These past couple of weeks have brought about so many changes! First and foremost: I just turned 30. Happy birthday to me 🙂 KWoo and I went on a very short trip up to Alaska for a belated engagement party and to celebrate both my parents’ wedding anniversary and my birthday. Second is the wrapping up of this spring season, which I have surprisingly kept current week to week. I think I cut out way more at the start than I have in previous years, so the marginally smaller number of shows was much more manageable. Third, I’m now less than two months from the big wedding date, so I’m eyeballing the new summer season with a wary eye. I know I’ll be way too busy in the upcoming weeks to keep up with as many as I would like, but I promise to backlog anything that looks interesting and to chat with you a bit throughout the summer about the few I will watch.
This particular spring, I had a handful of great, a decent amount of pretty good, and sadly too many of the mid-range. I probably could have cut out more, but I’m still too forgiving on the flags that raise in the opening episodes. Now, on to the first part of my season review!
- Joker Game
- Kuma Miko
- Anne Happy♪
- Bungou Stray Dogs
- Flying Witch
- Sansha Sanyou
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.
With Top Gear’s demise, Bakuon!! gave just the right dose of mechanical worship and human tomfoolery that I had been missing. Instead of cars, we’re presented with motorcycles, a mode of transport almost completely foreign to me. A friend of mine had recently purchased a Ninja; riding astride it had me feeling like a little kid on Santa’s lap. The possibilities of travel suddenly seemed to blossom before my eyes. Then I remembered, in the words of Hane, the inconvenience of cold, rain, and maintenance.
The negatives of bikes paired with the obstinate passion of the riders parcel much of the comedy of this show. We’re party to an air-headed main character with the ability to talk to her Honda, an aggressive, narrow-minded girl who brings a whole new depth to stupidity, a filthy-rich classmate with zero common sense, a Suzuki-nut who is the brunt of many jokes, a proud freshman with a Napoleon complex, and an ageless senior whose head is forever encapsulated in a helmet, Stig-style. Following along with Hane, Hijiri, and Chisame as they obtained their motorcycle permits and first bikes was only a small part of the fun in the series.
There’s an effortless humor in self-deprecation, and this show constantly makes fun of its characters and bikes. I’m faintly reminded of Sabagebu! in that light. Onsa is an insufferable know-it-all who mercilessly bullies Rin because she loves Suzuki motorcycles. Her idiocy rings clearly through words and expressions, but I also can’t help but like her open emotions. Then there’s the running joke regarding Hane’s mysterious connection to her training bike and later to the savior of motorcycles. Isn’t there some quote about an idiot’s propensity for luck? Whatever it is, Hane has an undeniable charm that wins over her club members, motorcycles, and Jesus look-alike. Her revelation at the end of a world without motorcycles perfectly captured the stupidity and genius of Bakuon!!
Rating: 1 dango
I love the idea of Joker Game and commend Production I.G. for proceeding with an arguably controversial work, however fictional the characters and scenarios are. There’s no overlooking the historical influences of the time period, and I felt a strange sense of taboo while viewing the events from this point of view. They do establish the fact that some, if not all, of the D-Agency spies sympathize with the Allies, but there’s no real concession of right or wrong. There’s only the game and our spies’ ability to play it and survive without taking any other lives.
What surprised me most was the overall layout of the show. I figured with a historical fiction such as this that there would be an overarching mystery or conflict. Instead, we are privy to several episodic events, usually with different protagonists. The closest thing to a larger story is the repeated attempts by other organizations inside and outside of Japan to either undermine or discover the truth of D-Agency. While I found the individual experiences interesting as mysteries, I never felt a connection to the characters and as such hardly cared about the endings, except for a mild “that’s too bad.” I wish that the opening episode where we first met the spies had its own mini arc for us to really get to know them before being thrown with them into missions.
Rating: 0 dango
Ahhhh, Machi. How you at times endeared yourself to me, and at others completely aggravated me. And the same goes for Natsu–at times I sympathized with his frustrations, and others wanted to shake him for either pushing Machi too far or for coddling her too much. For the most part, Kuma Miko danced the line between mortifying humor and utter humiliation.
My favorite parts were scenes oozing with cute and just a bit of comedy. Sections featuring Yoshio typically horrified me. I can certainly understand caring for your hometown and wanting to promote its charms, but must it really be done at Machi’s expense? He shamelessly uses her for advertisement purposes regardless of her own mental and emotional health. I know I’m probably taking this show far too seriously, but with an ending like we were given, how can I not be repulsed?
Rating: 0 dango
With two school-girl-centric anime this season, I’m happy to say that both surpassed my low expectations. Anne Happy was the fluffier of the two, but I can honestly recommend it as a heart-warming story about unfortunate girls finding happiness in their daily lives. The premise is simple from the very beginning and remains so throughout: Class 1-7, dubbed the “Happiness Class,” is filled with students of varying levels of misfortune. The main character is practically cursed with ill luck, another has an extremely frail body prone to injury and illness, another is in love with a construction safety mascot, and so on. Together, they almost cancel out one another’s shortcomings–that, or they charge on despite them.
As most others of its genre, the series takes an episodic story route. The adventures are each contained in one episode. We do see a steady growth of all of the girls as the season moves on–while they don’t necessarily lessen the effects of their individual problems, they do learn to cope with them with the help of their friends. Ruri becomes less insecure about her feelings for the construction sign, while Botan makes up for her physical weakness with mental strength. Anne is probably the only one who doesn’t really seem to change; from the beginning, her optimism and persistent attempts to succeed carry her through the never ending accidents that surround her. And now with friends who understand and care for her, she can also count on them to help out in times of trouble (every day).
