This Week: Kill La Kill, Nagi No Asukara, Space Dandy, Pupa, and Gundam Build Fighters.
Let’s take off the word count weights and fight some final bosses!
As all but one of these shows wrapped up in the last seven days, these writings will be both episodic reflections and considerations towards whole series.
I will have a secondary followup post early next week to comment upon the other winter shows I watched, but did not write about week in and week out.
Kill la Kill (Episode twenty four; END)
Chalk up a prediction loss for me – Junketsu did not, in the end, speak at all.
That is a shame, even if you put aside the notion of me just being wrong about something. They had been around our cast for so long, is quite sentient, and with a lot of wedding dress imagery. There are a number of threads that could have been taken in a succinct fashion to tie their narrative arc up regarding Junketsu’s relationship with Satsuki. A line or two there, even another scene of silent movement at a key moment, and that would be it. Ah well.
“But right now I’m real grateful that my body is the way it is.”
I do love that line Ryuuko yells out in the finale, because it is hitting so much at the core of what I had signed up for way back in episode one. That the series would be dealing in things like body issues, the use of clothing both as everything from identity expression to personality replacement, and so on. And we got some of that, to be sure. Now that all is said and done (until the OVA in a few months), was the show that we did receive different than what I expected in many ways? Sure. Is that in and of itself bad? Well, no, not necessarily. But I do need to consider the show sitting in front of me.
I live within a resonable-ish driving distance of Kingda Ka (which could do a crossover given Kill la Kill‘s name) at Six Flags Great Adventure.
I could travel there in a few hours. It is the tallest roller coaster in the entire world, and for a number of years was also the fastest (now it is “just” number two). This is a ride that needs to shut down if the wind is blowing the wrong way or if there is a very light mist. Heavier weather has derailed it for months at a time. When the ride is fully operational and is firing on all cylinders, it is an absurd rush that works as an engineering marvel and a crunchy experiential moment in time. Otherwise it never leaves the track. Some roller coaster aficionados speak of weather conditions for different rides, how the experience changes and can even be improved or altered, that sort of thing. Not so much for Kingda Ka. It is either The Best Day in some sort of zen-like synergy, or it is not happening at all.
If Trigger built anything out of this series, they aimed to forge a similar roller coaster. The stakes were raised again and again in an attempt to build a track. Down to this final episode, where humanity was spun into that LCL-like pool. We would have fashion and the like as our car to ride in. And viewers could be in line with friends like Mako or other members of the internet audience.
It is not a bad plan at all. And indeed, aspects like Ryuuko coming to wear the clothing threads of everyone around her, were apt. She brought herself into that next level of wardrobe that allowed her to successfully rebel against her mother and the alien Life Fiber establishment on a battlefield with the planet itself as a backdrop. That she would realize the Absolute Submission field was all mental for her, and only worked on her body so long as she believed it had the power to do so. I like that. There is good messaging in there as she saves the world. And the reward being she can begin to dress for herself, rather than the clothing that has been expected and required of her.
And yet the series also leave me conflicted in areas. Aspects like the Tri City School Raid Trip were not really all that necessary. Interesting elements, like the entire social and housing structure of the original school system being based on where the kids were ranked and permitted to wear rather than the parents successes, faded away. Parts like Ryuuko literally losing her way and donning a set of clothes that created a substitute for her emotions come later in the game and leave just as quickly. I would have liked more time on that for maximum impact and narrative delivery, for instance.
Other commentary writers have mentioned the series has excelled in delivering service to the fans in a rather particular manner.
That it was essentially everything all at once. Grandly over the top hot blooded action for those most into those elements, and threads for those who wanted to parse out deeper thematic meanings and run circles all over the blogs and message boards. Provocative costumes. Blasting music. Key frame shenanigans for the animation and sakuga folks. And I think that is a valid perspective. Kill la Kill was going to be a show a lot of people were going to watch together, as many anime fans were going to line up for this initial television display from Trigger.
