Roving Thoughts

2019-01-14

My (Twitter) reactions to the first episodes of the Winter 2019 anime season

As before I'm collecting here all of my tweeted reactions to the first episodes I've seen (in the order that I saw them).

  • Boogiepop and Others episode 1: That was okay, I guess; it certainly wasn't actively bad, but I don't feel terribly inspired by what I saw. Stuff happened. Some things made sense; other things might be deliberately obtuse. There's a lot of mystery and little reason to care.

  • Kemurikusa episode 1: That was a pretty decent start with a bunch of solid stuff, but I would be much less worried about where it's going if it had not added a boy. It's also pretty much all setup and lacks the propulsive push forward that really compelling shows have here.

  • Girly Air Force episode 1: That was generally decently fun and I especially liked the research boss; he's an enjoyable character. It's no Sky Girls, but I like the genre in general and I'm willing to watch more to see what happens next.

  • Dororo episode 1: That was perfectly well done and it definitely believed in 'show don't tell', although maybe it went a bit overboard on it; I would have been a bit lost if I hadn't known the premise. But it may not be distinct enough to keep me; it feels pretty generic action.

  • Magical Girl Spec Ops Asuka episode 1: This could have been interesting, but it has middle of the road aesthetics and mostly came off as kind of ridiculous and over the top (not in a good way). There were some decent bits but on the whole it felt entirely too lazily calculated.

  • Endro! episode 1: That was reasonably decent and reasonably funny, as people have said, but unsurprisingly it wasn't funny enough to keep me watching the next episode. (Anime comedy almost never works for me, so I expected this result.)

  • The Magnificent Kotobuki episode 1: Now that's how you do a first episode that nails me to my seat. Not just fun and thrilling along with subtle storytelling that showed instead of told, but also decent introductions to a bunch of fun characters.

I won't be looking at Kemono Friends 2, not after what Kadokawa did to the scrappy little team that completely unexpectedly turned dross into gold. Anyway, early reports are not positive, which doesn't surprise me at all under the circumstances (I'm sort of surprised that Kadokawa found anyone who was willing to work on KF2 for them). The creative team behind Kemono Friends (the original and only real version) is doing Kemurikusa this season, so watch that instead.

Winter2019FirstEpisodes written at 20:37:09; Add Comment

2019-01-13

I liked Overlord's first season but I'm not watching any more

I skipped Overlord when it first aired, but then back in the summer season I started watching it for no particularly strong reason; as I said at the time, it's ridiculous and overpowered in a way that amuses me. At that point I'd watched up through episode 7 and stopped. At the end of the year, in the between-season doldrums, I finished off the rest of Overlord's first season (after being annoyed because it had moved from Crunchyroll to Funimation in their great split, and Funimation is a pit of annoyance).

While I pretty much enjoyed the first season of Overlord as a whole in much the same way as I enjoyed the first seven episodes, I will not be watching any more of it. The short version of why not is that starting with episode 8, Momonga is revealed to be an extremely unpleasant person; he is basically a cruel and casually murderous sociopath. Although none of the incidents involved are significant bits of the story (and they don't happen very often), all of them happen without the story so much as raising an eyebrow. For me, this irreversibly taints the show as a whole, because it is actually following a villain and getting me to cheer for him in his goofy, overpowered antics and so on.

It's to Overlord's credit in a way that it's possible to watch the rest of the show, enjoy the spectacle, and to root for Momonga in it. It's very easy to forget that a few episodes ago, Momonga had some perfectly decent people murdered because they were making his life inconvenient, and I'm relatively confident that in the future, the incidents of murdering and cruel killings and so on will be few and far between. In a way that's why I don't want to watch any more of Overlord; I don't want the feeling of the show persuading me to cheer on someone I know is actually a nasty person.

(And the revelation of Momonga's nature has destroyed my interest in him as a character.)

OverlordNoMore written at 18:48:24; Add Comment

2019-01-12

My tweets from watching Bloom Into You

Right at the start of 2019, I decided to try out Bloom Into You (which I had initially passed on) and wound up quite enjoying it. In the spirit of not doing all of my blogging on Twitter, I'm copying my tweets about Bloom to here.

Overall, Bloom Into You is the best high school romance show I've seen since Toradora. Romance shows almost never work for me (which is one reason I didn't even try out Bloom at the start of the Fall season), but Bloom completely pulled me in. The one caveat I have is that the show is not a complete story, because it's based on an ongoing manga (and one that doesn't have a good stopping point where the story conveniently pivots from one thing to another).

Bloom Into You episode 1: That was solidly fun and I quite like Yuu's voice. I don't know if the show will be my thing over the long term, but it's more than earned a second episode and I'm quite looking forward to it.

