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Sometimes anime characters start talking… a lot. The main selling point of animation is supposed to be things happening and people moving, so building a scene around just talking is a different kind of art and a test for both the staff and the seiyuu supposed to carry the scene. Here are some favourites for that kind of scene. I would call those monologues, but most of these are technically dialogues in which whatever response one side of the conversation can offer ends up not mattering against the verbal onslaught the other carries out.

hatoko

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace – Hatoko’s outburst (ep.7)

Inou Battle is studio Trigger’s mostly forgettable second series. However, it does have this scene, which is sure to keep it relevant at least as long as Hayami Saori remains active as a voice actress. Type “inou battle hatoko” into youtube and you can quickly get this scene as the top result.

Hatoko’s three-minute-long tirade is a result of years and years of pent-up frustration finally exploding. The initial stage is that of (plenty justified) anger at being brushed off once too often by a dear friend. But as further layers peel off, we see the sadness and finally desperation come to the surface. Were Hatoko just angry, an opportunity to let off some steam might have been enough. But here, the deeper issue is Hatoko’s fear and powerless frustration at seeing someone dear moving further and further away from her, beautifully expressed by the voice acting.

Hayami Saori pulled the scene off with no retakes during recording. Which just makes me imagine her verbally abusing her room mirror in preparation.

[FFF] Tokyo Ravens - 22 [BD][720p-AAC][8FB73474].mkv_snapshot_15.52_[2018.05.20_15.00.38]

Tokyo Ravens – Kon chastises Harutora (ep.22)

As most people already know, Asian languages tend to put a lot of weight on politeness, sometimes to a fault. It can be difficult to talk frankly and firmly with your superiors, even when the situation absolutely requires it.

Kon is a living example of this, as her nature as a familiar and complete and utter devotion to her master make her unwilling to even consider the possibility that Harutora is in the wrong, much less bring up such doubts out loud. But when the situation gets dire and her desperate master is about to get manipulated by the resident pair of villains, Kon is ready to grasp the nettle.

What follows is the most polite trashing session of Harutora’s life. Expertly using both the carrot and the stick, Kon first makes her master realise that he is an idiot and traitor to the memory of his beloved, and then uses his own words to lead him towards an ambitious, but more productive course of action. Listen as her tone shifts from trepidation to a no-nonsense bark, then to honeyed cajoling, and ultimately to a firm declaration of what should be done.

And then tail-wiggling ensues.

kaiki

Monogatari series – Kaiki Deishuu talks Nadeko out of being a god (S2, ep.26)

Well, the Monogatari series is all about characters endlessly talking to each other (or having internal monologues) and is thus ripe with examples. But while the main Araragi-centric narrative tends to get a bit preachy with its take on character flaws, letting two side characters duke it out during the conclusion of Nadeko Medusa/Hitagi End brings something fresh and enticing to the series.

Part of it is the obviously high stakes involved – Kaiki’s words are the only thing standing between him and death. Another thing is that, to quote the show: “Araragi is a bad influence on Nadeko”. During Nadeko’s introductory arc, she is close to being a non-character. Here, in Araragi’s absence, she gets a chance to shine with her own flaws and quirks. Finally, as the show also admits, Kaiki is the right person for the circumstances. As the sly conman somehow manages to steer the potential bloodbath towards a surprisingly wholesome resolution, the viewers are left with full freedom of interpretation regarding the feelings and true intentions of the characters involved.

[Mazui]_To_Aru_Kagaku_no_Railgun_-_24_[F64E8354].mkv_snapshot_11.40_[2018.05.20_14.53.32]

A Certain Scientific Railgun – Uiharu’s pretend-conversation with Kihara (S1, ep.24)

The finale of each Railgun season makes sure to give each character their time in the spot light, the catch being that half of the characters can blow up buildings with reality warping powers, while the other half could not handle a rabid dog if necessary. Still, the conclusion to the first season proves there is many a way to be badass as Uiharu figures out the location of the villain’s trump card and passes the information on to her hidden comrade all while keeping the villain in question occupied and unaware of what is going on. The heart of this faux-conversation is revealed in the very first line:

Capacity Down desu ne!? / That’s Capacity Down, isn’t it!?

