With Inferior Tactics! Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere Episode Nine

Wait, I was promised a baseball episode!

When choosing to wax lyrical on one episode, and only one episode of anime alone, usually the writer has an idea in mind. A concept. A plan. Often, they will have watched the rest of the series up until that point, and help you along in your understanding of said episode, and the series’s overarching narrative. This is not one of those times, for I have only seen one episode: this episode. Episode Nine of Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere.

If you were led here with promises of hilarity, I am so sorry.

“I don’t know what Shakespeare wrote when she was a kid, but Neshinbara’s work has got to be way crazier than hers!”

“It’s totally beyond saving when even I don’t feel like defending it.”

-A conversation between Tomo Asama and Toussaint Neshinbara in regards to what Tori Aoi thought of Neshinbara’s elementary-school fiction.

When I was young, eight years-old or so, I wrote and illustrated two books for my own enjoyment. Spurred on by a patient and wonderful second-grade teacher, I blossomed into a precocious young girl. If I had recently learned something about alligators, then I would include that fact in my prose. If we had been studying morpho butterflies and the Amazon rainforest, then goodness I was certainly going to include them in my creative works to make sure that everyone know how intelligent I was. I even made sure, in my first work, to solve everything with a deus ex machina and a pun, because I was simply oh-so clever.

Along similar lines, but with far less of a propensity to show off, when I was home from university one summer my younger brother decided to make peanut butter cookies. He is by no means unintelligent or incompetent in a kitchen. Perhaps he was a bit rushed that afternoon, or his mind preoccupied with other things; however, halfway through making the dough, he realized my mother had used the last of one crucial ingredient: vanilla extract. He later explained his thought process at this point like so: “I like peanut butter and I like peppermint, so I figured, why not?”

This was how he ended up with an entire batch of peanut-butter/peppermint cookies, thanks to his substitution of peppermint extract for the aforementioned vanilla. Cookies which he had to choke down himself, with the aide of two unsuspecting and intoxicated revelers two nights later. You see, his thought process is sound: I like X, and I like Y, I’ll put the two together. However, marrying two things that one likes doesn’t necessarily mean that together they will make a better whole, much like putting two flawed things side by side can actually make a more cohesive unit.

J.P. Meyer writes about these ideas far better than this article; however, I have a bit of a different point. The parts of Horizon that are interesting, that touch upon emotions that resonate with each and every one of us as an audience, these parts are obstructed by a bloated cast of characters and an effort at world-building that rivals supersaturation. It was genuinely interesting when Neshinbara struggled with his own feelings of inadequacy when comparing himself to Shakespeare. The series also touched upon feelings of self-worth again when another character, Malga, allows herself to slip into the lowest depths of self-worth where one thinks that only by sacrificing oneself that one can be of use. These are themes that will resonate with a viewer and make them care about what else is happening on screen.

Unfortunately, Horizon doesn’t seem to be concerned with telling a story, or allowing the audience to develop feelings for its supposed leads. It is reminiscent of Sankarea or Fate/Zero where the world-building or focus on flushing out the most minute details of its minor characters is somehow more important than achieving a coherent narrative (note: this applies to a character-driven narrative as well as a plot-driven one). This approach is just as self-indulgent as the eight year-old me wishing to prove to the world how much I knew about morpho butterflies which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t actually all that much. Unlike eight year-old me, Horizon does have some interesting things to say, if it would only get around to saying them.

As an aside, those books? I still have them. I read them to friends in university one Friday evening and we laughed more than we had in a very long time.

“Did you read your old masterpiece?”

“I sure did. I’ve always been a genius, haven’t I?”

-A conversation between Tori Aoi and Toussaint Neshinbara.

14 Comments

Filed under Horizon on the Middle of Nowhere 2

14 responses to “With Inferior Tactics! Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere Episode Nine

  1. Someone’s been playing a lot of League lately, hahahahehehehahahahehehehaha! (read that laugh in Lux’s voice for maximum effect)

    Not sure why I had to point that out first and foremost, but everything else in this post was pretty damn solid. I can dig the personal reflections; it certainly singles out the post over the past eight or so iterations, probably in the most meaningful way. I can read this one and just think to myself that I got out of reading a post on a show that I don’t even know but still discovered a bit about the author along with the novelty of the subject matter. Great job, Em.

