The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. A rich yet depressive fantasy epic spanning multiple nations plagued by monsters and war. It’s a story about prejudice and choosing between greater and lesser evils. Amidst all of that, it remains a world that players couldn’t help but get lost in.
After the release of the live-action Witcher series on Netflix, the game saw a resurgence in interest from fans new and old. I should know, I was replaying it too. It was a quirky and often epic show that had its highs and lows, but despite it all, I loved it. News of new spinoffs and films were only natural, but was the franchise biting off more than it could chew?
If I had any concerns, they were minor, because Nightmare of the Wolf, the first of these spinoffs, was a film I highly anticipated. It came from Studio Mir, the studio behind Legend of Korra. Everything looked in place for this to be an enjoyable prequel centered around Vesemir, Geralt’s mentor.
And somehow, this film surpassed every expectation I had.
I won’t lie. I mean, I wouldn’t be a good critic if I ever did lie, but especially in this instance, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t worried. Season three took some bold leaps to make a story much bigger than just Dracula. For the most part, it paid off. But the finale was mixed. It could feel jarring, and not every story was particularly captivating.
Then came the official trailer for season four, along with the big reveal: this would be the last season. How in god’s name were they going to bring together all of the separate stories together into one 10-episode season? After watching it, it begs questioning why I ever doubted them.
My heart has belonged to Kyoto Animation for a long time. And their shows have always looked good – that’s not even a faintly nuanced observation. The 2010s was the advent of an in-house style that helped forge their identity without ever feeling like a stagnant or limiting trait of the production house. Be it the character work by Miku Kadowaki, Futoshi Nishiya, or others, the character art is something that hasn’t quite been matched by another studio.
Even before their in-house style became synonymous with their identity, their artwork was rarely a sore spot in the final product. However, how well do we regard the actual “animation” of Kyo Ani’s works?
Pretty well as a matter of fact. Consistently. From Liz and the Blue Bird to Silent Voice, I’ve praised the subtle character movements and facial twitches that create the small reveries of human pathos. Occasionally, these dramas or slice-of-life comedies might even present an action scene. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid had ridiculously bombastic action and even Clannad had a pretty dope fight scene. However, I get the feeling that when people say that Kyoto Animation has great animation, they actually mean “great artwork.” It’s worth distinguishing between the two.
I don’t think any show from the studio has consistently reminded me of how great their animation talent is more than one particular show. If you would permit the generalization, the average viewer may not stray close to offering a critique of actual animation outside of shows or genres that incentivize consistent motion in their presentation. Hence why most people, regardless of their inclination to media criticism, often praise the animation of the hottest shonen/action series.
Following that line of logic, this week’s review is an action show with plenty to gush over. Beyond the Boundary – Taichi Ishidate’s directorial debut – is one of my favorite works by Kyoto Animation, and what I believe to be their best-looking show. Or rather, it is the most consistently upfront with what the studio is capable of, both in TV and film.
My good friend, “Sad Scientist,” is an awesome writer and two years ago he wrote a short story called Scorpion Grass. It was a supernatural mystery set in Japan following two high-schoolers trapped in their school during the holiday break of Oban.
For two years the work went unfinished. Sci had made some changes on a whim and ended up erasing the original ending (happens to the best of us). Thankfully, I still had a saved copy of the original story, so he got to work editing it and perfected it. And now he’s created his own WordPress to publish it.
We all have our inspirations and Sci’s are works of modern fantasy such as Monogatari and the works of Kinoko Nasu (Tsukihime, Garden of Sinners). My love for modern fantasy is well-documented so I was all on-board. I encourage anyone looking for a good read to check out his work. Fans of Monogatari will surely get a kick out of it, and it has enough of an identity on its own that you’ll be itching for more when you’re finished.
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.