Scattered Thoughts – Thunderbolt Fantasy

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     To start with, this is not meant to be something like a review paying attention to every aspect of Thunderbolt Fantasy but just as some (random) thoughts that have crystallized after the watching of the show.

     Well, if you at least sometimes check the news of the anime world, I think it was nearly impossible for you not to notice a strange creation that has appeared out of nowhere and has become quite popular even if now the talks about it are not that prevalent anymore. Thunderbolt Fantasy technically isn’t an anime but nonetheless share many similarities with the medium. The show basically can be summarized with two words – “puppets” and “Urobuchi”. If that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will.

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     To start from the very beginning, the puppets came into being in China some hundreds of years ago and spread in the area. The trend reached Taiwan and that’s where the show’s origin lies. A studio called Pili has made such puppets for some time now and it just happened that many of the staff are not indifferent to anime in general. That’s were the second part of the equation comes in – Gen Urobuchi (well, everyone knows who the guy is – Fate/Zero and Madoca Magica speak for themselves) was impressed by the artistic possibilities that the puppets may provide so it was fairly natural for the two parties to come together and do something. The anime-ish side of the show was also bolstered by the composer – Hiroyuki Sawano, best known for Attack on Titan, who agreed to write a score, but frankly I don’t think it was one of his better works – too many reused themes with too little impact.

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     Well, Urobuchi is Urobuchi but for someone who has already savored his style and probably is not unconditionally head over heels about it the main selling point of Thunderbolt Fantasy is the visuals. To a person who is accustomed to watching anime or live action stuff puppets may look very weird. Still, there’s grace and artistry in everything that is done with them. A wooden puppet is made hollow so a puppeteer can mount it on his right hand and with it move the puppet’s whole body, some limited facial expressions included. With his left hand the puppeteer controls the puppet’s left hand so it’s no wonder that all the puppets are left handed and use it with great dexterity. Well, you may say, what about the stunts? There have been scenes in Thunderbolt Fantasy when characters were jumping, falling or just moving in a way that couldn’t been done sitting on a puppeteer’s hand. The answer to that is stunt doubles. Yes, the puppets as normal actors do, did have them. Sounds weird but it’s only natural that a different medium encounters different problems and finds some ways to deal with them. The sets also need to be mentioned. Every smallest prop was handmade and you can probably imagine how much work needed to be done to have a decent looking banana on a decent looking table that would be used just for one scene only. The details, given the amount of hard work that needed to be done are amazing. Of course, as you can see from the first episode and maybe the last, some CG effects were added. The rate of usage of CG never was that high compared to the first episode but some credit must be given to the creators because the effects look fairly organic with the world they appear in. The comparative sparseness of CG lets other aspects of the show to shine – for example the dust that sometimes appeared and many other effects were strictly practical, which on its own is fairly astounding.

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     The visuals can’t be discussed without mentioning the appearance of the puppets themselves. I can’t possibly stress enough how beautifully they are made – every piece of cloth and accessory is polished to the level of brilliance. Every puppet by itself can be easily treated as a piece of art – take for example those wooden heads – each carved with an amazing precision. Sure, some time is needed to get accustomed to the typical movements of the puppets but after that it’s only a joy to watch. At first it was quite difficult not to notice some critical differences between the puppets and anime characters. Well, it sounds dumb since the puppets are real while anime characters are drawn, but let’s compare other differences beyond that. In anime the animators use every possible trick to make the characters move as little as possible and in this way save lots of work needed for the animation. The puppets on the other hand don’t have this in-built limitation – during every conversation they gesticulate very expressively and move much more than you imagine a real person would do. Exaggeration of movements may look odd but after a time you begin to wonder how these wooden pieces of art manage not only look good but also to be so versatile and use every opportunity to show that. Versatility is a good thing but it’s also limited in a way. A puppeteer just can’t move everything and that ends up being the immovability of the lips of the characters. Yes, the lips can move up and down but certainly not at the frequency a normal person would do. Also, the lips look exceptionally huge, almost swollen. Oh well. So there you have it – the characters that move excessively while their lips barely manage to go up and down. The eyes are only able to blink from time to time compared to the huge variety of anime eye expressions. After so many words of praise about a visuals it seems almost inappropriate to mention that in some cases things were too flamboyant for their own good – the mystical sword that is the center of the story looks like the least practical weapon anyone could have imagined.

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     Continuing the thought about the lips, the aspect of language need to be touched. As the company Pili who created the show is Taiwanese, the original language of the show was Chinese and that means Chinese names and stuff. Of course, there was a Japanese dub made after that but one problem was still left and that is names. The mythology of the show allows the characters to have multiple names, all more similar to epithets of the personalities and deeds of the characters than some actual names. But the real problem for me was that I watched Thunderbolt Fantasy on Crunchyroll. There the Japanese dub was used and subtitles were English but oh boy what they did with the names… The dub used the names translated to the Japanese while the subtitles only transcribed the Chinese ones. Well, I’m not even able to read some of the symbols the transcription used and to hear some word, completely different sounding from a written one, was just too much for me. Well, I just ended up learning hardly any names of the characters.

