Winter 2016 – Week 12 in Review

Most of this season’s anime came to a close this week, leaving just those two oft-compared highlights, Rakugo and Dagashi Kashi, to finish the season alone. ERASED pulled itself together to end with as much dignity as it could, given the circumstances of its villain, while Active Raid similarly felt hamstrung by its own weak antagonist. I almost feel tempted to write an article specifically about antagonists now, because the problems with both those shows were so specific and so centered on the ways they handled their villains. Though of course, that article would then end up spinning out into how an antagonist shouldn’t be something you design independently, and should instead reflect the core themes and conflicts of your narrative, and then we’re all the way back at storytelling step one again. Anyway. Some shows ended this week, some shows didn’t. Let’s crack those knuckles once more and RUN ‘EM DOWN!

Grimgar finished with one more fine episode this week, giving basically every member of the cast some badass moments and then letting everyone enjoy their time together once again. The fight against Death Spots wasn’t as much of a highlight as those early goblin fights, though it was more of a “conventional anime fight” – all of the characters got to use their attacks effectively, but that just isn’t as interesting as the fights where the whole group was barely getting by. But that material was fine, and the cute scene where Haruhiro woke up to Mary waiting was pretty much worth the price of admission by itself. Outside of a couple issues regarding pacing and fight framing, I enjoyed nearly everything about Grimgar. It’s not a truly great show or anything, but it’s a show I’d be happy to watch in basically any season.


Dagashi Kashi had an episode that was so typical Dagashi Kashi it left with virtually nothing to say about it. Actually, that’s not really true – typical Dagashi Kashi episodes aren’t entirely flavorless, but their charms are low-key and not particularly remarkable. This episode was a bit worse than that, coming across as so lukewarm about everything that it really did stretch the limits of mundanity. The second segment at least had a couple nice exchanges between Kokonotsu and Hotaru, but I sure do hope the finale leaves me with a better impression than this episode. The show’s definitely been kinda underwhelming, but it has a certain charm – I’d like for it to end on a good note.

Dagashi Kashi

ERASED finished as gracefully as you could hope at this point. The material with Yashiro was still a bunch of nonsense, but like with many shows, that was a nonsense-debt that had been built up over the preceding episodes. Satoru was going to confront Yashiro, and their confrontation was going to be ridiculous, because Yashiro is a ridiculous character and this show has no capacity to present compelling thriller beats. But all the rest of this episode’s material was perfectly fine – the early scenes did a lot of work in tidying up the show’s thematic loose ends, and the final scenes offered a few more morsels of the great atmospheric stuff that made the early episodes so compelling. ERASED concludes as a much lesser show than I might have hoped, but hey, early episodes do that – not every show can keep it together for that full season run. And the low points can’t take away the moments I enjoyed.


Active Raid‘s ending was very similar to ERASED, if you adjust for the fact that Active Raid is just a fundamentally much worse show. Like ERASED, every moment concerning the show’s ridiculous villain detracted from the series, and also like ERASED, all the scenes that avoided that character were a fine reflection of what the show does best. Active Raid resolves as a relatively likable but also bland and low-stakes procedural drama, with its gifted director’s hand not really visible in its humdrum stories and their humdrum execution. Active Raid comes off almost reflecting the just-working-for-a-paycheck feel of its own protagonists, which is a kind of meta-storytelling I can’t say I’m a huge fan of.

Active Raid

And it all came together in Genroku Rakugo this week, which finally arrived at the tragic climax it’s been moving towards all along. I really liked how the show handled the actual tragedy here – this seems like a situation the three of them truly could have worked out, if they’d had more time together, and so having it be an accident of passion is very appropriate. Simply having Sukeroku acknowledge how much Miyokichi means to him likely would have solved everything; Miyokichi didn’t truly hate rakugo, but she hated the idea of essentially being nothing to any of the people who were important to her, and if she could take rakugo away from Sukeroku, at least that was an expression of meaning. But this is an archetypal tragedy, and so catharsis comes too late to save any of these characters.

On top of that, Sukeroko’s last performance was as good as it had to be, a dynamic monologue well outside of his usual wheelhouse that served as a self-contained setpiece and a reflection on his own final maturation in the series.

My only real complaint at this point, and one that’s kinda been building for a while now, is that I continue to not really feel emotionally invested in these events. I’ve been discussing this on twitter with a variety of people, and heard a variety of reasons for why Rakugo might feel like an emotionally distant production. “Because it’s framed as a self-conscious piece of theater” seems like a good one – the characters often feel like they’re playing classic theatrical roles more than being people, making it hard to engage. “Because the scenes that would attach you to them as individuals are here framed as metaphors in performance” is another fine one, one that also acknowledges the fact that the show’s faltering animation has made its latter performances significantly less personal.

My own initial feelings were that it came down to the fact that Rakugo has virtually no incidental scenes that simply build individuality into its characters – all of its scenes and lines of dialogue are straightforward direction of dramatic intent that play into the core narrative/themes more than reflect on specific individuals. But it’s a generally tricky issue I’m dealing with here, and something I’m frustrated by – I want to care about these characters more than I do, but I just don’t. It’s clearly a very impressive show, but it’s just not one that moves me.

