Sometimes a show comes on your radar that just seems impossible to fail. There are just the right people attached to get you hyped by their pedigree alone and the prospect of a joining of those parties only makes you more excited. Unfortunately, hype is a gamble. No creator is perfect and no matter how good one work is, it doesn’t guarantee that the writer or director can’t fumble with another project.
Kouhei Kadono’s novel series from the late 90s, Boogiepop, is – according to fans I’ve talked to – one of the most influential light novel series out there. It paved the way for meta works like that of Nisio Isin’s Monogatari Series. It was a psychological, supernatural drama about otherworldly entities preying off of the anguish of humanity and the angel of death that released people from that anguish: Boogiepop.
In the west, the novel series and manga didn’t get official translation until the mid-2000s and even then it became mired by low sales and dropped. It wasn’t until 2019 that the fourth and fifth novels were finally released in English when a renewed interest in the series was stirred. A byproduct of this was last year’s animated adaptation.
Madhouse would be producing the new series. Back in 2000, the same studio made Boogiepop Phantom, an original story not based on a particular novel entry. Directing would be Shingo Natsume, famous for Space Dandy and One Punch Man, among other things. The music would be composed by Kensuke Ushio, whose aesthetic talents have captured hearts with A Silent Voice and Devilman Crybaby. Even Yoshiaki Kawajiri was credited for the storyboarding.
From the staff to the promotional PV (seen above), everything was promising. And then after 18 episodes, almost none of what was in the promo was in the final series. What I got ended up feeling like a fraction of what the universe of Boogiepop had to offer. Was there a silver lining or was Boogiepop and Others another adaptation to be forgotten.
Last week I raved about the best film of 2019, Penguin Highway. Initially, I wanted to get a head start on a new multi-part series of reviews but things take time. January tends to be a time to reflect on the previous year anyhow so why not keep the ball rolling. I watched more shows this year than I have in a while and there are still more which I missed, but for now, here are my top five TV anime of 2019.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Towa no Quon’s upwards trajectory in quality is not a perfect one. It was marred in its beginnings by mediocre storytelling and inconsistent animation quality. It only won me over when it began to truly… well… begin.
But what a pair of sequels three and four were. The main cast shined as a team, Quon became more compelling and Epsilon stole the show in some surprising ways. One cliffhanger later, and it was time to see if Towa no Quon could stick the landing with its last two entries.
After the first two films left me unimpressed, I went into the subsequent entries with lowered expectations, yet an open mind. After all, the drought of trailers available for the series didn’t really give me much to build an idea of what awaited me. I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t see the potential for the series to save itself. Sure enough, the third film, The Complicity of Dreams, was the first truly great entry in the series.
After watching Star Driver, I didn’t think that Bones could surprise me like this again. I like to think that the studio couldn’t have had any more hidden gems to uncover, partly cause I don’t want to be known as “the blogger who never shuts the fuck up about Bones.” But a short series of films?… How the actual fuck?
Towa no Quon, a six-part series of short films, was previously only known to me by an animation cut by Yutaka Nakamura in a MAD. So obviously I looked into it and, after much delay, am finally giving it a look, since not a ton of people talk about it. Perhaps an omen, as the back of the box claims it has the potential to be remembered as “a classic” and after watching the first two films… I don’t see it.
The “best” anime of all time is different for everyone. Across all media, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a unanimously agreed upon “best” thing, outside of the agreements found within one’s own tight-knit group. Even then, there will be differences in taste.
“It’s all subjective,” is the point I’m trying to get across, but perfection doesn’t have to be dismissed in critique just because it’s improbable. If the perfect anime is different for everyone, and no consensus can be reached, then perfection is purely personal taste. It is absent of objective standards of quality and instead panders to the greatest amount of our interests.
I believe most people have not found their perfect movie or TV show, possibly because it doesn’t exist yet. We all have favorites though, so it stands to reason that if I took three of my favorite anime of all time and picked them apart, I could get a sense for what my perfect anime would be. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.