(I should have tried this out last season, when it aired.)

Yuu's internal voice and out loud dialog were a treasure all through Bloom. Yuu's not a conventional protagonist so she has an edge and a different angle to her thoughts and words, and the actual spoken voice her seiyuu used is a great fit for Yuu the character. The show fit in Yuu's internal thoughts and narration quite well and they're an important part of the story as a whole.

Bloom Into You episode 2: This continues to be a good show, partly on the strength of Yuu's voice but the other people are good too. My experience is changed and probably improved by knowing a certain amount of spoilers, which illuminate various little moments and exchanges.

There are a number of things about various characters which the show drops hints about before it actually tells you. Because I had seen other people watching it on Twitter, I had already heard about a number of those things, so I could pick up, understand, and enjoy the hints in early episodes.

Bloom Into You episode 3: And Nanami has her first moment of genuine emotional honesty (more or less), all because Yuu is actually pretty smart and aware of things. This show is actually selling all of this, which I definitely appreciate; too many romance shows work only by fiat.

One of my little regrets about watching Bloom Into You (even without spoilers) is that I'm pretty sure that Yuu is eventually going to end up with feelings of love, and while I want her to be happy (& she's sad now), I do enjoy the puzzled, aromantic observer Yuu we have so far.

I would be totally down for a version of Bloom Into You where Yuu simply enjoys Nanami's company more and more without romance coming into it on Yuu's side, and perhaps with Nanami moving to appreciate the companionship as well without feeling she has to be 'in love'.

One of my peculiarities in my spate of tweeting is that I deliberately started out using Nanami Touko's last name to refer to her and later switched to her first name. I did this because in early episodes I didn't feel the show was putting us close enough to her to really think of her on a first name basis. Koito Yuu was always Yuu because the show puts us close to her (in fact in her head) from the very start.

Bloom Into You episode 4: I can't help but see Maki as a male more or less mirror image of Yuu, less self-conscious about how he's 'supposed' to be experiencing love. Also, things are moving and little moments of revelation are adding up (to things I already know from spoilers).

Bloom Into You episode 5: Flustered Namami and more or less innocently whatever you want to call it Yuu is a powerful combo. Nanami has seemed so in control for so long that this is an interestingly different view. (Poor Nanami.)

Bloom Into You episode 6: This is not a healthy relationship on either side, but then that is sometimes the messy nature of life. Perhaps in time it can grow into something more than two people sort of using each other, even if they're currently sort of happy with what they have.

Bloom Into You is very good at being very good, and it is beautiful. These people, all of them can say so much without really saying much, and the direction and presentation of the anime is quietly so very good.

Bloom Into You has a mastery of character gesture, tone of voice, expression, how and when characters look at each other, and so on that communicates a whole host of things that lesser shows would have to handle in dialog or in far more obvious character interactions.

Bloom Into You episode 7 is beautiful (and sort of sad, on multiple levels), although I suspect I may be reading things into it about silent societal pressures and prejudices that aren't entirely intended. Such a powerful set of moments, though. Poor Sayaka.

Given what Bloom Into You is about and what it's already shown us, the comfortable definite moment with the two adults is not unexpected, but it was still great. I admit the initial shot of their legs made me wonder if the show was going to be coy, but no, that was a fake-out.

Bloom Into You episode 8: This delicate balance is already falling apart, whether any of you know it or not, and all three of you are each falling and lying to yourselves in your own ways.

Bloom Into You episode 9's first half has such an important conversation. Maki is good for something (very) important after all, not just stirring the shit for his own amusement.

Bloom Into You episode 9: This show remains absurdly good at illustrating all of the tangled emotions and drives of these people without actually having to spell anything out. Poor Touko, who did not get to feel wanted the way she wanted to be.

Bloom Into You episode 10: Everything was going so well and then that epilogue AAAAA. On the everything going so well front, those dorks need to give in and see each other in person more. It makes them both so happy just to talk to each other.

Bloom Into You episode 11: The tensions are stacking up and the illusions are crumbling (and in some cases, revealed as pre-crumbled, it's just that certain parties didn't reveal their knowledge). As great as always.

Bloom Into You episode 12: And the tensions boil over and the crows come home to roost at last. Yuu gets the answers she implicitly wanted, and they don't please her. Also, I think Touko is balancing herself on a knife-edge even though she doesn't realize it.

Bloom Into You episode 13: The aquarium overshadowed almost everything else in the episode except the heart-stopping moment at the train station. I have to root for Yuu being selfish for once and getting what she wants.

Now we get into some of my overall views and quibbles.