Rakugo Shinju

11 thoughts on “Winter 2016 – Week 12 in Review

  1. Have you experienced that same kind of emotional distance with Rakugo with any other shows you can remember? Specifically, where you like the show and want to care about the characters more than you do? Maybe there are some similarities which would highlight a cause.

  2. “I want to care about these characters more than I do, but I just don’t. It’s clearly a very impressive show, but it’s just not one that moves me”

    Weird enough, this my exact issue with Madoka Magica. I personally find Rakugo’s characters far more believable and human than Madoka’s. Granted, this is the problem with personal taste that won’t be easy to explain. I can write a large list of issues I have with Madoka, but it’s mostly deal with my media preferences, so it won’t matter to you. Well, nobody simply like every thing. No need to feel frustrated.

    • I liked Madoka a lot but I can’t say I “relate” to its characters. It’s a very abstract show. I simply don’t find it an impediment to my enjoyment – what I relate to is the general meaning and feelings conveyed by the events of the story, not the specific girls’ circumstances.

  3. I’m really sorry about how Erased turned out. I had read the first 4 volumes of the manga, and I was convinced that it was the parents that killed Kayo, that Yashiro was a good guy, and that it was mostly about the community and domestic abuse.

    I guess I should have finished it before recommending it to people.

    I’m a bit curious about your impression of Rakugo. We can all agree that it’s not as emotionally powerful as we would have liked, but it isn’t the first show like that to come along. Both Shin Sekai Yori and Yuri Kuma Arashi were very impressive without connecting emotionally. But SSY seems to generate mostly positive talk from you and other critics, while YKA seems more negative. Where do you think Rakugo stands compared to those two?

    • No harm in being enthusiastic about something! Stories fall apart all the time.

      As for Rakugo, I’d say it’s very similar to both of them – even with SSY, my biggest complaint about the show was that the characters felt very distant, and thus its conclusion felt a lot less emotionally ambiguous than it was supposed to. It’d be pretty interesting comparing what in each show makes them come across that way!

  4. I couldn’t even finish Active Raid. It’s not terrible,but just extremely mediocre. As mentioned it had a good director,but he didn’t come totally interested in this material at all I thought it’s biggest issue was the characters,which weren’t all that interesting and half of them not really having a whole lot to them. There is a good show buried in their,but it really needed a better script with stronger direction.

    • But here’s my persistent complaint when it comes to that kind of logic…why should they “have a whole lot more to them” when that absolutely wasn’t what the staff wanted in the first place?

      According to the people directly involved in the production, including the director himself, the basic point of Active Raid was to make a TV series that could be watched comfortably and without thinking too much.

      Call them lazy or unambitious, whatever, but they were completely honest from the start. If you think that just makes for something boring or uninteresting then more power to you, but honestly, I think not every show should be forced into arbitrarily following the same standards just to please an audience that wants to see something else.

      In other words, Active Raid’s only crime is that it wanted to be a very simple kind of show and people, entirely on their own, came to expect something completely out of proportion with the staff’s intentions.

  5. Pretty much my thoughts on Grimgar and Rakugo though you say it a ton better hehe. I think Rakugo is a better show but I still just don’t actually enjoy watching it as much I look forward to Grimgar far more. I feel its sort of like with movies I honestly think Godfather is one of the best movies ever made and I have no desire to watch it again since I don’t actually enjoy watching it much. I think Rakugo is sort of like that to me I have a lot of respect for the story and how it is presented and really think it is worth having watched but unless it pulls something off in the last episode I have a strong feeling I will buy a box set and leave it in its plastic on a shelf somewhere and never actually watch it again.

  6. While I did have problem attaching myself to the characters in Yurikuma and SSY I don’t have the same problem in Rakugo, I feel the show already demonstrate a lot trough body language, actions, atmosphere, framing about how they feel and the way they think has been efficiently demonstrated for me at least. It definitely has more of a movie type characterization than most anime though. The characters didn’t feel like templates to me? I mean sure they have theatrical moments but that’s just how the show present things, the characters seems driven by understandable and deserved feelings.

  7. Your Rakugo impression is the reason I dropped it early (around episode 3). It’s a technically very good show and in my opinion it’s the outstanding direction that does all the heavy work, which makes the story/characters seem more than what they are. A trend I’ve noticed is that people mistakenly believe that if a show has 1) adult characters & 2) solemn slow-building atmosphere that it makes the show/story/characters automatically good. But these are easily replicated elements, I could ask a 13-year old to write a story with those elements and they could, prose aside. In the end we want to consume stories that move us, whether it’s lighthearted fluff or something more substantive.

    • Except that Rakugo is really good in terms of presenting how messed up these characters are (I suspect this is the reason why Bobduh is not that much enamored with any of them because their personalities can be good or awful in any given moment) and the declining popularity of rakugo as an art form. It is from an award winning manga after all so there is a certain metric that recognized its merits as something substantive.

      Though I kinda agree with your last statement.

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