This Week: Selections!
I am but a blogger, but these are my promises to you for what I will write about this winter.
Autumn anime is a really neat alliteration name I get to use but once a year, though part of me is more than pleased to see it go. The season ended up a bit more chaotic than I planned. Tenchi Muyo! throwing multiple episodes a week as if the production was trying to offset cargo weight on a sinking ship. Yoshiyuki Tomino’s return to his franchise via Gundam Reconguista in G remains in this rather wonky international distribution area. I had to slip around with my posting schedule a few times, and that is even before the added time commitment vectors that crop up in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
The two most consistent series I watched amount to a glorified model kit commercial (officially distributed by Sunrise via Youtube to boot to reach as many viewers as possible), and a Sega drenched gdgd Fairies style production so hyper specific to my interests I remain shocked it was ever greenlit at all. And that is after having watched and written about every episode!
One last time then, here are collected write-ups for shows I wrote about last season:
- Tenchi Muyo! Love (Ai Tenchi Muyo!) [1 – 60]
- Gundam Build Fighters Try [1 – 13]
- Gundam Reconguista in G (Gundam: G no Reconguista) [1 – 13]
- Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls) [1 – 13]
Winter season 2015 then.
In moving ahead, the two Gundam shows will be remaining on board. So no changes on that front, and while I am enjoying Build Fighters Try far and away more than G-Reco, a fifty percent hit rate is rather acceptable to me as far as simultaneous Gundam series consumption goes (which is itself a relative oddity). I wanted to pull in at least two more productions to write, so as to replace the two which concluded, with a plus one on top of that to make up a little more variety for two seasons straight of two Gundam shows taking up space in my output garage. And as stretched for content as winter can be, there is a spread of things out there depending on one’s interests. Those who have been holding out hope for a return by Durarara!! finally get their followup season, the titanically popular Kantai Collection series of “Girls as Historic Naval Ships” gets its animated rendition, and auteur director Kunihiko Ikuhara even descends after another multi year absence via the lesbian bear antics of Yuri Kuma Arashi, among other potential choices for everyone’s time.
For reasons that coincide with my own schedule, interests, and a desire to engage with Ikuhara’s symbolisms and stage plays only when his entire project is complete, I am going to write about some of those others. After some finagling and cutting, my final docket for things I want to commit to hurling digital ink over looks like this:
- Death Parade
- Gundam Build Fighters Try
- Gundam Reconguista in G (Gundam: G no Reconguista)
- The Rolling Girls (Rolling☆Girls)
- Yatterman Night (Yoru no Yatterman)
For the time zone I live in, only one of these shows airs on any given day.
This allows me to slightly increase the number of shows for this weekly bit, while also making things easier to catch up on should work or social commitments raise their head. It is part of the same reason I enjoy doing these all as one post, so that all of the episode commentaries come out at the same time on a more consistent basis, rather than feeling like I am chasing a posting dragon day in and day out. As this “week” effectively runs from Wednesday through Sunday, it also means I can wrap everything up quite cleanly.
My goal for this winter is that these posts will go up on the equivalent of my Sunday night. Should that have to slip for some extenuating circumstance, then I still have a two day buffer until any new episodes of my selections air again. This should allow for a much steadier reader experience than my weekly episode posts may have seemed at times last season.
I hope the new year treats you well.
If anything, let us at least have some interesting and animated times.
Death Parade [Episode one]
In what has rapidly become near regulation material to mention in various Winter 2015, for a series about the existential and personal horrors of where one goes after they pass on, Death Parade sure has a fashionable introductory credits sequence.
The other would indeed be that this is the television series owing its creation to Death Billiards, the submission by Madhouse via Yuzuru Tachikawa and staff for the Anime Mirai 2013 project. A simple enough hook seemingly straight out of classic horror anthology works like The Twilight Zone, the short film featured two men who end up in a purgatorial bar after having died. By virtue of an offer they really can not refuse, they play a randomized bar game overseen by the professional staff on hand which will have a role in their eventual fate. Naturally, this rapidly escalate as the pressure of the situation and flashbacks to the past begins to eat away at basic civility while the game must go on.