    • Not so much, as I am still relatively afraid of solo queue, but Lux is my girl. ^ ^

      For as much as I agonized over what I was going to say, especially after J.P. posted his response in the series, I lucked out considerably with the episode that I did receive. It has some genuinely interesting things to say with regards to the creation of fiction in spite of its own poor execution. In fact, the last quote could easily be taken as the series delighting in its needless complexity, for which I can’t be too mad at it for; however, I can safely say that Horizon will never be my cup of tea. Points for its brash, childlike self-confidence though.

      I wish I had my two novels that I wrote as a child in my possession still. I know you’d get a kick out of them. Thank you for the compliment and the comment.

  2. Good job extracting the apparent themes of this episode with little context. I’ll head off apologists at the pass and say this indeed was the first time these characters explored these personal crises, introducing and solving their lifelong traumas (and often the characters) in a matter of a few minutes. When it falls into the trap of wanting to do everything and be everything for everyone, Horizon shreds any possibility of homing in on truly affecting dramas that require real time to develop.

    What is left is the appeal of spectacle to the lizard brain; a proposition that solely depends on your attraction or repulsion of simple database elements. How much of your critical faculties can you shut down during Transformers for the sake of loud, exploding robots? How much can you ignore in Horizon for the sake of eclectic namedropping and shiny, voluminous mammaries?

    • I’ll have to take your word for it, since I literally have no context and merely attempting to discern the plot/story/character arcs from other sources is exhausting. ^ ^

      You touch upon something that only occurred to me the other day, when I listed my five favorite anime of all time: my penchant for character dramas. Needless to say, Horizon appeals to the exact opposite of my own tastes. More to the point, it infuriates me because it has a few things that could draw me in emotionally and eschews them for the elements that you describe.

      Perhaps I should simply say, “I’m sorry, Horizon. It’s not you, it’s me. These are not the elements I am looking for.” ^ ^

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. dm00

    A wonderful post about that actually succeeds in shedding some light on this delightful series, getting at something (even if in contradiction) I’ve been appreciating, though unable to articulate myself.

    It’s astounding how much emotional development the series is achieving with its gigantic-cast, everything-in-the-blender approach. Neshinbara’s and Malga’s dramas have been developing over the course of several episodes, and we get one more piece of the puzzle with this one. Even more surprising, we even get some insight into why these people put up with that annoying clown Toori Aoi — his indirect reminder to Neshinbara as to the former joy he took in writing indicates a marvellous insight into and concern for Neshinbara’s dilemma. This is not the first time he’s done this.

    I suppose another series (e.g., TariTari, or a lot of the harem shows) would have devoted an entire episode focussed on the conflicts of a single character. The result (see TariTari or a lot of the harem shows) is that each drama is reduced to something that can be dealt with in a single episode or two, before moving on to the next character’s conflict. I think this weakens the drama and damages the story, but it’s safe and effective. I find Horizon’s approach of weaving all the character’s lives into a tapestry much more interesting, though clearly it’s not for all tastes.

    For a live-action equivalent, perhaps some of the films of Robert Altman — Mash, Nashville, Gosford Park — do the same sort of thing. I’m a fan of his large-ensemble works, so I guess it makes sense I’d find lots of chewy delights in Horizon.

    Again: a delightful post, full of insight into what makes a series “good”, which has had the ironic effect of deepening my appreciation for this series.

    • Sometimes all it takes is a young woman who has seen nothing of the rest of the series. ^ ^

      Joking aside, as I mention in the first comment, this episode was truly a gift to me, as it touched upon things that I could relate to. That being said, see the second comment as to how the execution is not what I enjoy in any story (be it anime, manga, movies, television, books, etc.).

