My new feature series where I look back at the anime I watched in the prior month is now in it’s second month. Yay! I’m just as surprised as you are I was able to finish a second post; I even waited until I wrote the whole thing before I came back to write this introduction. I didn’t want to jinks myself.
This month saw a changing of the seasons. Will this new season of anime be as lush in quality to match the lush outdoors during summer?
Best Episode of the Month
The climatic episode of the Hero-Killer arc was given the appropriate title of “Climax” but a more apt title could have been “Beginnings” because it was this episode that finally and convincingly earned My Hero Academia the right to move up to the big leagues of animeland. I say this not just on the grounds that this episode featured a very nicely animated and well-choreographed fight between the Hero-killer and the heroes because these types of fights are a dime a dozen in any decently produced shounen series. The reason this fight in this episode was noteworthy because of the importance it held for several characters we’ve come to care about and for the great importance this fight will have in shaping the future story and for ending any argument over if the original writer knows how to tell a good story and that Bones knows how to make this material into a good anime. For all these reasons, this episode of Academia stiffs its way past the first episode of Made in Abyss to be this month’s best episode. If I had to point out a single element I found to be the most interesting from this episode it would be showcasing how good of a hero Endeavor is after doing such a good job in getting viewers to really hate him for being one of the worse Dads to be found in anime. Real people are complicated and it’s nice to see a writer willing to create complicated characters and then explore the contradictions found in these characters.
Best Anime of the Month
The Summer 2017 anime season has more going for it than I thought possible back at the end of the spring season and one of the biggest surprises is Princess Principal. Not only does this anime not stink – which seemed like a forgone conclusion with a title like that – but it’s actually legitimately quite good. Of the new airing series, this is the title I look forward to watching the most. One of the first things to note about this series is that more thought and work was put into the world building, the characters, their motives and secrets, and how these interact with the plot then what would be strictly necessary to create a cute girls cutely playing spy series. This speaks of a level of ambition among the creators that has so far translated into a very excellent series and promises to continue in the upcoming months. Another important thing to note about this series that wasn’t initially apparent is the episodes are not being shown in chronological order. For example, the first shown episode looks to be the last chronological episode to occur and the fourth shown episode is the ninth chronological episode. This has lead to a number of slick changes to the context viewers have towards the characters and how to view already aired episodes and anticipation towards future episodes. Princess Principal is not high-brow anime but it is highly entertaining with enough substance drawn from its setting and characters to keep it engaging and interesting.
I’m already really, really hoping for a sequel because the politics driving this series are very interesting and will need more time than a single cour to resolve.
Our Long-necked Brethren
I’m a lot more favorably disposed towards shounen shows than I used to be. The me from 5 – 6 years ago almost assuredly wouldn’t have touched Ballroom e Youkoso (Welcome to the Ballroom), even though I never missed an episode of Dancing with the Stars over it’s first 16 or so seasons. One of the things I’ve given much thought to as I started liking the longer form shounen series is how the prevalence of single cour series nowadays makes it harder for the viewer to adjust to a series that can’t be fit into a short run of episodes. Which is a shame because I’ve learned that a merely above average longer form series can eventually deliver a story of much greater impact than what’s possible for all but the best single cour series.
I understand the desire of some people who don’t want to sink a bunch of time into a series for it to never repay that time. After five episodes, I’m still not quite sure if Ballroom will be worth following. So far, Ballroom has felt the need to ensure people will stick around long enough to get roped in by the story. This has meant certain elements of story have been accelerated and certain story crutches – read that as shounen cliches like fan service – have been liberally sprinkled into the opening episodes. Part of me wants to take this as a lack of confidence in the quality of material from the manga author. But it could just mean that the manga author doesn’t have the clout to decline the publisher’s “suggestions” on how to improve the story to keep interest.
I wish Ballroom was starting stronger during this initial set-up phase, but, it’s been good enough that I’m willing to trust in the pedigree of the anime adapters to continue watching. Not every long shounen series can start as strongly as Yu Yu Hakusho did, which remains one of the best examples of how to start this type of series.
My Cup of Tea
The Fate franchise and I have not really mixed well in the past. Fate/Zero has been the sole anime of the franchise that I’ve actually liked, though, it suffered from the necessity of the ending having to meet up with the start of the main series. Fate/Apocrypha, being set in an alternative timeline, frees it from the baggage of the main series and so far I’m really liking the result. This might just turn out to be my favorite Fate series.
Head to Head
I realize by earlier proclaiming Princess Principal as the best anime of the month that a head to head battle with one of the other top shows of the season is a bit anti-climatic. However, I wanted to talk more about Princess Principal and thought this match-up would give a good framework to do so.
First Episode – winner: Made in Abyss. Easily the best first episode of the season and a really great example of how to hook viewers and keep them wanting more. On the other hand, Princess Principal used a one-off spy mission to introduce the show and without knowing more about the characters, setting, and story it was only decently successful in selling the show.
Setting – winner: Princess Principal. I like history. I like alternative history. I like steam punk. I just adore the setting here – an alternate steampunk Victorian England that had become the world empire before splitting into two countries and now the two sides fight a shadow war in London. Made in Abyss has a very interesting setting but the show doesn’t seem to want to explain this setting beyond using it as a way to throw whatever weird creatures it wants towards our main characters.
Characters – winner: Princess Principal. This was an easy win. Made in Abyss currently only has two reoccurring characters and Riko is a bit annoying with how astoundingly unprepared she is for her decent into the Abyss and Reg is basically a black box that is there to explain why Riko wasn’t eaten 10 minutes after starting her descent. I’d characterize the characters in Princess Principal as above average. Beatrice is the only annoying character, but, her ability to change her voice continues to be amusing. I love watching the zeal Dorothy shows at being the leader of this group of spies and the lengths she’ll go to protect her charges.
