Hello everyone! If you find yourself reading this page, you have stumbled across the very first post on my new blog. If you are surprised and/or inquisitive about this new venture, you need look no further than my About page.
I’ll take this opportune moment to be relevant and make my first post a rundown of my final thoughts on the past season, this time specifically regarding shows that started airing in Fall 2014 that ended in Winter (Like you didn’t guess that from the title!). You can expect more detailed coverage of the upcoming Spring 2015 anime season in future.
A solemn place to begin this blog for sure, but perhaps reading about my experiences can aid in collecting your own thoughts and saying farewell to your own beloved shows (and wringing your hands of the undesirables).
(Note: This post, due to its nature as thoughts upon full series completion, will contain spoilers.)
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April)
KimiUso was very likely my favourite show that was airing during last Fall, its first episode grabbed me with our main character, Kousei, trying to overcome his past piano-related traumas with the help of the eccentric violin-playing girl he meets, Kaori. Right from the get go when these two meet, KimiUso shows off its beautiful artwork, music and directorial flair, and shows for the first time how it can deliver on producing beautiful moments – which it then continues to do, delivering fantastic episode after fantastic episode for its entire first half.
The series, despite being adapted from manga, fully shows off the strengths of an audiovisual medium. It does so best in the concert scenes, which match beautiful music heart to heart with stunning, expressive and fluid animation, often taking things into a more metaphorical place beyond the stage and crowd, using powerful imagery, vivid art direction and colour work to further enhance the experience. It matches these concert scene visual highlights in the dramatic character turns and tragic realisations off-stage too, as we follow the lives of Kousei, Kaori and their friends, fellow musicians, tutors and families throughout the show.
However, KimiUso was not without its issues, some of which arose from its nature as an adaptation. As the show slowed down after the riveting first half, these problems (which looking back, had been present since inception) became more and more apparent to me with each passing week, often causing me to be frustrated with some of the directorial choices in the show, which caused non-sequitur comedy moments to constantly intrude and undercut dramatic moments at inappropriate times. Another big flaw was the messy, oft-repetitious writing style, which resulted in the series to dragging out character arcs and interpersonal conflicts too long, making me lose investment in them. One of the most egregious examples of this was the protracted, vaguely defined character turn by which Kousei eventually moved on from his mother’s death, in order to be able to play and excel at the piano again.
While the stretch immediately following the halfway point had reduced my opinion of the show a lot, the introduction of a new character, Nagi (who I’ll admit, I was initially wary of at first) kicked the show back into gear for the ending. Her own arc of struggling with the expectations placed upon a pianist who is the sibling of a talented older brother (Takeshi, one of Kousei’s rivals) was great in its own right, but Nagi was also extremely welcome in constantly questioning, and not putting up with Kousei’s future indecisions. This sets the stage for the final act, in which Kousei has to come to terms with reality, that the girl who was his light, Kaori, has a limited time to live.
From a viewer perspective, it is made apparent near the start of the series that from both Kaori’s attitude and behaviour, as well as more physical signs that she may not be long for this world. At the time of the finale we have reached a point where her life is in very real threat, and the series chooses to mirror events in an incredibly graceful, wordless fashion, tying the performance Kousei needs to perform to land his security in later life with his final farewell to the person whom he not only loves, but who has supported him thus far. To elaborate this, we are treated to a visual and musical tour de force that lets the piano, violin and character facial expressions do all the talking. This episode, probably my favourite one, serves as an outstanding capstone to the series and puts my prior issues with it in perspective, resulting in my overwhelmingly positive opinion of KimiUso.
Score: 8/10 – Great
Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu (Parasyte -the maxim-)
Kiseijuu, also known as Parasyte (That’s what I’ll be calling it from now on) first came to my attention as a hotly anticipated adaptation of a popular 80’s manga. Right from the start I was immediately convinced of its strong reputation, the series was enthralling. It managed to incite a tangible thriller vibe through a gore-heavy display of animation, kept the pace up with its purposeful script and was chock full of all sorts of clever touches and nuance to boot. The logical plotting, intense action scenes and well established viewpoints of our lead duo (Shinichi, and his parasite-overtaken sentient right arm, Migi) made Parasyte seem like a strong bet for one of the best titles of the year. In all honesty, during the initial episodes, the only problem ever seemed to be the occasional jarring choice of music in some scenes.
