As tends to happen, the start of the spring season is already upon us, but we’ve still gotta wrap up a handful of anime from this winter! Spring looks absolutely stacked, so we may be a bit late with those first impressions (especially considering how this post will butt into that time), but we’ll get ’em to you somehow. For now, take one last jaunt through the winter 2016 anime season with Yata and Haru as they form their final thoughts about every current thing they were able to finish over the last three months.
Such as Sekkou Boys.
Watch Sekkou Boys.
ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM SECOND SEASON
As I had expected, AssClass got back on track after that little foible with Nagisa’s mother. I pretty much know what to expect from here on, considering the manga has pretty much gone through its run. Worth mentioning is the fact I laughed my ass off at the strange grimdark play that the E Class put on for the main campus, if only because of Sugino the baseball kid’s rousing performance as the old man. Since I’m not really left with much else of note to report, let me at least break down what I had expected to see from this show, what I expect from the coming cour and what I don’t know what to expect looking forward.
What I had expected: The second end of term tests going totally in the End Class’ favor, leading to Principal Asano’s direct showdown with Koro-sensei, with the latter’s employment as an educator hanging in the balance. Anime viewers also got a look into what drove Principal Asano to enact his draconian educational methods.
What I expect in the future: More of the same. Aside from a certain show about monster girls, Assassination Classroom is Lerche’s bread and butter. Stylistically, I have no complaints regarding the show’s animation, aside from the occasional contrast spam that most often pops up whenever Principal Asano is in the show with his stereotypical villain backlighting. Kind of a nitpicky thing for me, but whatever. Moving on.
What I don’t know: Will they attempt to rush to Graduation Day with only 12 episodes left of this Second Season? I keep getting strong hints that they’re going to take the rush route, but I feel it’s going to come at a great expense to the storytelling. We’ve already skimmed over quite of a bit of material already, what’s to keep them from foregoing more? Guess I’ll just have to wait and find out.
Another thing I don’t know about is whether AssClass will move on to a new OP with the second cour. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for OP and ED songs sung by a show’s own voice actors, and the OP used so far for the Second Season is one of my very favorites in that category. I’ll be sad to see it go if it gets replaced.
Anywho, it’s business as usual here. Get back to class.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after a shit-ton of episodes.
BUBUKI BURANKI (BBK/BRNK)
Talk about one hell of a comeback by a show.
Bubuki Buranki went from temporarily dropped to its kinda-sorta-probably confirmed sequel already having its ticket punched for my “Plan to Watch” list over the course of three weeks. It’s no fluke either, seeing how enthralling the show became after the introduction of the other Buranki teams and the showdown at Treasure Island.
The final three weeks of the Bubukis were a grand clusterfuck of exposition juxtaposed against GIANT MYTHICAL MECHA BATTLES, but I was somehow about to navigate through it with some sort of sense of understanding. We learn that Banryuu’s team (aside from Reoko herself) were not all acting out of pure malice for Team Oubu, all with varying degrees of being actual decent people. We also learn why Reoko is so fanatically crazy, and why Azuma’s mother sought to put to sleep all the Buranki who descended to Earth.
Those glorious action scenes still ooze character when they happen. All too often with mecha shows that attempt to portray their mechs as mythical objects, there’s sort of an underwhelming presence to them when they appear; not so with Bubuki Buranki. This show did a great job all throughout of making the Buranki as imposing and mythical as the in-show stories made them out to be.
Apparently there will be more on the way, too. It looks as though a ton of Buranki teams from nations all over the planet got their hands on Buranki hearts to awaken their respective mythical mechanical destruction machines — all according to some sort of plan by none other than Kaoruko, the twin sister of Azuma whom we haven’t seen much of since the pilot. As for what the plan from here entails, we’ll just have to wait until this mythical sequel comes out to see what it entails.
Regardless of the glaring fact this show’s main narrative was a total clusterfuck, I kept with it and came out of watching BBK/BRNK feeling satisfied enough. This may be a clusterfuck, but I insist that it’s at very least a fun popcorn watch clusterfuck.
