Previous: 2018 Spring in Review – First Impressions

Pretty bad season all in all with only three shows completed, but at least the ones that survived were really good. And it’s introduced me to a director I’m going to add alongside Ishizuka Atsuko as the very few people whose name I actually keep an eye out for: Oikawa Kei, the director of both Hinamatsuri *and* Uma Musume. He’s clearly a genius, spinning two very different kinds of weird source material into something phenomenal.

[ Standard disclaimer: Spoilers! Lots of spoilers! ]

All of the following are loosely grouped in tiers: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4. Click on a title to jump to the comments.

Completed or Airing (year to date)
01. Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho [ 10.0 / 10 ]
02. Yurucamp [ 9.5 / 10 ]
03. Hinamatsuri [ 9.25 / 10 ] (Spring)
04. Slow Start [ 9.0 / 10 ]
05. Uma Musume [ 9.0 / 10 ] (Spring)
06. Citrus [ 8.75 / 10 ]
07. Comic Girls [ 8.5 / 10 ] (Spring)
08. Marchen Madchen [ 7.0 / 10 ]


Previous Year Pick-ups

Amanchu! Advance [10 ep] – Oh the irony of unexpectedly getting a sequel to a stellar show (which is so rare), only for it to pull off the single most disastrous imlosion of all time.
Fumikiri Jikan [2 ep]
Tachibanakan To Lie-Angle [2 ep]

Top Characters (new shows or new characters only, 10 max)
Kobuchizawa Shirase – Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho
Aihara Yuzu – Citrus
Tokura Eiko – Slow Start
Anzu – Hinamatsuri
Shima Rin – Yurucamp
Miyake Hinata – Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho
Kagamihara Nadeshiko – Yurucamp
Momochi Tamate – Slow Start
Silence Suzuka – Uma Musume
Moeta “Kaos” Kaoruko – Comic Girls

Top Pairings (new shows or new pairings only)
Aihara Yuzu / Aihara Mei – Citrus
Kagamihara Nadeshiko / Shima Rin – Yuurcamp
Tokura Eiko / Enami Kiyose – Slow Start
Special Week / Silence Suzuka – Uma Musume

Top OPs
Ne! Ne! Ne! – Slow Start
The Girls Are Alright! – Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho
Make Debut! – Uma Musume
Azalea – Citrus
Shiny Days – Yurucamp

Top EDs
Fuyu Biyori – Yurucamp
Koko Kara, Koko Kara – Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho
Grow Up Shine! – Uma Musume

Hinamatsuri Imported
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Ah yes, the traditional pillars of comedy: organized crime, child soldiers, homeless minors, underage labor, and criminally negligent parental figures. Hinamatsuri’s genius is presenting bad situations exacerbated by worse choices and – after mining each scenario for every drop of humor – unearthing the most wholesome outcome (well, sort of).

Late-night anime comedy (rather than just “anime with comedy in it”) isn’t a genre I run into much. Not that they don’t exist, but they don’t cross my radar because they lack the hooks that get me interest in a show. The last show I found to be consistently laugh-out-loud hilarious was Flying Witch and I wouldn’t quite call that a comedy. I only picked up Hinamatsuri at all due to a recommendation, two weeks into the season. So if I say this is one of the funniest comedies I’ve seen in an extremely long time there’s admittedly very little competition, but that doesn’t make it any less hilarious.

Hinamatsuri’s comedy revels in subverting our expectations of a creepy or uncomfortable outcome, particularly vis a vis the dubious mixture of young girls and adult men. Hina falls from the ceiling, naked, in a wealthy womanizing young yakuza’s condo. Hitomi inexplicably finds herself tending a bar all by herself as a drunk guy wanders in. Anzu winds up living in a forest camp with old homeless men, vulnerable and alone. It’s hard not to look at these situations and expect the worst, or at best an uncomfortably perverted gag or two. But Hinamatsuri stares into those gaping pitfalls, fills them back up with clever good-natured comedy, and dances happily on top of it. That yakuza ends up reluctantly fussing over Hina as his adopted daughter. That drunk teaches Hitomi how to mix drinks and praises her knack for it. Those homeless men treat Anzu with compassion and teach her how to survive on the fringes of society. On paper this show shouldn’t be funny, but it makes it work, over and over again.

