Musings and Reflections – Winter 2017 Week 12

Tales of Zestiria the X (2017) (Ep. 11) 

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    Well, you know you failed with your worldbuilding when in the penultimate episode you still have to introduce new concepts and charatcers. Am I really supposed to feel anything for the fox-guy? I don’t remember a single scene with him that would make me to. Or a single scene where he did anything worth noticing. Moving on, somehow I wouldn’t be so assured if someone told me “don’t worry, I have 5 invisible friends with me”. And why all of the mascot guys aren’t coming along? I understand that ordinary humans may not do much but as far as I remember mascots give some power boost, so?.. Anyway, the second half was way more enjoyable, with both the soundtrack and the animation showing what they can. It’ a bit sad that Rose is left only with an invisible hat – Dezel also had some pretty good trousers. Joking aside, the show hasn’t achieved much, but moments like these are certainly not the worst I’ve seen. What Zestiria also did was to pique my interest about the Berseria game. Probably not in the most straightforward way as I strongly disliked Berseria episodes in the first cour, but there’s history behind all of blunderings of Sorey’s gang, and that history seems a bit interesting so I guess Zestiria more or less achieved what it wanted after all.

Little Witch Academia (Ep. 11) 

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     Well, everything just became infinitely more interesting. At first, going back to the roots was a good idea – having Akko and Chariot nearby just asks to create situations for them to play off of each other. And that was good, but then finally the overarcing plot appeared out of nowhere. From the start it was clear that only with episodic fooling around you just can’t make a good and satisfying 2 cour show having such a premise as LWA has. I think there already was too much time spent on not that important stuff, but better late than never. And, on the other hand, it’s probably better if there will be less filler-ish material left to incorporate into the story. Speaking about the premise, it’s not that clear what are these words, what‘s their meaning and what’s exactly going on. Well, there’s lots of time left to elaborate that, and that’s ensuring. I’d say that eventually Akko will be able to collect all the seven words (how else) and that somehow will rekindle magic in the world, also making Akko somehow capable at it. The episode fully restored my excitement and I hope it won’t disappoint. By the way, the character designs didn’t look that consistent but let’s believe it’s only temporary.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (Ep. 11) 

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    The finale will have to be particularly spectacular to deserve such a buildup. Sure, sometimes it’s the journey that counts, and the journey through the districts was a diverse one, but inevitably it leads to the coup, and the coup should better be a good one. There are several things that still bother me about the show. First, how could Jean know about the cigarettes he got during his visits and that he should collect them and not to smoke them right away? Nino’s heroics somehow could’ve been more impactful, but even as it is, was it really the easiest way to shield Jean instead of tackling the assassins or just somehow distracting them? And the assassins look to be pretty unprofessional. The last thing is about Jean himself – even after all 11 episodes I’ve no idea who he actually is as a person. Yes, we see that he’s relaxed, he can do his job well, but is bored by it, he cares about Lotta and Nino, but that’s about it. We don’t know anything about his goals, thoughts, motivations, aspirations and just anything. And unless something changes next time Jean could be remembered only as a particularly dull protagonist. And by the way – was it only me, or the character designs weren’t holding up especially well? And character faces further away also weren’t the most impressive thing I’ve seen.

Kuzu no Honkai (Ep. 11)

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     Once again a beautiful episode about (most of times) ugly people. And in this context Kanai feels a bit wrong, being almost a perfect dude among all other broken individuals. Maybe it’s too much having a guy consciously marry an absolutely worst girl possible who by no means deserves such ending, but I guess everyone deserves to be saved. Especially since Akane has started changing due to her confusion about Kanai and attempts to decipher his motives and goals. Looking to the future, I doubt that Akane will be able to withstand her urges and boredom having a nice and most of times very predictable guy at her side, but only time will tell. As Akane herself stepped from her usual territory, Mugi was dismissed without any consideration about his opinion. Well, probably he himself knew that nothing good will come out of his relationship with Akane and he’s just unable to start any change in her. At least another unhealthy relationship is put to an end for good. And now the interesting part comes in since the final chapter of the manga hasn’t been released yet. Will Mugi end up with for now absent Hanabi? It looks likely though for all the reasons I’d prefer them not to hang up again.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Ep. 12) 

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    Where do I begin? Well, the show’s phenomenal and you have to think hard to come up with any criticism that would undermine the emotional value of all this journey. Seeing characters age and start behaving less youthfully and more wisely (in Yotaro’s and Konatsu’s case) as well as others grown up with some clear influences from the past or just inherited traits is very bittersweet. You understand that time flows whether you want it or not, people change for better or worse, but everything moves and rakugo through the love of its performers and fans is alive and will be ok. Well, I’m just speechless how incredible the journey was, from Yakumo the 8th playing around as a kid to the introduction of oh-so-lively ex-prisoner Yotaro to the same Yotaro (although a bit fatter) giving advice to his own son and apprentice. It’s heartwarming and almost tear-jerking that Yotaro has grown so much to be able to tell Shinigami not that much worse than Yakumo himself. On a side note, I’d vote Matsuda for the president no matter the circumstances. He’s the real MVP period.

