Seasonal Thoughts: Spring 2016 Recap

Spring Show Panorama

Go play that Windows 7 song, the Maid with Flaxen Hair or whatever, and join me in this soothing, relaxing, rumination of the past spring.

(damn, I wish I’ve watched Tanaka, if only to have the complete set…)

As always, my watch list and overall final impression don’t line up neatly with general consensus. I skipped some of the apparent spring darlings (among others, My Hero Academia, Concrete Revolutio S2, Re:Zero) for variety of reasons, and I watched two damn bad shows at my own volition. I’m not at the point that I willingly watch bad stuff just for the heck of it, but in this case I at least have  reasons (not necessarily good ones, mind) to justify watching them.

For brief thoughts on a bunch of shows that’s not here, check this out. Now, let’s have takes on  recent stuff I’ve finished watching in the last three months (with callbacks to my previous early impression, and spoilers on the Stray Thoughts section):

Short Series

Agetaro Chill Out 1

Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou

….the nature of said passion (DJ-ing +  tonkatsu cooking) and the show’s off-kilter sense of humor  lends this well-worn path a fresh and funky feel.

If you’re a fan of shounen passion drama, and the only thing preventing you from checking out Agetarou is its unconventional art style, short format, and/or relatively cheap look, I implore you to re-consider. The titular young man’s journey at learning about his new passion is delightful, as is his hilarious reaching for connection between the art of sound mixing and his family tonkatsu business. Fittingly considering its subject matter, the overall sound design is a blast. It strengthens the show’s quirky vibe, providing an array of creative sfx and diegetic + background tunes good enough to warrant an OST purchase.

Make no mistake, this is a budget project with rather pedestrian animation, which in turn lowered the potential impact of its crucial clubbin’ scenes. That’s compensated by a gosh darn amount of personality though, and when all is said and done, this fascinating cartoonish snapshot of Shibuya lifestye is the best thing I’ve watched for the season—shorts or otherwise.

Stray Thoughts:

-With his first DJ session (episode 5), Agetarou now belongs in the pantheon of great moments in sport/art/passion  anime.  It’s a classic ‘ baptism of fire’ moment, as our intrepid hero overcame his screw-up midway through and eventually won the crowd with the soothing rhythm of simmering tonkatsu. As I watched nervously while rooting hard for Age’s  success in this roller coaster of a debut performance, the show had also completely won me over.

-The above might be my favorite moment/episode, but the subsequent episode (aka the ‘Chill Out’ episode)isn’t far behind. It’s a damn audacious one for sure, repeating that certain phrase over and over and over again as I’m already busy laughing my head off halfway through. Unapologetically off-kilter and borderline surrealistic, the punchline to the joke is something I bet no one see coming.

-Yet another very fine moment: Agetarou getting into the EDM fever and subsequently realizing that he also needs to develop his own taste instead of just following along on what other people said is good. “It may not be popular, but it’s totally my groove!” Hey, that’s exactly how I feel about your show, Age.

Daru Kanojo to Kanojo to Neko

                                                                 She and Her Cat: Everything Flows                    

I could already guess how it’s going to end by the first episode (as well as most other viewers I bet), but it’s the details of the execution that matter. Based on Makoto Shinkai’s passion project that first earned him the industry’s attention, they (specifically director Kazuya Sakamoto and writer Naruki Nagakawa) succeed in expanding on the idea and creating an affecting bittersweet atmosphere. This project closely follows Shinkai’s template in terms of narrative and direction style, and while it’s not jaw-droppingly gorgeous like his films are, it still has a very pleasant aesthetic  that conveys a lot of the good old mono no aware.

I tend to find the one-note melancholia in Shinkai’s projects to eventually be a detriment, but it’s less apparent here, thanks to the miniseries format and our unusual feline narrator. I particularly like the approach in portraying his headspace: instead of making Daru omniscient, there’s a carefully constructed stream of consciousness that leans on sensory and instinctive understanding, eliminating the knowledge toward human particulars that a cat wouldn’t have. It’s a logical take on a cat’s hypothetical thought process, and it allows for some amusing and poignant interpretation (and misinterpretation) from Daru’s point of view.

Stray Thoughts:

-I knew some people who absolutely refuse to see any media with animal-based tragedy in it, and while I sympathize with that sentiment (I kind of detest their typical use as horror media’s fodder myself), Everything Flows feels much less like a tragedy—let alone one with crass emotional manipulation—and more a gentle introspective on the inevitability of separation. In any case, if you’re a pet owner, it’s certainly the kind of show that once you’ve finished would have you scrambling to hold your pet and never let go.

