I’m back! Blogging again just in time for the next anime season. As I’ve barely covered any of the shows from this season, I’ll be getting back into things with a fairly straightforward top three seasonal rankings. Nothing too fancy like what I did for the Spring Season, but I hope you enjoy it!
Anime of the Season: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime
When talking about one of the most consistent and polished shows of the season, rather than saying how well it does everything (which it does), it’s more interesting to just focus on the more uncommon aspects it is able to pull off, seemingly effortlessly. Akagami is a show that handles its central romantic relationship with such grace, tact and maturity, despite its target demographic, that it feels cut from a different cloth than most other teenage-oriented romance anime you’d commonly run across.
It feels more akin to the kind of live-action episodic dramas you’d find on prime-time TV. Each episode presents us with a self-contained, tightly-written scenario, compelling in its own right as a clever little mystery or political conflict in a fantasy setting, but even more noteworthy for very clearly and consciously going out of its way to address the evolving interpersonal dynamics between our main protagonists. It feels like the story is effectively “stress-testing” this newly budding couple by facing them with universal issues applicable to real-world scenarios, articulating them overcoming these struggles on the way to forming a fulfilling, balanced relationship.
This manifests in situations that challenge both parties while cautioning them as they tread on the thin line between co-dependency and dependence: Shirayuki finds herself constantly challenged by various people close to the prince, assuming his supposed naivete or compromised integrity, weary of whether this new red-haired female friend he has is progressing through the ranks due to his favour, or her own abilities. And Zen, the Prince himself, who must exercise restraint in his protective instincts, coming to terms with the inherent burden the power he has places on those around him, learning to give Shirayuki space, and allowing her agency to stand up to these problems with her own footing. More interestingly still, even within this classical fantasy setting, there exist clear parallels in these situations to the kind of nepotism that might be accused of employers in a modern workplace scenario.
Each beautifully composed episode, whether lighter in tone with more comedy, or heavier on the drama and laced with emotional intensity, serves its own reward: Ando Masahiro’s expert directorial hand shows equal deftness with handling both the dynamic action sequences and the more subtle dramatic touches, while Oshima Michiru’s absolutely transcendent score sells the grandeur and beauty of the setting. However, what makes the whole package come together by the end, is unquestionably the core relationship: when it comes time for both parties to awaken to their own explicit romantic interests in one another, it makes for an incredibly satisfying pay-off, as we’ve been witness to the rocky journey they’ve taken both together and separately, thus becoming invested in them not just as a cute couple, but as two individual people forming a cherishing bond. Akagami no Shirayuki-hime had an impeccable showing for sure, and technically-speaking, it’s not even over yet!
2nd Place: Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and Hold a Determination to Fist.
Behold that sub-title in all its glory. With that you’ll be able to get just an inch of a handle on what kind of show Symphogear is. Simply put, Symphogear is love. It is the rare, brave, lovable kind of story that wears its heart on its fist and punches subtlety to the curb. It is the breed of show that will violently reject what your common notions of “good writing” entail, and clobber you relentlessly, but earnestly, into an understanding of what it wants to tell you despite that.
That is because Symphogear seems to be accomplishing exactly what it set out to do. “Just” entertainment sounds like something one would dismissively label a show to discount it from being anything “more” than that. However, be assured that’s not what I’m saying here, there is a deliberate craft to entertainment, and Symphogear excels at the behind-the-scenes fundamentals. It comes across not as inept or incompetent, how could a show that can fly through its articulation of all these plot elements, character arcs, ideas and themes simultaneously with such momentum that each turn of the narrative segues seamlessly to the next without losing my engagement not be doing something right? When one derives humour, exhilaration and enjoyment from a beautifully choreographed action sequence, or a dramatic unfolding of the some insane plan a villain has cooked up, or even just good ol’ Kazanari Tsubasa declaring once more with conviction, that she is indeed a sword, that isn’t “ironic viewing”, that isn’t “so bad it’s good”, it’s instilling a positive reaction in my soul, and there could surely be nothing wrong, or bad, about that.
As someone who has watched not only Symphogear GX, but all three seasons of this epic saga within the recent months, just what can I tell a prospective viewer to prepare them for this series, which comes highly recommended from me? Characters will scream out their entire character arcs, eyes bleeding and voices wavering, when defeated, only to be powered up to stand and fight again by the power of friendship. Symbolism will be applied generously with all the deftness of a sledgehammer affixed to a ballistic missile. The villains will be so cartoonishly evil in their portrayal that watching them enact their foolishly exuberant plans is a kind of comedic farce in its own right. Plot elements will be so contrived as to instil immediate ridicule upon their abrupt reveal, piling up seemingly uncontrollably as each Symphogear season blazes through its lifeblood with madcap pacing. These are just a few of the attractions one can expect when experiencing Symphogear.
An operatic stage play with larger than life characters, larger than life stakes, and of-course larger than life musical-come-action-sequences, Symphogear is a writhing frenzy of passionate artistic expression through entertainment. Utterly unique even within such an esoteric medium as anime, Symphogear is a sight for your eyes to behold, a song to grace your ears.
3rd Place: Classroom☆Crisis
Classroom Crisis is a bit of an oddity, a very different show under the hood than what its surface impression and title might give a casual onlooker an impression of. Hiding, no, marketed under the guise of cute character designs and the titular classroom setting, we have a clever, business-minded, politically-charged romance-drama. Yeah, you did hear those words correctly. It goes without saying that beyond the crisis in the classroom, this show has one with its identity.
Praising the show for what it does requires me to temper it with an equal measure of criticism. Most, if not all the shows flaws come as a side-effect of what is seemingly a business-room compromise made to ensure the production of what is ostensibly quite a commercially-adverse framework for a show. Just like the in-universe Kirishina corporation with which Classroom Crisis uses to articulate the inevitable growing pains that large companies face as idealism and pragmatism clash, the show itself seems to be the product of such shrewd decisions too.
For every insightful truth the story manages to share on corporate techniques, ranging from media propaganda to political lobbying, it takes a step back with animeisms like beach episodes or sexual harassment non-jokes. For every fantastic, heart-warming character moment or romantic pay-off there comes a backwash of unnecessary, over-telegraphed thriller elements and general narrative pussyfooting. If the lovable, endearing, forward-thinking spirit at the core of Classroom Crisis is representative of the Shinamiya bloodline, let it be known that it could not have taken flight from the launch-pad without the provision of the Kiryu family’s bitter, cold-blooded, exterior chassis. Despite the faulty components, I contend that Classroom Crisis’ base concepts are inherently compelling, and competently executed enough to merit this being a show well worth looking out for.
The Fall anime season is already underway! I am planning far more extensive coverage this time around, so expect a new batch of First Impressions on the blog soonish.