I completely enjoyed watching Bloom Into You as a show, but unfortunately episode 13 doesn't end anything so much as it just stops, and I don't know how that makes me feel about it overall. There are a lot of big things left hanging over the story at this point.

Also, I'll give Bloom Into You points for Yuu still arguably not being 'in love' with Touko, although she clearly likes her company and all of that. Perhaps the story is quietly crafting a message in the combination and contrast of Touko and Yuu here.

Touko is unambiguously 'traditional romance love' in love with Yuu, and shows it in tons of ways. Yuu is not ostensibly feeling this way, but she clearly equally has genuine affection and caring for Touko. I can imagine the show asking 'is this not love too, just different?'

Quite possibly this interpretation of what Bloom Into You is doing is me thinking too hard.

(But I do so dislike the 'character X is in-love in love and just doesn't realize it' trope that shows up so often. I'd like it to be that Bloom Into You is different.)

I don't know how I'd have felt watching Bloom Into You week by week during the Fall 2018 season, especially not knowing various spoilers. I'm absolutely sure that my experience was changed by marathoning the show, especially with some spoilers in hand. I suspect that I enjoyed the show more because I was marathoning it and could take it at whatever pace I wanted (which turned out to be a fast pace; I ran through the entire show over the course of a few days and found the last few episodes so compelling that I stayed up very late to watch them).

(Part of the pace was that Bloom wasn't competing with anything else in my anime watching or life at the time, because I was off for my work's winter break and there was nothing else airing. This lack of any activity was part of why I wound up trying Bloom out in the first place; I was plain bored and all sorts of people had said lots of praise about it during the fall season.)

BloomIntoYouTweets written at 19:11:44; Add Comment

2018-12-25

An appreciation for Laid-Back Camp and Shima Rin

Looking back, I think that I fell for Laid-Back Camp right from the real start of the show, after the first episode's OP. The whole sequence of Shima Rin biking along (on a compact bike, loaded down with gear) through the autumn surroundings, then setting up camp and settling in, all amidst quiet beauty and just in general quiet was compelling for all sorts of reasons. I like seeing people set up things like this, and the show loved camping (complete with its little educational interludes) and the surroundings, and the whole thing was quiet and unhurried, but beyond all of that it just worked for me. Then the whole thing wakes up and makes me smile when Nadeshiko walks into the scene; it's a different feel entirely, but no less enjoyable.

I don't have a nice pat answer for why Laid-Back Camp is a show that I enjoy so much. Instead it is a show much like Flying Witch, where I simply like it without being able to completely articulate why. However, I can put my finger on some of what I find so appealing, because out of all of the characters and all of the activities in Laid-Back Camp, what I'm most drawn to are Shima Rin's outings, especially her solo ones. Like Shima Rin, I think of myself as a bookish loner, and I have enough experience of the outdoors to appreciate and enjoy her camping adventures (even if I have no desire to emulate them, especially in cold autumn weather). And the show is more than willing to let the surroundings speak for themselves on Rin's trips, lovingly dwelling on the outdoors and making the situation seem inviting despite the temperatures.

But Shima Rin is not precisely a loner. Even if she doesn't camp with other people very often, she's connected to them through her cellphone (as covered very well in @SpiritusNoxSA's great article) and through direct friendships and interactions. In many ways the heart of the show is this slow growing interaction, especially between Rin and Nadeshiko, who is herself a solid and appealing character.

The obvious heart of Laid-Back Camp is the simply gorgeous sequence in episode 5 where Rin and Nadeshiko text photos of their respective beautiful night-time views back and forth, comfortably separate and together at once. But for me, the bit I will remember most strongly is the epilogue at the end of episode 12, where Nadeshiko goes solo camping, exchanges texts with Rin (who is also solo camping), and then Rin reveals that she's at the same campsite. To me, it says so much about both Rin and Nadeshiko, and about how both of them they have both changed and not changed over the show (and also).

I may not know why I like Laid-Back Camp, but I do know that it lives in my heart, like a warm campfire at night. So here's to you, little show, with all your warmth and funny moments and great characterization and goofyness and quiet and beauty and contentment.

Nadeshiko runs over to Rin

(The OST is pretty great, too. Laid-Back Camp's background music is an important part of its mood, and its mood is a big part of why it works so well.)

PS: It's not completely clear if Rin's and Nadeshiko's bikes are folding bikes or merely ones with small wheels and frames, as we never see them folded. But there's very little reason to make a non-folding compact bike, so I rather suspect that they are folding bikes.

