The summer halfway point has arrived! As per long-hallowed tradition, the season halfway point is always celebrated with my first and only show ranking of the season, emphasizing the fundamental ridiculousness of lists through the double-stacked ridiculousness of listing shows that are only halfway over. This is perhaps (definitely) a meaningless exercise, but hey, it gives me a reasonably coherent topic to cover when shows are generally just sort of durdling around and gearing up for their final push. This season’s a bit unusual ranking-wise, in that as far as “actual real serious-business shows go,” it’s basically just Gatchaman Crowds insight versus an empty field. Classroom Crisis has its moments but is far too inconsistent to consider great, and everything else I’m watching falls somewhere into “enjoyable popcorn garbage.” Can you… rank… garbage?
Yeah, of course you can fucking rank garbage. I may be watching Prison School, but I’m certainly not watching Sky Wizards Academy, and there are damn good reasons for that. So let’s take a fine-tooth comb to this season’s pee jokes and snake-fucking and RUN THESE SHOWS DOWN.
#1: Gatchaman Crowds insight
But of course, before all that, there’s insight. God Damn insight. This season of Gatchaman is taking the idealistic, forward-thinking optimism of Crowds’ finale and slamming it into the pavement. Rui squaring belief in humanity’s potential with the power of CROWDS required putting faith in the hope that people can handle CROWDS – but Rui is very likely wrong. Or at least, that’s what this season is arguing, from perspectives as disparate as Rizumu, Tsubasa, Jou, and Gelsadra. If the first season ended on a note of “horizontal power and gamification present the possibility for humanity to grow beyond its worst instincts,” insight’s addition to that statement is “but c’mon, this is the human race we’re talking about.” And so the horizontal power Rui touted is now being used to demolish the idea of expertise in government, and the gamification that once channeled energy into positive works is now being represented through Millio’s ratings-obsessed game show. Gatchaman Crowds insight is expanding in scope, making use of its entire cast, and challenging everything that the first season wanted to believe. Nothing else this season comes close to touching it.
#2: Prison School
Prison School is not the kind of show I generally put at #2 in a season, but a combination of a really weak season and a really strong crop of garbage means that, well, here we are. Of course, that explanation kind of sells Prison School short, because even if it’s totally trash, it is lovingly crafted, triumphantly energetic trash. It may be all about pee jokes and prison breakouts and boobs, but goddamnit, it is going to execute on those variables to the utter limit of its considerable ability. Prison School elevates its base raunch (which is basically never actually sexy – in fact, I’d generally describe Prison School’s fanservice as “queasy and repulsive”) through wonderfully stylized art, dynamic direction, and thunderous pacing. It initially rode entirely on its gross-out appeal and visual style (heavy on monochrome cuts making great use of negative space, full of disturbingly detailed faces and bizarre angles), but the “plot” has actually pulled together to the point where each new episode is powered by a steady diet of twists and cliffhangers. Prison School is a very good bad time.
#3: Monster Musume
Clocking in at number three, we have the equally bizarre but tonally opposite harem ridiculousness-fest, Monster Musume. Monmusu and Prison School definitely share a few key features – they both ride on fast pacing, great expressions, and unexpectedly far-out twists on genre gags, and they both have fanservice that comes off as more ridiculous than slimey (Suu aside) due to its fundamental nature. But where Prison School is a story about untrustworthy assholes being terrible to each other, Monmusu’s cast is just having a great time all around. The straightforward positivity this show expresses both in its tone and characters really makes it much more enjoyable to watch – everyone’s having a good time, the main harem contenders (a snake and a horse?) have made no secret of actually wanting ever-suffering MC dude, and the gags are never slowed down through misguided attempts at making the audience care about this story in any way beyond “I like watching these people half-kill each other.” What I want from Monmusu is a continuous supply of absurd gags based around the idea of a harem that is also a zoo, and so far Monmusu has been happy to provide.
