March 2017 Retrospective

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March comes in like a lion and here I am desperately playing catch-up before the new season starts in a… W-Wait, what do you mean it’s already after starting?!

As an aside, if you think spring appears to be lacking its usual sheen my pal Alex happens to be hosting a group watch of Yamamoto Sayo’s spectacular Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine as a means of celebrating its fifth anniversary. Newbies and veterans alike are encouraged to join in, so feel free to pop along! More details can be found here.

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Kuzu no Honkai (#8-12)

“Do you think I’m a terrible person?”

“Yeah, but I don’t blame you.”

Through its rather transgressive portrayal of existential conceits that arise in tandem with nascent bursts of adolescent sexuality, Kuzu no Honkai is winter’s most provocative paean. Rarely does the medium dredge up those more ruinous fundamentals of one’s being, all the loathing, the self-destructive leanings, it instead opting for cloying strictures which usually fail at capturing realistic psychological complexities; playing safe with flushed cheeks and stuttered words. As a startling refutation of such a safe model however Kuzu posits material which hits achingly close to home, acknowledging that we’re all a little scummy at heart but that doesn’t mean we have to punish ourselves forevermore. As its characters stumble into unhealthy modes of sexual validation they struggle to grow beyond all that in hopes of learning to respect themselves a little more. Despite all the humiliating confrontations and tears shed they are still human, agonizingly so, still worthy of redemption and love. Following a period of awkward avoidance, Hanabi and Mugi exchanging words for the first time as opposed to lapsing into physical comfort is a tremendous step for both as they acknowledge each other as people, pains shared giving them the strength to press on. Despite the unavoidably bittersweet sentiments pervading Kuzu’s finale their parting is something to be commended, serving as a painful yet crucial footnote in the grand old tome which is their lives… As Sayuri suggestively sings in its ending, they are parallel lines – fated to never meet. And that’s just fine. That said I would be reluctant to say expert characterisation can be said for the rest of its cast…

The vaguely Freudian elements inextricably tied to Narumi and Akane’s relationship disturbed me until the very end, and despite being terribly fond of Akane their engagement came across as a touch disingenuous, hurried, although I am relieved the narrative ensures that it’s anything but a cure-all. The unhealthy connotations don’t quite disappear, lingering despite it all. Beyond that Akane’s final date with Mugi destroyed me, his howling carried away into the rainy night as she offers a genuine, somewhat wounded expression heartbreaking. In terms of direction, with his penchant for disillusioned interpersonal conceits Andou Masaomi is certainly worth keeping on one’s radar, the abstract imagery shown throughout Kuzu’s opening tied into Akane’s psychology marvellous with its scattered petals, kaleidoscopic colours, and cold cinematic reels of detached sentiments speaking volumes about her deep-rooted issues. Most telling of all however is Akane’s thoughts eventually fading away to a brilliant white as opposed to the black which defined her. Absolutely stunning. With such a fierce contender off the bat Kuzu no Honkai secures my winter favourite with ease, but it’ll certainly be worth seeing what the rest of this year has in store for us scum…

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (#9-13)

Attempting to gather my thoughts on Hibike! Euphonium’s second season has become an increasingly challenging task as of late. Although I certainly respected what has grown into one of Kyoto Animation’s more celebrated offerings, it would be remiss to say its comparatively fragmented narrative affected me to the level its predecessor’s did. Part of which I suspect is due to Takeda Ayano conjuring suspiciously supplementary strands out of the ether, most of which I’m certain is due to the disingenuous diffusion of Kumiko and Reina’s relationship. Amusingly enough, Maidragon could potentially be parsed as an explicitly queer rejection of Euphonium’s romantic two-girl friendship model through emphasising a familial unit that involves two mothers and their daughter; a connection that goes beyond the idyllic realm of adolescent eternity through emphasising the grounded conceits of adult temporality. The series’ non-human personalities could additionally be construed as Others, marginalised figures searching for acceptance and a connection shared, a warmth absent in in their hometowns. Not that all of the dragons could be read as queer of course, but it is worth highlighting Tohru and Kobayashi’s surprisingly sincere connection, awkward comedic stylings (“I want to eat you, and I mean that sexually!”) gradually shifting into something richer and sustainable.