PPS: Yes, that bikes feature in Laid-Back Camp is indeed one thing that initially attracted me to it. Sometimes I'm a sucker for bikes, although not for bike racing.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

LaidBackCampAppreciation written at 16:59:12; Add Comment

2018-12-24

Rewatching Black Magic M-66

Black Magic M-66 is a fun little 1987 action OVA of an early 1980s short story manga by Masamune Shirow. Among other things, it is one of the few anime adaptations that is directed or co-directed by the manga author; Shirow is credited as co-director and for storyboards. The story itself is pretty straightforward, and is usually summarized as 'the efforts of a female journalist to save someone from an out of control military android'. As an early Shirow work and a short story, it's pretty much free of the ornamentation and twitches that show up in his later and longer works (you will not find much philosophical rambling here, for instance). With its limited run time and limited story scope, it's pretty much all action and setup for action, although it covers a surprising number of additional bits and pieces in the process.

Animation and production wise Black Magic M-66 is quite 1980s (with elements that feel distinctly old fashioned), but in a different way than Crusher Joe (which I watched last year); it's more Bubblegum Crisis than early 1980s. Part of this is that it's infused with Shirow's general design sense, which even then seems to have been pretty cyberpunk (in the military flavour). There are a certain amount of what are now amusing 1980s anachronisms, like the reporter's giant video camera and tape reels, and some of the outfits, and a cameo of a video telephone terminal (once a 'sure to come in the future' thing). But despite its 1980s origin, the whole thing stands up perfectly well today; it looks different, but not bad.

Black Magic M-66 may be straightforward, but it's also fun. The story (such as it is) is solid, the characters (such as they are) are amusing and good, there's periodic amusing bits, and both the action and the tension are well done. This is a race against time and against an opponent, and it works even when you have a reasonable guess of what's generally going to happen next. The M-66 is an implacable, persistent, and even clever opponent, but not an infallible one, and it has weaknesses. Also, the entire story is driven by a core mistake, where the M-66 was transported with test target data loaded that aimed it at a real person, and sadly this core mistake is all too realistic; over and over again us programmers use real data in testing and have it blow up in our face.

I first saw Black Magic M-66 a long time ago, and I rewatched it now for a tangle of reasons. Certainly part of it was that it was there and not very long (it's about 45 minutes), but also part of it was in reaction to not rewatching Full Metal Panic!. To some extent I wanted to rewatch something old that I had fond memories of and actively re-confirm those memories, so I could have more confidence in my past taste and my fond memories of past anime. Black Magic M-66 fits the bill nicely, and I think I liked it as much this time around as I did originally.

There's a number of things I noticed this time around that I either didn't spot or didn't remember from the first time. There's a military unit involved in the story and Black Magic M-66 is a lot less down on them than I would have expected; it's actually pretty sympathetic and also gives them some moments of humanity. The military and the reporter are effectively partners in saving the M-66's target, although each of them might object to that description. It's a little bit hokey that the military didn't use better weapons against the M-66, but the story does provide a couple of justifications and you can read between the lines to it being important to the powers that be to recover the M-66 in reasonably intact condition, never mind what it does to the people who have to achieve that.

(In fact, looking objectively at the story you could argue that the reporter's heroism is potentially unnecessary and the military would have done fine on its own, despite what she believes. I'm not quite sure this is true, because there are a couple of times where the reporter is there before the military is and saves the M-66's target, but it's at least close. This is an interesting angle for a story that is ostensibly about the reporter's heroism to take, although her heroism is genuine (and gets her respect from the military).)

I suspect that my current reactions to parts of the story are touched by this post 9/11 world we live in. Tall buildings more or less collapsing have a bit more bite than they probably did in 1987, as does a military unit running around ordering people in secrecy, shutting down news, and so on (although I suspect that this always read differently in Japan than in the West).

(There is also that Black Magic M-66 has 'flying cars' in the form of more or less planes that fly around at low level inside the city and have parking areas and so on. And yes, we have one getting shot down and crashing. This is very 1980s SF for anime from what I remember and shows up all over, but it reads quite differently today. In the 1980s it was futuristic and imaginable. Today, not so much.)

In my personal rating of Shirow animated works, Black Magic M-66 probably ranks highest of all anime that is directly based on a Shirow story instead of simply drawing from it. The Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex TV series is significantly better and deeper, but it draws from Shirow's GitS manga instead of trying to animate it. The GitS movie, well, I have complicated feelings about that one and don't rate it very highly.

This sort of elaborates on some tweets of mine, because I feel like it.

PS: There are any number of things I find neat about Black Magic M-66 that I'm not mentioning here, because this is already long enough. There are all sorts of little details about it that I enjoy.

