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.
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
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.
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
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.
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 »
What Gets Lost (Your Name Analysis)
In Gigguk’s recent video on Your Name, he expresses a viewpoint I’ve heard too often to continue sitting on my heels about it. To quote the video: “…even though Your Name has a natural disaster in it, I don’t feel like it’s a film about disasters.” He goes on to suggest the comet strike’s “real purpose” is to provide “spectacle” and explosive set pieces. I don’t mean to call Gigguk out here, as he explicitly states his video is just an explanation of why he enjoys the film, and his video style isn’t suited for the kind of discussion I want to have anyway. His video just works as a solid starting point, as it represents a disappointing lack of discussion on two large concerns of the film: the conservation of culture and the preservation of human connections.
The film consists of three natural disasters, two of which we do not witness directly, but all of which we see the effects of. The first of these is the first comet impact 1,200 years ago that shaped the landscape of Itomori. Both the great lake at the edge of town and possibly the crater surrounding the shrine god’s body (this might be a caldera, which could imply a fourth disaster) are results of the first comet impact and have a profound effect on the town’s development moving forward—more on this later. Although we can’t be sure if a large written/architectural/artistic history was destroyed by that impact, we can trace the cultural development of Itomori following the disaster.Read More »
Love in Bakemonogatari (Tsubasa Cat)
So far, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about overarching and sometimes abstract concepts of style and narratology. That’s all important and interesting, but I don’t think we can fully appreciate Monogatari without digging our nails into some specific scenes and conversations. The series isn’t just a bunch of a random moments arranged according to some grand scheme, after all. The tiny details are designed for their own purposes.
Like any Monogatari fan, I adore Episode 12’s starry sky scene. All it represents about the Gahararagi couple’s journey so far, and all its beauty in retrospect, make it a timeless scene. However, what I’ll be focusing on today is the build-up to that scene. Perhaps the less important sequence thematically—yet the more interesting one in some ways—is Senjougahara’s verbal assault on Araragi in her father’s car. While we can write this off as her pushing Araragi’s buttons as usual, there’s actually a subtext of Senjougahara explaining to her father why she loves Araragi and why they’re a good match.Read More »
Failure in Bakemonogatari (Nadeko Snake)
Nadeko Snake is Bakemonogatari’s lowest point and perhaps the lowest point of the Monogatari series as a whole. I don’t dislike it for any banal reason like the amount of fanservice, but simply the failures in the narrative. Nadeko Snake has the misfortune of following three diverse and top-notch arcs and the burden of scaffolding numerous future developments in the series, but I don’t think either of these are excuses for its failures. Rather, I don’t think we should need to make excuses for a story in the first place.
However, this provides an opportunity to learn something vital about larger narrative structures. Monogatari’s arc-by-arc format tells numerous small stories that act as stepping stones in a larger narrative path. Nisio Isin finds brilliant uses of this structure (which I hope to discuss soon in another essay), but Nadeko Snake is a bit of a failed experiment. Isin overexerts the arc or demands too much of it. The arc isn’t filled with too much, nor is it taking too long of a narrative step. The failure isn’t an active one, but a passive one. Nadeko Snake bets too many chips on the intrigue of a single arc’s capsule story.Read More »
Style in Bakemonogatari (Suruga Monkey)
Suruga Monkey sets itself apart from the rest of Bakemonogatari by its execution. Where Hitagi Crab is slim and slick, and Mayoi Snail is careful and cryptic, Suruga Monkey is simply bombastic. The arc expands Monogatari’s stylistic palette, while managing not to take any sharp tonal turns or compromise on the artistic cohesiveness of the series. This allows for Kanbaru’s character and the events of the arc to flourish in their own unique way without seeming out of place. Suruga Monkey feels like a natural extension of the series, yet also different from anything we’ve experienced so far.