      For further comparison, I’m going to push back on you a bit. ^ ^

      I’m easily willing to forgive a series for plot inconsistencies (i.e. Heartcatch Precure has glaring plot holes; however the main thrust of the narrative/story is completely character-driven) if I resonate emotionally with the characters. I absolutely love Tari Tari. It handles its small cast well and builds upon previous character arcs by reinforcing the established character traits in latter arcs that primarily focus on another character. Tari Tari is a wholly competent and affecting character piece that I am thoroughly enjoying watching. I disagree that the drama is solved within an episode or two, as it is continuously expanded on through characterization in later or prior arcs, which is something I do not get from Horizon and its continuously switching from scene to scene and character to character. Perhaps this is simply due to my lack of knowledge about the series; however, it’s interesting that Kadian (above) is in direct disagreement with how well Horizon has developed these emotional moments.

      Either way, in spite of my own problems with Horizon, I cannot completely write it off as it does have a few interesting things to say, which is far more infuriating.

      Thanks for the comment. I know you’re a big fan of this series and I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      • dm00

        Kadian seems to think the character elements (Neshinbara’s struggle with writing, Malga’s feelings of inadequacy) were introduced this episode — Neshinbara’s problem has been the focus of his scenes this season; Malga has been suffering since the first episode, though it’s only justbecome clear what has been bothering her. And I doubt these problems are “solved” — we’ve merely witnessed another step in their journey. We haven’t seen them triumph yet, only seen them find the courage to struggle for another day.

        Toori’s sensitive act of support for Neshinbara is also pretty typical. The characters act like a group of people who have lived together, with teasing and affection, for years. Pretty damned good for what is, at heart, a goofy comedy.

        I’m sorry if I seemed overly harsh on Tari Tari, but I do think the series would be improved by stretching Sawa’s arc and running it simultaneously with Wakana’s (I do think Wakana’s story has been done well).

        • You’re right, I probably oversimplified the specific situations. They did have scenes they were introduced in before; convoluted head-scratchers where more puzzling topics of interest – like why Shakespeare was a girl or why elves exist at all in a recreation of human world history – tremendously overshadow teeny bits of character development. Cockamamie expositions that barely scratch the surface of intriguing themes, linked to other esoteric information mentioned in passing 5 or more episodes ago, linger less in the mind than breast-jamming envelopes that are clearly presented as the point of interest. The themes you talked of – personal struggle and familial/community bonds – are brought up so infrequently (in comparison to the other nonsense) and handled so flimsily that it only comes off as puerile sugarcoating, with perhaps a hint of insincerity.

          What are we supposed to pay attention to? How do we parse the truly important data from the noise? Horizon blasts so much obnoxious database shrapnel into the viewer’s face that only the most deeply entrenched and priori-metaverse knowledgeable can make sense of it. Everyone else hanging on to their critical thinking faculties quickly becomes blinded, confused, and frustrated.

          • dm00

            I’ll try to be brief, because I’m already tedious enough on this topic.

            I’m tired of comments like “Horizon blasts so much obnoxious database shrapnel into the viewer’s face that only the most deeply entrenched and priori-metaverse knowledgeable can make sense of it.”

            I am tired of such comments, because they are false. I wasn’t “priori-metaverse knowledgeable” when I fell in love with the series. I find the exegeses of the novels too boring to read (and I’ve never looked at the novel translations). Nevertheless, my critical thinking faculties quickly became charmed, amused and — yes, confused, at least temporarily (but that’s a feature, not a bug).

            Whether “personal struggle and familial/community bonds” are brought up “too infrequently” or not is a judgment call. In my judgment they receive a surprising amount of attention for an action/comedy series. Moreover, they’re often done with a nuance and depth that I find surprising in anime (there is a classroom scene in the first series that astounded me in how successfully it portrayed a classroom full of teens who had been in school together for years; the touching scene at the end of the witches’ battle in the first season is one of my favorite moments in anime). The contrast with the surrounding buffoonery just serves to heighten the effect.

            I find the show’s mixture of subtle and broad humor to be fascinating.

  4. What I find false is a highly selective reading that doesn’t allow for honest criticisms alongside praising what merits this work may have. Repeatedly confusing a collection of erudite and regularly-contributing participants of the english-speaking anime community, who are broadly experienced and familiar with the quirks of the medium, is a “feature”?

