Hibike! Euphonium has nearly finished its second season. The storylines have been tight, weaving between the struggles of Kumiko’s senpai and chipping away the mask of Asuka, and Kumiko’s own reservations throughout it all. No-one can fault the talent that KyoAni have pulled together on this project. But even as all the details come together to make something magical, there’s something holding all of it back; a change from the show’s first run that undoes a lot of the synergy that initial arc established between musical performance, social dynamics and narrative style.
An anime about making anime and celebrating the industry wins multiple awards from the industry. Passing comments might be skeptical of how self-centered the anime business has become. But those who have watched Shirobako know well how deeply it deserves its accolades. It’s a coming-of-age story that abandons the typical high school setting, but retains the moe aesthetic for its femicentic main cast. Combining the realistic struggles of a workplace with the hyperreal glaze of cute girls and boundless enthusiasm, it’s got both reality and moe firmly in its heart, and comments often on how the two conflict and co-operate in various capacities.
The success of Shirobako has however attracted a lot of attention from critics seeking to downplay its value for women, affirm the lie of ‘anime is a boys club’ to fabricate outrage, and use the show as a platform for continuing the anti-moe sentiment permeating much of our Western community. Continue reading →
Shelter tells the story of Rin, a 17-year-old girl who lives her life inside of a futuristic simulation completely by herself in infinite, beautiful loneliness. Each day, Rin awakens in virtual reality and uses a tablet which controls the simulation to create a new, different, beautiful world for herself. Until one day, everything changes, and Rin comes to learn the true origins behind her life inside a simulation.
A-1 Pictures get a lot of flak from the more ‘critical’ side of the anime community. From angst at the popularity of SAO to Youtuber Digibro’s well-documented hatred of the studio’s work, there’s a lot to debate about their artistic vision and how much commercial tunnel-vision they often suffer from, especially in their light novel adaptations.
But after seeing their short film for Porter Robinson and Madeon’s song ‘Shelter’, I can no longer entertain the idea that they’re the ‘McDonald’s’ of anime. Shelter is short, but it’s no fast food meal. It’s a precious example of everything that can be done when anime deviates from its commercial angle Continue reading →
It can be hard, when telling a story about magic, to get the audience on the level of your imagination. As much as viewers may be willing to suspend disbelief, it takes far more work to get them enthralled in every moment of your world, and wanting to see more and more of it. But Mahoutsukai no Yome, ‘The Ancient Magus Bride’, a three-part OVA series set to air over the course of a year, has began its tale with a crash-course in how to effortlessly weave the mystical into the mundane.
Previously, The Mary Sue argued that we should be critical of ‘objectification’ by ignoring contexts of characterization and treating anime girls as no more than objects in the first place. Now they want the community to be ‘critical about cuteness’, as they vaguely denounce the ‘adult male’ viewership of moe as misogynistic, and conclude that moe is ‘alienating’ for those who want to see ‘real women’ in anime, and not the lovable and hyperreal figures modern Japanese culture is full of.
When I started this blog, back in the summer of 2015, it was an offbeat idea I had to keep myself busy with something other than the revision I should have been doing. It was my first real venture into the many communities of anime lovers online. Over the year-and-bit that’s passed, I’ve made many friends, and annoyed a few more people than I should have with my endless rambling about why we need to question what makes anime, and all art, ‘good’. I’ve made so much progress as a blogger, and it’s all thanks to you guys.
Among the readers I’ve picked up, some fantastic conversations have been made. Some of the best have come from more recent articles, posts that are more than just elaborations of opinions. I’ve been tapping into wider reading and research, into theories about art and how we appreciate it, old and new, to fill this blog with new ideas which are challenging and developing my own.
I recently wrote a post defending my pursuit into seeing anime from an academic lens. Now I want to follow up on that post by cementing this blog’s vision – to bridge the gap between popular anime and puzzling academia. To spell out exciting theories in relation to anime we’re all familiar with. But to achieve this – to further the work of channels like Pause and Select and Philosophy Tube in making the academics make sense – I’m going to need some help.
Over the past year I have, out of instinctive habit, established a status quo of researching any idea I have a concern about. Every great essayist, past and present, has taught me that your own ideas aren’t enough to persuade people towards your opinion. Processing the efforts of others, in agreement and disagreement and neutral puzzling-out, is what elevates a discussion from casual to critical. Criticism basks in the glow of research, and better critics are almost inevitably marked by how much more they have read, and how much better they approach their studies. It’s a profession like any other – the harder you work, the more credit you deserve.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’d have probably notice that I’m behind on weekly Impressions. Close to two weeks behind now.
