Monday, January 02, 2017

Anime — 2016 in review

In the unfinished business area, I carried on with Symphogear G, which, after a cour and a half at last managed cohere to enough to deliver a decent number of set pieces in the last half-dozen episodes, and Bikki-tan is starting to get the hang of this magical girl business, including a closing move worthy of the White Devil herself. It was the other characters that needed a bit of a talking to, for a change -- "Excuse me, ladies, but why not postpone the emotional reunion scene until after you've stopped the bad guy who's slinking away stage right?"

All in all, trashy fun with cute girls finally figuring out how to punch everything into daijoubu.

I then continued on to Symphogear GX which was an odd mess -- the fights are cool enough, but Hibiki's hard reset every season is getting old -- by now she should be confident in dealing out the Power of Friendship ("with a Determination to Fist", as the season subtitle puts it). While it was not overall as bad as some of the detractors make out, it somehow managed to make what ought to have been a spectacular finale come over as just "meh" -- which is really the problem with the franchise as a whole. It ought to be something that is full of "Hell, yes!" moments, but those end up being restricted to the first episode of the season only; a measure of how flat-footed the delivery is.

One of the things I got as a Christmas 2015 present, for watching during the Winter season (where none of the airing titles grabbed) was the complete Nadia : The Secret of Blue Water, when we watched the first couple of episodes, they were absolutely charming. Despite being a series that gets talked about regularly, it felt like I was coming to the series quite unspoiled, which was an extra bonus.

As time went on, it went to some strange places, especially watched in proximity to Symphogear, where the two apparently very different series display a bizarre overlap in motifs (Finé clearly had something to do with Gargoyle's use of heretical technology). After that arc, though, during the Nautilus episodes, the series began to feel more and more like a French made-for-children series (rather than the "all ages" appeal which even toy commercials like Mobile Suit Gundam managed), and there was much less pull to watch it, especially as we moved into the Spring season and suddenly there were new airing series that caught my attention.

Plus, at past the half-way mark, I still wasn't feeling it -- the characters are irritating at best, fading into just ciphers at worst. Even with a detour past the notorious island and Africa arcs, or even if the quality had been maintained, I was still in the frame of mind to be eyeing the fast forwards button by that point, though I didn't feel as betrayed by it as in other similar cases, such as Madoka. Currently stalled with 4 episodes to go.

On the pure Gainax side, if Electra is a proto-Ritsuko, then Sanson is clearly a proto-Kamina; and Nadia is just an annoying little madam. At least with that as a trial run, NGE handled the "kids caught up in the adults' conspiracy" set-up way more deftly.

Of the spring series, there were three I actually watched through --

  • JJBA : Diamond is not Crash, which provided fabulous Saturday morning cartoons for the rest of the year, fitting surprisingly well into 3 cours despite being many chapters longer than Stardust Crusaders
  • Gundam Unicorn Re:0096, an edit of the earlier OVA into a 2-cour TV show -- plenty of UC Gundam nostalgia, but boy, was that ever a poster-child for "Japan doesn't into endings"! -- having bigged-up Laplace's Box beyond anything reasonable, topping it off with a 2001-style lightshow and Char Full Frontal channelling Keynes and then ... anti-climax when spending just a couple of minutes on an epilogue could have helped, to save it from being full of sound and fury but ultimately seeming to signify nothing; and
  • Flying Witch which turned into the surprise hit of the year, a relaxed, slightly magical, slice of life, the best in the style to come along since Aria, with only a minimum of school intruding on the lives of the teenage characters (the banal effect of the default setting showed in the weak and cliché driven

    > at school
    > anime girl can't cook

    episode that felt phoned in from some other SoL, with even the rather over-magical anime-original final episode being better). I did, however, find the episode where they weeded a substantial plot to bare earth in just a few hours, with no magical assistance, to be a bit stretching of the suspension of disbelief. Props also for having a boy in the cast who isn't any sort of romance self-insert.

There were also a bunch of tried-and-dropped-

  • Phantom World where I watched episode 1, to see the notorious limbo dance in context ... and it's all irritating fanservice all the time, peaking in the bit where MC trips and doesn't FOOSH.
  • Space Patrol Luluco lasted 4 short episodes before the attempt to mix DORAMA and LOLPlot into the off-the-wall stream of consciousness insanity like Inferno Cop was told me it was time to stop.
  • Hai Furi which had promise of being the new Girls und Panzer just went somewhere else. It could have done with just a brief explanation of what the ostensible purpose of the Blue Mermaids is by way of scene setting (not an extended exposition, just something quick and to the point like GaruPan introduced sensha-do), pulling forwards material from the second episode before going about undermining the superficial appearance of being just "cute sailing girls doing cute sailing things". Alas, that mishandling was a sign of things to come, and I dropped at the oh-so-hilarious "we're out of bog rolls" episode.
  • Anne Happy, with its fairly off-the-wall premise, was more entertaining than most of the CGDCT shows that I've tried (they usually feel like a chore to wade through even a first episode), but alas it spiralled through surreal into just downright stupid in very short order.

Summer opened with the promise that Amanchu would take on the cozy/comfy niche, being from the same mangaka as Aria, but it came off the worse in the immediate shift of gears and scenery -- and a lot more school than I'd expected. Flying Witch was comfy, this is irritating, with the "aren't they quirky? Look!!" being played up too much, like Pikari being in face-fault mode so much that when she has a normal face it just looks like "who is this different character? There was a only whistle-blowing muppet around just now" instead. Overall, Pikari is way too over-caffeinated genki, the mascot character Cha is just as bad as President Aria, and Teko is just a doormat.

