Seasonal Thoughts: Summer 2016 Recap, Part 1

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Some belated bookkeeping for the past summer days.

This season of anime… was interesting, on a personal level. Looking back at the preview/ anticipation post I had written back then, there sure are a lot of shows that overperformed/underperformed relative to my personal expectation. If I have to define this season based on my viewing, the word would be ‘action-packed’, with the trifecta of Mob Psycho 100, 91 Days, and Thunderbolt Fantasy carrying the day. While I find my taste shifting  ever so steadily to slower, down to earth, slice-of-retrospective-life type of deal as I’ve gotten older and increasingly senile melancholic, this season re-affirmed that well-executed action shows could still enchant me. Moreover, each of those three shows managed to bring something different to the table.

Tried more stuff than I’m accustomed to, ended up dropping most of them, even ones that I thought was a surefire hit prior to the season. Feels like I’m getting better at determining from early which show is going to work for me! But then, it took me about seven or eight episodes of Battery before realizing the show’s never going to become what I wanted it to be, so maybe not. Oh, and I finished Ace Attorney. /stockholm’d

Dropped List/Partial Viewing

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Hitori no Shita: The Outcast (1 episode)

The Chinese flavor lends this co-produced anime a slightly unique feel, but flat visual, generally discordant tone, and the off-putting ‘socially clueless beastly girl character who needs to be tamed’ did a great job in dousing my interest.

Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu (1 episode)

Right off the bat, we’ve got a clumsy ‘where are we, and what we’re doing now’ exposition in the middle of poorly CGI-fied combat, and there’s nothing in the rest of the episode to suggest that this half-season continuation of Arslan’s journey will ever satisfy me, let alone fix all the issues I have with its first season.

The general Arslan Senki situation is fascinating: both the novel and the manga adaptation are moving at snail’s pace, and it is unclear how they plan to proceed with the anime (which have actually overtaken the manga it’s based on) from here. In any case, I really doubt I would ever get back to this series in one form or another; the time when I enjoyed the first few episodes of Arslan Senki already feel like a lifetime ago.

Days (1 episode)

Simply not good enough. A couple of decades watching/reading sport series had conditioned me to expect a show like this to get off to a flying start—pure sport series rarely improve midway through, so the beginning should really give you an idea of how strong it’d be. By that standard, this one failed to pass. One-dimensional characters, hardly believable motivation, a complete pushover of a protagonist with reductive ‘train hard until your body’s wrecked, and you wouldn’t suck anymore!’ approach to the sport, and more blatant fujo-pandering crammed in a single episode than the entirety of Cheer Boys (a show about freaking male cheerleaders, no less).

Sweetness & Lightning (2 episodes)

Thematically, this should’ve been a winning formula: doses of slice-of-life warmth and cuteness, tinged with undercurrent of grief. However, while the scenes highlighting Tsumugi’s precocious cuteness and the communal warmth of eating rice together are expertly animated, the narrative particulars just don’t work for me. The way that the two main female characters feel too precious/calculated, perhaps, or simply that I’m not just in the right mood to watch this.

Handa-kun (2 episodes)

Vying with Battery and Ace Attorney for the dubious honor of most disappointing show. Since I finished those other two and couldn’t proceed beyond the second episode of this, I guess this one takes the cake. The dreadful meta premiere feels like a destitute man’s Osomatsu-san, the main gags feel like poor man’s Sakamoto, and there is absolutely no trace of Barakamon’s immense charm in this product. I know it can be a bad form to assess a new series based on the author’s other property, but it is pretty inevitable here considering this is a direct prequel. And yet, everything here is just different for the worse; it’s hard to reconcile the fact that this is the same Handa that works exceptionally well as Barakamon’s dramedy anchor, and I already got tired of the whole ‘dense idiot thinks everyone hate him while they actually worship him (for some strange reason)’ shtick by the beginning of Ep 2.

Even judged in its own term, the anime hardly inspired confidence. Comic timing feels off, the characters are an aggressively uninspiring bunch, and there is a mean-spirited air around the whole thing. I think it’s eventually going to get better and settle into being a post-modern high school comedy in the vein of Sakamoto, Tanaka, and Nozaki, but I’m not in the mood for that kind of show at the moment. I’ll probably check out the manga at some point, though.

Puzzle & Dragons Cross (2 episodes)

I tried this out following words of mouth about the premiere’s impressive visual. There are indeed some talented animators honing their craft on multimedia kids’ show, and the first couple of episodes bear evidences of that. The opening dragon vs. military scene is a showstopper, while the architectural design and general world-building are impressively detailed and vibrant.