While previous and similar lapses have been due to illness, the problem I’m facing this week, after promising to catch up in the most recent Impressions post, isn’t that I’m ill. It’s not that I lack the motivation to blog or watch anime either; in a couple of days I cranked out a 5000 word article on my issues with The Mary Sue’s approach to anime. That was last week, and it got me thinking: I want to do more of that.
And that got me thinking about how little value I feel is in these weekly Impressions posts.
The Mary Sue has written on fanservice in anime for the second time. ‘In anime’ might be a stretch however. The blog isn’t inclined to treat any subject they comment on with any sensitivity to the work as a whole. They splice out bits that seem to prove their points and ignore anything that could define it differently. So I want to make a counter-claim. In their most recent article, celebrating ‘sexiness’ that isn’t objectification, I don’t believe the writer is aware of what objectification really is in feminist terminology. I don’t believe the writer represents the interests of feminists at all.
Illness has mostly gone away, so I’m finally up for catching up on this season. The next intro paragraph for these Impressions won’t be about still being behind. Promise.
Still a week and a bit behind. Still fighting off some illnesses. Not suffering as much as Subaru still is, though…
Seeing Kakeru be slowly drawn away from the group by Ueda was uncomfortable to watch. But Naho made herself worse off by only worrying about herself. The letter guiding her to fix her regrets may seem focused on her, but ultimately it has its attention on Kakeru, and caring for him. Naho assumes Kakeru’s actions coincide with his thoughts. But of course he still wants to talk to her. It’s just as hard for him as it is for her.
Ueda’s row with him in the corridor could be criticized as a heavy-handed way of confirming how bad a girlfriend she is, but te caricature of a personality she has contrasts so well against the subtle, flowing characters that make up the main cast. She feels like an outsider, not only because she’s from Tokyo. An outsider to the narrative itself. And now Naho has helped remove her from this story.
Our main couple become closer after having been pulled apart. The romance swells, and I’m only getting more enthralled in it. Great stuff.
Subaru continues to only value himself, and pays the biggest price for it yet. Though Rem sacrifices herself so he can escape the White Whale, he only wants to go back for her, because he doesn’t believe in her strength. Only his own. But the driver is right: the greatest powers of Re:Zero’s world make everyone else look weak in some way.
As Subaru believes he can bargain with the force denying him honesty in some way, that force takes Emilia’s life instead of his own. He says he’s come to save her, but he remains to not care about her at all. Betelgeuse’s words really struck me as he saw her dead in his arms; rather than be the hero, it sounds like Subaru was brought into this world to serve the evil within it.
Subaru doesn’t want to die after he loses Rem, but he does once Emilia is slain. He remains pseudo-heroic: Emilia wouldn’t stand for the inequality in that attitude.
Mob Psycho 100
More wacko social commentary this week, and our first big development. Mob wants to be popular and belong at his school. Our dimpled cultist really wants the same. But Mob humbly lends his time to helps others get rid of the influence of spirits: this spirit forces its influence on others. And so Mob finds resolution in forcing his influence on him.
The idea of Mob burying his emotions clashes so well against the over-expressive fraudulence of his mentor and the over-expressive tenor of pretty much every other character around him. He has to disconnect from our world in order to fit into it; else he’d annihilate it. I love this constant conflict of Mob’s existence; it’s set a brilliant backdrop for every note of drama to follow.
Even though we have a percentage counter, there really is no telling how long it’ll be until the next ‘explosion’. Regardless, I can’t wait for it.
Amaama to Inazuma
These episodic cooking conflicts are great. This week: learning to like the things you hate. Vegetables. Ugh.
Every installment of this show gives us a new way to look at childhood through what’s now become the regular routine of communal cooking for our cast. It’s great to see Tsumugi’s dislike of vegetables immediately accepted as an obstacle to overcome; Amaama to Inazuma isn’t arguing against what’s been concluded as good parenting. It’s emphasizing our need, however, to be creative in our approach to those conclusions.
Tsumugi may have offloaded her green peppers onto her father, but it’s a far cry from crying at the taste of them. The little touch of defiance ironically brings her closer to her father, when her need to eat greens was beginning to draw her away from him. It plays out like Flying Witch did last season with the herbs Chinatsu at first couldn’t tolerate; though the examples of adults enjoying the natural things children are skeptical of, children can learn to love them too.
An escape from the hubbub of the family feuds gives our two leads some time to understand each other. Their performance to the children carried a lot of meaning for me; while Nero has a go-getting spirit, Bruno succeeds before we realize he has, and uses Nero’s character to strengthen his own. He turns the tables of the act: I wonder if the wider plot will play out somewhat the same.
