Seven years of doing these end of year posts, and I have a shocking thing to reveal : I’ve now actually watched two entire episodes of Gundam Unicorn. This was partially down to motivation spurred on by the TV broadcast version (I watched an episode of it, and decided I’d rather just watch the original edits), and partially because I decided to not let myself watch Gundam Thunderbolt until I’d finished watching the thing.
Neither point particually stuck – as is obvious from the prior statements, I’ve not finished watching the rest of Unicorn yet, and I ended up breaking down and just watching Thunderbolt a week or so ago (and, man, Thunderbolt is good). Don’t take this as a statement on Unicorns quality mind you – I enjoyed what I’ve watched of it, I’ve just found it weirdly hard to fit into my viewing schedule, especially this last season.
On the other hand, mind you, I am totally up-to-date on The Origin!
Anyway, as per usual, here’s too many uninteresting words about cartoons from the last year that aren’t really worth reading. The usual caveats apply – spoilers ahoy, and these aren’t necesasrily the best shows of the year, or things I’d necessarily recommend watching yourself, more just stuff I somehow managed to summon Words about.
The “Where has All My Money Gone” Award for Wallet Emptying Merchandise – ???!
This is the point where I’d normally just say THE iDOLM@STER. I should probably still just say THE iDOLM@STER, though I didn’t necessarily spend that much on it all told this year.
I suppose the category should really be more cartoon idol franchises I general. I mean, I guess the one overwhelming piece of cartoon idol expenditure this year, or at least the one which is most mentally notable to me right now, is trying to squeeze what was probably far too many Puchimas plushes into my suitcase back from Otakon (several of these are presently looking down on my from the top of my monitor as I type this very post).
As far as expenditure goes in general, though, I guess I’ve picked up some iM@S CDs, but only really the game ones – between the Cinderella Girls and Million Live CDs, there’s a bit too much to keep up with everything these days, and I’ve not really broken the back of Million Live anyway. I’ve stuck to picking up the Aikatsu CDs through it’s transition into Stars, and I’ve been cherrypicking PriPara CDs. Picked up most the Delta stuff, and the new WUG CDs, as well. Love Live Sunshine stuff I’ve mostly, as far as the CDs go, been ignoring – the main stuff that makes it into the show all has this somewhat ubiquitous common sound that playing too much School Idol Festival has kind of ground into a state of tedium for me. I’ll probably go back and cherry-pick the most interesting coupling songs after the fact.
Not that I didn’t spend anything on Sunshine, mind you. I have bits and pieces of merchanise. I mean, I was also at Anime Expo last year, so I ended up blowing a bunch of cash on getting decent seats for the Episode 1 premiere event (though friends back in the UK actually got to see the episode first, given they didn’t hold streaming the episode back for artibrary event reasons over here), and bum-rushed both the Brocolli and Daisuki booths to blow enough money on tat to get tickets to the Aqours greeting events on the Daisuki booth (meaning I got to throughly embarass myself infront of both Komiya Arisa and Furihata Ai hahaha *sigh*). Fun times.
iDOLM@STER Platinum Stars also came out this year. It’s technically extremely impressive – like the first game sold me on on picking up a 360, it’s the first thing that’s particularly impressed me on the current batch of games consoles. Those 765Pro All Stars shows in particular are super-neat! Some of the presentation is really fun! The new music is good!
That being said, it’s a bit of a misfire in other senses – there’s nothing particular satisfying about the games progression, there’s nothing robust about the narrative, and whilst initially amusing, the changes to the performance system have provided something approaching an actual rhythm system at the expense of any kind of tactical complexity. That first and last point really tie together – the previous iM@S game, One for All, initally seemed straight-forward, but the skill-tree based progression system that unlocked idol-unique skills and talents not only provided a robust sense of character growth, but added an increasing level of complexity as you made your way through the game. As you hit the games final festival challenges, and then through into the DLC stories, strategy in terms of idol line-up and skill-activation timing became paramount. It actually became tricky.
Platinum Stars is, ultimately, thinner than OfA was even before it’s significant free content patch. Progression is purely a case of repeating things until your numbers increase. Most of the unlocks have been sacrificed in favour of a half-hearted gatcha system too. It’s a disappointment, really, which is a shame given how much I like it’s movie-influenced atmosphere. That said, now that the technological leap has been made, maybe the next title in the series will provide a somewhat more robust experience.
(Also, just bought a bunch of PriPara toys. I think I’m only two short on the Nendo Co-de’s at this point, and I grabbed that 1/7 Laala figure in the HLJ sale a few weeks back. Also have some talking plushies. Pushuuu~~~~~~)
(Also Also, counter to what I was expecting, AX was a fun time. Exhausting, but fun. Will likely be back this year, financial concerns I have little control over withstanding)
(Also Also Also, got one of the PriPara CDs featuring Aroma signed by Makino Yui at Otakon! Got a pretty hilarious reaction from presenting it to her as well, particularly given most other people seemed to be presenting Tsubasa or Cinderella Girls stuff to her)
(Also Also Also Also, idol game of the year (and probably just regular game of the year too) is probably Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE)
The “People Keep Talking About This” Award for Shows I Need To Probably Watch At Some Point – New Game
And also still Yuyushiki, but I say that every year, and it’s still not really happened.
But I didn’t actually get around to watching any New Game, so I can’t really say much of anything about it. Can’t quite remember why that ended up being the case – I suspect some of the talk early on about some excessively needless fanservice that seemed to be actively working against what the show was otherwise trying to acheive put me off, particularly in the light of me bouncing hard off Bakuon around about the point they did the bike-washing scene, but given that kind of talk largely subsided by the time the show concluded makes me wonder if I slightly got the wrong end of the stick.
It’s on the list, though, because I’ve been surprised to still be seeing people talking about it now that others are also doing end-of-year stuff. A lot of it is probably that it’s one of those precious few shows that do the whole post-education setting that’s a little rare in anime.
