Winter 2014 – Week 9 in Review

With the season nearing its end, we’re beginning to get the expected ramp-up from most relevant shows. Which I’m actually excited for – I’ve obviously had pretty negative feelings about this season overall, but it’s not like I want the shows I’m watching to disappoint. Samurai Flamenco, Nagi no Asukara, and Kill la Kill all had very good weeks, and pretty much everything had at least a respectable episode. Except… well…

Alright, this first one is a little ranty.

Chuunibyou Ren 8: It’s getting straight-up tiring to watch this show. Any pretense of these being human beings has been abandoned – they are now comedic devices, designed to fill pleasing roles for an episode and then be reset for the next one. How does this episode’s plot even make sense? The base concept basically demands ignoring Nibutani and Dekomori’s existing relationship – it’s like a saturday morning cartoon, where the characters all become stupid caricatures of themselves for twenty minutes to propel some random intrusion of a conflict.

Which is what it is, I guess. This all just seems so damn cynical – every choice this show makes seems designed to maintain the status quo while throwing bones to the various demographics desiring chuuni antics, shipping fodder, or random gags. Last year really strained what confidence I had in KyoAni as a studio, and this is pretty much the breaking point – this show is bad in ways so indicative of what they usually do that I’m just considering them a bad studio from now on. They don’t create characters, they create devices. They don’t create relationships, they create bait. Given a very good source, they can occasionally create a great show, but that seems almost accidental at this point.

Chuunibyou Ren

Samurai Flamenco 18: This is the best show, you guys. This episode was ridiculous and hilarious and somehow, somehow actually still an appropriate next step for Flamenco. Of course Masayoshi would end up confronting a singularity-seeking alien hive mind. Of course he would stand against it because his Justice Sense told him to. Of course he would end up evolving into a giant version of himself and punching the alien off the moon, only to be confronted with the universal god-conscience, who tells him his exploits actually alter reality and are viewed as entertainment by beings in other dimensions. Why not? Why the hell not? This is anime, right? And this is Samurai Flamenco – sorry, Flamwenco – so why not just kick it up every notch it can possibly be kicked?

Hell, this episode even worked thematically. I love that they brought it back to his grandfather, who actually apologized for influencing him this way – that connection makes for a strong parallel with the way the show explores how we’re influenced by childhood heroes and perceive news as entertainment, and actually puts an incredibly optimistic spin on it. We can’t help but interpret televised tragedy as narrative – that’s just how we work as people, and the stories we ourselves create out of the people and ideas that affect us are not a failing to be rallied against, but just part of what makes us human. Our relationship with media is another reflection of how the lessons we take from those we love become our own personal myths.

But this episode didn’t have to be smart to be great – it was also just friggin’ hilarious the whole time. Masayoshi relying on his “justice-gut,” the alien’s ridiculous Engrish, Flamwenco – this show is too good.

Samurai Flamenco

Kill la Kill 20: This episode has set us up for some real fun next week, though I’m not a fan of how they had to basically invent a Ryuuko internal conflict to get there. Her feeling isolated due to her fibery nature does play into the family/fiber connection thing, but just doesn’t seem to coherently follow from Ryuuko’s earlier priorities. That said, this episode was a whole lot of fun in other ways, so I’m not really too shook up about it. Some great fight animation, some absurd supervillainy from Ragyo, and the promise of a role-flipped Satsuki-Ryuuko fight next week – yeah, this show is ending pretty damn well.

Kill la Kill

Nagi no Asukara 21: Excellent pickup by NagiAsu this week – though Miuna and Sayu are still flailing, Manaka’s return did some great things for the Chisaki-Tsumugu plotline. Their scenes together pretty much made this episode for me – I love the quiet, comfortable domesticity of their dynamic, which display a kind of chemistry you almost never see in fiction. It’s understandable – seeing sparks fly is generally more exciting than seeing two subdued, introspective people be comfortable with each other. But I think it’s great, and the scene they shared in the hospital cafeteria went beyond that – Chisaki declaring she may like Tsumugu’s weird pudding more than the cream puffs her adolescent friends were sharing was about as perfect a declaration of accepting her own aging as you could ask for.

Seeing these two makes me want to watch an Okada show where the whole cast is past their immediate adolescence. She certainly writes convincing 13-year-olds, but I’m frankly kind of tired of listening to 13-year-old problems.

Nagi no Asukara

Log Horizon 22: This week saw Log Horizon doing its best Nisekoi impression, which according to twitter was actually much better than Nisekoi itself. That’s not too surprising – this show has characters, not devices, and so when they get into conflicts, things actually happen. Maybe not for Akatsuki, who by her own admission is likely the weakest character in the show, but certainly for Minori – her last scene this episode was a standout moment for both her and Touya, who proved himself a much more sensitive character than I would have guessed. This isn’t a romantic comedy, and so it doesn’t resolve like one – Minori pulls herself together quickly, acknowledging and accepting her hurt, but once again demonstrating the self-assured person she’s become by moving past it.