The early conflicts in the show kept the scale small, focusing solely on our protagonist and his internal struggles. Through run-ins with bullies (plus the occasional flesh-eating monster) and interactions with primary romantic interest Satomi, Parasyte organically fleshes out Shinichi’s hypocritical, self-righteous mindset and clashes it against Migi, the pragmatic alien who bares no shred of empathy, concerning itself entirely with self-preservation. These episodes also exhibited a facetious sense of humour, with Migi’s deadpan reactions to Shinichi’s awkward teenage shenanigans providing for an endearing on-screen duo while shedding light on underlying themes of puberty and coming of age.
From here, the story moved at a steady beat, continuing to develop Shinichi and Migi as their relationship (and Migi itself), evolved. With the death of Shinichi’s mother, and the introduction of the alien-turned-schoolteacher Tamiya Ryouko, who has used her host body to birth a human baby, Parasyte starts to bring its thoughts on human nature to the forefront, focusing on individual vs collective survival, using motherhood as a key motif. The series remained a compelling and thoughtful experience through its first half, and while I had small misgivings with how it handled the school massacre arc and Kana’s (a second romantic interest) infatuation with Shinichi and the way this lead to her death, the shows major issues sprung up in the second half.
The pace slowed to a crawl as Parasyte invested many weeks building up the looming threat of an enemy collective of parasites Tamiya was now part of, in addition to focusing on a detective she had hired to keep tabs on Shinichi. Not only were these episodes focusing on less inherently interesting base content, but the apparent drop in production values and lethargic directing (which never really improved through to the end) made these episodes an unmemorable slog to work through. We reached a momentary peak at the conclusion of this arc however, as Parasyte brought Tamiya’s substantial development to a head, tying many of its plot threads and ideas to a graceful close.
I would have been content with the tale ending here (as it was rapidly approaching outstaying its welcome), but we still have to deal with the final threat. The expansion of the conflict was less grand than expected, relegated to a rather mundane stakeout by the police, where my prior issue with the school massacre reared its ugly head in the very worst episode of the entire show. The ploy clumsily unravelled itself in an easily-avoidable slaughter, officers died left and right as everything that could go wrong did – this was not an inevitable tragedy, this was a coincidental series of unfortunate events, nigh-farcical. Parasyte then devolved into a shounen battler as the Big Bad, Gotou, revealed himself. In short, the series resolved itself in a weak place, in such a way where my lost goodwill with the show made me unable to take its final, frankly simplistic and outdated message seriously.
Score: 6/10 – Respectable
The original Gundam Build Fighters was a title that in all likelihood could have been an easy, uninspired cash-grab, capitalising on Japan’s craze with all things Mobile Suit Gundam and Gundam plastic model (Gunpla)-related, but the first season that started in 2013 became a widely beloved hit. It was enjoyable for Gundam vets who could catch all the references, and accessible enough for those completely new to the franchise to enjoy. Just a year after the start of its initial run (and just a few months after I had seen the first season for myself) it got a sequel: GBF Try.
I think the main thing that allowed the first season to rise above its call and charm its audience was its ability to go above and beyond, take the simple but ridiculous concept and drive it to the level of absurdity. It wasn’t just content with just the over-the-top battles though, it made sure to present us with an intriguing over-arching plot in addition to the more standard tournament format, creating a unique blend of sports shounen, fantasy elements and science-fiction that was populated by a dynamic cast of characters and even an endearingly adorable central romance.
Try is not only disappointing in the fact that it takes none of those ideas and tries to improve on them, or even that it doesn’t try do something completely different with them, it is because the series shows complacency. It was as if it didn’t feel the necessary charge to distinguish itself like the first season had to, and so pulled the bare minimum and applied a fresh coat of paint in an attempt to go through the motions again, without risking going the extra mile. The first way this reveals itself is in the new cast of characters, specifically Sekai and Yuuma, who look similar to the previous male leads Reiji and Sei respectively, but are fundamentally different people. Their personalities and shticks do mirror their predecessors, however Try relies on us already being invested in them because we liked the old characters, and doesn’t do the legwork in characterising them from the ground up.
The other biggest change was the switch to a 3v3 format, with Fumina to round out the main trio, acting as the leader of the team and bringing the cast together. The team battle concept initially felt fresh and interesting, working as an extension to the previous series’ having the teamwork come from Sei building, and Reiji piloting. However it became apparent that the Reiji-lookalike, in the form of Kamiki Sekai would take the spotlight, quickly side-lining the other two for the vast majority of the fights, often turning what would be a more tactical affair into a hot-blooded 1v1 thesis on the rejection of teamwork – and other people. The series displayed an equal lack of willingness to characterise the side-characters, romantic interests and rivals, treading the waters of Sekai being a harem lead, continually beating down paper-thin rivals one by one, further driving in his arrogant, obnoxious, one-dimensional beliefs. These events are what formed the majority of what I would call a repetitive, often boring to watch two-cour run.
