Checking in on the Fall 2012 season midway through
This isn't quite 'midway' except by a somewhat stretched sense of time (even by my standards of delayed watching), but now that my watchlist has settled out I feel like writing it up to go along with my initial impressions. The big surprise for me this season has been how many shows I've wound up following. In contrast to spring, where I thought I was going to follow a bunch but didn't in the end , this has been the season where I thought many shows were going to drop out but they've stuck around.
Hits, more or less in order of how eager I am to watch new episodes:
- Shin Sekai Yori: This remains good and interesting but I have
nothing compact to say about it. Oh, I do have one thing; it's
consistently beautiful (although not always conventionally pretty)
and visually well-realized. Whatever else you can say about it,
I don't think SSY ever looks boring or plain.
Now that I've read this analysis of the end credits, the SSY ED may be my favorite one of this season.
- Girls und Panzer: This continues to mix very well done sports action
(yes, with tanks) with amusing events and decent characters. One of
the things that make it work is that the creators are treating the
whole premise not so much seriously (which would make it absurd) as
respectfully; they're inviting us to enjoy it rather than laugh at it.
One reason that the action works so well is that it actually makes
sense and is presented so that we can follow it (sadly this is not
anywhere near as common as it should be).
I was pleased to find out that the protagonist's tragic past is far less tragic than initially hinted at. Well, not tragic at all, really. It's melodramatic but that's okay, this show is the kind of show where that fits. We're not supposed to take it completely seriously.
(Grim tragic pasts are overdone.)
- K: Many aspects of this are quite well done but what's more and
more sold me on the show has been the characters and their
interactions. It's reduced the trolling lately (which I don't mind)
and has started to give us decent answers to some of the outstanding
I feel that K is the second most visually impressive show that I'm watching, although it's carefully hidden behind all those blue and red filters.
- Psycho-Pass: Rather to my surprise the third episode turned my
view of this show around by presenting an interesting situation and
a decent mystery (and the show has sustained that momentum since
then). I'm not entirely enthused about the horror tinges and how the
show loves its violence against women but it remains interesting
anyways. Akane gets great faces (her smug face in episode 3 helped
sell me on the show) and great moments.
The show has fortunately gotten a more interesting approach to its cinematography and setting than desperately trying to be Ghost in the Shell.
(Violence against women is apparently the in thing this season, or maybe I'm just noticing it more this time around.)
- Robotics;Notes: I kind of would like this to keep its conspiracy
plot out of my goofy mini-robots show, but I understand that I'm
not going to get that. It's slowly but steadily picked up momentum
and interest as it goes on. I find Kai less irritating than other
- Zetsuen no Tempest: All of the main characters keep on being
non-spuds. The spouting of Shakespeare lines may get irritating
at some point but for now I remain interested in where this is
all going. My one uncertainty is that right now I don't see how
this is going to sustain itself for an apparent 22 episodes.
- Magi: I'm less enthused than I used to be, partly because it's
been a bit slow moving and partly because I've learned that it's
being adapted from a still-running shonen manga and thus we're probably
not going to get a real ending. It would be much improved if Morgianna
kicked more ass more often; she remains the best bit of the show (as
she has been pretty much since her first appearance).
Magi is a bit silly and shallow in a kids-show kind of way.
- Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo: This prospers on the alternate strengths
of periodic sharp edges and brutal honesty (where the show carefully
avoids the easy way out) mixed with well done and reasonably funny
comedy, usually with the protagonist as the poor straight man.
If you look beneath the surface I think the show is saying some
interesting things (although I could be reading things into it
that aren't really there).
(By 'reasonably funny' I mean 'actually makes me laugh sometimes'.)
I consider this show to be on the edge not so much because the current episodes are so-so but because it could very easily slip and lose the magic that's sustaining my interest so far.
- Sword Art Online: It is just as it ever was, a disappointing
mixture of good and bad. If I was a smarter person I would
stop watching because I'm not at all sure that I'm really enjoying
it any more. See Evirus for more.
(Sometimes I distract myself by coming up with ways to make it much better. Yes, this way lies doom .)
