You voted, we watched. This is the first instalment of what will likely be a series of articles conversations between Artemis and I about anime that have, for whatever reason, been deemed as worthy contenders for the title of Worst Anime of All Time.
To be clear, the aim here isn’t simply to bash unpopular anime but instead to have a genuine (yet hopefully still entertaining) discussion about what makes any given show work/not work, and whether or not it’s deserving of such condemnation. For this reason, we’ll be striving to look at each anime on its own terms and not comparing it with any other title, regardless of any similarities or associations. So sit back, enjoy, and feel free to chime in with your thoughts and opinions in the comments.
Artemis: Well, here we are, and clearly we both survived this first viewing experience. Watson, want to start us off with you first impressions?
Watson: This show was all over the damn place. It has high school students who look and sound like they’re going on 35, it has sunglass-wearing mystery men, and it has undead samurai demons; all swaddled up in portentous but empty dialogue. It was like it didn’t know WHAT it wanted to do.
Artemis: I felt much the same. And honestly, I think I probably would have enjoyed that if I had been around 15. The show has that oh-so-dark-and-mysterious, super-angsty vibe going for it in spades. Since I’m not in fact in my teens, it now comes across as trying way too hard. Though to be fair, that’s not the gravest of sins.
Watson: Not the gravest, but a sin nonetheless. Okay, I guess I might not be the target demographic, but I kinda got the feeling the show wasn’t 100% sure who its target demographic even was.
Artemis: I’m guessing it was solidly in the 15-year old girl court.
Watson: Why do you say that?
Artemis: Well, nearly every character was a stereotypical hot-badass-guy, so there’s that. Man, those were the days. The mullet, sunglasses, and the leather pants look. I too remember when that was code for ‘extreme badass’.
Watson: … I think we probably watched different shows when we were 15.
Artemis: Heh, fair enough. But okay, so maybe even my 15-year-old self might have smirked at how veeery try-hard Mirage of Blaze seems to be. It was pushing the ominous music and extreme close-ups of eyes and wind rustling through hair for several long moments HARD. Every couple of minutes. And it’s difficult to take any show with due sense of gravity when every other shot all but screams “YOU WILL TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!”
Watson: Absolutely. Speaking of eyes, did you notice they were MUCH more detailed than the rest of the physical characteristics? It was weird. Lots of meaningful eye-acting there, which was completely ruined because I had no idea what any of it was actually meant to convey.
Artemis: I think it was meant to build atmosphere? … Probably. The eyes are a key feature of the anime aesthetic and all. The problem with Mirage of Blaze is, it’s not at all difficult for the eyes to be more detailed than the rest of the artwork combined.
Watson: I like how you say that, as if there’s only one problem.
Watson: But yes, the artwork wasn’t that great. I guess that’s why the eyes stood out; someone put a lot of effort into those… and for no good reason as far as I can tell. But anyway, I can see how you get to the whole ‘teen females as target demographic’ camp. I read the name and expected a rompin’, stompin’, action-packed good time. Boy, was I disappointed. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty weird thing to say about high school students fighting undead samurai demons.
Artemis: I’m honestly bewildered at how that even happened. I mean, imagine I was pitching you an anime series, or a story for any kind of show or work of fiction at all for that matter. And I say to you, “Okay, so there’s this dude and he’s possessed by a feudal-era samurai, and he fights other people also possessed by feudal-era samurais. And also there’s like zombies and magic and stuff. And every character other than one derpy, annoying schoolgirl is of the ‘wannabe badass’ personality persuasion.”
Watson: I might raise a skeptical eyebrow.
Artemis: But you wouldn’t say, “You know what, that sounds like a boring and uneventful story.”
Watson: I would not.
Artemis: So how exactly do you imagine that of all things came about?
Watson: Best guess? I think it’s because the show isn’t REALLY about the undead samurai demons. It’s an easy mistake to make, because they show up all the damn time, but they’re basically just an item of set dressing, if you will – something the director can reach for when they’re worried the audience might be contemplating doing something more interesting.
Artemis: Wait, you think the show had a director?? Because I have to say, it felt very much like a bunch of writers left to themselves with no direction whatsoever.
Watson: I don’t know, I didn’t watch the credits. Wasn’t that curious.
Artemis: Neither did I, I had fallen asleep by then.
Watson: But yeah, that was my first thought too – that it was several writing teams all doing their own thing, and some luckless bastard had to try and fit their products (and I use the term loosely) into a single show.
Artemis: It’s as if the staff themselves saw what they had put together, agreed that it was oddly boring, and decided to chuck a whole bunch more stuff in as a last-ditch effort.
Watson: Heh, that is a possibility. But the more I think about it, the more I think that actually there was only a single writing team. They still didn’t know what they were doing, of course, but I think there is a theme in the show.
Artemis: I think the show might have had a lot more going for it if it hadn’t tried to be so damn serious all the time.
Watson: May the undead samurai gods preserve me from a Mirage of Blaze beach episode.
Artemis: Oh god.