(Also, need to get around to watching the last few episodes of Flying Witch. Maybe this weekend)
(Also Also, should probably give Occultic;Nine another shot at some point. I bounced hard off the content of the first episode (and those frankly ludicrous boobs), but some of the talent they managed to rope into that thing…)
The “Ouch!” Award for Best Show Featuring The Protagonists Getting The Snot Beaten Out Of The In Them OP – BBK/BRNK
BBK/BRNK (Bubuki Buranki) was the 10th anniversary project for studio Sanzigen. Sanzigen is primarily a CGI studio – whilst BBK/BRNK isn’t their first work as a studio in their own right (Arpeggio of Blue Steel is probably the most immediately notable, though they did the Re:Cyborg009 movie as well), their general bread-and-butter tends to be CG outsourcing or protography and compositing for other studios works. Still, point is, BBK/BRNK is one of those full CG series, with the usual caviat that many of the backgrounds are still hand painted.
The set-up to the show is a little peculiar. The first episode starts with our protagonist, Kazuki Azuma, living an idealistic lifestyle on what turns out to be a flying island, alongside his parents and his sister, Kaoruko. The island in question (generally referred to as “Treasure Island” throughout the series) is also populated by a bunch of sleeping mechanical giants (the Buranki of the title), with Azuma’s mother Migiwa taking it upon herself to ensure that these Buranki never awaken and plummet to Earth to cause chaos. Azuma and Kaoruko find themselves, along with their father, flung down to Earth, when Kaoruko’s attempts to activate the Buranki Oubu fails, causing the rest of the sleeping Buranki to awaken.
Ten years later sees Azuma returning to Japan, and immediately taken into police custody. Migiwa is demonised as a Witch sending Buranki down from Treasure Island to cause disaster, mostly painted that way by her former friend (now delightful nutcase) Banri Reoko, who has established a totalitarian state based around tracking down and subjugating users of “Bubuki” – sentient weapons derived from the “limbs” of a Buranki. Azuma himself holds a “Heart”, the Bubuki his makes up the core of a Buranki, which when combined with his allies Bubuki, combines to reform Oubo as a giant, pilotable robot. Azuma and his allies set out on a journey to find a way to return to Treasure Island, whilst avoiding the onslaughts of Reoko and her Buranki, Entei (an overwhelming flaming monster that bestows miraclous healing powers upon Reoko whilst also stunting her growth), along with her Bubuki-utilising cohorts (all of whom just happen to be intimately related to our heroes in one way or another).
It’s maybe a bit of an odd thing to say about a show which puts it foot forward with a series of wildly escalating cliffhangers as our heroes are consecutively assaulted by Reoko’s generals, but it’s not really until around eight episodes in that the show actually fully clicks. It’s at that point that the starts introducing the other international Buranki teams, with Azuma and friends stereotypical American equivalents. It’s kind of the point where the show finds an injection of humour that sits fully comfortably with what the rest of the series is doing.
It also marks the point where the show stops being a series of one-on-one battles, in favour of some far more multi-faceted skirmishes. There’s narrative and thematic reasons why this wasn’t something which happened earlier into the shows run, but it all works so much better that it’s a shame it was held back so late.
It’s probably worth pointing out that the shows director is Komatsuda Daizen. It’s not an immediately notable name, but a lot of the actual flavour of the show is somewhat explained by what he’s worked on previously. He’s been around for a while as an animator, but, aside from work on the Evangelion movies, his most recent works of note include storyboard and episode direction work on things like Panty and Stocking and Kill la Kill (both of which Sanzigen also did CG work for). There’s a lot about what would generally be considered Imaishi’s style that bleeds over into how the show presents itself, and not just because the man himself storyboarded the shows first OP sequence. The show deals a lot in dynamic posturing and hyper-kinetic fighting, punctuated with low-motion cartoon gestures.
It’s kind of odd, because it’s stylistically simultaneously both at odds and a perfect match for the kind of CG animation the show works in, particularly when you start to consider that it’s a directorial style with its routes in the work of the 60s and 70s. To a degree, it’s the same kind of thing it feels like Sanzigen have been chasing for years, and what continues drive many folks nuts – deliberately reduced frame-counts of cel-shaded character models that tries to mimic the very deliberate appearance, cadence and frame modulation that gives anime it’s specific flavour. It’s trying to ape the appearance of a traditionally animated show, with varying degrees of success. There’s things that look real awkward when the show is running at a lower pace (though things generally improve in the second series), but the move to full CG does permit a sustained level of dynamism that would be unrealistic to expect in a hand-drawn series, at least with these character designs.
To be honest, I suppose the best compliment I can pay it is that, whilst I never particularly forgot it was a CG show, it stopped being a particular bother to me in a way that Arpeggio never quite pulled off. I mean, I’d still take a 2D-animated show over it, but this isn’t really the kind of thing that’s being made that way right now.
All that being said, the really interesting thing about the show is, more than how it was made, the actual content of the last episode. It’s the kind of denouement that you don’t often see in anime, at least not at the length presented here. The worlds been saved, but what does that mean to a guy who has spent the last ten years of his life on the run or surrounded by adventure? That we get to spend an entire episode with a hero who finds himself with little to do with himself now that he’s essentially unnecessary is interesting and somewhat unusual. It’d be a bit of an overstatement to say it’s like having an entire episode of the coda from Gurren Lagann, but it’d probably at least put you in slightly the correct mindset – It’s a peculiar melancholy, really, and one which is starkly at odds with a show whose normal operating tone is one of bombast.
(Also, Taiwanese dog is just like Japanese dog!)
