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Review: "Freezing" == "Pokémon" + Blood + Breasts - Humor

Toonzone News recently received two copies of Freezing: a DVD-release and a Blu-ray copy. Maxie Zeus and Ed Liu watched each. Here, in classic Siskel-and-Ebert style, are their thoughts on this recent FUNimation release:

Maxie Zeus: Let’s get the obvious pun out of the way: Freezing is a series to make the blood run cold.

This 12-episode anime is set in a futuristic world where the Earth is being threatened by invaders called “Nova,” who hail from another dimension. Front-line defense is provided by the Pandoras, who are a bunch of specially trained, genetically modified teenage girls. Each girl, in turn, is partnered with a teenage boy, called a Limiter, who can use a special “freezing” power to immobilize the invaders so they can be taken down by the girls.

Most of the action takes place at the West Genetics Academy, where Pandoras and Limiters go for training, and it opens with the arrival of Kazuya Aoi, a new Limiter who instantly gets in trouble when he interferes with a practice exercise in a way that costs one girl, Satellizer el Bridget, her ranking as the top girl in her class.

The two then wind up falling into a complicated relationship. Kazuya’s sister was a famous Pandora who died while defeating a major alien incursion, and Kazuya is attracted to Satellizer because she reminds him of his sister. For her part, Satellizer, whose frigidity has earned her the nickname “The Untouchable Queen,” discovers to her shock that of all the people she has ever known, Kazuya is the only one whose physical touch does not revolt her.

The spine of the series is about these two characters figuring out why they are attracted to each other and whether they should do anything about it, and much of the first 8 episodes of the show are filled with high-school hijinks, with the relationship between a Pandora and her Limiter acting as a badly veiled stand-in for sex, and Pandora-on-Pandora combat substituting for mean-girl high school hierarchy struggles. The last 4 episodes take an abrupt turn to quasi-military drama, and no prizes will be awarded for guessing who forms the final line of defense for the magical tech thing that must be kept out of Nova hands at all costs.

Story-wise, there is not a lot that is new here. When I say it’s a series about teenagers working through romantic triangles while using their superpowers to fight faceless alien invaders, you can probably fill in the blanks without much trouble. You can probably fill in more blanks when I add that it has a lascivious fixation on boobs, butts and panties. The camera is never parked in a place where we can’t see up a very short skirt or down a very plunging neckline. Breasts have the size, tautness, and proportions of water balloons. Girls are always clumsily toppling over, and guys are always faceplanting onto them in a way to cause maximal embarrassment and lots and lots of squealing.

What you won’t anticipate is just how vile it all manages to be.

That’s because Freezing has a truly breathtaking line in sexual cruelty and humiliation. It is not just that the girls are treated by the filmmakers as fetishistic totems; the girls treat each other the same way. We don’t just learn that Satellizer’s frigidity is due to her being systematically raped during her early teenage years by her adopted brother; we are shown it in flashback. The first half-dozen episodes pit Satellizer against schoolmates who, after temporarily defeating her, humiliate her in sexually graphic ways. There isn’t just physical torture but psychological torture, and not only of the girls. The boys themselves are themselves trophies flaunted by their Pandoras as proof that they are sexually desirable while being otherwise treated as slaves and lackeys. You would probably have to find an R- or even an NC17-rated prison flick that does to its characters what Freezing gloatingly and lasciviously does to its characters.

There is no redeeming value to this series. The alien threat is a MacGuffin and a MacGuffin only. The show’s “mythology” (which uses religious terms and iconography to talk about its technology) would be blasphemous if it weren’t simply stupid. Freezing is, simply, one of the most despicable pieces of “entertainment” I’ve ever had to endure.

Ed Liu: You say that Freezing is a series to make the blood run cold. It could also make the blood run hot, once you realize that many, many people spent non-trivial amounts of money and time to make this series, when that money, time, and effort would have been better spent doing nearly anything else.

I’d call special attention to the way Kazuya and Satellizer meet. They don’t just “meet”; he introduces himself by ramming his face into her ample bosom because he mistakes her for his late sister. I only wish I made that up, or that the actual moment in the series managed to make that as unintentionally hilarious as that sounds. Sadly, it is played entirely straight, so my reaction was more stunned shock than laughter. That actually sums up my reaction to nearly everything in the series. At least to all the parts that didn’t actively repel me.

As for the boobery: I remember that in Airplane! they had a self-imposed rule that there would be a joke every three seconds whether it was funny or not. I think the makers of Freezing had a similar rule for up-skirt or boob shots, meaning we can never see the female cast as characters for long before they’re shoved in our face as sex objects. It doesn’t matter if it’s is in the middle of an exposition scene, a scene that’s supposed to be emotionally charged, or an action sequence–if it’s been 10 seconds, it’s time for a panty shot!

Maxie Zeus: Okay, a lot of readers at this point are probably going to object that, just as Airplane! is supposed to be a comedy, so you want lots of jokes, Freezing is just providing lots of fan service. Now, I’ll admit I haven’t watched a lot of shows that are reputedly heavy in fan service. Or, maybe I have, and they’ve just been a lot more subtle. But with Freezing we’re not just talking about the occasional shot or bit of business. There are places–and a lot of them–where it stops just short of being a full-on gynecological examination.

