29
Jun
Previous: 2020 Anime Q1 Review

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

I was also watching Houkago Teibou Nisshi this season, but it got delayed after only three episodes. It restarts airing with the Summer season, so I’m considering it a Summer show instead. That means I only finished two series this season. (Plue one random pick-up!)

Completed or Airing
01. Magia Record [ 9.5 / 10 ]
02. Koisuru Asteroid [ 9.0 / 10 ]
03. Princess Connect! Re:Dive [ 8.5 / 10 ] (Spring)
04. Honzuki no Gekokujou Season 2 [ 7.5 / 10 ] (Spring)
05. Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu. [ 7.0 / 10 ]

Shorts
01. Heyacamp [ 6.5 / 10 ]

Previous Year Pick-ups
01. Koukaku no Pandora [ 8.0 / 10 ] (Winter 2016)

Dropped
Tamayomi – 4 eps – This was cursed with a mess of a production, and the extensive use of CG during games was the nail in the coffin. I love the characters though, so I’m reading the manga now and very much enjoying myself.
Somali to Mori no Kamisama – 6 eps – I wouldn’t say it did anything wrong per se, it simply failed to engage me on an emotional level. There are only two major recurring characters, and one of them is intentionally designed with next to no personality. That leaves Somali carrying everything on her tiny shoulders, forced to interact with side characters that appear for 1-2 episodes each. I can get behind a good two-character travelogue story, but only if there’s a really dynamic central duo, like in Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou or Ookami to Koushinryou. This sometimes felt a bit more like Kino no Tabi, which I never quite got into. Still, I was able to drop this with no hard feelings, and it’s one of the very few shows I bailed on and would still recommend others to at least try out.

 


Magia Record
(Winter show, click to read)

I’m fighting the temptation to do a full write-up now in favor of commenting on the whole show once the second cour airs (probably in Fall?). I know much of what I’d say about the first cour would be repeated at the end, because there’s a lot of fundamental decisions Magireco makes in forming its identity that I expect to be just as relevant in the second half as the first. But I don’t want to say nothing about my favorite show of the season, so here’s some brief bullet points:

• Comparisons to Madoka Magica are inevitable and myriad, but in these Magireco fares quite well. It has a strong sense of self, and most of the time I compare it to Madoka it’s in terms of the deliberate and effective decisions it’s made to distinguish itself. Comparing the two is not a sign of weakness for Magireco; it would be nonsensical to imply that it shouldn’t be influenced by its predecessor. Also, comparisons just make for a really handy way to structure commentary, and these posts take frickin’ long enough to compose as is. It’s not that I couldn’t discuss most things Magireco-related without invoking Madoka Magica, it’s just that I don’t see why I need to. So when I do comment on this series in full, yeah, expect a lot of comparisons! But don’t think less of Magireco because of it.

• Iroha and Yachiyo are a delight. Unlike MadoHomu, the gap in life experiences here is a result of an actual age gap (15 to 19), and this adds another dimension to the different ways they interact with each other. They don’t just differ as magical girls, but as human beings who have gone through different stages of life, having experiences that aren’t always related to fighting grotesque magical monsters. This also means that the feelings developing between them are a good deal more open and mutual than the understandably one-sided (at least in the show’s primary “present day” timeline) dynamic between Madoka and Homura, where there was a huge imbalance in information between them. Insofar as Yachiyo also had secrets of her own that were kept from Iroha, those have now been revealed, and we’re only halfway through the story rather than 10 of 12 episodes in. There’s plenty of room for this relationship to grow.

• Found family is a core theme in Magireco, and is one of the primary ways it differentiates itself from Madoka Magica. You go in assuming Yachiyo is the Homura because she’s the chilly veteran with long black hair, but as the owner of Mikazuki-sou, she befriends and takes under her wing a gaggle of wayward magical girls, evoking nothing so much as Mami’s aborted attempt to mentor Sayaka and Madoka. I think Magireco wanted to make this comparison explicit by having Mami be the most significant original character in this season and directly invoke her protective feelings towards Madoka and Sayaka – but I’ll wait until we see where it goes from here before finalizing my thoughts on this.

• Structurally, Magireco draws heavily on the mystery genre for much of the cour. With the luxury of having twice the episodes, there was ample time to introduce Kamihama, work through a larger cast, and build up the themes of family. What starts as a missing person case becomes an investigation into urban legends and finally the revelation of a dangerous cult. I don’t think this mystery tone will be carried into the second cour, obviously. There are still some unknowns left, but it’s not in a way that I expect to involve multiple episodes of slowly sleuthing around. And that’s fine! The mystery served the show very well in its first cour, and now it’s time to deal with all the wild things that investigative work has uncovered.

• It’s been fascinating to see how Magireco handles the vastly larger cast of characters that comes along with it being a mobage adaptation. This could have very easily been the albatross around its neck, but it’s become an asset instead. While Madoka Magica told the story of a small handful of girls battling against abstract forces and the whims of inscrutable space rats, Magireco is much more interested in building up a large community of magical girls. It’s obvious just how critical a difference this makes.

That last point is its most consequential departure. It influenced the choice of premise (the gathering of many magical girls at Kamihama) and antagonists (Magius and the various – no doubt conflicting – schemes of its leaders). Even though the fundamental rules governing the world of Magia Record are the same as Madoka Magica, our experience of them is radically altered by this new focus. And yet this also feels like the logical next step for a franchise that had already branched out into alternate takes and timelines through myriad spinoff manga even before the mobage came into being.

