Winter 2016 Anime Overview – Week 5 (Anime Power Ranking)

Another week, and since proper subtitles for a show I was awaiting began appearing, and as my docket keeps dwindling, I actually checked out another show! This season’s “average” shows are falling behind, but the new show might be a keeper.

As always, the list is ordered by how much I liked the episodes, combined with how good I thought they were, in a descending order (first is best, last is worst).

1) Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Episode 5:

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinju anime Episode 5 overview - Sukeroku and Yakumo after their performance, cross-dressing Kikuhiko

If it weren’t for the premiere, with the knowledge (or is it?) that Konatsu is Miyokichi’s child with Sukeroku (Shin) rather than with Yakumo (Bon), and that Bon and Shin had a falling out, of one sort or another, this episode would’ve been just another building block in a solid and endearing drama, a coming of age story of a couple of young performers trying to find their place in the world, and what they mean to one another, and how to handle frustration, jealousy, and attempting to help one another in spite of all of it. But as it is, there is a very clear sense of impending doom. A tragedy will come upon our cast, and if not a tragedy, then revelations that will lead to much drama.

But for now, we have Bon slowly removing his mask, for Miyokichi, for the crowd as he feels embarrassed cross-dressing. The more make up he wears, the more he reveals of himself. And Shin and Bon’s relationship is very endearing. If I didn’t know that there’s a falling out over a woman, I’d have thought this story would go the way of a same-sex relationship between those two. Well, they do have a relationship, of rivals, of siblings, of mother and son (where Bon is the mother) and of father and son (where Shin is the father). It’s a well-made show, that is at times touching, and at times funny. There aren’t a lot of characters. There aren’t a lot of events. Just a small cast and their very realistic interactions.

And sometimes we get Rakugo performances, that even if not all are of equal quality, and none thus far had been as good as the premiere’s, are still enjoyable, and illuminating, and reveal another form of theatre I’m less familiar with. This week it wasn’t Rakugo, and the performance was compressed, because the point wasn’t the story itself, but Bon finally getting outside validation, and finding the confidence within himself to perform, but it was still interesting, and pleasant to watch. It also served as a continuation for last week’s discussion of flaws and eroticism/interest, and the nature of art, as the contradiction between reality and mask is what drew the crowd in, which is commentary on Bon’s tenderness behind his cold “mask”.

You can read my more in-depth post episode write-up here.

2) Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Episode 5:

Hai to Gensou no Grimgar / Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash anime Episode 5 overview - Haruhiro musing over the value of life

Nakamura Ryousuke, Grimgar’s director, shouldn’t be directing anime series. He should be directing National Geographic movies, or “This Wonderful World” episodes, or perhaps live-action movies, or series. This is mostly praise, as he feels overqualified as a director for anime series, at least until such time as 45 minute episodes become the norm as they are in western live-action non-comedies. But it’s only mostly praise, as it does feel as if his very noticeable touch and care for pacing and small moments is not only constrained by what the medium he’s working in allows for and expects, but also as if he’s not giving the material the best treatment it deserves, even as he gives it even better treatment. I know it sounds contradictory, but the quiet and careful moments, and the very slow-pacing, even as it augments the show as a drama, and even as the visceral horror directing augments the fights with the goblins, they still harm some of the other things the show’s going for, such as its story, and some of the moments involving, say, Ranta, or where the whole group is together.

A small thing to discuss in this context, that could and probably should be its own post (or better yet, something to be tackled in a visual medium such as a YouTube video), is the use of panning shots, which this episode had been absolutely drowning in, even more than other episodes in the series thus far. One thing these panning shots accomplish is giving us numerous opportunities to gaze at Yume’s body, but what do they do besides that? Why are they there? And I don’t think it’s merely for fan-service in this case. I think this is a way to try and keep the show engaging visually, while most of what’s going on is “talking heads”, one character talking for a couple of minutes, or a couple of characters talking for 5 or more minutes. These intimate and static moments should be all about the words spoken, but the panning shots, or focus on characters’ hands or feet or whatever can help us see how they feel as they converse, at ease, or fidgeting to show us their unease. But unlike Hyouka, for instance, the body-language conveyed in such cuts or panning shots in Grimgar is pretty static, so I’m left thinking that it is just to keep our minds busy, and anime viewers unbored as the characters talk like real people, and talk, for a length of time, without cutting constantly to other things.