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     To be frank, that wasn’t an issue I couldn’t cope with after all since the story itself wasn’t anything special and I doubt I would have started watching Thunderbolt Fantasy if it were made into an anime. You have a set of pretty ordinary characters – a hero, a heroine, a plotting mastermind whose allegiances aren’t clear, a demon (basically a witch), a bunch from Fate/Stay Night (Archer, Lancer and Assassin) and a villain (with some lackeys) that looks so cool as if to turn any possible male opponent gay. Almost every character is made to be of some use to the story but after all I feel like it was a bit too much of them. Much of the narrative could have been condensed, some of the cast just erased and the time left spent exploring the world. The world certainly looks organic and interesting, having its own history, magic, wars, mysteries… Well, everything that would have been a very enjoyable thing to see more of, especially since the creators are so good at building the environments. The only excuse I could think of is that of course everyone just wanted to show what they are most capable of – as many diverse puppets as possible. The ending seems a bit lacking. Yes, it’s the journey that counts but I would have liked something akin to a climax and not just casually dealing with a final boss in a surprisingly brief battle, even if the story to reach that stage required the whole season. Well, of course opening your Unlimited Blade Works stash ends things quickly but the feeling of fulfillment there has no place. Some traits of the characters and elements of the story speak of a rather mature series, but Thunderbolt Fantasy manages to negate that with shounen-esque special attacks (with their names shouted to the wide world, how else?). Also, sometimes the story would just stop in order for the characters to talk. I wouldn’t call it strictly info-dumping but some scenes would drag for a very long time with nothing happening. However if you are able to withstand that, the fighting segments prove to be very rewarding.

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     If you remove the visuals, the show remains very Urobuchi like – with uncertain loyalties, mysterious characters and the plot that can change drastically any moment. Sometimes even the Urobuchi-layer seems too thin to be able to carry the story. Luckily the visuals are always here to mask any flaws. To be frank, that’s one of those shows that requires your brains to leave some things unnoticed but if you’re able to do that, it’s a real feast for eyes – the technical aspects are amazingly stunning. So yeah. I think it’s beneficial for anyone to watch at least the first episode of Thunderbolt Fantasy – at least to be able to grasp how many beautiful things are possible to be made. To some the fact that it’s a puppet show and not an anime might be a huge turn off but I think that Thunderbolt Fantasy in its essence isn’t that different from the mainstream anime. If you can deal with, say, differences of the style of Masaaki Yuasa compared to any other creator’s, this show shouldn’t be a big problem. By the way, the 2nd season is already announced so now is as good time as ever to sample some unconventional art.

/Much information came from here, but you are still welcome to delve deeper./

Musings and Reflections – Autumn 2016 Week 6

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 5)

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   It looks like every other episode focuses on serious stuff and the rest is devoted to comedy. According to that I could probably make a bet that the next episode will not be my cup of tea. However this one… So far the only interesting things have happened in Rei’s flashbacks. At first it was vital to know his present situation – living alone and being friends with the sisters – but after that there has been no developments in the present timeline. Now we got a large portion of Rei’s past revealed and I’m slightly worried that after it’s done there will be no interesting things left in the show unless something really unexpected happens in the present, but that somehow seems unlikely. Returning to the flashback, Rei’s backstory was really well thought out and impressed me. Though to err is human, the adoptive dad certainly would have profited from some parenting 101. The competitiveness between the children looks like a very believable thing to happen in this situation. The comparison between Rei and a cuckoo was strikingly close to the point. Well, all the situation may not be the most probable one but it certainly did add more layers to the character of Rei – having lost also a younger sister, using shogi only as a lifeboat and unintentionally almost ruining a family. As now we know that the girl from the last week was Kyouko and this time her character was established, I’m very interested more than ever to find out how that situation of the last previous really came into being.

Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep. 6)

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    Not a very satisfying experience today – the basic plot of Natsume being attacked by a group of some incapable youkai has been done before. Also, the amount of episodes that had a youkai who felt nostalgic about Reiko and ultimately got its name back is probably larger than the amount of episodes that hadn’t. I don’t say that I didn’t like the episode but it failed to feel as compelling as some of the last ones. At least the story had a reasonably weird youkai. Well, during stories like these I wonder if we will eventually learn about Reiko’s husband and their ultimate fate or just remain wandering around until the Book of Friends will be spent. But that’s not likely since during all the five seasons as hard as Natsume has been working, the Book doesn’t look the least bit thinner. By the way, I hope that Nyanko-sensei hasn’t obtained diabetes or something similar looking how obese he has turned. Anyway, the worst part of the episode proved to be the preview. If I get everything right, the next episode will be a special. And not any special but the special that has been made 3 years ago. I’m not even sure if I should be mad or amused to see studio Shuka fail to even make a recap. Well, they certainly need time to polish the visuals and that’s the same issue with all their shows. It’s only a shame that the special itself is too mediocre to be on the level of ordinary Natsume stuff.

Yuri!!! on Ice (Ep. 6)

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    Yes, the show is about figure skating (for the most part) but after seeing it in each and every episode I just don’t feel that excitement that was so profound in the very beginning. The animation is not always as polished as it could be but that’s understandable and anyway, the level of sakuga provided tops many shows this season, if not all of them. Yet, the freshness of seeing an unusual sport being performed for the first or second time is expiring. I appreciate everything (mostly) the show offers but the pattern of seeing characters converse a bit and then go skating is wearing off – of coarse I root for Yuri but that’s probably the most I can say about the emotional part of the episode – it’s hard to imagine the height of stakes when every performer apart from Yuri is a new guy. The episode just feels in a manner of “been there, seen that”. I hope some more drama will be implemented later on and not that kind of flying pants and “my mature appeal *blink blink*” drama. Returning to the point about the other skaters – yes, they were defined very minimalistically, but for the time they got it was done fairly efficiently – the striking differences between the Thai guy, conveying his passion, the carefree American or the gloomy and rather cartoonish Russian are apparent – everybody wants to show their various strong feelings through the skating and that was probably the part of the episode that I liked the most.

