[Side B] Winter 2017 – Thoughts on Week 4

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I love reading books, but as of late, there have been many other things getting in the way of my personal reading time. For one, there’s a ton of scientific journals and textbooks that I have to read in relation to my projects. We’re talking 30+ journals a day for the sake of referencing just once sentence. And that’s probably 80% of what I have to read. The other 20% is sorta compulsory, because they’re updates for my medical practice.

The other distraction is video games. I also love playing video games — heck, I’m so psyched for the Nintendo Switch because it’s renewing my desire to play all over again. In fact, the last console I’ve ever purchased was a Sony PlayStation 2…

So yeah, I love reading books, and so I envy Lotte here, but I don’t envy her choice in reading material. But meh, to his or her their own. I can’t hate on someone just because they enjoy reading something I’m not particularly fond of. And that’s an attitude I wish other people had, as well. Rummaging through the comments of YouTube or Facebook, for example, turns up a lot of ugly responses to people who think differently. It’s a shame we can’t simply engage in sensible conversations IN SPITE of our differences.

But hey, how did we snowball into that topic? What about the animu? Yeah, I hear you. So let’s run down what happened this week in Side B — and SPOILER ALERT: all the shows actually did pretty darn well…

Scum’s Wish

My God, this show just simply won’t let up. So far, it’s been consistent at presenting a compelling drama that highlights romantic affectations as an inherently destructive process. It’s a strange anti-thesis to the typical dramatic framing that we’re accustomed to in dramas, and although the said drama IS a little overdone here and there, it doesn’t overreach itself to the point that it’s forcing its devices on the viewer. Heck if anything, it respects the viewer as a mature adult, so there’s no point in getting finicky about the use of sex through suggestive framing.

But as far as this episode goes, it succeeds in presenting Akane as a genuinely terrible person who passes off as the manifestation of men’s idealized object of affection. Her feminine charms are contrasted with her wildly manipulative nature; and despite being framed in a despicable light, she actually gains justification through her own acceptance of her flawed character. In doing so, her motives become empowered despite operating on a moral framework that is largely divorced from what we probably deem to be acceptable.

And I believe that’s what gets me with this show. We need to realize that Scum’s Work is traversing the emotional minefield of adolescent sexuality with a totally different moral compass that involves manipulation, self-gratification, and dominance. And in doing so, love is depicted less in the idealized trappings of romantic affectation and more in the ugly pitting of emotion against emotion. For Akane, at least, to win at love is to subdue all those who challenge her dominance, and that the thrill of love lies in being the object of desire. As for Hanabi, she wrestles with her own innocent (and juvenile) views of love — something that was built up from her childhood — and realizes her own wretchedness in how she uses both Mugi and Ecchan to fill the void that cannot be filled by her own imaginations of her being with Kanai-sensei. And this is no fault of Hanabi — it’s the wild flow of adolescent sexuality that is struggling to look for an outlet. And of all things, it took a teacher — take note, a TEACHER — to affirm these actions as “acceptable”.

Love is ugly. People are ugly. When people are in love, that makes for very, very ugly thoughts. That’s what this show is turning out to be, and BOY is it doing a good job at it. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a show so openly challenging my ideals on love and emotions and just owning the floor.

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.

Let’s get the important stuff out of the way first: opening scene features Lotta in it — INSTAWIN.

But seriously, this episode continues to paint a wonderfully diverse picture of the world of ACCA, and it builds up further on the political strife that seems to be bubbling on the undersurface of its supposedly “peaceful” exterior. In this episode, Jean heads to the district of Suitsu, which appears to be a place stuck in a different time period. The entire district looks like something straight out of the 1700’s in Europe, and the overall political situation has them isolated for the sake of preserving tradition. And this includes the maintenance of a class system that favors the nobility, which only serves to fuel dissent from the lower classes and, as you would have guessed it, the inevitable civil unrest.

But this basic formula for a coup d’état is given a little complexity with Jean’s presence. It’s clear that the leaders of the different districts are looking at him with apprehension due to his role as an auditor, and any information he brings with him could potentially be used by whoever is using him to stage a full-out coup d’état. It’s not that Jean is the rebel sympathizer per se, rather, someone is obviously using him for their own personal gain. And leaking out information about the political instability in Suitsu is a painful blow for its district leader, hence his threat to disallow Jean’s return to the capital should he report what happened.

And here, we see a different side of Jean that speaks more on his ability to see through character motivations and actually act on a sort of moral standard. He believes in Warbler’s decision to aid the rebels because he genuinely loves Suitsu as a nation, and that his actions against the ACCA branch were within his own moral standards of wishing what’s truly best for it. And so he answers this conviction with a simple bending of the rules — giving him a poor assessment, with punishment in the form of an extended tenure in the otherwise undesirable ACCA branch of Suitsu.

So far, this show has maintained a great sense of intrigue, political strife, speculation, and smart characterization throughout its four episode run. It may seem slow, and to a certain extent it is, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t totally engaging.

