Spring 2019 Mid-Season Thoughts

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s an extremely underwhelming mid-season update in terms of quantity. This time around, Yata’s the only one participating and he’s only watching…four seasonals. As such, this rundown will be brief, but it’s better than nothing. Find out what some of this spring’s most renowned titles and an outlier or two have been up to on this short and sweet For Great Justice update.

CAROLE & TUESDAY


Yatahaze:
Carole & Tuesday narrowly remains my personal favorite show of the spring, though it’s not running away with the crown either. The last few weeks have featured Gus and Roddy trying a handful of get-famous-quick schemes, all of which inevitably backfire, and these episodic ventures simultaneously feel too grandiose for what’s essentially a brand new act and too narrow-sighted to pay off in the world that they and Carole and Tuesday inhabit.

Some of this is played up for comedic effect, highlighting just how out of touch Gus is as a manager with a scene that left him behind years ago, but you’d think several of the other characters who cross paths with the team would offer more helpful advice. Instead, they’re mostly willing to play along, sometimes for their own benefit, sometimes out of a frivolous nature. Regardless, it just comes off as a bit tonally inconsistent that Carole & Tuesday managed to go from the street to a bar crowd of ten to (botched) fill-in openers at a festival within a few episodes’ time; the music industry, in our world and in this show, promote short-term hit wonders and legacy actsCarole and Tuesday are neither, and it’s simply shortsighted for Gus to rush them to grand stages, even if it sounds like an ideal way to boost their profile to larger audiences. If it’s not what they sign up for, audiences won’t careand as such, the girls get pelted off the stage with trash. Not the right fit for that setting, but some of the other performers there took note at least, so maybe this abrupt jump to a big stage won’t cost Carole & Tuesday for the long haul.

All that sounds fairly critical, but make no mistake, I’m still have a ton of fun with Carole & Tuesday. The industry itself is a vague and inconsistently portrayed institutional antagonist, but the show’s protagonists encapsulate the charming naivete of amateur performers who don’t fully understand what they’re getting into but love themselves and each other and making music. The first and only reason anyone with half a brain would go into music as a career is because they feel they need to, like some creative result needs to be exorcised in order to express themselves. That burning desire has been downplayed with Carole and Tuesday, but their origins made it clear that the yearning is there, and for all the light-hearted gags about the girls living together and indulging in other youthful trivialities, I’ve never once felt that the two weren’t “dedicated enough,” just partnered with agents who don’t know how to really help them. Within that larger group dynamic, Gus’ incompetence and Roddy’s connections shield but don’t completely mask the more complex people behind their roles in this project. There’s depth to these folks even though they’re mostly played for comedic purposes, and when Carole & Tuesday lifts that veil, like when Gus has a heart-to-heart with his ex Marie, the show is at its best. The low stakes underdog routine is fun, but as Carole & Tuesday progresses, I’d love to see more of that vulnerability from its cast.

As for the technical side of things, the series is still visually polished and for the most part musically enticing. The lack of depth and fluent lyrical flow in the songs is a bit unsatisfying, but far from a deal-breaker, and the guest spots, of which Thundercat, Lauren Dyson, and Flying Lotus are among the first, give me something neat to look forward to with more announcements sure to come. The show’s music itself is an apt reflection of Carole & Tuesday as a whole so far too; merry, amusing, and heartfelt despite a veneer of novice-like carefreeness. Some diversity would be nice, but there’s plenty to enjoy on its own merit right now too.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

DORORO


Yatahaze:
If the new opening’s less dramatic flair didn’t clue you in, Dororo has undergone some changes in this second cour, some welcome, some not so much. Its newfound tendency towards lighthearted material probably isn’t doing the trick for some viewers, but now that Dororo and Hyakkimaru have more or less confirmed they’re willing to stick together come hell or high water, that resultant openness lends itself well to the comfort found in their companionship. If that means Dororo makes more silly faces per episode and Hyakkimaru deadpans a couple great throwaway one-liners every so often, I don’t mind it one bit.

Especially since I’ve found this second cour’s attempts at drama less convincing than before; perhaps it’s because after culminating in an emotional peak during Hyakkimaru’s standoff with the Kagemitsus, the two forces have only coincidentally continued their skirmish while inconsequential villains take center stage. The mutineers of Dororo’s family, Itachi’s clan, also briefly re-entered the picture searching for her pops’ hidden treasure, Hyakkimaru continues to wonder too liberally whether this demon slaying is making him A Real Boy, and the episodic characters continue to drift in and out of focus, compelling for some early plot beats, but failing to leave much of a long-term impact. The same dilemma impacted the series’ first cour as well, but at least there Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s travels were leading to a concrete development. Let loose from the Kagemitsu battle and deciding to forgo doing much with Dororo’s cache for now, this cour has been characterized by wandering too, but more for the sake of extraneous plot beats than gratifying character development. Several weeks plagued by subpar animation cuts and inconsistent storyboarding certainly didn’t help either.

