In the hopes of shedding my winter gear and moving into the spring, I’ve decided to continue on with this second part of my season wrap. I may or may not give my final thoughts on Tales of Zestiria the X after the last episode airs at the end of the month (05.13.17 edit: Zestiria review can be read here).
Overall, this winter season treated me remarkably well, with a couple of gems I would include in a top-30-of-all-time list. It’s not often that a series comes along I can definitively say exemplifies the possibilities of anime as a medium for storytelling, or that transcends its art style in such a way that anime skeptics can still appreciate. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka are two such titles.
In addition to these pillars, there are also several shows that have already become cult classics, such as Kemono Friends and Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon. These anime understood and executed their roles perfectly, capturing the hearts and loyalty of their audience almost from the beginning. Maybe I can’t provide a synopsis about either to a non-anime viewer without raising some eyebrows, but that doesn’t change the fact that these characters had a powerful impact on me. Shows like Kemono Friends remind me to see the best in myself and others no matter how bleak the surroundings. That’s a particularly important reminder these days.
- ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka
- Gabriel DropOut
- Kemono Friends
- Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon
- Kuzu no Honkai
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans 2nd Season
- Youjo Senki
- 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.
ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka
From start to finish, ACCA impressed me with its dedication to masterful storytelling and atmosphere. While I do consider this to be one of the best shows of the season, and probably for the year, it won’t work for everyone. The tone of voice, pacing, and topic may bore some viewers less inclined to watch political drama, particularly a drama that speaks as calmly as this anime. I’ve been so invested in the U.S.A.’s current politics and have always enjoyed quieter anime of substance that ACCA was an obvious choice from the very beginning of the winter season.
As with all good drama, it wasn’t clear when we first met Jean and his organization what direction the story would take. At first, I thought we’d follow a more laid back path exploring the various districts of the kingdom of Douwa–something along the same vein as Kino’s Journey. There is a bit of local flavor with each of the inspections, but they’re more of a seasoning to the underlying tension in the kingdom due to the king’s questionable health and his disagreeable heir. Obviously, discussion of the throne doesn’t come into play until the latter half of the show, but when it does, the pieces set up earlier in the season fall into place soon after. No detail leads to a dead end. Even the bread that invades every episode and much of the dialogue has meaning (see my post). The cigarettes that always seem to fill Jean’s pocket take on significance, as does he and his sister’s fortune in residence and occupation. I haven’t done so yet, but I’m sure ACCA is a show that will improve with re-watching.
Rating: 2 dango
Such a simple premise, yet so effective: have angels and demons attend high school on Earth and act like each other. This joke is introduced right from the beginning and repeats itself in every episode after with a variety of approaches and scenarios. These twists help the humor feel fresh, yet still familiar in a pleasing way. As a high school comedy, GabDro succeeds and begs for a continuation to graduation. And even though the show takes these girls and our failed expectations through conventional high school scenarios, the combination of their personalities and the fantastical twist again creates a unique experience.
Angels Gabriel and Raphael are fresh graduates from Angel Academy with the highest of marks and reputations. When we first meet Gabriel, she is the epitome of an angel: she’s beautiful, sweet, compassionate, and very neat in all aspects of life. Her home is immaculate and she does her homework as soon as she gets home. But like happens to so many students, she stumbles across online gaming and is sucked into a never ending vortex of quests and online purchases. Her home turns into a sea of trash bags, and her sleek hair curls up without control. Raphi maintains her polished exterior, but reveals a twisted personality that takes sadistic pleasure in the misfortune of her friends. This includes both Gabriel and their demon counterparts.
Vignette and Satania, like the angels, are newly graduated demons sent to Earth for training. While Vigne naturally acts like a top student and model citizen, Satania finds her earnest attempts at devilry thwarted by her own clumsiness and lack of true evil. Vigne was actually my favorite character in the series since she is so earnest in her sweetness and joy for living despite her identity as a demon. Her short-lived attempts to act demon-like never convince and she is probably the glue that keeps these girls together and sane. If only Vigne could swap roles with either Gabriel or Raphi without losing her relationships to her parents and monster dog!
Rating: 1 dango
Thank goodness for Twitter, because if not for all the people praising this show on there, I would have completely passed it by. The promotional artwork, description, and studio all seemed like misses, and I proceeded to skip Kemono Friends at the start of the season when trying out shows. I actually think this was a good thing, since I was able to watch this without interruption since all the episodes had already aired by the time I started.
The premise of the show is simple: a young girl wakes up in a park full of human-animal hybrids and tries to find out what she is and where she belongs. The anime takes that idea and surrounds it with a fascinating setting that implies something a little darker than the happy-go-lucky hybrids ( called “Friends”). It doesn’t take long for the viewer to wonder why Kaban-chan is the only human in what was obviously a man made park and how everything feel into disrepair. The little robot guide who assists Serval and Kaban on their journey is also puzzling in that at times it speaks like an expected guide and at other times seems possessed by a woman’s voice leaving recorded messages. These mysteries pepper the path our girls take as they pass through multiple regions and meet other Friends.
