Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Out of the blue, some short impressions on stuff I will be following this winter.

Honourable mentions, good but probably won’t be keeping up with: Endro, HizaUe, Kotobuki

B class residents:

TateYuusha/Rising of Shield Hero: Isekai adaptation blessed with a motivated staff and a decent budget. I felt the opening was a bit too heavy-handed for its own good, but the series has more unique ideas later down the line. Now it is all a matter of whether a proper plot direction can be established and whether character chemistry can save the series from mediocrity. Very easy to follow, though, with a constant mix of action, humour and character development.

Kemurikusa: There is a lot to Kemurikusa that feels fresh, and that is its main forte. The setting, plot progression and dialogue flow are simply different from any other production of the season. That said, the pacing is on the slow side and I actually enjoy listening to the show more than watching it, so I went through episodes two and three while grinding Octopath Traveler on the side.

A class:

Yakusoku no Neverland/Promised Neverland: Probably the top title to recommend to anime outsiders from this season. It is a universal and powerful thriller setup that makes you root for the characters while also being scared of all the possible ways they might fail. Top notch production values with a distinct but down-to-earth artstyle which will keep the show graphically relevant even after years pass. So there is more than enough to like here. However, thrillers live and die by their story developments, and there seems to be a general consensus out there that the first arc is the best part of the show. I am still looking forward to seeing how things play out, though.

Wataten!/An Angel Flew Down to Me: The positive surprise of the season turns out to be a comedy/slice of life show. Ostensibly a yuri series, Wataten gives equal focus to a whole range of personalities and relationships, delivering every episode with a tremendous dosage of warmth. I read a few pages of the manga back when this was announced, and expected very little of the final product. Turns out I was to be smitten yet again by the divine powers of Douga Koubou’s slice of life mastery. And they already have Sewayaki Kitsune announced for later this year…

Egao no Daika/The Price of Smiles: Original story of a twelve-year-old taking over as her country’s queen just as they are all about to be crushed by the neighbouring empire and starve due to a planet-wide crop failure. I can only applaud any show that shows a room full of military higher-ups frowning at a huge stack of lettuce and despairing that the vegetables being delivered to the frontline might swing the tide of battle in the enemy’s favour. With a balanced narrative between the two sides and no obvious solution to the conflict at hand, Egao no Daika might be the show I most look forward to each week. I just hope that the art does not fall completely apart mid-way (it is already struggling at times…) and that they focus on further developing the setting and characters, rather than forcing drama.

Dororo: Solid samurai fare. Another title you might show to an anime outsider without doing much explaining. Hopefully the overarching story ends up no less solid than the episodic offerings so far.

Manaria Friends: What sorcery is this show? Not only is it a yuri series oozing production values from every frame, it might well be one of the season’s bestsellers depending on whatever goodies for the game version and mother-series Shingeki no Bahamut get attached to the discs.

But putting such surrounding circumstances aside, Manaria Friends is a genuine and heartfelt yuri/friendship story. It places its characters in a lovely fantasy setting, but strays away from world-building exposition, preferring viewers to take in the world through osmosis and at their own pace. The focus here is very much on the characters, and so far they are all a blast. Even the princess’s bodyguard who does nothing but follow his lady around becomes a humorous character once we see things from his perspective. The opening episode involves An struggling with the solitude brought about by everyone seeing her more as a princess and prodigy than a person, and while the trope should by all means be worn out from its usage in other places, here it is brought to new life by not only refusing to state the issue openly, but not even letting An herself realise her own predicament and desires until the very moment she is brought relief. At only two episodes in, the series has already impressed a lot, so I will be looking forward to whatever it turns out to be.

So, with seven series on this list and three carry-overs (SAO, Index, Slime), I have a total of ten winter series to follow for a nice average of two episodes a weekday. I am away on a delegation throughout the whole season, as always playing with the legal limits for working time in my country, so spare time is of the essence. I want to avoid wasting too much of it on youtube/social media and just watch some good old anime. Thankfully the winter season appears promising so far.

