Trigger Warning: We will be discussing a series that involves a school ground mass murder, and I’m going to be ranting HARD about how it was handled.
Faster than several events supposedly taking place at the same time… More powerful than strings that can hold several tons of weight… Able to leap fleeing track team members in a single bound… This strange visitor from class 13… The Super Saiyan of our school… Student Council President Medaka Kurokami! Empowered with athletic superiority, possessing remarkable physical strength, Medaka fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the pretentious appeal to the innate goodness inside of every living being! Disguised as a normal teenage girl, and aided by the friends she’s met along the way, Medaka will stop at nothing to fulfill the hopes and dreams of any student bold enough to leave a request in her suggestion box!
In one of the most shocking upsets and complete landslides in Sandbox Academy history, the newest Student Council president is, surprisingly, a first year student named Medaka Kurokami… Or, if you translate it, Black Spirit. While most high schools would elect a student to each individual spot on their student council, but in this case, Medaka wastes no time occupying every slot herself, handing them out to people she interacts with whenever she meets somebody who she thinks will perform them well. She gives the first spot to her childhood friend Zenkichi Hitoyoshi, and with his help, she immediately pledges to use him in her quest to respond to every request that the student body gives her. But can even the over-powered Medaka stretch herself thin enough to keep to this promise without breaking, or has she broken off more than she can chew?
Medaka Box was animated by… Do I need to say it? I mean, even if you’re not reading this on my blog during Studio Gainax Month, it doesn’t take long to figure out who the studio behind this show is. If the color palette and intense focus on female fanservice don’t tip you off, the visual direction certainly will. While Gainax isn’t normally one to use obscure angles and filters to distract from lengthy dialogue, it does have a nasty habit of using over-the-top, absurd visuals steeped in obvious metaphor to accentuate what’s supposed to be more thrilling dialogue. Medaka’s speeches to people she’s reprimanded can often make her appeal God-like as they shrink away in her presence.
Her power over others is also often expressed through the use of cheesy special effects like light beams and explosions, both of which happen diegeticilly. These effects are pretty cool looking, but unfortunately, it’s obvious that the bulk of the budget was spent on them. That’s not to say the animation is ever bad, though… Even at it’s worst, it’s at least executed passably. These two elements of the aesthetic stand in stark contrast to each other for the first two thirds of the series, but when they finally collide in the final act, the animation becomes pure spectacle that could rival even Dragonball Z in terms of the presentation and scale of the destruction.
It’s nothing to call home about over-all, but it’s a pretty good looking show, and that last third alone earns serious points from me on the visual side of things. What I can’t speak so highly of is the character designs. The characters look like… And I can’t believe I’m saying this… A cross between Code Geass and Haruhi Suzumiya. They’re over-designed, detailed in the weirdest of ways, and have haircuts that are somehow dull while still being strange-looking enough to rival Yugioh. There’s really only one character in the show who I didn’t have a hard time looking at, but that was back when she had interesting expressions that hinted at inner turmoil, all of which disappeared when she donned some fetish glasses and joined the council.
The music, once again, isn’t really bad, but it’s pretty damn forgettable. The few times I did notice it, it was because it was over-powering and in some cases even distracted from the dialogue. When I try to listen to the individual tracks on youtube, there’s something about the synchronizing and the beat that just gives me a headache. This sentiment is carried through to the opening. Happy Crazy Box by Kuribayashi Minami is a moderately catchy song, but the visuals are so standard and effortless that I only really watched them once or twice. It’s a standard Shounen opening by every possible definition. You get god-like images of the main character, slightly more casual images of her clubmates, and each villain taking their turn to pose and mug for the camera. On the one hand, this opening might spoil who’s going to be joining the council throughout the series, but on the other hand, they’re all fairly easy to spot through attention to the writing alone.
