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[personal profile] krpalmer
At the start of this year, I looked at the big "season preview" images and the announcements of what anime series would be streamed and where, and wound up not watching any new shows. I didn't worry too much about that; I was carrying some series forward from the previous season anyway. Three months later, though, I looked at the preview images and the announcements again and only started watching one new show, and that a series I was just hoping the opinions of others wouldn't be too relentlessly negative towards. That did get me thinking ahead to when these latest series would eventually be for sale on disc, and whether extending the trend forward would make me far too much like those people who seem to be complaining all the time about how "they didn't abandon anime" (as much as a few other people perhaps wish they would), "anime abandoned them."

Certain straight-line projections into the future end up looking foolish in the face of unexpected changes, however, and three months ago I looked at the preview images and the announcements for the third time this year and surprised myself by filling a respectable slate of new series to watch through weekly streaming and thinking a few more shows would've been interesting to watch too if only I'd had the time. That might, though, have replaced one worry with another. As much as I hope I'll "hit the jackpot" with another show like Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Kill la Kill, where the excited reactions and speculation builds in a virtuous cycle week by week, the risk seems greater that less positive reactions will reinforce each other and drag down my own feelings before I quite seem to reach that point myself.

In any case, all these new series to watch might have been the push needed to do something I'd been toying with for a while. Finding my cheap home office desk chair uncomfortable to just sit back on and watch, I bought not a more expensive chair but an economical wireless router and the cheapest streaming video TV add-on on the store shelves nearby to watch from the improved comfort of my downstairs armchair. The setup has worked pretty well. In reducing the old distinction between "watching anime streaming on my computer upstairs" and "watching anime off discs on my TV downstairs," though, I may have increased my distance from the old thought that streaming is just a waypoint to owning discs with the series on them to eventually watch again. Always aware of how I buy anime faster than I can watch it, though, I'm not too troubled by that. There are also those intimations and worries the Japanese companies of the "anime industry," convinced there's more money in these later days in concentrating on an irreducible core of "cost is no object" collectors, will cut out the middlemen and "harmonize" prices over here, just happening to protect their home market in the process; with that in mind, becoming content with watching series streaming doesn't seem bad at all. (After that thought, though, there's another thought that the streaming back catalogue will be pared back much faster than it is now in the same "because they can" spirit...)

Even as I was looking ahead to brand-new series, I started this three-month block watching a much older series, Space Pirate Captain Harlock. That it was "kind of long" might have prompted a thought or two that I could have watched other things in the time I was devoting to it, but that it was "kind of long" might also have given me time to get used to it as it was (a space opera with one more justification for why the heroes were on a single ship by their own) and get over what I'd imagined it might be before I first opened it (going by the title). There was also the chance to watch a much shorter series just added to a streaming site, the first Super Robot Wars OVA. I'd long heard about that series of video games bringing together mecha of all vintages in "official crossovers," and been a bit curious about the anime made featuring their original machines. In the rapid flurry of introductions of things which already seemed quite familiar to its characters over its entire length, though, I seemed to wind up understanding that much better how the anime had been made more or less for those who'd already played the games. Since I don't have the language skills to understand the games untranslated or even the hardware to play them on, though, I am wondering a bit about the two longer TV anime series made after the OVA, but perhaps not with any burning urge to seek them out.

The first new series I started streaming was called Glasslip. (Its end credit sequence managed to break that title up into complete but oddly combined words.) I knew it was by a studio that seemed most notable on first thought for its attractive backgrounds, and I supposed it would be a pleasant, low-key, "slice of life" work with some glass work to add a bit of sparkle and distinctiveness. As I began watching, it caught my attention that there were an equal number of guys and girls among the main characters; after all the series that skew one way or another that seemed a refreshing change even if it might be assumed "romance" would follow from that. When "glass" started playing a role, though, it seemed to be to spark brief "visions of the future" for one of the female characters... the only problem there being that even glimpsing the future didn't seem to make things exciting. I began to fixate on small, odd things such as the "new kid in town" apparently sleeping in a tent pitched in the yard of his father's small but pleasant house, conscious I was gutting my way along even as other people started dropping the series. Then, the thought managed to hit me that it's never too late to drop a series; last year I did that for one unfortunate show only after its penultimate episode. After an episode in which especially little seemed to have happened ended with the girl who'd strongly implied she had "girls' love" feelings for the visionary female character early on and then politely associated with one of the boys for long episodes afterwards got them both together away from everyone else, I supposed no continuation could manage to live up to the full possibilities of that moment and stopped watching the series there.

