A review of Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul

This return to Made in Abyss took a while. Last year, I watched the first season of this fantasy adventure series that quickly turns into a fantasy horror drama. An extremely impressive one, but one that was also hard to watch at times thanks to the very specific kind of horror Made in Abyss contains.

It took me too long to get around to this, but I finally watched the next part of the anime series. Released in 2020, the film Dawn of the Deep Soul was the third of three Made in Abyss films and the only one not to be a recap of the first season.

So setting those first two aside, let’s rejoin Riko, Reg, and Nanachi deep in the Abyss. As usual with these kinds of posts, I won’t get into the background here that I covered in my review of the first season. Also, extreme spoilers this time, and a more serious warning since this is generally a plot-heavy series. Maybe I should just make a *SPOILERS* graphic at this point. If I had any design skill I might.

Riko, Nanachi, and Reg in a field of flowers, Made in Abyss: Dawn of the Deep Soul

The crew evaluating a threat in the field of flowers where Riko’s mother is (maybe) buried.

Dawn of the Deep Soul starts exactly where season 1 of the series left off, with Riko finding the fabled field of flowers that her mother may or may not be buried in, right under her legendary pickaxe weapon stuck in the ground. Riko takes the pickaxe, but as they explore the field, Nanachi and Reg detect danger. Reg encounters a strange masked man in the field, one of the dreaded Bondrewd’s men, who warns him that the field is full of brain-eating flying insects that are just about to wake up because this is Made in Abyss and of course there are fucking brain-eating insects.

The trio are able to escape from the onslaught of insects and follow the masked man down the Abyss to his master/boss/whatever’s base, a massive stone complex with a rotating outer wall to keep out unwanted visitors. The crew manage to get to the entrance, and they’re unexpectedly welcomed in by a cheery girl, Prushka, who says her “papa” is on his way to meet them. And then the man himself appears with his entourage.

Hey, Bondrewd seems like a nice guy. Maybe we were wrong about him?

Bondrewd warmly welcomes Riko, Reg, and especially Nanachi, complimenting them for somehow managing to release Mitty from her suffering. The trio are understandably conflicted by all this to say the least, but in order to make it further down the Abyss, they’ll have to get through Bondrewd’s fortress, and since cooperation seems like the only option at this point they agree to stay the night in one of the complex’s many rooms.

Riko wakes up in the middle of the night and finds herself alone, Nanachi having wandered off to the center of the complex to meet with Bondrewd and try to make a deal to let Riko and Reg at least continue on their journey. We’re still not sure where Reg is, but we learn soon enough when Riko decides to brave a staircase leading up (and here’s a good time to be reminded of how the Curse of the Abyss works: quite literally moving up even slightly causes illness, bleeding, and in extreme cases serious mutilation and even death.)

Prushka, who’s definitely going to make it out of this film in one piece.

Riko can’t make it up the stairs without getting cut up a bit and falling back to the bottom, but Prushka comes along to help her, showing her how she navigates her way upwards with the help of her pet whatever it is, a cute fluffy/blobby entity who guides the girls through the abyssal curse with its special senses.

And up this corridor we learn where Reg is and that yes, this is Made in Abyss: Reg is bolted down to a medical chair surrounded by creeps in helmets holding scalpels and saws, who begin studying him in a horrific manner, tearing off his robotic right arm. Riko collapses in tears, but Nanachi soon joins them when they realize Bondrewd’s plan and attacks the masked men, tearing Reg away from them and escaping with Riko. Prushka is understandably terrified by her realization of what her father is doing and leads them to a boat at the dock outside the complex, promising that she’ll talk to Bondrewd as the trio return to the shore.

Our protagonists now have to deal with getting through Bondrewd and his minions and down to the sixth level of the Abyss after getting Reg’s arm back (and the arm with his massive atomic cannon weapon no less) and all while Bondrewd and his men set out to catch them. Will the crew get out of this bind?

Big ass spoilers from this point on, though this might not be: yes, Riko, Reg, and Nanachi do advance down to the next Abyss level where things are probably even weirder. I figured that anyway since the series’ second season The Golden City of the Scorching Sun aired not long ago. What I didn’t know was exactly how they’d get around this Bondrewd guy, who for most of the first season exists as a terrifying and largely unknown threat looming over the crew. We met him near the end of that first season in Nanachi’s flashbacks, an evil and perhaps insane man with immense power and influence thanks to his White Whistle. The series having built him up so masterfully, this film had a lot to live up to.

Bondrewd isn’t your standard villain, he’s way more fucked up than that

And I’m not going against the consensus this time: Dawn of the Deep Soul indeed lives up to expectations. It’s pretty much a natural extension of the first season; ever since episode 3 or 4 at least I knew how extreme it would probably get, and this encounter has been foreshadowed since Riko and Reg’s stay with Ozen way further up. She calls Bondrewd something like a “real bastard” and one to watch out for — quite a character statement coming from someone as hardened as Ozen.

The man certainly fits that description. Though debatably “man” doesn’t suit him — maybe more like entity. The series has established by this point that the Abyss kills many and twists the few of those from the surface who can live in its depths. Ozen was twisted in just such a way, though she did turn into a mentor by the end of Riko and Reg’s stay.

Bondrewd, by contrast, is not merely twisted but pretty well insane. By the start of the film, we already know a lot of what he’s done from Nanachi’s account, using the poor children of the surface for sacrificial experiments. Nanachi is one of these subjects, one of the only ones to survive in a meaningful way Bondrewd’s forced carnival ride down a pit and then up rapidly to bring on a severe case of the curse. The team is obviously extremely suspicious of him from the beginning, therefore, and when we learn what he plans to do with Reg it’s not a big surprise to anyone aside from Prushka.

man

Given the weight of this encounter, already established by the end of the first season, it’s impressive that Dawn of the Deep Soul still manages to be shocking in a way appropriate to the story. In my review of the first season, I addressed the complaints I’d read about the show’s extreme subject matter, including references to bodily fluids and parts and the horrors inflicted on our protagonists, both naturally by the Abyss itself and by Bondrewd and his minions in Nanachi’s flashbacks.

Deep Soul compounds upon those. I didn’t expect Bondrewd’s adopted daughter to survive the film, at least in any kind of recognizable form, and no surprise, she doesn’t. Prushka follows her father out to the shore when he goes after Riko, Reg, and Nanachi, where they use some nice trickery to catch him in a trap, calling up a group of carnivorous worm/insect-like creatures to kill him and his crew. But Bondrewd being something like a monster, he survives the attack — until Reg faces off with him and manages to quite literally drop a boulder on him.

Here we learn Bondrewd’s true nature: one of his henchmen walks up to his mostly crushed corpse, removes his helmet, and becomes Bondrewd, assuming all his memories and powers. Having shown the protagonists this limited form of immortality, he walks back to his fortress with Prushka, knowing that his visitors will still have to get through him to descend deeper into the Abyss. And just as he expects, they infiltrate the fortress again, Reg managing to cut off its power and absorbing massive amounts of power himself in the process by hooking himself directly to its electrical system.

Reg merging with a group of consciousnesses and going berserk

Here we get the final fight of the movie, in which Bondrewd and a berserk one-armed Reg manage to destroy an entire section of the fortress. After coming back to his senses, Reg works with Nanachi and Riko to bring Bondrewd down by drawing him out of the pit the explosion created and using his severed arm cannon, which somehow still works and is presumably going to be reattached to his body at some point.

In the end, Bondrewd isn’t exactly defeated — he’s more or less an immortal at this point. However, he seems satisfied with his opponents’ resolve and strength and finally allows the group to pass through to the sixth level of the Abyss. But not without a sacrifice, of course: here it’s revealed that he did to Prushka what he’s done to so many of the orphans in his “care”, cutting her to pieces and placing the rest of her, more or less conscious, into a suitcase to use as an antidote to the abyssal curse.

Riko and co. are naturally shocked that Prushka’s own adoptive father could bear to do this to her, but it turns out that he’d been planning on this fate for her all along. Perversely, he still speaks of her affectionately, and he points out that the creation of a White Whistle demands just such a sacrifice. Prushka’s desire to go adventuring down the Abyss with Riko and friends has somehow transformed what was left of her into a White Whistle made specifically for Riko to use. So even more scarred than before, but with even greater determination, the crew takes along Prushka’s remains and her fluffy pet and jumps into whatever awaits them below.

Looking forward to even more horrors to come

My feelings about Deep Soul aren’t all that different from my feelings about the first season of Made in Abyss. The production standards are still excellent, and the music is still impressive and builds upon the series’ otherworldly atmosphere. The fight between the berserk Reg and Bondrewd is especially notable, Reg temporarily turning into a monster himself with what look like metal tentacle-arms, and his face replaced by three black holes for eyes and mouth. I’m not exactly an action anime guy (just look at all the slice-of-life anime listed in the anime index page up top) but Made in Abyss generally and Deep Soul in particular use action scenes effectively by making them nightmarish in parts and providing more than enough characterization and story background for us to actually care about the outcome of the fights and the fates of the fighters. The high production values here only add to that effect.

More great otherworldly Roger Dean album cover settings too, which I always appreciate.

Then there’s Bondrewd himself. This film is his and Prushka’s story as much as it is our protagonists’, and he’s more than interesting enough to justify that focus. The guy is undoubtedly extremely immoral, or at the very least amoral — he’d probably argue the latter, that normal concepts of morality don’t apply in the Abyss, but to my mind and probably most others, anyone who’s sacrificing the lives of orphans and turning them into hellish living meat creatures for him to use as “curse repellent” is the truest of assholes.

Yet Bondrewd really doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with what he’s doing. The man is notably calm most of the time and is even exceedingly polite, at least in his speech and manners, approaching Riko, Reg, and Nanachi as special guests and telling Prushka they’re “important” and that she should befriend them. He maintains this outward politeness even in the middle of a life-and-death fight, taking it all as a matter of course. And then of course, there’s his kawaii and subarashii: Bondrewd finds the horrors he inflicts to be wonderful and even cute, insisting that Nanachi has to rejoin him so they can help him with his work, and calling both Nanachi and Prushka “blessings” of his. In some sense, the fact that he knows the names of each one of his sacrificed suitcased meat vessels (a term I never thought I’d have occasion to use in my entire life) is even more chilling than if he’d simply used and discarded them without thinking.

This contrast between Bondrewd’s outward politeness and the joy he takes in his work, on one hand, and the horrific nature of that work on the other, is a large part of what made him memorable to me, aside from that iconic neon Daft Punk helmet he wears. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a good guy or anything close to it — he’s without a doubt a complete villain — he’s not exactly wrong either, at least in his conclusion about the kind of sacrifice Riko and co. require to advance to the sixth layer. As other experienced explorers including Ozen have confirmed, Riko can’t use her mother’s whistle to open the gate down to that layer, beyond the true point of no return, since each White Whistle is made specifically for its owner and no others. Despite her horrible fate, Prushka in some twisted sense got what she wanted by becoming Riko’s whistle in the end.

