A review of Girls und Panzer

What comes to mind when you think of tanks, those armored war machines? Maybe you think of the Eastern Front, of Stalingrad and Kursk, or of North Africa, of Patton and Montgomery trying to chase down the Desert Fox Rommel. If I had to guess, these and other World War II-era campaigns were on the minds of the creators and writers of the 2012 anime Girls und Panzer. Yet instead of writing their tanks into a war story, they put them into a sports anime, and instead of a bunch of grizzled soldiers, they created a cast of schoolgirls to man those tanks.

You might already know something about Girls und Panzer if you read this blog for the anime at least. I’ve known about it for a long time myself, since it got a lot of attention when it first aired as an original anime about ten years ago. Granted, that was back during the massive wave of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, but forming a tank crew and engaging in mock combat isn’t exactly a cute thing, or at least it wouldn’t traditionally be considered so. But then maybe that serious tonal gap was part of the appeal, just the thought of a bunch of schoolgirls blasting each other in WWII era-accurate tanks.

Until last week, I couldn’t have addressed the appeal of this show, but I’ve finally gotten around to watching the original 12-episode anime. So is Girls und Panzer just a novelty, or is there something more to it than “schoolgirls drive tanks”? I’ll get into it in depth below, but not before giving the usual spoiler warning. I guess this show is pretty well past the date where that would matter much, being over a decade old now, but I still have a lot more in my backlog, so I’d better show proper consideration for all the other backlog-watchers.

It looks like totally normal school life here, but there’s plenty to spoil believe me

Miho Nishizumi is a transfer student starting a new year at Oarai Girls’ Academy. Miho is clearly enthusiastic about her new school, having even memorized the names and birthdays of her classmates and immediately making a few new friends. But though her enthusiasm is very real, we soon learn the true reason for her transfer to Oarai specifically: it doesn’t have a Sensha-do team. But just what the hell is Sensha-do, and why is it so central to her school transfer? And why, despite her wishes, are the student council president and her officers demanding that Miho join the school’s suddenly revived Sensha-do program?

When “voluntary” electives aren’t voluntary, I know the feeling. Also notice the vice president’s glasses-style monocle.

Despite the student council leaning on her hard to take Sensha-do, they can’t actually force her to sign up for it. However, they can use carrots instead of sticks to encourage their student body to join the team: triple the credits, many more meal tickets at the cafeteria, and a nicely put together propaganda video espousing the value of practicing Sensha-do in which we learn what it actually is: mock combat with refurbished World War II-era tanks. Apparently tank warfare is the perfect sport for young women, training their bodies, sharpening their minds, and even making them more attractive to the opposite sex. Sure, why not?

I guess some guys do like women in uniform, but the student council is likely exaggerating a bit here. They have their reasons, some of which will only emerge much later in the story.

This pro-Sensha-do initiative is successful, with many of Oarai’s girls deciding to join the team, including Miho’s two new friends Hana Isuzu and Saori Takebe. They have their own reasons for joining the new tank team (my favorite of which is Saori’s “get a future husband right away,” which sadly doesn’t come off, or at least not yet.) But Miho is still extremely reluctant to follow them onto the team, flashing back to a memory of her previous Sensha-do service, of her diving into a river after a drowning fellow tank crew. She clearly has some trauma associated with this sport she’s trying to escape from, and she simply can’t bring herself to return to it despite the enormous pressure placed upon her by the student council, which seriously insists that she in particular join.

But she finally gives in. Not a big surprise to us considering the premise and the very first scene of the show, but though Miho finally decides to break through her fears and return to Sensha-do, she’s deeply moved by her new friends sticking with her in facing down the council. With the three of them now on the team, along with the student council president and her officers (who to their credit also join and man a tank crew themselves) they prepare for the challenges that lie ahead. Despite Miho’s insistence that she’s no good at Sensha-do, the council officers know otherwise: the Nishizumi family, namely her mother Shiho and her older sister Maho, are legends of the sport, and Miho’s natural talent and leadership skills soon emerge in their own right.

Maho Nishizumi, seen here looking scary as all hell

But Miho will have to prove herself not just to her new school but to the other, far better-established academies around Japan, including her old school Kuromorimine, where Maho still captains the Sensha-do team. Miho’s previous conduct on that team, namely her abandonment of her tank to help save another crew on their team whose tank slid into a river during a match, while absolutely commendable, led to their team losing the match and was condemned as “heresy” against her family’s established “Nishizumi style” of Sensha-do. Will Miho be able to help train and build Oarai’s rusty tank team doing it her way, and will they be able to compete head-to-head with their better-practiced and equipped rivals — up to and including Maho and her Kuromorimine fleet?

And will Saori net a boyfriend? Well, I already gave that away, poor girl. Just wait until college.

In some ways, Girls und Panzer is very much your typical sports anime (or sports series in general.) We have all the usual story elements here: the prodigy who quit the sport after a tragic incident that she still blames herself for, but who gets called back to the sport to guide an underdog team to ultimate victory. Said underdog team is full of  wildly differing and sometimes over-the-top characters who have to be taught how to operate together as a team, which they do end up getting down before the big tournament where they win upset victory one after another by using their clever tactics against their rivals’ superior forces. There’s even a “the school will get shut down if we don’t win” plot running through most of the story, raising the stakes for the characters and the viewers considerably.

I’m not very much into the sports genre. Not into sports much in general honestly. The only sport I ever played was track and field in high school just because it meant I didn’t have to risk running into or touching anyone else because fuck that. But I have seen a few older sports movies that follow this general formula, like the ice hockey comedy classic The Mighty Ducks (and there’s a good test for the “90s kids” reading if you remember that movie or not, since it seems to have fallen out of our culture unlike say the far worse Space Jam, only remembered for meme purposes.1) Girls und Panzer hits a lot of the same standard plot points with similar outcomes for the cast.

My favorite character so far, Miho’s tank driver Mako Reizei. I know the feeling.

But though it follows the standard sports series formula, Girls und Panzer follows it in its own unique way. Yes, partly by being about schoolgirls who drive tanks. This premise was an extremely effective hook since it got me to watch a sports anime, which I normally wouldn’t bother doing. The novelty and spectacle of the show’s mock tank combat is definitely a positive as well — though I am a big history nerd (history being my other big love next to anime, games, and music, the only one out of them I don’t write about on this site all that often) I don’t know much at all about military history. At least not when it comes to the specifics: I can tell you all about the factors that lead to the declarations of war across Europe in 1939, about Hitler’s blitzkrieg, the division of Poland and the fall of France, the thwarted invasion of Britain, and the utterly disastrous attack on the Soviet Union. But don’t ask me about the specifics of the various armies’ equipment, and that gap in my knowledge beyond the basics extends to their tanks.

I don’t even remember which tank this was, but it certainly had some issues

My overly long-winded point is that though I don’t know about the specifics of tank combat, I was still able to appreciate all the tank combat featured in Girls und Panzer, and there was a hell of a lot of it. Aside from one match that gets completely glossed over (Oarai vs. the Italian-themed school Anzio, the subject of a separate OVA I’m going to have to watch soon) each of Oarai’s matches is depicted in full detail, starting with a practice game in which Miho proves her skill so well that everyone insists she become both the commander of her own tank and the team’s overall captain. Miho soon rediscovers a passion for tank combat, pulling her tank teams together into a cohesive unit. (Though not a perfect one: never chase an enemy feigning retreat into an ambush! Miho knows that, but some of her teammates don’t and make this mistake in their match against the Russian-themed school Pravda against her orders.)

Miho commanding her tank — not shown here, the rest of her crew inside.

If you’re thinking Girls und Panzer is over the top, I’d agree with you. The concept in itself is utterly insane if we’re looking at it from a realistic angle: while the matches in the show are represented as mock tank battles, the shells they fire at each other sure as hell don’t look mock in any sense. I think there was a line early on about the shells being blanks or “safe” or something, and while I’m absolutely not an expert in ammunition, tank armor, or any related subject, I’m pretty certain that Miho and her fellow tank commanders aren’t too safe riding around mostly standing outside the tank as we so often see them. Even the inside of the tank doesn’t look terribly safe, since very often direct hits in these matches result in smoke and flames. And while nobody in the show gets seriously hurt, Miho’s team is constantly calling the others on their radio to ensure everyone’s all right when they’re hit. Then there’s the incident in Miho’s recurring flashback, which implied that drowning was a serious threat for the tank crew she rescued from the river.

All that considered, while Sensha-do seems to have its dangers, I can mostly suspend my disbelief for the purposes of Girls und Panzer, I think for two reasons: 1) the story and its characters are both fun and compelling enough to justify said weirdness, and 2) the show almost immediately establishes its world as kind of a weird place. Why in the hell, for example, do these girls attend what are essentially boarding schools built on impossibly massive aircraft carriers, complete with artificial grass and hills? Again, there’s an explanation somewhere in the series that’s mentioned once in passing, but it seems like the writers really just thought it would be cool to do that without any other more substantive reason. And that’s totally fine with me. It’s weird, but it fits in with the weirdness of somehow non-lethal tank combat sports.

Man, do I hate this saying so fucking much. But it does apply here, both to Oarai’s first real match and more generally to the tactical trickery Miho has to use to constantly overcome the enemy’s greater numbers and firepower.

The absurdity increases with the various rival schools to Oarai, which each have a national theming to them despite all apparently being based in Japan: the British St. Gloriana, the American Saunders, the Italian Anzio, the Russian Pravda, and Miho’s old school Kuromorimine which I’m pretty sure is supposed to be German-themed (from the tanks, the uniforms, the school’s iron cross emblem, and the fact that Kuromorimine translates as “Black Forest Peak” — not sure why it’s not called Schwarzwaldberg or however you’d translate that into German.2) I think the idea was to pit Oarai’s mix of tanks from around the world against nationally themed WWII tank fleets, and it’s to the story’s credit that these other schools, or at least their Sensha-do teams, go all-in on that national theming, with the British school’s captain being extremely proper and drinking tea, the Russian school’s captain eating borscht while they have the Oarai girls surrounded and besieged, and the Italian school’s presumably drinking olive oil straight or something. Again, it’s all pretty goofy, but it works as a part of the generally over-the-top feel of the series.

The WWII theme aspect of the show also lets the writers throw in some nice historical references — take for one example Oarai’s vice president’s response to the Russian captain Katyusha’s demand for their surrender.

Despite all that, Girls und Panzer has an emotional core to it. Again, that’s not unusual for sports series, with the captain Miho forming bonds of friendship with her tank crew and her other teammates, and even with her rival captains from the other schools and their friends. Miho also has to face her own family, however, and this is where I found the series just a little lacking. The setup is fine: Miho has a different approach to Sensha-do than her extremely strict mother and her older sister do, and her actions as a tank commander at their school led to her transfer out and even her attempted and failed escape from the sport. And as you might have guessed, the final match in the tournament sees Miho fighting against and overcoming Maho, after which she earns her respect and even her hardass mother’s, who previously said she was prepared to disown her younger daughter over her transgressions. Her disgracing the Nishizumi style of Sensha-do is apparently just that great an offense that she needs to be legally written out of the family. I mean fuck, really?

What a household to grow up in. Much to her credit, Maho does try to stick up for Miho when speaking with their mother, but Shiho isn’t having it, at least not before Miho can prove herself on the field of mock tank battle.

However, the show never explains exactly what the Nishizumi style involves. “Iron rules and a heart of steel”, sure, but does that mean you have to abandon your potentially drowning teammates to their fates? In my mind, Miho without any doubt did the right thing in abandoning her post to save them. So it lost them a match — there are always more matches, but people’s lives can’t be replaced.

But then since I’m not even sure just how lethal or non-lethal Sensha-do is meant to be, even taking into account my willing suspension of disbelief, it’s hard for me to say how much danger any of the girls might be in in any particular circumstance. And combined with the very general and somewhat vague idea of the Nishizumi style we’re given, it’s hard for me to gauge just how unreasonable Shiho is being. Somewhere on a scale from “very” to “impossibly” as far as I can tell, but again, I can’t very well. Maybe if I knew more about tank warfare I’d be able to judge more effectively.