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Musings and Reflections – Winter 2017 Week 11

Tales of Zestiria the X (2017) (Ep. 10) 

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    So far knowing what happens in the game hasn’t been that important a thing in order to understand the show, but after this episode I feel like having missed a couple of episodes. What’s with that fox-like guy? Is he a seraph? What are his powers exactly? What’s his allegiance, what is he trying to accomplish randomly attacking malevolence ghosts and why? Also, why should I care about him? Pretty much the same applies to the loli whose not that respectable past doesn’t bother the party (though it really should have) so she is let go freely around. It’s not even surprising that she becomes a dragon. But what’s the point in having her as a character in the first place? She as well as the fox-guy doesn’t add anything special to the story. Not that the story itself is flawless. Bringing ingredients to make a dessert in a journey to save the world is a genial idea. Also, just recently Sorey had to focus his all might and get some help from Alisha and Shirayuki to fight one dragon, but now getting through a multitude of these beasts looks like a piece of cake. Not to mention that the armatization that looked impossible a few moments before by the power of the plot worked perfectly when the right moment came. It’s almost weird that most of the dragons don’t have the slightest interest in the group. And oddly enough such amounts  of malevolence should stink as hell, but somehow the plot again saves the day. The Big Bad Villain so far appears to be especially big and especially bad in order to be able to bring the end to the world, but does anybody doubt the power of friendship?

Little Witch Academia (Ep. 10) 

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    A pretty low-key episode and I can’t say I liked it very much. The references were amusing – Daicon and 1984 were added to the already huge pile of stuff that Trigger has embedded into LWA. The faces that the stung people saw somehow reminded me of “Yaranaika?” material. Otherwise I can’t say there was much worth noting. LWA just pumps side stories without much meaning and leaves every opportunity to move on behind. And it’s not that this side story was amazing. Yes, pretty magical, but knowing the premise you could have easily described the episode without many mistakes. And that’s a bit worrisome. The original LWA never ceased to give some unexpected action scene and to drive the plot forward by all means possible. Now it’s understandable that the resources are more limited, but that just makes LWA just another childish slice of life show with too much Disney motives. Probably 2 cours for such a show is too much. By the way, no one even after half a year break could play the piano as if nothing happened. Not to mention that in the first shot of the piano its black keys were painted quite terribly.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (Ep. 10) 

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    Everything is still brewing. As more or less, expected, Lilium is shown to behave the way he does not because of some patriotic feelings but because of some profit for his family. And at least for now even Mauve has agreed not to oppose the coup. It’s actually interesting how people with at first sight unbreakable principles are able to shift their beliefs if they think it’s for the greater good. I wonder if the prince is that stubborn so nobody even considers talking to him and trying to ascertain Acca’s survival. Behind his apparent foolishness he actually seems like a person with at least a minimal amount of brain, but how that brain works so far is a mystery. Another mystery is Jean’s attitude to the whole coup. He just listens to all the people, but I doubt he showed some emotion even once. It occurred to me how it’s a bit weird that only when Mauve told Jean about his lineage the district chiefs began talking openly about the coup and Jean’s place in it. Does the news really spread so evenly in terms of time and space?

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (Ep. 10)

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    That as pretty ok. During this season the most enjoyable part of KonoSuba for me was its animation, and this episode certainly didn’t lack highlights. I can’t say that the color scheme used for the fights was to my liking, but the sakuga parts stood out from the rest of the episodes. Speaking about the story, it was the usual treat – the group does something stupid, then amends that but ultimately ends up in the square one. And that means practically no development for anyone, just reiteration of previous material. Well, the characters interacting with each other might be fun sometimes, but as the final episode this one was almost no different from any other, and that’s not what I call a satisfying ending. Getting home from the resort felt nice enough, but that’s about it. Even the first season provided some kind of a climax (even if it itself came almost out of nowhere), but this time stakes awere particularly low. What’s the point in getting invested in the fighting if Aqua can revive anyone? As I’m not that fond of the comedy of the show it’s no surprise that it turned out to be pretty disappointing.

Kuzu no Honkai (Ep. 10)

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    More insights into Akane and Mugi. It looks like out of all of the characters Akane is the one unable and not wanting to move on from her present situation though her belief that she’s alright with that is slowly breaking. Akane until now hasn’t found anyone who would try to reach beyond her mask and because of that Kanai’s attitude is seriously baffling her. I think that after all Akane is just a normal person like everyone striving to find that special someone, though she may not be aware of that herself as she wasn’t able to let Kanai go. If she really wants to escape from her present life Kanai is probably her only choice. Mugi may also be an answer, but he isn’t that different from anyone else – he enjoys being with the mask and not the actual person. On the other hand, Mugi also wants to form a long lasting relationship with Akane in that way saving her from her usual behavior, but actually he’s happy to be with Akane as she is right now, without encouraging her to become a better person. By the way, in the context of all of the characters, Moka, Ecchan and especially Hanabi look like they have already finished the race through the maze and should be more or less happy with the way they escaped their unhealthy relationships.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Ep. 11) 