Advertisements

Image result for mikakunin ecchi

A short news reaction post from me this week, but first a simple quiz for my dear reader. Name the common trait linking the following anime series: Engaged to the Unidentified, Hana Saku Iroha, Toradora, and A Certain Scientific Railgun.

If you guessed that those represent “perverted and vulgar anime content undermining public morality”, you apparently guessed right. Or so say China’s state officials, as they banned Bili-bili’s apps from most shops until all such corrupting content is removed.

There is worthwhile if genuinely perverted content on that list, like KonoSuba (Blessings to This Wonderful World), No Game no Life or Prisma Illya. And then there is drivel like Hand Shakers. But I do not want to argue over an imaginary line of “value” that would make a title of exempt from censorship. If you can see Engaged to the Unidentified or Toradora as immoral, the work’s values probably are not your main concern.

Part of the official statements regarding the matter bring up another point: “[Bili-bili’s anime lineup] contains morally problematic content such as incest, with certain titles earning tens of millions of views”. Would those shows be tolerable if they were unpopular franchises instead? Since they are aware that they are blocking exactly what people want to see or are interested in, I can only see this as China’s very mature “sweep it under the rug” approach I have previously discussed in my fanservice entry.

I believe the state has the right and moral obligation to protect minors from accidental and unintended exposure to controversial material. It is acceptable to err on the side of caution in pursuit of that goal. But when limiting the fully-aware choice of your adult citizens, you can only only end up a hypocrite one way or another.

Anime Bonding Time!

It has only been in the most recent years that I have been able to share some anime with my family. We had that indestructible Sony CRT TV for 20+ years, and there was no reasonable way to connect it to a laptop. But these days I can share some anime whenever I am back home for longer as long as I can find/prepare Polish subs for a given series (the only language my Dad and Mum speak). Anime recommendations for casuals and the older generation are always a popular topic, so here are my experiences.

Image result for mikakunin

Mikakunin de Shinkoukei – Engaged to the Unidentified

Wait, he’s like…a werewolf, and they’re NOT going to talk about it!?

You will not often see this good old slice-of-life/romantic comedy show up in recent anime discussion, but it was a huge hit with my family. The genres are what my parents like best, and the comedy is mostly character-based and not hectic enough for the viewer to get confused or overwhelmed.

Hakuya’s: “What’s your favourite food? -> Anything Kobeni makes.” line struck a chord with everyone, as that is basically how my Dad works. He will eat whatever we feed him in whatever amounts we provide and it will be his favourite food for the moment.

Image result for death note

Death Note

It’s that Japanese thing, right? The moment you get attached to them, they turn out to be evil.

It is easy to go for the gritty and/or inaccessible stuff when you first share anime with people and want to prove how much more it can be than what cartoons are often believed to be. But Death Note is one title that can work just fine. It has depth if you want to read it that way, but generally works like a smart Hollywood thriller.

Mum loved Ryuuk and Rem most (as she did Madoka’s Kyuubey…). Dad would occasionally scoff at the screen: “Nuh-uh. As if they all could be that smart.”

Image result for k-on after concert

K-On!

No way! How silly can those girls get!?

With the timing of its initial broadcast and the role it played in the anime world, K-On! found itself the target of all kinds of accusations, from objectifying female characters to trying to corrupt anime storytelling with the moe disease. With all that noise, it can be easy to forget how casual-friendly the series is, with its simple humour and a cast of lovable characters that can appeal to viewers of all ages and genders.

Mom surprised me when one of the scenes that stuck out most in her memory was that one time when Azusa and Mugi spend some time alone in the clubroom, and Azusa is not quite sure how to lead the conversation. Apparently, great team chemistry becoming uncertain on a person-to-person basis was something that rang true with her own high school memories. And that loving commentary on a time everybody has gone through is what makes the series a great choice.

Image result for yona of the dawn badass

Akatsuki no Yona – Yona of the Dawn

I was about to suggest they just kill him with arrows, but he can swat away those too, eh?

