Reflections on Summer, and Pick that Voice!! Part 2
October 9, 2016 2 Comments
Do you know what’s the worst thing about being in Japan as an anime fan? No access to Crunchyroll. As a couple of friends there keep pointing out, overseas fans—particularly those in the States—have no idea how good they have it. A lot of anime in Japan is shown at ungodly hours, and whether and when you get any particular show depends on where you live. Viewers outside of Tokyo often have to wait several more days before they can join in the discussion. Worse, if you miss the show and forget to record it, it’s arguably not as easy to find a streaming service to let you catch up. And of course, if you need subtitles, good luck to you! Japan may be king for character goods and special events, if you’re lucky enough to get tickets, but there are some serious downsides, too. And that’s why I didn’t finish most of these shows until I got home earlier this week. So let me take a look at my summer watchlist, which—putting aside the idols—was dominated by the mafia, teenagers discovering what they are living for, and a father and a daughter bonding over food. Getting them all out of the way just as we dive into what looks to be a brilliant fall season!
First up, let me look at 91 Days…which really should not be in this post. Whilst it did not reach the animation heights of summer’s leaders—let’s face it, NOTHING could have even reached for Mob Psycho 100—this show had more than enough style to pull off the tension encoded in its story. However, what carried 91 Days was definitely its writing. What could have been a standard mobster revenge story turned out to be a meticulously crafted character drama about two young men trying to make sense of lives dominated by violence. I also also incredibly impressed by how well it carried out the “show, don’t tell” adage—to the extent that some viewers were complaining that we didn’t get enough insight into, for example, Avilio’s bond with Corteo. As some bloggers demonstrated, however, a close reading of the show unearths spades of symbolism and minute details in character writing. That different viewers can reach different interpretations of what Nero did in the final episode speaks to how realistically the show depicted the complexities of the human psyche. 91 Days is definitely a show I want to watch over again, and one that I want to hear and read its creators speak of. Perhaps that will finally enable me to write something cohesive about all the emotions I felt upon watching those final episodes earlier this week.
I’m a bit ambivalent about this show, to be honest. I was actually pretty impressed with the animation, which had a lot of nuance. It’s not quite at Kyoto Animation’s level, but it’s clear that the staff wanted the characters to move as naturalistically as possible. There were a few panning stills, but for the most part, I remember most of the scenes having little idiosyncratic facial and bodily movements. I also quite like the compositing (aka ‘photography’, as some people call it—撮影 in Japanese), which added to that realistic atmosphere. Battery was never meant to be an eye-catching action flick, but I’d say that director Mochizuki Tomomi achieved the smoothness of animation that I seem to remember them wanting for Takumi’s pitching form.
In terms of the story and themes, I do not really agree with a lot of the viewers who lamented that novel writer Asano Atsuko should have focused on Seiha, or on the thread about hierarchy and hazing in Japanese school clubs. After a few hints in earlier episodes, Takumi’s character arc—about “learning how fun baseball is to play”—was specifically referenced in the dialogue in episode 4 when his grandfather asked the coach to teach him how to love it. And I think it’s a pretty interesting theme, one that is seldom the focus of all those sporting stories where the ultimate goal is to beat some stronger player or team, or achieve some dream or other. In Battery, the outcome of the key match ultimately did not matter; rather, it was the feelings that those boys had about it that did.
However, I’d also argue that Battery did a relatively poor job at getting its audience invested in that theme. The problem for me personally was the main character, Takumi, whom I found almost insufferable in his arrogance throughout the entire series. And I’m simply not convinced that he’d learned what was fun about baseball, about having rivals and wanting to go all out against them. It felt like the show told us that he had, rather than showing us the change—an unfortunate consequence of trying to squeeze six whole novels into just 11 episodes, perhaps. Nevertheless, I found the thread involving Mizugaki quite interesting, what with his jealousy over Kadowaki’s talent, which had overshadowed him at Yokote. Flicking through the first episode again also added more to Gou’s character arc, and I’ll be interested in seeing how both of these played out in Asano’s novels. It’ll have to wait until I’m done with my thesis, but Battery is definitely going onto my reading list.
|Food Wars! The Second Plate [Shokugeki no Sōma: Ni no Sara]
I have to admit that I was at first surprised at the pacing of this second season. Whilst S1 of Food Wars covered most of the first 60 chapters in 24 episodes, S2 blazed through 56 chapters in just over half that length! However, in some ways, the decision to speed up the pace worked in the anime’s favour for two reasons. First, the second half of the Autumn election actually dragged quite a bit, as such shōnen manga tournaments are prone to do. Personally, even though I was still dying to get to the Stagaire arc, I felt less bored than I’d been when I read the manga. And second, the payoff was wonderful. I think the faster pace probably played a part in it, but the anime drew very clear lines between the outcome of the election and Sōma’s second time challenging Shinomiya, linking the lesson he learned about his own cooking with the dish that he came up with for the new dish contest. As others have also pointed out, the snow drops in the ending theme and sequence also symbolise this very theme: rebirth. Of course, I loved hearing Youkyan and Noto Mamiko again, as Shinomiya and Hinako respectively. But the biggest success of this second season of Food Wars was definitely in how its staff built the story it told around this theme.
