2019 Retrospective

2019 Retrospective

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.

Another year of anime lived. I was going to begin this post by apologizing for how late it is, but then I realized I’m actually a couple days ahead of last year! So instead, I’m going to act undeservedly proud. I expected nothing less of myself.

This was an incredible year for anime–I think somewhat indisputably. We had potentially the most impressive depth of good shows all decade, as well as quite a few great shows, all spread across various genres. Obviously what specifically falls into those categories of “good” and “great” will differ from person to person, but the sheer quantity and variety of enjoyable shows really stands out to me. In particular, I imagine this will go down as a legendary year for fans with a taste for shounen or action: Mob Psycho II, Dororo, Attack on Titan S3P2, Demon Slayer, Dr. Stone, Vinland Saga, Fire Force, My Hero Academia S4…these aren’t even my kind of anime and yet that list excites me.Read More »

2018 Retrospective

2018 Retrospective

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.

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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 »

First Thoughts on Maquia

First Thoughts on Maquia

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.

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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 »

2017 Retrospective

2017 Retrospective

There are spoilers ahead. If you see a show title you haven’t watched yet, you might want to skip it until you have.

Another year has come and gone, which means it’s time for another retrospective list. As always, this list contains the five anime (in no particular order) that I believe I’ll remember as being most representative of my year. For better or worse, these five shows will define the year 2017 for me–as far as anime goes. The same rules apply as always: no films and no shows that had cours or prior seasons before 2017. Since it affects a few shows this year, I excluded remakes or reboots when thinking up the list as well.

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I’m a bit late posting this because the death of Animestrike convinced me to check out a few shows I wasn’t going to bother with. However, one of those shows wound up making this list, so I suppose it was worth the delay. Anyway, let’s get right into it.
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5 Good Christmas Specials

5 Good Christmas Specials

The winter holidays are a wonderful occasion to spend time with friends and family, and then binge watch anime once you’ve exhausted yourself answering questions about where you’re working or going to school. Obviously the only way to replenish your energy during the holidays is by watching the adventures of a bunch of characters that can’t ask you questions (because they don’t exist). So, as we navigate the dissonant desire to isolate ourselves from social interaction by seeking companionship in fiction, let’s take a look at five good anime Christmas specials to spread holiday cheer.

Note: these are just my five personal picks that I find most enjoyable or likely to put me in a festive mood. If a description contains spoilers, I’ll indicate so next to the title of the show.

Yuru Yuri – Season 1, Episode 7 (No Spoilers)

Probably my favorite slice-of-life show and one of my favorite comedies in general, Yuru Yuri relieves the stress of holiday shopping, preparation, and deadlines like none other. It’s the kind of show perfect for reminding you to take a moment to appreciate how beautiful your tree looks or how comforting it was to have the company of old friends and family. As a slice-of-life comedy should, it settles down your negative emotions and refocuses your attention on the quiet, pleasant emotions waiting beyond.

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Although Christmas pops up a couple of times during the series, I have to go with Season 1’s Episode 7 for this list. For a show that thrives off its characters’ absurd relationships and quirks, the episode’s main premise about pairing off for Christmas “dates” is perfectly to-the-point. All of the main and secondary cast draw lots to see who their faux date partner will be, and from there the episode reaches punchline after ridiculous punchline. The show’s editing sequences the pairs (by cutting from one date to another) for added effect, letting the dysfunction of one pairing contrast with the awkwardness of another.Read More »

A Halloween Anime Worth Its Salt

A Halloween Anime Worth Its Salt

Moderate spoilers for the beginning Black Butler’s first season.

While easily dismissible as an edgy or pandering manga adaptation at first glance, Black Butler is surprisingly polished and well-realized. The show’s most striking feature is perhaps its atmosphere. Upon a sturdy Victorian gothic foundation, Black Butler builds upwards to great heights of conspiratory urban fantasy with embellishments of black comedy, Western witchcraft, German horror, and more. Although some of these macabre elements are more derivative than they are inventive, the show manages to piece together its own unique brand of horror. It’s a show I have to recommend for Halloween.

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As that opening description suggests, Black Butler plays off the horrific elements of much of Western art and history—a fitting catalog for a story set in London. The first episode of the series takes the grim (and often redacted) moments of classic fairytales and pre-Renaissance folklore and sets them in the Phantomhive Manor. A haunted house, essentially. A hive for phantoms.Read More »

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Family Melodrama)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Family/Domestic Melodrama)

This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Fractale. Additional note: it is difficult to pin down who is responsible for what in the making of Fractale. I’ll detail that issue extensively later.