This should be as basic a Japanese sentence as it gets, except for the single emphatic particle at the end. And when asked what emphatic particles like the above “ne” (or others like “yo”, “zo”, “ze” and the like) actually mean, the usual explanation is that they do not mean anything by themselves, rather adding colour to a sentence. “Ne” can be used to soften a statement while also seeking confirmation or approval from the listener – thus some of the sub groups render it as “isn’t it” in the translation. But the key point in this case is that the particle singularly controls the theme/rheme distinction for the sentence. In other words, it signalizes that the information contained in the sentence is common knowledge and old news (the theme) for both the speaker and the listener, rather than something new the speaker wants the listener to understand (the rheme).

In this scene, Uiharu has to succinctly and clearly explain what Capacity Down is and how to deal with it to Saten, who is listening in on the conversation from her hiding place but has little knowledge of and is unable to experience Capacity Down the way espers do. At the same, she has to use various tricks like the above to keep up the charade that she is talking to Kihara to prevent her friend from being detected. All that while her head is being torn apart by the Capacity Down signal and with a deadly mech closing in on her. Sweet stuff.

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People always complain that this or that line of their favourite show should have been translated differently, but you know what? These days, with professional translation almost always done based on a reliable script and the ability to research things on the internet, the really crazy translation errors no longer happen. Let me take you twenty years into the past, to a time when TV stations in this weird country called Poland translated based on translations of translations, and did it by ear.

Image result for goku songo

This guy? You might know him as Son Goku. Well, they told us he was called Songo, and who were we to doubt that? And tough guys don’t need a last name anyway.

The green alien guy? I hear people call him Piccolo, but it’s obviously Satan Tiny-heart. Laugh and he’ll hit you with his evil heart beam.

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I have previously mentioned the poor Demon Lord Death Fog ending up as a Dead Frog in the Polish version of the Slayers, or rather Magical Warriors, as we know them. But there is more to the story.

The scene where this comes up is when Xellos gives Lina an explanation regarding the Demon Blood Talismans. In the original, he explains that the talismans hold the power of/have a connection to the four Demon Lords: Ruby Eye Shabranigdu, Dark Star Dugradigdu, Chaotic Blue and Death Fog. In the Polish version, the poor chaps end up as mere ingredients of the talismans: a ruby eye, a dark star, some chaotic blue and a dead frog.

Another memorable part of the translation concerned the Elmekia Lance spell (among others). Sometimes it would show up as-is. But a week would pass and the spell would return as Thunder Sickle, or Thunder Hammer, or Sicklehammer. There was some serious multiple personality disorder thing going on with the spells…

Image result for shun saint seiyaThis Saint Seiya (aka Knights of the Zodiac) character had many viewers confused regarding his or her gender… and apparently, that applied to the translation staff, too. Rumour has it that Shun would switch genders between episodes depending on who was doing the translation at the time.

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Saving the best for last, a true legend in the history of Polish TV translation. This Sailor Scout calls upon her magic powers to unleash a powerful Crescent Beam.

Beam, beam… it kind of sounds like “bean”, right? Can’t blame the translator for mishearing that one. But wait, why would a bean be crescent? That does not make any sense, better adjust the attack name to something more cohesive. Beans, beans… what goes with beans? Oh, yeah! Now behold the power of Venus:

“Peas and Beans!”

No, really.

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Nope, not this.

There are three common definitions for anime filler I see most often:

  1. Anime-original content
  2. Anime-original content that fully preserves the status quo of a series
  3. Anime-original content characterized by particularly weak writing and/or out-of-character moments (may or may not preserve the status quo)

I’m bringing this up because if we go by the third definition, “good filler” becomes an oxymoron, and that approach to the word is by no means uncommon. And it is no wonder that the word filler has become a pejorative term. How often do we see filler as a response to an actual need – additional development or answers, and how often is it a lesser evil – oh-crap-we-ran-out-of-material-better-drag-this-out? The difference between the two is all too obvious even to viewers with no knowledge of the original material, especially if there is a hundred episodes’ worth of side-quests suddenly derailing the main story.

Still, like some kind of legendary creature, good anime original content (good filler!?) can sometimes be sighted. Let us take some photos of those oddities.

