One Month In – January Anime Review Part 2

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As promised, here’s the second half batch of opinions on the enormous list of shows I’m currently watching. It’s testament to how impressive this season has turned out… & also the need for me to cut down on the quantity of anime I watch. I’ve just gotten back into Final Fantasy XIV as well. There just aren’t enough hours in the day…

9. Maria the Virgin Witch

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One month in & I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Maria. Out of everything I’m watching it’s probably the series I have the weakest grasp on. Each individual aspect holds up well, with the humour being snarky & irreverent without becoming so jaded that you lose any emotional attachment or sympathy towards the cast (although the shota-rape gag was cutting things a little fine), while the sexualisation aspect is more than a tool for fanservice. Particularly impressive is the nuanced analysis of the inherent flaws of pacifism in societies that often don’t value peace, while refusing to defend the suffering & idiotic futility that comes from conflict based on greedy self-interest. The depiction of the Catholic Church & its role in warfare also isn’t afraid to poke a few sacred cows, while not turning the institution into some faceless evil, as anime is wont to do.

However, while Maria certainly impresses when separated into its constituent parts, as a whole it feels a little bare-boned and folded in. Time may prove me wrong, but the scope of the show almost seems too broad for the amount of subjects it wishes to cover, with no talking point feeling like its getting adequate screen time. The scene placement of light-hearted humour next to more heavy, morose subject matter also doesn’t gel well. A strange situation is created where the show simultaneously feels too condensed, while also skeletal in substance. The average animation & uninteresting visual animation don’t help either. Of all things I’m reminded of Maoyu Mao Yusha. Now, to make it abundantly clear, Maria is plagued with the nowhere near the same level of problems as that particular train wreck, but I do get the same sense of overreach for a series with only twelve episodes.

 

 8. Gundam Build Fighter Try

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It took long enough, but Build Fighters Try is finally at the same point where the first season decided to stop languishing in dull, inconsequential battles, & raise the stakes with a proper tournament. Now the two-bit rivals are beginning to fall to the side in favour of a new group of older, eccentric opponents who actually provide dramatic battles & great visual gags. This franchise really is at its best when focusing on a bunch of adult goofballs who take play fighting with model robots way too seriously. Their infectious enthusiasm really sucks you into the fights & the nutty tactics they employ. The show still hasn’t reached the heights of season one, with the fellow contestants just not feeling as memorable or well defined, but for the most part it’s still a huge heap of fun. Plus, Gyanko is still the best.

 

7. Yuri Kuma Arashi

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I literally have nothing to say that hasn’t already been the subject of in-depth scrutiny & passionate arguments. I’m honestly sick of hearing about the show at this point, so I’m going to do same thing I’ve done with every other Ikuhara’s work & watch it in the most superficial manner possible, assuming everything is a metaphor. If there’s anything I don’t understand I’ll research it afterwards. FYI, the elephants riding surfboards in Utena were clearly a representation of the futility of existence. That, or an abstract 7-UP commercial.

 

6. Parasyte

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Hurray! We’re finally moving away from all the insipid romance subplots & focussing on themes and characters actually worth a damn. Parasyte is a strange show for me. I still enjoy it every week, but I was honestly expecting the scale of the story to have ramped up significantly by this point. Things have certainly happened, but it feels like very little has actually progressed since around the time that Shinichi merged with Migi & met up with Uda & Joe. That was nearly early ten episodes ago. We’ve seen some more battles, more existential doubt & more toing and froing between Kana & Murano, but ultimately the status quo has remained about the same. I’m really hoping the show will eventually pull a ‘Shiki’, with the character arcs coming to a head in an explosive way, while finally making its ultimate message known. The focus on Reiko & the blurring of lines between human & parasite emotions is certainly a promising start, but I honestly don’t think I’ll know how I feel about this show until it’s over.

