Gainax used to be a truly great animation studio. I was reminded of this when I finally checked out the 1991 two-episode OAV, Blazing Transfer Student (BTS). It is a delicious concoction of absurd, delinquent high-school comedy plus hot-blooded boxing, and neither ingredient disappoints. And, it’s also pretty smart. By that, I don’t mean that BTS is particularly complicated or nuanced. Rather, the show exhibits: an understanding of its influences, knowledge of how to distill elements from those influences down to the atomic level, and an awareness that it is best served by giving in to the power of those extracted essences. Many people claim that it is nothing more than a parody, but I believe that taking such a view is a result of having an incomplete grasp of what the show is trying to accomplish.
I kind of think that everyone should see BTS, but maybe that’s because it really pushes all of my buttons. You’ll probably be in a better position to make that call yourself after reading this post? We will see. Let us begin by looking at a quick slideshow of the OAV’s first scene. It pretty much encapsulates the mentality that this show brings to the table.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading – Rancid “Indestructible”
Alright. Now you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you’re dealing with. But, for kicks, let me round out the picture with some additional detail and tell you what I dig so much about BTS.
The whole look of the show is very appealing to me. Characters have very thick, black outlines, a bit like Gurren Lagann eye-catch art or Shin Getter Robo vs Neo Getter Robo. I’ve only seen this technique used in modern shows, so it’s quite interesting to have it featured here and fitted with early 90’s anime aesthetics. I am also drawn to the color palate of the show. There is a reliance on primary and basic secondary colors here; lots of reds, blues and greens for backgrounds and clothing.. But, it’s not just the color choices that grab me, it’s also the organic look of the colors. The sky, for example, looks like it was colored by the hand of an animator who just opened a fresh pack of pencils. If you’ve been watching mostly stuff from the 00s or later, this is pretty refreshing.
This is not meant to be a soapbox. Yes, I find pre-digital animation quite pleasing and believe it to have a lot of intrinsic value, However, I have gotten over a lot of issues i used to have with “DigiPaint plus anime” and, on a separate note, also quite enjoy the pinker, aqua-ier color design of stuff like Eureka 7, Star Driver and Gatchaman Crowds. My endorsement of BST‘s aesthetic doesn’t entail any disrespect of modern animation methods or production design. Can’t I like both older and modern techniques/styles for different reasons but ultimately prefer one over the other without, quote, hating, end quote, on the other?
Anyway, I mentioned clothing before. A quick aside on that. Gainax has this knack for introducing fashion accessories that become nearly as iconic as the characters that wear them. Gurren Lagann has that cape and those sunglasses. FLCL has the goggles. And who could forget Noriko’s headband in Gunbuster? In this tradition, Gainax gives us this scarf. During the course of the OAV, Takizawa gets to throw some cool poses which are only enhanced by the scarf. Also, in my mind, the scarf is a nod to Cyborg 009, and that makes me happy because I’ve always thoughts those scarves were particularly badass. But, yeah, I think it’s neat that Gainax does this sort of thing, and I think they did a decent job of it in BTS, even if the featured accessory isn’t quite as memorable as some others highlighted above.
From presentation to taste. Just what is Blazing transfer Student? The word “parody” would likely come gushing forth, almost involuntarily, from the mouths of many otaku. Two things. First of all, “parody” is an entirely overused word in English-speaking anime fandom, as it has become a catch-all for any comedy that happens to reference other anime. I’m opposed to reductionism in general, but I think that bloggers have a bit of an added responsibility to enhance the discourse of fandom. Let’s utilize some other comedic categories. The second thing: I’m not entirely sure I agree that BTS is a parody.. I don’t believe the concept fully captures what the show is doing. This is not to in any way denigrate parodies; I just think stopping the analysis there is leaving it incomplete.
