Comedy and seriousness with the Kawamoto cats in March comes in like a Lion
March comes in like a Lion has always tried to blend some comedy into its serious overall tone. This has not always worked very well, because it's mostly been broad, silly comedy that could easily feel out of place amidst the rest of the show (and that was when the comedy even worked, which I feel it often didn't). One of those somewhat jarring comedy elements has been the Kawamoto family's cats, who've generally been presented as goofy things that the show went as far as giving voices to, so the cats could natter on about wanting some of the food on the table and so on.
Then came the most recent run of episodes, starting with episode 26, where Kawamoto Hina is in real emotional distress and the household is roiled with emotions. Now suddenly the Kawamoto cats are cats, presented with realistic looks, and we see them pressing up against their humans, trying to reassure them, or hiding under the table from the tensions around them. None of them speak, none of them are comedic or goofy. The mood has shifted and the cats are one of our bellweathers of that shift.
I really like this and think it's quite clever. It's not obtrusive; the cats and their behavior is a background thing in these scenes that you wouldn't consciously notice unless you were looking for it. But both that behavior and the shift from their previous behavior and presentation quietly helps reinforce the whole mood. And I think it wouldn't work as well as it does if the show had kept the Kawamoto cats as merely ordinary cats before; it is the shift from broad and unreal comedy cats to silent real ones that helps sell it so well.
(This elaborates on a tweet or two of mine, because I feel like it.)
On Princess Principal's ending
(There are some spoilers here.)
In my retrospective on the summer season, I said that Princess Principal wound up as more of a prequel than a story and waved my hands a bit about why that was so. Today I want to write more details about that. The first question to ask is if Princess Principal has a conventional ending. Usefully I can answer that based purely on story structure, without having to talk about the specifics of what happened.
There are two ways to have a conventional ending to a story; you can resolve a significant ongoing plot issue or you can move some dramatic characters significantly forward in their character arcs (or you can do both). If you're ending an entire work you wrap up the big things (for characters and/or the plot); if you're just ending a season, you just wrap up a medium-scale plot or move characters forward but not all the way to the end of their stories. Looked at purely through this structural lens, Princess Principal does neither. The show had no large scale plot as such (although it did have an overall situation that created the fundamental story conflict), and while the protagonists were all dramatic characters, none of them resolved their character arcs or ostensibly made dramatic changes.
At the same time, things very clearly happened over the course of Princess Principal; the protagonists all wound up in a significantly different place than they started out. The show is not simply an episodic collection of adventures where at most we find out character backgrounds and then get a brief two-episode 'climax' at the end. That these changes happen and what they are is why I call Princess Principal a prequel.
In the very first aired episode of Princess Principal, Dorothy and Chise have what is in retrospect a crucial conversation after Dorothy casually lies to some normal students:
Chise: That was a bold move.
Dorothy: It's best not to sneak around with these things.
Chise: I see Ange isn't the only one with a knack for lying.
Dorothy: Spies are all liars. You're lying to me now, Chise.
Chise: As are you.
Dorothy: So what do you say we try being honest with each other?
Chise: The idea has its charm. But if we stopped lying, we wouldn't be able to stay friends.
Dorothy: Is that really friendship?
Chise: Even parents and children lie to each other.
This deliberately sets up the usual genre atmosphere for spy stories where all of the characters have their own interests, trust is purely temporary, things aren't as they seem, and betrayal may lurk around the corner at any time. All of the protagonists have their characteristic roles in this atmosphere; Ange, Dorothy, and Chise are outright spies with their own interests and secrets, Princess is the mystery, and Beatrice is the naif outsider. In fact the entire first episode is there partly to establish this overall atmosphere, since the episode's plot is a classical spy story of deception, hidden motives, and betrayal.
Over the course of the rest of the series, all of that changes. As all of the protagonists undergo character development, we see them quietly transmute from a collection of spies thrown together into a group of comrades. This reaches its climax in the ending of the show, where over the course of the show's only real plot arc, one by one all of the characters deliberately choose to turn their backs on their previous associations and instead choose the people who've now become their friends. By the ending epilogue, these people have stopped being a group of spies thrown together and become a team that happens to work as spies. It's to Princess Principal's credit that all of these decisions feel inevitable in the light of everything we've seen the characters go through together. Of course Chise is going to come back. Of course Dorothy is ultimately going to quietly choose the people who've become her friends, and to let Ange know that.
In other words, Princess Principal is the origin story of a team, the prequel that explains how they came to be before they go on to have thrilling adventures together (if Princess Principal ever gets another season). It's not a whole story in and of itself, because it doesn't really go anywhere or resolve anything (either in plot or in character development), but the characters themselves change in important ways; they end as different people than they started and they've made real decisions in the process.