True, not every interaction in Hinamatsuri goes perfectly for everyone. It still puts its characters through a gauntlet of absurd situations, and it’s rare anyone gets out of an episode entirely scot-free. But there’s a delicately tuned balance at work. I can’t recall a single point where a gag feels outright meanspirited, or when an emotional moment feels unearned. Everything Hinamatsuri does feels carefully considered. Not in the sense of being “safe” or “sterile”; rather, it has a firm grasp of how far it can push each gag, always finding the underlying humor without sacrificing its humanity.

To an extent it manages this balance by compartmentalizing itself into three parallel stories: Hina, Hitomi, and Anzu. They do interact (resulting in some of the show’s best scenes) but each one is tonally distinct from the others.

It’d be too much to say Hina is a bad kid, but it’d be entirely fair to say she’s the problem child of the trio. The comedy in her segments has a sharper, more sarcastic edge. While there are a few sweet moments between Hina and Nitta, for the most part they conclude with a cynical or confrontational punchline by the end of the episode. I don’t think it totally undermines their relationship, but it definitely gives it a more traditionally comedic vibe of two flawed people somehow tolerating each other, but rarely getting sentimental about it.

If this had been Hinamatsuri’s only brand of comedy, I wouldn’t have enjoyed the show nearly as much. Don’t get me wrong, Hina’s scenes were damned funny. But as I’ve often said, the most advanced comedic technique of all is knowing when to pull your punchlines. When every interaction ends with a dash of cynicism it’s hard to see your characters as people worth caring about; they feel more like ingredients in a joke recipe. And I’ve heard a few times that the adaptation cut out a good deal of the sweeter Hina/Nitta material from early on, so it’s worth considering why the adaptation did that and if it was a mistake.

It’s probably a valid criticism, but I’m of two minds here. On the one hand, I’m always up for more sweetness. If one or two Hina segments had ended with a heartfelt moment I wouldn’t have objected at all. On the other hand, Anzu already filled that role far better than Hina ever could, and I feel like the adaptation struck a deliberate tone with Hina in order to more fully distinguish her story from Hitomi’s and Anzu’s. So for me it’s pertinent that the sarcasm of the Hina storyline isn’t Hinamatsuri’s only brand of comedy, which is why I’m not too bent out of shape over losing some of those more sentimental scenes. (And hey, I’ve started the manga anyway so I guess I have some new material to look forward to in the early volumes.)

Regardless of what it could have been, Hina’s scenes put on a clinic in deadpan comedy. Even when she was interacting with the other characters (particularly when tagging along with Sayo’s group in ep 10) she took on the role of the disinterested observer. This had the effect of cleverly transforming her into the most level-headed person in the room, which is hardly what you’d expect from her interactions with Nitta. But her aloof personality effectively rendered her immune to the hysteria that powered a lot of the comedy, particularly in Hitomi segments.

And oh those Hitomi segments. If Hina’s story made good use of exasperated sarcasm, Hitomi’s story thrived on consistently escalating absurdity. From mixing drinks at a bar to breaking into the corporate world to being courted by Japan’s commercial and political elites as a rising star, Hitomi simply could not stop herself from succeeding her way into increasingly bizarre circumstances.

As with Hina, most of Hitomi’s segments end in punchlines too, meaning there isn’t a whole lot of breathing room for emotionally poignant moments. But the tone of Hitomi’s story is still markedly different from Hina’s. Instead of Hina’s deadpan, we’re treated to Hitomi’s incredulous reactions to her completely unasked-for rise into fame and fortune.

