[Side A] Winter 2017 – Thoughts on Week 3

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Be unproductive. Be lazy. Be Edna.

But seriously, I had such a lazy weekend. That and the fact that I have so many deadlines, so yeah that’s definitely not a good thing. Still, Edna is just chill as f**k.

Quite similarly, things have been pretty “chill” during the third week of Winter. It’s funny in that the shows seem to be pretty comfortable quite early on, regardless of how quirky each of them might be. And that’s probably because one of them is the venerable March comes in like a Lion, which is by far just owning the pack at this point. But even without its head start, shows like Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû and, yes, even the prodigal Tales of Zestiria the X are re-proving their worth as the weeks go by. That almost makes the newer titles in this group, Demi-chan wa Kataritai and Urara Meirochô, pale in comparison.

So what just happened? Let’s run ’em down!

March comes in like a Lion

There’s something oddly satisfying whenever I raise a certain question regarding the show’s take on Rei’s emotional headspace, only to have it expertly addressed come the following episode. It happened two episodes back when I questioned the show’s proposition of familial companionship in the face of a depressed Rei, and how this forces him to come to grips with the wretchedness of his own lived experience; and it happened again, here, when Rei’s failure to see his opponent as an actual person becomes his undoing, ultimately resulting in a stripping of his own character in the face of someone who basically saw right through him. This whole show has been an account on Rei’s struggle to emancipate himself from a history of learned dependence — the loss of his family and the taking up of Shougi lead to his belief that he had become the Cuckoo of Kyouko’s family — and this lead him to believe that he needed to become an adult early on in order to gain independence. But the reality is that he’s just a high school student forced to live a professional life of Shougi because that was what he identified himself with. And after his crushing defeat at the hands of Shimada, he realized that even Shougi does not identify with him. His match with Shimada made him realize the selfishness of his desires for winning; of reducing Shimada to a mere obstacle in his path towards getting even with Gotou. And despite all that, the greatest embarrassment was that all of this was clear to see in the eyes of Shimada — he had seen right through Rei, and Rei didn’t have a clue.

To have your flaws exposed so plainly is enough reason to get depressed, and I love the way the show depicts Rei’s earnest efforts to make up for his sins against Shimada by actually asking questions regarding where his match went South. But Rei is a teenage boy with his own lofty ideals and insecurities, and so the show continues to focus on the weight of his loss and embarrassment in harrowing scenes of depression. But as is the tone with March comes in with a Lion, there is a sliver of hope amidst the depiction of sadness. Rei’s momentary epiphany comes from the oddest of sources when his homeroom teacher actually gives him some pretty practical advice. You’re 17 years old — you’ve gone way over your limits. It’s a hint at humility, and the importance of realizing that a part of Rei’s depression stems from his own self-loathing. But when put into perspective, there are people who are there to get him through it — be it his teacher, Shimada, and even Harunobu — all he needs to do is reach out and ask for it. It’s a very simple solution, but it’s one that is fraught with hesitancy, something that Rei all too clearly emulates in his repeated “but’s”. But that’s the nature of earnestly seeking for help. As Hanekawa mentioned in Owarimonogatari, you can’t make someone happy if they don’t want to be happy. And quite similarly, Shimada puts it rather elegantly: all we can do is wait for him to make the first move.

If Rei wants to become happy — to become better at Shougi, or even basically better at loving himself — then he has to make the first move. And if it isn’t clear by now, MAN do I love this show.

Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen

I really love how the show is starting to capitalize a little on Yotaro’s character by adding a little depth to him. He may be a dunce at times — and he’s open to that idea given he’s lived the life of a lackey — but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a passionate performer. And it’s these subtle hints of the value of the arts that bring out the essence of human individualism as expressed in the various characters that he plays. Yotaro’s overly dense, slang-infused rant is quintessentially him, and when he uses it on his former mafia boss to express his own individualism and dissent towards him taking advantage of Konatsu in the past, his message is relayed in a way far more effective than simple rhetoric. This in effect allows Yotaro to connect more earnestly with himself through continuous self-discovery and self-mastery in the art. And to top of this whole introspection into the value of a dying art and the importance of self-expression, Yakumo performs a Rakugo piece for Yotaro — all in the mannerisms and nuances that were quintessentially Sukeroku. And the whole effect of the performance was heightened by the immense attention to facial expressions and detail to body movement and effective framing. Man, that scene sent my hairs up on end.

All-in-all, this episode did a really good job at bringing out Yotaro’s character and inner voice as more than just a dunce who just so happens to enjoy doing Rakugo as a post-convict profession. Now it’s up to the show to present to us what Yotaro’s moving forward means for Konatsu and their quasi-marriage turned bubbling pseudo-romance. This I want to see.

