Here’s the final post about my personal picks of the Spring Season. While I may have been disappointed with the lack of quality anime in general, the below shows never failed to brightened my mood on a weekly basis.
3. Blood Blockade Battlefront
Yeah yeah, it’s technically still on-going, but the hell if I’m waiting for the final episode to actually show up.
I think some my initial praise where I pretty much called the series The Second Coming of Cowboy Bebop & Baccano ended up being a tad overblown, but there’s still plenty to love here. BBB has this wonderful sense of glee in the way it constantly comes up with chaotic (and usually destructive) forces to utterly screw with the poor saps inhabiting the city. It’s hugely entertaining watching their expressions of exasperated or sardonic resignation to the endless deluge of bat-shit insanity. If this show had a motto it would likely be, “Not this shit again!”
I do have reservations that leave me a little underwhelmed in some areas. The episodic nature and fixed setting turns the series into something of a sitcom, which is fine for the most part, allowing the city to feel like a living, breathing place. The slight drawback to this is that limitations are put on how over the top the scenarios are. For as absurd as most episodes tend to be, less rooted series like Space Dandy overtake it in creativity and flair at nearly every turn. That normally wouldn’t be a problem since BBB has overarching plot points to steer the narrative, but when character arcs like Black & White’s schemes, or Leonard’s mission to cure his sister’s blindness have virtually no relation to the current events on a regular basis, the end result feels less fulfilling than it could be. Issues weighing heavily on the characters’ (and viewers’) minds are left in stasis until the show feels ready to get around to them, if it does at all.
There’s also a little bit of the ‘Josh Wheden’ approach to writing, wherein the dialogue often makes the people instead of the other way round. The anime-original story for Black and White reveals the staff can certainly write genuinely affecting and emotionally resonant material, but most of the main cast (with the exceptions of Leonard and Klaus) are often used to spit out witty lines and quips that in many instances feel interchangeable with each other. Not all the time mind you, but I usually noticed several instances per episode. Again, in an episodic format this isn’t so much of a problem, but with a greater focus on following the rules of cool than actual character depth, it gets a little hard to be invested during some of more dramatic beats when it becomes clear more effort has been put into having them act fun than relatable.
These aren’t major gripes, but they bother me a little nonetheless. If BBB a had larger batch of episodes to slowly draw out its creativity and cast, a la Gintama, I probably wouldn’t care. As it stands, 13 episodes (26, depending on whether the show is going to be a split-cour) aren’t quite enough for the sheer scope on display here, with ideas and characters feeling underutilised (Chains in particular has received shockingly little screen time). It’s less that the show is too dense or edited, but rather that the focus seems deliberately narrowed to only a few core perspectives who are often (sometimes literally) swept up as mere spectators in much larger events spectators, while everyone else jostles for screen time in the background.
BBB is definitely a show I enjoy, but one I need to spend more time with to fully connect with.
2. Sound! Euphonium
I would feel sad about Euphonium ending, but that was blatantly just a mid-season break! We’re obviously going to see the show continue further down the line. We’d better!
I’ve usually enjoyed the Kyoani aesthetic, both in animation and as a nostalgic look at traditional Japanese culture and school life, so long as the focus on cuteness doesn’t become the chief selling point (Tamako Market being a good example). Fortunately, Euphonium almost immediately distances itself from K-on by having the characters play second-fiddle (BA DUM PSH!) to the music, not the other way round. Sure, there’s plenty of the standard chirpy mannerisms to be expected from the studio, but the focus is the band’s relationships with their instruments and how the drive to improve changes their outlooks on life. The show clearly cares about the subject matter to almost the same obsessive degree as the girls themselves do.
You’ll find little padding like beach episodes or hiking trips, outside of a well placed mid-season breather, while the small incidental body movements Kyonani is known for are used to highlight the act of playing (although you’re still going to see the exaggerated body shuffling they love so much). Even the most cute and ditzy of characters display a clear dedication to their art, like Sapphire coming to school with bloody & bandaged fingers. Little is wasted. The attention to detail in postures, positioning and movements during performances has clearly been researched thoroughly.
The overarching theme of discovering and learning to embrace your talents, while struggling to be the best you can is particularly affecting, not purely in aesthetics, but how the lightness of the show belies difficult to accept truths. It’s honest of the fact that sometimes passion alone just isn’t enough, but while harsh lessons are learnt, the drama never becomes overbearing or cynical. The fact that it can address the pain of failure, while remaining upbeat and enforcing the belief that the effort to try is what counts, displays perfect mastery of the show’s tone. The people adapting this clearly cared about the story they were telling.
Ultimately, Euphonium is still a Kyoani work through and through, and will do little to convince detractors adverse to their presentation. However, like Free! before it, we’re definitely seeing what’s possible when they decide to use their house style as a springboard for larger ambitions in storytelling.
1. My Romantic Teen Comedy SNAFU
And the award for the best anime of the season goes to the one with the worst name. Season one was a pleasant surprise, but this time the show really hit it out of the park!
I still plan to make a more in-depth post once I have time )and am happy with whatever I churn out). In the meantime I’ll just make a few (probably hyperbolic) cliff notes as to why SNAFU is way more than the average rom-com it pretends to be.
SNAFU isn’t a series that concerns itself with stale pervert jokes and oh-so accidental romantic misunderstandings; in fact for the most part it’s barely about the romance at all. It’s about people and their struggle to form connections with one another. It’s a show where every single character feels fleshed out, nuanced and often completely different to your preconceived assumptions. It’s a show where as much is said through body movements, glances and words left unspoken. It’s a show where everyone is flawed, but never irredeemably so. It’s a show with an agenda aimed at those struggling with their identity and relationships with others.
You’ll find little in the way of masturbatory ego-stroking or wish fulfilment here. SNAFU is less a show created to indulge in escapist fantasies than it is one that uses the tropes of it’s genre to affectionately encourage self-actualisation and improvement. It’s the romantic genre’s Evangelion. It’s the core of Bakemonogatari, once stripped of the fanservice, Shaft-isms and meandering, bloated dialogue (Hikigaya is essentially teenage Kaiki Deishuu). It’s Flowers of Evil with a message of love, rather than pure cynicism and malice.
If you looked at the title and completely dismissed it as trash, I can only hope you’ll give it another try. Maybe your feelings won’t be a strong as mine, but I feel nearly everyone can walk away from SNAFU with a measure of respect of what it stands for. I loved every minute of it.