Yeah, it’s that time of the year when you just want to cuddle up in your bed and not move an inch. I know I did this morning, because the cold was just insufferable. And then I realized I needed to go shopping, only to end up getting drenched in the rain on the way back. Thankfully, the anime was ready to greet me back at home, complete with a cup of steaming hot cocoa.
Merry Christmas everybody. 🙂
So yeah, the shows are ending. It’s a little sad, but at the same time there are still some shows that have an episode left before ending forever. And then there’s one show that’s going to go on for a second cour. So let’s recap what happened this week!
Sound! Euphonium 2
Episode 12 of Sound! Euphonium 2 was one of two shows this week that focused on the idea of defeat in competition. This recurring motif of a glorified defeat has always been something quite characteristic of the Japanese psyche, but I believe its usage is open to a broader discussion that would be best served by a separate entry. Suffice it to know that Sound! Euphonium succeeded in ways beyond that of the other show when it came to exploring these themes. Indeed, we tend to resonate more with a worldview that does not pander to the sentiment of unquestionable victory; more so if this is combined with the fact that we love rooting for the underdog. So it comes as no surprise that Kitauji High School failed to win at the nationals, but that doesn’t mean that none of its characters scored a victory in their own right. For Haruka, it was a chance to find the courage to take the responsibilities of being the President and stand proud amidst defeat, pushing herself forward without the regret of not having done everything that she could. For Asuka, it was receiving the satisfaction of having been heard — both literally and figuratively — by her father, and knowing that he is still in her thoughts. For Reina, it was a failed confession of love to Taki-sensei, but also a victory on her part for being able to express her emotions openly enough to finally act on them. And finally, for Kumiko, it was the courage to express her profound love for her sister — the very person who inspired her to play the euphonium in the first place. In retrospect, it seemed like the catharsis of Kumiko’s character was a little roundabout given the lack of focus on the importance of her sister’s influence, but that didn’t make me feel any less enamored by her victory in this episode. In the end, it really wasn’t about winning at the Nationals at all. Though they lost at face value, their own personal victories were the result of their trials as the concert band. By focusing on the journey of growth and not the final goal of victory, Sound! Euphonium 2 was able to justify its glorified defeat in the best way it possibly could.
March comes in like a Lion
Rei can’t help but listen to Kyouko’s poisonous words because she speaks a truth that sees right through him. She understands his psyche more than anyone else, and her mischievous choice of words belies a deeper hint of malice that goes back to their days as children. This episode seems to give emphasis on the symbolism of actions — the act of Rei receiving a Shougi Set from Kyouko’s father as a symbol of preference — and the underlying emotions that they stir. In all fairness, Kyouko’s father probably had no intention to play favorites, but the repercussions of his actions reflect on a scarred Rei who now views his own talent as a curse. It’s this talent that robbed Kyouko of paternal affection, and it is now the same talent that robs a girl the chance to spend one last Christmas with her Father before her parents divorce. Kyouko is quite heartless in knowing where to strike Rei where it hurts, and her intimate knowledge in Rei’s psyche seeds itself so deep within himself that he actually finds solace in knowing someone understands him as much as they do. The episode culminates with an explosion of emotions after Rei discovers that not all bridges can reach their intended destination — case in point Mr. Yasui. His outlook was radically different from Mr. Matsunaga, and the result of this failure meant Rei reverting back to his self-pitying and denial of self-worth. I’m very impressed at how this show has managed to send Rei through his rollercoaster of self-discovery in a way that doesn’t come across as formulaic. Each encounter he has had thus far has been significant; each lesson learned was earned through an immense amount of mental acrobatics; and each fall was a painful reminder of the weight of his emotions. I’m so glad this show is getting a double cour. Had it not, I don’t think Akiyuki Shinbou would have been able to execute this show in the way he’s able to do it now. Simply amazing.
Chitose might have been a bitch for most of the season, but her presence and charisma certainly affected those around her. Kazuha and Momoka were initially skeptical of her obtuse behavior, but Chitose’s general disregard for the establishment and overly inflated ego made them realize the artificiality of their approach to their profession. For in Chitose, the two of them saw that Passion cannot be dictated by the meritocratic stuctures of their work place — they cannot prove their passion through experience, skill, or even grandiosity of production. This was the trap that Gojo fell into as a young voice actor pressured by the demands of the establishment for him to go beyond himself. And in his failures, they are mirrored in the current Chitose who suddenly loses her motivation when faced with the budding artist Nanami. But Nanami expresses her passion quite differently than Chitose — her’s lies in admiration towards Chitose, herself. And it’s this admiration that Chitose finds disturbing because it makes her realize her own inadequacy — especially when Nanami ends up taking Gojo as her own manager. Because the reality is that Chitose’s motivation had always been a similar admiration for her older brother, and his fall from stardom was the starting point of her career. She wanted to become the voice actress her brother never became — it was her passion. But after losing Gojo to Nanami, Chitose starts to wonder what’s the point of it all? And the pain of realizing that the person who stole your brother is the same person who looks up to you as their source of inspiration makes Chitose realize the folly of her situation. But all she really needed was to hear recognition from the one person that mattered most to her. Chitose had always guarded herself with the idea that her popularity can secure her own relevance, but the threat of losing Gojo to someone else made her realize that her relevance actually matters more in being recognized by just him, alone. This is a powerful statement from Wataru Watari: our passions can only bring us so far if not for the sake of another. There’s a beauty in Chitose’s desire to become a greater voice actor than her brother, and his recognition of her dream is the starting point of his own legacy. Man, what a wonderful show.
