2015 In Review: Shiroyuni’s Award Picks (Genres & Production)

2015in reviewShiroyuni's Award Picks

Welcome to a multi-part series of all the anime in the 2015 lineup that I have watched! In this series, I pen my thoughts of a range of 2015 anime on a comparative basis, and give them certain ‘titles’ and/or ‘awards’ that I feel that they deserve.

To be honest, I never thought I would be able to finish watching all the notable series in year 2015 in just a little more than a month, but I did it! *whew* Do bear in mind that this is my first time consolidating and writing something like this, so I would appreciate any the support that’s given! šŸ˜€

Before we start, just a few pieces of background information and disclaimers:

  1. This series will be contain minor spoilers. Definitely not enough to affect your enjoyment of the show if you haven’t seen it šŸ˜‰
  2. This list takes into accountĀ all series that END in 2015. Thus, thisĀ includes certain Fall 2014 anime that have aired for more than one cour, andĀ excludes Fall 2015 which have not finished airing as of 31 December 2015.
  3. Out of the 196 known anime series (including shorts) that have aired in 2015, I have only completedĀ 37 of them . AllĀ of them areĀ titles that should be familiar if you have been following somewhat about what has been airing throughout the year.
  4. Unfortunately, there are series I wanted to include in this list but wasn’t able to complete in time, including, amongst others, titles likeĀ The Perfect Insider, Gakkou Gurashi, K: Return of Kings, The Seven Deadly Sins, Log Horizon (Season 2), Nisekoi (Season 2), My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Season 2)
  5. There are also DNF titles which may or may not be mentioned somewhere throughout this series.
  6. Please note thatĀ this series contains some of my personal opinions.Ā Certain awards/titles are evaluated more objectively (Best AnimationĀ for example) while some are definitelyĀ looked at in a more subjective manner (Most Personally RelatableĀ for example). I do try to substantiateĀ ALL my opinions however. šŸ™‚
  7. I PUT A LOT OF WORK IN THIS SO PLEASE ENJOY *wide grin* no seriously, I did. Throughout the process I also did realise that deliberately confining yourself to certain choices of anime just because you need to finish them within a certain timeĀ canĀ make anime-watching a chore at times. Nevertheless, Ā it was fun writing all these šŸ˜€

Without further ado, let’s proceed! Today’s segment mainly deals with the orthodox titles relating toĀ genres orĀ production. Enjoy! šŸ™‚

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Musings on Fate Stay Night Unlimited Blade Works (TV series): Emiya Shirou’s Idealism

*Warning: Contains unpopular views & quotes (hence spoilers) from Unlimited Blade Works (TV series) and mild ending spoilers for Fate Zero*

Shirou Emiya has always been an enigma of a character to me. Scathingly reduced to a lovelorn and overtly idealistic two-dimensional fool in Fate Stay Night (Studio Deen’s version), his blandness as a main character has left a stark impression on my mind, like an ugly scar tainting what was otherwise a highly enjoyable anime-watching experience. As such, I have always been quick to criticise and denounce the hype and fame surrounding that series. In fact, the only way for me to rationalise said fervour was to attribute it to overwhelming fan support for Saber and a well told romantic story with a female lead of a novel archetype. Never has it crossed my mind that Shirou Emiya would have anything to do with any positive description.

Then Unlimited Blade Works arrived at my doorstep and I found myself debunking all prior judgment about Shirou being as interesting as a blank slate. Credit should probably given to the Unlimited Blade Works route, which either (1) delved more into the interesting aspects of the Fate Stay Night story i.e. the concept of heroism and how ideals that transcend the person clash with one’s sense of self; or (2) was simply adapted more masterfully. In any event, Shirou’s ideals, which gave the misleading impression in previous series of laughable naivety, are fleshed out here. They actually start to make sense.