Though whether any of the other kids Bondrewd brought into the Abyss under arguably false pretenses were happy with their fates is a different matter. In the legal world, we call that lying by omission. And contracts with children are voidable anyway. But I guess there is no law in the Abyss other than the good old law of power.

There’s an interesting point here — at least I thought it was — about the kind of wonders the Abyss contains. To go on a tangent about language for a bit (I know, I never go on tangents here, so please excuse me) the term “wonderful” is almost always used in a positive way, but the root word wonder has more of a mixed connotation if you dig back to its root. In Old English, a wundor described a miracle or any astonishing thing, but of course something horrible might also astonish, including an atrocity. So it was written, according to my hazy memory of studying old European history at college, that one of the early kings of England around or after the time of the Norman Conquest “committed wonders” in the land — meaning he killed a whole lot of people. (It might have been referring to William I, who did kill a whole lot of people and was a Bastard true to his title in the sense we use it today, but I can’t say that for sure.)

My totally unnecessary and long-winded point is that it’s not exactly wrong to see the Abyss as being full of wonders, both in the beautiful and positive sense and in the horrible and negative one (or see also the common root of awesome and awful — both inspiring awe.) And maybe subarashii has a similar dual meaning, though I couldn’t say that for sure either. Bondrewd sure seems to think so, at least, in his twisted mind.

Riko joyfully telling Prushka about that time she almost fucking died to the Curse and had to have her arm broken without a painkiller to survive. What fun!

Despite all this body and mind horror, Made in Abyss still maintains a positive tone. By the end of the film, Bondrewd and his remaining soul vessel assistants watch as Riko, Reg, and Nanachi descend further into the Abyss, apprehensive but still motivated to continue. It’s very much in the vein of the first season in that sense, and I expect Golden City of the Scorching Sun to continue with it, though considering how absolutely fucked Bondrewd has become living in the fifth layer, there’s a worrying question as to what Riko’s mother Lyza is like these days assuming she’s alive somewhere at the bottom.

But that’s something to worry about once we get there, assuming we ever do. As for Dawn of the Deep Soul, I liked it a lot and would recommend it to anyone with the stomach to handle it. Though you do have to have the stomach for it: the horror in this series is far more shocking and effective than simply having blood and guts flying around, and the couple of surgical scenes might be too much for some viewers considering just how much of a visceral reaction they might cause. Even a bitter, emotionally hardened asshole like me was affected by them. So there’s a warning for you. For everyone else, I hope you’ll enjoy the film and the show as a whole.

I’ll be watching the next season of Made in Abyss, but I need to wash my brain out with something a little lighter first, so you can look forward to more slice-of-life antics soon. Until then!

A review of Hidamari Sketch (S1/2)

Continuing my watch through a run of now-classic slice of life anime. Is 2007-8 considered retro now? I can’t say getting older is really that bad, but it takes some getting used to.

Good thing I can take my mind off of all that with Hidamari Sketch, a slice of life comedy firmly in that CGDCT tradition and maybe even having a part in creating it, having started its run in 2007. Hidamari Sketch aka Sunshine Sketch tells the story of four high school girls (surprise) as they live their lives together at a small apartment building.

How is that very different from several other series I’ve covered on the site recently? It’s a fair question, but Hidamari Sketch is different from most even aside from its status as an early slice-of-life comedy of this kind, and thanks largely to Studio SHAFT and director Akiyuki Shinbo.

If you know their work, the sometimes minimalist art style should be familiar. Look at all those dots.

But first, the story. Up there in the center of the cover with the X hair clips there’s Yuno, a young aspiring artist and our central character. Despite her doubts about her talents, she’s made it into Yamabuki Arts High School after passing its entrance exam. This school is far from home, however, so Yuno moves out to live on her own in Hidamari Apartments, a small six-room residence just across from the school’s front gate. Here Yuno meets the other three residents of the building: her next-door neighbor and fellow freshman Miyako and the second-years Sae and Hiro downstairs.

Hiro and Sae, who are very close. And a point for you if you get the joke in this screenshot.

The four quickly form a strong bond, all being art students living away from home. Sae and Hiro soon step up to guardian-like roles with their extra year of experience as well, creating a sort of surrogate family feel for Yuno while she gets used to living away from her parents. Miyako meanwhile becomes fast friends with Yuno, despite her cheerful recklessness that sometimes puts Yuno’s nerves on edge.

Yuno reacts normally to a shocking scene, but Miyako takes an innocent kind of joy in chaos

This central cast is rounded out by a few adult characters, most prominent among them Yuno and Miyako’s homeroom teacher Miss Yoshinoya, who much like Kimura from Azumanga probably shouldn’t have lasted more than a month as a teacher considering her many personal issues. In addition to being a borderline exhibitionist (being generous with that “borderline” too) Yoshinoya acts like a bratty teenager, always doing her best to avoid work and the Principal, who is constantly and rightfully berating her.

Yoshinoya has some issues, but the Principal is always there to resolve them

That describes most of the first two seasons of Hidamari Sketch, titled Hidamari Sketch and Hidamari Sketch x 365* respectively, because of course a SHAFT series can never just have a second season titled “season 2.” This post covers these first two seasons out of four, the two I’ve watched. I wasn’t sure about how to break these down by post at first, but these two seem to fit together well, since they fill in each other’s purposely left gaps.

Because while most of the 25 episodes between these two seasons take on one day in Yuno’s life, starting with her rising from bed and ending in the bath in true slice-of-life fashion, you’ll notice that these days are out of order. At the beginning of season one, Yuno is worrying over some homework she forgot to finish and runs off during her lunch break to create a collage to bring back to school; at the beginning of the season two, she’s heading off to Yamabuki for the first time to take its entrance exam.

An extremely relatable experience

The rest of these two seasons’ episodes are also chronologically shuffled around. I’m not sure if that was true of the original manga by Ume Aoki (represented in the anime by the frog (?) on top of Hidamari Apartments who shows up a few times per episode, voiced by the mangaka herself) but it works in the anime given its very light plot. Similar to Azumanga, Nichijou, and a few other of these “cute girls” comedies I’ve covered here, Hidamari isn’t so much about a series of events that have to be told in chronological order but rather about the friendships that form among the main characters, so although Hidamari is the only series out of these that uses this format, it works even when purposely told out of place.

Yuno in a dream, hiding behind a bust of Brutus that they were sketching in class that day. Yuno’s fever dream episode in the first season is a special highlight.

Of course, this kind of series doesn’t work if the characters aren’t likable or at least fun to watch, but these characters are both. Yuno and Miyako have a great contrast, Yuno being cautious and Miyako being borderline reckless, but both are also energetic and positive in a way that only first-year students can be (before their spirits are utterly crushed of course.) Their second-year seniors Sae and Hiro, meanwhile, are a bit older and more experienced, but not necessarily that much more mature given their occasional fights.

Sadly this isn’t an animated gif, but imagine Miyako swaying her hips side to side in a hypnotic motion and you’ve got it

While these four are the central characters, they share the stage with several others including Miss Yoshinoya, the Principal, Sae’s peppy younger sister Chika, Sae’s extremely tsundere friend/rival Natsume, and their cool landlady I almost certainly would have had a minor crush on if I’d somehow seen this when I was 12.** These characters do more than fill out the cast — they all have their own moments, especially the above-mentioned Yoshinoya, who may be in a race with Yukari from Azumanga for anime teacher with the most personal problems (not counting Kimura of course, who wears that crown forever.)

Good thing, because also just as with Azumanga and a few other slice-of-life comedies I’ve covered, the characters entirely drive the show. Once again, there isn’t much of an overarching plot outside of the usual “high school students progress through high school while getting into wacky trouble” stuff, but the characters carry the series anyway, not much plot needed beyond the episodic stuff.

Miyako has an idea as Hiro and Yuno look on in terror

Somewhere, I forget where, I saw Hidamari Sketch compared with Seinfeld. I’m not sure how far that comparison can really go, but I agree with whoever wrote that in at least once sense: that both Seinfeld and Hidamari are “shows about nothing” in that often nothing much of consequence happens in an episode. Characters sit around their apartments or hang around school for long stretches of time complaining, joking, and arguing, and somehow it’s all entertaining.

Entertaining for me at least, but then I only ever give my opinion on this site. Looking from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like comedic banter for whole halves of episodes, Hidamari Sketch would be a miserable watch, but since I’m all about the banter, I thoroughly enjoyed it. For that matter, the same rule applies to Seinfeld, and also to Friends, which I liked to a lesser degree. (And yeah, I’m old enough to remember when people under 60 watched cable TV and we had those huge sitcom lineup nights in the 90s. NBC had a monster lineup back then, but I have no idea what any of the networks are airing now aside from the terrible late night shows. That format died when Conan retired.)

It’s sad. Americans watching normal TV have to switch to Food Network for this kind of stuff, but slice-of-life anime watchers get our comedy and food-related escapism in one dose. And man, I wish I could bring some tonkatsu home to eat, but you know, pork. (Not that that stops me from eating it on occasion.)

Though it also wouldn’t be fair to say Hidamari Sketch is “about nothing”, because it also features some insightful looks into the creative process and especially into Yuno’s process and her coping with self-doubt over her abilities. Early on in the series, the students submit work to the school’s cultural festival, and when Yuno falls asleep in the middle of her drawing and intended submission, Miyako submits it anyway without realizing it wasn’t complete.

Yuno isn’t criticized for the drawing’s incomplete state — visitors seem to believe the blank spot in the middle was a stylistic choice instead of an accident and they praise her work. But Yuno has mixed feelings about the feedback, as positive as it is.

I get Death of the Author and all, but I still believe the artist’s intent matters at least to some extent.

Between this and her other artistic efforts, Yuno spends some of the series trying to prove herself worthy of being a student at Yamabuki. Though I’m no expert, her art looks good to me — we actually see some of the characters’ paintings and sculptures throughout these two seasons, which is a nice touch, since it gives us a sense of not just their artistic skill but of their artistic tastes and personalities. It’s pretty clear that Yuno is talented but is also suffering from a little of that imposter’s syndrome or whatever it’s called, which fits with her mild personality. Like Miho from Girls und Panzer, except without the tanks or the sister vs. sister stuff.

Her parents check in on her in the second season — always nice when the series acknowledges they exist, but Yuno being an only child is also an important point. Even more nerve-wracking sending your only daughter out into the world at this point, I imagine.

Hidamari Sketch also mixes in a bit of serious material between Sae and her younger sister Chika, who can’t wait to start her high school career (and I’d say if she only knew, but high school always seems like a fun time in these shows contrary to my memories of it.) Sae juggles school life with paying work as an author writing in a monthly magazine, and while she’s usually friendly, she also tries to put up a cool front that causes some trouble between her and Chika. Add in Sae’s dynamic with Hiro, who loves to cook for everyone and is the surrogate mother of the apartment building, and you have about 10% of something like a family drama mixed in with the slice-of-life/comedy style (though it’s still light, no soap opera stuff going on here thankfully.)

