Not the bimbo I mistook her for — reconsidering Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere

by dm00

It’s not just the busts of (only half, please notice) the female cast that are exaggerated.

There are a handful of series that I think make the mistake of hiding their light under a bushel of breasts. Horizon on (in?) the middle of nowhere may be one of them. If you’re like me, and find character designs with exaggerated breasts repellant, all I can tell you is that (1) only half the female cast are doomed to a life of back problems (though maybe they have microgravity control along with all the other magical tech?); and (2) you’ll probably stop noticing halfway through the first episode since there’s so much else going on.

I’d originally shrugged off Horizon as fan-servicey otaku-bait, and was prepared to leave it at that. But a few people I trust said positive things about it, so I took a look. Now, I find I’m approaching the end of a second look.

We all know stories about brilliantly intelligent women who find people don’t take them seriously because they’re too pretty to be smart. There are anime series like that, too (though Horizon isn’t to be taken too seriously).

If the Samuel Delany of Triton were to write an anime, it might look like this (or the Charles Stross of some of the later chapters of Accelerando): technology as magic, but a magic that obeys a strict logic, yet transforms the world to be something almost unrecognizable.

Horizon, even with its truly dreadful character-designs, is a show that rewards multiple viewings: every scene has layers of meaning. The world is both bizarre and well developed — it’s a world of technology so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, full of characters that take that technology for granted. It’s full of people who actually live in that world. Listen to the classroom banter, and you realize these people have been in classes together for years.

And the tech! It’s wonderful! It’s magical! It’s beautiful! It’s portrayed so well!

Watching it again, I realized that Horizon on the middle of nowhere comes from a long tradition: it’s a comedy of manners. This nature becomes clear in the middle episodes which depict a series of “debates”: one, in the form of a battle between a giant robot and a fellow who has sold his soul (the robot was cobbled together from battleground gleanings by “the Engineering Club”); one a ‘fight’ between a shy blind girl and a knight; one an honest-to-god debate (though it starts off with a Bugs Bunny reversal of roles); and one is a contest between a warrior and a dancer.

pwned

The fight between blind Suzu and chivalrous Neito is the clearest sign that we’re dealing with a comedy of manners: Neito is defeated by being trapped between her social obligations and her sense of duty.

The Kimi Aoi/Futayo Honda battle is just poetry: the sensual confronts the disciplined and teaches it a lesson: Venus and Mars in their eternal confrontation.

The whole set-up: recreating the history of the 17th Century, is itself the foundation for a comedy of manners: there’s an arbitrary rulebook you have to find your way through, and what happens to you as you try.

I could do with less of Tori Aoi’s bufoonery, but …. where would Shakespeare be without his “rude mechanicals”, his sergeants at arms, his fools to throw nonsense at the walls making cracks the truth can shine through? Already, halfway through the two cours scheduled for the series, I am getting the feeling that I’ll grow to appreciate even Tori Aoi. I won’t be surprised if he will be remembered like the Irresponsible Captain Justy Tylor: fool? genius? lucky? Two out of three (“fortune favors the prepared mind”)?

I have to admit that my tastes run to complicated plots that require multiple viewings for the puzzle to become clear. Horizon helps by filling its first four episodes with nonstop action that tells the events of a single day from four different perspectives, introducing, and deepening its large cast as it does so.

Then the fifth episode ends with a climactic battle and a final scene that is nothing short of magnificent as Tadakatsu Honda and his retainer Kazuno hold the ground long enough for their king’s plan to be put into effect. It’s a superb last stand, with a touchingly sweet final moment.

All this, and the series is only getting started.

The series is full of action — I haven’t been as stunned by action since the high points of the Magical Lyrical Nanoha franchise. Watch as the two witches, Margot and Malge, defeat a “God of War”:

Itano Circus! Four minutes in, did you notice that Margot finished off the God of War with a “money shot” (“Here goes an average day’s wages!”)? And, of course, they’re “magical girls” so they have a typical “magical girl transformation”. This show is full of puns like that, at least where the witches are concerned (it took me a couple of viewings to realize that the witches also run a delivery service).

I found the scene that follows the defeat of the God of War — to some eyes, yuri pandering — sweetly touching. I think its quiet calm forms the perfect coda to the frenetic action before it. That’s fine directing.

I’m not completely sold on a lot of the dialogue, but it reminds me of improvisational word-play. A little non-sensical, a little humorous, and more pleasant to listen than layered with superficial meaning. It’s like poetry — moreover, it is poetry: who could listen to the debate between Tori and Horizon in the twelfth episode and not hear the poetic rhythm of the words, like a ceremonial chant.

Often, we find what we are looking for in the things we watch. I suggest that if you look for buried treasure in Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere, you won’t be disappointed.

Update: There must be fifty ways to love Horizon

Update: Dusk describes taking a similar path to appreciating Horizon in this review of the first two seasons.

