Spring 2015 – Week 3 in Review

So I know this is supposed to be the bad season that follows winter’s shocking bounty, but it turns out this season is actually really good. It’s not exactly a deep bench, and Plastic Memories is so far turning out to be a disappointment, but Blood Blockade Battlefront, Oregairu, and Sound! Euphonium are all top tier shows, Ore Monogatari!! isn’t far behind, and even the rear of the pack is relatively entertaining. I normally only expect one or two truly great shows in a season, so even if nothing else rises in my standings (and honestly, there’s not much that could, outside of maybe a surprise turn by Punch Line), this is still solidly above par. Who would have thought that a season with a sequel to one of my all-time favorites, a show directed by one of my favorite directors, and a new low-key drama by KyoAni might actually be pretty okay?

Yeah, I guess I should probably have seen this possibility. Well, for once, I’m very happy to be proven wrong. Let’s run ’em down!

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 15: This was an interesting episode. I feel like this was just a few inches off from being truly excellent, but those inches were crucial ones. I think the structure of UBW hurt the story that was being told here – this felt like one of the second half character-climax episodes from Fate/Zero, but because this show is so closely tied to Shirou and Rin instead of being an ensemble piece, we just didn’t know Ilya well enough for its emotional beats to land. Which is a shame, because Ilya’s story seems like it’d be a really strong addition to this show as a central pillar – she’s her own very compelling reflection of the parenting thread that follows from Zero, and her relationships with Kiritsugu and Berserker are neat mirrors of Shirou’s personal story that also reflect on his obsession with saving people even at the expense of the self.

Berserker reflecting a strength that comes from protecting others, Gil’s denial of that strength, her unhappy link with Kiritsugu, the way her being a “doll” is just a more overt version of the ways Rin and Shirou already do reflect the wishes of the past… Ilya’s just a really, really smartly positioned character, and so it’s frustrating that her entire story was condensed to one episode instead of being a slow build across the entire show, which would have made the finale here hit with a real punch. As is, it’s still well-constructed (I don’t mind the lack of exciting fight choreography, since this conflict was far more about the emotional/ideological conflict than the physical one), but it doesn’t land with the emotional impact that I think it really does deserve. This was the cliffnotes version of an arc that could have made this entire show significantly better.

Unlimited Blade Works

Sound! Euphonium 3: And Euphonium maintains its crazy streak with a third straight episode of wonderfully understated storytelling and perfectly chosen shot framing. KyoAni at their best make this look so very easy, but there’s so much going on with this show. It’s nice to see them demonstrating such mastery of the craft again.

Sound! Euphonium

Plastic Memories 3: Plastic Memories sure does think it is a funny show. That can be a real problem – anime thinking it’s funny is rarely a good thing, because that tends to mean the anime will attempt to tell jokes. This week’s Plastic Memories spent a very long time trying to tell jokes, and though it did get a chuckle or two out of me (Tsukasa weightlifting, some of the reaction faces), the overall ratio was pretty terrible, and the descent into cliches like the romantic slip-fall and Michiru’s entire personality were not welcome. Fortunately, the episode’s last few scenes were much better, and got pretty decent mileage out of the way Isla hides her fear of loss in defenses based around her mechanical nature. That, and the quiet scene between her and Tsukasa at the very end, gave me something to enjoy in this episode. Unless these characters and their rapport are able to rise out of the tired animeisms they seem so fond of, I’ll pretty much always favor scenes like that over this show trying to be funny.

Plastic Memories

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 39: God damn has this show picked up. The second half of Iggy’s battle was at least as good as the first, with That Fucking Bird getting a couple more wonderfully absurd jump scares (how’d he get beneath Iggy underground?) before finally ending in a dramatic clash that was actually more intense than any of the human-sized battles so far. And that intensity was ably matched by Iggy’s fakeout death, where we were treated to a montage of Iggy ruling New York and farting on people to the sound of a mournful choir lamenting his end. This show is wonderful, and I’m so happy to see it return to the mix of absurdity and absolute, 110% dramatic commitment that marked its best material.