PPS: This time around I discovered that the M actually stands for something; specifically, it's 'Mario'. Really. It's even in the title card. I really don't have anything I can say here, except that I'm going to try to forget it again.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

BlackMagicM66Rewatch written at 14:15:42; Add Comment

2018-12-23

My tweets in the aftermath of SSSS.Gridman's last episode

In the spirit of not doing my blogging only on Twitter, I'm copying what I said about SSSS.Gridman's ending and it as a whole to here. The actual tweets start here, and there are interesting discussions with people who replied to me that I'm not copying here.

There are some spoilers here, but that's how it goes. Some expansion on bits of the tweets that involves spoilers is hidden behind HTML abbreviations.

SSSS.Gridman episode 12: Oh wow. Certain portions of that were kind of as expected, parts were pleasant surprises of the Gridman 'no beating around the bush' variety, and then the extended ending was really something else (something great). The final coda, too. Good work, Anti.

In the end SSSS.Gridman made the extremely smart choice of basically not explaining a lot of things, which I am perfectly fine with. It nailed the emotional and practical landing, and in retrospect it was carefully never framed as having mysteries.

To expand on this, SSSS.Gridman had things that it didn't explain, but it never presented those things to us as mysteries. No one ever asked 'why X' or 'how did Y come to be' or 'where did Z come from', and since those questions were never asked and were never part of the plot, it was easy to not answer them without letting people down (or at least I didn't feel let down). If a show is going to have things it doesn't answer, carefully keeping them in the background is in my opinion the best approach. Call this the anti Checkov's gun principle; if you don't want to have to shoot the gun, don't put it on the mantelpiece.

I still think the SSSS.Gridman OP and ED are probably saying some interesting things, but I'm not sure about it and the final episode didn't provide clarity. But they probably are strongly talking about the show's overall theme.

Before the last episode, I increasingly came to think that SSSS.Gridman's OP and ED were pretty meaningful; they not just had things to say about the show itself, but also gave us hints about what was really going on and had happened before the show started. In light of everything in the last episode, I no longer think that this is literally true. For more on the ED specifically, see Emily's great article on it.

Also, I know just enough about the surrounding context of the overall Gridman series of shows to know that the very ending of the show is perfectly fitting and a great callback. (I actually wondered earlier if the show would go that way and yep.)

As covered in Sakugablog's notes on episodes 5-7, among other places, SSSS.Gridman contains a fair number of fairly important links to the original live action Gridman the Hyper Agent.

Oh. I suddenly realized the obvious reason and meaning for why Anti stayed behind in the end of SSSS.Gridman, given what Anti is. Well done, show. And I bet he's going to hang out with Rikka to a certain extent, which ... really makes sense and casts another light on him & Rikka.

The expansion of this, which involves a more detailed spoiler:

It's strongly implied that Anti is effectively a piece of Akane's heart. Akane had to leave her dream world, but at the same time she loved it and sort of wanted to stay in it with the people there. So, with Anti staying, a piece of her heart is staying in the dream.

Back to my thread:

In fact, looking back a whole lot of Anti's interactions with Rikka are now really quite interesting if you look at them from the right angle. Poor Akane, in a way.

Another SSSS.Gridman thought: Alexis Kerib could be a metaphor or it could be real, and in fact it could be a mixture of both at once. Certainly as a metaphor, Alexis is eternal, as it said. And you cannot just beat it up; the real fix is something else entirely.

As a metaphor, Alexis Kerib is clearly the whole cocktail of depression, self-hatred, isolation, and so on, a cocktail that is eternal and cannot be directly defeated, only banished from the current sufferer. SSSS.Gridman did amazing work in showing us how much Akane hated herself and suffered from this cocktail all on her own.

In light of the very end of SSSS.Gridman, I think we have to rule out certain interpretations of the OP and ED. They now seem at least unlikely to be portraying Akane's real pre-series life, although they can be metaphors touching on it.

Also, the show gave us the meaning of SSSS, and it was well done. SSSS indeed.

Also, another important thing to note about the ending, from a Twitter conversation thread:

I choose to believe that the ending shot implies that there is, since Rikka's present is there in Akane's room as she wakes up. (Perhaps that present is in fact the trigger, lingering in Akane's subconscious all this time.)

You can read this many ways, but if nothing else the show wants us to know that the transit pass case Rikka bought as a present for Akane and finally gave her lingered into Akane's new life. It is very explicit about showing it as the first thing visible in the final scene of the show.

(And, in light of SSSS.Gridman's unusual soundscape, it strikes me as potential interesting that this final scene does have a background music track. Of course this might just be for practical reasons, in that there's no particularly appropriate basic environmental noises to use and dead silence would feel wrong.)

