WINTER 2020 FINAL THOUGHTS

How long has it been since I’ve had the blog all to myself?

[checks notes]

Almost 5 years, apparently. How the time flies.

Anyways, quite a bit’s happened since For Great Justice’s last update. I took off for a return trip to Japan, while literal all-hell proceeded to break loose back home before I’d even landed at Kansai Airport. Whereas most of the world is now gripped in the middle of a paralyzing pandemic, and Yata has his hands full training his store’s new surge hires – in addition to his latest vroom-vroom project – you guys are stuck with Just Harubruh for our blog’s sendoff of the Winter 2020 anime season! While I did manage to cover one of the shows he reviewed, you have my apologies if you swung by hoping for more Yata content with regards to Chihayafuru and the rest of his share of the winter anime workload. I took my sweet time trying to slap this rickety-ass writeup together, but hey, better late than never, and better this than nothing at all, right?

right? ._.

Anywho, let’s dive in!

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A DESTRUCTIVE GOD SITS NEXT TO ME. (BOKU NO TONARI NI ANKOKU HAKAISHIN GA IMASU.)

Harubruh:
Well, Jun Fukuyama’s vocal cords managed to survive Bokuhaka’s finale, as did my patience, which this show was really beginning to test during the stretch run.

Don’t get me wrong, Bokuhaka was overall a fun watch when all was said and done, but things were beginning to feel a bit stale. There’s tried-and-true recurring gags, and then there’s just beating a dead horse. In Bokuhaka’s case, the skits followed an unflinchingly consistent formula: One of the chuunis does/says embarassing chuuni thing within earshot of Koyuki, who gets agitated but attempts to ignore them, another member of the group (almost always Tsukimiya) prods him even further, Koyuki proceeds to snap, usually humiliating himself in the process. Rinse and repeat. To be quite fair, I too would probably mentally snap like him if smug-ass Ryohei Kimura Tsukimiya could read my mind.

However, it’s not like every these sequences were a complete bore. As I’ve said before, Bokuhaka’s star-studded voice cast nails their lines without fail, just sometimes the joke they’re acting out is just a tad played out. Sometimes a pitcher’s well-executed out pitch will still get clobbered if he doesn’t vary his repertoire up, to put it into sprotsball terms. I admittedly still get a kick out of the recurring cuts to the ever-growing pile of imaginary Koyuki graves after he throws the mental white flag with seemingly every other skit. On a side note, the visuals, while from the outset to the conclusion were not all that animated, remained consistent and relatively sharp and clean throughout Bokuhaka’s run.

While the anime was surely more entertaining than not, there was only so far the show could go leaning purely on its characters’ nonsensical exchanges with one another and their seiyuu’s strong deliveries of said exchanges. It seemed like Koyuki was starting to finally warm to up his delusional entourage, but it ended up being a dead end. I mean, I still got a good laugh out of Mogami’s blind rendition of the happy birthday song played on an instrument that looked like a grade school craft project. Bokuhaka really was unusually hit-or-miss for me when it’s frequently a trivial task for a comedy show to endear itself to me.

Instead of desiring a sequel, or contemplating an abbreviated rewatch as I sometimes do with outgoing shows, I was ready to move on from Bokuhaka by the time I finished the finale. The ride was adequately fun, but only just. At least I got a decent haul of reaction faces out of this.
Final score: 6/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

ASTEROID IN LOVE (KOISURU ASTEROID)

Harubruh:
Asteroid in Love proved to be something of a conundrum for me – I had to work up my motivation to sit down and watch it, but when I finally did, I found myself wondering why I kept putting it off in the first place.

It’s not going to go down as an incredibly memorable work for me – I honestly barely remember any of the girls’ names save for our main duo of Ao and Mira. That being said, in this moment, I can look back and appreciate Asteroid in Love for what it was for me: A generally cozy, easy-going, relaxing show to decompress for a bit while I watched the Earth Science club girls engage in their appreciation for a set of scientific subjects I’ve had fleeting fascinations with ever since I was a kid. I do wish we could’ve had a bit more time with the club’s newcomers, especially seeing as Nanami has a fixation with meteorology, which to this day remains my favorite scientific subject.

While they didn’t manage to detect a new asteroid, there certainly was a satisfying element to Ao and Mira getting to actually survey a section of the night sky with a JAXA telescope. I’m sure the actual process for getting access to that is a tad more difficult than what we saw, but I digress: the Space Rock Girlfriends seeing their dream actually within their reach is Good Content in my book.

