Peter, Caitlin, and Lizzie look back on the 2020 Netflix anime slate, from stellar strong ladies to disappointing cons.
Date Recorded: December 19th, 2020
Hosts: Peter, Caitlin, Lizzie
0:11:10 Drifting Dragons
0:31:18 Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045
0:34:20 Hi-Score Girl
0:34:49 Japan Sinks
0:40:59 Great Pretender
PETER: Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Peter. I’m a producer at Crunchyroll and an editor at Anime Feminist. And today I am joined by Caitlin and Lizzie. If you two would like to introduce yourselves…
CAITLIN: Hi. This is Caitlin. I am the technical editor—managing editor—for Anime Feminist, and I also write a lot of reviews for Anime News Network these days. And I am recording my second podcast of the day.
LIZZIE: I’m Lizzie. I am an editor at Anime Feminist. You can find my stuff on AniFam or on my site at NerdyBoliviane.com.
PETER: And today we are going to talk about Netflix anime. We have had a lot of discussions as to how we can properly cover Netflix since it has such a strange release schedule that rarely matches up with seasons or the actual release dates for the shows. So, as part of these discussions, we’ve just decided that we’d do a sort of end-of-the-year wrap-up of at least all the Netflix anime that we have watched.
So, the order on this is going to be a little bit strange since we’re just going by chronological date that the anime released, since it’s hard to keep track of when they jump up on Netflix. Means the order might be a little strange for this show. And hopefully, we’ll still have things to talk about by the time we hit the more recent ones.
That means we’ll be hitting things off with Dorohedoro, the story of… I guess, mostly about Caiman—but it’s about a lot of things—a guy with a lizard head, who is trying to find the wizard who turned his head into a lizard head, so that he can not have a lizard head anymore, and all of the cute and varied cast of serial killers he hangs out with/fights along the way. I think everybody has a pretty… Lizzie, did you watch this one?
LIZZIE: Yeah, I’m actually watching it now. I mean, I’m halfway.
PETER: Okay, fair.
LIZZIE: Yeah, I like it so far. I guess what I really like is how gory the show is. It’s very unapologetic about it.
CAITLIN: See, I actually avoided the manga for a long time because I heard a lot about how gory it is and I’m not into gore. I’m not a big fan, so I was like, “You know, it sounds great, but I don’t think it’s for me.” But then the anime came out and I watched it to review, and I ended up completely falling in love with it; falling in love with Noi—and everyone in it, but especially Noi.
PETER: Yeah, everybody is very cute.
PETER: Which is very weird because they’re usually also very violently murdering one another, and it’s interesting how the series maintains this balance of ultraviolent, merciless killers who all spend a lot of time also hanging out and eating food and wearing weird outfits and participating in strange wizard holidays in this really gruesome-looking, sticky world. You really love every single character in the world and want to hang out with them, even at risk of terrible death, like being cut in half and then wrapped around another person to make an idiot sandwich.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s really interesting how they strike that balance, because the sorcerers are very much a more privileged class than the people on the whole—and with the magic practice they do, transfiguring people’s heads and stuff—are very much like an oppressor class. But they still manage to make the sorcerers so likable.
When I watched the first episode, I was like, “Okay, the sorcerers are the antagonists and there’s some banality to their evil.” You can see my first-episode review. But then as the series went on, because I knew about Noi and Shin, I was like, “Oh, Noi and Shin are sorcerers! Are they the bad guys?” It’s like, “No, not really.” It’s just a lot more… I don’t know if I would call it complicated, but it doesn’t just boil down to that.
PETER: Yeah. There are some sort of surface-level themes about societal inequity, but I don’t really know if that’s the kind of story Q Hayashida wanted to write at the end of the day, since all the supposed villain sorcerers become main characters. And yeah, I really love Noi and Shin and Ebisu, and even En is super charming and, I guess, the de facto villain.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] En is so good!
PETER: Kinda like this weird, evil mushroom-themed Billy Mays.
PETER: You end up kinda liking all the characters. I’ve read through all the manga, so I kinda know how it rolls out, and I don’t really think, at the end of the day, Q Hayashida was really trying to say anything, which is kind of weird, since the story… There’s something I’m probably going to be talking about with Beastars as well, where a lot of things are happening but ultimately it seems to just be about nothing. You’re just hanging out with the characters, or it jumps around to a different bunch of story types all at once.
And I think with Dorohedoro, it really succeeded in that, since it’s got a bunch of concurrent plots running, which it jumps in and out of. And sometimes it seems like Q Hayashida just wanted to write the characters having a cookoff with pies or something like that, rather than murdering each other or trying to advance Caiman’s plot or En’s backstory or something like that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And normally, I’m very much like, “I want series to be about something. I want them to have some sort of thematic thrust.” But with Dorohedoro, it’s so charming and the worldbuilding is really, really fascinating. After a certain point, it became interesting that she was a lot more interested in developing the sorcerers’ world and their society.
And it’s stuff like the masks. At first it seems like they’re doing it to keep anonymity, but after a while it starts to seem like you’re not fully dressed if you’re not wearing your mask. And the stuff with the demons and… Yeah. It’s just really, really interesting, and as the story goes, you see more and more of this very familiar but also unfamiliar culture. So, yeah, it’s just super cool to see development play out.
PETER: And I guess we should touch on the adaptation a little bit as well. I feel really conflicted because I think MAPPA did… the backgrounds are awesome. Probably some of the most standout, cool backgrounds I’ve seen in maybe any anime ever. And the voice cast do a really great job. It’s got some really psychedelic animation sequences, like when Shin’s killing some guys, it’s got rainbow blood splatters flying all over this dingy bathroom wall. And the regeneration animation, where you can see the cells reconstructing themselves, stuff like that.
