Summer is here! A wonderful time to hide on your computer and watch cartoons so other people don’t have to. This first week has had some hits and some misses, but overall it’s looking like I’ll have a healthy mix of genres to replace our dear departed Ping Pong. Let’s run down some first episodes!
Glasslip 1: It feels difficult for me to be entirely fair to Glasslip. It’s not the show’s fault at all, and I actually liked a lot of what was going on here. I like that the show drops you into a group of friends without feeling the need to explain what all their relationships are. I like that the characters don’t seem quite so simplistic that this isn’t a meaningless gesture – yeah, the various members of the group map to some pretty common archetypes, but they still mainly talk like people. I like that this takes place near the end of high school – if we’re going to be sitting through another nostalgic high school show, it’s nice to at least be watching one that acknowledges things end. And P.A. Works always make beautiful things, with Glasslip in particular portraying a looseness in its style that allows for both great beauty and very emotive animation. It’s just…
Well, it’s NagiAsu. Every time this show reminds me of NagiAsu (and it reminds me of it pretty constantly), the cynical part of my brain starts imagining love polygons with too many sides and no ends in sight, episodes dedicated to characters sighing heavily for twenty-three minutes, light drama given a narrative weight it never really earns. Glasslip is walking on a tightrope for reasons entirely beyond its control, and it may be best for both me and the show to take a little more time off before returning to a P.A. Works show that seems so firmly situated in their light drama wheelhouse.
Tokyo Ghoul 1: I was pretty on the fence about this one, given the plot seems like exactly the kind of schlocky action-horror I have pretty much no interest in, but this show’s aesthetic strengths can’t be denied. The shot framing, the lighting, the color work – Tokyo Ghoul has a vibrant and evocative visual vocabulary, and really leaps off the screen. Every scene is a visual gift.
That said, it actually does seem like all this visual niceness is working in support of a schlocky action-horror that I’d generally have no interest in. There are a bunch of wince-worthy one-liners, the characters all seem to be playing it up for the crowd, and the sense of underlying horror the backgrounds and lighting create is kind of overwhelmed by the dialogue’s Always-At-11 THIS IS HORROR-ness. I’m definitely going to give it another episode, but I remain on the fence for now.
Aldnoah.Zero 1: It’s a little awkward to say it, but the Urobuchi show this first episode most strongly reminded me of was easily Fate/Zero. Like that one, this episode was dense, packed with exposition the show was too focused on getting through to make particularly graceful. All the pieces are certainly here – we’ve got our child soldiers, we’ve got the princess (a Madoka if I’ve ever seen one) being used to spark a new war, we’ve got the disillusioned older generation and a greater racial context. But given that Fate/Zero tone, I’m hesitant to feel immediately on board with this.
I initially read Fate/Zero’s choices as ones born in a need to immediately push the story forward, and that show ended up squandering its first half in meaningless conflict. I like the pieces much more here, of course – Urobuchi had his work cut out for him to elevate something as arbitrary and worldbuilding-for-its-own-sake as the Grail War, whereas this is just straight up a story about generations and races and governments and war. And I like a bunch of the details, like the empire’s knights all competing with each other, which should hopefully lead to some fun conflicts down the line. But I can’t say I’m sold quite yet – I’m intrigued, but not yet impressed. We’ll have to see where it goes.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 14: This week’s Most Ridiculous Thing would have been the fact that the JoJo Crew spends the entire first half of this episode poking a dead body, but holy shit Enyaba and Polnareff. Enyaba and Polnareff. ENYABA AND POLNAREFF.
Yeah, you can’t really top that. Nice work, JoJo. Even if you forget what dogs look like, I still love you.
Akame ga Kill 1: After Tokyo Ghoul, I was a little worried this season’s action shows would all demand a second look… well, fortunately Akame ga Kill is happy to demonstrate that’s not the case. This first episode was basically a string of classic shounen cliches with occasional grimdark interludes, making it just the kind of thing I feel comfortable dropping immediately. Although this guy’s ability to appreciate the irony of his own death was pretty hilarious in a “what the fuck am I watching” kind of way, that stuff doesn’t actually make the show worth watching. Plus it just dips into childish grossness with the torture stuff near the end, which was frankly unpleasant to watch. Easily dropped.
Barakamon 1: This one wasn’t on my preseason list because I was worried it would be one of those “non-joke comedies” like Servant x Service or whatnot. I am extremely happy to be wrong! So far, it’s a very endearing, gently funny slice of life/drama, with a central character dynamic that already seems confident and lived-in. I’m obviously a little biased towards stories about the art instinct, but this one doesn’t really overplay its hand, and is content to just meander through scenes of very natural dialogue, reveling in its own character dynamics.
Slice of life shows often put me off due to a distance I perceive in them, a very idealized/heightened version of reality, and I didn’t have that problem here at all – possibly because the protagonist is actually a fairly immature jerk, and also because his childlike counterpoint is an actual child, brought to life through great voice acting and stellar animation. That animation deserves special mention – there are a few specific highlights throughout, but pretty much all of Naru’s movements have tremendous energy and personality to them. It’s a very warm show, and a welcome counterpoint to what I assume will be weekly doses of capital-D Drama from Aldnoah.Zero and Zankyou no Terror.
Sailor Moon Crystal 1: I’ve never seen the original, and wasn’t really expecting to click with this show, but this first episode was pretty entertaining! I dislike the style of the faces here – I know they’re trying to go for adherence to the manga, but the eyes come off as too ornate and unchanging to feel really emotive, or at least did so this episode. Which is a shame, because from what I’ve seen, the original actually had very expressive faces. The visual aesthetic was also pretty bland, and the animation stiff – aesthetically, this just didn’t feel that strong. Which leaves me to hang on the narrative itself, which… well, there’s good and bad.
I don’t really care about the dramatic stuff happening, but I kind of loved that Usagi didn’t really seem to either – all my favorite parts of this episode where Usagi derping around and failing to be heroic in every way possible. Even her dreams of being like Sailor V are focused more on stuff like avoiding school and bopping bad guys than actually accomplishing anything – she only becomes Sailor Moon because she likes shiny things, and her immediate reaction to being chased is to run in circles around the kitchen counter. I like that. I can relate to this kind of hero. Whether that actually keeps me invested in a story that seems pretty simple and isn’t really being expressed with any great flair, I can’t yet say. But yeah, Usagi’s great.