Artemis: Okay, but without completely running away with the idea, can you imagine the amusement you might have had if only the show had gone for a more tongue-in-cheek delivery? Not necessarily beach episode antics, but just pushing the envelope so damn hard with the meaningful stares and whatnot that it couldn’t help but become a parody of itself?
Watson: Ah. So keep everything the same, but purposefully exaggerate it to ridiculous levels?
Artemis: Right. Because as stupid as Mirage of Blaze already is, everything is played entirely straight. You can’t possibly take it seriously, yet it’s not quite stupid enough to be actually entertaining. Uh… I use ‘straight’ in the non-sexual meaning of the term, of course.
Watson: It does take itself extremely seriously, but I snigger at the idea of it being ‘straight’. See, that’s what I reckon the show is REALLY about: the tortuous romantic developments between the main character and all his associates. Who are all, incidentally, either male or men trapped in women’s bodies.
Artemis: Now that you mention it…
Watson: I only ended up watching 6 episodes, but I think the subtext was fairly clear. If you watch it not as an action show or parody but as a tortured romance show, I think it makes more sense.
Artemis: Clearly I’m just so used to BL themes now that Mirage of Blaze is practically subtle by comparison. But yes, that’s an excellent point. Not to mention another tick for that 15-year old girl demographic I mentioned earlier.
Watson: Fair enough.
Artemis: On another note, did you look up the year this was released?
Watson: Nope. Useful data point?
Artemis: Just take a wild guess. I want to see if we matched up.
Watson: I’m gonna pluck a number out of the air, then, and say it was the 90s sometime.
Artemis: Right? I would’ve said that too. The power of the 90s is definitely strong with this one.
Watson: For me, it was the big cars, ‘simple’ art style, and 4:3 aspect ratio. But I guess we look for different things 🙂
Artemis: I was looking at the poor animation and really muddy, muted colour palette. Oh, and those super long faces with razor-sharp chins, of course.
Watson: Agreed, someone left their coloured pencils at home. So when was it made?
Artemis: I looked it up afterwards and saw the anime was released in 2002.
Artemis: I see your Japanese study is going well. But yes, I was surprised too.
Watson: I guess that’s 15 years ago now, but even so… it doesn’t look or feel like a show from the 21st century.
Artemis: My best guess definitely would’ve been mid to late 90s. Maybe 1996 for a specific year.
Watson: I suppose a lot must have changed in the industry in those 15 years… or maybe the show’s creators didn’t.
Artemis: But even just those years were not kind to it.
Watson: No, they weren’t… but hold on a second here. Your 15-year-old self would have loved it, and that’s more or less how old you were when it came out. Is it just that tastes change over time, or has it aged worse than most?
Artemis: Well, I certainly don’t think Mirage of Blaze has aged well. We sure aren’t talking about a fine wine here – even when it came out, I doubt it was regarded as a masterpiece of its time.
Watson: Or possibly even typical of its time, agreed.
Artemis: But I’m just going to say my tastes have changed over time and leave it at that. Makes me look better.
Watson: And we’re all about that. So if you had to sum up what was wrong with Mirage of Blaze, what would you say?
Artemis: Its single biggest sin is that it’s dull as ditchwater. I could just about put up with everything else – the bad artwork, the convoluted plot, etc. – but at the end of the day, I really was literally falling asleep. How about you?
Watson: In a development that should surprise absolutely no-one, I agree. The title made promises the show couldn’t deliver. I wasn’t expecting great plot, or characters, or world-building, or much else in fact except some low-class entertainment. But I DID expect to be entertained, and the show just didn’t do that. As a result, I found that I simply didn’t care about anyone or anything in the show.
Artemis: Personally, I found every character was singularly uninteresting in their own right, but that’s just me.
Watson: Right. And we can all only care so much. I like to call this ‘the fuck bucket’. As we care progressively less, the level in the bucket gets lower and lower. And, in the case of Mirage of Blaze, when I reached into the bucket I found I had no more fucks to give. The fuck bucket was empty.
Artemis: Thank you for that pithy summary. So wrapping up, if you had to give Mirage of Blaze a score, say out of 10…?
Watson: I’m gonna say 2.5, and it only scores that highly because it achieves a level of technical prowess that did not give my eyes cancer.
Artemis: I’ll give it a 3. And I score it that highly because it managed not to actually offend me. Which happens more often with anime than you might imagine.
Watson: No no, I can imagine just fine, thank you.
Artemis: I suppose I’ll have to claim at least some responsibility for that. But to get to the ultimate question: is Mirage of Blaze in fact the Worst Anime of All Time™?
Watson: Having not watched “all the animes”, I’d still have to say that it probably isn’t. There has to be some painfully fierce competition for that title, and Mirage of Blaze wasn’t actually painful to watch. I just didn’t care.
Artemis: Right. In fact, I almost wish the anime had been worse. If it was, I might have actually sat up and paid attention. As it was, I also just didn’t care.
Watson: Looks like we’ve reached our final verdict then. Nothing bad enough to get either morbidly curious or morally outraged over, because nothing much there at all. Number of fucks given: zero.
Question of the post: To anyone out there who has also seen Mirage of Blaze, what did you think of it? Does it deserve the title of Worst Anime and why/why not?