As Tohru attends to her beloved’s whims reality nevertheless threatens to shatter such a fragile happiness – “their lives are short”. And so an insidious darkness coils around her heart as time all but stops, dragon form towering menacingly behind as doubts overwhelm. Although their familial unit lives in harmonious bliss indulging in all matter of delightfully domestic activities, a note of uncertainty rings through every so often; futures trailing off into ellipses. Out at sea Tohru openly speaks about her parents in a manner which facilitates a legitimately queer reading with such heartrending pathos that it renders Maidragon’s finale all the more affecting as Kobayashi and Kanna are left to pick up the pieces – can Tohru’s family will ever accept her…? In particular Kobayashi’s reaction is a remarkably authentic depiction of someone jusssst about keeping it together, grief expressed through distracted mannerisms despite the essence of Tohru pervading every inch of their home; coffee cheerily brewed before departing, clothes drying on the balcony… Heartbreak lingers via a chaotic sequence depicting Kobayashi and Kanna struggling in her absence with cinematography emphasising a flower symbolising family and crying out a profound statement: ‘I long for you’. Eternity isn’t a given which renders their time all the more precious, an agonisingly transparent observation of Tohru’s being that they’ll never be able to grow old together… But what they do have is the rest of Kobayashi’s life, and love shared. Understanding. A connection. It is quite the powerful conceit placed in sharp juxtaposition to Euphonium’s fireworks soaring across the midsummer sky, an entire genre side-eyeing Kumiko and Reina lacing fingers together.

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Little Witch Academia (#7-11)

Although it seems as if Little Witch Academia’s magic has faded for many, I continue to find myself thoroughly charmed by Akko & co.’s episodic escapades exploring the curious realm they inhabit. Studio Trigger’s unbridled flair for the cartoonish results in a vibrant mushroom-fuelled exploration of Sucy’s psyche; the caustic witch sublimating potential facets of her personality which do not fall in line with the theoretical edifices of her self-schema. A smattering of western influences facilitate this trip into her mind, all Saturday morning villains cackling in the depths of night and monochromatic film reels. Beyond its wacky stylings however LWA continues to draw attention to the precarious state of its world through oddly moving vignettes – what begins with necromancy hijinks unfurls into a moving chance for an estranged father to connect with his daughter one last time, the glory of witches filtered through a more intimate lens. Wistfulness most suggestively emerges via a revealing conversation the polarizing Andrew has with his own father, despite being under the influence of a love potion frustration bleeds through. As Akko likewise lays her heart bare, illuminated by a glimmering fountain, the boundary between spell and reality no doubt blurred.

Our plucky protagonist has also become a point of contention in recent weeks but I feel as if she nevertheless goes from strength to strength, Akko at last finding something she excels at through mustering up her boundless compassion for others to pass Philosophy of Magic with flying colours undeniably sweet. Through the tutelage of her mentor Ursula in particular, I can only hope she continues to reach new heights now that LWA’s establishing cour has come to an end. Kill la Kill may have fallen apart long before its midpoint, but going into the second half it seems as if the spell Trigger’s latest has cast remains as strong as ever for those that happen to be susceptible to it. Spurred on by the mysterious pull of the Blue Moon, Akko venturing into a realm she dare not tread arises in tandem with a sense of horror… The consequences potentially unravelling into a feminine reconstruction of an Irish myth if the Claíomh Solais allusions are anything to go by.

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Sangatsu no Lion (#18-22)

With two-cour series on a startling decline due to a proliferation of overwhelming internal pressures (glance at the number of single cour series debuting in spring with horror), finishing one has become something of a rarity. In light of all that Sangatsu no Lion is a recent lengthy endeavour I will certainly miss. Although it was not a show I watched weekly, instead checking in every so often to see how Rei & co. were faring, I enjoyed my time spent with such a pensive – yet uplifting – piece and am warmly awaiting its return this autumn. Sangatsu spent its first season’s final weeks in style through a spectacular focus arc involving Shimada, kicking off with an arresting twist on an aesthetic staple courtesy of Abe Gen’ichirou: the waves of Shimada’s style rushing in with purpose, Rei struggling against its all-consuming tide. The loveable underdog’s fears and achingly poignant sentiments surface once a do-or-die match looms amidst scenic imagery of his rural hometown. Nostalgia-fuelled musings serve as the building blocks for Sangatsu’s construction of a convincing realm where although nothing seems to happen, the memories it harbours mean everything.