There’s also the fact that Sensha-do seems to be inherently unbalanced, since schools with greater resources can put far more tanks on the field than Oarai can without any kind of handicap in place. But that’s not a flaw in the story as I see it; seems more like an intended aspect of the sport and yet another obstacle for Oarai to overcome. And after all, it only takes a direct hit on the captain’s tank to win a match, no matter how many other tanks are still operational.

That quirk aside, I enjoyed Girls und Panzer a whole lot. It had everything a good sports anime (or live-action show or movie for that matter) should have: suspense, action, and some emotional connection among the characters as they form bonds around the sport. Those who despise the use of 3DCG might have a hard time with the series at first, since the tanks certainly don’t look hand-drawn, but I’m fine with it and generally with the use of CG for animated vehicles and machinery. I have a real problem when it’s used to animate characters especially, but that isn’t the case here. If anything, Girls und Panzer seems to be an example of how to effectively and more or less seamlessly blend 3DCG and traditional animation, because there wasn’t a single moment while watching the series that I was taken out of the action by an awkward-looking scene.

And man, some of those tank battle scenes just look good. If you wanted to see a set of schoolgirls rolling through a seaside Japanese town in full armor blasting the shit out of each other, be sure to watch Girls und Panzer. Though if it hadn’t had that emotional core and those endearing characters (for as much as some were intentional caricatures even, yeah) I wouldn’t have liked it nearly as much. And points for those historical references.

In the end, it’s all about eating a good meal with your true friends. That chicken katsu looks great too. Every other fucking anime I watch has to make me hungry, doesn’t it?

There’s another major title in my anime backlog down. Though I still have to watch that Anzio OVA, and then there’s the Girls und Panzer film (titled der Film, of course.) I have a lot of various OVAs and films to follow up on, actually. Maybe I just need to knock through all those one weekend.

In the meantime, you can look forward to more music, more anime, and maybe even something about my game backlog soon if my fucking horrible schedule allows for it! Until next time.

 

1 See also Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. Its use as a joke back in the day was funny and it completely worked for that purpose, but it’s a pretty awful song in my opinion. That might be why the “Rickroll” worked so well.

Not that Mighty Ducks wasn’t also pretty goofy at points, but I remember it being pretty enjoyable back when I was a kid at least. At least we still have good movies from roughly that period like Bill & Ted and Back to the Future that people remember fondly. But now I’m way off track, which is why I put this bullshit tangent in the endnotes.

2 On that note, it bothered me for a while that Girls und Panzer was only written halfway in German. Fully translated, it would be Mädchen und Panzer, but I guess many more viewers know the German word for tank than its word for girl. And I’ve gotten used to the title by now — it just took some deconditioning from my high school German classes.

Currently watching: Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible

What would I do without an anime series or two every season to use as an escape from the professional world of reading and analyzing and processing god damn legal documents all day? I don’t know, so I’m thankful that I have still another such anime in the currently airing Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible / Kubo-san wa Mob wo Yurusanai. This is one of the latest manga-to-anime adaptations in the subgenre of odd couple slow-burn school/university romances. If that’s not an established subgenre now, it should be, because see also Takagi-san, Uzaki-chan, Nagatoro,* Bisque Doll, and plenty of others I haven’t watched yet.

The story this time centers on two high school students, starting with male lead Junta Shiraishi. Junta is remarkable in exactly one way: he so lacks presence that people regularly don’t notice when he’s around, even when he’s right next to them or standing in front of them. The poor boy isn’t merely a wallflower — he is quite literally invisible to others until he projects his voice and/or gesticulates enough that he gets noticed. This causes Junta some obvious problems with getting recorded in the class attendance rolls, and though his classmates don’t think poorly of him, he doesn’t really have any friends either.

Junta seen here eating lunch alone as usual. He’s alone, but he doesn’t seem to mind his solitude all that much.

One day, however, Junta meets a classmate who can see him. Nagisa Kubo occupies the seat next to him in the back of their homeroom class (as usual, it’s always either the back row or the second to third to the back next to the window.) Nagisa knows Junta is practically invisible to the rest of the world thanks to his lack of presence, and starting from the first episode, she challenges him to try to test those limits and to stand out in various ways. Junta isn’t crazy about putting himself out there after a lifetime of blending into the background, but Nagisa has a strange sort of hold on him that he can’t explain. I wonder — it couldn’t be that he’s falling for her, could it? No, that can’t be it.

Nagisa testing the limit of Junta’s lack of presence/invisibility in a provocative way

Kubo-san is just three episodes in right now, but I can already tell what direction it’s taking. The romance takes off almost immediately, with a few perspective switches to Nagisa in which she pretty much all but confirms that she’s crushing on the plain self-described NPC Junta. Given that she’s a top student and a popular figure at their school, whereas Junta is Junta, we might wonder what it is about the guy that attracted her. Junta might wonder that as well, since it hasn’t yet crossed his mind that she’s into him, though in usual form for this subgenre he seems to share her feelings without really realizing it.

But while Junta seems unremarkable in every way aside from his relative invisibility, he’s already shown himself to be a conscientious and at least kind of intelligent guy. And anyway, who gets to decide what the heart wants? The heart decides that for itself, and though it sometimes makes stupid fucking decisions without consulting the head, I wouldn’t say that’s the case here barring a twist that Nagisa is secretly a yandere or something.

Nagisa’s big sister Akina, who immediately knows she’s crushing on someone. I’m looking forward to more from Akina in the coming episodes.

Of all the other series I’ve watched in this slow-burn odd couple romance subgenre or whatever I called it, Kubo-san feels by far the most like Teasing Master Takagi-san. Nagisa herself gives off strong Takagi vibes with her relatively light and playful teasing of Junta, though unlike his male lead counterpart Nishikata, Junta doesn’t feel the need to challenge Nagisa to battles of strength or wit to settle the score. Being older and more mature, it makes sense that he’d be a little cooler about Nagisa’s prodding, though he’s also naturally quite passive anyway.

Massive Takagi-san vibes here in particular

I don’t have any further comments on Kubo-san at the moment except that it’s nice so far and I like it. This is the second Pine Jam production I’ve seen following last season’s Do It Yourself!!, and based on these two I have a positive impression of their work — neither show necessarily looks amazing, but the art styles are vibrant enough and suit their subjects, and I’ve heard the style in the Kubo-san anime is very faithful to the work of original manga writer/illustrator Nene Yukimori. I haven’t read the manga at all, but the anime gives me some of the warm feelings I got from three seasons of Takagi-san and that I’ll presumably get from the Takagi-san movie whenever it’s made available on our crap streaming services, and that’s certainly a good thing.

Speaking of, I’m watching Kubo-san on HIDIVE. After some of the bullshit Crunchyroll’s been putting us through, I’m feeling a lot more charitable towards HIDIVE these days, though it’s also far from perfect. But just a note in case you have an account with them that you can catch Kubo-san there. Based on the first three episodes, it’s worth a watch, and hopefully it will keep that quality up.

 

* Yes, I’m also watching the second season of Nagatoro, 2nd Attack. Nothing much to add about it so far except that yeah, it’s still good, and I will most likely be writing something about it at the end of the season because as much as I like the softer teasing of Kubo-san and Takagi-san, I also enjoy the slightly sharper edge we get with Nagatoro. But there’s my comment in case you thought I’ve forgotten about Hayase and her put-upon senpai Naoto: I haven’t!

Currently watching: NieR:Automata Ver1.1a

Hey, the new season of anime is here, and so is NieR:Automata Ver1.1a, an anime adaptation of the game NieR:Automata released several years ago. Automata (not to be confused with Replicant, Reincarnation, or other NieR-related titles) is currently only three episodes in, but I already have some thoughts about it, and apparently the production is being put on hold for a while at this point because of COVID. That’s based on comments I’ve seen online, and though I’m not sure how much credence I should give those, either way I may as well highlight this series now. I should note that I’ve played the game this anime adapts, but I’ll avoid spoilers in this post beyond what’s contained in these first three episodes.

No, this isn’t a spoiler: it’s the first scene of the show

If you’re new to it, the basic story: Earth was long ago attacked by aliens who created machines to fight for them, and in the resulting war, humanity fled to the Moon. The only force remaining to fight for human civilization are an army of androids with various combat and analysis functions. While androids have been fighting on Earth for centuries at this point, our central characters at the outset are two top-of-the-line models from the elite combat team YoRHa, the battle unit 2B and scanning unit 9S, who are ordered to work as a team and make contact with the ongoing anti-machine/alien resistance in an unnamed ruined city.

This seems like a fairly straightforward operation at first. However, the machines may turn out to be more than mindless automated killers. What challenges will 2B and 9S face on Earth, and just who can they trust?

Well okay, 2B doesn’t need any introduction, does she? And in case you were wondering, yeah, she’s been done justice in anime form.

If you’ve played Automata the game, there’s a lot you’ll immediately recognize. Nearly all of the first episode runs alongside the prologue of the first route of the game exactly, mostly following 2B’s perspective as she joins an assault team flying from their base to a large ruined city on Earth, making it into the city as the team’s only survivor, and meeting up with 9S to take care of a major machine threat (in this case a bunch of walking, talking oil rigs that shoot lasers.) However, by episode two we start to get some new material and a couple of new perspectives, joining the non-YoRHa, less advanced androids fighting against the machines in the city as a part of the Resistance that 2B and 9S later link up with.

The other, more interesting, perspective featured in episode two is that of the machines themselves. Most of them act like and are treated as mindless killers, but a few have begun to ignore the androids completely, living their machine lives in seeming peace and even starting a flower garden in the middle of the city’s ruins.

It didn’t take long for them to get to the “machines aren’t what they seem at first” stuff.

The proxy human vs. alien war between the androids and machines overtakes these attempts at peaceful living, however. When 2B and 9S arrive at the makeshift city camp of the Resistance, they agree to help get rid of a looming machine threat out in the nearby desert, but what they find there is shocking: another group of machines doing their best to imitate a human society, only not a pacifistic one this time. Upon the androids’ arrival, the machines panic and join together to generate an entirely new machine, one in the shape of a man with the new ability to shield against and dodge attacks. 2B and 9S finally manage to “kill” this new machine at close range with their swords, but strangely enough it bleeds, and out of its wound comes another identical man-shaped machine with even more formidable power than the first. The androids flee at this point, sending word back to headquarters about this evolving machine threat.

This third episode also follows the events of the game pretty closely, though with some differences (for example, the unhinged android Jackass taking more of a role in bringing 2B and 9S to the desert and acting as effective comic relief with her obsessive behavior.) I’m looking forward to seeing more out of some of the game’s more interesting secondary characters and events from perspectives we didn’t get in the game.

Part of the city’s android resistance team headed by Lily, right. Expecting to see quite a bit more of them as the story continues.

I’d go into more details here, but you know, spoilers. And not just for Automata: there’s already been a reference back to Replicant that you wouldn’t know unless you’d played that game, but that’s one I don’t even remember seeing when I played Automata. But even if you haven’t played either game, you might have guessed from these first three episodes that Automata is not a typical sci-fi war drama, if there’s such a thing as a typical one of those. Knowing Yoko Taro, even those of us who have played at least Automata and think we’re familiar with its story will probably end up being surprised. There’s no relaxing when he’s involved, and that’s a good thing — I’d much prefer surprise twists, assuming they work, to a straightforward adaptation of a story I already know.

As for the presentation, I don’t have any serious complaints. The anime is using the game’s soundtrack, a massive plus considering that the Nier games have some of the best BGM ever created. It would have been out of the question not to use the original backing tracks anyway, since the series’ music is so closely tied to its stories. The visuals are fine too — I’m not the biggest fan of A-1’s style, and I would have loved to see what a studio like ufotable could have done with this story instead. But though the game has plenty of spectacle, the story and its characters are more than strong enough to make up for any shortcomings in presentation, and aside from a bit of not great-looking CGI in the first episode, I’m okay with the anime on that front so far.

I couldn’t get any screenshots from the third episode because fuck Crunchyroll as usual, so here’s another from the first. The relationship between the stoic, silent 2B and the chatty, upbeat 9S is a central part of the story and can be pretty amusing at times. I’m looking forward to their amusement park scenes myself, assuming the anime is headed there.

