Seasonal Thoughts: Winter 2016 Recap, Pt 1

Rakugo Anime Quote

I watched nine whopping shows this season and had plenty of thoughts about them. So, it’s high time to break the tradition (so long as two posts could constitute a ‘tradition’) of cramming both anime season recap and new season anticipation in one post, and write like a normal person would.

Nine is an extremely high number for my usual standard, but only four of them are actual new shows for the season (Rakugo, Erased, Dagashi Kashi, and the Sekkou Boys shorts), while the rest are carryovers/second seasons (Shirayuki, Osomatsu, Garo, Haikyuu!!, and Gundam IBO). I actually didn’t feel really hot for the last three mentioned during their first cour, but I  guess I have difficulty cutting off a show when I’ve already a significant way through—Haikkyuu!! (and to a lesser extent, IBO) eventually repaid that loyalty, Garo didn’t. Consequently, there are other new shows that I was interested in (Dimension W, Grimgar, and Haruchika), but had to opt out because I couldn’t fit them in. I might watch Grimgar later though, since it’s the one that I heard the most positive impression about.

Enjoyment-wise, it’s yet again par for the course. It’s a fine mix between the great, good, and mediocre/disappointing on my watch list, and I suppose that might very well be the case for every single anime season onward (although many are apparently convinced the upcoming spring one is going to be a legendary one). The different thing compared to previous season is how they neatly corresponded to my expectations. Rakugo, Osomatsu, Erased were my most anticipated and they ended up as the easy top three , while everything else more or less lived up to my moderate to low expectation.

Okay, run-down time. This time around, I had to split this recap post into two parts for both writing and reading convenience. This post shall cover my personal cream of the crop for the season, the great/good ones that more or less justified the time I’ve spent on them. The next part would cover the rest of the (decidedly less impressive) shows, as well as links to show-specific articles from the anime blogosphere that I found insightful and interesting.

(spoiler abound on the ‘stray thoughts’ section, by the by)

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Rakugo Trio

The world needs more josei adaptation, and my interest was already captured by Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju since the very first time I laid my eyes on the winter chart several months ago. Everything about this just scream class. (*my preview comment)

^Hey, I already liked this before it’s cool! Yeah, there’s basically unequivocal agreement about Rakugo’s top-shelf quality: it’s a damn strong period drama, and a proof positive that this kind of material (usually adapted into live movie/series) could absolutely work as an anime. Even if you don’t care a bit for rakugo in real life, there’s a lot of things that make this experience worthwhile: intense and layered interpersonal drama, rich thematic, and lavish production value built on unmistakable love for the art of verbal story-telling. Meanwhile, the rakugo scenes themselves are a treat, telling genuinely compelling stories with well-staged delivery and oftentimes symbolically linked to the main narrative.

These performance scenes speak to me on a personal level. This is the kind of story that yields an even better return if you have vested interest or background in stage performance,and  while I obviously never perform or watch live rakugo prior to this, there’s a boatload of things I can associate with my theatre and children storytelling experience. These are my kind of people, and they underwent the kind of emotion I’m familiar with. It would take an absolute miracle of a show to exceed  Rakugo’s achievements for this year, and as the announcement of a second season just came in (God exists!), I’ll be once again on the audience seat ready to soak in the wonderful performance.

Stray Thoughts:

-It’ll be great fun to see Konatsu and Yotaro finally get to have their story told. As spellbinding as the past generations’ story had been, it’s also a much-traveled territory in terms of basic character templates (two men of opposing temperament and a woman between them), while these two feel more fresh in terms of their background and dynamics. Yo’s performance all the way back in that fantastic premiere is still my favorite rakugo scene in the show (and that’s a high bar), and I’m also stoked to find out if Konatsu will ever get to perform on a stage.

-The climactic event in the penultimate episode felt off to me for some reason, and I’ve since been informed by manga readers that there’s much more to it than meets the eye. Another good reason to get stoked for the second cour; it’s something that brought what we’ve witnessed to intriguing questions, and would add a new layer of meaning to a show that revolves around the idea of telling a fictional story.

-Great OP! Megumi Hayashibara’s vocal performance and the visual montage are mesmerizing, lending a sense of playful menace to the overall sequence. And then there’s the song: a dark jazz piece (..Take a nice, hard look, at this woman who’s been tainted down to her core), masterfully written and composed by the extremely talented Ringo Shiina.