I would argue Mayoi Snail deviates in a similar manner, though not to such an obvious degree. Hitagi Crab is characterized by a darker, almost urban fantasy feel, full of religious artifacts and sobriety. Mayoi Snail jumps beyond that, presenting the viewer with a brighter and more satirical world (generally speaking). For this essay, I’ll just focus on the specifics of Suruga Monkey, rather than make a mess out of talking about everything. However, Mayoi Snail does exemplify the first major factor in this stylistic shift: the arc-specific opening themes.Read More »
Lies in Bakemonogatari (Mayoi Mai Mai)
Just in time for Mother’s Day, I started working on this Mayoi Mai Mai post. And now it’s here. Late.
Mayoi Mai Mai is perhaps most interesting for its relation to the overarching story of Bakemonogatari, and thus what it reveals about Nisio Isin’s storytelling (and storytelling as a whole). The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this arc is the twist that Araragi is in fact the character who encounters an apparition. We can say that the mystery of the arc relies almost entirely on one “lie”: that Hachikuji is alive. Of course, this brings about a bunch of secondary lies like Senjougahara pretending she can see Hachikuji, but the story pivots on that one main lie.
Every arc in Bakemonogatari is set up this way. There is a “lie” in the timeline of Senjougahara’s childhood, a lie in the conditions of Araragi’s fight with Kanbaru, a lie in the number of snakes affecting Nadeko, and even a lie about Oshino’s actions in the Tsubasa Cat arc. These lies make each mystery unsolvable until they’re discovered—at least from Araragi’s/the audience’s perspective. And this is the arc where Araragi’s perspective really starts to take over. He colors both our expectations and our moods. When he reflects that the park is empty and he feels like the only person on the planet, that gives us a great sense of his current headspace, as well as a subtle motivation for his attachment to Hachikuji. Or, actually, “evidence” may be a more accurate term than “motivation”.Read More »
Thoughts on Bakemonogatari (Hitagi Crab)
With the second season of Owarimonogatari on its way, I’ll be rewatching the Monogatari series so far and giving my thoughts arc by arc. I’ve wanted to talk about the series (outside my posts on Owari) for a while now, but was never sure what I wanted to say. I didn’t have a concrete idea for an essay. These posts will be a good opportunity to just let the thoughts flow freely and see where I wind up. That being said, let’s take a look at the Hitagi Crab arc, and our introduction to the wonderful world of Monogatari.
Incidentally, our introduction is one somewhat lacking in orienting detail. I’ve always found it an interesting choice to start Bakemonogatari after the events of Kizu- and to not ever make those events clear to the audience. The anime staff must have thought so as well, for they included a montage of said events—something the novel lacks entirely. Although we do miss out on an easy focalization with Araragi as a result, I don’t think the story suffers for it. We don’t need to become acquainted with the aberrations of this world by experiencing them through the eyes of an equally ignorant character. The paranormal in this world tends to build off of traditional folklore or else flip it on its head in some way. As such, a big part of the series involves explaining why aberrations are the way they are.Read More »
Death Note: An Absence of Character
It’s a common sentiment among anime fans that the second half of Death Note is less engaging than the first. Yet, most fans manage to finish the show by riding out the waves of suspense and tragedy from the first half. So, what changed from the first half to the second? Why do so many people use the first half to justify enduring the second? The obvious and unfulfilling answer is that L dies and the careful cat-and-mouse game established between him and Light vanishes with him, but that isn’t true in and of itself. L’s death just causes the anime to fail harder at something it had already begun to struggle with—that is: to be thrilling. We should begin by examining Death Note’s most successful moments of intrigue and suspense.
The FBI arc involving Raye Penber and Naomi Misora is the anime’s most well-executed arc by far, and the pacing and scope of the arc play a major role in this. This all begins in the bus-hijacking scenes, where we are clued into a lot of important details about how Light interacts with enemies of his plot. We are never given all of the notes to Light’s plan, but we can infer a lot based on the rules of the Death Note and Light’s actions and thoughts. When the hijacker arrives, Light thinks, “He’s here!” before the hijacker even pulls out a weapon. Light’s subsequent calm demeanor confirms for the audience that he planned for this hijacking. But to what end? Raye Penber handing over his identification answers that question, completing a logical loop.Read More »