When push comes to shove, I think it made for an overall positive time. I got a lot of writing out of this show week to week, and I liked reading so much of what others thought. As a participatory spectacle for so many months, I think the series delivered on that level of objective for the studio. As a series removed from that, I think there are chunks of the program that are then turned more into hanging threads or nonstarters. Which is not inherently bad. But it does mean some elements are not going to hold up as well over time as future folks try to get into it as a more singular experience and a nice wind may grind the roller coaster ride to a halt.
Amusement parks and fashionable dates are more fun when you have people with you. To chat with, cheer, or casually pick apart how silly or important that thing you saw was while passing by one of the attractions. Which may be a more important message and caveat regarding this series than even Trigger may have intended.
Nagi No Asukara (Episode twenty five)
Of all the shows I have been writing about each week, this is the only one that is not already finished.
I have been kind of down on this series for a while now, and part of me feels bad about it. It has a nice color palate, with the blues, purples, and other indicatives of ocean flavor that play well together and even more so with snow. The show is well shot for what it is going for, and it is never shy about landscape shots as a means of selling location, scope, and larger than life grandiosity. Aspects like the Ofunehiki ceremony appeal to me both as worldbuilding and story devices.
I’ve just slowly stopped caring about what happens to so many of the characters.
What saddens me is there was a time I know I was far more committed.
By this point I fear I sound almost like a broken record, as something the show has been rather deft at is giving so many illusions of advancement while doing so very little to move people along. The love polygon is just so large. So many folks have been stuck on the same beats that it has been like an albatross around the neck of this series. Tsumugu talking to Chisaki about him needing to figure out how to get her to admit she loves him (which is just such a horrifyingly bad way to go about these things, by the by) comes off more to me as the show trying to somehow kickstart a stalled gear in a Rube Goldberg machine than a heartfelt push.
And it is all quite mechanical, because at worst perhaps only one of the characters in this entire long held crush structure will end up without a partner they met years ago. And that is assuming the show does not pull a move like merging Manaka and Miuna into the same person for Hikari. Which is wholly within the realm of possibility. For better or worse, that irks me.
It gets under my skin that little toddler Akira has had a more genuine and honest romantic progress development and resolution in his crush on Manaka than several of our leads have had with each other. That so much of this tugs for “feels” over feelings. That the show held a lot of promise at different points for being able to approach the childhood crush geometry in a new and compelling way, be it environmental matters, cultural collisions at school and society at large, and so on.
It has been this pebble like reveal every now and again, and for a while that was enough for me. Like Tsumugu’s mother showing up that one time, and there was clearly a tension and family problem there. And I think to myself “Well, this will be an interesting thing to explore later.” Especially if his family situation had called for middle school age him to move away from the shore or something, and how that would perhaps affect the various crushes or the like. But we haven’t brought mom up again at all. She’s just far away, and Tsumugu doesn’t like her very much because… reasons.
And in that context, it is harder to view the whole ice age thing as more than a convenient excuse to just shove all the ocean adults into the cupboard as well. Which is a shame, as these kinds of larger familiar and societal relationships seemed like they were going to be so much more important to our actual love and romance plot.
So many sparkling and lovely parts of the canvas were ejected over time in favor of bog standard otaku wish fulfillment in a pretty frame.
And that has been breaking my heart most of all.
Space Dandy (Episode thirteen; END)
In our first episode directing repeat, Shingo Natsume returns to the stage after their previous stint there in the very first episode.
While some may have hoped for it, I can’t say they brought the series full circle for the finale or anything. Unless one wanted view it as as that initial one being all character introductions while this run has a primary focus on QT, who has never had such attention until now.
On a certain level, this was like a giant film melting pot. 500 Days of Summer and The Brave Little Toaster. The Matrix sequels and Ultraman. And so on and so forth. On the visual front, I think it manages to blend and transition these disparate parts very well. The higher focus on machines assisted quite a lot with the abstraction, as Dandy and Meow spend most of the episode removed from events. Scenes like QT giving Maker a piggyback ride up the mountain to watch the stars over the city are cute, and yet also fit in the same episode where we transition to full on Godzilla style city threatening fisticuffs.