Ed Liu: I think it’s worse than that. There’s an exceptionally inappropriate mix of sex and violence throughout the show. Freezing insists on combining blood and boobs at the same time, meaning one always feels entirely gratuitous because of the presence of the other. I’m not normally one to criticize how consenting adults choose to get their rocks off, but I have to say that if you are genuinely turned on by the sight of a naked girl with a gushing, bloody stump where her arm used to be, THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU.

The objectification is made even more explicit by the commercial-break bumpers that put the girls in their underwear (sometimes in lesbian embraces) along with Playboy Playmate datasheets. It gets still worse with the OVA shorts on this set, which dispense entirely with the story bits and just go straight for boob-obsessed sex hijinks. I think they’re supposed to be funny, but the more appropriate word is probably “appalling.” That applies to the series in general.

Maxie Zeus: I’m glad you mentions the extras, because it comes with a couple of the usual FUNimation episode commentaries, and listening to the female voice actors talking about this series is enlightening in a way I’m not sure that either they or FUNimation intended. Because they have to acknowledge what it is that they have participated in, and even though they take great pains to say that they don’t object to the show, it’s quite revealing that they feel the need to address the issue at all. I think the fact that the American production side has to deny that they have a problem with it is very nearly proof that there is a serious problem with this show. Now, the actors do talk about how much they like the characters and appreciate their “strengths”, but I don’t know what they’re talking about, because it seemed to me that there was very little to these characters at all.

Ed Liu: At least the actors seemed to have a fun time recording the show–working beats not working and at least they didn’t have to do this in live-action. But I didn’t know what they were talking about either: they attend a place called “West Genetics Academy”, and I kept wanting to call it the West “Generics” Academy, given the thin characterization and far too repetitive plots in the early episodes of the show. Kazuya’s earnestness and Satellizer’s stand-offishness make their relationship awkward and fumbling in a painfully predictable way: of course it’s his magical touch that breaks down her emotional barriers, and it might have even worked if only Kazuya weren’t such an obvious audience stand-in. It gets worse with the introduction of the exchange student Rana Linchen in episode 5. Her cheerful earnestness is a small breath of fresh air, until she concludes that Kazuya is the “man of her destiny” and begins throwing herself at him with reckless abandon.

Maxie Zeus: You know, I was so desperate for anything redeeming in this show that I was actually grateful for her inclusion. Because Rana was the only character who wasn’t psychotic. Her attachment to Kazuya may have been bizarre, but at least it felt genuine.

And even if you leave aside all the really objectionable stuff–which is a real “Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” kind of remark–and the lack of characterization, there isn’t any fun at all to be had. The battles themselves come with stupid commentaries and analyses, both by protagonists and the people watching. If you’re going to have a fight, just have the fight. Don’t explain what is going on, or what powers are being used, or how they’re doing it. The worst part is that those explanations are substituting for actual drama, and they are used to stack the deck. Nine times out of ten–and maybe ten times out of ten–one of the heroes will get beaten in a hair-pulling fight by some brand-new superpower, and someone will have to explain to us, the viewer, that this was a brand-new superpower. And then our hero will turn around and win by unleashing some brand-new superpower of her own, and there will be gapes and gasps from the bystanders, who will then have to explain that it was a brand-new superpower and blabbity-blab-blab, and who really gives a flip, y’know?

Ed Liu: If not for the credits (that name a manhwa as the source material), I’d think that Freezing was based on a Pokémon-style video game, which is the only reason why anybody would care about the lengthy explanations about “triple accelerations” or whatever. In fact, I think that is the quickest way to describe Freezing: it’s Pokémon with lots more blood and lots more boobs, without any of the humor. Unfortunately, the sense of humor is probably the only thing that makes Pokémon tolerable, and the blood and boobs don’t compensate for its absence in this series. I’m not sure if the show really has little-to-no sense of humor or if we’re supposed to supply our own. There are occasional moments when I sense that the show is trying to camp this all up and I’m supposed to be laughing at it, but if that’s true then it has as little success at communicating that as it does at being entertaining or worthwhile. The humor (such as it is) on display in the OVA shorts also make me think that they aren’t trying to be funny in the main show and we are supposed to take it all seriously, which actually is pretty funny but for all the wrong reasons.

Maxie Zeus: I know I wasn’t laughing. I will say I’ve reviewed series that I think were worse–Ga-Rei Zero and The Sound of the Sky come to mind–but this one left me embarrassed for everyone connected with its making. More than embarrassed actually. I was rather appalled that someone would make a series like this, and that someone would want to import it to the US.

Ed Liu: I couldn’t quite decide if it’s genuinely reprehensible or just grossly clumsy and inept, but after the second or third episode I decided it didn’t really matter which it was. No amount of ineptitude would excuse how genuinely awful this series is. The general rule is that nobody in the entertainment business starts from the outset intending to make crap, but that rule is sorely tested by the existence of something like Freezing.

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