Overcoming the ‘Goliath’ was a great mini-thriller. Nero’s lack of Biblical knowledge, which he ties into not going to church, furthers the pseudo-religious slant of his actions. He has a devotional walk, but it’s not towards Christ. Though Bruno gets a further insight into how far his revenge will have to go, this episode also got me thinking about what exactly Bruno is living for, be it day to day, or fighting for his life. He may be an object of Bruno’s avenging, but he lives as a subject of his own motivations. Surely we’ll be seeing into him more and more as we move forward.
- Bananya. A filmsy friendship that’s torn down by crowdthink? This is getting all too real…
The Drop Zone
- Kono Bijutsubu. Like New Game, while it’s a great CGDCT with some nuances, I’ve losing interest in blogging it. May still watch it irregularly anyway.
That’s all for this (belated) week. See you next time!
Been ill and falling behind on blogging, so apologies if these episodes already feel like ancient history! I’ll be catching up in no time.
If you’ve been following discussions over the quality of Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, or ‘ERASED’ for Western viewers, you’ll have surely come across the issue of whether or not it deserves the ‘mystery’ genre tag MAL and a number of other anime sites give it.
The camp that says it must be a mystery tends to just note that it has ‘a mystery’ and therefore must be of that genre – that genre being, more specifically, the ‘whodunnit’ genre where we expect to follow a detective as he slowly unravels a crime. The camp that disagrees tends to argue that the killer was supposed to be obvious, that Satoru ignores his expected role as a detective ad goes on a different path, and that’s what contributes to it being a drama-slash-thriller. But neither of these positions fully grasp what ERASED was setting out to do with its story. That being said, it didn’t do that particularly well either.
The season’s in full wing and I’ve got a bit more to follow than usual. Maybe the seasons are getting better. Maybe I’m just broadening my tastes. Whatever’s the reason, there’s a lot to look forward to for months to come!
It’s hard to watch anime without having watched something set in a video game. Sword Art Online may have started a ‘craze’, or just confirmed and satisfied the preexisting desire of the market. Either way, because of the poor quality of many of its iterations, some people have become certain that the ‘trapped in an MMO’ setting/genre is dead and devoid of potential.
But the genre’s progress is being marked in its destabilization. Re:Zero, now in its second cour, is taking anime communities by storm in its outcry against escapist, wish-fulfilling stories and the people indoctrinated through them. In fact, Subaru’s suffering is in keeping with the history of every popular fad of genre and setting based on social convention, as those social conventions, through the settings they manifested into, came under attack by the critics of their time.
Let’s go back; quite a while back. The 19th century, Victorian England. The popular theater was booming, and fans would go for a programme full of plays to suit all dispositions. The melodrama was one common, predictable genre that we could translate today into any over-the-top action shows full of special effects. And the special effects in the theater back then were rather incredible. Wanted a mob of hundreds of people on stage? Sure. Set fire to the set, bring on a fire engine? No problem. But another popular genre was the ‘drawing room play’. Quite simply, a play set in a drawing room, where drawing room stuff happens. Comedy, drama, social angst. You had ones that embraced it and ones that ‘deconstructed’ it.
Today, no-one with any consideration for the Victorian period calls out this ‘drawing room’ genre, this cliche of a setting, as a problem in itself, like people are nowadays with the MMO setting. There were good and bad versions of it, and the more it endured onstage, the more theater evolved. Later plays were far more often ‘deconstructions’ of the type – see Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and her suicide as the crux of that – and then they morphed into all sorts of other things and stopped being called ‘drawing room plays’ at all, particularly once the theater-going public stopped having drawing rooms to relate the setting to.
Fast-forward to today, and one of the world’s popular theaters, anime, has its own ‘drawing room play’ – the ‘trapped in an MMO’ story. Why link the two so completely? Because they’re the same thing, essentially. Both are, sociologically, set in ‘third places’ – accessible places we go to that let us socialize freely and relatively cheaply – that also feel like part of the home while also separate from it: the drawing room is literally part of it but is its own sphere of social rules and dynamics, while an MMO is played in the home and likewise involves a different ‘self’ to the one you’d perform to your mum as she walked in.
They’re comfortable locations that the viewing public, as a whole, are going to connect with, and the familiarity of the setting allows for humour and themes using the setting to be more succinctly delivered. They also both involve some extent of ‘performance’ as separate from your ‘real’ self. The way Nishimura meets his friends online in Netoge is tantamount to how the middle and upper class of Victorian England used to meet their friends in each other’s drawing rooms. In short, they’re born from our habits as an audience, and will die with them too. Especially once those habits themselves start being scrutinized under the microscope of fiction.
