I am seriously steaming in anticipation here, and I’ve had to wait six freaking hours to get off work and watch this, but let’s just take the briefest of moments to cover what we’ve got here.
At the beginning of 2013, I was fairly sure Kyoto Animation were my favorite animation studio. Sure, I thought Lucky Star was incredibly dull, and K-On was pretty much the most empty thing I’d ever attempted to watch, but I enjoyed Haruhi, and they’d recently entered a trajectory of show creation that had left me pretty much stunned. Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was the first step, easily surpassing anything they’d done before, redeeming the incredibly self-indulgent second season of Haruhi, and basically proving how powerful their mastery of subtle character animation could be when applied to a story with some actual substance and resonance to it. This still seemed like a freak outlier, though, so when Hyouka arrived, I was still extremely on-the-fence about the studio. Hyouka ended all that – Hyouka was careful and personal and character-focused and once again absolutely hammered on their strengths, complemented by a graceful script that avoided most of the usual anime-isms of school dramas. Not that it was a drama, really – it was a slice of life. A true slice of life, a depiction of life as it actually happens, not life as it is idealized to occur inside the conflict-bereft 4.5 tatami walls of what normally passes for SoL around these parts. The strength of Hyouka single-handedly sold me on Chuunibyou’s dubious premise, and that too ended up being an actually honest production, telling a humble romance/character story soaked in that sense of nostalgia that always seems key to KyoAni’s aesthetic. I was impressed. I was moved. I was right there with them, ready to watch KyoAni unveil that perfect, insightful tale of youth and self that I was now certain was waiting, lurking, ready to born.
Then 2013 happened. I don’t want to talk about it.
But here we are. This show seems like it could go places – and by that I mean it has an actual plot and doesn’t appear overtly designed to wallow in one location pandering to one demographic. Which, in hindsight, might be the best thing I should actually hope for out of any KyoAni show. But I still think they’re an incredibly talented studio – even their productions which do nothing for me still clearly display a mastery of subtle character animation and comedic timing. Their better directors compliment this with great, purposeful direction, and when they team up with an actual writer, incredible things are possible.
This could be the moment. I don’t want to jinx it. Fuck it, if it’s jinxable I’ve already jinxed it. I’m just going for it.
Please, KyoAni. Let this be the one.
0:00 – Seriously, too excited. This is the first time since Gargantia I’ve gone into a show all giddy based purely on creator catalogue.
0:16 – And off to a great start
0:30 – A self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking en medias res monologue intro? KyoAni you shouldn’t have
0:49 – Yesss. I even liked that “new student ribbon” verbal flourish. A protagonist who has a way with words, or at least thinks he has a way with words, is always a plus in my book
1:29 – Our hero
2:02 – Pretty striking. I’m really liking this song – I hope the music stays as unique as it was in the earlier trailers, with the creepy tribal drums and such
2:22 – I mentioned nostalgia, and I think KyoAni’s color schemes in particular have a great deal to do with that effect. Sunset/twilight colors were also dominant in Chuunibyou, and Hyouka was even more purposeful in its coloration – their palettes work quite well with the kind of stories they tell (along with, admittedly, the protagonists they always use to tell them – Kyon, Oreki, and Yuuta share more than a little in common)
2:33 – They played this as a joke the first time, but now it’s unclear. Could be pointing towards perception as a theme, could be nothing
3:39 – This is gonna be a fun ride
3:57 – This shot is gorgeous. Really like the OP in general – it doesn’t give everything away, seeming more like it acts as a tiny little prologue or something
4:25 – Seriously? The show’s first non-opening lines are a discussion of how narrative should emerge from character fundamentals and not narrative setpieces? Kill me now
5:49 – Confirmed
6:31 – Disappointing. Really, really hate the practice of centering characters who just can’t really banter with the lead. If you’re going to make the male lead a jaded wisecracker, you need the female lead to be a Horo or a Benten, not a blob
I do like that they already know each other, and that this is actually a flash-forward. That both avoids wasting routine minutes on introductions and prompts a question of what happened following the intro scene
6:42 – That’s actually pretty great. The cute moe repository is adorably tailing him so she can… stab him with her giant blood-sword
7:12 – Solid way to dump exposition. Like with the scene in the literature club, arguments are generally one of the less-graceless ways to go over things both characters know
7:20 – More flowers
Holy shit, I think this show is gonna be worth documenting! We have officially hit the requisite density of writing and motifs necessary to make this not just an exercise in self-indulgence!
7:49 – We Monogatari now? A quick progression of shots demonstrating how she wants to be perceived…yesss KyoAni YESSSSS
8:24 – See, she can dual him. The shielded but obvious jealousy kinda reminds me of FLCL or something
8:53 – Continuing on from the earlier narrative-awareness, the show immediately mocks the idea that it would go in a tsundere/oblivious male lead direction
9:14 – THIS is how you do magical realism, and honestly how most fantasy should be done. No, it’s not fantastical – it’s just their world, it’s just their life. Fantasy is a distancing factor if it’s fantastical to the characters – if it’s just their reality, you can actually get swept up in it. Not to mention it being far more graceful and narrative/character-friendly than “normal person goes to fantasyland and spends six episodes being told how the rules of this universe work”. I don’t give a shit about your arbitrary rules, I’m here for what you’re doing with them
11:40 – I always knew KyoAni would one day use their powers for Good. Lovely animation throughout
12:08 – This whole episode is extremely well directed. I like how they’re playing off classic horror movie shots (this sequence, when she appears in half-shadow as he’s leaving school) and trading them with their already practiced slapstick. And I’m still kinda impressed they used character gaze so abruptly and efficiently with the other girl
Clearly their most self-aware production.
14:27 – Dat chemistry
15:16 – Good. She’s smarter than she looks. Fears averted
15:42 – I like this shot. They’re keeping up the horror movie aesthetic very nicely. And the soundtrack is turning out like I’d hoped – all creepy, evocative instrumental pieces
17:58 – Not your usual KyoAni fare. Really liking her character so far
18:25 – Another very nice shot. The compositions don’t feel as carefully constructed as Monogatari or Uchouten Kazoku, but they’re obviously rich in KyoAni’s own very specific way
18:44 – Really like how forward he is. It’s clear he has a crush on her, and he’s pretty much immediately acting on it. I know tons of shows bait with progression in the first episode and then spin their wheels (like this one!), but it’s still a good sign
19:33 – Clever work, KyoAni. She’s actually fairly competent, but goes moe as hell when it comes to lying. That’s one way to have your cake and eat it too
20:45 – Making the most of this set
Dear god do I ever find it baffling that KyoAni can spin between stuff like this and stuff like Free. Doesn’t their staff get bored? They’re so talented!
21:13 – Speaking of horror movie shots
HOLY SHIT YES. GYAH that ending was great. Setting up the horror movie confrontation, bouncing between the perspectives, leading in the ED song so well… fuck. Yes.
Alright, I think this is the best first episode of a KyoAni show I’ve seen. I mean… goddamn. Yeah. I think we’re doing this. I think they’ve finally arrived. Alright, KyoAni. Show me what you can really do.