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    The episode turned out to be a weird one and I feel rather conflicted about it. The spirit of usual Rakugo certainly was there and as all of the characters seem to have come into terms with their deaths and previous life choices, the interactions were very warm, genuine and full of wisdom. On the other hand, in earlier episodes showing all the Shinigami stuff and the spirit of Sukeroku was framed as a mind trick of Yakumo, and that worked really well. Now we’re told that it was real, and that for me isn’t completely satisfying. Rakugo always has been a show deeply grounded into reality, and during all this episode I was waiting for Yakumo to wake up but of course it didn’t happen. Yes, it could be thought that everything we saw were just some last hallucinations by Yakumo, but to show it as a real thing just didn’t feel very characteristic for the show. Rakugo’s strength lies in the fact that in the real life there are cases when there’s no longer a chance to apologize or just simply speak with a certain person who has died. Sure, the romanticized story may do that but it’s just not consistent with everything the show has been trying to do for both of the seasons.

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 22) 

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     All is well and good as the second season has been announced but even after that I can’t be very happy as this one didn’t tie all the loose ends. I’ll probably watch the next season some time later but not as it airs, as I’m quite full of this show. Rei certainly has grown a lot, and the second part of the episode clearly confirmed that. Making him join the club also was a nice idea also pushing him onward. Actually this might as well be the end of the story if there wouldn’t be other subplots that were left just hanging. Soya was just introduced like a goal somewhere in the future, the sisters are just there and I could deal with that, but the really unsatisfying part is with Kyouko. Of course everything will be covered later on, but if you find time to adapt almost every manga chapter with all the things that doesn’t translate into anime that well and don’t shy away from all the unexpected mood changes that happened countless times you’d better find some time to make at least a partial closure for one of the more interesting characters of the show. Oh well. At least the soundtrack was as good as ever.

Musings and Reflections – Winter 2017 Week 10

Tales of Zestiria the X (2017) (Ep. 9) 

     Is it even possible to have a JRPG without stakes being as high as the existence of the whole world being in danger? The episode felt stretched out a bit too much with all of the preparations for the final battle. Yes, these pseudo-developments are kinda necessary but it lead to a pretty boring and by no means satisfying result. There are also some nitpicks, as usual. If the whole population is so happy with Alisha, why did no one protest against the machinations of Baltrow? I’m not even talking about all the soldiers who didn’t even question his orders. Everyone seems ok when a just ascended queen with no heir goes on a journey to nobody-knows-where to do nobody-knows-what-exactly with apparently not the highest probability of survival. What the hell is that loli antagonist thinking and doing? At first she promoted the ending of the world but did she now finally understood that with the world ending she will also cease to be? Or does it work in a different kind of way? Also, it’s not that plausible for everyone (even from opposing factions) to unify against a common enemy that isn’t a direct and easily observable threat. The sad truth is that everybody minds their own business without much concern about the bigger picture if it doesn’t directly affect them. Probably the only really enjoyable moments were delivered by showing the context of the character interactions in the previous ED.

Little Witch Academia (Ep. 9) 

    Probably the best LWA can offer – a sweet and quirky story, tying in some supporting characters and just overflowing with kindness and harmless fun. Of course there are some family friendly conveniences also balancing on the verge of being too childish – if reviving the dead would be that easy even in the world of witches, I doubt there would be so few cases of that. Still, the set up played out pretty nicely. Akko and Lotte displayed their wits covering for their misdeed, which gave some quite good comedic moments, Sucy as always contrasted with it using her deadpan attitude. Mr. Skeleton managed to be very lively and entertaining without becoming annoying, and his relation with the headmistress, while not unexpected after the first shot of the picture, was somehow satisfying. The appearance of the shopkeeper added a touch of world-building and confirmed that the show remembers its locations and past events. As spectacular as the last episode was, I prefer little stories like this one – not the most complicated, but having enough heart and wit to play with its elements and provide a more or less worthy addition to the show.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (Ep. 9) 

    During several latest episodes I finally found myself really enjoying Acca. The first half and so prolonged wandering in the dark with apparently nothing happening and only little glimpses of more serious stuff was probably too much. Now, when the story started rolling and everything comes together it’s really entertaining to see what the outcome will be. The first princess is revealed also to be a player, and a powerful one. It feels a bit like cheating since she appeared only recently. The appearance of Jean’s boss at the right moment to save Lotta felt a bit forced, but apart from that everything went really smoothly. I’m not sure about my stance towards that guy infatuated by Lotta. Now he seems to be a decent dude, but at the very start he behaved like a jerk and I haven’t forgotten that. Another quite interesting development was the reveal about the relationship between Grossular and Lilium and the machinations about the coup. For some time Lilium has started looking a bit dangerous, but now, as he’s willing and capable of controlling his other 4 colleagues, we might expect something interesting of him. Mauve, even if absent this time also may throw some cards on the table, and let’s not forget Jean himself. So yeah, a very intriguing mess awaits.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (Ep. 9)

     I’d lie if I said that the episode didn’t feel too long and unimportant. If the characters don’t like the place at all, why don’t they just leave? Anyway, let’s talk a bit about Aqua. For me it was surprising that she managed to offer some actually reasonable advice for once and the fact that she cares for her followers. On the other hand, she’s nothing but annoying so every time her designs turn into dust I find myself a bit satisfied. I don’t even know if everything useful she had done counterweights her misdeeds. Because of that I find it hard to understand why on earth does Kazuma keep Aqua in the party. Pretty much anyone could be more useful than Aqua, and her constant whining would bother someone else. Well, Kazuma himself isn’t that better and even if he occasionally remembers having some brain, his inability to be a decent person doesn’t make him very relatable. Of course, this mix of extremely flawed characters provides some nice scenes with priceless facial expressions, but overall enjoyability for me isn’t that high. Also, if I’m not mistaken, this time the appearance of the characters wasn’t the most consistent.

