Looking back at the Summer 2013 anime season
With both the season and my watching of it basically wrapped up, it's time for another one of my now customary post-season looks back (as before) to go with my early impressions and my midway views. As has become typical, not much has changed from the latter.
Shows from this season that I've finished, in order (with a big gap between second and third):
- Uchouten Kazoku (aka Eccentric Family): As mentioned before, this
pushes a bunch of my storytelling and urban fantasy buttons so I can't
be objective about it. With that said, I loved it; I found it lovely,
and very well done. Its last episode is the best finish of the season, concluding
just as the show should have (and with some nice subtle bits). Overall it
was a glorious ride right from the first moments of the first episode
(and beautifully animated to boot, cf).
Although this story of tanuki, tengu, and humans in Kyoto is done, I'd be happy to watch another turn of the wheel in another season.
- Gatchaman Crowds: This isn't flawless but it is excellent; I rank
it just below UK only because UK pushes more of my particular
buttons. I've seen people characterize the ending as being
thematically satisfying but not dramatically satisfying,
which strikes me as a fair way of putting it; we get the right
ending for the show but not one that involves great big dramatic
things going on for us to watch (and it's at best ambivalent about
the fate of one character and obscure about another). All of the
characters were great and Berge-Katze is a magnificent villain.
(See here for some very interesting analysis of the visuals in the final episode. Spoilers, obviously.)
- Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya: This featured good initial magical
girl fights that came to a peak in the gloriously epic second half of
episode six. Unfortunately that was the show's high point; it never
again equaled either the action or the interest of those early episodes
or especially of episode six, to the point where everything from then on
was decidedly ordinary. Had I stopped after episode six I wouldn't have
missed anything particularly compelling.
Unless you're fond of the Fate-verse or really like fairly cliched fighting magical girls in general, I'm tempted to suggest that you just find the fight from the second half of episode six on Youtube and watch it. That's the only really impressive bit. The first Nanoha movie covers the overall genre better and more enjoyably.
I theoretically plan to restart watching Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen at some point but I still haven't watched an episode since my midway views so I may be rather optimistic here (or too stubborn to admit that I'm not interested in a show that people praise as quite good). Regardless of why I'm still stalled, I'm not going to hold up this retrospective to see if I do watch more.
- Space Battleship Yamato 2199: It's great (although not flawless).
I don't have anything coherent to say about it except that if I was
pressed I would probably rank it as the second best show I watched this
season (narrowly ahead of Crowds but behind Eccentric Family). It's
not so much cliched as it is archetypal.
- Monogatari Series Second Season: If I was a smart person I would stop watching this. The charm has long since worn off and I'm mostly watching through inertia. If I was a grumpy person I would say that it spends too long doing too little because it's too busy being clever.
Shows carried over from the spring:
- Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince: Given my general views on mecha
series I don't think I can fairly evaluate this.
I quite liked it and found it good but I suspect that I won't really
find it a show for the ages (if that makes sense). It did a very good
job of balancing comedy and drama and touching my heart without losing
its overall tone of goofyness and fun. People who love mecha may well
have a stronger reaction to MJP.
- To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S: I watched enough episodes to see Touma
punch out Accelerator and then stopped. Allegedly the remaining
episodes actually have action and an actual plot (and feature the
other characters), but I'm not sure I have enough interest to actually
Contrary to what some people have said, I prefer the first season of Railgun. Railgun S dragged on too much through the Sisters arc and had too little of Mikoto's friends and too much of Touma. However emotional the Sisters arc is, this was always its fundamental problem; in a series theoretically about Mikoto the climax is all about Touma being a hero. To make it worse the show dragged on Touma's part of the fight extensively.
Overall I rate this season as exceptional. Ignoring Yamato 2199 for various reasons, we had two shows that are basically certain to make my 'best N of 2013' list and a strong finish to a good third show (MJP). One of UK or Crowds all by itself would have made a good season; two make it great.
