There are spoilers ahead. If you see a show title you haven’t watched yet, you might want to skip that section until you have.
This was a year full of quality and diverse anime, and even the most cynical curmudgeon couldn’t have come out of it having enjoyed nothing. It was also an incredibly busy year for me, which kept me from watching so many of these shows until just the past couple of months. That being said, I believe that my relative inactivity in 2018 was all for the purpose of having a fantastic 2019, throughout which I hope to deliver you all my best work–both in discussing anime and in my own creative endeavors.
But since this is a post meant to celebrate anime and not my aspirations, let’s move on! The same rules apply as always: only shows that began their first cour and season in 2018 were considered. Films, remakes, and reboots were all excluded for the same reasons as usual. To say it for the (now) fourth time: I decided on these five shows as the anime that will best represent 2018 to my mind–whether that be for my emotional response to them, my appreciation of their execution, my investment in their extratextual hooplah, or any other reason I explain below. This was the hardest retrospective to put together yet!
So let’s celebrate some of the year’s anime.Read More »
What It Means to Speak: Melodramatic Articulation in Anime
This essay contains significant spoilers for Toradora!, The Anthem of the Heart, and A Silent Voice.
In her autobiography, From Truant to Anime Screenwriter, Mari Okada faces the quintessential melodramatic dilemma: how can I speak aloud what I feel inside?
“I’m hopelessly inadequate with words,” she writes. “Whenever I try to say something, the words will clog up in my throat… Until I became a scenario writer, I’d thought that it was solitary work where you could carefully pick the right words to use and express your feelings perfectly. But that’s not how it was at all. Being an anime scenario writer means grappling with people. You can’t just write your feelings in text; you have to say the words out loud.”
When we imagine the pivotal conflicts and climaxes of melodramas, it is easy to gloss over the mechanics through which those scenes are expressed. We think of love confessions, emotional outbursts, and flowing tears, but always with a focus on their emotional weight and register. This is where the negative characterization of melodrama is often grounded–its “hysterics” and “manipulations”. Rarely do we examine the construction of such scenes in terms of their specific, observable actions and reactions. In short, what are the characters actually doing during these confessions and outbursts?Read More »
As with Your Name, I want to get my initial impressions of Mari Okada’s Maquia out there while the film is fresh in my head. I’ll likely revisit the movie once it sees an official home release, discussing it from some perspective concerning melodrama. After all, there’s no better pair than Okada and melodrama. But in the meantime, here are my musings on the film after two theater viewings (both with surprisingly mannered audiences). No major spoilers ahead.
Obviously the biggest draw for Maquia is its status as Okada’s directorial debut. I was certainly interested in seeing what her “vision” for her own words were for once, as well as whether her writing would change now that she held the ultimate responsibility for transmuting the story to screen. Overall, I think her recent experience writing for The Anthem of the Heart benefited her a lot in directing Maquia. Being heavily involved in an anime film production–and overcoming the production and personal struggles surrounding that project, according to her autobiography–seems to have given Okada enough know-how and confidence to succeed with Maquia.Read More »
After a hiatus from writing about anime, I figured I could simultaneously celebrate my birthday and ease myself back into the process by writing about my five favorite anime episodes. Picking a top five or top ten series list is difficult because of the endless criteria I could use to rank shows. However, when it comes to individual episodes, it’s a lot easier to break the content down and compare my feelings of each option.
Although I still can’t provide a specific order for these five episodes, they are still my overall top five favorites. Spoilers for each show, of course!
Chihayafuru Season 2, Episode 24
While the entire series is a beautiful exploration of both niche passions and competition, this episode stands out as the most romantic. And romantic is the most appropriate word to use here. Chihayafuru features a love triangle, and although it seems to be the show’s main draw at first, it becomes more like a representation of how romantic each character’s feelings towards karuta are. In competition, a “love” of the game is always mentioned, but Chihayafuru expands that feeling to encompass all meanings of “love.”
Chihayafuru is so successful at this because of how it blends shoujo/josei stylistic elements with the rich cultural context of karuta as a sport, but also for how it treats its competitor characters and their skills. Chihayafuru does not feature the kinds of brutal physical advantages you might find in a show like Haikyuu!!. There are no characters who are so tall, so strong, so naturally imposing that other characters fear them. Characters are instead described as having “studied”. They’re hyped up on the basis of their composure or mental fitness more than their speed or strength (though speed is still a major highlight).Read More »
What Matters in Storytelling: Plot Holes and Other Nonsense
I thought this issue would be something I could make fun of on Twitter and then forget about, but it continues to show up online and offline. At this point, I just want some selfish catharsis. More than ever, I see people focus their criticism on parts of stories (read: anime and movies) that simply do not matter or, at least, matter so little as to be inconsequential. This has always been an issue and probably always will, but I say “more than ever” because I think the kinds of anime and movies that are getting the most attention lately have set themselves up for these kinds of vapid criticisms.
I divided these criticisms that “don’t matter” into two types for the sake of organizational ease. They could (and should) be broken down even further, but since I’m not trying to wage intellectual war or anything, I left them as broad categories. I will be mentioning certain creators by name in this post, but that’s mostly for the sake of example. I’m more concerned with the arguments than the people making them.
I’m presenting the following list of “what doesn’t matter” as factual because I believe it is factual. That doesn’t mean that people are “wrong” for pointing out things that fall under these categories, but that–however true what they’re saying is–it ultimately doesn’t matter for the function of a story. If you want to deny what I’m presenting as fact, that’s fine too. I’m just expressing the rules I follow, not decreeing law. Although it would be cool if I could make it law…
Karen Bee is Nadeko Snake’s longer and more bearable cousin. The arc is of an overall higher quality than Nadeko Snake, but that quality is stretched across an absurdly indulgent seven episodes. By the time the arc finishes, you’ll have trouble remembering which moments were part of it and–more importantly–which even mattered. Most of the arc is a collection of decent (or even great) standalone scenes mashed together with a bit too much narrative freedom.
Although there’s no way to prove a claim like this, and though proving it would accomplish nothing, I feel that Nisio Isin wrote many of Karen Bee’s scenes without any intention of ever making a single story out of them. The narrative structure of the arc reflects this with its unmotivated flashbacks and checklist of fanservice cameos. The arc opens on a scene of a bound Araragi, rolls the opening theme, then flashes back to the day before without any trigger. Nonlinear storytelling is useful as a narrative hook–we do wind up wondering how/why Araragi was captured by Senjougahara–but feels cheap when most of what we see in the flashback is irrelevant to the story.Read More »
Spoilers for Your Name, Toradora!, Kuzu no Honkai, Mashiroiro Symphony.
International record-breaker Your Name features plenty of destruction, including the exploding of an electric substation towards the end of the film. This moment stands out not only for the fact that it is the first instance of heightened action in the movie, but also for how it represents the communicative struggles of the movie’s characters. The scenes that involve Mitsuha’s father and bookend the comet sequence provide an interesting glimpse into a major motif of the melodramatic mode.
Before the comet strikes, Taki–through the life of Mitsuha–attempts to explain Itomori’s peril to Mitsuha’s father. Of course, he doesn’t believe Taki and says all this “nonsense” about the comet is just “madness” his daughter inherited from the Miyamizu family. There’s a lot packed into this scene, but the key point is that what Taki tries to express to Mitsuha’s father is rejected. He is unable to communicate his fears, desires, and knowledge to the mayor. As a result of this, he, Tessie, and Sayaka have no choice but to proceed with their plan to blow up the substation. Because verbal communication is not an option, an explosive physical expression seems like the only way to save the town.Read More »