I ended up watching 7 shows from this season, so we’ll make this a Spring Exclusive.
Seven is a high number for me, which indicates the relative strength of this season. Well, three of them (Natsume Yuujinchou, The Eccentric Family, and Attack on Titan) are sequels, and they respectively deliver what I expected of them. Out of the debuting shows, Tsuki ga Kirei is an obvious stand-out, bringing strong execution and doses of authenticity to the “Cutesy Animu Romance between Innocent and Sheltered Japanese Kids” sub-genre that I love and (sometimes) hate. I’m also watching The Laughing Salesman remake, a Twilight Zone-esque show that drew me in primarily because Fujiko Fujio A’s (the original creator) works and I go a long way back.
The only change in my plan was swapping the disappointingly generic Kabukibu! for the sci-fi politic drama of Kado: The Right Answer. I know I said in the previous digest that Kabukibu! occupies the kind of sub-genre that I adore, but even for me, the first episode was too flat and formulaic (just look at Chihayafuru or Cheer Boys for a similar type of show that were much more immediately engaging). Kado wasn’t initially on my radar, but I picked it up for the intriguing set-up. The show, along with Atom: The Beginning, rank by default on the bottom of my watch list (in terms of enjoyment), but they’re decent stuff that offer something fairly unique in the current landscape.
There’s a lot of the season left, so we’ll see how I feel in a few months. In the meantime, some random thoughts and observation about these not-quite-magnificent-but-mostly-solid seven:
I guess they’ve really moved on from flip phones now
On this piece that I wrote a while back, I mentioned how modern anime (particularly romance shows) really started to get a mileage out of smart phones and instant messaging applications. In Tsuki ga Kirei, Kotaro and Akane’s interaction through Line is yet one more example of such immediately relatable moments (particularly for Kids These Days), underlining the simple joys and thrills of this experience, as well as the anxieties when you don’t get a reply…
What makes the show works is how they successfully combined that necessary update on modern teen lifestyle with the feel of a classic, timeless, bildungsroman. It’s also brimming with delightful authenticity and pang of nostalgia like the family restaurant scene in the first episode, which is also the exact moment I was sold on the show. These kids may use devices that don’t exist back in my days and convey their feelings in different ways, but the essence of what we’re feeling remain largely the same.
Tsuki ga Kirei is set in Kyoto, which has become one of my favorite settings in anime. For this season, the city is of course even more prominent in The Eccentric Family, being a key component of that consistently wondrous show.
Kyoto Delight: the Japanese Mecca of Magical Realism
I haven’t read the novels of Tomihiko Morimi, but through the anime adaptation of The Eccentric Family (and previously, The Tatami Galaxy), one can sense his passion for ancient Kyoto. The city provided the setting for his novels, and its rich history of mysticism and folklore became a recurring theme in them. Indeed, Kyoto is an ideal fit for the narrative and characters that Morimi likes to tell, serving as foundation to his signature stories of mythical beings and whimsical misadventures.
The countless temples and shrines dotted around the city blended seamlessly with the more modern shots in The Eccentric Family, and it’s always fun to explore the nook and cranny of the world that the director Masayuki Yoshihara and his team have adeptly brought to screen—whether it’s for tsuchinoko hunt or the ramen shop nonchalantly perched on a rooftop. After a period of re-acquaintance, the plot really started to pick up by the third episode as well, with the tasty collision between the cocksure enigma Benten and savvy newcomer Nidaime.
As an aside: I recently picked up Ranmaru Kotone’s manga adaptation of Night is Short, Walk on Girl, another one of Morimi’s novel (also recently adapted into animovie by Masaaki Yuasa). A Kyoto-based romantic comedy with heavy doses of random magical occurrences, it sure felt like his joint, although the whimsical and charming feel of this one veers a bit too much into the ‘twee’ territory for my taste (something that The Eccentric Family show did an excellent job of avoiding). Then again, I’m only at the first (out of five) volume, so we’ll see.