What about live-action series, how do they deal with these issues? There aren’t constant panning movements there, right? So how do the directors keep us interested? Well, first and foremost, the directors trust that the drama, that the characters and what they have to say interests us enough that not only do we not need to be given other things to keep us interested, but that the more “interesting stuff” they add, they actually detract from the scene itself. I mean, showing us Yume’s ass and boobs as she and Haruhiro discuss their feelings with one another isn’t going to augment the emotional core of what they’re talking about, but detract from it. The other element is something Aku no Hana’s rotoscoping revealed by over-emphasizing. In live-action, the small motions of people as they move, or even stand and talk, such as simply their act of breathing, keeps a scene from being static. In anime, everything you see must be thought of, but it also means that sometimes in an attempt to make sure we see more than a bland unmoving picture, a director will overshoot the mark, and content that shines for its naturalistic treatment of conversation and depiction of how people interact and feel, feels very artificial in the composition of the scenes wrapping said content.

Now, about the content of the episode, I have so much to say, but this breaking down of every nuance of a small group’s interactions is something I’ve done in OreGairu Season 2’s episodic notes, and OreGairu S2 is what this episode reminded me of – a bunch of lonely people who need others’ comfort, but are so afraid to infringe on others’ grief that they end up hurting others and themselves, by leaving each person to deal with their loneliness and grief on their own. I do want to point out that Haruhiro and Yume’s conversation also unraveled what they were doing to Mary, where they treated her as an individual who is partying with them, rather than actually inviting them and treating her as part of their group, as a friend. And so, it is no wonder that she’s only looking out for herself, as they’re excluding her themselves.

3) Boku dake ga Inai Machi / ERASED Episode 5:

Boku dake ga Inai Machi / ERASED anime Episode 5 overview - Fujinuma Satorou hears it's useless to think of things he can't change

Scalding irony.

This episode, summed up in two words, was “loud” and “flat”. It wasn’t very flat, but it’s all relative, and the “loudness” was more a question of “bluntness”. We’ve had little Satoru’s shocked face again, which is so extreme (and a direct port from the manga), to Satoru’s manager inviting him to dinner, and then the show cutting to an image of The Last Supper, before the manager betrayed Satoru… I assume the latter would be much more subtle in a non-Christian country such as Japan, but even for the Israeli Jewish me, this was so very loud. My biggest issue with this episode though wasn’t the loudness, because the show was very good at using any and every means at its disposal to constantly raise and maintain the tension, which is hard enough to do over 10 episodes, let alone over 4 episodes’ worth, which is over an hour. And the show somehow managed to do that. No, the issue is that this episode, certainly in its second half, felt flat. It felt as if all the tension had gone away.

The denouement in the first half was lacking in tension for understandable reasons, even as it reinforced concepts brought before, showing instead of merely telling us how the adults reacted to the situation, how in defense of the children’s childhood they robbed Satoru of the ability to move on with his life, and on top of that added a delicious moment of time-travel irony, as Satoru was told to not worry over things he could not fix, and his resolve to do better next time, and that rarely ends well for time-travelers in anime. But no, the big issue of this episode was that its second half went back to the thriller action, but it didn’t feel tense, it didn’t draw me in. Airi is cool and all, and I can understand the manager’s position, but none of the scenes worked, or at least not as well as they did before.

This episode wasn’t bad. A far cry from it. The first half was inevitable, both with what we saw of Satoru, and of the adults, but the inevitable plays a big part in such stories. The second half was a decent thriller, and if it hadn’t had to contend with how amazingly tight the first four episodes had been, there wouldn’t be much cause for criticism, but it does. All the talk of just how bad this episode has been around the rest of the blogosphere feels more like people who’ve been having issues with the show all along finding a point where they can go, “See! This is what’s wrong with the show, and this has been wrong with it all along!” And while these issues had been within BokuMachi all along, it not only overcame them, but they were a prime part of what made it tick thus far, so I’ll disagree, and say each just sees what they were looking for in this episode. Yes, it was worse, but it wasn’t bad, and the show hadn’t imploded all of a sudden.