Kuzu no Honkai (Ep. 9)

     As this was the ending of the relationship between Hanabi and Ecchan, I might have expected something more climactic, but on the other hand the unhealthy relationship ended in a healthy way, so that’s something. The unexpected appearance of Ecchan’s cousin in the summer house gave Ecchan a push to finally end things with Hanabi, but even then the cousin serves little purpose in the story and isn’t an absolutely necessary addition. Knowing Ecchan’s stubbornness it’s not very likely that she would’ve been able to stop only by herself, but I think eventually with some help from Hanabi the girls would’ve sorted things through. Anyway, as it was obvious from the start, where love interferes, friendship has little place, but it’s heartwarming to see the girls understand that they are needed by each other, and not necessarily as lovers. Especially Hanabi’s resolve to reach out for Ecchan and not close the door for ever, as painful as it might be, confirms that even after all of her probably not the best choices she’s just a human being who’s trying to be a good person. Now Hanabi is mostly free from anything that would threaten to drag her down and the idea that it’s possible to live without being in a close relationship for a time occurred and hopefully will let her heal her lingering pain. Mugi isn’t as lucky – Akane has a firm grasp around his neck and until anything changes that bodes no good for him.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Ep. 10) 

    And that was something. Rakugo now has a free pass to stand among my favorite and highest ranked anime such as Mononoke, Mushishi, Monster or Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki. Everything one could expect from a good episode was there – perfect slice of life, heartwarming character interactions, clear hints for drama in the future – you name it. From the very start the idea of rakugo’s undying spirit was carried out very nicely – Yakumo selfishly burned the theater but he probably doesn’t even know how much rakugo means to other people who have it as their support in life. Also, even without a theater Yotaro is able to perform on radio, others also don’t let themselves to be stopped by this misfortune. Konatsu and Yotaro are officially as near a perfect family as possible, embracing their differences and wholeheartedly caring about each other. Yakumo after all the stuff quite unexpectedly looks to have come into terms with his situation as a frail old man with difficult relationships. It’s very sad knowing all the truth to watch him tell Konatsu that probably the best thing he has done for her has been only cutting her hair. Still the empathy doesn’t keep them from reconciling and Yakumo’s even more unexpected agreement to make Konatsu his apprentice is a wonderful moment indeed, though the other world is coming for Yakumo as close as it has never been. By the way, in the last shot of the OP the candle that previously had been usually blown out now is relit.

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 21) 

      It feels like anything but a penultimate episode when you need to seriously consider tying all the loose ends that are still tangling after both of the seasons. There surely are some nice moments, but unless there’s another season upcoming the way everything’s going doesn’t make much sense. At least Shimada’s arc was completed, and quite well. Actually, Shimada just might be the most lovable guy in the whole show, with his insecurities but also a strong drive to improve and help his friends and supporters in any way possible. Human shogi idea also is a nice one. Of course I know about huge chess tournaments, but going as far as playing in full costumes definitely makes an impression and a pretty sight. Still, the show doesn’t let any opportunity to insert some unimportant stuff get away. I understand that slice of life might work as a good characteristic but during both cours the sisters have experienced surprisingly little developments, generally just staying behind and supporting Rei when he need that. In this light a segment of discussing a new sweet formula doesn’t stray away from the usual fare but does it really have to happen so close to the ending? There’re so many stories to provide at least decent conclusions, so I don’t find the leisure with which the show chose to go on at this point very acceptable.

Scattered Thoughts – expanded universes of original anime shorts

     There have been many instances when a manga receives an OVA and only then (if everything goes well) is promoted to a full TV series, just like, say, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu or Mirai Nikki. To decide whether the source material is worthy of a longer adaptation in this case is rather easy since the story is already there. With original productions it’s a bit complicated because no one can really tell how everything will turn out to be and much more faith must be placed upon the creators. Nonetheless, some OVAs or shorts are lucky enough to become expanded. But then a question arises – is the new version able to deliver as well as the original did? Let’s take a look at some anime shorts (or OVAs) getting reworked into something bigger.

