Summer 2015 – Week 5 in Review

Nearing the halfway point again! And once again, I’m gonna keep things loose and flowing here for the week in review. When I’ve only got a couple episodes worth actually talking about, and I’m already covering one of them in great essay-sized blocks for ANN, I gotta do what I can to fill your Wednesdays with criticism and joy. So let’s run down all the random crap I’ve been watching, starting at the top with G-G-GATCHAMANNNN.

Because seriously, holy shit, this week’s Gatchaman Crowds insight. I’d say this was very likely the best episode of either season, one that played off the strengths of the first season while even addressing many of the criticisms people had about that one (Hajime focus, narrow idea of “rightness,” underuse of other characters). insight is a wonderfully well-composed sequel – not only does it refuse to retread any of the material from the first season, it both extends naturally from the arguments presented there and uses the ideas and characters already established to dig into more complex ideas and conflicts without having to dally in exposition.

The use of Jou’s character here was particularly inspired – combining Tsubasa’s (unexamined) belief in vertical power with Rui’s understanding of human nature, he fights for Gelsadra because he understands what Tsubasa would never acknowledge. He’s not happy about his actions, but he’s willing to sacrifice on means if it will help the people he thinks can’t help themselves, even the people who are directly challenging him (like Rui). This election went far beyond “make sure your villains have human motivations” – this was a collection of heroes all trying to do the right thing, who through their actions may have inadvertently destroyed the world.

Gatchaman Crowds insight

Shifting gears entirely, the other big episode that kinda-sorta impressed me this week was Prison School. This episode wasn’t thought-provoking or emotionally gripping or challenging in any way – it just did what Prison School does as well as Prison School can. Prison School doesn’t work because it’s puerile – lots of shows are puerile, that’s nothing special. It works because it both goes above and beyond the call of duty on personality of execution (with the base drawings in the manga, and with those drawings combined with tricks like the monochrome shots or Lego interludes in the anime), and because it’s also legitimately a ridiculous prison breakout story. Shift the variables a bit and this would be cheesy prime-time television. I’m not sure if the show can vary up its combination of puerile, aesthetically interesting, and fast-paced to last an entire season, but it’s still working so far.

Prison School

Keeping up the trash parade, we’ve got this week’s Monster Musume, which featured

Mero hasn’t really done anything beyond be the ojou mermaid, but this episode was still a treasure. Keep it up, Monster Musume.

Monster Musume

Classroom Crisis had an absolutely clunker of an episode this week, while my scheduled Paranoia Agent was possibly my favorite since the standout premier, an episode that drew some fantastic parallels between its focus character and the eternally put-upon police chief. But I’ve already written about those, so let’s move along to…

Overlord, I guess? Overlord was… eh. This was a less immediately entertaining episode than the past two, since it was largely setup for a new arc, but because of that, the relevant questions become “is this show good enough to stick with even if it’s not being immediately entertaining, in the hope of payoff” and “does this particular arc seem compelling enough to justify that kind of faith.” The answer to the first question is “maybe, just barely, at times,” and the answer to the second is pretty similar.

There are nice details here – I like the fact that the “NPCs” of this world (who I guess aren’t really NPCs, given everyone’s just now an equal player in a new world?) are already gaining some texture, and I particularly liked how Aains’ actions are prompting ripple effects like the alchemist identifying his potion. But the actual story is moving too slow and is hung up with too much lame content, with the villains in particular being capital-V villains. I don’t want to slowly watch Aains defeat simplistic cartoon characters – I either want the show to get smart enough to be worth investing in or immediately entertaining enough to be worth tuning out to. Currently we’re in an awkward compromise between the two.


On the backlog front, I also got through the second half of Love Live! S2 this week, which was… well, it was a huge disappointment. Everything up to and including episode nine was a joy to watch – there were some minor hiccups in the diet episode, but even that one had reasonable jokes, and Snow Halation was a goddamn triumph. Easily the best song and performance of the show, and basically the one time the actual idols part felt like an integral element of the emotional narrative, and not just a creepy CG dance tacked on to a different show.

But as soon as that was over, season two basically fell into a maudlin fit, sobbing all over itself for four episodes at the thought of its own ending. Love Live! is not the kind of show that can support a Return of the King-style Five Epilogue Extravaganza – hell, no media can do that. And so episode after episode of tearful goodbyes and nostalgic glances backward basically sank all the momentum those first funny, well-composed episodes had built. Damnit, Love Live! You need to take this a bit more… I mean less seriously.