Speaking of Good Content, I’m giving another shoutout to Doga Kobo for turning out another winning show. Though I typically associate them with more bombastic, slapsticky shows of the Nozaki-kun variety, the comparatively calming  Asteroid in Love consistently featured the studio’s characteristic above-average polish and intuitive usage of subtle detail in their character acting. Like with Bofuri, it’s very evident that a lot of genuine love of the story went into the creation of this anime, and I can’t help but love it myself.

Asteroid in Love was a lovely little show, and I wish I’d given it all the benefit of the doubt I mistakenly lavished upon other shows this season.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

BOFURI: I DON’T WANT TO GET HURT, SO I’LL MAX OUT MY DEFENSE (ITAI NO WA IYA NANO DE BOUGYORYOKU NI KYOKUFURI SHITAI TO OMOIMASU.)

win2020fin-bofuricap

Harubruh:
…and now I get to gush about the other “Girlfriends Having a Good Fun Time” show. Though Asteroid was indeed a comfy relax-watch, I undoubtedly had a lot more fun watching Bofuri this season. In this case, I guess it would be more accurate to describe Asteroid as the “Other Girlfriends Having Fun” show.

I was beginning to have my doubts about Silver Link, who hadn’t turned in a show that truly wowed me since cranking out Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, my (I’ll probably catch some flak for this) personal favorite anime of 2016. Yeah, they had some decent-but-not-great offerings between now and then, such as last year’s The Ones Within and Wise Man’s Grandchild, and 2017’s unexpectedly beer-nerdy A Sister’s All You Need. (I jest, please don’t kill me.)

I mean, after seeing some of their rather mediocre efforts over the recent years, it really does make Bofuri’s amazing battle scenes sparkle just that much brighter. They didn’t have to make Sally and Maple’s battle against Not Articuno one of the most exhilarating fights I’ve seen from a show in a very long time, but they sure as shit did. Silver Link surely didn’t have to make Mecha Maple or Godzilla/Xenomorph Maple’s fights as batshit insane as they were – but they just did it anyways. It seems like they were having as much of a blast making the Bofuri anime as it was for us viewers to watch it. Again, I can’t help but love an effort like that.

An element I found especially refreshing about Bofuri is just the general camaraderie of the various prominent players we see in New World Online. The final scene where Maple invites the two prominent rival guilds over to her guild house for a Fourth Event after-party was just… nice. Anyone in either of the parties could’ve easily (and quite justifiably) been a sourpuss about the game-breaking turn of events that had just occurred. But nah, everyone just chilled out, engaged in friendly conversations and the expected exchanges of vows to win the next event with one another, all before having one big toast and watching their highlight reels from the Event. The show’s humorous sendout was glorious, with Maple obliviously asserting that she’s “just playing the game normally” before promptly being refuted by everyone in attendance, guildmates and rivals alike.

In the end, nearly the entire cast, the intially antagonistic GMs included, simply couldn’t help but join us, the viewers, in just gawking in astounded yet unsurprised disbelief as Maple has essentially become a more daunting boss character than the Actual Boss Characters of the game. As I’ve said about Bofuri before, video games are supposed to be fun, and it feels uncanny to me nowadays when a video game anime actually agrees with that notion. The more ridiculous the antics, the better, I say. Video games systems are their most fun when you just absolutely break them anyways, and this show accurately captured that feeling.

Bofuri was stupidly goofy and a joy to watch, and I’m pretty pleased that we’ve apparently got more of Maple’s OP defense nonsense on the way.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

HAIKYUU!!: TO THE TOP

Harubruh:
I feel like a proud parent of these boys right now, and let’s not forget their manager Kiyoko, who finally got a well-deserved moment in the spotlight at last!

After their fruitful tuneup match against the impregnable Date Tech defense, the Karasuno boys head off to Tokyo for the Spring Nationals, where after some struggles adjusting to the high ceilings and bright lights of the new venue, they made quick work of their opponent in the first round. During their down time in between, Kageyama runs into some of his acquaintances from the All-Japan camp, most notably Hoshiumi, a diminutive player who exercises near-total dominance on the volleyball court, the type of player Hinata has strove to become. To the Top’s first part then closes right as Karasuno’s second match versus Inarizaki High starts to rev up.

