Seasonal Thoughts: Winter 2016 Recap, Pt 2

Kudelia Iron Blooded Orphans

Picking up from last time, thoughts on the rest of shows that I’ve finished, some that I didn’t, and recommended reading material from anime blogosphere.

Dagashi Kashi

Dagashi Kashi Preview

Seems to have potential to be an endearing slice-of-life series with quirky character design and drama centered around confectionary and sweets business.

Funny thing is, I didn’t even like the first episode. The comedy is only mildly amusing, and Hotaru is the kind of manic pixie anime girl that I’m not a big fan of. But, I kept watching  for some reason and it’s only when the characters play around with some candy toy that something clicked on me. Viewing Dagashi Kashi as a pure comedy series is a false approach, where in reality it’s a comedic slice-of-life that leans very heavily on nostalgia factor (at least for East Asian viewers, I think).

Dagashi, or the counterparts thereof in my country, was something I used to consume a lot as a kid. Heck, my family even had a family shop designed almost exactly like Kokonotsu’s! Add the eternal summer aesthetic in rural area, and it’s a package that gave me warm tingling every now and then. Without that feeling, I doubt the gags (many of them are stretched very thin..) and characters are enough to carry the show, so I wouldn’t really recommend it—unless you also happen to really like candy trivia.

Stray Thoughts:

~Hotaru obviously doesn’t make sense as an actual character, but she’s a pretty great symbol of childhood innocence and unbridled enthusiasm (the sexpot design notwithstanding…). The calling card of having other characters (mostly Kokonotsu) react to Hotaru’s innuendo-laced jabbering like, “wait does she meant THAT—oh never mind she’s talking about candy” did get old after a while, but the naughty jokes aren’t that bad by themselves. I also tend to really like whenever the candies are shown as cartoon characters in her headspace.

~My favorite moment, nostalgia removed, would be episode 7. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a festival episode, but it’s honestly one of the best episodes I’ve seen this season; an extremely pleasant sequence where they take a break from the gags and let the subtle chemistry between the characters to shine.

~I know some people are weirded out by them, but I like those eyes! I like the character design in general (which is really a big part in me trying out the show in the first place, come to think of it); weird and distinct are always more preferable than the increasingly uniform design from the Moe Factory.

Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans

Tekketsu Body Bag

I sit pretty much on the middle of the road, leaning slightly to positive impression overall.

By the end, I have an even more mixed feeling about this. On one hand, my interest had been significantly piqued back up after the sluggish pacing and awkward drama in midway point, thanks to the political power play, the rise of genuinely fascinating anti-villain (obligatory Char mask aside), the gut punch of a certain death scene, and the bold portrayal of Tekkadan as sewer rats/political pawns fighting for survival instead of morally superior heroes. On the other hand, the awfully flimsy application of these themes and ideas left a lot to to be desired.

Of all the issues, the celebratory mood of the final episode may be the one thing that bothered me the most. There were  enough indications of Tekkadan being completely out of their depth and that their internalized family philosophy is more than a bit twisted, but they sure got off easy from the final battle. Punches were pulled, and all those troubling issues were handwaved by literally saying “kids will be kids”. Granted, there’s still a second season coming, but franchise baggage or not, there are enough big flaws within its writing and characterization (which also covered Gjallarhorne affairs, the Turbines, and especially Kudelia’s overly convenient character arc) that I’m far from confident the show could fix.

Stray Thoughts:

~My favorite thing from IBO is how it did away with the notion of ‘ace pilot=main character’, and instead distributed the cake pretty evenly between Kudelia, Orga, and Mika. That’s a fine mix of roles and perspectives, and I love the idea of protagonists sorting their rather serious shortcomings out and cover for each other’s weaknesses.  But then, the pesky matter of execution rears its head again. Orga and Kudelia seem to be a lot more about grandstand posturing and broad rhetoric rather than sensible thinking and actual character development, and the show so far had also failed to really double down on the toxic dynamics between Mika and Orga (the former, incidentally, has strayed into being a plain unsympathetic sociopath for me).

~Tekkadan’s now a bunch of strangely upbeat kids led by a questionable leader and his sociopathic bloodhound sidekick, while sensible competent people like Biscuit and Merribit have been respectively packed into the body bag and have her perspective rendered irrelevant. Again, I like the concept of Tekkadan itself, but the framing of this bunch have been very confusing and inappropriately romantic; you’ve got enthusiastic cheering and heroic music to accompany Mika as he brutally slayed the enemies, as well as tonally weird scenes like the kids bantering in jokey manner about who should deliver the bad news to Biscuit’s sisters (it should be Orga for that matter, who really pissed me off with that sickening ‘we have to continue fighting so the dead can smile’ rhetorics. The dead doesn’t smile, Orga—they’re dead.)

