Day 8 of my 12 Days of Anime has traditionally been reserved for recalling an experience in which I watch an anime that I normally wouldn’t watch. For reference, the four previous versions of my Day 8 posts have been:
- Giving a Bad Anime a Chance (Softenni, 2011)
- Giving a Forgotten Anime a Chance (Yuru Yuri, 2012)
- Giving a Disappointing Anime a Second Chance (Tamayura ~more aggressive~, 2013)
- Giving a Renowned Anime a Chance (Mushishi, 2014)
The posts all share a common theme in which I watch and enjoy an anime that usually would otherwise be rejected or dismissed due to my exclusion criteria for anime. Sometimes, I don’t watch an anime because it looks bad or because I forgot about. Other times, I don’t watch an anime because the first season was disappointing or I never got around to watching one of those anime classics. This year, I’m going to remember an experience where I watched the second season to an anime franchise without watching the first series or the movie in between TV broadcasts. Yes, I’ve never really done that before, jumping into a franchise in the middle of its run, but without the time or energy to catch up on the originals, this was my really my only chance to stay current with the anime while it aired. And in case you didn’t figure it out yet, either from the context of the post or the screenshot above, the anime is Soukyuu no Fafner – Dead Aggressor: Exodus.
Soukyuu no Fafner – Dead Aggressor originally aired as a 25 episode anime in 2004, three OVAs between 2005 and 2006, and followed-up with a 90-minute movie in 2010. The franchise returned again this year with a new TV anime, a sequel to the movie, after a 10-year hiatus from TV. At this point, I would normally pass on the anime considering the sheer amount of material necessary to catch up. However, after being captivated by the PV and considering the length between the original TV series and this new one, I figured that the anime wouldn’t require too much knowledge and was more a way to welcome new fans to the franchise. And, as soon as the first episode was over, my bet paid off. In January, I wrote:
Soukyuu no Fafner – Dead Aggressor: Exodus
Perhaps the most crucial, most valuable lesson learned from this first episode of Soukyuu no Fafner – Dead Aggressor: Exodus, at least from my perspective, is that you don’t need to sit through the originals to watch and enjoy this anime. Without having watched the TV anime from 2004 or the movie from 2010, I was able to understand and appreciate the background, the setting, and the characters. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a number of references and other tidbits that hinted back to the original series that I completely missed, but I’m fine with watching Soukyuu no Fafner without it. However, I will admit that this first episode was a bit underwhelming. If I were to give this episode a review in a single word, I wouldn’t have any qualms with saying, ‘mediocre’. But this mediocre isn’t bad… it’s not mediocre in the overall field of anime, just mediocre in my personal field… which means it’s actually pretty good. In fact, I think I enjoy just about every aspect of this anime from its art, to its action, to its characters, to its story, its setting, its everything. But what gives it that mediocre tag is that nothing blew me away. It was underwhelming in that nothing stood out to me about this anime to make it exceptional or memorable. Fafner is an enjoyable anime, one that I will likely enjoy watching each week, but there’s nothing special about this anime… yet.
Well, it didn’t take long for me to find something special about Fafner. Almost every chance I had to write posts about Fafner, I celebrated the series with praise and approval. For example, at the end of the first season, I wrote:
Soukyuu no Fafner – Dead Aggressor: Exodus (Episode 12)
The contrast between the older generation of Fafner pilots and the young prodigies that are replacing them is remarkable in Soukyuu no Fafner. The anime has done an outstanding job articulated the differences in the mentalities and behaviors between the cautious and resilient experienced pilots and the passionate and unsophisticated crew of teenagers back on Tatsumiyajima. Hell, it even goes down to the subtle details, like the difference in the bands on the fingers of the experienced pilots and the untainted fingers of the new crew. Furthermore, it helps that the two sides are fighting different campaigns and that we’re able to see the two fight independently of each other, thus leaving each group intact and allowing us to see the personalities of the two groups separately. Perhaps no aspect is more dissimilar than how they respect the power of assimilation and how they fear it or do not fear it. This point has been made especially clear with the emphatic turn-of-events recently with the teenagers now experiencing adverse and horrific symptoms associated with assimilation. You wonder if they’re developing these problems because of how they act, especially since the other pilots in Asia have been largely unaffected by assimilation. It also makes you wonder how these teenagers will change in order to overcome these obstacles… or if they’ll ever be able to overcome them. Soukyuu no Fafner has done a marvelous job with these two groups of pilots and the contrasts in their personalities, and with another season of Fafner ahead, I’ll be curious to see what they do with these two groups, how they’ll grow, and what they’ll do when they come together again.
Of course, that was all just with the first season. The second half of Fafner premired this fall, and the series became even better. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the time to keep up with the anime as their air, let alone write, but Fafner has quickly evolved from being an uncertain gamble in January to one of the best anime of the year in December. Really, it’s quite remarkable to think that an anime I’d normally pass on, and almost did pass on, turned out to be one of the very best shows I watched all year. And what’s crazy to think is everything that I’m missing considering my lack of knowledge from all its previous work.
Yes, the one negative for me is that I realize I’m missing out on a lot of content and references and understanding given me skipping the first 805 minutes. To no one’s surprise, Fafner Exodus did build off the original Fafner story, utilizing many of the same characters, locations, and mechs. As a result, I knew there were scenes where I missed the context or importance or weight of the moment… such as when character reunited or appeared in the series. And because of that, I do feel weary about watching sequels before watching the originals because I know I am missing out on important moments that can play with the emotions and memories of devote fans. It’s the one regret I have with Fafner, and the one thing that keeps me from leaping head-first into sequels to anime in the future.
Nevertheless, this experience was eye-opening in that one of the best anime of 2015 was a show that I normally would forego. It also helps me understand the importance of watching the original, too, given that I felt incomplete watching certain scenes that were callbacks and tributes to the original. Of course, if I have the time, I’d go back and watch the original for every show with a sequel that entices me… but that isn’t reality. One has to really weight the benefits and risks of starting an anime in the middle of its run, just as if I were to pick up any 12-episode TV anime at episode 7. Still, the lesson here is that my gamble paid off and rewarded me with an unforgettable anime, and that there may be times in the future where it’s best to consider starting a franchise at an inappropriate starting point.