I figured the episode would let up once the Iggy segment ended, but Kakyoin’s return and the final walk to Dio’s mansion were great in their own way. Some nice visual effects signifying Dio’s crazy aura, good pacing on the “the gate’s open. THE DOOR’S OPENING. A FLYING BUTLER AHH” reveals, and plenty of reaction shots that hammered in how Iggy has become an equal member of the group. I know Stardust Crusaders has fallen in sales compared to the first series, and it certainly had its problems early on, but these episodes are making me really hope it does well enough to justify more bizarre anime adventures. David Productions are doing some brilliant work here.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 3: The reappearance of Haruhi has me worried, honestly. I don’t actually want to watch a show that’s basically the old Haruhi minus the scifi shenanigans, especially since this one lacks the character-moment acuity that KyoAni brought to that series. Nagato’s the title character, and Nagato’s the one I want this to be about, so hopefully the show will manage to escape Haruhi’s huge shadow.

Nagato Yuki-chan

Ore Monogatari!! 2: This story is just going to goddamn kill me. Takeo’s obtuseness is killing me, Yamato’s incredibly refreshing direct expression of emotions is killing me, and the overall obvious truth that they would make the most adorable couple is just TEARING ME TO PIECES. Stories like this make me frustrated that anime just doesn’t allow couples to actually be couples, for sad arbitrary reasons of audience identification. I would dearly love for the next episode to have Yamato just say “I like you, Takeo,” and have their lives just go from there – but things just aren’t ever that easy in anime land. Which is such a huge, tragic shame. Conflict doesn’t end at confession – that’s certainly a satisfying resolution to one issue, but there’s more to life than pining after your crush. And these two would make such a perfect little couple. Screw you, Ore Monogatari. You’re just a big, unavoidably watchable jerk.

Anyway, this episode was pretty great. Takeo and Yamato remain a great couple, Sunakawa doing his best to be a good friend is nice to see, and the show is still making the most of its premise. So far this has been a good kind of painful.

Ore Monogatari!!

Oregairu S2 3: Oregairu’s just so god damn good. The first season was one of my all-time favorite shows, and so far the second season has actually been significantly better, leaning entirely into the show’s strengths and elevating its fundamentally terrific character work with much stronger aesthetic execution. This is like a genie-wish show.


Punch Line 2: Christ, Punch Line is such a strange one. There’s dumb self-aware light novel jokes in spite of this being an original production, there’s all sorts of random and legitimately intrusive panty shots that kill important character moments… and then there’s a bunch of natural, offhand character building through incidental conversations. This show’s engaging in exactly the same kind of naturalistic storytelling as something like Shirobako, but it’s applying that mastery of graceful plotting to this goddamn panty extravaganza. There’s hints of a larger story that actually sounds kinda compelling, the whole ensemble setup of the apartment complex is being used in a very energetic and natural way… but what the hell is it all being used for? The show’s first episode demonstrated great aesthetic personality, and this episode more or less continued that while introducing even smarter storytelling, but there are so many jagged edges of dumb boob jokes and panty shots that it almost feels more sad than satisfying. Punch Line makes me realize that I actually prefer it when fanservice shows are poorly constructed – at least then I don’t have to lament the fact that good creators are being wasted on bad fundamental concepts. This show has so much talent and so little to do with it.

I’m probably going to watch the next episode, though.

