Winter 2014 – Week 5 in Review

This week has had me eating a balanced diet of my own words pretty much every day. Virtually every show I was on the fence about rallied heroically, many of the major complaints I had about everything I was watching were directly addressed, and this season is now actually looking pretty good. Way to make me look dumb, anime! Friggin’ jerks.

Running it down…

Kill la Kill 16: Yep, starting a week in review with Kill la Kill. It’s been a long, long time coming, but this was the episode we needed – Life Fibers were explained (aliens, of course), Ragyo’s Fiendish Plan was unveiled, and Ryuuko’s character development actually led to her defying her allies. After many weeks full of stuff happening that didn’t actually affect the fundamental plot, the scale of the overall show was finally brought into focus. Hell, they even focused directly on humanizing Satsuki – both the flaws in her philosophy and the fact that her brave face is largely a performance were central to this episode’s first scenes. I’ve been waiting for this episode ever since the middle of the Naturals Election, and though I’m not happy it’s taken this long to arrive, it’s still done a lot to restore my interest in this series. Hopefully the next few episodes maintain the game-changing pace this one established.

Kill la Kill

Samurai Flamenco 15: Goddamn does this show like to play the long game. After an entire middle act largely dedicated to being a loving throwback to super sentai storytelling, we’re back on ground that’s actually about something – we finally get the grand reveal that the entire sentai world was basically invented to distract voters while the governments of the world do what they want. Which is certainly a great spin in its own right – it builds directly off the complacency and “mass media as desensitizing entertainment” ideas of the King Torture arc, and actually makes sense of pretty much everything that’s happened so far. But I’m mainly just sort of astonished at the guts of this show, at how fully it’s dedicated itself to something that’s pretty much guaranteed to piss people off.

I remember discussing the validity of what this show attempts in reference to Clannad – that is, a show that basically builds an audience rapport through one dedicated genre, and then manipulates that rapport to emotional or dramatic effect when it switches to another genre. I suppose Steins;Gate would be another example of this, and I think both of these examples illustrate the key issues at work here. In order for this kind of long game to work, you have to both be really good at each of these genres (which is where Clannad lost me), and the audience has to like each of these genres (which is why so many people dislike Steins;Gate’s first half while loving the second). And in the case of Samurai Flamenco, I feel like a lot of people who’d appreciate the way this is turning out all signed off a few episodes ago, because super sentai nostalgia-ism just isn’t that interesting to people who aren’t really invested in super sentai shows. Which is a shame, because I really like the overall concept here – but it’s just unrealistic to expect an audience to buy into a reality they don’t care about because an unknown twist down the line might suddenly reveal it was one they do care about all along.

But I’m a sucker for formal experiments, and I’m a sucker for shows with a meta sense of humor, and I’m a sucker for the kind of cynicism involved in the points this show is moving towards, so I’m certainly on board. It’s just kind of a shame the show has so deliberately marginalized itself this way.

Samurai Flamenco

Space Dandy 5: This week, Space Dandy proved it can pull a Bebop. Few raunchy jokes, no structural experiments, and nobody dies at the end – instead, we got an understated personal drama that showed off Dandy’s better nature and featured a few segments designed almost strictly to show how simultaneously relatable and full of wonder this universe happens to be. Having Dandy’s first serious episode be one where he has to take care of a kid was a very, very smart choice – he’s one of those people that seems enough like a kid himself that their rapport comes naturally, but being forced to take care of someone else brings out every ounce of maturity and compassion in him. It was very different from the usual fare, but it didn’t feel unnatural – both in tone and character, this episode felt like it made great use of what makes Dandy different from Bebop.

And yeah, I felt it was like ten times better than every Dandy episode so far. What can I say? Humor’s disposable, drama cuts at the heart of our nature. I’ll take drama over comedy pretty much every time (though of course comedy’s a great tool in dramas – in fact, I pretty much always prefer comedy as a tool, not a genre), and I’m very happy to see Dandy can pull off a damn solid drama.

Space Dandy

Sekai Seifuku 4: Following in the wake of the three sudden upgrades above, I was kind of worried Sekai Seifuku wouldn’t hold up. Well, turns out that was totally unwarranted, because this week’s Sekai Seifuku almost made me cry.