Image result for slayers trySlayers Try

The year was 2001. The now long-defunct RTL7 TV station had begun airing the initial Slayers trilogy with one-man Polish voice-over. All insults about the main character’s flat chest carefully edited out so as not to blemish the young hearts of the children watching and the demon lord Death Fog coming out as Dead Frog thanks to the wonders of by-ear translation, this was indeed a magical time.

In Slayers Try, our trusted brigade challenges a new continent and an even greater evil. Importantly, with the addition of the Golden Dragon (spoilers!) Filia Ul Copt to the main cast, we had an even number of heroes, and people could label their fanfiction with the shorthand “trad couples” instead of typing out Lina/Gourry, Amelia/Zelgadis, Filia/Xellos.

Little did we know that Filia, well developed though she might be, was an anime-only character. Moreover, Amelia and Zelgadis were kind of shoehorned into the new adventure because there was no way the anime crowd would stand them sitting this one out!

Actually, I still kind of can’t believe it.

Tags: Anime, Pixiv Id 3936903, Naruto The Movie: The Last, NARUTO, Hyuuga Hinata, Uzumaki Naruto, Fanart From Pixiv, Fanart, Pixiv, NaruHina

Fanart by anele

Naruhina filler

Now, I am actually pretty lukewarm about Naruto pairings. While I cheered for Hinata finding confidence and happiness in life, I could have probably accepted Naruto ending up with Sakura or some other character. But honestly, if you have two characters married and expect people to watch a show about their children, you could, like, show them interacting or something? Pretty please?

At least the anime had the decency to give the two some filler screen-time together.

(Barely watched any of it, as I dropped the anime version when the first wave of fillers came, but I did see Hinata’s version of the 64 palms and it was cool.)

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Yu-Gi-Oh! Doma/Orichalcos arc

Not all of it by any means – the finale involves multiplying infinity by three to make it greater than infinity (Japanese maths). But there is something going on when possibly the most famous scene of a show comes from a filler arc (if you have never watched this part of the show, or the show in general, feel free to type in “berserker soul” into youtube).

In other news, the overpowered main character gets his first genuine loss (spoilers!) as his inner darkness, hinted at throughout the entire show but never fully addressed outside this arc, comes back to bite him. This is a daring filler arc that leaves itself just enough of an excuse with the whole Orichalcos stuff not to derail the main show.

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Railgun filler

While A Certain Scientific Railgun itself stands out as a spin-off I consider better than the mother series, many of its best moments are delivered in anime-original arcs. If I am allowed to name only one scene in the show that left me with my mouth hanging open, it would be that one time when Misaka screams her head off and starts charging a shot, somehow assuming that Kuroko is around to hear and will deliver a projectile right into her arms in the nick of time… and that actually happens.

A fan of the other characters? Uiharu dissecting the villain’s master plan and its weakness while making sure the good guys’ last comrade remains undetected? Here you go. Saten overcoming state-of-the-art technology with the use of her trusty baseball bat? Coming right up!

While the main characters are busy showing off, side characters receive well-deserved closure (Ganbare! Kiyama-sensei!). And in the final act of the second season, Academy City itself takes a stand against some of its dirt, fleshing out the setting beyond what the eternally-busy original series could afford. While some dislike Railgun for its Hollywood-esque cheese, it is some tasty cheese indeed.

Then there are series where the anime-original content devoured what it was based on and somehow ended up being better (coughK-On!cough). But that might be a different topic altogether.

So, what is your best filler?

 

The Art of Failure

Yamcha death pose

Failure is not an option, at least if you are one of those DBZ villains. Once the main heroes overcome the hurdle you represent, their power levels will jump to values that make them invulnerable to your attacks, and your only choice is to be forgotten. Your options broaden slightly if you are the protagonist. In this case, you are allowed to lose as long as that lights the fire of your determination and leads into a training montage. Top it all off with a rematch that settles the score once and for all… sending your rival to the sidelines, right next to those DBZ villains.