    I follow Horizon and those who write in this project because I’m curious; Who is Horizon for? Does the density of faux-historical figures and events, exotic nomenclature, and a la carte tropes from science fiction, fantasy, and anime serve a meaningful purpose? Can it effectively communicate and make sympathetic the goals, ideals, fears, and personal struggles of dozens of eclectic characters in only a few episodes? Do its rewards justify having to overcome all the artifice? It’s because Horizon rends so many rules of classical narrative convention that it is worth sharing thoughts about and analyzing all its parts, not just clinging to a few morsels.

    • dm00

      I note that most of the erudite participants of this project are watching only one episode, and then generalizing over the entire series. I don’t blame them for being confused, I do cavil at the generalizations. I follow this project because I’m interested in what comes out of it, what light it sheds on the series (for me, this particular post has been one of the highlights).

      Confusing erudite viewers is a feature? Ask Kunihiko Ikuhara (or Samuel Delany in his Dhalgren era, or James Joyce). It’s not that I think Horizon merits mention in such company, but just because someone was confused by viewing a single, out-of-context episode, doesn’t speak to the merits of the work.

      “Does the density of faux-historical figures and events, exotic nomenclature, and a la carte tropes from science fiction, fantasy, and anime serve a meaningful purpose?” I’m curious to see if it does, yes, and to what extent. It’s clear I think the signs are positive. But I also question whether that is really the only criterion to apply? Would you ask the same questions of The hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy (not a bad comparison — both series tweak convention and cliche in similar ways).

      “It’s because Horizon rends so many rules of classical narrative convention that it is worth sharing thoughts about and analyzing all its parts. I agree wholeheartedly, and I’m interested to see what comes from analyzing “all its parts” by viewing and commenting on only a single episode. This project — from it’s intelligent posts through its prejudiced rants to its clownish japes — has caused me to think about the series in greater depth, and I appreciate that.

      I agree with your statement even without the added emphasis. I’m interested in the techniques they’re using to weave their story (things like using the first four episodes to retell the events of the first day from four different perspectives, the rapid-fire shift from scene to scene and point-of-view to point-of-view, the use of music and musical motifs to orient the viewer). It’s a tour-de-force. (Though, actually, I disagree that Horizon rends all that many rules of classical convention. The rules are still there, they’re just being bent in new directions.)

      • the_patches

        You know, the more I think about it, the more I feel that “rends so many rules of classical narrative convention” is off the mark. The thing that’s causing problems I think for most viewers is maybe a deliberately constructed feel of “in medias res” that the whole thing has.

        When we receive these emotional revelations or moments of development, they seem to happen not with little context, but ASSUMED context. The moments themselves are constructed out of well-defined relationships that seem to have had most of their business off camera (I’m reminded of the Black Witch’s conversation with Neshinbara).

        If you think about this, what you ACTUALLY have is the format of a soap opera, only without a beginning. In this light, Horizon isn’t terribly novel in any way. It’s using a formula that has its (ensnared) viewers moving forward to hopefully learn enough about its characters to understand their past.

        Also, the format would explain why people seem to kind of understand the show from single viewings (at least enough to get a loose sense of what’s going on).

        • dm00

          I think this is a pretty fair comment. It could easily be the only real narrative rule Horizon is breaking (or even bending) is in of pacing and editing: rapid cuts between multiple stories which would be fairly conventional if only the audience were given a chance to catch their breath. Instead of having five minutes (or an entire episode, even) on plot line A, five on plot line B, five on plot line C, adding up to fifteen minutes, Horizon presents us with five iterations of one-minute-per-plot-line segments. It still adds up to fifteen minutes, but the pacing is much different.

          I think that lets them squeeze more into each episode: they force the audience to concentrate, and can therefore trust the audience to fill in things from the hints they give.

          For some, that’s enervating, for others, it’s stimulating. Thus some of the controversy.

          I think there’s more to it than that (in addition to fast-paced editing, the show is playing lots of games with the usual elements that make up action-adventure shows like this, so, instead of battles of strength, you have a character who wins fights through her own self-regard and the fact that she worships at the altar of the goddess “Ego”, for example). But I think the show is more idea-driven than character-driven, so it’s understandable that AJtheFourth might find little to satisfy her character-craving tastebuds.

  5. Pingback: Horizon on Tits II: Double Your Pleasure… then I’ll Have Another (Episodes Eight to Nine) | GAR GAR Stegosaurus

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