(For now I am going to pass on whether this season is better than Winter 2013. That I can even suggest that with a straight face says how strong this season has been.)
Two things from Valvrave's first season
(There are some spoilers here up through episode 12 and it's going to be relatively opaque if you don't know Valvrave.)
[...] And [the school] elected a flibbertigibbet as their leader? Seriously? And the deepest desire of the refugees is to engage in traditional school functions after reaching safety? [...]
Yes, yes they did elect a flibbertigibbet. It was probably a terrible mistake. But here's the thing: Valvrave totally sold me on the emotional logic of the situation. Let me set the scene to show you why.
The two candidates for student council chair and thus leader of the whole place were a stuffed shirt technocrat and the aforementioned flibbertigibbet politician's daughter. Both gave speeches to the assembled student body. The technocrat went first and his speech was full of how he'd organize increased production of this and better living conditions through that and so on. It had about as much emotional connection with his audience as a project presentation.
Then the politician's daughter stepped up. She gave an emotional 'whoop up the audience' speech and in the course of it she promised to organize a school festival. Or, to put it another way, she offered everyone the chance to pretend for a while that they were all normal students doing normal student things, to set aside that their country was occupied, their parents distant prisoners, every aspect of the life they had known before was gone, and that they themselves were working ceaselessly to try to keep an increasingly ruined environment limping along while some of their friends had actually been killed. Oh, and they were being hunted by people who would cheerfully murder the rest of them.
So, yeah. They elected the flibbertigibbet.
(And I could see it coming like a freight train from the moment that Shouko started her speech.)
The other thing I've seen questions about is Saki's tears when Haruto offers to marry her in the aftermath of the infamous rape and she rejects him. My theory is that the tears are because, to put it one way, Saki didn't want Haruto to propose to her out of duty (which is what he makes it clear that he's doing), she wanted him to propose out of love. She's crying because the offer shows that the shadow of the rape and Haruto's feelings about it have killed any chance for genuine, unforced love from Haruto (at least for now). She has no choice but to reject Haruto's offer and basically renounce him because the alternative is an empty relationship built on top of Haruto's feelings of guilt and duty.
Or in short, Saki's tears are about the death of a relationship that could have been but is now not going to happen. She's giving up on something she wanted, not because she doesn't want it any more but because having it is impossible now.
(I don't know how serious Saki really was about Haruto before the rape but she did seem to be interested to some degree.)
My view of the future of western 'anime'
In Is RWBY Anime? Jonathan Tappan says:
Once (as recently as the 1960s) American animators dominated the world and even Japanese animators sought to emulate them. Now America is an animation backwater and Japan dominates the world. So it’s natural for people like Monty Oum to try to imitate anime and even call their own work “anime”. It’s natural but it’s a mistake.
If America is ever to regain a respectable place in the world of animation, American animators need to develop a new style of their own, something distinctly American, [...]
In Anime and where it's made I said I didn't think this call was the right approach. Since Author has specifically mentioned my bit about this I want to say more about it (possibly rewriting myself in the process).
I don't think that a new form of good American animation will arise out of slavishly imitating Japanese anime, but then I don't think that good animators can do this slavish imitation in the first place. Truly good animators will inevitably evolve their own styles from all of the influences that are at work around them, and an American animator is inevitably going to be swimming in influences other than anime over the long run.
Or in short: if America is going to produce good animation it's going to be in a new style no matter what. You don't have to exhort people to do this; it will happen all on its own. People will find their own voice and after the fact it will be called 'distinctly American animation'.
(Although I don't know the history, I rather expect that this is what happened to create Japanese anime. I suspect that Tezuka and other early pioneers did not set out to deliberately create a non-American form of animation; instead it just happened in response to everything around them, including not being in America.)
