Musings and Reflections – end of Spring 2018

     A bit late but oh well – that happens sometimes. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to be late since it provides possibility to extend the period of time certain shows are talked about and remembered. Recently I watched the OVA of Violet Evergarden. It was pretty good but will it resurrect any interest about the show? Probably not. And Violet Evergarden deserves at least that. Anyway, that was Winter, and this is a post about Spring. The mention of Violet Evergarden also has another point because it as well as some other Winter shows were more enjoyable than the majority of what Spring had to offer. Weird. But I guess it happens. Similarly to the last season this time I also picked up several shows that weren’t initially on my radar, so I think I watched pretty much everything that could interest me (except maybe Megalo Box) or be pretty good and non-sequel. Still, I doubt that many of these shows will be remembered after a even a month or so. But let’s get going.

     To digress a bit, similarly to the last season I rated each episode as enjoyable, ok, or not ok. Then if good is worth 2 points, ok means 1 point and bad gets 0, some sort of episode enjoyment level accumulates over time. As with the last season, I was quite pleased that this rating prety much conicided with my opinions about the shows by the end.

Hisone to Maso-tan

Episode enjoyment level 71%

     At first I want to stress how much do I love the soundtrack. Some of the soundtracks of the Spring season were pretty good but they all pale in comparison to this one. I’m not exactly sure why, but the soundtrack seems unusually well tuned to the visuals. Usually in anime the visuals carry the majority of the weight and the soundtrack surfaces only in some more important scenes. That isn’t the case with HisoMaso. The soundtrack is always audible, there’s always something happening, as if the music itself couldn’t hold itself in one place and wished to burst over everything in clear melodies and get the stage for itself alone. Still, it’s always kept in check, steadily bubbling and giving the visuals a particularly strong back-up conveying the ideas of the show. Alright, I got carried away a bit.
So, the show itself. The introduction of dragons in a completely realistic setting was weird enough initially but it didn’t sabotage my suspension of disbelief that much. On the other hand when the things started getting more serious, more not that realistic stuff was introduced and I can’t say it was that well established. All the things concerning some of the girls falling in love didn’t seem that organically compatible with how the initial episodes presented everything, so getting over the top with huge flying and unexplained things didn’t make everything better. The ending also felt like it was wrapped up too quickly, and every single character just had to have an explicitly good ending. I think at least two or three more episodes would have been very useful for establishing the themes more evenly and generally just better preparing the viewer for the shifts in narrative. On the other hand, cut out some awkward sexual humor and you have plenty of time to include something more useful. Finally, I have to mention that Bones did incredibly well – character designs may look too childish but don’t let that bother you – facial expressions are extremely varied and always on point. I might not be completely satisfied, but it’s a good show. It is.

     My tradition continues – HisoMaso becomes yet another show that receives both awards for the favorite OST and favorite show of the season. Piano no Mori deserves a honorable mention in both of these categories but definitely not more.

SAO Alternative: Gun Gale Online

Episode enjoyment level 27%

     I’m afraid even a change of the writer isn’t going to make me like SAO. Not that I cared for Keiichi Sigsawa’s stuff in the first place. The idea itself of picking a well-known franchise and making a spin-off to explore different themes and introduce exciting new characters isn’t a bad one, especially in a marketing sense. Of course, ideas aren’t everything and you actually need to work with them. And that’s precisely where the show went wrong, at least for me. Gun fanatics still probably had fun, as well as moderate action fans, but everything else was pretty damn, well, bland. For example, both of the arcs didn’t receive satisfying conclusions. During the first one, the problem was presented that Karen had problems because of her height. Then she played… and played… and played… and one day she actually realized that she magically has no problems. Pretty much the same happened with the second arc – Pito was presented as having even more problems. Then people played… and played… and played… and suddenly all the Pito’s problems were gone with the wind. Man, you just don’t write such character arc when a protagonist doesn’t have to address his own faults in order to overcome them and move forward. Also, playing a video game doesn’t necessarily exterminate all your problems in the real life. That’s not how life works, dude. I don’t even remember all the plot conveniences and illogical situations (some of whom are inherent to GGO the game). The players were always extremely incompetent and usually forgot that they were playing a game and if you die in the game you don’t actually die for real. Let’s not forget that Llenn sometimes was nothing but a bunny Kirito. Keiichi Sigsawa probably had a great time adding various SAO and Star Wars references, writing himself into the story and adding various military related trivia. It’s all well and good but separate pieces, as interesting as they can be (they weren’t) don’t necessarily combine well into a bigger picture. After watching the show I’m still not sure what it tried to convey – the closest thing to a core idea seems to be a notion that all the problems in the world can be solved by playing video games. Really?