Incidentally, this episode was also a treasure trove of silly faces.

Log Horizon

Space Dandy 9: This was about as pure an expression of this project’s purpose as you could get: “given a loose premise and a set of broadly defined characters, use your own artistic sensibilities to create a 22-minute universe.” Pretty much pure visual experimentation for its own sake, with only the lightest of narratives attached. Which is certainly a valid artistic pursuit, but not one I find particularly stimulating – I didn’t really like Mind Game, I didn’t really like the Kyousogiga ONA, and I was unmoved by this. Just not my thing, though I do believe more stuff like this should exist – to the more visually-focused fans, I’m sure this was a feast.

Space Dandy

Sekai Seifuku 8: This was easily the best Sekai Seifuku since the peaks of 3 and 4, and demonstrated the same strengths they did – maintaining a sense of whimsy and universal absurdity while also being strangely, fundamentally true. 3’s truth was the bite of its satire – the way its absurd crusade against smokers mirrored all sorts of fundamentally absurd but very real human weaknesses. 4’s truth was its childhood fable, a story about parents and children that made real the importance of Kate’s acceptance. And this episode, the realness fell on the chief’s shoulders, as he dealt with the strange web of obligations and disappointments family always demands. I’m not sure exactly how all these characters are related, but I don’t think the exact breakdown of their “real world” (always an ambiguous distinction in Sekai Seifuku) familial connections really matters. As the ending demonstrates, even a smooshed cake can be delicious if it’s made with love.

Jeez, that makes three seasons in a row where the highlight is fundamentally a family drama. It’s not me, right? I don’t think it’s me…

Sekai Seifuku

Hunter x Hunter 119: Nicely balanced episode this week – one half of furious action on the Killua side, one half of crafty strategizing with Ikalgo. In the wake of the incredibly intense standoff with Youpi from the last couple weeks, it was interesting to see the show shift gears to something where the stakes seem so much less high, but the drama is still just as valid to the characters involved. Ikalgo is far and away the least dangerous member of our team here, and the worst-case-scenario he was struggling to prevent was honestly a trifle – the return to the fight of an ant pretty much any of his allies could destroy without a second glance. But to Ikalgo, his ability to protect his friends means everything, and any service he could provide is, if not a matter of life or death, certainly a matter of identity and humanity. As Gon reaches his lowest point and Killua works out stress by leaning on his animalistic killer instinct, it’s interesting to see that two of the characters whose actions are most defined by their irrepressible humanity are now Ikalgo and the King.

Lofty thematic parallels aside, this episode’s second half also just felt like classic Hunter x Hunter – even though it’s recently leaned on impressive presentation and shifting character arcs, this show’s first strength was its ability to avoid standard conflicts altogether, and invent setups for “battle” that were always interesting for their own sake. It was a puzzle-battle, and a fairly entertaining one. Nice to see this show can still randomly pull that trick out.

Hunter x Hunter

Witch Craft Works 9: This episode had some legitimately great moments – the gender-flipped-ness of the premise reached a fever pitch during MC-kun’s training, there was some beautiful shot composition, and Whatserface’s dream sequence was actually pretty interesting. But who cares about that, let’s have some tower witches. Take it away, Tanpopo.

Witch Craft Works

Great work team, take five.

Witch Craft Works

26 thoughts on “Winter 2014 – Week 9 in Review

  1. Man Flamenco went exactly where I wanted it to. It was pretty darn great. Wrapped it pretty nicely.

    Sekai was also great my favorite episode after 3. This episode also gave a hint to where a main story would go to.

    And has a ”visually focus” guy I loved that episode of dandy (probably second fav after the bebop). A big step up from last week which imo was the weakest episode.

    And also yea wtv Ryuuko.

    • Yeah, Sekai Seifuku could really pull together after this. I don’t know if it’s going to, but it certainly created a very convenient direction to go.

  2. I think the problem with KyoAni is that they can’t create original work, but got bored with adapting everyone else’s. I know you like the first season of Chuunibyou, but I saw it as a mediocre series other than a couple of flashes (actually, I think that many of the flaws you attribute to Clannad are more apparent in Chuunibyou than they are in Clannad), and haven’t liked anything since Hyouka. Most of their really good works come from tweaking someone else’s characters in ways that enhance the qualities that were already there; the changes they made to Mayaka’s introduction from the light novel make for the best example of adaptation I have found in any work of fiction. Unfortunately, I don’t think they have the writers to do anything more than that.

    • Yeah, they are definitely expert tweakers. Given a strong existing narrative, they can craft some beautiful little individual moments – but without that strong composition, you just get a collection of moments adding up to nothing.