However, that does not mean that they are in any way admirable. In fact, my position is that they are a dangerous set of ideals which if adopted without qualification, have profound effects beyond what series has explored.Ā In this post, I will elaborate on my position by expounding on the reasons mentioned by the other characters, and add in my two cents’ worth:

Archer i.e. Heroic Spirit Emiya

Being the soul incarnate of Emiya in a parallel world, Archer is arguably the best placed to give criticism with the benefit of hindsight to the ‘rightness’ or Shirou’s cause of action. After all, he is the one who had lived through that ideal and ultimately ended up with the destiny of fruitless eternal reincarnation. (The counter-argument here would be that it is precisely because they are essentially the ‘same souls’ that any attempt to judge themselves through the eyes of their alter ego is a meaningless endeavour due to the inherently skewed lens they would cast upon themselves in doing so. Yet since they exist in parallel this isn’t as strong a counter as it would have been.)

When Archer and Shirou are set upĀ in opposition to each other in the action scenes symbolising the clash of ideals (or swords), we can see how diametrically opposed they actually are. In that fight, Archer represents a disillusioned Shirou, sticking to his ideals and living by them staunchly, only to discover the impossibility of his goal and the fact that it has instead culminated in an outcome which he had initially sought to prevent. Hence, Archer’s words hit home when he accuses Shirou of being hypocritical in copying the ideals of a man he had idolised and looked up to and living solely to achieve those ideals. Notwithstanding the possibility that ‘saving everyone’ and ‘making everybody happy’ is an admirable goal in itself, the unqualified nature of such a goal smacks of ludicrity and the product of unworldliness. To Archer, he is doing Shirou a favour by killing him, so that he does not in future live out an existence of shame, self-blame, and despair as he do. In essence, Archer is looking to ending Shirou’s life as a form of true salvation.

Shirou acknowledges all that Archer has said and admits that he is hypocritical adopting another person’s wish. And yet, this wish of wanting to help others isn’t any less real. ‘Even if that life is like a machine; even if that life is dripping in hypocrisy’, he wants to carry out his ideals, simply because theyĀ aren’t wrong.

One cannot doubt that Shirou’s way of justifying his goals as a counter to Archer’s conclusion is pretty typical of Japanese entertainment and the positive messages it seeks to uphold and send to its viewers. By condemning his self”s desires and sense of identity to nothingness, he puts the world and an ideal above everything else – that is self-sacrifice of a truly highest level. Yet, herein lies the danger.Ā By carrying out his goals of a better world, Shirou ultimately has to choose sides – that means killing people that are ‘wrong’ and ‘bad’, or have committed ‘crimes’. But who is Shirou to judge? Ultimately, living out his ideal means that he gets to play God, and in basing such decisions based on his personal set of morals and his sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, he is in fact condemning the people whose ideals do not agree with him.

However, detractors from this position will argue that there isn’t much of a contradiction when after all, most societies’ and/or people’s senses of morality are relatively consistent. Despite being of different race, religion and nationality, we can all agree that cold-blooded murder and rape is bad, for example. Yet, throw in situations akin toĀ Death Parade’sĀ episodic customersĀ into the mix, and the moral dilemma surfaces. In fact, even in seemingly clear cut cases, such dilemmas do exist. As a judge of right and wrong, when the circumstances of a ‘crime’ are made known, the lines of morality becomes increasingly blurred.

Archer may have turned out to be more twisted and cynical than he should have been, but his concerns are valid. That Shirou may ultimately turn out to kill more people than he saves, and that knowledge may potentially destroy him given the way he was so determined to discard his self to serve as a hero of justice, appears to be Archer’s primary concern. Shirou’s declaration that he, effectively, doesn’t mind doing that, doesn’t actually help. And this will only be more clear as we move on to the other characters.