Final score: 6/10
A few weeks ago I mentioned that Dagashi Kashi often seemed like two different shows due to how inconsistent its effort to push the envelope was. Sometimes it thrived with genuinely silly set-ups, laugh-out-loud punchlines, and an underlying sense that its characters weren’t just talking billboards. Other times, it fell flat and got tedious because the comedy wasn’t clever enough to produce any chuckles and it couldn’t avoid its repetitive pitfalls. And because Dagashi Kashi’s inconsistency is nothing if not consistent within itself, the show’s final two episodes offered a perfect summary of what it could be when done right and when done poorly.
For starters, episode 11’s Matthew Perry sequence alone was one of the funniest in the entire show, a conspicuously well-timed gag considering how far Bill Wurtz’ viral hit “history of japan” coincidentally took off just a few weeks prior. It may have been pure chance, but even without that extra funny context, the writing just seemed smoother and more ridiculous. A similar smaller historical gag happened in episode 12, but that reference flew over my head – and I assume many other non-Japanese watchers’ ones too. Even beyond episode 11’s awkward adolescent sexual proximity jokes, the writing just seemed like it had better timing, significance, and punch. More importantly, the show’s throwaway “plot” briefly resurfaced with a smidgen of weight, the most it had since the series first started. All that was to be once again discarded though as any semblance of consequence went back out the window in the series’ true finale, about as average an episode of Dagashi Kashi as there could possibly be, for better or worse. Its early sequences with Tou and Kokonotsu were actually rather goofy in their own right, while Hotaru and Saya’s misunderstandings felt overplayed and the series’ closing moments offered the explanation anyone could’ve guessed all along; Hotaru was here this whole time because she was having fun and wanted to stick around. There was no serious consequence to Kokonotsu’s choice. There was never any consequence to Dagashi Kashi in general. It was just a show about candy, friends, and free time.
But I have to say, even at that, it was rarely anything more than mildly entertaining. This much was obvious back in January, but I felt like it held enough promise that sticking with it would be a fair decision. I’d argue that’s still true; Dagashi Kashi is a fair show, but that’s about it. It’s not often anything more than “kind of alright,” and at several points it’s sincerely overplayed and not that entertaining. Do I regret watching it? Not necessarily. But will I ever want to again? Probably not, and having seen all it has to offer, I can say that if you haven’t seen Dagashi Kashi, you’re not missing out on anything a couple select YouTube clips couldn’t show you.
Final score: 5/10
I’m pretty glad this show turned out to be everything I expected it to be. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but I’ve followed Dagashi Kashi since a little bit after its manga debuted. The manga is fun; the anime was also fun, but made it transparent to me that the aspect I liked so much about this series wasn’t the cheap candy education — what I was enjoying was the summery slice of life skits involving Coconuts, Hotaru, Saya, and Tou….and Old Man Shikada, who was one of the best anime dads in show in a while.
The festival episode was a great example of what I’m saying. I mean, it’d take a pretty heartless soul to not find at least one thing in that episode adorable. How about that time Coconuts, Hotaru, and Saya were playing those games that Saya utterly dominated? Another really fun high point of Dagashi Kashi in my book. The reason I bring this up is that the final episode reminded me of all that with Coconuts and Tou’s bro talk at the beginning of the episode. As always, there was a candy involved with that talk, but it seemed like an auxiliary detail of the talk rather than being the focus of an act as was the case with most of the show.
Okay, perhaps that bro talk bit had me wistfully wishing for more Nichibros rather than more Dagashi Kashi.
I may seem as though I’m down on this series, but that’s not to say that I didn’t find a lot of the candy-centric scenes funny! Quite the contrary, I found many of those scenes fun, but just not as fun as the character-driven moments of the show. I’ll likely be going back to a couple episodes of this show every now and then, when the need arises.
Final score: 6/10
It’s finally over, ladies and gents. And it’s everything I thought it would be!
…except no, it’s not, oddly enough. But I guess I’m just not really sure what I thought it would’ve been? In a way, Durarara essentially did all it needed to in order to close off all its storylines in a manner that made sense and was entertaining to watch. No matter who your favorite character was, they got some screentime in Durarara’s final weeks and were almost surely featured in the franchise’s final episode, an impressive display of narrative prowess. Maybe my issue really lies with how with Shuka’s budget noticeably strained to its worst yet, Ketsu as a whole (and especially its final episode) felt so far-removed from the busy motion the series first dragged viewers such as myself in with. Not to say that things weren’t happening, cause boy, were they, but the events seemed jumpier and less smoothly polished on the aesthetic front than ever before. Normally that wouldn’t be a huge factor, but after literally years of waiting for a grand pay-off, it’s a bit of a disappointment that it comes with the caveat of “well, the animation is kind of garbage, but they tried,” especially from a series that once excelled with such a thing, or at least found ways to make it look appealing.