That might have made it a bit easier to drop a second series right around the same time. Sailor Moon seems to me to have played a role on arriving here in "growing the fandom" beyond what it had been in the first half of the 1990s; however, I had the distinct feeling at the time I was way out of its target demographic and kept an awkward distance even as its "localization" was being decried. It seemed to wind up one of those things everyone else knew more about than me. When I heard that a new series was being produced to more closely adapt the original manga (which I'd got around to reading all of the new translation and release of just a little while ago), I supposed this was a chance to begin again. Sailor Moon Crystal, though, aired in an odd every-other-week way, and I started noticing annoyed comments it looked sort of nice, but not nice enough to justify all that production time. It didn't quite seem to be grabbing me; in recognizing how close it was sticking to the structure of the manga I could reflect on how brisk the manga had seemed. Then, when it turned out not just one but two weekends would pass between two episodes, I decided this was the point to stop watching the show. However, it did at least seem to contribute to my ordering the first set of the impending release of the old anime series, which has a great deal of "original content" but still seems remembered with much fondness.

Mecha anime series seem to be increasing in number of late, and most of them don't even rely on established brand names. At the same time, though, I have to keep fighting a feeling with a troubling resemblance to a persecution complex that mecha series don't even get whatever shake series in other genres get, pinned between a swathe of people resistent to their specific charms and a smaller cadre convinced the best mecha anime series were made twenty-five to thirty years ago and the mould was shattered afterwards. With Captain Earth, other people at least seemed to have stopped saying too much about it by its midway point. As it continued, I did keep wondering about a feeling it was oddly overstuffed with characters, factions, and concepts; if one thing did keep me watching, it was the sense its main characters seemed pretty well-adjusted and were managing to develop past what had seemed a few built-in limitations. Near the end of the series, I even saw a few new comments from other people that might even have contained grains of praise, even if others I ran into might not have.

Argevollen was starting afresh. My very first impression of it was of a full-scale war between two armies both equipped with giant robots and not completely unbalanced in a place merely "not here" (although later episodes would have the characters taking pictures with their cell phones and show a small town that looked "generically familiar" to small towns I've seen in "real world" anime series); that the stakes seemed a bit lower than "the fate of the world itself!" seemed sort of "old-fashioned" yet refreshing to me. By the end of the first episode, though, the plodding, bulky mecha had run across the much slimmer and more agile eponymous prototype (which used "mental control," no less), and the Argevollen had just happened to wind up adapted to the youngest member of the squad that had found it. It didn't seem capable of winning the war all by itself or even completely overpowering its opponents to start with, though, and things managed to stay grounded enough for the series to rebuild something like its first appeal for me. (It also turned out the prototype needed not just the young pilot but the young female engineer escorting it to keep switching it on, which might mean more possibility for character growth if you're trying to be positive about things.) At the midway point mysteries are gathering and old secrets are emerging (and I have the constant sense the "framing" of its character animation seems sort of unexciting), but I have seen a comment or two that might be more than halfway positive, even thinking the series something of a "sleeper."