Goma-chan Sleeping

Shounen Ashibe: Go! Go! Goma-chan

I’m not sure if anyone non-nostalgic and over the age of six has any business watching this show, but eh,  I feel it’s important to know that there’s alternative source of disarming cuteness than the typical moegirl brigade.

A dozen episodes in, and Goma-chan remains its nonsensical, pure fluff, self. So, I guess I’ll be a monster and dish out some criticism (at a show aimed at grade-schoolers, no less): there are highlights for sure, but as a whole I think it could’ve done better.  It’s prone to coast on Goma’s inherent cuteness rather than utilizing it for genuinely compelling scenario, and I would’ve prefer the kids to have more screentime priority over the wacky adult characters they keep trotting out. Ashibe himself is a vanilla MC, but Sugao, the Older Brother character cum Goma superfan, and Mao (that kid with perpetually zoned out look) are all compelling child characters—episodes focusing on them are generally Goma-chan at its best.

(as of now, I’m not sure if this is gonna continue to summer season or not. I’m guessing it will be, but there’s a real possibility that next week’s thirteenth episode is the finale. I’ll update this space when that’s cleared up).

Stray Thoughts

-The swimming pool episode is the exact example of what I’m talking above, fleshing out Ashibe’s circle of friends while also giving Goma-chan a solid role beyond just making cute sounds (in this case, helping out Yumiko practice swimming). It’s also themed around something that would be instantly relateable to kids, as well as being nostalgia trip for the adult viewers.

-“It’s a Sugao world and Ashibe is just living in it,” said the Fandom Post’s Chris Beveridge (who’s doing God’s work in recapping Goma-chan episode). I’m inclined to agree, what’s with him and his misadventures in the Middle of Nowhere oftentimes upstaging the Ashibe-Goma stuff. Poor kid better have some sort of reunion with Ashibe by the end of this thing, or I’d flip out.

-With Sugao and the Goma-loving Older Bro, there’s a sub-text within the show saying ‘it’s okay for boys to show emotion and like cute girly stuff’. Neat.

-Yes, they hired a full-fledged VA to produce the voice of a baby seal. She did a very good job.

Kagewani Kid Nagi

Kagewani Season 2

“The shift to a more straightforward action/thriller series takes away a lot of what makes Kagewani  special.”

Yeah, this is a relative flop and disappointment. The second season’s execution simply couldn’t cut it, failing to accommodate the much more plot-driven narrative within its format (even with additional two minutes per episode). The animation and movement have improved, but  the expert staging and storyboarding of the first season have all but disappeared; whereas we used to have ordinary people striving to outwit the brilliantly designed monsters, this time around it’s mostly about the main character with supernatural power and a ninja girl with paralysis-inducing tuning fork… which may not sound that bad on paper, but in practice result in far less memorable showdowns.

I stopped caring about the plot about halfway through, while the show is too dour and humorless to at least produce some fun with its B-movie characters and cliches. This season ends with a big cliffhanger that hints for the third installment, but yeah, feels like it’s time to say heavy-hearted goodbye to Banba-sensei.

Stray Thoughts

-I couldn’t think of much highlight, at least not one that’s around the level of the first season’s top offerings. The mall attack involving a blind girl is a good one, I suppose, as is the plant boy’s sacrifice. Anything else involving Banba the Perpetually Uncertain, Kimura the Heel Scientist, and Nagi the Edgy Action Girl is muddled by uninspired action set-pieces and clumsy exposition, while overly dramatic J-Rock tune keeps blaring on the background.

Full Series

Flying Witch Ends

Flying Witch

The show truly shines whenever it goes into its understated yet effective brand of  magical realism.

Last year, I mentioned how I respect the kind of shows that has utmost confidence in the strengths of its firmly grounded premise alone. I referred to Akagami no Shirayukihime at the time, but Flying Witch is an even better fit to that description: it starts working the moment you could accept that its complete lack of conflict, tension, or character arc is a feature instead of a bug. I don’t necessarily love every second of it, mind—there were times when I wish Makoto is a more interesting character, or that the show utilizes its fantastical concept and characters a tad more.

Nevertheless, even if it has the narrative and emotional depth of a water puddle, there’s a refreshing effect from just observing magical agrarian lifestyle with well-adjusted people being perfectly content with who they are (excepting Inukai, I guess) and having comfortable relationship with each other. You either zone out or get into the zone with Witch, and I found myself being in the latter more often than not.