Sae and Chika have a slightly rocky relationship, but maybe that’s normal for siblings. Like Yuno, I’m an only child, so I wouldn’t know personally.

Art connoisseurs looking for something different might be interested in Hidamari Sketch. Partly because it’s about art, sure — I didn’t go to an art-focused school and could barely draw stick figures, so there are things about the visual arts-related classes in Hidamari I’m sure I didn’t pick up on that other viewers might relate to.

However, the style of the show itself is interesting. If you already know the style of Studio SHAFT and the director Shinbo, likely from Monogatari, you won’t be surprised by the abstract and minimalist look here. Hallways, classrooms, and streets are sometimes just sketches with extremely simple peg-looking figures representing background characters. The backgrounds themselves are also often minimalistic as you can see in a lot of the above screenshots, and the characters are sometimes depicted in a rough, sketchy form or even abstracted into a symbol for a few seconds like an X representing Yuno’s unique hair clip.

And sometimes it will do something like this for a 15-20 second stretch in the middle of a scene, with the characters’ silhouettes talking to each other while parts of their names become their mouths (here the ロ or ro in Hiro.) Why? Ask Mr. Shinbo, I don’t know. It only happened once and came out of nowhere.

You also can see some of this style in the dark comedy Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, running at the same time as Hidamari Sketch and also by SHAFT and directed by Shinbo. It’s an acquired taste, but I like it — it never feels gimmicky and fits all the more with the series’ art school setting. I have seen people criticize the first season for being a little too sketchy to the point that it looks low-budget at times, and while there is a noticeable step up in the animation in 2008’s Hidamari Sketch x 365, I never had much of a problem with the first season’s sometimes rough look.

Amazing animation is great to watch, but sometimes a unique art style is all you need, like a PS2 game that’s 20 years old but has a cool cel-shaded look that beats out a lot of modern games in the style department. Still my favorite game.

And of course I can’t go without mentioning the show’s music. SHAFT has a great record with both opening and ending themes and incidental music, most obviously in Monogatari, but its other series’ soundtracks stand up just as well, including Hidamari Sketch. Any soundtrack that includes some good bossa nova gets points from me, and here’s a nice use of the accordion, a sadly underrated instrument here in the US outside of parody music like Weird Al. And a frantic high-speed ultra-positive and sunny opener like “Hatena de Wasshoi” is always a good time, especially when the song is an earworm:

While I’m a fan of the style of Hidamari Sketch, though, it wouldn’t have held my interest for 25 episodes without its strong comedic sense, and all that credit goes to the writers, the original manga creator Ume Aoki, and to the voice actors for their great performances delivering the material. I’ve never read any of these slice-of-life series in their usually original manga forms, but so many of them (this, K-On!, Azumanga) are adapted from four-panel gag comics that I imagine a lot of work has to go into stringing those together and filling them out into sets of 22-minute episodes. Maybe that’s a strength, giving the writers plenty of room to expand upon the original manga.

For example, in the manga you don’t get to actually hear Yuno’s extremely nervous singing at the girls’ karaoke outing, though maybe you can imagine it while reading.

But after far too many words once again, there’s my verdict on Hidamari Sketch and x 365: they’re both very good. Recommended if you’re into the style and want to explore the origins of the slice-of-life/CGDCT comedy anime wave that grew throughout the late 2000s and into the early 2010s then died off, but the show is enjoyable in itself outside of that context, and the whole thing is on the streaming service HIDIVE if you’re subscribed to that.

Or else go through the usual channels if you’re not. I’m not here to tell you how to watch anime, you know? I do prefer HIDIVE to Crunchyroll at this point, though, so I’m happy to support their service for now. I just wish these and other streaming services would acknowledge more often that preservation is important — from what I understand, there is some “lost media” anime out there, and while I don’t think Hidamari Sketch is at risk of ever being lost like that, I also understand why people take alternative routes to get their anime in a more permanent form (not counting overpriced Blu-rays that may not even be available in the West.)

Anime has been and will continue to be removed from the services, which themselves won’t last forever anyway. And when human civilization ends, how can we guarantee that alien archaeologists thousands of years in the future find Hidamari Sketch and similar series and realize that we at least had something good to offer to balance our massive flaws?

Thank you for that, Mme. Ume. And also thank you to the stone statue.

Sorry for the weird tangent. I have a lot more to say about that subject, but later. To relieve more of the coming stress, I may get back on soon and continue watching through the final two seasons Hidamari Sketch x Hoshimittsu and x Honeycomb, which I’ve heard drop the achronological format and may or may not stand up to the quality of the first two — we’ll see. Until next time.

 

* Okay, I know why these sequel titles use it, but is it properly x, ×, or X? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

** Judging by my very first watch through Evangelion anyway. I know Misato Katsuragi is a complete disaster, but still, man.

A review of Teasing Master Takagi-san: The Movie

Takagi and Nishikata at the local shrine with the kitten Hana, Takagi-san movie

Oh, my heart. How it’s still functioning properly I can’t say, not after watching last year’s Teasing Master Takagi-san film, simply subtitled The Movie (aka Eiga Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san.) If you’re not familiar with the series this movie is attached to, I covered the first and second seasons of the anime here and the third here, but briefly, it’s about the growing relationship between middle school students Nishikata and Takagi. We almost entirely get the story from Nishikata’s perspective as he challenges his classmate and friend Takagi to battles of strength and wit. Takagi is almost always several steps ahead of him, however, and his efforts usually come to naught.

The pair are also very very much into each other. Takagi seems to realize this long before Nishikata does, but she doesn’t push him to act, instead subtly guiding him to the inevitable conclusion. That’s my read on the show up to this point, anyway. At the start of the film, the characters have three seasons’ worth of this history behind them. It’s not exactly necessary to see any of what came before to pick up on their relationship, but it does help to appreciate just how long this back-and-forth has been going. (Also spoilers, etc.)

Takagi and Nishikata at the local shrine, Takagi-san movie

Son, when will you learn

At the start of the movie, Nishikata, Takagi, and their classmates are in their final year, just about to start summer vacation (usually the end of the school year here in the US, but in Japan I think the year starts in April, at least going by the Persona games I’ve played.) Nishikata has no particular plans, which means he’ll be spending a lot of his time off with Takagi. As usual — if you have caught the first three seasons of Takagi-san, you already know how inseparable these two are. It’s to the point that, though they aren’t an “official” couple, their classmates consider Takagi and Nishikata one from how obviously attached they are to each other.

The movie starts just as another episode of the series would: with Takagi lightly tormenting Nishikata, who sits next to her in class (in the protagonist seat no less, or at least close enough) with her expert teasing. She’s not the “teasing master” for nothing, easily getting Nishikata flustered by suggesting that they might have to share an umbrella on the way home from their last day at school before summer vacation and drawing what looks like a love umbrella on his notebook but that turns out to be a fishbone. Nishikata resolves as always to get back at Takagi by coming up with games of skill that he’ll surely beat her at, but of course Takagi knows him so well that she reads him perfectly and easily finds ways to defeat him.

Takagi and Nishikata against the backdrop of the sea and an island beyond

Takagi might be the teasing master, but she only ever teases one person. I wonder what that could mean.

After some of the usual teasing, during which we see Nishikata formulate and carry out plans to outwit Takagi that fail as usual, we reach the movie’s central plot. While at a local shrine, Nishikata and Takagi find a tiny kitten hanging around, without a collar and all alone. They try and fail to find her mother, so Nishikata decides they should find a home for the kitten, cats not being allowed in either of their homes.

The pair go all in with their plan, making posters to hang around town and asking around but without success. Meanwhile, they go to the shrine daily to take care of the kitten, now named Hana after her love for flowers, and we get a lot of the usual “Takagi teases Nishikata” scenes with Hana included, increasing the sugary cuteness to a dangerous level.

Yeah, there are also a couple of bordering-on-sappy songs with montages. It would be hard to take if it weren’t so genuine.

After failing to find a home for Hana, Takagi finally gets her dad to relax his no cats policy and prepares to bring Hana home, an outcome both are extremely excited about. But of course, we weren’t going to get such a clean-cut happy ending: on the way back from the pet supply shop, they find Hana has wandered off from the shrine. Thankfully she’s not roadkill as I very briefly feared — that would have been off-tone for Takagi-san anyway — but she has been picked up by two small children, siblings, who don’t know about Nishikata and Takagi taking care of the kitten. Moreover, they loudly and joyfully declare that this kitten is their identical kitten Nana reborn, who died but must have come back to them.

Takagi and Nishikata are understandably shattered by this, but Takagi stops him when he tries to get Hana back — clearly it would be too cruel to tear the kitten away from these kids at this point. Takagi is still heartbroken, however. Nishikata comforts her, saying he’s sure Hana will be happy in her new home, and that Takagi will be happy too. And then we get this:

It does feel weird that we don’t know their given names after all this time, but still a great moment

Man, if you only knew. Maybe you do, especially if you’ve watched the 36 episodes of the TV anime that preceded this film. To see our boy Nishikata open up so completely to Takagi about his feelings after that long slow burn — if you see fans gushing about this movie, this is part of the reason why. No, it’s not a declaration of love in so many words, but when you tell a girl you’ll make her happy (and forever, as he also says) that only really means one thing, doesn’t it?

Naturally, we get more payoff at the summer festival, once the pair have gotten past their sorrow, where Takagi returns his feelings word for word. And the post-credits scene ends the film perfectly with a jump forward to a very brief look at the pair as a married couple with their daughter Chii.

Takagi and Nishikata with their daughter Chii, Takagi-san movie

A preview of a future Moto Takagi-san anime? Hopefully

Aside from a couple of side stories about the three friends Sanae, Yukari, and Mina and a parallel slightly rockier romance between two of Takagi and Nishikata’s other friends and classmates, this was the Takagi-san movie. Like the rest of the series, it contains a lot of sentimentality, but it’s all earned and so never feels cheap. And while the film is preceded by three seasons of that slow build that helped the series earn this sentiment, even in the film alone we get a great sense for Takagi and Nishikata’s relationship, both in their cold, calculated plotting against each other during their challenges and in the mutual interest and love that emerged from it. As usual, Takagi only challenges and teases Nishikata, and only when they’re alone together: it’s a teasing driven by just that kind of affection that we get a lot more of throughout most of the rest of the movie.

It’s all effective enough that I can take some of the sap Takagi-san occasionally puts out. Take this from someone who might be a romantic, but not in the usual sense at least: the sap in Takagi-san is pretty minimal and always justified. And the singer on this soundtrack has a damn nice voice too, so how can I complain about musical breaks? (And is the singer also Takagi’s VA Rie Takahashi? Not sure, but it’s possible since she’s also a singer.)

Takagi and Nishikata’s school looks more like an office park, at least from this angle.

Throughout the film, I also found a running theme of fleeting childhood. All these kids are still in middle school, sure, but they’re also in their last year before making a serious shift to high school, and then on after just three years either to university or the working world. You’re not exactly in your childhood anymore once you enter high school, anyway, or at least that’s how I felt when I started ninth grade in the American system here.

