Summer 2015 – Week 10 in Review

Wednesday has come again, and with it, one more scraping collection of show reflection fragments pulled together out of my paltry watch schedule. Fortunately, this week I was able to supplement my bare-minimum weekly viewings with a big ol’ ten-inch steak of anime. This week I watched basically the entirety of The Idolmaster!

But before we get to that, let’s run down the usual suspects, whose episodes this week ended up being well…. kinda suspect. But hey, at least the bad shows had good episodes!

First we’ve got Paranoia Agent, whose grab bag of mini-stories this week felt like whatever loose change ideas Satoshi Kon just happened to have lying around. There were a couple funny gags, but this episode was way, way below the show’s general quality, and felt even more ineffective given last week’s entirely successful mood shift. The show can get away with an episode like last week’s, both because it kinda served as an intermission after the first major arc and also because it was just really, really internally satisfying. But a second straight week of forgetting the main plot, compounded with that week’s episode being by far the weakest, is structural-damage level bad. This episode hurt the show, and it’s a shame – it had been making almost entirely effective moves up until now, and black marks like this don’t go away. Hopefully things pull back together next week.

Paranoia Agent

Nearly as disappointing was this week’s Classroom Crisis. I honestly don’t expect the most from this show at this point, but the decision to separate Nagisa from his classmates was about the worst choice the show could make. The internal dynamics between Nagisa, Kaito, Mizuki, and Iris represent basically everything this show is good at. The class by itself isn’t that compelling – everyone outside of the main trio are essentially non-characters. Nagisa by himself also isn’t that compelling – his stories of corporate espionage are basically just the dramatically sterile filler articulating his internal struggle. It’s only when the characters come together that the show demonstrates humanity and engaging drama. Hopefully that happens soon!

Classroom Crisis

Fortunately, Gatchaman Crowds insight had a strong episode this week, but I can’t think of more I haven’t already covered in my supersized writeup, so let’s move right along!

Over in trash alley, Prison School offered up one of the most perfectly composed Prison Schools yet. Prison School is at its best either when it’s going into the truly surreal with its fanservice or riding high on the energy of a heist, and this episode featured both. The boys’ attempts to steal back some DTO data were a perfect opportunity to set up one more tiny prison gambit, and choosing to center that gambit on the vice president’s crazy strength and pride was a very smart choice. And then the unexpected nipple-based back-in-forth of the actual battles was textbook Prison School. This show is absolutely repulsive, but there’s just something magical about the vice president breathlessly describing Andre’s nipple hair as a noble tree swinging proudly in the desert. What the hell is this show.

Prison School

Monster Musume also rallied back from a couple not-so-great episodes with an episode where both halves were finally entertaining again. The first half was better, and I think that in large part comes down to the fact that Suu is one of the most inherently ridiculous members of the cast. A Miia or Cerea story can stick to pretty simple harem antics, but when you’ve got a water-based blob who gains power and intelligence from moisture and isn’t necessarily sentient all of the time, things are almost guaranteed to get weird. And get weird they did, with this half ending in a kaiju battle (kinda funny how Crunchyroll just translated that as “monster,” leading to a moment where a monster was suddenly shocked by the appearance of a monster) between a giant tree-dryad and Suuzilla, with Papi and Darling at one point clinging to Suu’s house-sized waterboobs for dear life. The second half was less entertaining, because Cerea is frankly kinda boring, but fortunately Rachnia had some fun bits (along with an ending scene that went way, way, waaay past this show’s usual raunch levels), and the final family house scene had a lot of great faces. Monster Musume ain’t art, but it sure is something.

Incidentally, this episode also let me make this terrible tweet. Good work, me.

Monster Musume

Alright, that’s enough timely preamble, let’s get to The Idolmaster. This has basically been an idol summer for me – I watched Love Live S2 a few weeks ago, and just recently ran through Symphogear, and even have the Love Live movie coming up in a few days. I probably wouldn’t have watched any of these shows a few years ago, which is a nice feeling; broadening my media palette doesn’t mean I’m “lowering my media standards” or anything (as much as some people would like to think that’s the case), it just means I get to enjoy a much broader variety of good things, and styles of good things. As little as maybe three years ago, I was probably still in full “moe is cancer” mode, refusing to engage with stuff that felt too idealized or “pandering” and placing far too much emphasis on ultimately superficial aesthetic touchstones. There are certainly still general trends I’m highly critical of in anime storytelling, and I think that will always be true, but I feel I’ve gotten rid of a lot of ugly preconceptions over time, which both helps me engage better with more shows and also just have a better time with anime.

The Idolmaster

All of this is to say, I’m happy I’m at the point where I could really fully appreciate The Idolmaster, because damn is it an excellent show. Combining a bunch of fun scattered vignettes and a couple central dramatic arcs, it brings a good dozen characters to life, having all sorts of fun in the process. There’s great distinctive chemistry across most of the cast, tons of individual standout episodes, and too many impressive single moments to count. And the execution… yeah, this is probably gonna get a little rambly.

