Winter 2015 – Week 12 in Review

And so the season ends, with solid episodes and flops both largely where you’d expect them. Shirobako ends with a lovely tribute to its entire cast and spirit, Death Parade ends with a brilliantly personal episode that demonstrates the show at its best, and Yuri Kuma pulls out all the stops with one of its most personal and beautiful episodes yet. The rest of this week’s finales varied in quality, but the season remains one of the strongest in recent memory. We’re gonna have to remember this one through the potentially darker months ahead – we’re always lucky to get a season this good.

Incidentally, next week’s Week in Review will be replaced by my eventual, absolutely overwhelmed First Episode Retrospective of Absolutely Everything. I’m guessing I won’t be able to give status reports every few shows this time, since this is going to be the most overwhelming preview week I’ve ever taken part in, but I’ll make sure to let people know as soon as the flood begins. See you all on the other side!

Alright, enough news and reflections. LET’S RUN ‘EM DOWN!

Shirobako 24: It can’t end. It’s not allowed to end! You can’t leave us, Shirobako – the world needs you. I need you!

We damn well better get a sequel. This episode was kind of tough to watch – it was basically a victory lap, touching on and solidifying all the ways these dozens of characters have grown over the weeks, and as such it served as a pretty painful reminder of everything we were about to lose. It kept astonishing me as the show panned over group shots and meetings that I cared about every single one of these characters. Normally a show can manage a handful of resonant characters, but Shirobako’s graceful distribution of tiny arcs, unique personality features, and quiet human moments has brought an entire community to life.

And so many of these characters have grown, as well. This entire episode was a continuous demonstration of Aoi’s growth, but all of her friends have climbed naturally into the confidence they now own, and even characters like Hiraoka were able to get endearing little moments. Nabe P’s “go on, Ace” felt totally earned – Aoi really has become a champion across these seasons. She’s the glue that holds Musani together, and though she doubts her own motivation, her speech at the end made the depth of her passion and commitment clear. This show loves people and anime so much that it can’t help but be infectious. Its passing makes me feel like Aoi’s speech was almost intended to make us feel better – to know that Shirobako may be going away, but great anime will still continue to be made. I hope we always have more shows like Shirobako to keep the faith.


JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 36: Well, this was a silly episode. It’s nice to see Hol Horse again (I actually spent a great deal of Stardust Crusaders’ first half assuming he was the “missing character” who’d eventually join the team, not Iggy), but this was a slow one overall, and Boingo only had about an episode’s worth of character in him in the first place. My favorite scene this week was easily the Dio opening – they’re really building up Dio’s presence well, and the whole sequence was filled with beautiful shots framed by his hideout’s aesthetically convenient spiderwebs. Hopefully this arc’s second half is more entertaining, but either way, we’re finally getting close to Dio!

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Maria the Virgin Witch 12: Honestly wasn’t all that happy with this ending. It felt too easy – Maria got away with basically everything, war really did just end, and everybody lived happily ever after. For a show that was already interrogating Maria’s simplistic pacifism by the second episode, I expected more nuance in the conclusion than that, and many character journeys just kind of fizzled out. I liked the importance of Martha’s faith to Maria’s fate, but I didn’t expect Michael to just be won over by Maria’s conviction after all this time. I expected the church of the heavens to end their engagement in some kind of necessary compromise, likely prompted by Bernard making her a sainted tentpole of the church of man. And both Bernard and Galfa got pretty underserved by this ending, too.

There were good elements here, and I liked where some of the characters ended – Gilbert and Ezekiel in particular had nice journeys, with Gilbert falling entirely into insecure, judgmental servitude while Ezekiel rises out of it. And there were nice moments, like Viv saying she was off to sleep with some dudes and maybe bring world peace (Viv remains the best to the end). But overall this felt too much like a “and then they all lived happily ever after” bow pinned on a show that always seemed to understand and embrace the fact that the world is much more complicated than that. There seemed to be a real broad-minded intelligence in the way the show contrasted the very different but equally understandable perspectives of characters like Maria, Bernard, Ezekiel, and Galfa, and having it all just reduce to Maria “winning”… eh. I’m obviously normally fine with optimism in fiction, but this ending just didn’t seem to line up with this particular show. It didn’t feel like an earned victory.

