This Week: Selections!
Let’s de-ice the part of this site meant for currently airing series, now that the weather has cleared up.
Winter season was supposed to be a rather easy one, from a scheduling perspective.
Five shows, one airing a day from Wednesday through Sunday. Moments for writing or viewing could be adjusted with ease, as needs required. Plenty of time to fit it around other plans. Even ample open space before a new week would start, if I got behind.
What I did not plan for was the weather. One of the worst winters on record for my area. In turn, aspects relating to power failures and internet issues. Even more practical things built up, like far longer commutes than normal so as to be safe to and from work or other errands. All this made writing about weekly foreign animation topics a bit trickier. Eventually I put it on hold.
Writing about a production as it airs, rather than only giving opinions at its conclusion, is itself kind of an odd thing. There is the lack of having access to a complete picture. The entire set of armchair writing goals changes. How one then chooses to approach filling things in. Trying to envision how the pieces go together. Hopes and fears for the direction a series is taking. Even telling small stories that can be worthwhile for sharing why a particular moment may have succeeded or failed for me, which would not have fit as well in post-airing viewing. When any of that is genuine, it flows well and can make for some nice bits of writing. Even if a post-series episodic could be far more informative regarding the text itself.
And this is, at the end of the day, a hobby.
I assume readers are smart enough to catch on to when I would be faking my way through enthusiasm. Making hypotheticals I already know the answer to due to being weeks ahead in a given program.
So when I was quickly piling up multiple episode backlogs for airing Winter 2015 series after around the 1/3rd mark due to circumstances, I made a decision. Keep things enjoyable. Put the episodic writing on hold. Finish out the season. Pick it back up next time. It does mean airing episodics for Death Parade, Gundam Build Fighters Try, Gundam Reconguista in G, The Rolling Girls, and Yatterman Night will remain “unfinished” compared to other seasons and shows I have tried a hand at. But, I feel it was the right thing to do compared to the alternative of playing pretend in my writing and backdating posts despite having already seen the future.
Of course, one may also be aware I am also a little behind on the Mothballs posts, though those have been a bit easier to stay on top of. The posts I planned to make in that department will still go up (I’ve been keeping a list). I just may double up on posts there some weekends until those are caught up. So the same volume of that content will still arrive, which I think is a good goal to head into spring cleaning with on the site. Maybe that makes some of my category names more relevant than ever.
Looking ahead toward those Spring 2015 episodics themselves, I will be aiming to tackle the following:
- I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying: 2nd Thread (Danna ga Nani o Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken 2 Sure-me)
- Lupin III [assuming it is still coming out]
- My Love Story!! (Ore Monogatari!!)
- Rin-ne (Kyōkai no Rinne)
This post is a little delayed on account of some really wonky USA streaming announcements to chase down as I was sampling various premiers before settling on what I wanted to focus on. Rin-ne, for instance, will be releasing weekly after a four day delay from the Japanese broadcast, and at 3AM EST at that. In the future, these posts should be back to my goal of going up on the equivalent of my Sunday.
In the event Lupin III falls through, I will swap its space with something else yet to be determined, rather than leaving it empty.
I feel four show write-ups between the other writing I try to have on the site is a good, stable size to get back into the swing of things with. Summer 2015 already looms large and imposing in the distance.
As always, thank you very much for reading.
I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying: 2nd Thread (Danna ga Nani o Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken 2 Sure-me) [Episode one]
The first season of this short episode series I found notable enough that I included it in my Anime Admirers 2014 articles for some of my favorite anime of that year.
So, I decided it would be appropriate (if not expected) to do episodic reflections on this season season. If you have not seen the initial broadcast of I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying, Crunchyroll is streaming the series (region permitting), and episodes are three and a half minutes a pop. One can marathon the whole show in about forty-five minutes, if they want to get up to speed.
Going forwards, I may at times mention elements and events from that season without spoiler guards.
For our return trip to this little domestic world, we even have the pacing dialed back to the breakneck speed of how the first season started off. I feel the mileage one may get out of this may rightly vary. On the one hand, this keeps things comfortable, insofar that we have seen this routine before. Fast bits of comedy sketches. Smash cut to a transition screen with some kind of anime parody image. Right back into another bit, with some loose overarching connection for them all. Since we have seen the show do this before, I have no qualms with it returning to this method as its welcome back party. A strength I feel of the initial season was how over time the series did slow down, build up more complex episodes, and manage to get to its ending episodes far stronger than it ever started. If the team at Studio Seven are looking to recapture that progression model in whole, it would not be a bad plan at all.