Fune wo Amu (Ep. 5)

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    As expected, going against the wishes of your higher-ups usually backfire, but in this case it backfired exceedingly strongly.  I wonder what did Nishioka think would happen when everything had come out to light. Anyway, getting an episode that was centered around him felt fresh and added much characterization that was really needed to see Nishioka not only as a genki guy with occasional comedy relief functions. I’m not sure that the idea of keeping the future transfer is the best but the decision to continue working while he still can and doing everything even more productively and enthusiastically certainly did earn him some brownie points. Still I’m not sure if the dictionary group could even exist without such a guy who has lots of acquaintances and just knows how to get things moving. Majime’s love letter felt a bit too early. Getting to know Kaguya only for some episodes probably shouldn’t evoke love-letter writing from such an old-fashioned guy like Majime. On the other hand knowing that the anime is an adaptation of a novel suggests that having far greater pace is the only possible scenario in order to be able to complete the story. If some plot lines are moving fast, there are still moments of the grace of slice of life – Nishioka’s reading of Majime’s letter for me was one of more peaceful and beautiful scenes of the whole anime.

Musings and Reflections – Autumn 2016 Week 5

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 4)

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     As much as I liked the last episode I wasn’t moved at all by this one. It almost seems like every character has a twin that only looks similar but their personalities differ almost completely – one of them is a sad soul, bothered by existential problems and another is a shallow husk suitable only for comedy. Hina was in the spotlight for the majority of time and even if her story was portrayed well visually (well, what else could be expected from Shaft?), it was very far from being original and inventive. Or maybe I’ve just seen too much fleeting middle-school crushes and broken-hearted kids in anime to be moved. Probably the most interesting part was that of Rei’s reaction to the baseball game. He definitely looked envious – maybe not for Hina herself but for the idea of being looked at with such passion. And the flashback teased some colorful times in the past which I hope will be revealed sooner than later. Finally, it looks like Totoro still is an especially iconic being in Japanese culture. Still, Gintama with “Tonari no Pedoro” was more amusing.

Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep. 5)

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    I can guarantee that there is nothing more I could’ve wished out of this episode. Returning of Taki itself is a huge plus (I guess I just can’t see enough of her, probably since that beautiful story of her and Natsume raising the youkai child in the last episodes of the second season) but that’s certainly not all. Somehow the reuniting of the two rabbit-rat (or rat-rabbit) like youkai felt genuine and moving, even if their screen time was very limited. And the whole story of the hairy youkai’s attachment to Taki just can’t not affect me. The dilemma whether it is good for humans to be able to see youkai is presented again. I think the answer is not that different from the one I could give about human relationships – yes, sometimes it’s better to not get involved with anyone in order not to get hurt but on the other hand in this way you can’t even know how much do you potentially lose. The ending quite unexpectedly was animated, and animated in a very appropriate way, even if some EDs in the past have been more memorable. Still it’s a huge improvement over seeing just some ornaments. So yeah, for me it was the best Natsume has already offered this season.

Yuri!!! on Ice (Ep. 5)

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     First, I don’t know a thing about figure skating, but is it so uncompetitive that even while making mistakes Yuri can not only get a personal best score but also achieve a place among top ten skaters worldwide? This was said after his short program and even his free program didn’t look to have scored adequately. The same goes for Minami. As far as I remember watching figure skating on TV a time or two, mistakes in the competitions weren’t unheard of but also weren’t that prevalent either, especially talking about better skaters. I guess it just means that Yuri managed to move the judges by his emotional performance. Maybe I’m just not that impressed since all the performances haven’t been as well animated as that one in the first episode. This time characters being of model wasn’t a very rare sight as well as appearing very CLAMP-like – lean characters are ok but stick figures while skating don’t look that good compared to their normal appearance. Animation also felt a bit choppy though it is still better than what we get in many anime. Lastly, I miss Yurio. Of course his comeback will be huge and pompous but his chemistry with Yuri was too enjoyable for it to be exchangeable with some new characters as interesting as they might be (sorry, Minami).

Fune wo Amu (Ep. 4)

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    I can’t remember if there was an anime other than Fune wo Amu I was having so much fun watching since Rakugo. It’s too bad that barely anyone is watching it. Well, what’s there not to like – the soundtrack remains really strong (even if the insert song could have been other than the OP), the voice acting is done as professionally as you could only wish for and that especially goes for the subtle humor, the story has clear goals in Majime’s private life as well as in the dictionary writing business. It may not be the work I’d like to do but I already feel strongly attached to the group and wish them all the success they can achieve. On the downside, the chibi dictionary segment never was that amusing and the show probably would be better without it but that’s just a minor detail. Also I want to mention that when Majime and Kaguya went out, their clothes were of the same colors, only tops and bottoms were inverted. This is a nice touch, meaning that their personalities may be opposite but looking in the bigger picture they complement each other well.

