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Feb 02

Winter Anime 2017 – Three Episodes Later…

Wish Upon A Scum

In 2016, I did a whole lotta write-ups on the first episodes of anime, but a whole lotta nothing much about my thoughts afterwards. I did the odd review or tweeted a bit, but that was about it. Well, time to change that.

Five Winter shows passed the test this time around, in the form of Rakugo S2, Little Witch Academia, Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation, ACCA and Kuzu no Honkai. But now we’re three episodes in, it’s time to see if those shows are living up to their opening promise, or whether they’re falling from grace.

Little Witch Academia

I’ve always adored Trigger’s style, but also consistently felt like they’ve never managed to live up to their narrative chops from the Gainax years. The Little Witch Academia OVA’s conveniently avoided this problem by being tight and focused on a single plot as their one-off nature befitted, but there’s no such escape in a TV format.

Maybe it’s unsurprising then how episodic the show’s been thus far. The first focused exclusively on Akko and co’s journey to magic school, the second about their first day on campus, and the third was broomstick flying. In terms of interlinking elements though, there’s surprisingly few. The pure blood vs commoner thread introduced in the beginning hasn’t really reappeared, and the events of the second episode are almost forgotten by the next.

Even Sucy, who was very clearly not-a-good-person in the first episode seems to have faced no consequences at all for her actions, despite making it very clear she just wants poison ingredients before she goes off somewhere else. Even when she blatantly cheats in the big flying relay race, nobody questions it. How?

As for the rest of the cast, Akko is full of passion but doesn’t seem to have evolved at all as of yet, and Lotte may as well be a pineapple for all she adds. I’m more interested by supporting members of the cast, such as Diana, who seemed like she was going to take the Malfoy role before flipping it, being a girl who respects talent even while her cronies mock our lead relentlessly. Then there’s Amanda from the third ep, a talented flyer who is willing to bend the rules to be the best, and could certainly go places in the future if the writing allows.

Some of these faults will inevitably be ironed out as the show progresses, especially as it’s 25 episodes long instead of 13, but there’s been a lack of substance so far to back up Trigger’s style. Wait, wasn’t that how I opened this recap…

ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Department

While Jean Otus is undoubtedly the lead character, these three episodes really hammer home just how important a guy he is, whether he wants that responsibility or not. With the Inspection Agency’s chief prone to travel sickness and kinda stuck in the office, it falls to second-in-command Jean to do a lot of the external inspections, and with their department tasked with keeping the peace in the body that keeps the peace all over the country… yeah, he’s kinda a big deal.

The other big thing I picked up on is this show goes at quite a lick. Plots are seeded, developed, brought to the fore and, for some of the smaller ones, already resolved. It’s a great mix of both the small moves of individuals and the larger plays of organisations, and almost everyone seems to be plotting something or be part of a secret allegiance, from the various members of the ACCA authority to the monarchy to even a few individuals with seemingly naught to gain. Some suck at playing the game, while others are masters, and seeing all that pan out is, and will hopefully continue to be, fascinating.

Acca even finds time for comedy elements, from the trio of gals of the Inspection Department to how Jean’s sister Lotta seems to be the target of several characters’ (thus far fairly inept) affections. Though speaking of the female cast, Mauve, ACCA’s Director-General (but not the highest ranked figure in ACCA, she sits behind the five Chief Officers), is doing a good job of stealing the show with her few scenes, coming off as intelligent and willing to do whatever it takes to find the truth, so I hope her story has a happy ending (but if I had to bet on one character whose story doesn’t…)

Oh, and I said this before when talking about the first episode, but I still love the show stylistically. It feels like a 90s anime in so many ways, from the colour palette to the character designs, and both the opening and ending do a lot with a little. Here’s hoping I’m as full of praise at the end as I am now.

Rakugo S2

I blasted my way through the first season of Rakugo this week to prepare myself before jumping back into the second season. As such, I discovered how 11 of its 13 episodes are dedicated to the past of Yakumo and Sukeroku. Which is great, but means the story of Yotaro and company gets totally sidelined. Then again, that also explains why the recap at the start of the first episode is fairly easy to follow, as it only has to talk about 2 episodes worth of content…

Anyway, this season finally puts the spotlight on Yotaro (now calling himself Sukeroku) and Konatsu, and that’s… both good and bad. Maybe it’s to try and avoid repeating the first season, but there’s a much bigger focus on their relationship and Yotaro’s old ties to crime, which consumes the show a fair bit.