It was pretty much as different from last week’s as possible – in fact, it almost had the opposite message. While last week was a cynical satire about the dangers of extremism and unquestioned belief in a cause, this week’s episode was largely about the importance of belief – of how much stronger we are when we have others we believe in, and when others believe in us. Natasha’s backstory was intentionally vague and fable-esque, which worked in a lot of ways – with the general vagueness of this world’s reality, with the ambiguity of a child’s memories, and with the intended universality of this episode’s message. And its resolution was pretty standard stuff, but it was handled beautifully – the slow build of the episode’s narrative, the rapid, childish absurdity of the climax, and then the bracing honesty of the glances shared by Natasha and Kate at the end.

The music and pacing did a lot of work, but this was also just a good message, and one that, somewhat ironically, I feel last week’s counterpoint actually strengthened. Because as I’ve said before, optimism untempered by reality always rings false for me – shows that are all happy all the time just feel like condescending lies. It’s this stuff, stuff that fully acknowledges the world is harsh and sharp, that can really get to me – when a show like this smiles at you, you know it really means it.

Sekai Seifuku

Log Horizon 18: And Log Horizon has its best episode ever. The discussion with Lenessia’s grandfather displayed rapid-fire and actually understated political maneuvering, the setup and very concept of Lenessia’s speech was about as smartly cynical as ideas come, and that whole crowd-pleasing performance… brilliant stuff. Like with Sekai Seifuku’s third episode, this episode proved that “villain in glasses” title wasn’t just a cute nickname – Shirou legitimately manipulated the hell out of these people for his own ends. Yeah, saving the People of the Land is almost certainly the “right thing to do” according to any reasonable moral system – but Shirou knows people don’t do things just because they’re right, and so he put on a performance designed to play to their predictable nature as humans and gamers. “Come save the kingdom, heroes. I warn you, it’s a dangerous quest! But look, even this beautiful princess is fighting – and see how much she cares about you? How can you let her down!? We can’t offer great rewards – only the knowledge that you’re the great and mighty hero you joined this game because you always wanted to be.”

Brutal stuff. This is this author at his absolute best – using a grim acknowledgment of our lesser nature to make a paean to our better one. A goddamn impressive episode overall, and a serious feather in the cap for Log Horizon.

Log Horizon

Nagi no Asukara 17: Well, if you hadn’t caught the theme of this series before now, I hope this episode change change change.

Yeah, there was a whole lot of muttering about change by everyone this week. It was kind of a slow one, overall – the central “arc” was basically “Miuna and Sayu both get optimistic about pursuing their childhood crushes, then they both get shot down, then they both get a reason to be optimistic again.” Which sounds kinda pointless when I put it like that, but…

Actually, no “but.” This just wasn’t that good of an episode, and rang of nothing so much as the “we get it already” relationship re-reestablishing doldrums of the first cour’s middle act.

Not really worried, though. There were still good bits here (like Kaname seeing Chisaki and Tsumugu act out their domestic life together, a nice bit of visual storytelling), and it seems like we’re moving right along next week. Whether or not the expedition into the sea actually bears fruit (I’m kinda guessing not), the “new normal” has now been fully established, so the show now has a solid platform to begin shifting the variables again. I’m ready to see where it goes from here.

Nagi no Asukara

The Pilot’s Love Song 5: Not a flashy episode here (it’d be hard to ever describe this show as “flashy”), but a good one. This episode burned through Claire’s flashback in about a quarter the time Karl’s took, and yet still established pretty much everything you’d need to know about her character. It even firmly set the larger context of this entire series – the roles our arbitrary lots in life force us to play, the distance between those roles and our actual selves, and the way war makes casualties or monsters of us all. Claire’s power made her feel needed for a time, and really only sped the end of political shifts no single person could have stopped, but to Karl, Nina is the one symbol of everything terrible or unfair that has ever happened to him. It’s easier that way, to isolate the symbol – it gives him purpose. But really, the two of them couldn’t be any more similar – both used-up pawns, both victims of forces larger than themselves, both exiles.

