Summer 2015 – Week 13 in Review

Hot damn it’s Wednesday. And a very special Wednesday at that – the final Wednesday of summer season 2015, possibly the weakest anime season since I started doing week in review posts. That’s actually worked out okay for me, though – given the relative scarcity of airing shows I cared about, I’ve been able to burn through all sorts of backlog and review material, getting through Love Live S2, Saekano, The Idolmaster, and Turn A Gundam all in record time. Plus I’ve gotten to watch Paranoia Agent weekly, and there still have been a couple airing shows worth their salt. So let’s start right there, with a show that’s consistently worked to engage its audience on multiple levels and challenge our conceptions of what anime can really be about.

I’m speaking, of course, about Prison School. Prison School’s finale was a tour de force of ridiculous bathroom humor and absurd dramatic twists. The second half of the Kiyoshi-Hana scene was at least as absurd as the first, and was an ideal centerpiece for the last dramatic escape of the prison crew. And apparently Mizushima himself stepped in to direct this finale, meaning the visual execution was as strong as it’s ever been. Sticking within Prison School’s traditional style, there were many evocative shots that used a combination of heavy darkness and otherworldly colors to create a sense of weirdly beautiful unease. And branching outside of it, this episode featured a broad variety of cute alternate styles, from the silly comic of Takehito’s reverie to a reprise of the Lego-vision for explaining the boys’ plan. This episode was a satisfying finale to a very weirdly impressive show, one that basically never disappointed in its own extremely specific categories. Yeah, I’d watch a second season of Prison School.

Prison School

Gatchaman Crowds insight also had a solid finale, even if it was largely dedicated to explaining the stuff we could infer about last week. Because of that, the highlights here came not from the actual narrative, but from the small conversations on the side and the execution. Tsubasa and Gelsadra’s final conversation was particularly satisfying, as Tsubasa finally articulated the dangerous sense of camaraderie and “safety” that led to the awful atmosphere. And the reprise of the fight with Hajime was excellent as well, with the show throwing out a bunch of compelling and shocking visual tricks to portray Hajime being taken apart. Insight has built commendably on the ideas of its predecessor, offering some key perspectives that now feel like a necessary component of its overall discussion.

Gatchaman Crowds insight

Even Classroom Crisis ended well, pulling together all of its character threads into a final presentation that basically “solved” every arc at once. Nagisa, Kaito, and Iris all hit their character turns on cue, and though the actual process of Iris chasing down Nagisa’s ship wasn’t that exciting, it was integrated very well into Kaito’s parallel arc. I certainly wasn’t thrilled by the baiting of a potential love triangle in the sequel that will never ever come, but overall this show’s ability to stick the landing leaves me with a positive impression of the series in general. It was bumpy and full of weaker segments, but it was very good at some important things and tied itself together gracefully. That’ll do, Classroom Crisis.

Classroom Crisis

Speaking of graceful finales, Paranoia Agent‘s ending was also basically perfect, equally defined by its overall intelligent construction and individual moments of emotional catharsis. Keichi waking up from his dream-world was probably the most satisfying moment of the entire series, and Sagi embracing the consequences of her past wasn’t far behind. This isn’t an airing show, so I frankly don’t want to say much more in case anyone reading hasn’t seen it, but in short – if you’re at all curious about Paranoia Agent, definitely give it a watch. There were a couple weak episodes along the way, but overall it’s one of the most genuinely filmic anime out there, full of both fundamentally stellar direction and unexpected narrative gifts. This one’s definitely going on The List.

Paranoia Agent

And outside of episodic stuff, I’ve also burned through the first half of Symphogear G. Symphogear G is definitely still Symphogear, and I’m still having a great time with it, but it’s interesting to see the ways this season differs from its predecessor. The director has been replaced, and that’s clear in the overall tenor of the shot framing – instead of a focus on horror and drama (like Hibiki’s first transformation from the first season, or a lot of the earlier stuff with Chris), this season is All Action All The Time. That’s Symphogear leaning into its strengths, but it does make for a different atmosphere.

The show also seems to understand its drama and storytelling are not only bad, but have very little reason to be good. The personal conflicts this time are way less grounded (“THESE HANDS CAN ONLY DESTROYYYY”), and given much less screentime as well. The introduction of three new Symphogear users at once doesn’t exactly work in a narrative sense, but seems obvious considering the show’s actual priorities. And when it gets to the actual priorities, aka Having Awesome Fights, Symphogear G soars. The direction of the battles is far more dynamic this season, and the animation has seen a ridiculous upgrade. Symphogear G is basically a more focused, unapologetic Symphogear, simultaneously a slightly worse traditional show and a much better Symphogear. It’s a very good time!


7 thoughts on “Summer 2015 – Week 13 in Review

  1. I’m also about halfway through Symphogear G and I’m just not enjoying it as much as I did the first season.

    I liked the pointless melodrama of Hibiki hiding her new identity from Miku, I liked the way Tsubasa was aggressively dismissive of her new, idealist partner. I liked how dumb the late-stage reveal of the villain was, and her increasingly ridiculous plan and backstory. G seems to do a lot of in-episode flashback stuff with individual characters only remembering things when it’s most dramatic, rather than building it into the story properly. It feels cheap.

    There’ve also been a lot fewer freeze-frame supermove title cards, which feels like it’s actually pulling back from the crazy stylistic choices of the first cour, and the expanded transformation sequences feel less special now despite their higher budget (I absolutely loved the first season’s silhouettes slamming together at the end of the transformation).

    Still, even though it’s not quite the same beast as the first season, Symphogear G knows exactly what it wants to be, and I have to admire its dedication. It’s just not the underdog I loved any more.

    • Can’t edit, so I’ll just reply to myself.

      Re: Classroom Crisis – my dissatisfaction about the love triangle at the end stems mostly, I think, from the fact that for the majority of the series it seemed pretty clear that Iris was in love with Mizuki – she should’ve been jealous of Nagisa, not jockeying for his affection.

    • I would say that a lot of the things you praise about Season 1 of Symphogear really only work once. You can’t do them again in the same series.

      So while those aspects of Season 1 are pretty neat, and I liked them, subsequent seasons needed to focus on the parts of the setting that could be mined for more content without just entering a repeating loop, and in this case its the action and total absurdity of the premise.

      • Yeah, it would be difficult to keep those particular dramatic threads going for a second season when the first already resolved it.

        But I don’t think that necessarily means you have to all but excise those interactions. Miku’s barely been in Symphogear G so far – how has her relationship with Hibiki changed now that she knows her girlfriend is out there risking her life for humanity?

        I’m a little sad we’ve seemingly lost all the relatable stuff in the show’s pursuit of bigger spectacle – though I am still thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.

  2. Really liked this season of Gatchama crowds but it just wasn’t has good has the first one only due to the strange presentation that plagued most episodes. It felt really odd to watch at times don’t really know how to describe it.

    And yea the new symphogear seasons have improved action but somehow even worse drama. I had to pause some episodes to recover from the cringe, which leaves me with a more mixed feeling in the end.

    • I honestly felt entirely the opposite; I enjoyed the first season, but thought S2 was much more obviously cerebral, which has always seemed Insight’s strength, and that it even evidenced in S2 some ability to deliver more conventionally emotive content (Hajime’s finale suffering), which seemed to me to be largely lacking or lackluster in S1.

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