There’s still a lot that I need the second cour to do before the end to pull everything together. Sana hasn’t had a chance to contribute much to the group since her (excellent) introductory epsiodes. Mami’s heel turn made for a kickass battle, but the rationale behind it needs to be fleshed out. And of course the question of how Homura and Madoka will be utilized hangs in the air. Honestly the whole issue of how the original girls should be be handled is a huge one! So far their appearances have been absurdly exciting, and I think handled quite well overall. But as the number of OG cast members hanging around increases, their natural charisma (and our nearly decade-long built-up of affection for them!) risks becoming as potent a distraction as it is a source of joy. It’s going to be a balancing act for sure, but I have a whole lot of faith in this show based on the first cour.

I don’t expect Magireco to replicate the once-in-a-decade phenomenon of the original. That’s not my rubric for success here, any more than I expected, say, Cinderalla Girls to replicate the masterpiece that was Idolmaster. I want Magireco to be a fresh take on a known setting, one that finds its own identity and tells a fascinating story on its terms. So far, it is exactly that, and I really couldn’t be happier.

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Koisuru Asteroid
(Winter show, click to read)

Being the first Kirara adaptation after Machikado Mazoku was a daunting proposition, and while Koisuru Asteroid doesn’t ascend to quite those heights I still fell completely in love with it by the end. Almost every slice of life show has a superficial initial “hook” that gives the characters a reason to congregate and sets the series in motion. Usually that’s a club, hobby, or job, and in the case of Koisuru Asteroid, it’s the Earth Sciences club. But there’s often a second hook, the emotional one, that becomes the soul of a series. Koisuru Asteroid doesn’t just plop its characters in a club room and have them bounce off one another, it does everything it can to invest the viewer in these girls’ struggles to determine who and what they’ll become when they grow up. Its second hook is “dreams”.

It’s in episode four that this theme is made explicit. Up until that point, Ao and Mira’s promise to find and name an asteroid worked as a premise, but didn’t yet fit into a larger thematic picture. After a visit to a JAXA facility reveals Monroe’s goal of becoming an astronaut, however, the girls have an earnest talk about the importance of finding and chasing dreams. This was the early defining moment of the show, one that brought into focus what it was really trying to say. It took a seemingly frivolous promise between children and told us “Take this seriously!” It isn’t just a familiar trope to hook the viewer in (though it is that too), it’s part of a larger idea that permeates every character’s arc.

These dreams take many forms: Ao and Mira’s childhood promise, Monroe’s single-minded ambition, Nana’s desire to protect the people she cares about, and so on. There’s wide variation in clarity of vision from one to the next. Some of them are being pursued in concrete, well considered steps. Monroe’s dream of becoming an astronaut is undoubtedly the most ambitious and difficult, but she also possesses the most clarity and focus. She understands how difficult it is, so much so that she’s even a little embarrassed to admit it to the others. Ao and Mira on the other hand might have a clear idea of their end goal, but are constantly reminded along the way that you can’t just discover a hitherto unknown asteroid because you “really want to”. There’s so many steps that need to be taken first, and Koisuru Asteroid is about that journey.

They’re quickly disabused of the notion (held more by Mira than Ao, to be fair) that it’s plausible to just walk outside with some binoculars and snipe a discovery out of the sky. Ao and Mira first have to reunite, join the Earth Sciences club to meet like-minded friends, study up on the relevant subjects, visit experts and facilities that can point them in the right direction, and then put themselves out there to join programs that will give them a foot in the door and a basic understanding of what the kind of career they need to pursue to even have a shot at accomplishing what they’ve set out to do.

I’m impressed that Koiasu is so honest about how if you want to shoot for the stars, you have to be well-grounded. When Ao and Mira have their first big chance to find an asteroid at the end of the season, it’s not a romantic night gazing into a telescope under a starry sky. No, they’re in a brightly-lit computer room, pulling an all-nighter fueled by cup ramen, staring at the crude GUI of a star-tracking program, trying to identify patterns in a smudgy smattering of dots. This dose of realism doesn’t detract from the thrill of the moment. Ao still grasps Mira’s shoulders in breathless anticipation as the results come in. The results are negative, but negative results are a backbone of science. This is the reality of how they’re going to achieve their dream.

Even though dreams are highly personal, you’re highly unlikely to achieve them alone. As with so many great couples, Mira and Ao complement each other in ways that allow them to pursue their shared dream. Mira brings boundless optimism, but needs her energy to be directed in practical ways. Ao offers a deeper academic knowledge and life-long love of the field, but has to rely on others to push her over the hurdles along the way. Ao and Mira are also surrounded by friends and mentors who help them along, both in their academic and personal lives. When Ao finds out that she’s going to have to move due to her parents’ work situation, she’s ready to give up until Misa floats the idea of moving in with Mira. And when only Mira gets into the Kiraboshi Challenge, everyone bands together to help Ao travel alone to follow after Mira.

These moments are important because it’s not just technology and academics that stand in their way. For Ao in particular, this is a question of self-confidence. When Ao admits to her mother that she wants to stay with Mira she’s not only keeping the plot humming along, she’s showing us how far removed she is from the timid girl we meet in episode one. It wasn’t easy for her to get here, it was even harder for her to speak her mind, but we’re shown very clearly what she’s able to do so when her dream (and her relationship with Mira!) is on the line. It’s growth that she only achieved thanks to the support network around her.