Maria the Virgin Witch

Log Horizon II 25: And Log Horizon finishes strong, closing out with an exciting raid battle, a few closed and opened narrative doors, and even some actual animation. The whole cast got their expected moments in the sun, Shiroe’s conversation with Kanami was endearing and true to the show, and it all ended where it had to, with everyone enjoying one more goddamn family dinner. I’m gonna miss Log Horizon. Hopefully it comes back soon.

Log Horizon

Rolling Girls 12: Well this sure was a total disaster. Not really sure how any show manages to fumble its own story this much, but this was pretty much one long, slow-motion fumble from start to finish. And there wasn’t even good animation! Damnit Rolling Girls, you promised me an exciting finale! Not… whatever this was. Ah well.

Rolling Girls

Death Parade 12: Jeez, what a finale. This one was Death Parade at its best – all the ideas about judgment and the meaning of a life came to the fore, the building relationship between Decim and Chiyuki was illustrated perfectly, and the aesthetics were as strong as ever. The animation wasn’t flashy, but there were so many excellent closeups, so many shots framed through glass or flowers that perfectly set the scene. And the meaning of life, judgment, and arbiters all gained new texture, with Decim’s question to Chiyuki forcing her declaration that all lives are valuable, and thus she doesn’t have the right to take one. We’ve spent a long time framing the arbiters as inhuman, but here that acquired a real note of sadness – being removed from the pain of living and human nature keeps them from understanding why death is also important.

And ultimately, Decim stating that he wants to be an arbiter who makes people happy with how they lived lends a new meaning to the contrast between reincarnation and the void. It’s not about punishment or reward – the arbitration process has always been about channeling regrets, which make people want to escape the cycle of living, but human lives are complicated. As we saw in the detective arc, many lives can be framed as worthwhile or painful purely through perspective, and Decim has the opportunity to make people cherish their lives, and look back on them with fondness. It’s not about rewarding or punishing people – it’s about whether Decim can make them find value in living itself, value enough to continue and go through it all again. This was a tremendous finale to an excellent show – I expected Death Parade to be solid but somewhat emotionally removed, and instead it’s proven to be one of the smartest and most heartfelt shows of the last few seasons. Fantastic work.

Death Parade

Parasyte 25: Parasyte finished up with a totally unnecessary and deeply unimpressive epilogue, ending on a sour note after an arc that did a fair amount of work to restore the show’s overall dignity. The show didn’t end up nearly as strong as it once promised, but… well… alright, actually, I’m just kinda happy it’s over. It got tiring talking about this show after all – I really didn’t expect Log Horizon to be far and away the best of the shows I ANN-covered these past couple seasons, but that’s where we’re at. Cya around, Parasyte.


Yuri Kuma Arashi 12: I guess I really should have expected Ikuhara would have a few more surprises up his sleeve, but yep, this episode certainly surprised me. The court wasn’t so bad after all! Kumaria is Sumika, or maybe all of our Sumikas! EVEN CYBORG BEARS CAN FIND LOVE! This was probably one of my favorite episodes of the series, up there with the Lulu-Ginko one-two punch around the halfway point, and it really did a lot of work to add a bit more heart to the series right at the end. Yuri Kuma Arashi ultimately didn’t match my admittedly crazy initial expectations, but it was still an excellent show, and clearly demonstrated Ikuhara is still a creator we desperately need. Please keep making things, Ikuhara. No one else is making smart shows about lesbian bears.

Yuri Kuma Arashi

Yatterman Night 12: This would theoretically have been a very respectable finale, but god damn that animation. It’s such a shame – this episode’s ideal version wouldn’t have “fixed the show,” but the base concept was a nice way of twisting back the importance of symbols and heroes after the show had spent so much time articulating them as possible forces of evil. And the intended fight scenes were great, and what we actually got of the animation was spectacular… but jesus, those repeated cuts. I can’t remember seeing anything else like it – entire sequences were just repeated wholesale, one of them three goddamn times, and by the last few minutes it was basically impossible to tell what was even going on. The show ended up pulling from the OP, from its own first episode, and from a few minutes earlier in the same episode, and the end result was a visual meltdown. I’m honestly more okay with this than I would have been with a less ambitious and less smartly composed finale, but it’s still a tragic thing to see.

