Okay, so I didn’t stick to the whole monthly retrospective thing (mainly because I’d have to make an effort keeping up with airing anime as opposed to frantically catching up at the eleventh hour, a week before the new season hits – what a horrifying thought!). But could I at least muster up the effort to stick with seasonal retrospectives, a paltry four times a year…?
L-let’s not answer that.
Attack on Titan Season 2
“We were just kids… Didn’t know a thing”.
As was the case with much of fandom close to half a decade ago, I was utterly besotted with Attack on Titan. Holding the manga close to my heart, all arms crossed over forming that iconic fist; delving into each chapter’s minutiae propelled along by the unbridled zeal of a convert, scrawling lengthy meta regarding beloved favourites. And yet as those players exited the stage to no applause, set swiftly changing to a narrative wasteland sustained by convoluted political machinations I found myself growing restless. Hoping that Bert, Reiner, Ymir, and Annie would appear once more. By the time they did however I had long since left the franchise behind, barely stirring when I heard of the second season’s announcement despite it adapting the manga’s most emotionally stirring moments. I was certain that Tetsurou Araki would bring upon the ruination of cherished material through grandiloquent conceits devoid of nuance; hoarse throats roaring alongside a Sawano score.
To my surprise however the cast’s emotionally-charged insights are treated with respect deserved rendering the season infinitely compelling; overshadowing Romeo and Juliet’s week-long stint in hell with Attack on Titan’s second season spanning forty-eight hours, if even. The unrivalled potency of Ymir and Historia’s shared connection melting the icy cold surrounding their fraught existences, later meeting on the ground where names and identities blur every bit as stunning as I remember it being through the pair choosing to live for themselves. Connie coming face-to-face with his mother more nerve-wracking due to Studio Wit’s recent makeup technique emphasising genes with golden eyes; heart thumps filling the soundscape as a choked “welcome home” escapes. Sasha’s boisterous return to her village, seeing the value in interpersonal connections as she drives an arrow into a titan’s eye, triumphant anthem ‘counter-attack mankind’ cheering her on.
Reflective puddles accentuating the conflictive duality within Reiner, roles of ‘soldier’ and ‘warrior’ precarious as the wind roars on. A tattered red flag as relationships are on the verge of being torn asunder, characters pushed to the limit emotionally and physically as it threatens to topple off the wall entirely – which, of course, it does. A triumphant smile courtesy of Bert thinking of returning home beside his beloved friends, otherwise so closed off and cautious. An eerie silence following Reiner’s most harrowing dissociative fugue, rapid breathing and pupils dilating as realization dawns, with horror – Marco’s scream, Bert and Annie in tears. Yuuki Kaji’s vilifying dripping with convincing venom, searing the traitors he once looked up to, tension taught as a violin string. Ymir’s haunting recollection spanning seventy years, ‘Call of Silence’ singing of her isolation and newfound strength (“You will know you’re reborn tonight/Must be ragged but I stay by your side/Even if my body’s bleached to the bones/I don’t want to go through that ever again”).
It’s all so incredibly poignant and beautiful, this exploration of child soldiers and grief harboured brought to unexpectedly terrific emotive heights rendering it my pick of the season. Once Erwin bellows out the OP’s title it serves as a phenomenal surge of love for the franchise, myriad snapshots at their most vibrant resulting in a kaleidoscopic swell of affection for its pitiful cast. Why Wit Studio took so long delivering this long-awaited season is shrouded in mystery, an act which resulted in one of the most severe sales drops in anime history. It may have lost most of its original fans, myself included. But this season served as a beautiful send-off for Attack on Titan. One more clenched fist, just for old times?