One of those series nobody knows about and everybody loves after watching. Technically this counts as a reverse harem, but there is so much here to enjoy between the politics, action, relationships and a sprinkle of fantasy. I do not associate (reverse) harems with memorable main characters, but Yona’s development in the series is top-notch.

My folks particularly enjoyed the character of the pirate captain – an old lady with a kind heart and balls of steel. People randomly turning out to be dragons also became something of a family meme, so when I later asked my parents for any themes they wanted in our next series, they were like: dragons. So I showed them Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (spoilers: they loved that, too).


What were your ideas for introductory series into the medium? I will happily take inspiration from any recommendations, so feel free to share below.

Be Your All

Image result for i love emilia

Anime is full of incredible couples. Destiny-bound, society-defying and whatever else comes to mind. And to top it all off, they are usually far more than each other’s love interests. If the anime involves fighting, for example, you can almost always expect your couple to fight side-by-side at some point, either directly or with one half of the couple powering up the other half.

I feel silly writing that I sometimes wish for something else. It is no accident those battle couples are so common – they are awesome. How much of SAO’s success stems from Kirito and Asuna tearing through the battlefield hand in hand? Even if you hate the show to bits, you know which parts were good and which bad – and I am quite sure the latter involves Asuna being removed from the front lines. The original Nanoha series ending involves the main characters facing endless armies of faceless drones, and still manages to be exciting. How? Well, it is the first time Nanoha and Fate fight together as allies – which is as sweet as pay-off gets.

But in real life, I have all those weird half-relationships. In the “battlefields” of my professional life, I often work together with some nasty people. Still, many of those jerks are highly competent and reliable. What you get is a weird relationship of mutual trust where both sides know they do not want anything to do with each other in their personal lives, yet are happy enough to join forces whenever necessary. Of course, both parties have people they actually love and come back to after the “battle” is done.

Again, I cannot blame anime for only rarely reaching for those mixed relationships. The most straight example I can think of is Re:Zero. And “I love Emilia” is one the most reviled lines in recent anime history. People saw Subaru and Rem facing the dreadful timelines together, and they wanted the two to share happiness much more then they wanted to see the sideline-princess Emilia involved. What about Hibike Euphonium? With the main characters linked by such a tremendous bond, yet having it clearly stated that the bond was not romantic in nature, both the yuri and non-yuri parts of the fandom were left perplexed at what to think about some of the scenes.

And why do I bring this up? Because of this season’s Hanebado. The Ayano x Elena pair might as well be joined at the hip. There is only one problem: Elena will never ever join Ayano on the battlefield of badminton. The third episode of the series shows how Elena feels uneasy about Ayano’s badminton connections, knowing that she will never truly be part of that circle, and yet is willing to push Ayano into the arms of a potentially dangerous rival in the person of Nagisa, as long as it is all for Ayano’s benefit. Will Hanebado be the rare anime where two spheres of a character’s personal live remain separate and equally important, or are there other developments in store? I nervously await the incoming episodes.

Image result for my hero academia

My Hero Academia is a series I struggle with. There is plenty in there to like, and there are just as many imperfections. The positives, everyone knows: the likeable and colourful characters, the mix of more Western tropes with anime aesthetics, and classic shounen action with high production values. The negatives? Me and MHA had several misunderstanding throughout the initial episodes. One of them concerned Izuku’s famous line where he describes the series as “a story about how he becomes the greatest hero”.

Do not get me wrong, the line mostly functions well in context. It a clearly articulated promise of a zero to hero story from a series which, as a long-running shounen, will require some time until the main character can start kicking ass. It is a refreshing step away from Izuku’s usually timid nature, and possibly foreshadowing that one of the areas in which he will have to improve is his lack of self confidence. It sounds cool. It has impact.

It does not exactly fit, though. Izuku’s circumstance of having inherited his powers from another means that whatever he achieves is the culmination of the efforts of several people. It seems off that Izuku would claim it is all about him at the end of the day. But that is just my approach to pride and modesty – I could accept the character reaching different conclusions. More importantly, the mechanics of Izuku’s power actually make it impossible for him to become the greatest hero ever. This is because looking far into the future, Izuku’s final act as a hero will be to find a worthy successor and give birth to an even greater hero. If he succeeds, he is no longer the greatest, and if he does not, that in itself is a significant failure as the holder of One For All.

