This was a pretty weird week in animeland. Apart from the fact that many of the shows were basically settling in to their established “groove”, a good number of them managed to be overtly offensive. And if that wasn’t the case, it was the animation that took a turn for the worse. So five weeks in and the shows begin to bare their ugly side.
But that’s not to say that the shows started getting ugly per se. Think of it as how you discover that your significant other likes pressing the toothpaste tube in the middle, or how they bite into a TimTam only to leave it half-eaten in the refrigerator. You don’t necessarily hate them for it, but God is it frustrating. But then again, that’s the point we’re at in this season — just a little ways from hitting the midpoint.
So strap yourselves in for the ride and let’s plunge through what just happened this week!
Yuri!!! on ICE
When you think about it, animating something as technically challenging as professional figure skating — and keeping it consistent at that — is a tall order. Yuri!!! on ICE demonstrates this through recycled frames and sequences in an attempt to lessen the animation load. Of course, this is understandable. It’s the very reason why characters wear the same clothes in every episode of most Anime out there. But in spite of this, the show is able to utilize variations in dramatic framing (either in the music or the overall tone of the narrative) that ingeniously divert attention away from the obvious limits of animation. But really, the animation is getting a little more flawed as the episodes go by, but inconsistency in animation is countered by consistency in narrative delivery. This episode was basically full-on-out in showcasing the meaning of “competition” for its characters. In many ways I appreciate the fact that Yuri!!! on ICE avoids the overly loud dramatic staples of the shounen tournament genre, depicting competition as overly aggressive rivals that are dramatized as much older than their own age (take a look at shows like Slam Dunk!). Instead, Yuri!!! on ICE has characters like Kenjiro who despite having a rather cute and effeminate side, show resolve and dedication towards the sport to the point that he even idolizes his supposed rival, Yuri. As a final comment, much has been said about the rather fluid gender dynamics in the show, often trailing into considerable BL-like territory before jumping into loud comedic nonsense. I do subscribe to the idea that it appeals to a certain audience, but the last scene where Yuri confesses to his own ambiguous appreciation towards the support of others as “love” makes it clear that we can’t judge Yuri’s actions on gender roles, alone. It’d be fun to do a whole feminist introspection into the sort of themes this show is trying to portray — but the mere fact that it can do that on top of being a sports drama is already impressive in itself. So five episodes in, and this show is doing a fantastic job at being consistently propulsive, albeit faltering here and there with its limited animation tricks.
Sound! Euphonium 2
Okay, Fanboy alert: I really love this show. True, this episode was mostly a replay of their concert piece The Crescent Moon Dance, but at the same time it was not a replay. I may have mentioned how animation studios love to cut corners by reusing stuff, but holy crap Kyoto Animation had to go on and redo almost everything. But even in spots during the performance where old key frames from the last season were used, the effectiveness of the recent narrative thread breathed new life into these images. Pictures of the band (impractically) tacked on to their music scores harks back to their experiences during the training camp, and slight glances from Kumiko, Reina, and even Asuka now seem to have new meaning. Even the various solos of the piece seem enriched in a new sort of experience that could not have been achieved if not for the success of the episodes that came before it. And what’s more, I meant it when I said this was not a replay. The entire piece was RE-PERFORMED and, unlike the previous recording which was done in a studio, this particular rendition was recorded in an orchestra hall. As a musician myself, I appreciated the subtle differences in execution, the smart placement of fermata, the changes in tempo in particular areas of the piece, etc. It was spectacular — if you thought the Kitauji Concert Band was good during the elimination rounds, Kyoto Animation just proved that they’re leagues better NOW in the regionals. And they show this not just in terms of their sound (by doing an entirely different recording), but they even highlight their emotional and psychological maturity through the effective use of visual imagery. This episode had a very simple premise — the kids play their piece at the regionals — but boy did it deliver in terms of overall impact, and I was just as excited as they were it was announced that they placed at the regionals.
Izetta: The Last Witch
Tactical shows are enjoyable not by virtue of what instruments the opposing forces have at their disposal, but rather what they make of it. And having characters that respect each other for that resourcefulness is the reason why shows like Code Geass or Aldnoah Zero were so enjoyable. The same applies to Izetta: The Last Witch when the Eldystat government takes advantage of the psychological impact of having a secret weapon like a “witch”. I really don’t have much to complain about this show other than the fact that the fan service can be quite intrusive. But when it’s not trying to ogle its own characters, the show can be pretty grounded in its conflict and propulsive in its narrative delivery. I really hope they continue to move in this sort of direction, or at the very least try to avoid any excessively leery shots (which I highly doubt will happen).
If you try to look at Flip Flappers as a collection of stories as you would, say, a collection of stories from the Brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson, then things start to make a little more sense. The fifth episode seems largely detached from the events of the previous episode, even hinting that Cocona and Papika have already lost to Yayaka on several occasions at retrieving fragments of the amorphous in Pure Illusion. This particular episode has a strong fairy tale element to it, even employing elements of time loops and forced domestication that hark back to the show’s initial depiction of Cocona as trapped in a world of recurring rules and norms. The symbolic “breaking of the cycle” and the attempts of Cocona to confront the fear of leaving the comforts of a life of solace highlight this episode as singularly “fairy tale-like”. It’s smart symbolisms like these that enrich the experiences of Cocona even in the absence of an overt narrative — and that’s something I can really appreciate! There were also pretty nice bits of exposition in the end that added a bit to the intrigue as to what’s going on in their world, but not to the point of any eye-opening reveals. Sure, it can be a bit annoying, but I guess it’s on to the next story. What happens next will be anyone’s guess.
