Okay, this week sucked. And it wasn’t because of the anime. In fact, the anime did just fine — the rest of the world just basically went batshit crazy.
Of course I’m talking about the US Elections. Heck, I didn’t vote last time because it’s a chore to register as an expatriate; but The Avengers were calling out to me, so I decided to get my butt into gear and register to vote. Never would I have imagined that my first time would turn out a shit hand like this. It just sucks. I wake up feeling like it’s all a dream; I spent most of that day walking around in a daze, only to have to go to a unit comprehensive examination in the evening. It was a shitty day for someone who practically considers himself apolitical. I downed a half a bottle of wine and bought a new headphone amplifier on impulse. I cooked two homemade dishes good for at least eight people and served it to my flatmates for no particular reason.
Sure, you can say I’m overreacting, and yes I agree with you completely. But yeah, boohoo — that’s over and done with. Thank goodness anime was kind enough to console my weary heart this week with some of the most captivating episodes the season has to offer. While Californians are screaming out #Calexit, here I am enjoying my sweet little escapist pleasures. That may sound like me being indifferent — I know what’s going on with feminist rights violations and xenophobic acts of hate on the rise — but at the same time, I’m not sure if I have any energy left in me to be angry. I hate what’s going on, sure, but I don’t want to hate on any other Americans in the same way that Trump supporters have hated on everyone else. It’s a complicated feeling I’m feeling right now, and I’m sorta rambling at the moment — so yeah, let’s talk about anime. Let’s forget about the issues for a second and enjoy our colorfully animated worlds for now. Because it’s time we set down our political differences and enjoy the things that actually bring us together for a change.
March comes in like a Lion
March comes in like a Lion spent much of this week shedding light on the harrowing past that haunts Rei, and though it’s easy to dismiss it as overly melodramatic, Akiyuki Shinbo’s treatment of the matter was masterfully done. Indeed, it’s very easy to overdo this sort of thing and inadvertently overwrite Rei as an incredibly unlikely victim of circumstance — the kind of character that is explained by overused dramatic staples like tragic death in the family due to an accident. The narrative, however, downplays the emotional impact through its use of Rei’s inability to express himself directly. He is sad, yes, but at the same time he cannot fathom what the experience means to him as a child. We’re talking about a child who sums up his experiences with his father as limited to whatever modicum of parental companionship he can derive from playing shougi with another man. Through Rei’s commentary, Akiyuki Shinbo allows us to decipher the maze of emotions that have constructed the character Rei is today, drawing parallels in his modern day experiences with a past that even he considers as objectively flawed. And his criticism comes off as very clinical, even going to the extent of saying he “claimed to love Shougi” just so that he could be adopted by his father’s friend — just so that he could survive. There is something disturbing in the way Rei sees his life experiences, and the point is driven further with a foreboding depiction of Rei when he admits that he is “the Cuckoo“. His desire to take on adulthood early on has the trappings of a heroic independence in order to free his guarantors from the burden of raising him as a surrogate son, but at the same time there is a hint of arrogance that points towards a more sinister emotion. In this latest episode, Akiyuki Shinbo successfully transformed a tired dramatic narrative into something fresh yet harrowing; and beautiful yet disturbing.
This was just the kind of episode I was looking for in Flip Flappers. Instead of blatant exposition, this episode allowed us to explore the peculiarities of Pure Illusion through the surreal experiences of Cocona and Papika within the memories of a certain upper classman. There’s a very strong compositional tone in this episode that makes effective use of emotional cues and cinematography that allow for a lot of indirect story telling. In fact, much of the episode really DID feel like a fairy tale unfolding. Though the two girls lost their chances of retrieving a piece of the amorphous yet again, their resolve in figuring out the mysteries of Pure Illusion highlight a marked departure in character for Cocona, who is actually depicted as embracing the spirit of an adventurer — of the main character in a fairy tale. I guess not knowing what to expect next from this show is precisely what gives it its strong appeal. I’m very, very glad this show is proving itself more and more as the weeks go by.
Izetta: The Last Witch
Part of me wishes that Finé could be the President-elect of the United States. No, seriously. She’s an amazing character, and her earnest desire to serve her people is, truly, something this world needs. I was going to dismiss this episode as just another fan service-ey run after seeing the first few scenes, but the second half proved otherwise. War is often depicted as black and white — it’s us versus the enemy — but sometimes, the attitudes born out of war can push us to do things that simply cannot be justified by patriotism alone. And that last scene with Private Jonas was a poignant reminder of that fact. In many ways I could see how we can lose sight of what it is we’re fighting for when we are pushed to the wall. But is it even possible to subscribe to a sense of national pride and still maintain who we are as individuals? War can so easily turn us into the very beings we despise — and when the shots are fired, who is to say who among the opposing forces is truly right? Truly evil? So many questions in this one episode alone, and, in light of the current political climate, seems painfully appropriate.