(Also also, Reoko best girl, though she’s almost criminally under-utilised in the second cour, particularly given the conclusion of the first essentially paints her as the actual hero)
(Also also also, everyone’s little sister Kaoruko is fine too. Not quite the same kind of nutcase as Reoko, but she works as a fruit loop injection in a pinch)
(Also also also also, Kogane has a pretty terrific line in angry faces)
The “Yukiho Memorial Award” Award for Best Hole Digging in Anime – Magical Girl Raising Project
Madoka Magica being a thing that exists is something that generally has a bit of a habit of stunting discussion of shows like this, as people either tend to rush to paint the show as a clone, else to otherwise point out that Madoka is actually just a repainting of themes that were already common within the Magical Girl genre and, as such, as something that really all that important. All of which really somewhat misses the actual import behind Madoka as a show – it’s not a deconstruction or anything like that, rather it’s an incredibly tightly-written, well-considered and visually interesting take on the genre. Regardless of the specifics of the content, it’s the actual standard of the execution that made the show successful. Regardless of if its not doing anything new, it was popular because it was good.
That success was of actual import as well. It’s not that people sought to specifically imitate it, but it’s undeniable that the show had an impact on the industry back in 2011 – just look at all the eroge manufacturers who simultaneously decided to parody it for their April Fools gag that year, or the number of old manga authors who suddenly decided to come out of semi-retirement because they’d suddenly come up with some kind of take on the magical girl genre. The importance wasn’t so much one of inspiring clones than it was one inspire a broadening of what was permissible within the genre, at least as far as what would be commercially viable to distribute. That any magical girl show that dares to use anything beyond a pastel colour-palette gets immediately compared to Madoka is more indicative of how little spill-over into anime this trend has had, rather than other media. The point being that something can come about thanks to an environment something else helped create without being a clone of it, even if it dabbles in the same kind of tones.
The actual point being, that’s the environment into which something like Magical Girl Raising Project can be released into, at at least part of the mindset you need for consuming it.
The show follows Koyuki. She really likes magical girl cartoons, and plays a magical girl game on her phone. One day, it apparently turns out she’s so good at the game (or, at least, has pumped enough money into whatever kind of gatcha system it inevitably uses), that the games mascot, Fav (a weird visual mixture of Kyubei, Monokuma, and one of those snow bunnies they make in Clannad), materialises in-front of her in the real world and informs her that she meets the criteria to be a real magical girl. From that day onwards, when night falls, Koyuki becomes Snow White and heads out onto the town to help those in need.
Snow White’s unique power is being able to hear the thoughts of those desperately in need, which, in the grand scheme of things, may not sound particularly useful, but she puts it to good use and quickly becomes rather admired amongst the towns Magical Girl community. Given that there are multiple magical girls in the area, as Fav has divided it up into regions to be covered by different girls. Koyuki ends up teaming up with La Pucelle, a magical girl who is actually a young lad that she used to talk about magical girl fiction with back in Primary school.
It’s around this point, though, that Fav announces that maybe he’s created a few more magical girls than the area really needs to cover it, and as such, he’ll be downsizing the required number into half the present levels. The judgment criteria removing them is based on their performance – performing “good deeds” will earn them Candies, and the user with the fewest candies at the end of each period will be deleted. Of course, it’s quickly revealed that those being deleted aren’t just seeing themselves stripped of their gaming account or deprived of their memories, but are actually being killed. Then some of the girls start to realise that if they just murder someone, then maybe the number of candies they collect is entirely irrelevant – there’s no need to look to candy counts when they’ve already lost that periods victim, after all.
If people really want to paint this into the shadow of Madoka, I suppose you can immediately point to the disingenuous mascot character, or the heroine who actually does very little, but that’s rather a gross misunderstanding of what the show is really trying to do. Magical Girl Raising Project is pure exploitation cinema. It’s taking a genre with sudden explosive popularity and producing a violent, lurid and sensationalist version of it, with at least some of its cues being lifted from the likes of Battle Royale.
Koyuki, for her part, represents what is supposed to be the platonic ideal of the traditional magical girl, the sort that existed prior to Sailor Moon or Precure, that solves peoples problems through kindness and understanding rather than fisticuffs and beamspam. It’s writ large in the show itself, particularly through Hard-Gore Alice’s dialogue, but her inaction is rather the point – she’s the one true magical girl in the world. Kindness comes to her naturally, and conflict does not.
In comparison, every other character is a facet of the magical girl genre that’s been explored in the decades that followed the likes of Minky Momo, if admittedly painted through the unfavourable lens of cynicism that so much else has over the last few years. That Swim-Swim is a little girl who turns into a more adult-looking magical girl with great aspirations isn’t purely an accident – it leans right back into early Pierrot shows like Creamy Mami in which magic ages the characters up in a fashion that allows them to chase aspirational careers. It’s just that usually, you know, it’s being a pop idol rather than murdering herself into a position of dominance. I suppose if they’d given her an idol theme it’d have been a little too on the nose, but then again, maybe giving her an often-fetishised piece of clothing as her uniform is as well.
Ultimately, as interesting as much of the specifics of the set-up may seem, it’s mostly used for trashy, if entertaining, ends. It’s a series of unexpected swerves, sudden character deaths, and explosions of gore. My particular favourite scene is the one in which Calamity Mary, ill-tempered Western theme magical girl who skirts the limits of what a “good deed” can be for personal gain, tries to off Hard-Gore Alice. Alice’s power, you see, is a level of recovery that would make Wolverine green with jealousy. In a minutes long scene of escalation, Mary shoots, stabs, and burns Alice’s corpse, before eventually making cement out of the ashes and pushing a barrel of it into the ocean. That Alice survives that perhaps isn’t a shock, but that Mary manages to cop it before the two have a chance to come face-to-face again is probably somewhat indicative of the level of swerve the show works in, given that’s what most things would build to at that point. It’s disappointing in a sense to not see Mary freak-out seeing Alice, but it’s the kind of expectation denial the show works in. Having the strongest characters taken out by the weakest in sudden, unexpected bursts of extreme gore isn’t particularly beyond the show either, although Alice’s eventual demise is almost shockingly unspectacular given previous attempts on her life.
