Looking back at the Summer 2018 anime season
Once again it's time for my traditional look back at what I watched in this past Summer season, to follow up on my early impressions and my midway views. As in the spring, this is a pretty easy wrap-up since I only watched three shows all the way through this season.
- Planet With: The show always wore its heart on its sleeve, and on
the whole I think it worked, but I was left feeling that it went a bit
too fast at the end. The show's breakneck pace was great when it was
moving briskly over the standard robot show beats that we've all seen
many times before and that carried no real emotional weight, but it felt
less successful when it was speeding over things that would have built
more emotional investment. But reactions here definitely differ (cf).
(Unlike some shows, it doesn't feel like Planet With was forced to condense itself because of limited run time. All of its choices about speed seemed carefully designed and entirely deliberate, although they were obviously strongly influenced by its episode count.)
On the whole I think Planet With was a great show, always enjoyable and exciting, with excellent characters and many little touches. It left any number of things not said explicitly but implied sufficiently much that we could get it if we paid attention, which is something I always enjoy. It also deliberately made it clear that we were not seeing everything important about the lives of these characters, just a small slice; this was most explicit in the last two episodes, where it made a point of alluding to various off-screen things.
- Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight: In the end the show's strong focus on
its message and the theatrical parts of its presentation left me with a lack of emotional investment
in the characters and the show as a whole. I like and admire the show,
I think it did some really impressive things on a technical level
(with its directing, layouts, and so on), I'm glad that it exists, I
enjoyed watching it, I believe that it's doing good work, but in the
end I don't think I care very much emotionally or that the show will
stick with me. My involvement in the show was mostly intellectual,
apart from Daiba Nana (who needed a hug and got one in the end, good
for Revue Starlight).
Revue Starlight is very entangled in the Takarazuka Revue, so it will perhaps land with more impact on people who care about it and who are sufficiently familiar to clearly see the messages RS has to send without the guidance of something like Atelier Emily's essential writing on the show.
Popcorn educational entertainment:
- Cells at Work!: This slowed down in the last portions in the sense that they seemed to run a bit low on interesting educational things to show us and wound up leaning more on the characters to carry episodes. Since Cells doesn't really have characters that it's possible to become strongly invested in, this didn't entirely work for me. But the whole thing was still worth watching as popcorn entertainment.
I feel satisfied with this season as a whole, partly because I no longer feel compelled to fill up all of my spare time with anime.
(I also watched some of the first Overlord series and plan to get back to see more at some point. It's ridiculous and overpowered in a way that amuses me.)
The unusual theatricality of Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight
On Twitter I've been periodically calling Revue Starlight 'theatrical'. Perhaps surprisingly, I'm not talking about its swordfight segments, where people duel each other on fantastical settings while also (perhaps) singing about it; that's actually one of the least theatrical elements of Revue Starlight, in the sense that I have in mind.
In most shows, even ones that are fantastical or aren't set in this world, the events and actions we see are intended to be real within the show's setting (or at least to the characters, since they may sometimes be hallucinating or imagining things and we see the world through their eyes). Thunderbolt Fantasy may be a highly stylized and arch fantasy, but all of those crazy fights and exchanges of dialog are real within the show; they are what actually happened. The same is true of Mushishi, Gun Gale Online, and even pretty much for Yurikuma Arashi.
This is also true for the sword fighting segments of Revue Starlight, as the second episode makes clear; we are told outright that they really happened. But as we are also shown no later than the fourth episode, it's not always the case for the rest of Revue Starlight. Some of what we are seeing in the anime is not real even within the show itself. In these segments we're seeing a shorthand, abstracted, excerpted version of the actual 'real in the show' events, something that is intended to evoke the real thing instead of being it. We are tacitly seeing a stage play of what happened, with the sets and scene changes and so on visible, instead of what happened. It is in this sense that I say that Revue Starlight is theatrical. Just as a theatre performance may be done so that we are aware that we are watching a theatre performance that depicts 'real' events, we are aware in Revue Starlight that we are watching a performance that has been chopped and diced and reformed for us, not the show's reality.
(Theatre performances can also be made with the intention of making it feel real to the audience, of course, and many are.)
This decision fits in with Revue Starlight's other decisions, of course; the show is not shy about what it is doing or why. But for me it adds an extra layer of distancing unreality between the show's characters and me. I'm not entirely seeing people doing things, I'm seeing a performance. It's a nice performance and I admire the artistry of many segments of it, but.
(And for me Revue Starlight was most successful where it was not so self-consciously a performance, when it was much more animating the show's reality.)
PS: As Yurikuma Arashi shows, you don't have to be theatrical in this way to have your show be mostly in service to metaphors and themes. To put it one way, that things happen because ultimately they are a big metaphor doesn't mean that things don't happen. The puppet strings show, of course, but they generally do if metaphor is the most important thing to the work.
(This elaborates on some tweets of mine and is something that's been revolving around my head since I started calling Revue Starlight 'theatrical' on Twitter.)