This is also illustrated by the late introduction of Nana and Chikage, two new first year club members. Ino, Ao, and Mira are now senpai (twice over in Ino’s case) and it’s their turn to give back, just as Sakura and Monroe did for them. Nana in particular has elements of both Ao and Mira in her. Her dream of saving people through meteorological forecasting is noble, but it’s born of anger triggered by the effects natural disasters have had on close family. She has both Mira’s energy and Ao’s knowledge, but Nana’s challenge is to direct those energies in ways that won’t be self-destructive. That’s just what her new senpai do for her, in ways that would make Sakura and Monroe proud.

Your dreams change alongside you, progressing through the same stages of life you traverse. Because Koiasu follows characters across all three years of high school, we get to see these changes occur as new members join, Ao and Mira become senpai, Ino takes over as club president, and most of all when Monroe and Sakura step down to take entrance exams and eventually graduate.

I never could have predicted what a major event the latter was going to be for the show, and how emotionally invested I would become in the pairing. Time moves quickly in this show, enough that the two third years have already named Ino the next president by episode six. Until around this point, the obvious pairing had been Sakura and Ino. Ino clearly crushes on Sakura pretty hard, and Sakura cares about her deeply in return. But in a rare example of pairings changing and it feeling perfectly natural, it’s actually Monroe who Sakura ends up bonding with most closely.

Sometimes when a character graduates, we see the effects of this primarily through their the eyes of their kouhai, particularly when the graduating third years are support characters. The way a graduating third year interacts with one of their underclassmen is very different from how they’d interact with a fellow third year. Because Sakura and Monroe understand what each other is going through, they’re granted an emotional outlet that would be denied to them if either were graduating alone. I cannot overstate just how important this is for both of them, and how effectively it sells their relationship as something even deeper and more meaningful than what we saw between Ino and Sakura.

We’re also allowed to see how they interact with the club after stepping down, first as retired members and then as recently graduated alumni. We even see Sakura driving the other girls around, and there’s nothing that screams “she’s entered a new phase of life!” than seeing a character we were introduced to as a student now behind the wheel of a vehicle. It’s a clear and effective visual signifier of “adulthood”, similar to seeing them wear casual clothes while everyone else is still in school uniforms.

This particular pairing is also perfect because while Monroe has the most well-defined dream, Sakura is the opposite. In episode four when the girls share their dreams with each other for the first time, Sakura admits to feeling inadequate for not having one. This admission is juxtaposed against the confident and caring role model she provides to the other girls. Over and over she finds the right thing to say at the right time to gently nudge everyone else towards their respective dreams, but we’re left wondering if anyone will be able to do the same for her. Well, it looks like Monroe wants to give it a try. They get accepted into the same college and even start living together, and I can only hope that the manga will explore this in much more depth later on. It’s far too good of a setup to go unused!

If I had to choose one aspect of Koiasu that stands out most to me right now, it’d be this relationship. It was so unexpected and so beautifully handled that it brought to mind how Hidamari Sketch addressed the impending graduation of Hiro and Sae. Come to think of it, I also remember comparing Nana and Chikage’s stellar introductory episode to meeting Nazuna and Nori… What I’m trying to say is, when a show makes me think of Hidamari Sketch in any way, it’s probably really damned good.

All of this and so much more that I haven’t mentioned gets packed into one cour with surprising elegance thanks to Koiasu’s highly economical storytelling. When the idea for Ao to move in with Mira was first suggested in episode eight, I was prepared for the whole rest of the show to involve this particular conflict – convincing the families, adjusting to life together, then maybe capping it off with some kind of farewell to Sakura and Monroe, with Ao and Mira reaffirming their promise together. Would have been fine by me!

Instead we get episode 9, one of the most impossibly efficient episodes of anime I’ve ever seen (and maybe flat out the best episode of any show this season?). It covers Ao delivering her proposal to her mother, Suzu resolving to confess her feelings to Misa-nee, Sakura and Monroe graduating and reaffirming their relationship, and Ao/Mira’s first conflict while living together. Somehow, none of it felt rushed! Plenty of shows would be lucky to do any one of those four things as well with a full episode each. It doesn’t slow down any after this episode either! We jump right into introducing the new first years after this, and then we’re off on the whole Kiraboshi Challenge arc and finale.

The speed at which Koiasu moves was presumably dictated by the source material. It adapted three volumes, which is the entirety of what’s out so far, so it’s not as if it skipped any material. Three volumes is also a pretty standard amount for a MTK 4-koma adaptation to cover so it didn’t bite off an unusual amount of material either, it’s simply that dense of a series. Managing a fast-paced story with such tight, pitch-perfect execution is the mark of a really top notch adaptation.

A sequel was never likely to begin with and even less so when it’d take about two years just to build up enough material, but I’m so pleased with where the anime ended up. I look forward to continuing the story in the manga once it’s far enough along, but for now, this goes down as one of the better MTK adaptations, and that’s damn high praise coming from me.

(P.S.: Suzu is amazing! She didn’t really fit into the flow of anything else I was discussing, but she’s wonderful and I cannot in good conscience not mention that. Chase your bliss, girl! Misa-nee surely sees your charms deep down, she just wants you to find your own identity and love yourself first. You can do it!)

