In which I talk about storytellers, conspirators, chessmasters, hellish creatures, and a family of idiots.
So, I’m trying out this new format of mixing up my thoughts on both the seasonal and non-seasonal shows I’m watching. Just feels more like my speed than the season-specific recap/impression/preview posts that I used to write. This column should appear on monthly basis, perhaps even bi-weekly when I feel like it.
Seasonal Anime (Winter 2017)
So far, this season seems more interesting than the barren wasteland that everyone envisioned. Granted, I’m the type of person who thinks that ‘at least three good shows=good season’, so take that with a shaker of salt. Still, there are three shows (not in my current watch list) that I’m interested to watch in the future, one way or the other: the bloody jidaigeki Onihei, the intriguingly risque Scum’s Wish, and the charming Harry Potter tribute Little Witch Academia. Also, I can’t deny a bit of morbid curiosity for the nazi-loli show Tanya The Evil. Other than those, there seems to be a healthy stable of SoL comedy and high school romance that I’m sure fans of the genre can derive some enjoyment from.
As for the ones that I’m actually watching…
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (second season, five episodes watched)
First: is that a brilliant OP, or is that a brilliant OP? Second: that moment above absolutely slayed me.
Admittedly, it took some time before I can ‘get back’ to the rhytm of Shouwa Rakugo and re-capture my entusiasm for the show (even though I always grin like an idiot whenever Yotaro and Konatsu share a scene). Well, at least until they delivered a devastating one-two punch in form of Episode 4 and 5; a magnificent contrast where the former is brimming with warmth invoked by the show’s most delightful rakugo performance, while the latter climaxes in pitch black bleakness within the show’s most terrifying performance. These are moments that, in my humble opinion, show the best of what TV anime’s capable of and the tremendous potential that the medium can offer to this kind of prestige drama.
There’s a bunch of things that I need to mention: the terrific visual + musical composition in the OP, my fulfilled wish of seeing Konatsu’s rakugo, Yotaro becoming an even more lovable character, the confident use of narrative ellipse (bringing to mind the similarly classy The Great Passage from last season), the hinting of a more sinister truth behind the events in the first season, etc., etc….. look, it’s a great show, as un-anime as it is (for better and for worse, but mostly for the better). I may even need to squeeze a re-watch of the first season before I proceed with the new episodes, just to re-jigger myself in preparation for what’s coming.
ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. (five episodes watched)
Clumsy introductory exposition aside, this has been a fascinating and engaging show. I had gotten interested with the source manga’s author Natsume Ono (whose works include House of Five Leaves and Ristorante Paradiso, both have also been adapted as anime), and ACCA served as a nice gateway to her distinct character design and narrative sensibilities. It’s basically a political thriller in a jazzy slice of life packaging, and I believe I haven’t met any show that meets such description before. Anyway, we already have a couple of plot twists (handled in deceptively languid manner that I kind of dig), and you can bet there are bigger ones coming.
ACCA is also a show with recurring vices: it’s hard to watch a given episode and not get the urge to reach for your cigarette box, or rush to the nearby bakery and order the sweetest cake you can find. These little touches add some welcome flair to the proceedings, likewise with the irreverent comedic moments that are never overplayed but always amusing when they happen. I tend to prefer this casual comedic touches on the characters over Forceful Wacky Hijinks that many anime shows employ. Speaking of which…
March Comes in Like a Lion (sixteen episodes watched)
I believe I didn’t got the chance to talk about this show during its first cour, so in short: I like it. When it’s good, it’s really good. I love Rei’s prosaic monologue (it’s his sincere and compassionate description of Nikaidou in the third episode that really sealed the deal for me), the cyclical nature of its chapter-based storytelling, and the use of various landscape (especially his beloved river) and inanimate objects to frame Rei’s state of life.
Before I started the show, I had guessed that the three sisters would be its achilles heel by being the saccharine fairies that magically whisk the main character’s problems away. It turns out my worry is unfounded, as they’re great characters on their own right who provide some of the show’s best moments. The show’s got a lot of mileage from the warm and earthy atmosphere of their household, which makes a nice contrast to the suffocating sensation that we often see inside Rei’s head space—a state of depression that’s depicted in sharp and authentic manner.
