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Apart from being a cash-grab, maybe to update art that is arguably out of date and hasn’t aged well.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.
On Thursday, July 18, an arsonist set fire to Kyoto Animation, leading to a very difficult day for everyone in the anime community and beyond. The following morning, the final death tolls came in and it became clearer the gravity of what was lost. 33 confirmed dead and 36 more injured.
At the same time, the tragedy gained worldwide attention and over one million dollars was donated to a fund set up by Sentai Filmworks, while others suggested a myriad of other ways to help the studio. There is a lot that has already been said about how terrible this event was, and others far more loquacious than I have shared their words of mourning.
Regardless, I endeavored to try and figure out exactly what the studio meant to me and the effect it has had on my life. I considered how it effected me when I began watching anime, how it persisted as I became a critic, and most personally, how it helped me find myself.
In my review of season one, I praised how ONE manages to make overpowered characters likable and their stories tense through sheer emotion. This story about self-betterment and the discussion permeating the spectacle made battles ones of ideology in addition to super-powered flair. With a sequel, how does one continue this discussion without becoming repetitive?
Sequels can often succumb to a temptation to be like their predecessors, but bigger and better. Doing something different, even radically so, can be remembered better, but it is far more risky. That being said, you don’t have to be radical in order to make the sequel interesting in new ways. Sometimes it simply requires a change in focus.
A harsh reality that became apparent deeper into my anime fandom was realizing that some shows become weirdly inaccessible through legal means. Obviously, piracy is a handy option when publishers don’t make them available, but I enjoy owning physical copies of shows I’m particularly fond of. Secondly, I find it strange when certain shows aren’t available available to purchase or stream at all, even when they are famous.
I get it when the niche shows I like go out of print, but universally loved classics being slept on is something else. After being out of print for years, the most recent being a pricey Blu-ray collection, Evangelion has made its streaming debut on Netflix. Since I’ve never actually finished the series, this release was the perfect time to finish what I started. But more importantly, it is a chance to ask what this series still offers viewers today and how it holds up.
In American superhero culture there is an often annoying discussion about power-level in regards to fictional characters. The logic of any shonen action series or superhero story steeped in thematic morals is that the hero with the strongest will and heart wins specifically because of those components.
Yet still people will get all up in arms, partly because suspension of disbelief is often integral to the balance needed to keep audiences entertained. The other reason is that characters who are overpowered are often criticised because their power seems unearned, their victories seem illogical, or that there is no tension. It is the same reason why Superman is such a divisive character.
Funnily enough, the works of manga artist ONE seem to avoid these issues in discussion surrounding the works. It could be because the very nature of characters being overpowered are the point of the story like in One Punch Man, but there is more to it than that. After finally watching Mob Psycho 100, it is apparent that ONE’s talent comes from his ability to tackle complex themes and to produce tension and stakes through character drama rather than simply through the power levels of the characters.
Now that I have finally watched it, One thing is for sure, and it is that I am even more angry that Mob Psycho 100 did not win best animation back in 2016.
I’ve discussed previously my disdain for the praise aimed at Trigger in its early days. The whole “savior of anime” meme got old quick with the industry growing larger than ever, and certainly not solely because of Trigger’s work. Funnily enough, as time has gone on, there are now a lot of people who seem to think Trigger is “stagnating,” but that’s kinda bullshit.
With their catalog having built up over the years, Trigger has only been getting more praiseworthy as time has gone on. Kiznaiver was one of the best looking shows of 2016, Gridman was one of my top five from last year, and I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time I watched Space Patrol Luluco.
Now, director Hiroyuki Imaishi and screenwriter Kazuto Nakashima have reunited for a new project, this time a feature-length film. As I am in Japan currently, I took this rare opportunity to see the film in theaters. Because I am not fluent and didn’t pick up on everything, this is not a formal review, but I couldn’t resist taking the time to give my thoughts.
Some months back I went on a whole tirade about finding my “perfect” anime and ended up determining my three favorite shows of all time. One of them was Kekkai Sensen, an episodic action series by Studio Bones, which remains to be the closest to perfection I have found. However, when making that decision, I had a significantly difficult time picking between that and one other show: Bungo Stray Dogs.
Bungo Stray Dogs follows the Armed Detective Agency, a group of superhuman detectives who keep order in the port city of Yokohama. Meanwhile, they frequently face off against other supernatural organizations such as the aptly named Port Mafia. All major characters are named and based on real literary authors.
They are somewhat similar in premise. Both shows follow a team of sometimes serious, sometimes whacky superhumans keeping the peace in their respective towns. Kekkai Sensen captures the packed insanity of New York City while throwing in aliens and monsters. Bungo favors a more comparably peaceful and modern Yokohama. Both shows are episodic with a through-line narrative, both straddle the line between dramatic and comedic and they are both produced by Bones.
Eventually, it was no contest that Kekkai Sensen won the battle for being a bit more put-together throughout, whereas BSD was mixed in the first season. It helps that the former has the single greatest season finale I’ve ever witnessed, putting at least the first season comfortably among my top three.
That being said, Bungo Stray Dogs rides much the same line that Kekkai Sensen treads in winning over my heart and could easily make my top 10. It has managed to continue strong, with a feature film and a currently-airing third season. Six episodes in, it doesn’t seem to be losing stride.