Other than that and Mikado’s character being a sketchy frustrating caricature of its former self (even if that was the point), I’d be stretching to find faults with Durarara as a whole. This series has never been the greatest thing out there, but it has consistently been one of the most entertaining pieces of fuck all-ery to ever hit the anime market. Ketsu didn’t blow my mind in the ways I had hoped, but it’s an acceptable conclusion, and that’s fine with me. Durarara retains its title as one of anime’s best recent long-running franchises.
Final score: 8.5/10
Aw man, it’s all over? Say it ain’t so.
Yata pretty much hit it out of the park concerning my qualms with the animation quality, or lack thereof, so I won’t waste your time with my whinging on that topic.
What he touched on about Mikado’s character at the end seeming a caricature of its self come show’s end is something I’d like to expand further on, because I feel as though that became the case for many of the characters of the show. A lot of material was skipped over for the sake of time constraints to rush the story to its end, and we miss out on a lot of fun bits from the novels, such as Walker’s rampage throughout the city after Kadota’s hit-and-run incident, or Aoba’s tense first meeting with Izaya, or the former’s meetings with the latter’s twin sisters after the flaming backpack incident, among a handful of other details and events of note from the novels.
I mean, the main story ran away so quickly after the main events began to snowball, so it only makes sense that a lot a material would get cut. There was literally no extra time to shove any morsel of plot not deemed necessary to progressing the story to the finish line, with the exception of that one drawn out bit last season where Erika was getting a little too touchy with Anri.
Whatever, it’s all over now, and I’ve got some conflicted feelings on seeing this show come and go. Partly relieved that the grand Ikebukuro clusterfuck is over, and also partly sad that we probably won’t see any more of this glorious cast of quite literal characters. Guess we’ll just have to hope and wait 5 or so years to see if Durarara!! SH gets a shot at adaptation – or if Shuka (or preferably somebody else) could throw a real curveball in the dirt and adapt Etsusa Bridge. I’ll forever be all for any Narita works getting anime adaptations.
It was a fun ride while it lasted, Durarara.
Final score: 8/10
ERASED (BOKU DAKE GA INAI MACHI)
Why must you taunt me so, ERASED?
Just two weeks ago I was deriding you for throwing away all your potential, and yet here you are saving face, making me look like a total fool twice in a row.
Well, “saving face” isn’t exactly the most accurate choice of words. Yashiro’s lack of comprehensible motive and poor villainy remained, and those are faults that can’t just be fixed with a snap. But I’ll be damned if ERASED didn’t pull itself together for what might be the best possible conclusion given where things stood back after episode 10. Satoru awakening from a coma in the distant future after years of donation-financed life support was incredibly touching (if a bit far-fetched), and once again, ERASED proved that its best tone was that of loving warmth, not mysterious thriller mischief. Episode 11 was spent catching up with the gang and establishing some new norms like rehab and press invasion, but beyond the reappearance of Yashiro as a patient threat, the real meat was in its downtime, letting the characters who actually had personalities (a.k.a not Yashiro) steal the spotlight back.
Mostly Kayo and her baby. God, that was adorable.
But eventually that had to end, and the show with it, so it took a hamfisted but understandable approach to let Satoru and Yashiro play it up on the hospital roof. A much less…dramatic…turn than what happened in the recently-concluded manga, I’ve heard, but all for the better! Satoru both called Yashiro’s bluff, pointing out that by his dumb logic, killing Satoru after all these years would make Yashiro feel emptier, in no way better (and while that’s not the greatest writing, at least one character here made some sense of it) and predicted, with help from the authorities, the specifics of Yashiro’s plan before it was crunch time. It was a finale full of false “gotchas,” sudden twists which weren’t really twists, but nonetheless stayed concise and kept the viewer plugged in. While that’s not really my thing and I wouldn’t have minded a more subdued approach, at least it got the job done. I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied with the way Yashiro gave in so quickly…but I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied with anything related to his character, so that’s par for the course. Once the epilogue came by and he was out of the picture, he was out for good, and that much I’m able to thank the show for.