It’s maybe giving the show a bit too much credit to suggest that it’s ending actually means anything. In the conclusion, only two magical girls, Snow White and the ninja-themed Ripple, are left standing. Rather than listen to Fav any further, they elect to destroy his communication device and go it alone. Snow White makes a choice to no-longer be passive, and starts to learn how to actually fight from Ripple. It’s a weird message to present – Snow White effectively “won” by being nothing but the traditional magical girl, doing nothing but good deeds and avoiding violence, even if only managed over the dead bodies of her allies, but it suggests that it’s no longer enough to just do that. Is the suggestion that it’s also true of magical girl shows, given the character representation in the show and what they arguably stand for? That it’s no longer just enough to be a normal, boring, helpful magical girl in a boring, normal magical girl show, particularly when more people than ever have been exploring the genre?
If so, it does make some of the decisions taken for this years new Precure instalment seem more bold than they necessarily did at even first blush. It’ll be interesting to see how that one pans out…
(Also, the most recent Precure AllStars movie is one of the best, even if it does peak pretty early with the tiny horse-man villian moonwalking whilst singing about extracting Precure tears to enact their evil plot. With puppets)
(Also also, pretty much my least favourite Precure movie, but I did get my copy of the Suite Precure movie signed by Orikasa Fumiko/Rhythm this year. Also Denno Coil. Was kind of shocked to discover her making an appearance at an event I could daytrip from home to!)
The “Most Damaging Punchy Punch” Award for Show Which Isn’t One Punch Man Because That Was Actually Last Year – Vivid Strike
On the subject of Magical Girl shows with sudden bouts of hyper-violence…
Vivid Strike is the latest instalment of the Nanoha franchise. At this point, Nanoha is the weirdest thing – it’s a spin-off that’s grown significantly more popular than it’s originating work ever was, but it renders Vivid Strike effectively three or four levels of spin-off deep from the original originating property. Not that it particularly matters, though I dare say that despite it’s attempts at tenuously denying their existence, you probably get more out of it by being at least a little familiar with the properties at least one step up the chain.
Vivid Strike is a martial arts show. A Sci-Fi martial arts show. A Magical Sci-Fi martial arts show. Fuuka Reventon is a down on her luck orphan who has a habit of getting into scraps that she probably shouldn’t. One of these scraps ends up being with one Einhard Stratos, one of the leads of the prior Nanoha spin-off Nanoha Vivid, who promptly beats the snot out of her. Still, she’s marginally impressed enough with her fighting prowess to decide to help Fuuka get off the streets, on the proviso that she works at and attends the martial arts gym shes a member of (which happens to be run by reformed Nanoha StrikerS antagonist Nove Nakajima).
Simultaneously to this, it turns out that Fuuka’s best friend from back in her orphanage days, Rinne Berlinetta, has also taken up martial arts. Not only that, she’s at the top of the game, one of the highest ranking fighters in her category and contender for the championship belt. Far from being pleased about this, however, Fuuka is rather upset about the way Rinne looks and is handling herself, and decides that she really needs a rather good talking to – in the normal Nanoha franchise sense.
Viewing the individual shows in retrospect, there’s a lot of things which are odd about the Nanoha franchise, or rather a lot of things which end up sitting a little awkwardly the further you get into it. The hilarious thing about going back an rewatching that first series of Nanoha is exactly how insane the power-levels on display are, and how comparatively insane the things that Nanoha performs even in the first couple of episodes are. Even those scrub characters who are mostly sitting things out by the time you hit the second series, Nanoha A’s, like Yuno, can pull off things which would be seen as monsterous once you get to the third show, StrikerS. The series itself recognises this to a degree – it’s a plot point in StrikerS that Nanoha, Fate and Hayate are powerful to the point that they need to have their capabilities magically constricted, in a move that is pretty much necessary in order to maintain any kind of level of tension in the narrative.
In terms of power levels, though, Vivid Strike dials things back as far from Nanoha as is probably realistic within the franchise. Whilst Nanoha herself dealt in fearsome magical beam blasts, and Subaru uses an Intelligent Device designed to specifically increase the destructive power of her fists, Vivid Strike takes things down regular old fist fights. It makes it somewhat hilarious, then, that this is far and aware the most brutal the franchise has ever gotten in it’s conflicts.
The particularly famous episode of the show is it’s fourth episode, which explains just exactly what had been going on with Rinne. Adopted by a rich family, but resolute to try her best to meet what she perceives to be their expectations, Rinne is subjected to psychological torment by three of her spurned-feeling classmates. Determined just to deal with it, rather than worry the loving parents she feels she perhaps doesn’t deserve, the girls eventually take matters a little too far at the worst possible moment. Finally broken, Rinne walks into school and snaps one of the girls arms in half, and causes the other two massive head trauma. It’s a sudden, savage and bloody, showing little restraint whilst not exaggerating things to comedic levels. It’s probably the most brutal example of violence in the show, and likely the whole franchise, but its not the only one. Broken bones are plenty, and even the final bout of the show has one of the heroines spitting out her teeth following a particular savage clocking to their jawline.
But a Nanoha show is a Nanoha show, ultimately. The ongoing joke about about how Nanoha beats the friendship into people, based around her habit of making the staunchest allies out of people she’s beaten the snot out of first, is text in this show. It’s frequently stated that, whilst characters are fighting against eachother in tournaments, what they really want to do is talk. A large part of Fuuka’s motivation in learning how to fight from Einhart is so that she can confront Rinne about how destructive a life it is that she’s pursuing on equal terms, and that sitting down and talking with friends and family would actually be a lot more productive. That they have to pound each other into submission first is just par for the franchise. If you have a point to make, pound your sincerity into them with your fists first just to prove you are truly earnest about it.
Unexpected violence aside, though, Vivid Strike is actually a lot of fun to watch. The fights make entertaining viewing, and surprisingly, aren’t always as clear-cut as the initial set-up to them suggests. When Rinne ends up facing off in the ring against prior protagonist Vivio (whose name from which the Vivid of the title is derived), I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how things would conclude, and was pleasantly surprised by the way things ended panning out. Even the shows depiction of bullying is surprisingly nuanced.