March comes in like a Lion
Unfortunately, March comes in like a Lion was the first of three shows this week to be blatantly insensitive and borderline offensive — specifically to fat people. And take note, calling someone fat isn’t being insensitive per se. Stripped of any assumptions, it’s just a statement of fact. But using insinuating imagery and dialogue to highlight character diversions from a social stereotype is (i.e. fat people are generally not attractive, aren’t depicted as protagonists, etc.). And I think much of this obtuse humor has to do with the Akiyuki Shinbo house style that makes the comedy seem more manic than it already is. This is, after all, a slice-of-life show with a grounded sense of dramatic story play. It’s for this reason that the humor has always been a little disjointed and awkward; when it gets carried away, stuff like this happens. Beyond that little blunder, the dramatic elements were pretty okay in this episode given we gained a little more insight into the peculiar headscape of Rei. He seems to distance himself from the people he has grown to be comfortable with, but at the same time he can’t help but reflect upon his own mental frustrations whenever he observes them. It’s a little ironic, and Rei’s attempts to comfort Hinata seem a bit misplaced even to him. But I guess that’s what makes the show very insightful to begin with. I feel that the show can be far more sincere with its characters when isn’t trying to be funny.
Natsume Yûjinchou Go
I guess you could say that Natsume Yûjinchou Go did much better this week, but that doesn’t mean that it was any good, either. The theme of unrequited love was recycled in this episode, and it didn’t leave as much of an impression on me as the second episode did. The inclusion of Taki in the narrative didn’t really make for a convincingly solid argument, either, since she was just the object of affection of the spirit, and the connection to her Grandfather’s talismans as being “forbidden” just linked this to the more recent events of the previous episodes. On the one hand, the narrative played itself out in typical Natsume Yûjinchou fashion, but on the other hand it felt empty and unmoving. I can’t really express what I feel watching this show other than I think the charm is gone. Instead of heartwarming stories, all I’m getting are convenient scenarios that use the characters of the franchise for shallow stories of the occult. And that is depressing.
One of the problems of satires on industry is that if you overdo it, you come across as rambling and ignorant. I’m sure Watari Wataru is neither of the two, but the latest episode of gi(a)rlish number did just that, weaving a completely ridiculous scenario of animation premiere gone terribly wrong but the characters just roll with it. It’s inelegant and outlandish, and when you’ve built your characters up well enough to make viewers invested in them, the whole scenario just seems unfair and irredeemable. Satires work because we relate to the characters’ frustrations within a broken system. Their comic attempts to circumvent its peculiar construction make for an insightful reflection towards our own personal circumstances and, hopefully, motivate us towards fighting the very system we so often dismiss as ridiculous. The difference, therefore, is that a good satire moves people to action — it does not insinuate further mockery. I wanted to comment a bit on Chitose’s character, but alas this is becoming a little long. I just think that the show is trying to make a statement, but it’s getting too caught up in its efforts to paint a gloriously f••ked up system. If it wants to achieve anything meaningful, it needs to move on and start showing us what its characters are capable of achieving.
Aaaand they dropped the bomb, again. Strike Two goes to Occultic;Nine for blatant insults towards the LGBT community. And I know homosexuality isn’t something the Japanese are very open to talking about, but this stereotypical depiction of gays in anime is just not funny. And even with these issues set aside, this episode returned to its convoluted roots, throwing in lengthy (and fast) dialogues with scattered back stories that make the scenes seem more disjointed than “revelatory”. I honestly feel that things would be far more interesting with Detective Moritsuka around. But yeah, I said I’m giving this show the benefit of the doubt, so please Occultic;Nine, make me eat my words.
BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Universe
None of this episode made any sense. Oh yeah, Strike Three to BBK/BRNK for being offensive to Americans. I mean seriously, creating foil characters is fine — but when you throw race into the equation, you’re in an entirely different ball game. And sure, you can say it’s for laughs, but seeing Epizo as the epitome of all randomness and stupidity, you won’t find much of it funny. In fact this entire episode was just so random — full of contradicting statements and roundabout dialogues — it achieved nearly nothing in terms of narrative and basically allowed everyone to duke it out in their Buranki. That’s it, I’ve had it with this show. Off with you, you’re a pain in the Buranki butt to watch.
And in other news, RWBY Vol. 4 began streaming, yey!
inb4 people start pointing out that that’s not Anime. I have my own ideas regarding Anime and Cartoons (which I’ve alluded to before), but I won’t talk about them here. Suffice it to know that the latest season looks better than ever! A new graphics engine and software and the textures and details are way better than the previous seasons. There’s also a nice change in the shading characteristics, which vastly expanded the character emotion sets. I’m also digging the more mature direction of the story, and the idea to split up the team allowed for a great starting point for the characters to grow on their own.
So if you haven’t watched RWBY, I highly recommend you do. It’s like the closest anime equivalent to Harry Potter, except instead of wizards and wands you get hunters/huntresses and morphing weapons (like a scythe/sniper rifle or a thermos/bazooka). No seriously, check it out. It’s really cool.