Wolf and Forgotten Message

Wolf and Forgotten Message (Spice and Wolf Long-form Analysis)

Spice and Wolf is no doubt widely and thoroughly enjoyed. The show appears frequently on recommendation lists or in recommendation threads and sits comfortably with a 8.4 rating on MAL, not to mention ranking as the 68th most popular anime in that same database (at time of writing). Yet, that seems a shallow metric to judge this show by. Come to think of it, all of the praise for Spice and Wolf borders on shallow. With the exception of Mother’s Basement’s fantastic (and ultra in-depth) analysis of the show’s two openings, anything resembling a critical opinion on the show boils down to “moe economics” and “great romantic chemistry”. If you ask me, that’s selling it insultingly short.

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Though, I’ll admit, the two immediate draws of Spice and Wolf are its ability to turn a medieval economics lecture into riveting dialogue and its ever-developing romance. I mean, the series is titled Spice and Wolf for a reason. While I’m at it, let me also admit that the show does suffer from light novel syndrome in that only a third of the source material ever saw adaptation. However, despite the number of people praising said economics and romance, I’ve never seen any kind of meaningful discussion or analysis of why those elements succeed.

Hopefully, throughout this essay, I can expand upon those praises, as well point to several less-appreciated elements of the series that are, in my opinion, equally important to the show’s success.Read More »

Flip or Flub

Flip or Flub (Bungo Stray Dogs Ep. 1)

Bungo Stray Dogs started the season strong with an episode that kept your eyes on the screen (really this whole season is super diverse and interesting so far; hopefully the quality keeps up). Stray Dogs kept viewers interested due in part to its execution of mystery, but also possibly flubbed in that execution. Let’s figure out how this show succeeded and flubbed, and why flubbing in the first episode might actually be a great idea.

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Let’s get to the point: Stray Dogs eventually makes it obvious Atsushi is the man-eating tiger. The first sign of his ability comes in the first scene. When waiting for a passerby to rob, Atsuhsi’s eyes flare as his senses pick up the presence of different humans. Although this is just used for a joke, his awareness certainly gives off the vibe that he has some sort of power.Read More »

A Tale of Tension

A Tale of Tension (ef: A Tale of Memories Analysis)

Tension pulls us to the edge of our seats with a claw clamped around our hearts. Then, after a fist-clenching scene, the tension diffuses in a release. Tension without release becomes grating and tiresome, and an attempt to release tension that never existed just comes across as awkward. ef: A Tale of Memories builds tension in both traditional and experimental ways, and releases that tension with smart comedic or emotional timing. Let’s investigate two tense scenes from A Tale of Memories and figure out the different ways tension can work.

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Tension requires time to allow for build-up and at least two opposing forces to provide that build-up (although the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, as we’ll see). The time spent creating tension ought to be proportional to the intensity of the release that follows; the attributes/weight of the opposing forces ought to determine the type of release that follows. We’ll keep these ideals in mind throughout the essay and look at how stepping outside the lines might detract from a scene. Still, we won’t forget about cinematic form.Read More »

Time on My Side

Time on My Side (A Clannad Analysis)

I’ve been trying to find a way to write about Clannad in a concise manner for a while. What I really want to look at is the visual novel as a whole, but that’s a project for the future (not to mention I still need to 100% it…). Luckily, I found something we can talk about quickly that still pokes at some larger, more interesting themes of the series as a whole. For our purposes, the Tomoyo OVA from After Story provides the series’ most concise glimpse into Clannad’s trademark storytelling.

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Repetition, cycles, and time’s tug-of-war between change and constancy are all major themes in Clannad. These themes are even more prominent in the visual novel (and even more fascinating given the narrative structure of most visual novels), but they’re certainly present in the anime, too. Clannad makes brilliant use of foreshadowing through both its dialogue and symbols to portray life as a cycle of emotions and changes. These cycles build in meaning and intensity until we reach a dramatic climax. Let’s figure out how that happens in Tomoyo’s arc.Read More »

Show the Story

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 »

Faces in Failure

Faces in Failure (A Haikyuu!! Analysis)

With the second cour of Season 2 of Haikyuu!! approaching—and the more serious matches of the tournament with it—I’ve decided to take a look back and write about some details of the show thus far that will help hype me (and hopefully you) up! The episode that hypes up the second season the most absolutely must be the last episode of the first season. Let’s figure out what the last episode of Season 1 shows us about these characters and their emotions.