I can understand if some folks wanted this to immediately build on the mood left before. But for now I am content with the show slapping us back in with the more aggressive pacing. I have enough trust things will ease up again. And maybe sooner than they did the first time, given the positive reception.
I enjoyed that first season, but the beginning is by all means my least favorite part about it. That season was smart enough to front load any of the jokes it had regarding Mayotama (Hajime’s brother and a Boy’s Love manga creator). Let’s say we get through the initial four episodes or so without him grinding things to a halt too much.
I think then this season has a strong chance of being in the clear for improving on what came before it.
A bit more specific to the episode itself, Kaoru’s flashbacks to her life before marriage remain striking in her portrayal.
She is not that much older in the present, granted. Kaoru is twenty-five now, and her flashbacks tend to go to highschool or the few years thereafter. It is the kind of age gap that, while there definitely would be physical differences, they could have ended up a lot less apparent. There is the immediate sight of seeing her with her natural darker hair color, which always creates a very defined visual break from the her of the present. But further than that the framing often, as it does in this episode, presents her as much smaller than the personalities around her. Kaoru’s sempai may well have been a more significant physical presence than herself. But Kaoru’s historical low self image is further amplified by things like being whole head heights or more smaller in size. We established last season that she has held on to a lot of depressing and toxic thoughts over the years. She continues to struggle with that in various ways into the present.
I enjoy seeing the little flashbacks to Kaoru’s younger self. Even when they are short (this one being literal seconds) they are at once two kinds of indicators. That she really has come quite a long way in just a few years. Even finding a husband she thought she would never have. At the same time, because of how close all these years of prior events still are, there is a whole lot of brokenness and confusion mixed up in her. Things not wholly swept out by her making enough new memories yet.
And tracking down a lost ramen place she used to visit in high school would be a part of that.
That there is a place that she remembers having swell food. But also at the same time a reminder of the after school conversations that she would be alone forever. Which could be reimprinted, by rediscovering it as an adult with the partner she never thought would be.
I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying: 2nd Thread (Danna ga Nani o Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken 2 Sure-me) [Episode two]
This episode has already slowed down its pace from our debut last time. So, for those looking for a return to what was more in the latter parts of the first season, there is plenty of hope. We may be getting there in good time.
Kaoru’s kick this time around are those relationship compatibility tests, after running into an older schoolmate who brings them up. In the course of conversation regarding her husband, our leading wife realizing she never looked into those things.
In keeping with the view of Kaoru as someone with a history of a lot of internal fears and concerns, and has been trying to patch that up to the best of her ability, I can more than see why see would dive into such research. There is the trepidation that she may have overlooked something. There is also the cold absoluteness of such compatibility quizzes, like the ones for blood type or astrology signs. If any of those tests had said she and her husband were compatible, it would have elated her. Wrongly or otherwise. Her train of thought would been understandable, based on what we have seen go on inside her head and how her character brain does things.
That she is flipping through books for these tests in her apartment living room I think is also telling, in a way. These were probably not around already. So she likely either bought them from a store, or borrowed them. She could have gone to any number of websites for this kind of thing. She would not need to go far. Even major internet portals like Yahoo! have all manner of astrology reports. We know they have ready internet access due to her husband’s hobbies and interests.
The inference is she prefers the assurance of a printed book. That it would make anything it said more real. To have something she could hold in her hands and tell her how the world was supposed to be.
Now, books told her everything regarding her relationship is supposedly in the wrong. Which the books give all the more weight too. She may have dismissed it all easier if it had indeed been just an internet page.
“I get nervous seeing something so certain.”
That Kaoru feels a need to head out to talk to someone to clear her head coincides well with what we already know about her. With the contrast that while she is all wrapped up in this, Hajime showing that he has the presence of mind to rush in from somewhere because he wants to get their drying laundry off the balcony because it is raining.
Things are better than Kaoru thinks they are. Which there is of course short comedy to be had in, to be sure. But I do like how the show is not framing her concerns as being just a joke either. This all fits within her larger arc and characterization. The she does keep second guessing herself. If she is making the right choices. Can she have this relationship. Will things work out.
