Winter 2018 – First Half in Review

That sacred time has come yet again. Once again we’ve arrived at the halfway point of the season, and once again I’ll be foregoing my episodic-specific thoughts in lieu of general feelings on everything I’m watching so far, all sorted into a neat show ranking. As usual, I should impress upon everyone that these show rankings don’t aspire to anything approaching objectivity, and the fact that I’m only doing this ranking here, when many shows have only just finished clearing their throats, means it’s basically impossible to draw any conclusions from them. These rankings also used to feel a bit more meaningful when I actually watched seven or eight shows a season – these days I tend to max out at half a dozen, and generally drop anything I’m not thoroughly enjoying. All five of these shows have been tested and found worthy in their own various genres and specialties, and I’d happily recommend any of them to the right person. But there can be only one champion, so let’s start with my top pick and RUN THIS SEASON DOWN!

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Why It Works: Fresh Highlights of the Crunchyroll Catalog

It’d been a while since my last recommendation grab bag, and Crunchyroll have picked up a pile of stellar shows these last couple months, so this week I dove into that pile and emerged with a selection of old favorites. I am very happy to have basically any excuse to rep Spice and Wolf, as the show is pretty much my gold standard for anime romance, and it was also fun to revisit Starmyu’s exemplary performance sequences. I’ve already watched all this friggin’ anime, I might as well try and lead other people to the good ones!

Fresh Highlights of the Crunchyroll Catalog

Scorching Ping Pong Girls – Episode 3

It’s time for another episode of Scorching Ping Pong Girls! The show’s second episode was a big step up from the premiere, offering a very satisfying match, some nice animation highlights, and plenty of sturdy setup for the payoff of Agari and Koyori’s initial rivalry. I was particularly impressed by the show’s illustration of Hokuto’s unique ping pong powers, which was not only just engaging in a visual sense, but also very clearly conveyed the tactical back-and-forth of the fight, and even ended up underlining Hokuto’s emotional shift throughout the match. The show’s character writing is still only so-so, and Koyori hasn’t quite come into her own as a person, but this arc is clearly centered on Agari’s anxieties, so that’s understandable. Koyori is the intimidating new villain in Agari’s life, and at long last, the time has come for the two of them to truly duel. Let’s see some sparks fly in Scorching Ping Pong Girls!

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Chihayafuru 2 – Episode 1

What the heck you guys let’s watch some more Chihayafuru. Chihayafuru has become one of my steadiest comfort projects in recent months – it’s always a joy to watch, and every episode offers plenty to talk about in a craft sense too, whether it’s through the show’s character work, overall sports drama structure, or the individual choices that bring its matches to life. Though the show certainly has its share of dramatic and aesthetic problems, it nails that ineffable “just one more episode” appeal that is incredibly difficult to achieve and incredibly valuable to possess.

The show’s first season ended on a somewhat unusual conflict, as instead of watching Chihaya herself compete, we last saw the Queen and Master each defend their own titles. In a practical sense, that was pretty much the inevitable result of a faithful adaptation of an ongoing manga – but it also conveniently set the stage for our heroes’ next challenges, and also brought Arata back into the foreground. At this point, my only source of hesitance in starting this season is the fact that we’re probably going to be changing opening songs, and Chihayafuru’s first opening song is one of my all-time favorites. But to live is to change and to change is to suffer, so let’s just accept what we must and GET ON WITH THE KARUTA.

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Growing Up With FLCL

Alright, let’s get to this. FLCL. Fooly Cooly. One of the original “but what is it all about?” anime icons of my generation, as well as just one of the defining cartoons of my generation in general. A show that lit up American screens back in the early ‘00s, standing alongside Cowboy Bebop and, uh, Inuyasha as the shows we stayed up Way Too Late for. And beyond its critical moment in western fandom, FLCL is both a terrific show in its own right and a monument to one of anime’s greatest studios. A story of adolescence so timeless and resonant that it’s inspired a hotly anticipated pair of sequels nearly two decades after its original release. FLCL is still vibrant and alive within fandom, and without it, I’m not sure I’d be writing about cartoons today.