The narrative isn’t grabbing though, to put it mildly. Very boilerplate, utilizing overly familiar stock characters (cheerful hero with absent father, ice cold rival, token childhood friend, cuddly mascot monster…) and offering nothing that suggest I—a grown man despite evidences to the contrary—should stick throughout its assuredly high episode count. The next kids-and-monsters show I’m (re)watching shall be the first few Digimon seasons, in any case.

Time Travel Girl (2 episodes)

Another kids’ show, this time with educational bent. As occasional teacher and translator of edutainment books, I’m genuinely interested in the way to present scientific facts (and more importantly, scientific thought process) to younger audience in consistently engaging manner, and as far as I’ve seen the show does a good job of doing just that. The time travel conceit and overarching mystery serve as a good platform to get acquainted with the featured scientists and their inventions, seasoned with additional period details and humorous interplay between the three leads. That said, if you’re not in the mood to study or assess its edutainment presentation, it’s still probably not engaging enough.

I didn’t continue to watch due to packed schedule, but between the ones listed here, this is the show that I’m likeliest to return to.

The Morose Mononokean (5 episodes)

I really thought I’m going to finish this show, and the first few episodes had been decent enough. But I was also watching the third season of Natsume’s Book of Friends at the time, and it kind of blows this one out of the water (*I seem to have difficulty watching two similar narrative simultaneously without eventually prioritizing one over the other).

Maybe the characters need more time to grow on me, but the gist of it is that the show just doesn’t have enough dramatic and/or comedic punch for me. Ashiya’s shrillness got progressively more annoying after each episode, and not even the return of the immensely lovable Fuzzball in the (otherwise very dull) fifth episode could prevent me from dropping the show.

Shows I’ve Actually Finished

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Ace Attorney

“As frustratingly literal as this adaptation is as a whole, there are still new scenes, new character interaction, and cheeky references worth suffering through, bursts of magical moments that mean a lot to fans like me.”

Okay, let’s see if I can find more silver linings in this immense cloud. The second half of the show adapted most of the second game, widely regarded as the worst entry in the series, and they actually did a good job in making some of the most annoying parts a bit more palatable. The Big Top case in particular earned a bad rep for its dreadfully tiresome characters, but for once the show made all the correct decisions, excising a lot of the badness and adding new scenes that make these characters significantly more sympathetic. They could’ve done much better with the other cases, but at least there’s also the grand total of one all-new episode; which is eminently forgettable and inessential, but also features the young Nick, Larry, and Miles at their cutest!  Also, also, the visual got better from ‘disastrously cheap CGI-fied trainwreck’ into ‘unimaginative and occasionally sloppy’! Yay!

…..look, I can spend the whole day polishing the turd, but in the end there’s no escaping that this is a bad show and greatly disappointing adaptation. Turning the worst case in the series into something watchable is canceled out by poor direction + composition everywhere else, which does the original series’ narrative, characters, and sense of humor absolutely no justice. Thus, I can only repeat what would be said by practically every AA fan that endured the show: just play the damn games already.

Stray Thoughts:

Wait, I do have one more silver lining: the VA cast did very fine! Yuki Kaji (whose take on Mononokean’s Ashiya I find really grating) made for a more than passable Phoenix, Aoi Yuuki (one of the most exciting young talents in the field) reminded me time and time how lovable Maya is, and relative newcomer Masashi Tamaki’s portrayal of Miles Edgeworth’s dignified authority is spot on. But it’s Yuu Sugimoto’s performance of Wendy Oldbag that I enjoy the most, and while it helped a lot that they softened the character in this adaptation, Sugimoto stil nailed the signature rat-a-tat rant and turned everyone’s least favorite granny into a figure that draws hearty chuckles instead of cringes.

-The show’s take on it came nowhere close to the source material’s dramatic and emotional peak, but the final case of the second game remains my favorite part in the entire series. In truth, as bad as the show is, it does leave me wanting to replay the trilogy again and re-assess how I feel about each case.

-You can bet that every time this track plays, I got pumped and momentarily forgot about all the show’s problems. They should’ve used more tunes from the series; Noriyuki Iwadare’s arrangement for the game series is as sublime as it gets.

-You can also bet that, in spite of all my pain and bellyaching, if they make a new season from the third game… I’d still be there.

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Battery

“My top batter for the season.”

Yeah… it sure isn’t a home run. I don’t think it even connected with the ball.

This is a baffling one. I had pegged Battery as ‘a drama series with characters who just happen to play baseball’ rather than ‘pure baseball series’, but even so, I’m still surprised by its glaring lack of engaging baseball scenes. It’s quite telling that in the few matches they bother showing, the camera focused more on the bench and chit-chat between opposition players rather than the action on the pitch.