Hitomi’s story is about a life spiraling completely out of control, except that the people jerking her around are as well-meaning (…except for Utako) as they are disastrously incompetent. Hitomi has trouble saying no to good people, no matter how absurd their requests. And she has an even harder time not being incredibly good at everything she does, which as anyone who has even been “promoted” at work knows just means taking on more responsibility and more stress. So it’s almost tragic that the one time Hitomi puts her foot down and stands up for herself, it’s against Utako, the one person ruthless enough to force her hand anyway. (Oddly enough, Utako is something of a model citizen in all other regards. It’s just Hitomi’s luck that Utako decided Hitomi’s talents were indispensable.)

And so the hands-down most competent character in the entire show is the character most at the mercy of its fickle whims. Ganbare, Hitomi. Before long you’ll probably be Prime Minister… though I’m not sure that’d make you feel any better.

I realized while discussing Hina and Hitomi I probably wasn’t making a very good case as to why Hinamatsuri feels so wholesome to me, but that’s where Anzu comes in. Anzu, the goodest girl of all. Anzu, our blessed angel. Anzu, too good for this cruel world. Anzu, a being of pure light.

Initially Anzu drops in to pursue Hina, but after failing in that mission ends up on a roller coaster of a storyline that takes her from collecting garbage and living under a bridge, to befriending a group of homeless men, to finding a new home and a loving family. In the process she’s transformed from a violent agent of some shadowy esper organization into the kindest, most admirable character in the entire show. The fact that we know nothing about the organization from which Hina, Anzu, and Mao came is never more obvious than it is here. We have no idea what kind of things Anzu had to do before she arrived on the scene, but her ignorance of how society works means that her tutelage under Yassan and the gang instills in her a strong sense of responsibility, frugality, and kindness.

Most of the outright comedic scenes involving Anzu come when she’s hanging out with Hina or Hitomi, and the Hitomi/Anzu scenes are particularly good. While the characters usually stay in their story silos, when these two meet there’s a perfect comedic synergy between Anzu’s wide-eyed enthusiasm for every minor victory and Hitomi’s increasingly world-weary, jaded outlook. If there’s one person who Hitomi might have an even harder time dealing with than Utako, it’s the completely guileless and earnest Anzu. The guilt trips Hitomi goes through are equal parts brutal and hilarious.

Outside of those moments, Anzu is Hinamatsuri’s conscience and its heart. It lets her story’s emotional peaks stand on their own without trying to embellish or undermine them with cynical gags, and in doing so illustrates that it truly understands that good comedy doesn’t have to come at the expense of emotional sincerity. No matter how hard I laughed at Hinamatsuri’s gags, my fondest memory will always be crying over the heartfelt relationships Anzu formed, and how they taught her what love and family are.

Don’t cry because we’ll never get a season two, Anzu. Smile because season one was beautiful, and there’s plenty of manga to read. ♥

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Uma Musume Imported
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In what may be the dumbest premise to result in a great show since Youjo Senki, we have an anime about racehorses from our world being reborn as horse-eared girls through spontaneous immaculate conception. They are born with an insatiable desire to run, and specialized schools and racing associations have been set up to facilitate this. And when they win a race, they perform an idol concert, because… reasons? Into this strange story steps our protagonist, Special Week.

The idea is undeniably silly, and no doubt many wrote the show off as being something it actually wasn’t. That’s a shame, because what we actually get is a smartly paced and totally earnest sports anime. And it’s about female athletes too, which is rare enough that we really ought to treasure the few we get, especially when they’re this good.

Horse racing is an interesting sport to focus on because while the competitors are gathered into teams (Spica, Rigil, etc) and actively encourage each other, they’re ultimately competing as individuals. There are no relay races in this sport, only competitions with a single winner and a dozen losers. Uma Musume admittedly softens this a little bit by not having teammates appear in the same race all that often, but they’re still racing for themselves at the end of the day. And while the anime doesn’t cover it, once they graduate I have to imagine they’ll be going entirely solo like Broye.

Running in a circle isn’t the most inherently engaging sport, but Uma Musume figured out pretty early on how to make it work. We start with tension in the stands and at the starting gate, move into an opening phase where the girls jockey for position and plan their attacks, and then wrap up with a big break-out on the final stretch. It’s a formula that worked every time, and only got more intense later in the series as we came to know the characters better and be more invested in their success or failure.