- Eureka Seven AO: The last two episodes came out at last. I wasn't entirely happy, but it's over now.
Now declared a miss:
- Ixion Saga DT: writing up my initial impressions made me decide that this wasn't funny enough to continue watching. Since it apparently beat its cluster of related jokes into the ground in subsequent episodes, I feel justified in that decision.
Despite various (passive) sales efforts, I've continued to avoid the temptation of Busou Shinki. Apparently it's continued to be almost entirely about tiny robots doing housework and mooning over their owner rather than tiny robots kicking ass, so I don't regret this in the least.
My views on Eureka Seven AO's ending
On the one hand, AO did not have a bad ending. It gave us good answers to our questions, it was well made, it had a bunch of quite nice action sequences (easily up to or exceeding the standards of the show to date, which have not been low), it gave Ao himself several good scenes to show various aspects of his growth, and it wrapped things up in a satisfactory way.
The problem is that in the process of doing this, the show took the entire cast of interesting, complex characters that we'd become emotionally invested in over the course of the story and reduced them to bystanders and spear carriers. None of them had their stories and themes resolved, none of them were given endings the way Ao was; they were all just ignored and wiped away. Naru was particularly badly done by (partly because her storyline raised some of the most interesting questions and themes of the show).
In effect the ending rewrites what the entire show was about. If it was actually about all of those character conflicts and themes that we thought we saw in the show, the writers dropped the ball at the end. My standard use of Occam's Razor says that instead, I was reading all of this depth into the show when the writers didn't deliberately put it there.
This has the unfortunate effect of reducing the whole show in my eyes. First, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I liked those characters and it annoys me to see them treated so shabbily by the ending. Second, the ending kind of turns Eureka Seven AO into a show about spectacle and Ao and that's not really enough; Ao himself is not a strong enough character to carry the show alone.
(In retrospect I wish that the other characters had known what was at stake if the Quartz Gun was fired again and had told Ao to go ahead anyways. That would have made it their conscious sacrifice as well as Ao's. But see above about reading things into the series that probably weren't actually there intentionally.)
Liked: I don't regret watching it. In the end it was still a good series; it had good production values, various moments of awesomeness, and good characters and character interactions. It was just let down by the ending.
Rewatch: No, and I'd actively avoid one. I don't think I could rewatch it just for the spectacle and for Ao's character development, partly because the other characters are such an integral part of the show right up until the last two episodes change that almost completely.
(This is kind of an elaboration of my tweet about this.)
My favorite Miyazaki movies
This all started with The Cart Driver's top 30 anime list; I wound up both thinking about what my own top 30 list would look like and raising my eyebrows that they only included one Miyazaki movie (my untempered first reaction was that basically all Miyazaki movies would make my list). In the end, while I like all of Miyazaki's movies that I've seen and think that they're all very good I'll admit that I like some more than others. I'm not going to try to rank them against other anime (not right now at least), but I'm going to list the ones that I've decided are my current favorites and picks as the very best of his work.
First, I haven't seen any of Ghibli's films since Spirited Away, including both Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo; however, based on commentary I've read about both, I doubt that seeing either would change this list. Given that, my choices today are:
- Tonari no Totoro:
I can't possibly be objective about Totoro; I watched it at exactly
the right time for it to settle firmly into my heart and as a result
it's my emotional favorite of all Miyazaki movies. But beyond my
personal attachment, Totoro is the Miyazaki movie that is most
purely about joy and wonder, with essentially no plot or tension to
distract you. The movie is all about Satsuki and Mei having a series
of happy, joyful experiences, from discovering and chasing around the
soot spots to Mei falling on Totoro's fuzzy stomach to waiting in
the rain with Totoro to, well, almost every moment in the film. Even
the ending climax is not really tense and is most memorable for the
cat-bus's spectacular run (speeding across the fields with people not
seeing it, trotting along the high-tension wires, and if you've seen
Totoro your memories may be flooding back here too). It is sentimental
in the best way.
Or in short, Totoro is Miyazaki's love letter to the wonders of childhood, the distilled essence of wandering around and having marvelous things happen. And it is a very, very well written love letter.