But a lot of the time, it does have CG in it. I kinda found myself really falling in and out of really not liking it, and other times… I don’t know if it was me being okay with it or just more resigned. I really wish it had been 2D-animated, but that’s when I realized there’s a lot of limitations, considering how complex the designs of everything in the anime are.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I wish they had… And Kim Morrissy, Frog-kun, wrote an article on this for ANN, but I wish that the direction had taken advantage of that CG a little bit more. I do generally prefer 2D, but there is stuff you can do with CG that is hard to do with 2D. Or if they had gone with the Ufotable method of first animating everything in CG and then drawing over it with 2D, I think that would have been a really cool-looking show.
But also, we’ll get more into CG anime when we’re talking about Drifting Dragons and stuff, I’m sure. And I feel like the characters are a little bit more potato-faced in the anime. They still look very appealing, but they’re just a little bit more rounder and chubbier looking.
PETER: Yeah, there’s this style where they’re really trying to emulate what it looks like 2D, with the outlines and matte colors inside the characters. I always come back to Bubuki Buranki as the CG anime that I really like, but it really committed to its 3D aesthetic and designed the characters as 3D. And I have to wonder a lot of the time what the characters would look like if the production wasn’t so obsessed with making them look like they were 2D when they were 3D models; if it had committed to making them 3D.
Because Land of the Lustrous also did that, where it didn’t really try to make the characters look like 2D models at any time, but really incorporated them into these similarly outstanding backgrounds in a much more organic way. They had much simpler character designs, so… In fact, all of the bodies in that series are identical for the Lustrous, so it was probably a lot easier.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and there are some hand-drawn shots in Dorohedoro that look gorgeous.
PETER: For sure.
CAITLIN: Also, just want to put out there, Noi is my huge, beautiful wife.
PETER: Noi’s great. I love Noi.
CAITLIN: She is a giant Great Pyrenees puppy of a woman, and I just love her so much.
PETER: Lizzie, did you have any final thoughts or should we move on?
LIZZIE: Pretty much, I think Caitlin wrapped that up. I have a huge crush on Nikaido and Noi. I just love the way their bodies were animated. And something about the way their muscular bodies seem… I wouldn’t say realistic, but it just feels right. They’re not so over the top. They’re just muscular and powerful, and they have personalities. So, yeah, those are the two standout characters for me in this show.
PETER: Okay. The next one, I think, just Caitlin has been watching it despite my best intentions to finally catch up with the series: Drifting Dragons.
CAITLIN: Yeah… That was one that I watched because of professional obligations. I didn’t end up caring for it in the end. It’s kind of… It’s about whaling. Let’s just put it out on the table. The dragons are whales. It is steampunk whaling, only in the sky instead of the ocean. And whaling is a really controversial issue, of course.
In the end, I don’t really like how it handled it, because there were some really… It tries to walk a line with “Oh, yeah, we hunt and kill them, but in a way that is respectful.” And I eat meat. I’m not opposed to hunting. I’ve eaten venison. But a lot of species of whales are endangered, and this is something that is controversial in Japan and worldwide, so it felt kind of propagandistic. If it were just about hunting as a whole, that would be one thing. But once again, it’s about whaling in particular.
And they try to be like, “Well, there are these indigenous cultures where whaling is a really important part of their ceremonies and their art and stuff like that.” It’s like, okay, well, sure, but that’s not what the main characters are. The main characters are the ones who are just sitting there talking about how much they love to eat whales.
And at the end, there was this really… It was just really awkward, where they kill a dragon and the main character, whose name I can’t think of right now… They kill a dragon, and then she gets stranded and finds a baby dragon and realizes the dragon that they killed was its mother.
PETER: Oh, no.
CAITLIN: And she feeds the baby mayonnaise made out of its mother…
PETER: Oh, God! Okay. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: And at the end, when they find her and they find a herd or a pod of dragons or whatever and they release the baby to go with them, and she’s like, “Grow up big and strong so someday I can hunt you and eat you.”
PETER: That’s, uh…
LIZZIE: That’s messy.
CAITLIN: It’s weird. It’s a Polygon Pictures anime, and it’s probably the first Polygon Pictures anime that actually has colors. So, that was good. The dragons looked really cool and otherworldly, but I didn’t really care for the way the people were animated, especially since the manga has this really gorgeous, Nausicaä-inspired art—which is another really weird thing, because Nausicaä is a manga that’s about preserving the environment and living in harmony with nature, and it is very blatantly inspired by it. And this is a series about killing and eating nature, that’s not really particularly concerned with living in harmony with it.
But the manga has this really gorgeous, detailed art, and the CG they use kinda smooths it out. The baggy, practical flight suits are just very smooth. They have huge butts. [chuckles] So, yeah, I thought the animation did not do the manga justice. It had some good parts, but in the end, it’s still pro-whaling propaganda.
LIZZIE: That’s too bad, because it sounds like it could have had something to say about having to coexist with the nature and the spiritual aspects of that, but it doesn’t even do that right, so…
PETER: I’ve heard it’s kinda like a fantasy cooking thing, kinda like Dungeon Meshi. Do they really get into the food?
CAITLIN: Yeah. There’s some very serious food porn in it.
PETER: Okay. I could see them wanting to focus on that and using it as a place setting, but it does seem, from what you’re saying, like it makes efforts to attach itself to even the politics around whaling, so it’s hard to just say it’s a fantasy version of that that’s not reflective of real life. It took effort specifically to do that to itself, is what you’re saying.