You can read my observations on specific elements of the episode here. Plot, themes, and delivery. The judgment-value was left for this entry, so it’s all new content.

4) Akagami no Shirayuki-hime / Snow White with the Red Hair Episode 17 (S2 episode 5):

Akagami no Shirayuki Hime anime Episode 17 overview - Shirayuki and Kazuki - kidnapped from kidnappers

This episode of Akagami was frustrating, in how it could be encapsulated by a video-game meme that’s about frustration, “Sorry, but your princess is in another castle!” So, last episode ended with Shirayuki being kidnapped, and a very fraught preview. This episode ends with Shirayuki, and one of her kidnappers, being kidnapped. But this time, it’s by the bad kidnappers… and next episode’s preview doesn’t seem nearly so fraught.

Sure, we had us some bad-ass Obi, and this episode’s action did look quite nice when it was happening, with speed-lines and somewhat fuzzy broad strokes. But most of it was given to nudging along things we’ve already seen, which is Akagami in a nutshell, with Raj and Zen, and the first time any of the monarchs is mentioned, and then even shown. Characters having parents, my oh my. But yeah, compared to how last episode ended, this episode failed a bit to deliver, especially because it ended in the exact same spot last one did. I mean, a holding pattern is fine, but when you tell us we’re no longer in a holding pattern, you better deliver.

5) Ajin Episode 3:

Ajin anime episode 3 overview - Inhuman humans

Inhuman Humans™.

I think my somewhat “tired” response to this week’s Ajin isn’t exactly the fault of the show itself, and more a result of watching its third episode when my mind is already in “half-season mode”, and also that liking the sort of story Ajin is going for, I’ve been encountering it quite a lot, which makes me a tad tired of some ideas repeating. What am I talking about? This episode kept hammering again, multiple times, the notion that every single person, nearly, including Kei’s erstwhile “friends” are only about it for money – both those who’d go for him and against him, and so the man in charge of capturing him can’t imagine Kai’s existence, of an actual friend.

This is pushing the notion that the so-called “monsters” are perhaps more human than the actual inhuman humans, who are self-serving and perhaps even evil, when not simply emotionless calculating lizards. But I think we’ve had enough of that. Aside from that, this episode had some “It’s all my fault!” which is a trope, but I guess it had to get covered, and the emotional impact of it was actually quite good. We also introduced another faction, which embraces the lack of humanity of the Ajin, and a balance of power. The episode also ended on an “Oh shit!” moment, but next episode’s preview did the opposite of what last week’s Akagami’s preview had done, and removed some of the expectation, which is a shame.

Again, I’d like to reiterate that my complaints here are mostly due to a mindset and having encountered a bit too much of some of this over the past couple of years (this show is very similar to Tokyo Ghoul’s first season, for instance), but the episode was more than fine, and was quite good. Ajin’s worth your time, overall. Though the CG this episode where characters kept nodding reminded me of Final Fantasy, or Tales of X games, and not in a good way. The action is solid though, due to not having to “cut” between movements, which is nice.

This episode in particular also pushed for an action that runs counter to human self-preservation, which I’ve seen several western sci-fi books tackle before, which was both wince-worthy from a visceral point, and interesting from a sci-fi perspective – how would your actions change if you were holding everyone back, but the pain of death could make you no longer a burden? Not because you’re dead, but because you’ll be healed, in exchange for your pain.

6) Active Raid Episode 5:

Active Raid anime episode 5 overview - Amano Madoka and Bloody Mary

Can’t you tell this is an Interesting Character™?

This episode affirms that this show is very much like late 90s or early 00s anime series, episodic content, which maybe (hopefully?) in the 2nd arc of the show leaves it all behind for a very fast-paced continuous story. Yes, we have Logos here in the background, but the story is mostly episodic. And there’s nothing actively wrong with Active Raid, or the story it told this episode, except it’s not really, well, interesting, if we’re being honest. Madoka is a non-character, who sits in the background and speaks quietly. So this episode had given to us her background and added some colour to her character, but she’s still not an interesting character – she’s not a character at all, she’s just a placard that now has a couple of traits, and a background of sorts, but she’s not a fully realized character I care for.