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Princess Connect! Re:Dive
(click to hide)

Welcome to the Pecorine and Karyl show, where absolutely nothing else matters. Not that everything else was necessarily bad, but when compared to PecoKaryl it’s all candles in a supernova. There’s a ton of plot threads hinted at to tease players into picking up the mobage. But right now they don’t matter, and are mostly excuses for popular girls from the game to make cameos in one-off eps. As far as the narrative that forms the basis of this season, the emotional climaxes and conflicts and the meaning of these 13 episodes? That’s Pecorine’s journey back to her home kingdom and Karyl’s choice to accept Pecorine’s guileless love over her former master’s manipulative cruelty.

And ain’t that just the darndest thing? A mobage with a largely empty self-insert male protagonist turns out, at least for now, to be a story about a lost princess and a conflicted catgirl developing a mutual respect that evolves into an unbreakable bond of love. I’m sort of at a loss as to what to write about this show, because it all really comes down to my shock at Pecorine and Karyl being allowed to so thoroughly and triumphantly steal the spotlight for themselves.

Oh sure, there’s other stuff going on, but virtually every scene that mattered was about their evolving relationship. The weakest moments of the show were its less consequential one-offs, the introductions of characters you have no reason to care about unless you already play the game and whaled yourself silly to obtain their cards. If you compare Priconne’s attempt to incorporate its large cast of gacha characters with, say, Magireco, the difference is night and day. Magireco approached its characters with a purpose, using their introductions to flesh the show’s thematic message. In Priconne we get a bog standard approach aimed only at giving each girl a brief, shallow introduction in episodes that had to be carried on the Gourmet Guild’s charming interactions. These episodic adventures ranged from quite good to outright bad (ep5). Unsurprisingly, the best one (ep7) also did the most work to progress Karyl’s character arc. It also delivered both the first really transcendent climax, and along with it the realization of, “oh damn, this show’s story really is Karyl and Pecorine’s story.”

While Yuuki gradually recovers his memories and abilities over the course of the show, he remarkably maintains a support role until the very end, serving mostly to buff the girls with his Princess Knight magic. With the exception of the mess in episode 5, the only characters who fawn over him are Kokkoro (almost more motherly than romantic), his mysterious sisters (big brocons), and maybe Ameth (the mysterious being who oversees his reincarnation[?]). Pecorine and Karyl only occasionally acknowledge his existence and there is no indication whatsoever that they harbor romantic feelings for him. I kept waiting for that to change, and miracle of miracles, it doesn’t. They only have eyes for each other.

If you want to understand Pecorine and Karyl’s relationship, picture Nanoha and Fate, except Fate is a tsundere catgirl and Nanoha is big titty Papika. Maybe that sounds bewildering but it makes sense if you watch it, I swear.

Karyl is supposed to track down and observe Pecorine (the real princess) on behalf of the Big Baddie (the fake princess whose name I don’t recall). As Karyl experiences Pecorine’s selfless devotion to justice (and penchant for skinship) she can’t help but compare Pecorine to the power-hungry sorceress who steals innocent people’s souls with terrifying humanoid shadows and… it doesn’t really seem like much of a contest, does it? But like Fate and Precia, something has instilled in Karyl a deep loyalty to her master. Yes, you do end up screaming at the kitty to dump the cruel homicidal monster woman in favor of the affectionate genki justice girl. But Karyl’s struggle is still immensely satisfying to watch because every time Pecorine puts her body in harm’s way, Karyl’s facade cracks open wider, and her smiles escape more freely.

Pecorine is the forgotten princess, rejected by her own brainwashed parents and run out of the palace. After she meets the gang and forms the guild, it’s rare that she ever betrays any of this sadness openly. We don’t see the inner turmoil that constantly washes over Karyl’s face. But we do see how dearly she cares about her new family. We see how she’ll push herself to the point of collapse in order to save one person, with exactly the same intensity that she’d devote towards saving everyone in the world. We see how her large, exaggerated gestures leave her arms open and ready to gather up the people she loves into a big old group hug at a moment’s notice. And we see how happy being with Karyl makes her.

Normally Karyl would’ve been a slam dunk to be my favorite character in the show. The tsuntsun outsider trying and failing to suppress their inner desire to become friends with everyone is absolutely my jam, and her character design is simply impeccable to boot. But there’s something inescapably magnetic about Pecorine’s enormous personality and bottomless compassion, combined with the fact that She’s Basically Large Papika. She and Karyl make the perfect pairing, offsetting each other’s weaknesses and complementing their strengths.

Once again, it’s just extraordinary that they were allowed to be this way. Anime usually sucks infinite amounts of ass at this kind of thing! Put a male lead in a show and you can expect to kiss meaningful development between two female characters goodbye. Sayonara. GTFO. Abandon hope all ye who enter here and don’t let the door hit ya’ on the ass on the way out. Somehow, somehow, somehow Priconne rejected that inevitable fate.

I don’t think I have anything else to say. I don’t know if we’ll get a sequel, and I’ve come to conclude that I really don’t care. There’s a good chance the plot would shift away from these two and back to all the Yuuki plot threads, and while I don’t actually think that’s going to be terrible, I don’t need it. I already have what I need. Just leave us with this beautiful, exuberant love.

Pecorine x Karyl is a miracle. Someone ought to be canonized for this.

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Koukaku no Pandora     [Winter 2016 Pick-up]
(click to hide)

Apparently I haven’t picked up an off-season backlog title since Sakura Quest in 2017. I feel like the last one prior to that was Wixoss… wild. Anyway, I’d rewatched all of GitS:SAC a few months ago, and was reminded about this series again. Since there’s been no new GitS series since Solid State Society – and if you say otherwise you are wrong – I figured this was the most appropriate follow-up!

