Management: As you may have noticed, I’m rolling these “first impressions” into my standard Week in Review posts. Hope nobody finds that unforgivable.
And with this week, we have our full set of premiers. And what a set it is!
Well, not really. Pretty mediocre set, to be frank. Having checked out the first episodes of close to everything that sounded interesting, I’m beginning to think this will actually be a great season to dig into the ol’ backlog.
Not to say there’s nothing I’m enjoying. Running it down…
Nagi no Asukara 14: Yep, beginning the second half of my first impressions with Nagi no Asukara. What can I say? It’s easily the best show I’m watching (well, with an asterisk I’ll get to at the end) – the last few episodes of the first half were heartfelt and dramatic and compelling, and this season seems to be continuing the trend. We’ve finally hit the time skip I was hoping for early in the first half, and it’s been used far more sneakily than I’d ever have guessed, with Hikari and Kaname being held in hibernation-stasis until their ages conveniently aligned with Miuna and Sayu. That extreme focus on Miuna during the first half’s middle stretch is making much more sense in this context – at this point, she might even be considered the most central character. But titles like that are kind of meaningless in the context of this show – this is a true ensemble piece, and every character is treated with sensitivity and insight by the script. Along with Miuna, both Tsumugu and Chisaki were given a chance to shine this week, with Tsumugu’s quiet strength and own feelings continuing to gain prominence, and Chisaki showing her own strength of character in how she struggled through being the one left behind. Nagi no Asukara is about as different from White Album 2 as a show can get – while that was all about selfish people hurting themselves, this is all about fundamentally good people doing their best in trying times. The fact that the show never overdramatizes this, and always couches their struggles in the small daily necessities and happinesses of their lives, makes it that much more powerful. Nagi no Asukara is a very, very good show.
Chuunibyou S2 1: Veering sharply away from grounded, sober drama, holy balls it’s time for Chuunibyou. This first episode was a solid, predictable return – reintroducing the characters, establishing their various dynamics and the ways they’ve grown, and settling the audience back in to their world. Chuunibyou is comfort food at this point – I loved the first season, and it certainly didn’t need a sequel, but I’m fine with a weekly dose of characters I like enjoying their time together. If this actually ends up justifying itself through some new message or engaging story I’ll be overjoyed, but I’m ready to settle for just being entertained.
Space Dandy 2: Second verse, largely comparable to the first. Well, that’s not actually fair – though the humor was largely the same, I can’t exactly yawningly dismiss animation as fun and kinetic as this. From Dandy and Meow’s slapstick bickering to Scarlett’s dizzying brawl with the Evil Empire, this week’s Dandy had some fantastic visual sequences, and seemed stylistically quite distinct from the first episode. Narrative-wise, this was very much an episode in the lineage of Bebop/Champloo – starting out unfocused before zooming in to explore a very small story in its very large universe. The ramen shop owner’s tale didn’t really do anything for me, frankly – it was too rushed and unserious to be affecting, and coming on the tail end of fifteen minutes of unrelated banter and slapstick didn’t help either. Cowboy Bebop’s world wasn’t exactly grim, and Samurai Champloo’s world was even less serious, but this world is far more farcical than either – if it wants to sell legitimately affecting drama, it’s gonna have to work a little harder than this. Still, I enjoyed the episode as spectacle, and expect to continue enjoying the show – seeing talented creators riffing like this is always a joy to watch.
Nisekoi 1: A few uncharitable viewers on twitter referred to this one as “Shaft’s Love Hina,” and… well, that’s just completely correct. Dynamic direction, great aesthetics, a bunch of neat little style tricks, wonderful color work… all in service of the most bland narrative humanly possible. Forgotten childhood promise, bickering relationship between the two protagonists, the meek girl who loves MC from afar, wacky circumstances demanding the two MCs get together, the violent girl occasionally revealing a secret sensitivity, the standoffish MC occasionally revealing his own charitable nature, a lot of WHAAAAAA moments…
I mean, cliches can be fine – I always say “screw originality, it’s all about execution.” But the thing is, the execution here is just non-existent – yeah, the visuals are great, but all the characters and lines of dialogue are the most basic, flavorless executions of themselves they possibly could be. Not even the wonderful visual design on display here can really conceal what a turd they’re adapting.