The production of the show is pretty bare bones, and while I like some of the characters, they too are mostly not characters, but a collection of unsubtle characterization, and this episode, and the few before it, while not bad, just didn’t deliver any excitement or joy. I could’ve easily imagined this episode as a 10 minute segment, or even 5. It was that sparse. The only real thing that this episode added was Logos going “Our goal isn’t to harm people.”

So, while there’s nothing wrong with this show, there’s also nothing right about it, and it hasn’t given me any reason to keep watching it beyond the hope it might get better at some point. And since its faults have little to do with plot or characters, and mostly to do with underwhelming delivery, I doubt it’d actually get better. This is a less bothersome example of what plagued HaruChika, which was worse, but actually had shown more signs of potential greatness, and thus was also more disappointing. I’m putting this show aside for now, as I just derive no pleasure from it. It’s not bad, but I can do better with my times with things where “it’s not bad” are not the best thing that can be said of them, but the only thing to really be said of them. It’s not even bad in an interesting way, it’s purely forgettable. So, on hold, with the status changing to “drop” if I don’t hear great testimonials in the future.

7) Dimension W  Episode 5:

Dimension W anime Episode 5 overview - caricature villain camera-man

Animanga Villains™. So bad.

It’s hard for something built on a shaky foundation to be solid. It’s harder for series that are plot-driven to make sense when they don’t make sense early on. It’s even harder for mystery shows, where the plot “making sense”, and the illusion of being able to make sense of it before the reveal, and certainly understand what went on after the reveal is a big part of the draw. It’s even harder for a two-part episode’s second half to make sense and be good when the first part was rubbish.

And that brings us to this episode, where last week’s Dimension W made little sense, and had very little of interest, beyond a couple of scenes’ atmosphere and visual design. The story and characters made no sense, and all the show makers appeared to care for was fanservice with Mira and Elizabeth. And this week’s episode, albeit much stronger, still suffered for it, because it dealt heavily with the mystery, so the revelations came out of nowhere, and dealt with a bunch of characters we didn’t know, and didn’t care for. Not the best way to handle things. Yes, some things did make sense retroactively, but they didn’t make sense before, thus shattering the “mystery”, and just being info-dumped for several minutes on how things happened and why this is a sob-story came too late, and was too heavy-handed for there to be any impact of any sort.

It’s not this episode’s fault, but it’s the show’s. This episode had also dealt with some themes! It actually used Mira’s android nature to raise a question regarding the “Continuity of Self”, which it didn’t unpack later on, and more subtly explored the notion at the base of any tragedy, but also of every life – of how we interact with our past selves. It wasn’t great, but it was something. I’m probably going to give this show one more episode, even though I shouldn’t, seeing as its main issues are that it’s just… cold, it’s as if the people making this show are constantly looking at the clock, and churning out a by-the-numbers show without any heart, except for the tropey fanservice cute Mira moments, which seem to be all they care for.

Also, I don’t know how I almost forgot (I must have repressed it), but it was certainly this episode’s fault where the caricature villain “We can’t allow progress!” also went for filming his snuff murder-rape film… because yeah, animanga villains have to use sexual assault to make it clear that they’re villains. Anime please.

I wrote more in-depth about this episode, including its themes here. Scroll down the comment section for a tiny-editorial on how anime series handle science-fiction ideas.

8) Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! / Give Blessings to This Wonderful World! Episode 4:

Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! / Give Blessings to This Wonderful World! /KonoSuba anime Episode 4 overview - Megumin and Satou Kazuma have no more motivation

I’m going to describe what this episode was for me, then I’ll share my realization of what this show is and who it’s for. This episode wasn’t as bad as last week’s abysmal episode, but its first quarter basically was – it was a series of unfunny jokes/gags, including some more of last week’s non-stop unfunny sexual innuendo as a joke, and the 2nd quarter was just, well, boring. They went for a repetitive action where the different explosions should’ve kept us excited, at the lack of progress, characterization, or even the mere presence of anything resembling a joke.