Stray Thoughts:

-As far as my favorite magic trick goes… Inukai’s predicament got the biggest laugh from me throughout the whole series, but I pretty much like every magical concept introduced here and the way they’re seamlessly integrated into mundane daily lives. The flying whale is a majestic thing (Final Fantasy IV nostalgia!), and creations like the harbinger, the ghosts, and the earth fish are the kind of things that I’d love to see more of.

Joker Game Yuuki Quote Emperor & Spy

Joker Game

This is the first Japanese-based espionage story I’m experiencing,  and it’s well-constructed enough for me to stick around.

Man, I really wanted to like this more than I actually am. Grown-ups doing grown-up stuff in (mostly) non-exaggerated manner is a unicorn in the anime landscape, and I don’t even have a problem with the show’s episodic approach and deliberate de-emphasis of characterization for its supposed principals. This is very much a theme-driven show, and it’s hammered home quite effectively a few times.

That said, an anthology is only as good as the sum of its stories, and roughly half of them don’t quite work for me. The middle episodes in particular, along with the very last one, don’t exactly break the mold of traditional spy narrative with their obligatory plot twists and melodramatic flair. These could still be entertaining in a pulpy sort of way, but the stakes are compromised in a way when we found that the D-Agency spies are pretty much infallible and indestructible from anything—except freak accident, that is. That might be the one thing that irked me the most with Joker Game: the way it consistently framed Yuuki and co. as the Smartest and Most Righteous People in The Room.

It’s not that I disagree with the principles of what they’re saying (well, most of them), but as with politic, you can agree with someone’s belief while disliking the way it’s being conveyed.

Stray Thoughts:

-In spite of my misgivings above, I still want to see more of the series. Especially so in terms of the original novel, where I assume the nuances of both the D-Agency machinations and the individual story arcs could be more easily spotted. Clever cinematography and effective (if a bit overbearing) music direction aside, this one cour adaptation feels like an incomplete representation of Koji Yanagi’s vision, and I want to gain a better understanding of it.

-The way the show sidestepped the historical elephant in the room, it might as well be a completely random collection of spy stories that has no bearing with the real life period it’s depicting.  The narrative did produce some savage commentary on the internal philosophy of Japanese military, but I don’t really get any valuable insight on the matter of Japanese’s political relationship with rest of the world, its colonizing policy, and basically all the deeply unsavory stuff it’s involved with during the timeline of WWII. Just not within the show’s scope, is all, and it’s understandable once you take the possible contextual considerations into account.

-Like the ED song and the individual character art there a lot, it’s one of my favorites so far this year.

Mayoiga Penguin

Mayoiga/The Lost Village

The most tonally strange show this season is assuredly Not Good, but it’s still fascinating to ponder what exactly the showrunners are thinking when they’re making this.

Morbid curiosity pulled me back to this supremely tongue-in-cheek exercise, some time after I stopped at Episode 2. Well, I did spend a lot of time pondering, mostly during all the times I had to pause in a given episode and take a break from the godawful dialogue, characters, and ‘jokes’. In a certain way, the show is almost educational: ‘here’s how to completely undermine the dramatic weight of the situation’, ‘here’s how to make the main character unlikable without making him a straight up jackass’, ‘here’s how to dump exposition in the most inorganic way’, etc. I’m firmly on the camp that all these self-sabotaging maneuvers are done on purpose; way too systematic and consistent to be otherwise, especially considering the showrunners’ prior experience. That said, I’m not necessarily a fan of it.

A part of me is kind of impressed by the sheer audacity of this whole thing, another part derives some enjoyment by mulling over all its structural quirks (I might eventually write a piece about it), and the most significant part of me feels that I owe myself a big time for actually watching it in its entirety.

Stray Thoughts:

-My (least) favorite Bad Execution Joke is when some of the characters—already several degrees removed from how actual human beings talk—literally spell out their mindstate, motivation, and character arc. I chuckled the first time it happened, but just like other jokes of similar nature in this thing, the charm worn out pretty fast.

-I actually love the idea of the show pretending to be a kill-em-all type of narrative before eventually ending up with zero body count and a completely benign resolution. All those cheeky ‘foreshadowing’ about cannibalizing each other and stuff! Such a neat and amusing subversion of genre expectation. Sure, it’s also a troll job, but it could work with strong execution and a likable, multi-dimensional, cast that you don’t want to see dying in the most horrible manner possible… wait.

