This week: why episode 13 of Yama no Susume Second Season might be the best episode of anime of 2014, distress and worry that Psycho-Pass 2 will be a fanservice anime or a shell of its former self, examining why the melee choreography of the fights of Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works are so enjoyable, and concerns over the evolving comedy in Amagi Brilliant Park.
Best episode of the week (and maybe even the year): Yama no Susume Second Season
Anime trending up this week: Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
Anime trending down this week: Psycho-Pass 2
Akame ga Kill! (Episode 15)
The storytelling is unbalanced in Akame ga Kill!, which results in some episodes being mind-numbingly boring, like episode 15. The issue with this episode is that there was a huge infodump in the middle where all that happened was dense backstory, brief character exposition, and laying out the plan for the next giant battle. Of course, with all that out of the way, the next episode or two will be nothing but pure action and fanservice… nothing more than sensational battles, charming comedy, and sexy female characters. It’s a trade-off I often dislike in anime, where one episode sacrifices itself by being all story-centric to make the other episodes around it more entertaining. To be honest, I enjoy an anime more when the two aspects are integrated together rather than isolated like this. However, to me, Akame ga Kill! is an anime where the story and characters are secondary to the entertainment, so I can tolerate such a trade-off provided that the fighting/fanservice episodes are significantly more enjoyable than the tedious and lackluster story-centric or character-centric episodes. This episode wasn’t the worst in the series, especially since it recovered at the end with the promise of a colossal battle between members of Night Raid and Jaegers, but I want to see shows integrate their material better instead of being bipolar like this.
Amagi Brilliant Park (Episode 2)
So… the comedy has slumped. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since I predicted this in my First Impressions post for Amagi Brilliant Park, but the sudden drop-off between episode 1 and episode 2 is somewhat shocking. Don’t misinterpret what I mean here… Amagi Brilliant Park is still amusing and featured a number of witty or hilarious jokes, but it just wasn’t the same caliber or quality that we saw in the first episode when we saw the incredibly shitty amusement park for the first time. Additionally, this episode focused primarily on developing the foundation for the story by elaborating on the dire situation of Maple Land’s inhabitants and introducing an antagonist, Chris Tucker Kurisu Takaya. Again, that’s not to say that Amagi Brilliant Park is bad or that it’s on the wrong track – honestly, I believe it’s moving in the right direction with this episode – it’s just that the comedy changed so quickly between episodes that I feel a little lost. There is hope for me, however, that my ideal humor will continue in subsequent episodes with the various employees needing to fix up the park for its patrons. I can see that brand or style of humor continuing for a majority of the series as the amusement park struggles in its miserable, decrepit state, so hopefully this situation can salvage the rich and robust comedy from the first episode. If not, I’m sure I’ll enjoy Amagi Brilliant Park just fine… just maybe not as much as I hoped I would.
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (Episode 1)
A successful fight in anime depends on competency in a collection of basic areas: animation/cinematography, choreography, intensity/emotion, originality/innovative, and significance to the characters or story. The fights seen thus far in Fate/stay night have been exemplary in each of these categories. However, what I want to focus on in this review is the truly remarkable choreography (and a bit of cinematography) in these sequences. The two major fights that we’ve seen thus far have featured melee combat, meaning the two sides are fighting with weapons at close range. A majority of anime will often depict these fights as turn-based, where we see the actions of one character first and then the reaction of the other as separate shots. To contrast this, FSN has selected the majority of its shots to feature both of the characters on the screen at the same time, meaning the two components of melee fighting – action and reaction – are performed together at the same time more often than not. What is challenging about this method of choreography is that in these fights it requires the two sides to be in constant motion and to constantly be reacting to the movement or actions of their opponent. In other words, the choreography must be fluid between the two, especially since FSN wants to show the two characters on screen at the same time (it is worth noting there is a significant association between choreography and cinematography here). However, FSN is brilliant in this regard and each fight features choreography that is both elegance and marvelous, which deeply appeals to me as a viewer. The style of choreography that we’ve seen in these first couple episodes is an obstacle for any anime, especially with the given shot selection of FSN. However, FSN has been truly extraordinary here and has given us some breathtaking moments already. I can only hope we see this pattern continue with melee combat since the fights that we’ve seen thus far have been genuinely astonishing.
Gundam Reconguista in G (Episode 3)
I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen (or ever paid attention to) a toilet being in the cockpit of a mecha. We saw the pilot’s chair convert to a toilet twice in this episode, with Klim and Bellri both using this unique feature. I never considered it before, but it makes sense to have such a facility onboard a mobile suit given how long these fighters might be stuck in these machines. And after thinking about that predicament, I can’t help but wonder what happens in all the other mecha anime I’ve watched…
Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle (Episode 1)
The first season of Chaika needed more Chaikas. Simple fact. No questions asked. Three Chaikas is a start, but it was definitely not enough. With the first episode of the second season of Hitsugi no Chaika formally introducing to us a new Chaika (Vivi), I can see that Chaika is finally addressing its most glaring weakness. Hopefully, we’ll be introduced to the twin Chaikas (the pair wearing black on the cover of the eighth volume of the light novel) soon, in order to increase the Chaika density. Oh, and if other characters turn out to be Chaikas, too, that’d also be great. In fact, I’m hoping that by the end of the series, everyone is a Chaika. Could you imagine how good this anime would be if there were a hundred Chaikas running around? But even then, that still might not be enough. However, the point is that Chaika is still adding Chaikas to the series… and that’s never a bad thing for an anime like this.
