Summer Update #1
Mid-year Update

I want to follow the format I used for the mid-year recap for my Summer recap, although it’s actually both Summer and other things I completed since the mid-year recap. Please note that I’m not a reviewer and these aren’t recommendations, so THIS IS NOT SPOILER FREE. I’m talking about my reactions to what I’ve watched and anything goes.

I especially recommend watching Gakkou Gurashi! first, if you had any interest in it whatsoever. If you’re still on the fence, click the link above the first screenshot to hide it and read on to the rest. You can do the same for any of the others.

Gakkou Gurashi! [IMPORTED]
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What is a “normal” life when everything has fallen apart? Does it matter what restrictions you’re subject to, as long as you’re still alive? Gakkou Gurashi!’s characters all encounter these questions, and the reactions are varied: angry impatience, fragile stoicism, painful regret, reckless bravery, unthinking loyalty, loving sacrifice, blissful denial.

Each one is individually compelling. Kei’s inability to cope with their de facto prison in the mall. Yuuri’s motherly leadership masking the most fragile of hearts. Miki’s guilt at being unable to follow Kei and at living on without her. Kurumi’s dangerous dedication to maintaining security no matter the risks to herself, both physically and emotionally. Taroumaru’s naive but unquestioning animal loyalty. For me, compelling beyond even these were Yuki and Megu-nee, and the relationship between them.

Yuki’s total denial of reality mirrors the series’ dichotomous nature. An idyllic school life and an undead-infested hellscape can co-exist as equally “real” story elements not simply because Yuki’s delusions show us a lively, bustling school environment, but because her warm smile and boundless enthusiasm create a genuine refuge for her, her friends, and us. This is why Yuuri and Kurumi are adamant about protecting her innocence after Miki arrives and challenges the status quo. They need Yuki to be smiling as badly as, if not moreso than, Yuki herself does.

Miki’s disruptive entrance raises troubling questions about things the viewer would have taken at face value before: Is it really okay for Yuuri and Kurumi to leave Yuki to her delusions? Is it selfish to treat her like a good luck charm or soothing mascot character when her ignorance of the world around her brings her very close to physical harm (almost “going home”, for example) at times? Or would forcing a harsh reality on her be the selfish course of action? There isn’t an easy answer, because everyone both suffers and benefits from Yuki’s condition. Jealousy and pity and dependency and protectiveness all swirl together in the girls’ interactions with Yuki.

Yuki’s condition is surprisingly resilient. It isn’t fragile like glass, irreversibly shattering when pushed past its breaking point, like during the mall rescue. It can bend, even break, but will mend itself after a good sleep and adequate distance from danger. It’s also not as all-encompassing as it first appears. Yuki repeatedly shows signs of comprehending her situation and possesses the competence to react appropriately. This climaxes in her actions in the final two episodes, when she quite literally steps through a door that has represented the boundary line of her happy fantasies. It’s a deeply moving moment.

The reason Yuki is able to step through that door, the reason any of them are able to function at all, is thanks to Sakura Megumi, their teacher and club adviser. Megu-nee left a deep impression on the girls, and on me too. Her story is beautiful and tragic and overflowing with love, both in life and death. I struggle to come up with another character who so deeply affected their story despite not being alive for most of it. I’d probably have to go back to Gurren Lagann for the last comparable example.

Like Yuki’s condition, Megu-nee’s fate also mirrors the iyashikei/horror split that defines Gakkou Gurashi. Her love for the girls is warm and reassuring and beautiful, but that same love nearly kills them all after her tragic fall. With the burden of having read the evacuation plans and the burden of knowing that her desire to stay near the girls after death could harm them, she’s wracked with guilt both in life and death. But all she ever wanted for them was happiness.

On the balance, I think she gave that to them. She kept them together in the hours and days after the outbreak. She gave them a space where they could experience some semblance of a normal life. She gave her own life to protect theirs. She didn’t deserve to die the way she did, but that’s not how I choose to remember her. That’s certainly not how the girls choose to remember her. She’s changed their lives forever, and they will always be grateful.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still an aching hole in our hearts where she used to be. Megu-nee, we love you.

Gakkou Gurashi! may have ended, but it refuses to die. It’s occupied much of my mental bandwidth since the final episode aired, resulting in me reading the manga version of the same material (chapter 1-30) – an extreme rarity I’ve only done a handful of times. I can’t stop thinking about it, can’t stop wondering where the girls are and how they’re doing. Part of me wants to read the manga past where the anime ended, but with so few additional chapters out, I’d just be running into a brick wall of long waits between publication of new chapters.