Two episodes were quite enough -- the figure hugging outfits and fetish boots don't go anywhere near far enough to rescue this from disappointment of the year status.

I watched the "behind the scenes" episode 0 of the Taiwanese puppet show Thunderbolt Fantasy. Having grown up on Supermarionation™, it was both weirdly familiar and at the same time subtly awry (they don't have any strings!) -- but it looks worth going on with, so in the queue for now.

Autumn brought the first episode of The Ancient Magus' Bride OVA which shows promise -- just so long as it's not too much concentrated on the "little girl suffering for being the nail that stands out" part, and is more on the magical Natsume/Mushishi-like side of being able to see the youkai. With the opening shots of Big Ben and fog on the Thames, I was expecting something Victorian -- but then, suddenly, there's the Shard! -- even if the rural English framing does have some "Lol! Japan" touches.

I also sampled the first episode of Flip Flappers, and it felt like FLCL meets Daicon IV in The New World. Papika (the Daicon girl/Haruko fusion in the mix) is one of those infuriating brain dead genki girls just like Pikari, and around her the art style of the show wobbles from Imaishi-style wackiness, to acid flashbacks to Shin Sekai Yori in the respites between the manic bursts. Verdict -- Dropped like a colony.

Faring better, Izetta the Last Witch -- the BUNBUN sameface is quite strong in this one, with Nogi Wakaba-hime getting rescued by Takashima Yuuna in the first episode. Queued for later.

And half-way through ClassicaLoid, which is an odd mix of the whimsical and the dumb -- including the electro-pop renderings of various popular classics. Where it sticks to being SoL/comedy plus rework classical music videos, it's amusing fluff -- and so far it doesn't seem to be suffering too much from the vague plot. Ongoing.

The last couple of months have been marked by a lot of raiding the archives.

It started when, on a whim, I went back and resumed watching Tsuritama (that fishing anime from 4 years ago). First time around, I watched the first episode and said "No thanks!" to the instances of the MC sperging out, however uniquely portrayed, expecting that to be an ongoing thing the whole while. Starting again at episode 2, I was pleased to find that it got throttled back to the occasional goofy face, and the slice-of-life aspects carried it. And even when the plot emerged at about the halfway mark, it didn't do it in a massive change of gear (as so often happens). Even more surprisingly, that deft handling carried through the climax, to an actual satisfying conclusion, and as I remembered from the first time around, I liked the art style.

I then picked up IdolM@cross 7 AKB0048, notionally a promo thing for the AKB48 idol group, but under the influence of Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Aquarion) it cuts the mundane idol shenanigans with mech battles and quasi-magical girl action, under a premise of cute girls doing idol things IN SPAAAACCCCEE! vs the No Fun Police. It was fun enough to follow through to the end, though I'm not sure that I would have kept up with it on a "while airing" basis. The second cour, in particular, sagged a bit in the middle, and the ending was not as good as it could have been -- the opening of what was supposed to be the most impressive live show of all time (in order to activate the plot) was one of the limpest of the AKB numbers used, weakly delivered, and not a patch on their first appearance in the very first episode. Even hauling out the first OP number for the climax was below its use at the end of the first cour, added pyrotechnics notwithstanding.

The ending was not a very tidy one -- leaving an unexplained death, ambiguity as to exactly how along the scale through "A New Hope" to "Return of the Idols" the idol rebellion has come, and one of the in-group character conflicts completely shelved. And given how the show turned out, with only minor adjustments, the use of 3DCG in the group dancing scenes could have been given an in-story justification, as manifesting the original AKB.

Paranoia Agent, at least after 3 episodes, comes over as rather more tedious than I recall, a problem of knowing what is going on in broad that removes the "WTF is going on?" appeal. By contrast, on a third go around, Mouryou no Hako is being even more rewarding, when you can appreciate all the clues laid in plain sight, and the sheer density of the storytelling, and I gulped down the first five episodes in one sitting.

And for a surreal experience, I watched the first episodes of Yuri Bear Storm and Penguindrum one after the other -- so clearly the work of the same man, with all the common stylistic quirks. The former, alas, failed the 3 episode test, being pretty, but very, very tedious, and the stock-footage fanservice doesn't help it, either. I'm not inclined to continue just to find out whether a kitten gets killed at any time in this series, or if Ikuni has given up his Kaworu act.

As a change of pace, I watched the first couple of episodes of Twintail ni narimasu, which were amusing enough trash that I might watch some more, though it doesn't look like I'll be watching it on the strength of the fight choreography.

Finally, I've started my approximately every 4 year rewatch of Neon Genesis Evangelion (last done in the aftermath of the release of Q in theatre in Japan), currently up to episode 6. The material is familiar, but with enough time passing, the details blur into summary, so I can watch with as near new eyes as I can ever manage -- for example, this time around I actually noticed and WTF'd at the blooper about Misato's arrival at the station in episode 4. For the first time I'm watching the Platinum version, rather than the original OA DVDs, which gives the occasional WTF just in itself (the changes in the episode titles, mainly).

Then, with the original fresh in mind, to round off the year, I rewatched Rebuild 1.01, which was indeed a rather more downbeat take on the same material as episodes 1-6, and it wasn't just that the gloomy lighting balance in that version had stuck in my memory -- not only was Re!Shinji more of an introspective misery-guts than the original, even getting in an early hell-train ride, but so were practically everyone else, and the No Fun Police had gone through and removed any of the levity aside from the toothpicks scene, in favour of splashy spectacle.

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