Okay, so its time to spend a few moments out of my usual musings about anime’s past, and take a peek at some of this new season’s bigger television offerings. Based upon word-of-mouth, as well as the occasional read-up, these choices only nail a few that I’ve been picking out of the running. Again, most of these are based upon what I hoped would stand out among this season’s heap. So if I missed anything, it is either because it didn’t really give me reason to be curious, or it’s just those pesky time constraints again.
So let’s have at it, shall we?
There’s something about Akiyuki Shinbo anime that just doesn’t connect with me. I have tried to absorb the works of whom many consider to be the savior of anime hipsters everywhere, only to give up in disappointment. This is unusual for me, as I’ve often been a large defender for directors who break a sweat, and do something new with the medium. And yet, there’s something to Shinbo’s arsenal of wild takes, cultural references, and constant monologuing that just neutralizes any molecule of enjoyment for me. Oh sure, Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei was a riot at times, but that was merely due to the source material’s razor sharp wit.
So when I think of Arakawa Under The Bridge, I can’t help but feel relieved that it isn’t nearly as obtuse as Bakemonogatari, but remains as distant as ever.
Ko Ichinomiya is seen opening the series as a young corporate heir, lamenting the theft of his pants by miscreants, and looking to retrieve the stolen pair hanging high above. This is when he meets the mysterious, and easygoing, Nino who offers to help. The first plot/character gear is shifted when we discover Ichinomiya’s obsession with never being indebted to anyone, while he decides to climb, and grab them himself. Matters only complicate as an incompleted beam on the bridge gives way, sending our protagonists over the edge, and into the river below. Regaining consciousness, he is found to be rescued by Nino, only to discover that a) she is homeless & b) she is quite possibly mentally disturbed. But the need to live without debt calls, and Ichinomiya must repay, with all means at his disposal. But can love be considered repayment? (and what the hell is up with her…”chief”?)
And yet somehow, this potentially interesting premise is flattened by defying what in Filmmaking 101 has told many a student for decades. “Show, don’t tell” And thus, perhaps is what it is that renders many of Shinbo’s works for me as moot pieces of anime curiosity. For all their visual flair & quirky nature, they have this tendency to explain everything via voice-over, and wild take, that it saps any semblance of drama out of the proceedings. It’s like looking at a blueprint of a show in real-time. And while that sounds all fine and good from an art-school standpoint, it hardly makes for engaging TV. There’s only so meta one can go before it gets boring. The premise shows great promise, as it’s a type of story that does call to me. The problem here is that shots of a “straight man” overreacting, followed by opaque splashes of color, text & noise do not come off as edgy so much as played out and uninvolving. When done by contemporaries like Kazuya Tsurumaki & Hideaki Anno, there tends to be an emotionally driven reason for it. Here, it’s treated as a matter of fact. A artistic signature that is neither here, nor there. Even as Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei survives merely by the teeth of its satire, Arakawa teeters into collapse under the weight its own detached sense of cool.
Will I keep watching? Maybe. Possibly only for the voice of Maaya Sakamoto as the perplexing Nino. It’s exciting to hear her grow into a potentially cool role like this.
And so comes A-1 Studios, with staffers who have worked with Production IG on Stand Alone Complex & Blood + with the historically-tinged thriller, Senko No Night Raid. Set in early 1930’s Shanghai, we are thrust into the chase for a kidnapped businessman who’s ties to weapons dealing have stirred up concerns for not only the Kuomingdan Party, but even the Japanese government who have enlisted their own top secret team, a cadre of psychically endowed agents! That’s right, we are in truly Ghost In The Shell/Mission Impossible territory here, complete with intricate plotting, cooler-than-Hollywood action, and fascinating locales. Dynamically interesting characters abound, ranging from the reckless Iha, to the quiet & reserved Miyoshi summoning the best Kirk/Spock traditions, the sharpshooting Natsume, and their youngest member, the perception enhanced Yukina.
Taking what is ostensibly a successful formula, and placing it in this fascinating setting is only part of what gives this first episode its juice. There’s the constant shroud of history hovering over the proceedings, placing us into a volatile time when considering East Asia’s place in world affairs. The show never flag waves, nor singles out any entity as being infallible (yet at least). All we get are shadows, and a simmering hint of things to come. The milieu, coupled with some very cool writing at the hands of occasional Darker Than Black scribe, Shinsuke Onishi gives this a can’t miss aura that echoes the best of TV anime circa 2000 – 2003. Like last year’s Higashi no Eden, it is truly refreshing to see some genrebending get some much needed push in modern dramatic television. Again, it might not seem terribly original at the outset, but the setting may light up some much desired narrative fireworks.
Will I Keep Watching? Oh, most definitely. This is much more my speed. Not to mention a uniformly good cast, including the ever-awesome Ryusuke Obayashi as a less than trustworthy Aramaki-archetype. You have Captain Goto in your show? That’s an instant boost.
And then there are K-On! ‘s second season opener, as well as the first episode of A-1’s TV version of WORKING!! Aside from both shows sharing exclamation marks at the tail end of their titles, I found it important to challenge myself a little and give these two a fighting chance. Now granted, upon its initial run, the first K-On! encompassed its own brand of fluffy charms, complete with Linda!Linda!Linda! parallels, cute characterizations, and funny asides. But it just stands to reason that shows like this are becoming a dime a dozen in this age of industry panic. It only seems logical to many of these studios to offer a sanctuary, a place for fans to hang their hats. Goodness knows, there aren’t other means of expanding your viewer base. Just stick with the moe-jinks and you’ll be okay from now on.
And this isn’t to say that K-On!, or WORKING!! are bad shows in any way. In fact, they do offer their charms in generally harmless ways. But it does help represent an industry/fan nesting instinct that is effectively hurting a declining industry more than helping. There’s only so much comfort food one should take in before heading back out into the trenches for something challenging. But as it stands, K-On!’s second season seems to be more of the same pure fluff that we’ve been privy to before. However, if one thinks that it can maintain this kind of quality for long, one would be very mistaken. Both of these shows can be considered so fluffy, so slight, that it can easily float away from memory moments after the credits roll. I vaguely remember what i just watched to be honest. It’s barely even worth considering a review. So all I’ll say here in closing is that as much as there’s an audience for shows such as these, it is still a small one, and not one to help many others appreciate what is happening overseas. Not only do KyoAni & A-1 fans deserve better, but anime fans in general do.
Will I Keep Watching? Well it seriously depends on my mood, and schedule. Shows like these have a place at times, but ultimately work like junk food. Enjoyable, but ultimately empty.
But I will say this about WORKING!!, Kyoko is truly badass.