     GGO receives a random award of being so universal by getting Keiichi Sigsawa more attention, probably more money and an opportunity to ride the wave and advertise SAO. Everybody wins! Except probably me.

Piano no Mori

Episode enjoyment level 58%

     Golden Kamuy had its fair share of CG, but Piano no Mori didn’t yield. CG piano performances visually weren’t bad per se, I was really impressed how far the show went to make finger movements and body language of the performers as realistic as possible. It’s a shame than that CG hair looked a decade or so outdated and the CG parts horribly clashed with 2D. At least I got to listen to a fair amount of Chopin. The soundtrack itself also wasn’t half bad.
The story? At first it ran like its life depended on it but later on still managed to make the final competition seem as slow as a snail. I guess source material might have given lots of depth to the competition itself and the performers but you don’t simply adapt a multi-volume manga into a 2 cour show – lots of material had to be cut, and I don’t think it was always for the best. Apart from Kai, Shuhei and maybe Ajino (and Takako by a very small amount) no other character was expanded beyond a description of a single sentence at best. Well, 3 or 4 characters being more developed than anyone else is nothing strange for 12 episode season but come on, there were so many others introduced and what did they achieve? Nothing.
I liked Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso and Nodame Cantabile as much as anybody but it’s hard to place Piano no Mori into the same category. The show had its moments but I guess a studio whose ambitions exceed the abilities would be better off sticking to shorts or something. I hope half a year will be enough to patch things up. I doubt the second cour will be any better but a man can dream.

     Piano no Mori receives a random award of having the most aggravating 3D-2D clash among all the shows I watched recently.

Golden Kamuy

Episode enjoyment level 50%

     The good. The OST and the general thematic idea behind the show. Also, Ainu culture focus.
The bad. Some of the humor (especially sexual) was too rude for my tastes. It’s justifiable by itself (not everything must be sunshine and rainbows after all) and I guess it also reflects the hard environment of Hokkaido. The story never really got anywhere. It’s understandable that a successful mangaka may want to stretch his creation as long as possible, adding various subplots and stuff but at least this adaptation felt like it too often forgot that there actually is an overarching plot, a goal that must be achieved. As many as there were inconsequential characters, there also were countless times of abrupt mood changes. Golden Kamuy doesn’t have a single focus in the first place – it wants to be everything. Almost each and every episode has parts dedicated to comedy, action, cooking and exploration of Ainu culture. That makes the show very segmented, as if it was a clothing, sewn out of many discarded clothes whose colors clash.
The ugly. You know what that was. Mr Bear, I choose you!
I must admit that Golden Kamuy is unique. Creating its own niche and being successful enough to get a second season (probably no thanks to the anime but thanks to the manga) isn’t what every show can boast of. I respect it for that and also acknowledge that it’s not my cup of tea. I’ll most likely continue the show once the Fall comes but I doubt I’ll like it that much.

     Golden Kamuy receives awards for the most memorable character (Hello once again, Mr CG Bear in all your incarnations) and, more seriously, for the most impressive scenery – it’s weird to see snowy fields when I see only greenery through my window, but the backgrounds did impress. Not necessarily always by their artistic quality but simply because of the uniqueness.