I find it impressive that a show as obviously under budget as Kemono Friends was able to hold to a high standard of storytelling. The characters and their motivations overshadowed the cheap art and animation. I also appreciated the attention to authenticity regarding the Friends and their different animal characteristics. Many of them were accompanied with short descriptions midway through each episode where an expert in the field would describe the animal’s habits. Some of my favorite Friends include Serval (obviously) for her genki determination, Crested Ibis and her persistent singing, and the Beaver-Prairie Dog combi and their teamwork. I’m really fond of all of the Friends and would love to stumble across any one of them–yes, even Tsuchinoko in all her suspicious and shy glory.
And even though Kaban’s main journey does find a finish line at the end of this season, I’m hopeful that we will someday soon see a continuation showing the islands beyond Japari Park. I don’t necessarily want to see humans return, since the Friends look to be self-sufficient.
Rating: 2 dango
Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon
I almost didn’t want to watch the last episode in the hopes that somehow if it went un-watched, it meant the show would keep on going forever. Maid Dragon entered the winter season as casually as Tohru first greeted Kobayashi at her door, then proceeded to work its way into my heart. There was no denying the cuteness and love spread by each of the dragons and, like Kobayashi, I started to take for granted that I would see them every week. Now we’re here at the end of thirteen episodes and I don’t want to look forward!
I remember clearly thinking after the first episode that this television series was mildly amusing, but tired in its premise. For some reason, dragons felt overused, or hailing from the interests of my younger self with books like Dragonlance and Dragonriders. But the dragons of Maid Dragon turned out to be completely different both from my assumptions and from each other. Almost all of the dragons can be connected to some other serpent in myth and literature, like Quetzalcoatl, Fafnir, and Kanna Kamuy. They reference their pasts with their appearances, clothes, and even fears. I was never able to place Tohru’s history, so if you have an idea of her origin, I’d love to hear about it!
It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly makes this show so enchanting and funny. The situations come naturally as part of the characters’ daily lives at work, home, and school. I’m reminded of Nichijou, another KyoAni show, which shared a similar art style and sense of humor, though on a grander scale. In addition to the comedy, there’s also a story of acceptance. I’ve seen quite a few people make the connection of these dragons to immigrants. They leave behind homes with their own rules and customs and strive to find some place new to call home. This requires work of both the incoming citizen-to-be and the existing population. An example of mediation is shown in Kobayashi’s practical handling of noise in her apartment complex, while relationships of mutual benefit are displayed by both Kobayashi/Tohru and Shouta/Lucoa. We are continually shown situations where lack of communication could have resulted in violent confrontations if not for the rational actions of our characters. Packaged with fluffy visuals, it’s easy to overlook the darker possibilities of some of these scenarios.
I truly wish this anime could have gone on for one more season, since I do feel like the ending was a bit rushed, particularly regarding Tohru’s father.
Rating: 1 dango
Kuzu no Honkai
Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief that this roller coaster of a drama is finally over, just as its characters have all conveniently come to terms with themselves in one way or another. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, since I found myself almost dropping this show repeatedly throughout the season. I originally found Kuzu no Honkai disturbingly familiar to my own past relationships through high school and college, and applauded the anime’s attention to a less rosy side of romance. It’s not often that you see first love displayed in such a twisted fashion. In reality, most loves that I have experienced and witnessed are nowhere near as perfect as demonstrated in romances and romantic comedies. Since people are complex, our relationships tend to turn out just as mixed. Kuzu no Honkai acknowledges that, and aims for most of the episodes to glorify our darker desires.
It was painful watching the characters make decisions that I know they will regret, but must make and learn from on their own. Most baffling was Akane, who seemed written as a pure villain for much for the story. It’s not until almost near the end that we start to see a gentler side that yearns just as much as anyone else to avoid loneliness. It’s with her ending that I am most disagreeable. For most of the anime, selfishness seemed to be the central emotion motivating our characters to hurt both themselves and others, yet at the end forgiveness and healing overwhelm the screen. As unrealistic as this is, I’m fine with it for the most part since it helps bring closure to the show. However, I can’t find it in myself to forgive Akane just yet, since she never outright apologizes to Hanabi. She also seems to gets away with what she did to Mugi, actions that are a criminal offense. Her pathetic offering of a flower to Hanabi does not make up for anything, yet the show provides it as a cheap bandage to allow for Hanabi’s forward movement. She, along with her fellow high school students, all seem to have learned something from their experiences. That’s great, but highly unbelievable. I don’t know many people who so quickly move on from their first loves. I’m betting at least one of them–Hanabi, Mugi, Ecchan, or Noriko–will repeat their mistakes in future relationships, despite the positive spin the show’s ending portrays.
As skeptical as I am of the ending and of the characters, I do commend the art style from start to finish. I don’t read much manga, but I still appreciate the anime’s nod to its source material and the medium overall with the frequent panel inserts. They serve to freeze a moment in time, emphasizing a particular expression, facial or bodily, and emotion. Coupled with the ethereal art style, Kuzu no Honkai pleases the eyes as much as it dirties the spirit–a little like the pursuit for love.