The episode opens with a montage of Hinata’s successes and failures from the tournament, which is mostly to refresh our memory and set the tone for the following sequence of classroom shots. We get to see every character’s state of mind the day after their loss. Some emotion is conveyed through their postures and expressions, but all of this is meant to be expanded upon later in the episode. This is mostly a groundwork. Let’s just run through a few groups of characters so that we’re on the same page:

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Directing the Heart

Directing the Heart – An Isshuukan Friends Analysis

While Isshuukan Friends did have its issues—primarily a wimp protagonist and lack of romantic resolution—it makes up for those issues with fantastic atmosphere and moments of stellar directing/editing. Shougo also saves the day on an almost episodic basis, showing that the writers were at least aware of what they were doing to us. It’s a little like they wanted to punch us in the face, but were at least kind enough to bring us an icepack afterwards. For the sake of time, let’s blame it on the manga artist and move on.

In this essay, let’s figure out how smart directing can turn a small conflict into a powerful drama. If you’re interested in atmosphere—don’t worry, I have an essay on that coming as well. Now, prepare yourself for a lot of pictures. At the beginning of Episode 4, Hase is insecure as usual, and is struggling to express himself to Kaori (as usual). A rift is about to slash through their friendship, just as the cloud streak and bar of the fence slice between them visually. These characters are very clearly about to have an issue with each other.

This is more symbolism than anything, but this episode throws way too many dandelions in our face to not mention it now: dandelions symbolize friendship in this show, specifically the kind of fleeting friendship Kaori experiences because of her memory loss. The dandelion seeds drift away as easily as her friendships might if she doesn’t work hard to maintain them. Obviously, the two dandelions in this shot represent Kaori and Hase. Actually, this will be super important in a second, so remember it and keep an eye out for dandelions!Read More »

One Crab to Rule Them All

Owarimonogatari Ep. 12 – One Crab to Rule Them All

While it’s easy to forget that the –monogatari series is a mystery series, it is near impossible to forget that it’s a harem series. However, it’s possible to forget that a (best) girl already won Araragi’s affection. Well, kind of…but ignoring Shinobu’s complicated bond with Araragi, Senjougahara is the only character who holds a serious romantic relationship with him.

As the season wraps up, let’s put aside the more pointed essays of symbolism and story theory, and instead take a general look at how this singular romantic relationship is presented to us. Senjougahara has been busy dealing other apparitions all season, so she missed out on a lot of screen-time. The least I can do is give her an essay all her own. Let’s figure out what cool things are happening during Araragi and Senougahara’s phone call.

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The One You’ve Been Waiting For

Owarimonogatari Ep. 10 – The One You’ve Been Waiting For

Fanservice—in all its forms—is a way to quickly appease and entertain the viewer. Whether it’s slapping something sexual on the screen or engaging in meta-interaction with the fans, it’s not required to tell the narrative and is meant to be instantaneously gratifying to the viewer. This is why gratuitous fanservice is so off-putting—it’s extraneous (unless we’re talking about something entirely sexual in nature, in which case, obviously, it’s the point). You could say fanservice is a distraction from the story.

We’ve already seen how this series uses absurd backgrounds to keep our eyes stuck to the screen while simultaneously invoking specific feelings in us or providing secondary information to us. So then, does –monogatari also kill two birds with one fanservice stone? Our experts say yes.

We get comedy, meta-reference, and semi-lewd content all together. The Holy Trinity, you could call it. Let’s take a moment to distract ourselves from this essay by appreciating this trinity, then we’ll figure out why the show was smart.

I don’t really need to explain why Araragi and Kanbaru changing the tone of their voices or arguing over her boy-love novels are funny, but it’s worth pointing out that these sex-driven vampire novels are probably what Nisio Isin perceives his ‘young adult supernatural novel’ competition as. At least, he thinks it’s true enough that it’s worth making a joke about. It’s funny that his books can appear dignified in comparison, especially when we consider something like Nisemonogatari.

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Pieces in Place

Pieces in Place (A Toradora Analysis)

Christmas is fast approaching, so let’s jump back in time to take a look at the Christmas Eve episode of Toradora. There’s something beautiful in this show’s simplicity. Like a vine grows only where it can grow, Toradora’s story proceeds in the only way it could. A heads-up that I’ll be assuming you’ve seen the show in its entirety, and will be taking for granted what we would know about the characters and their relationships.

Side note: this song is 100% about love.

I struggle to express the appeal of this show in so few words, so let’s take a look at three symbols from Episode 19 to see what I mean. Ryuji’s gift for Minori, his scarf he gives Taiga, and Taiga’s father’s suit all begin as very simple symbols and expand in meaning as the episode progresses. Let’s figure out where these three symbols start, and then trace their development one by one. None of them grow to be all that complex, but that’s because they’re precisely as complex as they need to be. There’s not a thread on the scarf that doesn’t hold it together, so to speak.

The show makes the initial meaning of each symbol obvious without bludgeoning us with an explanation. The camera focuses on Ryuji’s gift as he calls Minori to tell her she has to come to the party. Clearly, it represents his affection for her.

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