Amelia, Dee, and Peter look back on the spring 2017 season! Recorded just yesterday, we have a few gaps in this one. Comment below if you think we missed anything AniFem readers would want to know!
Date Recorded: Sunday 9th July 2017
Hosts: Amelia, Dee, Peter
01:19 The Royal Tutor
09:25 Alice & Zoroku
12:25 Kado: The Right Answer
24:51 Granblue Fantasy
32:26 Sakura Quest
41:58 Grimoire of Zero
45:42 My Hero Academia
51:08 Eccentric Family
58:04 Attack on Titan
AMELIA: Hi everyone and welcome to the Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Amelia, and I’m joined today by Dee and Peter to talk about the Spring 2017 season. Would you guys like to introduce yourselves?
DEE: Yeah! Hi, I’m Dee Hogan, a writer and editor for AnimeFeminist. I’m also the owner of the anime blog The Josie Next Door.
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associate Features Editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor for AnimeFeminist.
AMELIA: Okay, so we’re talking about the season that’s just ended, Spring 2017. We actually did reviews of all the premieres for this season for all the full-length shows for adults, that weren’t sequels. We are now going to go back to our rankings of these premieres. We’re going to look at the Top Ten and talk about which ones we carried on watching, which ones we dropped, which ones we’d recommend, and why.
I think it’s been a bit of a difficult season for that. We’ve just gone through the list and there’s not a lot we’ve all seen. So if we’ve missed something that you think we should have given more attention and you’d like to recommend to the AniFem community, please do let us know. We would love to pass that on.
Okay, so we’re starting off at number ten on our rankings list, which will be in the show notes. If you check there, there will be a link. The Royal Tutor; “harmless fun” category. Dee, I know for a fact you’ve seen this. Peter, did you watch… did you say you’d watched half of it?
PETER: I dropped out early, like two or three episodes.
AMELIA: [laughs] Oh, okay, sorry. Yeah, I haven’t seen past the first six. So Dee, if you would like to tell us how this went by the end?
DEE: It was really good and charming and I would happily recommend it.
AMELIA: Oh fantastic! This is a good start.
DEE: Yeah, it is a good start. The final two episodes are an anime-original finishing arc, and they’re not great. They don’t do anything actively, like… betraying the themes or problematic stuff or anything like that. They’re harmless in that sense. They’re just… it just doesn’t quite click with the rest of the show. Other than that though, it’s delightful. I immediately went out and bought the first volume of the manga because [sing-song] that’s how much it charmed me!
DEE: I really enjoy it. It was… I tend to just like cute, nice comedies anyway and that was where this one started. Then the more I got into it the more I realized [surprised] it was actually a fairly thoughtful series. In terms of talking about not judging people by their appearances; there’s a lot of low key tension between the upper royal class and the commoner class. I know Lauren wrote a piece on how the show handles privilege in one episode for AniFem. Which I really enjoyed that piece she wrote.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] She did, and actually we had someone tell us just recently that because of that article they went back and watched The Royal Tutor to the end and were really pleased that they did. So thank you, Lauren.
DEE: I’m so glad to hear that!
DEE: That makes me happy. It’s a very nice show. It does—it ended up being kind of feminist relevant; not necessiarily in terms of women’s issues, ‘cause there are no women in this story, really.
DEE: There’s a grandma and a cute… they have like a really little sister. She’s like six. And she’s cute and there’s an episode where she’s kind of a major character, but it’s not really a story about women. Which is fine.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Older and younger women are still women, Dee.
DEE: No, I agree with you, they’re just not really in the show.
AMELIA: Yeah, it’s fine.
DEE: They’re all together maybe in thirty minutes total. Of the full series.
AMELIA: [laughs] Oh, all right.
DEE: They’re not really there. But it touches on feminist issues in terms of intersectional feminism, I think, very well in how it handles some of these privilege issues and some of these issues of prejudice.
There’s a character who… there’s a whole episode with him where basically people kind of immediately assume he’s dangerous because he has a scary face and doesn’t know how to communicate or emote very well. There’s an episode of him trying to figure out how to communicate with others and get over that initial knee-jerk first impression. It’s just very sweetly done and it’s not like.. .it rides that line, so it doesn’t go into being totally saccharine and cheesy, but it still hits some nice emotional bits in between all the silly chibi antics.
DEE: So I recommend it without any real reservations.
AMELIA: That’s amazing. That’s not quite what I was expecting from the beginning. That’s fantastic.
DEE: [crosstalk] Nope! It was definitely a surprise.
AMELIA: Okay, I’m definitely going to go watch that one after I get through my immense back-catalogue list.
AMELIA: Okay, next up was the “feminist potential” category, where we thought it could go either way, basically. So there’s some potential here to explore feminist themes but there’s also potential for it to just fall off a cliff.
So number nine was Tsukigakirei. We said there was… I wrote in the review for this one that there was inevitable character growth for the female lead, which was definitely going to be relatable and interesting. I wasn’t sure it was going to be matched by the male lead.
They’re both middle school kids. They seem to be going through a romance together and I wasn’t sure if that was going to be matched or if it was just going to be him staying amazing and her developing and growing to reach his level, which obviously isn’t as great.
Turns out it wasn’t like that at all. I was really pleasantly surprised by Tsukigakirei. I didn’t think I’d like it. It was… it’s really kind of slow paced and gentle, and it’s about middle schoolers in a romance, which is not really compelling for me in general. But I firmly enjoyed it and it was something that I looked forward to every single week.
So Peter, you’ve watched this one, did you?
PETER: Yes. I really liked it as well. I’d say I liked it on its own, but I also liked it in the larger context of what you usually get in romance in anime, which is just a bunch of really wild shit happening all the time. It’s not very satisfying, at least when it’s a rom-com focused-type thing. This one I thought was much more focused on character than circumstance, I guess is what I’d say. It mainly focused on the fact that—and I know that middle-schooler romance isn’t a very compelling concept for me either…
PETER: It focused on anxiety specifically related to… I mean, both the characters seemed to have a lot of general anxiety, but also normal anxieties, like how middle schoolers would approach romance since they don’t have any experience with it. It was a lot of overcoming certain barriers that they were entirely unfamiliar with, like firsts, that kind of thing. I guess there was a little bit of circumstantial drama with her moving away, but I really liked the introspective element to the anime.
AMELIA: Yeah, absolutely. I think the only issue I had with it was right up to the end, the female lead, Akane—her best friend Chinatsu was a very difficult character because she crossed so many lines of trust with Akane and then just said “But we’re still friends, right? Even though I like your boyfriend, even though I’m telling your boyfriend that I like him, we’re still friends right?”
[Skeptically] Akane always said yes, and I understand that, but that was kind of hard to watch. That’s the only… my only caveat there is that was a little bit of the idea that, I dunno… she was just being kind of manipulative and I don’t think it was intentional, but it was hard to watch. [laughs] That’s all I’ll say. But everything else was gorgeous.
PETER: She was kind of like… I guess in retrospect I sort of appreciate that she was a source of anxiety without ever being the real threat you’d get if this was like a… oh, what’s an anime that would be a good example? Like Masamune-kun…
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Oh yeah!
PETER: Where this other person arrives, something like that. I kind of liked how they… well, I mean the whole ending was really good. It had a lot more closure than I’m used to in just about any high school anime.
AMELIA: I was so impressed by that, because I got spoiled for the facts of the ending and I was very unhappy, and then I watched it and I was like, “Oh, that was amazing.” So it completely won me over in that final episode.