 

5. The Rolling Girls

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If you asked me after the second episode, I’d likely say Rolling Girls was my favourite new show of the season, or at least tied with Yatterman Night. Unfortunately, the following arc has given me reasons to worry. The signs were there in the OP, focusing on the least interesting characters in the cast. They’re basically a bunch of moeblob archetypes. There’s the genki one, the sleepy one, the passive one, the clumsy one, although honestly I’ll let you decide which descriptor fits which character as those traits seem pretty interchangeable.

If this summary is beginning to sound a little like my thoughts on Kancolle, I’ll make it clear that I don’t think the show is bad. I’m not going to pretend I’m above the likes of K-on so if the show wants to be a road trip version of that with some wacky magical super-powers in between, I’d still enjoy it. However, I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be something of a disappointment. Between episodes two & three the ratio of visually vibrant, spastic character moments /over friendship speeches & delicious meals, seem to have reversed. The directing is still top-notch & the setting also contains a great deal of flair and imagination, but the focus has switched to fairly mundane subject matter. I don’t know, maybe the last arc was about establishing the main cast; if so, I don’t think it was particularly successful. Here’s praying episode five picks the show back up.

 

4. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Egypt Arc

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It barely feels worth talking about Jojo’s; you’re either watching it or you’re a member of PETA, & if the latter, nothing I’m going to say will make sense or convince you to pick it up. The show needs to be experienced, not analysed.

While I’m not into Stardust Crusaders as much as I was with Battle Tendency, this arc covers material found in the original ova, which I love. The first four episodes definitely point to the material being on its A-game, so hopefully it won’t feel as hit-&-miss as the first season did. Here’s to Dio, Iggy, & most importantly, D’Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrby!

 

3. Yatterman Night

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Despite the small blip in quality during episode three, Yatterman Night is easily my favourite new show of the season, managing to tread the line between a classic homage & current standalone title even more finely than Tatsunoko Production’s previous reboot of Gatchaman Crowds. That it can reinvent itself for a modern audience, subvert the premise of the original, switch perspective to the opposing side, & yet feel unmistakably part of the franchise really shows the studio still has a complete grasp on what makes Yatterman special. I enjoyed the first episode so much that I checked what had been subbed of the original & while it’s true that you need no prior experience to enjoy Night, it does provide quite a bit of context for the humour and mannerisms the show is aping.

That said, I’m not completely convinced by the new cast introduced in episode three, at least not the wilting-lily blind girl and her overblown emotional baggage, but as long as the show keeps up the fun and carries on being Gurren Lagann featuring a proto-Team Rocket invading North Korea, then I’ll be waiting for each episode to arrive.

 

2. Durarara Season 2

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It’s more DRRR!!, so basically more ever shifting scene transitions, utterly insane characters, witty dialogue and fantastic humour. Also more inane drama based around dull teenagers with issues, but if that’s the price I have to pay for this show to be a success with the otaku & self-insert wish-fulfilment crowd, then I’ll happily accept the fee. Just throw a few more interesting fruitcakes into the mix to tip the scales more favourably. Maybe that’s how we can drum up interest in the fandom for more Baccano; add Izaya’s sisters as rivals for Ladd Russo for something. More chances for crossover storylines need to take place.

 

1. Shirobako

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I’m honestly surprised to find this at the top of this list. On individual merits, there’s likely another series that wins out over it, whether in animation quality, writing, characters, plot, etc. However, as a single entity, Shirobako comes together perfectly, creating its own unique little bubble to immerse yourself in each week, with a cast that feels more like a dysfunctional family than a bunch of stressed out work colleagues. Everyone has a place, everyone a role & everyone a presence. Even characters I originally didn’t like have grown on me, developing their own awkward or obnoxious (*cough* Tarou *cough*) charm. It took me to the end of last season to realise to how much I value the show, & the current arc concerning the new production confirms it. Series like Spice & Wolf & Moyashimon have attempted ‘edutainment’ storytelling before, but Shirobako has mastered the balance as far as I’m concerned. Of course neither of those shows had Hideaki Anno going all moe over classic anime, so that’s a tough bar to overcome.

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