Tohsaka Rin

Rin’s objection to Shirou’s ideals as we see in the earlier parts of Fate stem from more of a concern for his well-being, which is understandable as her role as Shirou’s partner in battle and in life (at least in this route). Even if she appears to come to terms with Shirou’s stubbornness and change her stance to support him and the way he chooses to live his life at the end of the series, it is highly understandable as she loves him. However, it is through Rin’s objections where Shirou’s danger of losing his self becomes more pronounced. Shirou’s selflessness not only destroys himself, but also the people who love him and who care for him. Is that, ironically, a display of true selfishness akin to unmerited suicide? Rin’s choice in the end ultimately also means her destruction, and she clearly knows that.

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh has a very interesting take on Shirou’s quest to be a hero of justice. His attitude towards humanity, whom he views – mostly – as mere mongrels with an inherent darkness which they refuse to admit and embrace, may come across as ridiculously exaggerated and classically villainous. And yet, there is some truth to be gleaned from his opinions, however annoying his pompousness and overpowering sense of superiority may seem to some.

From his perspective, Shirou aims to achieve equality through the moral compass, by saving all that supposedly deserves to be saved and condemning the rest who don’t. To him, Shirou is a weakling who cannot acknowledge the fact that darkness exists in humanity and the world, and cannot possibly be eradicated. In many ways, Gilgamesh’s label that ‘humanity is the name of an animal who cannot find joy in life without sacrifice’ is not entirely sweeping, though only in that joy is only joy when looked in contrast to sacrifice. Hence, it is the same with the concept of equality. Because people will never truly be equal, it is impossible to truly judge a person (the Emperor of Britaania of Code GeassĀ and the core theme of Death Parade come to mind) and hence to distinguish between one whom he ought to save and one he should not.

Emiya Kiritsugu

Kiritsugu’s weariness of the world and his struggles are actually more aptly mirrored by Archer than Shirou. His actions of repeated killing for an ideal that has no doubt become twisted also bears more resemblance to what Archer has grown to become and realise after time. Yet, Kiritsugu also represents a cross between Archer and Shirou. By logically taking a utilitarian approach and viewing the value of human lives by mere numbers, he chooses to destroy a few to save all, as seen in his unwavering single-minded pursuit of the Holy Grail in the previous war by all means possible and destruction of all obstructions in his path. Kiritsugu however, knows the weakness of the ideal he pursues, and ultimately seeks salvation in the form of saving a single life in the fire of destruction he indirectly caused. We see the logical, merciless facade of his collapse as he sees Shirou in the fire. In a way, Kiritsugu is more humane than Shirou as his emotions tangle with his decisions towards the end ofĀ Fate Zero.

Shirou, in contrast, represents the zealous pursuit of an ideal without a care for himself, which is no doubt unsustainable and inherently more dangerous. Aside from the concerns of playing God, the concerns of Shirou’s source of humanity and sense of morality is in question when he has zero self-love. For where do these originate, and how do they stay strong as a sense of guidance, if Shirou loses himself in his relentless quest to devote himself to his ideal? This concern is more apparent here when Kiritsugu is compared with Shirou, for the former tried and his humanity surfaces in the overwhelming sense of emotion and despair that he feels. Shirou, without the benefit of years of experience, seems more like a being to fear than to love.

Conclusion

Of course, Shirou’s ideals are not exactly wrong. While Archer and Kiritsugu are not the best alternatives due to the weaknesses innate in the way they carry out their ideals, Shirou carries a more innocent, destructive outlook that may not be obvious when first confronted with his ideals. There are too many questions as too how his ideals are actually the ‘right’ ones to be pursuit, and whether it is indeed the ‘best’ set that should be followed. The Fate series does not offer a clear answer to this, and seems to prefer Shirou’s ideals (through it choosing to show Shirou in a more positive light and giving him a more hopeful ending than his predecessor, Kiritsugu). However, the unanswered questions loom for those who refuse to accept such a conclusion at face-value and who seek to discover a more convincing resolution or ‘truth’ to these questions. As such, Emiya Shirou remains but an alternate perspective, but he should never personify the ‘best’ definition of what a hero of justice is and should be.

