Don’t Forget About Princess Principal

Oh, the thin red line I tow…

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.

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“To The Stray Dogs” – A Bungo Stray Dogs Retrospective

Recently I enthusiastically wrote about Bungo Stray Dogs as it was in the middle of its third season. In the middle of writing it, I remembered that somehow I had avoided reviewing any of the series prior. In that same post, I also realized I have a lot of positive things to say as it turns out. Three seasons and a movie may seem like a tall order for one review, but I’m nothing if not a man of (too) many words.

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.

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A Review of Attack on Titan, Season Three

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.

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A Review of Mob Psycho 100 II

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.

Mob Psycho 100 II does exactly that.

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A Review of Mob Psycho 100

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.

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I Saw Promare!!! My Thoughts on Trigger’s New Film

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.

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Bungo Stray Dogs: Season Three & The Art of Wide Appeal

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.

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The First Truly Good Season of RWBY?

Having watched RWBY since the beginning, I would consider myself a fan, despite how much I rag on it. It’s always been “good” but there was always some sort of caveat attached to any praise I could offer when the volumes were airing.

Volume One – It’s good, except the episodes are sometimes too short, which made it a pain to watch week-by-week. Ultimately, the only episodes I felt really satisfied with were one, eight and 16.

Volume Two – It’s great, except the ending ruins it and Ruby’s biggest opportunity for growth is thrown out the window in exchange for more characters that will never matter.

Volume Three – It’s good, except it sucks. More depressingly, we lost Monty.

Volume Four – Looking back, the narrative was pretty good (compared to what came before), but there is a lot of time wasted. I look on it fondly now, but at the time it aired, I hated it.

Volume Five – It’s terrible. There’s no excuse for this one.

Up until around Volume four, people would also make the excuse that Rooster Teeth was a smaller company, but that doesn’t really fly anymore, especially when they are getting nominated for awards and shit. This made the problems stick out more because their status demands they be put up to a standard befitting of their aspirations.

For this reason, I’m delighted to say that Volume Six of RWBY is the first truly good entry in the series. I know right? Surprised the fuck outta me…

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The Best Ghost in the Shell Film (Isn’t the One You Think)

It’s one thing to review anime that no one talks about, and that’s pretty fun. Chances are if I’m struggling to find content discussing an obscure show that looks cool, there are others just as aggrevated. I feel obligated to give these shows some publicity, whether it be good or bad. What’s more interesting are the times when the anime I’m reviewing is a more obscure part of a well-known series.

Recently I had the opportunity to analyze a film for my course on media criticism and decided to write about Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, the sequel to the very influential Ghost in the Shell from 1995. Despite having the same director and an impressive visual onslaught, the film has never gotten the same acclaim. after all these years. This surprises me, because given the choice between which I like better… I might enjoy Innocence more.

This is a reworked, SPOILER-FREE version of that essay, so treat this like a review of the film. For the UNEDITED ESSAY, click here.

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Rising of the Shield Hero is 2019’s First Must-Watch

I almost never watch Isekai anime, the genre centered around characters transported to other worlds. In recent years, the medium has been so oversaturated with shows like this and my few forays into the genre tended to be more negative than positive.

Today’s show is one that I never had any intention of watching out of a lack of interest. Truth be told I didn’t even know it was an Isekai, and upon learning that I was even less interested. And yet… The Rising of the Shield Hero has become one of the most surprising shows I have fallen in love with.

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