It’s looking like next week will be ending the brief peace these characters have been enjoying. This episode has me very ready for it.

The Pilot's Love Song

Chuunibyou Ren 4: Hm. Well, this episode was basically the kind of thing I was worried about – it was pure fanservice fluff, with no real progression whatsoever. In the first season, the KyoAni wheelhouse episodes that made up the first half actually had purpose – each served to fully introduce a character and progress the central narrative. Here, the point of the episode was “goof around with Nibutani and Dekomori before wandering right back to the status quo.” Which… well, I like these characters, so I still enjoyed it, but I’d much rather see this actually going somewhere. It could even still have been a Nibutani/Deko episode, it would just have had to push their relationship in some way. But that would require upsetting this show’s reliable romcom stasis, and so it didn’t happen.

One of my favorite things about Chuunibyou S1 was that it didn’t follow these dramatically limiting, character-stifling “rules of romantic comedy” – things actually happened, characters actually changed. If Ren does a whole lot of treading water, it’s not going to impress me.

Chuunibyou Ren

Hunter x Hunter 114/115: Fell behind on last week’s episode, but that wasn’t the show’s fault. It’s actually kind of nice to cover two at once, because I feel these two episodes are each a showcase for one of Hunter x Hunter’s tentpole strengths. First, 114 was all on Madhouse – their production of the Shoot fight, and the various visual flourishes scattered throughout, made that particular episode an absolute joy to watch. And following right after, 115 was all on Togashi – the number of compelling mini-narratives on display here, and the way even side characters like Welfin endlessly justify their own presence, is pretty much the ultimate argument for this genre as a narrative form. I love how Welfin’s focus on winning his “king behind the king” prize consumes his attention even as the walls crumble around him, and I love how his distrust of his own ability serves as yet another example of how well this show has thought through the implications and potential of its own fantasy systems. Normally, a show with a reliance on battles either keeps the combat variables simple enough to be readily graspable (as grounded sports shows tend to) or simply foregoes tension and embraces meaningless spectacle (as stuff like Jojo does). Hunter x Hunter has powers as wacky as anything out there, but every single one of them is treated with thoughtfulness and respect – all the pieces bounce off each other in intelligent, dramatically satisfying ways. It’s a rare, effective thing, and the fact that it’s just one of so many strengths is, as always, remarkable.

Hunter x Hunter

18 thoughts on “Winter 2014 – Week 5 in Review

  1. Ah, if you like how Togashi treats the powers in Hunter x Hunter, then you’ll definitely appreciate how that stuff evolves in JoJo. The general direction of the powers and how they’re used in that series gets more complicated and interesting. It’s clear that Togashi took a lot of inspiration from that (you can see some of this in Togashi’s Yu Yu Hakusho, as well), though as you point out, the way he weaves those powers into the drama is quite cool. He’s not just thoughtlessly copying something. That’s something both Araki and Togashi do super well — build these elaborate, dramatic puzzles via their power systems and get their heroes to solve them.

    • Glad to hear Jojo moves in that direction – in the first season, I was often entertained purely by how absurd the show’s methods of “solving” its own dramatic puzzles tended to be, but I love it when a show actually makes you feel the characters are coming up with intelligent solutions to their problems.

  2. I hoped Flamco would go with everything was controlled/invented in some ways. So I’m glad this happened. Would love for the show to go more personal and relate to the back story of the first part though. Now it seems more of a possibility. The sentai arc was a bit boring to me because of how stale the presentation was.

    I vastly prefer this format for Dandy too. Hope well get more episode in this style. Less focus on bad puns (well that was mostly episode 1 and 3) is good.

    Sekai didn’t really impressed me but still managed to be moving. But I’m easily moved so I can’t judge it on this alone.

    HxH is alright for now (I’m at episode 72 I think) but there is things that take too much time. That pirate part on greed island had some of the longest fight over-explanation of the show (that dodge ball match was way too long).. The whole greed island arc is a bit stale to me… Also Hisoka is a fun character.

    • Flamenco’s sort of been keeping Mari and Goto on relevance-life support all through this strange middle act, so I assume the show will get more personal again soon. I’m also very ready for it.