Tachikawa returns to direct the television version with full support, as Madhouse as looked to spare no expense. While these broadcast episodes would not be able to match the raw levels capable by a single thirty minute episode worked on over months, even so it still packs in a lot of vibrant movement and a richly somber color palate with just hints of neon to back it all up. While I do not know if this series will have a rotating staff for its game cyling, this first episode does come not only directed by Tachikawa, but he also was running the screenplay and storyboard duties. This series is very much his baby, and with relatively few credits under his name this also make the series a great promotional vehicle for his career going forwards. If Madhouse was looking to see if they can get him in position as one of their up and coming notable auteurs, especially as Death Parade is the kind of series which can appeal to a wide audience outside of regular anime circles, he would be well served by taking every opportunity he can with this production to make it how he wants.
We return then to our mysterious purgatorial bar, and again we run into Decim. The white haired bartender who always gives correct rules to the games, but may not provide all of them unless one asks.
I say “we,” given our viewership of the affair, though in narrative form this is the story of Machiko and Takashi. Newlyweds who passed away due to a car crash, and now find themselves here. In this case our game is one of darts, counting down from 501 via seven throws in a very briefly used variant in professional play. I do not feel my going too far into the relationship of our couple is too warranted in this introductory write-up, as this is a series that very much plays on audience expectations and trying to mix them up in an effort to muddle who is right or wrong as revelations come out.
Especially for week one, you may not have even seen the episode yet.
Suffice it to say, it plays hard and fast, trying to crunch in as many swerves as it can while also operating as an episode to get us accustomed to the mechanics of our bar and how things operate down here.
There is as much plot going on as the Death Billiards short film had (though it is of course not the same story), but it has some fewer minutes to tell it in. I feel this is something the series will have a better time with going forwards though, as it may not need as long to show characters wandering around after getting of the elevator, having the request to play a game go on for as significant a duration, and so forth.
It is a packed episode, and stuffed at the seems in places, but it does not feel random or like it has wandering threads. Merely the tight fit a trying to be as effective as its predecessor at getting the same information across, but in slightly less time. But, with a television show length to ease out with, and the promises of a rotating anthology horror series palpable to a diverse audience (this would be my top pick of the season to show non-anime watching friends, for instance), I have high hopes for where Death Parade can go.
To tie things back around to that intro again, I am quite interested in how the large influx of wait staff will be handled. There are all types of potential veins there for alternative styles of observing the games or doling out the rule, which can provide great variables on top of whatever backgrounds of the players may be. I am sure we will get to see some of their back-stories or personalities well (Nona wistfully looking off towards distant ruins in the opening contrasted against scenes of here in sweeping ballroom gown attire would seem to suggest as much).
There is the big risk of it providing too much for the series to handle, as crammed as this episode already was. But, there looks to be a lot of passion and faith in this project, so if Yuzuru Tachikawa and his crew have introduced these professionals it is for far more than additional stage hands to feed the jellyfish aquariums.
Gundam Build Fighters Try [Episode thirteen]
Sekai makes a new friend, and Fumina is none too happy about that.
Well, friend is relative, in that our Reiji analogue does not even know the new girl’s name. Let alone his regular social obliviousness. This being said, it does allow for a lot of animated reaction faces from Fumina of all strokes.
This all being said, it would be nice if the series was not trying to float new girl Shia as some sort of serious additional romantic vector. Given their hair colors being identical to Reiji and Aila’s from season one, it would just sort of be strange on a design front given how much the series has tried to distance itself from the previous season in a way that allows the new characters to better stand on their own. On a more cast based front, there is still the unresolved matter of Gyanko and such. Fumina being flustered about a more childhood rival of hers having a crush on Sekai is a far more immediately compelling little conflict to dance around with, and I do not feel the series has managed to get as much mileage out of that as it otherwise could quite yet. That Shia seems to be a kind of emotionally colder character type with spurts of more poetic dialogue framing does not help matters much. Again, I think the natural contrast of Gyanko and Fumina would be all the series would need in this department, while Shia’s injection into that (especially potentially at the cost of Gyanko) feels a lot more artificial.