Speaking of the epilogue, it showed exactly what it needed to in order to end things with enough resonant emotional weight for the show to not tank on its final scenes; the group reunited for a night out, Satoru got his act together with his job, and then the show offered him the mercy of ruminating on a few final thematic threads with enough context to not feel like overt exposition-dumping in the series’ concluding minutes. In some ways, it was a full circle ending, one where everything Satoru had hoped to change, consciously or not, was accomplished…accept for one detail I particularly liked, and something that may have flown under people’s radar; the choice to not tell Kumi (Satoru’s young, transplant-needing friend from the hospital) about Yashiro’s acts. It gave a sense of ironic uncertainty to a narrative in which everyone’s life was otherwise spared, raising the question of if hiding the ugly truth for someone else too young to understand it might only lead to further regret and confusion down the road for them, grappling to remember the sketchier parts of their childhood for what they were.
Despite ERASED’s occasional tendencies to play up its drama to an embarrassingly direct extreme, there was still a lot to enjoy here. The general shot direction, the themes of trustworthiness through the eyes of overstuffed heroism, the genuine unease in the show’s earliest episodes, the moments of balancing youthful respite, and perhaps most of all, the urge it gave me to reflect on my childhood, thinking through situations I didn’t see for what they were at the time. These threads resurfaced plenty of times across ERASED’s 12 episodes with varying levels of narrative competency, but regardless, they made me feel fond of the show.
So how does ERASED ultimately stack up? It may have had those beautiful moments of intensity and connection, but it also had embarrassingly bad lows from poor antagonist writing and a rushed, confused middle arc. It’s one of those shows where separating its components is the way to make the most sense of it, but that very action underlines its problems because the components most in need of removal are the ones central to its conventional “mystery.” Any recommendation I would give it comes with the massive caveat that ERASED’s advertised plot is the worst thing about it, and at its worst, irredeemably nonsensical to someone who doesn’t find themselves as gripped by the other things the series has to offer. Still, though sometimes it didn’t make sense, for a majority of the ride, it was an entertaining, heartfelt, thematically pleasing tale. That doesn’t change despite its bumps, but those bumps can’t go ignored, especially if the mystery is the part that draws you in most – and judging by people’s reactions, I’d say that was probably the case this winter. It’s a conundrum all around, but at season’s end, I know it could have ended up far worse than it did, and the fact that I’m phrasing it like that means it had heaps of potential to throw away to begin with. And so…
Final score: 6.5/10?
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure where to rank this one, and I would likely give it a lower score upon rewatch, but it did enough things right and my focus was elsewhere from its flaws for so long that it only feels right to keep its score around this level. All uncivil complaints will be re:re:turned to sender.
It was not a good thing that I went ahead and read all the way through the manga. I thought the manga cut corners to a rather roundabout end, but holy shit, the anime saw that end, proceeded to glare with its hamster-killing eyes and said, “anything you can do, I can do better.”
By “better,” I mean that I failed to understand this conclusion even more than the manga. At least that one had an okay amount of buildup concerning Satoru regaining his memory and his strength, whilst leading into his final showdown with Yashiro, which unlike the anime, wasn’t a teary-eyed attempt to warm the cockles of your heart. It was warm, albeit because Satoru confronted Yashiro on a rope bridge above a lake, which at one point Yashiro proceeded to set ablaze. Maybe not a “warm” meeting, so much as a “hot” one.
It doesn’t matter at this point.
I get it, they were out of time, as seems to be the running theme of many shows this season. But after reading through all of that, I can be forgiven for finding anime Satoru’s miraculously quick recovery to be sort of a bullshit invocation of the Rule of Cool? The final couple of episodes tried so hard to make the leadup to Satoru and Yashiro’s rooftop showdown seem tense, with Satoru’s revelation of his recovery to his former teacher and attempted murderer acting as that big bombshell moment that this show executed so well in the first half of the season. It just sort of ended up falling flat on its ass.
The one bit I can praise to the end with Erased is that it remained visually pleasing up until the very bitter end. At least the dumpster fire looked wonderful as the flames burned more intensely with each passing episode.