     Another digression. I decided to look at my episodic enjoyment levels as they changed over time. It’s probably very inconsequential but at the same time kind of fun. I like making graphs after all. Speaking about the average (which turned out to be slightly above average), I think it somewhat validates my ranking because even if I think I select shows that should be interesting, in the end it’s nobody’s guess how good a certain show might turn out, so an average about 50% is to be expected. About particular shows – Piano no Mori and Golden Kamuy retained approximately average ratings as these two didn’t really provide anything groundbreaking. GGO started as an average show but it didn’t take long for me to lose my patience. Similarly HisoMaso also began to struggle later on but a strong start and more or less consistent output left the strongest impression out of these 4 shows.

      Now, shows that I caught on later on, and of them there were 3.

     Huge amount of brownie points for the heartwarming moments of Hinamatsuri. It’s precisely that that I think was Hinamatsuri’s biggest strength. Sometimes heartwarming moments were turned upside down and from there some of the comedy came. That’s the first problem – I didn’t believe for a second that Nitta could seriously be happy when Hina apparently left for her home or that he could simply throw her out. It was simply hard to believe that Nitta who wants to get rid of Hina and Nitta who cares about her like no one else in the world are the same person.
Comedy itself was most of times good. Deadpan manner more often than not found the mark and while it wasn’t as impressive as my favorite comedy (that being Nichijou), the inventiveness definitely must be given some credit. On the other hand, sometimes it seemed like particular scenarios could’ve been established better, as now it seemed like some situations arose simply because the author wanted so and not because it was a natural flow of things. For example, I fail to see how not a single yakuza was surprised  or cautious when Nitta one day revealed having a daughter, especially since he even tried denying that. Anzu’s decision to stop stealing after getting stranded and start living with the homeless also seems unconvincing, knowing how good a thief Anzu could be with her abilities. Well, all these problems were toned down once the show had aired 3 or 4 episodes, and the rest of it was way more enjoyable. Only it didn’t have a proper ending. I don’t think it was a good idea to wrap everything up and then return to Mao’s story. Her role in the show felt rather superficial as her narrative even by the end hadn’t converged with the main story. Sure, dolls of Hina and Anzu were fun to watch but what of it? “Go read the manga” attitude isn’t satisfying. And the final negative point came from the fact that we have no idea about the origins of Hina and her pairs. Where did they live? Who are they? Why at first all the girls seemed like their mental age was that of kindergarteners? The manga may have the answers but the anime asks you to suspend your disbelief and have faith. To me it seemed like a pretty huge thing to ask as no explanations whatsoever were given even after all the 12 episodes. Still, the show’s fine. There are far worse anime to watch.

     The overall experience of Darling in the FranXX has been unsatisfying. The ideas were certainly there, the same can be said about technical proficiency, but I don’t think that the show used its time efficiently. Everything began with the DarliFra: Fanservice edition, and many found unable to grasp whether there actually was a theme of sexuality being explored or everything was just simply thrown out there without much deeper meaning. Let’s say there actually was a serious exploration of sexuality. Where did it lead? Nowhere, really, unless you were waiting for a random beach episode. In the long run that theme was completely abandoned. At some point Kokoro’s pregnancy arouse and while I do understand that it fits the overall theme of getting out of complete control and starting making your own choices, I find teen pregnancy not the most suitable way of delivering such ideas.
I guess the biggest achievement and the biggest problem of DarliFra was that it chose to emphasize the characters and in this way almost completely ignore everything else. When you eventually have to devote several consecutive episodes devoted only to info-dumping the world building aspect, you probably did something wrong earlier. Through the whole run there always seemed like there could be so much more told about the world – the origin of humanity, the klaxosaurs (and their princess), and, well, everything. The show only glossed over so many things but failed to make use of them. Thankfully, the characters most times than not were able to mask some of the problems of the unestablished world – in no other way the last episode could’ve felt reasonable (but let’s not talk about Futoshi’s mustache). But even there there’re glaring problems. Sure, I do find Goro and Ichigo a suitable pair but how did they get together? Yeah, off-screen. Do you really want your most important character developments to happen off-screen?
Also, at some point 02 exchanged her charisma for a complete infatuation with Hiro. Good for her but in this way lots of her appeal simply evaporated. The story also took some hits – you don’t expect me to be completely ok with a sudden “Aha, but it was Dio aliens all along”? About the very ending itself I can only say that it was written by someone who’s an incurable romantic who unconditionally believes that power of friendship and power of love can solve everything. I guess it can hit the feels when the main pair died and later reincarnated into the new world which they themselves basically created. Still, let’s just say that I would’ve preferred something more realistic (with no mahou shoujo mecha and stuff either) and leave it at that.