To add to the mix, there’s been a ten year timeskip since the first season, but in quite a few narrative elements it doesn’t feel like that length of time has passed. I mean, Konatsu says she’s having a kid before the timeskip, and now we see him and he’s… nine months old? What, she planned for nine years?

And while the original Sukeroku and Yakumo could hold down the longer rakugo performance scenes, Yotaro struggles. I get that the show is still trying to demonstrate his inability to find his own style, but I don’t recall that being an issue in his first few performances, let alone now when he should be a ten year veteran.

Before I make it sound like I’m all negatives, there’s still plenty to like here, including the complex relationships between cast members which the third episode explores. The directorial style is also still top-notch, able to mostly captivate and capture subtle emotional nuance in what could easily become ultra boring ultra quickly. And based off the end of that third episode, the focus of the show will now slip back to rakugo, which is where I feel it always should’ve been. Now all we need is more of an arc for Konatsu beyond “be a good mother” and we’re set.

Kuzu no Honkai

In only three episodes Scum’s Wish feels like it’s travelled miles further than so many other shows do in a season. The web of relationships and feelings various members of the cast have for each other has only grown infinitely more complex, which is great for a romance show, though it does feel like Narumi and Akane, the two our lead’s have crushes on, got pushed more into the background (especially the former).

Still, the show’s theme of one-sided love is used to great effect throughout, from lead boy Mugi’s childhood friend clinging desperately to her childhood princess fantasies while Hanabi drags her back into reality, to on the other side of the coin with Sanae, Hanabi’s female friend of a few years who has the resolve to actually confess to her, making Hanabi’s life even more of a tumultuous place. And then there’s the reveal that Akane maybe isn’t as pure as she seems.

So like I said, complex, but very watchable, and for the main the show does a good job of establishing all of this and letting it sink in and have an effect, which in roughly one hour’s worth of footage is no small feat. The show deals with it all maturely too, including several more sexual scenes which do a good job at being emotionally charged instead of lewd fanservice. And the “scene-on-scene” trick the show regularly employs (there’s probably a proper name for it that I don’t know) often help to showcase multiple perspectives and focuses.

Will it be able to keep this up and weave a narrative that pays off for all these characters and elements? That I don’t know yet, but right now all signs point to yes.

Yowamushi Pedal: New Generation

I don’t watch a lot of sports series, so I have few points of reference for where this ranks in the genre, but… New Generation feels pretty good? Even as someone yet to see the first two seasons of Yowamushi Pedal, I’m not lost at all in a deluge of backstory and plot points, as the show looks ever forward. Making a large part of the focus be on the team’s new captain, Teshima, really helps that, as we see him take on the pressures of the role and having to defend the title his seniors coached the team to win.

His struggles and passion really help propel these episodes, allowing lead Onoda’s story of being lost after his role model and fellow climber quit the club breath at its own pace. There’s no “stop being a bitch” moment, as instead the team support him at his own pace until he’s ready to race for real again, partly inspired by Teshima’s passion in a race while he battles their rival school’s newest rider.

That, sadly, is where a few of the problems do crop up. At over two meters tall, animation studio TMS have to take some liberties, and… they don’t really pay off. The image of his rocking back and forth on his bike always looks odd, especially as the proportion’s of his body obviously alter from moment to moment. I don’t even mean that in a sense of pausing to look at goofy inbetweens, his arms and legs alter length on a whim and it’s painfully bad to watch.

I also feel that the focus Hakone (said rival school’s) cycling club actually comes as a detriment. Maybe this is the downside of having not seen the first two seasons, but I don’t really care about all their seniors talking in a room about why they lost. It’s not directly important to the stories currently being told about Onoda and Teshima, so why waste time on it? Or maybe that’s just my non-sports anime perspective speaking…

Still, rivals aside, I am enjoying this third season of Yowamushi Pedal, and I love the fact these shows can spend several episodes on a single race and not feel like they’re dragging because of the moment to moment drama. And with this being a two-cour like Little Witch Academia, there’s plenty of time yet for the rest of the cast to get their time. Ride on, New Generation!

Oh lord did I actually just make that pun okay time to end this article.

Not sure if I’ll make these a fortnightly thing yet or not. Stay tuned on that front. In the meantime, it’s a new month, so stay tuned for some new recommendations soon. About time I changed those pictures on the sidebar…