But you know what? If there is one good thing I can say about this show, it is that it is constantly improving. Bakugou’s one-dimensional psychotic nature recently got some nice development, while individual arcs started building on each other. And somewhere between the second and fourth cours, Izuku’s introductory line also changed.

そう、これは僕が最高のヒーローになるまでの物語だ。

Yes, this is the story of how I became the greatest hero.

夢に向かって走り続ける。どんな困難に立ち向かい、笑顔で人々を救う、そんな最高のヒーローになるために!

I continue to run toward my dream, standing up to any difficulties and saving people with a smile… in order to become the greatest hero!

I borrow the subs from you-can-guess-where, and first I will address the part of the change they actually reflect. That would be the transition in focus from the final goal to the journey. As mentioned above, the declaration that “the story ends with me becoming the greatest hero” works fine as a one-liner meant to capture the viewer’s attention. However, it is not entirely honest to what the series is about. The greatness Izuku seeks is a distant goal, not a foregone conclusion. The third season makes this very clear: while the great power of One For All is Izuku’s promised future, it neither removes the need to make the right choices, nor does it guarantee a happy end, as Izuku learns in his confrontations with the villains. My Hero Academia is about the growth of its characters, and the show itself has grown past its attention-grab stage and can now freely admit to that focus.

Another change in the line is one the subs try to cover up the best they can in order to preserve the “greatest hero” wording. I will not hold that against the translation – consistency has a value of its own in that world. But there are obvious issues that show up with that take even if you only look at the English text. If you have seen more than half the show, you might wonder when exactly Izuku manages to “stand up to any difficulties and save people with a smile”. He saves one boy – a significant event – and assists All Might and Bakugou. Other than that, Izuku spends the third season howling in pain and crying in anguish in an endless confrontation with his doubts and regrets.

Things make more sense when we realise that the “any difficulties/smile” part of the quote is not a description of Izuku’s present, as the subs would have it, but part of the description of Izuku’s goal – the greatest hero. Again, the avoidance in the translation is understandable. A too-honest approach might give us “…in order to become the greatest hero, who stands up to any difficulties and saves people with a smile”. This sounds awkward and weak as it is a classic case of less is more. If you leave things at “the greatest hero”, the audience is free to imagine all kinds of conditions the perfect hero will meet. If you add two of your own conditions, people will start to wonder: “wait, is that enough to become the greatest hero?”. It almost seems better to avoid this phrasing, except the transition is more than an awkward artistic choice.

Now, note that Japanese has no comparative and superlative. That is just not part of the grammar. If you want to compare things or point to something being “the most”, you add words that have that meaning. And yes, “saikou” is one of those words that can point to a superlative meaning: saikou ni utsukushii “supremely beautiful”. The thing is, the range of meaning is wider than that of the superlative. When we say saikou ni tanoshikatta, it is just a way of stressing that we had great fun. “The most fun I’ve ever had” would be a forced translation which tries to retain the superlative.

So the opening line might refer to great heroes rather than the greatest hero, an interpretation which is cemented by the appearance of an additional word in the new opening line, that being sonna そんな. The word (as well as its full form sono you na) means something along the lines of “like that/of that kind”. It points to the existence of a group or type of the “greatest”. In short, the new opening line goes like this: “I continue to run toward my dream: to become somebody who stands up to any difficulties and saves people with a smile, a true hero”.

This new line is much more in tune with what the third season presents us with. Of special note is the scene in which Endeavor unwittingly becomes the “greatest hero”. A victim of circumstance more than anything else, Endeavor is deeply frustrated with being given the number one without achieving what he really strived for. This reveals how meaningless a singular “greatest hero” is in the context of this series. Further yet, this interpretation empowers the numerous side stories of the other hero candidates highlighted in the series. An universal, if universally difficult, call to greatness means that both Izuku and his colleagues are challenged to move forward and grow stronger until they all embody their ideals.