Final score: 5.5 dead hamsters/10
GRIMGAR OF FANTASY AND ASH
From one hit or miss show to another, Grimgar had a small dip in quality (referring to both the narrative and the animation) in its last two episodes, but it still pulled together nicely enough to earn the title of winter 2016 underdog. It’s a tricky show, but hardly the same way ERASED was; Grimgar set its bar low and continuously jumped just above it, raising the expectations with each passing episode. It’s a calm adventure, a story of adapting to routine, at first in a new place with few connections, and once more in the wake of losing a reliable comrade. However pretty (and boy, is it!), the world of Grimgar is ultimately just a backdrop, a device to force social dynamics and economic constraints onto its characters. The logic of this world – that is, the necessity to fight in the field because it’s the only thing you can afford – is something that can be escaped with time and money, but it’s rather telling that even once Grimgar’s crew found those traces of cash and free time, they all favored sticking with each other rather than looking for better or more fitting opportunities elsewhere. The path they blazed they blazed together, and that’s how they intend to stay despite the risks that come with the territory…and Ranta.
It’s this communal vibe, this “all for one, we’ve got each others’ backs” sensation which permeated nearly all of Grimgar that made it such a comfortable, soul-lifting watch for me. Despite not doing anything all that spectacular with its fantastical setting, the true fantasy came out of – finally – being able to portray a world in which its characters weren’t just there for each other because they were the best of the best (see Log Horizon and SAO, though that’s where my comparisons will end, I promise), but because they were all woefully unprepared in unison and worked together to escape that inadequacy. Almost no one else in the story received significant focus; the soldiers on the front lines rarely showed up, the higher citizens of Ortana made little to no appearances, and skill masters only occasionally peeked in on their apprentices if said apprentices asked for more specific training. As a show about a team coping with hardship (and I think it’s safe to say that’s obviously what Grimgar is), it’s a fantastic watch, one with dramatic weight and battle tension evened out by a relaxing atmosphere and plentiful moments of downtime.
Whether or not that will appeal to you will undoubtedly sway how much you enjoy it, but considering I value character dynamics and art more than I do fantasy plot shenanigans, I was on board for the full ride. Grimgar does have some issues though, and glaring ones if you’re more into the action side of its setup. The animation quality got sloppier and sloppier as the series went on, with wildly inconsistent character designs and awkward motions plaguing the show’s final battle arc in the Cyrene Mine. In fact, Haruhiro taking on Death Spots alone, the final battle scene in the whole show, was utterly underwhelming when it had the potential to be heroic and powerful, and it was almost all due to incomprehensible slow-mo shots and strange angles. Similar problems may have occurred earlier, but with the full group’s otherwise well-constructed choreography to distract from individual issues, they didn’t appear as uncoordinated. And speaking of “uncoordinated,” Haruhiro’s exposition about skills and combat tricks often felt jarring and unnecessary, just added fluff to satiate the stray audience member more interested in battle mechanics than anything else. It could have been useful in theory, but considering the information we got essentially made no difference in how we perceived the action (and that the show clearly had a policy of “show, don’t tell” for nearly everything else going on), this choice almost never seemed worth the effort. Among other divisive factors were the show’s slow start, the prevalence of insert songs over various montages (although I enjoyed them), and how some characters like Shihoru and Moguzo remained rather underdeveloped over the series’ full run. That said, if I had to pick any two to leave as such, those would be the most logical sacrifices, so I’m not sure I can call foul on that.
Long story short, Grimgar is not perfect, but it is extremely gorgeous, confident, and more often than not (discounting Ranta’s fancy for tit jokes) tasteful. With the style of adventure it set out to tell, those are the perfect descriptors to accompany it, and by all means, I have to consider Grimgar a job well done. Restrained, balanced, and emotional but simplistic, it should make a pleasant watch for almost anyone. From what I’ve seen of it, the broadcast dub is excellent too, potentially making this a great gateway anime for people who can’t stand reading subs looking for current series. So smile on, Mary. Grimgar gets a sure passing grade from me.
Final score: 7.75/10
Again, I echo most of Yata’s in-depth statements above.
I’m particularly pleased with Grimgar for being a superb example of the fantasy genre, for its gripping portrayal of dealing with grief and hardship, an element that is ever-present to the literal end of the series. I’ve gone through each episode of this show at least twice over, with exception of the one in which Manato meets his untimely end, only because of how accurate and visceral the depiction of the immediate aftermath of the whole thing was. It struck me particularly close to home, and was one of the more real feeling moments of death and grief that I’ve seen in a show.