(Totoro also has what's probably my single most favorite moment of flight in all Miyazaki movies, and that's saying something given that Miyazaki movies are just full of spectacular flight sequences.)
- Porco Rosso: I might
not have listed this without the Cart Driver's prompting,
but they're right. This is Miyazaki's most grown up and
adult movie and at the same time also his most numinous; while other Miyazaki movies
have more magic and more fantasy, in them it is more mundane, routine,
and explicable than the one restrained, transcendent scene in Porco
Rosso. Porco Rosso makes no attempt to explain the things that are
not real and in doing so makes them more powerful. As his most adult
movie it's also the one that's the most indirect and restrained,
deliberately not showing us things and not giving us direct, clear
(As a result of this, Porco Rosso is the least straightforward and accessible Miyazaki movie, which is why I might have skipped over it initially.)
I feel that this is the movie where Miyazaki most wears his heart on his sleeve. Miyazaki loves flight in general, but this film is filled with so much love for a particular realistic sort of flight (ie, between-war small airplanes) and for its time and place. Miyazaki also does us the service of not forgetting or ignoring what is in the background of this time and place, the way that might have happened in the hands of a lesser filmmaker.
(There is nothing in the straightforward plot of Porco Rosso that required us to be carefully reminded of the growth of Italian fascism.)
- Spirited Away: This is Miyazaki's best adventure story (Porco Rosso has an adventure but is more a meditation on Marco's situation) and best fantasy. It is about children (or at least a child) without being childish, and is not so much about growing up as about growing into yourself and into what you can do. As a fantasy it presents the best-realized, most interesting world of fantasy in any of Miyazaki's works, full with both beauty and terror, because Miyazaki understands that the fantastic is both; you cannot have the different without also having the disturbing and the dangerous.
Again, I like all of Miyazaki's films and think they're great. The other films are just not as great in various ways as these three; these are the ones that I think are the purest, most refined Miyazaki.
(I feel conflicted about Mononoke-Hime. There's a lot to like about it and maybe I'm underrating it, but somehow I feel that it doesn't completely click with me. Maybe I need to see it again. Call it something close to an honorable mention for now.)
PS: I don't think that Miyazaki's messages in Mononoke-Hime, Nausicaa, and Castle in the Sky are flaws in any of those films, although some people disagree with this view. I don't rate any of those as highly as these three for other reasons.
Sidebar: going outside of Miyazaki
I've deliberately confined myself to Miyazaki's films here. If I was to go outside of that to films by Studio Ghibli people in general I would immediately point you to Gauche the Cellist, an early work by Isao Takahata. If you like classical music (as I do), this is a beautiful 'sense of wonder' film that's well worth your time.
(That it's entirely built around classical music probably makes it inaccessible to people who don't at least somewhat like the music.)
Looking back at the Summer 2012 anime season
Shows that I actively watched (and finished where applicable), in descending order:
- Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita: My favorite show of the summer, which
I've written a chunk about.
- Eureka Seven AO: My second most enjoyable show of the summer, only
a little bit behind Jinrui. I don't have an overall opinion on the
series yet since we're still waiting for the last two episodes.
(I wrote some stuff about it at the end of here.)
- Moyashimon Returns: I take back my grumpyness from my midway
update. The best way I can put it is that the final plotline
of Returns shows the series growing up and maturing, shifting from
a bunch of ultimately lightweight stuff to something more nuanced. I
liked this tone shift but I understand not everyone did. Also, I
enjoyed a seiyuu overlap.
(It's not just that Returns got serious, although it did in a way. It's that things became more complex and nuanced and felt more real as a result. There were no easy answers or one-dimensional characters.)
- Campione!: I'm sure people are going to laugh at me, but I quite
enjoyed this all through. Part of this I can attribute simply to
its execution, but I argue that it's less recycled and cliched
than it might look on the surface. I mentioned Erica Blandelli
in my midway update and another example (per a tweet) is that
victory in fights was about gaining knowledge and solving mysteries,
not more power. All of this made it fun to watch, for all that it
doesn't particularly aspire to be deep.
(This sort of calls for an entire entry that I'll probably never have the time and energy to write.)