      Also, I think Greed Island is pretty widely considered the worst HxH arc, so I wouldn’t worry about feeling a little fatigued there. It picks up again soon!

  3. Kill la Kill finally getting it’s shit together greatly pleases me. Now we need to keep this momentum going into a big grand finale! Also more Nui. I miss Nui.

    I’m still polarized on how I really feel on Samurai Flamenco. I certainly like the show but I’m still not over everything that’s happened, even if it was a big government shindig. I still think it’s above average, but we’ll see if this new business propels it even further. Although the inclusion of Mister Justice is certainly a huge plus. NICE JUSTICE!

    I’m on board with thinking this recent Dandy has been the best so far. Which actually is something I’ve said every single week (this week had zombies: best episode, this week had boobie monster: best episode etc), and if Dandy can keep that going than it’s certainly going to become a favorite.

    Sekai Seifuku is the best new show this season, and that image of Kate looking at Natasha as they head towards the light is probably my favorite image from the show. Really looking forward to that one.

    No real comment on Chuunibyou. It’s fun but nothing is really happening yet besides a nose rub and a wet dream. Not watching any of the other shows besides Hunter x Hunter, which I’m still trying to catch up. Just reached the Chimera Ant arc though, so I’m close! Love the show immensely, really wish more long running shounens were this good.

    • I’m definitely pro-Nui, though I have to admit I’ve gotta prioritize Mako/Gamagoori adorableness over pretty much anything else the show could do. I am a simple man.

      And yes, Mister Justice was goddamn fantastic. Kinda got lost in the shuffle of talking about this show’s Big Structural Aspirations, but “NICE JUSTICE” and “I WILL SING FOR YOU” would have made this episode great even if nothing else happened.

  4. I can’t help but think when I watch Sekai Seifuku that the whole thing is very uneven. After watching ep 3 I really can’t see Kate as being the kind of person who would extend her hand to Natalia and rescuing her (unless for some ulterior motive). I don’t mind having a show that isn’t afraid to show both sides of the coin for characters but juxtaposing the group’s violent extremism with these tender moments without explaining kind of the motivations is strange. I admit I like it for the comedy but I’m not sure I see anything deeper.

    But I’ll agree with you on Kill La Kill. For a while I wrote it off as a turn your brain off kind of show but now it actually has stuff going on and with real stakes (well that’s what they’re hinting at). I got to admit I still despise Satsuki’s character (the whole condescending thing reallllly wears thin) but I’m glad they’re letting us see more of her (in context with the bath scene figuratively….and literally.)

    • I actually don’t have any problems with Kate – nobody’s All Evil All The Time, and Kate has always made it clear that she values her family more than anything (even in the first episode, where she chastised Jimon for risking himself to save her doll – “he’s replaceable, you aren’t.”) Kate has simplistic and possibly dangerous views about the world around her, but she also believes in people, and her love for the people she cares about seems absolutely genuine. Along with her conviction, that’s why people follow her.

      • Hmmm so her sense of perception is childlike is what you mean. I guess I should of seen that since the literally made her a child but I’m not sure why I wasn’t thinking of it like that. Thanks for the reply

  5. I was really disappointed in Chuunibyou. I liked where it was heading with Nibutani and Deko, and then it just cut it off. That really pissed me off. I get that they do not want to do the romcom thing, but why can Yuuta and Rikka get to have a developed relationship, but Nibutani and Deko can not? Really rubbed me the wrong way, might be because I am a sucker for Rom Coms, so they strung me along and then cut the rope as soon as I really started getting into it.

    This last week or so has been quite phenomenal. Probably one of my favorite weeks yet,which makes me really happy that this Winter Season won’t fall flat on its face for me like others have.

    Magi is another show that has improved spectacularly in the past 3-4 episodes. This whole Magnostadt Arc has been really well done.

    God damn Log Horizon is blowing it out of the water. That speech reminded me a lot of the one in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, and I loved every second of it. The storytelling and maneuvering has definitely shot up this show into my top 5 of all time, right up there with Magi and HxH.