Defeat feels bad, and victory is sweet. That much is obvious, and it makes it difficult to blame authors for how they use the two in crafting their stories, the good guys having their way in the end. But there are problems involved, too. In shounen stories, discarding a character after a loss means that you have to create dozens of them just to move the story along, and not all might end up with any depth to them. And to establish the threat level of a new villain, you will have to show them victorious over one of the good guys – creating many a Yamcha on the protagonist side, gawking and commenting but forever unable to contribute to the story except as fodder.

But as tricky an ingredient as defeat is, it can be used to produce unique and strangely enticing dishes. You can show a character failing, and make that the highlight revealing exactly how cool they are.

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One of my favourite scenes in Princess Principal involves one of the heroines confronting a powerful antagonist in order to protect her friend… and getting one-shotted in the process. The nine-second scene allows the character, Beato, to achieve nothing against the antagonist, neither wounding them nor even particularly slowing them down, and the audience knows for sure that even Beato’s survival is the result of pure luck – getting hit in just the right place.

The thing is, that scene makes me respect Beato more as a member of the protagonist team. It is not the emotional aspect of her willingness to self-sacrifice herself for her dearest friend – we already knew that part and its nothing unusual among protagonists. But Princess Principal is a non-chronological series with time-skips between each episode. While Beato became part of the team for her specialized espionage skills, we had never seen her conduct any kind of combat, and had every reason to suspect her of being completely incapable of handling such situations because of her background as a nobleman’s daughter with no combat training.

Open the box and the result is something of a surprise. Remember how I mentioned the scene being only nine-seconds long? That includes character reactions and a few short lines from by-standers. Which means that there is no time for hesitation, facing fears or the like. Beato takes maybe two seconds to take her position, steady her aim and fire a single shot. The audience gets to see the moment the bullet collides with the wall from Beato’s perspective, and it turns out to be a well-aimed headshot, if one that the antagonist effortlessly dodges. Even the sparks from the the bullet’s collision seem to be following the antagonist’s dive to the side – maybe an artistic hint that Beato was trying to adjust for the last moment dodge.

Through a scene which does not in any way undermine, but rather solidifies an antagonist’s superiority, we learn that the weakest member of the main group could still ruthlessly take down an ordinary soldier with no hesitation. It is because of the vast and obvious difference in ability that we can see the character as overperforming even as she gets completely destroyed. Beato seems to have a knack for that kind of scene – a few episodes later we learn she is versed in lip-reading when she fails to do just that because of an antagonist wearing a veil.

Image result for ochako badass
Then there is the quality of failure. I hold many things against My Hero Academia, but I can tell a good scene when I see one. Ochako forcefully dragging a foregone conclusion into “just maybe” territory during her clash with Bakugou is one such scene. It skilfully juxtaposes the shallow comments of an audience caring only for the likely result and the combatants in full awareness of the possibilities. Ochako latches onto the possibilities, while Bakugou is as determined in tearing them apart. By the end of it all, the mutual respect between the two makes it feel like a victory was achieved regardless of the referee’s decisions. And when tears are shed after the match, every one of them feels hard-earned and a worthy foundation of a tomorrow.

Image result for brain unglaus shalltear
At times, portrayals of failure may even cause a small revolution in the viewer’s perspective on things. The second season of Overlord treats us to a rematch between Brain Unglaus and Shalltear Bloodfallen. Their first meeting was not much of a battle, to the point that Shalltear does not even remember who the poor bloke facing her is, while Brain is crushed enough that he ends up on the streets, despairing over the meaningless years of effort he had poured into his swordsmanship. We see Brain pick up the pieces over the course of the second season, and when he faces the vampire for a second time, he is very much like the traditional protagonist, ready to overcome the demons of his past.

Only, he is well aware that reality will not bend to his will and that he stands no chance in hell to win the fight. And then, based on the very assumption that he is worthless trash in the face of his opponent, he comes up with a strategy that allows him to deal the smallest bit of laughable and insignificant damage. That is infinitely more than the zero achieved last time, and the achievement acts as the crowning moment of Brain’s recovery arc. However, even as we are shown Brain’s relief and exhilaration, the audience knows that the success, if it may even be called by that name, has been achieved by moving the goalposts. By a lot. To a large extent, Brain’s story is a parody of a hero’s journey, its dramatic moments amounting to nothing. But the remaining part is genuine praise for the man and the answer he finds: at the end of his journey, Brain becomes master of his own inevitable failure and manages to squeeze something out of that nothing.

