Shirobako: A two-cour series that started last Fall and ended last week. Almost everyone raved about it and said it was great. I think it’s greater than great. I think it’s…it’s…whatever comes two levels above great. It’s in the same class as Girls und Panzer, which isn’t surprising, given that they’re both from the same director, Mizushima Tsutomu. I’d clamour for a third season in the Fall (there’s enough narrative space for four more seasons, plus a couple of spin-offs), but Mizushima is busy making another GaruPan movie. I’m torn.
It’s an anime about making anime. It’s full of adults, with adult jobs, and adult job issues. It touches on every discipline that uses teams of creative people to produce a product. Any software developer or aeronautical engineer, or movie fan, will recognize it. As with any team project (and few anime) it has an enormous cast, so many that we have to have a nametag popup every time they appear, and yet Mizushima makes it work.
This is what it takes to make an anime
By the time the show is done, you know every person in that picture, and you care about what happens to them, and what their day is like, and you no longer mind paying Japanese rates for anime DVDs. You will also learn a lot about what goes into making an anime. Here is a glossary.
Saekano: A harem show about a high school boy making a Visual Novel harem game. The zeroth episode was shamelessly fanservicy, but after that it calmed down and became more plot oriented.
Unlike most harem shows, the male protagonist isn’t a clueless wimp, he’s a driven otaku, one of the three best known people in the school (OK, so he’s clueless about that), and his goal is to have his dating sim game done in time for the Winter Comiket. All the girls on his team, except the one he recruited as the heroine (pronounced he-roine, rhymes with he-groin), are equally accomplished (as in, they include the other two of the three best known students), with outside creative careers of their own. They are all drawn into his orbit by the sheer force of his desire to make this game. Well, since this is a harem anime, those two are really only concerned with one thing.
Well, I’ve decided … [interjections]… I will build this game
The heroine is a perfectly normal, down to earth girl, who is a lot smarter than she sounds, and drops amazingly funny lines in a totally deadpan voice.
The fact that it’s a computer game within an anime allows them to constantly push up against the 4th wall. A scene will start with a monologue that sounds like it’s talking to you, the anime audience, but turn out to be a discussion of the game. The tropes that play out in the game, also play out in the anime, and the characters (otaku all) recognize them when they happen “How can I compete against her, a childhood friend born on the same day in the same hospital?”.
After the usual travails (see: Shirobako) the final episode arrives, and a final burst of energy delivers…the first full path through the game. The game’s not done. The harem situation is unresolved. There has to be at least one more season.
Gourmet Girl Graffitti: It’s been described as food porn, but it’s more than that. It’s food porn plus! Young girl, living alone since her grandmother died, discovers anew the Joy of Snacks when her cousin comes to stay for weekends while going to cram school with her. Both of them have a tendency to orgasm over good food, and Studio Shaft is there to document the phenomenon.
What’s for Lunch?
There’s more to it than that, of course. This is a story about family, and growing, and eating and recovering from grief, and preparing for highschool and the explosive wonderfulness of a mouthful of omurice as it bursts across your taste-buds and… Sorry.
The Well-Cooked Bamboo Shoot…
On the way, you get a series of one-minute demonstrations on how to cook these delicious meals, and you’ll end every episode hungry for fresh bamboo shoots, or smoked mackerel, or whatever the food of the day is.
…makes me wish I could chew on it forever
The art is good, and the animation is acceptable, the character designs are spot on, and somehow the girls look a sultry ten years older whenever they slide a forkfull of food into their mouths. Good job, Shaft. Good job.
KanColle: The Japanese love their military, and they really love their Navy, even though it’s still not politically correct to admit it. 2013 gave us Arpeggio of Blue Steel, featuring an alien fleet of intelligent ships styled after warships of WWII, crewed by artificial intelligences in the form of young girls. 2015 brings us KanColle, originally the browser based cardgame Kantai Collection. Here, an alien fleet is opposed by a fleet of young girls, imbued with the souls of IJN ships of WWII, and rigged out with equipment that’s reminiscent of those warships. So, the destroyer girls carry hip-mounted torpedo racks, and the carrier girls have bows that launch squadrons of fighters, and shields that look like, and act as, carrier decks.
The plot tracks the events of WWII, opening with an attack on island “WI”, continuing to a big carrier battle off the “Coral Islands”, and ending with Operation MI, AKA the Battle of Midway, with the big question being, can the girls avoid the fate that awaited the IJN at Midway?
The problem is, the show doesn’t know if it wants to be an ad for Kantai Collection, a comedy, a tragedy, a buddy movie, or an echo of WWII, so it tries to be all five. It probably could have pulled off two of them, but it just ended up being inconsistent, incoherent, and scatterbrained. A lot of things are insider jokes for Kantai Collection players, or for WWII buffs. One aniblog found it necessary to post multiscreen summaries by two different authors, detailing the game and war references after every episode. There are, I am told, over 60 ships in the game, and the anime tried to shove as many of them as possible across the screen. Mizushima Tsutomu might have been able to pull it off. KanColle couldn’t.
The Fleet Girls in Action
Still, it’s a fun bit of popcorn, particularly for WWII buffs, and you don’t often get to see formations of archer-maidens roller-blading across the ocean.
Yona of the Dawn: I know, I know, I gave it very short shrift last Fall, when the first of the two cours started. And I stand by what I said. The heroine (spoiled daughter of a soon-to-be-murdered king) was a brat, and the script exploited the “talk is free” loophole shamelessly.* But Fem over at FemService convinced me to try it again, and I have to admit it was quite good.
It turned out to be both a quest and a journey of discovery. The script settled down, and didn’t involve quite so many villainous speeches. Unfortunately, the art and animation weren’t all that great. Fortunately, the characters and their interactions more than made up for it. Yona plays off of each of them, and they play off each other. Side characters are constantly upstaging her, and that’s OK. Along the way, she grows, and becomes stronger and tougher. Early on, she escapes a captor who has grabbed her by her long red hair, not by stabbing him with the sword she’s holding, but by using it to cut off her hair.
The True Leader Does What is Necessary
At the end, she’s willing to use deadly force to gain her goals. Since the season ends with her finally putting together her team of “dragons”, after cleaning up a seaport that has become a hive of scum and villainy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one more cour. After all, there’s a murdered king to avenge.
Yurikuma Arashi: Lesbian teddy-bears infiltrate a girls’ school and eat the lilys.** This is another show that popular acclaim forced me to reconsider. Gorgeous art. Excellent framing. A complex story about genderness and bullying and rejection and acceptance. Complex on many levels, with tropes and symbolism that are orthogonal to this old white male’s weltanschauung. Starts off slow, and never really picks up speed, and you need a flow chart to track the character interactions. Multiple flashbacks; multiple POVs; multiple reveals. Not particularly fanservice oriented, unless the sight of intertwined naked middle school girls turns you on, in which case you are either too young to be reading this blog, or you need to schedule your analyst for some serious overtime. Marvelous ending.
*The Talk is Free loophole says that any fight, or any dramatic moment can be paused indefinitely while the characters spend any amount of time exposiating, with no penalty on either side. This is similar in concept to German separable verbs, as described by Mark Twain.
**For those not plugged into the proper argot, yuri (百合, ゆり), is Japanese for lily, with a more recently added meaning of female homosexuality.