Honestly, as someone who failed to work up the motivation to watch Nanoha Vivid, and only really took a chance of Vivid Strike because it happened to suddenly show up on UK Amazon one quiet day on which I’d little else to do, Vivid Strike was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.
Assuming you can deal with the broken bones, that is.
(Also, ended up rewatching StrikerS now that all that Nanoha back-catalogue stuff is up on Amazon in the UK. Amazon’s subpar presentation of it aside, that show works way better watched in bulk in retrospect than it did back when it first aired)
(Also also, speaking of Azamon, probably need get around to watching more of The Great Passage. Really enjoyed the couple of episodes I did get around to!)
The “I guess this was alright” Award for Show Which Was So Very Nearly Way, Way Better Than It Was – Dimension W
This is maybe less me wanting to talk about Dimension W than it is the unfortunate consequences of the current reality of the restrictions of TV anime.
To not put the cart before the horse, though, Dimension W is a pretty fun show. It’s a sci-fi show set in a future where a technology revolution has changed the face of the world, whereby current power technologies have almost been replaced entirely by “coils” which draw power from the 4th Dimension, which apparently contains an infinite supply of energy. Due to the inherent dangers in, you know, rending dimensions in order to listen to podcasts, Coils are supposed to be digitally registered with the supplying mega-conglomerate New Tesla, but unsurprisingly there’s very definite reasons why you’d want potentially want to run illicit, unmonitored coils – not least those with the power restrictions removed.
The shows protagonist, Kyouma, is a Collector. He’s a freelancer who specialises in tracking down and confiscating illicit coils for cash, whilst relying largely cast-off the technology himself, eschewing the use of Coils as much as feasibly possible. Through various circumstances, though, he ends up partnered – and living – with adorable robot girl Mira, the proclaimed, but previously undocumented, “daughter” of the recently-deceased scientist who created the Coil technology in the first place, but also displays rather more sentience than most of her brethren.
Apparently it’s based on a manga that started back in 2011, though if you told me it was ten years older than that, I don’t think it would have shocked me. Some of the specifics of the animation aside, it’s all got a very specific late-90s vibe to it, and there’s a lot of things in the way it handles itself that you can fairly specific touchstones of the era. Even just reading through the stuff I’ve written about, you can probably pick up elements of Giant Robo in part of its setting (and there’s a few things in the way it’s been brought to screen that play to that, though I think Pandora in the Crimson Shell has maybe the most explicit visual references to it of the year), there’s a lot which is pretty reminiscent of The Big O, Outlaw Star, or even Cowboy Bebop to a degree, with it’s protagonist who relies on antiquated techniques, technology and vehicles that others ridicule.
Although to wrap somewhat back around to where I started, the main problem with this show is that it lasts but 12 episodes. I mean, sure, everything these days lasts twelve episodes, with a scant few shows running double that, normally through second runs separated due to modern production realities. To a degree, it’s that kind of rigidly defined structure that is one of the strengths of anime versus, say, US television serials that often spiral into mediocrity before being put out of their misery in a fashion unsatisfactory to most.
Certainly, complaining about shows only running three months seems a little weird given how much something like Sound Euphonium manages with its characters in the same number of episodes, but it’s a format that’s kinder to some genres of show than it is to others. The problem when it comes to things like Dimension W is that the stuff which goes when cutting content is the fluff, the stuff that folks would often historically categorise as “Filler”, that doesn’t necessarily have any impact on the on-going narrative or introduce any characters of import, or that wraps itself up entirely within the course of its episode. As far as Dimension W goes, the entire second half of the show is effectively it’s final arc, and pretty much everything before that is a mini-mystery arc that simultaneously drives to endeavour to forward the main narrative. There’s precious little time for progressing the characters as a result, and the show doesn’t quite have the deftness of hand to do it in tandem.
The problem is that what so often gets mislabelled as filler is in reality important texture. Adorable robot girl Mira is one thing, but once the show hits it’s final run of episodes, it’s a little hard to particularly given a darn about most of the emotional pay-off it’s trying to get you to buy into when you’ve spent so little time with so many of the characters, and so little of the kind of downtime which actually endears you to them. The shows climax ends up feeling like something of a damp squib as a result. In fact, the one episode which does somewhat stand alone is pretty significantly paired down from its manga equivalent in order to squeeze it down into the one episode, and everything that got thrown out was the content which was designed to soften and bring at least a degree of nuance to Kyouma’s character. Exactly the kind of thing the show could probably have done with, honestly.
Part of me starts to ponder about the recent Flip Flappers for similar reasons, mostly because of some of the complaints I’ve seen levelled against it, rather than any personal feelings. That one is a bit more of a sticky wicket – partially because I rather suspect that repeated viewing will likely reveal a density of visual and narrative metaphor that isn’t necessarily apparent at first blush (particularly to those not well versed in the specifically Japanese tropes of lesbian literature) that’d be real hard to sustain at length, but also that I tend to question whether or not the fact that Salt and his cohorts receive so little attention is actually of any real importance. That show pretty much lives and dies by how much you buy into what they are doing with the core Cocona/Papika(/Yayaka) relationship versus what would be a more traditional narrative structure, and it’s pretty difficult to imagine what a longer FlipFlappers would even look like. Probably the kind of adventure show some people complain it isn’t, rather than the weird character drama it actually is.
