For better or worse this past season will go down as one of the overall weakest since we started FGJ, but there were still a handful of shows Yata and Haru watched to completion and even (*gasp*) enjoyed. Which ones made the cut? Which ones flopped? Is anyone really prepared for next season yet or are we all deluding ourselves? The answers to those first two questions below on this seasonal final thoughts installment of For Great Justice.
CAROLE & TUESDAY
At this point I think I’ve lost track of where exactly Carole & Tuesday seems eager to go. What started as a predictable but tested and true “industry’s lowest common denominator vs. independent underdog” story has devolved into a much less incisive message over the course of this latest arc. It’s not as if Carole and Tuesday had ever planned for steady growth to be the key to their success—with Gus and Roddy’s “assistance,” their unique singer-songwriter act was treated more like brilliance that needed a breakthrough ASAP than potential that could develop as they learned. To that effect, must of the group’s get-famous-quick schemes humorously fell apart, and between their managerial short-sightedness and Ertegun sure as hell being a Mamoru Miyano character, Carole & Tuesday still elicits plenty of laughs.
Something deeper than that, though? I’m less and less certain by the week. Just as the group was knocked down a peg by their disastrous short-lived festival appearance, they auditioned for Mars Brightest, an X’s Got Talent-brand TV competition where they would face off against eight other finalists in a bracket style elimination tournament. They reached the final (of course they did) and ultimately ended up sharing the chance to “debut” with Angela, who the judges felt performed above their expectations for the whole running and won the last face-off on a technicality due to Carole and Tuesday having backstage setbacks. You’d think this tournament would really lean into what makes Angela a foil for the titular leads, right? I sure thought so too, but all that setting the two on the same stage accomplished was stripping away what made each of them individually stand out. On Mars Brightest, they were simply two contestants—whether Angela was an “industry plant” or not, nothing here was purposefully rigged in her favor. The show’s resolution? They’re both worthy of further endeavors.
Except…yeah? Duh? Does a game show competition have to justify that, especially one as slipshod as this? Putting aside for a moment the fact that Mars Brightest’s performance scenes were generally smooth and sometimes absolute classics in the making, the format of the show itself baffled me, like it needed some design that would allow Carole & Tuesday to not suffer from the tedium inherent to live game show TV. Their solution was that aforementioned bracket style elimination, which not only contained awfully abrupt sendoffs for that sort of entertainment, but also sped things along so quickly that the competition essentially took place over a few days. There was no time for these contestants to truly get to know one another, let alone for the judges to really gauge the versatility or shelf life of their talents. Small things can break my immersion like that, but it would have been less problematic had that not deprived momentary antagonists like Cybelle or Tuesday’s family agents of the space they needed to become interesting personalities instead of mere plot devices.
Through this whole Mars Brightest arc, Carole & Tuesday behaved like a dog chasing its own tail instead going for the cleanly thrown ball within its reach; for a premise so inherently up my alley, every choice it’s been making has shown its intentions lie in a vague elsewhere. Its performance scenes deserve credit—even when the lyrics are laughably trite, they still sell “pop music” in its various capacities remarkably well and pose Carole and Tuesday’s stripped back, unflinchingly honest material as something easy to appreciate and distinct in-universe. Getting to those climaxes and seguing from episode to episode has just been an increasingly shaky affair, and while I’m hoping the series can rebound now in the wake of this arc, I also have to accept that my priorities don’t seem to align with the show’s. Whether that’s a missed opportunity on their part or something leading to cogent albeit different point than I had in mind, only time will tell.
Current score: 6.5/10
Still watching after 12 episodes.
To some degree Dororo’s outcome was inevitable, and not just because it ain’t the series’ first rodeo. Whether explicitly stated or not, Hyakkimaru’s quest turning from revenge to acceptance, from violently aspiring to take back what’s his to making peace with what he lacks in order to retain the humanity he has—that’s what’s driven Dororo from the start, and every episodic encounter with monsters, their earthly guardians, and the Kagemitsu clan (these three things may not be mutually exclusive) were all in service of that catharsis. The show’s first cour nailed this, sometimes underselling itself with its somber tone and picking perfect moments to lash out in rage. After a mid-series reset where Hyakkimaru’s hopes of a pleasant family reunion were dashed, each camp bought time in reflection. That reflection wasn’t always particularly interesting, and nor were the one-off episodes that filled the show’s second cour. The goods had been flashed then tossed down the road. With markedly worse production and subplots that struggled to hold my attention, Dororo’s back half became a waiting game. I could only hope the payoff was worth the meandering.
Thank the demons it was.