PETER: Okay. So, it opened itself to criticism there. That’s unfortunate. Also, the fact that CG strikes again.
PETER: Polygon… I think their work with Tsutomu Nihei stuff is pretty good because Tsutomu Nihei himself doesn’t seem very interested in drawing people. But anything Miyazaki-esque, that’s hard to adapt in that CG style, for sure. Tragic.
LIZZIE: That sucks. Ultimately, it sounds like it was just about propaganda and ultimately about nothing.
PETER: Well, the next one, I think all of us have watched, which is Beastars, TRIGGER’s new anime about—
CAITLIN: Wait. Nope. Try again.
PETER: Oh, did I say— I was thinking BNA when I said that. What is BNA? Oh, it’s just beneath it. Beastars, BNA, same thing. Okay, next is Beastars, based on Paru Itagaki’s manga?
PETER: Yeah, about… well, I kinda lost the thread, personally, because I thought it was about a mystery murder in a school that had a lot of political issues around there being carnivorous and herbivorous animals in it, and then it became about high school drama with one person trying to become a de facto student body president, and then it became about wider cultural issues, and then it became about the yakuza coming in and wanting to eat people.
Now I’m not sure what it’s about. I guess I just sort of gave away the ghost about how I feel about it.
PETER: Maybe you two should share your thoughts?
LIZZIE: Overall, I really liked it. The atmosphere was super chill for the most part when it was just focused on the high school drama.
I like the main character, Lugoshi. He’s just super chilled, and there’s something about him that… I think they were trying to say something about privilege with him, in regards to… he’s aware, because he’s a carnivore and he’s a wolf on top of that, that he has to practice certain restraint. Otherwise, he is going to harm the herbivores around him if he doesn’t control himself in that way. But it seems like for the most part, his other carnivore friends don’t seem to agree and they want to explore that side of themselves, and he’s not down with that.
But yeah, overall, I liked it. I think I’m kinda lenient with season one because they’re just introducing us to the world, especially the Black Market. I know there’s probably going to be more on that on season two. But overall, I liked all the characters. Haru was my favorite. She’s super sweet, and she’s just down-to-earth and pretty realistic about some things.
CAITLIN: By the way, I’m curious. Are you guys watching these series subbed or dubbed?
PETER: I watched it subbed.
CAITLIN: All right, I watched it dubbed, which was fun because, A) Netflix’s dubs are generally very good, especially compared to the sameyness of Funimation’s current dubs… And I watched… Did I watch everything we’ve talked about so…? No, I watched Dorohedoro in Japanese.
But I watched Drifting Dragons in English as well, which was very strange because the main girl has the same voice actor as Morgana from Persona 5, which I was playing at the same time that I was watching it. And it was the same voice, so it was very, very jarring. But not as jarring as Haru having the same voice actor as Kari from Digimon, which I know weirded a lot of people out to hear the voice they associated with Kari talking about a wolf boy’s pubes. [chuckles]
PETER: Yeah, I could see that throwing off my impressions of the characters. I like Lugoshi and Haru, and I don’t remember… who’s the deer guy? What’s his name?
CAITLIN: [frustrated] Shit!
LIZZIE: Louis? [Pronounced like “Lewis”] Louis? [Pronounced like “Louie”]
PETER: Louis? [Pronounced like “Louie”] Yeah. I thought their relationships with one another—the triangle of their relationships—was very interesting, and I think one of my main problems with the series was that it kept getting distracted from that. The play thing and the Beastar thing, I think, really developed it well, but then once it got into the Black Market and developing the world, none of that seemed to be doing anything interesting.
I really hated the panda guy because I felt like he wasted an episode or two explaining to Lugoshi, as an avatar for the audience, what his internal struggle was, which we already understood based on the narrative. It had been delivered to us already, so I’m like, “Why are you explaining this after you did so much legwork just showing it to us?” It showed us, then it told us, which felt like the weirdest thing ever.
Then, the Shishigumi plot, I just did not understand why that happened at all, and it made me lose a lot of confidence in the writing of the series because I don’t know what it’s trying to do anymore. It just seems to be a collection of random events happening to its main cast now.
LIZZIE: My impression of the panda was just mostly being: cautioning Lugoshi about the dangers if you fall into your desires as a carnivore. I guess he brought up a good example about [how] you can sort of rehabilitate from it, but I wonder, can that really be applicable to everyone who’s too far gone? That’s what I got from him.
Since Lugoshi hasn’t really done anything, I think he’s just keeping an eye on him to see if he’ll falter. But beyond that, I just felt like he gave Lugoshi a little bit of a reality check of how difficult it is for carnivores to go back, even if you get a little bit of a taste of eating a herbivore.
PETER: We already understood that, though, didn’t we? Because Lugoshi had been conflicted in his feelings about Haru because he’s like, “Oh, wait, do I like her? Do I want to eat her?” And then, when the guys were buying the finger on the Black Market, he did not want to do that. He seems afraid of the idea of eating an herbivore.
So, I feel like he had already recognized the urges that he has and the fact that he wants to distance himself from that and is confused about whether the feelings he has toward Haru are part of his predation instincts or if he actually likes her.
LIZZIE: I guess for me, I kind of like that at least he has somebody to talk to about it. Because I felt like with his friends, he wasn’t really going to get that, because a few of them were pretty eager to buy that finger. So, if nothing else, I hope he’ll be like a mentor so he can be honest about his urges, at least with somebody who… what is he, a psychiatrist? He does something.
PETER: He literally just said, “I made this my hobby,” didn’t he? Rehabilitating predators.