…that said, I might actually watch another episode just for that lovely design. God damn you, Shaft.
Noragami 2: Figure I’d group this one with Nisekoi because it’s got the same exact problem – wonderful visual design, generic and flavorless script. I liked the setup of the first episode, but this one just began to lose my interest – the direction is still great, the animation is still crisp, and the color work is still excellent, but I’ve seen these exact characters go through these exact motions, and these articulations of them (and the narrative itself) did not contain enough personality to wow me. That said, the writing still wasn’t as dire as Nisekoi’s, and I’ve heard people say this show’s source material actually does end up subverting some expectations, so I’m probably on board for at least a little longer.
Sakura Trick 1: Finally, something I can drop without reservations. I’m a big romance fan, but this first episode didn’t grab me in the slightest – in fact, it felt much less like romance than like the standard cute-girls-doing-cute-things routine, except also with kissing. Kissing is great and all, but it doesn’t actually add intrigue or character depth or anything all by itself. Solid dropped.
The Pilot’s Love Song 2: Not much to report here – this was another respectable episode that helped fill out the characters, world, and conflicts. It’s still not dazzling or anything, it’s just a reasonable articulation of the kind of show it is. Which is a fine thing to be – I like nicely articulated fantasy worlds and I like character dramas. Still too early to tell whether this ends up surpassing its genre shell.
Hoozuki no Reitetsu 1: You might recall I had dark horse candidate hopes for this one back in my preview – well, consider this horse thoroughly glued. Hoozuki turned out to be a slice of life/comedy deeply steeped in Japanese folklore, which in theory is something I could really get behind. In fact, for the first half I was pretty much behind it – all the dry jokes about middle management in the afterlife were pretty great, the story of Momotaro (which I had to look up, but still found funny – I don’t think the inherent ridiculousness of the situation required a long-term association with the specifics of the story) was great fodder for the show’s humor, and the visual style fit the show perfectly.
But that second half. Oh god that second half. Pretty much no jokes at all – just the MC and his boss discussing pet preferences and thoughts on vacation time at lunch. This show’s second half was essentially like listening to an acquaintance you don’t know well discuss his mundane office politics for an hour – absolutely, mind-numbingly, excruciatingly dull. It was basically Lucky Star in hell, which for me is… well, actually pretty close to my own personal hell. Dropped.
Sekai Seifuku 1: Is that… could it… in the distance, galloping this way… IT IS! An actual dark horse candidate, rearing and ready to either triumph heroically or disappoint completely. Yeah, this first episode was pretty great. I really liked the visual design (backgrounds and lighting, mainly – the costumes were about as ridiculous as I expected, but thankfully the cinematography wasn’t skeevy at all), and it seems like it could actually be about something, but mainly it was just really goddamn funny. Kate sold it entirely – her ridiculous tone, her overwrought dialogue, her grumpy faces. “I will share the world and my snacks with you.” “Lincoln had potential, but his weakness is he was couldn’t handle bullets.” That shit’s brilliant. That shit’s writing, something anime could certainly use a little more of. Whether it ends up silly and endearing or witty and incisive, I am on board with wherever Sekai Seifuku wants to go.
Samurai Flamenco 12: Like Episode 8, this episode was pretty much dedicated to “normalizing” our new reality – we’re sentai heroes now, but what we’d really like is to be on tv and maybe get a book deal or something. Which is kinda funny, and pretty deliriously meta – at this point, this is now a television show about a guy who was inspired to become a hero by television heroes, ended up becoming a hero and defeating a villain also inspired by television, suddenly learned he actually lives in a world like the ones he’d seen on television, and is now having his cliche television-reality life be filmed for a reality show to play for people living in his original version of reality. But… I mean, what is this show even about? Is it just a love letter to sentai heroes and… ridiculousness? It was originally maybe about the false idol of television heroism, and then possibly about our entertainment culture and ability to normalize tragedy, but now? This second round of one-upping just hasn’t really come to any meaningful end yet. That doesn’t mean it won’t, of course – but this show is really, really yanking on the audience’s chain. I really can’t say what kind of long-game payoff could justify the lunacy this show has become.