Flying Witch – the brilliance of Slice of Life

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Studio J.C.Staff
Genres Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Spring 2016
Director Katsushi Sakurabi
Music Yoshiaki Dewa

     An anime that belongs to slice of life genre is difficult to make. It sounds very easy – just tell what happens every day and that’s it, right? Nevertheless, not every show has that special something that makes seemingly boring or just not that inspiring things into a spectacle you want to watch and enjoy. Sad as it is, our usual lives tend not to be comprised of stuff that is worth telling as a story and something memorable happens only rarely. What to do then? Many great slice of life shows that don’t pursue any continuing narrative either build colorful characters or manage to include some particular quirks to their stories, something that make them stand above their counterparts. The real mastery then is to mix those quirks within mundane activities of the characters. This way we have ridiculous situations of Nichijou, multitude of wondrous youkai in Natsume Yuujinchou, parental learning moments in Usagi DropFlying Witch, though probably not able to boast the perfection of some of the greatest anime, stands near enough and wastes no time telling what its special quirk is.

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    As with most of slice of life anime, the set-up of Flying Witch isn’t anything complicated – Makoto with her cat Chito-san arrives to live with her cousins Kei and Chinatsu and their parents in the snowy Aomori prefecture. The unusual thing is that Makoto practices to become a witch but this part of the set-up isn’t remembered as often as you would think looking at the title of the show.  Not that I complain since there’s lots and lots of things to do in Aomori apart from witching. Makoto with Chito-san explore the surroundings and, as her relatives live pretty close to nature which means a bit of farming and stuff, she wholeheartedly takes up every opportunity to enjoy her staying and experience things she hadn’t before, even if they are such small and forgettable like tasting some random vegetable found by a roadside. Of course, cooked.

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     Things changed a bit when the Fire Nation attacked, I mean, Makoto’s sister Akane began visiting her. Akane being a professional witch (I guess it’s genetics after all with all the witches in the family) didn’t miss opportunities to teach her kouhai about some simple stuff. Of course, when she wasn’t sleeping. Or drinking. Anyway, witchcraft in the anime is only a secondary focus at best so don’t expect any ground breaking or time bending magic tricks. It’s well tuned with the atmosphere of the story – some walking paper cranes, ghosts working in a café and just all around pleasant and friendly stuff that makes you a bit amiably surprised and refreshed (if you ever were) from gardening, farming (talk about using the setting efficiently), cooking, exploring and just slice-of-life-ing. That’s one of the strengths of Flying Witch – the balance between occasional unexpected supernatural incidents and comfortable life at a beautiful place doing whatever the heart’s desire is. The only thing that a bit bothered me is that some of the characters or phenomena of the witch world didn’t receive as much attention as they (I think) would be able to withstand. I don’t say that the composition of the show was lacking – you can only put in so much content into a 12 episode show. Still, there are many things left that I would like to see more and to know more about. I guess this problem can be at least partly attributed to the fact that the anime is an adaptation. The mangaka probably plans her stories so that they would provide just the useful information at a time and wouldn’t leave her with less ideas that are being prepared for the future. To please the thirst for more there’s only two choices – embrace the manga or not that hopefully wait for any news of the possibility of a second season.

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     Usually in any anime you can’t rely only on the setting and the originality of the premise. That’s where the characters come in and even if I can’t claim that Flying Witch has a very memorable cast, the dynamics between the characters and some of their individual quirks make it a good watch. There’s nothing much to say about Makoto herself, only that she is a pretty normal girl, a bit absent minded sometimes (and because of that relying on her cat) but trying to do her best. Chito-san behaves like an ordinary cat with all the catlike mannerisms and that further gives some strength to the realistic part of the show which is balanced by frequent Makoto’s interactions with Chito-san as if she was just another human. Maybe our witch just knows her cat perfectly but that certainly adds some sense of magic to the atmosphere. Other secondary characters worth mentioning are Chinatsu – a kid that behaves like a kid. As weird as it sounds, it’s not that usual in anime with a few exceptions (that are getting more frequent with Amaama to Inazuma and others). You can’t not smile when Chinatsu reacts to something with all her childish soul or just idealistically and enthusiastically tries to pursue something. Makoto’s sister Akane is another character worth mentioning, being totally unlike her sibling – outgoing and energetic (when she’s not sleeping) world class witch full of weirdest ideas. The cast’s strength lies in the interactions between themselves, the strong sense of kinship and mutual reliance, just like you would want to have in an ideal family. Also, it’s remarkable that even if Flying Witch tells episodic stories, the characters, even less prominent ones, retain their memories of recent matters. There’re many instances of episodic shows whose order of episodes you can change without any impact, but this one not only adds just a little bit more to the realism using recurring characters and reminiscences of past events but also makes the grand story more cohesive.

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Excerpts from the anime

    Let’s move to the visuals, where one big part of the greatness of the show lies. Talking about the character designs I just don’t know how to define what actually makes them look very pleasant, but it really does. It was probably the first few seconds of the PV of the show that I, still don’t knowing basically anything about Flying Witch, thought “Hey, I could watch this”. The designs somehow just add much to the soothing, relaxing, comfortable and warm atmosphere that is one of the strengths of the show. Another huge positive comes from the backgrounds. When you watch the anime you can’t not notice that the surroundings seem somehow different from usual cardboard cutout buildings and streets. The reason of this is the hard work of the staff – the town where everything happens actually exists, and that is Shimoyuguchi near the castle town of Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. There was a series of articles on Crunchyroll (here, here and here) about that which you should definitely check. Of course anime makes every place look way flashier and brighter to accommodate to the general feeling of the show but many actually existing buildings and places enhance the sense of location many times and, even if it’s not the thing you notice very easily, make you far more attached to the show.

