Sunday, April 29, 2018

Anime roundup '18Q1

The winter season provided a number of likely prospects, even if some did fall quickly by the wayside. In the past, I know I've done my share of complaining about loose adaptations of manga (e.g. Bokurano, Planetes), and given props to nigh frame for frame ones (Aria, Mushishi), but now I can say that there are faithful adaptations that fall into the camp of "I've already read some of this; you're just presenting the same material to me, but much more slowly". The Junji Ito Collection for example. And Hoshiiro Girldrop PopTeamEpic, too.

Known adaptations aside, the top two on the list were the obvious "Cute Girls Do Outdoor Activities" titles, Yuru Camp∆ and Sora yori mo Tooi Basho.

Yuru Camp∆ aka Laid-back Camp took as its outdoor activity camping in autumn/early winter, then rounded itself off nicely, fast-forwarding to spring, and cherry blossoms in the coda -- so (brief onsen scenes aside) it keeps the characters bundled up in many layers of insulation all the time, even inside their school building. Even though I'd describe this as a "comfy" series, that would describe the mood, rather than the actual activity. Rather, in that respect, it's definitely an adventure series, in the sense of adventure being someone else being uncomfortable in some far-away land -- my nose and toes have tended to feel chilled in sympathy while watching.

One for going on a Google Earth holiday along with, and not worrying too much about the times of sunrise and sunset (e.g. there was rather too much light in the sky at 05:00 on Christmas morning, 20 minutes before the start of astronomical twilight). Overall, no Yama no Susume, but it makes an adequate substitute. I wonder what will be the next outdoor activity to fill this niche.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho aka A Place Further Than the Universe was rather different, being more a drama, with a bunch of loners and misfits getting together to journey to Antarctica -- some just to do something out of the ordinary rut of their lives, but one to visit the place where her mother was lost some years earlier. Of course, being loners and misfits, the girls were generally more abrasive and forthright than the usual nicely mannered cute girls we see so often. All in all, a well executed drama that could so easily have become mawkish and sentimental, but took a refreshingly different route instead. I agree with what seems to be the general sentiment in terms of sales and such that this was the best of the CGDCT titles of the season.

Ongoing, I'm watching Toji no Miko. The series may just be an advertising drive for a mobage, but it has competently set up its conflicts and delivers cute quasi-magical girls sword fighting every episode. I say quasi-magical, because unlike the real deal, this series has so far been free of yuri-baiting, despite a cast that has the same gender balance as YuYuYu did. As the obvious end boss turned out just to be the mid-boss, I now have no idea where this will end up going, but I expect it to continue to have sword fights most episodes.

Continued over and dropped, Mahoutsukai no Yome. After a burst of enthusiasm to cover a chunk of the backlog, I stalled on this one. I think it's a sign of impending plot and bad experiences with same in other initially episodic series, especially as I gather it outran the manga and went for an anime-original ending. It didn't really engage on an emotional level, which, given that I can get blurry eyed over pieces of equipment requesting specific upgrades, is somewhat surprising.

From the back catalog, I picked up Koihime Musou and sequels on a recommendation that went

Unpronounceable names, 99% female cast, big eyes, colourful hair, large knockers, spear-fights, lesbians, innuendo, nudity... THAT'S MORE LIKE IT. This is why I started watching Japanese cartoons.

It started just as silly fun -- swords and a little sorcery in pseudo-Ancient China with all the major heroes and warlords being girls -- in manner that made it surprising that it was only about 10 years old, as it feels like it ought be 20-ish -- say contemporaneous with series like BurnUp/Excess -- from the style. But from the start with trivial encounters, the final season, Shin Koihime Musou - Otome Tairan surprised me by developing on the previous seasons, telling a competent Water Margin-lite Chinese-style swords and sorcery story that could have been played fairly straight, with the bouncy bristols and the nudge-nudge jokes just leavening the mix.

