Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Animondo: Classicaloid (Season 1)

Welcome back to Animondo, my extremely occasional look at various anime. I'm Bob, and today I'll be your guide to:

ClassicaLoid is an interesting little comedy with the kind of plot you can really only get in anime. You see, a music production company has decided to engage an an ambitious project: creating clones (sometimes using that term extremely loosely) of various famous composers from history, like Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, or Liszt. Oh, and these clones have supernatural powers of somewhat unclear origin that are tied to their famous pieces, because of course they do, because anime.

The show's major characters, then, are several of these famous composers - mostly Beethoven and Mozart, though several others also have major roles. The main character, though, is Kanae, a girl who is trying to run a boarding house set in her grandmother's old mansion as a way of being able to maintain the mansion itself, which holds a lot of memories for her. As the show opens, she hasn't been very successful, and it appears the mansion may be going to be torn down, something she's resigning herself to accept. She's also dealing with the fact that her irresponsible father disappeared on her and left her managing all this on her own. Kanae's friend Sōsuke is encouraging but generally not particularly helpful, and while not as major a character as Kanae, has his own subplot about wanting to be a composer but lacking 1) willingness to work hard and 2) any discernable musical talent.

The show is really something of a sitcom more than anything else - an anime-style sitcom that goes way over-the-top at times, but a sitcom. There is kind of an overarching plot - which is not about the mansion's impending demolition, which is largely dealt with in the first episode, but instead about the original ClassicaLoid, Bach, who now heads up the organization that created the clones and seems to be trying to gather them for an unknown plan - but the show is more about the odd situations these characters get into day by day than anything else, and Kanae's attempts to have something remotely resembling a normal life when cloned classical composers with strange supernatural powers and little common sense - and Sōsuke, who is no better - keep impulsively doing things that drive her insane.

The ClassicaLoids themselves are all meant to be cloned composers, but like I said, the amount to which they are recognizable as their old selves can vary considerably. In some cases, their appearance is clearly based on a famous piece of art (for instance, Beethoven definitely has the hair and general expression of a famous depiction of him) or they at least have a general feel of being the person in question. In others, such as Liszt and Tchaikovsky, they've been just randomly genderswapped and in Tchaikovsky's case, significantly youthened as well, which the show never bothers to explain but at least does lampshade for comedic effect.

Kind of weird that if they were going to make one of the characters a kid, they made it Tchaikovsky rather than noted child prodigy composer Mozart (to be fair, Mozart does appear quite a bit younger than the other main ClassicaLoids, but still, strange that we have that concept on the show but not with the character who would have a reason for it). 

So...I rather like this show, but it took me a while to fully decide that I did. It's creative and fun, and the characters play off each other well...but it feels like it takes a while to hit its stride. The first several episodes take their time introducing characters, which is fine, but for these episodes, each character feels very one-note (ironic term to use for a show about composers, I guess). Beethoven is obsessed with the perfect gyoza, Mozart is constantly being reckless on rollerskates or such (or making moderately perverse jokes), Liszt is all about love, Chopin is a recluse, and Schubert, who shows up intermittently for a bit before also becoming a regular, is worshipful of Beethoven (and hates Mozart).

The characters do grow beyond these initial impressions, and spin off into other related weirdness - Beethoven, for instance, turns out to just have an obsessive personality in general and gets fascinated by a variety of things over the course of the show, a trait that delivers one of my favorite episodes late in the series - but it takes a few episodes for that to start, so the first few can kind of hit the same themes a few times too many. It never gets dull, it just doesn't start out with that immediate "yes" reaction that a really good show sometimes gives - it takes a while to really click.

When I started watching ClassicaLoid, I told Al that I knew it was interesting and I knew I wanted to see more of it to see what strange stuff would come up, but I wasn't actually sure I was enjoying it. It was an odd thing to say, but that was honestly my reaction - the first several episodes are weird and somewhat funny, but not particularly exciting or entrancing. I felt like I wanted to see more, but I couldn't even really say why. Episode 5 first showed me that the show could develop its characters, which helped, as we found out the reason behind Beethoven's gyoza obsession and kind of resolved that plot. But it really wasn't until Episode 13 that I truly, honestly felt like I could decide my feelings on the show and realized I did actually think it was good, and was now enjoying it.