Not that I fully understand the content of the source material, but something I appreciate with this show is that apparently two whole volumes of light novel material were extensively rearranged by the director and the writers to piece together the anime’s compelling dialogue on adapting to new ways of life, coping with grief, and dealing with hardships. Of all the studios out there, to have A-1 and staff feel obliged to go out of their way to incorporate this much nuance into a show that also featured the stunning visuals A-1 has had a knack for of late feels like some sort of long awaited gift.
As far as season original full-length shows that I’ve cared to watch the last three months, I’m reasonably comfortable calling Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash my Anime of the Season for Winter 2016.
Final score: 8/10
HAIKYUU!! SECOND SEASON
…aaaand the good guys won! Who could’ve possibly seen that happening?
I jest, but it’s still been pretty good fun watching Karasuno exact their revenge on Aoba Johsai. I had a good laugh at the three Aoba Johsai kids at end of match— two of whom were present at their previous matchup— swear revenge as they watch the Karasuno boys dogpile in celebration, as if they’d completely forgotten the results of the previous match, which to me was a much more bitterly fought battle than the rematch.
As expected, a third season has already been greenlit, to some fanfare. The whole second season appears to be devoted to the next matchup for Karasuno against the acclaimed Shiratorizawa team. Should be an absolute blast, since the match was so drawn out in the manga that it’s widely considered a back-breaker of sorts among the fandom. I certainly hope the next season finds a few other diversions to focus on, because I’m not sure my attention span could handle approximately 25 episodes of a single match.
We’ll see though. It’ll definitely will be some sort of ride when it arrives. Until next time, Volley-bros.
Final score: 7/10
KONOSUBA (KONO SUBARASHII SEKAI NI SHUKUFUKU WO)
In a season chock full of shows that seemingly felt rushed to their ends, I find it just a tad ironic that my second favorite original show this season reached an acceptable conclusion with just a miserly 10 episodes to muster.
A vast amount of my appreciation of Konosuba comes from the fact that it was released on Wednesdays, which usually ends up being the day I most desperately need a good pick-me-up, with this show’s flair for mean-spirited humor at the expense of a certain target striking a chord with me, seeing as my close friends and I tend to converse with each other with a similar amount of rudeness as the show’s protagonists do. Perhaps I also appreciated the general attitude of “Fuck it, let’s go get shit-faced at the tavern” that every character seemed to partake in after the end of their sometimes unusual work days.
I also loved the utterly useless details this show decided to hyper-focus on, like how every generic adventurer in Konosuba’s world seems to have some sort of slightly bespoke design, or how the effects of every single one of Megumin’s explosion incantations looks different, or the general aggressive passive-aggression that our main group took with one another.
I’m actually pretty glad this entertaining little time-waster will return for a second season, and I hope that we’ll get more than just 10 episodes with Kono-two-ba (ba-dum-tss)
Final score: 6.5/10
MYRIAD COLORS PHANTOM WORLD
I’ve already wasted enough of my time on this show, so I’m gonna be quick here.
Colorful Fanservice World was a shamelessly silly chuuni harembait show. It had its amusing and entertaining moments, but in the end, it was just a shamelessly stupid chuuni fanservicey harembait waste of time featuring some rather questionable fetishes. The only reason I picked up and stuck with it is because the studio that cranked out this train wreck is still my favorite, despite the crap like this that they subject me to. Can I really be blamed for blindly following a studio that’s incapable of making an anime with terrible visuals?
But seriously KyoAni, I’m eagerly awaiting A Silent Voice so that all can be forgiven once more.
Final score: 4/10 (the drama club episode is worth one whole point and is basically the one episode worth watching)
What do you people even want me to say about this? It’s Sekkou Boys for Christ’s sake. And I’m genuinely surprised I’m not meaning that literally, given everything this show is (and how Jesus would’ve fit in excellently among these statues). This series is the epitome of idol anime. The scandals, the drama, the luster, the twists. It’s got everything. Never before have I been interested in an idol anime, and never again will I ever be. You cannot top Sekkou. You just can’t. End of story.