Yatterman Night

16 thoughts on “Winter 2015 – Week 12 in Review

  1. “After Glasslip, PA Works presents ‘Cute girls making anime’, by the director of Another”.

    Who’d have thought?

  2. It is certainly a happy ending with a lot of explicit sweetness, though I’m not sure I can say that was all reduced to “Maria winning” and nothing else.

    I don’t want to write an excessively long post with my own interpretation of Maria’s ending here, but I felt the show directly implied that the current war continued for a while and ended on its own when England gave up its French territories. Which did bring a measure of peace back to the land. Yet not exclusively because of Maria’s actions. She will continue to believe in her own views and put them in practice, whether as a witch or a regular human being, but that struggle itself suggests peace will never be a permanent state.

    From my perspective, there was in fact a compromise at work. Maria is not giving up her ideals, as innocent as they might be, but is ultimately willing to become more of a mortal woman rather than someone who gives the impression of looking down on the world. That is certainly a change.

    Rather than Michael being unilterallly won over by Maria’s convinctions, he was forced to analyze the real impact she had on the world and other people. Many were on her side but not everyone , and in that respect I appreciated how Galfa wasn’t exactly won over simply because of his loss. He has not forgiven Maria and probaby never will. Which I believe represents that an entire class of people who live off the war, both mercenaries and soldiers alike, will not easily change their ways. Neither will Joseph’s lord and other political figures for that matter, who tolerated his vassal’s depature but won’t give up his duties.

    Bernard is more of an odd case. I felt it was strangely fitting for the him to develop an intellectually valid yet far too historically early philosophical alternative to orthodox Catholic dogma as a result of meeting Maria…that he cannot actually put in practice, partially because of his own personal character flaws (which led him to lash out at the Archangel), and partially because his teachings would likely be considered heretical in the first place.

  3. Warts and all, I actually really loved Yatterman Night start to finish, as a beautiful “children’s” fable about growing up and seeing the world for what it is.

    That said, I agree with you about the horrible animation in the final episode, which I’ve read elsewhere is likely to be cleaned up before the Blu-rays are released.

    However, don’t Yatterman’s shortcomings in the animation department provide a strong argument for why Shirobako really wasn’t that good? In other words, for all the talk about cutting it close and possibly having to do a recap episode, ultimately, everything in Shirobako always worked out just fine. To my mind, the show was very competent, but laser-targeted to appeal to the self-regard of anime fans. Cute, moe girls will always persevere!!

    To me, Shirobako wasn’t an incisive workplace drama-comedy, or a fascinating peak into how anime “really” gets made. Rather, it was just a soft-pedaled, feel-good whitewashing of the process of making anime. Again, that doesn’t make Shirobako “bad,” but all of this fawning over it just rubs me the wrong way. It was much closer to fantasy than exposé.

    • I fail to see your argument. Yatterman’s animation sucked, but that doesn’t mean Shirobako had to show that kind of suck to be realistic. Yatterman doesn’t exemplify the rule. There are plenty of shows that manage to provide good animation quality all the way through, just like the fictional shows MusAni worked on in Shirobako.

      Shirobako’s view on the industry is certainly idealistic, but it’s not necessarily unrealistic.

      “Cute, moe girls will always persevere!!”

      You think people working in the anime industry is constantly failing? We wouldn’t have as much anime as we do every season if that was true. There must be countless real-life stories of success in the anime industry. The fact that Shirobako chose to tell a story of success instead of one of failure is in no way unrealistic.

      As for the girls being cute. Well, anime girls are always cute, so the point is kinda moot.

    • Not at all. Yatterman Night’s finale was noteworthy because it was unusual – I find the desire for Shirobako to demonstrate way more blood and guts pretty strange, because most stressful work situations don’t end in tragedy. They end in stress, and maybe some compromises, but the work gets done.