Punch Line

Blood Blockade Battlefront 3: Man, this show is so much fun. There’s just so much going on in every single shot, from the wild, beautiful depictions of the Escher-esque Alterworld to the narrow, stark shots of Klaus slowly descending into himself through the manic megachess match. And the constantly shifting music gives the show such a diverse array of moods, and the comedy is handled lightly and quickly enough to never feel like it wears out its welcome, and the characters are just such fun people to be around…

Of course, all of these things are true of every episode, and outside of this one demonstrating exactly how much fun Matsumoto is having going nuts with the Alterworld designs, I’m not really telling you anything that isn’t already obvious. So I guess the one thing that I specifically liked about this episode, aside from Klaus’s adorable computer and K.K. choking up as she gave the raid orders and the wonderful scattered details of megachess, was how this vignette demonstrated that this is far from being just Leo’s story. He’s the character we come back to, but everyone here is leading an interesting life, all of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. I’m looking forward to seeing who we get to focus on next, and however Matsumoto will bring their world to life.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

29 thoughts on “Spring 2015 – Week 3 in Review

  1. Am I mis-remembering, or did the fake death montage in JoJo re-use the Caesar death montage music from Part 2?

    RIP Ilya, you’ll probably get your arc in the movie(s).

    • I don’t remember the song they used for that, but that would only make this scene even better. I sure hope so.

      • Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same song. I checked.

        Anyway, the Blu-Ray sales for the second half of Jojo should be better, considering that the fight with DIO is one of the most iconic sections of any shonen manga. Even if they aren’t, David seems pretty committed to doing this series right, and the sales so far haven’t been bad by any metric, just not as good as last season’s. What’s more, the next part is Araki’s personal favorite, and he does hold some sway over these decisions.

        Maybe I’m just deluding myself because I think Part IV is fantastic, but I’m not worried.

  2. “it’s frustrating that [Ilya’s] entire story was condensed to one episode instead of being a slow build across the entire show, which would have made the finale here hit with a real punch”

    Thank you. You hit the nail right on the head there.
    In addition, I thought this episode would have had more emotional impact with a bit more “show, don’t tell”.
    I see what the storyteller was trying to convey: it just didn’t make me resonate.
    Then again, my buddy was waxing emotional over this episode’s tragedy, so it might depend on people’s tastes.

    • Personally what completely flew over my head was why Berserker protected Ilya of his own accord. A VN reader explained me it was because he’s Herakles, and according to the myth he killed his wife and children in a spur of madness induced by the goddess Hera, so here is trying to make up by protecting Ilya because he still feels guilty for that. Which makes perfect sense, had they only taken ten seconds to drop hints at it! It also provides a nice parallel with Caster/Medea, who killed her own children of personal volition just to get revenge at their father. I guess with Type Moon adaptation the animators are always caught between the anvil of narrative needs and the hammer of fans’ expectations for a strictly faithful adaptation, and so here we are, with full episodes worth of Shirou and Rin’s romcom antics and a major character death lacking any build up :P.

  3. Battle Blood Blockade has been the biggest revelation for me this season. I didn’t expect much after reading the initial synopsis, but it has delivered in spades and has an excellent OST to boot. Unfortunately it seems very few people are watching it.

    Oregairu is only going to get better and the next couple of episodes will deliver some of the best content from the novels. The characters of our 3 main characters will be revealed so much more complex than we imagine (although it seems that a large portion of the viewership has already condemned Yukino to “bitch” status for not understanding and supporting “Batman’s sacrifice”).

    • How are people not watching Blood Blockade Battlefront?! Isn’t this exactly what the people want?!?

      Man, all this talk about “what show will make anime like it was when I was watching it on Toonami,” and then a perfect successor to Bebop or Baccano or whatever comes along and people are all busy watching the friggin’ vampire thing.

      • To be honest I was pretty surprised to hear it as well. Appearently many people think it’s pacing is just too fast, but not because of the actual content of the show, but rather because of the visual direction and so much happening on-screen with such diversity and shot-framing people are not used too.

        While I think he isn’t entirely correct about some aspects, or I at least don’t agree with him on these parts, I think Digibro’s analysation of its visual pacing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElTiCAD39r8) is interesting to watch/read. It might give you some deeper insights on what puts people off.