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     Death Billiards and its successor Death Parade might be the most well-known and widely appreciated case of the expansion of an OVA. As every year, in 2013 “Young Animator Training Project” funded 4 half an hour anime OVAs and as one of the participants, Madhouse gave the reins to Yuzuru Tachikawa, who before that had directed one episode of Steins;Gate, but later on contributed to various shows such as Kill la Kill, Shingeki no Kyojin, Zankyou no Terror, and, probably most importantly, was the director of Mob Psycho 100. The guy clearly has some talent, and it clearly shows in Death Billiards. The story follows a bartender and his assistant in a bar where people, usually paired, come after their deaths. Two of newcomers, still not knowing that they have already passed away, must play a game (this time, of course, billiards), which makes them remember their pasts and seriously compete against each other, because after the game both are judged by the bartender and directed to their appropriate afterlives. To see how people act when the stakes are incredibly high is always an interesting thing, and the OVA pushed the two participants to their extremes. The ending concerning the outcome of the game was left rather ambiguous, and that also remained an aspect of the TV anime that came 2 years later.

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     Death Parade chose to tell more episodic stories and most of times (excluding episode 6 that stood out like a sore thumb) they were as interesting, or even more complicated and powerful, as the bartender may not always make the right decision. Later on the story became focused on the bartender’s assistant, and it also worked out pretty well. Another huge positive was the OP “Flyers” by BRADIO that instantly became fan favorite. Even if at that time the old Madhouse was no more with MAPPA having already formed, the anime showed that the studio is still capable of amassing some great staff to make something beautiful. Everything wasn’t as rosy, though. The episode 6 felt incredibly out of tune compared to the rest of the series, other quirky and interesting colleagues of the bartender were introduced, but that lead nowhere. Next to the usual stories, there constantly was an undercurrent of something happening that might become even more enamoring compared to the stories of the attendants of the bar, but… I don’t know, maybe the creators were aiming to get a second season, but that plotline even at the very end felt nowhere near completed. Anyway, Death Parade still is an incredibly entertaining show, more times than not successfully trying to unravel human psychology when a person is at an extreme situation.

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     Little Witch Academia is another good example of a limited project that later on become something far huger. I have written a bit about the first OVA (and something about its the characters) that was also funded by the same “Young Animator Training Project” and also during the same year as Death Billiards. Some time later Trigger followed it with a longer film crowdfunded using Kickstarter, and finally now the TV anime is airing, even though its availability isn’t something to cheer about. It may not be the best idea to judge a show whose not even a third of all the episodes have already aired, but as we have almost passed that mark, there are some tendencies of the TV anime differing from the original project.

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     As the story of Death Billiards could be slipped somewhere between the episodes of Death Parade, TV LWA chose to completely reboot everything right from the start. There aren’t any huge changes, the characters and their motivations are the same, and some scenes are almost identical, albeit a bit differently shot or just expanded. There doesn’t seem to be any big problems with the show, but also I can’t say that it’s the most fantastic anime of all time. Sure, especially at the start there were scenes that only Trigger could do with all of their enthusiasm and skill, but essentially TV LWA is aiming to be more of a slice of life show. There’s nothing bad with it, only the original LWA was done in a way that it’s almost impossible to surpass it – fast pacing, lots of stuff to tell, simple but engaging storytelling and top-tier animation was certainly an achievement to look at with awe. The TV anime inevitably is more relaxed, having to spread the resources through all of the 25 (I’m still not sure if it’s a good idea) episodes, delving more into the inner worlds of the characters and just doing stuff rather than offering all-out action or a tight-knit story with clear objectives. It’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s charming, but sadly not really reaching the heights of the original LWA. So far.

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     The recent Ryuu no Haisha came into being from a completely different origin – a collection of unconnected and very diverse anime shorts known as Nihon Animator Mihonichi, probably best known for the episode 3 ME!ME!ME!. As the main person behind the series was Hideaki Anno with his studio Khara, it was inevitable that many of the shorts had at least partial ties with NGE. Nevertheless, the first episode didn’t start this trend and delivered quite a confusing story under a name Ryuu no Haisha. As with many other shorts, this one makes an impression that there definitely is a greater story thought out behind not even a 10 minute running length, but the format limited any more prominent developments. After all, the goal of the series is to showcase the abilities of different directors and animators, and because of that some of the shorts don’t even have a plot to begin with. Ryuu no Haisha certainly does, its director Kazuya Tsurumaki having been heavily involved with NGE reboots, KareKano and FLCL, not to mention that Hideaki Anno himself is also on board.

