Winter 2015 – Week 3 in Review

This week was kind of split between hits and misses. On the hit side, Yurikuma and JoJo both put out episodes that were significant improvements on their earlier material, and both Maria and Yatterman continue to excel. On the miss side, pretty much the most reliable of all shows finally hit a rough patch in this week’s Shirobako, and Rolling Girls failed to demonstrate its actual material will be as energetic and engaging as its introduction. But the season is still young, the schedule’s still strong, and there’s plenty of anime to go around. Let’s run ’em down!

Shirobako 15: This episode’s conceit was definitely less graceful than the average Shirobako. We got a whole lot of information on the many meetings necessary for establishing a show’s setting, mood, and aesthetic, but the overuse of Aoi’s mascots and over-explaining in general felt like a rare misstep for the show. It almost felt like the episode’s writing was handled by someone else, actually – the humor sometimes seemed weirdly out of pace for the show (one crack about Jiggly Jiggly Heaven in particular seemed beneath Shirobako), and the switch from using Aoi’s dolls to represent her snarky inner thoughts to using them to explain things to the audience seemed like a misguided choice. But we did get a whole ton of production information, it was nice to see the new staff beginning to integrate into the team (kinda funny that only now, in the show’s second half, do we actually get an employee who’s a massive fangirl of the work they do), and the hammer finally fell right at the end. I’m guessing things will be getting frantic and tragic again real fast now.


Yuri Kuma Arashi 4: Hooooly shit this was a good episode. Great episode. Fantastic episode. Funny and smart and full of all the personality focus the show has previously lacked, Yurikuma 4 went a great distance in putting my fears for this show to bed. Lulu is awesome, and more shows should include scenes of kicking siblings into antlions or active volcanoes. That seems like something you should set some time aside for.

Yuri Kuma Arashi

The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls 3: This episode fell somewhere between the consistent excellence of the first and the lukewarm offering of the second, but overall it was such a well-produced thing that it’s hard to complain. My big problem with Cinderella Girls, one that was only amplified in this episode, is that all the characters outside of the main three are such transparent gimmicks that they make the entire production feel kind of cynical. Anastasia was maybe the worst offender this week – all of her moments felt like the show was shaking me by the shoulders and shouting “isn’t she cute? isn’t this cute? isn’t this what you’re here for?” I don’t like it when any show leans on moments that seem that coldly manipulative, least of all in a genre that’s already prone to seeming inauthentic.

That said, holy shit was this episode pretty. Great single shots, lovely dramatic framing, and so, so, so much beautiful animation. That last performance – holy hell. No ugly CG, no reliance on still frames – just a bounty of animation so fluid and continuous it seems like some kind of trick. Additionally, the sequences leading up to the actual performance were excellent as well, with the focus on the mechanics of preparing for the show and the girls’ nervousness really selling the drama of the moment. If Cinderella Girls can actually humanize its cast, it’ll be in a damn fine place.

Cinderella Girls

Rolling Girls 3: Rolling Girls’ third episode sadly wasn’t nearly as strong as the first two, but it still held fast to the show’s excellent worldbuilding and design sense. The real sticking point are the actual protagonists, now – they’re not yet engaging enough to carry a show that’s looking like it’ll be more a series of vignettes than a big narrative. Hopefully next week’s resolution will give them a chance to stretch their personalities a little.

Rolling Girls

Maria the Virgin Witch 3: Maria is continuing to slowly build on its core strengths every episode. We finally got the introduction of the virginity clause this week, which I’m amazed to admit legitimately reflects on the themes of the series. Not only is Maria a baudy show that loves its sex jokes, it’s also a show about the awkward intersection of sexuality, youth, and religion, and Maria’s politics are a perfect representation of the privileged idealism of youth – framing her politics against her sexuality and ultimate personal happiness makes perfect sense. Plus Maria covering Ann’s ears through this whole situation was maybe the best random gag of the season so far. The monk Bernard also seems like a great introduction to the series – approaching the woes of France from the opposite direction, we’re already seeing his piety making uneasy peace with his political savvy. And even though the show hammered it in, the metaphor of a pig being put through a farce trial really couldn’t have been a better reflection of Maria’s feelings on herself relative to the church. This show isn’t the most flashy thing, but it’s clever and consistent and seems to be going places.

Maria the Virgin Witch

Death Parade 3: This episode’s plot was a pretty simple little story, but it was an important one for the series. My biggest reservation regarding Death Parade so far was that its actual games would largely be shock-horror bunk – stories capitalizing on cheap twists and “the ugliness of human nature BLAAARGH.” This episode wasn’t the most inventive narrative, but it ended up using the game for a legit love story, and possessed nothing but fondness for the competing characters. It’s good to see that the show is willing to both stretch its formula and show empathy for its non-employee characters, and the little details of personality we got from Decim and his new assistant were welcome bonuses. Even the way this episode used the hearts to emphasize the weird intimacy of the game was a nice variation on the show’s formula. It’s starting to look like Death Parade isn’t destined to be a truly great show (its little vignettes just aren’t well-written enough for that), but I’m happy to see that it’s at least shaping up to be a likable one.