We do get to see Sekai make an attempt to rebuild his Build Burning Gundam in all this though, which is even a shock to his teammates. Things have been scraping by for him by virtue of either low battle system damage levels or potential off screen assistance from Yuuma (who still mentions he does not always see eye to eye with this teammate). So this is welcome, as for all of the Gunpla synergy the series wants to sell him as having, part of that should also come from being able to care for and fix up his model kit.
Otherwise he is just a boy whose does not care for the safety of his toys.
With said repairs and character shipping escapades out of the way however, we do have an impromptu training camp battle royale.
It is rather short, as these things go, as there was quite a lot else going on this episode. Its primary function though, for all the chaos, was to set up the rivalry between Wilfrid as the Gunpla Academy’s ace fighter and Sekai on the Try Fighters side of the equation. The type of battle where the veteran fighter rediscovers some of his passion for the sport through meeting a high level opponent who can challenge him, and the up and coming combatant is energized that they have what it takes to potentially become good enough to get more than a draw someday. A draw brought about, incidentally, through the fight between Wilfrid and Sekai shattering the moon, in turn causing a system crash state for the battle arena.
Damageable surroundings are of course a feature of the Gunpla Battle experience, as well as multilayered environments depending on the size of the arena selected. Though indeed, the system as we have ever seen it has never needed to process the aftermath of a moon level planetary body being destroyed. For as much as it is supposedto be a hypable moment of conflict, ideally we will see more and more multilevel arenas and environmental twists going forwards into the higher tier tournament bouts to come. There is a lot of quirks that can be explored there.
On a more character based level, Fumina thankfully does not spend the entire episode complaining and being and being middle school levels of angry and Sekai for talking for a different girl. She recognizes that she built the Winning Gundam to support her teammates, but as a result it was compromising on her own strengths as a competitor. This was my initial concern with the Winning Gundam back when it was introduced, that while Fumina may be the team leader the Gunpla in effect would have the risk of merely elevating the other two fighters. I am glad to see this has not only been brought up by the series, but that it has been identified as something she recognizes she needs to move beyond.
Not only for the better chances of the her team and their viability in the coming events, but also for herself.
Gundam Reconguista in G (Gundam: G no Reconguista) [Episode fifteen]
As with the inflatable decoys, an aspect of G-Reco I can say I like is that it utilizes things like large naval nets even in space to act either as camouflage and defense.
I do not feel it has much to say about them as items of war, or that the nets this episodes are even implemented in a way that makes them of dire importance to the plot. But, they are there are a brief, shining bright spot in what has been an experience in great need of as many as it can get.
Raraiya can still communicate in full sentences this week, after her sudden return to discourse last time around, and again it does not seek to provide much of an ample explanations for that. Which, despite my previous lengths to explain things like Tomino’s ideas regarding water and its psychology on people who have been in space for a long time, is disparaging. Given the flow of her transition from singular words or short phrases in repetition to full communication restoration, it very much comes across like an exposition box switch was hit.
These should be such good moments too, seeing Raraiya being able to talk in full with people she used to have such trouble getting across her ideas to. But none of that feels palpable in the delivery. Even when she is explaining this episode what was originally doing, and the larger notion of the G-Self being a reject of the Towasanga military forces, her information comes across in a very brutal and mechanical screenwriting way. Just churning it out to get it over with and move on to the next thing as fast as possible.
