I had originally planned to do a February review of the numerous anime I’m watching, but a combination of work and not feeling particularly inspired to write anything put a stop to that. Mainly though you can blame a rekindled obsession with Final Fantasy XIV for taking up nearly all my spare time. I still plan to do more of these write-ups in the future, but I’ve definitely realised there often isn’t a great difference in what you can summarise each month in addition to opening and closing thoughts. In future I’ll likely just write initial, mid-season and final posts, and only on the shows I feel are worth discussing.
Parasyte has always been an fascinating series, even if my overall opinions still remain uncertain and confused. I certainly enjoyed watching it, but given the hype from some quarters I can’t help feeling a little underwhelmed by the end product. The core relationship between Shinichi & Migi was always a joy to watch, as was their interactions with the various other parasites eking out an existence in Japan; indeed, the clash of ideologies was where the show truly shone. Yet then actual events often felt way too low key considering the concepts being presented.
Normally I tend to appreciate stories that have the ability to stay grounded and not lose themselves, whether from a misguided attempt to raise the stakes or for sheer spectacle’s sake (cough, Tokyo Ghoul), but Parasyte often seems unable the tell the difference between simply focusing on the mundane and being presented as such. Between Shinichi’s disastrous encounter with an enemy at his home and Tamura Reiko’s reintroduction into the story, there’s a ten episode spell where the series mostly spins its wheels, focusing on little more than insipid love-triangle nonsense, repeated existential angst and the odd fight to temporarily break the monotony. The overall conflict simply didn’t scale to the extent that seemed appropriate given the stakes in Shinichi’s life and society as a whole. I’m not asking for World War 3 here, but something to elevate the clash between the two species in a more impactful way. As much as I’m loathed to say this, I think the ending to Shiki presented its themes and conclusion in a far more stirring fashion (although both shows were equally ham fisted in delivering their life lessons).
All my other issues are mostly nit-picking, eg. Tamura Reiko scenes aside, the fights rarely lived up to their potential for imaginative tactics, given the adaptability the parasites. Overall I still felt it Parasyte was incredibly solid, but one that has begun to feel the age of the source material, either in certain storytelling techniques or the uniqueness of its themes. I ended up appreciating the show, but sadly it didn’t leave me with much of an emotional impact.
Durarara Season 2
I feel validated. After constantly complaining that the hype surrounding the return of Durarara was disproportionate to what the original series ended up being, I can’t help but think time has proved me right with season 2. Granted, once the initial batch of new episodes aired I was as guilty as anyone for consciously forgetting what I despised about the show in favour of the high points. I mean, there was Celty being all moe and adorable around Shinra, Shizuo’s fondness for throwing the half the Tokyo transport system at people, Izaya being an insufferably smug jerk with no friends, standing on rooftops in a pathetically literal attempt to elevate himself over humanity. It was perfect! And then came the teenagers…
At this point I have near zero expectations that future seasons will ever move beyond the current status quo. Sure, there’ll be some short arcs with great, if tragically brief appearances from beloved characters, but eventually the tide will turn and we’ll be stuck with more crappy Dollars plotlines involving Mikado, whose dull personality is only exceeded by his infuriating constant awkward mannerisms, Anri, still a collection of fetishized tropes wrapped in the thin outer skin of a ‘strong female character’ archetype, and Kida, who emotional range alternates between cracking jokes and brooding, depending on the circumstances. And don’t let the final episode try and fool you into thinking Mikado has come to a crossroads in development; any future story arcs dealing with his supposed turn to the dark side will be treated in the exact same way it has for two seasons now: constant self-pity and indecision, while his friends angst from the side-lines. Meanwhile, we’ll probably be introduced to a few more interesting new characters that will just as quickly get thrown onto the heaped landfill of underutilised cast additions where the likes of Simon, Izaya’s sisters or Shinra’s new stepmum waste away.
The production has also clearly suffered during the transition of seasons and studios. I’m not just talking about episode 7’s infamous lack of in-between animation, but the artistry itself. The animators seem adequate at depicting standard large-eyed, cutesy teenage designs, but constantly go off-model with anyone who doesn’t fit into those moulds. Shizuo constantly suffers from this, as does some of the goofier-looking gang members; and let’s not even mention the Russians!.
So yeah, I’m incredibly down on Durarara at this point. I think I may just have outgrown it, or maybe I’ve just become utterly intolerant to the tropes it indulges in. Take Walker and Erika; there was once a time when I found those two and their wacky meta antics charming. Now I just want to fast forward the show when they appear. I’m just not sure enjoying a quarter of every episode and being exasperated by the rest is a good enough investment of time.