There’s not much else I can say at this point without actually spoiling parts of the story, so I’ll shut up. I’m interested to see what newcomers to this series think of the story so far, though. Is it just a confusing clusterfuck at this point? If so, don’t worry — that’s purposeful. I’m not sure how long this series is supposed to run, but the game kept key parts of its story hidden for a long while, and I expect the anime will do the same.

Enjoy the ride in the meantime, though we sadly won’t be getting past the third episode for at least a few weeks. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the return of Automata to its regular schedule whenever that happens. Until then, here’s a special sign off: Glory to mankind! (And be sure to watch each episode all the way to the end! You won’t want to miss the post-credits sequences, believe me.)

The anime roulette: part 4

It’s time again. After half a year and a lot of anime watched (at least by my low standards and with my busy schedule) the anime roulette returns with a set of series I haven’t seen one second of yet. But why now exactly? Did I just watch the new Wheel of the Worst episode on YouTube and remember that I had this post series dormant? No, of course that’s not the reason. Maybe not.

Whatever motivated me to bring it back, I have plenty of anime to potentially watch, so there’s no lack of material for the wheel. If you haven’t read the previous posts (and see parts 1, 2, and 3 if you’re interested) the idea here is that I spin a wheel with 10 to 12 anime series on it at least three times and watch at least the first episode of whatever I land on. Here’s the wheel I’ll be spinning for this fourth installment:

And a full list of the anime on the wheel, because some of the titles are annoyingly cut off:

Arpeggio of Blue Steel
Citrus
Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness
Healer Girl
Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House
Let’s Make a Mug Too
Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls
My Life as Inukai-san’s Dog
O Maidens in Your Savage Season
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
Revenger
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

The anime in the above list fall into three categories: 1) series I’ve been meaning to start but just haven’t gotten around to yet, 2) series that I had no previous plans to watch but that intrigued me somehow when I came across them recently online or on one of these awful streaming services I use, and 3) mines, or series that I’m pretty sure will be somehow painful to watch based either on their notoriety or the fact that they sound fucking ridiculous to me, and not in a good way. There are three mines listed among the 12 series — can you guess which they are? I won’t spoil them until/unless I land on them, but you might be able to guess anyway.

Enough stalling: on to the spins. We’ll be starting with…

Hey, I’m actually happy about landing on this one. I’ve been meaning to watch Bunny Girl Senpai for quite a while, but as mentioned above, I just haven’t gotten around to it. I’ve found this roulette concept is a nice way to get myself to bite the bullet and start those series, and by doing that I discovered Yuru Camp and other anime I’ve liked or even loved. I have similarly high hopes for Bunny Girl Senpai: despite the strange name that apparently puts some potential viewers off, everything I’ve heard about it suggests that I’d like it. So let’s meet this Bunny Girl Senpai, whoever she is.

Spin 12: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

Quite a compelling start to this post. It’s very likely you already know about Bunny Girl Senpai, but if you don’t, it does feature a rascal and a bunny girl senpai. The “does not dream of” part of the title is still pretty cryptic, though by the end of the first episode I think its meaning may have become a little clearer.

Wild rabbit spotted

Second-year high school student Sakuta Azusagawa is in the local library when he spots a schoolmate, his senior Mai Sakurajima — dressed up in a full bunny girl outfit. He’s naturally shocked by this sight, but even more strangely, no one else in the library is reacting to the spectacle, even as Mai seems to be trying to get people’s attention. When she walks up to Sakuta, she realizes that he alone can see her. However, when he calls her “senpai” and she realizes they attend the same school, she warns him not to tell anyone what he saw and to just forget it ever happened.

Can’t blame him, I wouldn’t be able to forget it either.

Sakuta does keep his mouth shut about the incident until they meet again, but as he tells Mai upon running into her on the train going home, he can’t very well forget such a sight. Realizing she can’t just wipe his memory, Mai tells Sakuta why she was walking around the library in a bunny girl suit: she’s recently noticed that on a certain day of the week, every week, she becomes invisible and inaudible to almost everyone, as though she simply doesn’t exist, and this bunny girl experiment was a way to test just how undetectable she was. A popular actress from the age of six, Mai has always been in the spotlight, but she’s been trying to escape from it into a quiet, somewhat normal high school life. She didn’t want to be quite this invisible, however.

It’s a fantastic story, but Sakuta believes Mai and believes her condition is connected to a violent incident he suffered through himself. After getting off the train, Sakuta invites Mai to his apartment and shows her his own strange affliction: a large scar on his chest that he received when he woke up bleeding one day for no apparent reason. Sakuta’s younger sister has suffered similar mysterious wounds after being verbally attacked by her classmates. These and other strange incidents like them are being grouped into a phenomenon known as “Adolescence Syndrome”, although said syndrome still seems to be treated as an urban legend at this point.

After Sakuta delivers some unwanted advice about going back into acting, Mai storms out of his apartment and disappears for a while. Sakuta carries out a fruitless search for her, one that becomes desperate when he believes she might have come to harm or worse. But by the end of the episode, he finds Mai sitting outside his apartment. It seems she’ll have to rely on him for a while, since he and his sister are currently the only people who she knows can see and interact with her.

This feels familiar

I’ve seen Bunny Girl Senpai compared to Monogatari. That may turn you on to or off from this series depending on how you feel about Monogatari, but it’s a plus for me, and I can see why people draw that comparison now: both have to do with students suffering from mysterious, possibly supernatural, afflictions. Sakuta and Mai also remind me quite a bit of Koyomi and Hitagi, both in terms of their personalities and their relationship. My guess (a complete guess, since I haven’t spoiled myself by looking at the show’s tags) is that they’ll have some kind of unconventional romance as they try to work out these mysteries.

There seem to be plenty of other girls in the central cast too, and if most of them are centered around Sakuta, there’s another connection to Monogatari: that “harem but not really a harem” theme. Unless it actually is a harem this time, but from episode 1 I doubt that very much. I just don’t get that feeling from this show. Another big plus, because I generally don’t enjoy harem series.

Sakuta’s sister Kaede is in there too, but again, not really. Sakuta might be a rascal, but he’s not a degenerate thankfully. Less of one than Koyomi so far at least.

My impressions of Bunny Girl Senpai so far are extremely positive otherwise. It’s nicely produced, the story is intriguing, the characters and their snappy dialogue are done well if a little unrealistically (but then I don’t insist on realism — I like that stylized dialogue when it’s done right, and again see also Monogatari) and the ending theme Fukashigi no Carte is beautiful. Like Made in Abyss, this is a series I probably would have watched as it aired, but since it also aired back in 2018 when I was barely watching any anime at all, I missed it. But I’ll definitely be continuing Bunny Girl Senpai, and probably soon.

Well, that was a great start to this new round of spins. Hopefully we can make this a streak with the second (and avoid the mines, though landing on one of those may be fun too?)

Nice, another result I was looking forward to. Arpeggio of Blue Steel doesn’t seem to get that much talk, but I know it as the shipgirl anime before the mobile games Kantai Collection and Azur Lane came out and produced their own anime adaptations. The KanColle and especially the Azur Lane anime don’t seem to be highly regarded (though I did like Slow Ahead! as a light diversion) but Blue Steel sounds like a promising one. Let’s hope this first episode lives up to my moderate expectations!

Spin 13: Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Another interesting first episode. The premise is definitely unique, anyway — I think this was the first time the “warship embodied in/personified as a girl” concept was used; the anime aired in 2013 and the manga it was based on started back in 2009. Whether it does better with that concept than the mobile games it influenced — we’ll see.

Earth’s future is bleak. A mysterious and deadly naval force called the Fleet of Fog one day shows up seemingly out of nowhere (though the prologue notes there’s a connection to climate change and rising ocean levels somehow, but don’t worry about how I guess — if the connection was actually made I missed it) and starts attacking all humanity. After the human fleets are wiped out or confined to port, the Fleet of Fog blocks all shipping lanes and chokes off commerce, sending civilization centuries backwards into a new dark age.

However, there is a potential savior of humanity out there in the seas: the submarine I-401 Blue Steel, commanded by the wanted rogue naval cadet Chihaya Gunzou and his small crew of also teenagers. This set seems to be the only one that can effectively fight the enemy fleet with its practically alien technology, but why? And who’s that girl sitting in the center of the bridge who knows their enemy so well?

Iona and Chihaya in the middle of combat

This is not the actual World War II-era I-401, of course — this new I-401 is a Fleet of Fog ship that for an unknown reason sailed itself into a Japanese harbor, giving itself up to the enemy but remaining in a locked-down and unusable state as we see in an extended flashback. That is, until the cadet Chihaya is shown the secret enemy tech by his instructors. When he touches the ship, it activates, and an unknown girl named Iona shows up at the academy that day insisting that she and Chihaya speak alone.

It turns out that Iona is a former member of the Fog Fleet, the embodiment of the I-401, and her orders are to only obey Chihaya Gunzou. After confirming that Chihaya wants to break out of humanity’s stalemate and take a serious stand against the Fleet, she calls up her ship (or herself?) by blasting her way out of dock and inviting him on board.

I don’t even have to make a stupid joke here, make your own

Chihaya boards I-401 (and/or Iona) and together they pilot the submarine out of the academy harbor, escaping its guns and disappearing into the night. This makes Chihaya as much of a traitor and rebel against his side as Iona is against hers, but they have a purpose in common now. Or at least their purposes are compatible: Chihaya’s to break humanity out of its confinement, and Iona to follow all of Chihaya’s commands.

The first episode ends with a jump back into the present as Chihaya and his crew successfully sink a Fog ship in order to protect a rocket launch from attack, after which we meet a few of our enemies: more ship ladies, all embodying various other World War II-era Japanese warships. Yeah, the connections with KanColle and Azur Lane are very obvious at this point.

I’m not exactly the “step on me” type, but for Takao? Sure.

I don’t have much to add to what I wrote in the synopsis above. This first episode of Blue Steel is clearly meant as background and setup for the real plot that I’m guessing starts in the second episode. A series with such a uniquely strange concept (or again, I believe it was unique back in 2009 when the manga started its run) needs an episode like this to explain what the hell is going on. We don’t yet have much of a how or why to this shipgirl question — are they aliens or even interdimensional beings, why are they attacking humanity, etc. etc. — but I hope we’ll find out more as the plot unfolds.

There’s a lot of why around Iona as well. She doesn’t even know why she’s been commanded to obey Chihaya, except that he’s the child of a naval commander killed in battle who apparently had massive importance, enough that a submarine of the enemy fleet defected to find and bind itself to his son.

Iona, waiting for Chihaya to return from a meeting with the rogue crew’s government clients, on the I-401 deck. Or on her own deck?

The story is intriguing enough again that I plan on continuing it into that second episode. Though I can’t lie to you — the “shipgirl” designs are certainly nice and a big draw for me. Especially the enemy ladies Takao and Kongo. I also like how the whole bizarre ship -> woman personification is handled here, with the human aspect of the ship being just a manifestation of that ship but not actually human, more like another part of the ship itself. So I guess if a ship of the Fog Fleet gets sunk, it takes the “human” girl attached to it with it and they both “die?” Or “sink,” or whatever.

Well, it’s still confusing, but in my opinion this approach makes more sense than the “girls with giant guns strapped to their bodies flying around on water skates, but maybe also manifested as actual ships sometimes” thing from Azur Lane. To be fair, I haven’t seen the main Azur Lane anime, though. Maybe I’ll add it in as one of the mine options in the next roulette post considering what I’ve heard about it.

As for any complaints about Blue Steel so far, it uses some very awkward and distracting CG in certain character interactions, but otherwise it’s fine. Though I hope they somehow justify the use of the musical term “arpeggio” in the title. Did the author know what a god damn arpeggio is? One of these shipgirls does have a grand piano on her deck for some reason, so I’m hoping we hear some arpeggios out of her at least.

She’s not even playing properly in this scene. And what’s that form? Feet on the floor! Straighten your back! My old piano teacher would have a time sorting this girl out.

So, two for two on anime series I want to keep watching so far — another promising round of spins! Can we make it three for three?