Story – winner: Princess Principal. I hope Made in Abyss will evolve beyond a monster-of-the-week format like that seen in Mushishi because it’s a very limiting format. A single cour is not long enough time to see if the princess of Princess Principal will be able to kill her way to the throne and if she’ll be able to reunite England and which side Chise will tell the Japanese government is worth siding with and for us to find out if there is a mole in this spy cell and so on. However, it’s a much more interesting story to follow.
Animation – winner: Tie. Both shows have their strong points. In Made in Abyss, I particularly like how the monsters are animated so differently from everything else. Princess Principal has featured a number of fantastic action scenes and the CG cars that Dorothy drives have a nice pep to their animation that I don’t often see in CG vehicles. If I count backgrounds in this category then once again I’d have to say they are tied because both do a really good job in making their setting feel alive.
Enjoyment – winner: Princess Principal. Another easy win. Princess Principal is walking a fine line where it’s taking it’s story just serious enough that it remains important, but, not serious enough that it forgets to have fun. The steampunk devices and machines allow the show to include a bit of whimsy. I like how they pulled Cavorite from an H.G. Wells story.
Incidentals – winner: Princess Principal. This is won by Princess Principal mainly due to having a better OP/ED and better vocal work by the seiyuu.
We are, of course, only about 1/3 of the way through this season and there’s plenty of time for either show to improve or implode. It might be worth checking back later to see if Made in Abyss was able to move ahead of Princess Principal.
I found some time in July to watch a number of Spring series that I hadn’t had the chance to watch before. These included ID-0, Sakura Quest, Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho, Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? (SukaSuka). My favorite of this bunch was Sakura Quest and I’m irked that I didn’t pick this up the minute it started airing. I made the argument while Shirobako aired that this type of show would work even if the setting wasn’t an animation studio. I should have heeded my own advice because Sakura Quest shares much with Shirobako. Probably the biggest thing they share is how they both are a slightly exaggerated humorous take on an industry – animation production for Shirobako and tourism/city renewal for Sakura Quest – while remaining more than enough grounded in reality to make the plot and characters feel “real”.
I need to remember that if the female characters are old enough to legally drink then it’s no longer a cute girls doing X show.
Here are a few moments from anime this past month that I found funny.
How you know Senki Zesshou Symphogear is a fantasy series:
Tales From the Backlog
The anime that I hoped to win, Mouryou no Hako (Box of Goblins), did indeed win and I was able to finish it as the last thing I did before I went on the summer vacation that explains why this post is late. My first reaction was that I miss the Madhouse of the late 00’s. I miss all the fascinatingly weird and off-beat titles it produced. Dennou Coil, Kaiba, Kurozuka, Aoi Bungaku, Rainbow, and Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei were all TV series they produced during a span from 2007 – 2010. So, on some level, I think I was letting Mouryou no Hako sit in my backlog because it’s probably the last unwatched title of Madhouse from that time period that fit into this category of weird and off-beat series and once I watched it there would nothing else to look forward too. On the other hand, I was depriving myself of watching what turned out to be a gloriously weird, moderately disturbing, definitely off-beat murder mystery set in the year 1952 that featured – at times – Monogatari level conversations and enough twists to keep the audience guessing what actually happened up until the very end. It and the other shows I mentioned above from Madhouse are all definitely worth a watch.
Final Score – 11/12 A+ , MyAnimeList Score – 9/10 Excellent
Let’s dip back in my backlog and pull out another three candidates for this month.
1) Oh! Edo Rocket (Spring 2007, 26 episodes) – Directed by Seiji Mizushima who went on to direct Un-Go and Concrete Revolutio. I remember starting this and now I can’t remember why I didn’t watch more than a few episodes. The only real memory I have of this show was it having a really catchy opening and closing.
2) Arslan Senki (Spring 2015, 25 episodes) – I’m not sold on this season’s Shoukoku no Altair (really love it’s setting, though) and have seen more than a few people mention that Arslan Senki was a similar and superior anime.
3) Black Lagoon (Spring 2006, 12 episodes) – The Spring 2006 season is still seared in my memory. I and most every anime fan around the world of that time obsessed over The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I watched every episode many times over during that week while I waited for the next one. Higurashi was able to hack it’s way to keeping a bit of my attention and that was about it. I didn’t have time for anything else that season. So I totally missed Black Lagoon. I didn’t even realize it existed until Jormungand was compared to it many years later.
So which of these three shows should I watch this month?
My one younger sister likes shounen anime series and, being the good big brother that I am, I’d track down series she would enjoy and we’d watch them together. Last year, just as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable was starting, my sister got married to a wonderful guy (anyone willing to put up with her is wonderful 🙂 ). She still wanted to finish Diamond is Unbreakable but had a lot less time to watch anime, and even less when the baby came along. I was tempted to secretly finish it for myself but I was able to hold off. We slowly chipped away at the series when possible and last month we were able to finish. After the lackluster Stardust Crusaders series, I was happy to see the show bounce back. I imagine if the next arc gets animated then I’ll get the chance to scar my nephew with whatever new bizarreness JoJo has planned.
Looking Forward to Next Month
My fascination with the Monogatari franchise continues and August sees the next TV installment – Owarimonogatari 2nd Season. With the prequel movies out, I probably should do a rewatch of the entire franchise. The big question would be to watch in chronological order or broadcast order.
Hopefully, next month I’ll be more on time. 🙂
What were your anime highlights from July?