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If you try looking for it, those kind of scenes can be found in most well-written series. A simple narrative locks the viewer in a simplistic world-view of black and white, success and failure. A complex one makes him notice and appreciate the many shades of grey. But most importantly, we, the viewers, are bound to fail at least as much as we succeed as we deal with the challenges of everyday life. And it is reassuring and inspiring to be shown and reminded that there can be greatness in failure. That you can be cool even as you are defeated. We need that message, because while a hero’s miraculous victory is fine for a momentary emotional rush, none of use can magically pull out a 100000000% punch just because the 100% one failed.

Hai-Furi

As you would expect from Girls und Panzer on water, Hai-furi has more than its fair share of characters taking care of all the tasks aboard their ships. While we will probably end up calling most of them by their post (torpedo-girl, navigation-girl and so on), the show is also kind enough to highlight the main players by giving them special nicknames, and it seems cats are the name of the game.

Misaki Akeno’s "Mike", China Moeka’s "Moka" and Munetani Mashiro’s "Shiro" are all popular cat names, along the lines of “Spot”, “Mocha” and “Snowy” respectively. While some other members of the crew also get catlike nicknames, the above three also have a color theme going on (tricolor, brown and white). Akeno’s nickname in particular is the classic name for calico cats, and if Suzumiya Haruhi taught us anything, it is that the tricolored fellows are natural main characters of the Japanese feline world.

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More importantly, the naming pattern is unmistakably meant to foreshadow the catfight that the love triangle will eventually lead to. Moeka seems easily in the lead right now, but the road ahead is uncertain. Typical anime tropes would have Akeno’s kindness and cheer break though the tsun-tsun wall of her deputy-captain just in time for the two to face, and ultimately overcome, Moeka’s behemoth of a ship. But a twist or two could not possibly hurt, right?

Looking forward to where the choices those kittens make will lead them.

Overlord

After a rather tame two years in 2013 and 2014, I feel like this year was a very strong one (if top-heavy) despite me watching fewer series than usual. Without further ado, here is a list of the series I found noteworthy this year (movies and OVAs not included):

yoru no yatterman

#12 Yoru no Yatterman

To be perfectly honest, the amount of brilliance packed into this series should put it far above most series on this list. Metaphorically, this series can be seen as Japan’s rare but highly appreciated attempt to discuss and make peace with its “tainted past”. Even without that layer, though, there is so much here to chew on. The change of a society through acts of heroism is something we have seen often enough, but Yoru no Yatterman shows that there are half a dozen types of heroism, many thankless and forever unnoticed, and only combined do they give hope of success. The same goes for leaders, with the great mover of a given era often not being the one who can introduce stable change.

That said, there is so much wrong with this series, too! The god-awful humor, several episodes’ worth of filler and the final episode airing only half-done… Remake this into a watchable movie, please, and it can be truly great.

maria

#11 Junketsu no Maria

A unique series with a strong focus on mediaeval Europe and its Church, led by a genki, do-good character who manages to be just a bit selfish and realistically flawed. The series strikes where it counts against the many incongruities of the Catholic Church without forgetting about developing its drama on the level of individual characters. However, the ultimate resolution feels somewhat rushed; the series’ critical approach to over-intellectualization of faith leads it to conclude that we should all just trust our hearts over our minds. This is not a bad approach, and one very much in tune with the contemporary Japanese approach to religion, but certainly it is not without its own flaws, which the series does not touch upon in its finale.

rolling 

#10 Rolling Girls

It seems to me that Rolling Girls takes the viewer some twenty years into the past, when it was not quite clear what sells in terms of animated works. Back then, there was plenty of either redundant or over-the-top content in many productions, but many series also had a quirky charm to them less often found in today’s more streamlined (and oftentimes clichéd) productions.