And there’s something about how Gakkou Gurashi ended that really captivates me. After being cooped up inside the school building for the entire story, suddenly they’re moving on. Graduation is a perfect metaphorical and literal ending – the whole world, or what’s left of it, is open to them. They choose life. That’s their answer.

The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls 2nd Season [IMPORTED]
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The second season that was never intended to be a second season. Was the wait worth it? Production-wise it managed to settle on a consistent baseline quality, but it was pretty conservative with its highlights. It still had some very nice scenes, but never attempted to reach Animas’ heights. Much more importantly though, did the story and characters deliver? There I have no reservations, my answer is a loud and satisfied “Absolutely!”

If the first half of Deremas introduced the characters and gave them their first major victory at the festival in episode thirteen, the second half was about how to cope with success and the new demands that come with it. And I think its ability to develop this aspect of the story so well owes a lot to the “antagonist” of the second half, the 346 idol unit executive producer, Mishiro.

Animas’ Kuroi was a comic book villain, a one-dimensional “bad guy” concocting one-dimensional schemes purely to give the 765 girls hurdles to overcome. That such moving and charming scenes resulted from this was just the show’s natural flair for flawless execution, not a sign that Kuroi himself was remotely interesting character. Mishiro by contrast is not one-dimensional at all, and she’s certainly not trying to destroy the Cinderella Project. She is, in her own way and according to her own experience and ideals, trying to reshape it into something new, something better. Those “hurdles” feel much more thoughtful and organic. Mishiro is not, by any definition, “evil”. Her motives aren’t even purely financial (though she is responsible for that too), there’s a distinct creative philosophy behind the course she pursues. She has a vision.

The idols of course chafe under the new restrictions, and not every decision Mishiro makes is correct. She pays too little attention to the girls’ emotional needs and aspirations in her pursuit of the perfect idol group. (Can’t fault her aesthetic choices though.) But that’s where Deremas’ second half’s shines. Neither Mishiro nor the girls have a monopoly on being correct. Mishiro values results, not mindless yes-men. She relents on her demands when the Producer and his idols deliver on their promises via alternate methods.

It’s about compromise. It’s about reaching beneath your surface appeal to dig up something better. It’s about thriving in unexpected environments (new units, new career focus). It’s not about the girls steamrolling all opposition and getting their way by saying “we’re the good guys, you’re the bad guy”, because there is no bad guy. Just conflicting views with a balance somewhere in the middle. Animas touched on the theme of coping with change in Haruka’s arc, but Deremas takes it farther and presents it as the central theme of the whole second half. It results in a more focused story.

Of course these broader themes only work because the characters they explore are so damn charming. Riina and Miku fully realize their bond not by ceasing to change after forming Asterisk, but by challenging themselves even further to join with Natsuki and Nana. Minami and Anya, the most stable of the units, deal with being temporarily split apart for solo work. Their mature reaction to this test is an inspiration for the less confident girls. Mio, Rin, and Uzuki struggle to define their relationship amid constantly shifting obligations and new opportunities. Anzu and Kirari, the senpai of their respective units, seek to understand what they mean to each other. It goes on and on.

Cinderella Girls is excellent. Is isn’t Animas, and it doesn’t need to be Animas. It stands confidently on its own.

I miss them all already.

Non Non Biyori Repeat [IMPORTED]
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I don’t usually have a ton to say about iyashikei shows, and less about their sequels. They’re about the experience, not any thematic analysis. You live inside of them for a short time, and reluctantly say goodbye. Non Non Biyori evokes that feeling as well as any of its contemporaries.

The “repetition” in the title refers to this season’s events happening simultaneously with the first season’s. It’s neither sequel nor prequel, it’s a… simulquel? Think the first couple seasons of Hidamari Sketch. It’s a really neat idea and provided for some great side by side comparisons early on, though after a few episodes the references to season one thin out and you quickly forget what it was doing most of the time. Non Non Biyori’s serene rural landscapes don’t convey much sense of the passage of time outside of the changing seasons. Each day is largely like the next. But within those largely similar days, small moments are what stand out. Non Non Biyori is excellent at that as well.

Koma-chan fleeing in terror from the world’s scariest teruterubouzu. Hotarun letting loose and acting adorably spoiled when she’s at home with her mom. Koma-chan being too short to capture a cell signal. Nattsun trying desperately to fake her way through a conversation with Hotarun about a show she’s never seen. Koma-chan and Hotarun getting lost in the woods at night.