Aldnoah Zero seemed to have a pedigree to first attract attention. I then noticed it also had a way to have an army of mecha "here and now" (instead of just a "secret base") by setting up an "alternative history" (although this did remind me of Muv-Luv Alternative Total Eclipse) with the "point of divergence" being Apollo 17 discovering a mysterious artifact on the moon to provide a bridge to Mars. (This would probably be called invoking the "Alien Space Bats" in the terminology of online alternative history fans.) That got me wondering, though, just how to get not just from late 1972 to "now" but from then to "fifteen years ago" and still set up a Martian nation stuffed with feudal nobles returning to Earth with fire and sword and managing to shatter the moon in the process. It's always tricky to say "it couldn't happen," but the series didn't seem to say a lot about how it did. After some first engagements in the renewed war in which Earth's military seemed even more hapless and hopeless than the British army had in H.G Wells's The War of the Worlds, though, the inevitable high school cadets got dragged in, and things became a satisfying battle of "real robots versus super robots," where the underdogs would win not just through hauling on the handles with greater determination but through careful study finding the slight gaps in "any sufficiently advanced technology" armour. There, however, things wrinkled again. The standard mood of Inaho, cadet leader by default, was "preternatural calm," whether watching a friend get vaporized against a Martian shield or performing CPR on a princess of Mars strangled in the shower. There have been other "cold-bloodedly competent" mecha series protagonists, but it seemed a bit tricker to invent an explanation for Inaho with the series not offering one; I did notice some invocation of the dread term "Mary Sue." With an old apprenticeship of reading MSTings of "self insertion" and "author avatar" fanfics, though, I did get to thinking there might be something to the counter-comments proposing some amusing subversion in how Inaho went along matter-of-factly messing up cutely romantic moments through pedantic corrections. To try and simplify things, there always seemed to be a lot of trying to "tell" how unrelievedly amazing the new characters of that old MSTing fodder were, but Inhao just "showed" his competence. By the last episodes of this first half of the series, though, even if it had been several episodes since the last squad of adult pilots got killed off within moments to set up how terrifying the latest Martian mecha was before Inhao dismantled it with an explanation, some of the other characters were beginning to compliment him for moving them through the plot, and that did begin to blur the distinction in a troubling way with the excitement sort of diminished over time. Then, things left off on a staggering cliffhanger I did wonder about the resolution of in three months' time, even if I can contemplate some continuations among many no more unusual than "some anime characters take a lot of killing." When some people left off grousing, however, I seemed a bit less inclined than I might have been in other cases to react by clinging to an injured sense of "they're just biased against mecha anime to start with." I'd already decided anyway I had no compulsion to pay the premium I was expecting to be charged for the series on disc, though. It might even be said that while Captain Earth appealed in whatever way it did because its main characters made it seem a bit more than the sum of its parts, Aldnoah Zero's characters had to be thought of as representing the largest possible themes to dodge the feeling they were weighing their series down. It might also be said that pedigree first mentioned left me not so poised to defend this particular show as unfairly oppressed.

Knights of Sidonia was a different mecha series in a number of ways. Instead of being an "anime original," it had been adapted from one of the seemingly more limited number of "original mecha manga"; while this might only shift the criticism to finding problems with the adaptation either "changing things" or "following unexcitingly close," it does seem to lift some of the worry of the story just running off the tracks (for the length of the material adapted, anyway.) It had been moved outside the familiar circuit of streaming sites and licensors when Netflix itself had licensed it, even if this would reduce the "right after airing" watchers to fall back on "fansubs" with the series being held back to be released all at once complete with an English-language dub. I'd signed up for Netflix to see the final completed episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars; once I'd watched all of them some episodes of the vintage Doctor Who caught my interest enough to make me decided to keep paying the subscription fee until I could get to trying out this experiment in reaching the fabled "larger audience." It also happened to have been made using all computer animation. While this just might have made the people at Netflix think a few people might move straight from Clone Wars to it, anime fans do seem to maintain a stern distaste for computer animation (although Argevollen and Aldnoah Zero both used it to animate their mecha, it was a frequent criticism of Sailor Moon Crystal that it was using it as a "cheap substitute for actual impressive transformation sequences"). Perhaps, though, I was thinking a bit of how I'd stayed clear of a just-previous experiment in using all computer animation (Arpeggio of Blue Steel), just buying its manga instead, and also stayed away from the anime adaptation of a previous manga also published by Vertical when a different experiment in animation was made and The Flowers of Evil was rotoscoped. (That led me into wondering about to what degree I detach the appearance of anime and manga characters from how I know the people drawing them look, even if I completely understand Japanese people project their own appearances onto them too.) While there seemed some awkwardness to the character animation to start with, it perhaps wasn't quite as deep in that infamous "uncanny valley" as it might have been, and it either improved with time or just got more familiar. After all of that's been said, Knights of Sidonia might have not been that different at the core than most other mecha anime even with its interstellar-space setting and a greater impression of "realness" to its robots, but even having been adapted from a manga I've already read it was interesting and exciting to watch. The one little problem was that Netflix's subtitles kept swallowing lines of dialogue whenever a bit of text on screen was being subtitled (the Sidonia seems just as Japanese a generation starship as any random starship in "visual SF" over here might seem American); perhaps I should have taken a chance on the dub, but the soundtrack defaulted to Japanese to start with.