What do you guys think? Which set of ideals do you think is the best to adopt? Or, relatedly, who do you think is the true ‘hero of justice’? Feel free to comment and leave your thoughts below šŸ™‚

Fate Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV Series): Checking in just before S2 starts!

On the eve of the day the first episode of the second season of Fate Stay Night (Unlimited Blade Works) (TV series) with its mouthful of a name is slated to air amongst fervent anticipation, I decide that it is apposite for me to finally get down to writing my thoughts on its prequel which aired in Fall 2014.

UBW tells the story of an age-old ritual and fight to the death, named the Holy Grail War, of which the prize is the omnipotent Holy Grail, said to grant any wish of its possessor. To do so, seven masters are given seven heroic spirits chosen by the Grail, namely: Saber, Lancer, Archer, Rider, Caster, Assassin and Berserker. Each master will then enter a contract with their Heroic Spirit or Servant, and then battle other masters and their servants to the death until one pair remains.

I have always had mixed feelings aboutĀ the Fate franchise. Spawning many animated works so far, Ufotable and the legendary Gen Urobochi’s version of Fate Zero, the prequel to Fate Stay Night, has blown my mind away with its animation, quote-worthy dialogue, stunning action and character development. Unfortunately, Studio Deen’s adaptation of Fate Stay Night had left much to be desired and left a very bad taste in my mouth. Fortunately for me, this was again Ufotable’s adaptation and they were also animating Rin Tohsaka’s route this time so it was really good news for me (sorry, not really a Saber fan in the romance department, though undoubtedly Saber is a really cool character.)

UBW specifically focuses on Rin Tohsaka, who enters the War after due preparations as the heir to the Tohsaka Household, a heralded house of mages of whichĀ generations have participated in the war. However, she saves this boy, Emiya Shirou, who had been unexpectedly caught up in the battles, from the brink of death, bringing him into the world of the Holy Grail War where certainly Rin never expected to, and Shirou much less.

Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that this is Shirou’s story, rather than Tohsaka. I have always been a little impatient with Shirou as a character in Fate Stay Night, mainly because I found his ideals very unrealistic and too goody-two-shoes as a hero. Possibly because what he also said, below.

Most intelligent line ever. Even when taken in context.

But enough of that. That was Studio Deen. This is Ufotable. The animation studio DOES make a difference.

Thankfully, though Shirou still maintains much of his core ideals to my chagrin, he comes across as more earnest, more realistic and less eager to jump into shit in UBW where he knows he stand no chance of winning given his meagre magical powers as opposed to the people who have trained relentlessly for years just for this War. He is also actually more developed as a character and makes decisions and carries them out in more measured steps and after some thinking.

What makes things better is also the focus on Tohsaka and her servant, Archer. I have always found Archer interesting as a character so I was glad that the focus was on him (and I still haven’t figured out his identity though I think I was supposed to know already. Goes to show how much I bothered to remember from Fate Stay Night.) Archer does deliver some bombastic lines to knock some sense into Shirou, enough to make me pause and replay his monologue anyway.

As for Tohsaka, she has always been Best Girl for me. Sorry Saber fans, Rin is way more holistic and has more endearing reactions, for me anyway. Saber is a little too stubborn for her own good and her and Shirou together is one huge giant no for me. Its a little strange though, I have never been fond of sassy female characters when there are other girl options but Rin really won me over.

My favourite girl tsundere, even though I have a well-established dislike for girl tsunderes in general.

The only other thing left to commendĀ is Ufotable’s razor-sharp animation and the way each screen oozes ‘bottomless budget’ to me. The fights are sometimes even too fast for me to catch what is going on – its really pretty amazing. Not to mention the extremely well done backgrounds and scenery. In fact, I think its hard to see animation of such a high quality as Ufotable’s works. Unfortunately or fortunately, they seem to be only intent on animating Type Moon’s works.

That’s all my thoughts for now; time to jump into the second season head-on for the ride to the finish! Who else’s gonna watch this as well? Leave a message! ^^

*All images belong to the respective owners and licensees of copyright and do not belong to me.*