Update: Sakugablog's episode 12 coverage has a nice rundown on what we can reasonably piece together about the narrative from clues and allusions in the show, and also the things we have no idea about (of which there are any number).

SSSSGridmanEndingTweets written at 21:18:15; Add Comment

SSSS.Gridman's unusual soundscape

It's no secret that most anime is generously slathered with background music. Unless characters are talking, and sometimes even if they are, there's almost always BGM running in the background, a constant soundtrack for what's going on in the show. It's even a cliche than when the BGM cuts out, something serious is going on. Sometimes this BGM is used to communicate mood or comedy or the like, but often it is simply there.

SSSS.Gridman is an exception. From the start, one of the quietly unusual things about the show has been how little it uses background music. Rather than BGM, its passing moments and full scenes are filled with incidental environmental sounds; things like little noises of things thumping and squeaking, people's footsteps, the warning bells of railway crossings, the flapping and cawing of passing birds, doors opening and closing, rain falling, thumping machinery in the distance, the natural noise of busses humming along, and insects. Even when the show fills a silent time with background noise, it's not music; it's with, say, a quiet drone.

(There are times when music crops up in Gridman as diegetic sound, which is to say that it exists in the world and the characters hear it too.)

SSSS.Gridman does have background music, but it's rarely used. When the music starts up, things are about to happen, usually the kaiju fights or other climactic events touching on them. And generally the moment the fight is over, the music cuts out too. If there is music and it's not a fight, something important is happening and the show wants us to know.

(And Gridman generally considers fights over, at least for BGM, once the decisive blow has been struck. There is an explosion afterward, but the BGM does not continue through it in the way it might in another show.)

I'm sure that this is a deliberate decision on the part of the production. If nothing else, designing and putting together this soundscape has to be a lot more work than commissioning some BGM tracks and mixing them in underneath the vocals and any important foley sounds. But I don't know enough to guess why the show handled its sound this way. Perhaps it's for the same reason that the show had its animators draw a lot of what would normally have been background art, which is apparently to make the show's world feel more alive and real; see the Sakugablog discussion of this in their coverage of the first two episodes.

(Without knowing enough about anime production to be sure, I suspect that the prevalence of BGM in anime in general is because it is the simplest and cheapest way to fill in what would otherwise be completely dead silence (or voices talking in otherwise dead silence). Live action works can at least do scratch recordings during filming to have a basic 'bed' of background noise, but anime doesn't have that unless you deliberately go collect field recordings. Dead silence is somewhat unnatural in real life, which is probably partly why it's used for emphasis in anime.)

Looking back, one of the surprising things about this is how little I consciously noticed and notice both sides of BGM usage. For SSSS.Gridman, I didn't realize just how little BGM was used and how soon it cuts out. For other shows, I didn't realize how pervasive BGM usage was until I was spot-checking things as part of writing this and discovered, for instance, that it seems to be not unusual to continue BGM underneath even people talking, which is something I wouldn't have expected to need or use BGM. On the other hand, how pervasive BGM is seems to vary from show to show; I encountered others that had significant sections with only ambient noises and no BGM, although none that went anywhere as far as SSSS.Gridman.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

SSSSGridmanSoundscape written at 17:59:48; Add Comment

2018-12-22

Daiba Nana gets her day in Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight

I may have a muted and mostly intellectual reaction to Revue Starlight as a whole (per my summer comments), but there is one character that the show completely sold me on and got me emotionally invested in, and that was Daiba Nana. And whatever else I may feel about the show, episode 7, her focus episode, was an excellent and amazing thing. For me, it was unquestionably the highlight of the entire show.

At one level it's not surprising that I like episode 7, because one of my things is episodes that reveal a totally new perspective on events and force you to completely re-evaluate everything you've seen so far. I'm predisposed to love them unreasonably wherever they crop up, whether it's in an otherwise ordinary show or in generally excellent works such as Madoka Magica.

(In general I'm all for unusual narrative tricks, from this through non-linear storytelling to all sorts of things. Just do them well.)

Beyond what it revealed, "Daiba Nana" (really, that's the episode's title) was really well put together and presented, like much of Revue Starlight overall. Given something to emotionally connect with, all of the show's technical work paid off for me, as everything built up over the course of the episode to really pack a punch. The show's understated presentation with drip after drip of unwelcome, unpleasant change sold me on Daiba Nana's mindset and on why she felt the way she did and reacted as she did. Her ultimate choice was not a surprise but an inevitability, and in the process it ripped off her mask to reveal the person underneath.

(In retrospect, the episode also sold me on why she was the winner of the Revue. Out of all of the competitors, she was the one who had a concrete goal that she understood, not an abstract desire or vague target. It's fitting that Hikari was the one to defeat Nana, because Hikari too had a very concrete goal that she was aiming for.)

