“It lives and it’s starting a new monthly feature?! Impossible! I thought this blog had already died or given a wedgie and stuffed inside a locker at a magical high school or something,” is what I imagine is being thought by whoever is reading this right now. I know it’s what I’m thinking. As for an explanation of the mundane minutiae to where I’ve been, I’ll stick that at the end of this article; instead, let’s jump into what I hope to accomplish with new feature of The Null Set.
Over the last decade my anime viewing habits have slowly drifted away from the slavish week-to-week new episode watching pattern that provided the material needed to write a weekly recap article. Currently, the really good shows still get watched as soon as possible and the rest have shifted to an irregular pattern of filling in the time when I feel like watching some anime. That means some shows get 3 or 4 episodes piled up before I get to them now.
In hindsight, I should have switched to a monthly recap format but that obvious conclusion eluded me for the last several years.
So, what can one expect to find inside The Anime Recap Episode?
While I’m not going to cover everything I watched, I want each post to do a good job capturing the good and the bad of what anime I did watch – new and old – from the past month. I’m going to try to steer clear of writing here in formats that I already write in elsewhere: first impressions, mid-season report, season and series review. After all, I want these recap episodes to contain new content and not merely repeat already written material. If that leaves me with enough to write about is something we’ll have to see. I want to also cover what I’m looking forward to in the next month and then cover how my last month’s anticipated anime turned out. There’ll be other bits included, I’m sure, as the inspiration hits.
And with that navel grazing done, let’s get on with it.
Best Episode of the Month
MAPPA could have easily gone the safe route and made this a typical sequel where they took everything we loved about the first show and repeated it a second time only this time make it even bigger and even “better”. They did not do this and it’s episodes like episode 10 that strongly make the case why they were right to do so. Structurally, episode 10 provided a wealth of information to better explain how we got from the end of season one to the strange world of season 2, and, it also provided much needed context to events we’ve seen unfold in season 2. This information is not why we are here, though, the ability to deftly weave this information into the story is a sign we’re watching an anime made by people who know what they’re doing.
No, the reason episode 10 of Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul was the best episode of June was because it showed how Jeanne went from the leader of the Orleans Knights to being a prisoner in an underground gulag and it just about broke my heart seeing it happen. Going into this episode I would have said this was not a likely outcome. Jeanne was not one of characters I was particularly invested in from the first season and didn’t really care why she was in prison. I figured the real reason she was in prison was so the writers could have her help Nina escape. However, as I watched how everything important and loved by Jeanne was slowly and methodically taken from her until she was forced to do something utterly horrible to give the last light of her life a slim chance at survival, I realized I’ve still been underestimating this show. Being consistently funny like Shingeki no Bahamut is a tough thing to do. Being able to tell a serious, bleak story like Shingeki no Bahamut was able to do here without overselling it is also a tough thing to do. Being able to do both whenever it wants to is an exceedingly rare ability and the mark of an exceedingly good show.
Best Anime of the Month
The seemingly ever-changing, ever-changeless, and ever exceptional show that is Natsume Yuujinchou finished it’s abbreviated sixth season this month with a bang. There were two bombshell developments in the last episode that leave me insanely eager for the next season of Natsume. The first was that Natsume encountered a youkai who told him of meeting a male human that reminded it of Natsume and was confident that it was a guy and not Reiko. I think we are meant to conclude this youkai knew Natsume’s grandfather and who was in some form Reiko’s significant other. The other bombshell was that Natsume finally decided to tell Natori about the Book of Friends. Both of these portend interesting developments in future seasons of Natsume which can’t come soon enough.
And, as important as these plot revelations are, the two stories we got this month – Four Mask Hill and the two-part Exorcist’s study – were two more examples of great Natsume stories. Four Mask Hill is the lastest in long line of episodic stories that through impeccable work by all the production staff can introduce someone, give their story, make us care about this person or youkai, then gives them a satisfying conclusion to their story all while getting the viewer to laugh and cry and feel that wistful melancholy that could be a trademark of Natsume. From a structure standpoint the Natori/exorcist stories are useful to broaden the types of episodes we see in Natsume. Their importance goes beyond this, though. As we have watched Natsume slowly go from a shell-shocked orphan in the first season to a well-adjusted kid with a family and group of friends that love him in this sixth season, Natsume is slowly realizing that he needs to begin thinking about what’s going to happen to him in the future. These exorcist stories provide him a much needed frame to help work through what he wants to do with his youkai seeing powers.