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    As with the character designs, I fell in love with the soundtrack from the first glance. I can’t remember how long ago it was that some first notes of the first track paired with the visuals would move me so much. The general mood of the soundtrack remains very light, simple and laid back, as expected of a piano, some strings and woodwinds for the most part. The beautiful main theme reappears at various moments in different arrangements but the lack of complexity isn’t a bad thing. Sure, many people probably won’t be compelled to listen to the soundtrack all the day but as an accompaniment for the story it works well. Still, for me especially the main theme and some other jazzy tempered tracks are some of the more beautiful musical pieces of the year.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Kowata Makoto' by Yoshiaki Dewa

     Flying Witch is an easy anime to miss if you prefer something that has action and high stakes. Still, I highly recommend to dive into the heartwarming greatness of iyashikei and enjoy small beautiful things that happen every day. In this perspective Makoto, who begins her explorations of tiniest joys of a more rural setting than she (and probably the viewers) is accustomed to and Chinatsu who still views the world as a place full of wonder and happiness are the best characters the show could have had. Some little and innocent magic tricks and the queerness of the world of witches renew the enjoyment when you begin to get comfortable with Makoto’s everyday cooking and farming, accompanied by the soundtrack that could compete for the best aspect of the show – it’s very pleasing that all those parts comprising the show really work together to reach one goal – the brilliant atmosphere.

     I believe, this anime is

 3
Good

     Of course it depends on your preferences but if you are not indifferent to the slice of life genre or just want to have a calm and soothing experience, look no further – Flying Witch is just for you.

Musings and Reflections – Autumn 2016 Week 4

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 3)

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    Sometimes I think that 3-gatsu is made of two different, almost antagonistic shows – one of them is a cheesy slapstick comedy and the other is a good existential study. There’s probably no need to say which part I like more. Since this episode was more serious, thankfully cringeworthy moments were barely there but still the show is just terrible in moving between the moods. Where it is truly stunning is the backgrounds. Everywhere from warm city lights in the evening to the scorching hot afternoon (the depiction of the sun (which made me remember similar feeling that I got from the first episodes of Steins;Gate) is amazingly beautiful) 3-gatsu does a magnificent job in deepening the atmosphere. Another thing worth mentioning is the metaphor of the flying balloons. I might be wrong but it looked like they symbolized all the children that try to become shogi players and improve their skills. Everyone gave in except the two who for some time flew up together but ultimately Rei came out on top. I just wish every future episode would just try to develop such themes that are present (like if it’s alright to cease remembering your dead loved ones) and stop any attempts to provide comedy.

Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep. 4)

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    The waiting for the second part of the story wasn’t for nothing. Even if the mask youkai wasn’t that frightening visually, the idea of it is rather unsettling. Pushed by Matoba, Natsume gets to see a bit more of the world of the exorcists and its problems. Wanting or not, he looks to be drawn not only into the affairs of youkai but also to the business of various people which lead him (according to the preview) to question the method Taki (finally an episode with her) uses and probably the existence of the Book of Friends. It’s not clear how Natori is also connected to all the events and he so far remains an unpredictable variable. As much as I love episodic Natsume, some overarcing story that touches both various relationships among both humans and youkai seems very interesting. By the way, the overall development of all of the seasons seem to start with Natsume not being able to communicate and connect with anyone then slowly learning to befriend various youkai who behave like children or people consumed by some specific ideas or emotions and not being very complex when you start to understand them. Finally Natsume looks to be advanced enough in relationships with youkai to be able to readjust and meddle in the affairs between humans.

Yuri!!! on Ice (Ep. 4)

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     Probably the weakest episode so far for a number of reasons. The animation didn’t feel that fresh anymore most of times and in some scenes it was apparent that the studio did take some opportunities to take a shortcut or two and save the resources for some more impressive moments. The story also didn’t have all that momentum that the first episodes were filled with. Well, it’s expected because you can’t go through all the season only increasing the speed (unless you are Baccano). The amount of the explanations of the technical skating stuff was quite high but it’s probably better than to have it on a more serious episode with some stakes and concentration of the viewers needed. I think the most memorable things this time were the introduction of two new characters who don’t seem to be that important after all and the continuation of the yaoi theme. If one of the main pair would be a girl I would almost take a bet on anything that the show is a romance and the two of them will certainly end up together. Now I’m not sure and feel a bit confused – are these scenes still only a tease and fanservice (manservice) or are there any serious intentions? The name of the song I could hardly call perfect. Everything it reminded me of is a proverb of my country that translated sounds “cow on ice” and means “bull in a China shop”.

Fune wo Amu (Ep. 3)

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    I have a mixed feeling about the episode. To think that a grown man (as immature in some aspects as he is) would think he fell in love only after a minute or so of a conversation is a bit far-fetched. Not to mention that other people with decades of life experience also would want to play such a childish game and take Majime’s confusion as something real. That’s what I can expect and partly tolerate in a high-school drama series but come on, I think every character should be grown out of that phase already. Some random news about the future of the dictionary being threatened isn’t the most original way to move the plot forward. Now let’s move to the good stuff – the soundtrack was as amazing as always and the beginning of the episode was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve seen this season – the close up shot of the yawning cat was unexpected and inventive and Majime’s “conversation” with Kaguya as well as his walk, including bowing to the lamp post after slamming into it didn’t let me lose a smile on my face. There have been tons of shy anime characters but this one shines with sincerity and that as well as well-handled writing of the scene made up for a very entertaining moment.