Somewhere between the lines, My Hero Academia continues to shift and evolve, and so I have hope we can one day be reconciled.

The Idol Paradox

Image result for anime idols

I think no genre betrayed my expectations quite as thoroughly as the idol genre. You see, I was late to watch 2011’s The Idolmaster because as much praise as the series received, it was about idols, and that was one industry I had no interest in. It takes a talented (or at least good-looking) individual and builds a cult of personality around them. Whatever performances those individuals give might be of value, but the real money the industry craves is not in a single CD sold so that somebody can listen to a song. It is in the dozens of CDs and paraphernalia that one person will buy to show their support for their idol of choice. And as the idol in question is simultaneously a normal human being and a product to be marketed and sold, there is a naturally duplicitous element to the idol trade. The images of idols are created to contain only what is pleasing to the audience, while in reality the idol might smoke, have a significant other and hold controversial views. If the truth behind the mask comes to light, there is inevitable outrage at the “betrayal”.

I dislike the idea of that masquerade, as do many otaku. Yes, there is that very real irony of anime characters being idealised far more than any real-life idols are. But here the non-existence of those 2D characters becomes an advantage – they do not live double lives. If one of them so happens to be a forever-cheerful, angelic existence, then that is who they are, unrealistic though that kind of character might seem. Anime characters neither betray the audience, nor are they ever forced to lie or hide inconvenient facts(*1). Which is why there exists a significant divide between the idol and anime fan subcultures, despite both being seen as similar from the outside and described with the shared label of otaku.

So I avoided watching idol anime for a long while, expecting those titles to be about outwardly perfect characters showing off their perfectness to an imaginary audience, all while laying the foundation for an excessive amount of merchandise to be sold to the newly-ensnared fans. Basically, the real-life idol industry as-is except with the difficulties and expenditures of finding and raising a worthy idol-candidate taken out of the equation. And certainly, that is one way to look at what the genre is. In an entry from way back, illogicalzen argues that anime idols are most often a powered up version of their real-life counterparts. While the idealisation of real-life idols mostly plays out on the stage and through interviews and the like, anime idols can take it a step further, showing off perfect and pure personal lives. Indeed, the vanilla anime-idol represents that kind of ideal: a kind and humble soul filled with dreams and a pure love for singing and dancing. For those characters, the idea that it is all just a job, that they can be back to being themselves after forcing a fake smile for a few hours, is entirely alien.

That said, the anime idol also manages to be the very antithesis of their real-life counterpart. While the audience of a real-life idol mostly comes in contact with a finished product, the anime idol is most often a diamond in the rough. In their raw states, those would-be idols can be clumsy, devastatingly shy, or otherwise unfit for being a target of mass admiration. Their growth into somebody worthy of the coveted idol title is a long and arduous journey, and that journey will usually take up the bulk of a series’s runtime. The live performances, so important for real-life idols, return as a high-point, but only take up as little as a few percent of the total screen-time. Even then, the significance of those moments is completely different. One of the great achievements of The Idolmaster is that the viewer naturally slips into the perspective of a producer: when the idols struggle through a last-minute choreography change or come face to face with debilitating trauma, the emotional payoff is not primarily in the beauty of the dance and songs presented, but in the pride and relief that they pulled it off without a hitch, bringing them one step closer to their dreams.

This difference in focus allows idol anime to touch upon topics which might be no-go for a real-life idol. One striking image is that of anime idols with their oxygen masks on in-between musical numbers – a raw admission of how far they are pushing themselves that never quite makes for a simply cute picture. The same goes for internal conflicts and dealing with hiccups without letting the audience know that something is off.