So yes it’s a “spinoff”, in the loosest possible sense, of Koukaku Kidoutai/Ghost in the Shell franchise. Shirou Masamune came up with the idea, and passed it off to Excel Saga’s Rikudou Kouishi. I’m not clear on whether Shirou’s input extends beyond the original concept, but I’m guessing it’s all Rikudou past that. As for its connections to GitS, there’s the neck cable ports, thermoptic camouflage, various types of *komas, similarities in the visual language of how cyberspace is represented, and the general geopolitical situation is kinda there in the background, with the American Empire always flexing its influence.

The tone could not possibly be any different, however. Partly this is because Pandora takes place much earlier than GitS, in a time when fully cybernetic bodies are extremely rare and the socio-political framework surrounding their use is in its infancy. But mostly they differ it’s because Pandora isn’t a drop-dead serious political thriller/cop drama, it’s batshit crazy romantic comedy. The narration makes this absolutely explicit in the third episode: “During this era, the world was plagued with misfortune and conflict, and people wandered far and wide in search of relief. This story has absolutely nothing to do with that. This is a story of girl meets girl.

Well, amen to that! There have been plenty of times in my many years watching anime that I’ve wanted a show to ignore its half-baked plot elements and just focus on character relationships, but Pandora is one of the only cases where that’s more or less what happens. The political conspiracies, terrorism, corruption and other “traditional” plot elements are all there, but they’re allowed to exist under the implicit agreement that we’re all here for the gay cyborgs. At times that implicit agreement is a whole lot more explicit: during the climactic battle, Clarion and Nene are reunited. They embrace and are whisked away into Lovey Dovey Sparkly Yuri Time, all the while pointedly ignoring a villainous monologue from the self-aggrandizing antagonist who aims to take over the world using the mad scientist’s technical macguffin. It’s literally a gag how little of a shit Nene and Clarion give.

There’s a manic style to both the humor and visuals which isn’t terribly surprising coming from the creator of Excel Saga, and honestly I could take it or leave it. There are genuinely funny gags throughout and the utter irreverence it exhibits towards its own plot is vital to its success; but you also have grit your teeth during the truly insufferable hijinks of pervy mascot character BUER. The “more wacky means more funny” comedic philosophy can get exhausting at times, but it never gets so bad as to drown out Clarion and Nene’s relationship.

For as comical as Pandora is, there’s a very GitS-like quality to be found in the questions it poses about the interface between man and machine. But it arrives at these topics in its own unique way. Where GitS is prone to lengthy philosophical ramblings about Ghosts, data, and the meaning of life, Pandora reveals its philosophy in (ironically) subtler ways. Most of this comes through less in what the characters say than what they don’t.

Nene tells us that she was made a full-body cyborg after an accident that killed her parents and nearly did her in as well. In the show’s timeline her situation is still incredibly rare, and as such she often gets mistaken for an android. Her response to this is never indignation, it’s a gracious “Oh, I’m human. Don’t worry, I get that all the time.” delivered with a smile. She’s assumed to be property, to be a thing, and never takes offense to this. Nene always treats machines with respect, going so far as to refer to discarded android bodies as “people”. For Nene, there seems to be no major distinction between human and android. She doesn’t seem to realize how unique her outlook is because for her her acceptance is so casual, so unthinking, so natural.

Nene’s relationship with Clarion is intriguing on a different level as well. Even by the end of the show, there’s a lot of intentional ambiguity surrounding Clarion’s true nature. When she’s first introduced, Uzal claims Clarion is “the same as” Nene. Nene replies, “She’s another full body cyborg? This is the first time I’ve met someone like me!” Everyone else in the show treats Clarion like an android however, with Takumi disparagingly referring to her as “Uzal’s puppet”. Clarion never challenges this designation, and neither confirms nor denies what she is. It’s not until the end of the show that Clarion disobeys an order and speaks desires of her own, and even then we’re left to guess if she has a human Ghost or if she’s developed one of her own, like the Tachikomas in 2nd GiG may have. And it’s particularly telling that Uzal never actually confirmed Nene’s comments about Clarion being a cyborg, she just let her run with it and changed topics. In fact, no one has ever independently confirmed that Nene is a human either. We only have her word, and how can she be sure? Implanted memories are a staple of the GitS universe, after all. Even when Clarion talks about being “programmed”, there’s no real way for us to know if that’s because she’s a machine or because she’s been *told* she’s a machine. And then there’s the subtitle, “Ghost Urn”, which is just a fascinating turn of phrase in the context of how GitS defines “ghosts”.

There’s so much to unpack here! This ambiguity is at least as thought-provoking as anything GitS ever threw at its audience, and it comes to us in a gaudy, goofy, gay-as-hell package. This is where I’d argue Pandora’s real genius lies. The breadth of questions raised could never be answered in a single cour adaptation, and attempting to do so would have been a mess. What’s really important is giving us the emotional foundation in Nene and Clarion, and piquing our interest in everything else because we care about them. That’s certainly how it worked for me. I wouldn’t care about these other questions if I didn’t have Nene and Clarion to root for.

The manga is 17 volumes and ongoing, so it has to engage more straightforwardly with its capital-p Plot at some point, I’m sure. And while you’ll never get me to care a whit about the geopolitical struggle over Uzal’s superweapon, I *am* interested in the questions it’s raising about humanity through the lens of Nene and Clarion’s blooming romance. That puts at least the first volume or two of the manga on my to-read list, mostly to see if it captures the same tone as the anime, and keeps Nene and Clarion’s relationship front and center.

