krpalmer: (anime)
[personal profile] krpalmer
The start of a new year meant, among many other things, the start of another season of anime series, but in the first days of the year I watched the list of streaming announcements accumulate without quite seeming grabbed by any of it. (Exclusive licenses to streaming services I don't have subscriptions to or which hold episodes back until they're good and ready to pull in "binge-watchers" were a side note, but not quite a crisis in themselves.) This might have bothered me more than it did given I'd had the same problem for most of last year, but in its last three months I'd managed not just to start but to stick with a fair handful of streaming series. I could watch other people muttering about how thin the new season seemed while thinking my own anxieties had somehow reset; in any case, I still wasn't lacking for things to go back to.

I had managed as last year ended to read the science fiction manga Planetes once more; as this year started I was intent on watching its anime version again. Once I'd got over the deceptively lighter tone of the adaptation's first episodes way back in my first viewings, I'd grown to like its own take on the small adventures of orbital debris collectors, but as I got started this time I can admit I was wondering if, after the manga's drawn-out, messy, in some ways troubling while not "apocalyptic" ending (shifting from "environmental terrorism" to "bullying geopolitical wars," among other things), my old impressions of the anime meant its own conclusion would seem more "conventional." This concern lasted as the workplace relationships deepened and I was sort of surprised all over again the anime made a point of there being no sound in space. In the final episodes, however, there was another surprise with just how the larger crisis was resolved and how much time was left for the characters to settle their own problems afterwards, and I was once more impressed by the anime (although aware that, by setting these impressions down, I've made it a bit harder to be surprised all over again by them in the future).

I wasn't quite at the point of making no use of my streaming site subscription whatsoever, but as Gundam Iron Blooded Orphans was entering its fourth three-month block, it didn't feel like "taking a chance on the risks and rewards of something new" any more. The "plot arc" structure I had noticed in the past three months was in fact beginning to build up to something large and final, although the protagonists themselves still seemed stuck reacting to things stacked high against them. This could seem to make the repeated dark turns of events that much darker.

Along with that, I was also moving on to the second half of Princess Tutu. I'd wondered as last year ended how well its tale of a ballet-dancing magical girl trying to reshape the at times surreal story she's been told she's in would pick up from its midway resolution, but it found an interesting way to continue for all that the reshaping might include "a different heavy dose of melancholy"; in any case, I could acknowledge how those who'd managed to take notice of the series in the first place could have it stick in their memories. Along with that, I was getting started on a series I hadn't spent quite as much time waiting to get to, Sound! Euphonium. In its case, though, I might have been diffident about starting it for no better reason than that the home video release to theoretically follow watching it streaming was a pricy "quasi-import." The series itself, about a high school band setting out on a familiar journey of practice and improvement, was made with the subtle polish of animation familiar with Kyoto Animation (although its character designs also looked familiar in a way that did have me thinking it would be easy to slide into proclaiming "all their series look the same," only to then get the subtle differences rubbed in). I might also have been a bit slow to get around to it because of an impression its most noticeable impact on other fans had been frenzied excitement over some are-they-or-aren't-they innuendo "slashing" two girls in the band or not, given there are a few teenage boys in the ensemble as well. I'm afraid that where I take in the "undeniability" and/or "at least the relationship is the focus" of "girls' love" manga with interest, innuendo (which, to be fair, can also include mixed-sex "shipping") in a story I can identify a bigger ensemble plot in often seems more just "gratuitous tease" to me; still, I could acknowledge the charge somehow added to the interactions of even other girls in the group.

Finishing those start-of-the-year series had me thinking back again, but not too far at first. At the start of the season before, I had noticed some take an interest in a series called Flip Flappers; by the time I'd seen it was available streaming on a service I have a subscription to, though, my viewing schedule seemed full up. Still continuing to to notice interest in it throughout that season, though, I decided to get around to it myself. Starting off as the tale of a diffident girl named Cocona who gets dragged into fantastic adventure by a mysterious girl named Papika, it was soon taking on what I thought of as a up-to-the-moment magical girl flavour, including a comparable and relatable antagonist and a certain amount of slashy innuendo (although that did seem to once more be easier for me to just sort of mix it into the shuffle rather than proclaim it the transcendent justification for the whole thing.) There had been a lot of analysis and discussion about the strange worlds of "Pure Illusion," but I wound up sticking with what works for me with series older than this one and stayed clear of the comment threads still just a few pages back; in any case, it wasn't until the last few episodes that I started thinking not just of contemporary magical girl anime series but also the "post-Evangelion" mecha shows where all the important points were kept a cryptic mystery from the protagonists and audience alike. With Flip Flappers, though, there seemed more than enough mixed into the series that I was able to work out things by myself rather than get annoyed at what I wasn't being told. I suppose I am conscious at the end that had I been watching the series "with everyone else," it might just have overshadowed the other shows I'd watched streaming, so long that is as I'd become a resonator of the most positive opinions towards it.