LIZZIE: Yeah. Well, either way, I hope he’s a mentor to him where he has somebody to be honest with, because I don’t think he’s gonna get that from anywhere else. I think the school has good intentions of showing what can be possible, but the reality is much harsher than what the school wants us to believe.
PETER: Okay. I guess, as part of a future role, I could see Panda filling a void that Lugoshi’s friends just don’t give him the opportunity to discuss any of that stuff, or even society in general, since they seem to feel pretty comfortable within it. So, that makes sense. I guess a lot is riding on the next season.
LIZZIE: The gang thing was weird. I’m not entirely sure what happened there, but I guess they’ll elaborate that in season two; and it helps, too, that I think the manga has wrapped up, as well. So, we might be finding out the ending to that soon, when it gets translated.
PETER: Well, maybe we can return to it in the future. Did you have any other thoughts on it, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: I do just want to give quick mention to the animation, which… Orange is the best in the business. They are pretty much the only studio that I really, fully trust with CG, because they do a lot of interesting things with it and clearly work really hard. But I don’t have anything, really, to add to the discussion of the story.
LIZZIE: Yeah, just to add to that briefly, it just felt so natural. Sometimes you would see the way their fur moves… I guess I wasn’t expecting that, but I know Orange… they’re well known in the business for doing really good CG, so I’m glad that they handled Beastars, because I cannot imagine how this would have looked if another studio did it.
CAITLIN: Definitely not as good.
PETER: Another area where I feel conflicted, because as much as I like what they’re doing with Beastars, I can’t help but think, “What if they were just making another season of Land of the Lustrous?” But hopefully, we’ll get that in the future, anyway.
Okay, let’s move on to BNA for real this time. BNA is an anime by Studio TRIGGER, which is… I think with… Oh, my God, what was the fireman anime called? Promare?
PETER: Yeah. With Promare, you watched it and you’re like, “Is TRIGGER trying to say something?” Normally, they do a humble-group-of-rebels-taking-on-The-Man–type series, but Promare really seemed to be trying to tackle some bigger societal themes. And I feel like in BNA, there’s just no question about it.
CAITLIN: Lizzie, you did a whole episode about this, right?
PETER: Yeah, this one… We have a whole podcast on it, so I don’t know if we need to get too deep.
LIZZIE: I mean, we could get your impressions on it, the two of you, and what you thought about it. I already said my piece. I had fun with it. There are some messy things that are perpetuated because trying to use animals as allegories to say something can reinforce oppression on certain marginalized groups. But having said all of that, I still had a good time with BNA.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I really enjoyed it. I agree that it was a little messy at times, a little inconsistent. But it had its heart in the right place.
One moment that has really stuck with me was the episode with the albatross. I’m not remembering anyone’s names today. Sorry, y’all. He’s talking to Michiru about how beast people fighting for legal recognition means that certain ancestral ways of life have become more of a struggle. Now that he is recognized as a citizen of a place and seen in society, he’s supposed to be beholden to borders.
But he’s not just a person; he’s also an albatross, and albatrosses need to migrate. It’s what they do. That’s his instinct. And I thought that was really interesting and potentially a really powerful allegory. So, that is probably the one thing that stuck with me most.
PETER: I do think it— For a while, I was extremely worried because very near the end it started saying some things about racial purity and mixing races, but then I think the next episode went “But not really.” It did a very TRIGGER thing at the end where it double-escalated the conflict of the story, and I’m glad it escalated that second time, because if it was just the first, it would have really changed the meaning of basically the entire anime.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think any time that you use something other than race as an allegory for race, there are gonna be some moments where it’s like, [inhales sharply] uh, that doesn’t quite work. “Uh, well, they’re afraid of them and treat them like they’re different because they are different and more powerful,” as opposed to race—where that is all socially constructed—and racism. But yeah, it’s always going to be a little messy. But I do think Beastars pulls it off better than others. I said Beastars.
PETER: Beastars again? I hate that both of them start with B. Oh, you said Beastars or I said Beastars?
CAITLIN: I said Beastars.
CAITLIN: My fault this time.
PETER: No offense, but I’m relieved it wasn’t me. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah, Netflix just went really hard on the furry anime this year.
PETER: Yeah, so similar, both start with a B. It’s just cruelty to us.
Here’s the part where I try to remember my experience watching Ghost in the Shell 2045. I just remember being very unimpressed with it. The anime is really focusing on the investigation done by—God, I can’t remember his name—the young guy in their group, who uses a service revolver and doesn’t have any implants. And a lot of the ground it’s retreading is what it was doing with the Laughing Man in the original Ghost in the Shell series, but in a much less elegant way and without really any sort of broader message it’s trying to tell. I think the CG doesn’t look great either.
It’s obviously opening itself up for a season two since the ending was basically just a “To Be Continued” kind of thing. I can’t say I’m very optimistic about where the show is going. I feel like I should be saying more, but I just feel like it was—
CAITLIN: You’re on your own here.
PETER: Yeah, it was sorta just a letdown. It was great hearing all the original voice cast reprising their roles, and you do get some of their old repartee back. So, it’s nice, if you really are a fan of Ghost in the Shell, just sitting with the characters as they talk shit.
But I feel like the anime doesn’t know what it’s about and has focused on the less attractive features of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Then again, it does have some pretty fucking big boots to fill with some of its past directors, so I sympathize with it there, but I still feel like it could have easily been about anything, as opposed to nothing.
CAITLIN: I do love that dub cast. You don’t hear them in anime very often anymore.
PETER: Oh, I’ve never heard it dubbed. Does it also have a really iconic cast for the—
CAITLIN: Oh, you were talking about the Japanese cast.