This episode does make passing mention of the batteries and energy situation again, which it one potential area it would have a lot to do with if it provided more time. Noredo brings up the issue that the batteries detonate when cracking open in an attempt to learn more about them and how their mechanisms operate. The tamper proof features have been raised previously, to be sure. But the energy distribution engine and how it affects the economies and power relationships of the major players (so the point of there being a Capital Tower based religion with a Vatican style state) would be something the series has in its back pocket.
And it chooses to do so little with.
As things stand now, if one parses things out enough, there are even three power factions amongst the Towasanga population that materials could be used for.
There is whatever government Towasanga has, which while officially in power may as well be less so than individual families and resulting objectives. There are the family divides, between the Dorette’s and what was being pushed on the Rayhunton side. Those who seemingly wanted to share the knowledge of how photon batteries work with the Earthnoids and those who deploy spies to Earth to ensure that they do not manage to figure out how the batteries operate so as to maintain the monopoly and reliance status quo.
And when I type that all out in such a way, things look rather solid!
There is enough justification there for a lot of political wheeling, and the associated conflicts both among each other and then also in the wide makeup of the Earth forces. But in practice this has never wrapped me up in compelling viewing because the show just speeds along to entirely separatic topics at every corner. There is little artistry or splendor in its delivery that strikes my emotional core. Even when I can chart out what families or groups are doing what, there is little else to connect to them with as people aside from where they would go in such a chart.
To give another example of what I mean, violations of the Taboo are again mentioned this week. This happens seemingly all the time, and so the exchange would be easily to have just roll off someone’s mind when it hits. But by this point in the show, if you stop and think about it: not a single time has someone ever exclaiming how an action is a violation of the technological taboo ever caused said person to even so much as temporarily reconsider their actions. Nevermind how it has never stopped anyone.
If we assume that people are complex beings, who have cultural and societal baggage which defines their perspectives, somewhere someone along the line should have given pause when being yelled at about taboo violations. If they were doing the right thing, or if whatever punishment (if there were any) would be worth the gains from breaking them. And there would be good character moments in that, and reasons to have different people be challenged on their ignoring the taboo. How alternative perspectives, points of life, societal positions, goals, all of that may play into what drives a person and the actions they are taking. It would be a rich tapestry to draw from, and completely expected within in the universe as well.
But that never happens. We only ever see input-output. Fast and beep-boop mechanical as can be, and nobody ever slows down to consider if what they are doing is right.
Going along with this, the word Newtype is raised this episode, and with that I had a great sigh. It can often be used as further handwaving get out of jail free narrative cards, given their capabilities in other Gundam series sometimes taken to rather incredible ends. With proper setup, I do not mind Newtypes in theory, and their abilities can be explored to interesting effect.
But I rarely feel G-Reco is interested in exploration, in the thing.
The Rolling Girls (Rolling☆Girls) [Episode one]
At this moment in time, Wit Studio has near every financial advantage a new animation studio could ever hope for.
Founded by Production I.G’s producer team and a subsidiary under the larger IG Port umbrella, they would be well connected to both the anime and manga industry. On top of that was a multi-million yen initial injection to get things going, and the further windfall smash megahit manga Attack on Titan was able to provide as their very first series. While it had some hiccups getting out the door each week, indicating significant growing pains, it never derailed the sales numbers. Wit’s next television series was then an adaptation of Hōzuki no Reitetsu, which has in its own way gone on to be one of the best selling titles of the year as well.
Rolling☆Girls, by contrast, is Wit’s very first original series. But, the expectation would be that they have gotten through their initial growth spurt, and with such resources and access under their belt (even taking over for a full episode of Yoshiyuki Tomino’s return to Gundam), that they would be in a swell position to make something of their very own. A statement of intent style series or otherwise.
True to that then, I feel it is more than fair to say Rolling☆Girls makes no apologies for its visual style and the flourish it aims to deliver it with. Bright colors from every aspect of the rainbow. Aggressive decals on the frames like they were run through a schoolyard sticker book. Lavish animation to bring seemingly anything and everything from gang rumbles to impromptu noodle eating contests to life through a rather backbreaking array of effort.
