Anime Lookout | Winter 2017 Part 2

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first installment of what I hope will become a regular feature of Anime Lookout. That’s right, after all these years of posting first impressions, I’ve decided to create a follow up post where I can annoy you with more of my pithy anime opinions! Great news am I right!?

In all seriousness though, I’ve been wanting to do this for quite a while, and considering how far behind I was on my winter anime, I decided this would be the perfect time to try this out!. Below you’ll find some follow up blurbs on the shows I continued watching after I first wrote about them. In case you’re wondering where some of the shows I listed at the end of my Winter 2017 post went, well the answer is simple: I didn’t watch them!

Most of this can be chalked up to apathy, which is often the main reason I drop shows. An anime can be incredibly bad and baffling, but if it starts to make me shrug, then boy oh boy is it going to drop off my radar fast. I know there are probably a lot of good shows I didn’t watch (Konosuba 2, cough cough), but frankly I don’t have all the time in the world, and if I’m not feeling it, well then I’m not going to watch it.

With that preamble out of the way though, let’s get on with the show!

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department:

Anime like ACCA are always hard to write about, because while I personally found the show really enjoyable, I can’t deny that a many people will not have the same experience as me. This isn’t because it’s bad necessarily, but because it’s an anime with a somewhat niche appeal. Even though this show is an anime about a political coup, the tone of this show is very relaxed, almost soporific. Drama doesn’t happen with a bang, but with a calm conversation and a bundle of deliciously drawn food.

But that’s kind of what I love about it! ACCA isn’t really about the political drama, it’s about the intrigue and worldbuilding. Each district in the Dowa Kingdom is unique and diverse, with their own issues and stances on the kingdom’s politics. The show is more content with exploring these factions and building up the motivation of each of ACCA’s members than it is telling an intense thriller. As such many viewers will likely find the ending a bit anticlimactic, since after episodes of intense build up everything is wrapped up neatly and without many loose ends.

In fact, after seeing the final episode I felt a bit annoyed too. I mean for a show with such naturalistic dialogue and a mundane workplace tone, it seemed unrealistic to have all the drama end so easily. However, when I really sat down to think about it, it made sense. ACCA was never going to end on a violent or messy note, because that was never the show’s goal. It’s drama is more about maintaining peace than it is about taking over a corrupt government, and as such it only makes sense for it all to end on a note of compromise and understanding. This low key take on the genre may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it refreshing and entertaining.

Similarly, despite this being directed by Shingo Natsume, a man famous for bombastic shows like One Punch Man and Space Dandy, ACCA is a surprisingly restrained production. Besides some occasionally beautiful cuts of character animation, the show’s visual style opts for simplicity and aesthetic cohesion. Now personally I think this show looks great, I was already a fan of Natsume Ono’s character designs and the adapted ones here manage to work well in animation while still capturing the originals’ eccentricities. The show may not wow you on an episode to episode basis, but the backgrounds and characters work well in tandem to create a very beautiful experience. It also has a lot of really delicious bread in it, so that’s always a plus in my book.

Anyways, I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’d recommend ACCA, but with some major caveats. While I savored my time with it, others might find its brand of quiet political drama boring. Still there’s a lot here that’s interesting. From the strange settings, to the suave and fun cast of characters, I don’t think anyone could call this show unremarkable. Bland maybe, but it carves out its own weird little path among other bureaucratic workplace dramas. And on that fact alone, I think it’s worth a try.

Rating: 4/5

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.

March comes in like a lion:

I have somewhat mixed feelings on March comes in like a lion. Part of me wants to praise the show for its stunning high points, but I also can’t deny that for every moment of stellar visual execution and character writing, there’s another one that disappoints me and showcases some lazy adaptation tendencies. That being said, even with my complaints, I have to admit that March comes in like a lion is a show I was bound to like. Everything about its core concept and plot is designed to appeal to my sensibilities. From the focus on a young and depressed prodigy, to the show’s ultimate messages about recovering from past traumas and forming healthy relationships, I couldn’t help but be hooked from episode one onward.

Now I want to make it clear that when this series’ soars, it reaches some incredible peaks. The first episode is one of my favorite premieres of last year, showcasing a masterful control over visual language. Its rare for TV anime to tell its story on a such a pure visual level, with no inner monologue, no obvious dialogue, and barely any intrusions on atmosphere. At its best, March comes in like a lion is able to effortlessly convey its cast’s emotions with a few choice lines and pieces of animation, creating an experience that’s engrossing and emotionally fulfilling. While it is true the series begins to decline in animation quality throughout its 22 episode run, the team at studio Shaft never stop coming up with passionate and interesting ways to convey the story on screen.