In my opinion, Haikyuu has without a doubt been the gold standard of the multi-cour shounen sports series, and it’s not even close. Just like the Karasuno volleyball team it follows, Haikyuu has just incrementally improved with time, which is all the more impressive considering it was already pretty damn good when the anime first dropped back in 2014. Its methodical approach to how a group of individuals comes together to form a team, its nuance approach to team dynamics, and easily digestable explanations of the game’s tactics and skillsets has really set it apart from others.

Additonaly, some of the cuts on these rallies, and individual plays such as jumps, spikes, and blocks are jaw-droppingly amazing, especially when these tricks are used to illustrate the almost superhuman talents of some of these new competitors. I’m a huge fan of Haruichi Furudate’s dynamic art style in the manga, but holy cow, the storyboards and animation of the anime have been otherworldly good.

Haikyuu is so, so good at revving up the hype machine. I really hope we don’t have to wait too long for this match to continue; I require more. See y’all back here in three months, hopefully.
Final score: 8.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF EIZOUKEN! (EIZOUKEN NI WA TE O DASU NA!)

Harubruh:
What’s this? Haru, taking over for a show Yata covered for the rest of the season prior?

It’s more likely than you think.

It’s no secret that both Yata and I are huge fans of virtually any project that Masaaki Yuasa even remotely lays a finger on. I’ve even had the privilege of attending a handful of panels he hosted at AnimeFest back in 2017, where he also showcased Night is Short, Walk On Girl and Lu Over the Wall. Simply put, we love him and his works to death. I, like many, think of him as one of the true visionaries of the anime industry.

That he got to take the helm for Eizouken’s anime adaptation, was truly a match made in heaven. One of its defining features is the incredibly diverse, multi-cultural setting. Many of Yuasa’s works tend to share a theme of “coexistence,” which besides being one of the primary themes of the show with its diverse range of settings and characters, was the very theme the club shot for with their Shibahama UFO Wars animation. The film club’s animations before this had been amazing sequences in their own right, but the UFO Wars sequence was simply stunning, and it’s right up there with Uchouten Kazoku’s finale and Sound! Euphonium’s first Mount Daikichi scene as one of those “all-time iconic and/or triumphant sequences in modern anime” for me. You’re free to try and convince me otherwise, but you’ll be very hard pressed to do so with any modicum of success.

Eizouken also struck a chord with me for its sympathetic depiction of folks with ADHD, a crowd of whom I am a member. Asakusa and Mizusaki both have it to a very strong degree, and great lengths were taken to illustrate the different flavors (again, lack of better words) of ADHD the two have. Asakusa looks at the simple everyday objects around her and can instantly picture a grandiose hidden transformation for these meager props, such as imagining a set of bollards she walks past as anti-aircraft flak guns for the UFO battle she was thinking up. She immerses herself so deeply in her imaginations of machinations that she finds herself easily sidetracked without some stern discipline from the relatively normal no-nonsense Kanamori. Asakusa’s vivid daydreaming reminds me a lot of how my younger self used to operate, even including keeping a the journal used for scrawling out our designs for machinery.

On the other hand, Mizusaki from a young age found herself fascinated by the observation and replication of motion, to the point it became her driving passion. First illustrated by her mimicking of her grandmother’s disposal of tea with a simple flick of the wrist, her fascination quickly grew into her scrawling down simple drawings of peoples’ range of motions for simple tasks such as gaits and simply sitting up from chairs. With time, her obsession has blossomed into a keen understanding and a true passion for depicting motions in a manner as detailed as Kanamori will let her get away with for the sake of time. Her parents finally affirming their approval of her steadfast pursuit of animation as her true passion was one of my favorite moments in the whole Eizouken anime.

Sumito Owara (the author of Eizouken’s manga) gets how ADHD folks work: It’s not that we don’t give a shit about our task at hand, we just kind of focus a bit too hard on that which actually fascinates us, and would honestly rather focus on that instead. I’m nearly thirty and to this very day, I still have to fight myself to not look up an aerobatics routine or an air racing recap on Youtube when I should be actually be doing my job. In that regard, I guess I’m still very much the Asakusa I was as a kid. That’s likely been one of the cathartic elements of watching Eizouken for me, is that it’s helped me affirm that no matter what those stuffy adults told me back in the day, the bright-eyed, more imaginative daydreamer kid me wasn’t wrong for scrawling down machines such as robots and airplanes (frequently in great detail for a kid) on my test papers back in school.