Head to Head
I’m not sure what the difference is between a magical high school and a witch training high school but they’re close enough for government work and for the purposes of this section. These two shows started off on two vastly different levels of anticipation and I would not have imagined the possibility of them finishing close enough that any thought would be needed to figure out the better series. Little Witch Academia (LWA) started as a magnificent OVA that spawned a second great OVA, so, the thought of a full TV series was exciting and the series seemed destined to be one of the best of 2017. On the other hand, Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records (RokuAka) looked like it was going to struggle with convincing me to watch past episode 1 – just look at the ridiculously stupid school uniform. However, when the dust cleared, the two series ended up almost evenly mediocre. To see who finished slightly less mediocre lets break it down.
Characters – winner: RokuAka. Diana is the only truly interesting character in LWA and she’s barely in the show. Glenn Radars has a great name and is RokuAka’s best character because he spends his time being a dastardly jerk of an instructor and wins this category since he is the show’s main character.
Story – winner: RokuAka. The story to the LWA series certainly tries to accomplish more, but, it fails because very little of Akko’s growth of a character and ability to save magic through her quest feels authentic. RokuAka attempts much less, yet, by competently telling it’s story this show finishes ahead.
Animation – winner: Tie. I’d like to give this category to RokuAka solely on the basis that Little Witch Academia the TV series lacked so much of the animation quality found in it’s OVAs. However, I should probably try to be as objective about this as possible so I’m calling it a tie because both series fell in the above average but not really memorable category.
Enjoyment – winner: RokuAka. There was much unintentional enjoyment to be found in RokuAka (those silly school uniforms, for a start) and intentional enjoyment that comes from having the main character be a jerk. I was disappointed that LWA did so little with the vast potential that it’s setting and story had for amusing things to happen.
Incidentals – LWA. There were a few areas that LWA was clearing better and these included the vocal work by seiyuus, the OP/ED, and the setting.
So, which was the better show? Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t a great show but compared to LWA it was the slightly better show.
Having someone to watch anime with is always a great experience. It also provides a great opportunity to rewatch a beloved series while also introducing it to this person. This month I started rewatching Hunter x Hunter with my Mom. I’ve explained in the past why I’m watching anime and Doctor Who and British mystery series with her, so, I won’t reexplain here. She pretty much trusts whatever I pick to watch with her, so, I didn’t have to explain why Hunter x Hunter was going to be the next anime we watched after finishing Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Since Hunter x Hunter will be the longest series we watch by far I felt the need to tell her that the length means that it will take awhile for the plot to really get going and for all the important characters to be introduced. Her answer to this was, “Like a Charles Dickens novel?” Mr. Dickens being her favorite author and whose work she’s been slowly getting through. (Currently she’s reading Dombey and Son after finishing Bleak House.) I paused for a moment and said with complete sincerity, “Yes, just like that,” because if there is one manga/anime author whose work I’m familiar with that I believe can literarily approach the same level as one of the best novel writers of all-time it’s Yoshihiro Togashi with Hunter x Hunter.
So, how goes the rewatch?
We’re on episode 19 and my Mom is liking it so far. She isn’t asking to watch extra episodes per sitting which is one of her tells that she’s getting into a show, but, we’re far from when the story starts getting really good. For me, I’m enjoying these opening episodes way more than the first time through because I know I’m watching the foundation being built to one of the greatest anime ever made. The first episode was tough to watch because I found myself crying as I watched how happy Gon was in that first episode and knowing what the following 147 episodes will put him through before he can meet his father.
June wasn’t just a month of endings for anime and the brightest burning new to me show of this month was Space Battleship Yamato 2202; the sequel to one of the most criminally under-appreciated series of recent memory, Space Battleship Yamato 2199. With the Earth now saved, I was curious to see what the sequel had in store for the crew of the Yamato because it’s only been 3 years and how much trouble could there possibly be. From the first two episodes, it looks like the Earth government has already fallen into shady dealings and can’t see the hubris they’re actively courting and there’s political intrigue and a new threat from space and a pink anti-grav Cadillac. In short, more of what made the first season so good. I’m excited to see where this series goes next.
