With the Summer season about to begin, let’s briefly look back to the season just past and dig out some final thoughts on the shows it gave us. I intend this to be both a final thoughts and a recommendation post of sorts, so for those of you yet to check out the Spring season, I hope this helps to point you in the direction of something you like. As such, this whole post will be spoiler free.
The Devil is a Part-Timer! (Hataraku Maou-Sama!)
The Devil is a Part-Timer takes a so-so premise that at least has good potential for piss-take, and, well, doesn’t really do much with it at all, repeating its few gags ad nauseum while trying to mix in some fantasy action and character drama that isn’t particularly interesting and only detracts from what little comedy there is. I’ll admit the premise is novel, but if you don’t make me laugh, then you’re failing as comedy, it’s just that simple.
It’s an old problem, a show tries to be a jack-of-all-trades, and ends a master of none. Unfortunately, even if HMS had decided to focus entirely on the comedy, I have a sneaking suspicion that the writing just isn’t good enough to carry what is, at its heart, a farce. Good farce requires a keen understanding of social nuance to deliver tension and, accordingly, comedic relief, and as soon as a show plays the ol’ boob jokes card, it becomes abundantly clear that this is one skill the writers do not possess.
If the novelty of the premise, a fish-out-of-water story, throwing a generic fantasy Demon Lord into modern Japan, stripped of his magical powers and other coping mechanisms, sounds like it’d be enough to get you through one cour with a smile on your face, then you may want to check this out, but the writing isn’t very sharp, and the whole thing gets noticeably less funny as it goes, culminating in an incredibly anticlimactic final epsiode, so consider yourself warned.
Oreimo (Ore No Imouto Ga Konna Ni Kawaii Wake Ga Nai) Season 2
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I enjoyed the first season of Oreimo, but there were some interesting elements in there. Rekindling of fraternal bonds, the elitist/populist otaku dichotomy and so on. I wouldn’t say any of these issues were well handled, but at least they were present. As it turns out, dropping all that to devolve into a horrible incestous, harem, otaku pandering trainwreck made this series infinitely more entertaining. My biggest regret is that the first however many episodes are just boring, rather than gloriously awful like the second half.
There’s really not much else to say here, it does everything wrong, and for that very reason I recommend it. This is the benchmark of what anime shouldn’t be, and it’s so committed to and joyful in its own baseness it almost feels like its trying to be a cautionary tale. Chauvinist, thoughtless, confused and self-destructive, itself a reflection of the show’s protagonist. Revel its badness with me, then let’s never speak of this again.
The Eotena Onslaught/Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
The Eotena Onslaught hasn’t finished yet, so this isn’t so much a sum-up as a where-we’re-up-to impressions kind of deal.
This show is good. Not great, but all round competent. The animation is reasonably aesthetically pleasing, the sound direction is all round pretty excellent, and the overarching story is, as of yet, perfectly fine, as are the characters, in fact the number of competent females in the cast is almost down-right progressive, it’s just a pity they based the leading female’s motivation almost entirely around the leading male.
I’m more interested in story than plot, so this show doesn’t appeal to me as much as it does to most. The characters are all perfectly relateable, and everything has been executed pretty competently, with the exception of Araki‘s unnecessary exaggeration of every goddamn thing. It’s just that there isn’t much of a central thematic thread for me to grab on to, well, not an interesting one anyway. The whole we must fight to survive thing has been done better many times elsewhere, and the invocation of the oft used survival of the fittest trope just comes across as hopelessly quaint (and more than a tad frustrating) to a Science major such as myself, or anyone who has actually read Origin of Species, I imagine.
Weirdly, for an action show, the pacing feels pretty sluggish at points. More than once I wanted to yell “Get on with it” at the screen when someone had broken into the third despair soliloquy that episode. What’s more Armin bizarrely goes through the exact same arc in two different episodes.
If good animation, solid action and excellent sound direction are enough to carry a show for you then you should definitely check this out. If you’re the sort who needs an emotional or thematic core to their narrative; however, be warned that you may find yourself disappointed.
My Teenage RomCom is Wrong as Expected (Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru)
This season brought me to the realisation that my standards were slipping. I was pretty well prepared to give this show and The Devil is a Part-Timer a pass just for being better than your average light novel adaptation, that is to say, not completely terrible, only mostly. Thank christ I realised and fixed that shit up before that horrible disease known as Otaku consumerism started to gnaw away at my critical faculties like it has so many others.
More than anything, Oregairu is trying to be smart, or at least to sound smart, if you listen closely you can just about hear the straining, with its obtuse dialogue and desperate cynicism. I’d consider myself pretty cynical, so this should be an easy sell, but Oregairu was so eager to reduce its secondary and tertiary cast down to push-button caricatures in its quest to validate the ideals of its cynical protagonists that I just couldn’t buy into it. It rarely goes so far as to villainise them, thankfully. Nonetheless, people aren’t this simple and predictable, yet, infuriatingly, our misanthropic protagonist, Hikigaya, is never wrong in his snide preconceptions. I kept rooting for the foil character, Hayama, but, while he isn’t painted in a negative lens, at least, he never really wins against Hikigaya, and that is simultaneously frustrating and incredibly boring. Oh and we get an incredibly anticlimactic finale episode here, too.
Trying to be smart and failing is one thing, but the bigger problem here is that the whole thing is uneventful and static. Nothing but the relationships between the main three characters really evolves over the course of one cour, and even this develops painfully slowly. Out protagonist undergoes no real character arc, unless you believe proving the legitimacy of his determined-to-be-an-asshole world view qualifies as a character arc, personally I don’t.