The events themselves weren’t a surprise: Hyakkimaru sword-fought Tahomaru to a draw after his comrades Mutsu and Hyogo were themselves maimed. With the burning palace falling around them, the boys’ mother amended distrust with her outcast son and comforted the one in closer proximity that she’d previously ignored. One brother vowed to continue the clan, the other to leave complete. That completion almost comes at the hands of the father—prepared to die and continue ruling the land supernaturally through Tahomaru, Daigo was shocked when Hyakkimaru simply stabbed his helmet and walked off. Refusing to give the warlord his bloody death was all Hyakkimaru could do having resigned himself to respect the line between his humanity and cursed urges. Seeing him struggle all series long to separate the two then in the moment of no return receive the conviction to accept himself as is? That’s some good shit. I’ll extend that praise to the animation as well, which seemed like it was on a whole other level from the series’ standard and certainly leaps and bounds better than the average cut from the show’s second cour. I honestly wasn’t expecting Dororo to visually bring its A-game anymore, but it did that and then some.
Know what else is good shit? Post-timeskip Dororo. If I’m being honest I wish we got a little more of it, though in the wake of all that madness, she seems plenty happy setting up a community of her own with the cache of hidden treasure for funding. The protagonists split ways following the decisive battle in the castle, and by that I mean Hyakkimaru just up and wandered off. It wasn’t exactly out of character for him, though all the talk of having someone else to rely on was a moot point—it’s great to keep that lifeline of communication open for when you need it or they need you, but if Hyakkimaru’s ultimate purpose was finding his own peace, I’m not too put off by the conclusion that he can find it alone. Like the series’ final insinuation, some years down the road, the friends will remember the journey fondly. Everyone needs space—I sure as hell could use some from Dororo after these uneven 6 months—but the highlights of this series are no slouch, and I’m sure I’ll remember it with more fondness than frustration.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 24 episodes.
It’s been a minute or two since I’ve written about Fruits Basket along with just about anything for that matter. In recent weeks, this show has revisited the stretch of events that initially got me hooked on the original series, and it’s been a joy to take in again.
The introduction of Momiji and Hatsuharu Soma, respectively the Rabbit and the Ox of the zodiac, has made for excellent foils to Kyo’s hotheadedness and Yuki’s reservedness, and just as before, the story’s become much more lively because of it. For example, seeing the legendary confrontation between the student council president and the Somas on their first day of high school—one of my favorite scenes from the original anime—in the new adaptation instantly put a huge grin on my face.
Yet Fruits Basket is also able to counterbalance the humor and fun times with its more somber or unsettling moments, usually involving some manner of trouble caused by the head of the Soma family, Akito. In the same episode as that goofy hallway showdown, Yuki nearly has a mental breakdown after confronting Akito as they were having a rather ominous conversation with Tohru. She then later cheers him up with a round of badminton with Kyo and the group. I don’t know if I’m just getting more comfortable with the “processing trauma” narrative again, or whether it’s my familiarity with a favorite old story, but I enjoy its application here as I did back in the day.
I’m not entirely sure or not if Fruits Basket is taking a breather this summer, but I’m hoping it doesn’t. It’s still looking as sharp as the start, and it’s been a joy to see the way this show is maintaining a sense of familiarity and freshness without feeling samey. I’m on board whether it continues now or later.
Current score: 7.5
Still watching after 13 episodes.
Well, as far as For Great Justice’s final review of Sarazanmai is concerned, Yata’s passed the ball to me. I know everyone interprets stuff differently as they’re usually supposed to, but competent artistic interpretation is not really my strong suit, and it never really has been. This is especially true with any works regarding certain eccentric directors. With this disclaimer out of the way, let’s give it a shot.
As nearly every week’s episode passed, I would have to reevaluate not just that content of the given week, but what said content added to the entire narrative, because I felt there was a pretty clear literal message conveyed through all the goofy musical bits and buttstuff, with even the episode titles playing a vital part in the vision of the future leaked to the boys in the final Sarazanmai. I’ll try my best to sum up my very cluttered thoughts I got from the finale and the series as a whole without spoiling anything:
Forging genuine connections with one another can be a difficult process, and maintaining them can be even more trying. We build up superficial facades, because we all have those secrets or desires that we hide for fear it might put off those we wish to connect with. To truly connect, one must embrace not just their own hopes and desires, but the embarrassment and despair that may come with connecting with others. Accepting the flaws others may have, as well as accepting one’s own flaws is the bridge that connects it all.
The somewhat abrupt conclusion of this show’s final act has me wondering if Sarazanmai might’ve been better served with another episode to help round things out, such as Haruka’s connection to Sara Azuma featured late in the show, or a more satisfying resolution concerning Enta’s feelings towards Kazuki and Toi, or hell, even an episode of Reo and Mabu living happily ever after. I feel the only characters that had truly satisfactory closings to their arcs were Kazuki and Toi, with the latter’s being some of the more compelling character writing I’ve seen in a minute. Conversely, I’m almost content with the vagueness of it all. Ikuhara shows always do weird things to my thought process, you know?