Score: 4/10 – Tolerable
This season of Log Horizon started off on the wrong foot. Serving as a sequel to the first season that ended in somewhat of a cliffhanger six months prior, the first arc of this series acted as if the previous events hadn’t actually taken place and went about doing its own thing. This is a pet peeve of mine, and it was a struggle to take interest in the events occurring when I had been looking forward to questions being answered. This was coupled with this segment perhaps being the weakest stretch of the show, which choose to focus on the plight of Akatsuki. It was hard to enjoy because it felt like the series was relying on a greater deal of investment in her angst than I personally had in her as a character up to this point.
However, this arc set the tone for the rest of the character-driven season, tying the finale of Akatsuki’s development to Shiroe’s concurrent endeavours, giving us an interesting look into the world’s mechanics surrounding death and memories that were explained during season one, and introducing the overarching theme of this season. This was handled in clever fashion: by showing us what the characters were like, and how they looked back in the real world – and not in the most flattering light. These tugging questions surrounding the reasons our characters turned to video games in the first place, as well as their newfound resolve to find purpose in this strange world, where they previously had none, were brought to the forefront via the character of William Massachussets.
William’s heart-rending speech was not only in service of rallying his comrades for the plot-relevant raid battle, but a true moment of sincerity, the author speaking directly to the audience through a character and world-view he greatly empathises with, demonstrating the series’ acute understanding of gamer psychology and providing one side to a debate the series tackles later down the line. The counter-point was raised in the second half of the season, after Nureha returns, and the looming threat of Plant Hwyaden finally take centre stage. This was the climactic arc of the series that juggled many different goals exceptionally well. In addition to furthering the plot with ongoing friction between the Adventurers and the People of the Land, it facilitated wonderful character development and thematic exploration from the younger characters in the show.
The stand-out example of this was contrasting the philosophy of the in-reality wheelchair-bound Tohya, who has found happiness and friendship in Elder Tale, against the Odyssey Knights, a faction composed of Adventurers who engage in a suicidal combat style out of their desire to leave this world and return to the reality they had unwillingly left behind. The true tragedy for us viewers was being in knowledge of the fact that the behaviours of the Knights are only causing them to lose the treasured memories of their past. This idea is taken to conclusion in the finale, where Shiroe is confronted with a decision between getting one step closer to solving the mystery of escaping the game, or improving the world they currently inhabit by protecting the denizens of Elder Tale to avoid growing disillusionment and the threat of war. Not content with giving up on either world, Shiroe relies on the strength of his friend’s belief in him and together they overcome their enemy, resolving to take a third path: to connect both worlds.
Overall, while the 2nd Season of Log Horizon might have felt less consistent and often slower paced than its predecessor, it continued to deliver on the grand moments its known for while further endearing me to the cast, working with all prior material established in the first season to dig into the questions at the heart of its premise. It certainly wasn’t what I expected the show to be like going in, considering the more straightforward, plot-focused season one, but I can definitely say I thought it was just as good, if not better than the original.
Score: 7/10 – Good
At the time G-Reco was coming out, I was just getting into Gundam, so when I heard that franchise orginal creator Yoshiyuki Tomino was returning for the first time in over a decade to direct a new flagship Gundam series, I had to check it out. Tomino is certainly known for his peculiar style, however I was not a complete stranger to it, since I had seen the original Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy, yet right from minute one it was clear as day that G-Reco was something of an oddity. From the vibrant backgrounds to the CG to the character designs, it felt like a modern production, but combine that with direction techniques that feel right out of the 70’s and 80’s and it results in this weird blend you can only fully grasp from watching the damn thing.
I thought I would approach my G-Reco final thoughts in the same way I have done for the other shows I am covering, but upon sitting down to write this, the realization struck me. What was G-Reco even about? What happened in it? Why did those things happen? Who are the characters? Ask me any of these questions and you will receive only threadbare answers. To be blunt, in its twenty-six episode run, precious few events, plot-lines and character arcs were memorable enough for me to even discuss. Yet… here I am, I watched the whole thing: let’s try and comprehend why.