When Rolling Girls did not work, it was incomprehensible or just not gripping enough. But when it worked, it worked. It is a refreshing soul-searching story where the characters who start out as nobodies are still nobodies by the series’ end. And amidst all the absurdity, both the human drama and space-squid drama ring true, leaving a strong impression. 

seiken tsukai

#9 Seiken Tsukai no World Break

Can you make an anime if given a stone and two sticks? Apparently you can. With literally laughable production values but outstanding sound direction, Seiken Tsukai no World Break exceeded all expectations regarding its entertainment value. Mind you, you do need to watch it with commentary or friends to get the most laughs out of it.

(I do hope all the comedy was intentional, though…)

illya zwei

#8 Fate/kaleid Liner Prisma Illya 2wei Herz

With the previous season doing unexpectedly well on this list last year, it is not much of a surprise seeing Illya here. The production values, the lovable characters and the fluid movement between action, drama and comedy are all still to be found in this installment. Kuro using trace powers to cheat at festival games was one of my favorite comedy moments this year, while using the problems of a budding fujoshi to parallel the building tension between Illya and Miyu made for some good setup.

Two strikes against this series: a few fillerish episodes and a somewhat subpar resolution of the main plotline. I praised Illya’s character arc in the second season, but while solving Illya’s issues through Illya’s development made perfect sense, solving Miyu’s issues through Illya’s development is kind of puzzling. There is another season in the works, so I look forward to seeing the new balance between the characters there.

kiseijuu2

#7 Parasyte Sei no Kakuritsu

An old-school sci-fi thriller with an environmental message. The series starts off strong, starts wandering about somewhat in the middle, but manages to finish things neatly. A stellar performance by Hirano Aya as the main character’s parasitic right hand. several good twists along the way and a pinch of grit where necessary make for a solid entry into the list.   

biyori repeat

#6 Non Non Biyori Repeat

Slice of life shows rely largely on the atmosphere they can produce, and few shows can beat Non Non Biyori in the atmosphere department. When Renge ventures out on her first trip to the school building, it is the kind of setup where the viewer is conditioned to expect something unusual to happen, but NNB easily proves that simple everyday occurrences are quite enough for an adventure if seen from the right perspective. NNB is a series that celebrates life, but speaks as much about the eventual passing of things: Renge’s opening ceremony might well be the school’s last – a tacit admission the show leaves for the viewers to pick up on.

symph

#5 Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX

This year’s Symphogear stayed true to itself, with some of the craziest action sequences of the year, while completely reversing the power balance between good and evil from the previous season. And yes, great music came out of it.

The first few minutes of this season are already near-legendary, what with cutting down mountains and whatnot. After the perfect first two episodes, the season goes into character arcs, some of them hit-or-miss, and concludes in a cinema-worthy slugfest.

This season’s plot might have benefitted from a less-is-more approach, as too many issues were tackled on at once and problems getting resolved in the same episode they were introduced does not make for great buildup. Still, all the characters took a step forward by the end of the season, which is always a good thing.

rokka_no_yuusha_wallpaper_by_redeye27-d92l8za

#4 Rokka no Yuusha

The tale of six seven eight brave men and women who gathered in a forest, then went on to fight a demon king never left that forest.

Rokka was all-out genre-defying. There was bromance, infighting, confessions, investigations… and they never left that forest.

gakkou gurashi

#3 Gakkou Gurashi

I was ready for this to fumble. After all, it would be easier to miss this show’s airing altogether than to avoid getting spoiled about the “twist”. So throughout the first episode, I only saw an acceptable prologue, and all would be decided by seeing whether the series could build anything upon the foundation of that twist.

But no fear – the series would build more than plenty. The twists were mostly a formality, conscientiously telegraphed ahead of time. The real-deal was how the characters reacted to those twists, and why they reacted in those particular ways. As a zombie story, Gakkou Gurashi speaks of survival at all costs, but merely staying physically alive is not enough to keep a human mind going. The frail order of the “group insanity” the girls establish is an inhomogeneous set, with each member accepting their own degree of psychological compromise.

The creation of reality through human will. Great stuff.

shirobako

#2 Shirobako

You know, in Girls und Panzer, Mizushima Tsutomu focused on a highly detailed and faithful portrayal of tanks to establish a firm sense of reality, then went on to do all kinds of crazy stuff with the tanks that you would never see in a live-action movie. Those “cool lies” can only work because their meticulous execution makes them indistinguishable from reality.

