This season is way too good. The shows I was hesitant about are great, the shows I was confident about are fantastic, and pretty much every genre I like is being represented. I haven’t even gotten to Mushishi yet, either! I’ve fortunately found a couple shows I can actually drop, but honestly, it’s looking like it’ll be really tough to maintain my cynical hipster cred this season. Damn you, anime.
Incidentally, I’m also heading off on vacation starting tomorrow, so this will likely be my last post until next week. I’ll also be kind of limited in my ability to respond to comments in that time, but don’t worry, I will get to them when I can. Anyway, on with the shows!
No Game, No Life 1: Not even really sure why I checked this one out – slow night, I suppose. It turned out to be a hell of a lot smarter than Mahouka, though – basically every issue of escapism I assigned to Mahouka, this show actively addressed as a component of its narrative. That’s not to say it was good, either – it moved well enough and I like the visual design, but the vaunted games were all pretty empty, the characters were standard, and it was fanservicey as all hell. I’ll maybe check out another episode, but I get the feeling this one’s going to sink into light novel mediocrity fairly shortly.
Hitsugi no Chaika 1: Damnit! Why did I even check out this show?! I knew my schedule was already too packed… and now I’ve got this confident, fast-paced, deftly written fantasy-action show to keep up with, too? This is a god damn mess.
Yeah, this first episode was great. Basically everything was established as efficiently as humanly possible while still leaving room to let the characters breath. No unnecessary exposition whatsoever – instead of worldbuilding, we get characters who obviously live in the world in they inhabit, meaning things we don’t know just organically become clear as the narrative progresses. Punchy, exciting, endearing… this episode was the whole package, and I really hope this show keeps it up. It’s just competent, well-written fantasy, which is a rarity in anime… in fact, it’s a rarity everywhere. Fantasy sure loves its tedious worldbuilding.
Ping Pong 1: Ermahgerd. Ermahgerd. ERMAHGERD. It’s here. It’s here, and it’s beautiful, and everything is fantastic. Yuasa’s back, and his new show matches all of his substantial directorial talents with a story full of energy and fully articulated characters and fun. Compared to stuff like Mind Game or Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong’s first episode was quite reserved in visual experimentation – instead, it stuck to fundamentally great shots, an outstanding visual aesthetic, and a well-chosen selection of animation and windowed-screen highlights. The writing was sharp as well – the two protagonists pretty much already seem like fully living people, and play off each other in a way that seems guaranteed to cause great tension down the line. Their first antagonist, Wenge, had a great energy of his own, and the scene where he and his coach called out the play-by-play of a match purely by the sound of the rackets was a delight. And the episode overall had a tremendous momentum and an excellent structure – much was introduced to us, but it all felt like both a driving narrative and a collection of days in the lives of a few young people. My most-anticipated show has handed in the most-impressive first episode, and I couldn’t be happier.
Knights of Sidonia 1: The writing and characters seemed kinda mecha-standard, but I definitely like the world they’re presenting here. And though some of it seemed kinda blunt or unintentionally campy (the protesters, the Menacing Council), there were also nice details throughout, like their energy system, the apparent clone-classmates, and the aside about photosynthesis. The CG is unfortunately a real sticking point for me, though – the character’s faces just seem incredibly artificial, so I can’t really buy into their emotions in the way I normally can. My disbelief is not suspended.
That said, I may keep watching just on the strength of one scene – the protagonist’s first voyage out into space. The entire episode kept the tension on a pretty low simmer, and the way that final emergence into space felt more Space Odyssey than Space Marines, which is fantastic. There was a real sense of wonder and majesty as he looked back on Sidonia – if the show can keep throwing out moments like that, I might stick around long enough for the CG to become less of a problem.
Selector Infected WIXOSS 2: Fortunately for my viewing sanity, this episode focused pretty seriously on the boring card game at the center of this show, meaning I feel fairly safe dropping this one for now and picking it up again if people say it gets impressive.
Also, if you have one ability that lets you throw away a card if it’s of a given level and another that lets you throw away all cards of a given level, you should probably use the second one before the first one. Just sayin’.