G-Reco is as frenetic, loose and spontaneous as its lead character Bellri, it’s almost impossible for the viewer to keep up with what is happening because of the fast pace, nothing is dwelt on for longer than will try your attention span and the dialogue the characters spout is just as disjointed (even nonsensical at times). This may all sound like a recipe for disaster, but the series managed to constantly hold my attention moment to moment. Whether that be through the awesome looking mech-design, the vivid fireworks-like battles, or simple, honest confusion about what on earth is going on with the convoluted plot, the show was purely an entertaining, pleasant and funny romp – well at least until I lost my patience with it.
This point came for me about three-quarters of the way through, as the series was pulling some big revelations out the bag (all of which would be unwise to clarify upon right now) and I realized that I couldn’t even begin to bring myself to care. From that point onwards, instead of being the varied and exciting experience I’d been having fun with, the show effectively became static noise to me, it felt like I was wasting my time. I kept going because there wasn’t that much more left to watch, and it continued to be its merry self right up until the finale where everything abruptly ended with bare minimum resolution. G-Reco truly closed out in the same way it began: totally inexplicably.
Score: 3/10 – Lacking
Shirobako is an anime which understands people. It understands their fears and anxieties, their hopes and dreams, it expresses this through the human struggles and joys that are experienced in everyday, adult working life. Every single aspect of Shirobako thoroughly demonstrates this understanding, and it manifests with the laudable compassion and support the series shows for people currently working in, or aspiring to enter the workplace. The show chooses to focus its lens specifically on anime production, which in itself makes for an intriguing watch that will appeal to fans of animation in a more esoteric way. However while I will later elaborate on why I think it’s essential viewing for us fans, I think the themes and character arcs within are so universal that the appeal of the show is far more wide reaching.
The way in which Shirobako blends comedy and drama is one of its greatest strengths and a key factor in why I find it so consistently engaging through every single episode. It likes to keep the humour fast paced and snappy, using it to take the edge off the often stressful trials the characters are faced with (which the audience must follow along with in kind) and it serves a dual function in furthering our understanding of the characters personalities. The show likes to play around within a heightened reality that naturally spawns forth from the minds of these tired, overworked adults – who by all means, are playful and jovial at heart, those who pursued a career in animation against all reason because it was their love and inspiration. This is not only shown through the Director’s extravagant rants and seemingly shared delusions, but also with Aoi’s conscience, manifested in the two dolls, Mimuji and Roro.
The drama Shirobako engages in is decidedly low-key, focusing on the more subdued apprehensions that come with entering society and working, not for career aspirations, but just to be able to eat and scrape a living. The show uses its five main protagonists, all working in different fields, to illuminate all the too-close-for-comfort truisms that arise when abundant creative talent and expedient pragmatism collide and compromises must be made. Ema doesn’t just need to worry about the quality of her drawings, but their need to be delivered in a timely fashion and with quantity. Misa has to make hard decisions between financial security and artistic fulfilment, and in the case of Zuka, sometimes it’s simply true that factors beyond your control can result in your hard work going unrewarded. The series doesn’t just stop here, what’s staggering is the economical nature in which the show humanises everyone, from Aoi’s sister who shows up for only a brief time, to lovable idiot Tarou (whose inability to do anything right is bewildering) all the way to the abrasive, difficult to work with Hiraoka who almost threw a wrench in the works. Shirobako’s character writing is incisive, the entire cast is intimately understandable, before I knew it, my investment in them was absolute.
I would readily recommend Shirobako to any anime fan. On top of its referential humour and use of characters and anime titles based on real life counterparts (which is always rewarding when one is able to recognise it) the show is able to give a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the shows we love watching came to be. The spread of useful production and technical knowledge is even through its twenty-four episode run, cleverly driving in necessary messages to fans while never being redundant or overly patronising, it has certainly expanded my outlook and perception of anime production greatly. Nevertheless, beyond educational value the series means a lot more than that to me, it is an utterly spectacular, magnificent title that appeals to me in all of its facets and is the latest entry to my all-time favourites. Shirobako is a marvel.
Score: 10/10 – Masterpiece
How did you enjoy my first post? I have been meaning to start a blog for a really long time but kept putting it off, with a lot of canned post ideas and other bits of writing left unfinished. This particular series of posts I have been working on for a few weeks and am pretty nervous about actually putting out there. I welcome any and all feedback in the comments section, or perhaps simply discussion of the titles I have talked about (please don’t hold back on decrying my awful taste!!). In regard to titles that do not appear here, I am only including shows that I have completed, other titles that I watched most of the first cour of but didn’t continue with like Garo and Akatsuki no Yona may get added (or posted separately) at another time, because I may go back to them in future due to what I have been hearing about them.
Goodbye for now, and please look forward to part two of this post coming shortly!