Sunday, March 3, 2013

Ink Black Analysis - Rin: Daughter of Mnemosyne

"It may sound ironic coming from me, but the gift of life is a fleeting precious thing. It is not something to be toyed with."

Rin: Daughter of Mnemosyne is a 6-episode TV anime (yes, it actually aired so it's not technically an OVA) produced by Xebec. It first aired in 2006, over the course of six months at one hour-long episode per month, and both a light novel and a manga adaptation were produced that same year. The anime is currently licensed by Funimation, while neither adaptation has been brought to the West to my knowledge.

Rin Asogi and her partner Mimi run a small private agency called Asogi Consulting in Tokyo. Together they perform odd jobs ranging from private investigations to working as bodyguards to locating missing persons. So when a youngman named Kouki Maeno shows up questioning whether his memories are real, they think nothing of it and jump at the chance to help him out. As it turns out Kouki's suspicions are not at all unfounded, and what he discovers about himself changes his life forever. But in the process of unraveling his own mystery, Kouki also discovers that his new companions Rin and Mimi are not all that they appear--they are immortals, destined to never age and able to heal from any bodily harm no matter how severe. Every now and again the Tree of Life (or Yggdrasil) appears unnoticed in Tokyo and scatters its seeds, known as Time Fruits, which grant immortality to women while turning men into Angels, the short-lived monsters who hunt these immortals. Over the course of several mysteries, sixty-five years and three generations, Mnemosyne tells the story of these two ageless women as the world continues to change around them and the fate that they've been running from all this time starts catching up to them.

First, let me get the obvious out of the way: the first two words I heard about this series were "torture porn" and it's not far from the truth. I do think there's more to the show than that, it tries to have an engaging plot beyond pure smut and the concept is actually a decent one that somewhat justifies the show's perverse tendencies. Setting aside any moral issues I might have with it, for the purposes of this review it's no different than any other kind of fanservice, especially since it's sort of justified by the show's mythos. That said, if frequent nudity, erotic moaning and women being torn asunder in various and sundry ways is a deal-breaker for you, there's no need to read this review any further because Rin: Daughter of Mnemosyne has quite a lot of that going on. You have been warned.

The visuals behind Mnemosyne are hit and miss. On one hand, the backgrounds are nice and detailed and the animation is pretty solid and consistent, but on the other the use of lighting varies wildly in quality and the characterdesigns are a bit generic, sometimes even dipping into ugly. When it's too dark, scenes that should be gripping just come out drab, and when it's too bright they end up looking gaudy. The show occasionally strikes the right balance, but the lack of consistency can be distracting, and the choreography behind the fights are pretty lackluster to boot. It's not completely incompetent, there are some good moments, but most of the show's important action scenes tend to fall flat. Maybe I'm being too harsh, it's perfectly watchable and never looks bad, it just could've used more panache. At the very least, it has a few decent camera angles mixed in.

Maybe it'd be more compelling with better music, but it was not meant to be. Half the time the music doesn't really support the series, it just feels like it was slapped on at the end with barely any thought given. It's a perfectly good soundtrack that could have matched the tone the series was going for in theory, but there was clearly very little effort put into its integration, so the strained music direction is a real shame. Combined with the poorly executed visuals, it makes all the difference between these scenes being edge-of-your-seat thrilling and just "stuff that happens". I will say that the opening and ending are both hilariously bad Engrish songs.

The voice acting in both languages is fine, perfectly serviceable all-around, but neither really tries to go beyond the call of duty. The exception to this is Todd Haberkorn as the villainous Apos, his voice dripping with venomous obsession in a way few voice actors can nail. Stop casting him as harem leads, Funimation, he's capable of much better than that. Also, I suppose Mimi sounds better in the dub, but that might just be my distaste for moe bleedingthrough, I'll take Jamie Marchi's sassy performances over Rie Kugimiya's distilled cutesiness any day. I digress. For a show as dry and dramatic as this I can't help but think that more nuanced performances would have been fitting, but the scripts and acting in both languages are pretty content to just skate by. On the surface, the whole package just looks dull and uninspired.