There were some technical choices I wasn’t a fan of, such as the intentionally imbalanced audio mix between dialogue and sound effects during races, or the constant blue tinge at the top of the screen in exterior shots, or the (mercifully infrequent) use of CG for long-distance group shots. But by and large, the races conveyed a real sense of speed and physical exertion, while the overbearing sfx did add a feeling of weight and inertia. And even though some shots were CG, I’m honestly surprised that it was so sparingly used and nearly the entirety of every race was properly animated.

But this isn’t just horse racing, it’s explicitly based on real horses and their real races. While some liberties are taken in order to have horses from disparate eras active at the same time, many of the races stay true to their real-world counterparts. This means Uma Musume has a rather interesting relationship with “spoilers”. With most races following their historical results, it would be simple to know a good deal of what was going to happen ahead of time.

Early on I thought this wouldn’t be a problem, so I (and most people) knew what happened to real-life Suzuka from the start. But as the show went on, I took the position that I didn’t want to know anything else ahead of time, but liked finding out after the fact how a given episode compared to reality. After all, while Uma Musume references real world events, the outcome of sometimes decades old horse races is a whole lot more obscure than, say, the fates of famous Shinsengumi leaders. And so it was fun to hear about all the parallels, like Seiun Sky being reluctant to enter the starting gate, or Special Week’s loss due to excess weight gain, or Urara gaining a following for losing all of her races – but I didn’t need to know all of that going in.

Suzuka’s injury was the most striking parallel to explore. “There’s something wrong with Silence Suzuka!” was chilling to hear even knowing ahead of time that this was going to be the race that took her down. Everything from the way she stumbled down the track, to the looks of horror on everyone’s faces, to the announcer’s confused reaction hit pretty hard. Thankfully our Suzuka recovers from her injury, smiling and surrounded by her friends, but watching the real race afterward was unexpectedly difficult. I have no interest in horses or horse racing, but just having that association with the Silence Suzuka I’ve come to know and love from the anime makes seeing what actually happened quite sad. So when it came time for Suzuka’s comeback race in the anime, I had all the more reason to be swept up in the emotion of her triumphant return. It’s a very curious relationship that Uma Musume has to real events, for sure.

Uma Musume’s huge cast is intimidating at first, and the show knows it. Most characters are introduced with on-screen signage multiple times before it’s at all confident we’ll remember them. Truth be told, even as someone who has been pretty swept up into the franchise, owns all the character song CDs and manga, and is eagerly awaiting the mobage finally being released, I still have trouble remembering a few of the less prominent girls from the anime.

But even though there’s no need to fully flesh out every character, Uma Musume still does a great job uniquely distinguishing most of them (with the outstanding character designs doing a lot of the heavy lifting). In addition to all seven girls from Spica being memorable, I’m a big fan of a few of the Team Rigil members (especially El Condor Pasa, Grass Wonder) and a few of the girls who aren’t on either team (Haru Urara, King Halo, Seiun Sky).

And while I hadn’t thought about it while watching the show, I find it particularly impressive that they all stood out without relying on the superhuman techniques that sports anime often rely on. Not that such a thing is bad, but Uma Musume didn’t have that crutch to lean on and still succeeded wonderfully.

I can’t talk about the cast without mentioning the Trainer. If I have one regret about Uma Musume, it’s that it came so close to ruining a really good male mentor character through the totally unforced error of one dubious recurring gag. If you’ve seen people complain about Trainer, it’s probably because they didn’t get past the first few episodes. He’s introduced in the worst possible way, making a terrible (and highly misleading) first impression. It’s a perfect storm of bad decisions. Even the fact that he’s not actually being intentionally perverted only helps so much when the joke is framed as a perverted act. This reached its apex of stupidity in episode 4, when this happens and all I could do was shake my head and wonder why it was thought that this was funny, or flattering to the girls, or fair to the Trainer.