Brief impressions of the Fall 2017 anime season so far
I'm now anywhere from three to five episodes into everything I'm watching, which is long enough for most shows to show their cards and for my opinions to firm up. So, as usual, here's how my views of this season have shaken out, to follow up on my first episode reactions.
- Girls' Last Tour: This is beautiful and touching and funny; it makes
cartoony character art fit into its scratchy desolate setting art,
and has very good use of background music. I called this 'slice of
post-apocalyptic life' initially, and it is that but it's also much
more. It's also quietly sad and tragic, because this is life after life
has stopped and periodically Chito and Yuuri will have conversations
that remind you that their lives are startlingly desolate. I keep
hoping for a good ending for the two, but I don't think we're going
to get it.
- Land of the Lustrous: Above all, what makes LoL great is the
characters and their interactions, especially
Phos. There are plenty of excellent things in the rest
of the show; it's beautiful (in an unconventional way), the setting
is full of interesting and intriguing questions, the building they
live in is great, the show makes excellent use of CG and integrates it
wonderfully with conventional 2D animation, and so on. But none of them
would matter half as much without the compelling characters.
(Following my standard views, I hope that the show never tries to explain the mysteries of the setting. It's based on an ongoing manga, so I suspect that this is a good bet.)
Very enjoyable for me:
- The Ancient Magus' Bride: I love the manga and this is very much my
kind of thing, so I can't possibly be unbiased here. With that said,
this is a good, solid anime version of the manga, but there's nothing so
far to elevate it over the manga or add much unique to the manga. It's
beautiful but not stunning, and if you've read the manga I don't think
this is essential to watch (although you'll probably enjoy seeing
Ancient Magus' Bride animated well, in a solid adaption). People who
haven't seen the manga are apparently enjoying this, too.
In a side note, I continue to think that AMB's periodic brief digressions into superdeformed comedy are a mistake in animated form. They work in the manga, but I think that's because manga panels are more isolated from each other than moments in a TV show are. In the animated version, the SD moments undercut the mood and impact of the beautiful regular animation. The comedy would be just as good without the characters going so SD.
(The realities of TV anime production were always sort of tilted against AMB being stunning in the way I wanted it to be. But then, Flying Witch arguably managed it, although the manga was sparser than Ancient Magus' Bride.)
As good as always:
- March comes in like a Lion: On the one hand, this is still the same show it was before it paused. On the other hand, I'd like things to be moving more than they are; the first few episodes this season have mostly been fiddling around with small things.
- Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond: This second season is a perfectly
acceptable and decent episodic action/comedy show. It's
competently directed, with decent production values, animation,
background art, and so on. But it's not anything more, and the
first season definitely was more, for all that it was also flawed; the first season had Leo learning about
his powers and an overall plot arc.
I'm watching BBB & Beyond this season as my empty popcorn action show watch, which it's reasonably decent at.
- Kino's Journey: At first I thought that this had some interesting
editorial things to say about Kino through
its choice of which stories to adopt (and when). Then I
discovered that the stories it was adopting had been chosen by an
audience vote. A popularity contest is not the way you get a good
adoption that has something of its own to say, or even one that
illuminates the characters to people who aren't already familiar with
If I was a smart person, I might drop this and use the time to watch the original Kino's Journey series, which didn't suffer from this issue and apparently does have things to say.
Probably being dropped after the next episode:
- Children of the Whales (#4): I can't do better than my Twitter
I would have to describe Children of the Whales as some combination between 'lethargic' and 'tiresome'. But it's very pretty so far.
I'm watching the next episode only because I want to find out some secrets about the setting and they're probably going to explain them next episode. Otherwise, this has turned out to be an essentially empty and flat show, one that is paced far too slowly for its own good (some of the character dialog is also pretty painfully direct and obvious).
Paused and probably dropped as not for me:
- Recovery of an MMO Junkie (#2): This is charming but I haven't found it particularly compelling. Perhaps some parts of it also cut a little bit too close to the bone for me.
- Garo - Vanishing Line (#3): This is a completely straightforward but
unexceptional show, and unfortunately what it's about isn't very
interesting to me; it's a monster of the week tokusatsu show
in animated form with a specific and not entirely attractive
atmosphere. The result is an okay action show and I like Sophie, but it has
no spark and
this season my slot for an empty action show is better filled by BBB
(Some people like Gina but I'm not entirely sold on her.)
I keep hearing good things about Just Because!, so I may look at it at some point despite what I said in my first episode reactions, partly because the season is slowing down for me (I've basically dropped three shows at this point).