Osomatsu-san

Osomatsu Eating Alone

Osomatsu-san may not tickle everyone’s funny bone, but I can’t see the Matsubros’ rejuvenation into the world of colors and distinctive facial identity as something other than a wild success.

I’ve already been a fan since Day 1, but they had noticeably upped the game in this second cour. Perhaps emboldened by the show’s unexpected commercial success, the showrunners went even more outrageous with their ideas, execution and animation; the results are stuff like the dark and outstanding shocker of Sanematsu-san, the insightful self-awareness of Iyami Teaching Comedy,  the sakuga fireworks of Wacky Races/Osomatsu Kart, the insane surrealism of Dayonland, and the astounding heart-breaker of Letter. So many other terrific segments too, and it’s way harder for me to choose a favorite compared to the first half!

The finale was obviously disappointing considering the cour’s high standard and the fantastic episode that preceded it, but one can take solace from the probability that it’s not going to be the last we see of these rascals. I don’t know how long the Matsu Mania would last, but if they can maintain the sustained excellence in the series’ future installments, we might have a comedy classic for the ages.

Stray Thoughts:

I have plenty of praises to sing for the show’s many highlights (planning to make a list of my favorite segments), but for now let’s take the time to address the ones that doesn’t work. There’s the finale, which not only handwave the emotional peak of the previous episode in the most annoying of manner, but (arguably a worse sin) is not even really funny in itself. It’s just an okay Koshien baseball drama parody and generic gather-all-the-characters-for-random-mayhem sort of finale. It’s very far from squandering all the goodwill the show’s earned, but it’s still an uncharacteristically lazy episode.

-While the initial visual intro of the Matsugirls ranks amon g the funniest moments in the entire series, their segment is easily the weakest recurring segment. The base concept is good and it’s fun to hear the VAs trying their bet to pull off the girly voices , but unlike their male counterparts, the gals aren’t given any remotely interesting scenario beyond forgettable bickering among themselves.

-The voice actors deserve plenty of plaudits for their fantastic contribution to the show. The main sextet has built a terrific chemistry and it’s always a blast to see them bounce off each other, but I also gotta throw some love for the supporting cast here; especially Iyami’s Kenichi Suzumura (for portraying the resident Francophile swindler and his iconic catchphrase with tremendous zest) and Totoko’s Aya Endou (for alternating between faux cute and wicked snarl in a jiff).

-There’s a few subbed and YouTube-uploaded episodes of the old Osomatsu-kun shows (both the black and white 1966 version and the Iyami-centred 1988 version),and it’s pretty fun to see the roots of the franchise. I’m also interested to check out the manga, both the original and the new (based on the new show) ones.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Erased)

Erased Baby High Five

It looks like the kind of story that marries high concept (in this case, time travel and serial murder) with profound emotional and psychological depth.

This is a good show.  Yeah, the ‘marriage’ turns out to be an uneasy one between a very strong childhood/family drama with a very cheap suspense plotline, but there were enough strengths from the former to make it an overall net plus. As flimsy/campy/credibility-straining as the whole time traveling murder prevention was, it still didn’t take away from how incredibly well-composed some of the episodes,  or how genuinely affecting the relationship between Satoru, Kayo, Sachiko, and the other kids, were.

Erased could probably work out for better without the time travel and by heavily re-writing the villain character, but then it’s the same conundrum I have with AnoHana’s Ghost Menma—the flimsy device that distracted from the show’s real strengths is  also an exciting hook that attract the initial audience and maintain focus on an easily identified narrative goal.

Stray Thoughts:

~Sachiko belongs to Anime Parent Hall of Fame, and I also love practically every scene with the kids.  I would’ve wanted to see more of them, more look at the friendship between Satoru and Kenya, how Misato eventually come around and be a part of the gang, how Kayo and Hiromi fall for each other, and how they all cope during Satoru’s lost years. Those were much more preferable material than some monologue about hamster slaughter, for instance, but c’est la vie.

~The show’s camera work and overall cinematography are obviously some levels above your typical TV anime production, but there  were some moments that could really stand to be less painfully on the nose (my ‘favorite’ would be that shot at the Last Supper painting as Satoru is about to get betrayed by his boss).

