krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
As another new year got under way, I was looking at all the anime DVDs and Blu-Rays I've piled up over long years of buying them faster than I can watch them (although I've been conscious in the months just past of seeming to have just about cauterized any internal urge to buy the expensive "quasi-imports" that reassure executives in Japan cheap fans over there won't be tempted to "reverse import") and contemplating just which of them to open, but also hoping, with a feeling that might have had a first, slight resemblance to desperation, I'd be a bit luckier this season at taking interest in new shows streaming everyone else wouldn't sour on straight off. In the first three months of this year, however, a few surprises affected both of those intents.

Before those surprises, though, I was thinking back to how I had spent most of my weekends last year watching my way through the lengthy and antique "giant robot" series Mazinger Z. In the course of that, I'd also heard a "modern remake" of that series had been licensed. It had sounded sort of interesting, and yet I was aware how I'd seemed to miss hearing about what was being called Mazinger Edition Z: The Impact (I was soon personally abbreviating that title), and I got to wondering if the new series had in the end been overshadowed by another "modern remake," Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (as much as it would be possible to get all of it in one inexpensive go, as opposed to Yamato 2199 being released as expensive "quasi-imports," only for that to grind to a half two-thirds of the way into the series; apparently, it isn't possible to make more money these later days squeezing the "cost is no object" fans when a series isn't being widely streamed to build awareness, to say nothing of relabelling the discs over here "Star Blazers 2199.") Starting off, though (with a "final episode" juggling modified bits of familiar material and new concepts and characters in a dizzying jumble), this new Mazinger Z did seem pretty impressive. It soon had me thinking a bit of how the early-1970s anime had been more clean-scrubbed and upright by comparison (and also reminded me of having seen some "scanlations" of the more raffish manga version from back then), but beyond whatever mere shock value might have been there to start with the story did seem to work a bit more depth into what I'd been quite fine thinking of as the primal tale of good guys versus evil grotesques. I did get to wondering if the series somehow made its actual "giant robot" content look more impressive than it actually was while still neatly moving past an "enemy robot of the week" format, and also noted, as I got used to the new characters added to the cast, how they were presented as "so cool and amazing they can take on giant robots without needing machinery of their own." I still haven't quite finished the series yet, and I do wonder if there might yet be an explanation in looping back to its initial "final episode" as to why I hadn't heard a lot about it before, but a good part of the ride has been impressive.

Some series I have a good interest in to start watching, but others I begin more or less to "clear the way" for seemingly more interesting series "saved for later." That might have been the case with Creamy Mami, which I had put a good deal of money towards when Anime Sols was still in crowd-funding operation and anxiously awaited each set's success, but which I hadn't actually watched any of at the time, perhaps even slightly embarrassed by its title and driven more or less by the thought that since other people seemed pretty interested in it, they ought to have the chance to see it completed. All four sets had sat around for a while before the thought I ought to at least watch them built up to something compelling. I had known to begin with that Creamy Mami was a "magical girl" series older than any I'd seen before; starting to watch it gave me an impression Sailor Moon had reconfigured the whole genre by making "magical girls" junior high or so warriors against evil and parts of teams in colour-coordinated costumes. Yuu, the grade-school girl who could transform into the more grown-up idol singer Creamy Mami (the first part of that name coming from her family's crepe stand) seemed to exist among a gentler, more easy-going sort of magic. That did get me thinking that Cardcaptor Sakura had preserved the older tradition of "magical girls" for a while at least, but Yuu did give a bit more of an impression of "youthful hijinx" than the polite, helpful, and somehow weighted with responsibility Sakura. I also wound up with the peculiar feeling that where a good many anime series these days don't include "male characters" in just such a way as to leave the impression of having been pitched just a little too well towards male audiences, there were no recurring girl characters Yuu's age to be acquaintances. However, the mix of magic and Creamy Mami's idol singer career kept the series from having that sense of "routine" that meant "kid's stuff" to me even when I was a kid. Watching it just on the weekends kept me going through it with a very reasonable amount of interest.

There was one other "kid's stuff" series I was also watching on the weekends, though. Gyrozetter hadn't been officially streamed, and these days that seems to mean "fansubs" arrive much slower than when fans can take advantage of actual for-money translations. After a while, though, the entire series did get "fansubbed," and that seemed the right time to start watching it. I'd heard a bit about it being a "transforming robots" series (although it gave me the distinct impression it wasn't trying to merchandise transforming toys the way those series used to; the computer-animated cars just sort of "dissolve" and reform as robots, and the drivers make a big show of using cards to activate special attacks), one in which the heroic robots are piloted by preteen kids with an explanation just a bit more detailed than "because." Aware all the same that I had picked up on that sort of thing at an early age and willing to think "it's good to get them young," I was convinced there was an entertaining exuberance to it.