Love Live

And finally, I took a look back at the winter season and marathoned the first half of Saekano. I’d initially panned this one in my season preview, but people kept talking about it on twitter, and given it was the writer of Classroom Crisis/White Album 2, I figured I must have missed something.

Well… I hadn’t. Not really. Saekano is definitely interesting, but so far it seems very far from good. It basically feels like the result of a talented writer (snappy dialogue, well-conceived plots, etc) being chained to the most tropey light novel garbage imaginable. The characters play out as stereotypical archetypes while actually commenting on their own archetypes, but the series never rises above that stuff. Bad light novel/visual novel storytelling is critiqued verbally, and then wholeheartedly embraced in action. Character motivations collide with larger narrative themes while the camera busies itself staring at everyone’s breasts.

It’s kind of infuriating, actually – it’s one of those shows that feels like an utter casualty of its demographic. I’m fine with junk I have no interest in watching, and I’m fine with really committed, well-constructed junk… but this is like an actually good show awkwardly grafted to all the worst excesses of modern anime storytelling. Everything the show does that’s actually compelling exists entirely aside from its light novel tendencies, but its light novel tendencies are front and center at almost all times. It’s a big, frustrating waste.

That said, I’ve been taking a whole bunch of notes on it! The disconnect between its parts, and how it sort of struggles against itself, and the occasional glimpses of “maybe this show really does want its characters to grow up,” make for plenty of discussion fodder. So I guess I’ll see where it goes.


18 thoughts on “Summer 2015 – Week 5 in Review

  1. I’ve honestly never been so frustrated with a show more than I have with Saekano. It has a lot of really good threads that I like – especially the ones about the relationship between author and consumer – but it’s drowned out by a lot of self-indulgence. The show can be legitimately clever at times – my favorite example is the way the show framed Katou during her talk with Tomoya at the restaurant in episode 2 – but most of the time it’s just obnoxiously pretentious. The last few episodes (10-12) really soured me on the show especially since it came after an arc I really liked.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to what you have to say about the show.

    • Yeah, frustrating is definitely the word for it. It keeps raising these half-points that seem like they come from a much more interesting show, and then… nope, back to the bullshit.

      • Between Saekano and now CC’s hiccups, it looks like the writer’s been getting a serious raw deal. I can’t imagine the frustration that consistently being made to shoehorn in those insufferable tropes must cause.

  2. Hands down best Love Live episode was the “we gotta find a gimmick” one. I chortled at Nico in the Kendo get-up, and immediately rewatched the “swapping personas with each other” segment several times. It only got funnier. (And also KISS!Muse happened)

    • Yeah, the gimmick episode was fantastic. I was also a big fan of both Nico and Nozomi’s episodes – not only were they both entertaining, but those two also have enough understandable personal conflict to actually carry an episode. The show’s drama can work in small doses.

  3. Oh god why would you put yourself through Saekano? I can say without a doubt that is the worst anime I’ve ever watched.

    I mean, it doesn’t seem like you’re enjoying it but it’s just painful to watch the myriad of places things could’ve been done better. You can literally pinpoint moments and say “They could’ve done literally anything else here to raise it above LN garbage-level trite”.

    • The worst you’ve seen? Really?

      Have you ever watched Akame Ga Kill? We watched it at my local anime club. It was so bad, you couldn’t even celebrate that it was over because watching it sucked all capability to feel happiness out of your body

      • The thing is, a lot of shows are bad because they’re boring, or the budget/talent wasn’t there, and sometimes they’re bad enough to be funny. Saekano is the only show that was so bad it physically hurt. As bobduh mentioned, it seems to KNOW how to be good but insists on vomiting out the worst tropes it can and aggressively avoiding any of its strengths.

          • I was reviewing it on my blog while it was airing and I tried, reeeally tried, to give it the benefit of the doubt wherever I could. The animation and art is nice! Except the directing is lackluster and Michiru’s entire arc may as well have been panning shots of her body (I’m barely exaggerating). The VA’s are pretty talented! Except Aki was so easy to hate that I have trouble liking characters voiced by Matsuoka Yoshitsugu now. The author knows how to write good dialogue! Except the oversaturation of bad 4th wall jokes and self-referential humor weighs the entire thing down.