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
I’m probably showing my age, but, I still have the DVD plan with Netflix and this month I used this service to rent the Gkids release of Miss Hokusai. I was excited to see this movie because the set-up seemed tailor-made for creating a great movie and I remembered how the original Japanese trailer looked good. So, it was more than a little depressing to finally see this movie and decide I didn’t really like it. I went into this movie expecting “… the untold story of O-Ei, Master Hokusai’s daughter: a lively portrayal of a free-spirited woman overshadowed by her larger-than-life father, unfolding through the changing seasons,” as the synopsis at MAL put it. I’m still waiting for that movie because this movie definitely did not do this. Instead, this movie was a jumbled series of scenes that were often too compressed, lacking important context, and whose importance was not explained. It did not make for an enjoyable slice-of-life experience nor was there a real story to this movie. The closest part of this movie to being a story were the scenes that showed O-Ei looking after a sickly half-sister because no one else in the family seemed to want to. It wasn’t a wholly terrible experience, the animation was good, there were isolated interesting scenes, however, the item that I most liked about this movie was listening to the English dub and realizing O-Ei’s father was being voiced by Richard Epcar who did Batou from Ghost in the Shell. And that cannot be a ringing endorsement for any show.
Tales from the Backlog
I think just about every anime fan has a backlog of shows they know they should probably get too. I’m no different and just now decided maybe I can use these monthly recap posts to be prodded into watching some of my backlog. Thus, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to list three shows and, based on feedback I receive in the comments below, will try to watch one of these shows in the month of July. I will appreciate any comment given, but, please remember I haven’t see any of these shows and wish not to be spoiled. The three shows are:
1) Mouryou no Hako – Fall 2008 – Yes, this has been in my backlog for almost 10 years now. In it’s favor is the director later did Hai to Gensou no Grimgar and Mouryou no Hako was made during the time period at Madhouse where they did weird, good shows.
2) Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari – Fall 2016 – I missed a lot of anime from 2016 for various reasons and I remember that Guardian Enzo over at Lost in Anime liked it enough to place in his top 10.
3) Serial Experiments Lain – Summer 1998 – This was one of the picks I received last year for the Secret Santa project that Reverse Thieves runs and I can remember the time when every anime fan was supposed to see it. I never did and this anime is hardily longer talked about anymore but I have a vague feeling that I should probably watch it.
So which show should I watch next month?
Looking Forward to Next Month
The only anime of the upcoming summer season that actually interests me is the latest installment in the Monogatari franchise and that’s coming out in August. Beyond that I’m hoping the next season of Symphogear which is titled – Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ: By Shedding Many Tears, the Reality You Face Is… – will be as ridiculously over the top as it’s title and be worth watching. So, what I’m actually most looking forward to next month is seeing where the story of Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul will go next.
There were several other currently airing series I watched but I’m pushing 3000 words already and feel this is a good place to stop. Just know I’m deeply ambivalent towards the latest season of Titans and Re:Creators.
As for where I’ve been. My one grandfather had a large amount of family pictures he took, over 60 reels of 100 slides each, a number of photo albums, and assorted loose pictures. The decision was made that they should be digitized so all the children of my grandfather would have a copy of these pictures and in a format that was easily viewable. After not finding an acceptable, affordable option I stepped forward at the end of March and offered to do it. There was a mixture of altruistic and non-altruistic reasons for this. The altruistic reasons for this are pretty self-evident. I also accepted a sum of money well below the ship it to India and pray everything goes well option some companies offer for digitizing slides. The money primarily went to getting a new desktop computer which I needed but could never force myself to get when it meant giving up a functioning computer (even if that computer was 10 years old and running Windows XP). So, since the middle of April, I’ve been using any sizeable block of free time to scan these slides on my new computer and scanner. Each reel takes about 2.5 hours to do and I’ve gotten a little over 2/3 of them scanned in at the end of June. And that leaves very little time to sit down and write for my blog. I’m actually feeling very guilty right now that I spent so much time writing this post.