I took note of how interested some people seemed to be of the announcement Akame ga Kill! would be streamed; they seemed already familiar with the manga it was being adapted from. (I suspect at least some of them were reading "scanlations" of it, though, because it's only been announced as licensed for impending release over here.) As I started watching the first episode, though, I did wonder what had got their attention; I seemed to be picking up most of all on how anachronistic some of the costumes looked in a "generic medieval" setting. Before that episode was over, however, it had delivered enough of an extended jolt for me to keep watching this tale of an idealistic youth falling in with a team of assassins equipped with fanciful weaponry taking on the corruption of an imperial capital, even if soon afterwards I got to wondering if this series would be another one that winds up seeming to have coasted on the impression of a strong first episode for a bit too long. Before it hit that "too long" point, though, there was a second wallop, if one that left me thinking all of a sudden this was a series like Angel Beats, Strike Witches, or AKB0048, in which a great deal of its appeal for me seems to be the impression of straight-faced and inbuilt yet unapologetic absurdity. Since I can quite enjoy that (it may be my own personal gift taken from Mystery Science Theater 3000), the series wound up one of the ones I most looked forward to each week.

As Ace of the Diamond closed in on the year-long mark, my impression of how it had shifted to an "ensemble show" did get me wondering if rooting for the talent-stocked high school baseball team featured in it was a bit like "rooting for the New York Yankees." Then, with the announcement it would be carried past the year-long mark, a final confrontation before getting out of the regional qualifiers to the national championship playoffs at the fabled Koushien stadium (something so extravagant that it seems the end goal in itself in most of the baseball anime I've seen) was set up against the even better team that had eliminated them the year before, and I was at least able to think the series a bit more like "rooting for the Boston Red Sox," to name just one example. Whether the extension will amount to three or six months of a single ball game presented pitch by pitch seems an open question right now, though.

Even with all of those series under way, I thought I had just enough time left open to watch a slightly older series at a one-episode-a-week pace. I recall Sasameki Koto having aired about the same time as Sweet Blue Flowers, the two being directly comparable as "girls' love" series. Where that other series had given the slight impression of just amounting to the prologue to the actual love story (although I keep wondering if this just might have meant a great deal of "could I possibly be..." self-questioning by the previous "just a good shoulder-to-cry-on friend" in the manga that followed what had been adapted, something I'm not absolutely sure sure would agree with me after such an extended prologue), Sasameki Koto seemed to confirm both its main characters as secure in their sexual identities, only to then establish Ushio seemed too airheaded to realise Sumika had feelings for her and Sumika was too insecure to admit them, convinced Ushio only had eyes for girls shorter and cuter than her. It happened to be set in a mixed-gender school, a change from the seemingly usual "let's keep those icky boys out of sight" setup, but the most important male character just happening to cross-dress, well enough to catch Ushio's eyes, seemed to step back into a less interesting space. After a bit more "not quite the perfect development in my eyes," though, things did seem to get a bit more engaging, closing with a sort of "they're getting to understand things without ever saying anything" mood.

As I finished watching Captain Harlock, I cast around for series to follow it and let some thoughts I'd been having for a while percolate up through my mind. Having been interested in the original Lupin the Third anime, I'd taken note of a much more recent series said to recast some of the edgy feeling of its very first episodes in a more modern idiom. At last, I got around to opening Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, which seemed obviously enough centred around the female thief of the franchise who's always out most of all for herself. The mature content seemed well matched by the distinctive visual style (a style that might have had to do more with looks than motion), but as things wore into the last few episodes I did start wondering if, in seeming to hint at Fujiko's "backstory," she was somehow receding back into her own story with the other characters now doing everything for her. As I thought that, though, I hadn't imagined the possibility of a last-moment twist.