After a couple of quick looks at teen melodrama, I think it’s best to develop a second grouping of modal elements to exemplify how such groupings can differ. As with the first teen melodrama essay, I’ll mostly be talking about what elements give this grouping its identity and how we might recognize them in a specific anime. This time, I chose Fractale. It’s far from a simple example, but it most clearly demonstrates the important elements of this grouping. Keep in mind that I’m just detailing core differences and there will still be a lot of similarities because these two groupings are still melodrama at the end of the day.

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That being said, I haven’t seen a true family melodrama (in terms of Elsaesser’s classification based on 50’s Hollywood films) in anime. Nor have I heard of any shows that seem to be classic family melodramas. I’m sure they exist somewhere—probably as a film rather than a TV show—but I imagine you can count them on one hand. Although the origin of my grouping of “family melodrama” is rather specific, the elements are absolutely influential in contemporary anime. The treatment of expression and oppression, the tropes, and the modal duality we discuss here originate from Thomas Elsaesser’s analysis of a specific trend, but can be reapplied here.

But enough babbling, let’s talk about family (aka domestic) melodrama.Read More »

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Kiznaiver)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Kiznaiver)

This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Kiznaiver.

Now that we’ve established a melodramatic basis and looked at the particulars of teen melodrama, we can start to criticize those particulars and flesh out the complexities of melodrama. Mari Okada herself engages in this criticism via her writing of Kiznaiver. I think it’s fair to assume that, after many years of writing for and adapting melodramatic projects, Okada has some opinion on the mode or has learned something from it. This might sound like an endgame essay topic (like we’re looking at the culmination of Okada’s career), but discussing this early on allows unique insight into the melodramatic mode and why Okada would be continually asked to/interested in working on these projects.

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Digibro explained Kiznaiver as The Breakfast Club told in the style of Cabin in the Woods, and I think that’s a hilariously accurate description. Kiznaiver is quintessential teen melodrama manipulated and ramped up to the point the narrative doesn’t make any sense if you stop to think about it. Yet, that’s why it’s so interesting. (Side note: if you haven’t seen either of those movies, do so immediately. The Breakfast Club is my favorite film of all time and Cabin in the Woods is one wild ride). But anyway…Read More »

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Teen Melodrama)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (Teen Melodrama)

This is one of many essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, I recommend you start at the Introduction or Table of Contents instead! Spoilers for Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo.

I want to dive into all the social commentary and Okada’s experimentation with the “generic” (“modal” in this case) mythos as soon as possible, but we’ll take things step by step. Most people have been exposed to teen melodrama in some form—especially with its recent resurgence via Twilight and teen fiction in general. So we all know what teen melodrama is, but it can be hard to put into words. Things can get even trickier if you think about how “teen” or “young adult” labels are really just a facet of marketing. However, we can still pinpoint unique elements of teen melodrama and investigate how Okada utilizes them.

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The defining feature of a teen melodrama is its particular “situation”. This is kind of a vague concept, but the general idea is that certain kinds of characters are in certain settings under certain conditions/stresses. The situation of teen melodrama involves archetypal teenagers in a school or home who are in some kind of identity or agency crisis. All of this is then soaked in the woes of puberty and sweet, sweet angst. As with all melodrama, the climax takes the form of an honest release of emotion. I quoted Douglas Sirk last time, so now here’s actress Molly Ringwald speaking on the melodrama in The Breakfast Club:Read More »

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (A Melodramatic Basis)

Mari Okada: Modes of Melodrama (A Melodramatic Basis)

This is the second part in a series of essays on Mari Okada and melodrama. If you stumbled upon this post, start at the Introduction instead! No spoilers ahead for now.

Before we can start talking about anything relevant in Mari Okada’s work, we have to establish a melodramatic basis for analysis. In other words, we have to know what melodrama is and where it comes from—which means chugging through some history and exposition. The history of melodrama is actually quite interesting and I’ll be keeping it light and to the point, since it’s way more fun (and useful) to talk about the gritty details once we’re engaged with some specific anime. In addition to history, I’ll give a brief overview of the most universal elements of melodrama to be expanded upon in future essays.

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Melodrama originated as a method of performance in the theater, not as a genre or tone. Music was used to add or fine-tune emotion within a scene, hence melo+drama. Here’s the entirety of Ariadne auf Naxos and an excerpt of Medea so you can get an idea of what this would look like onstage. As you’ll quickly notice, theatrical melodrama is not far removed from opera, and the functioning of melodrama (i.e. the method of acting, the emotional impact of the music) has greatly influenced modern media. Most notably, early cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and most silent films (Nosferatu as a random example) rely heavily on a melodramatic mode to better convey character motivation and emotion. I’m leaving out some details about the overall bombastic nature of melodramas, but this is a fine starting point.Read More »