You may say that’s because the show cares more about the characters over the silly game they’re playing, but even the shows generally regarded to transcend sport genre trappings (e.g. Mitsuru Adachi’s series, Ping Pong) still needed dynamic match scenes to contextualize the characters’ motivation and serve as a big pay-off. Battery, in comparison, spent a lot of time depicting people talking about baseball, psycho-analyzing each other in a context that revolves around baseball, and generally being obsessed with baseball… while bypassing most of  the actual baseball.

Thing is, all that drama and character stuff aren’t even executed well. I’m fine with Takumi being an uptight ass—I like rough edges on my protagonist—but the show seriously wore me down through the repetitiveness of people drooling over his pitching and over-analyzing his behavior. His relationship with Gou, which forms the narrative backbone, started out promising but eventually degenerated into a series of tiresome verbal jousting. This unnecessary melodrama extended to a pair of supporting characters who take up a lot of screentime in the second half for no good reason. These middle-schoolers really like to indulge in awkward love-and-hate exchange and lash out at each other for the most trivial stuff, and none of this nonsense is interesting or relateable at all.

Something may have been lost in translation. The source novel may articulated the character’s inner turmoil and their dynamics in a lot more coherent fashion. Or, Asano Atsuko’s writing may not just be my cup of coffee, on top of being a bad fit with the TV anime format. Whatever it is, it’s hard not to see Battery as something other than a frustrating flop.

Stray Thoughts

~The strong beginning, which mainly focused on Takumi, Gou, and Seiha, is what compelled me to watch to the end, hoping that every subsequent misstep is just a temporary blip. Those three formed a triangular character dynamics brimming with potential; Takumi and Gou learning to work together as battery, Seiha’s desire to exceed Takumi despite his fragile constitution, and Gou’s role as the more ideal brother to Seiha. Regrettably, none of this thread bears any fruit by the end.

~I’d say the show started to go downhill with Takumi’s beatdown by the seniors, and it never recover its early mojo since then. The low key jackass of a coach, the endless drama king mannerism, the bewildering tango between Kadowaki and Mizugaki, the drawn-out pick-up match that only lead to an abrupt open ending…damn, so many discordant notes in retrospect.

-At least the show’s nice to look at, with soft color composition and wistful visual tone that bring to mind  ‘prestige piece’ like Hourou Musuko, the kind of show that used to be closely associated to the Noitamina brand. Too bad the visual story-telling  generally takes a backseat to excessive back-and-forth dialogue.

(We’re almost drowning in a sea of negativity and disappointment here, so let’s squeeze in a show that I did enjoy from this year’s winter season)

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Please Tell Me! Galko-Chan

“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.”

Possibly one of the best shorts this year—I, for one, certainly enjoyed it more than a number of full-length series. The show is branded as an SoL sex-ed comedy, but anyone expecting something extra raunchy and lewd would probably be disappointed. On the other hand, it’s pretty refreshing to watch people, let alone anime characters, have frank and casual banter about their bodily functions. While I doubt any schoolteacher would be rushing to use this as an instructive material, it’s amusing to see various urban legends being debunked (or confirmed) and how these teenagers act and react in regards to the random trivia about their physiology (e.g. Otako, spending a lot of time reading up material so that she can present herself as more worldly than her peers).

Plenty of the gags are chuckle-worthy, and they fit well with the presentation format. The most interesting thing about Galko-chan though, is its direct commentary about labeling and stereotyping among schoolgirls. Galko is the obvious star here, and the show’s  almost feel like it’s daring you to judge her based on her fashion style and sizable assets (the way most characters in the show did), likewise with the way it assigned stereotype-based nickname to its three female leads.

By showing how the very lovable Galko just keep on being herself and thwart people’s presumptions about her, the anime flips a middle finger to the idea that people can be neatly boxed and you can only be friends with those that shares the same label with you.

Stray Thoughts:

-Love how he last episode goes all the way back to how Galko and Otako became friends, showing how they straightened each other’s perception. Cute final question/urban legend, too.

-The anime looks sharp for a short series. The colors and character design are very easy on the eyes, and I like a lot of visual details here (e.g. the various announcements posted on the school hallways, pins on Otako’s bag…)

-Yeah, I wouldn’t mind a boys’ version of this anime, if only for nostalgia’s sake.

~

I’ll finish the recap with  five autumn shows (and one very popular show  from further back that I  happened to just finish) I really like, sometime this week!

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2 thoughts on “Seasonal Thoughts: Summer 2016 Recap, Part 1

  1. I think I watched the first episode of Ace Attorney and just completely forgot about it. I really don’t have any desire to continue it. I don’t know if Kaji would have grown on me as Naruhodo/Phoenix, but he definitely wasn’t the voice I had imagined for him.

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