In the middle of all this is the notion of the why and how a machine can come to love, and QT’s initial philosophy can actually be seen as rather unexpected. He adores the coffee machine because she was built to do only one thing. Of course there is beauty in simplicity, just as there is in complexity. A machine could find different things to love in either, just as humans do. And QT has even shown us in places like the library episode how much they love complexity.
What is interesting to me though is how this compares to Dandy. He is very direct and upfront in being a man who most enjoys butts on his ladies above all else. Some of that comes down to how his potential female companions are built, yes? In a way, QT is not all that different despite all the more intellectual airs and dismissive remarks he makes regarding Dandy’s proclivities. Our robot vacuum pal was not thinking about how many interesting layers Maker had to her personality, that is for sure.
If we want to take the comparison another step further, Meow here is now most interested in 2D girls and visual novels. I have played a few of those myself, and some of them are really quite good in terms of story and aim. But, for all the analysis one could choose to do for a character in one of those games, or an anime one for that matter, they still lack in a certain connective aspect. They are not real, after all, and so can only do or say what has already been produced. What they were built for. Our crew actually has more in common with each other regarding the ladies than they may think.
This was a fun show for me show, on the overall. I enjoyed more episodes than not, and the rotating staff aspect made for a variety of careers for me to look into and for a lots of creative folks to play with an established set of toys. It kept me coming back with minimal preconceived thoughts every week, at the very least. Had this all been put on the shoulders of a more limited directing team and the like, I feel I could have soured on it a lot sooner if the mix hadn’t worked out. It was great to have as a simuldub experience, to pop on the television on a Saturday night. Highly consumable, like most of the American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, etc on the Adult Swim block the rest of the time and I enjoy having on where the opportunity presents itself.
At the same time, I may not make a dedicated revisit to the series again for quite a while. The varied staff makes the complete package lack a more cohesive comedic stickiness that encourages one to come back again and again from start to finish. I might catch select episodes in reruns later in the leadup to the next season though, and for a comedy in particular I appreciated the efforts taken to make it easier to just kick back and watch on my television.
I would like to see more initiatives like it, without a doubt.
Pupa (Episode twelve; END)
Lest I get ahead of myself, I recommend checking out what I wrote for Pupa last week.
Never let it be said that I did not try to give Pupa every possible fair shake this season to drag itself even a ledge higher from the abyss.
All the censoring, the haphazard semblance of a plot, even the sketchbook art style… it all goes out the window here for the finale. We get chibi children and a toy store lottery hosted by wacky animal suits saying things like “It must take real talent to lose this much” and “You only get one more try.” This show, if only on a subconscious level, knows very well what it was up to, aiming to sass and storm its way out the door at the end of a big winter anime party. I tried to hypothesize on a way it could try and take a meta approach out. I did not consider the possibility DEEN would just troll away in the final minutes and mock any semblance of a viewership they had managed to retain.
The only way this makes any sense as a finale message is if we view chibi Utsutsu reading the Pupa manga at home as more than a mere reference. His continued lottery losses and eventually being told compromise is a big part of growing up as the studio talking directly to us. That we may have wanted something so much more, and we were just going to have to deal with and accept what we got.
But anime production is not like trying to win the grand prize stuffed bear from the rolly ball lottery spinner and only winding up with the seventh place hair clip. Sure, I may have little personal direct involvement outside of where my money or ad dollars end up. So my picking the show up was a lot like a lottery ticket. But the studio sure could have done a lot more. Compromise is meeting halfway. It is a collaborate process of strengths and shortcomings to make something whole, that multiple parties can walk away from satisfied. It is not the studio presenting a package, the viewership having concerns with how it was lacking in various areas, then stomping them into the dirt and spitting on us while yelling we should be thankful.