As with the ‘drawing room play’, shifts are noticeable. World of Warcraft once had its day, but now the most popular collaborative online games are more confined multiplayer arenas – MOBAs, multiplayer shooters and card games – or far more player-constructed settings like Minecraft. With the MMO cliche attracting more and more criticism, and MMOs themselves fading away from the playerbase like the drawing rooms of Victorian England no longer became a thing, the genre can be said to be moving on through the same pattern every popular theater goes through.
More and more MMO shows involve self-aware commentary, good or bad, displaying an attempt to pull apart at the trope. The genre is just like any popular fad based on what ‘third place’ the public associate with the most, and it’s noticeably starting to fade. KonoSuba, for instance, was a stab at many traditional RPG, Dragon Quest-esque cliche. Rather than pan the whole genre as an irritating, over-abundant cliche, it’s worth looking carefully at how it’s changing and evolving in such a short space of time, and how more and more works are tired of just accepting the cliches and the perspectives that come with them. We ought to be getting more and more interesting commentary on it in its future iterations.
Some might argue Re:Zero is already championing that shift, as Subaru has become a critique of not video games, but the way otaku are indoctrinated into thinking they’re the Main Character of everything. He begins as a ‘self-aware’ MC but eventually the show starts picking on him for that very faculty, because what he thinks he’s aware of is in fact a bunch of delusions. He may be the main character of this story, but he is not the main character of this world. Emilia is not his ‘waifu’ who always needs him; the Emilia in his head is so far removed from the Emilia in the fantasy world’s reality. He does not just get super-powers whenever it’s convenient; he’s severely underpowered and in way over his head at this point in the story.
Part of Re:Zero’s appeal is it takes the assumption we’ve seen that an otaku would get transported into a big wide world and suddenly have the people skills they never had with real people, and says ‘nah, I’m pretty sure he’d become a narcissist instead’. Subaru thinks he’s in a ‘third place’ of a MMO world where he’s just there to have a pleasurable experience, but instead he suffers. He only gets more uncomfortable the more he tries to pretend he’s still in the comfort zone he’s been pulled away from.
To continue the terminology of sociologist Ray Oldenburg I’ve used in this discussion, Subaru’s character is a result of never having a ‘first place’, the sociological home, and seemingly never being used to having a ‘second place’, work, either. The only flash we get of his normal life is at a convenience store, and his whole life is just convenience. As a shut-in, his reality is a bunch of fantasies, and this is quickly signaled by his rapid acceptance of the fantasy world. He doesn’t treat it as abnormal because normality is abnormal to him.
His personality and all his failings from that point on are the result of being part of a generation growing up without first or second ‘places’; people who want to escape permanently from such places, and may have even succeeded. People who want their only responsibilities to be things the world has coded to be manageable. The realization that these people don’t actually deserve to do well when they get stuck in a ‘real’ MMO. They deserve to have the shit kicked out of them, become mentally unstable, and ruin all the relationships they’re ever offered and manage to make any progress in.
I therefore want to see Re:Zero, at least so far, as a really good step forward for the ‘trapped in a fantasy world’ genre. Rather than a character being mundanely aware of their surroundings, its us the show makes aware of just how problematic an addiction to White Knight narratives and ‘virtual third places’ can make a person. The more elliptical Subaru’s past is, the more it seems to have no place in his mind, and the more we question if he ever lived any life other than a fantasy at all, and come to think that Subaru isn’t trapped in this world. No; he’s trapped in his own social non-existence before coming here, and how much he’s ruined his ability to relate to anyone. He only knows how to self-insert into himself, with disastrous consequences.
The ‘Zero’ in Re:Zero’s title isn’t just a reference to Subaru having nothing in the new world; in fact, he has his phone, and great strength, which help him a lot early in the story. The ‘Zero’ repeats to the viewer, every time Subaru makes another mistake, and goes deeper into his hole, that a life lived in fantasies isn’t a life at all.
New season! Old layout! If it ain’t Rewrite, don’t fix it.
It’s easy to default to thinking that a longer show will have more value for its characters simply because it has more time to develop them. But Bananya – a highlight of this season – and Key’s adaptation of Rewrite have proven that it’s what you do with your time, not how much time you have, that counts.
It’s all at an end! Though some shows will continue into second cours, my memories of all these stories are only just starting to blossom.
There is too much iconography being spread around for a select few names in the anime industry. It’s like people can’t see these names without slinging a bag of worries on their back before they watch, to burden the writer’s every chance of developing their story and their own image; a statuesque meta-narrative of their past work and what they think of it, claiming everything falls in line with it only because they make it fall in line. Continue reading →
The season’s ended and I’m a week behind! You can tell how tired I still am from my exams finishing and such.