PETER: Yeah, they did it pretty elegantly with the closing sequence.
AMELIA: They did, they did. So, I would recommend this. I think you may want to skip the post-credits cartoons. They’re a little less feminist-friendly. But if you watch up to the closing credits and then just skip to the next episode in a marathon you’ll be fine.
AMELIA: So that would be my one caveat there.
PETER: And the closing credits in the last episode are very important as well. Those are must-watch actually!
AMELIA: Yes, those are must-watch! Yeah, you’d lose out on quite a lot. So yeah, definitely Tsukigakirei recommendation with a couple of caveats, but nothing major, I think.
PETER: [Affirming noise]
AMELIA: Okay, number eight. Alice & Zoroku, which [sighs] this stood out as the premiere review I found the absolute hardest to write because I struggled so much with the premiere—and double-length premiere—that I didn’t enjoy at all. So I didn’t watch any more of this. Peter, Dee? Did you review—cover it?
DEE: I stopped… I watched half of it, which I had said was probably going to be what I did when we did our mid-season check in. Which, I will kind of just direct people to that ‘cause my opinion hasn’t really changed since then.
DEE: Basically, I wasn’t sure, then I kind of got into it, and then it had a good stopping point and I did not feel compelled to keep going, so I was like, “I guess the story’s over!” and I just stopped watching.
AMELIA: Fair enough. Peter did you watch on?
PETER: [dryly] Uh, yeah, I finished it all.
AMELIA: [laughs] You don’t sound too happy about that.
PETER: Well I think the first arc was definitely the strongest and after that it kind of just entered into this episodic… She runs into the twins again, and then she runs into some people who have dreams of Alice. And there’s always some element of stress or something revolving around—I think dreams of Alice probably come to troubled people, is the idea. It was just a bunch of minor stories that were riding on the back of Sanae living with Zoroku’s family.
Near the end it kind of got into this weird territory where I’m not quite sure where they’re… I feel like there’s a larger context that the anime—or probably the manga—is trying to get into where she starts bringing the Wonderland that she had in the facility or whatever, she starts making doors to it that she can access from everywhere. Which was pretty interesting. So she starts messing with people by dropping them through doors and putting them in cages with stuffed animals around them, stuff like that. Traps them. Yeah, it got really bizarre and surreal near the end. Really cool background stuff.
AMELIA: [crosstalk; sarcastic] Oh, I love surreal! So sorry I missed that!
DEE: [crosstalk; sarcastic] That’s Amelia’s favorite thing. Right up there with cute girls.
AMELIA: [Sarcastic] Yeah, surreal and moe character designs, count me in.
PETER: Yeah, sorry. It wasn’t bad enough that I stopped watching, but it just… I don’t think there was a lot of stress after that. Maybe with the last story it got into dark territory, but it was for this character that they’d just introduced. And I think it ended with a “but our battle continues” kind of thing. Which usually means “hey, go read the manga.” I guess it was okay after that.
AMELIA: Wow, sparkling recommendation there.
PETER: I mean, if you like the first arc, you’ll probably like the second arc, but the stakes aren’t that high. So after that it’s just a slice-of-life where there’s random superpower fights.
DEE: That was what kind of what I thought was going to happen. So I’m really glad I ducked out when I did. Good job, Past Me!
AMELIA: Yeah, good job. Okay, let’s move on to one we have all seen: number seven, Kado.
PETER: How do we even talk about this?
AMELIA: [crostalk] How do we even talk about this?
DEE: [crosstalk] I don’t know!
AMELIA: Okay, so Kado… In the review we talked about—in the premiere review—we talked about how there were prominent professional women in this mostly male cast and there was potential there for the female characters in particular to be quite a presence and to do quite interesting things. So that was the basis for saying it had feminist potential. In the end it turned into something quite different than it started out. Peter, you wrote an article about this, right? Can you summarize what you were saying in that article about its change of tone?
PETER: Well, I dunno if it was exactly a good thing that I was… The sort of change—the thrust of it was: it was a very ambitious anime in regards to the 3D and the larger societal context of the story.
Which I think, given the twist, it was a unique thing to do since it set this really big stage and had zaShunina and Shindo working together to develop character intimacy and their friendship. Once we get to the twist that ends up being very… it creates emotional impact because of this relationship we’ve been following for, I think it was nine episodes at that point. So I felt, as far as narrative structure, that was good.
The beginning nine episodes were good, but the way that the plot went after that was sort of insane. I did not see it coming because I didn’t think there was any reason anybody would decide to take it in that direction.
AMELIA: Yeah, because the opening is really a focus on this process of negotiation and looking at issues such as energy resources, and that was a really interesting set of philosophical questions. It seemed like that would be the way the series would go. We would be looking at questions about humanity and of “what would you do if an alien invader showed up but offered you everything you need? Offered you a life without sleep, with infinite energy. What would you do? How would society react?”
And then suddenly it shifts completely into something very different. Actually, I had been a bit lost by that point and that twist picked me back up again and I quite enjoyed it until the final episode. Dee, what did you feel about the twist?
DEE: [confidently] I~ liked it!
DEE: The messier the show got, the move involved I became with it. I still think there is something… I think it’s one of those ambitious failures that’s trying to do a lot and doesn’t really put it all together, and so I feel kind of guilty recommending it, but I still really liked it.
AMELIA: Yeah, totally understand.
DEE: I do sort of enjoy the… some of the directions they went with their conversation of cultural exchange were very interesting to me. I liked that the female characters ended up having more of a role and being right, which was interesting.
I think I find it amusingly apt that it begins at this emotional distance—very logical discussion of the pros and cons—and then it turns out that, when it comes to humanity, it really just boils down to feelings. To gut reactions and emotions and relationships.
DEE: I thought that was kind of—again, it was messy but it just worked for me.
AMELIA: It got really messy in the last episode though, so I felt quite bad because I think it was Vrai put up some screen shots and described it as “the Hannibal of anime”—or was that you, Dee?
DEE: No, that was… Vrai was the one who said “Alien Hannibal.” I’m the one who has been pushing the Dating Sim Theory since like episode five.
AMELIA: That’s it! Actually, calling it a dating sim really contextualized it for me. It made me go: “Oh, okay, now I get it. Now I can watch and enjoy it on a whole other level.”
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s a really good dating sim, turns out!
AMELIA: It’s a really good dating sim. But I retweeted this screenshot Vrai put up where they said “Alien Hannibal” and one of my real life friends saw that and said “I have to watch this because Hannibal is great.”
AMELIA: And so she watched the first episode and said, “What have you done to me Amelia? What is this?” And then we got to the twist and she was like, “Oh okay, I get it.” Then we watched the final episode together [laughs] and you have never seen two more disgusted anime viewers in your life.
AMELIA: We were just: “What is this shit?!” every few seconds. It was not a pleasant viewing experience. And when we got to the end we were like, “Well, that’s that then. Move on, don’t watch it again.”
But it was a really ambitious show, as you said, and I do appreciate some aspects of it. But like you I don’t feel like I could recommend it to anyone. Especially not after that experience recommending it to someone.
Okay, next one on the list is WorldEnd, which had marginalized characters in a pretty gender-balanced cast, so we thought “Okay, if it actually looks at the marginalization, if the gender balance remains not creepy, then that will be really good.” How did go? Did anyone see this to the end?
PETER: [skeptically] Yeah.
DEE: I got a little over halfway through it. Pretty much just right over the halfway point.
AMELIA: Okay. Peter, how was it?