Parasyte (Kiseijuu) (Episode 1)
How does Migi fashion itself into metal objects with just Shinichi’s hand? Where does this metal come from? It’s not like this metal is naturally within Shinichi, where Migi just simply rearranges the anatomy of the hand to produce sharp metal in the exterior. No, it’s like Migi is taking the organic material of Shinichi somehow turning it into metal… and then back into a normal, fully-functional hand when it’s through. And while we’re on this subject… how does Migi talk when it doesn’t have lungs? And why would it even have lungs if its entire circulatory system is connected to Shinichi’s? Oh, I knew I shouldn’t have considered real-world anatomy and physiology with this anime… or really… any anime (especially most of my favorites).
Psycho-Pass 2 (Episode 1)
One might argue that Gen Urobuchi is overrated as a writer, but the first episode of Psycho-Pass without him was both worrying and frustrating. It was a resounding disappointment, a plunge from the first season, and Psycho-Pass is now devolving into a soulless, fanservice anime. Wait… fanservice anime? Yes, I mean fanservice in the sense that the content of this episode was meant to be eye-candy for the fans and nothing more.
Purposeless action and gratuitous explosions for the sake of action and explosions? Check.
A deadpan and stern Akane who is now intended to be the badass of the group (who now poses every so often)? Check.
No relevant narrative, questionable writing and superficial characterization? Check.
Check, check and check… sounds like a fanservice anime to me. But don’t get me wrong, as I, too, enjoy genuinely good action… but not like this and never in an anime like Psycho-Pass. There always needs to be a sense of meaning or purpose; otherwise, it comes across as emotionless and self-serving. Contrast this with the first episode of the original season of Psycho-Pass where we witness Akane’s idealistic humanitarian and Kantian values challenged when Kougami exploded the criminal and Akane immediately disciplined Kougami. Where was the relevant characterization in this episode? Or even easier, what was the purpose of this episode? And bloody hell, what happened to Akane, too? She was the only character to retain her humanistic qualities following the first season of Psycho-Pass. Her character was much livelier, altruistic and enthusiastic during the first season… even smiling and humble in the epilogue of the finale. Now she’s some cold, unsympathetic badass? Are we just going to ignore all her characterization, her maturity and complexity as a person and completely rewrite her to be the champion of some in-your-face action series?
I had my reservations about the second season of Psycho-Pass when I learned that Gen Urobuchi was being replaced by Tow Ubukata. I figured the series would dip with a sequel given that two-thirds of the genius from S1 are now missing (Kougami and Makishima), but I figured that the anime would continue to build from its setting and introduce a new story that challenged Akane’s philosophy again. What I didn’t expect was for her characterization to be ignored and dismissed, and rewritten to be someone she isn’t in a shallow and simplistic anime that just so happens to be set in the same world as Psycho-Pass. What made Psycho-Pass one of my favorite anime is that it had genuine character development, expressive and scholarly dialogue, and an exciting plot that challenged the philosophies of its three primary characters. There was none of this in the first episode of Psycho-Pass 2, and I have a grim feeling that these elements will be forgotten for the sake of action and badass-ery. I pray that this first episode is a fluke and was scripted to thrill or entice the fans of the franchise… but dismal garbage like this had the opposite effect for me.
Shirobako (Episode 1)
There’s just something about a work-place setting in anime that greatly appeals to me. It doesn’t necessarily need to involve adults, like Shirobako graciously ensures, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be at work full-time either, say splitting its time evenly between work and school. It’s just a setting that has grown on me more and more in recent years. Now that doesn’t mean that every anime with a work-place setting is worth watching, with Denki-Gai no Honya-san being a perfect example, but there seems to be a better chance of me watching and enjoying an anime in some employment setting than most others.
Yama no Susume Second Season (Episode 13)
Up there with Ping Pong the Animation episode 10 and Space Dandy S2 episode 3 is Yama no Susume Second Season episode 13 for best anime episode of the year. Unlike the preceding two anime which need no introduction, Yama no Susume Second Season seems to be relatively anonymous or disregarded as an anime this season. A few quick searches confirm this claim, and they reveal a nominal amount of discussion or dialogue on the series. However, it’s obscurity as an anime has no correlation to its quality or its entertainment (or its education about mountaineering!), and the thirteenth episode was easily one of the most inspiring and satisfying episodes of the year.
What made this episode so outstanding, so remarkable is that it felt complete despite its multifaceted story and its phenomenal characterization. The episode successfully integrated three separate plots – star-gazing, firefly watching and Aoi and Hinata getting lost as children – into one coherent story where each element has a significant impact on the other. The episode was magnificent in how it personified Aoi and Hinata, how they thought about each other, how they acted around each other and showed the strength of their friendship, both in the past and in the present. The visuals was exceptional and truly paramount for a series of this nature, featuring a diversity of aesthetics that range from oil pastels (how often can you say that about an anime?), to a detailed, cartoony style and back to the traditional/moe art style but at a much higher quality and excellence than normal. Everything about this episode was perfect, far exceeding even my wildest imagination for this anime and delivering an episode that is captivating, charming and exceptionally beautiful. I could not recommend this episode enough, even to outsiders of the franchise who know nothing else about the series besides these two short paragraphs. Please watch this episode since it is one of the most incredible and gratifying episodes of the year.