But at the same time, animators start somewhere and they are influenced by things. Today an obvious starting point and influence is anime, especially if you think that anime has become better developed than western animation (perhaps on the grounds that western animation has by now been almost entirely confined to a few narrow styles and genres). So I think it's a mistake to tell animators 'don't start from anime and don't let yourself be influenced by it', especially if the reason why is merely 'because this isn't Japan'.
Regardless of what we think Monty Oum should call what he's making, I think it's sensible for him to consciously and deliberately model it on anime. If he's a good artist, he and it will go in their own way regardless of what the base was. And in the mean time I'd be a big hypocrite if I didn't think that anime makes a good base to build from.
Anime and where it's made
Via Author I wound up reading Jonathan Tappan's Is RWBY Anime?. Both Author and Tappan come down firmly on the side of 'no'. For myself, I don't know what to feel about the whole issue so I'm going to ramble on with some of my thoughts. I'm going to focus on manga, not because I know more about manga but because I know more about American and Western comics than I do about modern American animation.
On the one hand labels like 'American anime' and 'OEL manga' simply feel cringe-inducing to me (Tappan's description of 'sad' is an apt summary). On the other hand I feel, contra to Tappan, that Japanese anime and manga have clear stylistic differences in both writing and art from their American and Western counterparts. American comics cover a lot of ground (from big-two superhero comics out through various sorts of independent and alternate comics, including webcomics) but nowhere in this range do they really look like manga from what I've seen. I rather expect you could show people anonymized pages or panels from both American comics and Japanese manga and have them reliably pick out which is which (and do similar things with plot summaries).
(Frankly, part of this is that the average manga artist is probably better than the average American comic artist, not because of intrinsic talent but because Japan has evolved a ferociously competitive and sophisticated manga market. My impression is that you must be on the top of your game to have a chance in Japanese manga; this is not really true in America, most especially in American superhero comics.)
Given this stylistic difference and an increasing number of people in the West who've grown up reading manga, some number of them will want to create works in the style of that manga. If nothing else those are the stories and art that appeal to these creators (and some of them may have little or no exposure to American comics; just look at the relative sales figures for translated manga and traditional comics). Today we lack a good term for such works. They are not 'manga' in the sense that they are not from Japan and the Japanese manga system but at the same time they are going to be stylistically different from 'American comics'. If these new works are executed well they will be far closer in style to Japanese manga than anything else.
(One of the problems with 'OEL manga' today is that many of the works have not been executed well by Japanese standards; they would not pass muster as real manga and cannot compete with it.)
I see a similar issue happening with RWBY and animation in general. The creators of RWBY are clearly familiar with anime and are drawing much of their stylistic inspirations from it. The result today is somewhat clumsy and awkward and not entirely successful (much as OEL manga has been, although I think RWBY is better executed) but I wouldn't be surprised if that gets better as everyone involved gets more experience. And as with 'manga-style comics', we currently lack a good term for such animation and I suspect we're only going to see more of it.
(If you want to make 'grown up' animation in the west I don't think you have very many models to follow and the dominant one is likely to be anime.)
I don't think Tappan's call for animators to develop a style that's different from anime and manga is really the right approach. At its core what it amounts to is telling people not to work in the style that they like and admire simply because they are not from Japan. It's especially unlikely to work if you believe that the manga and anime style is further evolved and more artistically sophisticated and successful than the western counterparts.
(I do tend to think that anime and manga have better developed styles of art, composition, directing, and storytelling, not because of any innate superiority but simply because both fields have a lot more practice under ruthlessly competitive conditions than their Western equivalents. This commercial competition doesn't always work out artistically (see the parade of cookie-cutter anime that gets churned out every year), but it often nurtures a significant degree of competence.)
Update (October 16th): See also The authenticity of non-Japanese manga, by Sixten for interesting commentary.
Sidebar: the audience reason for 'OEL manga' and 'American anime'
This is obvious but worth mentioning: one pragmatic reason to stick those labels on your works today is to attract people who like manga and/or anime but do not like Western comics or Western animation. You are basically hanging out a genre sign, much like covers on fiction books.