~I like McGillis’s plotline, and by the end of there I kind of feel for Gaelio and even Carta. Still, while this may very well be re-visited in the second season, I feel like the show could’ve done a better job articulating McGillis’ motive and the dynamics between him and Gjallarhorne. This is a general issue, really; while I may be dumb and/or not paying enough attention (always a likely possibility, sadly), there sure seemed to be insufficient information being conveyed by IBO despite so many scenes of people yammering about. I’d rather the show lost some of its numerous characters and sub-plots to be able to maintain better focus and clarity.

Sekkou Boys

Sekkou Boys Entrance

In which living busts of Greek gods tried their hands (..more like heads and shoulders) on the idol industry. Yes, really.

It turned out this was much more awesome in theory than in practice, but it’s hardly  a bust. It’s a consistently (if only mildly) amusing sitcom where its ridiculous premise is treated mostly straight, and a lot of the jokes were derived from the idea of a rookie manager flailing to manage her (C-list in actual reputation and achievements, A-list in ego) idols.  They did a fine job in carving loads of personality to these stone-faced idols through voice work and visual effect, while the luckless Ishii is a fairly likable and entertaining character in her own right.

There were glimpses of modern fandom trends (such as online meme) and the dark underbelly of idol industry, but since this is more of a simple parody than a satirical takedown, they’re not of much insight. In the end, this is a mostly insubstantial show, and I also think the overall flow could’ve worked better in multiple short segments per episode rather than stretching out a single story for a 7-minute episode. However, if you find the whole idea hilarious by itself, it’s certainly worth a watch (the punchline in the variety show episode makes it worth my time, at the very least).

Garo: Guren no Tsuki (Crimson Moon)

Garo Guren no Tsuki

I enjoyed the first Garo anime, but by all accounts this one is a poor man’s version with downgraded production value. Might still come back to form my own opinion though, still intrigued by the jidaigeki setting and Seimei character.

Yeah, this series is very much unloved. Maybe it’s just my soft spot for the underdogs, but I had wanted to defend it through the first batch of episodes. The animation and battle choreography are definitely a downgrade from the first Garo anime (Honoo no Kokuin/Garo: The Animation), but there were things that I could enjoy: the jidaigeki flavor and Japanese folklore references, the interplay between Seimei, Raikou, and Kintoki (+Shiki!), and even some of the stand-alone episodes (when comparing these two shows, people tend to forget that Honoo had some completely disposable fillers). Then, the second cour happened and—

DARKNESS. PURE DARKNESS. DARKNESS FALLS. DARKNESS RULEZ, LIGHT DROOLZ. DARKNESS DARKNESS DARKNESS.

By God, I can no longer justify this show by the time it’s finished. The dramatic scenes have the weight of cotton cloud, the main conflict is terribly uninspired, and the most prominent villain is so deathly repetitive and one-note that the villain in Erased looks like an elegant and nuanced character in comparison. And then, there’s that one rape comedy episode—enough said.

Stray Thoughts:

~That’s a rather odd ending. I would expect an OVA episode or a follow-up of some kind, since it’s conspicuously missing any sort of coda. I don’t really care enough at this point, frankly.

~I guess the biggest disappointment is how they eventually handle Seimei. Brought to life by the zesty performance of seasoned VA Romi Park, she’d been the most fun and interesting part of the show, but then she had to be neutered for most of the second half by settling into a typical cliched role of being taken over by an inner demon and had to be saved by the main dude. Sigh.

Some Other Shows – Secondhand Takes

Due to the high number of carry-overs from the fall season, there were some winter shows that I was interested in but had to skip. In the end, I defaulted to the strategy of just waiting for the general verdict on those shows once they’re finished, and see if I still have interest in them.  This turned out to be a pretty good strategy! I’m definitely going to approach future seasons with that kind of mindset for shows that I don’t have strong feelings for.

Grimgar:  Although I used to be an avid J-RPG player, I had little interest in anime shows depicting gamified narrative of the genre, mainly because they rarely have characters that I can invest in. This one got my interest though, thanks to a striking storybook aesthetic and words of mouth praising its unexpected level of pathos (despite not being entirely free of bad genre/LN tropes). This is the one show that I’ll belatedly pick up from this season.

Kanojo to Kanojo no Neko: I’ll also watch this! Been hearing nice things, and the premise (job-hunting girl, a cat, presumably giant doses of melancholia) is totally My Kind of Thing.

Dimension W: I was pretty interested in it before the season, and I thought the premiere was decent, save for the cliched Hard Outside Soft Inside lead guy and (especially) the panderingly/artificially cute robot girl. I ended up shelving it for later consumption in case I still feel like it, but reports since then had been largely alarming. Apparently it’s a narrative mess made worse by adaptation malfunction, and my initial concern of Mira being fetishized to the nth seemed to have become reality. I’ll go on waiting for that hypothetical dream show of Blade Runner meets Astro Boy.