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Honzuki no Gekokujou Season 2
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Main’s adventures as an apprentice priestess continued much of what I enjoyed so much about the first season, but in a less straightforward and ultimately less satisfying way. I’ve been pondering what didn’t work quite as well this time around. Maybe the complexity of the second cour didn’t grab me the way the first half’s simpler story did. Maybe knowing that this time there wouldn’t be a sequel waiting left me less content with incomplete plot threads. How would I feel if it aired two consecutive cour rather than split? What if the end credits confirmed a third season? I was already ambivalent at best about season one’s finale, and might have outright disliked it if that’s all we ever got, so surely if I knew this were just another stopping point I’d be more willing to reserve judgement. Basically, I find it tricky to divorce how much I liked each season from the external factors of their timing and production.

But if I were to identify one major contrast, I’d say that the first season clicked better because it felt novel, and its story was better suited to a compact one cour package. Despite knowing how long the novels were and what a tiny slice of the story we were watching, there was something inherently satisfying about seeing Main cook up scheme after scheme, yanked in a dozen directions by short-term curiosity that always somehow managed to serve her long-term dream of publishing a book. Main’s personality and down-to-earth skillset were immediately refreshing in a landscape littered with overpowered isekai MCs. Even her unusually high mana capacity was more of a burden than a superpower, at least until she force chokes the high priest in the finale.

Main still draws on her more humble talents in the second season, from bibliographical classification to bookbinding. But her mana has all but ceased to be a burden, instead becoming her ticket to a comfortable life with a large workforce at her disposal. Largely gone is the balancing act between pursuing her goals while hiding her identity (to be fair, she was never very good at the latter). Her biggest obstacle is still her place within the social hierarchy, but instead of struggling against poverty and forcing an uncaring society to see her worth, she’s mired in class politics. She spends much of this season winning over the lower rungs of the church hierarchy, before crashing headlong into the arrogance and hypocrisy of the nobility.

None of these changes are automatically bad! I appreciate that they’re necessary for the story Honzuki wants to tell in the long term. It is presumably Main’s fate to radically reform society, even if she can’t see beyond her next publishing project. Certainly Ferdinand recognizes her revolutionary potential, and the finale does a great deal to push her towards a prominent role in high society under his tutelage. I’m actually quite interested in seeing where this goes in the unlikely event the adaptation continues. I half-joked more than once during the first season about how I’d like to see Main grow up and smash the status quo, after all.

Nonetheless, what I just described is probably a “pretty good” series for me, not a favorite, and that’s reflected in where I’m placing this season relative to the first. Season one was fresh, it was clever, it was surprising. I rated it so highly because it really clicked with me in all of those unexpected ways. But season two had to settle in for the long haul, to do heavy labor putting a bunch of narrative blocks in place, all to construct an edifice I’ll probably never get to visit. In retrospect, I’m not surprised that didn’t go as smoothly. I’m not surprised my enthusiasm cooled off. I certainly don’t condemn the story for pursuing something bigger, at any rate.

This isn’t to say the second season is purely a victim of its different priorities. It had a few clumsy scenes and some unfulfilling story threads. When it spent adequate time on an issue, it handled it well. Main gradually earning the respect of Fran, Gil, and Delia was easily the best part of the season outside of the finale, for just that reason. (I did find Wilma’s trauma to be handled rather flippantly however. Don’t bother trying to deal with post-traumatic phobias if you’re going to wrap it up in 15 minutes with an “actually, she seems to be fine”.) In contrast to Main’s relationship with her retainers, the hostility of the nobility was handled rather superficially. Main suffered an assortment of sneers and snide comments, one of the blue robes ransacked her library, and an jerkoff knight with an inferiority complex aggroed on her without any provocation. If you want to tell a story of class conflict, you’re really going to have to do better than that, but there was no chance of it happening in just a few episodes.

Each season explored a distinct set of Main’s relationships. In the first season it was Lutz, Benno, and Main’s family. In the second season, it was Main’s retainers (Fran, Gil, Delia) and the head priest, Ferdinand. The second season’s relationships are more cloistered and insular. Main deals with her retainers almost exclusively within the walls of the church, and most conversations with Ferdinand are literally in a small magically sealed room. She sees everyone else in brief scenes during her daily commute; otherwise they all play very little role this season. But in the first season Main was going out into the woods with Lutz, schmoozing with the merchant class at the Gilberta Company, and doing all sorts of activities with a loving family through whom she learned the ways of the strange new world into which she’d been reborn. Even though the second season opens up a much wider range of future possibilities for Main, that’s all it feels like: the door is open, but she hasn’t put both feet on the other side of the threshold yet.

I contrast these not because one is inherently better; yes I preferred season one, but each fit their respective season’s story. I mentioned that I liked how Main handled her retainers, but more important in the long run is the dynamic between her and Ferdinand. Their conversations start off unassuming, but by the end I found their back and forth positively delightful. Ferdinand is a complicated mix of father figure, religious mentor, insurance policy, and exasperated boss. The giant trombe extermination arc had its flaws, but I was surprised at just how effective it was at forcing he viewer to see Ferdinand as a multi-dimensional character. I was as caught off guard by the sight of him decked out in armor and browbeating a squad of knights as Main was. So when her understanding of and trust in the man evolved in the final episode, it felt entirely believable. Because this is probably a central dynamic throughout the rest of the story, or at least the next few arcs, it was necessary to establish this. Unfortunately, as with many things set up in season two, the payoff is buried in another 18+ novels I’m never going to get around to reading.