- Sword Art Online: My views turned out not to fit
in a paragraph, so I put them in an entry of their own.
Short version: I don't think it can really be called good but it was
clearly watchable because I did and do. I attribute this more to good
production values than anything else.
- Kyoukai Senjou no Horizon II: I wound up watching this all the
way through, purely for the absurd spectacle. The advantage of Horizon
as compared to, say, Aquarion EVOL is that the non-spectacle bits
made so little sense and I cared so little about them that it was easy
to tune them out. Also, there weren't that many of them since Horizon
packed most of its exposition into the first season.
If I'm a smart person, I will not watch any future seasons this gets.
- Dog Days': as I expected, nothing really happened in this season; it
never went anywhere. The show wasn't boring exactly
and it was idly enjoyable throughout, but I did wind up kind of
feeling that watching it was wasted time. Light entertainment is not
quite what I want out of my limited time. In retrospect I stuck with
this mostly out of nostalgia for the first season (and the inability
to let that nostalgia go).
The thought of another season doesn't fill me with enthusiasm.
- Oda Nobuna no Yabou: In the end most of this was merely ordinarily
entertaining and the show's complete inability to let Nobuna do
anything got rather irritating. In retrospect I should have skipped
it, but I got captured by my initial enthusiasm and it was never quite
bad enough to push me to stop watching it.
(It's not that this was bad; it was acceptably entertaining. It's just that I'm trying to do better than merely 'acceptably entertaining' these days.)
- Joshiraku: my views haven't changed: it's entertaining and amusing but I don't find it funny enough to watch very fast.
Declared as misses:
- Hagure Yuusha no Estetica: I dropped this right after I wrote my midway update, as I mused about in the update. I have no regrets, especially since apparently its ending is basically 'continued in the light novels'.
Overall there were four shows that I unapologetically enjoyed, one show that I found compulsively watchable but seriously flawed (SAO), one show that a smarter person might not have bothered with, and two shows that I probably should have dropped. Oh, and in retrospect I stuck with Hagure much longer than I should have; I could have bailed out in the second episode when it made its taste for excessive fanservice clear.
(In general I was, as usual, far too optimistic and willing to stick with shows.)
This season makes me happy in one specific way, after last season: my favorite show wasn't an action show. On the flipside, most of the rest are (I count Dog Days' as an action show, despite how little real action it had; it was more of an adventure show, but that's close enough).
(I could be happy that my third most favorite show is also not an action show, but not really; there's a big gap between my feelings for AO and my feelings for Return. Return was nice, AO was very good to great.)
My views on Sword Art Online
I have divided views on SAO. On the one hand, I don't think it's very good. On the other hand, I keep watching it anyways. There's at least two aspects to this.
The frustrating thing about SAO is that a great many of the small-scale details are nice, it's just that the large scale plot and characters are stupid, cliched in a bad way, and irritation-inducing. I like to fool myself that this is the sign of a good director being forced to closely follow not-great source material (presumably in order to appease the fans of the original light novels so that they buy the ever-important Blu-ray releases). These little things combined with the good production values are a large reason that I keep watching despite all the stupidity.
Another reason that the show is more interesting to me than you might expect is that SAO is very much about a game and it never loses sight of this. At the start of the show I expected that the 'trapped in a game' part of the premise would mostly be used to justify ye generic fantasy setting and you could just as well have transported all of the characters to some alternate dimension. This turns out to be not at all the case; that the characters are playing a game is a constant presence in the show and makes it far more interesting than yet another fantasy setting. I may grouse about the characters being stupid in how they approach SAO the game, but they're realistically stupid in that many of their behaviors feel like recognizable MMO gamer behaviors. I've seen plenty of fantasy shows, even plenty of shows about people from this world pulled into a fantasy world in various ways, but a show about a fantasy game is relatively novel.
(One of the frustrating things is that SAO shows flashes of having something interesting to say about the whole 'stuck in a game' premise but then generally drops or fumbles it immediately.)
