This Week: Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club, Watamote, Silver Spoon, Attack on Titan, Monogatari Series: Second Season, Miss Monochrome, and Uchouten Kazoku
While we’re into October, Summer anime season for 2013 has now officially closed up shop for the year and it’s time to lock all the toys back in the box and do at least a little light clean up before we have company over for Fall season and get everything strewn about right and proper all over again.
These passing thoughts are not presented in any particular order, aside from my favorite series of the Summer, which I would like to save my goodbye for until the end.
Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club (1 – 12 ; END)
In an “event viewing” format, this was so easygoing and a fantastically amusing relay champion to see through to the end. I have people over at my apartment every week for watching an airing show together, and in that setting this series was like a fun little water park ride. A riotous blast for the group at pretty much all times, even during the quieter moments.
Objectively speaking, characters are straightforward but well defined and it put in a nice amount of work in trying to set up its little plot points and characterization sequences for what is essentially a “Cute Girls Doing A Thing” show but with Dudes. When Rei confronts Rin for instance, I get why he’s doing it and where he’s coming from. It doesn’t feel like it’s been shoehorned in for the sake of having cheap character drama for drama alone. And that’s a pretty great mechanics accomplishment for this kind of show, honestly. I wasn’t really expecting much out of it at the start of the season outside of water animation, and it never really disappointed me.
It does what it needs to do with a solid enough toolset to get us to where we need to go, and is at least more than a little self aware of itself. It could do its male swim team fanservice and cheesecake without characters losing control of their own agency, which I appreciated.
Watamote (1 – 12 ; END)
At the start of this season, I really liked this show; things like the map charting out Tomoko’s various escape routes from the Totally Not McDonald’s in the first episode really struck a chord with me and how I completely remember doing similar things years ago.
As time went on, I found myself less enthralled with the series, as it turned into more just straight-up crushing Tomoko than more of those amusing social anxiety explorations I was so tantalized with in the beginning. I think it would have worked better with half episodes, as by late in the series when the midpoint eyecatch popped up I would usually find myself going “It’s only halfway done?” as it just started to feel like it was dragging for no reason other than to drag and harp on one joke in place of much else.
I got the joke, and it was a good joke at first.
And then it was like a little kid just repeating a well received joke again and again hoping to get the same response.
Silver Spoon (1 – 11 ; END)
This was just such a comfortable show to watch. “Heartwarming” wouldn’t be at all out of place, even with the concerns over animal death and how food processing works. It was the “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” high school protagonist affair done well, as characters have genuine concerns and perspectives over their life lot that ebb and flow like so many furnaces in ones belly. A well rounded cast solidly redressed for the backdrop of the agricultural institution. The series could be as overt or subtle as it wanted to be at the drop of a hat, effortlessly. Something as small as the little peeks of text messages from Yugo’s mom functioned incredibly strongly in characterizing that situation and relationship.
Even as it would zip from classic animation sight gag styles and to dealing with more serious things like dressing the roadkill deer or tackling future life goals, nothing ever really felt out of place or tonally inappropriate. And I think that speaks very much to the care taken and what has been making this such a well rounded entertainment experience for me. It felt like a nice broken in blanket, with all of the greatly wonderful victories and memories of sadder times wrapped up in it as it drapes across oneself.
Hopefully when the rest of the series hits the air in a few months, the narrative transitions into Winter, as I think that opens up a number of opportunities for it to capitalize upon given the harsher weather changes and the events that can come from that, both on the Super Serious and Amusingly Heartwarming fronts.
Attack on Titan (1 – 25 ; END)
Recap episodes serve two functional purposes: important thematic and narrative recollections before applying something new, or a “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” temporary hard stop for a production wildly careening out of control. In both cases, they can be applied poorly, which definitely happens more often than not. I think Monogatari has been doing well with the former this season, while Attack on Titan pulled the trigger on the second option due to its troubled production history.
In that respect, I think it actually made a lot of use out of the bought time and production meetings, as while I have never really been a fan of Attack on Titan, it definitely improved for the better after the episode 13.5 point. Compared to the trudging slog I felt getting through the first half of the show (the Trost arc in particular), the period after that recap point managed to start moving things along with better pacing. I thought the episode dealing with the experiments Hanji performed was probably the best in the series; I think it has an interesting universe, despite not really liking the plot and disliking most of the characters. I think that the fact my favorite individuals in this show are folks like Commander Pixis, Squad Leader Brzenska, and the like is telling, as we only see them in very defined and specific circumstances. I don’t feel a need to shake them.
I’m still not really on board with it on the overall, but it was nice to see that it managed to make some necessary corrective improvements to some things that I felt needed fixing.
…and then we reach the part where it needs to stick the landing for the finale, and how it couldn’t really bring itself to end on a satisfying narrative note.
Things “happened” in the objective sense, in that time was spent and characters moved around saying words with Titan fighting definitely occurring (complete with Super Saiyan mode), but at the same time little really transpired to wrap things up in any way. We get to see people berate Eren some more, have an extended Titan fight, and more highly trained soldiers do some dumb things as keys that would open up the actual plot are dangled around in front of us just out of reach.
Hanji has a line near the end of the last episode where she looks over everything before her and states “What did we accomplish?”
This really sums up a whole lot of the show for me. It consistently plays the cliffhanger game in place of resolving anything or really making a push ahead with characterization, but the “What’s in the Mystery Box!?” game J. J. Abrams and such play love playing in place of delivering some payoff is a real letdown at the end of the day. To its dying breath and post credits scene, it just can’t stop itself from wanting to play shenanigans over handing in any of its homework. It has an addiction problem in need of an intervention.