On a larger scale, though, it does make me wonder about the future. Short run theatrical OAVs are increasingly a thing, which obviously are a little more free in terms of restraints when it comes to both the number of instalments, and the length of them, but those are only really viable for something that already has a certain amount of brand recognition. The real curious thing for the future is what streaming will do for the industry, if (or possibly when) it becomes as embedded in Japan as it is in the west. The number services and availability of streaming content in Japan has ballooned the last couple of years, but it’s not quite hit that point things have in the West where significant productions are being made just for those services – I dare sent say we’ll start to see more anime productions being funded by the likes of Netflix before we see the Japanese streaming industry funding exclusive domestic content beyond oddities like Koyomimomogatari. Digressions aside, though, It’ll be curious to see if it ends up being liberating in terms of allowing the number of episodes of a show to expand (or decrease) to a number that’d actually be appropriate for the content, but I’d rather guess the realities of modern anime production would contine to be the limiting factor there.
(Also, started reading the manga the last couple of days, thanks to some Bookwalker seasonal discount vouchers that’d almost expired. Not that far into it yet, though)
(Also Also, Mira really was super-adorbs)
The “Fourth Best Movie Of The Year Everyone Has Already Seen Unless You Are In The US” award for best movie that’s not actually the best movie – Your Name
I tend to get the feeling that people think I don’t actually like Your Name, which isn’t actually the truth. I honestly really like the movie.
That isn’t to say that it’s my favourite movie, or even favourite anime movie, of the year. There’s the rub, I guess – there’s probably a good three or four things from the last year that I’d probably rather watch again presented the opportunity, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or I don’t like it. Despite what the internet might have you believe, there’s room for things between “Greatest Thing Ever” and “Utter trash”. Not every new thing that comes along has to be your new favourite thing ever for it to have any kind of personal worth.
It’s easy to complain about Your Name for reasons that are entirely unfair to the movie itself. There’s that tendency for everyone in the mainstream press to mention Shinkai’s name in the same breath as Miyazaki, which is obviously infuriating. There’s the rather unfortunate timing at which it was released, just in time to build up enough steam to, well, steam-roller most other movies attempts to garner significant English press (mostly thinking of A Silent Voice and From This Corner of the World here, though both those movies have actually done beyond well when compared to pretty much any normal reasonable metric). Then there’s the fact that it’s just popular, and it’s always fun to slag off the popular things.
Honestly, though, a lot of the reasons I maybe don’t like it as much as many others is that it’s perhaps a little too polished. The animation is of a consistently high quality, but it’s also consistent – whilst on the one hand this is a good thing, and is one of the many, many things about the movie which speak to it being effective with such a huge general audience, this is also a year which has seen the release of the first couple of Kizumonogatari movies. This is to say, the whole movie is beautiful, but there isn’t necessarily anything especially interesting about the animation itself, particularly give it pretty much just looks like a more polished version of what Shinkai has been doing his entire career. There’s not really anything rough, weird or interesting about it. It’s an odd thing to complain about, maybe, but I’ve seen enough anime at this point that I kind of want that over something that’s admirably coherent. Kizumonogatari, on the other hand, is a movie that doesn’t think twice and rerendering the same scene in two wildly disparate, but equally flamboyant, visual styles, or to use visual disparity in its animation as part of its directorial technique.
That being said, whilst I think the middle act is a little tepid (though it bothered me a little less the third time), I do think people underplay how smart the writing is in favour of classifying it as being a particularly polished pop-corn movie. It’s easy to point to the inclusion of actual levity as making this Shinkai’s best script, and sure there’s a lot of pretty great jokes in there, but there’s a lot of really smart little touches in the movies opening act which really aren’t entirely obvious until you’ve seen the movie a couple of times through.
Also, I do like the MUSIC BY RADWIMPS, and the montage stuff, which I know annoys a lot of people, is actually some of my favourite content in the movie. Ponderous-but-thematically-empty sky shots aside, it’s where Shinkai displays the most directorial flair in the way that feels most uniquely “him”. This, admittedly, is a bit of a weird thing for me to say, given that I only particularly like A Place Promised in Our Early Days from Shinkai’s prior works (Garden of Words is OK too, I guess), but whatever – if fine with being a hypocrite.
I mean, honestly, if the chance presents itself (and I understand there’s some frustration in the US given Funimations comparatively slow rollout), it’s probably worth most people going to see. As I say, the jokes are good, at the very least.
(Also, SLA Power Ratings: Silent Voice > Kizumonogatari Double Bill > Girls und Panzer > Anthem of the Heart > Your Name > Other Things)
(Also Also, guess I could have gone to see the premiere at AX, but ended up going to see Flow play instead. Given seeing Flow was an anime fan bucket-list thing for me anyway, I figure I made the right choice there, particularly given I hear they skipped a couple of their big hits during the later show)
(Also Also Also, A Silent Voice is real good. Look forward to being able to see it sometime this year!)
(Also Also Also Also, there’s a Spice Orange GameCube, the best kind of GameCube, hidden in the background of Your Name. Look out for it!)
The “I Do Actually Like This” Award for Show That I Think People Think I Don’t Like – Love Live Sunshine
This probably falls into a similar category as Your Name, honestly, or at least I rather suspect people might not actually know where I sit on it. Honestly, I thought I’d written more about the show than I actually have done, though to a degree I was deliberately keeping something of a distance given that there’s far more people writing about the franchise in far more detail than I honestly have the time, interest or energy to do these days.
Sunshine is a little bit of an odd beast for me, honestly. Whilst there’s a few things about the way episodes are paced and edited that I think lacks a certain amount of the flair I particularly liked in the original, it’s generally a much stronger show in other senses – it certainly handles it’s drama a lot better. What makes that odd is how much it leans on the original to make that happen. It’s simultaneously interesting and intensely frustrating to see it fall back onto repeating the beats of the prior instalment, be it in character revelations or in the timing of major plot events.
That being said, I’m increasingly in the habit of approaching idol shows from the meta-textual point of view. Not segregating the shows in the same way Cinderella Girls was from the original iDOLM@STER anime was a bold move, but logic behind takes it’s time to become evident. As much as Aqours exist in a post-m’s world, so does the anime in which they are a part. The challenges Aqours face in the show are the same as the ones Sunshine faced as a restart of a franchise, to a degree anyway. In the time period since the original Love Live launched as a property, it’s kind of easy to forget about exactly how many idol franchises have been launched. A bunch of them people have probably never even heard of, given the number of weird, short-lived mobage there have been that have absolutely zero written about them in the English space. This is even before you even get to the ongoing tendancy to have the token idol character in just about every show in which it could be even vaguely appropriate.