The last nail in the coffin is that its attempts at comedy are about as poor as HMS’s, with comedy being nearly as core to the central construction of the narrative as it was for HMS. So at the end of the day we’re left with a story that isn’t particularly funny or smart, doesn’t really go anywhere and, despite its posturing, doesn’t really say anything. That’s about as close to the definition of ‘waste of time’ as you can get, in my book, but wasting time is a common pastime, so maybe that’s what you’re feeling like.
All in all, would not recommend, but if a cynical take on your standard high school drama sounds like enough to keep you interested, rest assured Oregairu is certainly more entertaining than your average light novel adaptation. Take that for what you will.
Valvrave the Liberator (Kakumeiki Valvrave)
Upon consideration, I really do think Valvrave is in on the joke, but even if it wasn’t, it would be no less exhilarating to watch. Valvrave is an ode to childhood, a swan song for immaturity in a medium that is slowly growing up. Playing off of ingrained cultural isolationist fears, we are presented a nation of children beset on all sides by adults, thinly veiled analogues of real nations, nearly all of whom are duplicitous enemies, after their anime-powered technology. The kids fight despair with pop songs and cultural festivals. Isolation and childishness so thoroughly pervade every aspect of the narrative, for all its silliness I think it’s actually quite skilful in places.
Every constituent element is wrong, it’s incredibly sexist, laughably dumb, incoherent, there isn’t an associable character in the entire cast, but somehow it all fits together into something that works. To be honest, I think the central conceit of every mecha show is intrinsically juvenile, so at least Valvrave is being consistent. It’s such a concentrated cultural entity, so evocative of this medium and of its socio-political surroundings, I can’t help but find it fascinating. A girl being empowered by literally stealing a guy’s body and using sexual aggressiveness to turn one of her classmates into a quivering, submissive mess? Come on, that’s funny, subversive, even. Valvrave is full of such pithy moments of retarded genius, heartily recommended.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)
Honestly, Gargantia is the very definition of mediocre. It sexualises its fifteen year old leading female to shameful extents, and makes one particularly off, extended transsexual joke, but apart from this it does nothing particularly offensive, and nothing particularly interesting. It’s an across the board bland experience that doesn’t even have the common decency to suck enthusiastically.
Its message isn’t exactly bad, but the delivery is so trite and shallow. I’m about as dove as they come, but Gargantia can’t even sell me its anti-hawk message. There’s so much wrong with Gargantia there’s really nothing I can point to and say “fix this and it’d be alright”, but if I had to choose one thing, it’d be the tone. I had to laugh during a lot of theoretically somber moments, because all the while they had a busty lesbian pirate queen walking around wearing about half the amount of clothing needed for a practical outfit.
It’s the jack-of-all-trades problem again. There’s a little thoughtfulness here, a little comedy there, a little action (mecha, no less) here, a little romance there, and what we’re left with is a big ball of not much at all. To summarise, Gargantia is an attempt to be as inoffensive and vaguely appealing to as broad an audience as possible. The result is dull as
The Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana)
The Flowers of Evil is a rare beast. It isn’t so much transcendental to the medium as it is just plain an outlier, using unconventional techniques to tell a very, well, un-anime story. Being brave and different would be enough to make it interesting, but its extremely deliberate visual direction, superb sound direction, and deliciously dark story make it a true exemplar of the medium.
It’s also rare in that it takes some pretty drastic liberties with the source material and comes out an unambiguous improvement on the original. The is the power of having true artistic vision and drive behind a project. The rare meeting of an ambitious writer and an ambitious director, and the result is unsurprisingly something on an entirely different level than everything around it.
The Flowers of Evil manga is a pretty thematically ambitious piece of work in its own right, delving head-first into ideas like social deviancy, lust and idolisation, romance, artistic pretension, and sterile normalcy vs anarchic pleasure. The anime simultaneously focuses and expands upon almost all of this, using the full range of visual and aural tools at its disposal. Nagahama is never afraid to let a scene linger, use an odd camera angle, or use complete silence if that’s what the scene calls for.
I know there are a lot of complaints about the pacing, but I can’t say I was ever bored, which is more than I can say for every other show this season. As I said before, everything is so deliberate, the visual language is never silent, even if there’s very little plot development at the time. There’s always something to be mulling over, some visual or aural cue to be taking note of, and even if there wasn’t I could happily just sit back and enjoy the scene composition and wonderfully thick atmosphere that pervades the entire production.
Kasuga makes a lot of bad decisions, but he remains deeply sympathetic because his motivations are extremely coherent and associable. The journey he takes down the rabbit hole of chaos is one deep-seated in fundamental human fears and drives. Who has honestly never wanted to escape the mundanity of their daily routine? Who has never felt the drive to be special, or the fear of normalcy? Who has never indulged in the anarchic pleasure of self-destruction?
The Flowers of Evil is, without a doubt, the best thing to come from Spring 2013, and if it isn’t the best thing to come out of Summer, Autumn and Winter as well, I will be very surprised. Whole-heartedly recommended.
I couldn’t even bring myself to finish Red Data Girl, so yeah, I recommend you avoid that. I did actually finish Muromi-san on the Shore, and for what it’s worth it’s a pretty decent little comedy anime that at least gets the necessity of taboo and tension for good comedy. It’s just so damn insubstantial I don’t really have much to say about it. If you want a fun little series of half episodes, check it out, it’s alright. Oh yeah, and Photo Kano got dropped after two episodes. Literally worse than Hitler, avoid.
Expect a first impressions post for the Summer season next Wednesday!