PETER: Well, it delivered on the promise from the opening scene from the first episode.
PETER: I mean, where we all had that big discussion about how we didn’t like the massage scene? They recycle that joke twice.
DEE: [sarcastically] Hurray. That was what decided to make me drop it, actually.
AMELIA: They did it twice? [sighs]
PETER: Well it was two girls, one scene, basically.
AMELIA: [disgusted] Oh my God. Did you have to phrase it like that?
DEE: Why did you have to word it that way?!
PETER: Yeah, yeah. With Chtholly watching the entire thing, very unhappily.
DEE and AMELIA: [annoyed groans]
PETER: And then the way they talk about it later makes it sound like it wasn’t a massage either, so that was… great.
AMELIA: Oh for goodness sake.
DEE: [skeeved out noises]
PETER: I guess all of us were hoping that it would avoid the Willem/Chtholly romance I think, and that was definitely the centerpiece of the show. So, yeah, it kind of got into that.
DEE and AMELIA: [annoyed noises]
PETER: The ending… basically the ending… the opening scene basically said “This is going to be a tragedy, it’s not going to end well, and that is what happens.”
AMELIA: It is a tragedy that doesn’t end well. Okay.
PETER: Yeah, and it got into some weird stuff with past lives and what’s going on with Chtholly hearing children’s voices and stuff like that, which was really strange. I hear the light novel actually ended in the same place and I think it’s kind of implied that—oh, what was her name? Nephren? The kuudere purple-haired girl?
DEE: Oh yeah, I think she went by Ren. But you’re right.
PETER: Yeah. So Chtholly does her disappearance and it’s sort of implied that that girl and Willem wander off together or something like that. Apparently there’s a follow-up light novel about the green-haired girl Tiat, the one who’s into lizardfolk movies.
DEE: She was cute.
PETER: Yeah. So maybe that one’s better? I guess the series just decided to end it off there. Which really seems bizarre, because there was this huge context in regards to the world and all these stakes. And it turns out that the nature of Chtholly’s seeing the past stuff was really important, and maybe the fate of the world, but it just wrapped up their personal romance tragedy thing and then kind of just dropped us.
DEE: Wow. That’s a big bummer.
AMELIA: So, um, not a recommendation then.
PETER: If you watch the first episode and really want to know how it gets to the final scene that is the first scene, then maybe you’ll like it.
AMELIA: That was a non-statement, wasn’t it!
PETER: I mean, if you’re really into tragedy stuff happening I guess, and some people are. And if you’re okay with the Chtholly/Willem thing, I’d say maybe it’s good? If you like the Chtholly/Willem thing and love tragedy.
AMELIA: [jokingly] Then this one is for you!
PETER: And don’t mind sexualized massage scenes. Then maybe if you’re in that Venn diagram, sure?
PETER: Outside of that it was… I didn’t really like… I didn’t feel satisfied by the ending, I should say. I liked what was happening, but it didn’t leave you off in a satisfying place. You’re just like, “Oh, well, it’s over I guess.”
AMELIA: Okay. Very specific recommendation there. Moving on, number five. Re:CREATORS, which had powerful female characters, challenging anime tropes. I watched this at the premiere and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I made comments about Anime of the Year at the time. I was very enthusiastic about it.
AMELIA: Then I lost interest quite quickly.
AMELIA: So don’t trust me when I say something might be Anime of the Year. Just don’t listen. I haven’t kept up with this and I think I was the only one with access to it with Amazon in the UK. So, uh, we should probably move on from there.
But I have since had it independently recommended to me by multiple people I trust who know very well about my work with AniFem and so on. So worth checking out, maybe? I loved the first episode. I really really loved the first episode, and if it delivers on what I identified there as being particularly attractive to me, then I think from a feminist perspecitive it’s very worth watching. And I did enjoy subsequent episodes that I watched, but I don’t know how it ended. So, I’m sorry!
PETER: How it was described to me was like the Fate series except with more female agency, a less ridiculously complex story, that’s based on a light novel which goes in eight different directions.
DEE: That honestly sounds like something I would love.
DEE: I kind of like Fate when it’s more focused than the Fate/stay night anime. I really enjoyed Fate/Zero. So I think I’d really like Re:CREATORS.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah I think Fate is good when it’s not stay night, is the thing. Stay night was the worst Fate ever.
DEE: [laughs] We’re going to get some much hate letters. Peter, what have you done to us?!
PETER: What was that red-haired kid? I’m sorry, he’s a bad character. What was his name?
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Please direct all hate on this subject to Crunchyroll.
PETER: I mean, just at me. I don’t even care. @peterfobian Bring it.
DEE: Peter’s like, “I will fight you over how Fate/stay night is bad.”
PETER: Stay night was garbage. Zero was good. I also liked Umbral Star.
AMELIA: Thank you for joining the Anime Feminist podcast on Fate.
PETER: I’ll watch Apocrypha when I have the ability. But stay night was definitely the low point of Fate.
DEE: I’m inclined to agree with you.
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] So, Re:CREATORS.
AMELIA: Re:CREATORS! All I can say is I haven’t heard of it blowing up anywhere. I haven’t heard of it falling off a cliff and people going: “Oh no, I can’t believe I was watching this.” What I’ve heard has generally been that it’s a bit on the wordy side, a bit—
DEE: [crosstalk] I’ve heard that too.
AMELIA: —A bit exposition-y sometimes. But from a feminist view, nobody has said to me, “Ugh, Amelia, you can’t believe what Re:CREATORS has done. You made the right call not watching it anymore.” And people often do that for me, which I really appreciate, by the way.
DEE: [crosstalk] That’s handy.
AMELIA: It’s really handy. So sometimes they come up to me and say, “Amelia, don’t bother with that.” And I’m like, “Thank you very much!” But that hasn’t happened with Re:CREATORS, so maybe worth a watch if you have access to it, which as we know may not be the case.
So moving on to the next category, which is “feminist themes.” These… you wouldn’t necessarily describe them as feminist or necessarily feminist-friendly, but they explore certain themes that are absolutely in the remit of intersectional feminism.
So the first example is Granblue Fantasy at number four, where they had a consistent emphasis in the first episode—or the first two episodes I should say, since they were both released at the same time—on agency and consent that I thought was absolutely fascinating.
I really was hoping that were going to explore that more, and then I stopped watching. I did mean to go back to it. This season has been a really hard one for me to keep on top of everything because I’ve changed jobs and that’s had a big impact on me. But it’s not because I didn’t enjoy the open. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the first couple of episodes. So did either of you watch that until the end?
PETER: I got halfway through.
DEE: Yeah, I did too. I started to get the sense that it was going to be a big ol’ advertisement for the video game, and we weren’t going to really get a proper ending or proper character arcs, so I decided to wait and see. And I had a friend who was watching it and he said, “Yup! That is exactly what happened.”
DEE: And to top it off, apparently there was a final bonus episode where… Apparently in the video game your main character can be Gran The Boy or—I forget the other character’s name—you can play as a boy or a girl, basically.
Apparently in the very final special episode they did, they swap out Gran for the female character. Kind of like an AU. Which sounds like, “Oh, maybe they’ll do something neat with that.” No. No. It was solely so they could do a beach episode.
AMELIA: NO! Don’t do this anime! Don’t do this!
PETER: Goddamn it.
DEE: Yeah, and when [my friend] told me that I was like, “I just want to throw things right now.” So dropping that about halfway through turns out to have been an okay plan.
AMELIA: I am not going back to that. You have just lost my massive amounts of support.