As a true nostalgia binge, I dug out the first Dirty Pair Flash OVA, and realised that I have been spoiled by modern anime -- low budget now is likely to look like Kemono Friends, rather than this and its use of traditional anime tics, and quaint hand-drawn computer displays. It still stands up as a comedy-thriller once expectations are recalibrated, though.

I also massively increased my intake of SHAFT by watching both seasons of Natsu no Arashi, a comedy drama set around a restaurant that steadily accumulates a staff of time-travelling ghosts from the end of the Pacific War, and other odd folk beside.

It goes in for large doses of mood whiplash, from chili-powered fruit surprises to tragic love in wartime to dealing with expiry dates when time-travelling to reverse-trap body-swap gags... Occasionally it got into a bit of a rut, with a series of episodes on the template of "one of the staff has a secret, it might get revealed" with a side of "some random thing has been forgotten, oh it turns out that it happens later in my world-line because time-travel". While it is laden with artsy tricks -- odd vignetting, random bits of photograph, interspersed gags of the form "I forget the title of this thing I'm going to describe elliptically, but the punchline was..." in completely contrasting art style -- it managed to get away with only doing one of the signature (and irritating) head tilts, and used an art-style that wasn't the generally ugly one of the *gataris or Madoka.

All it all, despite a saggy middle, it wrapped up nicely, including a very self-aware punchline at the end.

Disappointment of the season was Darling in the FranXX. One of the two titles of the season much hyped in advance (the other being Kyoto Animation's Violet Evergarden), this one because, even though it was being done by A-1 Studios, most of the significant names on the creative team are ex-Gainax hands -- so there was a hope that this anime-original series might be a "let's sneak something into the timeline between Diebuster and Gurren Lagann" romp about giant dinosaurs attacking moving sci-fi cities protected by magical girl mechas, done with the same straight-faced insanity as previous series out of the same stable.

And it turned out to have a bunch of interesting wordplay-based ideas to sprinkle around its dystopian post-apocalytpic future, with the "dinosaurs" being named in Japanese in a way that is sounded as their word for dinosaur (lit "fear dragon"), but reads as "screaming dragon" instead; and the main cast, though only having official numeric designations, have been numbered so that one way or another -- Japan having multiple names for the numbers, and occasionally borrowing from English, too -- their numbers can be read as names (so 015 becomes *-ichi-go = Ichigo, for example). This does get self-aware at times, as the Shinji-like main character (while he does all the Shinji hand mannerisms, we can distinguish him from Shinji because a) he wants to get in the robot, and b) he's not very good at it) designated 016 is named Hiro; and the horned abomination with pink hair who is designated 002 gets the name o-ni in an Anglo-Japanese mix for 0-2 (oni, or "Japanese ogre") briefly considered and discarded.

Alas, the dystopian child-soldier setting is employed primarily for the purposes of putting a bunch of teens into the Big Brother House and going for the teen relationship dorama first, with a slight mecha vs kaiju flavoured coating as afterthought. The opening narration about the Chinese jian bird that must fly as a pair, the way the mecha are piloted with boy/girl stamen/pistil pairs (the girl's hood being both the dashboard for the mech and something looking akin to some traditional Japanese bridal veil), and the "he was a normal boy until a strange girl fell on him" beginning made it pretty clear where the emphasis was going to be, and that it was going to be all about the rocky road of Zero-Two/Hiro. (Yes, that blatant.)

I guess it wasn't helped by my taking a dislike to the mains, but I put it on the shelf after the first couple of episodes and have been watching the fireworks of the inevitable red/blue battle from the outside, which has proved way more entertaining. Finding out later that, as the director's "passion project", it actually played into his fantasy of being seduced by an older delinquent girl transfer student, cements my feelings, as it seems to have evolved into a blue-pilled romance fantasy of taking a carousel-riding ho ("a hundred stamen, maybe more") and turning her into, well, not quite a housewife, but at least a life-companion, with added "power of love" power-ups for their already OP mech.

So, yes, that's quite how frustrating a series that one is.

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