I have quite a lot of anime DVDs (and some Blu-Rays too) to open, but as I looked to them to find something to open I did have to face excuses that some series "ought to be saved for just the right moment" and thoughts that others "were bought on a thin whim more or less for the free shipping." At last, I decided take the shrink wrap off Full Metal Panic! I'd noticed it promoted back on the upslope of last decade's long boom-and-bust cycle, and even seen its first episode on a promotional DVD included with a now-vanished anime magazine another part of the bubble and burst. By the time I'd got around to buying one of its discount repackagings, though, it was just one more title in the pile. Aware it had been adapted from "light novels" a few years before that trend had really got everyone's notice and with an impression it had a comedy-action mix, I also wondered if it amounted to an early push towards "sure, the characters have fantastic adventures, but they never have to give up the comforting, familiar environs of high school." However, once I'd got started into the series, it did seem more promising. It was able to shift between "high school comedy" and "mecha action" and back again for several plot arcs, the comedy hinging on the troubles of a young special-forces operative not quite familiar with the lives of teenagers who've had happier childhoods than him (without that, the thoughts I had of Aldnoah Zero might have been a bit more unpleasant towards this series too) and the action having a "real robots" flair (although it just so happens the protagonist and antagonist have their hands on advanced models). I wound up thinking the series just might have had a bit more going for it than "it was the closest to promotable at a moment constant promotion of something had become necessary" after all.

I did manage to open one set of DVDs almost as I received it. After "beginning at the beginning" with the first Lupin the Third series from the early 1970s, I'd jumped all the way ahead to the modern The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and the "fourth series" that had followed. Now, I was moving back to the "second series" from the late 1970s, which was being "license rescued" after efforts made the decade before to broaden the tastes of the broader audience. (Every so often, lulled by current expectations and necessities, I had to switch from the default English dub inherited from that previous release to the original Japanese with subtitles I'd forgot wasn't the only track.) The globetrotting adventures of a mismatched quartet of superthieves were entertaining enough to start with taken in moderation as a "weekend series," but the sense a comfortable formula had been set following the shifts of the first series did have me wondering about how this show ran for over a hundred and fifty episodes.

There was enough time left at the end of these three months to watch one more thing, and I had an idea of what to try next. A comment on something else happened on a little while ago had managed to shift my impression on a series from a slight while back now from "just one more light novel-based show bypassed among many" to "if it does comment on this other thing, it could be interesting..." It took just a little care to pick it out by name, though. The lengthy Japanese title is translated right in the original end credits as "My Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong as I Expected," which also got on the cover of the translated light novels here. The streaming videos, though, are tagged with the punchier My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. In the meantime, some fans continue to use the just-as-official assembly of a few Japanese syllables from the title, "Oregairu" (which might threaten to get confused with a different, more infamous series). In any case, while I might have spent the first minutes to episodes of the series imagining direct commentary on the mild wish fulfillments of certain other more famous light novel-based shows, I did begin picking up on something a little distinct and compelling in its own way. The story begins with a loudmouthed teen being assigned as the second member of a "Service Club," but where the elements of the fantastic in other high school anime can seem to give an impression of "the weirdoes who matter" being singled out from "a world that doesn't count," the Service Club had to deal with peers with more conventional viewpoints. It was even tempting for a moment or two to see something of "a story from over here" (as much as that risks falling into the comforting assumptions of "stories from elsewhere" being "safely strange"), and when I supposed the "romantic comedy" was setting in at last (which would, perhaps, have provided a sense of familiarity with different anime series) things veered away again. Deciding to finish both it and Full Metal Panic by the end of the season, I picked up my viewing pace to two episodes a day as when I'd been concentrating on Planetes at the start of the year; I might have been aware of a certain blandness to "Oregairu's" "this is to get you buying the novels" adaptation, though, for all that I realised its original character designs had been drawn by the same artist who'd drawn Shirobako's original character designs (which had then been modified to suit its animation studio's style instead of, perhaps, just looking "watered down.")
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