And I guess that’s what it all comes down to. The first season is to some extent capable of standing on its own as a fresh, well-crafted experience. The apprentice priestess arc is far more dependent upon the assumption that the viewer is immediately going to go pick up the extensive novel series. I know that’s just how most anime adaptations of long and/or ongoing source material work. But between that, the shift in tone, and the occasionally awkward execution, I just can’t be as enthusiastic as I once was. All that said, Honzuki as a whole is still perhaps the best isekai anime I’ve seen.

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Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu.
(Winter show, click to read)

Bofuri ended up being a good show, but it started out as a great one. That the drop in my evaluation of it isn’t a result of any mistakes it made, it just shifted priorities in ways that undid some of my initial emotional attachment in the story. “Disappointment” is too harsh of a word to use, but I certainly had to recalibrate my expectations in the latter half of the show.

I’d split Bofuri into three parts: four episodes of Kaede and Risa’s exploration of NWO together, four episodes forming the guild and expanding Kaede’s arsenal of skills, and four episodes of the guild war event that wraps up the season. I have a very strong preference for shows with an intimate focus on two characters’ relationship dynamics, and that’s exactly what the first arc delivered. But then it shifted focus as the cast grew and it wasn’t really about Kaede and Risa anymore.

The best comparison that comes to mind is actually the original Nanoha seasons. Of the main series, I like 1st more than A’s, and both much more than StrikerS. 1st was an intimate story focused almost exclusively on Fate and Nanoha’s relationship, while A’s expanded the cast significantly and took the focus off the initial pair in order to do so, and finally StrikerS was, uh, a big action-filled clusterfuck with way too many characters. It’s not a perfect comparison – Nanoha 1st/A’s are far, far better than Bofuri ever was, while StrikerS was just not very good and I’d take Bofuri over it handily. Still, the overall trajectory feels familiar, albeit compressed into a single 12 episode season. It illustrates a fundamental difference in tone that I keep coming back to when thinking about why certain shows work better for me than others do.

What was so magical about that first arc of Bofuri, exactly? “Focus”, I guess. It’s not that the latter arcs don’t know what they’re doing; in fact I think Bofuri is quite solidly constructed for the show it’s trying to be. But that Kaede/Risa introductory arc was full of charming moments of discovery, wonder, and even romance. Their relationship flourished while it was the main focus, then rapidly stagnated as the show went on and the guild as a whole became the focus.

And alright, I accept that this isn’t “a romance series”. It probably has no interest in or intention of ever doing anything serious with Kaede and Risa in the long run. While unfortunate, that’s not a deal-breaker. It can still be enjoyable on its other merits (and it is!). But I’m unlikely to ever consider it a great show. No chaotic action sequence is going to capture the feeling I got watching Risa carry Kaede on her back for the first time to compensate for Kaede’s low AGI, or Kaede getting super excited over the cool new armor Risa found in the fishing cave, or their romantic dinner for two under a starry sky.

It’s not just the loss of the shippy stuff either. The early focus on Kaede and Risa acclimating to a new world also gave us my favorite examples of Kaede’s game-breaking discoveries. The “Atrocity” transformation and Kaede’s mechamusume-ification were genuinely hilarious, but they don’t evoke the same feeling as Kaede deciding to chow down on an exploding ladybug, eat a hydra alive, or combine skills in unintended ways to get herself a giant-ass flying turtle. There’s discovery and spontaneity in these earliest power-ups that isn’t captured quite as well by the more bombastic abilities she obtains later on. Defeating the underwater monsters by literally turning the sea to poison is still cooler than anything she can do by transforming into a Gundam (even though that’s cool too!). The mecha in particular feels like something given to Kaede, rather than a hack she intuits (or stumbles into) all on her own. Obtaining the Atrocity skill does require somework on her end, but it’s really just the exact same process (“just fuckin’ eat it”) she already went through to learn Hydra.

Not that it’s all bad in the second half of the show. I mean, not that it’s even a little bad! I really do want to emphasize that I liked the show (however unevenly) from episode one until the final credits. Even if the other guild members wrest the focus away from Kaede and Risa’s relationship, they’re all good characters in their own right. Hell, even the dudes are okay, with Chrome/Kuromu being entirely inoffensive and Kanade being genuinely likable (though being voiced by Arai Satomi is cheating, how could I ever dislike that?).

There are some stinkers, unfortunately. I really don’t care for anyone in Holy Sword other than Frederica and I still have no idea why I’m supposed to be the least bit interested in Payne. His face remains conspicuously hidden for the entire show until suddenly it’s not, but there’s nothing going on there. He’s just another generic (even if very powerful) dude playing the game, and that’s all there is to it. But at worst I’d only call them boring, not actively damaging, and everyone becomes good friends by the end of the season so I don’t think much harm will be done by any of hem long term.

More importantly, expanding the guild introduces Yui and May. Because Kaede and Risa are seasoned experts and nigh invincible by this point in the show, Kaede is able to take these girls under her wing and mentor them just like Kaede did for her at the start. It’s certainly not a replacement for those magical early episodes, but watching the sisters grow from timid loners to Kaede’s hammer-swinging death squad was pretty delightful. It was a little glimpse through the eyes of newbies once again, something I imagine will be few and far between from here on out. It was also an opportunity for Kaede to give back, which I enjoyed.