AMELIA: Okay, that’s really disappointing. Although, now that I think about it I did see a thumbnail of bikinis in it and think “Hmmm.” So, yeah, good to know that was a totally justified and plot-driven episode with bikinis. Great.
DEE: [sarcastically annoyed] Yeah.
PETER: For me, it was just kind of vanilla and boring.
DEE: That was also true. You’re right.
PETER: It was inoffensive but it also didn’t really interest me. Say what you will about Magical Girl Raising Project—say that it was awful, say that it was poorly written, say that it was disgusting, but at least it tried to do something interesting with the IP that it was trying to advertise.
PETER: There was even a fantasy series earlier this year that did something kind of interesting. I can’t remember what its name is, it was also based off a Gacha Mobile game. But it starts with the main character getting… he’s basically going to die, I guess. It did some interesting—the villain wins, he’s got some sort of disease that’s eating away at him, and then that’s the story start.
So you’re like, “Wow, there’s kind of a fatalistic story, I guess. Or he’s trying to do something, but he’s going to die no matter what.” That kind of thing. Maybe he miraculously cures himself with victory energy or something, I dunno.
PETER: It was compelling. And Granblue, it just felt so… They were introducing characters and having fights and then getting into a ship and then having more fights.
PETER: And nothing about the plot really grabbed my attention, so I stopped watching.
AMELIA: I did get the sense that it was a series that was more about “Come live in this world and hang out with these characters for a while.” That was the point of appeal. So if you enjoyed the world-building and the art, and the characters appealed to you, then just hang out with them for twenty-four minutes a week. That’s what you would get out of it.
PETER: Fantastic animation too.
DEE: There was some really good animation in there. No, there really were some excellent-looking fight sequences. A-1 did a good job. It ended up… Honestly, my thing at the start was “Well it’s kind of a vanilla fantasy, but I sort of like the characters, so I’ll just have fun hanging out with them and getting to know them.” But then they introduce new characters every freaking episode, so you didn’t really get a chance to chill with—there’s a solid four-person cast by the fourth episode or something.
DEE: I was like, “These guys are fun! This seems like a good group to hang out with.” Then they started adding new characters immediately and you didn’t get to hang out with those people who seemed like they’d be interesting to hang out with. That was one of the reasons I stopped. I was like, “Okay, if it’s two-cour then they’ll have time to flesh these people out eventually. But if it’s just going to end, then what’s the point?” So yeah. Sorry, Granblue, we’re being unnecessarily mean to you right now.
AMELIA: You know what though, if there’s an ending bonus episode involving bikinis in this medieval setting then I don’t feel like we’re being that mean, to be honest.
PETER: So if you want to watch good vanilla fantasy, Lodoss War has always been there.
AMELIA: I have never seen it, maybe I should.
PETER: Oh my God, okay. We’re doing it.
AMELIA: We’ll pick it up later.
DEE: That’s probably something we should do.
AMELIA: Okay! Watchalong upcoming. Number 3: Kabukibu! I know none of you have seen this, am I right?
DEE: I wanted to, but…
AMELIA: Ugh, Dee, Dee, Dee. You will love this show.
DEE: Okay. I hope I can watch it someday.
AMELIA: [laughing] I sure hope you can, too! It breaks my heart that I can’t talk about this with you or Vrai, because this is right up your street.
Okay, so I haven’t seen all of this, because I kind of caught up before the podcast going, “No I haven’t seen it!” So I watched a couple of later episodes to see if it seemed to continue in the same vein. It does seem to continue in the vein. It is a really delightful show about a sweet group of kids and they have their Kabuki club at school and there is a lot of… There’s a lot of playing with gender performance, which I really appreciate. In Kabuki, the cast was traditionally all male.
AMELIA: And they decided: “Well, we’re a high school club, so we don’t have to do that.” So there are various combinations of female characters—sorry—within the context of the show, there are female students playing male characters, there’s male students playing female characters.
There’s female students playing female characters, which is in and of itself subversive because that would have normally been a man. And they have characters who appear very masculine but behave in ways that are more traditionally feminie and vice versa. It just seems like a really comfortable series to—
DEE: [crosstalk] That sounds really nice!
AMELIA: It’s really nice! And the whole way through you’ve got this exploration of kabuki, and it’s completely different context from Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju which is a historical narrative, very sweeping. This was a bunch of high school kids saying, “Well actually, the rules don’t apply to us, so what rules do we need to break in order to get our high school classmates interested in this art form that we like?”
It starts off with this one boy saying, “I really need people around me. We can make it happen. We can put on kabuki.” And he faces so much opposition to that idea. Then over the course of the series they realize which barriers to comprehension and appreciation exist and they find ways to break them down by using modern ways of thinking, modern technology.
It’s a really sweet show. I haven’t seen all of it, so if there’s something problematic in there that I’ve missed please do tell me, our listeners! From what I’ve seen it was just delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m absolutely going to go through and watch the episodes I missed because it was just so much fun. So that’s my recommendation, with my caveat. Dee, I’m so sorry, I feel really bad now.
DEE: No, that sounds good.
PETER: Sounds great.
DEE: It sounds really good.
AMELIA: It does sound really good. Okay, Sakura Quest, number two. I stopped watching this very early on, but I really appreciated its concept. And now I’ve seen Shirobako, actually, maybe I should go back and watch Sakura Quest from that perspective.
But basically the first episode challenged this narrative of princesses with an adult female lead in a workplace situation, which as we know is… that combination is quite rare. And she didn’t seem to be sexualized in any way and she was technically the princess of this town for tourist purposes, but she had a job and she had to work hard and had to work with people who were quite difficult. And it looked like an intriguing setup but, again, this hasn’t been a great season for me for keeping on top of things. Have you guys seen it?
PETER: I dropped it halfway through.
AMELIA: Why did you drop it?
PETER: I felt like—especially since we were watching Shirobako at the time—it felt more and more tragic to me that I really wasn’t connecting to Sakura Quest in any way.
AMELIA: Yeah, because I would have expected this to be right up your street, actually. I know it has things in it that you really appreciate about anime. So, I was quite surprised when you said you’d dropped it.
PETER: I guess—and I don’t know if I intentionally decided I’d stop watching it or if I just never decided… I never felt like, “Oh hey, I want to watch it right now.” It just… I felt like there weren’t really big stakes. Failure just meant everything would continue just as it had been previously.
AMELIA: [laughing] Right.
PETER: I didn’t really connect with the characters in the same way, outside of that one… I don’t remember her name, the older woman who doesn’t like the tourist board. She seems to be the only real antagonist. And then I couldn’t really get a beat on the setting either, because it was the very modern day but then they had mech suits with the carved wooden armor on them, and it just got really bizarre. So it intentionally defied what would you think would be normal for the modern day a lot of times.
AMELIA: [skeptically] Mech suits? Seriously?
PETER: Yeah. There was that one guy, he makes these…
DEE: They’re exoskeletons, basically.
PETER: Yeah, you know those exoskeletons that are supposed to help people lift a lot of weight? I guess they’re something they’re developing in Japan. But it’s this guy working out of his garage.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] In the middle of nowhere.
PETER: In rural Japan, yeah. And he made it himself with elbow grease and stuff. It’s just—if you can do that, why are you a small town?
DEE: I did think that too, when they showed that guy with all his really neat inventions. I was like, “I don’t understand why… Anyway.”
AMELIA: “Why are you there?”
PETER: So barriers I guess to me really connecting to the series was the problem.