No, of course we can’t. With my luck, I couldn’t have expected to escape this round of spins without taking a hit from one of those guns, without stepping on one of the mines I buried. Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls is as the title suggests a magical girl anime, and possibly the worst one of all time based on its ratings. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t usually pay that much attention to a series’ ratings on Anilist or MAL — I’ve dropped a couple of series I started in the 80s/8.0 range on both sites, and I’ve enjoyed a couple rated in the 60s/6.0 range. Some of that just comes down to individual taste.

But there’s a certain point at which the more objective qualities of a work are so lousy that almost everyone has to agree it’s trash aside from the truly and genuinely out there (or the truly contrarian types.) Naria Girls has a 33% on Anilist and a 3.8 on MAL, so odds are very good it’s horrific. And despite what you might think, I’m not even really into the magical girl genre. The closest I’ve come to it was the Blue Reflection series, and the magical girl aspect of those games wasn’t the hook that pulled me in, so this Naria Girls series is unlikely to grab my interest even if it’s not completely terrible.

But I’ll reserve judgment until I actually watch the first episode. On to it:

Spin 14: Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls

Oh. Oh no.

Well, no surprises this time. Naria Girls is indeed awful.

The story is as simple as possible: three color-coordinated schoolgirls become magical girls because they have to free a prince from a crystal, and a magical mascot stuffed bear thing travels to our world to make contracts with them. But the story doesn’t matter. I can’t even say the writing in this first episode was bad, because to criticize the writing there would have to be any writing to begin with, and aside from a few possible scribbles on a bar napkin outlining the basic magical girl plot I don’t think any of this was even planned out.

what

This eight-minute episode shifts between two styles: a slideshow of pretty rough illustrations (see the first screenshot above with pink girl — she has a name, but it also doesn’t matter — that’s not animated in the slightest) and scenes of the girls in 3D model form with a static background that look like they were made in MikuMikuDance. Except I’ve seen MMD videos that look far more professional and polished than this shit.

As for what actually happens in the show, I couldn’t even tell you outside of the outline I gave above. Most of this episode, and I’m assuming most of the entire series, consists of what sound like totally improvised comedy sketches that have fuck all to do with anything magical girl-related. These scenes reminded me most of those Hololive 3D livestreams — something like this, only those girls actually have comedic timing and direction, and again, those scenes look far more polished than whatever this is.

These three might be magical girls now, but I won’t be joining them on their journey. The best praise I can give Mahou Shoujo? Naria Girls is that it’s short, at only 12 eight-minute episodes, but then that’s still far too long. Even two minutes each would be a stretch for what we get here. At least it doesn’t seem to take itself seriously at all, but there’s a limit to just how self-aware your work can be to justify its poor quality. There are shows I really enjoy like that that are trashy but fun, like Plastic Nee-san, but there’s a massive difference between trashy and just plain trash, and Naria Girls is the latter type. If I had to guess, I’d say this project was created as a cheap tax write-off, because I can’t imagine what audience it was meant for. Certainly not magical girl fans, because I’m sure they wouldn’t accept such a low-quality work.

Sorry for being so harsh with you, Naria Girls, but take solace in the fact that you’re still at least better than Pupa. If there’s a worse anime than that, I’d like to see it.

And that’s all for this fourth round of spins on the anime roulette. I might write another one of these soon, or maybe not — I’m not following a schedule these days. Not that I ever really have. But if you have any recommendations to make from among the shows I haven’t landed on, feel free to make them! I’m happy to pull something off of the wheel and watch it if I get the energy to do so. Until next time!

A review of Bocchi the Rock!

Middle school student Hitori Gotou is a true loner with social anxiety so severe she can barely speak with her classmates. She desperately wants to connect with them, however, and one day she finds her chance — she picks up her father’s electric guitar and starts learning to play, hoping her skills will finally get her some recognition and more importantly a few friends.

Years later, at the start of her high school career, Hitori has gotten incredibly skilled at the guitar, even maintaining a streaming video site account for her music with a significant following under the name guitarhero. However, she hasn’t made any progress in her social life and mainly plays her guitar in her bedroom closet. Despite her intense desire to make friends and play in a band, she can’t get past that extreme anxiety. Even when she takes a chance by bringing her guitar along to school with her and fashioning a new rocker look with a full pink tracksuit, she gets no comments and seemingly no notice from her classmates.

Look, if I could just live in a closet I’d be fine as long as I had an internet connection.

Hitori seems resigned to her loner life, practicing her guitar in the closet and under a staircase at school where no one can find her. One day after school, however, a girl from a different school spot her sitting in a park with her guitar and pounces on her with a request. Her band’s guitarist bailed on them before their show in a local club, and this girl, one Nijika, is so desperate for someone to fill in that she begs for Hitori’s help. Hitori isn’t exactly keen on jumping into this situation, but she also can’t bring herself to say no, and so she ends up getting dragged along to said club to prepare for a concert.

Having never played live and with her social anxiety, Hitori can’t bring herself to face a crowd. Her new bandmates, drummer Nijika and bassist Ryou, notice her extreme nervousness and let her play their first set together while hidden inside an empty mango box.

The aftermath

The band predictably doesn’t sound that great, Hitori being out of sight of her bandmates and out of time with them for that reason. Nevertheless, she’s now an official member of their band, Kessoku Band, with the understanding that she won’t hide in a mango box at their next concert.

Hitori has finally fulfilled her dream of being in a band, but this membership comes with new, unexpected, and terrifying commitments like having to work at Nijika’s older sister’s club alongside her bandmates to make enough money to help cover Kessoku Band’s performance fees there and selling her quota of concert tickets to people she doesn’t know. Will she be able to handle these new challenges? And when her guitar finally does get her noticed by another girl at school looking for lessons, one of the most outgoing and popular girls in her class no less, how will she handle that situation?

I know the feeling. And this is the second anime I’ve watched this year in which a character tries to get out of her obligations by getting a cold by taking an ice bath (the first one was Nichijou.)

On occasion, a series hits me in a way I wasn’t expecting. If you’ve been reading this site for a while, this probably isn’t a surprise, but the just completed 12-episode anime Bocchi the Rock! is one of those rare works. People have been gushing over Bocchi lately — it’s currently one of the highest-rated series on the big score aggregate sites. So once again you probably don’t need my opinions on it, but I’ll provide them anyway, in part because it connected so completely with me.

The most obvious comparison with Bocchi, and the one that keeps coming up, is with K-On! It’s not a surprise; both are comedies about high school girl bands and their antics. I’ve also seen Bocchi called “better than” or “not as good as K-On!” etc. etc. Maybe all this was unavoidable considering the similarity in subject matter and how wildly popular Bocchi has gotten, but while I did like Bocchi a lot more than K-On! (at least more than the first season I’ve watched — go ahead and read my review of it here and leave a comment about how wrong I am) I don’t think the comparison is all that apt. Yeah, they’re both about high school girl bands, but under the surface they’re very different sorts of stories.

The main difference is Hitori herself — the Bocchi of the title, a nickname given to her by Nijika and Ryou as a play on the term hitori bocchi, lonely/solitary. Not counting her parents, her younger sister, and her dog, at the start of the series, Hitori is alone in the world, without a single friend from her early childhood on. Bocchi is a show about music, and especially about public performance, but it’s just as much about Hitori’s struggles in overcoming that intense loneliness.

Hitori having a bit of a freakout, doing her best to practice being an extrovert as her family watches, worried

Loneliness is the key term. This isn’t a case of an introvert secure in their own existence being forcibly dragged into the light: Hitori desperately wants friends, and though she does get anonymous recognition through her guitar videos on her fairly successful not YouTube/Nico Nico Douga page, it’s not enough to satisfy her need for contact.

To say Bocchi and its main character were painfully relatable would be an understatement. I’m not sure what the original manga was like, but either its author or someone attached to the anime production must have had experience with these feelings of intense anxiety and loneliness, the depiction here is so spot-on. Hitori wants friends and wants recognition for her efforts at music. She’s great at the guitar. So why does she dread meeting new people and displaying her skills on stage, to the point that she hides in corners and tries to give herself a cold so she won’t have to show up to the new job she’s been pressed into to cover performance charges? It all makes sense if you’ve suffered from the same mindset.

Yes, even the prospect of meeting new people is terrifying. Ryou, left, is the coolest character in the show (for better or worse) and is actually nice when she’s not being a mooch.

Calling it a “mindset” might be too mild. I know too well how difficult it is to pull out of. Not knowing how you’re expected to act in various social situations, doing your best to act in accordance with those expectations that you don’t even understand because nobody’s told you about them, assuming everyone is always thinking the worst of you — feeling like you missed a master class on how to be a human being that everyone else attended — Bocchi addresses it all realistically. All the more so because, unlike the similarly socially anxious Komi from Komi Can’t Communicate, this silence doesn’t translate into a bizarre, creepy idolization from the rest of her classmates but merely (and I think far more realistically) into her being completely left alone by them. This might be one of the reasons Komi-san didn’t connect with me where Bocchi did. Though granted, I did drop Komi-san, so yell at me for that too if you want. Maybe I’m wrong about it, anyway? I know that idolization isn’t meant as a good thing either.

Thankfully, Bocchi the Rock! isn’t pure misery and anxiety for 12 episodes. It’s still a comedy after all, and the show manages to create some great comedy out of Hitori’s extreme case of nerves while not making light of it. A lot of the jokes come from its visuals: Bocchi, while normally a realistic-looking show, will sometimes depict Hitori melting or distorting when she’s falling prey to her anxiety, even sometimes going into a live-action sequence out of nowhere.

I remember when I turned into twitching static once

None of this would work without Hitori’s friends and classmates to bounce of off. Her three bandmates Nijika, Ryou, and the newly joined total novice guitarist Ikuyo Kita (or in the family-name-first naming convention Kita Ikuyo, fitting for her personality even though she hates her pun of a name) learn not only how to cope with Hitori’s extreme thought patterns but to see past them and to very gradually help her out of them, at least partially. Hitori’s self-imposed isolation is broken in part out of her similarly unhealthy inability to say no to people when they ask her for favors: when Nijika asks for her help in filling in, when her older sister takes her on as a part-timer, and a few other times throughout the series.

At times, her bandmates end up pushing her into situations that are extremely stressful for her (seemingly without their realizing it, at least, because how would they know it?) and yet that seems to be just what Hitori needs to realize that no, she doesn’t belong in a trash can. My own path out of the trash can took a bit longer and wasn’t nearly as healthy — it ended with my giving up on ever fitting into society neatly and embracing my own awkwardness and weirdness, but also with a general feeling of bitterness towards the many hypocrisies in our social norms that I thought piled onto my misery.

Now it’s far too late for me to change any more than I already have, which I regret, but it was nice to watch a series that understood those feelings that are born from self-isolation of this kind and how someone might be able to break free of them in a better way.

The best advice

At the same time, Bocchi doesn’t deny Hitori her feelings. One of my favorite moments in the series is the above scene, in which Hitori, tasked with writing the lyrics to Kessoku Band’s first original song, reluctantly puts out some “positive-sounding” words and shows them to Ryou. As much of a mooch as she is, Ryou has some excellent insight and can tell that Hitori is forcing herself to fit a mold she doesn’t. Ryou’s advice above allows Hitori to unleash her true feelings through a set of bleak lyrics, which as Ryou says are all the funnier coming out of the rhythm guitarist/singer Kita’s mouth given her extreme optimism and extroversion.

If I might have had any doubts about how Hitori’s general mindset and outlook were treated by the series, this scene in particular swept them away. Ryou is right, of course: assuming you’re not creating it specifically for mass consumption or according to someone else’s directions for a specific purpose, art is about expressing yourself, not merely what you think other people are looking for or expecting. You naturally do have to consider your audience unless you want to go totally off into the avantgarde deep end (which has its own appeal, though a much more limited one, but see my running King Crimson post series for more of that) but self-expression is key, otherwise what are you achieving?

Hitori playing without the mango box this time, losing herself in the heat of performance

Bocchi also gets pretty deep into the ins and outs of underground club performance. Apparently there’s a small market for high school bands in clubs like Starry that cater to younger crowds (i.e. why the “bar” Hitori is tending there only seems to serve juice.) I don’t think we have such places here in the States, or not that I know of at least. A related aspect of Bocchi I can appreciate, again on a personal level, is how much work it takes to get and keep your musical skills up. I’m no guitarist, but the same principle applies to the piano or any other instrument, and the coordination required by playing in a band is a challenge on top of that, one that Bocchi depicts pretty decently.