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     How did the expansion to one and a half hour length work? Well, for starters everything started making sense, as the story of the short was nicely incorporated into the new material. The short only glanced over a story of a girl who became a dragon dentist (as weird as it sounds) without providing any further explanations. But now there’s a lot of new material, but even as long as it is, Ryuu no Haisha would benefit from even more elaborations about the world and how everything works. The dragon (and of course the strange abilities of its teeth) itself remains a mystery – is it a living creature of flesh and bone, does it have some spiritual significance? The dragon’s body due to CG looks like it’s covered with carved metal, so even a hypothesis of a (partly) cyborgic nature of a dragon may not be as far off a target as it may seem at first. Speaking about the visuals, the character designs were upgraded to look more contemporary though the previous ruff look also wasn’t that bad. Ryuu no Haisha features lots of CG, and especially in the first episode it was handled very well – the mushi (definitely a reference to Mushishi) who harm the teeth look very surreal (as they should) and detailed, but as the second episode has many moving mechanical things such as planes and stuff, CG becomes more apparent, but certainly not as bad as, say, some recent shows about shaking hands. It’s probably no mystery that some scenes made me remember none other than End of Eva as well as ME!ME!ME!. Everything sounds very good, and most of time it really is, but nonetheless I think that the deeper themes were only touched but not explored as well as they could have been, the mechanics of the teeth doing strange things weren’t even glanced at as if it’s a natural thing (and in that world it may be so, but the viewers don’t think that way, though on the other hand no explanation might be a better choice compared to a bad one). Both of the villains fulfill their duties but doesn’t come close to being truly great. Especially the first one and her motivations left me scratching my head. Despite that Hideaki Anno and his pals definitely know how to make anime. I’d rather get the fourth NGE film sooner, but such a little side project with undeniable quality also deserves to be noticed.

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     Are there similarities between these three expansions of anime shorts? Yes, but not that many. Usually it’s not hard to tell whether a particular short has some potential and hides a grander story behind, but sadly not many shorts are lucky enough to get an opportunity to realize that potential. When such a project is green-lit, everything depends on the available resources – some anime may surpass its predecessor by far, some may struggle to retain the quality. Also, usually the longer a project is, the higher probability to mess it up somewhere. It’s not always the best choice to pursue an expansion in the first place when the resources are particularly limited or the story doesn’t respond to the stretching that well. Anyway, even if it’s probably more easy to make a great anime short than to elaborate it, it’s gratifying to know that there are special initiatives (though not as many as there could be) that let young directors and animators show their skills and in certain cases  get opportunities to evolve their ideas further, thus possibly starting successful careers.

     What are your thoughts about these 3 expanded universes? Do you know any other examples of such kind? Please share!

Musings and Reflections – Winter 2017 Week 9

Tales of Zestiria the X (2017) (Ep. 8) 

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     Finally the main story has started progressing. The purification was pretty amazing visually, even if the dragon (ufotable really did an outstanding job animating it) just stood here while Sorey did things to it and as usual finished everything rather easily. Nevertheless, the first part was almost laughable. Why did Alisha decide to talk to her father only when she had no other option? The fact that at most two dozens of guys were able to cross a huge city filled with 1000 soldiers (beside regular citizens who appear to be absent for some reason) and not become cornered speaks for itself. Nobody in the country had enough brains to think that their king might need a guard, or at least some attendant, even knowing the king’s health condition. Baltrow also didn’t show much common sense, going alone against a seasoned fighter with physical ability far better than his own. And what’s with his idea to kill Alisha on the spot? Everything just doesn’t make sense. Not to mention that the death of the king evoked literally 2 seconds of emotions from the characters. It’s probably just the anime itself showing once again that too condensed source material isn’t the best thing in the world. I think Darkness from KonoSuba would be a great asset for the team-Sorey if there will (and I guess it will) ever be another opportunity to channel some pain to someone.

Little Witch Academia (Ep. 8) 

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     I never was the biggest Hiroyuki Imaishi fan and this episode just confirmed my stance. It’s just that I personally prefer some less chaotic animation and more down to earth style, though there’s no denial of Imaishi’s talent and achievements. That may not be of any concern here, but I don’t feel that this episode was really consistent with the general atmosphere of LWA. Yes, the animators have the right to do what they want, to provide dream (or not) sequences as much as they like and to get stuck in not that important side stories, but the main idea behind LWA is the wish to learn and to get better at something you love to do, which was nearly absent this time. Yes, there were moments of sakuga excellence, Sucy’s inner world was explored quite well, but with random car races, monsters morphing to dragons and other stuff it’s just not the gentle LWA of Yoh Yoshinari anymore. LWA’s world for me is more interesting than some dream where there are no rules, also, an opportunity to expand that world was missed. Well, dream (or not) sequences in general tend to be very unpredictable and that may make the suspension of disbelief harder than usual. Maybe that’s why I appreciated the episode but didn’t love it that much.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (Ep. 8) 

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    Very un-Acca-like episode. As it‘s a flashback, some changes are inevitable, but it’s weird that as so much time has been spent entangled in various coup-related plots and stuff, but now we get a pretty straightforward mini-story. I think the composition of the series was done well, as after a more or less shocking news about Jean’s ancestry we can take a breather and possibly next time return to complicated ways of the present. Nino’s motivations are finally made very clear, so it’s quite relieving to know for sure that he as well as Jean himself are definitely not involved in any shady businesses and can be regarded as good guys without a doubt. Before the episode I thought that Jean’s father was Abend, but I’m glad that I misinterpreted the data – a cliché such as a princess eloping with her bodyguard wouldn’t be the strongest part of the story. Overall the episode proved to be more satisfactory than usually, and with many points settled I’m eager to know where all this political stuff will lead Jean and other characters.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (Ep. 8)

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     Once more a pretty much forgettable episode. The stuff with the running ostriches (or whatever these things were) ended in a usual way with our company causing some trouble but in the end managing to set everything right. Some of the jokes (such as the treatment of Darkness in the inn) did manage to make me crack a smile, but after the reveal what kind of people actually live in the resort, everything was very predictable. The idea about some over-religious citizens is quite interesting, but as usual with KonoSuba, it is dragged too long. I’m already quite tired of the one-dimensionality of Darkness and seriously there’s no need to replay the same situations over and over again, and the same goes for the religious guys. Actually, I’m quite surprised that since it’s a hot springs episode, there weren’t any usual fanservice associated with it. Well, we still inevitably have the next episode in the same location. I’m really missing that feeling of novelty that disappeared after the start of the series.