AMELIA: Dee, you watched it to the end. Is that because you connected with it, or was it just obligation?
DEE: Well, it’s ongoing. It’s two-cour, so I’ve watched it to the middle.
DEE: It was one of those… If you are at all interested, give it a try. I recommend it; there’s no caveats. It handles its five young women—and they’re ranging in a variety of their twenties, trying to figure what they want to do with their lives, basically. And then their relationship with the location they’re in, this town.
Each of them have their own different conflict. All of them are very true to life, sometimes painfully so. It’s done with nuance; it’s done with sympathy; it’s good. It’s low-key very good in terms of what it does with its story. So I want to start by saying I would recommend it. Try it out, definitely try it out.
It’s one of those where I watch it and I enjoy it and then immediately forget I’m watching it. I’ve not really been able to connect with it in the way I want to. I really want to love this show, because it has a lot of things I normally would, and there’s just something there that’s keeping me from really latching on to the story and the characters within it.
AMELIA: That’s interesting.
DEE: Yeah. And I know that I’m damning it with faint praise but it’s… That’s just where I am with it. I’m not personally super-duper excited about it, but I am watching it. I’m interested in the story from a distant… not “distant”; I guess critical perspective.
DEE: The way it handles the characters arcs and their quarter-life crises is interesting to me. It just very rarely connects on an emotional level, and I think it wants to more than it is. So in that respect it’s a little bit of a failure.
AMELIA: And it sounds like it has been for all of us. I assumed I would love this and put it at number two in the rankings and then just never felt compelled to watch more. And I love shows about women in the workplace where they’re not being sexualized! That’s a real thing that I latch onto and appreciate and it has never been compelled to keep watching. So I have watched a few episodes, but it was for obligation and I obviously didn’t go back to it.
It feels a shame; it’s a bit frustrating. If they pick up in the second half—because I felt that way about Shirobako at first, actually: the first few episodes did not grab me. And had I watched it just for personal reasons, then I may not have got as far as I did, in all honesty. But because we did it for a watchalong, I kept watching and it got so good.
AMELIA: And I think it was probably—it must have been episodes 7-12 where I really began to appreciate it. That’s quite a ways away. That’s quite a big commitment to ask somebody to stick around that long because it might get better. If Sakura Quest has gone beyond that, if it’s “Well, episodes 13-18 are where it really gets good!” then that’s quite an ask.
But do keep watching it and let us know if it changes—if it does become more engaging or if there are specific issues that it explores that we would want to talk about. Then I would absolutely go back and rewatch it. “Rewatch it”? Watch it at all!
PETER: Yeah. By this point Shirobako had some soaring emotional highs that I never saw in Sakura Quest. It doesn’t sound like they’re there either.
DEE: Yeah, Sakura Quest had a couple of really good beats. One scene where two of the girls are talking about—and I mentioned this in the midseason too—one scene where one of the girls is talking about how she worked herself into the ground, then got sick and realized that anyone could do her job. That was a pretty good… they handled that one really well in terms of staging and pacing. That was a solid beat.
And there’s an arc later where the youngest—I think she’s the youngest in the group—about how she feels like an outcast because she’s into “weird” things like UFOs and monsters. And she gets yelled at at one point because, I think basically someone tells her, “Normal girls aren’t into stuff like that.” Then her friends are like, “No, we think your interests are neat! We like you; we like the stuff you like.” And so her finding that community is also really sweet.
So there’s moments in it that stand out, but then there’s a lot of straight level of not really hitting strong emotional beats, yeah. It doesn’t quite have the energy that Shirobako has, and I think that comes down partly to the writer/director duo.
AMELIA: On the other hand I feel quite sorry for Sakura Quest that it’s natural point of comparison is Shirobako, which is quite a special series.
DEE: Yeah, and they really don’t, other than being… P.A. Works has a “Working Women” series, I think they—because they did Hanasaku Iroha a while back as well. And it was specifically they wanted to do stories about female characters with jobs. Which I think is a really cool thing to want to focus on, because you don’t see that as much in anime.
AMELIA: Absolutely! Yeah, that’s something I’d love to see.
DEE: But unfortunately because it is part of this series of these sorts of shows, you inevitably wind up with comparisons, especially when you’ve got the same character designer.
DEE: So everyone kind of looks the same. And that’s maybe not fair to Sakura Quest, but it does not have the raw charm or energy of Shirobako, I would say.
AMELIA: But you would recommend it without caveats, and you will keep watching.
DEE: Yeah, there’s no caveats except that I’m just not in love with it and I wish I was.
AMELIA: That’s doing quite well, to be fair. If we can say it’s exploring feminist issues and it has good characters, it’s not enganging but it’s absolutely worth watching. That’s doing pretty well for an anime, to be fair.
So maybe we should judge it less by “Is it better or not as good as Shirobako?” and more as “T is a solid series and just because we don’t find it engaging doesn’t mean that nobody does.” I’m sure there’s people out there who absolutely love it. So if you’re listening, tell us what you like about it. We’d love to see it through your eyes.
DEE: [affirming noise] Agreed.
AMELIA: [sullen] Okay, number one: Grimoire of Zero. I’m sounding all uggh because I haven’t seen this one completely either. I did skip to the end. I watched the last episode before the podcast just to see where it ended up and to see whether the themes of power and discrimination—which had real parallels to racism from my perspective—to see how the were addressed.
And I obviously couldn’t follow it properly because I hadn’t seen the intervening episodes. but my understanding is that it’s not really addressed. So it just ends in a place where it could continue and it could get a second series, which is maybe how they set it up.
DEE: Well it’s based on a light novel series right? So… I think that’s the only volume.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] So that is probably volume two. So they’ve set it up to be continued, but they didn’t actually address what I wanted them to address, which was you’ve got this main character who is a Beastfallen—I can’t remember what exact animal it is, but he’s in a giant cat, he’s in a giant cat’s body. But he views himself as human and he wants people to see who he really is.
And he joins this companion, and she’s a witch, and she tells him, “I can see the human that you are, and I’ll change you. I’ll reveal that for you if you help me.” That’s her price. And he says “Yes, absolutely. That’s what I want in the world. That’s all I want.”
And then you get to the end of the series and I was hoping there’d be this progression where he’d realize that actually he doesn’t need to have a human facade on him to feel like he is himself. I was hoping that he’d get more comfortable in his own skin and it would get to a point where she’d offer to change him and he’d say, “No, actually, I’m quite comfortable as I am.”
Spoilers: that doesn’t happen. So it’s… that’s a real shame for me. So even though they raise this feminist theme, they didn’t explore it in a feminist way, and that’s why this whole segement is called “feminist themes.” Because there is absolutely no guarantee that it’s going to go in a particulary feminist direction.
So I will watch the intervening episodes at some point, although my wish to do so has dropped a bit since finding that out. But I don’t imagine that they will have explored it in any great depth because it seems like he’s gone on absolutely no character development at all in this area. It seems like it was just raised as a motivation for him then he was in exactly the same place twelve episodes later. So, that’s a bit of a shame.
If I’m wrong, again, listeners please tell me. I would love to know. But my understanding is that there’s no development there.
So not sure if I’d recommend that one. I think definitely worth watching the first episode, at least. I enjoyed the first six, which I’d seen, but I think there are other shows here that I’d recommend more enthusiastically. Kabukibu is probably my big recommendation of this list, and Tsukigakirei. Yeah, that’s… I wish I had more to say on it. I feel really bad that I couldn’t see all the episodes.