But Non Non Biyori has always reserved its most gentle, beautiful, and inspired scenes for Renge’s moments of self-discovery and growth. Her life lesson in mortality with the tadpole shrimp was touching, and as a bonus showed a thoughtful side of Nattsun we’re not used to seeing. But her scenes with Candy Shop brought me to tears, particularly when she learned to ride a bike. Moments like those are precisely what elevate slice of life shows from enjoyable diversions to stories that demand a deeper engagement from the viewer. Moments that make you feel like these characters are worth emotionally investing in. They’ve given you so much, and deserve a little piece of your heart in return. When the show ends, it might ache a bit, but the memory remains.

Senki Zesshou Symphogear G / Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX
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I’d only completed the first season of Symphogear (which I thought was okay) originally, but when CR put up G and GX I gave it another shot. Overall I do like the second and third seasons better than the first, and I’d give G a slight edge over GX. Symphogear makes liberal use of cliffhangers (even when there’s nothing substantive to hang from, it’ll find a way) so not watching this week to week took a lot out of that aspect of it, but it was definitely worthwhile.

Symphogear’s philosophy is straightforward enough: “Believe in justice, and hold a determination of fist”, as GX’s subtitle so, um, elegantly puts it. This is unquestionably a “if punching wasn’t enough, PUNCH HARDER!” kind of show and when it’s holding true to that is when it’s at its best. Passion is what Symphogear does best; sometimes that involves Hibiki suplexing space shuttles, Yuuki Aoi screaming out her lines like her life depends on it, or just two characters holding hands really tightly.

I don’t mean to imply that the characters are only passionate. It’s just that they’re typically at their best when they’re roaring in anger or betrayal or excitement, striving to surpass their limits to save the ones they love or stay true to their ideals. Symphogear isn’t a sleek and maneuverable aircraft, it’s a big dumb rocket, punching through the atmosphere through sheer explosive force, held on its course with willpower and a prayer. It stalls out only when it throttles the engines back, and most of the missteps here involve Hibiki in GX.

In some ways GX’s weaknesses stem from it trying too hard to be a “Good” show, when it was already a “good” show. Hibiki’s reservations about using her power and awkward daddy issues brought me to the brink of outright disliking her character partway through GX, which is such a shame. There was also very little flow to her character arc. I swear she “overcame” her issues at least three times only to have that progress momentarily halted by the show’s obsessive need for cliffhangers. Hibiki did pull through in the end, and I still like her a lot, but not before much eye rolling on my part.

Another example of pulling back on the insanity and suffering for it was offing the two craziest (read: best and most interesting) Autoscorers first. Garie and Micha were outstanding characters, and killing them off relatively early gutted the antagonists’ side of the story until Carol stepped up (and was joined by Dr. Ver, creating a hilarious dynamic of two villains screwing each other over). Carol eventually did pick up the pieces, but the show really could have offed the two Autoscorers I haven’t even bothered to remember by name first, and left Micha and Garie for the end.

There was plenty I liked about Symphogear of course. I figure everyone who has ever written about Symphogear has said more on Chris than I could say. Chris discovering the joy of singing for others at the school event was one of the highlights of the series. But while she’s my one of my favorite characters, by the end of GX I was more fond of Kirika and Shirabe than anyone else. There was a raw, honest passion between them that no other pair matched. Hibiki and Miku came close at specific moments, but Miku being so removed from most of the pivotal events limited that. Chris was too tsundere, Tsubasa too kuudere, and Maria too proud to open up to anyone else consistently. The intimacy between Kirika and Shirabe clicked with me in a special way the others didn’t. They’re inseparable, each unable to fathom life without the other. I loved that about them, loved how unquestioningly fundamental the existence of the other was to their own. Bonus points for having the worst (aka best) outfits and being oh so metaphorically and literally edgy with their guillotines and buzzsaws and brooding angst and all that.

I think GX might have had better highlights on the whole while G was more consistent. G also had the “bigger” finale. How do you end a show on earth when the previous season concluded things in space? Even Hibiki’s fist was smaller in GX. Bah! Buuuuut, still, Symphogear has never wanted for cool over-the-top endings, and Carol was a markedly more interesting final boss than Large Monster Thing in G.

With sales increasing each season, I guess it’s just a matter of time before season four. Maybe I’ll finally get my wish and anime ja nai girl will become a Symphogear?

Wakaba*Girl [IMPORTED]
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Wakaba Girl is “cute girls doing cute things” in about the most straightforward manner possible. A series of vignettes captures the life of a naive rich girl and her three socioeconomically “normal” friends. The episodes are short (1/3rd length) and exactly what you’d expect.

It isn’t ambitious, but ambition is a very narrow-minded way to evaluate a series. That’s not always the point, and Wakaba Girl succeeds by being charming from moment to moment. That those moments are short and simple doesn’t particularly matter.

Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku
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An enjoyable if largely unremarkable (and often amateur-feeling) show about a special high school where students battle for prestige and club funding with club-themed superpowers. Not the most inspired setting, but it’s great to see an open lesbian in the protagonist’s spot. While her tendencies are played for laughs sometimes, it never comes off as malicious. When she gets push-back, it’s because she’s genuinely over-stepping her bounds and being a (lovable) nuisance. The fact that she’s into girls is never itself the object of mockery, just her hyperactive and frankly annoying (in the cutest way!) personality.

For me, the show peaked in episode 8 when Eruna and Otone finally became close. They were by leaps and bounds my favorite characters and although Otone’s acceptance of Eruna came rather quickly, it hit all the right notes. Episode 10 was probably the next best, as Otone’s feelings for Eruna caused a clash with Seisa that took us into the final arc.

While the ending was rushed it wasn’t a disaster because the story’s scope was kept manageable. Some hand-waving is done at the very end to establish a backstory from a previous era but it hardly matters for the anime’s purposes – it’s just there to set up Eruna’s impetus for saving Seisa.

I’m very much in camp Eruna/Otone due to their far better chemistry, even if the story sure makes Seisa Route look like True End. But it’s not like the show is interested in saying anything definitive either way. So I’ll stick to Eruna/Otone for life. I would be interested in seeing how everything plays out after Seisa joins the club but there’s no real chance of getting more.

 

I’d intended to finish Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu by now, but I’ve just not been able to find the time. First I bumped it for Mikagura, then two seasons of Symphogear, then a K-ON! rewatch, and now I’ve got a decently full slate of Fall titles and plans to really get into my K-ON!! rewatch. I’ve still not given up on it, though.

I’ll get more into my Fall viewing when I do my first update, but my probably-final lineup is:

1. Yuru Yuri San Hai!
2. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka??
3. Utawarerumono: Itsuwari no Kamen
4. Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans
5. Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider

That’s how I expect to rank them in the end as well.

9 Responses to “Summer 2015 viewing update #2 (final), Fall viewing plans”

  1. something something says:

    I swear in the course of spending way too many hours trying to summarize my feelings about Gakkou Gurashi, I ended up convincing myself it’s my #1 show of 2015. At the end of the year I’ll have to think long and hard about it versus Koufuku Graffiti.

    Either way, this will also mark three years in a row where my #1 show was a slice of life show that will never get a sequel. I’m cursed.

  2. Avatar AholePony says:

    Very nice write-ups! I enjoyed Deremas pt.2 much more than the first half. I just didn’t like how the character introductions went I guess, it’s hard to top Animas in that way and I know it’s a challenge with a cast that large. Your opinions on GX were interesting and I agree with most of them; and I particularly found your views on Gurashi interesting because I just didn’t see what you saw in it myself, so it’s nice to see opinions from someone with not dissimilar tastes opine on it!

    Your Fall list looks about right for the kind of taste you seem to have, and I don’t blame you for putting off Nagato Yuki-chan. I am a die-hard slice of life fan so I can take a boring series but I was SO BORED watching that. I just didn’t like that version of Yuki I think, so it made it drag for me.

    Also props for a K-On rewatch, I just finished my 5th last month myself ;-)

    • something something says:

      I actually liked what I saw of Yuki-chan quite a lot, even the early episodes everyone else hated. I just stopped watching because the sub group I was using quit and I kinda lost track of it. I’ll get back to it… eventually. Especially because even people who disliked the first half had some very nice things to say about some of the later episodes. I just need to, uh, actually do it. That’s always the hardest part.

      • Avatar AholePony says:

        Oh well if that’s the case you’ll probably enjoy it. The second half is of course where all the good stuff goes down.

  3. Avatar Chipp12 says:

    So you’ve read the original Gakkou Gurashi! manga and still think that anime was a good adaptation?

    • something something says:

      Not only good but better in some places (two in particular).

      • Avatar Chipp says:

        Good for you then I guess, I only like the first and the third episode compared to the manga. It was all downhill after that.

      • Avatar Chipp says:

        Also I can’t really connect anime characters with the manga since their character development was cut down or changed for less interesting. The only characters that were developed better are Megu-nee and Taroumaru (aka the hidden protagonist and their lord and savior).

        • something something says:

          Can’t say I agree (obviously, given how highly I rate the anime). Manga didn’t feel like it gave us very much at all beyond what the anime did. They both hit the same character notes, just sometimes at different points in the story.

          I can think of maybe two substantive differences as far as exploring character motivations, one of which I felt wasn’t very good anyway, and one of which I did like quite a lot and wish we had gotten – but it wasn’t absolutely vital.

          It’s worth reading after the anime just to experience the story again with some modest differences, but it’s really not a fundamentally different story or cast.

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