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Style is Substance

October 23, 2009

So Trapeze isn’t Aeon Flux or anything surreal like I was hoping. It’s more like “What if Ralph Bakshi directed an episode of ER.”

That’s hardly a bad thing.

Narratively, Trapeze is about as straight forward as you can get. Dude has a stress-induced sleep disorder because he feels the foreign scum/african stereotype/possible terrorist he works with at the circus is trying to one-up him and take his job. He goes to see a shrink about his disorder. They work through his problems and get down to the root of it all. We don’t know if he’s cured in the end, but at least he knows what his problem is and can go from there.

That’s it. That’s the plot. Nothing more, nothing else. Not unlike some sort of procedural show you’d see on network TV in the US. Got a problem, find the solution, give the solution to the people who need to sole the problem. Wham, bam, blahblahblah.

There’s a few bits that seem like lead-ins for future cases. The above goggle-wearing yakuza thug seems to have a psychotic episode when he sees a table corner. The camera fixates on a waitress who is animated like the rest of the major characters while the main dude and his boss have a conversation. We also see a man who acts like he’s in a Monty Python funny walk sketch when he sees a woman in his office that he presumably likes. This last one is confirmed as the next episode segment show this man as the next patient. So there are hints of things to come sprinkled throughout the episode. Other than these flourishes, there isn’t much to the story that isn’t completely straight forward.

All that said, this is a pretty great series. It may be mediocre narratively, but story is not the only way an anime/TV series/movie/whatever can excel.

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. The majority of anime fans are looking for something that has a “deep” narrative. They want a series or movie that has a plot that conforms to their definition of “smart.” This is all well and good, but far too often this is the only standard by which these fans judge an anime. I’ve seen many a message board post that states “I don’t care how it’s animated, I just want a deep story.” This statement really gripe me to no end. Yes, an anime can be good when there’s a great plot and substandard animation. But when said anime fan is confronted with an anime that is well-animated and has great production values, but is lacking in narrative oomph, they shrug it off as vapid fluff and never give it another look.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s missing the point of the medium of animation.

It’s more than a little short-sighted to disregard the effort and skill it takes to make a visually impressive piece of animation. There’s more to “substance” than “the events on the screen caused an emotional reaction within me that I found rewarding.” An anime, or a movie, or anything else can have “substance” through its visuals, or through its camera work, or through some other means than it’s capacity to create a complex story. And that’s where I think Trapeze makes its mark. It isn’t a vastly original artistic vision or anything like that, but it does have a distinct visual style, the animation (especially the rotoscoping) is impressive, and it does things differently enough to make the viewing experience thoroughly enjoyable. All of these things are just as “valid” when it comes to judging an anime’s “substance” as the plot. To sell these aspects short and brush off a series like Trapeze just because it has a mundane storyline is to ignore half of the things that makes anime what it is.

All in all, I am a little disappointed in Trapeze. Based on the trailer posted awhile back, and the way said trailer was edited, I was expecting a David Lynch or Takashi Miike-lite mindfucking (the bit where the foreigners say “oohayo gozaimasu” reminded me of the bit in Miike’s Gozu where the American woman reads an entire pre-written conversation off of a set of cue cards). The end result was nowhere near what I was expecting, but it was still an impressive piece of animation. We’ll see if it can maintain this throughout its run.

And with any luck we’ll see Dr. Irabu x Puss in Boots doujin in the near future. That’s totally the new hot fangirl coupling.

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