Now, as many have said since last year, the show indeed suffers from its Wacky Comedy Mode and incohesive visual personality. I initially didn’t mind the comedy (really like Nikaidou’s shougi tutorial, for one), but now I gotta admit that the wacky voices, unnecessary explanation texts, and incessant sound effects have gotten a bit much. Instead of naturally weaving the humor into the narrative, the show seems absolutely intent on operating between Serious Mode and Comedy Mode, which makes for some ineffectual tonal shift. I’d be interested to read the manga someday, where this is apparently less of a problem.
Hoozuki’s Coolheadedness (nine episodes watched)
Would you believe that I immensely enjoy this show, even with so many of the gags flying over my head?
Yeah, calling Hoozuki’s Coolheadedness (Hoozuki no Reitetsu) ‘esoteric’ is an understatement. The narrative container itself is a rendition of Japanese hell, populated to the brim by ridiculously zany approximations of various mythological figures. There’s seemingly a reference in every other line of dialogue, running the whole gamut of high brow art, real world events, cultural phenomenon, and pop culture byproduct.
Now, this show might not sound very accessible, especially for those (like me) with only rudimentary knowledge of Japanese culture and folklore. However, the excellent comedic timing and delivery by the wonderfully designed cast should be enough to compensate for a few inevitable ‘whooshes’ along the way. And even when Hoozuki isn’t being funny, the incredible art direction is enough to keep me watching.
The show’s vibrant Japanese Hell is the best set design I’ve seen in a while: chock full of brilliant details and anachronisms, with each episode showing off a new and hilarious corner of this deranged place. It’s a perfect platform for some blasphemous satire, providing both hellishly smart and gloriously dumb highlights such as Satan’s (from European Hell) foreign trip and intro video of the Ten Afterlife Kings to the tune of Ten Little Indians.
The Eccentric Family (eight episodes watched)
It had been on my shortlist for a while, and I figured this is an excellent timing to watch with the sequel coming next spring.
On paper, this is a guaranteed home run for me: based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi (who also wrote Tatami Galaxy, the adaptation of which is a personal favorite), it occupies the exact sub-genre of magical realism that I strongly believe is a perfect match with animated medium. That said, the first couple of episodes didn’t exactly pull me in. Can’t quite get a handle on its tanuki protagonist, and I have to say that his whole crushing-on-a-sadistic-woman-who-cooked-his-father thing was an initially tough barrier to overcome.
Thing is, this is a show full of understated nuances, with all sorts of complicated relationships between its tanuki, tengu, and human characters, as well as a selective narrator who doesn’t reveal everything he’s thinking to the audience. As I grew to understand the circumstances better, this show got increasingly enjoyable and intriguing. Then, it started throwing some powerful emotional heft around, and now I’m loving it.
The Eccentric Family doesn’t boast a gaudy visual nor in-your-face showmanship, but it has sneaky great aesthetic. The mythical town of Kyoto is lovingly depicted as a gorgeous place where the supernatural and the mundane co-exist harmoniously, and the whole thing is buoyed by some really smart framing and direction. Yes, I’m ready to declare this a borderline elite show (*and with a strong finish and an equally impressive second season, it’d lose that ‘borderline’ part).
OP + ED
Incidentally, all five shows I listed here have superb OP and/or ED sequences. Give these a look & a listen if you haven’t!
-Sheena Ringo and Megumi Hayashibara knocked it out of the park again with their second collaboration for Shouwa Rakugo’s OP, Imawa no Shinigami. The tune is another thematically appropriate song for the show (after the first season’s OP song, Usura Hi Shinju), married to a deliciously dark visual that got me extra pumped… and scared for what’s in store.
-Likewise, ACCA got a funky OP that completely embodies the show’s stylistic flair (and many fetishes), as well as a beautifully animated and sung ED.
-Out of the four great OP & EDs for March Comes in like a Lion, the second ED featuring Kenshi Yonezu’s Orion is my favorite. Its quicksilver and metaphorically laden visual is great to watch, while the heartfelt song lyric feels like a perfect articulation of Rei’s inner turmoil.
–Hoozuki’s Coolheadedness has an insanely memorable OP, throughout which the word jigoku/hell is said approximately a million times. It also shows off its eclectic cast and aesthetic in this sequence, which impressed the hell out of me the first time I watched it. I’m also at a loss of words to describe the ED, which is deranged in its own special way.
-Finally, just like the show itself, The Eccentric Family’s boisterous OP and warm ED are wonderfully composed and have really grown on me.