Shirobako is a repeat performance here, with some parts of the setting potentially aggrandized, but with the viewer none the wiser. The people, the problems, all of it rings true. Which is why the messages have depth and the over-the-top sequences work as humor.

Shirabako had a nearly perfect two-cour run, with several different episodes feeling ending-worthy. I think it did stumble a bit during the director and manga company clash – those crucial scenes were all metaphor and no meat, not what the series has us used to – and the final episode was more a quiet epilogue than anything else. But altogether the series remains a tremendous accomplishment. Shirobako would easily take the top spot on the yearly list had it aired in 2013 or 2014. It would have taken this year, too, except for…

Hibike-Euphonium

#1 Hibike! Euphonium

If Shirobako had a near-perfect run, Euphonium went the whole way. It was a pleasure to go along with the series’ deliberate pacing, trusting it to take you where it will.

Many people who enjoyed this bring up their musical past, but I could never play an instrument to save my life. I think I played the xylophone in primary school for a few weeks or something. I was class representative for many years, though, and it were the school faction wars presented here that felt all too familiar.

Alongside Death Parade this year, Euphonium is one of those shows that tell you a lot about the viewer. Many people were satisfied to see this as a story where a skill-based meritocracy slowly earns its deserved position and provides the results desired. But the Kitauji compromise the series presents is a much richer canvas, and characters on all sides are humbled by the time the curtain drops.

Visually, the series was breathtaking, but never gaudy. Starting from the color scheme, Euphonium is all about restraint. This doubles the impact during the short moments when the series does go full-out, like during Reina’s phantasmagoric confession scene.

Euphonium might also well be close to my ideal of an anime adaptation. I expect many would be surprised at how the essence of the show was optimized for the new medium without changing the outwardly visible structure. It is a delicate balance, and something that was beautifully preserved here.

Here’s hoping for another good year! Feel free to share your own 2015 favorites.

Full list of titles watched below. The * mark is for the many shows I took a look at but never finished.

1. Absolute Duo*

2. Aria the Scarlet Ammo Double A*

3. Assassination Classroom *

4. Blood Blockade Battlefront*

5. Chaos Dragon*

6. Charlotte*

7. Chivalry of a Failed Knight

8. Death Parade

9. Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan*

10. Dog Days S3

11. Etotama*

12. Fate/kalleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei Herz!

13. Fate/say night: Unlimited Blade Works

14. Gundam Build Fighters Try

15. Himouto! Umaru-chan*

16. Kantai Collection: KanColle

17. Kuroko’s Basketball S3

18. Lance N’ Masques*

19. Log Horizon S2

20. Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha ViVid

21. Maria the Virgin Witch

22. Mikagura School Suite*

23. My Love Story!! *

24. Non Non Biyori Repeat

25. Overlord

26. Parasyte -the maxim-

27. Plastic Memories*

28. Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace*

29. Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

30. Rolling Girls

31. School-Live!

32. Seiyu’s Life!

33. Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX

34. Shirobako

35. Show By Rock!! *

36. Sound! Euphonium

37. The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls

38. World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman

39. Yatterman Night

40. Yurikuma Arashi

41. Yuru Yuri San Hai!

ゆゆゆ2

Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero is a story notable for several reasons, one of them being its portrayal of a semi-theocratic society. We are shown hints of the setting’s god-tree religion affecting the education system and government, and obviously religious undertones would make into the everyday lives of ordinary households and leave a mark on the naming patterns of children. In fact, every character in the show bears some mark of this religious influence.

Starting from the Washio generation:

Tougou Mimori’s name means simply "beautiful forest".

Minowa Gin’s name means "silver", which is formed with the "metal" and "root" radicals. The "root" reference probably doubles as an indication of Gin’s role in the group as the one keeping the other two safe.

Nogi Sonoko’s name refers to a "garden", which is most understandable if you imagine Japan’s extensive shrine and temple gardens. As a sacred space, the gardens create a small world to house the Japanese gods. On the one hand, this represents the inner sanctum that the Nogi family, as one of the most influential Taisha families, is responsible for. On the other hand, the Shikoku barrier can be seen as a miniature garden – a place of purity cut away from the impurity (death and destruction) of the world outside. In this sense, Sonoko’s name represents all the beauty left in the world as well as humanity’s hope.