Death Parade

Log Horizon II 16: We’re stuck with the kids again, so yeah, this was a slow one. There were some cute bits from Rudy, and one interesting cut back to Shiroe’s narrative, but you could have slept through most of this episode and not really missed anything of value. Hopefully adding Not Shiroe the vampire will liven up this story a bit, but I’m not terribly optimistic – the Minori-side stuff is almost never as engaging as the rest of the show.

Also still amused by how no one on Log Horizon’s staff knows what a horse looks like.

Log Horizon

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Egypt Arc 3: The first episode of the Egypt Arc had me worried we were just in for a repeat of all of Stardust Crusaders’ earlier disappointments, but I’m happy to be proven completely wrong so far. If last episode demonstrated JoJo’s old flair for dynamic fights, this episode was all about its gift for ridiculous, mean-spirited humor. JoJo is often at its best when it’s just detailing the Jojos being assholes to everyone, and this week they got to be accidental assholes, as Oingo and Boingo defeated themselves thanks to their opponents just being ridiculous people. A lot of it comes down to the little things – Polnareff setting a cafe on fire, the Jojos pestering Boingo to dance for them because apparently that’s what the Jojos do to each other all the time, the episode ending with a random touching brotherly moment. It’s just silly bullshit, and JoJo excels at silly bullshit. I wouldn’t want every episode to be a total farce like this one, but it’s nice to see the show really stretch its nonsense muscles once in a while.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Yatterman Night 3: And the most sadly heartwarming show of the season continues to be both heartwarming and sad. There’s something almost biblical in the way this story’s going about its telling – the imagery, the world they’ve created, lines like “we’ll wear the clothes you made and fight.” We got more tragic circumstances this week (“what came back was a small amount of money and some bones” jeeeez), and more of our heroes making their weakness a kind of strength. The shot framing remains wonderful, and there were once again some lovingly animated sequences. There’s not really much to say – the show is simple and consistent and excellent. This might be the one I most badly want to hold together this season.

Yatterman Night

Parasyte 15: Parasyte’s kind of trying my patience at this point. The plot’s moving slowly, Shinichi’s internal struggle is fairly static, and the individual episodes just aren’t adding up to exciting half-hours of television. This episode was one of the worst, as the narrative seemed to be just biding its time up until the final chase, but that chase was pretty fun, and next episode should have more events of consequence, at least.


KimiUso 14: I’ve been somewhat lukewarm on KimiUso for a few episodes now, for similar reasons to Parasyte – it feels like the show simply doesn’t have enough material to keep engagement high across the long haul. But when single episodes are as well-executed as this one, it’s hard to complain. There was an absolute poetry to the execution here, as both Kousei and Tsubaki slowly built towards contrasting revelations across repeated refrains of self-image and memory. The episode tricks you by initially focusing on Kousei, with Tsubaki scenes slotted in as tiny, nicely underplayed breathers, but then all her moments build towards that staggering final scene. None of the characters in KimiUso play surprisingly roles – there’s no Ami Kawashima here, there’s only Troubled Artist, Childhood Friend, Doomed Muse, etc. But in moments like the episode ending here, the show sells its simple story on the pure beauty of the telling – the trick of directly timing Kousei’s realization of what he wants to be against Tsubaki’s acceptance of what she’s always wanted is a smart narrative choice, but the moment is made great through the music, framing, and way the show unspools all the little Tsubaki pieces it’s built up. If you’re gonna tell a simple story, you better tell it well.


18 thoughts on “Winter 2015 – Week 3 in Review

  1. There was that Log Horizon episode in China where the summoner soul transferred or whatever into a horse, and that one didn’t crossover into some weird uncanny valley. Maybe in Log Horizon the convention is to name any generic non-fantasy monster a “horse”, like how in Aquarion EVOL they call any small pet a “cat”.

      • No they’re like that on purpose. MMO horses, natch. S1 had’em too.
        Remember this is also the game with boars that have mushrooms on their backs and whatnot.

  2. Agreed on Shirobako. It felt like an awkward stumble. That said, when thinking about how it might have worked otherwise, these little guys providing commentary did more than just info dump: they provided a paced and understandable arc under which the series of meetings took place. Considering how brief each of these meetings was on screen, and how jarring it might have been without the additional information, the narrative mechanism the show used lent some stability to the first half it might not have otherwise had. There might have been a better way to handle the entire sequence, but the benefits of their choice are, I think, more than purely expositional.