Considering that in anime series those responsible for drawing are (usually) paid by the cut rather than by how many individual pictures they make, there is quite a bit going on here. Not just on a raw visual level even at that point, but the notion the technical staff are enjoying being here and see this series as a playground. Which, given the visual mashups, I feel it quite warranted for them.
On the narrative front, for as much as this is a setup and establishment episode, I still feel things are murky on some fronts. Then again, this is a series which in the process of delivering its opening data dump on how and why Japan has splintered into prefectural territorial factions quite literally goes “but some stuff happened, and now they’re independant.” Somewhere in there we had catastrophic events, disappearing leadership, and so on, but I can be flexible for a time when a show is as top level about how it is obviously just fast forwarding to jump into the fray as quickly as possible.
It is a dangerous move, to be sure. But the series is called Rolling☆Girls, and there is a certain understandable move in it taking hard turns out of the gate.
Though it can just as easily backfire if it causes too much damage to the vehicle down the road.
On the higher end of the concept spectrum, there are the potential threads for territorial identities and expression.
The kinds of symbols and iconography some locales choose to adopt or promote (we are already seeing plenty of teapots, for instance). How the armed mob forces of different areas choose to operate, such as what we see here in Shigyou’s more upfront and directly aggressive approach compared to “Maccha Green” being willing to lay out faux giant robot gambits in advance to potentially spring and intimidate on-comers away. That also in addition to Green’s notion that they can discuss their peaceful coexistence while having tea under the clear blue sky.
And to be fair, this sort of thing interests me a lot, having a graduate degree in peace studies. Given, I do not expect this to be an academic exercise, by any means. I expect this to be a rather free wheeling experience, given the bombast and general loudness of the show. But, how it may choose to express the conflicts and their resolutions that follow in this post national downfall will be mechanically nifty to me nonetheless.
Our intro episode also tries to cram in the more personal intimacy of Nozomi looking up to her neighbor Masami (so also, Maccha Green in more way than one) and her joining up with the vigilante group. It is a tight fit, even if the series is also at this stage blitzing through world building level exposition to get to fight scenes. The show does need to shift into an entirely different gear mode for this sort of thing, going from heightened extravagance and visceral movement to quieter times and sharing. It is a tough balance, those personal times thrown in there with dynamic hard punches, noodle contests, and even tickling boss characters as a means of escaping their grasp.
I feel it is a bit rocky, and even quite a bit so depending on what one wants to slam it for. But, I feel there are intriguing studio things going on here that retain my attention.
Of interest to me on the production front is who is running the gang, as it were. Rolling☆Girls comes courtesy of Kotomi Deai directing the series (and who has only ever held that role before once, on Silver Spoon’s second season), so this will be quite an opportunity for them to go hog wild given what is at their disposal. Ideally she succeeds, be it either in eventual sales for the production or at least in whatever the final critical response may be, as we can always use more talented industry women being able to wield such oversight.
Also fascinating to me is how Yasuyuki Muto is commanding the screenplay. Their anime writing duties have included a wide array of pornographic content (Bible Black, Bible Black Origins, City of Sin, Body Transfer, and so on), as well as writing every episode of Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn. It is a fascinating array, especially given how arguably few titles Muto has written for relative to their time in the industry. Bible Black still remains “memorable” enough to many to still every so often crop up in conversation or references, so in that respect it at least at minimum left a mark, and at the same time Unicorn is one of the most celebrated Gundam titles in its modern arsenal.
To team up such a particular combination like Deai and Muto then, with what looks for now to be a very passionate array of animators with pie in the sky levels of morale, that will make this an intriguing watch week to week for me. However it turns out.
There is a whole lot jumbling around and strewn about the Rolling☆Girls garage room at the moment, and I hope it manages to sift through what parts it wants to play with.
Yatterman Night (Yoru no Yatterman)
I held such fear for this show, going in to it.
