In 2015, P.A. Works produced what would be remembered as one of the best shows of the year, Shirobako. The series was, funnily enough, an anime about making anime. It was praised for its depiction of the hardships of working in the industry as well as the optimism with which it approached its story of overcoming hardship.
There have been a few shows that have dealt with similar subjects, usually in a business-type setting. There was New Game, about game development, Girlish Number, a cynical comedy about the darker side of anime production, and all-in-all, plenty of shows about working women in creative fields.
However, no other show quite retained the same popularity and acclaim over time quite like Shirobako. That is, until now. After ONA’s like Devilman and films like Ride Your Wave and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Masaaki Yuasa returned to TV anime for something truly special.
Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na, or Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, might very well be one of the most uplifting, insightful, and inspiring shows I’ve seen in a very long time. It does for the industry much what Shirobako did, openly disclosing the ups and downs of the business, but in a way far more imaginative and stylistic than it’s predecessors.
Video game adaptations are almost always bad. The best of them excel only on the condition that you overlook large caveats, be they performances, the script, or how faithful the project is to the original. Video games are hard to adapt. You’re either trying to appeal to fans and alienating movie-goers or vice-versa. Both can fail depending on what is being adapted and how.
In the mid-2000s’, Warren Ellis wanted to make a direct-to-video animated film based on Castlevania. While the script was approved by Konami, the work ended up stuck in production hell for years. Adi Shankar, a producer who went viral with his “Bootleg Universe” series of fan-films, eventually was approached about producing an animated series based on Ellis’ script. While he turned down the same idea for a live-action film, believing live-action wouldn’t fit, he was more than happy to work on this one.
So eventually, Netflix adapted Ellis’ script into an animated series produced by Powerhouse Animation, an American studio. The first season – all four episodes of it – came out in July of 2017 and took the internet by storm. Everyone, myself included, was instantly clamoring for more. With the release of the second season in the fall of 2018, the show revealed even more of its potential with a longer season, more character drama, and even better animation.
With the recently released and certainly shocking third season fresh in our minds, it might be good to look back on the series as a whole thus far. It’s certainly the best video game adaptation, but is that saying a whole lot? Is Castlevania more than just the sum of its gorgeous animation?
While not necessarily in vogue among anime critics lately, it isn’t hard to find rankings of very specific subjects within the community. “Top 10 Strongest Anime Characters”, “Top Ten Anime Villains”, “Top Ten Anime Couples”, etc. And of course, who could forget the perpetually memed “Top Ten Anime Betrayals,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen created unironically.
However, while overdone, it has never felt like the kind of thing that anime critics do begrudgingly out of some unspoken tax as per the job. After all, anime has a lot of cool shit and fights are no exception. It’s only obligatory so far as such a thing is relatively easy to create and an ample excuse to ramble about things we like. That’s half the reason people like me become critics anyway.
So in no particular ranked order, here are a few my favorite anime fight scenes.
Honestly, I’ve never been too worked up over finding originality. I know that a tried and true story can still be told in over a million ways. Is the setting a fantasy where it used to be sci-fi? Are there comedic beats or is it more series? What sets this apart from others? John Wick‘s concept wasn’t necessarily original, but we never saw a revenge film about a dog being killed, nor did we see one with such elaborate world-building.
Even the most acclaimed creators’ works can be traced back to the maker’s inspirations. Media is all about inspiration and telling old stories in new ways by combining myriad elements in a really creative way. Today, I want to look at a film that in a lot of ways is unoriginal, but that I don’t think has to be discarded because of that. From Studio 3Hz and director Kazuya Nomura comes Black Fox, a new film that just recently released on Crunchyroll.
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?
Worldbuilding is something I get unusually excited about when it is done a certain way. I’ve often ranted about shows like Kekkai Sensen, which depict the supernatural chaos, yet systems of government designed to efficiently counter the chaos. There is a multitude of minor elements of world-building that excite me but it is exceedingly difficult to put into words why. The closest I get is saying that I love the idea of order applied to an unnatural society
Kinoko Nasu, the creator of Fate/ Stay Night, Garden of Sinners, and Tsukihime, has written works tailor-made to cater to me. He has created a modern fantasy universe the complexity of which rivals the works of Rowling and Tolkien. In fairness, the Nasuverse is bloated, with so many alternate universes and different creative minds, but there is still beauty in the chaos.
This past summer, studio Troyca’s Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files gave me this episode-to-episode joy built entirely on showing off how cool the world is. What I thought would be another misfire in an already packed franchise turned out to be one of my favorite shows this year.
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.