Winter 2017 Season Preview

I’ll be honest – this upcoming anime season is looking pretty sparse. Perhaps this is our punishment for having such a strong current season, or perhaps the good and just anime gods are displeased with Flip Flappers’ low sales numbers, but either way, we’re going to be scavenging for scraps come January. That said, there are still some bright spots here and there – sequels to strong first seasons, shows with promising creators, originals that might have have some kind of special spark. And we’ve certainly had weak winter seasons before – in fact, this winter may just end up being a repeat of last year’s, where Rakugo stood head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. We’ll get by, as we always do. And we’ll probably have some nice cartoons to help us.

As usual, I won’t be previewing every single show of the coming season, and I also won’t be providing traditional synopses. You can check a site like anichart for all that stuff – instead, I’ll be highlighting the specific shows that seem to have potential, along with the generally staff-related reasons I feel that way. Plot is cheap, but strong artists are irreplaceable. So let’s start at the vague peak of my interest level and run this next season down!

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Fall 2015 – Week 12 in Review

I don’t tend to enjoy writing negative stuff. If I can make some kind of upbeat game or challenge out of it, like I did when writing about Strike Witches or Dragonar Academy, it can be pretty okay – but when it’s just a grim reporting of disappointment and failure, continuing week after week, that’s just the saddest kind of writing. I like being enthusiastic about stuff, and sharing that enthusiasm with people, and lately it’s been feeling like my week in review posts are just too dang negative. But like all good critics, I’m going to remain confident the problem isn’t with me, it’s with the media. I’m just watching too many bad shows! I’ve got bad shows I’m watching on contract and bad shows I’m watching on faith and mediocre shows I’m watching for their occasional glimmers of greatness. If not for all these bad shows, everything would be fine.

So yeah, I’m looking forward to next season. The only show I’ll really be sad to see go is Owarimonogatari, and that one ended so well that I can’t even complain (plus hey, Kizu’s on its way). Other than that, this shambling collections of rejects and ne’er-do-wells can just shuffle on into the past, and we can embrace a whole new collection of anime hopes and dreams. Plus I’ll be posting my top ten shows of the year about a week from now, and it doesn’t really get more positive than that! This cloud shall pass, but for now, let’s take a somewhat skeptical look back at this week’s shows and RUN ‘EM DOWN.

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Craft Exercise – Little Witch Academia as a Series

Management: I’m aware I basically plot out the most standard possible genre piece here. The point was not to outline something potentially groundbreaking, it was to illustrate the amount of work a first episode generally has to do regarding narrative structure. A really great first episode would require a much larger infusion of creativity than the structural hack job I perform here.


Little Witch Academia was awesome! Do you think it could be turned into a full series?


It was great, but it was also solidly self-contained – it told a fun, breezy story that doubled as a metaphor for that “showy entertainment is needed to inspire the young” theme (words on that if you’re interested), and everything was written/characterized to the extent needed for this one thing. It answered all narrative questions it raised and fully articulated its thematic intent – I think it’d have to be quite different to work as a series.


Can you elaborate on that? What made the OVA unsuitable as a first episode, and what would have to be changed to make it work?


Well, the main problem is that like I said, it basically answered all of its own questions, which is something a first episode generally doesn’t do (though this obviously isn’t a rule, and I’m not the story police – for instance, Cowboy Bebop’s first episode is virtually entirely self-contained, though it does actually raise the core theme of the difficulty of escaping your past identity and choices). Anyway! The conflicts Little Witch Academia raised were:

  1. The protagonist gaining acceptance and respect at her school.
  2. The protagonist proving the legitimacy of her idol.
  3. The protagonist resolving her specific conflict with her rival.
  4. The treasure hunt/dragon fight.

Additionally, the thematic point that I’m fairly sure this show as trying to make was:

“Ostensibly low-art popular entertainment like the flashy shows of this protagonist’s idol are actually not just entertaining, they are incredibly important as inspiration for the next generation – as an example, here is a story of that actually occurring within a piece of this kind of entertainment created by a group of people who were in this way inspired.”