Mekakucity Actors 1: Man, it was almost hard to watch this. It was basically all the Shaft house tricks thrown at the screen one after another in as quick succession as possible, with no actual purpose or thought put into them. This accompanied a pretty standard narrative of generic NEET being harassed by his incredibly obnoxious AI first in his room and then in a mall. It’s really, really strange to see so many of the techniques that are used to elevate Monogatari being used to… well… just fill the screen with stuff happening? The direction lacks any purpose or restraint, the shots just aren’t pretty the way Monogatari’s generally are, and it lacks the writing backbone needed to even aim at purpose. It’s like someone watched Monogatari, said “I can do that!”, and then took all the various legos used to construct the Monogatari aesthetic and just smashed them together into a giant blob. Style doesn’t do much in the abstract – style is just the means through which you create tone, meaning, or beauty. This episode managed none of those.
The World is Still Beautiful 2: Hm. This episode.
On the one hand, I think I will come to like the dynamic between Nike and the King. They’re both fine characters, they bounce off each other well, there’s a real energy there.
On the other hand, this episode basically blew through an entire season’s worth of character interactions, conflict-development, character-conflict, and then conflict-resolution in about 23 minutes, to the serious detriment of any of this stuff having much weight. I wasn’t sold on Nike’s attitude, because it wasn’t given enough time to develop beyond “hug a tree, kiss a flower.” I wasn’t sold on the King’s acceptance of it and then immediate reversal, because neither of these things were given enough narrative significance to become status quos. And then the ending just flew by all that and got us back to the two of them kinda liking each other.
This episode was messy, but given the fact that its choices all seemed to be in service of fast-forwarding a specific segment of the narrative, I’ve still got a fair amount of interest in this show. I like these characters and I like this concept – hopefully the coming episodes will let that stuff actually breathe a little.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 2: What am I supposed to say about friggin’ JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure? This episode was certainly JoJo – we had our noble hero whining about his mom and then getting mad at some schoolgirls, a dramatic confrontation with a new rival who has possibly the most ridiculous hair we’ve seen yet (wait no I forgot JoJo’s hair is a hat), and the school nurse totally stabbing a dude right in the eye. Personally, I’m really, really loving what Scamp remarked on in his first episode comments – this JoJo is totally a brooding, rebellious teenager, and everything he does just seems inherently silly because of it. Considering I’ve also been writing about Mahouka and SAO recently, it’s refreshing to get a show where instead of the dorky teenager being represented as some godlike uberman, here he’s stuck in this absurd, hilariously muscled body… and still acts like an immature twerp. Dude, you don’t have to impress people by being mean to your mom – you’re like seven hundred pounds of muscle and hair-hat.
Captain Earth 2: Listening to the meaningless technobabble interspersed between the few lines that point to what this series is really about (“I seized it with my own will – the gun only helped me,” “Your father died with a smile on his face,” etc), I almost wonder if writers include that stuff specifically to annoy the people who care about it. I can certainly imagine Anno conceiving it as a deliberate act of aggression towards people trying to retreat into scifi minutia, at least. Making that stuff overtly meaningless in order to force people to engage with a show’s message and not just its packaging.
Anyway, this episode was solid, more in what it promised than what it actually included. Last week was the big hook, so this week slowed down and gave us some context on what’s actually happening – but that context was constantly laced with hints at the coming-of-age story to come. Our protagonist has entered a new world he doesn’t understand and isn’t necessarily ready for, symbolized through the gun that just suddenly appeared in his hand. There’s adolescence and sexuality and the fear and necessity of engagement with the world, all wrapped up in the little details elevating this scifi narrative. It’s always a pleasure to find a show that’s so obviously carefully written, and I’m excited to see where this one goes.
Mahouka 2: This episode wasn’t really any better than the first – more transparent teen fantasy, more tiresome exposition, more flimsy characters, more nothing really happening. But in spite of that, I actually ended up doing a full writeup for it, which turned out to be pretty scathing. So yeah, I guess Mahouka does inspire me to think about themes, but not really in the way it was intended.
One Week Friends 2: Jesus christ. I had to check my blood-sugar level after this one – I can’t remember the last time I watched such a concentrated dose of fuzzy feelings. Both of these characters are just absurdly endearing, and their interactions are an absolute joy – it’s rare that a show understands chemistry so well, and even more rare that a show manages to create chemistry between two people who are actually just totally earnest and kindhearted. Normally chemistry is based on snark or something – here, they’re just great kids being incredibly cute together. The visual aesthetic works perfectly, the inherent tension of the premise adds a bit of melancholy and drills in the “connecting with people is kinda scary” theme, and the dialogue is all very natural. It’s just a joy to watch – few shows are this sincerely and convincingly optimistic about people.