  3. I think the thing that excites me most about Samurai Flamenco is the fact that it still has four more episodes. Last weeks felt like such a finale that I honestly don’t have any idea what’s going to happen, but I’m on board with whatever it does. Glad I stuck with it after Guillotine Gorilla, it’s really shaped up to be quite the experience.

    I agree with Chuunibyou Ren. My initial worry was that this season would just be filler, not really progressing the story at all but just giving fans some more of Yuuta and the gang. But I was expecting harmless fun filler, not this crap we’ve been given. I’ve enjoyed a couple of episodes, but good god was the recent one awful. Didn’t we already have a Nibutani and Dekomori episode that ended with them returning everything to normal? Why do we need to repeat that but throw in some creepy rape vibes?

    On a more positive note I’m kinda bursting with excitement for tomorrows Kill la Kill episode. Hopefully Trigger can deliver on the hype this time, the end of the battlefield trip arc wasn’t as good as I had hoped. But the last few episodes have been wonderful fun, so I’m not too worried.

    • Yeah, having a second Nibutani-Deko episode that still didn’t actually do anything but dangle their relationship really felt like the height of cynical writing. That’s the kind of romcom-writing shenanigans that made me drop Nisekoi after the first episode.

  4. Really glad I ended up dropping Chuunibyou last week.I’m not that familiar with studios, but is KyoAni considered a powerhouse, in a sense? I just don’t feel the creativeness that I see in other studios’ work in theirs anymore. It saddens me, but I’m also ready for others to come out with some fantastic shows.

    Gonna watch WCW tonight. Such a damn good show.

    • KyoAni are a very popular studio, and I was actually a big fan through the end of 2012 – at that point, they’d gone through the recent run of Disappearance of Haruhi, Hyouka, and Chuunibyou S1, all of which had impressed me. But since then I’ve either dropped or been disappointed by everything they’ve done, and at this point, given their career before that particular hot streak, I just don’t think they’re a good studio. They make visually impressive things, but their writing is lousy and they’re very content to keep making the same kind of show over and over.

      • Ah that makes more sense then. I still need to check out Hyouka.

      • Hyouka is an absolute masterpiece. Nothing they have done after that is good. (Chuni S1 is OK, and shows all their strength and weaknesses, but… it doesn’t have the quality of Hyouka.)

        We all knew this series would be unneeded, but they really did far worse (better ?) than expected.
        What I find interresting here is that by trying to be pure fanservice, they angried their fans even more. (Which is undersatndable, actually.)
        The reason why I can still watch it every week is that I don’t care that much about it.

    • Oh, and even the Chunii antics are lame. D-Frag! is far better at this, by taking it to its absolute exteme and giving it to everyone.

  5. You’re definitely not alone in noticing the trend in family-oriented dramas>

    This weeks Sekai Seifuku made me think about that trend too.

  6. I think Sekai Seifuku wins this season’s “this show has no right to be this good yet it is” prize. It’s incredibly inconsistent and at heart looks fundamentally cheaply made and put together, yet it’s able to pull off some truly great comedy. The bucket and the steamroller scenes were priceless XD.

    • I thought it was Witchcraft Works. D-Frag! is a contender, but clearly haven’t the genius of Witchcraft Works.

    • Agreed, it really seems like it shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s just got this wonderful control of tone that lets it bounce between humor and resonance without undercutting either. Don’t know how they do it.

  7. I don’t know why are people seeing Flamenco’s stupidity and praising as genius. The show doesn’t even have good animation.

    • Agreed on the animation. You’d have to clarify what you mean by stupidity, though – I thought I was pretty clear this week in what specifically I find compelling about its ideas, so…

  8. When did you actually start watching anime? I get the impression by past shows you’ve referenced that you started somewhere around 2011. That would explain why you held KyoAni in such high regard if you started with Hyouka(/Nichijou). The only KyoAni show I really care for is Haruhi and we ain’t getting none of that.

    The problem with recent KyoAni is also that they don’t have good in-house writers. Right now they’re full-on promoting their own novels (Chuuni, Tamako, Free, KnK) because they get more money that way. Hopefully they actually get some talented writers down the road. At least they’re soon to animate an adaptation (same author as FMP). Been a while.

    • I actually started watching back around… uh, 1999, but yeah, around 2011 was when I started paying attention to studio names and watching stuff seasonally. So my opinion of KyoAni was indeed strongly influenced by Disappearance and Hyouka.

      And yeah, I agree, KyoAni is completely lacking in good writers. Great work in color and animation, zero ability to craft a compelling narrative.

      • You should try to get into the FMP! franchise if you can. Outside of Hyouka, FMP! Second Raid is the most though-provoking tale that KyoAni has produced under its belt, what with it addressing the contradictions inherent to the juxtaposition of “human” and “weapon.”

        • It’s definitely on my list. I want to get through the last few shows on my shortlist first, but I WILL get to it!

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