Well, Baccano wasn’t targeted enough to sell to the fandom, so this uneasy mashup is how it has to be. We got what we deserved.
Akatsuki no Yona
Or as I affectionately call it, the little show that could. What makes Yona one of the big surprises of the season is that it clearly knows its limitations. This isn’t a series that will wow anyone with spectacular animated set-pieces, nor will it be the source of deep philosophical discussion. What it does accomplish is focusing on its modest aspirations and striving to create the most entertaining show it can. The animation, while never jaw-dropping in detail or particularly fluid, is generally consistent, while the plot’s themes involving the flaws of pacifism are fairly surface level but carefully thought out. It’s a simple adventure story, there’s no need to put on airs and pretend to be more than what it is. I appreciate that.
Yona as a character exhibits most of the better traits found in shoujo heroines, being naïve and frail next to her protectors but also earnest and fiercely determined in her goals. She also doesn’t fall apart into a blushing mess at the first hint of male attention. Think Chihaya (Chihayafuru), if brought up in a fantasy setting. The bishounen side-cast are more of a mixed bag, but there’s nobody I can actively claim to dislike. It’s also one of those rare shows that use chibi expressions and brief 4-koma interludes to great comedic effect. Even Full Metal Alchemist couldn’t pull that off!
It’s not often you get anime like this that don’t end up feeling middle of the road. A shame really, they’re often the type of shows that are both perfect as an introduction to anime and a pleasant reminder why you like the medium in the first place.
Tokyo Ghoul: Re
Now on the other hand, if you’re looking for a series that shoots for the stars and lands in the gutter, you could do far worse than the second season of Tokyo Ghoul, one of the most frustrating anime experiences I’ve come across in a good while. Season one may have lagged in the middle, but at least it never felt quite so schizophrenic. Kaneki’s tale is largely thrown to the side, with the show distancing and giving him an almost mythic quality for much of the runtime. It’s not a bad idea in theory, but when so much of the core story still revolves around his ideals and aspirations, it feels like a poorly thought out decision. The brief attempts at depicting low key and subtle development are constantly undermined by the ridiculous and nonsensical action scenes that mainly exist to push a constant stream of new characters with only the faintest traces of backstory in our faces. This happens right up to the last episode and by the conclusion I had absolutely no idea who half the cast even were. The show honestly feels both too condensed and too stretched out. There are enough characters to fill out 56+ episodes of development, but a story that seems better suited as a single season release. Neither aspect succeeds & the styles feel completely divorced from each other, like the show is constantly changing its mind whether it wants to commit to being a psychological drama like Parasyte or a pulpy hack n’ slash, a la Deadman Wonderland.
Ghoul picks itself back together in the final batch of episodes and reminds you how stunning the direction can be when the show allows itself to stop and breathe, but by then it’s simply too late. So much screen-time is squandered on exaggerated super powers, one-note crazy-eyed villains & introductions to people barely seen again, that any chance to fully explore the goals and motivations of the folks at Anteiku, Aogiri Tree and CCG is wasted. What we’re left with is an occasionally beautiful, often daft and ultimately emotionally empty experience. It could have been so much more.
Even now I can’t quite believe how perfectly Shirobako came together. While the premise was always going to be an easy sell, I initially pegged it as being a little too dry, while many of the studio employees were insufferable. However, by the end the exposition was utterly riveting, the cast charming regardless (and sometimes because) of their flaws. This truly is the type of anime that slowly gets its hooks in you with every passing week.
The show does a damn fine job of providing insight into the drama and stress involved in working with anime, while sweetening the pill enough so that the overall tone is optimistic and celebratory towards the profession, both past and present. Shirobako feels as much a reminder to the staff that their jobs are worth the personal sacrifice as much as it serves to educate the fandom of the effort put into the shows they watch on a weekly basis. The balance between depicting some of the harsher realities of the industry without becoming utterly morose and hopeless remains consistent throughout. We might not see freelance animators constantly struggling to pay the bills, but clearly this is a career path only suited to those with the passion, talent, dedication and not a small amount of luck to succeed
One minor issue I did have is that the core female cast are hardly the most interesting bunch when removed from the chaos of the studio, but then again they don’t really have to be. In the vein of Madoka or Girls Und Panzer, the plot clearly drives the cast, not the other way round. While their interactions do have the tendency to devolve into glorified cutesy slice of life antics, they’re infrequent enough to barely be an issue.
I’m not sure if we’ll ever see future instalments of Shirobako; the series sold well and the potential for new storylines is there, but it also feels complete. I’d certainly not refuse any more though. In the meantime, someone get to work on creating a time machine so that we actually get Andes Chucky in the 70’s.