Musings and Reflections – Autumn 2016 Week 3

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 2)

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     3-gatsu no Lion disappointed me most of all the second episodes I watched this season. First, the little detail about the lips of the characters remaining off-putting as hell looks to persist throughout the whole show and I’ve no idea how to unsee them. The bigger problem is the inconsistency between the moods of the first two episodes. The first one introduces Rei as a totally, almost suicidally unhappy shut-in without any friends and only playing shogi with some old dudes. Then the sisters as the rescuers appeared and even that felt a bit too contrasting with the first half. Now we see that apparently Rei has all kinds of people who consider themselves as his friends and act like all kinds of comedy relief characters. Rei is demoted from a hikikomori to a slightly unsocial guy (with ugly lips). Maybe it’s my own fault to expect from the series something deeper than just marginally important remarks of Rei’s parents’ death and lots of gags. At least I hope that 3-gatsu no Lion will manage to create some balance between the serious parts and comedic material.

Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep. 3)

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    It‘s hard to say anything about the episode because it was just a set-up for the next part coming the following week. Probably the best part was just getting to see Natori again, a little glimpse of Taki (very brief, but it’s something) and that Matoba guy. In this way everything that was interesting was so purely for the nostalgic reasons. Well, I hope the next episode will pay off for both of them as no further introductions are needed and the hunt for the corrupt exorcist may begin from the first second. As with the previous weeks, even if the whole feel of the show remains very relaxing and, well, iyashikei-like, sometimes I just can do nothing but to be pulled out of it by the desire to see just a bit clearer and sharper lines from animation standpoint and more Nyanko-sensei. So far he has been just a furry running spherical object with only one instance of having to save Natsume (and that happened over a very brief time period). Some funny facial expressions from him are always a welcome treat but it would be nice to see him treated more like a character rather that a mascot of the show.

Yuri!!! on Ice (Ep. 3)

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    If this isn’t an introduction into the yaoi section of anime I honestly don’t know what is. I don’t say that this is something that I’m too bothered with but it just would be satisfying to have not only an anime about an obscure (in anime terms) sport but also to have it without the overarching too obvious objective to please the fujoshis. The sequences of Yurio’s memories and Yuri’s fantasies looked very good – both were exceptional and surreal enough as both of them were mind products. Also it’s interesting that ever-so-stylish-and-colorful Yurio’s memories were monochromatic while quite shy Yuri showed many colors and imaginative figures. The skating part may not have been as polished as in the first episode but it was impressive enough – again the physique of the bodies and character animation is as well conceived as in any show. If Yurio is really leaving for the time being it feels a bit too soon – the chemistry and dynamics between the two skaters as not-quite-friends but not-really-bitter-competitors were very enjoyable.

Fune wo Amu (Ep. 2)

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    Last but not least comes the second episode of Fune wo Amu that was on par with the first one, if not better. I can’t say for sure what it exactly is but I find myself enjoying this show more than any other this season. The animation isn’t something exceptional but probably every other aspect is more or less worth talking about. The soundtrack again is everything I could wish for, the entrance of the new girl was met by my fanboying moment over Maaya Sakamoto’s voice (I think that scene also featured a great overall sound design)… Sure, the theme being making of some dictionary can be thought of as either being too weird or just a bit unusual in order to invoke character interactions in less conventional circumstances. Still, there’s something heartwarming and elevating about people passionately talking about the purpose and works of their lives, even if you start thinking about cracking a smile here and there about quite unusual metaphors between dictionaries and, well, everything else.

Musings and Reflections – Autumn 2016 Week 2

3-gatsu no Lion (Ep. 1)

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    Just as expected from Shaft, it was a fairly entertaining episode that definitely hooked me. Sure, there have been better starts but the artstyle alone carries a lot of weight, making Sangatsu probably the best looking show I’ve seen this season. However, not all the looks deserve a praise – character designs, to be more specific, their lips, especially when characters are not smiling, look very weird, grumpy and a bit off-putting.  I guess it kind of works with Rei who may deliberately look and behave more elderly than the actual Grandpa in the show because of his internal struggles but I doubt the girls should have the same characteristic. Anyway, that’s probably a little quirk of the show that will just have to be overlooked. The set up may not be the most exciting one but so far it piqued my interest with not that common theme of playing shogi. The relationship between Rei and the girls will probably remain on a level of slice of life with some drama added (and not omitting some comedy that worked surprisingly well). Overall it just looks to be a decent and pretty entertaining anime. Good.

Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep. 2)

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    That was a typical good episode of the show. Even if the quality of the visuals isn’t a thing to talk about, the story just had that special something that manages to tug at one’s heartstrings. It wasn’t something extraordinary but you just can’t not feel some compassion towards the little youkai, especially when the encounter between the man and the youkai proved to mean so much to her and so little to him. This in the context of the show reassures once again how different humans and youkai are, but looking deeper, youkai are people, too or, to put the idea in different words, many youkai of the series can be thought of as humans that are slightly different from the society. Thinking about the episode, it tries to say that you never know how much impact a single gesture or word can have on anyone and it’s those precious moments when two persons tune up together that should be cherished. By the way, in the manuals how to hit on girls a new technique named “Natsume: inquire about the health of her grandpa” should be included.

