Review

by Carl Kimlinger, Sep 2nd 2008

Kujibiki Unbalance

DVD 3 - The Melancholy of Ritsuko Kettenkrad

Synopsis:
Kujibiki Unbalance DVD 3
In the last weeks before assuming office, life for Rikkyouin Academy's incumbent student council takes a sudden turn for the worse. Renko is kidnapped by aliens, Koyuki is kidnapped by a suspiciously familiar ninja, and Chihiro is kidnapped by the student council Vice-president. The long-standing rivalry between the current President and Vice-president threatens to explode, and Chihiro loses his will to become President. As if that weren't enough, Tokino has come to the realization that she loves Chihiro, and the knowledge that her affections aren't requited is slowly killing her previously unflagging spirit.
Review:

If you too cringed at the sound of Kujibiki Unbalance flushing itself down a smelly toilet of irritating humor clichés, then perhaps you'll be pleased to hear the sound of it clawing its way back out with a renewed focus on its central love triangle.

The second volume offered glimpses of something a little less manic as it focused on and off on Tokino's realization of her unrequited feelings for Chihiro, but largely retained the same forced energy as before. This final volume rectifies that problem. Eventually. It unfortunately hits the ground running with an antic-driven tale of alien abduction featuring the unspeakably irksome Renko, transitioning through a more somber abduction tale involving the marginally less annoying Koyuki, and concluding with Chihiro's abduction, which kicks off a two-episode resolution of the central love triangle. In moving its heart from methamphetamized humor to the resolution of relationships, the series manages to shift its tone permanently into the quieter, more restrained territory that it only occasionally wandered into previously.

And so out of the toilet it climbs. Only to end up in a slightly less smelly sewer of dispiriting romantic clichés. The series would do well to forget its roots as an in-joke about otaku tastes, but not even a shift in tone can curb its stubborn insistence on building itself entirely of otaku-pandering clichés. As it moves into darker territory, the series merely trades self-consciously clichéd humor for self-consciously clichéd drama. Gone are the chases, love-potions, stupid inventions and other “funny” tropes of the stereotypical comedy anime, and in their place are the familial tragedies, self-sacrificing romantic angst, and love interests bent on moving to [insert European destination here] of the stereotypical anime drama.

Those emotional developments that manage to work in spite of their nearly mathematical adherence to otaku-pleasing formulas owe their success entirely to Tokino—the only character in the series to exhibit more than one dimension (not that two dimensions is exactly a bragging point). The “friends desperately searching for their missing comrade” montage might work under certain conditions, but when applied to the transcendentally unlikeable Renko, it begs to be slain with a sarcasm-poisoned dagger. Likewise, the “power of friendship saves the brainwashed comrade” scene fizzles pitifully when pivoting on the barely tolerable Koyuki. On the other hand, the obligatory “girl sacrifices her claim on boy for the sake of his happiness” scene—the culmination of Tokino's long slide into romantic depression—comes dangerously close to eliciting an actual emotional response thanks to Tokino's unexpected likeability.

Visually, the series turns dark as well. Though its color scheme still looks as if it were chosen using a blindfold and a bowl of Jelly Bellies, most of the action takes place at night, with plenty of dark, hopeless shadows beating viewers over the head on the off chance that they failed to notice the series' new serious bent. Solid animation, some bursts of visual inspiration (director Tsutomu Mizushima does pouring tears like no one's business) and a solid, subtle score distract from the simplistic, stereotypically cute character designs and generic settings, but not enough to disguise the fact that the series not only acts, but also looks like a self-referential riff on generalized “otaku anime.”

The cracks—or more accurately, the giant inflectionless plains—in Media Blasters' English adaptation become far more evident as the series enters a more emotionally adventurous stretch. Whereas the unenthusiastic dub had the unintended consequence of making parts of the first two volumes more tolerable—especially where Angora Deb's milder Renko was concerned—here it has the purely negative effect of rendering the conclusion's modest emotional heights as flat as a Kansas wheat field. It isn't butchered or misguided—the performances are too carefully matched and the script too anally faithful for that—but the English version is definitely inferior even to the flawed original.

As before, the true selling point of this over-extended joke is the single Genshiken OAV tacked onto each volume. If you were to count it as an extra, it is the finest extra one could desire. Though not as incisively funny as the first of the OAVs, it is nevertheless an unmitigated joy to watch. Perhaps the cast has grown more blobbish (the rendering of their faces is far from perfect), but they're no less endearing (or revealing) as, in this episode, they enter once again the weird and wonderful world of cosplay. The episode is accompanied by an audio commentary featuring Kenji Nomura and Tomokazu Seki, old acquaintances so comfortable with one another that their discussion—which has nothing to do with the episode itself—enters territory that is perhaps better left unexplored. Ah, the porn preferences of voice actors...

Even if one were inclined to ignore the series' pointed reliance on recycled plot elements and attempt to immerse oneself in the lives of its characters, the next-episode previews—during which Genshiken characters draw deliberate attention to the series' insane artificiality—wouldn't allow one to do so. One is left with no choice but to sit back and take note of the fact that, while depressive is certainly less irritating than manic, so long as it is devoid of even the pretense of originality, it's ultimately no better.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : D+
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B

+ The occasional bit of romantic sorrow signed, sealed, and delivered by the surprisingly sympathetic Tokino.
Oceans of formulaic drama delivered with a curiously humorless wink.

Director:Tsutomu Mizushima
Series Composition:Michiko Yokote
Music:Tomoki Hasegawa
Original Character Design:
Shimoku Kio
Kengou Yagumo
Character Design:Yoshiaki Yanagida
Art Director:Shin Okui
Art design:Hiro Izumi
Sound Director:Jin Aketagawa
Director of Photography:Kazuhiro Sasaki
Producer:Takaya Ibira

Full encyclopedia details about
Kujibiki Unbalance (TV)

Release information about
Kujibiki Unbalance - The Melancholy of Ritsuko Kettenkrad (DVD 3)

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