Now, the conclusion to the first season (which was an in-universe joke, for purposes of having a finale) had Kaoru learning she was pregnant. It is easy to strike that as non-canonical. It was delivered as part of a series of meta-commentaries on media endings. Right down to the pregnancy meme that had been making the round on Twitter and such.
But the raw ideas of if she could have a child one day, were this relationship to hold? That would have very much crossed her mind at various points, and also be weighing on her. It would be yet another part of life she had conditioned herself for years that would never be in the cards for her.
My Love Story!! (Ore Monogatari!!) [Episode one]
Take one of the “brick faced, with a body of a house to match” style Big Dude’s one would run into via various classic high school delinquent or organized crime stories. Drop said towering muscle man as the center of a super shoujo romantic comedy and aesthetic. Soaring windswept cherry blossom petals and gratuitous sparkles at every turn. Anchor the leading man to a big guy with a heart of gold characterization. Not only to play with the comedy aspects of expectations versus reality. But to also crank that dial hard. That Takeo Gouda is a man who feels deep and powerful emotions. Distress, sadness, joy, or motivation as hard as he hits.
My Love Story!! is very much a story about a nice guy.
But without the shudder of creepiness that tends to be present in more Nice Guy oriented stories, if you follow.
On the anime front our introduction to Takeo is him sobbing with his junior high friends because of his graduation. A big, imposing, physical presence of a guy, trying to keep his strong face up in front of his buddies, while at the same time clearly breaking. And he cries hard to match his size and power. He also wants, as a last memory of the school, to be able to tell a girl he likes how he feels about her. Only for that to be shattered as he stumbles upon her confessing to someone else. His best friend since childhood and apartment complex neighbor Makoto. The resident handsome boy that one crush after another of Takeo’s has confessed to over the years. To be universally shot down by Makoto each and every time. So it has always gone. For the two of them, it is post-confession walk home from school that has occurred again and again over the years.
What I feel the first episode establishes well is this relationship.
Takeo is a giving, considerate, and passionate young man. He has a strong desire to help others, even if he does not always think through how his size and physique will be received. We see that reflected through his actions in the present. Trying to defend an elementary school from a prowler, or his push to stop a molester on a crowded train. He wishes to do good for others in the world because doing good is a right and just action. He has a perceptible complex due to years of unrequited crushes or others perceiving him in ways different from his intent due to his build. But he still aims to do good nonetheless. Because he believes in a fundamental goodness to be upheld as part of the human experience.
That while he has an inner voice of doubt and a depression streak, he aims to continue to try to do well by others and be a part of life.
Makoto’s side of the coin, for as much as he could have just been played as a simple pretty boy foil, also has selflessness though.
What Takeo has seen, time and again, is his best friend having so many options for girls. Yet never taking the effort to give them the time of day for dates or something more.
What he has never managed to put together though is his best friend has been looking out for him in this way.
Takeo has the physical strength to fight any threat to skin and blood. But, were his best friend to go out with a girl he liked, that is an entirely separate battlefield. It would hurt him. A lot.
Makoto could have been written as more flippant, condescending, or otherwise pegged into some kind of antagonist as traditional shoujo romantic lead role. It would have been an option at some planning stage, I am certain. But, he instead comes across as more considerate than Takeo gives him credit for. Which is, itself, understable because Takeo would have the perception baggage that comes with seeing folks one fancies ask someone else out. That you would in a heartbeat say yes, and here someone offered the opportunity on a silver platter seems to to just be pushing them all away. That there can be an emotional blinder there. Takeo not drinking in the full meaning of what his friend has been doing over the years. That Makoto knew so many times Takeo liked those girls a whole lot, and declined their advances.
Direction-wise, I enjoy the deployment of small emotive remarks that hover around characters after choice non-verbal cues. Things like sighs can be used to evoke all kinds of emotions one can try to read into, sure. But in such a positive love story like this it is important for us to get the right message with character intentions. So I welcome the little passing lines that popped up, for example, when Makoto knocked on Takeo’s door. That text faded in and out, telling us Makoto was physically saying it was open so he just let himself in. These are characters who have been around each other for years, and while there is certainly attempts in the body language department this kind of thing seeks to pinpoint the idea that they have built up a mutual understanding of each other over the years. Clean, direct, straight to the viewer, and gone from view just as fast as it arrived. The technique was used in a few other places in the episode, and I feel it struck a good balance to avoid veering into overuse. It never felt too cumbersome or repetitive. Just a bit of a bumper to help a non-verbal moment along here and there for added effect.