And there it is — Wataru Watari as I remember him. There are a lot of reasons to be annoyed at Chitose and her spoiled attitude, but I believe the more you dislike her, the more likely it is you resonate with her and her attitude towards work. Indeed, I see myself reflected in her quite a lot — and not in the obnoxious sense of self-entitlement way. In a sense, we all feel self-entitled, but probably not to the extent that Chitose draws herself up to be. But when you look carefully at how she views her job, she’s actually quite the optimist. Whilst her co-workers are stuck at “knowing their place” in the voice actress workplace, Chitose has her eyes set for the big time. Her optimism is actually quite charming; if only her heart wasn’t in the wrong place. She seeks confirmation through fleeting praise and assumed authority by virtue of appointment, even if it’s clear from the start that she never earned her spot as lead character in the first place. What she fails to appreciate is the painful reality of the workplace, which is merit through effort — a work ethic of meritocracy. And bitch as much as you like about Chitose being spoiled, but you can’t deny the fact that a meritocratic society simply sucks. The last part of this episode spent much of its time comparing directors, artists, and managers with “strange creatures”; the people who head the anime industry are basically non-human. Even Chitose is reduced to nothing but a sloth — a lazy creature that spends most of its time in “suspended animation”. And Chitose’s brother sums up her character flaw quite elegantly: “you’re the only one not doing anything”. And that’s a powerful message Wataru Watari is trying to tell us. We can bitch about the world not appreciating the things we do, or bitch about how the world is just so unfair — but really, what are we doing about it?
Yuri!!! on ICE
Much of Yuri!!! on ICE this week was the show pushing the envelope on what is acceptable before blatantly being accused of being BL-bait. That and a lot of skating exhibitions. There was good characterization from each of the competitors, and the overall dynamic was consistent as the episodes before it, yes, but I was disturbed at some of the depictions of characters as being unquestionably gay. Case in point: Christophe Giacometti. I know quite a number of gay people, but even they exercise restraint and don’t grope young boys’ butts. The hyper-sexualization in his voice was also unnecessary, which leads me to believe that the Japanese really do have a narrow worldview as to what homosexuality is. Thankfully, his skating performance justified the rather sensual skating routine, and it summed up his character motives quite well. So yeah, some weird characterization hiccups in this episode, otherwise it’s steady chugging for this sports drama on ice.
Sound! Euphonium 2
It feels kinda weird putting Sound! Euphonium 2 all the way down here, but this week’s episode didn’t really do much for me other than prep me up for the next hurdle for the club to tackle. The ubiquitous school festival card was played in true Kyoto Animation style, creating a believable sense of scale and fanfare at par with their studio’s pedigree. But even so, there were a lot of unnecessary scenes like the unmoving hemi-relationship of Kumiko and Shuichi, the latter of which seemed to be portrayed as excessively tsundere. Then there’s the odd relationship of Reina and Noboru Sensei, which was complicated even more by Kumiko’s uncanny knack of extracting details about his traumatic past (although we did gain insight into what drives him to teach these kids). And then there’s a new domestic drama brewing in Kumiko’s home between her and her sister. This episode seemed to cram so many plot strings that it started to unravel itself at the seems. Sure, there’s plenty of reason to address all of these strings at one point in time, but the execution seemed to be ill-thought and overly simplistic. Such a shame given it was on such a good run for the past five weeks.
Yey! Occultic;Nine did well this week, again! Too bad everyone else just did so much better. Again, I feel like this show is so much more interesting when Detective Moritsuka enters the picture. Though he talks to himself too much (which seems to work for his character in a way), his dialogue is witty enough to deserve attention. This episode also worked in some interesting mystery devices, like the use of a hidden message in the sound proofing panels in the ceiling of the late Dr. Hashigami’s study. This was, again, tied in to the events of that mysteriously prophetic doujinshi — all of this far more interesting than listening to Gamota ramble about his stupid blog and clicks. I really hope Occultic;Nine maintains this sort of narrative consistency; but then again, that might be a tall order for a show that has been consistently inconsistent for the past six weeks.
Natsume Yûjinchou Go
Uh, yeah. Seriously, I don’t know what’s wrong with this show. Episode 6 suffered from the same problems that made the pilot episode ineffective as a self-contained vignette — namely, it lacked any thematic coherence to bring home any touching message that effectively uses the occult as a conduit in reflecting about Natsume’s own lived experience. It seems that whenever they bring Reiko into the picture, there’s a sort of plea for nostalgia, and from it, a hopeful sense of “finding out what happened in the past as contrary to expectations”. It’s just that nothing is contrary to what I would have expected. We pretty much know Reiko plays around with spirits and gets their names. This spirit that just so happened to run into Reiko is apparently a dunce that seems to represent the inability of people to move on. The irony in waiting for something or someone for years on end because of a fond memory is met with — Natsume losing his voice and having his house raided by hairy half-men? I honestly can’t figure out what kind of message this show is trying to say anymore. This is really, really frustrating.
And so I decided to kick BBK/BRNK out of the weekly reviews, but I’m still watching it on the side when I have nothing better to do. I just can’t find it in me to say basically the same thing I’ve been saying week after week. So yeah, this was a pretty okay week, and it helped pull me back up after this week’s uninspiring events. Stay tuned for a mid-season report to see how the shows have faired so far in terms of ranking. Until next time, ciao!