But all things considered, Dororo and Hyakkimaru still make a charming enough main duo to keep Dororo a weekly breeze, even if the last month or so has felt more like filler arcs than events central to this story’s progression. The show’s earned some space to dabble in humor, but its real power lies in the frayed bonds of its cast’s interrupted lineages. I’m really hoping it will rediscover that element of itself before the very last minute.
Current score: 7.5/10
Still watching after 19 episodes.

SARAZANMAI


Yatahaze:
Some people really enjoy analyzing Kunihiko Ikuhara’s works as they’re rolling, when once-reasonable conclusions can be shot down or recontextualized any given week and character relations aren’t anything they first appear to be. That’s all fine and validI, on the other hand, have always enjoyed his projects more as big picture statements, the sort of works I can delve into the minutiae of only once they’ve said everything they can. Always existing in some nebulous space between allegory and literalism, Ikuhara titles take time to pin down, and while I think I get the episodic gist of Sarazanmai so far, what the man wants us to take away from this jubilee of forced connections, concealed desires, and selfishness disguised as selflessness isn’t outright clear yet.

Well, that and, uhhhhh a lot of other details, but I’ll recap what I can: after Kazuki, Tooi, and Enta settled into a groove fulfilling Keppi’s wishes, they inadvertently revealed more of themselves to each other. Secrets included but are not limited to: Enta being in love with Kazuki, Tooi revering his violent older brother for keeping their household afloat once their parents died and left them with debt, and Kazuki’s status as an adopted son, his disdain for lil’ bro Haruka rising out of a sense of guilt within the family after Haruka’s accident and subsequent discovery of Kazuki’s biological mom. Kazuki faces the brunt of these challenges in the present, especially after his crossdressing as Sara is revealed in front of his adopted family, but his angst is really directed inward: he doesn’t accept himself, and it takes until a climactic moment in the series’ centerpiece episode for him to accept that he can accept himself and not project his disgust outward, thanks to his two comrades.

While things temporarily look sunnier than before, the trio’s problems are far from solved. The real Sara is also a kappa, but one who can transform at will, seemingly unbound to the same deal Keppi struck with the three boys. Therein lies one point of evidence to a suspicion I’ve had since the start: is Keppi a trustworthy, let alone ethical figure in this story? Reo and Mabu (keeping in mind I’ve not read their companion manga that came out recently) are still relatively separate from the action, only just beginning to interact with the protagonists directly by throwing Haruka into a box and setting up that climactic spectacle in the neo-Child Broiler. They’re clearly not “the good guys” here either, and their hinted connection to Sara worries me, though at this point, I’d have a hard time ascribing the term “good” to just about anyone in this cast, and that thrills me.

More than the theatricality or frills or abstractions, what’s always enticed me most with Ikuhara’s works is his knack for getting viewers to constantly reanalyze his characters, and in turn, what we connect to in them at any given stage. Again, that’s more a job for a retrospective commentary than this half-complete one, but with this schedule, there are some pieces I can’t ignore. My overall verdict on Sarazanmai remains undetermined, but it’s well on-track to become yet another sturdy piece of Ikuhara’s catalogue and a highlight of 2019.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 6 episodes.

WE NEVER LEARN: BOKUBEN (BOKUTACHI WA BENKYOU GA DEKINAI)


Yatahaze:
I’m getting increasingly comfortable with the fact that BokuBen will never be anything more than a softcore ecchi harem titleand why not? It’s my kind of softcore ecchi harem title; the sort where all the girls individually have a compelling rapport with Yuiga and can stand their own ground to a degree as well. Beyond the production remaining competent, nothing about BokuBen suggests it’ll put its best foot forward as a story about true personal growth and academic fulfillment, but while that formed a solid enough backbone for getting these characters to interact with one another, I’m honestly finding them all charming enough that I’ve stopped hoping in vain for a platonic bent to stay in frame.

Hell, not only are all the love interests tolerable, I’m genuinely having trouble picking a favorite among themFuruhashi’s got all the social awareness in the world except when it comes to speaking her mind on it, Uruka is “The Doomed Childhood Friend” on steroids, Rizu is…a dense ditz, but owning it, and even Kirisu’s refusal to show any vulnerability around a minor struck me as more amusing than it did objectionable. Tantamount to any show of this nature, the character designs are also fantastic, diverse in both appearance and stature, but not too eccentric. As a token “kind of trash, but my kind of trash” seasonal, my only persistent complaint is Yuiga’s little sister’s overprotective shtick. That ain’t my thing at all. Taken as a deep, contemplative, or revolutionary show, BokuBen doesn’t offer much to really commentate on, but if you’re seriously expecting it to go that route this far in, well, I guess these kids aren’t the only ones who never learn.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 7 episodes.

And that’s all we’ve got for now. Apologies again for the low output lately. Now that we’re halfway through this spring, what are your favorite seasonals? Any you think with conviction we’re sleeping on? Give us a shout over on Twitter or in the comments below. Until next time, this has been Yata of For Great Justice. Thanks for reading.

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