I focus so much on the friendship between the two primary young men, because in the weeks to come this is going to be tested a lot. Rinko’s appearance into their lives, with her liking Takeo after he rescues her, Makoto maybe fancying her, and Takeo all the while considering that he wants to do his best to get Rinko and Makoto together because he has already written himself off as an option, is going to create some new situations in that friendship. Testing in some ways, transformative in others.
And at the end of the day, there is a kind of love story in that as well.
Rin-ne (Kyōkai no Rinne) [Episode one]
Rumiko Takahashi is the most widely read woman creating comics in the global industry today.
The collected volumes of her various works are rapidly approaching a combined two hundred million units moved worldwide, counting from the late 1970’s into the present. Going along with this, anime adaptations of her works have also found great success, further entrenching her characters into the popular consciousness. She had had an incredible career to be proud of, to look back on, and to all the while remain in a powerful market position for decades.
Rin-ne very much feels like a work developed by someone with tens of thousands of pages of week-in-week-out inking and storytelling under their belt. For the good and ill that can entail.
On the one hand, the series is the exact kind of thing Takahashi has excelled in selling over the years. A core boy and girl set, with an angle that allows for a wide variety of new characters to be rotated in for often fantastical circumstances. Urusei Yatsura had the aliens and outer space approach via Lum’s connection to the stars. The more recent InuYasha had a historical-supernatural bent via Kagome ending up in the Sengoku period with a half-demon dog boy.
Rin-ne, for its part, goes more full bore on straight supernatural. Our scenario takes place in the modern day via regular high school girl Sakura Mamiya’s ability to see ghosts and similar apparitions. On the boy side, transfer student Rinne Rokudo is from the spirit world and works to lead (by investigation, force, or otherwise) souls trapped to the Earthly plane of existence back to the wheel of reincarnation. Everything fits a well worn mold. Easy access to being able to drag in any kind of lost soul story to keep the character carousel rolling along.
Safe and sturdy
On the glass half empty level though, Rin-ne is Takahashi’s bread and butter narrative to the point where I have seen various folks posit that this feels like it arrived out of order somehow.
A series that in a certain sense slots better into Takahashi’s career arc if it had come after Ranma ½ but before InuYasha. There is also the additional multiplier of how successful InuYasha was (it is her second best selling series). Where it could push itself with the time period angle and supernatural creatures. Rin-ne comes across with a Back To Basics flavor which has the result of feeling kind of stale. As if Rin-ne is reaching for and wants to recapture something simpler, while ignoring what came before.
But the author may well have already created the best version of this sort of long runner “Mostly normal Earth girl teams up with half-human supernatural boy” tale she had in her tank. Her previous work is already out of the bottle, and can not be corralled back in.
The anime production talent are in the position of needing to elevate this material more for it to succeed as television. On a general level, Brains Base as a studio would be a good house for that on paper. They are never juggling too many shows at once. In particular, they have heavy experience with multiple seasons of things like Natsume’s Book of Friends when it comes to animating creative spirits. Likewise, the series already has a defined run of twenty-five episodes scheduled, rather than being a floating point long runner. It will make balancing staff and objectives easier. Now that we have established the leads and general way they each act, the team has the ability to cherry pick select stories and arcs from the raw twenty four volumes of manga. Done well, this could all tighten up a lot. Series Composition duties are in Michiko Yokote’s hands here, bringing decades of experience on multiple blockbuster shows. Including work on multiple seasons of Ranma ½, so they have done the television song and dance with Takahashi’s material before.
Meanwhile, Seiki Sugawara has only held full directorship over one previous television series (D-Frag!). This does bring significant trepidation. But, it is also a big career step that can be taken advantage of. After all, even going way back to Urusei Yatsura, Mamoru Oshii had little to his name. But he fought hard to push the boundaries of the material. He made a name for himself in theaters and on the weekly television show, and Oshii has quite a filmography to look back on now.
It would be a good role model for Sugawara to keep in mind. Any given show could collapse without passion, sure. But, I feel it is especially apt here. For all the familiarity Takahashi’s stories can have as a positive factor, they also can become the fastest way folks may tune out unless the show can get some fires burning.
Rin-ne is teetering so much between potential heaven and hell that I suppose it is quite appropriate that at least for now the series ends up feeling as stuck in limbo as the spirits the leads are looking for.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.