This week was a little nerve-wracking for me, given I finally submitted my written dissertation proposal, followed by an oral defense that didn’t exactly go as well as I’d hoped. Regardless, I spent a lovely afternoon eating out with friends at a pretty authentic Japanese restaurant (which is hard to find in west England, mind you), after which I treated myself to a performance of the London Symphony Orchestra playing to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
But what about the anime? Well, it did reasonably good; although the funny thing is that even though the shows are obviously preparing to close shop for the year, I honestly can’t help but feel a little indifferent. It’s hard to express the feeling — I do want to see how the shows will end, but I sorta feel like I want to get on to the next season. And it’s not because the shows aren’t doing any good — in fact I feel that their approach to their closure is moving within reasonable expectations (as they should). But at the same time, I think I’m not as excited as I should be. Does any of that make sense?
Oh well, whatever. Let’s take a look back and see what happened last week!
Natsume Yûjinchou Go
Despite having watched this franchise for four seasons, we never really did get a glimpse of the back story of the Fujiharas until now. And in many ways, it was a very charming episode that fully realized the warmth that this series is known for. I’ve been pretty harsh on criticizing this season’s rendition of the franchise for its heavy reliance on the occult to drive an otherwise unfeeling narrative; half a season later and I’m finally enjoying all of these well-structured vignettes that have self-composed bits of reflection that home in on thematic truths relevant to its premise. For this episode, there was an interesting jab at how modernism and urbanization have eroded the idea of “family” and “ties”. Although it’s tempting to point out the episode’s emphasis on women as generally “domesticated”, there was an undeniable simplicity in its approach that neither dignified nor undermined Touko’s depiction as a loving housewife. Indeed, the motives that push her to want to remain a housewife are elegantly simplistic — a longing to be with the one you love forever. But after her experience with a crow and her husband’s story about crows always being with a companion, an ennui of uncertainty clouds her thoughts. When she learns of her husband’s decision to take in Natsume, however, her initially fickle ideas of companionship transform into something less rooted in the physical, and instead take on an even metaphysical importance. With regard to her relationship with Natsume, her role as a parent meant “seeing the world in the eyes of another”. And in her experience with Natsume inadvertently pointing out a phantom crow, her ideas of companionship escaped the limits of human logic and embraced the wondrous possibilities of the Infinite. This was a very heart-warming episode of Natsume Yûjinchou, and this consistent effort to outdo itself with each episode is definitely something I’m so, so glad to see.
Sound! Euphonium 2
I find a wonderful complexity to Reina’s character that isn’t as obvious as it may seem at first. And that is perhaps due to the fact that there has been little attention to her character apart from the scenes where she voices out her motivations and her (awkward) affections towards Taki-Sensei. But to her credit, much of her character is less a result of what she says than it is what she doesn’t say — especially when it comes to saying what needs to be said when it counts. It’s easy to pick off on these kuudere characters as typical dramatic tropes that earn points out of the sheer quirk of their character, but I believe this episode proves that there’s an underlying substance to her otherwise tropey surface that demands closer inspection. And indeed, much of my concerns regarding her character were answered this week with a reasonably sound back story and a wonderfully portrayed movement of character that resulted in Reina discovering what the word “resolve” really means. Reina has always played the trumpet in order to impress and hopefully win the affection of Taki-sensei; but when this is contrasted with Taki-sensei’s own resolve to conduct their band for the sake of his deceased wife despite his own reservations, Reina realizes that her current attitude simply won’t cut it. This isn’t just about realizing there is another woman in the life of the man you love — this is about respecting emotions and acknowledging their presence. Reina was legitimately hurt, but instead of denying her emotions, she actually accepted them in full. For her, at least, “resolve” now meant playing the trumpet out of love for a man whom she knows, deep down inside, will never reciprocate her feelings. Reina can be easily overlooked as just another overly aloof character, but I’ll be damned if she isn’t a character I can respect, entirely.
March comes in like a Lion
There were quite a number of themes explored in this episode, but when combined with the rather hyper-active Akiyuki Shinbo style this week, meant for an unnecessarily cluttered episode. Regardless, I was happy to see unity in the symbols used throughout this show and how the final scene confirmed Rei’s sentiments towards Kyouko as overtly rebellious. Rei has always seemingly been passive towards Kyouko’s comments, even comparing her presence to “lightning” — an act of God, so to speak. But this episode showed how our own pre-conceived notions can often cloud our own judgement and even lead us into making illogical conclusions regarding human relationships — case in point how Kyouko summarizes Rei’s match against Mr. Matsunaga as “putting an old, senile dog to sleep”. Because Mr. Matsunaga IS NOT a dog. He’s a human being who has passions and feelings and even makes the same illogical conclusions regarding other players who are far more talented than he is. Because that’s just the way we are as humans: we’re illogical when we get emotional, and we often resort to similarly illogical conclusions to protect our own egos. But the only way to break this chain of inappropriate assumptions is to create bridges — a very powerful symbolism that littered this entire episode — and perhaps gives credence to the whole symbolism of water in this show. Water is both beautiful and dark, with a depth unfathomable; it is a fjord that divides people at either side of the river, leaving us to our own devices to read the lips of a distant person. But Rei has always been crossing bridges throughout this entire show, and the ending of this episode shows just how well he’s crossed one of these bridges to actually try and understand SOMEONE ELSE — even though he can’t even fully understand himself. It’s an irony that isn’t too divorced from our own lived experience when you think about it. Although it’s true that broken individuals have no business giving another broken individual any sound pieces of advice, I believe it’s in the act of wanting to connect to another person that we can, at the very least, mend the brokenness that resides in each and every one of us.
