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Nov 30

Fall Anime 2017 – Three Episodes Later…

We Are The Crystal Gems~

First episode impressions may be over for the year, but that means it’s time to get down to actually watching the shows that impressed me.

From the 52 new series (not a DC reference), five emerged. Some I expected to pass, such as Ancient Magus’ Bride and Children of the Whales, but there were also a few surprises in Just Because! and Girls’ Last Tour, which is racking up lots of praise from the community. And don’t forget Land of the Lustrous, the CG show that could. So how are they all holding up three episodes in?

Just Because!

Just Because is very much a “second verse, same as the first” kind of show. Pine Jam’s inexperience as a studio still shines through with some jerky animation, weird character faces and bizarre uses of CG, and the problem where flashbacks have no intro, outro, or any defining trait, meaning they blend in with current events making it hard to judge what’s past and what’s present, happens a few times in the second and third eps as well.

But where the flaws are the same, so are the strengths. The melodrama of teenage kids coming to the end of their highschool lives, and going through all the turmoil of that last dash to experience romance and success and getting into college and everything sucks is all well represented.

It also seamlessly goes from having a bunch of concurrent plot threads to merging them all into one for the second episode, then splitting off again for the third. Heck, I give this show big props for doing a better job of having multiple scenes taking place at the same time but in different places than almost any other series out there… even if those scenes are all on Christmas Day in the third episode, which the show plays off as just another winter’s day.

That narrative strength really carries the show too. While individually none of the characters are much to write home about (except maybe the brash scooter-riding photography girl who stands out in every scene she’s in), their interactions, feelings and struggles make the end product so much more compelling, even without an overall direction outside of Guy B trying to ask out Girl C.

Whether this’ll turn out better than some of its more focused contemporaries, like, say, Orange, remains to be seen, but this series lays a strong foundation even without an end goal, and probably ranks as one of the more charming shows of the year.

Girls’ Last Tour

This trio of episodes show the world of Girls’ Last Tour is as capable of supporting smaller stories as it is longer ones. The first is split into halves, the second thirds, before the third has just one plot for the duration. Whether it’s a small scale tale about journals or baths, or a bigger goal like crossing chasms and ascending levels, this show never fails to tell interesting stories with its duo of Chi and Yuu.

Part of that comes down to the swathe of little touches, both in animation and storytelling. There’s a sequence right at the start of the first episode with little bolts bouncing around and shining from the reflection’s and lighting of the girl’s tank. And that’s one of many, many sequences where the show paces itself brilliantly to build to a reveal, with some staggering vistas helping make those moments more memorable.

Chi and Yuu both play off each other well too, showing a chemistry and bestie / sisterhood relationship that so few shows can relay. There’s moments of conflict and tension, but you can see through actions how much the two truly care about each other, something made even more apparent when the third episode shows they’re not alone. Girls’ Last Tour doesn’t hold us as well in that regard, with this new face always feeling like an outsider (intentional), but making the episode less focused and interesting as a result (probably not so intentional).

There’s a lack of musical moments in the follow-up episodes as well, though the show still does great with ambience. The opening and ending sequences are also full of life and only feature the two girls, hammering home again how the show is about these two and nobody else.

So how will this hold up for the remaining nine episodes? Tough to tell. There is a loose long term narrative now of maybe ascending levels (the world had a literally tiered society) to see if life is better higher up, but this is a series that seems to excel when it focuses on the little, not the large, so that’s what I’m hoping for.

Ancient Magus’ Bride

If there was one part of Ancient Magus’ Bride I was unsure of coming out of the first episode, it was how it would handle the “bride” bit. Despite being in the title, the way it’s slipped in at the end comes out of nowhere, adding a wrinkle that the show arguably doesn’t need. Well, three in, and there’s still very little answers on that front.

Instead it continues to opt for the slow burn, with only the slimmest pieces of information on Elias, Chise and magic unveiled. We do get to see a lot more of the world they inhabit, with dragons, vistas and Lahndahn Tahn, and a few more characters, such as Silky the maid / landlord, and Ange who makes various magus gear, with the latter providing the only real exposition we’ve had in this show thus far.

Still, the show embraces its more subdued pace, often focusing a little more on Chise’s anguish, both from her past and her ability to see the spiritual over any big action or flashy spells. If anything, the show’s one major action shot feels awkward and out of place. It’s weird to say this of an anime, but it looks better using stills and musical pieces that drive home the emotion of it all.