Little Witch Academia

I love how we finally get to see Lotte as the adorable nerd she is. This entire episode was basically a big parody on the Twilight Saga and its fangirls, but I think we can all relate to Lotte’s excessive passion in one way or another. And it’s fun to see how Akko takes a step back and actually allows for a little commentary that mirrors that of the viewer. Like how Akko mentions that she never thought Lotte was this passionate about something, or that going to events like conventions with cosplayers and whatnot could actually be fun.

But perhaps the one thing I really appreciate in Akko’s brazenly optimistic character is her penchant for mischief, and how Lotte just signs up for the ride despite being the goody two-shoes. It makes for more dynamic characters that are just fun to be with, and yes, seeing the antics of AkkoLotte, and Sucy is definitely FUN.

And you COULD say that all of this is standard fare when you think about series like Harry Potter and whatnot, but really, it’s what you do with these ideas and how you present them that makes the difference. For Little Witch Academia at least, the selling point is its unique style of animation that isn’t your typical anime. Although admittedly, this episode DID have a slight dip in terms of animation quality.

Little Witch Academia also benefits from a clear thematic structure that links its character motives with episodic morals that home in on pertinent issues. For this episode, it again highlighted the role of the underdog in Lotte — that there is merit to being a supporting-character, and that in this modern world full of hate, more people like Lotte are actually needed. It’s easy for us to become self-centered and caught up in our own ideals as to the way things should be. Heck, that’s the formula for all of the hate comments we see on YouTube or Facebook. But Lotte reminds people like Annabelle — the people who are subject to the verbal abuse that is so easily tossed around in this day and age — that there are still people like her who believe in her, and that kind words, even from a single person, have the power to re-ignite passion and purpose.

So yes, it might have been a pretty standard moral, but the way the show brought up modern day grievances in a refreshing light made for a very satisfying episode this week. This show never ceases to impress me, and I hope for more next week — hopefully from Sucy this time!

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Unlike last week’s episode, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid showed a bit more thematic cohesion by focusing on Kanna going to school in episode 4. And much of this episode focused on contrasting human morals with those of the dragons, often in ways that were more like side comments or deep introspections. Perhaps one of the more somber moments involved Tohru questioning Kobayashi regarding the need for uniformity, which again highlighted the show’s tendency to hammer down on the demoralizing nature of modern society. Being different is perceived as a threat — Kobayashi even goes as far as saying that people are afraid of things that are different — but Kanna gives an interesting counter-argument in the form of her own individuality. She even goes as far as befriending the ubiquitous childhood rival in the form of Riko, which in itself is a rather amusing spectacle to see.

And so the episode goes on to depict even more instances of difference — differences in age (middle school vs. elementary school), race (dragons vs. humans), and even generation (teachers vs. students). It’s a smart mix of comedy that offers a lot to think about, but falls a bit short by not having any satisfying answer in and of itself. I mean, it’s nice that it’s able to present these themes in the way that it does, but what does it ultimately mean for characters like Kobayashi and Tohru? How does Kanna’s argument that being yourself doesn’t necessarily mean being different counter Kobayashi’s belief that people are simply afraid of things they don’t understand? And this brings me back to my worry that the show is simply assuming thematic depth when, in fact, it has no intention to answer any of the pertinent issues it brings to the table.

At this point, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid feels like it’s running into the trap of previous KyoAni titles like Kannagi and Amagi Brilliant Park — shows that had some hints towards thematic depth, but ultimately fell short of providing anything enlightening. It’s one thing to present pertinent issues though shows like this, but unless it can answer them satisfactorily with the characters it has on hand, it runs the risk of falling into obscurity.

Gabriel DropOut

It’s pretty easy to dismiss this week’s episode of Gabriel DropOut as just another beach episode, but I actually give the show credit for continuously working with its characters and their angel/demon getups to come up with legitimately funny gags. I personally liked Gabriel’s jab at the thoroughness of Vigne’s travel guide as something similar to the Book of Revelations. Even Raphiel’s insensitive suggestion of using a book of exorcism as a reference guide for a devil was pretty funny. Again, what’s important is that the show is making the best out of its character’s roles as angels and devils. Because if it didn’t, they’d just be another bunch of cute girls doing cute things together.

And it’s for that reason the beach scene turned out to be a bit more amusing than what I was expecting. Part of the joke had much to do with how they were all trying to just wing it and figure out how to spend time at the beach based on hearsay information. It lent itself to some pretty obvious gags and otherwise uninspired bits of characterization, but these were characterizations, nonetheless. In summary, I think the show is starting to get comfortable with its characters; and yes, I think the four girls finally spending time together is a legitimately fun thing to see.

But alas, the second half pretty much spent a lot of its time on an extended gag of Gabriel used to be good, but now she’s just BAD. Not that it wasn’t funny, but it’s just a little lazy in terms of comedic build up. So yeah, Gabriel DropOut is starting to get comfortable with how to use its characters, but the show still shows a lack of consistency in the overall comedic pacing. It’s fun, sure, but not to the point that I’d actually recommend this show to anyone looking for something to laugh at this winter. Not by a long shot.

 

You know what, I’m honestly really surprised at how well the shows are doing, even at just four weeks in. I don’t know if it’s because I’m very generous with my opinions, or if the shows are really just that good. Do you think this is the case, too? Share your thoughts in the comments below — I’d love to hear what you think. Until next week, Ciao!

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