This is the one point where I think  Bocchi can be compared with K-On!, which (again, at least in its first season) has its girls somehow getting into perfect sync without much practice. Or I guess all the practice takes place offscreen? Bocchi has a far better balance between its hardcore music stuff and its slice-of-life antics, anyway. (I will watch that second season one day, though.)

Hitori has the talent and far more importantly the work ethic down — her main issue is breaking through her anxiety enough to perform well in public. Once again, she gets a little help from her friends at this, including a new one in an alcoholic bassist she meets on the street while trying and failing to sell tickets to Kessoku Band’s next performance.

Like Hitori, Kikuri is painfully relatable, but in an entirely different way. Maybe in the second season her friends can get her some help.

Aside from these story and character elements, the technical aspects of the show are perfectly fine. Bocchi is another CloverWorks production in cooperation with a bunch of other studios according to the ending credits, and hell if this isn’t the fourth CloverWorks production out of four I’ve liked or loved so far (counting back from Bisque Doll, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and Spy x Family in collaboration with Wit Studio.) These guys have some kind of eye for talent. And just as it should, Bocchi has a good soundtrack. See the OP for evidence:

But now for the chief question, since it’s being asked of so many other series right now like the second cour of Spy x Family S1 and Chainsaw Man (which I won’t address yet if I ever do get around to them): Is Bocchi the Rock! really that good? I’ve heard “flavor of the month” (more accurately season) thrown around a bit, but unjustly — because yes, it is that good. This series treated its subject with due respect and with an appropriate depth while being entertaining as a comedy. Not an easy trick to pull off, but Bocchi manages it. My personal connection with the story and the struggles of Hitori are certainly coloring my view of it, but even if you don’t connect in the same way with her (which I hope you can’t for your sake, but if you can, welcome to the club) I’d still recommend Bocchi — it effectively “translates” those feelings for those who might not relate on that personal level. And it’s just a good comedy, and what more do you need than that?

Also highly recommended if you liked Shirobako — yeah it’s a P.A. Works series, but there are similar vibes at times here with the absurd cutaways.

So of course I’m on board for a second season if we get one. I wouldn’t be surprised by that considering how much talk Bocchi has gotten. Until next time!

A review of Do It Yourself!!

It’s the end of another season of anime, and quite a season this one was — one of the most exciting for a while. So it’s maybe no surprise that some series were overshadowed by others, especially the new and/or relatively unknown ones like Do It Yourself!! Because this one is an original anime, not even an adaptation of a manga with hype built up from the source material (though I think there is a manga running now.)

Do It Yourself!! (or DIY as I’ll call it from now on, without the double exclamation points) is yet another anime in the long tradition of “high school girls learn to do x”, where “x” is some skill you might not expect like camping, fishing, musical composition and performance, or model-building. In DIY, just as the title suggests, the x is all manner of DIY work from small arts and crafts to building an entire elaborate treehouse. But also in that tradition, there’s more going on in DIY than “cute girls are cute and learn a skill.” (Also, spoiler warning here if anyone cares.)

I wrote about this series shortly after it started airing, but to recap the premise: there are two girls just starting high school, neighbors and childhood friends Suride Miku and Yua Serufu. These two couldn’t be more different in their manners, Miku being extremely orderly and attentive and Serufu being a bit flighty, careless, and accident-prone. Partly thanks to this difference, while Miku gets into the prestigious Yuyu Girls’ Vocational High School aka YuuVoc, Serufu only makes it into her safety school, Gatagata Girls’ High School. When Miku learns they won’t be classmates, she cranks the tsundere up to 20, puffs out her cheeks, and storms away from their regular window-to-window morning talk, getting all the more annoyed at Serufu using her apparently unilaterally-given nickname “Purin” (pudding.)

Serufu taking it all in stride as we’ll soon learn she usually does. Is this the right attitude towards life? If you can get away with it, sure.

On her way to school, Serufu gets into an accident that roughs up her bike — another common occurrence, since she often drifts off and loses track of her surroundings. Thankfully, a helpful senior comes along and fixes her bike, then speeds off to school without giving her name. Serufu looks into her identity and discovers that she’s the head of the DIY Club, so she heads down to the club HQ/shack in the school commons to show her gratitude.

And what a shock, this club is about to be shut down for lack of members. It turns out that club president Rei, aka Kurei, is also the only club member and is desperate for new students to join, and Serufu has just wandered into her web. Despite her accident-proneness, Serufu ends up excited about building cabinets and furniture from scratch and joins, soon bringing along a new member in the bookish, reserved Takumi(n).

The full DIY Club membership as of episode 3. The other two are …ing at Serufu’s bad pun based on her own name that will be repeated constantly throughout the show.

The DIY Club continues to grow, gaining one more official member in the American child prodigy exchange student Juliet Queen Elizabeth VIII (yes really, this is her name, but the girls thankfully just nickname her Jobko) and one unofficial from the nearby YuuVoc, where Purin can look directly into the school’s courtyard and see Gatagata, entirely contained within its bounds weirdly enough, and at the DIY clubhouse itself. Purin’s enthusiastic new friend and classmate Kokoro, taking an interest in this club, heads down and decides to join it all on her own initiative in the same way a character forces their way into your party in an RPG.

That leaves Purin herself. She claims to look down on this sort of primitive work, telling Serufu about her far superior training at school in design and something that looks like AutoCAD (not my field, but I’m vaguely familiar.) This is all despite the flashbacks we get to their childhoods when they would hang out together, each making crafts for the other. Serufu laughs off Purin’s boasting and seems to believe she’ll come around to DIY as a worthy hobby, all the while dreaming of getting skilled enough to build a bench they can sit on together in their shared yard.

But will Purin come around? And will the girls be able to save their club and build that secret hideout treehouse they’ve been talking about?

Truly, the stakes couldn’t be higher

As the latest in a long line of CGDCT anime in this “learning a specific hobby/skill” subgenre, DIY isn’t anything very new or innovative: it’s about what you’d expect. Serufu learns about how great do-it-yourself activities are, her enthusiasm infects a few of her new friends and classmates, and the club comes together to build stuff and drink tea and go to the beach etc. etc., with just a little talk about midterm exams to remind you that they do have to go to class sometimes (and every class we see is apparently English literature, featuring actual English — more on that later.)

The club does actually craft ornaments and build chairs and cabinets and so on, and though there isn’t nearly as much hands-on education as you might expect or want out of such a show (see again Yuru Camp, or most of Super Cub for that sort of practical training) there are bits of it here and there. It’s been a long time, but I do remember my old days as an extremely amateur carpenter working on the theater club’s set-building team at my high school. So long ago it feels like a different lifetime now, but I’m pretty sure we used safety goggles quite a bit more often than the girls in DIY here do.

It’s an actual miracle that Serufu didn’t accidentally kill herself in the course of this story with how clumsy she is + power tool use

The show’s look might be the most immediately unique thing about it. DIY doesn’t look amazing or anything, but the character design is extremely distinctive and really works well. I’ve read a few others mention that it looks like a slice of life/CGDCT anime if it were produced by Trigger, and I can see it. This isn’t a Trigger series — it’s made by the studio Pine Jam, which I’d never heard of before, but they did a fine enough job with it.

Though I did catch where they inserted a few series of still images montage-style. Not that they didn’t work, but it seems like that might have been a nice cost-saving measure. So maybe this is like Trigger on a tight budget? But then a few scenes look especially beautiful, so maybe it all evens out in the end.

It’s fine — the animation is effective where and when it counts, like the scenes of Purin pouting and puffing her cheeks out while extremely poorly pretending that she doesn’t care about Serufu.

On that note, the most distinctive aspect of DIY aside from the look, and the one that stands out the most (or sticks out the most if you’d rather think of it that way) is the relationship between Serufu and Miku/Purin. While they’re sort of on the outs at the beginning of the series, Serufu and Purin are clearly a little more than mere friends, to the point that anime community score aggregator/review/information site Anilist includes “LGBTQ+ themes” in its tag list, hidden as a spoiler tag no less.

That raises an interesting question, one that’s come up with regard to a couple of other series I’ve watched: where does this line between friendly and romantic affection exist? There must be a line, but then how sharp is it? Just as with Kukuru and Fuuka in Aquatope on White Sand, or going much further back in time with Reinhard and Siegfried in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, I saw Serufu and Purin as “sworn siblings” of a sort, yet there’s debate about whether these relationships count as romantic or at least suggest romance. (And in the case of DIY, I’ve seen it argued that “there’s nothing sexual here, and they’re just high schoolers besides” — to which I’d respond 1) there’s nothing necessarily sexual about romantic love, though they very often do go hand in hand, and 2) then what about Bisque Doll, Nagatoro, Toradora, Chuunibyou — or hell, Takagi-san is set in middle school — and there’s no doubt they’re romances.)

Purin at Serufu’s place, shortly before she finally officially unofficially joins the club

I think you can read what I’d call these “sworn sibling” sorts of relationships as romantic, having the seeds of romance, or non-romantic as you wish. I default to the last choice in every case unless I see signs suggesting otherwise, which I didn’t definitively see here, but I don’t think it has a lot of bearing on DIY (or for that matter on Aquatope or even on LOGH) — I think the point is that these girls were always close friends and that Purin just needed to get over her whole “building stuff with your hands is stupid” attitude that she seemingly never actually held to begin with. It’s just something I noticed again that I felt like bringing up.

So maybe anime watchers are starved for real yuri series? I don’t think I’ve seen any myself — feel free to drop suggestions in the comments, because the only one I know much about is Citrus, and based on what I know about it, the only way I’d watch that is if I do another Pupa-style “is it really that bad?” watch/review post.

The only aspect of DIY I can really see turning some people off is just how potentially groan-inducing it can be at points. Some characters in these comedies and slice-of-life series walk a fine line between endearing and irritating, and I believe which side of the line they fall on depends on your own tolerance for wackiness/quirkiness. Thankfully this quirk is never of that truly annoying “indie hipster” type we used to have here in the US, the kind that really gets under my skin, but it’s still a sort of quirk when Serufu proclaims “Do it… Yua Serufu!” Or any time Jobko speaks English and especially when she throws out one of her strange catchphrases — not sure why they gave her so many lines in English when her VA can’t speak it anything near like a native, considering Jobko is supposed to be an American, but then again as an American/native English speaker I’m not exactly the target audience for this show anyway. But we certainly don’t use the phrase “good job!” that much.

And Kokoro is a cat. I don’t know why or how, but she just is; you’ll see if you watch.

Even Serufu’s name takes some suspension of disbelief. Imagine a show about baseball featuring a main character named Home Run or something (or indeed Homestar Runner, who starred in an absurd comedy series himself.) Maybe her name isn’t so unusual-sounding as that, but the pure coincidence is pretty damn stupid.

Yet it’s so stupid that I don’t really mind it. Maybe this is a stupid way of thinking in itself, but DIY is so positive and its unique look and style works well enough for me that its otherwise over-the-top and wacky aspects only add to its charm for me. Again, none of it comes as much of a surprise, and even the course of the central Serufu-Purin relationship can be predicted from the first few minutes of the show, but I don’t think surprising the viewer is the point here. It’s another perfectly nice, pleasant CGDCT slice-of-life series, and a fine one to check out if you’re into that genre. And as a nice bonus, future technology isn’t rejected in the end but is shown to work together with all that rusty old nail and hammer work in creating their club treehouse.

Though future technology is still undoubtedly going to present its own challenges. The perverted jellyfish robot butler was my favorite character in the end.

There’s a recommendation for you, but only if you’re into this style of anime and don’t mind some of that weird quirkiness you sometimes get in it. It was nothing amazing, but I enjoyed Do It Yourself!! enough as yet another dose of weekly stress relief. Now I just have to find one for this winter season.

Next time, it’s probably going to be more King Crimson, but there’s more anime to get to as well, so you can look forward to either one (or hopefully both?) Until then.