Tales of Zestiria the X

I’m really glad Tales of Zestiria the X started upping the stakes this week. I know I may have called out Sorey as being somewhat clueless every now and then due to the way he approaches complex moral issues with a hint of nonchalance, but then again there is a charm to his obliviousness that makes his otherwise simple answers quite meaningful. Indeed, there really is no need to complicate the moral grounds of utilitarian principles or whether or not the end justifies the means, as was hinted in the story of his shepherd predecessor questioning the malevolence inside of himself and whether or not that justifies all acts he does as that done out of righteousness. Sorey‘s principle of simply remaining true to oneself is deceivingly simple, but also prone to failure. And this is mirrored in Alisha’s experience, where she is forced to face the consequences of remaining steadfast in the values that she holds dear. But integrity calls for a steeling of the mind that goes beyond ignoring sacrifice in the face of a blind creed — it’s an entire manifestation of character that rallies people to your cause precisely BECAUSE you exude the very value of which you speak. It’s a very thin line that can easily split between that of a benevolent dictator and a heartless tyrant. But thankfully, Tales of Zestiria the X seems to be aware of that sentiment, and I think that what gives strength to its argument is the ways in which its characters are allowed to become representatives of each side of the debate. I’ll have to take a step back to analyze more fully what Rose and Alisha mean with regard to their take on the political environment in the world of Tales of Zestiria the X, but I’m glad to say that the show is starting to make full use of its characters in order to elevate the drama and strife beyond just stunning visuals.

Demi-chan wa Kataritai

I kinda had mixed feelings about this week’s episode of Demi-chan wa Kataritai, but at the very least the first half had a very satisfying segment that looked into the struggles of Sakie being a succubus. Out of all the characters, she probably has the most number of quirks that highlight how her powers have even greater consequences on a societal level as compared to the other girls introduced prior. Combined with the tonal presentation and the repetitive framing of the segment, it did a good job at likening her daily routine as a mechanistic operation of the greater cultural reality that is the modern day workforce. Her own individuality alienates her from the constructs of the societal norm, hence why she says she can only be herself when she is at home. It’s interesting how using monster girl archetypes not only reflects societal relationships with the minority, but also greater cultural units as a whole. In a way, we are all sort of conforming to certain roles in society at the expense of alienating ourselves from who we truly are as individuals — and this is something that was touched upon in the second half with Sakie and Machi’s discussion. But at the same time, this is where the show seemed to get carried away with its devices. In short, their discussion DID NOT sound like a discussion between student and teacher. No student in their right mind would openly discuss something like that with, of all people, another teacher. Even crazy-in-love adolescents exercise some restraint when it comes to bringing up topics that are considered taboo — and take note, I’m totally fine with expressing non-conformatist opinions on love and emotions. Heck, I’ve mentioned it quite clearly in my opinions on Reina and the currently airing Scum’s Wish. But the use of this device was more of a trope on student love for the sake of a harem setup, which was furthered by Sakie’s uncharacteristically immature reactions (and responses) throughout the entire exchange.

The episode also delved further into what was borderline harassment wherein Tetsuo incessantly pummeled Hikari with questions that were basically far too raunchy for the adolescent to handle. And it’s not as if Tetsuo is too dense not to notice — he knows this and continues, anyway — which makes me wonder what the point of that whole segment was, other than to have Hikari peck a kiss on his cheek. I mean, really? After two weeks and a half of legitimately deep discussions on human communication, you give us this? What a setback for this show. I really hope it doesn’t get too lost in the harem/monster girl/fan service sticks in the next episodes, otherwise it’d be a real shame.

Urara Meirochô

I think I have to just accept the fact that the “show your belly” gag will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. I mean, the comedy is basically what I described it to be last week — basic slapstick and loud with a lot of gags being rather simplistic, if not juvenile. Yes the girls are cute, and the fan service is there albeit distracting from the general intent of its slice-of-life premise. There’s nothing really much for me to say about this show that hasn’t already been said. I’m giving it one more week, and if things haven’t changed until then, I’m going to have to set it aside. And just to make it clear, it isn’t because the show isn’t any good. In all fairness, it’s ridiculously cute, and has a legitimately clear goal in mind for its characters. But it’s simply not my kind of show.

 

I think I like this Side A/Side B style now that I’ve done it for two weeks in a row. These first five shows all finish by Monday, anyway, so that leaves me lots of time to focus on RL stuff for the remainder of the week. Anyway, do let me know your thoughts this season on the shows mentioned above. Until next time, ciao!

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