PETER: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CAITLIN: Okay. I don’t know why I assumed dub. So, now I need to know, did they bring back the dub cast for this? Because it’s like Mary McGlynn and Crispin Freeman and Richard Epcar… Yeah, looks like they got that cast back.
PETER: Yeah, they seem to be good about that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I love all of them, and none of them do anime very often anymore, which I don’t blame them because apparently anime dubbing does not pay great, and [they can] make way more money for way less work in video games. So, no shade, but I miss them. I miss them.
PETER: Unless it’s Netflix footing the bill, I guess. Okay, for the next one… Hm, we’re gonna leave Great Pretender for last because I imagine all of us have a lot to say.
CAITLIN and LIZZIE: [chuckle]
PETER: I’m actually not sure any of us have watched any of these, so I’m just gonna run them to recognize their existence before we get to the last series we’re gonna talk about. There’s Hi-Score Girl, which I know Chiaki is watching. I’m not sure if Vrai’s watched any. Or maybe Chiaki’s just tried to get Vrai to watch some.
CAITLIN: I watched the first season. I just never got back to it.
PETER: Okay. Well, if you want more Hi-Score Girl, you can follow Chiaki on Twitter. I’ve seen her live tweets about it, and she seems to be enjoying the show. And from what I hear, season one was pretty good, so it doesn’t seem like it really flipped the table or anything on what it’s been doing.
Japan Sinks, unfortunately, none of us have watched, I don’t believe.
LIZZIE: I actively avoided it because it’s such a downer.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I don’t have the heart to watch it.
PETER: Yeah, Chiaki, I think, is the only member of our staff who has watched it and she doesn’t seem to… [chuckles] I don’t know if she’s really interested in talking about it.
CAITLIN: The only person I know who really likes it is Lynzee from ANN.
PETER: Okay. I can kind of see the appeal. It just wasn’t— [sighs] Yuasa just came off of maybe his most dark project with Devilman, and it felt like a “Devilman, but real life” kind of thing. I know it’s based on a novel by an entire separate author, but this soon, I don’t feel like I needed another apocalyptic anime by Science SARU.
LIZZIE: And plus, this year has been pretty brutal, so, ideally, I want to try to watch things that uplift me.
PETER: Or just not so rooted in realistic tragedy, yeah.
CAITLIN: Seems like the kind of thing that would make me really anxious to watch.
PETER: Well, next is Aggretsuko, which, Caitlin, you have watched, or—?
CAITLIN: Just a few episodes. I didn’t get very far before I had to do other things.
LIZZIE: I watched all of it.
PETER: Okay, great. So, you both can talk about it. I hear the seasons after one have been a bit of a roller coaster.
LIZZIE: Oh, gosh. I really hated season three because… On the one hand, I appreciate that the show tries to be honest about how hard adult life is. But I also kind of hate that the show constantly pushes Aggretsuko down any time she decides to get out of her comfort zone to do something for herself, and it’s almost as if life or the show immediately punishes her for that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it seems like it spends a lot of time going, “You should just go back to living your life how you were doing it before, even if you were kind of bored and aimless.” Season two, I wasn’t big on, and I feel like season three with the idol stuff—and I haven’t watched it, so this is just presumption on my part—it seems like it’s getting away from the relatability that made people really like Aggretsuko. So, yeah, it just seemed like a really weird choice.
LIZZIE: One of the biggest tragedies of season three is Anai gets a girlfriend and he gets a successful cooking book published. And that annoys me because he was the most annoying thing about season two—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] That guy sucks.
LIZZIE: Yeah, he was the most annoying thing about season two. He’s not prominent in season three, but we see a little bit of him, and he’s doing fine. [chuckles] It’s not fair to Aggretsuko, who has to deal with everyone’s BS on the daily, yet their lives are okay.
But yeah, I kinda thought season three was gonna go into Aggretsuko finally… because she likes to sing. That was one of the very few things that she had that she could unwind. I thought the show was gonna do something interesting with that and her pursuing that on the side while still being at her soul-draining job. But no, the show punishes her for that, too.
I mean, I get that they wanted to focus on saying something about the idol industry. That’s fair. But most of the time, I just felt it was mean-spirited towards her. The ending is kind of open-ended and you’re not sure where it goes… I don’t know.
I also hate Haida in this one. I miss Haida from season one. I want him back. He just becomes really desperate in this season to get anywhere with Aggretsuko, even though she’s already said, “I’m not interested in you in that way.”
CAITLIN: [disappointed] Mm.
LIZZIE: Yeah, he just becomes really pathetic. In the last episode, the resolution to her getting out of her funk, after she was almost attacked by a fan of the group she belonged to… I felt it was really cheap. I guess to give context to that a little bit, to get her out of her funk, he tries confessing to her again—
LIZZIE: Yeah, even though she’s not in the headspace for that at all. I saw some BS hot takes on Twitter about that as to why he did it, but I still think there could have been other ways to get her out of her funk. Anyway—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It sounds like it covers a lot of the same ground as Not Your Idol, but not as well. Not Your Idol’s good. Y’all should read it.
PETER: So, does it seem like it’s like a sitcom where any time Aggretsuko tries to change the dynamic of the world, it pushes her back into the situation where she’s working at the place and doing karaoke on the side, so nothing really needs to change at the end of the day, that kind of thing?
LIZZIE: Yep, pretty much. You got it down, Peter. You did it. You summarized all my thoughts really well.
PETER: Okay. So, in the name of sitcom, Aggretsuko is just made to suffer in office worker hell forever, basically.
LIZZIE: Yeah, she’s not destined to ever change or have ambitions aside from working a 9-to-5 job on the daily.