Rating: 0 dango
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans 2nd Season
As much as I expected the price paid in Iron-Blooded Orphans, it still hurt. Tekkadan enthralled me with their dreams, convincing me from time to time that the goal was near at hand before crushing my hopes and baiting me once more. I warn the faint of heart to think twice before picking up this show; while you will be treated to some fantastic mecha battles and feel-good dialogue, you will also find irresistible the human drama that drives the forces of this universe. There is no denying the mess of emotions once you start the journey.
As Gerald of AWO summarizes, the structure of any Gundam story entails a rebellion against a corrupt authority. This is true of IBO, as well. As I’m sure I stated back at the beginning of the first season, this is my first full entry to the franchise. I stumbled across the Endless Waltz movie several years ago, as well as tried the more recent AGE (which for my taste felt catered too much towards a younger audience). The combination of availability and art style brought me to IBO, while the story and characters urged me to stay.
From the get go, I felt sympathetic towards the child soldiers whose point of view we shared. Unwanted, disliked, exploited–their existence is a reminder of the ugliness of which humans are capable. As they fill the crevices of this world, corrupt men lead in the spotlight. These officials who should strive for the best for their people seek only to further their own positions of power. It’s a vicious cycle that creates more of a gap between the rich and the poor, the oppressor and the oppressed. There’s no better setup than this to encourage our siding with the rebellion. And as is true of almost any good story, many of the themes present can be seen in our current global conflicts.
Characters will always be one of the most important aspects of a story to me, and IBO delivers. The staggering cast centers mostly on the members and friends of Tekkadan and the longstanding Gjallahorn federation. You would typically think of the rebels as the good guys and the authority as the bad guys, but you would be wrong in this case. Both sides share plenty of blame in underhanded tactics and staggering violence. And although the “winner” at the end may have accomplished an end sought by so many souls through the course of the show, I still cannot swallow the the reality of triumph from someone who I find blacker than the sins of almost everyone combined. As well concluded as this series is, I could very well see a prequel telling the story of Agnika Kaieru, a sequel pitting a second rebellion against the new symbol of democracy, or both. Hopefully in the case of a sequel, young Akatsuki will stay far away from the ensuing violence.
Rating: 2 dango
I never expected at the start of the season that I would not only end up watching an Edo-era crime series, but that I would also consider it among the best of the season. The characters, the individual stories, the atmosphere–they all worked together to create an addictive series I wished would never end. There were times where the art flagged in quality, but that never deterred me from my immersion or enjoyment.
Onihei is episodic in nature, so every week brings a new crime story with new faces. I blogged about it a short while ago, and if you’d like to read up a bit more about the show, I suggest you visit that post. The show’s style of voice and quality of story telling remain consistent until the end. Some of my favorite episodes include ones revealing the pasts of Hasegawa Heizo, his wife, Hisae, and Omasa. They underline the belief of this show in the possibility of change. Some people change for the better, taking their darker pasts and learning from them to step up to a brighter future. Others start high and fall to places they once condemned. These are stories of criminals, yes, but also of redemption and forgiveness.
Rating: 2 dango
Alas for our evil Tanya, the war continues! But that’s good news for us viewers, because I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I could use a lot more Tanya and the human pursuit for freedom. I look forward to a sequel pitting Mary against Tanya, one burning with the a “righteous” drive, the other moving in defiance of her placement.
This show received quite a bit of criticism, including from those whose opinions I value, and I was sad to see others dismiss it without trying to see beneath the surface of maniacal laughter and bloodshed. Phrases like “glorification of violence” don’t do the show any justice and are willfully ignorant of the messages that our characters on both sides of the conflict tell. Tanya summarizes beautifully the whole reason for this ongoing war in the very last episode:
“No matter how much we modernize, no matter how social norms affect us, humans are foolish creatures who sometimes prize feelings over reason. A human being who’s overcome with hatred will keep struggling without regard for self-interest or reason, regardless of what they may lose or gain.”
Instead of glorifying war and violence, Youjo Senki is instead a pseudo-documentary of the forces that move us to action, of the people who are thrust into conflict. If anything, the show reveals the ugliness of battle and emphasizes that the price of freedom is often peace. As much as I wish for a world where disagreement can be solved with discussion, history shows us again and again that one person’s need for liberty sometimes outweighs that of another. Until the day where we share one mind and one heart (hopefully never), humans will continue to struggle. Tanya has both the fortune and misfortune of her original world’s history with world wars to teach her. And while I frequently disagree with Tanya’s harsh treatment of others, I also commend her for her quick thinking and response to often dire circumstances. I side with her in her defiance of Being X, who in its fickle way chooses to aid and impair at its own discretion. Let’s “Put the arrogant ass, God, out of a job!”
Rating: 2 dango
The end of this season came so much sooner than I could have anticipated, and we’re already getting slammed with the first episodes of the spring. I’m slowly going through them, and should have my set menu up in a couple of weeks once all the new shows have aired. Around this time, I will also be putting up a review of the live action Netflix series Samurai Gourmet, as well as coverage of this year’s Sakura-Con. Until then, enjoy my thoughts of this winter season, review what you watched, and eat well!