~Overly obvious clueing, some really bad lines, and worst villain reveal scene in my recent memory really doomed the credibility of Yashiro’s plotline. You can’t really have a good theatrical sociopath these days unless it’s something like  Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, who benefits from a perfect fit with the movie’s tone and an incredibly talented actor giving it (literally) his all, transcending the character’s comical nature to produce a genuinely terrifying force of nature. Yashiro’s obviously no Joker, no matter how much ‘you complete me’ kind of speech you want to saddle him with.

~Satoru and Kayo not being romantically involved makes a whole lot of logical sense to me, and in a way that makes Satoru’s action even more poignant. If I absolutely have to ship people in this show, I’d actually go with Satoru and Misato (Airi, at least the anime version of her, never really work for me). Anyone else? Just me? Okay then.

Akagami no Shirayukihime S2

Akagami Shirayuki + Zen

We often express our respect for a work that tried to shoot the moon even if ends up in glorious failure, but I also have a special kind of respect for something that thrives on firmly grounded set-up.

More of the same, really. If nothing else, this really reminds me how a strong cast and character dynamics count for an awful lot in my book. The characters are devoid of bad tropes, and the organic interaction between them were always appropriately measured in terms of tone; sweet but not cloying, funny without really trying to be, engaging sans the melodrama.

That’s not to say that the show should just coast on character interaction alone, though. I don’t demand grand conflict with far-reaching consequences—that’s not Akagami’s MO and it should remain that way—but I felt like the story could’ve given its characters more interesting things to do and gotten way more from its setting beyond stuff like yet another Shirayuki kidnapping sheme and mostly tension-free battles. As the relationship between Shirayuki and Zen settled into a steady but predictable rhythm, it also would’ve benefit through shift of focus toward the other characters doing things that don’t revolve around those two (like that bonding moment between Obi and Ryuu).

Stray Thoughts:

~Shirayuki being an official court herbalist this cour, I had expected more sub-plot and perhaps even an adventure with the herbalist team. Herbal research and problem-solving would’ve been great to see, and it’s also a group that I wanted to get to know more; Ryuu might be my favorite character in the series, Garrack is a nice character in her own right, and I want to know how the hell (*check wiki) this Yatsufusa dude manages to see with huge bandanna covering his eyes entirely.

~It could take a while to fully appreciate Michiru Oshima’s musical composition, but after two cours it should be clear how important it is to the show. It fits the series’ tone like a glove, and significantly drive the mood of a given scene through great sense of timing and placement. Gives me the vibe of a top-notch J-RPG soundtrack.

Haikyuu!! S2

Ooikawa Haikyuu Serve

Kind of coasting and lacks the spark of its first season, but I expect things to pick up in the second cour

And it does! Well, not right away—even the tournament took a while to really get going. There were more shots at the peanut gallery reacting, commenting, and explaining things than ideal, and Karasuno’s first two matches were just ‘okay’ instead of the fantastic hot-blooded sports action the show’s absolutely capable of. Then, Aoba Josei vs. Date Tech happened, which was the finest match in a long while, and after that, the moment this second season’s been building up to: the grudge match of Karasuno vs. Aoba Josei. It was fantastic.

Okay, one epic match doesn’t necessarily negate the series’ weaknesses (mainly the struggle to stay compelling outside of volleyball court),  but it ended the season on an absolute high and ensured that the upcoming third season should kick off at high gear right away.

Stray Thoughts:

~The two unfortunate things I learned from this second season: practice matches are no substitute for actual high-stakes matches, and the comedy is far from being an element that could carry the show. I do like the character drama of Yachi and Tsukishima earlier in the season though, and it could stand to shed some more nuances for the other characters as well—perhaps by showing the non-volleyball aspects of their life more often.

~The series as a whole has a top notch collection of OPs and EDs, with my favorites being LEO and Hatsunatsu , both EDs sung by the three piece rock band Tacica. There’s a particularly brilliant use of Hatsunatsu by the end of Episode 17, intercutting the visual of Karamatsu’s defeat by Aoba Josei in the first season with the present timeline, as the team stepped to the court and greeted by Ooikawa’ chilling grin. Cue several episodes’ worth of magnificence that only a top-notch sport anime could provide.

Next time: Dagashi, GundamGaro, links & stuff

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