So the animation didn’t really improve that much this episode, but at the every least it was able to achieve something. Minus KuzuP’s ridiculous rut, the show did a good job hammering down on Chitose’s stubborn attitude and succeeded in pushing her to question her own relevancy. And that’s perhaps the central theme of this week’s episode — relevancy. Maintaining relevance harks back to the whole concept of stagnation, and even Chitose’s brother comments that “she’s all alone”, indicating that people have moved on to greater heights while she’s still stuck in her delusions of grandeur. And this is where Chitose’s overly optimistic attitude gets the better of her: believing that her landing a lead role means everything should follow, she falls into the trap of stagnation when she learns that that isn’t necessarily the case. This is reinforced by a rather loud segment that shows her struggling to keep up with the pace of an overly charismatic sub-producer, who although is far too ridiculous to even take seriously, works insomuch as it highlights Chitose’s general lack of understanding of how the industry works. But what really sells me over on this episode is how Chitose’s realization of her own inadequacy causes her to close herself into her own cynicism, calling out her own brother’s voice acting as similar to her own (it sucks). And yet she fails to establish the difference between the voice actor and the character: “You can change. You can become anyone you want to be.” She denies these words and instead calls out to the world as foul. I’d like to see where Chitose’s musings take her, and that will determine whether or not this series can actually make for a satisfying run. Otherwise, it’d be left to ramble on about an unfair industry without ever offering any insight as to how we can go about changing it.
More exposition this week, and the reveal was kinda moving in to what I had in mind. I honestly can’t say whether or not that is a good thing, but to be honest I was quite happy with the way this episode paced its reveal. But what I think really impressed me, overall, was how the show returned to its use of thematic devices that home in on the idea of purpose and confinement. Flip Flappers, at its core, has always been a coming of age story, and this episode in particular illustrates an interesting perspective of how parenting applies to this. We often look at adolescent dramas as a breaking away from parental supervision, even to the point of rebellion and outright violence against the establishment. It’s this anarchist philosophy that drives movies like The Hunger Games. But Flip Flappers seems to look at the opposite end of the spectrum — the will of the older generation to protect the young from all forms of harm. The idealization of Pure Illusion is a manifestation of the awesome power of creation — an ideal reality that promises infinite possibility to the one that wields it. And in Mimi’s case, she dedicates this whole heartedly to a young Cocona who has yet to find her own passions or motivations that she can truly call her own. And yet we’ve seen Cocona grow throughout the show, and her search for her own individuality was a result of her discovering the vast expanse of Pure Illusion together with Papika — not in the comforts of a sheltered existence. So can we blame Cocona for wishing to relinquish all responsibility for her actions in the hopes that her mother will handle all of the thinking for her? I believe this escapist train of thought is a more acute introspection into the pains of living in a modern world that is full of possibilities. We live in one of the most intellectually stimulating moments of human existence with all sorts of slogans claiming “you can be anything you want to be” — but the cost of such freedom of choice is a crisis of character. Who am I, really? What am I supposed to do? If I do it, will it amount to anything? And this is why the last scene of this episode was very clear at what it was out to achieve. Yayaka finally has the resolve to know what she wants to do, and even goes as far as saying straight to Papika’s face “that’s not who you are!” This is a show about identity in a crazy, shapeless world that is full of infinite possibilities. It was a hard journey to get to this point, but all that’s left is to end this show on a good note. Please, I’m begging you Flip Flappers, make all of this work out!
Yuri!!! on ICE
Well, we’re back in the skating rink and that means — you guessed it, more skating with superimposed bits of character reflection. I don’t know if it’s because I’m spoiled by the more insightful depiction of character drama in other shows this season, but much of what I’m seeing in Yuri!!! on ICE feels a little formulaic. The only reason I think this show works is because they’ve transformed that formula into something fresh and relevant in today’s millennial psyche, which makes for a show that I’m sure many people can and will resonate to. But this is juggled on top of its role as a sports drama, which means that it has to contend with building it characters whilst trying to portray a reasonably gripping sense of tension in conflict. I’m honestly not sure I understand what tension means in ice skating. And this could be my ignorance speaking, or maybe this is just the limitation of the medium, but most of the skating sequences look the same, if not narrated slightly differently or a mistake seeded in to the animation cues. And the show doesn’t even create any direct conflict since it focuses more on building up character camaraderie. In that regard, I think I understand now why shounen sports dramas tend to exaggerate the drama if only to create a stronger sense of tension. Because emotions are at stake here — people are gunning for the gold — but I honestly didn’t feel that much tension when J.J. lost his groove, for example. It seemed like a plot device to balance the characters out and create a pseudo-tension that otherwise would not have existed. I dunno — I might be highly critical because I tend to do that for shows that are often embraced all too eagerly by the bandwagon. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s bad — but given its popularity, I think it deserves some amount of scrutiny, at the least. And that’s a good thing.
Izetta: the Last Witch
I really don’t know what to say. “If you can’t beat ’em, join em.” is basically what happened here. This show is just all over the place, and this episode kinda just tried to find a way to end the conflict as quickly as possible while trying to create some sympathy for some of its other bit characters. And it’s these two bit characters (above — can’t half-ass myself to look up their names anymore) that I was hoping to see some good interaction with, but bleh. God, I’m just so biased against this show now. I’m glad this show is gonna end soon.
Yey, a few weeks more and it’s Christmas! And after that, the bluray of koe no katachi is coming out, which I’m definitely going to see. So until next week, ciao!