In the end, Daiba Nana got what she wanted but not what she needed, and on top of that what she wanted was slowly turning to ashes in her mouth. In a single episode, Revue Starlight transformed her from a cheerful cipher to a quietly, desperately lonely girl who broke our hearts and so very much needed a hug.

(If you want to read more about episode 7, I recommend Emily Rand's writing.)

As a side note, looking back, my experience of Revue Starlight as a whole was definitely interesting even if it wasn't necessarily engaging. I don't often have the experience of watching a show while knowing that things are definitely flying over my head and there's an entire layer of things going on that I'm barely grasping the edges of. Here it was Revue Starlight's entanglement with the Takarazuka Revue (part of which is its multimedia nature, where the full Revue Starlight experience extends well beyond the anime alone). In that respect I'm reminded of watching Joshiraku.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

Sidebar: Another little impressive thing from the episode

One of the little things that episode seven showed us (at least as I remember it) is how Daiba Nana's collection of mannerisms and habits seems to have evolved over the course of her many loops. In the very beginning, Nana wasn't really 'Banana', although she clearly liked bananas. It was only through relentless repetition and refinement that Nana boiled herself down to a cheerful supplier of a stream of banana themed foods and so on, with all of the foods (and many of her mannerisms) carefully honed through far more practice than any of her classmates had any idea about. The authentic, imperfect, uncertain Daiba Nana was far in the past by the time of the first six episodes of Revue Starlight that we saw; we saw only a polished front, the person Daiba Nana had made herself into for the sake of her goal and her classmates.

The seventh episode quietly showed us that the Daiba Nana we'd seen in the first six episodes was a polished, rehearsed role, and it showed us how that had come about, how Daiba Nana wound up playing a role instead of being herself, because she had to in order to keep everything going.

(I suspect that all of this is in part something the show wants to say more broadly, about the Takarazuka Revue and other things. But even just as a character piece, it was beautiful and wholly convincing.)

RevueStarlightEpisode7 written at 16:32:51; Add Comment

2018-12-21

Some shows that didn't work out for me in 2018

Last year I wrote about some shows that didn't work out for me, and this year I've decided to do it again for my own reasons. As with last year, these are shows that I started with high hopes, shows that by all rights should work for me, and then things didn't work out. I'm almost always sad when this happens, because I want to enjoy everything I watch and I want to have more things to watch that I enjoy. As with last year, this is not to condemn these shows, it is to create a little memorial to them and to what could have been. That these shows didn't work out for me can say as much about me as it does about the shows.

(To a certain extent, these shows teach me something about my own tastes, which is part of why I want to write all of this up.)

In the order that they aired and that I walked away from them:

  • Katana Maidens - Toji no Miko: It's been a pretty long time since we had a show like this, but sadly the show we got had pacing issues that I eventually got tired of. I really do want to like action/adventure shows that revolve around women, because they're relatively rare, but this one didn't work out despite quite a lot of initial promise. There was a time when I'd have kept on watching this despite the pacing, but not this year. There's a part of me that still regrets not powering through to watch all of Katana Maidens.

  • Violet Evergarden: This is a beautiful and well crafted show, one that by all rights I should have been more fond of than I actually was. I have theories about why I wound up failing to really be pulled in emotionally, but they're at best hand-waving over the fundamental reality that this is yet another KyoAni show that didn't work for me.

  • Lupin III Part V: Lupin is a classic series and has been doing its general action and adventure thing for a long time, with a well honed stable of characters and a bunch of movies that I've generally enjoyed and so on. It definitely feels like I should enjoy Lupin TV series, and it also feels almost like an obligation as an anime fan to do so. But I keep bouncing off the actual TV series, with the notable exception of The Woman Called Mine Fujiko. Apparently I don't love these classical characters quite enough to follow them around for six or twelve hours or so at a time, even if that time is spread out over one or two cours.

  • Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory: As I put it, the magic leaked out for me somewhere over the past decade (or more) since the last time there was any Full Metal Panic!. The good news is that the old FMP lives on in my heart, no matter what.

    (It's odd, but this hurts less than Little Witch Academia did last year. I think it's because I already have the pleasant memories of the original Full Metal Panic! series.)

  • My Hero Academia: MHA is pretty good shonen action and all of that, and I stopped watching it just before a climactic arc or two that were apparently very good. My feelings on dropping it is that this says something about the pacing issues endemic in a long-running shonen series and also something about how long I'm willing to watch one series these days. I look back on the days when I could watch a hundred episodes or more of something and wonder how I did it.