That is, the shows own comment that just being m’s is no longer good enough, and the shows own eventual conclusion of Chika putting that phase of her life behind her, is significant. Whilst it’s not entirely true of a franchise that automatically gets a leg-up on the back of it’s forbearer, it’s something that’s true for an anime series as much as it is for an idol group in the show, for much the same reasons. Love Live’s path to popularity is well known and well documented, but it’s not something that’s directly repeatable for same reason that’s stated in the show – if everyone knows how to do it, everyone will try to do it, and at that point, it immediately becomes not enough. You can’t become m’s by repeating what they’ve done because the battlefield has changed, there’s actually competition there now, and they’ve already tried it. In a world where everyone is m’s, m’s is not special. To succeed, you need to break beyond that and do more, and do it more intensely.
It paints the presumably inevitable continuation into an interesting spot, honestly. As and when (or if) it happens, it’ll be interesting to see what it does removed from the constraints of it’s forbearer.
(Also, That being said, as with the original Love Live, a lot of what ultimately has ended up making the series tick is content extraneous to the show itself – both official and though the vast wealth of fan material that caters to pretty much every possible point of interest one might have in the characters)
(Also Also, I have little I have little Yoshiko and Dia plushes. Read into that what you will (mostly that I couldn’t actually find a matching Ruby))
(Also Also Also, as much as I figured I was probably bored of the chuuni-idol shtick going into it, Yohane is totally my jam. I like the particular twist they put on the character, but that’s a whole other discussion that I probably don’t want to write)
The “Wait, That Was Actually Good?” Award for Show Which Probably Actually Wasn’t But Maybe Was But I Enjoyed Regardless – The Lost Village
There’s probably actually not all that much to say about The Lost Village, other than the fact that it’s now causing me to giggle every time I see promotional material for the new Smurfs movie. It’s an odd show, and one which caused a lot of fairly violent, extremist reactions in people.
The premise of the show is that a bunch of folks who frequent an internet board for those who feel disenfranchised or ostricised by society join a coach trip heading for a mysterious village, missing from all maps, with the intention of setting up their own society. With blackjack. And hookers.
Except for maybe the extremely milquetoast protagonist Mitsumune, the cast is an unsurprisingly weird bunch. The most notable is probably Lovepon, an adorable looking lass who spends most of the time screaming about how she wants to torture or execute anyone she has the slightest cause to want to distrust. There’s plenty of other nut-cases as well, though, such as Hyoketsu no Judgeness, who aside from the hilariously chuuni name (that no-one in the show can actually remember), has it in for Jack on the basis that he inexplicably thinks their names sound similar.
The show was directed by Mizushima Tsutomu, current industry favourite off the back of shows like Girls und Panzer and Shirobako. Given the shows setting – a bunch of people venturing into a supernatural abandoned village – and the way the show initially promoted and presented itself, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the show was going to be a reprisal of his work on Another, in which a supernatural curse resulted in a class full of school-kids dying in unexpected and often grotesquely hilarious ways. This is particularly true when the show was written by Okada Mari – something of the existential despair of, say, her work on Wixoss would not be unexpected for it.
As it puts it’s first foot forward, that’s what the show at least initially looks to be doing. There’s something seemingly off about presumed heroine Misaki, and doubly so once Yottsun, in that grand Horror Movie tradition, disappears after seemingly having made an inappropriate pass at her. The situation quickly escalates through successive disappearances, ultimately leading to Misaki being accused of being a witch.
The show takes a bunch of odd turns from there, but they aren’t necessarily the ones you’d expect. Which is maybe part of the point of the show, to be honest – there’s a lot about the show that’s massively absurdist, else massively counter to expectations. The actual hilarity of the shows ultimate conclusion is that no-one actually died. Everyone makes it through the show in one piece, even Yottsun, having found himself in a much better state of mind as a result.
The ending, coupled with the specifics of things which lead up to it, is one of the things which has made the reactions to the show so violent, with some claiming it to have been the worst anime of the entire year, and started the debate on whether or not the show is supposed to be funny or not. To a degree, the intention behind it is perhaps irrelevant in the face of the result. If you find the sight of a self-proclaimed survival expert being chased around by a giant, monstrous silicon implant in a fashion that’s being played entirely straight hysterical, then you are probably getting something out of it, and whether that’s intentional, or makes the show “good” or “bad”, is maybe not really the point as long as you are finding the proceedings in some way entertaining.
Which I did. Your mileage may vary.
(Also, I can sympathise with adults who feel sleepy and kinda just want to nap. Yawn~~~~)
The “CRIKEY, I bet that really took someone some time” Award for Actual Most ANIMATION show – Sound! Euphonium 2
On the same grounds that I mentioned this last year, really. “Miraculous Harmony” is rather an appropriate title for episode 5, given how staggering the stage performance in that episode is in terms of animation.
I don’t have much to say about this, honestly. I’m aware of some of the criticisms some folks had about some of the early-to-mid-season content, centering around the second year students, but I don’t really share the same reservations about it, and the Mizore stuff largely worked for me. Only real disappointments for me is how little they found to do with a lot of the characters from the first series – Hazuki and Sapphire are entirely extraneous, and even Reina seemed somewhat underplayed at times – but that’s how things go I guess. It did make the continued character focus on them in the shows ED hilarious, given the show wasn’t particularly about them in any real sense anymore. I suppose the trade-off is that we got way more of Yuko and Natsuki’s hijinks, which was probably worth the trade-off.