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Myriad Colors Phantom World – Review

Today I’ve got a review of one of Kyoto Animation’s least celebrated recent features, the fairly awkward Myriad Colors Phantom World. The crass fanservice of the show’s first two episodes led me to drop it back when it was airing, but the overall show is a fair bit better than those episodes would indicate. It’s still not good, but it’s a better-than-average entry in its genre with absurdly accomplished visual execution, which is still something!

You can check out my full review over at ANN.

Winter 2018 – Week 5 in Review

This week’s anime was, uh, brief, I guess? I still haven’t caught up on Violet Evergarden and March comes in like a lion is tragically on an Olympics-prompted hiatus, so my current viewing schedule has been reduced to a fine point of four very satisfying shows. And yes, I’d actually call Franxx satisfying, at least if this last episode was anything to go by – it was the show’s strongest episode by far, and finally sold the emotional bonds necessary to make all of Franxx’s stunning visual strengths hit home. This season doesn’t really have a strictly “me” show, but the aesthetic excellence of shows like Franxx and After the Rain are definitely helping to make their not-quite-exactly-me narratives sing. We are watching some astonishing creators strut their stuff this season, and I’m happy to be here to appreciate it!

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Why It Works: Two Kinds of Camping in Laid Back Camp

For today’s Why It Works, I focused on how Laid Back Camp manages the very different goals of its Rin- and Nadeshiko-focused segments, an interesting contrast that I felt nicely illustrated the dramatic range that exists within the larger slice of life genre. This discussion actually helped me sort out my own feelings on the genre a bit; I definitely prefer the Rin-style material exemplified by shows like Flying Witch, but can still enjoy really exemplary articulations of Nadeshiko’s style, like a lot of K-On! Always fun to learn something new about your own tastes.

Two Kinds of Camping in Laid Back Camp

Chihayafuru – Episode 25

Let’s finish the first season of Chihayafuru! This show has been a wonderful ride so far, building up an incredibly charming cast and methodically establishing karuta as a robust sports drama platform. Its matches have slowly but surely laid the groundwork for battles that are now both totally comprehensible in a tactical sense and also inherent reflections of their participants’ styles and personalities. And at this point, the cast is broad enough that the show can pull off exciting matches that don’t even even include any of the main characters.

The show’s weaknesses are equally clear. On the narrative front, the Chihaya-Arata-Taichi love triangle exists in a wibbly-wobbly shoujo romance space that is just never as compelling as the karuta-related drama. Though the show has worked to humanize Arata, in an immediate narrative sense, he’s still framed as some kind of lofty goal for Chihaya in a way that doesn’t really invite any sympathy for her situation. Beyond that, the show’s visual style reflects its director’s fairly one-note vision, bathing everything in golden light and generally aiming more for “functional” than “beautiful.” But the story being told and the matches being played are so enjoyable that I’m not really put out by Chihayafuru’s various issues. Let’s check out the Master finals, and finally see the mountain our boys have before them!

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Simoun – Episode 8

Let’s return to Simoun! We’re really in the thick of it now, with the last several episodes having firmly established Chor Tempest as a meaningful team. Key character-building episodes have built up Para, Kaimu, Limone, and Aaeru, and the overall volume of ensemble scenes have made sure we also have reasonably strong impressions of the team members who haven’t been specifically highlighted. The ultimate effect of all these episodes has moved Chor Tempest from our emotionally neutral vehicle into Simoun’s worldbuilding to a group I personally want to see succeed, just in time for Neviril’s father to threaten the team with total dissolution. I’m guessing this will be the point where Neviril herself returns to being an active part of the narrative, but the show has essentially cleared all its initial hoops of investment, so I’m happy to follow wherever this story leads. Let’s get right back to Simoun!

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