A review of Yuru Camp Movie

Or Laid-Back Camp: The Movie as it was licensed here (originally Eiga Yuru Camp△ not forgetting the triangle-tent.) However you want to write the title, this is a film that follows the main cast of the comfortable camping manga/anime series Yuru Camp out of high school and into young adulthood. That’s right: even after writing about Super Cub last post, we’re not just not leaving the Japanese countryside, we’re not even leaving Yamanashi. Not much, at least.

Just a note for the uninitiated before I get started, however: I won’t be putting in much character background here because I’ve already gotten into it. If you want that background, you can read my first season review. Also, watch both seasons, because they’re both excellent. Finally, I’ll be spoiling the hell out of this one because it has a few interesting themes I want to get into in this post, so if you haven’t watched it yet and don’t want to be spoiled yourself, my extremely short review is: watch it, but it’s probably best if you’ve seen (or read) everything leading up to it first, or at least enough to have a strong sense for who these characters were before the events of the film.

A few years after graduating, Rin, Nadeshiko, Aoi, Chiaki, and Ena have gone their separate ways, all off to work mostly outside their home in Yamanashi Prefecture. Adult life carries new challenges, and our now early 20s-protagonists are having to put up with that shit.

From the OP, but I had to post it: Rin on the train going to/from work in Nagoya.

All five girls — or more properly now women — are working at careers they actually enjoy (just imagine that — I can’t.) But each job fits the character: Rin is now a writer for a Nagoya travel and tourism magazine, Nadeshiko works at a camping goods store, Aoi is an elementary school teacher, and Ena is a pet groomer.

And Chiaki has just quit her job to move back home to Yamanashi and join its prefectural tourism board. When she surprises Rin by dropping in on her in Nagoya, they talk about a vacant, overgrown wilderness near their old home, and Rin suggests in passing that they should convert it into a campground. This offhand comment instantly gets Chiaki’s attention and sets up the plot of the rest of the film.

I’m a fan of adult Chiaki, also of tipsy Chiaki. More slightly pouty Rin is also always appreciated.

Drunk Chiaki immediately abducts Rin into a taxi, taking them all the way from Nagoya to Yamanashi and to the site in question. While Chiaki falls asleep on a bench, a somewhat pissed Rin wanders around the area and starts to imagine what it would look like as a functional campground. By morning, she’s seen enough to believe in this newly conceived project, and she gives a “maybe” to Chiaki’s request for her help (which she of course interprets as a yes — Rin getting roped in as usual.)

It turns out drunk Chiaki also called Nadeshiko out to the spot and she and Rin have a nice reunion moment. After confirming, together with Aoi and Ena, their resolve to start a campsite in this spot (with Rin protesting that she just gave a maybe to absolutely no effect) they all head over to Nadeshiko’s family’s house for lunch.

Where we learn about the healing power of crab.

Back in Yamanashi, the old camping club (plus Rin, who I’m not sure ever actually joined it) is now back together, only instead of merely camping, they’re creating a new place for locals and tourists alike to visit. Will they be able to realize their ambitions? Will Rin get sufficient time off from her long hours on the job in Nagoya to make the trip? And will I find more questions to write here that are probably very easy to answer if you know what this series is like?

Not that Yuru Camp: The Movie was exactly predictable. I managed to avoid all details about the film until it hit the streaming service(s) over here. I’m happy I did — I really liked this look at the now adult, working professional cast of characters, and the fact that it came as a nice surprise improved the effect. A few of the characters themselves have gone through some maturing, especially Chiaki, who’s still extremely direct but has toned her more obsessive side down a bit. Also very slightly tuned down is Nadeshiko, who still loves camping, enough to become an expert in camping goods for a career, but who’s also not quite as energetic as she used to be (though still energetic enough and still a #1 cinnamon roll, so don’t worry about that.)

Here complete with the Shimarin bun; looks good on Aoi too.

Parents and siblings from the first two seasons also make the expected appearances, most notably Aoi’s dramatically grown up little sister Akari, Ena’s dog Chikuwa (if a dog can be called a family member — I know all the dog people will say they count) and a surprise and very welcome appearance by the end. And of course, they all get together to eat and camp and eat. If you were hoping for more of those nice “I wish I were eating this right now, probably at this outdoor camping party too” scenes , you’ll get plenty of them.

Of course, we also see plenty of change with the girls’ shift from student to adult life. Back when they were all together at the same school, finding time to go camping was easy, but as working professionals living in different cities, they have to coordinate and make arrangements with work just to get weekends to spend on this new project. Said project, the effort involved in creating a campground, is work in itself — certainly a passion project, since there doesn’t seem to be any financial incentive for the crew aside from maybe indirect professional benefits to Chiaki as a government employee and to Rin, who gets approval from her magazine to write a series about the Yamanashi revitalization project. But their true goal is clearly to build a campground that current and future campers can enjoy, and they pour all their available effort into achieving it.

My passion projects are entirely solitary, but I get the idea of working for no benefit other than the satisfaction you derive from it.

But then, of course, being an adult also means things will quite often not go your way, and you’ll just have to deal with that yourself rather than having to rely on others (unless that was your childhood as well, in which case you were probably better prepared for adulthood than I was outside of the efforts I had to make at my studies.) Partway through their work at the campsite, after figuring out how to cut all the wild grass and weeds and starting to repair its dilapidated facilities, the team gets a call from Chiaki. It turns out that a piece of broken pottery there that Chikuwa dug up and that was sent for analysis to local experts was dated from the ancient Joumon period. An exciting discovery, but it also puts the campground plan on hold as more experts conduct a dig to find out what else might be buried at the site. And soon enough, the campground plan is axed completely when it becomes clear that there’s far more archaeological work to be done.

This is naturally a massive disappointment to Rin, Nadeshiko and co., and perhaps most of all to Chiaki as the link between her friends and the authorities in charge of the land. However, if we know one thing about this team from their school days, it’s that they don’t give up: Chiaki makes a new proposal, designed by all five and complete with a nice pitch video to be presented to the tourism board. This new plan proposes that the dig site and campground be combined, with lessons about the Joumon civilization and old-fashioned pottery-making alongside the campground and its facilities. And with a dog park, because Chikuwa is too cute not to get what he wants.

I’m not a dog person in the slightest, but sure, I understand. He’s sort of a mascot at this point too.

In the end, everyone gets what they want, in fact: Rin is still writing her feature set in Yamanashi, the whole crew gets their camping trip at the completed and open-for-business campground together with their closest friends and relatives, the local tourism board gets its revenue, and Chikuwa gets pets.

And I get to stave off those depressive feelings a little more once again. Yuru Camp Movie was literally more than I expected from an anime film with its exactly two-hour runtime. It’s far longer than you might expect from a movie about some people who build a campground and deal with government regulations about archaeological digs. But then if you know this series, you know that there’s far more to Yuru Camp than simply “girls go camping/build a campground.” That’s at the core of it, but the real value of this series is in its comedy and its characters and their relationships, and this film doesn’t disappoint in those areas.

And of course there’s an outdoors hot springs scene, because it wouldn’t be Yuru Camp without one. Adults can appreciate such luxuries far more as Rin points out. Even if she and Nadeshiko are still just barely into 20s and are talking like old ladies here at times. Shit, imagine how I feel in my 30s.

What you won’t get in this movie is very much character development, even though the film takes place over the course of about a year or close to it. But that’s only if you take this film on its own, instead of how it seems meant to be taken: as the chronologically final chapter (or latest chapter at least) in the ongoing Yuru Camp story. A lot of the comedy in the movie also works on the assumption that you’ve watched the first two seasons of the series or read the manga. While they may still be funny on their own, bits like Chiaki sleeping while packed into a box or the talking pinecones are callbacks and probably don’t work on the same level if you’re watching the movie without having seen the rest of the series. It’s probably safe to assume this film was made for the fans in that sense instead of as a way to grab up new viewers, though it may well have done that too.

Not that the movie slacks off at all for that reason: studio C-Station’s work looks just as good as ever and maybe better. Watching this, sometimes I think it would be nice to live out in the country, but the country around where I live is all pretty flat and boring.

The most interesting aspect of Yuru Camp Movie to me was its theme of figuring out how to pursue your desires while still being a responsible adult. “Follow your heart” is a popular theme in literature and film for a good reason: it’s seductive. Sometimes quite literally if we’re dealing with love, but the object of the heart’s desire doesn’t necessarily have to be another person. It might instead be the achievement of some other goal — even one as mundane as helping your old high school friends start a campground. The trouble is that said fiction often ignores the realities of following your heart and the sacrifices that can require, most often from the people around you.

One of the reasons I think I love Yuru Camp is that it doesn’t ignore such realities. There are no wild flights of fancy here, the sort of absolute bullshit that sometimes occurs in fiction and that may or may not end up with other more responsible people having to deal with the aftermath of their irresponsible asshole of a friend/spouse/etc. Rin in particular has to deal with the balance between wanting to help her friends and her personal desire to see this overgrown patch of land turned into a campsite, on one hand, and her professional responsibilities at the magazine she writes for on the other. The fact that the publisher she works for focuses on tourism isn’t enough for her to just skate away to Yamanashi every weekend: she has to first get her editor’s approval for the article series, and even when she manages to justify her time off as feeding into her work for the magazine, she realizes that her colleagues are picking up the slack for her back at the office — a fact she feels bad about and that she resolves to correct.

Credit to the movie for also depicting some of Rin’s work-related stress after showing her late weeknights at the office, even if it doesn’t quite address it totally — I was a little reminded of Shirobako here.

The more obvious instance of this facing and dealing with realities theme comes with the archaeological dig in the later half of the film. At first, the central cast sees this dig just as it’s presented: an obstacle to their goal. That’s a natural conclusion considering that the approval for their campground project was officially rescinded. But instead of just moping about it or giving up and moving on, the group rethinks their plan and tries, successfully in this case, to work around the obstacle. More accurately, they get rid of the obstacle by volunteering to help with the dig, befriending the archaeological workers, learning about their work, and convincing the authorities that both their goals for the site can be realized.

This is an extremely mature way to deal with the situation — to be creative and proactive, even when the odds seem to be stacked against you, is important to succeeding in life. It’s also often hard as hell to do, as it requires mental flexibility and a willingness to compromise.

Making lunch for the people you’re trying to befriend and being an excellent cook also helps.

Of course, in real life, things may not work out so smoothly. People are often unwilling to cooperate with each other, preferring to see a potential opportunity for cooperation as a battleground with only one winner. Or maybe everyone’s willing to cooperate, but they simply can’t come to an effective compromise. Or they come to a compromise that works for everyone, but the authority with responsibility for project approval and funding refuses to go along with the new arrangement. Everything works out in Yuru Camp Movie, and while it works out in a realistic way that takes all of the above realities into account, it also feels like the ideal sort of situation. It’s very much a feel-good movie in that sense.

But then that describes all of Yuru Camp up to this point, doesn’t it? Friends are reliable and true, strangers are friendly and helpful, and families are always supportive. Even the employers are responsive to their employees’ efforts and desires, and that sure as hell isn’t something anyone can take for granted.

But having a drink still helps take the edge off. To change the subject completely, I wish the drunks in my state’s legislature would make a certain relaxation-promoting product legal soon.

Some people might groan at all that, but I don’t. Yuru Camp seems to me to present a world that’s not as ours is, but maybe as ours ought to be. In this miserable shitpile of a world we live in, maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe we need some fucking hope. I know I do.

And that’s it for Yuru Camp Movie. It’s very good and well worth a watch, but again, I’d absolutely recommend watching the first two seasons of the series first so you can get the most possible out of it. I’ve also heard that this movie may not be the end of the series — there’s plenty of talk about a third season around now, which I guess would keep following the manga through the girls’ high school years, which after all haven’t quite ended yet.

If we get that third season, I’ll naturally be watching it. Until next time, I hope you can find some relaxation in these dark months like our friends in Yuru Camp always do (or go out and get some sun if you’re down south.)

A review of Super Cub

High school student Koguma lives alone in a small, nearly empty apartment. She wakes up early in the morning, makes breakfast, and goes to school on her bicycle. After school she returns to her apartment and isn’t greeted by anyone — she doesn’t have parents or any family at all. She doesn’t even seem to have any friends to spend time with.