Finally, it's clear by now that Sword Art Online is not a good adaptation. There are many nonsensical moments and when they happen it frequently turns out that the show has left out important information, dropped relevant scenes entirely, or made changes to a scene so it makes less sense (for example, see the comments on this summary of episode 19). At this point SAO is less a standalone adaptation and more of a highlights reel for fans of the original work, who have the context to fill in all of the missing pieces and make the characters less stupid. If you lack the context, the show remains comprehensible and watchable but it's periodically stupid and jarringly odd. This is clearly the fault of the studio and the core creative team for the anime.
(I'm sure that the SAO Blu-rays will sell like hotcakes anyways.)
Sidebar: on .hack
Speaking of shows about (fantasy) games: I know about the .hack franchise. I think I watched part of the first episode of .hack//Sign and stopped, and saw one episode of .hack//Roots and was very much not impressed (I actually just found my old capsule review of it, which is part of a personal historical artifact that I may revive someday). Maybe sometime I will take another run at the franchise but commentary about .hack//Sign being slow does not make me enthused.
Lens flare in anime
If you've watched anime for long you've probably seen a scene with lens flare in it, either in the form of streaks of light or as sharp diamonds. Lens flare is commonly used in beach scenes and other situations where the animators want to communicate that the sun is very bright; they'll pan a shot up to include the sun and as the sun enters the picture, throw in the flare. Generally the single callout in a single shot is the only time you'll see lens flare in the scene. As I mentioned last entry, lens flare is a really striking case of the anicamera deliberately emulating (old) cinematography for the aesthetic effect.
Here is the thing: lens flare is a lens defect and artifact, an undesirable property of camera lenses. It's not how we see bright lights with our bare eyes and it's not something that photographers want (and they go to some effort to avoid it). Old camera lenses could flare badly but modern still camera lenses go to significant effort to reduce or almost entirely eliminate lens flare; such a lens used in the same situation in real life would be unlikely to flare anywhere near as much as anime depicts (and real lens flare is often significantly less attractive than the lens flare that anime depicts).
(I don't know directly about modern cinematography lenses, but I suspect that they too do not flare very much these days; there's no reason that the improvements from still camera lenses would not have carried over to them.)
This makes anime's use of lens flare very clearly an aesthetic decision; it's not imitating how we see the world or even how a good modern camera does. Anime is doing extra work and deliberately invoking something that still photographers avoid either because the animators think it looks good, because they want things to look cinematographic (in a cliched way), or because they're using it as a signal that means 'this is in bright sunlight'.
(In anime, as in cinematography, all well lit scenes have pretty much the same apparent brightness level so true 'real world' brightness has to be communicated by other cues. Part of it is environmental, where we just know that a scene outdoors in sunlight is brighter than a scene indoors under normal artificial light, but sometimes anime throws in explicit indicators. Even artificial ones like lens flare.)
PS: this is where I direct interested parties to the tvtropes entry on false camera effects.
The unconstrained anicamera
Before I start talking about some of the things that the anicamera takes from real cameras I want to expand on a point that SeHNNG made at Altair & Vega, namely that the anicamera is unconstrained by physical reality. Specifically it is unconstrained by reality when it 'photographs' a scene, whereas when you film or photograph a scene how you do so is often imposed on you by physical constraints. There is a continuum of these constraints; the anicamera is at the unconstrained end and generally still photographers are at the most constrained end with cinematographers in the middle. This is not because film cameras are better or more flexible than still cameras but because cinematographers generally have more money. To show what I mean, here's two examples.
First, if a still photographer wants to take a picture of a group of people in a relatively small room they will almost always have to use a wide angle lens, which introduces perspective distortions from what we consider a 'normal' view. Cinematographers just build a soundstage where the room doesn't have one wall, allowing them to back up enough so that they get a normal perspective. Second, still photographers who take pictures of buildings often spend a great deal of money on special lenses in large part to compensate for the fact that they can't feasible take their pictures from ten or twenty feet (or more) up on a ladder. Camera booms are standard equipment on film sets; filming a broad overview of a building from thirty or forty feet up is almost trivial for a cinematographer.