Little Witch Academia (second cour)
Little Witch Academia remained comfortably secure in its own fictitiousness until the very end, from loose transformative lines amplifying the unbridled autonomy Akko’s metamorphoses grant her to Sucy nudging everyone’s favourite little witch while suspended in mid-air, pointing down before they all go crashing down with a scream. Earnest sojourns into icy Jansson-esque reaches, faeries forming labour unions and going on socialist strikes, suited ladies engaging in old-fashioned duels – truly, the show has it all. And I would have been content to keep watching Trigger at their most playful, finding Akko’s quest to uncover the seven Horcruxes increasingly draining and Croix’s adversarial position frustrating despite her improvements to the Sorcery Solution System being just what Luna Nova needed. Yet as the show laid all its cards out on the table with an ominously discordant flick of its wand, I began to find even those more solemn narrative turns enthralling. Chariot’s excruciating reveal of being the source behind Akko’s struggles, the cause for their lessons late into the night leaving both yawning and stumbling startling in its abruptness. And yet the mentor figure is accepted despite it all. Of course she is. With Akko learning how to be true to herself. It’s a sentiment which extends to Diana coming to Akko’s aid when needed, consoling her over warm tea and warmer conversation shared amidst flurries of snow outside, beautiful in light of all their skirmishes. A day in Diana’s shoes earlier did little to assuage the sense of inferiority gnawing at Akko, raw with the twinkle of “Luna Nova’s shining star” sinking into every pore of her Squib-like existence; every twinkle on the moon, every spell flourish.
When all is said and done I’m still a sucker for the Power of Believing, my heart swelling upon witnessing all those negative reds transforming into positive greens burst across my screen, aiding Akko, Diana, and the rest of the New Nine Witches on their quest to save the world. “A believing heart is everyone’s magic” as a triumphant piece resonates in tandem alongside everyone’s optimism; a goofy grin adorning the world itself (extending to your utterly charmed blogger). Despite Little Witch Academia’s unevenness it has quickly grown into a delightful piece like no other, offering all the allure and sincerity children’s shows such as Osomatsu-kun and Ojamajo Doremi are graciously inundated with. As a child once taken with the winding corridors of Hogwarts and Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, starry-eyed like a certain Miss Kagari witnessing Shiny Chariot for the very first time, Luna Nova asserts itself with ease among the upper echelons of beloved magical academies.
Tsuki ga Kirei
To say I had… concerns over Kishi Seiji tackling what appeared to be a traditionalist boy-meets-girl romp would be putting it lightly, yet here I am at the end of the season still illuminated by Tsuki ga Kirei’s iridescent glow. Souseki Natsume’s eminent translation of ‘I love you’ remains a wistful cultural staple, ‘how beautiful the moon is’ cleverly encapsulating Koutarou and Akane’s burgeoning romance as they gaze longingly at each other from afar, struggling to transcend increasingly narrow verbal confines as emotions threaten to overflow. Initially the pair of lovable dorks are quite literally unable to say a word to each other (that scene at the drink dispenser my god), shyness overwhelming with him hiding in the comfortable shade of Dazai Osamu’s lexicon, her nervously fiddling with a plushie. Once confidence is gained however Koutarou is in turn able to establish a language of his own, making sense of an intimately personal world no longer filtered through the lens of another, this tabula rasa waiting to be filled with experiences beyond the pages of a Dazai novel. It’s a move which leads to (finally) establishing beneficial communicative efforts with Akane, polishing a novel draft. As the moon continues to shine on their jittery affection conveyed through Line emoji and dorky Snapchat filters, Tsuki ga Kirei is imbued with a sense of the modern which anime in general fail at capturing. Silence and technology speaks with otherwise worn staples taking on distinctly affecting connotations.
It’s a show which captures the sugary rush of being in a relationship for the first time, all dizzying bursts of sexuality (idol gravure spread intentionally contrasted with a suggestive Dazai passage – “a rose adorning my underwear; sir is unaware”) and browsing the internet for basic ‘HOW DO I RELATIONSHIP HELP’ questions. That said to a degree I did find it disappointing how it lacked the emotional honesty of last season’s spectacularly invasive Kuzu no Honkai, yet it nevertheless possess this undeniably wholesome appeal through charmingly grounded conceits, filial relationships likewise earnest with parental concerns tangible. I’M SO PROUD OF MY LITTLE DORKS.
Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭
My stance on Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata is fraught, its bawdy existence a garish mark on a talented writer’s canvas, a blight on a block that has long since lost credibility; my barely concealed glares across a medium searing. Tomoya a notoriously grating milquetoast only able to speak in terms of self-referential back-pats. Utaha all caustic tongue and poorly rendered tights – a high school light novelist par excellence, Tomoya of course being the only one melting her chilly façade. Eriri quick to overreact with her twintails – daughter of a British diplomat, popular illustrator pulling long convention lines, a childhood friend to boot. Megumi, sole glimmer of hope within this abyssal maelstrom, introduced through the camera lingering on her absentmindedly slapping a phone against bare thigh – mystifying in its abruptness as the first season went out of its way to avoid her being the focus of such leery shots. It was as if the second acknowledged that she had become an ersatz heroine, this object of desire to be objectified for female bodies are commodified within Saenai, cinematography voyeuristic. The manner in which it’s keenly trained on thighs and breasts leads to an almost unsettling element of dehumanization, all squirming limbs at the hypothetical scenario of being sexually assaulted. It’s a far and desperate cry from the nuanced portrayal of fractured interpersonal relationships on display in White Album 2, meaningful conversations about where passions lie torn asunder once Tomoya is mentioned and it’s back to trope-laden maligning, incriminating cinematography inviting the viewer to eye their forms.
Once Megumi (quite literally) lets her down through assuming the role of Blessing Software’s main heroine, it’s a suggestive move which ascertains this stripping of agency, closing the cavernous gulf between girl and ideal as she uncomfortably encroaches upon fictionalized terrain. The following episode features Megumi getting confessed to – a series first – as Eriri frames the sequence, hands steadily zooming in, restricting the girl as she falls ever-deeper into all that the medium expects of her. Although I had expected Megumi to yield to such ruinous nadirs, she thankfully takes a stand against Tomoya’s fecklessness which leads to a prolonged schism in their partnership, only coming to an end once he acknowledges her efforts in making their game. Unsurprisingly removing Tomoya’s maddeningly self-serving presence entirely is what enables Saenai to delve into by far its most sincere material via mutual respect forged between Utaha and Eriri, vilifying his reluctance to thoroughly engage with their creative passions, more concerned with girl than creator. Their begrudging relationship is infinitely more fascinating than all the platitudinous playing to the renai gallery which the first season rigidly adhered to, generous sakuga sequences enhancing their episode’s deserved creative conceits. While the sequel certainly proved to be more palatable, the series as a whole is nevertheless this infuriatingly indulgent mess representative of light novel tropes at their very worst.
Seasonal Rubbish Heap
The notion of sub-cultural icons flung unwittingly into the real world posits a most tempting interrogative exploration of ontological concerns, troped-up caricatures struggling to reconcile the inherent fictitious conceits of their existence with the real. How would they engage with their ‘Gods’, the world which spawned them? Would their reactions differ based on the manner in which they’ve been written, taking into account worldviews and potential genre restrictions? While Re:Creators certainly does attempt to tackle such an ambitious premise, it is lacking the nuance a scenario of its kind ought to be imbued with; all sweeping Sawano score and Aoki exposition. Characters standing at ideological ends all swords glinting and teeth gnashing makes for a terribly dull watch despite being presented via coded symbols viewers would possess an intimate familiarity with – a stern blonde knight hailing from a world waged by war; a caustic antagonist bathed in shadows talking in circles around the cast, manipulating half-truths all the while; a pink-haired magical girl calling for hope and unity above all. Moments such as Aliceteria struggling with the notion of strife experienced written for puerile entertainment are relatively engaging, protagonist saying her efforts offer hope in the real world in spite of it all. Mamika realizing the full extent of violence committed, harrowingly stating “there’s usually no blood”. Yet moments of potential strewn amidst bombastic drivel are simply not worth it, rendering Re:Creators a summer blockbuster I’ve long since grown tired of. Dropped at 11/22.