Final score: Watch Sekkou Boys/10
Anyone who calls Sekkou Boys an affront to anime is an affront to humanity.
Sekkou Boys is, and forever will be, a timeless masterpiece, the very finest example of anime for eons to come. We are still not worthy; We never will be worthy. I could spend ages heaping more praise upon Sekkou Boys, but it would all be for naught; no words of a mere mortal can do justice to describe this epitome of idol anime. Perhaps that may be the best way a mortal can sum this up.
Sekkou Boys is the savior of idol anime, if not all anime.
All praise to the Rockies.
Final score: There is no number big enough for a work as transcendental as this/10
SHOUWA GENROKU RAKUGO SHINJUU
Talk about saving some of the show’s best material for last! Rakugo’s closing weeks were rich with interesting thematic threads, offering some quick glances into an optimistic life that couldn’t possibly happen and then brutally tearing it away from Kikuhiko, something that, as we see, never really leaves him or the people who make it out alive behind.
Huge spoilers ahead, obviously.
So in a nutshell, Kikuhiko wanted to bring Sukeroku and his child Konatsu back to Tokyo with him to perform rakugo once again in a future that needed both their respective styles to please a changing audience. But that was his given reason, not his heartfelt one: longing for someone important to stay with him – after all, it’s pretty evident that Kiku has abandonment issues at this point, and those will only get worse over time. In his brief stint as a caretaker for Sukeroku and Konatsu out in the mountains, the author’s BL vibes were both plainly evident and controllably subdued, a common characteristic throughout Rakugo, but more impressive here, with Kiku acting arguably more like a nagging significant other than a brother, and initially treating Konatsu positively and amiably stiff, in a rather parental way. There were glimmers of hope that everything was going to be okay.
But only glimmers.
As Sukeroku’s confidence was slowly rebuilt though, it became clear that his style of rakugo had changed quite a bit. Met with distaste from Miyokichi, Sukeroku really just wanted to give up his performing and get his wife back, but Miyokichi was never into Sukeroku to begin with; she was desperate, manipulative, and vengeful. She wanted to get under Kiku’s skin for turning her away so much, not that Kiku would ever truly be interested. This much was glaringly obvious as Rakugo unwinded, and seeing all these emotions and motivations come to a head during episode 12 made for some of the show’s best material to date. Miyokichi skipping out on Sukeroku’s newfound dramatic display in a performance that was essentially all parallel to his current situation was especially heart-wrenching, even more so when it cut to Kiku uncomfortably trying to fake interest in her sexual advance in order to ultimately get what he wanted – for everyone to go back to Tokyo with him. Those glimmers suddenly darkened with terrible foreshadowing as Sukeroku stumbled in on the scene, begging for Miyokichi to return to him. When the conversations shifted beyond a point of return, so too did Sukeroku and Miyokichi themselves, right out the OP’s balcony window, dangling from Kiku’s helpless grasp. In that moment, emotionally distressed, by choice, Sukeroku forces Kiku to let him go. He and Miyokichi die. Kikuhiko is alone again. And he’s nowhere near as happy in solitude as he thought he would be.
It’s easy to assume Kikuhiko just didn’t know what he wanted, but the guy has always lived in fear of abandonment, and as people who live in fear of abandonment often do, he separated himself as a form of coping with the inevitability that people would someday leave him behind. And now that nearly all the people who cared for him – his birth parents, the elder Yakumo, Sukeroku – have departed, he’s a stern husk of his former self. He sees rakugo not as an activity he can be great at, nor something to connect him to the people whose presence he loves, but just a duty he has to fulfill for his art’s continuation. To that end, he eventually accepts the Yakumo name and laments how he has long ago forgotten his real one.