The anicamera takes this further by enabling shots that would not be possible even in cinematography; at best film could fake them with special effects. One example comes from the first battle in Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, where the end of the battle has a dramatic continuous pull-back that starts from a closeup on a character in the battle and pulls all the way back to overlooking another character who is at least a mile or two away. You could not possibly film this in real life; there is no lens that could zoom in and out that much and no camera platform that could physically cover the distance fast enough. And the pull-back is necessary for the impact of the shot, because it involves Shirou turning to look towards Archer; only the continuous pullback lets us clearly understand what it means that Shirou turned and looked in the direction he did.
(Another way that the anicamera is unconstrained is that it takes up no physical space. You can thus have anime shots taken from spots in a setting that would be very difficult to get equipment into in real life. To some extent this could be faked on a soundstage but even that has limitations.)
Apart from enabling otherwise impossible shots, this matters because it means that how things look in anime is almost entirely an aesthetic choice. The look of a scene or a shot is never forced by physical constraints in the way it can be in still photography and cinematography. The corollary to this is that whenever the anicamera takes from real cameras it does so for aesthetics, admittedly sometimes because a lot of cinematography has established that those aesthetics work or at least trained audiences to expect them.
(The clearest, most striking case of this is lens flare. But that's another entry.)
Some notes and views on Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
I was planning to make this a carefully written coherent entry, but that's not happening. So this is going to be more or less point form notes before more of my thoughts slip out of my mind.
I was previously somewhat ambivalent on Jinrui. I take that back because in retrospect there were only two episodes that I felt were beating me over the head and I've become convinced that those episodes were necessary. I now feel that Jinrui was the most interesting show of the Summer 2012 season; it was the one that most consistently fascinated me and made me think and it had the highest number of moments of awesome. It was at least sometimes subtle and beautiful, which is more than most shows ever manage.
I wrote my theory of decline partly with Jinrui in mind. I think that a low birth rate is the best explanation for humanity's decline, but that's partly because Jinrui doesn't really explain the decline. There's some evidence for it, especially in the school episodes (11 and 12), but I think there's also some counter evidence. In particular, in both the first and third episodes we see a fair number of other girls and young women of Watashi's rough age (and in the first episode they're all in one village).
(If anything, young men seem to be the missing element. Although we do see some of them other than the Assistant.)
As I tweeted, I think that the school in #11-12 isn't there to educate the students but instead to socialize them, something that's necessary because many children are growing up without other children around (as suggested by Watashi's opening narration in #11). One strong reason I feel this is that both Watashi and Y are clearly both very smart and quite well read (Watashi from the very moment that she shows up at the school); 'unschooled' clearly doesn't equal 'uneducated' in their cases. In any school that really wanted to put them in an appropriate grade, they'd rapidly be moved up through the grade levels. But instead the school forces them to sit in various early grades for a fair amount of time, which makes perfect sense if the real goal is to socialize the kids instead of just teach them.
(As noted, I kind of think that the school shut down because it wasn't working. As demonstrated by Watashi and Y's experiences, its pupils may have been getting progressively weirder and more disturbed over time and the school environment itself may have been feeding that. This is probably taking this theory too far.)
For the record, if people have any doubt by now:
Liked: absolutely, at least right now. Once I got going with it, it was the highlight of the season (against strong competition from Eureka Seven AO).
Rewatch: quite possibly, because I strongly suspect that there are things I will pick up on a second watch.
(I do hope for someone to do a roundup post on Jinrui commentary and analysis. I want to read it all, because I'm sure there's things about Jinrui that I missed.)
Sidebar: Jinrui and Eureka Seven AO
The quick summary is that these are both good shows but they are so different that I can't compare them directly. Jinrui is a show that is very much about (meta-)commentary, analysis, and paying close attention to the non-obvious. AO is a much more conventional show that is at the same time somewhat less obvious and more subtle about things; it never pushes its themes to the forefront in the way that Jinrui sometimes does. You can enjoy AO purely on its surface narrative while I'm not sure that Jinrui is always interesting at that level.
Despite all this I found Jinrui more interesting and fascinating than AO; it made me think in a way that AO didn't. Jinrui also had more straight up awesome moments than AO did (eg, eg). This is not to say that AO has been without awesomeness; AO just spreads it out over more time rather than concentrating it in focused moments.