Sadly, the same can’t be said of the show’s pacing. One of the biggest flaws of this adaptation, at least in my opinion, is the show’s decision to adapt the material on a chapter by chapter basis. I understand it’s a stylistic choice, but the result is that a lot of two chapter sections are split across multiple episodes, and some chapters get more screentime than they really deserve. I get that Shaft loves their title cards, but once it starts to get in the way of the writing staff creating a smooth adaptation, I start to question the validity of their decision.

That being said, I have to admit that the material here never falters. In spite of some questionable structural decisions, the core material always shines through. Rei is just an incredibly well realized character, with a bundle of relatable inner struggles, and a story that is compelling from beginning to end. Watching him grow up and begin to crawl his way out of depression is heart wrenching, and his interactions with the other cast members create beautiful moments of contrast. If there’s one thing this show excels at, it’s portraying believable people.

So in the end, I would still recommend you give this anime a try. It may not be the best adaptation this manga deserves, but has some amazing moments throughout, and ultimately I was hooked all throughout its runtime. And even if you end up getting turned off by the show’s style, the manga is still available for you to read at your leisure. Either way, I encourage people to seek out this story in whatever format you find most compelling. No matter what route you take, I bet you’ll find something to appreciate.

Rating: 4/5

March comes in like a lion is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid:

If there’s one word to describe Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid as a whole, it’s gotta be cute. That may sound weird considering this anime is, at its core, about a group of horny dragons. But while there are a few uncomfortable fanservice moments here and there, Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is a very sweet and saccharine show. From the first episode onward, the series focuses on having fun and building up a very endearing surrogate family, starting off with simple beginnings before expanding into a vast group of friends and an adorable parent-daughter esque dynamic between Tohru, Kobayashi, and Kanna.

If there’s one thing this show consistently succeed at, it’s making this group of misfits inviting and fun to watch. The show never takes itself too seriously, and combining that with the great animation and comedic timing courtesy of the staff at Kyoto Animation creates an experience that’s always entertaining. Watching Tohru and Kobayashi grow closer is heartrending, and this is one of the few comedy series that manages to pull of a semi-serious finale with a shocking amount of grace. I think that’s because, even though this anime is ninety-nine point nine percent a sex comedy, that core narrative of learning to form bonds with those outside your traditional family unit is always lurking under the surface. It would be one thing if the finale got serious out of nowhere, but throughout the show’s run, there are always tiny hints of inner struggle. Whether it be Tohru accepting the fact she won’t be with her Kobayashi forever, or Kanna getting over her past familial issues in a new environment, there’s always something tying back into the anime’s central theme.

Now that being said, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is obviously not perfect, and although I’ve been heaping a lot of praise on it, I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece. Even though I enjoyed most of my time with it, there were a few elements that rubbed me the wrong way. These issues are mostly connected to the characters Lucoa and Saikawa, whose main gimmicks can veer into some awkward and sexual territory. I’m fine with Saikawa having implied affections for Kanna, but considering they’re elementary schoolers, I find it hard to sit through some of their edgier scenes. I understand Kanna’s design is cute, but please show, stop lingering on her thighs. Similarly, Lucoa would be fine in a vacuum, but her constant assault of Shota is not only gross, but pretty annoying.

In the end though, the fact that Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid can even elicit such varied responses from me is kind of amazing. I’ve never been a huge fan of anime comedies, but this show managed to keep me engaged the whole way through without ever making any major missteps. Plus, even if I didn’t like it, there’s such a level of artistry and craft put into this series that I would’ve likely found it hard not to recommend. So yeah, if you’re looking for a surprisingly endearing comedy about sexy dragons and non-traditional families, you can’t do much better than this.

Rating: 3.5/5

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.

Scum’s Wish:

Out of all the shows on this list, Scum’s Wish is probably the one I struggled the most with. Not in the sense that I found it bad or unenjoyable, but because it made me constantly second guess my opinions on it. There are so many things I love about Scum’s Wish:how the show subverts typical innocent high school romances, its insightful character writing, and the way it never demonizes any of the character’s for their sexual actions. However, for every moment of genuine pathos, there was at least another one that rubbed the wrong way or seemed contrived.

And yet, even though I have problems with it (mostly in regards to Akane’s character), I can’t not recommend Scum’s Wish. It manages to walk a fine line between portraying its cast of destructive characters in a sympathetic light, while never condoning any of their actions. The show never shies away from getting intimate and really diving into the psyches of its cast members, showcasing what drives their poor decision making. Mugi and Hanabi’s teacher crushes could have easily just been used for extra shock value, but by explaining how they fell in love, the anime manages to never dip its toes into exploitative territory. This also helps make the purpose behind Hana and Mugi’s surrogate relationship clearer, showcasing the self-hatred and confusion that drives their passionate meetings.