The shift back to the present is jolting and sudden; Yotaro (Kyoji, that’s his name) is being promoted to shin’uchi rather early for the previous generations’ standards and can’t help but spill the beans about it to everyone he knows, much to his master’s chagrin. Meanwhile, Konatsu reveals she’s pregnant and refuses to tell anyone who the father is, prompting Kyoji to force himself on the situation in part because Kikuhiko refused to. And lest we forget how our main character, Kikuhiko, is still routinely haunted by Sukeroku’s spirit. In the decades since his return to Tokyo with a bitterly resentful Konatsu and a servant who’s gone through just as much hardship (if not more) than Kikuhiko himself has, he’s been broken down further and further, a tortured artist in a dying art form, and so while his past fans have all been turned away, it now makes perfect sense why he would accept a ragtag wannabe such as Kyoji. If he can pass the art down and get Kyoji to become his own rakugo performer, there will be a new form of the art to continue to contrast with Kiku’s now-conservative, traditional one. The first two of his three requests from the series’ first episode (for Kyoji to do his own rakugo, for rakugo to survive in the future beyond him, and for Kyoji and Konatsu to not die before he does), are well on their way to becoming a reality. And while not a game-changer, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu decided to pull the plug on season one with one last bold request in the other direction; Kyoji wants to inherit the Sukeroku name.
And it’s done. That’s all for now, folks. An abrupt end, sure, and certainly baity, but at last a second season is officially greenlit and not an April Fool’s joke. To go out with a line like that and a slow fade-cut over Kikuhiko’s reaction was actually kind of gutsy and certainly on track to be a divisive choice, but I can’t help but be reminded of how similar its delivery was to the final lines of several of the show’s rakugo stories, which tended to have their own fair share of sudden mic-drop-like revelations. The time spent in the present was extremely brief, almost nothing, but man was it packed with potential for great drama going forward. For what it is, as an extended flashback and an introduction of what’s to come, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’s first season was exemplary, only muddied by some occasionally lackluster animation and a tedious, overstuffed pilot episode. It remains a strong contender for Anime of the Year, and it’s easily the season’s biggest highlight. If you have not watched Rakugo, please, remedy that as soon as you can.
Final score: 9.5/10
SNOW WHITE WITH THE RED HAIR (AKAGAMI NO SHIRAYUKI-HIME)
Well, Snow White with the Red Hair’s final two episodes went just about as smoothly as they could’ve. I enjoyed how instead of trying to rush in one last dramatic arc after the kidnapping crisis, the show simply slowed down at a comfortable pace en route to its understandably bubbly romantic finale. As I discussed a few weeks ago, over the series’ second season, the show’s cast really came to life for me, rich with more natural dialogue, more entertaining adventures, and an enhanced grasp on its pacing. Where I felt indifferent to the first season’s more limp romance and predictable plot points, season two had me…well, I wouldn’t really say “surprised,” but I was certainly pleased with how much more well-rounded everything was. A few animation details aside, all its pieces finally felt like they were in their right places.
Which is why despite all its improvement, it saddens me to say that Snow White with the Red Hair as a whole is still ultimately skip-able for everyone except diehard shoujo enthusiasts. It teased and hinted at a promise for more, and I’d be interested in picking it back up if a third season ever gets greenlit, but while it’s pretty, tasteful, and in its later stages, even a bit genuinely charming, I can’t lie and say it’s something I hadn’t seen before. Intrigued by it? Sure, give it a watch; I doubt you’ll be disappointed, but beyond its backgrounds and infrequent (though wonderful) silly faces, I also don’t think you’ll be abundantly impressed. Take it for what it is: acceptably okay.
Final score: 7.25/10 (Season 1: 6.5/10, Season 2: 8/10)
Man, I really hope this doesn’t turn out to be the last we see of Snow White with the Red Hair! I suspect there’s a good chance that this is indeed our last farewell to this series, and as a diehard shoujo enthusiast, I’ll be sad to see it go. It’s kind of disappointing after seeing the momentum that the show had managed to build up with the second season. Up until the very last, this show remained the same breath of fresh air that it was when it began its run, even throughout that dramatic kidnapping arc.
While Snow White’s characters were nothing special individually, the way they all gelled with one another turned into a strength I grew to love with this series. I specifically adored the dynamic that developed between Zen, Shirayuki, and Obi, and I’d love to see it develop even more if another season is ever greenlit. I also loved Raj’s redemption arc, as it was a joy (and quite the laugh) watching him clumsily but sincerely striving to improve himself and his relationship with Shirayuki.
Now I’ve come to the realization that I’ll need to find another shoujo series to fill the vast void that Snow White with the Red Hair will leave behind. What the hell am I going to do? I can always hope I’ll see more of this one day, right?
Final score: 7.5/10
And that’s all for the winter season, folks! See you in a few weeks with some spring first impressions. Til next time, this has once again been Yata and Haru writing for great justice.