The OVA resolves every one of those conflicts entirely (she saves the school, thus resolving 1 and 4 – she does it by using the wand of her idol, thus resolving 2 – she ends the series by being rescued by and bonding with her rival, thus resolving 3). While doing these things, it acts in its entirety as the thematic argument I outlined. This is all great storytelling, and I think the piece totally works on a surface and thematic level because of it.

However, if I were to make a full series of this, I feel something like this would act more as “proof of concept” than a first episode – you can’t really have the first episode of your show not leave any suspense, or unanswered questions, or possible new avenues for conflict, or not-fully-explored themes.

How would I go about fixing this?

The world would certainly have to be a bit broader – the current cast/characterization would possibly work for a very simple monster-of-the-week thing, but seeing as how we’re trying to make a good series here and the OVA has already displayed the creator’s interest in actually raising interesting thematic arguments, I’d like to aim a bit higher than that.

Currently, a decent bit of runtime in this OVA is dedicated to articulating the various beats of the thematic argument (the initial performance, arguments both with her rival and with her friends about her validity, all the business with the wand, the final reconciliation) – in a full series, I wouldn’t recommend this, and would probably just have a hint or two of this thematic concern.

The surface conflict would probably have to be shaved a bit and tuned down as well – having our hero save the school from a dragon probably works better for a one-episode OVA than a series that’s supposed to rise in tension throughout, plus having her save the school immediately too easily resolves the conflict of her finding her place at the school as someone who hasn’t come from a classic wizarding background.

Instead, we’d probably want a little more runtime dedicated both to characterizing her friends and rival a little more deeply, perhaps providing first glimpses of a couple more secondary characters for future conflicts, and probably providing a more full picture of daily life at the school. I feel one of the main strengths of this material is “Harry Potter but as an anime with vivid, humorous animation,” and one of the main strengths of Harry Potter was, in my opinion, how entertaining they made life at the school seem even in the absence of any crazy tension or dark forces. Again, since we’re stretching the darker stuff across a greater number of episodes here, I feel the first episode would probably be lighter in tone in general, and ride more on its humor than its adventure-adrenaline rush, as more pieces of the starting template are set in place.

That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a conflict, though – my first instinct would be to have our Protagonist’s desire to prove herself result in some disastrous consequences, with some theatrical conflict that would hopefully complicate the rivalry between her and Rival, possibly accidentally unveil a hint (perhaps only to the audience) of some larger, darker conflict to come, and likely clue the Protagonist in to the possibility that her Idol exists somewhere at the school. This would hopefully offer plenty of opportunity for the story to go in a variety of directions and hints of things to come while still offering immediate entertainment through humor, likable characters, immediately understandable rivalry, the first steps in exploring a very imaginative world, and a fun, brief dose of action to top it off.

Anyway. Those are my first thoughts on how I’d go about converting this to a series.

Little Witch Academia (plus added commentary)

So! Studio Trigger. Gurren Lagann. First serious independent release. That’s all I’ve got, I’ve been waiting for months, let’s get this shit on.

Little Witch Academia

7:23 – Man, I’m really enjoying this, but I gotta pause or these thoughts are gonna vaporize.

First, I absolutely love this guy’s visual style and use of animation. Everything he creates feels like a living sketch, and the way he infuses a wide scattering of anime character designs (drawing back way further than the current standard of very similarly designed body types and faces) with divergences into Western-cartoonish exaggeration makes for an incredibly vivid visual feast. We need more stuff like this, or mainly things that simply diverge from the standard styles and embrace how anime can be wildly stylized and draw from a vast vocabulary of visual influences.

Second, the themes of this thing immediately remind me of Gurren Lagann, and paint a very strong picture of how this guy feels about art that is just so clear in the style of the things he creates. He revels in the absurd, the over-the-top, the gleefully melodramatic and the unabashedly pulpy. That first big line – “believing is magic” – says it all; he wants the viewer to embrace his vision without a hint of cynical doubt, loving it the way only a child can truly love a story. His art is an expression of that love of truly unquestioned, un-self-conscious, exaggerated storytelling. And the protagonist here clearly mirrors his own feelings, with her passionate defense of a showman widely considered gaudy and beneath serious magical (or, by proxy, artistic) consideration. Life is too short not to love what you love, or to start making apologies for it.