From there, I shifted gears hard and opened the third Hidamari Sketch series, whose title was transliterated as Hidamari Sketch x Hoshimittsu; I admit that I drew on the title of the manga and the opening lyrics to also think of it as "Sunshine Sketch Three Stars." Entering the second year for its high school characters, it has two more girls move into the remaining rooms of the small apartment house just across the street from the art-focused high school; with the thought in mind that this kind of story has been suggested to precisely target its character types I contemplated the new characters as "filling smaller niches." One, Nori, was outgoing and owned a PC (the other girls all get by sending emails and taking pictures with their cell phones); the other, Nazuna, has a terrible lack of self-confidence, isn't in the art program, and seems to get more emphasis. This series steps away from the "completely jumbled order" the previous two adapted the four-panel manga in for the new year, but does keep flashing back to random days in the past year. It remained one of the happiest and most pleasant series I've seen, helped along by its distinctive iconography, but I do have to admit that by the very last episodes I was a bit more conscious again of the people who seem allergic to that sort of thing. That the last three episodes all involved the characters getting together for a big meal (cooking with tomatoes they grew in the yard, going to a new family restaurant, and barbecuing) where they all gush about how great the food is might have a little bit to do with that. I was struck, though, by how the last episode did have Nazuna suggesting (as tentatively as ever) grilling some marshmallows on the barbecue; the other girls react to the results (served on a plate and eaten off toothpicks) with familiar delight but still as if the idea of doing that had never even occurred to them before. I was tempted to suppose there's a different sort of "campfire culture," if there's one at all, in Japan.

After I stopped watching Glasslip, I managed to keep from wallowing in "so why didn't it work out?" resentment and pity by taking its timeslot and applying it to one of the series I'd taken note of at the start of the season without quite prioritizing it, a series that now seemed to be going from strength to strength from what I was overhearing. Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun was a comedy centred around the drawing of manga (the contrast between "anime characters" and "manga art" just may work a little better for me than personal contemplations of both being manga), starting with a botched love confession that just winds up with the heroine being recruited as a manga assistant to her big-guy potential boyfriend Nozaki, who draws shoujo manga under a female pen name after school. The male characters who inspire girls in his manga and the female character who inspire boys add more fun to the mix; although I'm still just getting into the series, it already seems to be challenging Akame ga Kill as a personal standout of the season.

By the time I opened Eden of the East, I was driven perhaps most of all by the thought there wasn't much time left in these three months I was about to try and summarize and I ought to watch something fairly short instead of "leaving off in the middle." It still seemed to take a little while to remember I had this series fairly far down in my "backlog." I knew how it opened near the White House with the main characters running into each other (the guy naked and without memories); I had the impression it would deal with the geopolitical anxieties of the past decade from a perspective different enough from familiar American shows to be interesting. Once the characters were back in Japan, though, the focus seemed to shift to insular Japanese socio-economic concerns, even with the suggestion the main character might be something more than a pawn trying to grapple with dark powers. It didn't take long to remember all the problems in getting so fixated on "what you wanted something to be" that "you misrepresent what it really is," but I still might have had to work through a bit of distance. Whether that feeling was somehow increased by the sense the series had been intended to be "right up to the minute" but now felt "just a few minutes ago" because the cell phones that play a crucial role all have physical keypads was another question. On getting to the end of the TV anime and its resolution of most but not all its plot points, I did have to face the impression of having overheard complaints the two follow-up movies were "big disappointments by comparison," but wound up thinking I didn't quite seem to have impressions of the series as something that had to be protected against disillusionment at all cost. I watched the movies and finished them thinking the only real criticism of them seemed to be that generic "questions and possibilities are more fun than answers and resolutions" complaint levied against many other conclusions. The movies did happen to include one cell phone with a resemblance to the first iPhone, anyway.

With that finished, though, I still had just a few days left in the month. I remembered, however, that I had just a few fansubbed episodes of a series seemingly not famous for an overarching straight-through plot and went from something "somehow not quite right now any more" to "genuine antiquity" by watching the first episodes of Mach GoGoGo, the show that became Speed Racer. The character designs had an odd sense of reminding me of stills I've seen from the Japanese animated movies made just before Osamu Tezuka started changing everything while still pointing to the decades of evolution that followed, and there was a foursquare simplicity to the plots that still had me thinking they weren't just "things happening to happen" and understanding how they'd appeal to kids on both sides of the Pacific with their cartoon mayhem. What I had to watch didn't overstay its welcome in any case.

March 2017

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