So far as more respectable series went, I had headed into the city just after the new year and stopped in at a large used book store. While I'd known the used DVDs section had some anime discs in it, I'd always been convinced what was available was incomplete "singles" from the past decade. When I noticed an empty box on the shelf, though, I began to wonder if all of the discs meant to fill it were behind the counter, and it turned out all of Paranoia Agent really was there, for what seemed a very reasonable price. Convinced I couldn't just let the DVDs sit around forever before I found out if the used discs could actually play, though, I made a special effort to start watching the series. I knew it was from Satoshi Kon, better known as the director of anime movies that let those who watched them proclaim there was at least something respectable about anime; unfortunately, Kon's untimely early death threw all of that into an ambiguous limbo. The series itself really did seem pointedly broader in cast age than the usual dismissals of anime have it, but a first sense it was "just" about casting all other anime series in a disparaging light faded into a sense of a more weighty statement on a whole society dissolving into madness as a mysterious figure on rollerblades wheels out of the darkness to club down with a twisted baseball bat those caught in the gears. There was, though, an episode that offered a good bit of the "mechanics of making an anime" instruction Shirobako had included in at least its first half, if rather less cheerful and endearing about it.

I did take a few more chances at starting new series than I had the season before, but I still wound up dropping Active Raid after one episode and Myriad Colors Phantom World after two. That I was managing to keep watching Erased (its "official" English title was a lot shorter and perhaps a bit less evocative than what its Japanese title translates to) was at least something, even if that was somehow balanced against the thought I was intent on not getting to the point where I "had" to buy what I knew would be another expensive release. Things started off anyway with a twenty-something man whose consciousness flashed back several minutes every so often to a point where he had to search for and avert an impending accident; whether this would make a series became a moot point when, after a very bad day, his consciousness flashed back all the way into his childhood. (I did get to wondering about his returning to 1988 from ten years back from right now; as much as 1988 is just before the Japanese stock market bubble crashed and things started dragging, I could wonder about how it's easier to present a twenty-something as "underemployed" than a thirty-something.) In trying to find and avert a childhood tragedy things hinged on, though, I did wind up with the unfortunate feeling the series had put its biggest emotional payoff just two-thirds of the way through; after that, things were a bit more heavy-handed.

So far as other series streaming go, I did keep watching Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans, which kept up the visceral intensity of its mecha battles and refrained from having "everything" hinge on its handful of young characters, but did leave me wondering about a suggested follow-up half and how quick those who watch other Gundam and mecha series are to dismiss anything new. Vague thoughts of taking chances on still other streaming series went by the wayside with a sudden announcement, though. I had wound up quite enjoying the first Love Live! series even when I hadn't quite picked up on it until it had been licensed for release on Blu-Ray; after that, the thought of waiting to watch the second series until it also came out on disc seemed compelling. It was a long wait, but at last it was almost over, and then I heard the movie following the second series would make a special appearance at a theatre near me. There was just enough time to watch the streaming episodes of the second series at the episode-a-day pace that's brisk for me; as I got started, however, I realized one of the reasons I'd been waiting for the disc release had in fact been handled by the streaming service. Where relatively few opening and end themes have their lyrics subtitled streaming, Love Live's were. Beyond that, I had also wondered if I would like the follow-up series as much as the original with the nine-member singing group of "school idols" assembled and practiced, that "starting off" part of the series something I could remember liking; within a few episodes, though, I did seem just as caught up in the story of getting a second chance at some unfinished business even as, just like with the first series, the opening and end themes grew greatly on me the more I listened to them. I even had the impression the computer animation used in the group dance scenes looked better than in the first series (something that might have been rubbed in in an unfortunate way when a parsimonious way was found to reuse some of that old footage). I suppose I'd been forewarned of one controversial episode where one of the girls gains some weight and the others are immediately on her to lose it, but with that out of the way it was smooth sailing to the end and its impending sense of evanescent glory. I was then able to move straight on from the light cliffhanger at the very end of the series to the movie itself. The theatre was much less busy than when the Rebuild of Evangelion and Madoka Magica movies had screened there; counting myself, only eight people were in the audience. However, despite thoughts that the series carefully avoided "male characters" to appeal to "male audiences" intent on mentally (not to mention creepily) appropriating particular characters or just slashing them with each other, there were more young women than men in that audience. In some ways I can understand it being easy to shrug off the movie as "not profound" as the group gets to squeeze the most out of their last days together; in another way, I did get to contemplating some of the unexamined ambiguities of "school idols" not being paid for their work (even as those apparently organizing the phenomenon and perhaps even making money off it are carefully avoided); with all of that, though, the movie was entertaining. With it over, I even got to the point of starting to play the mobile game in the franchise (which just happens, in one of its short "visual novel" pieces, to present a tale about one of the girls worrying about her weight that I suppose would appeal to those most intent on criticizing the episode of the anime) and wondering about the next series in the franchise, which is going to set up a new group at another school; only time will tell whether this works with other fans.

On finishing Love Live, I found some hobby projects taking up enough of my time that I decided to step back from watching two episodes per weeknight to one. There was still just enough space open in my schedule, though, that I did get around to starting one series sort of catching up to weekly streaming, a new series in the long-running Lupin the Third franchise. Set entirely in Italy (I understand it aired there), it doesn't push the envelope as hard as the recent The Woman Called Fujiko Mine did, but this was just as acceptable in itself. While I'm not that far into it yet, I have been noticing how its episodes tend to include "major guest characters," one way of offering character development while still featuring the familiar rogues who've been around for over four decades.

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