But, it was the final half, which the 2nd quarter was a build-up that showed me why I should drop this show, and who it is aimed for – it was basically a One Punch Man half-episode, but without any action, or a character as fun to watch as Genos. And One Punch Man without action or Genos is one of the more boring type of shows I can think of. But if you like that style of anime comedy or parody, then go for it. But if you found One Punch Man boring, action aside, then you should probably avoid this show. Also, when this show is going for bad juvenile jokes, it’s not only boring as One Punch Man often found itself as, but actively, and aggressively bad.

So with the realization the show will alternate between boring me and making me sigh with annoyance, dropped. Not a terrible show, but it’s going to be 6/10 if it’s lucky, and likely less. I don’t have a reason to make myself suffer through shows I dislike. So I won’t.

Overall Thoughts on the Week: This week’s episodes could be split into three very distinct groups and tiers: Tier 1, composed of Rakugo Shinju and Grimgar, where the shows had been doing what they’ve been doing up to now, and being generally good.
Tier 2, composed of BokuMachi (ERASED), Akagami S2, and Ajin, where the shows were fine, but repeating what the shows had been doing up to now and not breaking new ground, when breaking new ground was what was both expected and needed, led to weaker episodes.
And finally, Tier 3, composed of Active Raid, Dimension W, and KonoSuba. It’s not that these shows had especially weak episodes this week (though a case could still be made for Dimension W, especially if we look at its last two episodes as one entity), but rather, a realization that this is what these shows are like. This is what they’re going for, and if you’re not on board with what they’ve been showing up to now, then maybe it’s time to bid them farewell, but if you do like them, then it seems they’re going to keep on giving you what you’re enjoying.

Well, it’s pretty fitting as a take-away for week 5 of the season, where most shows this week, perhaps aside from Akagami, could be described as giving us “more of themselves”. It’s also a good spot to drop two of these shows, and give the third one more episode, against my better judgement. I’m liking this season, and the top 5 shows in this week’s list are all worthy of your time, and 5 shows in a single season that are worth one’s time is a pretty good haul, I must say. And there’s still Durarara!!x2 for me to catch up on, which clearing the docket promises to happen by this time next week. I might not have enjoyed this past week as much as I could’ve, because I like me some spice, but I’m enjoying the season, overall.

Dear readers, any particular thoughts on this past week’s crop of episodes, or on my thoughts on them?

7 comments on “Winter 2016 Anime Overview – Week 5 (Anime Power Ranking)

  1. Frog-kun says:

    I read on Nakamura’s Wikipedia page that he goes for “truth” over “faithfulness to the source material”, and I get what you’re saying here. The Grimgar anime has quite a different feel from the light novel due to Nakamura’s efforts to create a naturalistic atmosphere. I couldn’t really get a distinct sense of “atmosphere” from the original work.

    I was also curious to see if Nakamura had done any live action work in the past because of what you wrote here, but it doesn’t appear that he’s done any.

    Also, about “over-emphasizing” certain aspects of the visuals, is that something you could say about the Nerawareta Gakuen film, which was also directed and storyboarded by Nakamura?

    • Guy says:

      I haven’t watched Nerawareta Gakuen, it’s been on my PTW list for a while now, but the next few anime films on the docket are Millennium Actress, HAL, and Yoshiura Yasuhiro’s movies I haven’t watched yet (Pale Cocoon and Harmonie), and Bakemono no Ko whenever I get my hands on it. I’ll try to remember this film for after this bunch, and feel free to remind me.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not all that similar, since it’s been 4 years since he directed that. But we’ll see!

      It’s interesting to think, how many books actually give you a “naturalistic feeling”? Especially since, well, just like in anime, every single thing a book brings to mind has to be consciously thought of, but unlike anime, you have to actually notice these things as well, they don’t just hang in the background. I’m currently re-reading Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, and it’s definitely a thing there, and now I recall that Ender’s Game had such segments back when Ender came back to Earth to talk to Valentine’s. Hm.