During her time spent with the Washio family Mimori’s name was changed to Sumi. It is a special name insofar as it makes sense for it to be given with a clear cut purpose in mind. If you ignore the kanji and just look at the reading, the name refers to "purity", hinting at Mimori’s role as a miko/shrine maiden to the god-tree. As regards the kanji, the "su" part once more refers to Mimori’s "duty", while the "mi" part signifying beauty is borrowed from her original name.

For the younger generation.

Inubouzaki Itsuki’s name is the "great tree" straight out of the god-tree compound.

Miyoshi Karin has the "two-branch tree" radical slipped into the second kanji of her name, "rin", meaning "elegant, of stern or highly composed demeanor". Interestingly, that is the older variant of the kanji, with the newer one having a "shrine" radical in place of the "two-branch tree".

Yuuki Yuuna’s name seems to have no trees in it at first glance, but that is because the upper part of the "na" kanji was simplified along the way. With the kanji originally composed of a "tree" over a "shrine", the original meaning was that of a "fruit offered to the gods". The fruit in question was offered when seeking guidance from the heavens, so the kanji also meant *what should be done?". With the two "yuu" kanji in her name referring to "bringing people together" and "friendship" respectively, Yuuna seems to ask the question and provide the answer all in one.

Inubouzaki Fuu is a mystery to me. If you dig far enough back, the kanji for "fuu" seems to have originated from the same inscription as the 鳳 kanji referring to the divine bird (phoenix), which was considered a messenger from the gods. The contemporary form of the kanji replaces the "bird" radical inside for what is now most often known as the "bug" radical, which in this case represents reptiles; as beliefs changed, people came to believe it were dragons, rather than birds, that lived in the skies and controlled the winds.

But a "fuu" name could have contained a god or tree reference much more easily just by sticking a "tree" radical to the "wind" kanji discussed above to get the "maple" kanji 楓 – the reading can stay as-is. Whether this was intentionally avoided (to point to Fuu as the one least loyal to Taisha, especially towards the end of the story?), or whether there was some other reasoning for this particular name/writing, I cannot be sure.

そのこ

The last names in Yuyuyu also matter, especially with the Washio generation. Other than the Nogi last name meaning “of the tree”, making them the obvious big-shots in this world, there are many significant real-world references packed in there:

  • Mimori likes being called by her last name, Tougou, because it tickles her history-otaku and nationalist fancy. She happens to share her last name with the famous Japanese admiral Tougou Heihachirou.
  • Sonoko shares her last name with Nogi Maresuke, a famous Japanese general
  • The above two lived in the same times, known as the “Nogi of the land and Tougou of the sea”, and were acquainted with each other… whether the two got along is a different matter
  • When general Nogi died, he was deified as a god of war (and education and marital affairs) and a shrine was built for him… partly for the purposes of the Japanese army’s propaganda
  • The above happened when Tougou was still alive, and Tougou was appalled to hear that the navy planned to do the same to him to regain the balance of power between the land forces and the navy. He strongly expressed his objection to the idea… but was deified anyway after his death (there are three shrines bearing his name)

Readers can probably see how the above parallels the story of Yuyuyu with Mimori learning that Sonoko was turned into a god for the Taisha’s benefit, only to be set on the same track against her will. Yuyuyu questions whether in creating heroes, we are not taking advantage of people for our own benefit.

Additional Notes:

Minowa Gin’s short, one kanji name gives off a somewhat boyish image.

I particularly like the usage of the “ko” ending in Sonoko’s name. In contemporary usage, the “ko” ending for female names ended up being so popular that around 1960, almost all women had names ending that way. That in itself became so clichéd that now parents often actively avoid adding “ko” to names. For this reason, the “ko” ending in anime is perfect to create “average Jane” background characters.

However, historically, the “ko” ending was reserved only for females of the highest social class, holding offices at court and in administration. The later popularity of the name came exactly because the “commoners” envied the image of sophistication and prosperity the ending carried.

With Yuyuyu bringing back social elements of Japan’s past, Sonoko’s name carries with it the elegance and dignity of the well-bred part of society.