Kuzu no Honkai (Ep. 8)
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     Pretty straightforward episode, not attempting anything special in terms of the usual parallels between the characters, though the plot point of our main couple finally realizing their wishes to move on was very important. Mugi finally loses his restraints towards the other sex and that illustrates how differently nuanced situations of Hanabi and Mugi really are, though the essence is still the same. The idea of introducing the cousin of Ecchan at this point actually might not be the best one. Since he hardly does anything (and that won’t change in the future), his existence may be questioned. Sure, he does expand the character of Ecchan, but is it wise to do it so late also knowing that there just isn’t enough time to start developing Ecchan so much so that she would require another person to help her? It’s just a bit too late for new characters and meanderings far beyond the main couple. By the way, Ecchan’s cap was a bit ridiculous. On a side note, I think Hanabi’s eyes can easily enter a contest of some of the most beautiful anime eyes (but I still prefer Shiki Ryougi).

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Ep. 9) 

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    Strong as always. In the OP Sukeroku again appears with red eyes and even if it doesn’t have as strong effect as during the first time, it doesn’t really matter, since the episode itself definitely delivered. Rakugo again might be praised for its realism – even if the mafia boss received a just sentence for what he has done, he’s still just another normal person who is important to his friends and family regardless of his profession. The inmates who were extremely lucky to hear Yakumo also aren’t just all tough guys without emotions and nothing else – the art can move each and everyone. Moved by his talk with Yotaro, the performance in the prison and the notion that Yotaro’s rakugo is taking a completely different direction than his own, Yakumo once again decides to attempt a suicide. It’s very pitiful to watch him going out of his way and thanking the writer for his devotedness, acknowledging that Yotaro still is the best rakugo can get when Yakumo is no more, performing Shinigami very spectacularly but in the end still not being brave enough to execute his plan to the very end. It’s still a big question whether Yakumo will manage to gather his will and attempt a suicide once again, whether he will make peace with his ghosts and find some joy in his life or just continue to stumble here and there until there’s no time to make any choices anymore.

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 20) 

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   Shimada has become a really likable character. His dream sequence posed some interesting food for thought – when is it alright to stop doing something? Shimada thinks that if he had stopped playing shogi, he might have had a happier life, but in the match his stoppage before considering all his options lead to a loss when just one move could’ve turned everything upside down. I wonder if the positions of shogi pieces in this game (and others) are realistic, and if there really was a situation like this where that particular move could’ve turned the tide. Anyway, this episode should’ve strengthened Rei no to give up no matter how hopeless a situation might seem, and that’s again a huge step towards him becoming a decent human being. Still I think it will be difficult for the show to wrap everything up nicely only in the 2 remaining episodes – Rei needs a conclusion, the sisters are just hanging somewhere, Kyouko and Gotou have still many things unsorted and finally it would be nice to explore Soya’s character and his similarity to Rei – now the master is just a voiceless doll with a label “invincible” attached. The soundtrack remains one of the better aspects of the anime.

Musings and Reflections – Winter 2017 Week 8

Tales of Zestiria the X (2017) (Ep. 7) 

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     Not the most entertaining stuff Zestiria has to offer. Well, Alisha is a way more interesting character than Sorey himself (as Rose is). During the whole episode I couldn’t stop wondering what has happened between Alisha and her father, because it seems that Alisha hasn’t even thought of telling him her own ideas and worries. I understand that the family situation might be a bit complicated, but as Alisha seems to have had much power in the country, wouldn’t that mean that she at least could try talking to the king and getting her notions across? The appearance of the weird mud-mist, coming of Zaveid as well as that other fox-like guy looked very random and had barely any effect on the story. The magic telephone line stopped working as suddenly as it appeared last time. Anyway, I have no idea how everything could be solved without proposing yet another season. The characters most of times are just fooling around and with every episode the potential viewer-count isn’t increasing at all. The preview mentioning Zaveid’s lack of clothing addressed my own thoughts about ridiculous appearances of the characters compared to the stuff of our world.