But more importantly, our ability to learn of the anime idols as individual people and come to like them despite their shortcomings means that anime idols can afford to exhibit personality traits unbefitting their real-life counterparts. Last week’s money-grubber list contained Cinderella Girls’ Futaba Anzu, a girl who is in the industry for the money, period. She also happens to be a huge sloth, and were there a surefire way for her to win the lottery and get rich that way, she would likely be quitting the idol industry asap. The same show also features Maekawa Miku, a serious and studious girl with a firm belief about what an idol should be, who strives to give that image justice even if it is far removed from her everyday persona. It is a kind of duality which would seem dishonest were we not privy to Miku’s personal thoughts and moments. In AKB0048, several members of the titular idol group realise that one way to the top is to push everyone down the stairs, and several episodes of the show revolve around the dilemma of taking or not taking that path. In Wake Up Girls, one of the main characters freely admits that the whole idol thing is a stepping stone towards a different career path they actually want to pursue. A focal point of Girlish Number is the frustration of voice actors confronted with the realities of their dream industry. Increasingly, anime idols are allowed to be and feel like imperfect human beings.

All things considered, the transition into 2D represents an opportunity either to further idealise an idol, or humanise them. If the genre continues to thrive, it will be interesting which path it chooses to take. At the same time, the anime industry seems to have found a way around the issue of idol distrust by increasingly turning their seiyuu into quasi-idols. But that is another topic altogether.

(*1) In rare cases, character development can be seen as a form of betrayal by some extremist fans. Famously, one Kannagi character caused an outrage and book-burning after a past love interest of theirs was revealed. Still, this kind of occurrence is more of a curiosity than a common thing in the anime fandom.

Money!!!

Money! Everybody loves money. Some people like it too much and become jerks or commit crimes to get their hands on more cash. You can always count on the wealthy villain to scoff at the poor protagonist, and even the rival basketball team will probably hold their training sessions in an air-conditioned hall, unlike the scrappy protagonist team. Which is why anime characters are advised against having any financial interests. But rules are made to be broken, so here are some of my favourite money-grubbers!

Image result for mizutani shizuku

Mizutani Shizuku (My Little Monster/Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun)

Shizuku’s career goals, with her target yearly salary clearly specified, is some of the first information we get about her in-show. Her ambition serves as a source of motivation, and Shizuku spends a lot of her time studying.

We get a very good idea of what led Shizuku to those life priorities – the positive and negative role models of her life. But the best part of her character development is that when romance shows up in her life, Shizuku is not “cured” of her materialistic tendencies, she just steadily learns how to reconcile them with the emotional part of her heart.

Image result for zeno zoldyck

Zeno Zoldyck (Hunter x Hunter 2011)

The entire Zoldyck family are assassins for hire who are very good at and serious about their profession. While money is often presented as replacing morals, the Zoldyck family seems to go by the credo of “with great fortune comes great responsibility”.

To prevent soiling their family name, Zeno is ready to accept a suicide mission… for exactly as long as it takes other members of the family to assassinate his client. At the same time, the elderly assassin is interested in no more bloodshed than what he is paid for.

Image result for futaba anzu

Futaba Anzu (Idolmaster Cinderella Girls)

With a life motto of “you work you fail”, Futaba Anzu hopes to become a top idol as quickly as possible and then live off royalties for the rest of her life. For all intents possible, her motivation as an idol is as cynical as it gets.

But smart though she is, Anzu fails to notice that her producer is constantly forcing her to work hard as an idol using the illusionary carrot of great fortune. And Anzu’s self-interest does not conflict with her supporting her idol kouhai in their respective carriers, ensuring that we eventually warm up to this endearing sloth.

Image result for scrooge mcduck

Scrooge McDuck

So I could put Bakemonogatari’s Kaiki here, but he just got a mention in the monologues entry, so I will bring up this duck instead. Potentially my first fictional idol.

This crazy miser might be the wealthiest duck in the world, but he never really intends to spend any of his fortune. To begin with, Scrooge’s quest for great wealth started with the then-worthless lucky dime he earns as a shoeshine, and his attachment to the piece of metal is greater than his love for his amassed fortune.

All in all, Scrooge’s bank account serves merely as a scoreboard in his game against the challenges of this world. And he keeps on winning, old age be damned.