All that to say, your mileage may vary, but be prepared for ClassicaLoid to take a while to really develop as a show, at least if your anime tastes are similar at all to mine!

Overall, though, the general concept does just work. The ClassicaLoids are weird and funny, but also do become characters we can care about. Sōsuke's interactions with them are interesting, too, as a guy who honestly wants to be like them. Kanae keeps the show grounded well, and serves as both the show's "straight man" and emotional heart. Though the show is largely played purely for comedy, any time there's an issue the show wants you to get more serious about, Kanae is involved, which is a smart move.

I'm not sure the show getting serious always works when it does (I'm not particularly fond of the "Mountain King" episode where they try to do something weird but somewhat serious with Mozart...), but it does at least generally avoid doing anything like that for long - I think the writers recognized where the strength of the show was, and they only introduce serious elements just long enough to keep you caring about the characters. There's never a "very special episode" of ClassicaLoid, as we'd put it with our sitcoms.

Once the show got going, I found it a lot of fun. The main plot, when it comes up, gets very strange (especially in the lead-up to the final episode, but especially in the final episode) and some episodes work better than others, but by and large the characters work well together, there's enough depth to them to keep you interested, Kanae works well as a "straight man" for the group and to give the show some actual heart, and the concepts for the vaguely magical, possibly illusion-based powers of the ClassicaLoids are quite fun.

Haven't talked about those much, have I? Those powers, called Musik, are a pretty big part of the show despite what it may have sounded like so far, but this never becomes a battle anime or anything. The concepts for the powers are interesting, and while it isn't entirely clear, it appears most of them work by kind of setting up an illusion or mental influence rather than actually altering the world, with a few possible exceptions as the show goes on (particularly in the last few episodes). For instance, Beethoven has one that causes people to start dancing with each other, and even forms nearby objects into giant robots (because anime) that also start dancing with each other, but after it finishes there's no sign of any aftermath of giant robot dances, so I think the idea is that it's all in people's heads. Similarly, Schubert has one that appears to turn people into infants, but we're directly shown on a video screen that they're actually still adults and just crawling around.

There's a few powers in the later part of the show, though, that seem like they actually do create objects in the world or have a direct effect (such as one Bach uses in the final few episodes), so perhaps that's not a solid role.

The Musik powers are fun, but they do also lead to one notable problem I have with the show that I do have to mention before I finish up here, and that's that the music is...not actually handled that well. With a show about classical composers, you'd expect the music to be amazing, and in some cases it works out well (I really like the title theme, for instance). But the way they choose to handle many of these famous pieces is just odd.

Whenever a composer starts using one of their Musik powers, one of their famous pieces will be playing...interpreted in modern style. Which actually would be fine, except that it is so interpreted as to be unrecognizable. Pieces start with a recognizable element, but then very quickly drop it and become just kind of...I don't know. Generic anime music? Sometimes it seems kind of like J-Pop, but other times it's just a song without any real discernible style.

To be clear, it's not reinterpreting the music that bothers me - it's that so much of what makes the compositions those particular compositions gets stripped out. Sometimes I can't even detect the melody anymore, and that's a pretty darn big thing to lose! It's also a major negative in the final episode, where the ClassicaLoids are supposedly blending together to play a unified piece, but there's not really any thematic representation of that in the actual music.

There are times when it works quite well, though - in particular, Schubert's Erlkönig, which is hilariously transfigured into a rap song, is kind of awesome. 

They lost Al when they mentioned Avocados, though.

But by and large, I prefer the times when the show sticks closer to the source material and just does something weird with it, like when it takes Beethoven's Für Elise, adds a singer but largely keeps the melody, and juxtaposes it with him getting really obsessed about coffee.

That's also probably my favorite episode of the show - it takes a simple concept (Beethoven wants to brew the perfect cup of coffee) and just gets progressively more out of control as the show goes on.

Overall, I find ClassicaLoid a very fun show, and if it sounds at all interesting to you, I recommend giving it a watch - just be aware that it can take a while to really hit its stride.

ClassicaLoid is, to my knowledge, thus far only available subtitled. It will be receiving a second season this year.

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