On the whole, this continues to be a strong season in what is shaping up to be one of anime’s strongest years in recent memory. Here’s my thoughts on some of my favorite shows so far.
There’s a caustic, almost bitter undertone to this highly original series that is absent from most anime. Of course, one would expect that given a title like “Humanity Has Declined,” though the bleak, post-apocalyptic future that the show presents is so full of laugh-out-loud, absurd humor that it’s easy to miss just how cutting the satire is. Toast committing bloody suicide because it has not “fulfilled its purpose”? Companies literally led by headless chickens? The last remnants of high technology being used to reproduce BL manga? The main character is a very cute, pink-haired girl who works for whatever is left of the United Nations, and even has the sweet voice of Mai Nakahara behind her: except she’s saying some of the most mordant and sarcastic lines since Kyon. Above all, there are the cute, whimsical but oddly menacing fairies—menacing mostly because we still don’t know what their ultimate purpose is and their murmuring about demanding more “respect” along with fun and sweets.
This tension between laugh-out-loud slapstick humor, social commentary, and pessimistic forecasting (we still have no idea just what brought civilization to a near-end, but does it matter?) is an intoxicating combination and this show has the greatest potential to be an enduring title in the years to come. It’s like an even more twisted Kino no Tabi or Kaiba; where those two works were earnest, Humanity has Declined is a set of parables for a more cynical age.
If Humanity has Declined is the most original star of the season, this dramedy about body exchange—following in the footsteps of Asatte no Houkou from years past—is perhaps the biggest surprise in terms of quality. Actually, given that this is once again a Shin Oonuma/Silver Link production, perhaps it shouldn’t have been, though the mixed quality of Dusk Maiden seemed to indicate that not everything he did was a unqualified success. And the first preview and screenshots were not promising. Was the body swapping mostly going to be an opportunity for boys to find out what having boobs are like, walk into the wrong bathroom, etc.?
It’s true the first two episodes did those things—but it did so much more. Oonuma and company prove they can handle an ensemble cast with deft pacing and snappy dialogue, introduce a potentially confusing set of body exchanges without too much confusion, and add a touch of thought and atmosphere to the concept on top of that. Episode 2 in particular not only introduces the vaguely sinister presence of Heartwood, it even manages to bring up the mind/body problem explicitly—and from the mouth of the supposed ditz, no less. (This is perhaps a first for shows not named Ghost in the Shell.) More importantly, though, is that the story immediately distinguishes and begins to deepen each of the five leads. It does not take too long to pick them out, and it efficiently hints at troubling backstories that will become revealed as they swap bodies and discover each other’s secrets. In other words, it appears this show is going to mine the concept fully for drama and conflict and complex emotions. In short—this could actually be a classic in the right hands. Let’s see if Oonuma can do it.
The latest shiny from PA Works is more or less in the dramedy mold of Hanasaku Iroha, except it’s not just about cute girls going through cute little life problems and learning cute little life lessons. There are two guys doing the same too! HanaIro had begun promisingly with a dramatic baseline that was undermined by frequent lapses into fan-service fueled silliness. Tari Tari is calmer in this respect, starting neither too heavily the way HanaIro did nor become too outlandish, most of the time at least (that Mexican in episode 3, though…). The choir parts are actually fairly well-done, though nowhere on the scale of Apollon’s epic musical highlights. Just like in HanaIro there are contrived antagonists in the form of the vice-principal, bumbling characters like Wien, and even a girl who looks a lot like Minchi who initially resists the overtures of Kona’s cheerfulness. Minchi was much meaner though—there are no calls to “die” or “balut!” here—just as Kona is calmer than the hyperactive Ohana.
As one might expect, the result is fairly bland, though as usual the art and the character design are easy on the eyes. I’m beginning to fear that PA Works is going to be stuck in this rut: while Canaan and Another had serious flaws, at least they were different from the norm in many ways. This “pretty girls in pretty backdrops” subgenre is going to become a trap for them the way it had begun to become one for Kyoto Animation. Still, it’s pleasant, and easily digestible.
The Noitamina block continues to atone for such egregious titles as Guilty Crown and Fractale by going back to their roots in josei romance, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous is perhaps the most traditional story in that genre in a while. The story of a widowed flower shop owner, the much younger man who loves her, and the ghost of her dead husband that only he can see is one that proves both rich for both comedy and drama. Both moods are explored in fairly equal measure in the first two episodes, and done smoothly without too many abrupt transitions. Perhaps because this is not aimed at manchildren, it’s refreshing to see the male lead confess his feelings in the very first episode and to see realistically depicted grief over a dead spouse. Moreover, each of the three leads—man, woman, and ghost—get their own monologues, so we can see their emotional perspectives equally. This is a love triangle of sorts, but the dynamic is more interesting than the usual setup. One to keep an eye on for sure.
I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed with the new episodes of Moyashimon so far. Much of the comedy, aside from the ever effervescent presence of the microbes, seems a bit forced so far. There seems to be much more educational “lecturing” in each episode too than I remember. However, my impression may be colored by my memories of the second half of the first season, which featured one of the most hilarious story arcs about the search for an aphrodisiac that I’ve ever seen in anime. There were more “reveals” in S1 than there probably will be in S2, whether it be Sawaki’s microbial vision itself or the crossdressing proclivities of one of the characters. I’m told that this part of the story is a lull in the manga too, so perhaps it’s just a passing phase.
Also, count me as not a fan of the new character designs, where the eyes look much larger and less proportional to the characters’ faces. But at least I have my oryzae and other squeaky microbe stars to laugh with again. Keep on tellin’ Sawaki to hit on girls. Please. :) And make more ads while you’re at it: