well with everyone else's, so there's another reason.

Also, here's an incredibly thought-provoking if not unrelated paragraph I came across while researching, courtesy of the defunct Like Water:
In the end, anime is a hugely personal entertainment medium. It caters to individual fantasies, and makes you believe that you are the center of the fantasy (exemplified by harem anime). This makes it very difficult to "dialogue" on anime the way you might a good fiction novel, or the way you would a great movie. You wrap so much of yourself into the story and the characters that you feel like you have your own private world with these people, and it's something that others can't take from you. This is why anime is so addicting, and why people who enjoy it tend to watch so much of it. Who doesn't want their own special world that others can't even comprehend or touch? We can share it to the extent that we say what characters we like, or what particular moments touch us, but we can't really share the depth of feeling that draws us to anime because it's something that lies deep in us, something that we let few people touch.

It seems to be a blog that was frequented by 'older' names in the anime blogging circles, but I reccomend anyone to check it out for the frequently introspective articles taking a close look inside the anime fan themself.)

7 comments:

That was pretty interesting. It sounds like a series that was better than bad, but not awe-inspiring :) Although I still don't get what a tsundere is. Really. I'm such a poser.

As far as the last paragraph, I heard an interview with Crispin Freeman once about why people associate so much more strongly with anime characters than they do with movies (and to a lesser extent books) has a lot to do with the art. Because the characters are drawn without many distinguishing characteristics it's easier for the viewer to subsitute themselves into the show.

Although, I do think it is possible to dialogue about anime the same way you might dialogue about books. But on some level, I think he has a point.

I don't blame you on the 'tsundere' point; I think that anime terminology gets a bit dense and ridiculous at times. Still, 'tsundere' to me is one of the words that is vital, if only because it's hard to find an English substitute for it. A tsundere is generally a character that acts cold-hearted or distant at times, and friendly or romantic at others. Aggressive-submissive, is probably the best way to put it.

(Long winded explanation, woot!)

Anime characters don't have many distinguishing characteristics? For an average harem lead male, perhaps, but I think a large part of characters are extremely memorable in appearance; hair color, accessories, so on. But then again, maybe the point is to have one blank-slate character for the viewer to insert themselves into, while the rest of the characters are more fantasy-based and less com parable to real life. That could be a little bit of the ol' wish-fulfillment deal going on there.

I haven't talked about - barely even read - books on any sort of serious level beyond the high school curriculum, or at least not recently; one thing that bugs me about literature is that there's so much of it, it's hard to find a place to start. Then again, anime might be the same, I just have blogs for it to tell me what to watch.

Ahh... that makes sense. So kind of like Shana. Although I kind of think the labeling is a bit silly. Mostly because it becomes really easy to dismiss a character because I slap a "oh that's X character type". Granted, I suppose the goal is to make the viewer question whether or not Y character is X type or not.

Ack... I just hurt my brain.

I think his point was about the facial features. Because they're in general pretty generic, especially the lead, it allows the viewer to insert themselves into the show. It was an interesting idea.

Really though, iknight actually does a good job of analyzing shows in a more academic way. And to be fair, so do you. I mean if you start talking about character, plot, pacing and themes then your at the beginning of a literary analysis. Granted, they have all sorts of different types of analysis.

I'm very heartened to see that the Anime Blogging community has grown so much over the past year or so since I stopped blogging. This post alone shows a level of analysis rarely exhibited back when I was blogging, when summaries were exactly that - summaries - and few people seemed willing to take the time or put in the effort to connect the various plot elements together. It's good to see that people like you are leading the charge.

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