Yuri!!! on Ice (Ep. 2)

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    It’s probably not unexpected but the show still feels very fresh. I think the mood of the story onwards will resemble this episode a lot more than the first one – this right balance of various character quirks, some humor (even as with the first episode some of it wasn’t the funniest thing ever) and generally slice of life atmosphere can carry the show for a long time and keep everything fairly exciting. The pacing also must be mentioned among the positives – everything just keeps happening in a way that doesn’t let you be bored but at the same time persistently pushes the story forward. Character animation remains one of the strongest points since that adds a lot to the realism (bodies moving with enough inertia for example is just a joy to watch) and thus balances the comedy scenes. Having two characters that are basically the opposites in every possible aspect and getting them to compete for the same goal is a very wise way of ensuring character growth and just the movement of the story. Well, everything probably sounds more positive than it should but on the other hand, Yuri!!! on Ice deserves it justly.

Fune wo Amu (Ep. 1)

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    You probably couldn’t get more niche in anime than thinking up a story about making a dictionary. Nonetheless, the episode was surprisingly enjoyable. Yes, the animation wasn’t always the best I’ve seen and certainly could have used more FPS but otherwise at first glance such a boring theme did get me interested. One of the best aspects of the show looks to be the soundtrack. Yoshihiro Ike who has worked on Karas and Ergo Proxy just knows how enhance the atmosphere, how to accompany certain scenes and what to do when the music becomes the main focus. Also I was simply amazed how many brilliant Vas the show managed to get – listening to Maaya Sakamoto (Shiki from Kara no Kyoukai), Hiroshi Kamiya (Natsume from Natsume Yuujinchou) and Takahiro Sakurai (Griffith in Berserk) is just a feast for ears. Clearly, that’s just a lot of potential and the visuals may be the limiting factor for the realization of all the possibilities but so far Fune wo Amu certainly and deservedly piqued my interest.

Musings and Reflections – Autumn 2016 Week 1

Natsume Yuujinchou Go (Ep. 1)

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     Ah, that brings so many memories! Looks like this season will explore the past of Reiko and her relationship with Natsume’s grandfather. I can only approve of that and second that it is probably one of the more interesting aspects of the story that still hasn’t received enough attention. Recalling production quality of 91 Days I can sadly confirm that animation will not be the main selling point of this show but hopefully the stories will compensate for that more than enough. Getting Aimer to sing the ED also looks like a big deal. Shame that ED’s visuals are lacking. Overall it looks like for people already engrossed in the story of Natsume it will be at least a decent experience. Visuals may not be the strongest part of the show but well, they never have been. This particular story wasn’t the most interesting compared to others from the past but it solidly reintroduced the characters and set up the road for the future. As it’s the only anime this season that I picked without any thoughts I certainly hope it will do well. At least, it has every mean to do that. Yes, nostalgia may boost the value of the series higher than it truly deserves but 4 seasons of constantly good delivery speak for itself.

Yuri!!! on Ice (Ep. 1)

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     I wonder how many people similarly to myself at first misunderstood the title. Say what you will but it much more resembles a possible yaoi and not yuri. Anyway, it was truly memorable first episode and not only because ice skating is not such a usual sport. The director previously has made an episode (Ep. 28) in Nihon Animator Mihonichi and it also featured ice skating. Then as well as now the quality of the animation is quite stunning. I’m not sure if the story will turn out to be as good, not all of the humor works well on me nor do I qualify for the apparent target audience but the sheer beauty of the visuals as well as my country’s flag appearing among others in the background during Victor’s performance is more than enough to make me stick along. It looks like in general Yuri!!! on Ice will be more or less a typical sports anime with competitions, rivalry and possible friendship between the main three ice skaters near the end.

Musings and Reflections – end of Summer 2016

The season overall proved to be an ok one. Some shows I liked more, some less, but there wasn’t any that would have made me regret time spent watching. On the other hand, the season didn’t provide any masterpieces. ReLife and Mob Psycho 100 will probably receive my attention some time later as well as Berserk but this one will have to wait a lot more since I’m still catching up with the manga before I’m ready to complete the old series and then move to the new. Now, turning to the watched shows…

Orange

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    I still remember with joy how energetically the show opened my summer season – a very catchy (will come back to this later on) OP, some mystery motives, quite distinctive usage of colors (occasionally washed out scenery (like in Steins;Gate and that’s no wonder since both of the shows share the same director) and extensive green tones everywhere)… Many of the positives remained for the whole show, also Orange managed to create a sense of a very realistic group of friends whose actions between themselves just speak of warmth, trust and just joy of being together. Sadly the studio that made Orange wasn’t that prepared to tackle all the problems – many times production flaws were very visible, lack of more frequent sakuga or pretty easily noticeable CG elements didn’t help either. The story as far as it concerned the relationships between the characters was very enjoyable but the mystery aspect that depended on some sci-fi premises felt very out of place. Where Orange tried, it did well but other times the show could look surprisingly bad. By the way, as far as I understand, the title of the show doesn’t have pretty much any connection with the show itself. Weird.

Tales of Zestiria the X 

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    Oh, Ufotable. Probably much of the budged of the show was spent to put some salt called ‘CG dragons’ in the wound of studio Deen. As it’s the custom of the studio, there’s little that can be criticized about the production. Still, 3D backgrounds didn’t feel that connected with the 2D characters, especially during some early episodes. Yes, everything was beautiful and technically stunning but it’s hard to immerse completely when flat and not flat objects try to convince you that they can belong to the same space. That aside, the story felt not the most impressive and many times reminded me of a standard RPG with characters fighting, walking, talking, doing some other stuff and then repeating everything all over again. I’m not sure that the writers chose the most appropriate way of adapting the original game. Many things got only a small touch of light and you just feel the need of playing the game to know something for sure – the world is vast but getting only hints doesn’t always bring satisfaction. Also, the insertion of a part that was basically the new Berseria game advertisement certainly didn’t help the pacing, overall story or anything else.