So with the end of their carefree middle school days looming, it makes sense that most of the characters by the point of this movie are feeling the heat a bit, most obviously seen with Yukari and Mina who worry that Sanae will leave the island to pursue a high school track and field career. In my first watch through the first couple of seasons, I was a little annoyed by their antics that felt so separate from the other events in the series, but now I can appreciate that they added a little more to the story, if just in terms of reinforcing this theme. I have no idea how much this “end of childhood” theme was intended by the author or even in his mind at all, but I think it fits the central Takagi and Nishikata relationship just as well, with Nishikata especially maturing by better understanding his feelings.

Takagi and the town and sea in the background. The movie has quite a few nice shots of the surroundings like this one, part of the opening credits — credit to the studio Shin-Ei Animation again.

In a recent post, I brought up the nostalgic feel I got from parts of K-On! and its depiction of high school life in a modestly sized town, even though I only lived in suburbs of mid-sized to large cities as a kid and found high school about as fun as getting several hundred root canals in a row. I think I could feel that nostalgic sense despite having lived a different sort of life because said nostalgia was expressed so richly by the series, both visually and in the story.

The same is true for Takagi-san in general. No surprise, maybe: the town of Takagi-san from what I’ve read is modeled exactly after Tonosho, the hometown of original manga creator Soichiro Yamamoto. An idyllic-looking place too, an island town in the inland sea between Shikoku and Honshu. The series and particularly this movie portray it beautifully. And while I think Takagi-san could work just as well set in a big city, that genuinely nostalgic feel probably has something to do with the author’s own feelings about this place, even if the events of the show aren’t autobiographical (though for all I know they could be, but how many people meet their true soulmates in middle school? Maybe that’s another part of living in the countryside that I just don’t get.)

Messing around in class until the teacher tells you to shut up, though, is a universally held experience

Finally, since for all I know this is the last time I’ll be writing about Takagi-san (though that fourth season apparently really is coming from what I’ve heard) there’s a point I wanted to bring up about these kinds of sugary anime romcoms: that they’re not all the same. While Takagi-san is often grouped together with Nagatoro, UzakiBisque Doll etc. for maybe obvious reasons, it feels to me like more of a hybrid between that style and other kinds of usually romance-less slice-of-life anime I’ve also covered here, with all the wholesomeness and relaxation you’d expect. Not that Nagatoro and the rest aren’t also wholesome in their way, but they have their spicier elements as well and sometimes get stuck with the “lonely guy bait” label.

I could argue why that label doesn’t actually stick in most of those cases, but I’ve done that before. And it certainly doesn’t stick in the case of Takagi-san. I just bring it up because I’ve been seeing people still passing around that trash tweet about these kinds of manga and anime being mere bait that got a ton of likes. Likes from people almost certainly 99% of whom never read or watched any of these series beyond maybe a few trailers on YouTube. But man, whatever. I only look at Twitter for the lewd art, wish I could just filter for that and spare myself the headaches and the far more worrying/depressing “world is ending” stuff. If people want to judge books by their covers, that’s their business (and their loss.)

I won’t go on about it beyond this caption, but these shows are not about having a girl magically fall into the guy’s lap from nowhere, but rather about self-improvement and gaining true maturity to a point where the guy can understand and properly express his feelings. What a terrible fucking message, I know.

Stupid social media bullshit aside, the Takagi-san movie is beautifully put together and just what I would have expected from a Takagi-san movie, and in a good way. It feels more like a three-episode OVA, really — the movie is only 70 minutes long, but it didn’t need to be longer to tell its story. Check it out, though if you haven’t I’d still recommend watching the series itself first, or at least the third season when things really pick up between our leads.

I have no idea what’s coming up next, but I did recently make a dent in my anime backlog following a string of rough days and sleepless nights that I want to take on here, so it might just be more anime. Or maybe I’ll find something else to complain about like I always do. Until then!

A look at Kizuna no Allele

Not a “currently watching” this time as it usually would be for a running anime, no, and for a reason. I just remembered that I’d planned to check out Kizuna no Allele on the frustrating streaming anime platform Crunchyroll last week when the show trended extremely negatively on the depression hellsite Twitter, now of course owned by the Saturday morning cartoon villain-named X Corp. Kizuna no Allele started out with at least some expectations, created in collaboration with Studio Wit, which recently helped create the acclaimed Spy x Family in a different collaboration with CloverWorks (who’s not involved with this project, and maybe for the better.)

Kizuna no Allele so far tells the story of Miracle, a girl attending ADEN, a school for aspiring virtual pop idols. From her childhood on, Miracle has looked up to Kizuna Ai, the world’s first AI idol, who won the prestigious Lapin d’Or prize five years in a row then mysteriously disappeared from the public eye. Miracle still has a long way to go as a performer, but she has drive and passion along with the seed of talent necessary to succeed. With the help of her growing circle of quirky friends, Miracle is determined to win her school’s singing competition so she can qualify to enter the race for the Lapin d’Or. Can she win and catch up to her idol Ai?

She’s got the idol peppiness down at least

Now here’s why I watched the first three episodes of Kizuna no Allele: it was billed as a Kizuna Ai anime. If you don’t know her, Ai isn’t just a character created for this anime but is rather a real-life (yeah) VTuber who started putting out videos on YouTube back in 2016. Ai is widely seen as the godmother of VTubing, as the one who coined the term and who set the standard for the medium in the old days.

VTubing has long since changed dramatically (and note this point, because it is important) but Ai has changed her format to keep relevant even in the face of now more popular VTubers and still receives respect for her status as a pioneer. And she still does get plenty of well-deserved attention these days, despite a history of questionable management decisions behind her character.*

All that said, I’ve dropped Kizuna no Allele. It’s rare for me to outright drop a series, since I tend not to pick one up unless I think I’ll probably like it. Sure, sometimes an anime will drift into the purgatory of my “pending” list, which I don’t count as a drop. But this is an actual hard drop, and for the following two reasons.

1) It’s not a fucking Kizuna Ai anime

Not yet, at least. Yeah, Ai is a character in the series, and she may show up in a more prominent role later on, but aside from one flashback performance at the start of episode one she’s barely here at all. No, this is very obviously Miracle’s story, and the first three episodes gave me no reason to shift my attention to Miracle instead. So far, her story looks like a pretty generic “peppy underdog novice does her best and tries to win the tournament” one. Which can be done well, but for me to give a shit I have to care about the protagonist and her struggles, and I find Miracle just barely tolerable and don’t care whether she wins the golden rabbit prize.

You don’t have to write your own music or even your own lyrics to be a good performer, but don’t just give up in the very next sentence for God’s sake

So I say “not yet”, but judging by these first three episodes, there’s no room for Ai except maybe as a fairy godmother sort of character. That might be appropriate considering her “godmother of VTubing” role I brought up above, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. And if I really wanted to watch an idol anime, I’d probably check out BanG Dream! or some other series that actually has the stamp of approval of idol fans, not being one myself.

Which brings me to another point related to the shitpile that is Twitter, where I’ve read people speculating that VTuber fans will watch and enjoy Kizuna no Allele. Maybe a reasonable assumption if you take it on its face as “a VTuber anime”, but it’s not really that either. VTubing has changed massively since the height of Kizuna Ai’s popularity and dominance back in 2017-18, and what I’ve seen so far in Kizuna no Allele doesn’t reflect that change at all. Nothing about playing games, collabing, actual audience interaction, or doing comedy bits (which was Ai’s bread and butter even back in 2017 if you remember, or at least those were the reason I subbed.)

To me, then, this doesn’t look like a “VTuber anime” at all but instead a virtual idol anime. You may or may not see the difference, but those who watch VTubers will. Because sure, you might say the Hololive girls for example do idol stuff as well — see HoloFes and similar events arranged by other agencies — but that’s just one part of what they do, one small part of their appeal.

I suspect there may be a larger world of VTuber idols I’ve missed out on. It’s not one I have any interest in, in any case, but I know Sony and other more traditional entertainment corps have their own sets of online talents, and I’m sure there are plenty of VTubers who are very idol-oriented (like say IRyS maybe? I don’t watch her streams at all, but she does give me more of that idol impression along with her excellent voice.) So maybe that’s the true target audience for this anime. Kizuna no Allele just feels to me like a show that would have been more timely five years ago than it is now. Any virtual idol fans reading, though, feel free to correct me.

2) The NFT shilling

Fuck you

And here’s the reason Kizuna no Allele was trending yesterday. See above for the end of episode three, after which I dropped this show without regrets. This is probably also the reason the show is rated so low on MAL and Anilist, lower than I’d otherwise expect. I don’t agree with rating a show before it’s completed its run, but I can understand the sentiment at least. I’m surprised the NFT racket is still going at all, but the market for those digital assets might be different in Japan. Still doesn’t mean I have to approve, however.

None of the above is to say that Kizuna no Allele is absolute shit or anything. It’s okay enough if you can overlook the rotten NFT shilling part, which only featured in the post-credit sequence anyway. It’s not a total no-effort hack job like Naria Girls, even with its slightly awkward 3D sections (reminiscent of Ai’s old videos, complete with hair clipping through her shoulders and arms like Miracle’s does.) And there’s nothing wrong with the show’s original songs so far — they’re nothing amazing but are perfectly serviceable.

Of course the songs were written by humans, but I think this fucking show was written by an AI for how much it seems to like the idea of AI-written music.

So maybe you’d enjoy this stuff depending upon your own tastes and tolerances, but it’s clearly not for me. Instead, here’s a VTuber music-related video I much prefer to anything I saw in Kizuna no Allele.

Oh sure, she has the voice of an angel, but don’t let that fool you.

All’s not lost, however: there is another idol-related series now running that I plan to pick up, and that one looks far more promising. Until next time!

 

* The whole Kizuna Ai character controversy is one I don’t have time to get into right now, but I’ll just note here that her management company didn’t seem to understand that Ai’s appeal was in her character as established by her old videos and not just in her as a model for different voice actors to fill. People have been comparing Ai’s venture into NFT bullshit as yet another management misstep, but it remains to be seen whether anyone’s really going to give that much of a shit about it.

A review of K-On! (S2)

I said I might, and I finally have: I recently finished the entire 39-episode run of the highly regarded slice-of-life anime K-On! While I liked the first season in parts, I was a little underwhelmed by that 13-episode run back when I watched it last year considering its strong reputation among slice-of-life enjoyers, and aspects of it really annoyed me (and see the details here.)

So I had some misgivings about the show’s second and final double-cour season going in based on my experience with the first. The idea of double the K-On! just didn’t excite me all that much for maybe understandable reasons, and it took me a while to get around to this second season and then a while longer to watch the first few episodes, which I gave some more positive first impressions about here. And then, like a flood breaking through a dam, the rest of the season got watched over the course of two weeks.

If you already know who these two characters are without seeing their faces, you probably won’t need the usual rundown, but I’ll provide it for everyone else. Though I guess it is obvious from their instruments, isn’t it.

