While pondering what to write for the last two weeks of November, I wondered if I could actually watch all of Demon Slayer in just week. After all if it would feel wrong to end 2019 without watching it. Friends of mine with all manners of different taste have been telling me how great it is all summer. But given the long hiatus between starting shows like Dororo and Shield Hero and finally finishing them, I wondered if I could pull it off.
Turns out it was pretty easy…
This week reminded me that I can still binge a show when I put my mind to it. It helps when the story in question is just that good. From Ufotable, the masters behind the best of the Fate series and Garden of Sinners, comes one of the best shows of 2019, Demon Slayer.
At the beginning of 2019, I wrote: Rising of the Shield Hero is 2019’s First Must-watch. It was a pleasant surprise to start the year, given how apprehensive I typically am about the Isekai genre. I was quite adamant about my excitement for this show after the first several episodes and despite the controversy, I believed it would be a total hit. I wasn’t wrong. It became one of the most-watched anime of the year and after its 25-episode run, a second and third season was confirmed.
Nearing the end of the year, as people begin reflecting on the best of the year, it bears asking if Shield Hero was worth the praise. Did it live up to its strong start?
The 1948 novel Ningen Shikkaku, known in the west as No Longer Human, is considered a masterpiece of literature in Japan. It is considered autobiographical, as the torment of the main character seemed to mirror the demons of author Osamu Dazai. Dazai had completed suicide by the time the final part of this serialized book was released.
After many adaptations across many mediums over the years, Polygon Pictures has produced a new vision of the classic. Re-imagined as a sci-fi dystopian tale, Human Lost by director Funimori Kizaki is a striking film with a lot of ideas. Unfortunately, those ideas are seldom explored to the fullest.
It says a lot when I can fall in love with a director after just one of their works. Rie Matsumoto stole mine and many others’ hearts after season one of Blood Blockade Battlefront. While at times her chaotic direction could produce scenes difficult to parse, I defend that she has a way of conducting a narrative unforgettably.
I’d always heard that there was one other show that she directed but I never got around to watching it. One day while walking through a movie store, I found a copy of a series that immediately caught my eye. Something about the art and its dynamic composition spoke to me and I thought it looked familiar. Sure enough, when I looked it up on my phone, there she was.
Kyousougiga, a Toho Animation series directed by Rie Matsumoto. Just recently I took the time to dive into it and get a sense of what an original work of hers looks like. Additionally, today I want to look at Matsumoto’s career past and present to get a better sense of her style and where she comes from.
I have tried to watch Soul Eater on four different occasions and the farthest I’ve gotten is episode four. When I tell my friends this, they are surprised (for good reason). I have long been a huge fan of the works of Studio Bones, with two of my three favorite shows of all time having been made by them. I’m also a huge fan of sakuga and consider it to be one of the coolest things about watching anime. Most importantly, Takuya Igarashi is one of my favorite directors of all time.
That I was unable to get into a show applicable to all three above qualities is entirely explainable but still a head-scratcher. Especially if you’ve read any of my posts on Studio Bones in the past, it seems like a show I would love. The short of it was that the writing and characters did nothing to draw me into the show and I was somewhat bored.
But when I saw the trailers for David Production’s adaptation of Fire Force – another work from Soul Eater author Atsushi Okubo – I got excited. The artwork and music conveyed a darker tone and got me thinking that a different kind of story by the same creator might be more to my liking. Hell, it already looked like a show by Bones anyway and David Productions has been growing steadily thanks to stuff like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Fire Force quickly became my most anticipated show of the summer.
Now, as Fire Force‘s first season nears the midway point, I’m left a little underwhelmed. How did such a promising show fail to meet my expectations? More importantly, is it good enough to continue watching?
Do you ever notice time travel stories being criticized or picked apart more than other sci-fi? There have been numerous classics with all kinds of different interpretations and theories. Perhaps because it is a particularly nebulous concept among sci-fi subject matter that it inspires more analysis and thus is more prone to criticism.
But that is the point of science fiction, is it not? To explore out-of-this-world ideas. Still, the task of formulating a satisfying and logically sound time travel story adds considerably more work to the already lofty task posed by the standards of fiction writing.
From a creative standpoint, why risk it? Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has continually prided itself on its thorough construction decided to muck things up by introducing time travel in Avengers: Endgame. Plot holes resulting from stories like this could be explained away after the fact just as easily as they could be things the writers never considered.
Is it a fault of the discussion or the writers? Well, it can be a bit of both. When I hear of a time travel story that has been widely praised even years after its release, I get that much more intrigued. Time travel is hard to do and no show does time travel quite like Steins;Gate, which I finally watched just last month.