But, that is our top ten for rankings. It’s been a bit of a difficult season I think. I think it’s been a bit of a struggle, this one. There hasn’t been anything that I’ve been shouting from the rooftops about as I have done previous seasons. So that has been a bit frustrating, I think.
DEE: Yeah, it feels like a lot of shows started strong and then kind of just either went downhill or lost any sort of energy.
AMELIA: Yeah. That’s exactly how it feels. But! Those were not the only shows this season.
AMELIA: We also had a number of sequels which we have been shouting from the rooftops about because they have been strong. I’m just going to dive right in.
My Hero Academia. It took until this season for me to really grasp just how strong a series it is, and how interesting it is. And how, relatively, how feminist-friendly it is compared to other shounen.
And I have to be really careful with those caveats because it is by no means a feminist series. It still suffers from many of the trappings of shounen manga and shounen anime, and specifically the Shonen JUMP set. But it is an improvement on its predecessors, and I say that as someone who loves Naruto with all my heart. It absolutely does new things and it is doing them in a fresh way that is really just so endearing, and I absolutely love it. I think you’re both watching it and enthusiastic about it?
PETER: Super enthusiastic. I think it might be… One Piece is pretty high up on that pedestal, so is Hunter x Hunter for me personally, but I think My Hero has already unseated Naruto and I don’t know where on my top three list of shounen it’s going to end up. But it could definitely end up on the top.
AMELIA: Dee? Are you watching it?
DEE: Yeah, I am. I’m actually watching this one with my roommate, which is fun.
AMELIA: Oh, that’s great!
DEE: I haven’t seen the most recent episode, but it’s really good. It has good, compelling character arcs. I tend to—I talked about this in past podcasts as well—I always want to get into the big blockbuster shounen series and then I never—very rarely; I shouldn’t say “never”—very rarely can I, because that arc-based formatting, I just tend to lose interest if I don’t get a clear sense of where the story is going to end up.
So you really have to have a cast of characters who I just want to hang out with and see what they’re like and what they’re up to. And My Hero Academia has an incredibly good cast of characters where I’m like, “I want individual stories about everybody, except Mineta.”
AMELIA: Except Mineta.
DEE: Fuck that guy.
DEE: But I would happily watch an entire arc about pretty much everyone in that class. And I think that I would watch an arc about most of their teachers too, and the adult characters. I think that speaks to its potential to be a really compelling, long-running series, which at this point it’s probably guaranteed to be a long one. And just one where you can cheer for these kids and watch them grow and enjoy their stories. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve liked it, I think.
AMELIA: Me too! Me too! I watched the first season when it came out and I didn’t get to the end. I was like, “Eh, it’s okay I guess.” And then I caught up with it in order to watch the sequel season and I thought, “This is amazing, what stopped me from getting into it before?” I still don’t really know, but I’ve completely fallen in love with Ochaco. She is just my aspiration in life. I wish I were half as nice as Ochaco is.
AMELIA: Half as strong, half as decent. She is wonderful. I’m a big fan of her. But like, say, any of the characters, except for Mineta, I would be very happy to spend time with, to see more arcs on them. Just to really dig into any of their characters. So that’s such a good sign, I think.
I really feel like Naruto did something similar for me because I do love Naruto and I enjoyed arcs with many of their characters. Rock Lee is one of my all-time favorites, but it’s not quite the same. There are characters who feel filler, who feel throw away in Naruto. The female characters are underserved. I absolutely love it, but I suspect My Hero Academia is going to overtake it at some point.
PETER: Yeah, it probably will.
PETER: Kishimoto I don’t think spent as much time with his side characters as Horikoshi has. I don’t think they were created with the same care. So I think he had a pretty good concept for a lot of them, but he didn’t really invest as much as Horikoshi does. And Horikoshi is just doing really great things with both the shounen genre and western superhero comics that’s really interesting thematically. Which we can appreciate since we’re exposed to both of them.
I do agree about the side-characters. There’s a lot of fantasy books that are multiple perspectives, like A Song of Ice and Fire. There are some characters where it’ll go to that character—like a chapter name is also the name of the character it’s following—and you’re like, “Ugh, I have to get through this chapter.”
DEE: [Crosstalk] And you’re like “Ugggggggh.”
PETER: But I feel like if it was anybody except Mineta, I’d be just “Okay sweet, I’ll read it.”
PETER: And as we’ve been saying, it’s not perfect. I definitely wish there were more combat-oriented female characters. And I do think a lot of the—especially when they got to the fighting portion of the tournament—a lot of female characters were shoved out of the ring very fast and didn’t get interesting fights.
I don’t want to say that those problems are fixed later, since I’ve read ahead in the manga. I’m following the English publication. But they do, especially in the next arc, have some really good moments that are specifically related to their performance in this tournament as well. So I’m really excited about… especially your reactions to where it goes next and how its portrayed, because I really enjoyed those parts of the manga.
AMELIA: Looking forward to it.
DEE: Awesome, I’m excited.
AMELIA: Eccentric Family 2. You have both seen this; you have both raved about it. I haven’t watched it yet but by your recommendations I absolutely will because it sounds incredible.
DEE: I love it. It’s still one of my top ten favorite anime.
AMELIA: Of all time?
DEE: The first season was. And the second season is… it’s not dropping it down. Like, it’s still there.
AMELIA: Wow, impressive.
DEE: I love it. It’s such a complete package in terms of art, music, animation. The animation is somewhat sparing but it’s very effective when it’s used. Character, tone, the whole thing just comes together very well to create this very specific sort of magical realism grounded in emotional realism, sort of supernatural I guess, series? I just love it, basically.
Supposedly the Eccentric Family novel that it’s based on is going to be a trilogy. I dearly hope that when the third book is written we get a third season so I can see the entire thing, because it’s beautiful.
PETER: We really want it to finish Benten’s arc especially.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yes. Absolutely.
PETER: Which I am almost positive the third book will be doing. It almost… the main character is Yasaburo, but I feel like the main character in the series is Benten. Which is very interesting because she’s so separated from all the other characters and it’s a very family- and community-focused series, and Benten is the outlier who can’t participate in these communities or have these same relationships that other characters can.
DEE: Yeah, she kind of shifts between the three main groups and doesn’t quite fit into any of them. And she’s a really fascinating character because I don’t know if I would classify her as likable but she’s very compelling and sympathetic in some ways, and just interests me and I want to know more about her.
I also like that this series set up a character who’s in a similar situation to her in Nidaime, who’s another quasi-tengu, I guess, who also doesn’t really have a group or community. So the way they interact and butt heads and have a sort of magnetism towards each other in this series is really interesting.
I think it handles it’s—Peter, I think we can talk about this too—it’s one of those where its main characters are the guys. So on the one hand there’s sort of that sense that most of the female characters are in some way connected to, well especially Yasaburo but then also his brothers, but at the same time I think they’re all really good, fully realized people who are more than just so-and-so’s fiancee or so-in-so’s mom or… you know what I mean?
PETER: Yeah, I love Gyokuran, who is a new addition this season as well.
DEE: Yeah, she’s great.
PETER: Kaisei has been a really huge character.
DEE: Yeah I really like Kaisei too. They all have really distinct personalities. Gyokuran is really into shogi, and she’s really good at it too, so she’s got that on top of being a love interest to one of the other characters. She gets and angry and turns into a tiger and roars at people. It’s fun. I like it and it’s a very charming series, and I think it handles all of its characters really well.
PETER: I love that both of them turn into tigers as their go-to combat shape as well.