I’ll be revisiting this quite a bit in the near future. Set in Asakusa, which was by far my favorite district that I visited during my time in Tokyo last year, Sarazanmai was probably the easiest Ikuhara project for me to get a feel for, with Yukari Hashimoto’s masterful work on the soundtrack and Kana-Boon and The Peggies respective opening and closing jams making for the icing on the cake.
Regardless of my small nitpicks, Sarazanmai was definitely my highlight of this season and is sure to stand as one of my favorite shows of 2019. Now we all get to wait for whatever Ikuhara insanity awaits us in the future.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 11 episodes.
WE NEVER LEARN (BOKUTACHI WA BENKYOU GA DEKINAI)
I know, I’m shocked too. True to its name, We Never Learn didn’t explore ambitious territory and remained a “clichés done well” title more than anything innovative, but as show after show on my watchlist stumbled, this one held firm from its opening week to its finale. How?
‘Cause its characters are just so damn likable, I guess. Fumino stole the show in the closing weeks by putting her social awareness to good use among denser archetypes like Rizu and Nariyuki, but calling her a breath of fresh air is somewhat disingenuous since BokuBen‘s atmosphere never really felt “stale.” Familiar, sure, but not uncomfortable. Unlike the majority of harems, no character really got on my nerves at any point. Uruka was doomed to be the childhood friend third wheel from the get-go, but she’s still easy to root for, Kirisu-sensei is…mostly there for comedic effect, but the age gap stuff never got too (t)horny, and late addition Asumi is the tease I didn’t know this show needed. Hopefully we’ll see even more of her in season two.
Yeah, season two. BokuBen is getting a continuation this fall, and while this first cour did more than enough to convince me to tune in again later, I’m also a tad concerned about how quick this turnaround is. BokuBen’s likable cast and solid voice acting carried most of the weight here, and in the back half of the show in particular it wasn’t uncommon for the staff to cut corners with its storyboarding and animation. I don’t know how faithful it was being to its manga in that regard, but with a base product this easy to enjoy, it’d be a bit of a bummer for the visuals to not match that just-above-average standard.
And regarding the actual harem, well, what can I say? I don’t know if Fumino is necessarily the best match for Nariyuki (Uruka’s definitely got more history with him, for one), but she’s not far behind, and it’s been wonderful to see her get a huge chunk of screen time compared to some of the other characters. Kirisu’s prevalence was a bit excessive in this closing stretch (and as I stated, I kind of wish Asumi was introduced earlier), but neither spoiled the show’s momentum. It takes a special kind of generic-ass harem for someone to be able to both play favorites and not mind when other characters’ focus episodes come up, and BokuBen made all its prospective pairings entertaining. The series is admittedly restricted somewhat by its by-the-books conceit and insistence on maintaining the status quo, but it’s ultimately not enough to prevent me from touting BokuBen as the best surprise of this season. Who would’ve guessed.
Final score: 6.5/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
WISE MAN’S GRANDCHILD (KENJA NO MAGO)
Say what you will about the veritable flood of isekai titles receiving anime adaptations in recent (and upcoming) months, Wise Man’s Grandchild was rather simple fun in comparison to most isekai titles out there, that is, if you can even really call it one.
(Like before, I’m calling this show “Kenja” from here on for the sake of convenience)
Aside from the first episode, maybe a scene or two here or there, and a handful of off-handed remarks, there was really nothing of Shin’s former life that came into actual use during the anime’s run. Kenja definitely stuck to the “OP Power Fantasy” shtick typical of the isekai genre, just without most of the problematic, uh… baggage other shows of the type have happily embraced. Hell, there wasn’t even a chance for the usual harem situation to take place with this, as Shin and Sicily were both taken with each other almost from the get-go.
At its strongest the series was just its usual lighthearted “OP magic god bumbling about in daily life gets rightfully roasted by his sarcastic but well-meaning group of pals.” Kenja took a slightly darker turn in the last couple of episodes as the Ultimate Magicians took on the demonoid army in a battle that only briefly turned dire. A handful of the individual fights were actually pretty well done, but I think that the show really did shine brightest when it allowed the kids’ personalities to bounce off one another, especially when resident prince and true bro Aug would go out of his way to screw with Shin.
Sometimes I just want a simple, silly, and fun popcorn show to kick back and relax to, and this spring, Wise Man’s Grandchild was more than up to that task. What’s fun is good.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
And that’s all for now! What were your favorites of the spring? What do you have your eyes on this upcoming summer? Reach out in a comment below or over on Twitter. Until next time, this has been For Great Justice. Thanks as always for reading.