    Completely agreed on the strength of this KimiUso episode. Tsubaki and her character arc has been to me the most engaging and well-articulated part of the show. Understated is spot on. The small conversation with her friend at the beginning of this episode was also one of the few times where the humor actually functioned well: the absurd dichotomy of childish humor and serious material felt like how such a conversation between friends might actually go. They bounce between ridiculous levity and heavy introspection, as opposed to what happens elsewhere, with the humor killing tone and hurting the pacing.

    Thanks for the continued Parasyte writeups. They always feel spot on.

    • True, the mascots did add a coherent structure to the episode. It was just kind of weird to see them being used for that purpose, especially since I love the way they normally just voice Aoi’s least charitable thoughts. And I’m glad you enjoy the Parasyte pieces! I hope the last third gives me more positive stuff to talk about.

  3. That JoJo episode is a lot of fun for sure. The show has generally been much better when it approaches the battles in an atypical sort of way like the Death 13 dream battle or stuff like that. The more typical shonen fights just aren’t as snappy in anime form as they are in comic form.

    • Yeah, there’s often an awkward conversion rate when it comes to shounen pacing. Big speeches that are fine for a panel or two are much less fine for full minutes of spoken speech.

      • Luckily, most Jojo fights from here on out aren’t typical Shonen. It’s part of the reason it’s my favorite manga.

        There’s still one more major misstep to cover in Stardust Crusaders, imo, and I’m interested to see your reaction to it.

  4. The Oingo and Boingo “fight” was just about the only thing in the Stardust Crusaders manga that resembled filler, so I wasn’t expecting much. Should’ve known better after how David Productions handled The Sun.

  5. Hi Bobduh! Not sure if you’ll see this or not, but I was wondering if you were going to do a write up of Tsukimonogatari soon. I recently just finished it, and it’s relatively more straightforward than some of the other seasons. I really am looking forward to your opinion if you have the time!

    • I’m not actually sure if I’ll write on it, at least not immediately. Not because I’m not interested in doing so – but at this point, I know I’ll end up writing a review of it for ANN anyway, and so I might just want to hold out for the physical release.

      • Do you feel as though there’ll be any more big thematic revelations in Monogatari somewhere down the line that you haven’t already covered in previous posts?

        • Well, it’s a collection of connected stories, and all of those stories offer different angles on the show’s general themes of adolescence, identity, deception, “personal truth,” etc. I keep thinking I’ve written everything I want to write about the series, but then a new set of episodes will give me something else I really want to talk about.

  6. I love that apparently in between all of the constant Stand battles, Jotaro spends his time getting Polnareff to check out this totally sick trick he can do with five cigarettes.

  7. After two episodes of Rolling Girls, I had high hopes that the show could become the next Mōretsu Pirates: a slice-of-life anime centered around a band of pretty – but not hyper-sexualized – girls who live in an energetic, high-concept sci-fi world. By the end of episode three, though, I’ve started to suspect that Rolling Girls is a story about a sci-fi world, not a story about a bunch of girls who live in it. If that’s the case, I’ll be a bit disappointed, but not enough to drop the show.

    On the other hand, there’s “How To Raise A Boring Girlfriend”… everything about it screamed “trashy harem comedy.” Earlier this week, though, I read a review of the light novel series “Saekano”, and thought it sounded like a more bittersweet “OreGairu” mixed with the Chihiro arc of “The World God Only Knows.”

    When I realized that “How To Raise A Boring Girlfriend” and “Saekano” were the same story, I was confused, especially after I watched the truly awful “Episode 0” and the fairly unimpressive “Episode 1.” I gave the show one more chance, and I’m glad I did, because Episode 2 was far better than any individual episode of “OreGairu.”

    In the first half of the episode, I felt like I was watching Bakemonogatari for the first time, if Akiyuki Shinbo had replaced all of that show’s fanservice shots with Ikuhara-style camerawork. The second half (the part where Megumi spends the night at Tomoya’s house while his parents are out of town, and realizes that the boy she’s been crushing on for a year is a self-absorbed dick) was a far more realistic, true-to-life depiction of high school romance than anything KyoAni has managed to accomplish.

    I certainly don’t think Saekano is going to come even close to cracking my Top 20 or anything, but I certainly respect what it can do in a single episode.

    • After writing all of that, I guess my Top 5 would be helpful for anyone who’s now thinking “oh, sure, you say Saekano impressed you, but your favorite anime is probably OreImo or something”:

      5) Serial Experiments Lain
      4) Gatchaman Crowds
      3) Mōretsu Pirates
      2) Simoun
      1) Maria-sama ga Miteru

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