Natsume Yûjinchou Go
I was a little worried that the silly opening music and entry of the middle-ranked spirits meant for a silly episode this week. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case; but much of the episode seemed to cram a lot of ideas in an attempt to end the show on a good note. Whether or not that was successful is up to debate, but true to the spirit of the series, the show ended with a wonderful visual set piece and a good recapitulation on the theme of objects of affection. Natsume’s own historicity lends to his inward complex, often believing that his encounters with the occult are something unique to him and that he must do everything he can to protect those he loves from malicious spirits. Even when he falls ill, he dreams about Reiko, who tells him that being alone is better simply because that means you don’t have to look out for anyone but yourself. But seeing his friends and family and how much they care for him — even the middle-class spirits and their efforts to obtain medicine to make him feel better — make him realize a greater circle of affection that extends even beyond him. Although the last scene follows up on the concept of “difference” between spirits and humans (humans being ephemeral), the episode ends on a mellow note and a beautiful piece of symbolism using the Shirakiri flowers. They only bloom for a short time, but their beauty is remarkable — such is the feeling of love and affection. We may not realize it is there all the time; but when we do, it is undeniably a beautiful thing to behold.
It’s really hard for me to describe the joy I get when watching this show. There is a very obvious moral backbone at this point, and the underlying plot is pretty much beginning to unfold. But I think in order to understand this show in its entirety, I might need to re-watch it. Otherwise, this episode was full of a lot of zany visual spectacles, in particular a ridiculously pumped-up version of Buu-chan. But what captivates me more is this concept of self-discovery in a crazy, amorphous world. My thoughts are going to need a little dissecting before I can pull out any meaning from this show, but that’s just me being totally enamored by everything at this point. I know for a fact that not many people resonate with the way this show has presented itself, but I for one am just thrilled. On a sorta related note, the preview showed a whopping 120 images of concept/frame art from the series production. I took screenshots and flipped the color negative of the original so you can see them more clearly. You can check them out here.
Yuri!!! on ICE
Yuri!!! on ICE was the second show this week that talked about defeat in competition; however, I wasn’t as sold on the idea of a glorified defeat. For one, Katsuki’s victory was in surpassing the record of Victor, which in itself was enough to count as a culmination of everything Yuri had set himself out to do. I don’t see how creating tension by having Yurio win over Yuri be an impetus to force him to revoke his plans of retiring. It was already established early on that figure skaters only have so many years to spend in competitive skating, so saying that “I’m gonna keep skating with Victor till I get Gold!” kinda undermines the urgency of the entire plot device all together. In fact I hated the idea that a gold medal meant more to these two than the beauty of legacy. If there’s anyone Victor wanted to surpass his record, it’d be Yuri. That should have been enough. That in itself is something both intimate and irrevocable. No one else can say they beat Victor but Yuri. But no… He still has to skate. Because Yuri X Victor. So yeah, I’m kinda bummed out at how this defeat in competition motif was used quite ineffectively. Yuri!!! on ICE has succeeded by blending a lot of modern-day psyche with fluid animation — but beneath that venire is a hollow drama that finds more joy in pairing these two protagonists together in fan-service situations rather than actually celebrating the chemistry that makes these two such a great duo. What a shame.
Izetta: the last Witch
In contrast, Izetta ends in victory for the world, but there’s a hint of defeat that links itself to the loss of magic. I appreciate the symbolism of magic as both having the potential to create and destroy; but I also appreciated its symbolism as an element of nature. That it is through war that man robs the earth of its Magic, leaving behind a barren wasteland devoid of hope. I would have thought of Izetta not dying at the end as a bit corny given it kinda undermines the whole point of her sacrificing her life for the sake of the world — but there’s a beauty in looking at her survival as a symbolism of hope. Because even though Magic no longer exists in the world, Izetta remains as the last witch — a symbol of hope that seeks to emulate the true meaning of the White Witch of Eldystat Lore. The show’s message was a little cryptic, granted it was just 12 episodes long, but I honestly think the ideas of this story could have been brought out more thoughtfully given a second cour. Alas, it’s a shame to see it come to this. But what’s done is done, I guess.
So there are just a few shows left with one more episode, and then it’s off to the season end ranking. I’m planning on bringing out some more essays and editorials during the lull between seasons, so here’s hoping I can find the time (and inspiration) to do that. So until next week, ciao!