    I am quite surprised by SamFlam. I was considering dropping it after Red Axe went missing, but am really glad I kept on. We might even get some of the first half now and I cannot wait to see where it goes with it, but I am still apprehensive…

    Sekai Seifuku has won me over totally. It started with the smokers episode, but I really liked this one. I am just loving the family dynamic in this show and am really connecting with all of them.

    Now to my #1 favorite anime of all time, Hunter x Hunter. The absurdity with how well written and directed this show is is what I love so much about it. I felt like the Welfin part may have dragged on a little too long, but looking back on it, I can appreciate why they did it.

    • Yeah, the fact that this Chuunibyou episode was even kind of a slap in the face to Nibutani/Dekomori fans was really frustrating. Do they really need to keep their relationship in stasis for the sake of future comic relief moments? Not only does that lead to serious diminishing returns, it also just doesn’t square with how shows like this work – they’re not going to have infinite seasons, they should be allowing themselves the breathing room to actually make meaningful changes to the show’s dynamic. It’s a big wasted opportunity.

  6. In regards to Samumenco, I think it’s all about how much faith you had in the writer. I think it’s no question that we all noticed that the story progression feels off ever since those two big shifts. Many people thought the show simply jumped the shark and just contribute it to bad writing. Personally though the amount of wit and heart in the first 6 episode, and in the subsequent ones as well, kept me believe that everything has to be intentional. It all depends on whether you trust the writers or not, and I’m glad that my hunch was correct (so far).

    Watching Kamen Rider Ryuuki at the same time probably made me more tolerable to the usual KR/sentai cheesiness however, so I’m not sure how “intimidating” the middle portion being a fine tribute to those two genres was for other people. What other sees as negative were simply neutral ground for me, and the usual charm in Masayoshi’s journey to fulfill his hero dream is still there despite the change in appearance.

    Then again, all this just sounds like mere hindsight.

    • Yeah, even during the questionable segments of Samumenco, everything always felt very purposeful, at least. The writers hadn’t lost control or started writing badly – this was always the story they wanted to tell, and the ostensible “bad writing” was largely intentional homage. But then the question becomes whether that really even matters – what’s the difference between intentionally hammy writing and earnestly hammy writing. And I don’t know what the solution would be here, because the trick these writers pulled basically demanded committing 100% to the fake sentai world for a while. Making sure the show stays funny and characters stay compelling even while the world goes crazy may have been their only option, and I think that’s what they tried to do.

  7. One of the side effects of Sekai sfuku is that he made me like Wizard Barrister more.
    This week’s episode of Wizard Barrister revealing that the one who have no soul (or is at least an evil bastard) is the one who didn’t smoke made me cracked up.

    The best scene is this week’s Space Dandy was Dandy imprisoned on the penguin plushie flyinf using only its willpower in order to save the alien girl.
    That scene kept the absurdity of the universe, but was also incredibly eotionnally charged.

    And I still freaking love Phi Brain. This week had Q-Taro angrily complaining that the Big Bad’s power were scientifically inaccurate. That’s a great meta joke, and a pretty good way of showing how goddamn powerfull the ennemy is. Not enough Gammon (By far the best Gallileo in Anime) and Ana, but still great.

  8. I’m glad you mentioned that bit about your preference of comedy as a tool rather than a genre because I have always felt that way too! Pure comedies that feel like they are built only to appease that one part of us always tread the shallowest in my memories. I have VERY few comedies across any medium in my tops, but when a show like Hunter X Hunter can make me feel utter sympathy and somberness and then in another scene, have me chuckling with delight, then that’s when you have the all encompassing anime that I really enjoy. 😀

    • Yeah, even my favorite comedies are always more than comedies. Plus, powerful comedy tends to speak to more than just amusement, too – we laugh because certain things are painfully true.

  9. Never picked up Chuunibyou when it ran, watching it now, largely because it was on your Top 30 list. As usual with your picks, I’m enjoying it a lot more than I expected.

    Ren does seem like a huge let-down from season 1, though. It feels like the money-grab you described in your end-of-S1 review — not that it isn’t fun, of course, and it seems like they’ve set themselves up with some great opportunities for interesting plot development (I’d love, say, a Shinka-centric S2 with additional MC-MC relationship development in the background), but they’re just not making much use of them. Unfortunate!

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