Upon completing the show, I had settled on scoring Eizouken a 9 or a 9.5. But here I am writing this, finding myself gushing and hyperfocusing on this one blurb in lieu of elaborating deeper on the other shows. But as I do, I find myself feeling better about a time of my life where people wrote me off as a problem kid who couldn’t behave or sit still because he wanted to get back to drawing stuff after finishing a quiz before everyone else. I find myself continually coming back to single word to describe my experience with this show: catharsis.

Whereas other shows have functioned as love letters to anime’s creators and the collective passion of the anime industry, Eizouken proved to be an equally striking love letter to the actual medium of anime itself, breathing color, sounds, motion, and life itself into still pictures. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a masterpiece. Studio Science Saru, Yuasa, Eunyoung Choi, Owara, and everyone else done turned out 2020’s first masterpiece.

Keep it easy breezy, folks.
Final score: 10/10
Completed after 12 episodes.

TOILET BOUND HANAKO-KUN (JIBAKU SHOUNEN HANAKO-KUN)

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Harubruh:
You know what? I’ll take it. I’m just going to assume that Lerche is diverting most of their attention towards the Given movie that’s probably not probably due in May. It has been the common theme of amongst us discerning watchers of shows, is that the Hanako-kun anime wasn’t very, uh, animated. At all.

While in the first half, the still shots were still pretty and on-model enough for me to overlook the lack of animation in the this adaptation, things got a tad sloppy during the anime’s run through the Mitsuba arc. Like, really sloppy. All they essentially had to do was trace over manga panels, as they had been doing for most of the series run, but they struggled to remain on-model even doing that! Though I’m well aware it’s a rather common issue in anime, late in Hanako-kun’s run, they apparently just stopped giving a shit about trying to match up lip flaps to spoken dialogue, and it got downright nauseating once I homed in on this and couldn’t direct my attention elsewhere. How this turned into the more inconsistent production compared to friggin’ Bokuhaka could well be a Mystery of Kamome Academy all by itself.

I suppose I expected too much from Lerche for adapting a favorite work of mine, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t knock it out of the park with their adaptations of Astra Lost in Space and Given last year. Those two shows were among my very favorite works last year, both even dropped on the exact friggin’ same season, and yet neither of them felt remotely half-assed at any point like this adaptation did towards the end!

With the anime’s run over, I’m just thankful that they didn’t diverge far from the main story, save for a couple of “sake of run time” omissions such as Hanako’s showdown against Teru, and Tsukasa ruthlessly murdering the mermaid’s vassals at the close of Nene’s return encounter with the fishy supernaturals. In fact, the anime happened to close at the exact point in the manga that I’d expected it to reach when this anime was first announced. At the rate that they adapted the manga, Lerche still has plenty of material to adapt for a potential second season; I’d just pray it features more actual animation and slightly better polish with regard to the technicalities like model and lip flap accuracy than this first season did. Forgive this mortal layman for his lack of better terminology.

It’s simultaneously something of a bummer, yet somewhat gratifying that a favorite illustrated work of mine got an anime that didn’t completely self-immolate during its run. Though the color palettes and art were generally “good,” the motion comic presentation of the Hanako-kun anime grew tiresome, especially when the polish of the first few episodes had faded noticeably. In any case, I guess Lerche had to come back down to Earth after their flourish that was 2019.

Perhaps it’s the beer talking, but I’ve been a downer about something I still enjoyed for what it was: A decent, but not great adaptation of a great manga. If you’re new to this franchise, and enjoyed what you saw in the Hanako-kun anime, please consider checking the manga out, if you haven’t already. It’s been a favorite of mine for years, and it’s only getting better as it appears to be closing in on an endgame.
Final score: 6/10
Completed after 12 episodes. (Read the manga instead.)

And that’s all I’ve got for y’all, my brain is completely fried and I desperately need some sleep! How’d you feel about this winter’s shows? Feel free to shoot a comment here, or on Twitter! Just give me some time for a nap. Hopefully Yata’s heavy workload subsides in the next couple of weeks so he can return for the upcoming Spring First Impressions. If not, I hope you readers will bear with me and my slow work pace and perpetual writer’s block. Until then, catch you later!

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