      I wonder if someone who directs a lot of live-action will actually direct as Nakamura does, or if it actually requires someone to not have directed a live-action, because while there are techniques he uses here, there’s also having to be much more thoughtful of every single thing in anime, and you can’t just let some stuff work out on their own. Which is probably a disservice to the really great director/camera directors/people in charge of lighting/etc. in live-action film, who think through every thing they do as well, even the so-called moments where they “don’t interfere”. An illusion of naturalism that’s actually the result of hard work.

      • Frog-kun says:

        It’s interesting to think, how many books actually give you a “naturalistic feeling”?

        Not many, and certainly no light novel has ever achieved this effect with me. Grimgar has a lot of that obnoxious “manzai-style” dialogue, which is toned down in the anime. In terms of more literary novels, though, I’d say William Faulkner’s stuff has pretty naturalistic dialogue.

        In any case, when I wrote my first comment, I was really thinking more generally about “atmosphere”. Does the prose give off a particular mood or flavour? I would say that in the case of Grimgar, it doesn’t really do this. The writing is straightforward. It tells the reader how they’re supposed to feel. I’m not saying it’s bad, necessarily, but it’s one of the reasons why the anime feels so different. The director put his own voice into it. If he overshot the mark at times in his attempt to create a moody piece, I think it’s partly because the source material was so sparse. (You could say this about a lot of LN adaptations, of course.)

        Which is probably a disservice to the really great director/camera directors/people in charge of lighting/etc. in live-action film, who think through every thing they do as well, even the so-called moments where they “don’t interfere”.


        • Guy says:

          I actually thought you were talking about “naturalistic atmosphere” all along, rather than naturalistic dialogue, and answered to that! As for your comment on Grimgar’s atmosphere and how the writing tells you how to feel, yeah, that’s exactly what I was talking about in my infamous LN post, how you hear from the character’s mind, yes, but certainly the author’s hand, how a character is embarrassed, or envious, or whatever. No letting us figure it on our own, but flat out telling us.

          As for naturalistic dialogues, people like to blame it all on Joss Whedon these days, but books and movies have really started going that direction from the late 90s onward. Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek and The West Wing all did that too. Scalzi writes like that sometimes… basically all fan-ficcers write like that, or try. Yeah. He’s just the symbol of it. Naturalistic dialogue, or dialogue that’s trying to be somewhat naturalistic? I can think of some examples, but usually not in books aimed at younger readers, and usually written by authors who are older than 40 right now, and 40 when they wrote those books. A weird observation, but that’s what I feel like.

  2. megaroad1 says:

    I dropped Grimgar after the first episode(God, not another “I am trapped in RPG land”) but after reading several reviews, including your thoughts on it, I think I might have to pick it up. Sounds interesting.

    • Guy says:

      It definitely is interesting, but less for interesting content, if you look across a lot of media, and more that it’s interesting because anime rarely tackles things like this, in this manner.

      Expect a low-key, slow-paced drama, cause that’s what it’s been up to now, and what it looks like it’d be from here on out as well.

  3. EatzAce says:

    You made a great point about erased’s 5th episode. After watching it myself, I felt like I enjoyed the episode, given the gravity of the events that occurred, but I had this feeling that I could’ve enjoyed it more but I couldn’t put my finger on why. The same excitement and tension that I felt while watching the first 4 episodes didn’t seem to fully surface when watching the 5th.

    As for Rakugo, I’m curious if the series’s culminating tragedy will be caused by Bon’s feelings for Sukeroku rather than that of Bon and Sukeroku’s for Miyokichi. While subtle, I think the signs are there for Bon’s attraction to Sukeroku, an attraction that will never be reciprocated but will definitely make for a messy love triangle, one I hope to see play out.

    It’s actually really interesting how we’ve already been given the final result of the tragedy but have no idea how it ended up that way. The filling in of the gaps depends on the viewer. Each episode we try to piece together a narrative that links the events of the current episode with that of the first. With each new episode, we either alter our narrative to be in accord with the new evidence presented or we become more convinced that our narrative is the real narrative. Just seeing the different interpretations of and predictions for the show makes this show even more engaging than it already is.

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