The English dub comes to us straight from Sentai Filmworks, care of ADR Director Stephen Foster… Great! Are we getting an inappropriate rewrite that effectively kills the show, or a faithful-to-the-letter translation that sounds horrible and doesn’t even both matching the characters’ lip flaps? While neither option is particularly inviting, I’m still going to say it’s unfortunately the second one. As I mentioned in my review of Kill Me Baby, Foster had a nasty habit of trying to avoid critics of his writing by not writing at all… Just putting the direct English translations on screen, and letting his actors wing it. Some of them try to make the speech look natural… A few of the side characters manage to pull it off from time to time… And some even try to reword their lines, but these efforts accomplish little and never last long. Foster’s laziness hits in other ways as well, like how the ending credits are never updated in any episode. The five most important actors are listed respectfully, and then every single other name involved is listed below. In every episode.
The acting, for the most part, isn’t much better. I’ve always found Shelley Callene-Black to be a very limited actor, as she’s a really talented performer when she’s playing a few certain types of characters… I’ll spare you the list, but ‘teenage girl’ isn’t on it. She’s even more awkward here than she was in Clannad, if you can believe it. The same sentiment applies to Andrew Love, who does a great job playing adults and tough people… Like, for example, he was awesome in Log Horizon. So was Ms. Black, incidentally. But as the Lego brick male lead of a romantic comedy, he just doesn’t bring anything to the role that a better actor couldn’t trump him on.
Hillary Haag plays a charming third wheel, and is one of the few actors who really seems to be trying to make the awkwardly translated dialogue work. Greg Ayres is the other one, having a great time in his villainous role without even bothering to look for depth or complexity that just isn’t there. Tyler Galindo and Maggie Flecknoe round out the rest of the Student Council, but if I’m being honest, they both did a pretty terrible job. Galindo was stale and lifeless, while Flecknoe was just all over the place. I know that in both cases you could say the same thing about their characters, but still, they should have at least tried to rise above the material they were given, like Ayres, Haag and Monica Rial did.
I actually did listen to a few episodes in Japanese with subtitles, and I highly recommend that track instead of the dub. Yuki Ono and Aki Toyosaki sound a lot more natural and down to earth than Love and Black do, and as much as I enjoyed Greg Ayres as a villain, the legendary Romi Park… You know, the Seiyuu of Edward Elric? Just sounds as slimy and blood-thirsty as a talking snake in the same role. It’s easily sub-over-dub, which is kind of unfortunate because, considering the ridiculous nature of the series, I honestly wish Foster had gone with the first of the two options I listed earlier… Rude, outlandish dialogue that offends everybody while making tongue-in-cheek jokes about it’s own story, especially since this story… Eh-hehm… This story…
Say, who here loves the Rightstuf.com holiday sale? I do! I send Rightstuf obscene amounts of my disposable income in exchange for heavily discounted anime every year. I ordered a bunch of titles last year, most of which I’ve never seen before, and among them was a quaint little title that I quickly realized was part of the eclectic school club genre… A genre that was inspired by Haruhi Suzumiya before getting warped by harem influences. I went in with apprehensions, but was pleasantly surprised by the engaging dialogue, rich characters, and what felt like a genuine attempt to deepen the main relationships and flesh out some of the side characters. It ultimately failed to live up to it’s lofty ambitions and escape the trappings of it’s genre, but I still found it to be a breath of fresh air compared to similar titles like Haganai and Oreshura. That title… Was not Medaka Box. It was My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. In contrast, Medaka Box didn’t do it’s genre ANY favors.
To start with, one of the first observations I made about this series… That it just refused to try to prove me wrong on… Is that it had, at most, two brain cells, and that they were completely incapable of rubbing up against each other long enough to form a coherent thought. Yes, I’ve called anime stupid before, but this is on an entirely different level. Every single moment in this series, from the plot twists to the decisions the characters make to the occasional details of backstory, is more stupid than the last. To start, let’s take a quick glance at the characters.