When discussing the strengths of BTS in the opening paragraphs, I claim that the show extracts the basic essences of its influences and then gives in to them. What does that mean? Well, the first part seems fairly straightforward, though it requires a degree of self-awareness and analytical skill. The creative staff was aware of what it wanted to take inspiration from and what was so appealing about those items of inspiration. Upon analysis of those shows, they were able to isolate the fundamental, atomic elements of what appealed to them and to divorce them from their original contexts via abstraction.
This procedure should probably take place during the conceptual phase of most anime. By contrast, the other part of the process, the giving in part, only works in quite specific circumstances. Lots of shows build on their fundamental elements or combine them in interesting ways. The creative staff for BTS appears to have thought that doing any such thing would involve somehow scaling back those essences, dulling them in some way. If you want these essences undiluted, then you’re going to have to get out of their way, and let them burst into flame onscreen. Ergo, BTS is meant to be a show that just puts those elements out there and lets them do the heavy lifting.
So, what are these elements, these things I happen to like so much? This might be the first time I’ve written this on rayout, but it won’t be the last: sincerity goes a long way with me. Being a member of the demographic that I am (29 year old, American, white guy) I have spent many of my media-viewing years consuming productions lathered in cynicism, irony and pessimism. It is so glorious, then, to see a piece of entertainment that not only features but endorses characters who are so earnest. Anime, as a medium, tends to do this schtick well. Takizawa, Ibuki, and the rest of the cast wear their hearts on their sleeves (faces?). This may sound like the characters come off as childish, but I actually don”t think so. Also, the sincerity is never presented as a weakness. Only one of Takizawa and Ibuki emerge from the show as the “victor,” but the reason the loser loses has nothing to do with him being too naive. No one has to learn to grow up. The “all-important” loss of innocence doesn’t enter into the picture, despite the age of the characters.
This sincerity spawns all sorts of fun side effects that I adore in my anime. There’s lots of yelling, calling out of attack names and metaphorical changing of backgrounds to accentuate the characters’ emotions. Small matters take on an ultra-serious, larger than life dimension. Things such as being late for class, naming your attacks properly, and presenting flawless arguments take on a weight of almost moral import. Yes, it’s as funny as it sounds. The creators love manliness, they love burning passion, they love fighting for what you believe in, and they love shonen anime and manga. BTS is quite a silly show, but it’s not laughing at its influences; instead, it’s embracing them for all that they are. Sure, the fact that who gets to be Yukari’s boyfriend is decided by a boxing match (another byproduct of the characters’ emotional transparency) is ridiculous. However, BTS isn’t stopping with “that’s ridiculous.” That’s not all it wants to communicate.
What the show is trying to do is put the unadulterated elements out there, let ’em burn and, both in spite of and because of their silliness, appreciate and non-ironically enjoy them anyway. The creators aren’t making fun of, satirizing or commenting on those elements (what could they be saying? there’s no subtext in this show!). Rather, they’re pushing aside everything else that “gets in the way” of what they, and the audience, enjoy. Now, the way you choose to enjoy them might be simply to think about how silly they are (and boy can they be silly!); however, the reason it’s so silly is because BTS plays it so straight. Any winking at the camera or self-effacement would dampen the effect of the show (though there is one joke that almost goes there).
Now, after that quite long bit about what BTS is trying to do, we’re going to come back around to the whole parody thing. I think my argument has already been made, but I’ll summarize it here. By their nature, parodies are more than mere imitations. They are imitations that somehow comment on and/or ridicule what is being imitated. Not only does BTS love its influences, it doesn’t really say much about them other than “HERE THEY ARE!”. Taking the handbrake off of some core elements of shonen stuff doesn’t meet the criteria for parody. Again, I love parody, but I think BTS is doing something else.
In short, here is what I think a giddy creative staffer would tell us about the show as we watched it together: “Man, this stuff is awesome! But, it’s silly too…but it’s awesome! it’s awesome because it’s silly, and silly because it’s awesome! And, isn’t this fun?” Yes, Hypothetical Creative. Yes, it is.