But thankfully, these moments are tiny blips in the grand scheme of the show. Stick around and you get to see what kind of guy he really is. And that turns out to be a goofy and somewhat scatterbrained but well-meaning and passionate coach who cares a ton about the girls under his care. Uma Musume gets so much right about this character that my go-to comparison has been the Idolmaster/Deremas Producers, and that’s some considerably high praise as far as I’m concerned. This just makes the decision to mislead the audience early on all the more regrettable.

Trainer works so well because he’s 1) an adult, 2) genuinely cares about the girls achieving their dreams, and 3) isn’t a love interest! I’ve said this a million times, but that last one is vital. Even setting aside how inappropriate it would be for him to pursue one of his athletes, the fact that we didn’t go there is such a relief. Basing his relationship with the girls on a their shared dream was 100% the right call. We’re repeatedly reminded that Suzuka and Spe want to be the kind of horse girls that fulfill their fans’ dreams, while Trainer’s dream is to see the girls fulfill their dreams, so these complementary desires create a positive feedback loop. This way of framing the dynamic allowed for genuinely sweet scenes, particularly between Trainer and Suzuka. When Trainer cried in happiness at Suzuka’s comeback race, I absolutely bought into it. I was crying too.

So Uma Musume provides a great example of how to successfully write a male character into this kind of show – and also a warning about how easy it is to nearly ruin everything. (I hope Hanebado took notes!)

Make no mistake of course, the real reason to watch Uma Musume is for the, well, uma musume.. They’re such a delight and I could go on and on about any number of them: hard-working Special Week, excitable Tokai Teio, elegant Meijro McQueen, inscrutable Gold Ship, or tsundere rivals Vodka and Daiwa Scarlet. But Silence Suzuka is really what makes Uma Musume so great.

If there’s one thing I went on about incessantly in the early episodes, it was how delighted I was at Suzuka’s characterization. The moment I saw her I was sure she would be the talented diva giving the newcomer Spe the cold shoulder, until our spunky protagonist won her over through hard work and guts. Instead, Suzuka was actually just an incredibly sweet girl who was interested in Spe and wanted to succeed together with her. I loved that so much. In fact the overwhelming niceness of everyone in this show made the whole experience more pleasant, without stripping away the drama inherent in their races and rivalries.

Suzuka embodied a mixture of ambition and kindness in a way that Spe admired and sought to emulate. Spe’s lowest point came when she lost sight of that balance, becoming entirely focused on Suzuka’s kindness and forgetting that their promise wasn’t only to be together, it was to race together. It took a string of failures, a harsh loss to Grass Wonder, and the timely intervention of their Trainer to get Spe back on her feet.

While the final episode served as a fitting celebratory epilogue, the climax came in the two episodes prior: Suzuka’s spectacular comeback race, and Spe’s victory over the intimidating Broye in the Japan Cup.

Suzuka’s long-awaited return to racing did not disappoint. She spends most of the race dead last, being doubted by the audience and her fellow racers. Then, she takes a deep breath… and makes her move. With explosive acceleration she passes one opponent after another. The crowd gasps, then roars in support. Everyone in the stands, all of her teammates, the Trainer, her rivals, the announcers (and of course me) are all tearfully united in that moment in overjoyed awe at Suzuka’s miraculous and dominating return. The result isn’t even remotely close. Silence Suzuka first and the rest nowhere.

But there’s one important person who wasn’t at the track that day: Special Week. Not that Suzuka expected her to be, because she understood that Spe’s dream wasn’t going to come true simply by cheering her on from the audience. Spe and Suzuka want to be by each other’s side, but they needed to do it on the race track. Only there could their ambitions be satisfied, only there could they fully understand each other. And to earn herself a spot alongside Suzuka, Spe had her own hurdle to overcome – the Japan Cup, and Broye.