-Okay, I do like a couple of characters from that abomination of a group: Nyanta and Lion. I like their eventual bond, and how they provide the insight and realness that every other character spectacularly lack. Both are genuinely amusing too, and the moment when they embraced in the final episode is the closest TLV has ever got in producing genuine emotional impact.

-For reals though, the main reason why I can’t embrace the self-sabotaging silliness of TLV (apart from simply not being the correct target audience for its brand of humor) is how it obscures the legitimately good elements the show does have. For all its shenanigans, there are significant stretches where earnest drama is attempted, but my ability to take them seriously has been compromised due to the show’s overall damn attitude. The Lost Village may still click for you if you can compartmentalize between these disparate parts—I can’t.

Ace Attorney

Yes, I’m still watching this. No, I’m not in the goddamn mood to talk about it now.

Winter Pick-Up

I said in my winter recap post(s) that the season’s par for the course, but with the benefit of hindsight, it really isn’t. With the the three very good shows that I belatedly picked up (Shin Atashin’chi, Grimgar, Galko-chan), I can say now that the season is chock full of stuff that are very much my cups of tea, and represents my favorite period ever since I started simulcast-watching anime. Not that it means much as my (re-)starting point is winter 2015, but it’s still something.

Grimgar Group Shot

Grimgar of Snow and Ash

It has striking execution that captured the sensation of J-RPG grind and party/resource management in a way that fit well within the medium of anime.

It’s a rare kind of show, one that consistently increase in value after each episode. As mentioned above, Grimgar played well to my fondness for J-RPG (particularly the dungeon crawler variant along the lines of Wizardry and Etrian Odyssey), and the genre mechanics and logic are translated in far more organic manner than what I’m accustomed to see in this kind of series.  Its slow burn pacing and relatively narrow scope for a fantasy show might be a turn-off for some, but it’s also a great fit to me.  Both the action scenes and downtime period are generally great; the former is consistently great spectacle with legitimate stakes and consequences that characterize the whole series, while the latter is an exercise of substantial character development through mundane daily moments.

It takes a while before the characterization of Yume and Shihoru extends beyond ‘perky girl with nice butts’ and ‘shy girl with big boobs’ respectively, and the show noticeably struggle to find a source of levity/humor other than Ranta being his clumsy jackass self, but in general I dig the party dynamics. Love the way this group of youngsters adjusts to changes, losses, and shifting responsibilities, with the development of Haru and Mary standing out in particular (kinda ship them, too).

Stray Thoughts:

-Haru as the MC is another big part in making this show so personally enjoyable to me. He already cleared my passing grade by not being a pushover, a jackass, or a boring overpowered protagonist, but there’s additional novelty of him being a Rogue and how he doesn’t subscribe to the stereotypical depiction of the class. LN-style monologue could be a bit much to stomach in anime form, but the show’s articulation of Haru’s headspace is very strong. He comes across as a very thoughtful and perceptive dude, and there’s plenty to like in his process of growth to be a good leader through constant self-questioning and attempts to understand others.

-Like many, I enjoy the styling of the background art and just how the world looks in general. It combines well with the music (which I wouldn’t necessary rush to get in OST form, but still works well within the show’s context) to produce a lot of poignant highlights, with the beautiful sequence at the end of Episode 3 being an early stand-out.

-The whole thing about the characters’ amnesia and their real life origin is largely ignored throughout the show… and I actually like it this way? This adaptation might as well be a self-contained fantasy story over the classic ‘trapped in fantasy world’ narrative, and while your milage might vary on this (one could legitimately argue for the advantage of source material by the virtue of having more details and answers), this is one of the cases where I feel the director’s (Ryousuke Nakamura) approach in parsing the available material works out to create a product that’s special in its own way.

For the other two..

I’ve only recently started Galko-chan, but it’s certainly a fascinating shorts: an amusing rumination on teenagers’ (largely clueless) perception of the sexier body parts, and how they integrate anatomical urban legends in the way they perceive their peers.

Finally, I have a few more episodes left of Shin Atashin’chi… and to add to my previous gushing when I just started it, I can legit say it’s the best new anime I’ve watched this year—and last year, and maybe the year before, too. Okay, it’s one show that’s incredibly well-suited to my taste buds at the very least, and I’m gonna need a full post to give it a proper justice when I’m finished.

~

I gotta say that the last couple of months or so have been… absolutely terrible, to say the least (less to do with any of my personal life, and more with everything that happened all over the world). In times like these, indulging in silly Japanese toons is honestly a welcome reprieve. Stay safe,love yourself, spend some time with your loved ones,  and…

Agetaro Chill Out 2

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