Maybe a good sign, but did my positive first impressions hold up throughout? Should I just spoil that now? No, I’ll be a jerk and keep you in suspense for a while while we lay out the events of K-On! season 2, at least as far as that’s possible considering the show’s very light plot. (And a note on title conventions: this second season is technically titled K-On!! or K-ON!!, with two exclamation points instead of one, I guess because it’s season two. There seems to be absolutely no agreement about how to handle this, so I’ll keep using K-On! S2 because it’s god damn confusing enough already the way these anime series use punctuation in titles. It’s a good thing I don’t care much about strict grammar and formatting on this site.)

I’m to writing what Yui is to playing the guitar: we both love it but we’re not too concerned about technical details and go with our gut instincts. It doesn’t always work out.

As for those events, as expected, once again there’s not much to get into. The second season opens at the start of a new school year at the girls’ high school Sakuragaoka, with our beloved Light Music Club and its members: seniors Yui Hirasawa on guitar, Mio Akiyama on bass, Tsumugi Kotobuki aka Mugi on keyboard, and Ritsu Tainaka on drums, and their junior, the second-year Azusa Nakano also on guitar, and better guitar than her senior Yui since she actually knew how to play the thing when she joined.

From left to right, Yui, Mio, and Azusa, actually talking music. But a warning: this screenshot is not representative of most of the show.

These five spend their last year at school (minus Azusa with still one year left) occasionally practicing in their club room but more often drinking tea, eating cake, doing impromptu comedy routines, and trying to figure out what they’re going to do once they’ve graduated. Aside from a few big events they have to plan for (a school trip to Kyoto, an outdoor music festival their teacher advisor scores tickets for, and their own big concert at the school’s culture festival) this is K-On! It’s slice-of-life relaxation, iyashikei if you find it healing to the soul. There’s not much conflict, and barely any relationship-related conflict with a couple of very minor exceptions.

But if you’re looking for drama, backbiting, or any of the other sensational stuff you might associate with school-based anime, you won’t find it in K-On! (and another reminder that even “school-based anime”, for as much as some people avoid it, isn’t a genre in itself but includes all kinds of series. It’s just a setting, though maybe a way too commonly used one.)

Ritsu at a school assembly, making a face that sums up most of how I felt about high school

Since I’m done with my synopsis, I’m now happy to report that my more positive first impressions I set down last month pretty much held up all the way to the end of the series. Though it’s still not my favorite slice-of-life/comedy anime, this second season of K-On! was a major step up from the first and was generally pretty damn good.

I originally felt K-On! season 2 would likely be more of the same, but now I only partly agree with that. Sure, it’s more of the same in the sense that it’s still a lot of tea-drinking and cake-eating and high school hijinks, but second-season K-On! feels to me like the first season done right: like the writers adapting Kakifly’s manga kept what worked in the first and removed or improved upon what didn’t. I don’t know whether these were consciously made improvements, given how well-received that first season was, but they’re improvements to me at least, which I’ll break down into three specific categories (so prepare for my usual overanalysis of a comedy of all things, but you know what you’re getting on this site.)

1) The comedy hits more often

This is admittedly a subjective point. It’s extremely difficult to pin down what makes something funny. I’ve seen people dismiss Nichijou, for example, as just a lot of nonsense “lol random” humor. I loved Nichijou, and I can argue that it isn’t just “funny because random” garbage, but the fact is if the jokes don’t hit for someone, they simply don’t hit, and there’s not much argument to make at that point. A lot of season 1 of K-On! similarly didn’t hit for me, but for some reason I found season 2’s comedy worked better.

Ritsu/Mio is an especially entertaining pair

I don’t think this is a case of being worn down — there was a months-long break between my first and second season watches, and I’m more likely to be annoyed and put off of a show than to be worn down by it anyway, which clearly wasn’t the case here. The main five girls all have great chemistry and play off of each other well, and though that was also the case in season one (especially with the characters barely changing at all from start to finish) their actual comedy bits mostly work this time. Maybe it’s all the final exam and graduation-related stress that I remember myself all too well and can sympathize with.

2) Double the episodes, double the fun

Just like Doublemint Gum. Though there aren’t any twins in K-On!, unless Yui and Ui looking nearly identical counts despite their being a year apart. But to Wrigley’s: if you want to target the extremely online weeb demographic, there’s an idea. I’ve never worked on a licensing agreement before, but I’m sure I can pick up the essentials. Drop me a DM.

Now from my professional delusions back to K-On!, here’s a paradox: if I wasn’t crazy about the first 13 episodes of this stuff, how did I mostly enjoy the final* 26? Aside from the tighter writing, I think the double-cour format helped the series breathe in a way it couldn’t in the single-cour first season. The effect on the show’s pace was even more pronounced than it might seem, in fact, the second season covering just one school year over 26 episodes where the first covered two over 13.

Wouldn’t that result in a lot of filler, you might ask? That depends on what you consider filler. In a slice-of-life show like this, I’d say as long as there’s plenty of good comedy and character interaction, there’s no such thing as filler. Accept that the plot is light, that things will happen when they happen, and let the series carry you along as though you were floating on an inner tube down a lazy river.

Not quite like this patchy-looking stream in their hometown, but that’s the best analogy I could come up with.

Some of my favorite episodes have the girls doing barely anything of note at all: in one they’re just trying to escape the summer heat in their club room; in another Azusa does her best to relieve her boredom during vacation and keeps falling asleep and imagining more exciting surreal scenarios in her dreams than she’s actually living. The big events of the series still happen, but those events aren’t rushed like I felt they were by necessity last time around given its compressed time frame.

This new approach instead emphasizes the strengths of K-On! The whole show has a nostalgic feel to it, especially strong for me in the Kyoto school trip episode, the 5K race, and the marathon study sessions.

The joys of school festivals, the kind we never had. (Nice Rosetta Stone reference in this episode too for the history nerds.)

And again, it may be strange that I find this to be a positive myself. Aside from some of my classes like history and English that I enjoyed just for their subject matter, I hated high school. I joined a school sports club all four years purely to put on my college admissions resume, but I got nothing out of it otherwise, and socially the less said the better. I could not have been happier to leave on graduation day, and so I couldn’t relate to the girls’ tears as they approached their own graduations aside from their having to leave their beloved junior Azunyan behind.

Azusa’s minor story arc of her struggles over how to handle the rest of Houkago Tea Time graduating was well done and led to some emotion here that was totally warranted. Low stakes in the grand scheme of things, but the stakes are still there.

But then the girls’ life at Sakuragaoka is so different in some ways from my own high school life that my brain barely associates them at all as similar. Especially from the social angle, which I’m sure some other more drama-oriented school series depict. School was a joyless shitcan as far as I was concerned, and while I can’t speak at all to the real-life Japanese school experience, it probably isn’t all that different in terms of its social pecking order and the other cruelties it puts many kids through. If nothing else, K-On! is an escape from that world, something like the escape of the idealized world of Yuru Camp I got into in my review of its movie. That’s not a drawback or a flaw of these works; it’s a strength and a selling point.

Though it still doesn’t take away from my continuing disbelief at the main cast’s gelling so well in concert when they’ve barely practiced. Not to mention Yui and Ritsu in particular pulling positive outcomes out of thin fucking air after they’ve goofed off all year, conveniently getting into the same high-tier women’s university as Mugi and Mio. Yui is a savant, sure, the show’s established that, but Ritsu? But fine, whatever. I’m guessing this was just to set up the college spinoff later on, though it seems it was never animated because I guess nobody wants to watch a university-based anime (except me? All I’ve seen of the university setting in anime is Uzaki-chan and the part of Death Note where Light is a college student, but that hardly counts. I’m open to recommendations.)

3) Sawako is way less of a shithead this season

If you’ve read my first season review, you know how I felt about the Light Music Club’s teacher advisor Sawako Yamanaka. Her perverted side, directed as it was towards her students, was a major irritation and wrecked many of the scenes she had a prominent part in for me. I know I’m in a minority on this point, but her saving the day at the season-end concert did nothing for me since I’d been given no reason to like her. And granted, the series recognized this side of Sawako’s but tried to have it both ways with her, which didn’t work for me in the slightest.

Now I’m happy to say that Sawako’s gropy nonsense is no longer present and her perverted side toned way down. Though it’s not gone — see her outrageous outfits for the girls’ club recruitment video in the out-of-order episode 25 that they refuse to wear.

Don’t pout, Sawako. You’re lucky you still have a fucking job.

But in general, she’s a lot more bearable this time. I still don’t love her exactly, but now her laziness and weird vanity at least match with the club’s perception of her, if not the school’s as a whole. And she does work hard when she has to, so credit where it’s due I guess.

K-On! still has its annoyances for me, like all of Yui’s supposed hard work taking place off screen and just being referred to by others. A lot of the cast’s achievements still feel somewhat undeserved for that reason. I’m still not all that taken by Yui’s whole airhead aura either (having also just watched season 1 of Aggretsuko, I wonder how she’d hold up in that setting — the show even brings up this possibility in the career-dedicated episode.) No surprise then that Mio is still my favorite character, but again, all five of these cornballs work well as a group, and along with the rest of the above improvements, that made season 2 of K-On! a pretty nice watch.

I actually came to like Yui more this season, so another point there.

As for the technical aspects of the show, I have absolutely no complaints. KyoAni is one of the best-loved anime studios for their consistently great work, and K-On! as a whole is no exception — in fact, comparing the two, the second season looks like it has higher production values, and season 1 wasn’t cheap-looking by any means.

I also continued to appreciate the attention to detail given to the musical aspects of the show on the not-too-common occasions they actually bothered to come up, with their realistic-looking animation while playing. It’s no surprise to me that this anime got some viewers interested enough in music to start playing themselves, especially given the characters’ use of real-life instruments. Everyone knows about Yui’s Les Paul and Mio’s left-handed Fender bass, but I’d like to try out Mugi’s Korg Triton Extreme. Apparently you can’t get her 76-key version anymore, though. Makes sense Mugi was able to adapt to 76 keys after playing the full 88-key piano for so long — the more common and cheaper 61-key keyboards out there are far too restrictive, especially for a pianist like her. Fingers running off the ends of the keyboard when you stray too far.

I don’t know much about drumming, but I do know that Zildjian is the oldest still-operating instrument manufacturer in the world, founded by an Armenian guy in Istanbul way back in 1623. Maybe you can get some 400th anniversary deals on your cymbals right now.

And of course, there are several more original songs to enjoy. I’m not that into this peppy sugary pop-rock the girls write in the show’s universe, but these songs are perfectly fine and well-performed, and they fit the tone of the anime as a whole. Though given how the Who gets brought up a few times, Ritsu being a professed Keith Moon fan and Yui performing a few Pete Townshend guitar windmills, I would have liked to have heard Houkago Tea Time’s cover of “My Generation”. Or even just “I Can’t Explain” or “Substitute”, one of their early songs before they got into the hardcore rock opera stuff (which is good too, but probably too much to ask out of the girls at this point in their careers.)