  4. The write-ups for Plastic Memories and Punch Line are kind of why I prefer not to watch uncompleted shows. Could anyone surmise the kind of heights Gurren Lagann and Steins;Gate would reach, from their initial episodes? Some might even argue about the merits of FLCL’s humor. Gurren Lagann still has The Worst Hotsprings Episode in that first batch. Is it worth sitting through that in the hopes that Punch Line also has more to it? Is TTGL still recommended watching for people who just don’t like fanservice, when there are so many shows that they wouldn’t have to sit through that for the other good stuff?

    Steins;Gate, in particular, just faffed around with low-key gags and plot progression for several episodes, and its trademark banter wouldn’t really elevate itself until it was riffing on its own previously tired gags. The Negima manga, too, only got truly funny later, when it was using its established character work to mock its harem cliches. Would the back half sequence of Okabe closing out each subsequent timeline work without the extensive but relatively dull ground-laying it had done earlier. I couldn’t care less about the first-half shenanigans with Shining Finger, Ruka, Faris, and Suzuha, but they build on themselves, until they’re critical Chekhov’s Guns i nthe back half. That doesn’t make the initial episodes any less grating. I don’t think I would have continued with S;G, if I had been watching during broadcast.

    Is it okay for shows to play the long game in this way? It’s not tenable to hope every lackluster show start is just hiding behind a grand structure. Is there no way for Plastic Memories to be actually interesting in the early episodes, without compromising some of its inevitable “it was interesting in hindsight!” twists in the future? After all, KyoAni seems to be doing fine. And yet evaluating Steins;Gate in its entirety tends to have it come out ahead of the likes of Melancholy and sometimes Baccano.

    I’m not advocating that you keep watching either show. Just musing over how often anime seems to sacrifice episodic structure, driving off week-by-week viewers, for the sake of long-term payoffs, instead of striving for a “interesting now, devastating later” approach a la Utena.

    • I actually really liked Steins;Gate’s first half (I picked it up within the first few airing episodes, because a friend recommended it as a humor/character piece alone), so that particular example doesn’t really work for me. And I think in general, I’d say “no. Hell no.” Some shows eventually do get better in their second halves, but I don’t think that ever retroactively justifies first halves that just aren’t put together in a compelling way. Things can be slow or low-key without being unenjoyable – I mean, Euphonium’s close to my top pick this season, and it’s about as low-key as a drama can get. I think it’s just kind of excusing poor storytelling to think of unengaging first halves as necessary for climactic finales.

      Of course, this ignores the audience-side fact that many people just prefer more overtly exciting stuff to episodes that lay groundwork, regardless of how well they’re laying that groundwork. So the conversation isn’t quite as simple as that.

      • As you point out, people’s opinions of what groundwork laying is or isn’t engaging varies, besides whether or not they want groundwork laying in the first place as opposed to fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants wild ride plot.

        But it does strike me how often the “it gets better” defense is used, and how some will extend that defense of the “just wait for x” as not a placating statement, but as necessary to the story structure of a show. VN adaptations especially have trouble with this, as they try to lay in bits of other routes that are thematically different from the “main”/current route being adapted, which on an episode-by-episode basis, feels like irrelevant filler. If Plastic Memories does something down the line that casts the failed humor in this episode in a new and insightful light, does that “justify” its presence here?

      • Well but to be fair, Punchline’s only real problem right now is the whole panty shots thing. It’s not like it’s boring – it just looks like it’s going after a cheap voyeuristic gratification and that makes it a bit less palatable from an ideological point of view. However at this point the whole concept is a little fishy for me. The thing is, the MC doesn’t look especially horny. And he doesn’t look like the panties themselves matter much to him, he’s not some sort of panty fanatic, so why the exaggerated “excitation” reaction? It just doesn’t compute. I hope it means this is actually some sort of satire of fanservice as an obligatory chore in anime which pushes the boundary further and further by making the panty shots progressively more jarring and out of place, but maybe that’s giving the show too much trust.

        • Right, but the panties thing doesn’t even need to be retroactively “justified,” if you look at the example of Gurren Lagann. They never go back and try to bring meaning to Yoko’s outfit, or any of the shenanigans of the early episodes. And there’s just no way to predict from those early episodes the more serious nature of future episodes.