But Spe’s promise with Suzuka wasn’t the only thing motivating her to become the best horse girl in Japan. She also had a promise with her mothers: the one who died soon after giving birth to her, and the one that raised her ever since. This is also based in reality: the actual Special Week’s mother died shortly after giving birth, and Special Week was trained by a foreign woman from New Zealand. Some of the most powerful moments of the show came when we got to see how much Spe’s races mattered to her mom, not only because she was seeing her daughter achieve her dream, but because in that moment trainer mom knew she had finally kept the promise she made all those years ago to biological mom.

Ultimately that’s what Uma Musume is about: promises kept and dreams realized. Maybe it’s a cliche, but it’s a masterfully executed one, and that’s what really matters. It’s a silly idea treated with respect, earnestness, a sense of humor, and bright-eyed wonder. It became the show I anticipated the most each week, and one that I’ve been missing ever since it ended.

(P.S. Release the darn mobage, Cygames. I need my fix.)

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Comic Girls Imported
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I went into Comic Girls with middling expectations, figuring we we were due for a step down after Winter knocked it out of the park with Yurucamp and Slow Start. And while it wasn’t on the level of either of those, it did end up impressing me with its superb production quality, unexpectedly solid handling of Koyume’s romantic feelings (clearing an admittedly low bar, granted), and the tricky balancing act it pulled off in exploring Kaos’ deep self-esteem issues.

At the same time, I couldn’t shake the feeling in the last few weeks that there was something missing. Those romantic threads don’t tighten up enough, Tsubasa’s return home threw off the momentum a bit, and characters like Ruki and Tsubasa reach the end feeling slightly undercooked. It’s an ongoing manga so I expect this to some extent, but the middle of the show was so strong that it left me ready for a stronger endgame. It’s not that the last third was bad by any conceivable stretch – even “disappointing” would be too harsh – but it feels like it left some potential on the table. (All that said, the finale was spectacular.)

The vast majority of what I’ll say is still very positive. I think this is just the “I loved it but wish it had been able to do more” conclusion that I come away with from all but the absolute best slice of life shows. It goes back to my often stated maxim that few genres benefit more from a long run than slice of life shows, but few genres are less likely to actually get sequels. What a cruel world.

On to the good stuff now, though! The production values are what leap out at you first. Unsurprisingly the superb character art grabbed my attention first, as that’s typically the most important aspect of any show’s visual style for me. Comic Girls’ “soft and round yet very crisp” designs really hit my sweet spot. The bright eyes, slightly accented lips, and lavish attention given to hair combine into possibly the most attractive character art of the year so far.

Crisp, on-model designs don’t at all preclude comic exaggeration however, and there’s no shortage of amazing expressions taking varying degrees of liberty with the designs. Kaos in particular established herself as one of the all-time greats in the history of goofy anime faces, with a constant stream of outlandish expressions flashing across a face that’s utterly incapable of holding back the emotions swirling within.

Good character art isn’t just visually pleasing, it also passively fleshes out personalities. The loose hairs of Kaos’ fraying braid contrast her unkempt appearance with the effortlessly fashionable aura Koyume exudes, even as she’s wiping doughnut cream off her face. She’s just as slovenly as Kaos most of the time, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that when this is her “lazing around” look.

Where Kaos and Koyume contrast one another, characters like Suzu are constantly contrasted against themselves. Her carefully cultivated creepy atmosphere changes in an instant when her gorgeous eyes peek out from behind her long bangs, perfectly capturing the gentle heart behind the horror-obsessed exterior. It’s not like one or the other is her “true” personality though. They’re both a core part of who she is, and Kaos’ decision to accept that made for one of the sweetest scenes of the show.

An air of maturity surrounds the motherly Ruki. This doesn’t just emphasize her character archetype as the most caring member of the group, it also highlights her struggle to live up to the ideal she’s set for her (adult female) readers. The buxom persona her editors have crafted for her leaves her feeling less than fully confident about her real body, leaving her unable to recognize the mature appeal she unconsciously exudes – not that this goes unnoticed by those around her, though. Finally there’s Tsubasa, whose contrasts aren’t particularly subtle but obviously the boyish battle shounen mangaka (I seem to have a dearth of Tsubasa screenshots) is a rebellion against the prim and proper ojou she’s forced to play at home for her overbearing parents.