Tales of Zestiria the X  receives the award of most impressive scenery of the season. How else.

Amaama to Inazuma 

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    To summarize everything into two words, the show was just a recipe book. It sounds very unfair to demand some action from a slice of life show but Amaama to Inazuma just didn’t dare to stray from its comfort zone. Exploration of the relationship between a father and a daughter sounds good, some life wisdom sprinkled here and there each episode also makes the show more appealing, introducing the viewers to the Japanese cuisine and showing how to prepare the meals again is a positive but when you do only the same stuff for the whole season, want it or not, it becomes painfully repetitive and boring. Even if it’s a slice of life show I’d like some uncertainty about  the next episode, some unexpected events or just the change of the setting. When everything happens over and over again without anything substantial changing, I have to point out that even a slice of real life doesn’t always act according to all your plans and expectations.

91 Days

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     So, the final show of the season but certainly not the least enjoyable. Generally 91 Days is The Godfather: The Animation come into being with some flavor of J.R.R.Martin’s “everyone dies” mindset. Even if it’s possible to define the anime using very little words, watching it proved to be a very rewarding experience. Studio Shuka might not be the one you think about when asked about highest production values (and it certainly showed), the characters tended to be immersed into themselves and rarely showed their true thoughts and intentions but part from that I hardly have anything to complain about. The feeling of a real life when you don’t know for sure which characters are going to survive a single episode felt refreshing, various mind games, even if sometimes lacking a more personal approach usually looked enjoyable enough, the soundtrack gave just the right atmosphere of jazzy prohibition era. The show probably wasn’t the most visually stunning but its setting and stories proved to be more novel and entertaining than many other anime.

91 Days receives the award of the most memorable character of the season, that being Mr. Fango – the spiritual brother of Ladd Russo is very distinct from the entire cast of the show as well as the whole season. You just can’t be any more extravagant and quirky, especially when it comes to food being offered to your guests. If that’s not enough, 91 Days receives the awards of favorite OST  and favorite anime of the season. I guess if you kinda like something, you like it whole.

     Favorite OP not without competition was that of Orange. Contrary to the show actually providing some animation as well as giving energetic, youthful and joyful impression proved to be enough for me to eagerly await it every episode and hum along. OP of Tales of Zestiria the X also had a very catchy song but I take some minimalism rather than a bunch of random action stuff, as cool as it was.


     91 Days would get a favorite ED award but after thinking a bit I decided to trash that away – the shows OP is much more memorable, setting the mood well and giving some insight into the mischievous dealings of the mafia world and unexpectedly changing allegiances. If I didn’t try to like Orange as much as I did, 91 days could have had a total musical victory over the other shows.

Musings and Reflections – Summer 2016 Week 13

Orange (Ep. 13)

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   No surprises this time – the stakes were as high as ever, Kakeru’s life depended on a single moment but it turned out that a long labor and persistence can change even the worst future – everything that have been building up since the start of the show, all the relationships, all the chemistry between the group proved to be crucial for the end result and the story ended in a predictable but nonetheless satisfying way. It’s probably for the best – not the most impressive but well executed ending is far better than half-baked experimental one.  At least as far as the new timeline goes. All the stuff with the letters remained the weakest part but leaving that plot device aside it was a rewarding show. Naho’s (and everyone else’s) courage and care for Kakeru during the last crucial moments were so much more endearing recalling all the growth during all the season. Orange wasn’t the best anime ever, but nonetheless for me it was certainly enjoyable.

Tales of Zestiria the X (Ep. 12)

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    Once again the episode felt like it had too much story to tell and too little time to do that properly. We got a fight, everything was wrapped up, new goals (for the second season) were set but was it an impressive episode? Not really. Sure, Alisha’s scene when she finally saw the Seraphim was a good one, knowing how much she has craved for the coexistence, the animation was as good as always but overall it was just another episode of a decent but not that outstanding show. Somehow I kept remembering Fate series – the boss looked like Berserker and Alisha with Sorey formed a contract not that dissimilar from that of the Type-Moon blockbuster. Well, I still have no idea what that contract will change. Also, I’m not too happy in general since the magic powers don’t seem to be defined in any way so without any limitations it’s hard to tell when the stakes are really high. I guess every single complaint points into the necessity of having played the game.

91 Days (Ep. 12)

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     Probably it was a very fitting ending to the series. The conclusion that even after almost fully executed revenge you don’t really get anything but rather lose some dear people, future prospects and goals was natural and Angelo’s death (I think he died though there possibly can be other interpretations) proved that and showed the meaninglessness of the existence with all the ties cut and precious people wiped out. The soundtrack (except the insertion of the ED that felt a bit out of place) once again enriched the atmosphere and the last track paired with the animation of waves felt like a very satisfying ending, maintaining the mood of the last minutes of the show while also giving you enough space to ponder about everything that happened. Somehow after finishing everything I feel rather melancholic about the show rather than feeling some pity or sorrow – many characters invited their tragic fate themselves and, as sad as it is, karma works.