  5. The problems of Fate this time are mostly caused of it being a adaptation of a multiple route vn. Ubw just happens to be the route where Illya is the least important. The reason why her death kinda works in the vn is that it assumes you care about her because of the other routes. So how well this episode resonates is depended on external sources of this anime which is unfortunate but kinda unavoidable without making huge changes to the original story.

    • Well, that sucks. Obviously my preferred solution would be “make huge changes to the original story, this is an adaptation, you should try to make the best story you can,” but I’m sure that would make many people very unhappy.

      • Even in the vn, it doesn’t work to well because the route with the most Ilya is HF, which comes after UBW.

      • you can actually see this happen on season 1, with Rider’s very anti climatic death. It just so happens that in another route she is extremely important.

  6. I think my biggest complaint with BBB is that it tries to do too much. Every shot is creative and cinematic and oozing style, but I feel that kinda overwhelms the whole show, every scene is busy and dense that it all kinda loses meaning and some shots are just really unecessary.
    It needs to take a step back and calm down with the directing, and focus more on the rest.
    Im all for style over substance, but this show could use just a little bit of pacing

  7. I totally agree about your Fate comments. I really enjoyed the episode (I was crying…), but I feel as though the reason it had such a big impact on me was because I played the VN, read/watched Fate Zero, etc… For those who start with this show, this episode would understandably be more ineffective, as they wouldn’t have the same emotional connection to Illya that people who started with something else do.

    Honestly, at this point in time (and don’t get me wrong – I’m loving the show so far), UBW is feeling much more like a sequel than an original work. This is fine, but it also relies so heavily on F/Z that while those who watched F/Z first have a lot of OHMIGAD moments, those who didn’t end up missing out on a lot. And as someone who started with zero, I’m not sure how I feel about that – it’s GREAT for me, but it’s a letdown that those who didn’t start with zero might not be getting as much out of it. I wonder if there would have been a way for Ufotable to still reference Zero, but without compromising so much on those who haven’t seen it yet?

    • Eh, I think it’s fine that UBW is basically a sequel to Zero – I actually think the ways the two shows reflect each other is one of the best things about UBW. My issue here is more that it also seemed to kind of rely on an emotional attachment built through the visual novel. I watched Zero first, but personally I didn’t really feel the attachment to Ilya that this seemed to take for granted, and also just don’t think the show used her character to its best potential (because apparently this just wasn’t a route that deeply concerns her, even though she could have really aided the story being told).

      • Well it is an unfortunate consequence of the Fate route not being adapted. Illya is one of the more important characters there, and her role in UBW relies on that context. It’s one of the many ways the routes play into eachother that hurts UBW as a standalone.

        By the way, I think you’ll like the news that the UBW director has chosen to make things more “ensemble” in the 2nd half (from BD Q&As), though maybe he should have done it from the beginning.

  8. Hm, I see what you mean…

    Unfortunately, as you said, this route really doesn’t focus on Illya at all. In fact, it gives her the least focus out of all three, which is strange considering how it also gives her the most brutal death of the three. However, it does make sense in the context of the visual novel. As some one above said, the three routes really depend on each other, and it would also be really repetitive to build her character AGAIN and AGAIN in all three routes (because each one starts from scratch in terms of how much Shiro knows), so developing Illya in UBW wasn’t something that Nasu really had to worry about.

    However, I do wish that the animators had taken some liberties in this adaptation. At least, they could have spread her character development over a stretch of episodes, to build up sympathy/attachment. Even better, they could have added in some character building bits from other routes, such as the chats by the swing in Fate and HF, which really make Illya grow on you, AND they’re really casual, and therefore can be easily integrated into one of the (many) more wordy or fluffy episodes of the adaptation. That way, we would have gotten at least SOME of the character building from the two more Illya-centered routes, without actually converting the show into Fate of HF halfway through. But at the same time, I can see why they wouldn’t do that. Fate fans can be very… attached, to say the least, and (from what I saw with Fate Zero), UFO seems to be pretty respectful of source material, even when that may not be the wisest idea.