#4: Classroom Crisis
I feel kinda sorry for Classroom Crisis, getting stuck down here below the two ridiculous raunch comedies. This one definitely wants to be a traditionally “good” show, at least some of the time. But if Prison School and Monster Musume are both “good bad shows,” then Classroom Crisis is a textbook “bad good show.” There are compelling ideas and occasionally engaging characters, but the execution is lukewarm and marred by clashing, poorly implemented anime tropes. Not only is it bloated with bad anime comedy and a contrived premise, it’s also not as sharp as it could be either in contrasting Nagisa and Kaito’s attitudes or elevating its characters beyond their types. But the clash of attitudes here still is compelling, and the characters still are pretty good, so I have hope it’ll come together in the end. Classroom Crisis could rise in its second half, but right now it’s just not either smart or enjoyable enough to compete with this season’s more consistent (if ridiculous) shows.
And holding up the rear, we’ve got Overlord, the Littlest MMO Light Novel. Overlord is hovering on the borderline, surviving because I’ve got nothing else to watch this season, but it can’t really compete against its older siblings. It lacks the nuanced worldbuilding and likable characters of Log Horizon, the interesting philosophy and aesthetics of .hack, and the production quality or unintentional comedy appeal of Sword Art Online. It has merits, but they’re small ones. I was planning on turning this paragraph around with some nice words in its favor, but I’ve already grown tired of talking about it.
…in fact, I wrote that paragraph before watching this week’s episode, and yeah, it’s dropped. Here, enjoy some crappy CG goblins.
And so! That covers all the airing shows I’m watching, which is an admittedly motley crew, so what else did I get to this week?
Well, the second half of Saekano, I guess, but nothing that happened there really changed my first impressions. It still had some wit and occasionally Genshiken-esque moments, but these moments were still buried in treacly self-awareness, tired tropes, and fanservice that undercut everything the show was trying to do emotionally. The show overall was just monumentally frustrating to watch, and it almost felt like it must have been frustrating to write, too. There were a couple moments when it felt like the characters were literally rallying against their own show – Aki briefly demanding “something real” when talking to Utaha, Eriri skewering Aki for “never giving him one straight answer.” These complaints rang true to how these characters act – they live in make-believe references and emotional pillowcases, refusing to engage with each other like actual human beings. But the show was too in love with all the things holding these characters back to actually approach them honestly. And it’s not like this is an impossible needle to thread – Genshiken does this all the time, depicting both the fragility and earnest nature of fandom with empathy and insight. But Saekano pulls its punches, and the result is a mess.
Well, that’s all the anime I’ve been watching, but that’s still kind of a paltry and depressing list. So let’s go ahead and throw in Rick and Morty, which I marathoned the first eight episodes of to catch up for season two. I’d seen a bunch of these episodes before, but it was nice to revisit them, and Dan Harmon just has a really great, rapid-fire comedic voice. I talked about my experiences so far on Ask.fm yesterday, where I described it as a “successfully mean show,” but rewatching Rixty Minutes (just an incredible episode of television in general) kinda reminded me that this show does actually have some humanity in it – it’s just well-hidden. Which is good, because no matter how clever a show is (and Rick and Morty is very clever, piling references upon original ideas upon character quirks upon offhand wit to offer a constant barrage of immediate jokes and conceptual humor), I’ll generally tire of it if I find it emotionally hollow eventually.
But even though Rick and Morty lacks Community’s heart-on-sleeve attitude, it still treats its characters as people. Rick’s awful and selfish and petty, but he’s clearly lonely as well. Morty is the stooge, and his parents think he has “some kind of disorder or something,” but why would he be doing well in school? He goes home to parents who are staying together out of obligation, and his only friend is a relative who constantly abuses his trust. His sense of self has been shaped by a broken home and scifi insanity, and so when he needs to comfort his sister, his words of encouragement are “nobody exists on purpose, no one belongs anywhere, we’re all going to die, come watch TV.” And that’s a really touching, heartfelt moment for them!
So yeah, Rick and Morty is very funny, but it’s also fortunately retained the “I love these broken people” appeal of Community. I’m looking forward to the second season.