I do like the world Attack on Titan has. I’d just have liked it to have been better serviced by what’s going on within it, who we follow around, and what we get to actually see.
Monogatari Series: Second Season (1 – 11 ; Continuing into Fall)
I have this thing where I can only bring myself to watch anything in the Monogatari series in their arc-long bursts. Just given the nature of the reflexive wordplay dialogue and character centered arc focuses, I just find I get more out of processing it that way. But I’m usually weeks behind on this series as a result as I wait for all of episodes in a given arc to be out.
For the most part I think it’s been a welcome revisiting of many of the elements that worked for me in Bakemonogatari and mostly dropping the baggage that weighted me down in Nisemonogatari. It has the snappy momentum and sense of purpose, even in the quieter and slower episodes, while I often felt Nisemonogatari was just wandering around half the time searching for ways to fill out the eleven episode allotment with its lonely two character arcs that likely would have functioned better as finely tuned sister movies over a wobbly television show. The franchise got to have its fanservice fueled vacation, and now it’s a return and rexamination of what it wants to be and where it wants to take us.
I’ve been appreciating how this entry in the series has been rejiggering some things from the Bakemonogatari execution style, such as having Hanekawa’s arc being almost devoid of Araragi, or having the Mayoi arc mostly done around and about her while only interacting with her as a part of the narrative highly selectively. It’s been keeping things mechanically interesting as we explore their problems, situations, and difficulties, rather than “just” more stories with our favorites.
As for the currently airing character arc (which, again, I’m not actually watching until the whole set is out), Nadeko I felt had the weakest arc in the original series. It was just a victim of serious time constraints and where it was awkwardly placed in the series relative to the other arcs, coming right after Kanberu’s fiery passions and right before Hanekawa’s personal nightmare, leaving a lot of territory unexplored. Which is something I feel the studio would also be aware of, given the general community reaction to it, so I am very interested in seeing what they manage to do with her this time around. When I get around to it in a few weeks.
Miss Monochrome (Episode 1)
Welp, some of the Fall company from my guest list has already arrived.
It’s not all the time an idol show kicks off with hellfire and injured people possibly dying in another’s lap. And embezzlement. And foreclosure.
For a short form series like this, there’s a surprising amount of stuff in here for a less than four minute episode. If it can nab at least one or two laughs out of me an episode, it will more than exceed its needs, and at this stage I feel it’s equipped to do just that.
Monogatari started with a Roomba last season, and Miss Monochrome carries that forward with her very own adorable little floor cleaning pet. Which is odd to say, as it’s not like the machine is a particularly “cute” design or anything; it still looks perfectly circular and mechanical and like something you’d find in the local department store. It’s just whimsical to see whirring around. I imagine Yui Horie (Hanekawa’s actress, and Miss Monochrome’s designer and voice) really fancies these things.
Roomba’s. Anime Character Pet of the Year 2013.
Uchouten Kazoku [The Eccentric Family] (1 – 13 ; END)
This is such an unfortunate one to see go, as it’s my most well regarded show of the season and now I need to find a replacement!
Best character writing of the Summer by a magically framed wide shot country mile.
The conversations were fantastic, breezy, and natural. It could be witty and amusing just as quickly as it wanted to be more contemplative as all the fine character threads were laced and stitched. Expressions were subtle and strong, and things just felt very overall cohesive and like they were a natural part of the world.
For a time, I was actually kind of disappointed in where the final arc of the show had been going. I think it pushed standard drama levers too hard for what I wanted to see the program run with, because I’ve seen such levers hit before and break. More than that, I was afraid.
I was fearing the ending would dive into paint by numbers territory, or worse. So many good character drama productions just utterly botch their conclusions, and I was worried. I didn’t want this series to be just another roadkill statistic on the anime ending highway by zigging when it needed to zag. At the time, I processed and felt the drama in the sense that deep down, I really wanted this to get a good sendoff. I truly did not want this production to fail at the finish line. And it so very easily could have, and while I would have brushed it off and given it a hug regardless, I would always have rather preferred to see it get across under its own power.
But the last episode thankfully did not tank and I can look back on those concerns with brighter eyes. I’ve teared up so much more thinking about the series in retrospect than I did at the time of initial viewing, as the threat of a looming and unknown finale has been lifted.
Character actions and interactions still felt wholly organic and three dimensional, and various pieces that have had the ground laid for them got to fire off, from Mother’s background to Professor Akadama’s proclivities regarding Benten and Q-Tips. And as great as our script has been with dialogue, Yajirou’s silent part of the phone call gives us power in quietness as well. And then, then he is nudged to speak the words that have been on his mind in the depths of the shrine well for so long.
I always find endings where they bring the cast back around for a little “encore” series of interactions mechanically interesting. They allow us to say goodbye while at the same time allowing the characters to transition out of what’s transpired and prepare to move on themselves. The world will keep turning, after all. And I think that’s an import takeaway from this series as a whole: through everything that’s happened, both in the present time of the plot and past personal tragedies and hang-ups we’ve seen characters recall, the daily life of the universe continues to move forward with or without them. It’d be so much better to move with it then, would it not? And that’s such a hard thing for us to remember so many times in our lives. And yet it’s such a strong sentiment for us to be reminded of.
The series was warmth, delicious drinks, great food, swell people, storm clouds, worries, hangups, hugs, shoulders to cry on and the comfortably otherworldly beauty of our own home skyline.
Let’s landscape shot our way home.
Unrelated to anything else: Benten might be my favorite female anime character for the year so far. She’s a complete cipher, but such a very intriguing one. We do have some months left yet. But she’s a wily cookie, and might very well pull through in the end.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.