The title character Medaka is so perfect at everything she does that it won’t take you very long to start thinking she isn’t really human. She can run faster than the best member of the Track and Field team, jumping dozens of feet in the air while doing it. She can stand on a pair of water wings in the middle of the pool without falling into the water, she won millions of dollars by answering the worlds’ hardest math problem when she was in middle school, and she can even strike multiple kendo opponents at once while a friend insists that she’s human. Almost everything she does is explained to the audience via exposition from Hitoyoshi about why it makes sense according to her backstory. That’s pretty much the only reason he exists, by the way. Oh, and of course, Medaka is such a perfect fantasy girlfriend… Excuse me, main character… that she’s also an exhibitionist who doesn’t mind constantly stripping down to her undies, just for the hell of it.
Even when a character is interesting upon their introduction, they quickly either lose all of their unique qualities, or just fade into the background, but leaving aside the characters and their development, the writing of this series is just unsalvageble. Every single turn of the plot is random, often to the point of being self-contradictory. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what example from the story I would use to demonstrate just how terribly written it is, as every time I thought I’d picked a winner, a new example would pop up, stunning the shit out of me. I could not go a single episode without asking some variety of “What the fuck?” or “Are you kidding me?” or to my ever increasing chagrin, “They can NOT be that stupid.”
You know what? Instead of just picking one example, I’m going to go with three. Yup. I’m giving you some bonus nitpicking, you special people, you. Don’t ever say I don’t love you. To start, let’s examine just how much ADHD went into the thought process behind this show by examining a single episode… No, it was half of an episode, I’m pretty sure. We hear Medaka proclaim that her goal is to fulfill every request she gets, to the letter, without any regard to the consequences, and already, I can’t even tell you how many ways this promise could be abuse, but let’s get back on topic.
A girl hires her to help her write a love letter, claiming she has bad handwriting. Medaka hands this job off to one of her council members, who then writes the entire letter for the client, and when Medaka hears about this, she’s pretty disappointed… Not by the fact that he didn’t go the obvious route of simply dictating the letter, but because the letter was in his words, and thus would be meaningless to the receiver. So how does he rectify his mistake? I am not kidding about this… He teaches the client to have better handwriting. So this entire plot about coming up with your own words that are true to your heart is spawned from a request for HANDWRITING advice. Which is great, because if they performed her request to the letter, there might have been long term consequences… We can’t have that!
Oh, but it gets better. In a later episode, Medaka and her council is trying to figure out how to allocate the school’s club funds to all the various school clubs. Their solution? Instead of analyzing the situation and coming up with a smart plan… Remember, this chick won millions by answering an impossible math problem… They decide to hold an athletics festival in the middle of a fucking swimming pool, while very vaguely stating that the results will decide the budget. Now, some people complain that the swimming club will have an unfair advantage, but that’s okay, because the student council is entering too, just to fight them!
Medaka says she’ll triple the budget of any team that surpasses hers out of her own pocket, but the details don’t matter… You’re supposed to be focusing on the fact that the swim team is using reckless tactics to win, because they all grew up poor and they love money. They chose an unsafe way to swim to the bottom of an over-twenty-foot pool and grabbing balls to throw in the weird sports fest basket thingies? Oh no, they should have been rapidly submerging and resurfacing the safe way! What’s that? During the three-legged race through the shallow pool, they swam, kicking in harmony? That’s just dangerous! And then you have to get used to the idea that this whole debacle was written just to give them an excuse to have Medaka kiss the female swimmer. Oh, and she gets recruited to the council, but don’t worry, we never have to explore her troubled backstory… She loses almost all personality after this.
But you know what? Those examples are just kid stuff. Those aren’t all that bad. Yeah, they’re incredibly freaking stupid and make no recognizeable version of sense, but those ultimately amount to little more than light complaints. If a stupid show that couldn’t stay focused on it’s own plot was an immediate turn-off for me, I wouldn’t have such a big soft spot for Angel Beats. No, to truly earn my fury, this show would have to royally shoot itself in the foot… Which it soundly does. So, we’re coming to the third example, and I have to warn you, it’s a bit of a spoiler, but only a bit. It’s probably the most significant event in the entire series in my opinion, but it isn’t treated as anything more than the springboard for the show’s climax, so I’m not giving too much away by telling you about it. Still, you’ve been warned.