It’s not only the characters that stand out. The dormitory in which Comic Girls takes place is a beautiful piece of architecture expressed through striking layouts employing a wonderful sense of depth and lighting. There is a verticality to the floor plan that allows for surprising and delightful interactions between characters made possible by the interconnected nature of the space.

At the same time, the architecture isn’t nearly as abstracted as a Monogatari building, so the space maintains enough realism to feel lived-in and intimate. The hallways, bedrooms, and bath are striking but the kitchen and dining room is easily the most consistently interesting space.

It’s not all perfect, and some of the outside shots don’t quite work. The backgrounds here look like they’re on a different plane of existence from Kaos, and a couple other shots feel the same way. But the overwhelming majority is just a delight. I could go on about this stuff forever, but whether it’s lighting conveying isolation and depression, interesting angles instilling a bit of dread, or most of all the clever manga panel-style shots there’s so much to love about Comic Girls’ visual identity.

One of the primary points of contention between me and most slice of life shows is how they handle characters’ romantic aspirations. Many of those feelings don’t get beyond joke fodder. When they are acknowledged with some seriousness, they almost inevitably remain one-sided. And even characters with mutual feelings have to struggle mightily (and usually fail) to be openly recognized by their stories as more than “just good friends”.

Comic Girls doesn’t entirely escape this: Kaos’ extreme gay thirst is only really used for humor, characters voice some heteronormative expectations (Kaos assuming Ruki wants a boyfriend as does Tsubasa to Koyume, and their manga depict male/female pairings), Ruki/Kaos sees a few fits and starts before ultimately stalling out, and Koyume’s feelings for Tsubasa are still mostly one-sided.

And yet, it nonetheless gives a good accounting of itself. Kaos’ thirst may be harnessed comedically, but her sexual attraction to women is no joke. The heteronormativity is generally subverted into things like Koyume writing Tsubasa in as the “male” love interest in her manga. Ruki/Kaos does indeed fall well short of my hopes, but there’s still a seed of something there (more than I expected at the outset at least). And then there’s Koyume and Tsubasa…

Even when a canon couple isn’t established, I try to judge a show on how respectfully it owns up to the romantic feelings it’s depicting. Comic Girls fares pretty well here – Koyume is never mocked for her feelings for Tsubasa (this isn’t, say, Ikamusume), and there’s no ambiguity left as to whether she’s genuinely in love. There’s a bit of “I’ve never been in love before! Is this love?” waffling, but not in a way that downplays her feelings. Koyume is sometimes silly or flighty, but her longing for Tsubasa is a character trait that’s taken seriously.

My favorite scene in all of this may be one that didn’t even involve Tsubasa: the talk between Koyume and Ruki, where Koyume first voices the confusion she’s feeling, to which Ruki, ever supportive and nurturing, encourages her. Koyume understands that she’s attracted to Tsubasa, but has no idea what to do or who to turn to. Ruki’s acceptance and advice is the little push Koyume needs to take the next step.

To her credit, Tsubasa does the best she can to respect those feelings. Tsubasa acknowledges that she has problems engaging tactfully with others, and she seems determined to not dismiss or hurt Koyume’s feelings. Unlike some other slice of life love interests, Tsubasa isn’t oblivious to those feelings either. She’s just not sure how to handle this particular kind of adoration, which is so different from the praise she gets from fans of her hot-blooded shounen manga. So it’s in character for her to handle a tearfully nervous Koyume by reframing their relationship conversation in terms of their manga careers.

Unfortunately while this works well enough for how early it happens (episode 5), such a strong emotional beat badly needed more follow-up. We do get to see Koyume growing more confident and comfortable around Tsubasa (during clothes shopping in episode 9) but otherwise follow-through is on the thin side. So I respect what Comic Girls did, but wish it would have done more.

