Wednesday has come again! It’s time to talk about cartoons and other very serious things.
Uniquely serious things at the moment, it turns out. “Anime is serious business” has lost some of its humor in light of last week being my final week with a day job. Right now, as of this week, anime is my business. My only business.
This is kind of terrifying! I can’t exactly say I’ve reached the point where I can go comfortably full-time on criticism and writing in general, but I can at least fake it for a while. Between my ANN work, my advertising money, and my Patreon support, I’m gonna try to make a go of this. Things are gonna be kinda tight for a while, but this also means I’ll have a whole lot more time to work on writing projects for all you guys, so hopefully this is one big step towards a pretty delightful future. If you’d like to support me in this grand experiment, please feel free to chip in a couple whatevers, though I also accept worried, half-disbelieving “good lucks”, or even confident ones.
A few people have asked if I’d be willing to proofread, edit, or review things on commission, and the answer is definitely yes. I’m going full freelance here, meaning I’m a mercenary with nothing to lose and everything to prove, meaning yes I will take your projects that sounds awesome. I’ll hopefully integrate ways to inquire about such things on the site in a more formal way shortly, but you can message me here, on twitter, on ask.fm, or on patreon if you’ve got anything you’d like to discuss. The one formal project I’m most concerned with getting off the ground is setting up communal support funds for specific shows – like, if ten people want me to start reviewing Eva episodes one by one, they actually have a convenient way to make that happen. I’ve got a whole big to-do list to run down there.
Speaking of formal projects, I’ve got one more surprise! People keep asking me when I’m going to play some videogames again, and that can finally be answered: a couple friends and I have just created 10 Royal Games, a channel where we’ll be playing through all manner of games and shooting the shit on whatever strikes our fancy. We’re starting off with some very classic Zelda and some very fresh Metal Gear (first videos should hopefully be up tonight, and I’ll link them both here and on twitter), but feel free to suggest other stuff we could dive into, or topics you’d like us to bring up. It should be fun!
WELP, THAT COVERS ALL THE WORK STUFF. Now that I’ve sobered everyone up with serious discussion of my financial future, let’s soothe those weary brains with some ramblings about anime. And manga! And maybe some western cartoons! Hell, let’s just randomize the whole damn thing. RUNNING ‘EM DOWN.
First, I finally caught up with the published Bride’s Story, reading volume six this week. This volume was basically everything I’d vaguely hoped the story could become – focused and gripping and absolutely stuffed with horses. So, so, so many horses. I’m not even sure Sugie-san could handle this volume of horses, and their density here made me half wonder if Kaoru Mori had either lost a bet or was determined to win one. The manga has always been beautiful and full of lively characters, but this volume put those strengths to work in service of a dramatic climax that had been building since the second volume. This one was a joy to read.
Cutting to airing shows, this week’s episode of Classroom Crisis was basically half strengths, half weaknesses. The show’s been pulled in too many directions over its run for the political stuff here to have much depth or punch – it was a Lelouch gambit that lacked both flair and buildup, making it feel like a pretty, well, hollow victory. But on the other hand, the intentional narrative hollowness of that victory was illustrated beautifully through the climactic conversation between Nagisa and Kaito. This author clearly has a strong grasp of character writing, but when it comes to the actual narrative stuff, things start to unravel. I have a feeling Classroom Crisis is gonna get away with it, but I’m beginning to see some interesting patterns in how this work compares to White Album 2 and Saekano.
Paranoia Agent decided to forget about Shonen Bat for a week, instead introducing us to three new friends on a grand adventure. This episode was an unexpected joy to watch, a story with so many immediate rewards that the fact that I completely missed the final twist actually didn’t hurt my experience at all. I feel kinda silly about that now, but I think it’s very much to the story’s credit that I wasn’t looking for a twist. That demonstrates this story’s clear understanding of the often-overlooked truth about twists – for twists to be effective, you have to care about the story before the shift. And I certainly cared.