    (Possible the answer is 'less other things to eat up my time with'.)

Then there's some shows that I'm more mildly let down and sad about, where it doesn't hurt as much that I and the show didn't work out.

  • GeGeGe no Kitaro: There's a lot of nice things about Kitaro, and it would be a perfectly wholesome show to follow on a regular basis (with some great characters). I just don't have any real interest in following a kids show, because some of the things inherent in its nature leave me too unenthused.

    Sadly this is a bad omen for me ever really enjoying any of the Precure iterations, because they're fundamentally kids shows too.

  • Golden Kamuy: This is an acclaimed action and adventure manga with some great characters and a well realized anime version (bears excepted), but I wound up not really caring about what was going on.

    Looking back over everything that worked for me and didn't work for me this year, I suspect that this is a sign that I'm losing my interest in straight action stories. Over and over again this year, I've passed or dropped shows where the primary appeal was action and intricate cunning plots going on. It's not just Golden Kamuy, it's also things like A.I.C.O., Angolmois, Sirius the Jaeger, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and Persona 5 The Animation (and Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory to some extent).

    (On the other hand I definitely enjoyed B - The Beginning, for all that it was very firmly planted in this genre. It wasn't anywhere near high art, but B knew full well how to be both entertaining and compulsively watchable.)

  • Darling in the FranXX: I said way back when that I didn't have high expectations for DarliFra, which is why I'm not more let down when I decided that it wasn't interesting enough to continue watching. When you don't expect much to start with, there's not much letdown when it doesn't work out.

(I don't list Hinamatsuri here simply because comedies failing for me is the routine state of life.)

Writing this up has helped me clarify and put into words some things that I was already feeling in my gut. For instance, it seems pretty likely that Vinland Saga is not going to be something that I enthusiastically watch in 2019, since it falls straight into the general genre area of Golden Kamuy and other similar things.

As with last year, I'm deliberately excluding shows that I finished, even though I have things I could say there (and I may do so in another entry). This is for shows that didn't work out to such an extent that I stopped watching them.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

SadLetdowns2018 written at 18:09:23; Add Comment

2018-12-20

A moment where SSSS.Gridman exploits distorted camera perspective and superdeformation

(There's a bit of a spoiler for SSSS.Gridman here.)

One of my ongoing interests is things around the anicamera, the imaginary camera that 'films' anime, and along with it the various deliberate artistic distortions animation uses (including in CG), such as smears and super-deformed things. Studio Trigger is of course no stranger to any of this, as anyone who's watched their shows like Space Patrol Luluco or Kill la Kill knows, and so it is not surprising that various aspects of both of these show up regularly in SSSS.Gridman.

So, for example, there's this beautiful shot from episode 10:

Rikka looks out into the sunset

This isn't just beautiful, it's also full of deliberate anicamera artifacts, including lens flare, veiling haze, and the wide angle lens effect of putting curves on horizontal and vertical straight lines.

But the case I really want to talk about is from SSSS.Gridman's sixth episode, where Yuta meets a little kid who wants to talk to him (and yes, this is kind of dim, as they're in an alleyway; the kid is on the right):

Yuta meets a little kid

She really wants to get Yuta's attention and Trigger winds up giving us this classical looming, super-deformed shot:

An unnamed character looms over Yuta to get his attention





Ha ha, no. That's not super-deformed. She's a kaiju.

An unnamed character looms over Yuta from the side

To be fair, she told us that she was, and there was some advance visual warning as the scene unfolded (eg the shadow here). Trigger didn't spring this on us by complete surprise, however funny and startling that might have been; instead they built up the atmosphere for an unsettling moment. But it was still a pretty startling moment for me, and probably for a lot of viewers. Everything in our anime viewing pushed us towards a reading of that first looming shot as being exaggerated and super-deformed, not literal. And then SSSS.Gridman cut away to confront us with the unsettling reality.

That's why in the title of this entry I used 'exploited' instead of 'used'. Trigger did not actually use superdeformation here; instead they deliberately exploited our expectations of it in order to give us a startling moment.

(There is probably a bit of implicit wide angle distortion going on in the looming shot, for impact, but in a comedy SD moment it would be exaggerating the SD looming.)

PS: The revealing side shot is unrealistic in a normal cinematographic way, because the characters are nominally in a pretty narrow alleyway. In real life there's no way you could back the camera up enough to get that sort of normal perspective shot from the side without running into the side of the alleyway, so you'd have to do this on a soundstage. Which is of course routine in films.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

SSSSGridmanExploitsUs written at 19:23:01; Add Comment

(Previous 10 or go back to December 2018 at 2018/12/19)

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