I suspect that this is a not insignificant issue for RWBY, although it also gets to draw on a growing machinima movement in the west that is breaking out of the general confines of traditional animation.
Two great quotes about the Fate-verse
There is all sorts of gold in this somethingawful forum thread on the Fate-verse (via @monoids). I particularly like the directly linked entry (which made me break out in helpless laughter):
The Fate franchise is like Paris. It seems pretty and fun, and then you dig a little and the whole thing is built on a giant sprawling maze of dead people.
Then another golden quote:
[Fate] Mages might not all be psychopaths but I can say without reservation that they are all assholes.
Except for Waver, but then again he's living in the house of two old people he brainwashed into thinking they're his grandparents.
I think Waver gets better over Fate/Zero but yes, this. It is not a coincidence that the Fate-verse related works that I like best are the ones that have the least to do with the main story and the serious characters.
(The Fate-verse is the usual term for the setting of Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero, sort of Kara no Kyoukai and Tsukihime, and various other works that haven't been animated yet. Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya makes light-hearted references to it, which is really the best way; you get the cool awesome bits without having to think about the pools of blood.)
Checking in on the Summer 2013 anime season 'midway' through
It's time for the semi-traditional midway update to my early impressions. The overall summary is that this is an excellent season with multiple stunning shows.
Things I'm (still) watching, in order:
- Uchouten Kazoku: What Eccentric Family truly excels at is its
storytelling (which is not the same thing as plot or action).
UK doesn't have the most original or attractive sounding plot
but none of that matters; what it excels in is in a sense its
execution, of how the plot is conveyed to us. That's storytelling,
a collection of moments like raindrops.
UK has the best characters of the season (for me) and Yasaburo has a great narrative voice (which is, unsurprisingly, a storyteller's voice). To be honest I was hooked on UK from his opening narration in the first episode.
- Gatchaman Crowds: I have no coherent words to sum up the complexity and plain smartness of this show. It continues
to twist and turn in ways that are simultaneously surprising and
entirely logical and to be a rocket heading, well, somewhere. This
show is fast-paced (without feeling at all rushed) with not an ounce
of flab on it.
- Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen: This is a fine show but I find it hard
to watch, partly because of the feeling of creeping doom. Unwound Jun
is not in a good place and not having pleasant experiences and after
six episodes it's hard to shake the feeling that he is not going to
have a really happy ending.
(Probably it gets more cheerful if I watch more.)
- Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya: I have to revise my initial
opinion: this delivers plenty of well executed magical girl fighting
action and some great Type-Moon jokes and references. The second half
of episode six was especially epic. The core plot remains nothing
special enough to write home about but the overall execution is more
than enough to keep me watching.
I think that this is much more enjoyable if you know enough Fate-verse lore to get most of the major references, such as the cards and what happens with Illya in episode six. I'm not sure how interesting it is for someone without that background.
- Monogatari Series Second Season: My interest level has climbed up from where it was initially but the show is still not really rocking my world. It's okay and interesting enough for me to keep watching, partly because it's now stuck Araragi in a tough situation.
Now declared a miss:
- Stella Jogakuin Koutouka C3-bu: The short version is in my
The long version is that the show is not really about the action,
it's about the character drama and the character drama (and the
characters themselves) did not hook me. I might have stayed
watching purely for the action but there isn't enough of it
and it's merely ordinary (which is what you'd expect if it's
only there to support the character drama).
(This stands in contrast to Girls und Panzer where the action was interesting by itself and I cared more about what happened with the characters.)
In ongoing shows from last season (and before) Majestic Prince remains excellent, I am sort of watching Railgun S every so often in bursts, and Yamato 2199 is absolutely great (and I will catch up sometime).
(I'm treating Yamato 2199 sort of how I treat really great treats; it's so good that I keep saving it to savour slowly. This is kind of silly but it's very me, and the show lacks the weekly new episode release that would otherwise prod me into action.)