HaruChika: Also watched the first episode, didn’t stuck with me enough to warrant a longer-term investment. I kind of like Chika’s eyes (I guess I just have a thing for weird spiraly eye design), Haruta’s apparent comfort with his sex orientation, and the chemistry between these two, but I already watched mediocre part-mystery part-SoL with an insufferably smug amateur detective the previous season (hi, Sakurako).

Sushi Police: I mentioned this short series on my preview post, but atypical art style for anime aside, the first episode completely failed to further my interest. Maybe it got better, but I had sort of forgotten about it quickly.

Yami Shibai 3: I didn’t see this yet, but I had watched the first two installments of this horror anthology series and like them enough (the first slightly more so).  Will watch the third one at some soon-ish point.

Oji-san no Marshmallow: Mm, yeah, some people said this is sweet, but (based on first ep alone, it must be said) I thought it’s awfully thin and mildly off-putting instead. Guess I’m just not big on marshmallow.

KonoSuba: another gamified narrative from a light novel, this one’s gotten popular enough to secure a second season relatively quickly. I’ve seen some praises about the show’s genuine hilarity—standard disclaimer about fanservice and bad tropes still apply of course—but this particular brand of humor and character design don’t really appeal to me either way.

Active Raid: a poor man’s Patlabor? People who watched this to the end don’t seem to be too enthusiastic about it, although a big Patlabor fan did report back to me that it’s okay. So, there’s that; apparently there’s a second split cour, too.

Golden Lynx

Golden Links

I like reading other people’s blogs! In the era of click-bait content and scalding hot takes, it’s heartening to still be able to find many people willing to write a bunch of insightful and interesting words on my favorite media. I’ve been wanting to make some sort of regular media tracking feature where I put outside content/article from animango blogosphere/online publication in one place (for my reference’s sake, and perhaps others), and I’ll start by using this space to highlight show-specific pieces about this anime season that caught my eyes.

~Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu~

Josei Next Door has the best episodic coverage for my favorite winter anime, Shouwa Rakugo. She’s been one of my absolute favorites in the business of in-depth write-up (particularly for thematically rich shows), providing balanced mixture of piercing insight, interesting trivia, and sincere enthusiasm. I’m really looking forward to re-read these while re-watching the show sometime before the second season.

This show lends itself very well to rewarding discourse on a broad variety of subjects, and I easily found several more pieces very much worth reading on the ‘Net: Altair&Vega on the mechanics of Rakugo’s visual story-telling, Atelier Emily on the significance of wind chime as a motif, and Crunchyroll’s Isaac Akers on the show’s universal appeal in spite of its deceptively niche outlook.

~Boku Dake ga Inai Machi~

As arguably the most popular and oft-discussed anime of the season,  Erased drew plenty of adoration—as well as backlash that naturally entailed. It’s understandable for anime-only viewers to grow wary against any sort of comparison talk from manga readers—god, they (and that very much included me) can be really insufferable—but Karice provided a refreshingly level-headed and insightful take on this matter, in part because it’s also informed by his/her translation of the interview between the show’s director and the manga writer.

I always love to gain insight on internal thought process behind a creative work, and Karice in general has been doing a lovely work providing such content in its translated form.

~Oshiete! Galko Chan~

Caitlin on the values of this “gross girl talk” short series. It’s always useful to have someone cast a new light on a little-discussed (and dubious-looking) series, and Caitlin make it sounds like a refreshingly frank take on female anatomy and social labeling. Add another one to the shorts watch list…

~Akagami no Shirayukihime~

From the same blog as above, a breakdown on the narrative shortcomings of our favorite modern fairy tale anime.  While I ultimately like Akagami (as I’ve discussed on the previous recap post, the endearing cast alone is enough to carry the show for me), I actually agree with all of her points and the directions that the story could’ve take to make that leap from a “good” show into a “great” one.

One thing that’s unequivocally great from the show is the music though, and here’s Frog-kun on the the subject (plus the music of Rokka no Yuusha from a few seasons ago).

~Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans~

Again, a good breakdown of narrative shortcomings, this time for a contentious new installment of a hallowed franchise from Samui. Iron-Blooded Orphans is not without its merits (no matter what certain overzealous Gundam fans may be telling me), but it’s one that could absolutely stand to have an overall tighter writing, and this piece focuses on the possible solutions instead of just pointing out the flaws.

~KonoSuba + Dagashi Kashi~

By ANN’s Nick Creamer, an excellent breakdown on the tone and relative strengths of these two shows, as well as how their comedic sensibility compare to each other. I don’t think it’s necessarily an either/or situation with these two, as they’re two fundamentally different shows despite the same genre labeling—my main take away from the piece is that they could appeal to people for different reasons.

And, that’s a wrap! There are probably many other great pieces that I forgot or missed out, but all in all, thank you girls & guys for enriching my viewing experience this season!

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