Swept along by the brouhaha enveloping WorldEnd appeared to be a most soothing prospect; its premiere elevated by this understated melancholy in no due part to ‘Scarborough Fair’ gently coaxing its leads to drink in all its fantasy town had to offer. A requiem for a world drifting towards it end, herbs mentioned (“parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme”) traditionally associated with death flourishing with purpose, intentionally highlighting the sentimental value of butter cakes. A semblance of hope arises through ostensibly trifling matters in the midst of a world where humans and beasts wage war, people pressing on as long as they have each other. I was eager to experience more of the poignancy WorldEnd had to offer, likewise promising in its key setting being an orphanage; protagonist governing over harbingers of hope instead of the expected harmettes… Only for a reveal involving said girls being weapons of mass destruction, shedding glistening tears on each light novel cover and we’ve seen all this before. Had WorldEnd marched on with its curiously dated hokum representative of a different era where doe-eyed heroines succumbed to magical illnesses perhaps the show wouldn’t have been as grating, yet once settled the script becomes inundated with infuriatingly self-aware jibes, extending to the second episode with leery cinematography and cat-haired girls coquettishly asking if the only adult male is hitting on them, tittering about lolicons and love triangles; the melody of ‘Scarborough Fair’ fading into the distance. Exacerbated by clumsy structural affections, its script having no faith in the viewer through characters muttering things readily apparent. Dropped at 2/12.
Hearing that Coaltar of the Deepers (of Mawaru Penguindrum fame) were tangentially associated with Anonymous Noise ensured that it would be a must-watch, Hayami Saori’s raw vocals suffused with unbridled angst enhancing Narasaki’s raucous textural delivery. It’s a show out of tune however, out of joint with contemporaneity feeling curiously adrift in 2017. Performances feature skittish CG cutaways, guitar-playing stilted and lacking in the passion resounding across the soundscape. Although I do have a penchant for melodrama the angst-ridden elements tied up in childhood friend woes and shrieks swallowed up by the twilight are draining; the indulgent manner in which Alice’s abandonment issues are trivialized resulting in an uncomfortable experience. Anonymous Noise could easily provide a case as to why Nana: The Tween Years would be an atrocious idea, its achingly mid-noughties aesthetics doing little to help its case with CLAMP limbs and saucer gazes. Dropped at 2/12.
Although I – like countless others, no doubt – went into Sakura Quest expecting it to be a spiritual successor to Shirobako featuring young adults grappling with the innumerable pressures of learning to thrive within a struggling industry, I found myself wanting. Did Yoshino’s precious memory, this key formative experience, really have to be tied to the remote village she found herself in by chance? Would it not have been just as effective to portray her experiencing a swell of empathy upon seeing photos of the town and its inhabitants in prosperous days gone by? No doubt she will emerge from this mess a better person (failing twenty or so interviews? yikes) but with so many other coming-of-age tales available I’m uncertain if it’s worth staying in Manoyama. Dropped at 1/25.
While I am quite fond of black comedies (the wildly imaginative classroom comedy with a wicked streak Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is my favourite Shaft production, no contest), Warau Salesman New made my skin crawl in a manner I would be reluctant to indulge on a weekly basis. Manipulating society’s more susceptible members slipping through its collective cracks with some sort of lesson in mind is beyond distasteful. Despite the show suggesting some sort of horrific, supernatural bent with the titular Salesman relentless in his malicious pursuits, the same feeling extends to the viewer – as if they’ve also been robbed, somehow. Dropped at 1/12
- Not caught up on Uchouten Kazoku or Sagrada Reset, so they’ll be accounted for in a later retrospective.
- Quelle surprise at summer’s dismal line-up. Can we just skip this season and mosey on over to the next one, please? There’s a good five or so shows I’m interested in!
- My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness seems to be gaining some serious traction so please pick it up, if at all possible.
- Watched Visions of Escaflowne per a friend’s enthusiastic recommendation and I thoroughly enjoyed it! Real sense of adventure, appreciatively sturdy female lead, fascinating meta implications on the act of shipping. Makes me long for an era where ‘isekai’ meant sprawling shoujo epics, not… Whatever seasonal charts are filled with nowadays.
- All caught up with Mob Psycho 100’s manga and the suspense suffusing the latest arc is unbearable. Childhood crush is on the verge of leaving town, Mob’s emotions come to a head as he tears through the city, leaving fissures and longing in his wake.
- As if this season of Attack on Titan couldn’t have been any better, one of my favourite bands (who you may recognize from Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko or Flowers of Evil) were behind its haunting ED!