Rule of Three Review, Adaptation Digest: Nobunaga Concerto, Sailor Moon Crystal – Episodes 2-3

Never judge a book by its cover – or a series by its animation.

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I’ve been playing catch-up all week (IRL and online) thanks to last week’s LeakyCon whirlwind, so this is coming out rather later than intended. Thankfully this pair works well together, as both are adaptations of well-regarded manga and both suffer from a serious case of the Not Very Good Animation Blues. Can story overcome animation? Hit the jump to find out.

Nobunaga Concerto

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I suspect a lot of people gave up on this show before it even aired, which is a shame, because awful CG aside, Nobunaga Concerto is a damn good series. Saburo is a great MC, optimistic and easygoing but also ambitious and surprisingly clever, gradually revealing a tactician’s mind beneath his careless facade. His relationships to the other characters is a strange thing to watch, as well: simultaneously attentive to their needs while remaining detached, he seems to take just about everything in stride, never upset or worried for too long.

Of course, Saburo’s layered, eccentric personality is conveyed largely thanks to Miyano Mamoru, who as I mentioned in the premiere review is absolutely killing it in this series. It’s not an easy thing to describe in text – you really just have to hear him to get it – but despite an animation style that severely limits the physical expressiveness of its characters, Miyano fills Saburo with life, infusing him with humor, intensity, and above all, charisma. The rest of the cast does a fine job as well, but it’s Saburo who has to carry this show, and its Miyano who so fantastically makes that happen.

Perhaps the most impressive element of NC is the way it has handled its storytelling and pacing. I took a quick peek at the first volume of the manga out of curiosity, and my suspicions were confirmed: While the manga is almost as fast-paced as its anime counterpart, the anime is still covering a lot of material very quickly (roughly 40-50 pages per episode), and even cutting some world- and character-building chapters altogether. This should feel rushed, disjointed, and incomprehensible, but for the most part the anime manages to cover its material with seeming ease, so that it isn’t until the end of the episode that I think, “Damn, a lot happened this week.”

The writer/director have also smartly chosen to maintain a balance between small character moments and important plot points, so that we still have time to get to know (and care about) our cast before the next big battle or betrayal puts them in harm’s way again. It’s not perfect, and there are some moments that work better than others (parts of Ep2 were a bit too rapid-fire to properly convey the emotional impact, IMO), but given the challenges of adapting such an epic work in what I’m assuming is a single cour (no official length has been announced), it’s impressive that the series works as well as it does.

Every episode I find myself getting angrier and angrier at whoever decided to do this show in crappy CG, because I get the distinct feeling director Fujikawa could have made it shine even on a limited budget and a single-cour run. As it is, I will continue to watch, eagerly await a manga translation, and hope that other viewers can look past the CG and see this series for the hidden gem it is.

Sailor Moon Crystal

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Like Nobunaga Concerto, SMC has some pretty serious animation flaws. The CG transformation sequences still jar with the rest of the animation (although the Mars flames actually did look pretty cool), there are a lot of off-model hiccups, and you kinda just get the feeling this was rushed out the door. I’ve seen some people defending the animation because of the low budget, but I’ve watched a lot of shows with low budgets that still managed to look professional, and this isn’t one of them. I’m not asking for dynamic animation or even a particularly clever use of camera angles, but at the very least, you can make your still shots anatomically correct.

But hey, if I can overlook NC’s clunkiness, I can overlook some wonky sailor art. (And, as is so often the case, I suspect the cleaned-up version that goes on the DVDs/BDs will look much better.) So how does the rest of the show hold up?

…Honestly, I’m not impressed. Where the story, direction, and acting of NC help it to overcome its animation flaws, I’m having a hard time making the same case for SMC. Maybe it’s because I’m watching this at the same time I’m watching ‘90s Sailor Moon, but there’s an energy and enthusiasm to the original series that I’m just not feeling this time around. It’s shiny, sure, but there’s no… it’s hard to explain, and I suspect it’s largely subjective, but you know how sometimes you get the feeling that the people working on a show aren’t all that interested in it, like they’re just going through the motions? That’s what SMC feels like to me: Like no one behind the scenes actually CARES about the story or the characters. ‘90s SM has its problems, to be sure, but at least it feels like everyone was enjoying the hell out of themselves while they made it.

That said, there are some things going for SMC story-wise that I prefer over ‘90s SM. Mamoru is a high schooler instead of a college student, Usagi plays the ditzy damsel less frequently, and Rei and Usagi seem to actually get along this time around (although I’m still not sure if I prefer Composed Rei to Firebrand Rei – time will tell, I suppose).

It’s my understanding that this is a faithful adaptation of the manga, so presumably this is how the story went down in the manga as well, and that’s great. But when you make an anime adaptation the additional elements of voice, movement, and music should add something to the source material, and right now I don’t think this adaptation is doing that. I’m going to keep watching in hopes that it improves, but in terms of recommending it to others, I’m more inclined to tell people to just read the manga. I suspect you would enjoy it more.

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