      And I wouldn’t say people love Shirobako specifically because it’s a hard-hitting expose, anyway. It’s an incredibly well-constructed character drama with a great cast and variety of interesting themes that touch on universal issues of adult life. You can rightfully say that if Shirobako were real, its five protagonists very likely wouldn’t have all achieved a position in the anime industry, but I feel like that complaint doesn’t really take anything away from the show.

    • I feel like those were all bad in different ways. Yatterman was a production disaster, Chuuni Ren betrayed its own storytelling, and KnK was just a narrative clusterfuck.

  4. Yeah, I don’t get people who dismissed Shirobako as unrealistic feel-good drama. Failures exist in Shirobako’s world (remember how Jiggly Jiggly Heaven is mentioned in ever other episode in the 1st half?), it’s just that the show chose to focus on how to learn from these failures and apply solutions to the potential problems. As someone with a long-time experience in production-based workplace, I deeply respect and appreciate the show for it; if you want to see a grim horrorscape of anime production, watch that one ep of Paranoia Agent instead (actually, Bobduh should really watch PA, but I digress), which is also brilliant in its own way.

    I do have complaint: besides Aoi (and to a lesser extent, Shizuka), the other supposed “main girls” are way too bland (both aesthetically and narratively) and not developed enough beyond the obvious roles of “animator girl”, “3D girl”, and “writer girl”. They each have their own professional issues, sure, but they missed the extra personal layer that made characters like Iguchi, Tarou, Honda, Yano, and Hiraoka (and probably half a dozen more) felt way more interesting and well-fleshed to me. Ema did have one gut-wrenching scene, but after that issue’s solved she mostly reduced to do “cute girl” stuff. Honestly I’ d be fine if the whole ‘don-don-donut quintet’ angle is scrapped (or at least severely modified), although I understand that the cute girls packaging might be necessary to have the show approved in the first place.

    All that said, that’s actually a minor flaw in a show I tremendously enjoyed, and I’m looking forward to Shirobako S2; where hopefully it’s also about how Tarou eventually growing to be a director of Shirobako.

  5. “And both Bernard and Galfa got pretty underserved by this ending, too.” I haven’t seen the last episode of Maria yet, so I can’t talk about endings, but I did find out earlier this week that Bernard and Galfa are completely anime original. I’m not quite sure what else is original to the anime (I think that forest spirit which had zero impact on the show was as well) but that might help explain it.

    • To be fair, “anime original” does not mean unimportant or uninteresting though. Quite a few things in the show aren’t in the manga, even though the big picture is very similar.

      For instance, the forest spirit existed to provide some side commentary and as a representation of an idea/theme. Which has to do with the power of belief, or lack thereof, so the fact a forgotten deity does “nothing” is part of the point in my view.

      • While I might argue in some instances that anime-original is terrible I never implied that in this particular statement, I just offered a possible explanation why this might have happened (I’m also with Bob in the comment below, it sounds like almost the entire plot the story story is original which is a weird move but one I would ultimately support).

    • It seems like the actual plot of this show was largely anime-original – the characters they added essentially defined the beats of the show’s conflict. It seems odd that they’d just kind fade into the background right at the end of the conflicts they were so instrumental in.

  6. I guess the good thing about not having a CR membership is that I get to say goodbye to Shirobako one week later than others

  7. BTW, if you’re curious: good thing you dropped Aldnoah Zero at the beginning of season 2. The cruellest thing about is it teased some amount of good character development on Slaine’s side – who slowly and steadily descended into evil throughout the season, turning into a proper villain with actual motivations rather than the random cartoonish Orbital Knights of the Week – just to end up like the writers had just gotten tired and decided to finish this as quickly as possible. The last episode was literally “the good guys are surrounding the base, the bad guy surrenders, there’s some inconsequential fighting, he’s captured, everyone now is in peace and happy, the bad guy is in jail”. End. One of the dullest ending possible, after all the drama and tragedy foreshadowing. The mountain gave birth to a mouse.

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