  9. A couple of points on this week set of episodes.

    First, I think the critique you made of Eva 3.33 is also in relevant to this week’s episode of UBW. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think Ilya’s death would had any emotional resonance for me had I not already seen Fate/Zero. I can’t imagine what this episode was like for people for whom UBW is their first entry into the Fate series. I know you were chastised by the Fate community for recommending that people consider watching Fate/Zero first, but if this episode said anything, it’s that even Ufotable believes you should watch Fate/Zero first.

    Second, obviously what has made BBB fantastic thus far has been every part of its production coming together into a cohesive whole, but what has really stood for me has been the quality of its writing.

    Donna Tartt, one of my favourite authors, has said that for her great prose is defined by being both fast and dense. I doubt any of the staff at Bones have read her work, but it’s obvious they have a similar approach to writing. Each line of dialogue in BBB feels so rich and purposeful, with a lot there for the viewer to parse. At the same time, each line never overstays its welcome, nor is there every a wasted piece of dialogue. I’ve never felt like the show has tried to waste even one second of my time. I don’t think you can say that for even a small portion of the medium, and I think that’s ultimately what’s going to make BBB one of my favourites for a long time.

    Lastly, holy shit has Sound! Euphonium been great.

  10. No, I’m pretty sure Plastic Memories doesn’t think it’s funny. It’s doing exactly what it did with Isla’s clumsiness–it’s playing on conventions as a way of setting up in plain view, relying on the audience seeing a pattern, completing it, and then no longer thinking about it. I mean, you’re a pretty medium-aware dude, Bobduh, but even you went “ugh standard animeisms” and didn’t think anything more of it.

    Isla’s low-key emoting, clumsiness, “rusty skills,” and “error” moments are all examples in the previous episodes. This episode adds “Isla doesn’t accept gifts” (in the form of a standard “let’s dress up the emotionless girl!” gag) and “Isla is going blind” (in the form of a “why does the robot need glasses?” gag).

    The other office members (the other newbie aside) also likely know the real reason Isla’s so standoffish, so their bad advice is very likely set-up for a serious “call out the assholes” moment later. (Note that the other newbie and Isla’s former partner are the only ones who take his failures seriously, and they’re also the only ones not giving him advice during that segment.) The fact that the main character actually followed all of that advice, and seems weirdly intent on instructions in general (“I followed the manual, so it should be okay!” reference in another gag!), is very definitely serious set-up, especially in light of his previous flashback about why he got the job (his dad’s connections).

    Plastic Memories is using audience genre awareness to pull a bait-and-switch, and it’s doing it very well. It’s essentially setting up audiences to experience the same thing its protagonist is: soon, all of the bright and cheery excuses will abruptly get ripped away, turning all of the “comedy” into the slow, inevitable decline of a dying girl who is surrounded a lot of people who don’t really care about it.

    • It’s essentially setting up audiences to experience the same thing its protagonist is: soon, all of the bright and cheery excuses will abruptly get ripped away, turning all of the “comedy” into the slow, inevitable decline of a dying girl who is surrounded a lot of people who don’t really care about it.

      Which is as trite as the stuff its allegedly playing on.

      I haven’t watched an episode of Plastic Memories, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen this show before. Sure, maybe it will do something shockingly different, but not if what you suggest comes to pass.

  11. Completely agreed about this week’s UBW. For the past few episodes, I’ve felt like the emotional resonance carrying over from Fate/Zero is most of what is keeping me engaged in UBW. UBW has struck some really great beats with its generational themes and exploration of Shirou, but I miss the deliberate feeling of Fate/Zero in regards to character work and thematic build.

    In any case, here’s to hoping UBW picks up going forward. I’m still excited to see where it takes the characters and themes it has been growing.

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