I have long tried not to commit myself to watch a ton of new shows each season. It’s not out of concern that media consumption will become “work” because… I mean I’m a critic aren’t I? That it would become a “hassle” is more accurate, perhaps. I don’t like the idea of becoming a cynic who starts to become jaded, even if inevitably I probably will have seen enough stories that I start to somewhat tire out.
I put myself in a funny position then, because I want to stave off that creeping cynicism, but then look back on shows from before and think I missed out. But then I remember exactly why I love approaching critique in a more retroactive manner. Not only are there still plenty of classic shows that I haven’t seen, but there are even more that interest me but don’t get talked about a lot.
Even popular works don’t always have the kinds of content I look for, which appropriately enough is the content I strive to make. Every month, one of the highest viewed posts on this blog is my review of all three Kizumonogatari films together, a pretty popular trilogy. On the other hand, my series on Bones’ forgotten Towa no Quon films got more views than I initially expected. If I had to guess why it’s because people like me were looking for discussion about it and found there was practically none.
That’s why I love finding shows – even somewhat recent shows – that I completely missed, yet fall in love with when I finally see them. It’s an opportunity to shine a spotlight on a work that doesn’t get a ton of discussion in the constantly forward-facing anime community. Today’s show just so happens to be one of the hidden gems of 2017, Studio 3Hz’s steampunk spy thriller, Princess Principal.
When you take an established property with a certain level of fame in the cultural gestalt and try to do it again, you are asking for criticism. Remakes have these nasty labels attached to them because in principal a worthwhile piece of art should be able to stand on its own. Why remake something when the old work still exists?
Apart from being a cash-grab, maybe to update art that is arguably out of date and hasn’t aged well. Better yet, perhaps the remake signifies an intention to take a work in another direction to use the original’s framing device in a new innovative way. Either way, it’s easy to divide people over a new vision. Too close to the original and it seems pointless, but too different and it could be seen as a betrayal.
But what happens when the same mind behind the original comes back to remake his work, albeit with new help? Hideaki Anno’s classic Neon Genesis Evangelion certainly gained fame over the years despite how infamous it was at the time. The psychological drama fueled by Anno’s anguish made it legendary and yet Anno felt there was more to be done.
Anno split off from Gainax and together with his underling, Kazuya Tsurumaki, he decided to “rebuild” Evangelion. These films have been praised and lambasted in equal measure over the years. Most often people find an issue with the lack of thoughtful psychological pathos that made NGE‘s characters so real despite the premise. You can find plenty who will praise the visuals of the rebuilds, but many who will argue it doesn’t make up for what is lost.
But is there nothing here of value? Are these films not without some quality that is superior to the originals? I like to think that isn’t the case and after finally watching them recently, I think there are plenty of reasons to fall in love with these films. With the fourth and presumably final film coming in 2020, now is the perfect time to ask, what did the rebuilds get right?
For a series that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to my friends, the first season of Bungo has a few more problems upon second glance. This happens a lot with good shows I feel. There is a first season that catches your attention with some elusive quality you can’t quite put your finger on. Next up, the sequels build on the formula, turning the show into something even grander than you first envisioned.
The real tricky part is getting people into it without over-hyping it purely on the grounds of how good it gets later on. I’m sure if I kept watching Breaking Bad season four I would love it, but I don’t wanna watch Skylar try to buy a God damn car wash for half a season. Where was I? Oh yeah, allow me to start by giving you an honest look at this show’s humble beginnings.
How in the hell did Attack on Titan Season Three, Part 2 become #2 on MyAnimeList’s all-time top anime list? I was already a little surprised when Your Name dropped to #6 after Hunter x Hunter 2011 (makes sense), another iteration of Gintama (meh), and Steins;Gate (how have I not watched this yet?). However, for Attack on Titan to take #2, particularly in its third season? Now that threw me for a loop.
Granted, I’m not pretending this list is the be all end all, as it is merely determining the best based on the average score given by the users who have rated it on their lists. None of these shows are perfect. Both Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Your Name are arguably overrated and flawed, even if I think they are great. However, this list does give a sense of the nature of certain show’s fanbase and the cultural discussion surrounding a work.
I’ve never seen Gintama, nor does it look that interesting, but for this show to consistently score this highly tells me that the fanbase must be one of the most committed ever. Likewise, Hunter x Hunter 2011 is one of the most highly scored Shonen’s out there. Steins;Gate to me is the equivalent of that popular Emmy nominated show everyone says to watch but that I’ll take years to sit down and enjoy. The list says a lot more than just which anime is the best.
As such, my goal today is not to argue whether or not Attack on Titan is deserving of this status, but to understand why the fanbase is reacting so strongly and now of all times. Especially because, to me, season three is the weakest of three admittedly solid seasons.