Which is really what this last episode amounted to for me. A frustrated production crew, who went through their own hells trying to get this out the door back in autumn but failed, using the last episode to just scream at, mock, and otherwise take their anger out on us. This episode would have been a passing little omake on a normal home video release, and there perhaps it may have even been a little funny attached to a better program. Here, it is a hate fueled condemnation of anyone who dared to speak up about a troubled show.
There was an event in December where DEEN showcased the first eight episodes back to back. So they had been working on them during the autumn after getting their initial rejection from the television airwaves, and could show off a whole bunch at once. It did not screen so well. So they had time to perhaps make various alterations, if not so much for the front end then perhaps the back. Rather than make amends, they aimed to burn bridges.
And the Too Hot For TV angle really is a good free marketing hook for a horror series, if we look at it purely from a cold and calculating “Get people to watch the show” perspective. Which may really be the most horrific thing, that it did work so well to get folks like us to barrel through it.
As of this writing, it is almost a week after the finale, and it is pushing a 683 popularity rating on MyAnimeList, with a ranking of 6878. That has to be one of the largest divergent positions I can recall for anything on that website in quite some time.
I like the strengths some series can find in shorter runtime formats. Miss Monochrome and gdgd Fairies were each on my top ten list from last year. Pupa barely deserves to be in the same category filing section of the bottomless online anime video world. I feel sorry for whatever files are neighbors to it on Crunchyroll’s servers.
The best part of this final Pupa episode for me was the opening tone which rings at the start is the exact same one Sunrise uses for its corporate logo in front of the likes of Gundam Build Fighters.
Let us take that lesson, and play with toys who want to be friends instead.
Gundam Build Fighters (Episode 25; END)
For what fundamentally amounts to a giant Gundam toy commercial series, it does a remarkable job tying all its primary themes together for the finale. We have a common enemy in the form of the runaway computer and particle dispersion system, so everyone fights together. Likewise, as this is a series of model sets and combat simulation programs, the characters can verbally handwave a lot that can trip up other series.
Why are there all these new enemy robot models? PPSE was going to roll them out for sale after the tournament. Why are there such an insane number of final units? Because those enemy robots are the default artificial intelligence for when someone wants to play solo, so it can just make as many as it wants as they are not tied to actual physical models. How is the giant laser cannon on the simulated A Baoa Qu so powerful? It is charged by the energy source that allows normal plastic model kits to run around.
It is astounding the number of things that just flow when everything amounts to toys. People can walk around in space without exploding just fine because it is all just a kind of holographic arena.
Even the big theme of the power of friendship and coming together over a common thing, well worn by many a story, functions without any eye rolling. Our characters are in different ways connected by a fandom. This does not come down to a clash against a contorted philosophy or political matter, no huge enemy monologue, but more beating the biggest video game raid possible in that universe. And folks high-five afterwards, because hey: as crazy of a final fight that was against the giant space fortress, it was a fun game.
If this series blew whale chunks, I do not think anyone would have been surprised. On a certain level, this program is designed to move a merchandise line, expand its demographics, and perhaps even hook kids into the Gundam franchise at an earlier age with many characters even younger than our usual teenage and young adult solider types. It is very easy to view that in a very cynical light. And as some of my write-ups have tackled, the show does some less than optimal pacing situations and exposition dumps in various places.
But, I do feel the team behind this did grasp a lot of the celebratory parts of the Gundam series. It is a long franchise with a vast history, and a kind of cultural institution unto itself at this point. Some parts may not have turned out so well, and it has had its own hiccups over the years, but there are good things in there. This was like various staff at Sunrise were excited kids who cracked open their toyboxes and wanted to show us a whole bunch of cool stuff. There was a sense of a joyous spark, an element that they wanted folks to think what they were showing was a good thing. That we would like it too. That we would want to play with them. I think we have all been there as children at one time or another. And I think that is hard to fake.
It was fun for kids and while still having the wherewithal to make a lot of adults smile. It was a good robot show with blue skies where nobody died.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.