On her way to school one morning, while pushing herself on her bike from her faraway apartment, Koguma notices someone riding a small motorcycle. Tired of having to pedal everywhere, Koguma goes after school to a local bike shop to see whether she can afford a motorbike herself. She’s discouraged after looking at some of the price tags, but the shopkeeper brings out a model just for her, and right in her low price range: a used Honda Super Cub.

After getting a helmet, riding gloves, and a basic lesson in motorcycle maintenance, Koguma is off on her Super Cub. Daily life is now a little easier and more convenient for her, but her life is about to change in ways she couldn’t have imagined thanks to her motorbike.

Trying out the new bike at the shop. In every other shot Koguma is wearing her gear, and aside from one massive and very weird exception near the end that I will get into, Super Cub emphasizes this sort of practical safety advice.

Super Cub aired just last year, but it totally passed me by until about a month ago when I saw it recommended because I’d watched Yuru Camp. I’d seen it recommended a lot for that reason, actually, but I didn’t know what a super cub was and kept putting off finding out for a while until finally giving in. If it were airing this year I’d probably have watched it as it aired, but I wasn’t yet on the extremely slow-paced slice of life anime train last year, not before I watched and loved Yuru Camp.

These two series do have some elements in common, so I get why I was recommended this. They are both relaxed slice-of-life series about high school girls (of course, it’s anime and that’s 90% of the slice-of-life genre at least) setting out on the road and learning about themselves. They even both take place in Yamanashi Prefecture, one of Japan’s few landlocked states and the home of Mount Fuji. Between these two series, Yamanashi looks like a great place to visit — both depict a lot of beautiful countryside and wilderness, even though the prefecture isn’t too far from Tokyo. Maybe this is one of the places Tokyoites go to get out of town when they’re able.

It really does look nice in spring. We get these cherry blossoms blooming in certain parts here, too. If you’re in the eastern US, go to DC to see it one April if you ever get the chance.

That slow pace is also important to note. If anything, Super Cub feels even slower-paced than Yuru Camp, with plenty of shots of Koguma and other characters riding around town, making lunch, and carrying out other daily tasks. The pace feels very deliberate — I don’t know if this is reading too much into it, but I get the feeling it’s meant to really pull you into this setting and especially into the slow pace of life in the Yamanashi countryside and how it all plays out for Koguma in particular. If that wasn’t the intention, it’s all right, because it still had that effect on me. I think watching Yuru Camp and Akebi’s Sailor Uniform softened me up a lot towards these slow slice-of-life series.

Super Cub makes plenty of room for these lengthy scenes since the plot itself is pretty thin: Koguma buys her Super Cub and learns to ride it, making two close friends along the way and becoming not quite as depressed as she used to be. I’d say those are spoilers, but they’re really not since you can gather all of it from the OP. (There will be spoilers following, but this is another not very plot-heavy series, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much.)

Koguma is an interesting protagonist. She might not seem that way at first, though. As she narrates herself, she has no friends, no family, no hobbies, no money, nothing at all. That’s not quite true — Koguma has an apartment and enough money at least to pay for her room and board and to eat. She refers to scholarship money she receives every so often, but it’s clearly not all that much considering she can’t afford more than a roughly hundred dollar used motorcycle and rice with some kind of flavor sauce packet for lunch every day. So it’s an extremely spare life for Koguma at first.

Depression life

However, once she gets her Super Cub, she starts to take a real interest in it, learning how to ride and maintain it properly. Even just cruising around the local roads without having to constantly pedal her bike is a nice enough feeling to bring her a little happiness. And her motorcycle soon gets her her first friend, her classmate and fellow Super Cub owner Reiko, who overhears her answering someone else’s question about her bike followed by their dismissal that it’s not a real motorcycle but more of a moped.

Reiko doesn’t feel that way. She’s so damn proud of her own modified Super Cub that she won’t shut up about it, and since she knows Koguma is part of the club now she has someone else at their school to talk to about it.

Man, I have no idea what you’re talking about but that sounds cool

Though she still doesn’t talk much and is extremely soft-spoken when she does, Koguma gets along with the far chattier Reiko, and the two build a solid friendship with their shared love for motorcycles, eating lunch down by their bikes every day and eventually visiting each other after school hours. And soon enough the third character in their group makes her entrance when Koguma and Reiko volunteer their bikes to carry an espresso-maker from a nearby high school to their own for an Italian café at their cultural festival. Shii, another of their classmates with a love of everything Italian, appreciates their help and invites them over to her family’s weirdly clashing western-themed restaurant, her father being obsessed with Germany and her mother with the US.

***

Now I’m going to break a rule of good blog-writing (at least I guess it is.) I wrote all of the above months ago. I should probably rewrite it and start over clean at this point, but I feel like I summed up the show’s characters and events pretty well, or at least that I wouldn’t be able to do better at this point. But Super Cub was a rare one for me. Usually when I watch an anime, play a game, listen to an album or whatever else, I have at least some idea of what I want to say about it, even if it might take a minute to get those thoughts together.

It took months for me to keep writing about Super Cub past the basic “here’s what happened” stuff you read above. Maybe because it’s an unusual series, a show about motorbikes full of product placement, which you’d probably expect to be full of excitement and speed Fast and Furious-style, but no — it’s very deliberately slow, so slow and dreamlike that it’s impossible to believe it was made to capture mass appeal. Super Cub is based on a light novel series that I haven’t read and that likely hasn’t been translated anyway, so I can’t say how this anime compares to the original work, but it certainly seems like there wasn’t a lot of concern about getting the blood flowing in the way you might expect from a motorbike-based series.

That aspect of Super Cub really worked for me when I watched it, and upon a very partial rewatch it still does. Some viewers might feel watching Koguma make her depression meals in her empty apartment or riding through the same sleepy countryside intersection for the fifth time is a waste or filler, but I’d disagree. Part of the appeal of Super Cub seems to be this replaying of her routine, and watching how it gradually changes for the better and somewhat less depressing as Koguma expands her personal horizons. As someone who used to live in a deep rut, I like how Koguma’s rise out into a brighter world plays out. And the show has a more literal way of depcting this “brightening” of her life, with an occasional shift away from its usually muted colors to a brighter look (like when she drinks the coffee, seen above — good coffee really can almost have that effect.)

An example of the goodness of coffee — the brighter colors in this screenshot are no accident.

Super Cub also features a lot of the usual “power of friendship” stuff you’ll also find in your Yuru Camp, K-On!, etc. sorts of slice-of-life shows, with the protagonist and her newfound companions helping each other out and supporting each other when necessary. The friendship theme is nothing new, it’s just the subject matter it’s attached to. I know nothing about motorcycles, motorbikes, or mopeds, and I certainly don’t know anything about Super Cubs, but I thought the show, for the most part, did a good job weaving Koguma’s growing bonds with Reiko and Shii into their shared love for Honda motorbikes and coffee.

While I enjoyed a lot of the slow-paced and relaxed feel of Super Cub and the growing friendship between the central trio, the series did hit a few bumps for me (sorry.) One of these was just how weirdly poetic Koguma sometimes gets about her Super Cub, especially in the inner monologues we sometimes get from her at the beginnings or ends of episodes. Clearly learning how to ride and maintain her bike has had a great and positive impact on her life, and the show depicts that well enough, but on occasion it gets a little over the top for me. I can take a lot of this in the right context, but in connection with the constant Honda product placement, it does feel strange.

To be clear, I’m not accusing Honda of having anything to do with this anime or with the original light novel series — as far as I know, it had nothing at all to do with either. But imagine a series about how soda truly brings characters together with its great, refreshing taste, and that soda just happens to be Coke or Pepsi. No matter how genuine the characters, their relationships and struggles, come off otherwise, we’re all so bombarded with product placement and advertisements in every other part of our lives that it would be impossible not to notice.

I promise this has nothing to do with the fact that the god damn AC condenser in my Civic broke completely out of nowhere last summer and that I had to pay well over one thousand dollars to get it fixed. And yeah, there is a settlement available… for the AC compressor, not the condenser. Assholes, they just fucked the whole AC unit design up apparently. I’m not still angry, no.

My other issue with Super Cub had to do with the turn it took near the very end, and specifically in its second-to-last episode (and here are the actual spoilers, though they’re not really much.) Shii joins the informal motorbike club near the end of the series, which is to be expected, but I guess the writer or writers felt she needed a dramatic moment to connect more closely with Koguma, or simply because they thought the second-to-last episode of a series needs a lot of drama to be a real climax. Because something really dramatic does happen: while riding her bicycle at night along a dangerous path in the woods, Shii falls into a ditch and can’t get out. She calls Koguma, telling her in a weak voice that she’s freezing and stuck and needs help, so off Koguma races on her Super Cub to save her friend.

That’s all fine, but what follows isn’t. Koguma gets to the scene, immediately starts moving Shii around (which I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to do in case something is actually broken.) Then, instead of calling emergency services or a doctor or anyone like that, Koguma places Shii in the basket in front of her motorbike’s windshield and drives her to her apartment to warm up and recover. That’s keeping in mind that Shii is freezing and exposed to the cold wind, now hitting her even harder since they’re driving.

No, I’m not a medical professional or a biker, but I’m pretty sure none of this is right.

I normally wouldn’t nitpick the events of one episode like this, especially since I’m an expert in exactly none of the topics Super Cub is about. However, I’d like to think I have at least a small amount of common sense — common sense that Koguma for whatever reason doesn’t exercise in this one episode. The place they live out in Yamanashi is remote and it’s late, sure, but it hasn’t been established that Koguma doesn’t have a hospital to call to get Shii and handle her properly in case she’s really messed up. Thankfully she isn’t, but this episode builds up the tension as though she might be.

And if you want to argue that this is still too much of a nitpick, here’s my answer: Super Cub otherwise seems to take a practical approach, almost teaching the viewer along with Koguma how to maintain a motorbike, with lessons built into the story about changing your own oil, modifying your bike to handle winter weather, and buying essential gear and accessories. A series like this can’t just take a vacation from reality for one episode, leaving behind this practical approach to give what seems like really terrible advice. And maybe all for the purpose of letting Koguma say to Shii near the end of the episode: Don’t thank me for saving you, thank my Super Cub. Yeah, thanks, Super Cub.

Maybe all of the above makes more sense in the novel series, or maybe it was an anime-only addition. And maybe I really am picking too much at this episode, but on top of the poetics about how wonderful the Super Cub is, this felt like way too much for me to take. If you happen to know the area this place is based on (if it is a real part of the prefecture) let me know if I’m really off here. I just don’t think Super Cub needed the drama this episode was trying to inject — it was at its best when it was doing its slice-of-life thing, which is thankfully almost the rest of the series.

Maybe if it were a talking motorbike like the car from Knight Rider (voice provided by the guy who played John Adams in 1776 and Mr. Feeny in Boy Meets World, fun fact) then I might feel this “thank my Super Cub” line was less cheesy and stupid.

All that considered, episode 11 feels so strangely out of place that it doesn’t actually ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the series. I didn’t want to go without addressing it, because it is there and it does stick out horribly, but in the end, I still have positive feelings about Super Cub. Even if I don’t have such positive feelings about Honda right now, feelings that won’t improve until they pay me back for that fucking broken AC condenser, the assholes.

But that’s not the fault of Koguma, Reiko, or Shii, and it’s not the fault of whoever was responsible for designing the various Super Cub models. I can’t say watching Super Cub motivated me to buy one — I’m old now and need a proper car, and there are hardly any motorbikes or mopeds around in the near-urban/dense suburban area of car-addicted America I live in. But I can see why it might have that effect, especially on a viewer in Koguma’s place in life. If you’re looking for another series in the vein of Yuru Camp, or probably of Yama no Susume (which I haven’t seen, but it’s also on the list) I’d recommend it.

In the end, Super Cub did win me over, all while getting away with some bullshit that wouldn’t have flown for me in lesser series. Nice job to author Tone Kouken and Studio Kai.

To my American friends and readers, happy bird-eating day and happy insane shopping day (both of which I sat out. I had dinner at Waffle House last night. I know, but I don’t care either.) I have no idea what’s coming next, but see you next time.

