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 »
5 Favorite Episodes
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 »
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 »
In Response to Digibro’s “Cabal”
Digibro recently released a video called “On the Need for a Cabal of Anime Gurus”. I think we can (and should) push the word “cabal” aside for now, since the connotations of that word are (or should be) problematic for critics and I don’t think it’s really what Digibro is envisioning. If you haven’t watched the video and are interested in reading this post or discussing this topic, you should go watch it. Anyway, instead of a cabal, I read this video as Digi wanting a mass elevation of the baseline of anime-related knowledge and context. The video implies that this knowledge can be promoted by—and this context should be in relation to—a group of anime YouTubers and bloggers. To use his own words, these creators are all “having different conversations that should be together.”
An immediate thought would be to hyperlink the content of these creators together, either figuratively or literally. Digi himself follows this line of thinking, saying the audience might (as an example) go from one of his videos, to an interview he references, to a video about the person being interviewed, and so on like a kid following a trail of candy. While this is a way to build knowledge and context, I don’t think it’s feasible on a large scale. You may argue that the audience is inherently driven toward knowledge. Anime fans are a niche community, and fans who want critical or historical content are a niche within that niche. While, yes, this super-niche is super-driven, it isn’t driven enough to explore that far past the content it originally wanted to view.Read More »
Show the Story (Dimension W Ep. 1)
In my One Week Friends analysis, I mentioned how there are certain things a director has to show. Most simply, the shots have to show the viewer enough so that we can follow the steps of the story. Typically that means we need to know what action is occurring, where that action is occurring, and who is performing the action. Some movies and shows play around with excluding one or two of those details (a mystery movie might hide the perpetrator of an action, for example), but usually those three details are the bare necessities. Anything more than that—such as characterization or world-building—is bonus.
A first episode benefits the most from shots that convey extra details, since the viewer needs to be introduced to the characters and world, as well as be enticed to continue watching. The writing of plot and dialogue plays a major role in accomplishing those tasks, but the directing can elevate a first episode from good to great. Let’s figure out how shots in Dimension W work to create a fantastic first episode.Read More »