Something else I found interesting was the inclusion of two more characters who aren’t quite featured enough to be main, but not sidelined enough to be fully secondary. Hibiki and Ren pop up a bit further into the series as fellow classmates with their own issues: Hibiki has absolutely zero sense of direction, and Ren attracts the adoration of all living females, human and animal. At first I was resistant to their increased airtime, but as their friendship with the main trio strengthened, I started to appreciate the way they, too, worked together. As a side note, if anyone sees any Timothy merchandise, would you tell me? I could use my own Timothy bodyguard 🙂
Rating: 1 dango
Bungou Stray Dogs
Much like Joker Game, I found the idea of Bungou Stray Dogs promising. Unfortunately, the series never really progressed beyond that–it remained mildly interesting, but insubstantial. I think the biggest issue for me lies in its lack of a convincing main cast for the Armed Detective Agency. We are introduced to the bulk of the agency’s employees at the start, and are tossed names familiar to many readers, like Edogawa Rampo and Osamu Dazai. Just hearing their names and suddenly being thrown into a group with them isn’t enough for me to really know them. Even though I’m familiar with some of the authors and characters, that doesn’t mean who they were in real life and how they’re portrayed in this anime are anywhere near the same. For all I know, this show is just appropriating their names for novelty’s sake. One thing I can commend this series on is its art, which very prettily showed off the different abilities of our cast.
We really only experience a couple of character-building stories before trouble slaps us in the face. I’m suddenly supposed to care about our ragtag agency, despite not knowing much about the opposing group, Port Mafia. The “enemy” is presented as shallow, bad guys out to either recruit or kill the main character. They, too, are blessed with supernatural gifts, but not the brightest of minds among their agents. When their evil almost runs its course, we’re provided with yet another authority called The Guild. At this point, I care even less about the power play in their community. Their introduction comes at the end of the series as a clear segue into the sequel scheduled to come this fall. I’m not sure if I’ll follow loyally along with Atsushi…
Rating: 0 dango
Hands down my favorite of the season, Flying Witch was a surprise and delight this spring. At a glance, it’s an unassuming show about a young witch living day to day in a peaceful town. She lives with her non-magical cousins and attends high school with humans. She struggles to fly on a broom properly, but at least has a black cat with whom to converse. It all sounds so normal, but that’s where the charm of this anime enters. The intersections of non-magic and magic are absolutely believable in their regularity. A lot of witch shows, or just fantastical series in general, work so hard to extend the mystical into every crevice, from basic appearance to every life and breath of their worlds. While high fantasy can be fun and I’ve read and watched a lot of it, I also enjoy the calmer-paced settings where I can easily imagine existing in my own neighborhood.
For the majority of the series, the stories are either half-episodes are single episodes. This all taking place in one town, we of course have recurring characters and places, but the situations all vary from one another. We meet other witches passing through or living in the same town as main character Makoto. We visit a restaurant only visible by the knowledgeable guest and frequented mostly by the otherworldly. We go hunting for mythical mandrakes and ordinary fiddlehead ferns. Some of my favorite repeated faces or scenes include little cousin Chinatsu, still in grade school and already knowing that she wants to become a witch. Then there’s Makoto’s older sister Akane, a fully-fledged witch with a great love for alcohol and magical experimentation. The character interactions in Flying Witch are exactly the type I wish more shows would take the time to include. In very little time, I felt a part of Makoto’s circle of friends and family, and looked forward to each week. And while the ending came far too soon for this single-cours series, using the festival to bring together the two sides of Makoto’s life was the perfect place to rest.
Rating: 2 dango
The second of my straight up high school girl series this season, Sansha Sanyou was unquestionably the more filling of the two, both in depth and flavor. The premise is strikingly similar at the start: we have a trio of girls who are all quirky in immediately noticeable ways. Main girl Yoko has fallen from wealth into poverty–she eats literal bread crusts for lunch every day and deeply values any gifts, particularly food, bestowed upon her. Her mannerisms still reflect that of a refined upbringing, and she just can’t shake two of her loyal family servants. Then there’s Hayama, a deceptively thoughtful (more like manipulative) and responsible girl who is the class representative. When the situation calls for it, the darkness within gushes out to intimidate others, but never fear! A mewling kitten is all that’s needed to make her forget her conniving train of thought. Finally, we have Futaba, a girl with a never ending appetite and the champion of every food contest she’s encountered. Of the three, I find her closest to my heart, and was thrilled to see that her character was crafted to not only love eating food, but to also showcase skill in preparing it. Her temporary horror at using roux for curry cracked me up since it was my initial response as well!
There’s no particular direction for the series other than the friendship between these three very different girls. Hayama’s brutal honesty at not using the term “friend” too quickly was so completely unexpected that I couldn’t help but actually laugh aloud and respect her for saying it. I also sympathize with Yoko’s yearning for close connections, particularly now that she is forced to deal with a whole slew of scenarios she previously wouldn’t have encountered, like taking her own prepared meals to school, and working part time for the money and not for the novelty of it. Talking about the bakery where she works, there included my other favorite character: Sonobe, former maid and current patissiere. Her “monstrous” resilience and love for dressing others up created some of the most awkward and funny scenes in the anime.
I would dearly love to see another season for this show, or to perhaps read the source material to see how much was used or left out. If you’ve read the manga, please do let me know if I’m missing out.
Rating: 1 dango
Part 2 to follow!