At the end of the much-acclaimed third season’s final credits, a fourth and surprisingly final season of Attack on Titan was announced to be greenlit.
We went from waiting years for a second season to getting subsequent sequels at a reasonable pace to the point that now I’m a little shocked that the end of both the manga and anime are syncing up accordingly. However, long-time fans became concerned as soon as it was suggested that Studio WIT would NOT be animating it.
In the wake of the world burning down, we were blessed with quite a climactic trailer for the final season. And the editors wasted no time telling us who would be helming it.
Early in 2014, when I was just getting into anime, I decided to watch Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, the now-famous sports anime by Kyoto Animation. Being in the closet at the time, I went into it with the kind of ironic half-interest that wouldn’t tip off my friends that I was hella gay (which didn’t work anyway).
To put it bluntly, Free helped me come out of the closet. Granted, the characters never canonically became boyfriends or stated they were gay in the show. Regardless, the characters were all content in their masculinity and displayed a level of intimacy and emotional expressiveness that was really meaningful to me. I will always have a soft spot for that series. I talked more about this in my tribute to Kyoto Animation that you can read here.
Ever since then I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Boys Love/ Yaoi genre of manga and anime. There are great stories that have been told, especially recently. Yuri on Ice hit the mainstream with gayness like a nuke and we’re still waiting for that fucking film. Sarazanmai went even harder, though I can’t say it was too memorable. The romance in No. 6 was the saving grace when the rest of it was a rushed mess. Finally, dated as it was, Banana Fish was the action drama infused with gay romance I always wanted and I should really finish it.
For every decent to great gay show that has seeped through the cracks, a lot of yaoi shows have turned me quite cynical towards the genre. The trash-tier of yaoi can be downright infuriating. Shit like Junjou Romantica and Love Stage too often treat non-consensual sex as the starting point to a relationship. There are a lot of really unhealthy tropes that have made it hard to get into anime with gay romances.
There is a lot of garbage out there, but recently, anime with gay characters are being produced more and more. Hell, half of the good examples I mentioned before came out in the last couple of years. And today I want to talk about a show that broke through a lot of that cynicism for me and left me a lot more hopeful for future stories like this.
This isn’t up for debate. Not because I’m opposed to dissenting opinions but because the festering shitholes known as the comment sections and forum posts about this new series have made such a claim a necessity.
About three years ago, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 was announced. After 14 years, Stand Alone Complex was getting a direct sequel, something that was welcome after the middle-of-the-road Arise series from 2013. Even better, it would be directed AND WRITTEN by Kenji Kamiyama, the same guy who directed and wrote the original SAC. As a bonus, he would be co-directing alongside Appleseed director Shinji Aramaki.
Production I.G. would be working on it (no surprise there) along with Sola Digital Arts. In a big surprise, the character designs would be handled by Ilya Kuvshinov, someone who is mostly known to me for making beautiful art that people always set as their Soundcloud thumbnails for some reason.
Just last year we got a sense of what this very production team, sans Kuvshinov, was capable of. They released the Netflix original Ultraman, the animated sequel to the legendary Tokusatsu show of the same name. It was a cool show that got praise at the time, for good reason. So you’d think that knowing that these same people were working on the new Ghost in the Shell that people would look at the two and think “ok, this is the kind of animation I can expect.”
Instead, a lot of stupid fucking people acted like they didn’t see it coming when the new Ghost in the Shell was entirely CGI. Now that it’s released, I’d like to believe that people realized they were wrong, but nope. So I’m coming out of my hiatus swinging to get you motherfuckers cultured.
Before we begin, YES, Penguin Highway, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, was released in Japan in 2018. However, seeing as how it was released in the US in 2019, I consider it a worthy candidate befitting of the accolade emblazoned on the title of this review. Plus I’ll use any excuse to talk about this lovely film.
Some of the most acclaimed and beloved anime films from Japan have had an inherent focus on youth and growing up. Most of the studio Ghibli films center around young boys and girls going on harrowing fantastical adventures that mature them, whether they be children or teens.
Often times the films of this nature are enveloped in that fantasy fully, never questioning the logic (and really, what’s the need?). But what happens when you set a similar type of story in a setting that is rather grounded yet slowly descends into fantasy? Furthermore, what happens when the protagonist explores said fantasy through the sheer power of science?
Not only do you get one of the most unique stories of its genre, but you also get the best-animated film of 2019
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.
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.
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.