Looking back on it, I’m mostly happy I could come to see the good points in a show that so many people seem to love so much. I still can’t say I love it like the serious fans do (though I’d say I’m only a “serious fan” of a very few things in that sense anyway) but I think I’ve appreciated it about as much as I possibly can at this point. My quibbling aside, I can understand now why people keep coming back to and talking about this decade-plus-old series. Like the other slice-of-life works I’ve enjoyed, K-On! is an escape from a shitass world, and one that at least in its second season is very nicely done.

Rest easy, heroes

And hey, I might even watch the K-On! movie, which I wasn’t originally planning on doing. I still have a lot of these series-attached anime films to watch and cover here, however, and this one isn’t at the top of that list: there are two I absolutely have to get to first. You’ll see soon enough, hopefully. Until then!

 

* I know this is leaving out episode 27, which doesn’t seem like it’s grouped with the series proper but rather with the movie that capped it all off. I’ll watch that episode before I watch the movie, according to the suggestions I’ve seen online.

A review of Aggretsuko (S1)

Another series I’m late to. I should just stop saying that, since it’s so often the case. But then I’m not that concerned with keeping current — these posts are mostly for people like me who arrive late to the party anyway.

The party I missed out on this time was Aggretsuko, known in Japan as Aggressive Retsuko, a Netflix production that started in 2018 and recently completed a five-season run. Aggretsuko is also not at all the standard kind of anime I usually look at. I’m not sure what category this kind of Flash stuff falls into, but it has pages on MAL and Anilist, so I guess it does count.

By far best known for their long-running Hello Kitty line of toys and products, Sanrio wasn’t a company I’d have expected an adult comedy out of, but that’s just what Aggretsuko is, and a very real one in some ways despite its expected cutesy look. I may not be able to personally relate to certain aspects of it, but in general, man. I wish I didn’t relate to some of this so well. (Also spoilers for S1 etc. I should make a boilerplate graphic for that statement.)

Retsuko upon her hiring, years before having her soul ground down into powder by her job

Red panda office lady Retsuko is extremely overworked. She does her best to carry out her tasks in her trading firm’s accounting department, but her polite, mild demeanor only seems to make her a target for her asshole chauvinist boss Director Ton and a few other senior employees who simply dump more work on her and wear her out. 25 and single, Retsuko wants to enjoy life and find a partner, but her job is slowly breaking her. Her only solace aside from commiserating with her colleagues and friends Fenneko and Haida lies in the nearby karaoke bar, where she goes alone after work to sing death metal about how she hates her job.

Retsuko continues going about her soul-crushing routine until she gets into deep shit with her immediate superiors, spurred by her hopes of quitting and joining a new independent import business with an old school friend, the free-spirited cat Puko. After Puko offers her the role of accountant, Retsuko sees the light at the end of the tunnel and speaks a little too freely at work, resulting in Ton figuring out her plan to quit and putting her on the short list of expendable personnel in his department. Far worse, Retsuko realizes that the math of leaving her safe corporate job for Puko’s startup — no pay possible for the first three months at least — doesn’t add up.

So Retsuko is left to recover her position at work as well as she can. It’s a difficult prospect at this point, but just when things seem hopeless, she meets two new powerful allies on the job who use their experience and influence to help her out. As  she keeps trying to live her responsible life, Retsuko also starts to consider love and marriage as an escape from her miserable corporate grind. She doesn’t seem to realize she already has an admirer, her colleague and friend Haida, who has about as obvious a crush on her as you can imagine. But it doesn’t seem like there’s much prospect for Haida there — or at least not yet.

Certainly not when he mentions expecting his future wife to keep working for various practical reasons — but not quite what Retsuko wanted to hear considering her lack of love for her work (also pictured: good-natured office gossip hippo Kabae.) Though it’s pointed out to her later that being a stay-at-home housewife may not be the escape she’s hoping for either.

If this all sounds like a not too unusual office-based comedy, a little on the dark side with a bit of an as-yet-unrequited love element to it, I’d agree. Aside from all the colorful Sanrio character designs that look made to sell as stickers or keychains (a paired polite and death metal singing Retsuko set?) it’s not that different from what an American network sitcom-watching audience might have seen on TV maybe ten years ago. Not precisely a cutesy Hello Kitty take on The Office as I’ve seen it described, but they do share a few elements in common aside from the office setting, the sometimes dark comedy and awkward romantic feelings in particular.

I don’t think it’s that easy to put a good comedy like this together. Good sitcoms require good writing, without a reliance on tired old bullshit that will just piss its viewers off or get them rolling their eyes or groaning. Since I all but named it as a negative example in a recent post on live-action TV shows I’ve liked, take The Big Bang Theory: an extremely commercially successful sitcom somehow also featuring stale as fuck jokes and a reliance on mind-numbing clichés with maybe a thread or two connecting it to any kind of reality. Of course, a comedy doesn’t need to be realistic to be good — absurdist humor can be great when done right or even when mixed with realistic elements, and I’ve featured and praised some of that here on the site. But then I don’t think anyone considers a milquetoast mess like The Big Bang Theory to be aiming for the weird or avantgarde, not even its fans, who probably aren’t interested in that sort of stuff anyway. From what I’ve seen of that series (more than I would have liked) it instead tries to relate but utterly fails.

Fenneko and Haida, freaking Retsuko out

By contrast, I think Aggretsuko manages to avoid those pitfalls through a mix of quick wit and actually relatable humor. A lot of that has to do with Retsuko’s good girl/death metal headbanger contrast and with her career hardships, but she has plenty of other entertaining characters to bounce off of. And some of these relationships are anything but simple. The most obviously complicated is her friendship with the lovesick Haida, who can’t bring himself to ask her out properly (much to Fenneko’s amusement, though she’s also got Haida’s back as a mutual friend.) Retsuko also has a not-quite-friend in Tsunoda, the cute office flirt who knowingly uses her feminine charms to get on Director Ton’s good side, which Retsuko tries herself out of desperation with far less successful results. But even her antagonistic relationship with Ton isn’t entirely negative either – though he’s the closest thing to a bad guy in the show and actually is a pretty big asshole most of the time along with the snake lady senior employee Tsubone, Retsuko eventually finds she can learn something from him about facing hard realities when he finally reveals that he’s not absolutely a total dick near the end of the season.

And then there’s Resasuke, Retsuko’s short-lived and one-sided love interest from the sales department. I really liked this guy, even if he was wrong for our protagonist in most every way: an entirely clueless man living in his own world, pushed into asking his coworker out by a friend after they meet at a drunken office mixer. Their relationship ends before it even really begins, but with a nice lesson about how easy it can be to build up someone else in your own head when you barely know them. There’s a lesson I learned myself the hard way.

Also, apparently it’s important to notice when your date’s feet are getting destroyed by her fancy heels while you drag her all around town. Well yeah, I’m not a love guru but even I know that much. How a guy in sales can be so oblivious I’m not sure, but I hope Resasuke has a happy life with his many plants and his severe caffeine addiction.

I’m rooting for Haida anyway, who also seems like a good guy who just needs about 20% more backbone so he can actually connect with Retsuko on a new level. Or damn, just ask Fenneko out, she’s right there. But that’s love for you, isn’t it.

As for the visuals, they’re simple but in a perfectly fitting way. I had zero interest in anything Hello Kitty-related as a kid, aimed as it was towards girls anyway (but then plenty of the girls had no interest in it either, I guess.) However, the Flash style of animation didn’t put me off, maybe since I also watched plenty of the independent online animation Homestar Runner back in the day. You can do a lot with this style without making it look cheap in a bad way, and Aggretsuko does well in that regard. And maybe this is to be expected from a company known for its iconic character designs, but the designs in Aggretsuko are memorable and with plenty of expressiveness where appropriate.

Most obviously with Retsuko, but she’s not the only one.

So the first season of Aggretsuko was a very nice time and quite a bit more than I expected. The fact that this not very corporate-friendly show was a creation of massive corporation Sanrio is interesting in itself, though Retsuko does stick with her company in the end. I don’t know if I’ll be watching the rest of this series – even at a fairly short 10 15-minute episodes per season, I feel like I’ve gotten enough of it for now, and even if I watch more I may not have anything more to say about it.

Though that cliffhanger at the very end, that’s rough. I may have to follow up on that, then get dragged along for another four seasons. Who can say? Until next time, happy fucking Monday.

Currently watching: KyoAni backlog edition (Hyouka, K-On! S2)

Yeah, it’s a “currently watching” post about two decade-plus-old anime series made by the rightfully popular studio Kyoto Animation. Why write something like this? I wouldn’t do this for most series in my backlog, but Hyouka is different — I expected yet another “save the school club” slice-of-life anime, but after four episodes I found enough depth here that I wanted to leave some comments about my watch so far. This seems like a great series to speculate about early in my viewing and to see how much of that holds up. It’s also 22 episodes long, and I don’t know how long it might take me to get through the whole series considering what else I’ve got on my list.

As for K-On! season 2, I have a history with the show already based on my first season viewing, and like Hyouka it’s a long season, a double-cour at 26 episodes, so quite a long haul for me. I’m also only four episodes into the second season, and I have no idea how long it might take me to finish, so why not set down some initial thoughts on it? None of this matters anyway.

Starting with Hyouka and its dour protagonist. Houtarou Oreki comes off as just the sort of “dark mysterious” guy who intrigues people in fiction but who get left alone as loner weirdos in real life. To be fair, Oreki doesn’t want attention, since his life philosophy is based upon “the conservation of energy” — his energy. He has no interest in school clubs, sports, or romance, and his academic ambitions extend no further than getting by with average scores.

Either unluckily or luckily for Oreki, he has an older sister traveling the world and sending him letters insisting that he join the Classic Literature Club at his new school Kamiyama High. She sounds pretty nice from her letters, but apparently she’s the type to get her way through the use of painful martial arts, so Oreki feels compelled to join the club. Fortunately, he’s the only member, or so he thinks.

Here Oreki meets Eru Chitanda, his classmate and the other member of the club. To Oreki’s irritation, Chitanda is enthusiastic about the club and pushes him to actually do classic literature-related things, which he is very much against. Oreki’s one friend Satoshi Fukube also pulls him along, being cheery, outgoing, and just about his opposite personality-wise.

Despite his seeming laziness and disinterest, Oreki turns out to be extremely sharp when it comes to problem-solving, a regular Sherlock Holmes in his deductive skills. These skills comes in handy when Chitanda begs him to help her solve a decades-old mystery surrounding the club, her uncle having been a member of the same club when he was a Kamiyama student.