PETER: Dang. Brutal.
LIZZIE: I’m still very mad about that season. [chuckles] Gosh. Oh, gosh. I remember everything and I don’t want to.
PETER: [laughs] That’s like the most damning review I think I’ve ever heard. “I remember it all and I wish I didn’t.” Okay. Well, I think that’s a good point of transition to our next series.
CAITLIN: [sighs heavily]
PETER: Yeah, the main purpose of this podcast might just be to talk about this one. It’s The Great Pretender. It’s by—
CAITLIN: [sighs lengthily, as if deeply unhappy and a little unsettled]
LIZZIE: [groans in endless agony]
PETER: —Studio Wit. Anime original. I think it’s written by the same guy who did… was it 91 Days?
LIZZIE: Yeah, he was a director for that one, and they got some other guy… I know there’s an article on Anime News Network as to his name, but as usual his name escapes me. The writer for Great Pretender, he wrote for live-action movies and drama, so this is his first time writing for an animated series. Yeah. But the director is well known for loving heist movies and all that jazz. 91 Days, I heard, is really good, and I’ll get to that eventually.
PETER: I guess I’ll just launch right into one of my big grievances with this, is I find it really hard to believe anyone working on this series was a fan of heist movies or knows anything about heist movies because I’m not sure if there’s any real heist in the entire series. All of them are just the characters stealing the money or extorting the money from the guy and then doing a bunch of unnecessary stuff after the fact to also style on them. I think each time with the heist, they essentially have the person’s money and then trick them after that…
PETER: For no reason, except maybe the very first heist, where they essentially just pretend to be cops and said, “Just give us your money, or we’ll put you in prison,” which I feel… they could have just held a gun to his head and made him do the same thing. Of all the things this series did badly, this seems like the weirdest one to complain about out the gate, but…
PETER: I love heist movies myself, personally, and at no point was I just like, “Oh, man, what a cool idea”; or when they do the reveal, it’s like, “Oh, wow, so many things make sense in context.” All of them are just like, “This was super basic” or “You just spent like a million dollars making your petty robbery look really impressive.”
CAITLIN: I’m not super into heist movies. I’ve watched a few because I have a friend who’s really into that.
PETER: [crosstalk] Ocean’s Eleven.
CAITLIN: Whatever, not my thing. So, personally, I enjoyed this. I was not sitting there like, “Well, this is just a really low-level heist movie.” I enjoyed all the machinations and the reveal and stuff. Although by the end of case three, it was starting to feel a little formulaic, because it looks like it’s going okay, and then it looks like things are going off the rails, but it was actually all according to Laurent’s plan.
PETER: That’s heist movies. [laughs]
CAITLIN: I enjoyed them. I enjoyed all the first three arcs. Not perfect, but I enjoyed them, and I liked how each one felt like a self-contained… You could watch them like a movie if you wanted to skip the opening and ending, although I don’t know why you would, because they’re both so good. But the fourth case was just [shudders verbally] so bad. So bad!
LIZZIE: It was— Oh, gosh. You know what I do like? I like scams, and on that note, everyone should check out The Scam Goddess. But having said that, I don’t mind spectacles in heists or scams because if you look into other podcasts about that stuff, there are really over-the-top scams that have happened. I just feel Great Pretenders just did not bother looking at some source material on that stuff.
For the most part, I overall really like Great Pretender. Like Caitlin said, the first three arcs can be self-contained. I had my grievances about the Singapore arc in terms of Abby’s storyline. That was just really annoying because there’s just no way there can be a way to wrap up her trauma about being an ex-child soldier in the way that they did. I wish they offered a more long-term solution to how she can deal with that trauma. But it just felt very cheap for her character.
But yeah, case four was just frustrating to watch from beginning to end. I don’t understand why on Twitter a lot of people really liked case four. It just narratively—
CAITLIN: I haven’t seen anyone liking case four on Twitter.
LIZZIE: No, I’ve seen a lot of people who did like it.
LIZZIE: And I’m like, “I don’t get it.” It’s frustrating. And I feel like towards the end the show forgot its initial premise, which was to scam the rich—scam people who you know are not ever going to be punished for being shitty and being corrupt. But instead, the ones that they scammed are the ones sort of redeemed.
And I’m like, “Why? Why couldn’t you center the folks who you helped along the way that would come back in case four and help out whatever Makoto’s plan—” I don’t even understand what Makoto’s plan was in the end, in case four, but it could’ve been so much better. There’s so many ways that this writing could have been fixed.
CAITLIN: So, the thing that I feel like case four really revealed to me was just how empty the show is. Case four… And talking about it in terms of cases always makes me feel like we’re talking about Ace Attorney, which is a game that understood that at the big climax, in the final case, you need to wrap up the plot threads and you need to do it in a way that is not just fun but also emotionally satisfying; feeling like the characters are finishing in a different place than they started… And Great Pretender didn’t understand that at all.
There was no real emotional throughline to this show. When Makoto burst out screaming at his dad and at Laurent towards the end, I was like, “Yeah! Yeah!” It felt really good for a moment. But then, at the end of the episode, he was just like, “It was all part of the plan.” It’s always all part of the plan. And meanwhile, he was selling children!
LIZZIE: Ah, God, yeah.
CAITLIN: Maybe it was part of the plan for Laurent and Ozaki, but he genuinely thought that he was selling children! And that’s not okay! That is the point of no return for a character! No! Sorry, no, he’s a villain now, and there’s no redeeming that.
PETER: I mean, the final arc made villains of everyone, basically.