In case my lack of enthusiasm wasn't immediately apparent, I'll just come out and say it: I was not impressed by this series in the least. Looking at the concept on paper I can see where its modest popularity comes from, promising a sexy thriller with suspenseful battles, engaging mysteries and a unique mythos. Oh, and lots of fanservice, if that tickles your fancy. In execution, though, the series doesn't deliver. Out of all the possible reactions I was prepared for going into this series, the one thing I did not expect was that I would find it boring, and yet that is just what happened. The poor direction is undeniably a big part of it--for a show that seems to want to stand out, the fights and action sequences are pretty standard, no flair or finesse to keep the audience's interest. Even when the risk takes on a global scale the tension is nonexistent. Mnemosyne is at its best when it's being tongue-in-cheek, so why couldn't it just stick with that?

Still, even with bland execution some shows can leave a positive impression if they put out a decent story. But nope, to call the story here would be mediocre would be generous. The entire first three episodes could be removed from the story altogether with only minimal rewriting and at virtually no detriment to the overarching story. The plot drags its feet through arc after inconsequential arc that often have little to do with the ridiculous mess that's eventually revealed to be the plot, and at the end of the day it seems to sincerely want the audience to take it seriously on some level. I couldn't help but think that this should have been a feature-length film if anything, maybe that would have given it some much-needed focus. We don't need to be repeatedly reminded that vodka meanswater in Russian repeatedly without variation, thank you very much. Apos' final plan is absurd and pointless and half of his means have nothing to do with the end. Several twists are thrown in for no apparent reason except to make the plot more "edgy", and it gets really old really fast, especially when the dry direction gives every indication that this story really thinks it's actually going somewhere.

Moreso than its poor plotting, this series falls flat in how it develops--and doesn't develop--its characters. For a centuries-old mystery woman, Rin is simpler and more transparent than she has any right to be. She's not unlikable, she has a respect for humanity and cares about the people who are close for her, but aside from getting angry every now and again she wears her heart on her sleeve, she has no hidden depths aside from a bit of backstory in the finale that doesn't really add anything to her character. Her partner Mimi actually gets more development, and that's not saying much. The side companions they pick up over the course of the series receive much the same treatment. Kouki, for instance, has an interesting backstory that the show conveniently tosses aside for most of his screentime only to pull it back to try to milk it for some last-minute drama. To make matters worse, they're not all that fun to watch. I know this is subjective, but if the show isn't going to make its characters complex and thoughtful the least it could do is make them energized. This show waffles incessantly between silly and serious, never sticking to one long enough to leave any kind of impression.

I've nearly beaten this show to non-death, but I have to come back to the show's fanservice elements, because while I don't think the raunchy material is inherently bad, in execution it drops the show from bland and forgettable to just plain bad. I mentioned that the mythos somewhat justified the presence of fanservice in the show, and it does: theAngels are basically incubi, and while I won't spoil it, a certain pairing becomes part of a ritual that plays a key role in the series' conclusion. It's ridiculous, but with better execution I'd be willing to go with it. Rin using her sex appeal to get close to her targets on missions? That actually makes sense. Battles fought in minimal if any clothing? A bit much, but it happens. A security guard shoving Rin, the unknown and probably dangerous intruder, to the ground and trying to rape her on the spot without subduing her properly? This is getting stupid. Everyone in this show, be they human, Immortal or Angel, is ridiculous loose and horny, to the point that it often gets in the way of their common sense. This show's oversexed nature extends well beyond what's justified by the tone and the mythos, it gets in the way of the story, and it becomes familiar so quickly that it ends up becoming just dull.

I've seen plenty of series stand out positively for the amount of love and care that went into making them, but despite its unusual production history and somewhat interesting ideas Mnemosyne feels shockingly cold and apathetic. It baffles me that the makers of something so novel and daring could care so little for their baby, but that appears to be the case. It has no idea what kind of show it wants to be, the end result tries too hard to be edgy and not hard enough to be entertainingly over-the-top about it. It still has some funny moments and some cool moments, but they're not enough to be called a saving grace. The show had no right to turn out as bland as it did. Next time, I'm moving from a woman who can't die to a man who's been brought back from the dead, with Gungrave. Until then, go find something classier to watch because this ain't it.

Final Grade: 4/10

Poor writing, dull characters, and a few wasted ideas. Loses its edge very quickly.

No comments:

Post a Comment