And then there’s Kaos, our beautiful horny lesbian dumpster daughter. She’s terrible at her chosen profession, completely useless when left alone, and suffers from disastrously crippling self-esteem issues. She makes Yuno from Hidasketch look like a hugely charismatic celebrity in comparison. So it’s definitely to Comic Girls’ credit that I never felt like it was being malicious towards her.

Comic Girls understands that to get away with dunking on a character like Kaos it also has to provide her with a support network and happy ending. No matter how funny all of her failures were in the moment, the tone would end up feeling mean-spirited if she didn’t ultimately grow from the experience.

So naturally I was delighted to see the final episode nail that exact feeling. All of Kaos’ rejected storyboards and social awkwardness and terrible survey results and the impending closure of the dorm she’d come to call home were blown away when she found her first small success as a mangaka. With the saintly patience and encouragement of her editor and the support of her fantastic friends, Kaos was finally able to see something she worked incredibly hard for actually pay off. It was a deeply cathartic moment, just the kind of payoff that characters like Kaos need.

I haven’t even gotten into a bunch of other incredible moments, like Ruki’s preparation for her first signing (one of the most stunning scenes from any show this year), or Kaos summoning the courage to become friends with Suzu, or the relationship between Kaos and her editor, Amisawa.

To whatever extent Comic Girls fell short of being a top tier slice of life show, it wasn’t for a lack of great scenes. I guess I just feel like it could have done more to tie those scenes together. But in the end my final impression of it is still really positive. I wish you a long and successful career, あばばばばばばばば-chan. I, at least, would buy all of your manga.

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Summer 2018

Watching / Trying
01. Yama no Susume Season 3
02. Harukana Receive
03. Shingeki no Kyojin Season 3
04. Hanebado!
05. Asobi Asobase
06. Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro

CR did a lot better than I expected this season, only missing out on the doomed-from-the-start Animeism titles. Probably Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight as well, which I’m just assuming is going to Sentai because it’s TBS, but I guess we’ll find out soon. It sucks to lose Happy Sugar Life, but I can just pick the manga back up there whenever I feel like getting back into it.

So this ought to be a great season, even if I don’t finish all of these shows. Hell, even if Yamasusu were literally the only show airing, it’d be amazing. Yamasusu is a nearly unparalleled masterpiece and it’s incredible to me that we’re getting a third go at it.

4 Responses to “2018 Spring in Review – Final Thoughts”

  1. Ryan says:

    No Gun Gale Online? It has nothing to do with SAO, it even calls SAO “awful” a few times during the show. That show was the definition of fun and it’s even more fun to marathon, if the problem were the subs just watch Erai-Raws.

    • something says:

      Isn’t Erai Raws just a ripping group? It’s still gonna be Aniplex’s subs.

      • Anontastic says:

        So the subs were the problem?
        Like he says, if you ever find some time and a suitable way to watch it, SAO Alternative is completely dofferent from SAO: fun, endearing, and well-written. We can thank Sigusawa for that~

  2. Anontastic says:

    I’m still kind of in awe of how good Uma Musume is. It’s an adaptation of a mobile game that’s still in development, and the crew at PA Works somehow managed to take that thin premise and produce a thrilling and heartwarming sports show, overflowing with passion and character. It was so much better than it ever needed to be, that I’m not confident the game itself will be able to measure up.

    Comic Girls was indeed good, if a bit grating at times. I think my biggest issue with the show was always Kaos: I’m not a fan of characters who endlessly self-depricate as a shtick. It starts to feel like the show should either be seriously acknowledging them as suffering from depression, or admonishing them for essentially deflecting the constant stream of positive morale and emotional support they get from the people around them. That’s just how I feel about it, anyway. I would much rather watch a show completely about Koyume trying to court a clueless Tsubasa~!

    Still watching Hinamatsuri, but Anzu is definitely the main thing keeping me going. It took me a solid hour to get my eyes dry after episode 6. On the other hand, I wanna lauch Hina into space, far out of Earth’s gravitational pull, where she can never break another vase again.

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