Little Witch Academia (Ep. 7) 

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    As usual, that was mildly fun. For once Akko had to really start to focus on her learning activities and that provided some contrast to her usual “doing anything but studying” behavior. Not that Akko actually learned much. It’s no surprise that a girl with no magical background has difficulties, and many of them. Still it’s a wonderful trait Akko possesses – not to give in no matter what. If there are any underlying messages in the show one of the strongest is never to cease trying, as hopefully your efforts someday will definitely have an effect. Having a fish as a teacher was quite an inventive and amusing joke, as were many others. Apart from that and satisfying contrast between Ursula and the other brown-haired teacher lecturing one another everything went the usual route – some quirks of the magical world with all the problems passing away in not very expected ways. I wonder how far this episodic format could go because it looks hardly possible not to attempt anything of a bigger scale through both of the seasons and retain the interest of the viewers.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka (Ep. 7) 

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    And that was a particular piece of information that made things way more interesting. Many people have suspected that secret and there certainly were some clues about it, not the most unsuspicious of whom was the portrait of the younger princess among other paintings during this very episode. I think the timing for the reveal was quite well chosen, as probably others beside me also have started wondering where everything is leading. Now with some things made a bit clearer the story has proved its capabilities and earned more brownie points to spend in the future if the pacing will decide to return to its initial slowness. Another positive aspect is that some of the characters’ allegiances were elaborated. I guess now no one could deny that Nino, even if working under hell knows whom, is on the Jean’s side, as well as Mauve, brave enough to reveal everything and move everything forward. In the end, the most suspicious ones remain the prince and Lilium. The mangaka surely knows how to portray characters in a way that it’s almost impossible to perceive correctly what anyone wants at a first glance, and because of that Acca remains one of the more enjoyable series this season.

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (Ep. 7)

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     Even a week without any anime didn’t make me enjoy this stuff. I’m finally on the verge of dropping it due to total disinterest. Well, as I’m quite a completionist, the show is still on my radar but nothing more than that. Character interactions that are the meat of KonoSuba seem to have been already used to the fullest extent and now we get only boring repetition and some personality traits of the characters are becoming more annoying with every minute. Is it really funny to see Darkness do nothing but get into her type of situations? How can anyone (both other characters as well as the viewers) endure Aqua’s selfishness, arrogance and stupidity? Will any of the main guys show some competence eventually? How about some story with the freshness of the first episodes? Shaft-like head tilts and other moments of quality animation remain the sole point of interest as pretty much everything else seems to be just reused old material with not much hope to be had for the future. And is this the way to end an episode? Certainly not the end of the story, but do you even know how to make a partial stop?

Kuzu no Honkai (Ep. 7)

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     It’s no doubt that the show still retains its ability to provide very entertaining character drama, definitely one of the more enjoyable ones in recent times. You don’t usually get the cast that consists of very different characters whose actions and ideologies intertwine and parallel one another so well. It’s also an achievement that an episode about Moka, who isn’t the most important or beloved piece in this love game, was as successful as previous ones. Even such a spoiled girl full of fantasies can be determined that substitutes in love bring nothing good, just before succumbing before her own desires that don’t let her to retain her pure dream. The idea that an unachievable dream is a far better thing to have instead of trying to realize it (and getting burned for that) is yet another point of similarity between Moka and Hanabi. In the present situation (and essentially in the whole show) Mugi looks like a guy with the coolest head, somehow managing to stop his physical wishes. In this respect Mugi as someone who doesn’t really brake his ideology, stands right next to Akane, as weird as it sounds. At least our main couple after all the stuff decided to try to move on, but it’s still a very far road from their present positions.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen (Ep. 8) 

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     If there is an anime this season that can be counted on every single time to move me deeply, it’s definitely Rakugo. There wasn’t much action this time, but little moments here and there remind me again and again how much appreciation Rakugo deserves. Yotaro is getting new (and not very new) people join the art and attempt to at least retain rakugo as a valuable phenomenon, and that yet again shows how much maturity Yotaro has developed. Every scene showing him and Konatsu together have been one of the most heartwarming moments of the whole season. Of course it’s really sad that Yakumo wasn’t given a chance to perform, but I think that when he has defeated his inner voice telling him to stop, the love for the only thing Yakumo’s truly able to do and enjoy will not be quelled. Yet, Yakumo must feel especially bitter – he finally decided to perform but even that special occasion didn’t prevent the world from interfering. Yakumo also voiced his frustration because of his inabilities due to his age, and especially since he’s not the first person to whine, it is a big deal – younger people are able to do rakugo probably as well as he can with his diminished abilities and even if he’s crucial to rakugo and its audience, even without him the world manages to go on.

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 19) 

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    Quite surprisingly the wavelengths of the episode and my own ones were pretty similar this time. In terms of the story 3-gatsu hasn’t been providing rapid developments, but the character arcs certainly do happen. When you think about Rei in the beginning and Rei now, there probably couldn’t be more differences. The sisters managed to get Rei out of his self-loathing shell, but even after that I think getting to know Shimada was the best possible scenario Rei could’ve ever dreamed of. At first, there haven’t been anyone in his recent life who could help him with his stagnancy in shogi. Also, if in Akari Rei sees a mother, Shimada definitely takes up a father position, genuinely caring about Rei and having some things to teach him. In other words, just a person whom Rei’s adoptive father should’ve been. Yet, I think the most important thing about Shimada is that he also requires some care, and Rei is the one to help him. I guess it was the teacher who said that in the society you need to be given help but also to give help to others, and as Rei has received much from the sisters, finally having someone to worry about and to take care of is a crucial step for Rei to become a functional human being, and that step is finally taken.