Post #400, fantasy, and reality

I didn’t even realize this milestone had come up, but hey, this is the 400th post I’ve put up. Seems strange to think after nine years and over half a million words that I’ve spent so much time on a project — it really doesn’t feel like I have. When you’re doing something you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work, even if it requires real effort (which writing certainly does, as my fellow writers can attest to.)

This isn’t a celebratory post, however. Not because I’m unhappy with my work here — at least my work starting from 2019, which in terms of post and word count and effort spent is by far the bulk of the site. I just feel myself slipping deeper into some kind of void. I don’t know how else to put it. I’m doing all right at work, making decent enough progress in my career, to the point that even if I were to be downsized in the supposedly coming and/or present recession I now have enough skills and resources to continue making a living for myself. A lot of that required me to get rid of old feelings of pride and conventional modes of thinking that were holding me back. But more likely I’ll continue to climb the ladder, with all the horrible stress and bullshit that comes with that.

I do have anxieties about money and work. Who doesn’t — who among us is really secure outside of that top 1%? And even for them, security is relative. But that’s not really what keeps me awake at night. It’s rather this sense of emptiness, like something vital in my life is missing. I’m not sure whether that’s a partner who I’m actually compatible with (i.e. the only kind worth having and the kind I’ve never had once in my life, which I’ve gone through a lot of probably unnecessary heartache and headache for thanks in part to my terrible life decisions) or just dissatisfaction with my career. More than once I’ve noted that dissatisfaction, so I guess it’s no secret — I’ve even written an overlong post about why you almost certainly should not attend law school. So I won’t pile onto what I’ve already written.

However, I do want to expand on another matter I’ve written about before. It’s one that I find endlessly fascinating, but also one that I can’t just observe from a detached perspective, since it so strongly affects my own personality and way of life. What else can it be but escapist fantasy? Of course, I’m not just talking about the fantasy genre, though that’s tied to this matter as well. Any art in any medium that allows for such an escape from the miserable realities of life, that’s what I’m concerned with.

I’m going to take yet another left turn here, but I promise it connects back to my main point. SCP is one of the longest-running and most interesting collaborative fiction-writing projects online, a large collection of accounts of various magical, cursed, and/or interdimensional items/persons/phenomena. These are sorted into official-looking entries compiled by the secretive “SCP Foundation” complete with clinical descriptions of the items in question and instructions about how to effectively contain them (if possible) and usually with reports of incidents caused by or related to the items attached.

Not every one of these entries is a winner. Granted, I haven’t read anywhere close to all of them (numbered in the high thousands now from what I understand) but I’ve read a decent number, and admittedly some of these tend to be a little too silly or over the top to have much effect. But there are some excellent entries as well, my favorite of which is SCP-1230, a book that’s nearly blank when opened but that causes the reader to enter an extremely deep and realistic dream state when they next sleep. This dream is presided over by a supervisor figure connected with the book (sort of “inside” the book) who helps the reader/dreamer live out a fantasy of their choosing. The perception of time in this dream is extremely warped, and the dreamer might go through months or an entire year in this fantasy in the span of a mere nap.

All this is very interesting, but the reason 1230 earns the title of best SCP for me is its account of an SCP Foundation scientist who opens the book and enters the dream supposedly for the purpose of conducting research, but who instead uses the book as a complete escape from his everyday life. This scientist ends up sleeping for 15 hours but spending 200 in-dream years living out his fantasies. When he’s finally forced out of his fantasy world, he excuses himself to the bathroom and hangs himself there with his own belt, leaving a note behind that he just can’t return to this life.

A little dramatic maybe, but the message hit me in a personal way. One of the aspects of SCP I like, and that I imagine a lot of readers enjoy, is thinking about what I’d do if I were faced with one of these amazing and/or terrifying objects and its effects. If I had access to this magical dream book, would I use it to live out my fantasies? I can honestly say I would. The fact that so little time apparently passes in the real world as you live out this realistic but fantastic dream makes it a pretty easy and consequence-free choice, though that’s also maybe assuming you can actually use the thing more than once and that you can keep enough perspective to avoid the fate of that poor scientist.

But how about a more realistic sort of total escape? Let’s assume for the sake of this scenario that some kind of full-dive VR complete with all the senses simulated is feasible and within reach of regular non-rich customers (i.e. me) soon. Everything you might do in a dream you control is theoretically possible, but time is naturally moving 1-to-1 with the outside world, so every second, minute, and hour spent in this VR fantasy is lost to your “real life.”

If I had such a tool available to me, I think I’d still use it. I’d like to think I wouldn’t overuse it; after all, I’d still have vital obligations to fulfill in the real world between my professional and personal lives. But I think I would certainly use it at least to blow off some steam. Something like an open-ended video game, maybe. Whether any of this is actually possible is beside the point here — see the utter fucking joke that is Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse, a bizarrely tone-deaf project for how crusty, limited, and terrible it looks. The point is rather that assuming such an escape is possible, I’m positive that I’d use it.

Being totally honest about this point, now I have to examine whether it’s a problem for me. More and more, as I get older and have to take on more responsibilities, I feel their weight. One massive weight on my back is my family’s expectation of me to start my own family, something I’m not exactly against but that I also don’t have any special desire for myself. If I were actually left to myself, I’d most likely keep to myself and lose myself in fantasy — I say this knowing what sort of person I am, someone who’s used dangerous means to escape from reality in the past and to “treat” my depression. But there are also outside factors influencing my decision, the most serious of which is a very close relative who may not have a long time left in this world and who really wants to see my family before they go. That weight is especially heavy as an only child. Naturally, I didn’t choose any of this for myself, but it’s the situation I face. That drive to live an entirely “normal life” is strong, even if it’s an entirely external drive.

All that said, if I have any desire to change my life, I believe it needs to actually be my own desire. One lesson I’ve learned over the last several years, yet another lesson that I probably should have learned long ago, is that there’s a great difference between bitter resignation and willing acceptance. I’m resigned to my fate, but I haven’t truly accepted it. Not yet, anyway. I wonder if I can ever get rid of this bitter feeling I carry around. For practical purposes I can bury it, but I don’t want to have a complete mental breakdown one day either. But then actually addressing the matter with the people I’d need to address it with is damn near impossible, so I feel stuck.

All this might be why I connected with Call of the Night so easily after a few episodes. Was it a sometimes silly vampire romance with a few strange issues? Sure, but it also nicely depicted that feeling of isolation and that lack of desire for a “normal life” that you’re supposed to want.

I’m sure this all says a lot more about me and my deficiencies than about the society around me. I’m still only half an adult, with one leg in reality and the other still in fantasy. It’s clear I can’t keep living like this, but it’s not clear how I can proceed in a healthy way.

One thing I can say for sure: I’ll never abandon writing. As I’ve moved away from games simply out of necessity (just no god damned time anymore, I have to accept that now) and towards the far less time- and energy-consuming anime I’ve been filling the site up with this year, I’ve also been picking up the pace of my fiction-writing. I’m not participating in that annual November novel-writing business, partly because I don’t have time for a novel either (now at least) and partly because I might not have a full novel in me, but I’ve found the short story to be a rewarding format. Whether any of these trash stories I’ve been writing ever see the light of day I can’t say, but they’re helping me cope with my situation, at least. Writing is the best therapy for me, far more effective than any of the advice I’ve received from actual counselors over the years.

That’s just been my experience, anyway. Next post, I promise I won’t be dumping these personal confessions onto you. This entire project is the product of a depressive mind, but that doesn’t mean every post has to reflect that fact. So until next time.

Currently watching: Do It Yourself!!

I’m doing my best to keep up with several anime series this season. The second cour of Spy x Family goes without saying, and so does Chainsaw Man, which I’ve just now started. But though I’m watching them, I don’t feel like writing about these two right now — yeah they’re great, certainly, but they’re also getting such massive buzz that it feels unnecessary for me to add my dumb opinions to the mountain of talk.

Yua Seruru from from Do It Yourself!!

Do It Yua Serufu

Instead, I’ll write about an anime that seems to be flying under the radar a bit this season. Do It Yourself!!, as of this writing four episodes into a 12-episode cour, is an original anime produced by the studio Pine Jam. I’d never heard of these guys before, but I have a positive impression of them so far, because Do It Yourself!! is at this point yet another nice, relaxing antidepressant slice-of-life anime about a school club involving the learning of practical skills. (It’s an entire genre in itself at this point, isn’t it?)

The story so far: main character Yua Serufu (a nice pun there) is just starting as a student at Gatagata Girls’ High School, which is weirdly entirely surrounded by the more elite Yuyu Girls’ Vocational High School, where Serufu’s next-door neighbor and childhood friend Suride Miku is an incoming student. Miku and Serufu could not be more different: Miku is diligent, neat, and serious, while Serufu is extremely easygoing, reflected partly by their admissions results.

Suride Miku aka Purin from Do It Yourself!!

Serufu’s friend and neighbor Miku aka Purin. Why Serufu calls her Purin (pudding) has yet to be explained.

Purin is annoyed at Serufu not being able to attend Yuyu as well, though she naturally shows it a little aggressively because she’s ultra-tsundere about her friend. Serufu amusingly seems to be able to see through all of that and finds her tsundere-ness funny, however. Nothing seems to get to Serufu really, being a very go with the flow type.

Serufu heads off to Gatagata for her first day on her bike, but since she’s constantly accident-prone she crashes along the way, getting a hand with repairs from a fellow student who races off before she can be properly thanked. However, Serufu finds her new acquaintance later that day in the school’s DIY clubhouse, an old workshop out in the school’s yard. Rei (or Kurei — almost everyone gets a nickname in this show) is the club president and sole member, and if she doesn’t get at least a few more members, the DIY club will be forced to dissolve.

Kurei and Serufu in the DIY clubhouse.

Just how many anime series have I watched with either a “save our school club from disbanding” or a “increase our school club’s profile” premise? This, K-On!Yuru Camp, arguably Asobi Asobase, and I’m sure others are slipping my mind right now.

Even though she’s so accident-prone, Serufu decides to join the club that involves handling sharp objects and power tools and starts to help her new president hunt for members. The next few episodes predictably build up the club’s membership and central cast of friends, who we know will all join because they’re all featured in the appropriately cute and chirpy opening:

I guess I’ve already given it away, but my first impressions of the show a third of the way through are very positive. I’ve really taken to this slice-of-life style — even if it doesn’t always quite hit the mark for me, it hits more often than not, and up until now Do It Yourself!! is working for me with its charming characters and fun premise. Though it might seem unbelievable based on what else I’ve written here, I’m not bad with tools myself. Or at least I wasn’t back in high school when I helped build sets for our plays, so I can’t say whether I’m any good at this stuff anymore, but there is at least a little nostalgic connection with this show and the camaraderie that comes from building something with your classmates.

I also like the show’s bizarre double school setup, with Yuyu both figuratively and literally towering over the less prestigious Gatagata. Strange and not very realistic, maybe, but it also works in helping advance what looks like the most central friendship in the story between Serufu and Purin. One of my favorite moments so far comes when Serufu tells Purin during their first week that she’s learning about Marcus Aurelius — Purin scoffs at that ancient history, saying both that and her DIY interests are useless and antiquated (and hurting my soul because I always loved history the most of all my classes.) Meanwhile, Purin is learning about cutting-edge technology and design.

Despite all that, it’s clear that Purin isn’t actually arrogant or condescending towards her friend — they just have some fundamental disagreements. I expect Serufu and her new friends will convince Purin of the value of building stuff with your hands and tools soon. I hope she learns the value of history too, but that probably won’t happen in this series. Where’s the anime about a school history club? I’d watch the fuck out of that.

I like Purin’s (bio?)luminescent robot jellyfish though. Maybe my favorite character so far, even if he does seem way too eager to prepare hot baths for his owner. Maybe the OS update will make him a little less of a weirdo.

That’s a recommendation so far, then. I know how extremely promising this season is already, but if you’re looking for a lighter sort of show to balance out your Mob Psycho 100 and your Chainsaw Man, don’t pass Do It Yourself!! by.

I’m just hoping for Serufu’s sake she starts paying slightly more attention to her surroundings, but I guess that’s part of the joke.