The sequels I’m watching form a perfect trifecta of sort: the gentle familiarity of Natsume Yuujinchou, the dense zaniness of The Eccentric Family, and the thrill ride of Attack on Titan. As the element of surprise is what drives the latter, I’m sure glad I haven’t been spoiled. You can see the flaws in the second season of Titan once you squint even a bit, but it also has qualities that I consider as key in a blockbuster spectacle: (1) it’s engaging enough to make me care about the characters and the truth of what’s really happening, (2) it never gets too overwrought that it loses its focus, even with continuous pile-up of mysteries, and (3) it never gets too silly or braindead that I’m incapable of taking it seriously. And as with most action blockbuster, you learn to take the good (Big Awesome Moment like the one portrayed in the above screencap) along with the bad (cheap death scene in the end of second season’s premiere, where the exploitative camera direction genuinely made me uncomfortable).
The inherent ceiling of a prequel
There’s a question that popped in my head when I was watching Atom: The Beginning, and it’s the same one I had with Bates Motel (a TV series prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho) a few months back: is it a detriment to a prequel series when the audience already knew where the journey will eventually lead to? The answer seems to be a resounding ‘no’; after all, seasoned audience of narrative media must’ve known that the process matters just as much as (if not even more than) the destination.
Even so, one can’t deny that you essentially don’t have as much narrative room to maneuver, due to the necessity to maintain consistency with pre-existing material. It gets even trickier when you’re not the original creator, and you eventually have to address the whereabouts of new characters you created in the future version of the story (i.e. the pre-established narrative). Still, the unique advantage of a prequel may outweigh these issues: the foundation was already laid, and there’s significant fascination in seeing the younger/alternative version of familiar faces, in seeing the events that shape them up to become the characters that we knew. In Atom: The Beginning’s case, it applies to Ochanomizu and Tenma, and in a more philosophical sense, the boy robot himself.
(it’s very accessible as a stand-alone show to those with only passing familiarity of the Astro Boy lore, although it must be said that three episodes in, I’m kind of struggling to come up with a selling point for non-fans of the franchise who don’t already hold some affection for the characters).
“The alien is hot so I don’t mind, LOL”
If there’s one thing that Kado: The Right Answer wants you to believe, it’s that the Japanese will react in reasonable and entirely level-headed manner against alien encounter and alarming possibility of global turmoil. So far nobody is freaking out in this show, even the airplane passengers, who are being held hostage for all intents and purposes (‘so, we’re trapped in this force field by some alien with super scary powers? Cool, I’m just going to chill over here and wait patiently’). It’s amusing to see and I don’t really mind; if nothing else, it’s a nice bit of escapism from all the freak outs in real world.
Kado as a whole feels like a more laid-back Arrival (the recent American sci-fi film), emphasizing the aspect of communication and mutual understanding in a narrative about extraterrestrial encounter…. only with silver-haired bishounen instead of heptapods because, you know, different sensibilities. I’m afraid l’ll never warm to the full-CG look, while the characters and sci-fi elements are a bit of hit-and-miss, but I can dig the process-oriented diplomacy and geopolitics that form the backbone of this series.
I may have found my favorite OP in 2017
Joint favorite with ACCA’s OP, at least. The Laughing Salesman is a series that zeroes in on the malaise of Japanese office workers, and the OP for the show perfectly embodies the theme. After the iconic monologue and sadistic laughter, the song (Emi Nakamura’s Don’t) kicks in, and boy, it’s a great song. The gleeful melody and Nakamura’s voice are really fun to listen to, while the show’s juxtaposition between childlike art and black comedy is underlined through a parade of evocative imagery and savage lyric (I want to have it! I want to feel complete! It feels so good!….Wait a sec, aren’t you getting full of yourself? You’re a pathetic adult and it’s all over! …. The children are watching you! If you let your guard down, you’ll be stained pitch black).
As for the show, it’s a good one if you like to see a complete jackass with a shit-eating grin screw some miserable sods over and over and over again…. although you can also get that from the real world news, I guess.
Finally, while we’re in the subject of OP:
GODDAMN, THAT HOOK AND THESE IMAGES FROM NATSUME ROKU’S OP