Winter 2016 – Week 13 in Review

Wow, it’s already spring. As I’m writing this, the spring shows have already kicked off, leaving the remains of yester-season in the dust. But that doesn’t mean that this final week of winter was any bad. In fact, it was pretty good! There were only three shows left out of the bunch (yeah, I forgot to review Myriad Colors Phantom World last week) so let’s break it down!

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People say Kyoto Animation’s Myriad Colors Phantom World was a big let down this season due to the fact that it focused more on anime-centric tropes and tired fan service quips, but animated in KyoAni’s signature polished style. Coming from Sound! Euphonium, the digression was staggering to say the least. But for all intents and purposes, its world building antics were mostly whimsical, albeit pandering somewhat to a darling fanbase. Even so, the show decided to give its last leg a darker tone, focusing more on the back story of Haruhiko and his relationship with Ruru. The first half was dotted with over-the-top drama beats and unnecessarily loud stresses for the music. In fact, forced doesn’t even begin to describe the manner in which the tension was built up. And when the underlying plot and true motives of the Alyashki branch was revealed, it felt a little limp given the inconsistency the show placed on the said corporation’s actions. But the final scenes pretty much redeemed itself, full of vivid animation and pleasing character bits that culminated into a reasonable finish. In the end, this show feels like a shounen manga that begins innocent enough, but at one point decides to throw in a dark arc or two just to get the characters moving — as if the story were growing up alongside its audience. Haruhiko makes a nice metareference to that idea in his face off with Enigma, so I guess this show isn’t really all just about the boobs and the butts. It was fun KyoAni, but I’m afraid this show will become just another one of those items in their list of their accomplishments that will be steadily forgotten.

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Dagashi Kashi was in danger of falling into one of its bad streaks in the first half of its final episode. This show really isn’t one for making any outright jokes without having to force its characters to look silly. And that’s precisely what To and Coconuts looked like when they reverted back to their shenanigans about becoming popular through candy fortune telling. But there was a nice recovery to this near the end of the first half. After accusing Coconuts of making him go first in order to increase his own chances of getting the winning dagashi, To gives Coconuts a share of the candy so that both of them can become popular. Highlighting their friendship was a winning moment for the show, and in fact has always been the underlying beauty of Dagashi Kashi as a series. The second half was also remarkable in that regard. The “silent Hotaru” segment underscored Coconut’s love for candy, no matter how hard he tries to deny it, and at the same time revealed just how close these kids have become as friends. The final scene, although not saved from your typical fan service, was a nice salute to the nature of summer. Sometimes, we just don’t want the lazy days with our warmest of friends to end, and so Hotaru gives Coconuts a subtle message that he doesn’t have to think too hard about him being the reason why Hotaru isn’t moving to achieve her dreams. Maybe that’s the point — to savor this moment with friends until it’s time to move on. If Myriad Colors Phantom World was about moving on, this show is about relishing the present. It’s not stagnation, rather, it’s a deep appreciation for those fleeting moments of friendship that we sometimes overlook.

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And finally, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu ended as gracefully as it entered the stage. The last episode returns to the present day of the show where Yotaro has been recently promoted from Futatsume (2nd rank performer, coming after the main performers) to Shin’uchi (main performer, below Yakumo in terms of seniority). A strange sense of instability permeates most of the scenes — a fleeting tranquility that hints towards an even greater tragedy. Konatsu’s pronouncement that she is pregnant and Yotaro’s request to take on the name of “Sukeroku” bear down upon the aged Yakumo (Kikuhiko) as if his whole life were some kind of curse. And the beautiful thing about it is that the show is not finished. Yep, they announced a second season, which seems to focus a bit more on the present day events. The show has been a wonderful exploration into the tragedy of human existence — an endless search for one’s self — framed in the eyes of a seasoned performer who drifted from acting out of necessity to performing out of passion. Yakumo did Rakugo for himself, but ultimately did it for a man who was like a brother to him — in the end, the world that he learned to love had turned into a curse, and was slowly beginning to die as was he. But the show ends with Yakumo being confronted by Yotaro as if he were some kind of omen, seemingly asking the question whether or not Yakumo will be doomed to repeat the failings of his previous master and witness yet another man and woman drown in the torrents of youthful abandon. This show was, indeed, a wonderful performance — a successful rendition of a treasured Japanese art form in the guise of a television animation. I will say it — this was the best show of this season, hands down.

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