    • I’m just a masochist, apparently. Though it’s interesting to watch something that’s deeply flawed in such specific ways?

  4. I think you dropped Gangsta at episode 2, just wanted to say that that episode was the weakest shown so far. I’m guessing you’re bombarded with comments telling you to watch Gangsta, but I think it is worth picking back up. Some neat stuff is going on in there.
    Thanks for your other write-ups though, I do enjoy them

    • Seconded. It may be because you’ve been unlucky in that this season really isn’t appealing to your specific tastes genre-wise (well, Gatchaman aside) but you’re really missing out on the two best offers in Gangsta and Ushio to Tora.

      And Shimoneta has gone odd places. It’s funny how you insta-dropped it out of feeling it was politically right-wing when 5camp is singing its praises on MAL as an anti-right-wing satire (especially with reference to the US’ tea party-ish right wing position on sexual matters, but also the Japanese one of course, which is less relevant to us but more to the authors of the show). I for me am less enthusiastic about it than he is, I think the intent is closer to what 5camp claims but the humour is a lot more miss than hit. Still, it has recently turned into one of those completely fucked up, balls-to-the-walls absurd things that only Japan can give us. Which makes it… interesting.

  5. I liked Saekano. It was no Shirobako, but I thought it was one of the better anime of the season.

    I think a lot of folks were turned off by the Episode 0 start, where they packed most of the fanservice and physical fighting of haremettes over the hero, and the show never recovered. But consider this:

    The female central characters were all competent and successful in their own right, except for Megumi (who turns out to be remarkably intelligent and level-headed). Yes, they were all after Tomoya, but that’s why it’s a harem anime, and not an idol anime or something.
    Tomoya isn’t your usually clueless harem lead (CHL). He’s smart, he has a goal, he’s driven. Most of his CHL reactions are him channeling how an otaku ought to react, and many are played off against him switching back and forth between what he really feels (yes, stay here and play this game) and his CHL instincts (no, a young girl can’t stay overnight…).
    I liked the way it took many of the standard anime tropes and stood them on their heads. (Tomoya hides Eriri in his closet when Utaha comes over. Utaha half-seduces him, then on the way out mentions seeing Eriri’s bike. Or the ever-popular walk in on a naked girl trope. Tomoya does that, and before he can get out his preloaded CHL reaction, cousin Michiru says “Oh, hi. I’m done. The bath’s still warm.”
    Even the stretching of the 4th wall was fun. You’re never sure if it’s a voiceover, or if it’s the characters discussing the game.

    So yeah, it’s good. In fact, it’s one of the few that I’d buy the DVD for. I plan to marathon it again in a couple of weeks.

  6. What makes Prison School work so well is in how serious it takes it’s extremely ridiculous premise.That and it knows how to setup jokes,which most anime comedies don’t even understand the concept of.

    Surprised you didn’t include the picture of Miia as Metal Gear’s “Big Boss”.You’re going love next’s week episode,with the cringe-worthy Papi egg laying scene!

  7. Saekano, it’s either “It has great ideas, but man those LN tropes” or “It has LN tropes, but man those great ideas”. It’s a fun comparison with Shirobako while it aired, because as opposed from the view of the professional angle, this is the celebration of the same idea from the perspective of the doujin circles. The drive, the passion, and the enthusiasm for the people involved. All the little neat tricks and injokes scattered around the most mundane places. The twists to the usual formula, the way the messages are delivered through several meta levels and how it’s constantly making fun of itself while providing something fresh to the idea. The writer knows the tropes, and present them in a more interesting way than usual. It’s written for teenage audience that’s 10 years younger than the writer’s usual VN target, so yes there are some restrictions as to the type of story it’s telling. You can appreciate its nature as a self-satire, because this LN series doesn’t play things the safe way.

    In some sense, the series is too short. We are still just in the character introductory phase at the moment.

    • It was too short, but it ended extremely well given that it’s part of a still running LN series. Unlike some series that just ended (Sasameki Koto), and others that pulled an “unheard confession” copout (Yuki-Chan, Nozaki-Kun), they picked a good intermediate stopping place, with lots of hooks for a sequel (but I don’t want to raise any bad flags).

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