We also meet Mii, by far the most interesting opponent the guild faces. Where Payne is this generic, unflappable Dude In Armor with zero personality, Mii is a big mess of conflicting personality traits and a bombastic, visually appealing fighting style. The contrast between her commanding martial presence as the Flame Emperor and the childish, crybaby personality she’s trying so hard to suppress is maybe the most interesting personality trait in the show and I hope that we learn a whole lot more about her later on.

So I go into the second season with lower, but more realistic, expectations. It’ll probably be more of the same from the third arc of the show, and if so, then fine. I can watch a whole season of that and remain moderately entertained. There are a number of things I’m hoping for, though:

– I’d obviously like to see more focus on Kaede and Risa’s relationship, however unlikely that is. Maybe let them go on a mission as a pair with no one else around for a few episodes, at the very least!
– I’d also like to know if they were actually building towards something with Risa always being deferential and suppressing her own desires in favor of always doing what Kaede wanted. I thought that was going to develop into a really interesting character beat that they’d need to work out together, but it never actually ended up being anything. That was kinda sad.
– I’d also like to spend a bit time outside of the game. I’m not asking for a ton, obviously I know that the appeal of the show is the hijinks they get up to in game. But something that helps ground me better in these characters as more than RPG archetypes would do a lot to get me invested in their actions in NWO. Plus, yeah, I’m just really, really dying to see what kind of person Mii is in real life.

As for where the larger plot goes, I’m not sure what I’d like to see. Like I said, another cour of lighthearted guild battles would be fine and dandy if that’s what it comes down to. And I’d be very hesitant about the game introducing any real danger. We don’t need anyone to get trapped in a game, we don’t need anyone’s life to be at risk, really none of that nonsense fits here. But you can have stakes that are higher than “who will win the next event?” without treading into “death and suffering!”. Maybe the game will face some financial difficulties, so Kaede and friends do something to revitalize the community and draw new players to the game. Or maybe some offline drama between characters bleeds over into the game world. You’d have to handle that carefully and avoid getting overly serious, but allowing the game to be a safe space where irl conflicts seems like a totally sensible development. It’s also be a natural extension of my above-mentioned desire to learn more about who these characters are outside of the game.

But whatever we get (and no spoilers, please!), I’m sure it’ll be fun in its own way.

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Heyacamp
(Winter show, click to read)

I’d never say that I disliked this, because it’s quite impossible to dislike anything with the Yurucamp girls in it. But this was little more than a tiny appetizer to whet our appetites for next Winter’s full sequel. Of all the good slice of life shows, Yurucamp is probably one that makes the least sense as a three minute short.

One of the central pillars of Yurucamp’s appeal is that it takes its time to embrace quiet moments: Nadeshiko watching the sun rise, Rin setting up a tent, or a motorbike ride through the countryside. It’s certainly one of the most iyashikei-leaning of recent slice of life series, and you can’t replicate that in a super-short format. While all slice of life ultimately lives or dies by its characters, Yurucamp’s laid back atmosphere did a lot of the heavy lifting that other slice of life shows have to do entirely through character interactions. But Heyacamp is almost entirely character interaction, and it didn’t even have my favorite character around to help out.

I always think of Chiaki and Aoi as Yurucamp’s weak link, not because I think they’re bad, but because Yurucamp went all in building its emotional core around Nadeshiko and Rin. That left the other two with little to do besides keeping Nadeshiko occupied while Rin goes solo camping. That’s fine, but when you’ve got a whole season where they make up two thirds of the recurring cast, it just feels kinda thin.

The stamp rally is a cute enough framing device for the season, and the reveal that Chiaki and Aoi arranged it all to get Nadeshiko excited about the charms of Yamanashi is great! But if those two are going to carry a season, I’d rather see more exploration of what they think about each other, and how their friendship plays out when they aren’t just chilling with Nadeshiko. We do get a little of that, but we’re talking like two minutes of material. It’s a step in the right direction, but only a small one.

The production was, while not at all bad, maybe a bit uninspired in its compositions. A sizable percentage of shots consist of the three girls standing next to each other and staring at something, as seen in the image above. Imagine a dozen of those shots in every 3 minute episode. With so little time to flesh out each scene, you don’t really get to soak in the natural beauty of the environment or explore interesting campsites and lodges.

All that said, of course I’m happy to have Heyacamp if the alternative was to get nothing at all between seasons. Heyacamp is essentially a series of BD omake that just happened to air weekly for some reason. Even if it’s quite lightweight, that won’t make the series’ return next Winter any less glorious.

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4 Responses to “2020 Anime Q2 Review”

  1. Avatar Pko says:

    Now that you’re picking up off-season stuff, will you finally watch Princess Principal? The next season is empty besides Teibou.

    • something something says:

      Hm well at my current pace I’m not due for another off-season pickup until, uh, 2023 lol. Pandora had specific circumstances (the GitS rewatch) and it had been kinda vaguely on my radar for a while, so it wasn’t necessarily a sign of more to come. Mostly I just prefer to spend my time picking up more manga.

  2. Avatar TVguy says:

    There is something i was always curius about, when it comes to sales for bd and dvds

    while not really relevant as much as they used to, but how much of a profit does one make per volume sale? what i mean how much in yen does each sale go directly to the publisher? 20%? 30% etc. im curius if their is a way to tell.

    • something something says:

      The last time we heard anything about this was quite some years ago, but the consensus was that the disc publisher takes home approx 50% of the MSRP after everyone else gets their cut.

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