In contrast to the other serious youth drama this season, I’m not at all ambivalent about orange: thematically, it’s pointed and effective about depression and suicide. As we find out through Kakeru’s struggle, depression is a hole that people find incredibly difficult to overcome by themselves. They blame themselves for every negative incident, even if it is something they cannot help. They fear hurting others, and withdraw from them; they fear being laughed at, and hide their sadness. All of these only contribute to a downward spiral where they periodically contemplate suicide, and unexpected incidents can easily trigger them to take action on that thought. The only thing that the people around them can really do is to try to understand them and create little pockets of happiness that might just help them believe that life is worth living. orange, however, emphasises that hope might be generated by pushing for change, highlighting this theme through Naho’s words to Kakeru in the first episode, and some froggy symbolism in early episodes (the Japanese word for “frog” is a homonym of the word for “change”).1
What this story says about suicide rings true. I read up a little on suicide after someone I know lost her battle with depression, and what struck me the most is how the impulsive the decision to take one’s own life often is—that’s what people who survived suicide attempts related about their thought processes. I’ve also seen viewers here and there commenting that the show really reflected their own experiences struggling against all those negative feelings assaulting them. So I’m glad that it’s out there. I only wish that the production schedule had been handled better, as the wonky key animation was often distracting. There were moments of brilliance, especially in the earlier episodes…but that only added to how disappointing those flaws were, especially given some of the wonderful backgrounds that gave life to Matsumoto. Frankly, I’m incredibly curious as to what happened. But even if we never find out, I sincerely hope that they manage to make improvements for the film that was announced at series end…
|The Heroic Legend of Arslan: Dust Storm Dance [Arslan Senki: Fuujin Ranbu]|
Out of everything I saw last season, this was definitely the show I was most disappointed with. I thought that there was some decent animation in a couple of episodes, especially the first one. However, as the season wore on, the less said about the animation the better. I also did not enjoy how straightforward the plot was with regards to a certain character—it’s probably time I remembered that Arslan airs in the Sunday 5pm slot in Japan, which means that it’s targeted at kids, really. In other words, rather than watching the anime or even reading the manga, perhaps I should be planning to read Tanaka Yoshiki’s novels instead.
|Sweetness and Lightning [Amaama to Inazuma]|
But let me finish on a happier note. Sweetness and Lightning, the quiet little story about a father and daughter bonding over cooking in the wake of the mother’s death—with the help of some of the people around them—brought a spot of warmth into viewers’ lives every little week. Despite its simple nature, however, it was also clear that the staff behind the show were keen to bring the delightful Tsumugi to life. And boy did they succeed—she’s one of the most realistic animated children to have graced our screens, in a show that parents (especially fathers) should love. If you need a bit of a pickup after a rough day at work, but also want to marvel at a pretty darned good animated representation of people you might actually know, this could just be the show for you.
And now, Pick that Voice!!
orange PV — Hanazawa Kana
ReLIFE PV — Kimura Ryouhei
Amaama to Inazuma PV — Hayami Saori
Handa-kun PV — Hosoya Yoshimasa
Nejimaki Seirei Senki: Tenkyou no Alderamin PV — Taneda Risa
Mob Psycho 100 PV — Sakurai Takahiro
Pop in Q PV — Seto Asami
D.Gray-man 1 — Ohkawa Tohru
91 Days 1 — Ono Daisuke
91 Days 2 — Nakamura Yuuichi and Sakurai Takahiro
ReLIFE 1 — Sawashiro Miyuki
Amaama 5 — Seki Tomokazu
orange 7 — Noto Mamiko
your name — Hanazawa Kana (teacher)
orange 2 — Inoue Kikuko
Delta 18: KENN as one of the Windermere bridge/experiment staff
Sweetness and Lightning 7: Hayamin plays Yoshiko-chan, the main character in MagiGal.
And that’s how I fared over the last three months. Just one cour left – I’m currently at 23 unique voices, can I hit 30 this year?? Might be tough (^^;;
- orange was full of meaningful puns, actually. Kakeru’s name is another one, though I only realised this in the final episode when Naho wished that the next day would be exactly the same, within not a single thing missing (nani hitotsu kakeru mono ga nakereba, sore de ii). The verb kakeru (欠ける) means that something is missing… ↩