I do assume something has to give at some point though. There’s been some potential foreshadowing, and plenty of cutesy moments (take a drink everytime someone headpats Chise), but never a moment where you feel like you’ve truly learned something. Certainly compared to the OVAs, which told far more of a story than the actual show has in the same amount of airtime.

There’s still plenty of time yet though, as this is set for 24 episodes, allowing them to take it steady for now. I just hope Ancient Magus’ Bride decides to start revealing… well, anything, sooner rather than later.

Land of the Lustrous

If ever a show has benefitted from being purely CG, then Land of the Lustrous is that show. What might feel unnervingly smooth or robotic in other shows makes perfect sense in one where all its cast are made of various gemstones. Visually this show is still a riot, from brilliant vistas to great posing on the gems and facial expressions from lead Phos, all the way to the design of the Lunarian’s they’re fighting.

But that is design, singular. In the second episode they drag in a giant acid snail, and in the third they’re not there at all. There’s still no real grand goal either, outside of survival. The second ep is more about introducing Dia, so she can carry the third when Phos is seemingly forever dissolved by the snail.

Those are symptoms of  the writing struggling to realise a good story for this world. While it does great in characterisations, such as showing the similarities of self-doubt and lacking purpose shared by Phos, Cinnabar and Dia, it also often has to rewrite its own rules. Only Cinnabar can patrol at night! Except other gems run around in the moonlight with no problem. The master is an overpowered god! Better have him in unbreakable meditation then when shit goes down. Gems lose memories if they lose shards! This has never happened once yet.

It’s the characters that really keep this whole production working narratively. While Phos can be annoying, she does it because she still wants to be of help. While Cinnabar is melodramatic, she does live a cursed life. And Dia’s desire to help everyone and be perfect leaves her neglecting her own health. They all come across as well-rounded individuals with strengths and weaknesses, and make me want to watch more when the rest of the show drops the ball.

So will this turn out alright? Maybe. It’s clear in 12 episodes a lot of the 28 gem girls aren’t going to get any time to do anything, even more so with the show lacking a clear direction, but there’s a lot to love about the cast who do get screentime, especially combined with the great CG aesthetic. Hopefully they continue to carry the show while it figures itself out.

Children of the Whales

There are times when I think Children of the Whales is a little lost in its own complexity. Here’s an example. The mysterious girl who had no knowledge of herself was called Lykos by the two leads, as that name was in her shirt. But that’s actually the name of this weird bubble monster that eats… either emotions or memories, it’s never clear. Except those are also called Nous. And when the outsider’s arrive on mass, she actually is referred to as Lykos Number 34. And then renamed Skylos Sample No 4. Why am I writing a paragraph on ONE GIRL’S NAME.

It doesn’t help either that the show clearly revolves around certain themes, but then doesn’t use them to develop anything. I mean, a core aspect of this show is controlling emotions. The islanders restrain themselves when they feel strongly about something, and Lykos’s people have the Nous to consume their’s (yet they’re all still at war, so I guess the Anti-Spiral’s had it wrong). Her regaining emotions when split from her Nous, or some of the villains clearly having emotions should be a big thing. But it isn’t, at least not yet. And who knows if it’ll ever explore the old without power controlling the young with power idea it raises.

There’s other small annoyances too, like enemy soldiers dawdling when faced with main characters are relentlessly killing everybody else, or the giant lexicon of terms both sides use meaning you need a dictionary on hand while watching. Having a clearly established world is great, Shinsekai Yori and Made in Abyss both prove that, but you can pull that off without bewildering viewings in a sea of new words.

In fairness though, a lot of these problems only show up in the third episode when the baddies arrive. The show is still beautifully animated, with the star locust shot in the second episode particularly stunning. And I clearly grew fond of some of the cast in two episodes, because I was upset when they died. Yes, people actually die, so the stakes are pretty real compared to most anime.

And those strengths sort of outweigh the flaws for me, as I am more optimistic about the show’s future. Now the initial clash with the outside world has happened, there shouldn’t be any more dumping of new concepts or verbiage, letting the show focus more on its themes and narrative of emotions, magic, and a small civilisation fighting for their lives in the big bad world they’ve just come to learn about. Well, in theory, anyway.

And there you go… hm? These aired a month ago and have like seven episodes out each? Don’t know what you’re talking about. >_>

There’s a couple more posts I want to do before year’s end, but time shall tell. So I’ll either see you then or for Winter 2018. Which has the grand return of Cardcaptors, so we may as well just declare that AotY 2018 now.