And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the art of “clickbait”.
Well, if you’re in to that sorta thing, at least. But what does this have to do with my week so far? Actually, I’ve been pretty into following up on what’s going on with the Nintendo Switch, so much so that it’s come to the point that a big chunk of news articles online — from “reputable” sources, at that — are creating poorly-researched articles just to get in on the hype surrounding the reputed hybrid-console. Then there’s the over-hyped coverage of Trump’s recent executive order that’s got people bawling their heads out in agony. But don’t get me wrong — I’m not undermining the repercussions of these news articles in general. I’m simply trying to highlight the fact that there’s always an underlying message that is being communicated in the way all things are presented — be it politics or, you guessed it, anime.
And for the anime, at least, I think if they aren’t trying to push for a meaningful message, then they’re probably just toying around with the mainstay stropes that people have grown accustomed to. And that’s all fine, I can live with that. But that, in itself, has made me toss aside some titles in favor of things that offer more than pure self-gratification.
So what the heck happened this week to make me say all that? Well, let’s find out!
Shôwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjû: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen
If it wasn’t clear in my last post, I really enjoyed this episode, particular because it focused on the relationship of Yotaro and Konatsu, and highlighted a real issue that plagues the classics in the face of an ever evolving modern society. Art forms like Rakugo definitely form the backbone of culture and heritage, but how can a treasured form of expression remain true to itself whilst remaining relevant to the structures of modern living? It’s the same sort of question raised by Higuchi when he muscles his way into getting an audience with Yakumo, if only to forward his own agenda of him looking over his own Rakugo manuscripts.
And the entire concept of relevance has been a counter-argument to the existence of Yakumo, himself, who was basically a cast away from a theater art that had no use for a boy with a limp. Yakumo essentially had to find a reason to seek necessity in the art, and was something he discovered in his love for Miyokichi and friendship with Sukeroku. But after having lost both, he lost any semblance of meaning in the trade, and was left instead with the “curse”, which is to take care of Konatsu as a means of penance towards Sukeroku. Konatsu has all reason to kill Yakumo for what he did, but she takes the more sinister form of vengeance, which is to force Yakumo to live with the guilt of his conscience for so long as he lives.
And this is where the show makes good use of the introduction of Shinosuke, Konatsu’s son and adopted successor of the now-Shin’uchi ranked Yotaro a.k.a. 2nd generation Sukeroku. Shinosuke represents more than just a generation of succession, rather, he also serves as the incarnation of the hopes of the trade for the forseable future. Yakumo treats him gingerly, and is obviously uncomfortable in relating to him, but he acknowledges, nevertheless, the boy’s innocence and appreciation towards Rakugo.
Even Konatsu (mother of the “future” of Rakugo) gets front-and-center this week with an empowering performance that serves as another argument against the patriarchal nature of the trade, and is yet again another salute to the evolving nature of culture and art. This entire episode was rich with character symbolism that I feel this “short” weekly entry does little to express just how brilliant this show is shaping up to be. That said, however, I have my own fears with regard as to how they plan on utilizing Shinosuke’s character. The reference to the darker ending of the Jugemu story makes me worry a bit, and that is combined with the name of the show, which literally means “double suicide”. But this IS a dramatic tragedy, when you think about it. So yes, this show is doing well within my expectations, if not exceeding them completely. If you haven’t watched this show, please by all means, do so!
March comes in like a Lion
Before going on, I just want to clarify that I don’t usually research on which voice actors are starring in any particular show unless either 1) their acting is distinct enough for me to pick up from the get go (i.e. Kana Hanazawa); or 2) their acting is impressive enough for me to check out who’s doing it. And with that, I was thoroughly excited to find out that Marina Inoue (Sodachi Oikura from Owarimonogatari; Armin Arlert from Attack on Titan; Kana Minami from Minami-ke) was the voice actress for Kyouko.
Her acting was just so superb — a mix between anger, sorrow, and frustration — something that felt so in tune with what Marina Inoue has come to achieve with in characters like Sodachi Oikura that the entire dramatic reveal of what makes Kyouko tick feel harrowingly real. This was accompanied with wonderfully vivid visual metaphors and a well-written internal dialogue by Rei. And the sum effect of this was a deeper understanding of the complex dynamic formed between these two half-siblings. It’s a dense maze of confusing and vague emotions, propelled by each of their desires to simply be happy.
Kyouko seems to be a character driven by an intense desire for recognition — something that was not granted to her by her own Father, and something that was taken from her by Rei. Her initial decision to pursue Gotô seems to be her own efforts to rebel against her unfeeling father, but Rei’s decision to leave home in her stead only furthers her own agenda. If anything, she wants to be pursued — it gives her a feeling of purpose and superiority — and it is something that seems to have Rei fixated on her. And Rei justifies his own desire to become and adult as the means by which he can protect the people that matter most to him, that of course being Kyouko.