Among those I know who are versed well enough in their classic anime to hear “40th Anniversary of the Time Bokan series,” it was a common expression I heard from so many people who wanted to be hyped for this series. The idea of breaking out Yatterman again for a celebratory occasion was welcome, and even the idea of exploring a world and miseries of adventures following future descendants of the villain team, the Doronbo Gang. It would also mean a series starring Doronjo, the black spandex wearing and pipe smoking leading lady of the team. That would by all means be welcome and interesting.
Then we received word Yatterman Night would be starting a nine year old girl, and things went from potentially promising and interest among fans to as full blown an emergency stop mode as I have seen in quite some time. The expectations soured so much, with understandable cause. Given some trends in recent years, the potential would be very, very, real for this show to be positioned as some sort of hyper niche and extremely creepy piece of media. Content to sell a few copies to either the hardest of hardcore collectors, or something which in its worst ways could continue to feed whatever bleak engine promotes the sexualization of little girls.
I trust a lot of upcoming anime like I do my pension fund:
I do not expect it to back me up when I need it to.
Thankfully, the series chase to go down brighter paths.
Having so thoroughly expected this to be awful, and seeing such near universal considerations from others, the wave that grew over the likes of Twitter and such was a fascinating experience on premier day. That Yatterman Night was not disgusting, and pandering to some vile group. It was not terrible, nor average. That it was a strong showing.
As setup for a heroes and villains series, in execution so much of what the series aims for hits the exact notes it needs to. Leopard is our lead character, and while she lives in poverty in an agricultural area she loves reading. She reads all kinds of things, from a book about bugs she receives on her birthday (with the small indication a lot of strings had to be pulled to make that happen), to stories about the Yatterman. The heroes of old who managed to do so much good that they eventually managed to found an entire kingdom, which exists into Leopard’s present across the sea. And Leopard loves the Yatterman stories so much, that they were really amazing people and that she should be a good person to be more like them. Hero worship, as most of us would be familiar with in one way or another from our own media adventures.
Then things go from bad to worse, as Leopard mom is indicated from even the start of the episode when she is burying her husband that she is not doing well. While she weathers a lot and internalizes much, she does eventually collapse. And so Leopard, seeing few other options given the state of medical care available to them, decides to head out for Yatter Kingdom. That there would be a solution there, a place she considers earlier on that must be like heaven.
While the scenario is one where the viewer would expect the Yattermen to turn them away, the speed and scale of it is still striking. Immediate sea walls multiple feet thick rise up. Multiple shots from laser weapons, and even the first of which misses Leopard head by mere millimeters as a “warning” before a full magazine is pumped out at Leopard, her wooden boat, and the farmhands with her.
None may enter Yatter Kingdom without permission, they say. Leopard is, of course, a descendant of the Doronbo Gang. Hundreds of years have gone by, and even so that permission will never come.
The resolve then turns to one that heroes would never abandon people in need. Her heroes not only failed to meet what she had dreamed them to be, but actively crushed both her and in turn also her mother by defining hearing their pleas. The Yattermen, in turn, must be considered to have become corrupt and must be stopped.
It is a rather neat direction to take the series, as given the way things are framed Leopard does not know the whole story. She is of course just a little kid, so that is legitimate. Also though, we have this dual aspect of what used to be villainous roles heading out into the world to become heroes, and how in doing so they would still very much be seen as villains by their enemy. Likewise, we are working off of a similar toolset of the “what makes a terrorist” sort, given how this all plays out and the aspirations our leads now have to effectively overthrow a superpower.
As cheery, go-get-’em, and bam-whiz-pow of an intro credits sequence Yatterman Night has, especially by the end, it does also show Leopard (having donned the Doronjo costume) ordering metropolitan detonations.
How her world perspective develops, and the kinds of actions she decides to take as a result of her cause against the heroic kingdom she used to adore from a distance, look to be a lot more interesting than many of us ever saw coming.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.