Of course it also helps that the show’s pretty great on a visual level. While the actual animation here is sparse, the character art is crisp and refined, and the way it expresses each cast member’s wild emotions is quite impressive. I’m particularly a fan of the manga panel technique used throughout the series; it really forces you to pay attention to everyone’s small gestures and emphasizes the insular nature of these characters. And when it wants to be bombastic, boy oh boy is it bombastic. From the psychedelic imagery of the ED, to the fading blacks and blurred lighting of the show’s many inner monologue sequences, studio Lerche and director Masaomi Ando manage to be emphasize the show’s melodrama without it ever being too overbearing.

However, it’s these very strengths that make Akane’s clunky character writing stand out. While I eventually understood her character by the end of the show, her initial backstory and motivations were so over the top and cartoony that I found her hard to like. I know that there a lot of destructive people in the world, but her obsession with screwing over people in relationships seemed so inhuman that I couldn’t help but see her as a pointless source of conflict. I understand that she’s supposed to be a foil for Hana, but the writer’s could have at least put in a little more effort into making her somewhat believable.

Still, none of that really stops Scum’s Wish from being a pretty amazing show. Instead of teaching kids to bottle up their emotions, it encourages teenagers to work through their issues and be honest with themselves. It’s an incredibly important message, and the anime manages to execute it in a nice and neat twelve episode package. Scum’s Wish may not be perfect, but it is one of the best show’s Noitamina has produced in a while, and I like how it pushes the high school romance genre in ways that are unique and surprisingly progressive (Ecchan is easily my favorite character in the series for this reason). It may have taken me awhile to fall in love with it, but I’m glad I did.

Rating: 3.5/5

Scum’s Wish is available for streaming on Amazon Video’s Anime Strike service. You’ll have to pay for both Prime and the extra subscription in order to gain access.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories:

Last year, the first season of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju easily took my top spot for anime of the year. I may have enjoyed shows like Flip Flappers and JoJo’s part 4 more on an episode to episode level, but in terms of general writing and overall impact, Rakugo was above and beyond all the rest. It’s drama managed tell a tragedy with an amazing cast of characters, each featuring their own unique personalities and heartbreaking arcs. Combining that with some thoughtful direction on the part of Mamoru Hatakeyama (otherwise known as Shinchi Omata), and you had a fantastic anime through and through.

I think it’s safe to say my expectations for this second season were exorbitantly high, and after watching it I can’t say I was disappointed in the slightest. Rakugo Shinju’s second season may lack the consistent visual splendor of its predecessor, and it may have some writing stumbles here and there, but in terms of wrapping up an already fantastic story with grace, style, and heart, it more than succeeded!

One of my favorite parts about the show  in general, especially in this season, was how beautifully it integrated its thematic ideas about art and the change between eras into its character conflicts and plotting. Yakumo’s arc in particular was a treat to watch and analyze. In many ways his arc coincided with the decline of rakugo itself. After the tragic death of Sukeroku and Miyokichi, he puts the blame for their demise onto himself, and by extension begins to hold back promising young artists looking to further the medium of rakugo. In his mind, Sukeroku was hope for future generations of rakugo art, so without him he might as well bury it all with him and die in theatrical fashion. But as he edges closer to death, and he begins to realize how much his family cares for him, allowing him to let go and understand that even in the worst of circumstances people will find happiness. Humanity and rakugo can persevere and evolve to inspire future generations.

Some may call it blunt, but personally I can appreciate the way the show apes off its rakugo subject matter to tell its story. These characters are both relatable people, as well as representatives of certain thematic ideas. And the way the show captures these characters’ performances, their energy, expressions, and posture, is still as fascinating as ever. The way the show quick cuts between their movement, and the tiny details of their sweat and clenched fists perfectly showcases the beauty and effort put into their art.

It may be a little too soon to call Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju a classic, but in my opinion it fully deserves that title. As an adult drama it’s filled with subtlety and moments of undeniable humanity that make it a gripping watch all the way through. Sure, there was a questionable moment with Konatsu in the finale, and sure not every episode is as compelling as its peak material, but in the end the show always sings. Yotaro and the gang will always hold a special place in my heart, and I’ll never forget their rakugo and the reasons why they performed it.

Rating: 4.5/5

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories is available for free streaming on Crunchyroll.

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