Towards the end of the show, the Student council has a run-in with the disciplinary committee, who are upset about the council’s wardrobe adjustments. She hounds them for a bit, before realizing that she can just use the suggestion box to solve the problem(I won’t tell you what she requests, just know that it’s NOT “I request the Student Council dress more conservatively), and she’s eventually won over. Well, the Chairman of the committee is a lot more hardcore than her. Enter Greg Ayres’ villain, who gets called to the school’s orchestra club to deal with a noise complaint, and… and… He kills them. Yup. That’s all there is to it. He slaughters all but two of them, and the fact that he’s a fucking mass murderer just gets glossed over for the rest of the three episode climax.
There have been plenty of anime that I thought should have, in some way, involved the police. Characters take illegal actions, and I think “Call the police, problem solved.” This is the first character I’ve ever seen that’s gotten away with literally murdering a whole club room full of teenaged boys and girls who have families, and friends, and HOW THE FUCK DOES THIS NOT GET MENTIONED AGAIN?! This was the moment that I went from nitpicking to pass the time to full on hating the show and all it represented, and oh yeah, while we’re here, let’s talk about what it was that it represented.
The over-all message of Medaka box… Yes, there’s a message it’s trying to tell us, and if Medaka constantly getting called pretentious isn’t a good enough clue, let me help you. The message of Medaka box is that there is innate goodness in all people, and no matter what they do… No matter what the crime, no matter what their behavior, no matter how sick and revolting they are… You shouldn’t punish them, because through kindness and understanding, they can be reformed. Scratch that, I know *EXACTLY* why the mass murder is never brought up again… The sooner you forget about it, the less you’ll be compelled to ask if the families of all those slaughtered would be satisfied in knowing that the kid who left them grieving was beaten in battle, reformed, and then recruited to be the new vice president of the student council, instead of becoming somebody’s lovely bunkmate in prison. Oops, that was a spoiler, but you know what? Here’s all you need to know about this show in order to spoil the whole damn thing: Medaka is the mouthpiece of an extremely naive and ignorant worldview, and everything that happens, no matter how unlikely the event or how incomprehensible the decision, is made to support her grandstanding in one way or another. There’s a chance she might get proven wrong in season 2, but I don’t know, and I never will know, because I’m never touching this series again with a sixty foot pole.
Medaka Box is available from Sentai Filmworks in both DVD and Blu-ray formats, both of which are pretty expensive if you don’t find a good sale on them. The manga, by author Nisioisin and illustrator Akira Akatsuki is available stateside through it’s run in Shounen Jump, but has unfortunately not been released in standalone paperback yet. Unless of course you speak Spanish or French. A Second season, which is called Medaka Box Abnormal, is also available from Sentai Filmworks, and from what I’ve heard, it runs on a premise that may actually redeem Medaka’s character… The fact that she’s not human.
I’ve been doing Studio Gainax month for three years now, and in that time, I’ve come across some huge disappointments. I wasn’t a fan of Abenobashi, His and Her circumstances or Stella Women’s Academy, but Medaka Box is easily the worst Gainax show I’ve ever seen. I didn’t enjoy a single second of this shallow excuse for fanservice exploitation. I might have been more lenient on it if it were just stupid, and never left the boundaries of being laughably bad, but it didn’t… It used a pointlessly grim-dark tonal shift at the top of it’s third act to suddenly start pretending to take itself seriously just because it felt it had to. I don’t know what it was building to, and I don’t care. I give Medaka Box a 1/10, and the only reason I’m giving it that much is because the animation was decent, and despite that ugly thing they did, the final act did have a lot of neat, enjoyable action in it. Other than that, I’m done with this.