(Also, Scorching Ping Pong Girls had surprisingly good animation, which is no mean feat given the standard of other shows featuring Ping Pong the last few years. It was doubly hilarious that they perhaps the best cuts for the stuff that happened after the last episodes Saki-esque credits, though I have no faith in ever seeing an animated continuation of that show)
(Also Also, probably some kind of lesson about taking original work spoilers as definates for the adaptation in here somewhere, given the fears running into the second season and how things ultimately played out, though probably also not)
(Also Also Also, best animation trick of the year might actually be Rakugo Shinjuu managing to convey the nuance of Rakugo performance)
(Also Also Also Also, whilst Eupho has some great faces, the Milky Holmes movie probably wins Best Faces of the year, mainly because almost every cut is a faces cut)
The “I Promise This Is The End” Award for Actually Maybe My Favourite Show Of The Year Maybe – Concrete Revolutio
Or, at least, in terms of ambition and how much of it the show managed to deliver on, it’s the thing I respect the most.
I rather talked at length about the set-up to Concrete Revolutio when I wrote about it this time last year, but to shorthand it somewhat, it’s a show set in a version of 1960s Japan in which the heroes and villains of media all actually exist simultaneously. Some people are OK with this, some people really aren’t, and absolutely everyone is at odds about how to manage the whole situation.
The shows first season, perhaps by design, was something of a muddled experience – not only were its episodes not always in chronological order, but even within themselves could be a little free-wheeling in terms of narrative through line. I mean, it’s a show where it’s first season devotes an episode to a story about the same character overlapping his own time-line multiple times over, and concludes with one character having to force a time paradox to anchor a specific version into existance. In comparison, whilst still not exactly linear, The Last Song almost presents itself with the clarity of a Higurashi answers arc.
ConRevo’s first run ended with a series of revelations which causes our sometime protagonist, Jiro, to part ways with the organisation he’d been working for, The Superhuman Bureau, due to an increasing difference in opinion in how to manage those they’ve been tasked to monitor and a specific revelation that cast everything he knew up until then into a different light. This, to the viewer, isn’t particularly a surprise – the shows loose grasp on the concept of linearity means that we’ve know this was going to happen since the very first scene of the first episode.
As it progresses, the meta-narrative themes about the intertwined nature of politics and media become writ-large in the show itself, when a propaganda movie painting the protagonists as villains is released, and segregating Superhumans into the acceptable and unacceptable types, and even the acceptable sorts into those who are with and against the system. Much like how Yokai comics went out of fashion in favour of ESPers and giant robots, the supernatural of the ConRevo universe are ostracised from normal society in favour of science, setting the stage for the shows finale.
As much as I adore Astroboy-come-Sputnik hybrid Earth-chan, the best character is probably Raito. Raito is effectively the shows Eightman analogue, a former policeman rebuilt as an android detective. His arc is perhaps one of the ways the shows convoluted structure works in its favour – we’re first introduced to him as someone who has an overriding belief in the justice system, absolute and unswerving. The show ultimately skewers this in the same episode – it concludes with a jump to the future showing Raito as a renegade in a fistfight with another robot. How someone so staunchly adherent to the company line ended up this way is presented as the mystery that’s slowly unraveled through his appearances across the series, as the seeds of doubt over his actions progressively start overwhelming his own hardware before coming to ahead early into The Last Song, ultimately leading to an arguably more cynical view of the concept of justice more inline with the media of the era in which the show is moving into. Whilst it’s far from being the only interesting thing the show does, it’s probably the most nuanced and considered, and it wouldn’t particularly shock me to hear that the staff had bias towards the character as well given how much more spectacular the scenes in which the character takes action can be compared to the rest of what is on offer.
The second season does have a few more guest written episodes than the first, and a few of those are perhaps a little too on the nose. In particular, Gen Urobuchi’s episode about GI Joes being unable to deal with occultist iconography due to PTSD from supernatural Vietnam wears his habit of writing characters as point-of-view mouthpieces a little too on its sleeve. It’s not a bad episode by any stretch, but it lacks any real kind of subtlety.
Ultimately, the shows finale does end up feeling a little rushed – there’s a rather jarring transition between the shows closing episodes where something it felt the show was building to ended up happening entirely off-screen – but it’s nothing too problematic. That the show actually manages to temper everything – and almost literally everything – that it builds up into what ends up being a satisfying conclusion is nothing short of miraculous. Things set-up and alluded to from the very beginning of the first series are revealed and actually pay-off in a thematically consistent fashion, and it’s all very satisfying as it happens.
The general problem with Concrete Revolutio as a show is perhaps one of what it’s expecting out of its audience. Right off the bat, it has its peculiar non-linear structure to deal with, with the viewer expected to keep things straight in their minds. More crucially, it’s a show that deals in both the political and media history of Japan of the 1960s and 1970s. It makes both explicit references and allusions to actual events of the era, as well and movies, comics, cartoons and television shows which were popular at the time. It’s an awful lot more demanding than most shows, and even more-so for the western audience who can’t really rely on cultural osmosis to pick up on the things the show is making allusions to. Entirely honestly, I was leaning pretty heavily on other people – podcasts and Japanese blogs – to do my homework for me back when I was watching it, but it’s important homework to do to appreciate the full texture of the show. There’s things of worth in the show on purely superficial levels, but it feels like it’s doing the show a disservice to only take it at face value.
The thing is, for most people, the level of investment being asked for from the show probably isn’t going to pay off. As someone who enjoys meta-narrative readings of shows, even for shows which don’t really deserve to be parsed that way, a show which makes it an explicit part of its text is animated catnip to me. If that’s also your thing, you’ll probably enjoy it. If not, it has a robot dude punching another robot dude a lot real quickly.
(Also, the only show I have a poster of hanging on my walls, though that’s mostly because I have a spare so don’t care if it gets particularly trashed)
(Also Also, things I shortlisted to write about but didn’t get to : Scorching Ping Pong Girls, the WUG Sequel movies, Mob Psycho 100, FlipFlappers, and Jojo. I’ve written quite enough at this point, though)