No matter how strange this set up seems, the picture the show tries to paint with their emotions is a poignant one. Both Rei and Kyouko borrow their own motivations from points of strength that are external from them — like a moon borrowing light from the burning sun. Kyouko finds contentment in pursuit of a man who does not reciprocate her feelings, either because she mirrors her own experience towards her father in an Elektra-like complex, or because she secretly derives satisfaction in manipulating Rei towards the end of him pursuing her. And for her, at least, that would make some sort of sense — if not on the romantic level, at least on the psychological level — that in some way she was able to exert her superiority over Rei beyond the four corners of the Shougi board.
And then there’s Rei who draws motivation from his desire to protect Kyouko. What drives him to this extent may be a plea towards pity — perhaps even obligation given how he feels that he is partly responsible for “breaking” Kyouko, so to speak. But whatever reason Rei has, the show spends much of its time emphasizing the world around Rei — specifically the people that are now a part of his life, and he theirs. From the unassuming homeroom teacher, to the Kawamoto’s, and even to the pudgy Harunobu.
Rei is beginning to understand a bit more about himself, this time from the perspective of who he is as a person — he’s a high school student currently struggling with his own grades and attendance, and his own standing in Shougi is relatively insignificant compared to the more seasoned Gotô and Shimada. And Mr. Kawamoto puts it quite elegantly when he explains to Hinata that realizing one’s own humility and learning from mistakes, no matter how embarrassing they may be, are part and parcel of what it means to become and adult. So long as you know with full conviction that you gave it everything you could, then you’ll be fine.
So yeah, this was a very insightful episode, as usual. There are a couple more things with regard to Harunobu’s appearance, but I’ll save that for another entry. Overall, this episode was pretty jam packed with thoughtful tidbits, which made it seem a little heavy-handed at times. Regardless, this was still a very enjoyable episode.
Demi-chan wa Kataritai
If it weren’t for the rather insightful last segment of this week’s episode of Demi-chan wa Kataritai, I would’ve branded this show as just another one of those harem-esque, tropey, cashcows of a franchise. There seems to be an odd balance between Tetsuo being a very reasonable and understanding person — and then there are moments where the fan-servicey side of him just goes along with whatever shenanigans the plot device calls for. I mean, hugging your students without malice, only to get self-conscious after hugging the really busty one?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty tolerant with regard to the use of fan service, but when you’re as blatantly self-aware as that, it comes off as tasteless. All the more when it’s coming from a character like Tetsuo who is supposed to be respected (to a certain extent) as someone approachable for these socially-awkward demi-humans. And take note, this doesn’t mean that Tetsuo can’t be a fun guy who messes around with his students every now and then, either. Again, it goes back to what I was saying about what message is being conveyed in the depiction of scenes. For a handful of scenes in this episode, unfortunately, that message was the very fan-service model.
Look past that and we have an interesting trade of words between Himari and Tetsuo, which ultimately points towards the importance of embracing all aspects of a person as a means of fully understanding them. The wholistic approach is definitely something I can resonate with. It’s the sort of unbiased approach that has roots in the scientific approach towards investigating natural phenomena, which explains why Himari interrogates him and his methods as simply being a fanatic with little regard for their own individuality. But Tetsuo seems genuinely interested in understanding Demis not only for his own benefit, but for the overall wellbeing of his own students.
It was a charming little discourse, if not muddled by overly loud fan-service quips. Sure, the show is far from perfect, but there’s still quite a bit to love in its premise.
Tales of Zestiria the X
I honestly don’t have much to comment about this week’s episode of Tales of Zestiria the X. We DID get more background on Rose’s motivations, and the build up to the final scene was pretty well-executed. Being a UFOTable production, the show definitely benefits from excellent cut scenes that depict the action in a high-paced, fully engaging manner. And though I still feel a little passive with regard to where the story is going, I can honestly say that I’m pretty much satisfied with the pace thus far. This is one of those shows that benefits from just shutting up and watching the drama unfold on the screen. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the fun.
I think it’s pretty obvious that the show I was hinting to at the opening of this post was THIS show. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with this show in terms of comedy or overall visual execution. It really has something to do with the implicit reference of fan service that makes it feel highly predatory. I’ve mentioned this gripe in previous entries, and it seems all the more obvious in this episode given they pretty much justify stripping down to their undies just to find moles on their bodies. Sure, you can make up all sorts of narrative devices to justify these situations, but stepping back I’ve come to question if any of this is really necessary.
So unfortunately, I’m going to set this show aside. I think it really boils down to the values the show is trying to convey, and how that reflects on my own values. But take note, I’m not saying that anyone who enjoys watching this show is a lowlife. What I’m saying is that I find it very unsettling to see fifteen year olds getting routinely stripped for the sake of comedy. And I understand it’s a cartoon, and that it’s all for fun. But again, it just doesn’t sit well with me. If anything, it distracts me from trying to appreciate the show in the way I think it’s meant to be appreciated. So yeah, this show’s gotta go.
And there you have it! One show bites the dust, and the remaining titles in this half are all pretty hefty contenders. So far, I think the shows are doing relatively well. What do you guys think? Fell free to share your own thoughts below!