8:22 – Another point on that front – the value of childhood heroes in inspiring a lifetime of dedication and emulation. I think this is more than a little autobiographical.

13:04 – Normally it’s impossible to make an action story with a vaguely-defined magic system and still maintain actual stakes/tension in conflict (because the audience doesn’t know the actual extent of Our Heroes’ powers). This show neatly sidesteps that because it’s not at all interested in that kind of tension, and is just a visceral ride, so they can have fun giving the characters whatever vague, visually interesting powers they want.

20:08 – Sucy’s design is sweet. I love how her arms just fade into her wobbly profile when she isn’t using them, as well as the very tidy progression of her potion tricks.

22:55 – Dragon’s unhappy face is perfect.

And Done

Well! Not much to talk about in closing; that was just a really fun, well-constructed ride throughout. Trigger have successfully proven the world needs more of them; now please, fund yourself a full season of something. We’re all waiting.

That was my original post on the topic. However, an unrelated discussion brought the issue of this OVA’s “point” back into question, and so I clarified my positions there. I’m paraphrasing the person this discussion was with for clarity’s sake – I hope not to misrepresent anyone’s viewpoints, but this is primarily about explaining my own interpretation of the text, and nothing should be drawn from the prompts beyond their serving to prompt my explanations. Anyway.


Wasn’t Little Witch Academia just another cliched shonen success story? And why did all the other characters hate her idol, anyway?


Regarding Little Witch Academia, I read that show as a direct defense of that kind of exuberant, obvious, elevated storytelling. The entire episode itself was a mirror of what the protagonist loved about her childhood hero, and the fact that both of the rivals were inspired by her to go into that field was, in my opinion, the director saying “the ultimate defense of the cliched, exuberant, and absurd is that it will inspire future generations to strive to create that same kind of connection – and I’m living proof.” The hate the community had for her inspiration isn’t really about magic, though I think the metaphor works – it’s about the disdain shown in the real world towards so-called “low art” like Little Witch Academia. The story was standard but well told, the craft was vivid and very unique (we need more experiments like that art style), but probably my favorite thing about it was its strength as a metaphor and a very personal statement of purpose from those creators.


How can a show have a point if the main character does undergo any kind of emotional journey? The heroine of this show didn’t grow up in any way, or learn anything about herself. The only reason she wins is because she randomly finds an overpowered wand – what is it promoting, materialism?


I don’t think she actually learned anything within the actual adventure – there was no character arc there, you’re right. I think the point was that the spectacle of a crowd-pleasing entertainer inspired both her and Diana to follow that path, and the show as a whole is supposed to argue for the same thing regarding art and animation – that art as inspiring spectacle can be a noble goal on its own, and helps accomplish the critical task of inspiring the next generation of creators.

Her finding the actual wand of her role model seems like shorthand for “we are all held up and made greater by the passion of our influences” – it was discarded as junk (low art), but made priceless by the person it inspired to follow that path.


But how can this show say anything about the real world if it has no grounding? Everything in this show happens almost at random, or for plot convenience’s sake. Doesn’t the show need to have more believable stakes and narrative to actually say anything effective?


The events are not given weight or tension because it’s irrelevant to the point they’re trying to make – in fact, if the show had been anything other than an unrealistic spectacle, it wouldn’t have mirrored the role her childhood idol fills in her world (flashy, but without substance), and thus would not actually work as a metaphor in the first place. I’m not sure what message you’re talking about them trying to convey here, but her “earning” some narrative victory is not the point of the show – the point of the show is made as soon as she transitions from a child idolizing a vapid entertainer to a mage in training still inspired by that entertainer. The rest is just a fun, flippant adventure that maintains that symbolism (like the thing with the wand – it’s useful as a thematic symbol of her relying on the inspiration of her childhood to forge her own path, not as a marker of emotional growth) while essentially acting as an animated form of the performance that inspired the protagonist.

You keep picking at the narrative flippancy of the adventure they go on, but I’m saying all that stuff is basically unrelated to the thematic point of the show in the first place, and is in fact perfect for the kind of art the show is arguing has the right to be respected.