DEE: Yes, when they’re ready to fight they’re like “Tiger Power!” It’s wonderful.
AMELIA: That sounds really cute.
DEE: They were made for each other.
PETER: Oh yeah, their romance thing was pretty good because… oh, what’s his older brother’s name? Yaichiro?
DEE: Yaichiro, yeah. It has ichi in the middle, because he’s the first!
PETER: He’s very bad at being emotional, so had a lot of trouble admitting that he liked her although everybody knew it and made fun of him a lot because he deserves it.
DEE: Their backstory was fun too, because she intentionally loses a game of shogi to him because she kind of has a crush on him and she feels like he’ll be upset if she beats him. Which I think ties into some feminist themes.
He gets really upset at her about this. He’s like, “No, I don’t want you to do that.” And they eventually—as adults, they play again and she beats him. She doesn’t go easy on him, she beats him this time and the fact that this time… I think it’s really nice that the story encourages her to be herself and play to her strengths, and he likes her and he wants her to do that and likes that about her. Their relationship is a really nice surprise in the first half of the series.
PETER: Yeah, there’s a shogi board that has tiger teeth marks from when they were kids and she lost on purpose. He went berserk and almost bit the board in half, which was her dad’s favorite. But he held onto it anyway as a sentimental item. Just a lot of really neat stuff like that.
It’s kind of hard to describe why it’s so good. I’d say on the surface level it’s very well produced because, as you said earlier, then animation and the voice acting and the visuals tie in strongly to support a series that’s really about the world. The surface level and the world beneath Kyoto. But then the narrative and the characters are so strong too. It’s the complete package. You get everything in this series.
DEE: You do. The only kind of bummer is that the second season very much feels like a bridge to a final arc. So I really hope we get that final arc.
PETER: Yes. I didn’t quite know what to make of the ending actually. It was very enigmatic the way it ended. And I think it was supposed to be that way because you don’t quite understand what’s going on with a lot of these characters. Which means we’re just going to have to wait, which sucks, but I’m totally willing to do it because the season was so good.
DEE: And it’s very much a passion project. I’m pretty sure the producer at P.A. works—not the producer, the head of studio, basically—loves the novels. So he’s like, “We’re animating these!” So my sincere hope is that labor of love will guarantee a third season when/if the final book comes out.
PETER: In the meantime, we can watch Tatami Galaxy if we haven’t already.
AMELIA: I haven’t already, and when there’s a third season of Eccentric Family I’ll watch all of them together.
DEE: [matter-of-factly] You should watch both of them now. Anyway…
PETER: Yeah, right now!
DEE: They’re so worth it. Oh also, to our listeners, at the midseason we were talking about how Eccentric Family season one wasn’t available. It’s on Crunchyroll now! They brought it back!
AMELIA: It is back.
DEE: You have no excuse now. Go watch it! It’s very good.
AMELIA: Depending on which country you are in, you possibly have no excuse.
DEE: That’s true. There are probably some exceptions in there.
AMELIA: I’m just representing non-U.S. here, yes. It might not be available. In the UK, though, it is! I personally have no excuse, which I feel is maybe what you could have been getting at there.
DEE: Anyway, it’s all available.
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Maybe we’ll do a watchalong.
DEE: It’s great. Yeah, I love it.
PETER: A watchalong would be good.
AMELIA: A watchalong may be the answer. That may be what gets me to watch it.
Attack on Titan 2. [Pause] Did you both watch this?
AMELIA: Great. I also did. I enjoyed it! I think more than a lot of people did.
DEE: I enjoyed it far and away more than I did the first season. I didn’t even really enjoy the first season, to be honest. Like I watched it and I was like, “Uhhh, I guess I’ll try season two and see how it goes.” And within like two episodes I was like, “This is really fun and I’m having a good time.”
AMELIA: You know what, though, I go back to the first season and I watch it now in a completely different context. Because I watched the first season of Attack on Titan in my ten-year break from anime based on… the friend I trapped into watching Kado, she got me to watch Attack on Titan a few years ago. So I watched it then with no context of anime around me and I thought, “Oh yeah, this is okay. I’m enjoying it.” And watching it with friends was fun.
Watching it now, aware of how anime generally is and what broad trends and patterns exist within it, I think the premise they have and the character designs and everything is really interesting. I completely understand why it has done as well as it has. And this is just going back to the very beginning and watching those first few episodes. Second half of the season, bit of a bust. Terribly paced. But I really appreciate the first season so much more now.
But the second season, I really got into it. The ending I thought was…I got completely wrapped up in it. I actually rewatched that episode straight away as soon as I finished watching it.
PETER: Yeah, I think I… I don’t know which one I liked more. I think the two things I liked about the series were pretty much everyone that’s not Eren.
PETER: And the metaplot. The history and mystery of the story. Because I am really interested in… there’s obviously something going on with the origin of the titans and something with government and the church hiding it and the titans in the wall, whatever.
DEE: [jokingly] What’s in the basement?
AMELIA: “What’s in the basement,” exactly!
PETER: And the basement. So I’m really interested to see where all that… how it plays out. And I’m trying to stop myself from just reading the manga and finding out everything and kind of ruining the experience of watching the anime.
AMELIA: Yeah, because the manga is not great. I think the anime is doing a good job of polishing it up and making it more interesting than it actually is when it’s on paper.
AMELIA: Oh, controversial!
PETER: I read the early manga. I was okay with it.
DEE: [crosstalk] I couldn’t say, I haven’t read the manga.
PETER: I dunno, it’s very… it’s kind of its own thing, because Araki has his directorial style, which we all saw is the same thing as Death Note. Where it’s the hyper-dramatic—
DEE: [crosstalk] Very bombastic.
PETER: —cliffhanger… Yeah. Its own experience, I think. I like different things about the manga. But I also like the side characters more.
DEE: Oh my gosh, yeah.
PETER: The ending fell a little flat for me, because it reinforced one the the things I least like about the series, which is that a lot of these really great characters are going to be sidelined so that Eren can continue to be the protagonist, specifically Mikasa.
AMELIA: Yes. Yes, there is that.
PETER: Especially with the episode where she… the entire episode was her saying, “I’m not going to show these guys mercy anymore because everytime I do that it blows up in my face. So I’m just going to kill them and I’ll ask questions later.” And then she basically slips on a banana peel.
PETER: And I just thought that was… it just didn’t resonate at all with what happened, with what the episode was setting up. And I’m just like, “Yeah, Mikasa is probably not going to be able to do many cool things over the course of this series.” But it spent a lot of time away from Eren with the way they broke up. So I guess I did like season two even more than the original series.
DEE: I feel like season two acknowledged—and you kind of got this with season one here and there, where Eren would be screaming and everyone would just be staring at him as in “What are you doing?”—I feel like this season did a good job of highlighting the fact that Eren is not a good protagonist.
DEE: I mean that, like, I think that’s kind of the point. I think he really wants to be a shounen action hero and he’s not. And everyone is a little bit disappointed that they’re stuck with him, but they are because he happens to be the one that has the latent abilities and this titan power, essentially. And I find the fact that the series leans into that to be great.
AMELIA: I thought that was hilarious.
PETER: Oh you mean like the meta stuff they do, like when the guy was like, “We can’t possibly win this unless Eren is alive.” I can’t remember the guy’s name, he immediately got his arm bitten off.
PETER: Erwin, yeah, yeah. He was basically saying, “The plot of the show is that Eren is going to save us all so we have to rescue him.”