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16 Responses to “Not the bimbo I mistook her for — reconsidering Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere”


  1. 1 omo March 12, 2012 at 12:04 am

    As much as I’m sympathetic to the whole repulsion to the boob design factor, I still find it hard to accept people who don’t see it as their own shallowness being in the way.

    But I guess that gives you credit for someone who is willing to go beyond that! And the syntax for your opening statement is kind of odd–i mean most (if not all?) of the girls in the show has their busts exaggerated…both ways, as it were. Feast or famine, relatively.

    I suppose there’s something Shakespearean about this experience, beautifying what passes for passe, like a resurgent 70s motif in pop media in the 00s. Except this time we dig deeper back to when only noble lords wrote poetry.

    • 2 dm00 March 12, 2012 at 1:02 am

      Hmm, sort of. My main problem with the breast-laden character-designs is that they’re a signifier that’s so often associated with stupidity that you have to look beyond them before you can get to the “good stuff”. Is it shallow? Maybe, but life is short, and we don’t have time to watch everything, so sometimes we take the indicators of what to watch at face value.

      • 3 omo March 12, 2012 at 6:37 am

        Nice try but that sounds pretty much like a joke dm. Life is too short to miss that 10% of good stuff, if you ask me.

        • 4 dm March 12, 2012 at 9:14 am

          There’s so much good stuff out there you still have to prioritize, and accept that you’re going to miss some. Anime is just one of the places to look, after all.

          • 5 omo March 12, 2012 at 9:38 am

            I don’t know, there aren’t so much good stuff, if you ask me.

          • 6 omo March 12, 2012 at 9:41 am

            Let me elaborate: why make silly excuses when you could just forget about what is obviously erroneous? I mean you might as well just come up with a rule about anime in general (ie., they suck), let alone anime with big boobies (ie., anime with [insert some random non-relevant element] suck).

            If Sturgeon’s Law is to be trusted, anyway.

  2. 7 feal87 March 12, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Brother! It’s rare to find people who liked Horizon just like me. :P

    • 8 dm00 March 12, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Like I said: we find in things what we go looking for. When I looked for mindless fan-service, there were some clear signs I’d find it in Horizon. When I was prompted to look deeper, I found — well, not depth, maybe, but tons of stuff to appreciate.

      To Omo: I’ve got maybe five hours a week to devote to anime as entertainment. Between watching good new things and watching or re-watching terrific old things (I haven’t even finished Utena yet!), it’s really easy to fill that time with good stuff, knowing that there’s lots of other great stuff waiting, some of which I may never get to.

      So, yeah, sometimes I use superficial techniques to cut down on the list/prioritize. Them’s the breaks.

  3. 9 Reed March 13, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Of all the things you could use to distinguish between good and bad anime (pedo potential, otaku-baiting harem antics, beta male protagonists, etc, etc), I have no idea why you would choose breast size.

    • 10 dm00 March 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm

      Oh, I use those others, too. Balloon-breasts just happens to be the one that is the most apparent turn-off in Horizon.

      • 11 gunrik August 10, 2012 at 8:17 pm

        Agree, i think breast size isn’t proportional to the deepness and meaning the anime has.

        • 12 dm00 August 10, 2012 at 9:17 pm

          @gunrik: Let’s just say if a restaurant advertises itself like Hooters, you don’t go in expecting to encounter a gourmet meal: it appears to be concentrating its efforts elsewhere.

          This doesn’t mean you might not be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food.

  4. 13 Mushyrulez March 14, 2012 at 7:04 pm

    I honestly don’t think Horizon is as ‘deep’, as, say, Madoka (now don’t even get me started on why I think Madoka is deep ):< but it has this consistency of plot that's simply ~awesome~. Not much anime out there has such a detailed world, such a rich story, and such an immersive environment. Horizon really does deserve the two (3?) cours it will get – and perhaps much more, because this is an anime that actually has substance. It's not deep, sure, but it's something.

    • 14 dm00 March 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm

      Over the years I’ve come to think I don’t know what “depth” is. If it’s multiple layers of meaning, a statement about life, an insight into humanity, I don’t think we’ll know for Horizon until more of the story has been told. I think there may be reason for optimism.

      Is Jane Austen deep? I don’t know. Does she reward her readers? Yes. Does Horizon reward its viewers? I feel pretty rewarded.

      • 15 Mushyrulez March 14, 2012 at 8:47 pm

        I guess we will have to find out. Generally, though, most shows that concentrate on plot or characterization don’t try to hide in a layer of meaning behind it all, and when you purposefully make an anime deep, it’s hard to create meaningful plot and realistic characters on top of that.


  1. 1 Horizon on the edge of endurance « Drastic My Anime Blog Trackback on August 27, 2012 at 10:16 pm

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