That said, I’m still very much enjoying the show. It just feels like an enjoyable mess.
Kill la Kill 13: An interesting episode to return with. Back in December, I expressed dissatisfaction with how 12 failed to really change up the base dynamic of Kill la Kill – well, this week certainly rectified that to some extent, what with Senketsu possibly “dying” (not likely), Ragyu’s Master Plan coming somewhat into focus, and Satsuki beginning her conquest of the schools. In spite of all that, in retrospect, this episode left me… kinda meh.
I dunno. I guess I’m just kind of coming to terms with the fact that now that we’re over halfway through, I can’t keep thinking of this show as fun entertainment that has the potential to be a lot more – at this point, it’s shifting into entertainment that had the potential to be a lot more. Maybe it’s also a result of SohumB’s fantastic analysis laying out precisely how rambling and questionable this show’s to-date philosophy has been, as well. Maybe it’s even a result of the responses to that analysis, many of which have directly stated “at first I had problems with Kill la Kill’s ideas on sexuality, but then it directly talked about them a bit, and so I stopped thinking about it.” That’s… I mean, whatever Kill la Kill’s intentions are, it has not laid out a meaningful philosophy of representation and identity. And if the show has, in its rambling attempts to at least poke at those issues, actually convinced people these aren’t issues worth caring about, and that people who question its choices are “missing the point,” then… then wow, it’s actually made the world a worse place. And I know you could point that same finger at any unsuccessfully satirical art – Evangelion may have intended to demonstrate how characters like Rei Ayanami are limiting, destructive fantasies, but it pretty much heralded the new golden age of the otaku culture it was railing against. But at least that show had a coherent message, and stuck to its guns – Kill la Kill’s inconsistent articulation of its messages and adherence to fanservice in spite of them deny it that defense.
So yeah. Not only is it taking too much time gaining momentum, but its half-hearted interest in being a “message show” may actually be doing more damage than if it had said nothing at all. It’s a very strange place to be.
Log Horizon 15: Man, all these sad, conflicted feelings about last season’s all-stars, and here’s Log Horizon just chugging along without a care in the world. This was another very respectable episode, and even managed to get me interested in what until now had been my least favorite thread – the kids learning how to play a goddamn MMO. How’d it do it? Well, by doing what I assume everyone initially thought both Sword Art Online and this would do – illustrate what makes MMOs actually exciting, and respect the legitimate fun and drama of cooperative gaming. It took the time to carefully articulate party dynamics, and built off the character-building of the last few episodes to demonstrate how games naturally lead towards people assuming roles and expressing very specific, unique versions of themselves. I’m not much of a gamer at present, but I’ve certainly done my time in WoW (seriously – pretty sure I was approaching three months of in-game time) and many other games, and I really appreciate this dedication to demonstrating the very real joy of these digital experiences.
Not that this was intended just to legitimize the memories of gamers, or anything – this episode worked because this stuff actually does work as drama, and because the formalized rules of game systems naturally lend themselves to making for tense, understandable action and “sports” sequences. This show was dragging its heels for a while, but now that it’s on, it’s something I look forward to every week.
Hunter x Hunter 112: And here’s that asterisk I started with. Nagi no Asukara is great, but currently there is just nothing that even comes close to Hunter x Hunter. I don’t even want to discuss this episode, because I know some people read through the shows they’re not watching, and this episode deserves to be experienced pure. I will say it was incredible – it pulled all the narrative threads they’d established and all the tension they’d built up into one beautiful, heart-wrenching, masterfully directed sequence that worked both as a personal turn and as an elaboration of the ever-present “what does it mean to be human?” theme that has underlined the entirety of this breathtaking Chimera Ant arc. Any show would be goddamn lucky to feature even one episode this good, and the fact that it’s arriving as just one more impressive step in a show that’s now been running for 112 episodes is just unbelievable. I generally refer to Hunter x Hunter as “far and away the best shounen,” but at this point that title just doesn’t do its accomplishments justice – this show is one of the best I’ve seen in any genre, and is certainly one of my personal favorites. It’s a gift.