This is without a doubt Sangatsu at its most affecting yet, Shimada earning the viewer’s sympathy with ease as he grapples with the realities of his situation – on the verge of losing it all on television, disparaged at every corner, feverishly dreaming of what could have been. He could have tended to the fields with a partner living a comparatively stress-free life yet it is a testament to the show’s inherent narrative strength that this is by no means painted as the easier path, Shimada still weighed with regrets even in the midst of this ostensibly idyllic scenario. Yet there is a glimmer of hope, a trace of warmth in the midst of professional chill as he’s a beloved figure despite it all, his nascent relationship with Rei in particular blossoming beautifully as the younger shogi player looks out for the elder’s well-being, displaying the same kindness that he had been previously shown by those around him. When a reporter later gushes about Shimada and Rei finds himself eagerly agreeing, you can’t help but wonder where the membership sheets for his fanclub are (I mean really, what a darling setting up all those community schemes to help the elderly). With the series drawing to an affecting close via a solemn school memory of Rei’s, I find myself content at the prospect of bidding it farewell, if only for now.

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ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. (#1-12)

Going by ACCA’s pleasant if rather distilled beginnings and my familiarity with Ono Natsume’s oeuvre, I certainly wasn’t expecting it to feature a multifaceted interplay between members of the same force, a piece rife with rich bureaucratic intrigue. Saying there’s something rotten in the state of Dowa would be putting it lightly as the titular ACCA organization serves as a peace symbol; motto “the kingdom is at peace” quickly becoming a platitudinous staple as it falls into ruin. ACCA auditor Jean travels around Dowa’s thirteen districts, restlessness suffusing individual vibrancy despite their respective quirks, ranging from rural lands known for overgrown produce to isolated nations wrapped up in archaic whims of centuries past, eternally stagnant. Conflicting agendas and tensions steadily rise as Jean finds himself caught in the midst of increasingly complex machinations, seemingly unable to trust anyone – including his dearest friend, Nino, filtering one-sided affections through the wistful lens of his camera.

Ono’s reputation as a culinary aficionado persists while Jean strives to break bread across Dowa’s districts, a far cry from the crown prince that suggestively displays a slavish devotion to his own district’s creations; turning an aristocratic nose up at others’ offerings, in turn casting aside his would-be subjects unless proving to benefit him in some way. Shrewdly incorporating panem et circenses, within ACCA’s lively world bread serves as a reconciliatory symbol up until the very last, its cast lazily chatting over meals and popping into bakeries every so often by no means a coincidence. In the finale, even the prince himself evidently undergoes a change of heart as he laments his right-hand man forgetting a promise to introduce him to a certain nation’s bread… Ever-reliable in its sleek storytelling, ACCA manages to pull off perhaps the most low-key coup I have seen through a diplomatic grace more series could certainly do with. A reasonably solid winter offering and easily Ono’s most intriguing work yet.

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Tokyo Tarareba Musume (#1-10)

As noitaminA marches on towards its untimely demise, with each new season I find myself despairing over women-orientated material shoved aside in order to make way for ostentatious otaku-centric spectacles (Saenai Heroine, for crying out loud!). Certainly reflective of consumer trends however, over time it seems as if a distinct shift has taken place with potential anime instead becoming live action dramas – a move which has generally proven to be favourable if weekly ratings are any indication. A fine example would be Higashimura Akiko’s Tokyo Tarareba Musume which aired this winter alongside the usual anime season. Known for penning quirky coming-of-age romp Kuragehime, Higashimura herself has earned quite a reputation for tapping into the anxieties of modern women through slapstick comedic stylings. Despite fears about how the material would fare in its transition, it is a testament to the talented team involved that Tarareba’s drama not only performs admirably but truly makes the original material its own.

Although Higashimura’s excitable voice resonates across the screen’s expanse, a markedly frenzied flair renders Rinko’s troubles all the more appealing; waxing philosophical on romantic endeavours while the ruminative drums and coos of Perfume’s ‘TOKYO GIRL’ gracefully dispel solemn reveries. As Rinko and her friends clumsily chase after fragile ideals longed for, to see various trials allow them to grow from self-centred, emotionally immature women to caring individuals, no longer held captive by societal perceptions makes for an almost cathartic watch. Despite finding Tarareba’s material reasonably engaging however, it often stumbles with mangled plot threads where you just know it could be so much better (one character complains that she places no faith in men who demand cooking to be something of a prerequisite in potential partners… only to fall for someone that compliments her cooking several scenes later!?). That said I am now more willing to check out similar live action adaptations, and there’s something eternal about drunken nights out spent fussing over perceived failings I can certainly empathise with. We’ve all been there!

  • I refuse to accept that Rakugo is ending so have yet to catch up with it whoops.
  • Watched more of The Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls and now feel mostly positive towards it, oddly enough, but may save those thoughts for a later post.
  • Gundam Wing may very well be the first Gundam series I see through to the end!
  • Dezaki can make anything look good. And I mean anything.
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