CAITLIN: It’s like its lightness jumped right over the shocking human rights abuses that they are committing. At least in the first season, the guy who was doing the sleazy stuff was the villain. And also, Lizzie, like you said, he gets to come back and be one of the buddies in the end.
And the whole thing’s like: Laurent uses people. He gets no comeuppance. We learn his whole backstory, but the backstory is basically people he loved died and he joined a bunch of scam artists that are basically Robin Hood.
I didn’t feel like I knew Laurent better. I didn’t feel like I had a much stronger sense of who he is now or how he feels about things. Does he feel emotionally unattached? What does that do to him? That’s not a good way to live. That’s not a healthy way to live. But he’s just carrying on carrying on, so whatever.
It was a disaster! And it had so many episodes to do this stuff, and it didn’t.
LIZZIE: Yeah, I really felt like the writer for this one was way too focused on spectacle rather than making an actual good narrative in a heist. I think for me the biggest insult was… You know, the show says human trafficking of kids is bad, but then the show also treats these kids as a commodity, as well.
You get this one moment where Kawin—I think that’s his name—he voices the frustration of these kids and how they feel abandoned by everyone. But then, that’s it. I mean, we see him again by the end when Cynthia adopts him, but we never get a moment or a scene where these kids realize they’ve been saved. Nothing. We’re never given any of these moments where these kids feel like somebody actually cares about them.
And this is where they could have brought in Salazar from case one. If Makoto was smart enough, he would’ve brought him in, and this is where it would have been nice if he’d outmaneuvered Laurent: if he brought back everyone they helped along the way and they helped Makoto in whatever Inception conning that’s happening in case four.
But we don’t get any of that. It was just really frustrating seeing where— I don’t know, I just like there’s so many ways case four could have been fixed, but it doesn’t bother to do that. It’s super frustrating.
CAITLIN: I liked Salazar, too. I would have loved to have seen him again.
PETER: Was that the good brother?
CAITLIN: No, he’s the bodyguard.
PETER: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, they could have brought back him, the good brother, and the rich lady who was victim of the art thief. They could’ve brought back those three, and it would’ve been a much lighter tone.
LIZZIE: And Makoto could’ve recruited Akemi’s son to help since I imagine the guy left because he couldn’t stop his mom because he had no power to do it. But with the Confidence Crew here, he finally would have had people to help him bring down his mom. See: full circle. That would have been great, but no, Great Pretenders has to do whatever bullshit that it did towards the end.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there was no thought towards the greater narrative in this last case, and it’s just a really disappointing end. By the way, once again, did you guys watch this subbed or dubbed?
PETER: [chuckles] Subbed.
LIZZIE: I watched both. Also, the only nice thing I have to say about case four is I love Dorothy. I love her!
CAITLIN: Yeah, Dorothy’s great. Yeah, I watched the dub. It was very interesting… So, Suzaku and Ishigami both had Japanese accents, which was a little bit of a choice.
PETER: Oh, okay. Okay… [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah, which is okay, but Makoto doesn’t have an accent. You’re not having Laurent speaking with an accent the entire time. Even Cynthia, who I’m pretty sure is supposed to be British, does not have an accent. So…
LIZZIE: I mean, she plays it up when she meets Makoto again for the heist in case four, but other than that, yeah, it was weird.
CAITLIN: And I mean, this is NYAV Post and they’re generally really good about that, and I’m looking at the cast list and they did get mostly Japanese but also just Asian— Like, Akemi Suzaku’s voice actress is named Sachiyo. Ishigami’s is named James Taku Leung. So, clearly, they got Asian actors for these characters and most of the actors match the ethnicity of the characters. But it was just… Why? Why are you doing that? What went behind that directorial decision?
LIZZIE: Yeah, especially since in the Japanese version, they really went out of their way to get… for the Chinese characters, they got actual Chinese voice actors, and Laurent’s… I can’t speak Chinese, but he didn’t sound like he was speaking broken Chinese, so they got someone who can speak it accurately for his voice, which was nice.
PETER: Personally, I felt like there was a lot of cracks, even early on. I don’t think I’ve ever really liked the way the series really treated Makoto. At the beginning, he’s kind of a shitheel. But after case one, when he says, “I think I’m gonna turn myself [in], do my time, and then I’d just like to reacclimate to society and stop being a con man because I want to be a decent person, like I believe my father was”—and then he just immediately gets roped into a new heist.
I couldn’t help in my mind but compare it to the end of Sarazanmai, where you get a similar prison kind of montage and then the person is let back out and is facing their new life, now that they’ve paid their debt to society. And then, Makoto just gets pulled right back into cons again. And at that point, I don’t know why. Was it unacceptable for him to be a conman? He had to be somebody unwillingly participating in the cons for him to be a suitable main character?
CAITLIN: Yeah, I would have preferred in the other cases for him to be closer to who he is in the first case, where he is kinda like, “Ha-ha, yeah, I am a con man.” Not as far back as, once again, child trafficking, but having him be a little bit more morally gray.
LIZZIE: Season four would have been a great way for him to decide if… It’s a make-or-break deal, like “I’m either going to do this, be a con artist, or not.” But yeah, no, we’re not given any of that. I’m just trying to justify why Laurent would keep roping him in unless his dad was involved or he just likes him.
CAITLIN: I think it’s because of his dad.
PETER: Yeah, it was the connection. But from the beginning, I think that also established Laurent as… It almost seemed like part of his con was just playing with people or manipulating people, because pretty early on they establish that they don’t even think Makoto’s a good conman, but they keep pulling him into their cons. And I guess it’s all towards their ends in case four, where they want to use his badness at being a con to literally give him Stockholm Syndrome, which is their plan, which totally fucking sucks.