     And there my plan to watch fan-approved shows failed with Wotakoi. I couldn’t help but find the show plain and boring. I think no one would object if I said that the visuals are passable and not an inch more. Character designs might be appealing, but they remain only character designs, more often than not simple unmoving figures, placed in faceless surroundings.
Apparently in contract to other fellow anime fans I didn’t find the story that engaging. I can’t deny that there were some very neat moments, for example showing how people might be secretive and possessive about their hobbies, and how manias strive to be spread despite of that. Apart from that there was little more to be cheerful about. Comedy felt very basic not exceptionally funny, the story went nowhere and was left unfinished, characters were more or less stagnant the whole time. I can’t fault performances of Tomokazu Sugita and Miyuki Sawashiro – these two nail every single role they’re given but even their pair eventually felt like there was nothing interesting going on anymore. I’ve no idea what else can the original manga think of in order to keep the readers engaged. Every possibility seems to have been already used up. Unless, of course, a beach chapter, an onsen chapter or something similar will happen.
To be frank, the characters often felt like they belong in a high-school. Well, to some extent that’s precisely the point but when a non-school anime feels like a school anime though it has every possibility to go a different route, I’m not amused. Such an anime is a good example why there’re so little non-school shows (that don’t have to do anything with anything supernatural) – there’s just nothing interesting. Character interactions might be fun but there’s a limit of how long you can maintain that since work in an office is incredibly boring – nothing ever happens. And that’s a problem. From my perspective, the show didn’t provide entertaining enough characters and exhausted all the possibilities before it finished. I’d rather recommend Net-juu no Susume every day.

     And final 2 awards. Favorite OP of the season is that of HisoMaso. By itself it’s probably nothing outstanding but it did fit the overall tone of the soundtrack and sounded fresh. That may not be much but among generic J-pop songs that turned out to be enough to make an impression. Enough to best Golden Kamuy and DarliFra (liked its first OP better).

     The favorite ED was that of Golden Kamuy. Again, it’s a performance dissimilar to other EDs of the season. Usually cutsy and laid-back songs can fit most of the shows but a more energetic one will inevitably make a stronger impression.

 

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5 Comments

  1. I finished the Sword Art Online spinoff yesterday and I enjoyed it. But I do have to agree that the series did have quite a few problems. Storywise it just isn’t very strong and the characters were just way too bland and lacked depth. Still the action was fun, and at times it’s nice to be able to watch an anime that allows you to switch of your mind for a bit 😊

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  2. I did enjoy Wotakoi and I think if there is another season they will have to show more changes in the characters. For me it did make sense that they were a bit emotionally stunted but I can see your point on how that would get old. I hoped the other couple would have been a bit more mature but I did find a lot of fun moments in the anime that I really enjoyed.

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    • Glad you enjoyed it. The show has some charm but maybe I expected more of it than it could offer. Some changes definitely would be welcome if there ever was a second season.

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  3. Maybe I should pick up HisoMaso after the good things I’m hearing from various bloggers. Don’t know why I didn’t KIV it in the first place.
    *
    Also, you definitely had my attention there with the enjoyment v time graph.:D

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    • Do check it out. For me it was the most interesting anime of the season, so there’s some chance you’ll also find some enjoyment.
      Thanks, then the graph’s inclusion is fully justified. Well, graphs to me in general are somehow very aesthetically pleasing. Weird.

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