At first I thought there might be some kind of magical realism going on in Hyouka, but now I’m not so sure. I think scenes like written characters falling out of books and flying around are just meant to be illustrations of Oreki’s thought processes. Speaking of Sherlock Holmes, it’s sort of like what the BBC Sherlock did with its “mind palace” stuff, only in a far less stupid-looking way. This scene from the first episode, in which Chitanda gets up close to Oreki and starts insisting that he use his big brain to help her solve the mysteries surrounding the school and the Lit Club in particular, also jumped out at me:

However, this is definitely happening only in Oreki’s mind, and I’m pretty sure after getting four episodes in that it’s a sign not of Chitanda’s magical hair powers but rather of Oreki being infatuated with her without realizing it. Not sure how else I’m meant to read this — it came out of nowhere and ended just as quickly, but together with a few other bits from these first episodes I’m pretty certain he is into her but in that way where his heart knows it but his brain doesn’t, if you’ll forgive such a romantic idea. But it would fit with his whole “I don’t want to do anything unnecessary to my continued existence” deal he’s set up for himself, since he seems to have included romantic entanglements on his list of things that are just too exhausting to care about.

This picture on Oreki’s wall isn’t just some generic horse and rider painting: I believe it’s René Magritte’s The Blank Signature, in which the horse and rider are strangely intertwined with the trees, in front of and behind them at the same time. Magritte was famous for his reality- and mind-bending paintings — maybe this is another clue that not everything in Hyouka should be taken at face value. I also just like that they referenced a Magritte painting since he’s one of my favorite painters, and one of his not-so-famous works at that.

I’ll certainly keep watching Hyouka — aside from looking beautiful, it has a lot of promise, and I look forward to seeing where its mystery takes me. Though it does seem to require some background on the political situation in 60s Japan, since the fourth episode largely deals with widespread student protests at the time. Between that and the literary references, this is one of those series that might require a little side research, but so much the better if all that detail serves the plot.

Now for something a little lighter:

Finally, I’ve returned to K-On! But that exclamation point isn’t necessarily meant to mark my excitement since it’s part of the title. Despite the mountains of praise this series receives, I didn’t love the first season. Still, there was enough about it that I liked that I planned to get around to the second season at some point.

I don’t know if it’s me that’s changed slightly or the quality of the series that’s improved slightly, but I’m enjoying this second season a little more than the first so far. I’m still not in absolute love with it — K-On! season 2 from what I can tell is going to be the same kind of slice-of-life messing around as the first, and with the same sort of humor that sometimes hit and sometimes missed for me. For the very few reading this far in who need an introduction, K-On! is about a set of high school girls who start a band through their music club, and that’s substantially it. There’s also a lot of tea-drinking, cake-eating, and prank-pulling — even more of an emphasis on those than on actually playing music, and God forbid we ever get to see them practice for ten seconds at a time, but I’ve accepted that this is what K-On! is at this point. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have bothered picking this second season up at all.

I feel these kinds of shows rely heavily on at least some of their characters being likable, since they’re not too heavy on plot by design. And no surprise, Mio above is still my favorite character with her actual work ethic, to the point that she’s practically a mother to the group despite being the same age. All five members of the band have a nice dynamic, though — Mio might not be that interesting to watch without Yui, Ritsu, Tsumugi, and Azusa to play off of.

I’m also happy to report that I’m even hating their teacher advisor Sawako slightly less than I did throughout most of the first season. From what I can tell so far, at least, her pervert side has been toned down from season 1 (and apparently her season 1 version was toned down from her original manga one — how bad was she there, I wonder.) I got into what I hated about Sawako in that first season review, but I have a general dislike for raging pervert asshole characters who are unreasonably tolerated by other characters, the story trying to play them off as comic relief or something. It just doesn’t work for me, and Sawako was part of what made the first season a rough watch for me at times. Maybe it’s sympathy for her having to deal with Yui and Ritsu’s bullshit on their Kyoto field trip in episode 4 or the girls’ trying to hide the fact that they were able to sell her old guitar for 500,000 yen and keep the money in episode 2.

I just hope Sawako continues to not be a shithead from now on. Shithead characters can be funny, but I don’t get any amusement at all out of this type unless they’re properly reviled (again, see Kimura from Azumanga.) Or maybe I just have a stick up my ass, you tell me.

She looks like she’s having fun here, but don’t be fooled. Being a teacher isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it? Though Sawako still gets a lot more fulfillment out of her job than I get out of mine, which is admittedly not saying much.

I think I’m also getting the style of K-On! a bit more than I did when I watched season 1. My impression is that there’s meant to be a nostalgic feel to the whole thing. It has that kind of atmosphere — hanging out in an old school club room, taking a bus on a school trip and wandering around a strange city with your friends — it did bring back a few vaguely nice memories for me, even if I’ve never been to Japan and didn’t have anything near this sort of high school experience otherwise. But then some of these experiences aren’t that different here across the Pacific. The main difference is that our trains in America are absolute dogshit and completely useless for getting anywhere on anything like a tight schedule, though I did still enjoy riding Amtrak back when I was a student and didn’t need to travel on a schedule like I do now.

Our school trip was also to DC instead of Kyoto, and DC doesn’t have anything as cool-looking as Kinkaku-ji. No hot springs either.

This still isn’t my favorite sort of anime series — I like my slice-of-life with a lot more comedy that hits. Back when Bocchi the Rock! came out, some people compared it favorably to K-On! considering their similar premises. They’re very different kinds of shows, though, and while I did much prefer Bocchi, it doesn’t feel apt to compare them that closely. K-On! does its own thing, and it works well enough (though a better comparison would be Yuru Camp, which wins for me hands down, but then Yuru Camp is a rare 10/10 for me.)

Compliments to the animators, though: they put the usual care into depicting food. We didn’t get free Mont Blancs at my school club, we only got to ran for miles until we were exhausted. I’ve consistently made the wrong decisions throughout my life.

I’ll probably continue K-On! as well since I’m feeling a little more favorable towards it, though I might save it for those days when work is really killing me and I need something light and sweet to help me recover. And of course, the music so far is all good as well.

On a semi-related note, I also finally watched the first episode of Arcane. It feels a little weird watching a fully 3D animated series for a change, and I know absolutely nothing about League of Legends, but it’s pretty all right so far. Aside from the OP song “Enemy” that is — apologies to any Imagine Dragons fans reading, but I’ve hated every song I’ve heard out of those guys and this one is no exception. They grate on me in just the same way the Chainsmokers do, and the extreme overplay both have gotten doesn’t help. I’ll just be sure to skip that opening from now on.

OVA/spinoff review: Girls und Panzer

How many new post features can I cram onto the site? As many as it will take. Several of the anime series I’ve watched so far have come along with supplemental OVAs, or original video animations (meaning as far as I can tell “straight to DVD/Blu-ray” only without the negative implication that term carries.) While an OVA can be a standalone work, the type I’m concerned with here are spinoffs from or additions to existing series. OVAs provide a nice opportunity to tell a side story or to just throw in a fanservice episode as a bonus for fans who support the show and buy the Blu-ray, the main downside being that they often aren’t available to watch on stream either since they are seen as being on the side, just as bonus material, or for licensing reasons.

Up until now, considering both the above and my own carelessness, I generally haven’t taken these side series on. That ends today, starting with a series of six short OVA episodes and one longer special attached to the main series of the tank girl sports anime Girls und Panzer. Let’s see if I’m insightful enough to find anything meaningful to say about this stuff.

Starting with the six short episodes in the (now incomplete) OVA collection, all sorted together into a separate side series running to just about 75 minutes. And what a mix it is, starting with the beach fanservice action you might have been surprised we didn’t get in the TV anime, but here it is. By the second episode, the girls unexpectedly move from the beach to some camping in the woods — still mostly in bikinis strangely enough. Must have been hot out.

I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of “Bikini Girls Driving Tanks” magazine out there

However, it’s not all beach-style fanservice. If it were, I’m not sure I’d bother writing about this OVA series — how much can I say about it? Thankfully, some of this series also serves to fill in gaps left in the main series, like the third episode’s explanation and tour of Oarai Academy’s stupidly massive aircraft carrier (not that the extra detail provided makes it seem any more realistic, but we got well past the point of realism with the girls’ “safe” tank combat anyway.) After episode four, a four-minute compilation (music video?) of each Oarai team doing that weird punishment Anglerfish Dance, we get an episode that follows Yukari and Erwin on the reconnaissance mission Miho sent them on while Pravda had them surrounded and holed up during their semifinal match. Not a gap that I thought needed filling, but it was nice to see more of the espionage expert Yukari’s skills at work.

How do you know Oarai is the strongest team? They wear short skirts even when it’s snowing.

Finally, episode six brings us to the Oarai girls’ celebratory dinner following their victory in the final, where they hold a feast but are also commanded by the always energetic student council to put on a show of their “hidden talents” by tank crew. It’s all good fun and a nice cap to the end of the TV anime.

But have all the gaps been filled? No, there’s a major gap left, one I complained about in my review of the original series. And while I don’t understand why or how it’s not part of the “Complete OVA series” as the above six episodes are billed, I’m happy that I have the separate ~40 minute OVA This Is the Real Anzio Battle! on a separate god damn Blu-ray I bought because unlike those, this one isn’t available on streaming services.*

And of course, in the grand Girls und Panzer tradition, Anzio is just as typically extremely Italian as you’d expect seeing the other nationally aligned schools in the main series, with plenty of passion for their tank sport but much more for food. The Anzio OVA is evenly split between the run-up to the match and the match itself, and that first part opens with more espionage: a team viewing of Yukari’s taped undercover incursion into the Italian school, where both we and Miho and co. learn about Anzio’s equipment, their new secret weapon, and the fact that they hold outdoor festivals with Italian food stalls every day. They may consistently lose in their Sensha-do tournaments, but still, I know what school I’d choose to attend. (I guess for patriotic reasons I should say Saunders, but I have to be honest.)

A typical day at Anzio, setting up for lunch in front of the Colosseum

After more setup, with some special help from the one Italian-fluent Oarai girl in translating clandestinely received Anzio tank blueprints, we’re off to the match that we’ve until now only seen the end of. This second half is essentially another Sensha-do match episode like at least half of the original series is, and all up to the same quality, complete with the action, tactics, and trickery you’d expect. And our Italian-influenced friends have plenty of tricks Miho has to reckon with, centered on a set of decoy cardboard cutout tanks and a large fleet of actual miniature tanks that swarm around their targets and can’t easily be flipped over.

The tactic ultimately fails, but it does give Oarai trouble, requiring Miho to use her creative thinking to overcome.

All these tricks make for a highly entertaining match. Of course, the outcome of the match isn’t in doubt. We already know that Oarai will win, but the fun is in seeing how they get there. And as a nice touch, we get to see exactly how the flagship and its accompanying mini-tanks get flipped into the smoking pile we see in the main series’ victory screen.

But despite their loss, Anzio is gracious. There’s nothing they love better than a feast, and that’s just what they bring with them to share with their opponents when the match is done. And take it from someone with a Mediterranean background, even if not an Italian one: this part still looked familiar to me. That’s one thing we all share in common around that coast (and I guess all humanity in general likes feasts, sure, but there’s a special kind of enjoyable chaos you get in that part of the world in these get-togethers. Though it’s also near impossible to get anything done on time over there, either; that’s the trade-off. Maybe this attitude towards life is common to the warmer parts of the world in general?)