But it seems like Laurent is purposefully torturing people for no reason. The plan with the flying tournament… Why make Abby the pilot? Literally, they’re strapping her into a PTSD machine. That’s their plan, and I don’t know—
CAITLIN: She’s already traumatized!
PETER: Why does she even know how to fly? There’s no way she learned how to fly before that if it was so traumatic for her, and they didn’t know one pilot anywhere. There was no reason for her to be doing that. It just felt so narratively forced.
And none of them cared that she was literally throwing up in the seat and having flashbacks and stuff. I was like, “Man, these people suck. Why are they doing this to her?” The whole time I was just like, “I don’t like Laurent. Why is Laurent doing this? Laurent sucks.”
And then, it justifies it at the end by showing that he’s got this tragic backstory, by introducing a woman just so they can fridge her and say he has manpain over it.
CAITLIN: They’re not even really following through on the manpain.
LIZZIE: Yeah. I’m happy Dorothy is alive, though. Part of me really wants to believe she planned her own escape, because I find it really weird that, of course, on the day that they’re supposed to break her out of whatever confinement she was in, Laurent happens to pick up a newspaper that reveals the real Nigerian princess or something like that. So, I’m like, “Hm, that’s too coincidental. I wanna believe she’s faking her amnesia.” But we don’t know much about her. We only know about her through Oz and Laurent.
CAITLIN: It’s still a little condescending that the people she’s with are like, “It would be nice if she stayed this way forever.”
PETER: Mm. I didn’t like the reveal that she was still alive. That felt cowardly, because it’s inconsequential that she’s actually alive, because that’s where the story ends. It’s just like they couldn’t even commit to killing her, which was such an important narrative moment, even though that part of the narrative sucked. I don’t know. It reminded me of The Last of Us II, where they just were unwilling to commit to any of their ideas and so there were no ideas in the story.
LIZZIE: Also, going back to Makoto for a minute, he’s technically not a terrible con artist if people fill him in on the plan. He actually follows through with the plan well if people actually bother to fill him in on the plan. But nobody ever does because they want—
PETER: Oh, yeah, keeping him in the dark’s always part of the plan, too. Yeah. I forgot about that.
LIZZIE: Yeah, which is kind of like: why? He’s shown that he’s actually pretty capable of carrying it through? I think for the other cases, I like them even though they’re messy, but case four, on its own, just really pissed me off, because I really do like the energy and this world. But case four just really… Ugh. It makes me mad that this is what they decided to do with it. And I don’t even know if a season two is happening or not, but—
PETER: Hope not.
LIZZIE: If season two does happen, I hope it gets better or different writers involved. I don’t want to see another terrible writing like case four again.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah, it just ultimately turned out to be about nothing. I do like Shi-won. Just want to throw that out there. Shi-won’s cool.
PETER: Shi-won? Which one was Shi-won?
CAITLIN: The older Korean woman.
LIZZIE: Oh, yeah, her. I love her.
CAITLIN: She’s great. I love how she is apparently a former femme fatale and she’s just like, “Yeah, I’m aging out of this,” so she got a mohawk and tattoos and just became a granny punk rocker. She’s great.
PETER: A lot of the characters were really good up until the series seemed committed to just stamping out any possible goodwill you could hold toward any of them.
LIZZIE: I guess the only thing I liked by the end of it was they hired that B-rated actor from case one to run for president, and maybe they’re gonna con the government.
PETER: Wait. Is that what was happening at the end? Because it seemed like Laurent had just become a cop.
LIZZIE: Yeah, no, somebody on Twitter made a comparison. The guy who is running for president or is president already is the same shitty actor from that movie Makoto watched in case one. So, I get the impression that they picked him to run for president so they can scam the government.
PETER: The biggest… Conning the entire United States of America.
LIZZIE: Yeah, which… I’m like, okay, that’s a note I accept. If you’re going to end on that note, then I accept it. But yeah, I felt the emotional payoff was just not there. Because if you think about it, the “heists,” quote-unquote, they were successful, but I didn’t feel great by the end of it, especially case four.
PETER: For me, it’s really hard to get angry at anime because I feel like I set a lot of expectations for a lot of shows going in. Like, if it’s a fantasy isekai, I don’t usually have a high expectation that it’s gonna have really great themes. Depending upon PVs, its production could be good or bad.
But I feel like this show really had everything going for it and just spoiled it all, and I’m not sure on what level. It seemed like maybe there was nobody reviewing the script for any of these issues that came up. I’m just sort of amazed that this was allowed to happen, considering the quality of the production.
LIZZIE: Based on the article on Anime News Network—because there was an interview with the writer—he talked with the director a lot about the writing of the show, and the director signed off on some of these decisions, which I don’t understand. I’m like, “No, you like heists and mafia movies. How are you signing on to the stupidness that’s happening in case four?”
PETER: Yeah. Just bizarre.
CAITLIN: I gotta point out we’ve gone over.
PETER: Yeah, we have.
CAITLIN: We’ve sure gone over.
PETER: It’s probably time. You’ve been through the ringer today, Caitlin, so we should probably wrap this up.
PETER: Everybody get all their negative feelings about Great Pretender?
PETER: You feel your sense of catharsis?
LIZZIE: I do. I mean, I still really love Great Pretender overall. But case four… Ugh, yeah, I hate case four.
PETER: [laughs] Passionately.
CAITLIN: Good ending theme. Love me some Freddie Mercury.
PETER: Oh, yeah, yeah. Freddie Mercury. Okay. That does it for Netflix 2020. We’ll see what they have coming in 2021 and maybe do this again. Thanks for listening, everybody.
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