Gatchaman Crowds Insight introduced us to the Kuu-sama, the “gentle beasts” old JJ warned us about two weeks ago. These creatures seem to represent the totalitarian endpoint of Tsubasa’s oppressive philosophy – “everyone should come together,” meaning “everyone should agree with me, and if you don’t, you will be corrected.” Insight’s critiques have broad political applications, but it’s hard for me not to draw an immediate connection to some of the dangers of internet culture. Gatchaman’s first season demonstrated the awful violence of antisocial trolls, whose dedication to disorder has real, lasting consequences. This time, the target could be considered violent anti-trolls, people whose dedication to the sanitizing of society leads them to provoke witch hunts against anyone whose thinking steps out of line.
I don’t think there are too many Literal Hitlers out there on the internet, but I do think this is a problem worth seriously engaging with. The problem is, discourse is so polarized and fragmented that there’s often little hope of having a frank discussion on these topics without either being castigated for entertaining incorrect views or seized on by trolls to promote awful agendas you’d never intended. It’s a god damn mess, and I’m happy to see Gatchaman addressing it directly.
Prison School came rallying back from a weaker episode this week, offering plenty of the ridiculous setpieces that make the show great. This episode, the show leaned on a reliable core strength that hadn’t really been given too much focus up until now: Andre’s ridiculous face. Andre’s face is ridiculous, and this is funny. Andre falling into despair is funny, because of his silly face. Andre pressing his face against the prison fence is funny, because the face being pressed is a silly one. Etcetera. In addition to silly faces and other visual setpieces like the vice president’s clothes explosion, this week also regained the sense of prison breakout tension that had been on a bit of a low simmer recently. Prison School is at its best when it’s hitting note after note as fast as possible, and this one was definitely a winner there.
I ended up catching up on a few episodes of Himouto! Umaru-chan this week, which were, eh, watchable. The show basically hasn’t extended that well beyond its initial premise – there are occasional standout bits, but attempting to expand Umaru’s world and actually make her more of a rounded character are basically destined to bang against the initial strength of her abrasive, horrible funniness. The most enjoyable thing about this show might be Umaru’s physicality – her little hamster self lazily marching around her apartment is pretty inherently funny, even when the jokes aren’t terribly sharp. I keep hoping it’s going to slightly better than it actually is.
I also caught up on the most recent two episodes of Rick and Morty this week, which really crystalized my very different expectations for western versus anime comedies. For a show like Rick and Morty, I expect the humor to be damn sharp. There’s an inherent ugliness to the show, and I don’t just mean the visual style – I mean there’s a certain inherent meanness that seems to be really common to a lot of western comedies, and it’s generally something I like the shows in spite of. Rick and Morty makes this meanness a strength, by actively highlighting the sadness beneath it – but other shows, like, say, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I find basically unwatchable because of that. On the other hand, I quite frankly don’t expect anime comedies to be witty or even that funny in general. The jokes tend to be obvious and repetitive, the humor cheap and safe. But I much prefer the tone of anime comedies, where it seems like you’re actually supposed to like and care about the characters. They come off as a warm fuzzy blanket, which can be enjoyable even when the jokes are falling flat.
Anyway! These last two episodes were cruel and mean and really damn funny. The fifth was just generally amusing, but the sixth was sharp as hell, with its whole concept basically hanging on the vicious relationship between world superpowers and world not-superpowers, and implying that relationship might well be a result of our fundamental nature. Heavy stuff!
Incidentally, this expectations divide also kinda explains why I didn’t particularly enjoy this week’s Monster Musume. The issue there was a bit more complicated than this simple set of expectations can cover, but in short, this one leaned way too heavily on the mean-spirited, fundamentally uncomfortable “the characters are being abused, and that’s pretty hot, right? Right?” thing that harems seem to do. The episode was salvaged through a fair number of either cute or generally funny moments, but when Monster Musume gets mean, it really doesn’t have that much else going for it. Hopefully this creator has more ideas??? Well, at least the faces are still pretty great.