Idolmaster is flat-out one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen – wonderfully directed, purposefully lit, and brimming with absolutely gorgeous animation. Like, “far beyond TV anime”-level animation. Like, “it’s obvious half of Gainax’s old staff worked on this show even if you don’t check the staff list”-level animation. From the nuanced expression work to the vivid body language to the jaw-dropping stage performances, The Idolmaster totally spoiled me on animation. I frankly feel a little bad for the Love Live movie now – after watching all these beautiful fully animated dances, it’s gonna be pretty hard to go back to the CG dolls.

The Idolmaster

So yeah, I’m glad I was able to enjoy The Idolmaster. Turns out you don’t need to sell your soul to a waifu just to enjoy good things made well.

11 thoughts on “Summer 2015 – Week 10 in Review

  1. You constantly overrate Gatchaman Crowds. It’s really not that good. I doesn’t belong in a discussion with the likes of Paranoia Agent.

  2. When I watched the first episode of Idolmaster, words can’t describe how impressed I am by the execution, especially the animation quality.

    Unfortunately, work stuff interfered while I’m in the middle of watching it, and its vignette style stories doesn’t really crave your curiosity so I haven’t picked it up since.

    The character are definitely fun and has a lot of chemistry… but I still can’t completely shake the nagging feeling of the producer as a stand-in pseudo boyfriend of the idols (the constant barrage of suggestive pictures of the idols from my facebook wall prior to when I first watched it doesn’t help either). I think this is one point where I find Love Live is better.

    I’ve also tried playing the original game (specifically the fan-translated PSP version), but I didn’t reach far since the gameplay is super grindy and repetitive. It’s almost a joke how much better the anime is though story-wise… the original game felt like just some building blocks compared to a fully-formed house the anime is.

    On a related note, how does Cinderella Girls compare? I haven’t tried it yet but every indication shows that it’s inferior to the original series.

    • I only watched the first five or so episodes of Cinderella Girls, but it felt far inferior to the original series within that stretch. I’ve heard the second half has improved, but I haven’t seen it myself.

      As for Producer, I could certainly see him as a kind of self-insert character, but as far as those types go, I think he’s very intentionally and successfully harmless. He actually feels like a member of the cast with his own strengths and weaknesses, and his presence never diminishes the focus on the actual idols and their own, self-motivated journeys.

    • “but I still can’t completely shake the nagging feeling of the producer as a stand-in pseudo boyfriend of the idols”

      One of Idolmaster’s core strengths is how not true this is. I was disappointed (fearing exactly what you mention) when I found out the show was including a male Producer instead of just Ritsuko. I soon saw I had nothing to worry about, and now count him among my favorite male characters (and it’s hard to get me to like guys in anime).

      He’s an adult and a professional above all. While Miki has a (largely teasing) crush on him, he handles her like the complex person she is: attractive but a bit childish (she’s still a teenager!), talented but initially lacking motivation. His episode with her is one of his best, as he balances both her personal and professional concerns without forgetting for a second that he is her producer, not her boyfriend. And /she/ knows this too.

      He never forgets that with any of the idols. At no point does the show portray his relationship with Miki or the other idols as anything besides respect for their talents and a drive to do the best job he can as their producer. Every piece of interpersonal drama between P-san and the idols is rooted in their jobs first and foremost, even Miki’s arc. The romance levels in this show are almost nil.

      So if that’s what’s holding you back, fear not. I’d be the first one in line to drop the show if that’s what it were going for, but it’s emphatically not.

      As for Cinderella Girls, it’s just got a different approach and focus. I think it’s excellent, especially in the second cour. There are things it does even better than the original, and aspects of its story that I think are framed a lot better. In particular, its second half antagonist is vastly more interesting and it commits, to a degree Animas did not), to the theme of coping via compromise with change driven by business pressures.

      It’s true that it’s not the technical production powerhouse the first season is, and that’s driven at least a good portion of any negativity. I think it also falls short of Animas’ mind-bogglingly tight execution. Animas has this indescribable “magic” Deremas doesn’t, at least not to the same degree.

      And yet, “not being as good as one of the most staggeringly amazing productions ever” is hardly damning. Having Animas as your bar sets that bar in the stratosphere. I’m enjoying it immensely, really respect the way it’s handling its themes, and count it among the best shows of the year. Just not quite “of all-time” like Animas. But… that’s totally okay.

  3. I’ve never watched The Idolm@ster but hearing the praise makes me less surprised it was the one show that managed to kickstart the idol genre (there were no idol group anime before it, only solo idol anime). Since then (2011) a plethora of idol(-inspired) anime have come out and Love Live! ensured its stay for years to come, essentially becoming a distinct genre within anime a la harem.

  4. At what point does Idolmaster “get better”?

    First episode was fine, but the second ep was horrible enough to put me off of the show. Was that the show’s low point?

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