Anzio puts their hearts into combat, but their true skill is in preparing and eating food. Maybe they should be in a cooking competition instead of a tank combat one.

So those are most of the Girls und Panzer OVAs. No, not even all of them: apparently there are a few more around, but I don’t know where to dig them up. I might write more of these posts soon, anyway, since I have still more OVAs to cover from other series.

Until then, remember: it’s good to win, but it’s better to have a good time playing the game. I guess that’s the lesson this time, and it’s one that lines up well with the rest of the series.

 

* As for the obvious question: the Blu-ray was cheap enough that I didn’t mind, even if there’s just one single 40-minute special on it that could easily be bundled with the main and/or OVA discs. If the cost had been at Aniplex-level pricing, though — let’s just say I don’t blame anyone for going the alternate route to get that last arc of Bakemonogatari over paying $150+.

A look at an assortment of stuff I bought recently

Or a “haul” as the kids say. Look, I have to make these lower-effort posts every so often; I just hope they’re entertaining or informative somehow. I think I picked up some interesting items, anyway, though you can be the judge — I might end up writing dedicated posts on a few if they’re suitable and I have something more to say about them than I’ve written here. Starting with:

Unofficial Hatsune Mix by Kei

I found this brick of a manga volume in a Goodwill of all places while looking for an old shitty bookcase to drag back to my apartment. I eventually did find such a bookcase — it was very cheap and came with a bonus spider pet inside, and also a rusty fucking nail sticking out in a spot I couldn’t see. I believe God was watching over me that day considering I didn’t cut myself on that thing and get tetanus.

I’m also thankful that I found this book, a complete 400-page+ manga about the singing android Hatsune Miku and her other Vocaloid friends just living their lives. From reading the first several chapters, it looks like it’s mostly going to be absurd comedy, which suits me perfectly. There’s some very nice art inside as well, with a few all-color pieces, and all by Kei — if the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s Miku’s character designer and the guy who drew the original illustration on the Vocaloid 2 Character Vocal Series 01 box way back in 2006/7 or whenever that was.

The book itself is extremely used, with a massive crease on the back cover, but for five dollars from a Goodwill that’s okay with me. Anything to buy physical, especially if it’s cheap. And the insides are all there and accounted for as far as I can tell, and that’s what counts.

Girls und Panzer: This is the Real Anzio Battle!

Remember back in my Girls und Panzer review how I complained that Oarai’s match against the Italian-themed school Anzio got skipped over? Well here it is, the whole story behind the match in OVA form: one 40-minute episode on a single Blu-ray. The waste of disc space is astounding, and even more so since there’s an entirely different “OVA Collection” DVD/Blu-ray set, yet this OVA isn’t on it and has to be bought separately. Is it excusable or a cash grab?

I don’t know about that, but I’ve already watched those OVAs on a streaming service and this one on this ripoff disc, and I can say they’re both worthy additions to the series. But I might write an entire post about that very soon. It turns out that I have a lot of OVAs and spinoffs to catch up on, not a single one of which I’ve written about here. Yet — that’s going to be fixed soon. If I can actually write anything about them, anyway.

As for this Blu-ray itself, I can at least say that I got it for a low price. Fair enough considering that Anzio apparently isn’t available to stream (legally) anywhere at all, which is some real bullshit. Oh well — I don’t mind the cash grab as much when I consider that if this were an Aniplex production, I’d be paying at least fifty dollars. Now those are some fucking ripoff artists.

20 centimes (Haiti, 1895)

Yeah, I have yet another depressing nerd hobby: I collect old money. Not that much of it, really, but I pick up stuff on occasion that interests me. This particular coin was minted in Haiti in 1895, and for eight dollars it’s a good deal for me: I didn’t have any older coins from Haiti before this one, and it’s a nice .835 fine silver piece as well, if a small one. The reverse of the coin also has the fineness and weight stamped on it, a standard you can find on pretty much all coins from Latin America and some from the Caribbean (I don’t guess Haiti is part of Latin America because it was formed out of a French colony? Not sure about how the definitions work here.) Another interesting aspect of this coin is that it only has French inscriptions — modern Haitian money has both French and the French-derived Haitian Creole, now co-official languages.

I guess a coin doesn’t exactly fit the themes of the site, but I did buy it recently, so I’m putting it here anyway. Haiti has an interesting history that doesn’t get taught all that much up here in America as well. Maybe because we did plenty to fuck things up for them, and not too long after this very coin was minted? If you want to read a horrific story, go look up the fate of Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. Not a very nice man considering what he did to lead to his death, but even so, that’s rough. I also have a lot to say about Woodrow Wilson, and not much of it very nice, but that’s for a different time and place.

S&M Ecstasy by Michiking

Sorry about the censoring. If it annoys you, here’s the full cover in a nice resolution (and NSFW of course.) I’m just doing my best not to give Google, WordPress, or whoever the hell any more excuse to make my site adult-only or whatever else they might be planning on doing. Considering how often I type “fuck” here, I really can’t be too careful. Just look at what YouTube is doing to creators now.

But to get to the point, yeah, I bought a hentai manga. Officially translated into English and best of all decensored, so you don’t have to deal with those annoying censor lines (that you may well mentally erase anyway if you’re used to this kind of stuff.) Michiking’s art is very nice, and the stories — well, it’s porn. There’s not much to this stuff story-wise, but then that’s not probably what you’re looking for if you’re buying this. It’s not all S&M as the title suggests, either, though that is in there too if you’re into it.

More interesting to me is the market for physical hentai works here in the States. There are a few specialty publishers who put this stuff out, most prominent among them Fakku, who published this and many other of these manga volumes, and JAST, who also publish translated/decensored original doujin works. I’m not sure how many perverts with tastes similar to mine are around and what subset of us insist on buying physical when it’s at all feasible, but that might be a good business to get into if you don’t have any moral qualms with this kind of art. I certainly don’t, but then you knew that already.

Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy

A digital copy. No, I’m not that happy about it, but here’s a story you can probably relate to: I saw this for 50% off on the Playstation store, so what was I supposed to do? Now the problem is ever finding any time to play this thing. Maybe when AI takes all the jobs and our benevolent government passes laws creating a post-scarcity society utopia, then I can do this stuff full-time. And maybe I’ll grow wings and gain laser-eye powers too while I’m in fantasy land here.

Sorry, I’m in a lousy mood this morning as I write this last entry. But searching around for a usable Ryza 2 cover helped cheer me up — I couldn’t find any I liked that weren’t 300×300, but then I came across original Ryza artist and character designer Toridamono’s many Ryza 2-related pieces like the one on the left from his Twitter feed, and I guess no further comment is necessary.

That’s all for today. I hope to return with another post this weekend, but in the meantime, I hope we can all drag ourselves to the end of another fucking week. Until next time!

New feeling

The name of this song is New Feeling, and that’s what it’s about.

Lately I’ve been feeling pretty up. Not happy, never happy, but energetic at least. It’s part of the reason I’ve been able to write so much — these ups are productive for me, though I can’t exactly call them pleasant either. And then add in my bouts of sleeplessness as I write this at 2 am.

At times like these, I don’t know what I’d do without music. And while I will be getting back to King Crimson soon, their 90s style of thrashing and stomping around isn’t exactly 2 am music for me. No, I’ve been using something a little lighter in tone. Some Talking Heads (listening to all of 80s Crimson sent me back there) and some bossa nova and fusion. I’ve also been revisiting legendary Japanese fusion guys Casiopea to see if my opinion of their music has changed in the last few years, and I’m happy to say it has, and for the better. Back when I first heard their debut in 2019 I loved it, and I still do. However, their following work left me so underwhelmed back then that I quit listening through their discography after their fourth or fifth album. It all felt like a bland soup of waiting room smooth jazz to me, a serious drop in quality from the excitement of their debut. I hated Super Flight, and aside from a song or two like “Gypsy Wind”, Make Up City and Crosspoint bored me to sleep.

I’m still not blown away by most of this music, none of which comes close to the heights of their debut for me. However, here’s the change in my opinion: aside from parts of Super Flight that I still can’t stand for their unbearably cheesy synth tones (“I Love New York” sucks; I’m not budging on that) I can appreciate this music a lot more than I could a few years ago. It’s tasteful, written with plenty of care, and even if some of it sounds like doctor’s office waiting room or mall lobby fare to me, well, those places need music to avoid awkward silence, right?

And this stuff is better and more interesting than 99% of what actually plays in those places where I live. I still hate this style of smooth jazz when it’s drowned in cheese: see Kenny G, who has technical skill going for him and not much else (aside from mass appeal and commercial success of course, and one halfway decent groove captured on the weather channel part of the vaporware-adjacent News At 11.) But Casiopea, those are some cool guys. That’s not to mention their massive influence on 80s and 90s video game BGM, or the fact that they were apparently amazing live. I probably need to watch a few of their old concert videos.

So where’s the connection with romantic comedy and slice-of-life anime here? It may be a stretch or the fact that I’m trying to live in a constant cloud of sleep deprivation that’s affecting my judgment, but I feel the same way about some anime series that years ago I wouldn’t have even given a first chance, let alone a second. It may have started with Nagatoro, which I found after coming across Uzaki-chan. Though I didn’t love Uzaki all that much, Nagatoro grabbed me where it put off some other viewers with its initially harsh depiction of a bully-turned-love interest (and that turnaround was pretty quick, even if the bully side of Hayase is still there.) Then I found the more straightforwardly sweet Takagi-san and loved that even more.

Okay, Takagi kind of bullies Nishikata too, but it’s a little more good-natured this time. I really do recommend this show, anyway. Even if it’s annoyingly split by season between three streaming services.

And finally, just last year Yuru Camp managed to break down my resistance to slice-of-life anime. I used to avoid a lot of these sorts of series I thought didn’t have plots, until I realized that many of them do; they just tend to have lower and more mundane stakes than most people would expect from anime (and another reminder to all of us that anime is a medium full of all sorts of stories and characters, not just the hyper-dramatic like we hear so often — but then you already know that if you’re here.)

Now I’m wondering whether I can take my new more generous feeling towards certain kinds of music and fiction and apply it more broadly so that I’m not such a miserable fuck. I’m pretty good at not coming off that way when I need to be presentable, but my friends know what I’m like (and you know too, since I hold nothing back on this site.) I don’t enjoy being like this, and if I knew some way to be more content in a life I feel extremely constrained in, I’d act on it. But maybe it’s really all about my state of mind. Almost everyone lives constrained lives, so even if my constraints might seem a little harsh to some people with the traditional family and culture I have to deal with, I can’t say I’m in a unique position.

I’d wish you a happy Valentine’s Day, but I’m not feeling that positive quite yet. If you’re with someone who makes you happy, you don’t need my wishes anyway. So happy St. Valentine’s Day maybe, if you observe that. And happy Tuesday, though Tuesdays usually aren’t that happy for your typical worker. I’m going to listen to more fusion and try to have some nice dreams for once. Until next time.