DEE: [crosstalk] We have to, yeah…
PETER: As they’re charging forward on their horses.
DEE: That’s great. The scene fairly early where Eren finally gets back into the story and he kills his first titan and he’s so excited and then just immediately beefs it.
DEE: And then there’s this great moment after he’s been captured and they’re having this back-and-forth conversation and it’s getting really intense about the different sides and stuff. And he and Reiner just start attacking each other.
Meanwhile, Ymir and Bernholt are having this very serious conversation about someone who is dead, and in the background you vaguely hear Eren screaming and flailing while they’re having this conversation. And I’m like, “That’s it, that’s the show.”
AMELIA: Let’s talk for a second about Ymir and Krista, because that was… I didn’t really appreciate when I first went through just how important that relationship is and it comes off as really extremely queer when you see it actually on the screen.
DEE: It’s lovely. I really liked the way they—
AMELIA: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s really lovely.
DEE: —they played the relationship.
AMELIA: Yeah, and they just absolutely lean into it and own it and say, “Yeah, that’s what this is.” There’s a moment, isn’t there, between—when written down her name is “Yimr” but when they say it it’s “Ymiru” so I’m really struggling here with how to pronounce her name—but when she and Reiner speak and make vague allusions to her being gay and she makes a comment about him being gay but it comes across as more snarky than his comment. So I’m not sure if that’s any basis for anything but she… yeah.
DEE: There’s a not-insignificant portion of the fandom who are sure Reiner and Bertholdt are a thing.
AMELIA: Sure. I’m not shutting that down at all.
DEE: But I haven’t read enough in the manga to say one way or another. I think this season did… My biggest problem with the first season is that could never connect emotionally to it, and I think this season did a much better job of establishing a lot of different characters with different goals and hopes, and the different relationships that are important to them, and what can keep them going in this nightmare world.
I think it was the second episode—because the first episode of the season I was like, “I’m not going to have a good time”—and then I think the second one is a Sasha-focused episode. And it’s about her initially being a self-centered kid who’s worried about herself and the people around her, and then learning to look after others and the importance of taking care of your community. And that was the moment where I thought: “Hmm, okay, this is good. There’s some emotional stakes and heft to this now.”
And so the plot got more and more wild and they kept throwing new twists at us this season, and they paradoxically kept grounding the characters more in emotional realism to a point. So, it was good. I liked that combo of out-there titan battles and these grounded characters and their relationships with each other.
AMELIA and PETER: Yeah.
PETER: There’s this really interesting…it alternates between these high points and these very frustrating points. I remember, I guess it was near the end of the season, Eren’s fight with the armored titan was great and it actually made me think, “Wow, this is a good moment for Eren. He’s doing something cool.” And of course that was snatched away from him.
But I thought the way the fight played out was interesting, and it was Eren actually being intelligent as well as using his titan ability. So you’re like: “Oh, is this a moment where he really grows as a character?”
But then the episode after… I actually found the episode where they’re all talking in the treetops to be immensely frustrating because, just like a few points: One of the things… Reiner said some line about Eren being unreliable as an ally, and Ymir is like, “Oh yeah, that’s true.” And I’m like, “Yes, that is true.”
PETER: Eren is absolutely unreliable. But Reiner had literally just forgotten whose side he was on. So I was like, “Eren, point that out please. Say it. Just say this guy literally forgot whose side he was on.” I know you’re bad Eren but I know you’re not so bad that you… you’ve never gone, “Wait, am I on the titan’s side?” You’re pretty clearly on the side of humanity. He’s got that going for him at least.
AMELIA: That’s a high bar.
DEE: You can’t fault Eren for indecisiveness, that’s for sure.
AMELIA: That’s true!
PETER: So the fact that he didn’t think to say anything like that and everyone sort of accepted that that was a fact, even though it is true, it was like, “How did it make it past that point in the conversation?”
Then later on, Ymir… it was basically implied what was going to happen later on, where Ymir kidnaps Krista, and I had just wished Eren had said something during that conversation about caring about what Krista wants as opposed to her wanting to save Krista. Because they literally have the same relationship, him and Mikasa and Ymir and Krista, where they have someone who’s overbearing and protective.
And in Eren’s case, he does get himself into a lot of dangerous situations, so it’s somewhat justified, but I do think Mikasa doesn’t really respect how much he really wants to do what he’s doing. Like how strongly he feels. She’s more concerned about him just living under any circumstances.
And I wish… that would have made me respect his perspective so much more if he had said, like, “You’re just being like Mikasa is, where you don’t respect where I want, and if that puts me in danger that’s my choice.” Or something like it to contextualize that. And they just glazed over that opportunity as well. [sighs]
DEE: That’s an interesting point, yeah.
AMELIA: That’s really interesting.
PETER: It’s like high point, low point, high point, low point. And there’s these huge openings for stuff like that to happen. Like I can’t believe Isayama created those two points in the conversation without an awareness that he could have gone in that direction.
AMELIA: I can, because I don’t really have a lot of respect for him particularly. I find issues with his storytelling, his story craft, all the time.
AMELIA: I think the stuff he does well he is amazing at, and then the stuff he doesn’t do well they’re pretty big gaps. And the anime can cover some stuff but not others. So, I’m not… yeah. I really enjoyed Attack on Titan this time through and I’m really—I kind of wish it had a longer series. But actually given how the second half of the first season was, maybe it’s actually better that we don’t see that.
DEE: Well and we are getting a season three in 2018. I believe that has been announced.
AMELIA: Yes, Spring 2018 I believe.
PETER: Only a year this time.
DEE: So we don’t have to wait five years again.
AMELIA: Yeah, it was really weird to have such a long gap for such a popular series. But speaking of a long gaps for popular series, Berserk, which I think in the entire United States Peter is the only person watching it. So maybe you can tell people—
DEE: My roommate is watching it!
AMELIA: [crosstalk] You have a friend!
PETER: Yeah, it’s just a bunch of really frustrated fans watching it because they…
DEE: Pretty much, yeah.
PETER: Okay. The voice acting is still great. There’s actually some really awesome 2-D animation they do during certain episodes. Specifically like… usually it’s when people are looking back at their past or some kind of more impressionistic stuff, which is really cool. It’s got, especially in the second season, really great backgrounds illustrated by Studio Kusanagi. So there are all these points that are really cool and you’re kind of experiencing it, but that 3-D CG is really an obstacle.
AMELIA: And we’re actually doing a watchalong of new Berserk at the moment.
AMELIA: Peter’s joining me and Kara Dennison, and Kara and I have only seen the 1997 series, so we’re working through the new Berserk now, and it’s really interesting. It’s really interesting. I’m glad that I’m watching it, for what it’s worth, but it is… I think the barriers to entry are fairly high. You have to know the story before getting to this point. You have to have seen the films or you have to have seen the ‘97 series to be able to keep up.
And you have to have a fairly strong tolerance for the animation. Which, I have a really strong tolerance for terrible animation, and even I get jarred by this. And you have to have a high tolerance, again, for some pretty unpleasant treatment of female characters visually. So all those caveats in place, I’m finding it very interesting and a very rewarding series to watch, but it’s a tough one.
AMELIA: Okay, we have now come through our series. We’ve run quite badly over; very sorry about that. We would love to hear your views, so please do let us know what you thought of the series and the discussion around it. I appreciate that this one is a little bit patchy, so we hope that you will fill in the gaps for us.
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So thank you so much for Dee and Peter for joining me today, and let us know what you thought of this season in the comments.