Highlight: Winter 2018 anime season

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“I had burns all over my body. Is it okay? Do I…Do I have the right to live?” — Violet Evergarden

The main hype this season revolves around Madhouse studio and their second season shows. For a long, long time, it has become an established fact in the industry that Madhouse, as talented as they are, never get around to make a second season of anything. And yet, here we are, beholding this historic moment when they finally air Overlord 2 and Cardcaptor Sakura 2.

Without hesitation, I put them both on the watchlist.

Cardcaptor Sakura 2 does not fare the test of time well. While its production value remains top-notch, I find it difficult to maintain interest in a show where I am no longer its target audience, thus, explains its ranking in the list. Overlord 2 is the same as its previous season: excellent world-building, gorgeous animation, great metal soundtrack and an overly diluted storyline that tried to cover too many character arcs for its own good.

Meanwhile, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni (After the rain) succeeds in telling a gentle story of rediscovering passions, of overcoming defeats, and of inspiring others. It has a single, unified theme and it lets character growth steer the plot. The poetry in the title and the usage of rain, and “after the rain” as a metaphor for the end of grievance and the start of rejuvenation struck a delightful note. Were this a different season, I have no doubt this show would be the highlight.

SEASONAL SELECTION

Show Expectation Rating
Violet Evergarden Star Highlight
Sangatsu no Lion Cash cow Runner-up
Koi wa Ameagari no You ni Star Excellent
Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan 2 Cash cow Excellent (Pending)
Overlord 2 Cash cow Excellent
Kokkoku Question mark Decent
Mahoutsukai no Yome Star Decent
Fate/Extra Last Encore Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Darling in the Franxx Star Decent (Pending)
Grancrest Senki Question mark Mediocre (Pending)
Ryuuou no Oshigoto Question mark Mediocre
Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku Question mark Mediocre
Sakura Cardcaptor Clear Card Cash cow Nope (Pending)

HIGHLIGHT: VIOLET EVERGARDEN

Violet Evergarden tackles a rarely explored theme in anime: the normalization of an ex-soldier in peacetime. The protagonist, Violet Evergarden, spent much of her youth in battle. She was a battle-hardened soldier, the fearsome battle doll of Leidenschaftlich, who carries on her many scars from a terrible war and who struggles to fit in society after the war.

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Saving lives, one letter at a time

The show is organized into episodic, short stories in the same fashion as Kino no Tabi (Kino’s Journey) from last season. Each of these stories revolves around a writing job Violet took on as a hired pen. In these stories, she met people who had difficulties conveying their feeling to someone they held dear, and she helped them by putting these troublesome feelings into words, into letters that can move hearts. Character growth is done splendidly as pieces after pieces of her missing humanity were restored through these short stories and through resonating, reciprocating human interactions.

I can write at length about the masterful writing in Violet Evergarden. The more I analyze the plot, the characters and the world they live in, the more intricate gears I find in the clockwork that warms the heart and heals the soul. But as always, there are more to an anime than simply good writing. Direction, music, art, and animation must be top-class as well to match the material and produce the fullest experience.

Truly, when speaking of animation, there is no better studio in the industry to take on this behemoth project than Kyoto Animation. Among the top-class studios, KyoAni stood out for their long resume in slice-of-life and heart-warming stories. Sophisticated lighting, detailed background, smooth animations and a beautiful soundtrack capable of invoking a wide range of emotions are the standard package from KyoAni brand.

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Why can’t I hold all these feels….?

All these elements created the most bittersweet feel ride ever graces my fragile heart since Plastic Memories and that was three years ago! I would be wasting time scrutinizing what they did wrong with Violet Evergarden. But, I went ahead and did just that and…I drowned in the feels again without catching a single flaw in the end. This is about as perfect as tear-jerking anime can get and Violet Evergarden will get as many seals of approval from me as it takes to convince more people to watch it.

RUNNER-UP: SANGATSU NO LION
MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION

Sangatsu no Lion lasts 44 episodes, spanning two double-cour seasons in its entirety. The story follows the daily life of Kiriyama Rei and the Kawamoto sisters whom he became acquainted with after moving out in pursuit of a professional career in shogi. Despite the premise, the show is ultimately about the personal hardships faced by various characters surrounding Kiriyama; how they coped with and hid the hardships from the world.

The show is divided into character arcs, just like Overlord 2 this season, with story threads weaved around a selected character instead of the protagonist. Kiriyama’s role in the story is much like Dr.Watson in Sherlock Holmes: he is a narrator and a support for whoever was in the limelight at the time. The show spent the first season establishing the relationships and routines of all the characters, which in retrospect had been incredibly dull and uninteresting to watch. The payoff came in the second season when Kiriyama became aware of the pains and tears those around him endured beneath the smiles.

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Fight! Saku-chan! Fight for our sake!

From a cheerful child who suffered from bullying at school to a carefree shogi master who shouldered the hopes and dreams of those who had tried their best, Kiriyama stood to witness their struggles in awe. I too was standing beside him, witnessing in awe the hidden strength of these ordinary people. And as I watched Kiriyama extend his hands toward these people, helping them in any way he could, futilely, helplessly, bravely; I knew both I and he had grown into better persons than we were before.

Such is the inspirational power of Sangatsu no Lion. It teaches courage, compassion, and righteousness. Its lack of a unified central theme is well compensated by its moral lessons. The diverse, multi-subplots story works for Sangatsu no Lion and not for Overlord 2 because of the sheer number of episodes the show spent for the build-up. But this long build-up ultimately grew dull and unexciting, preventing it from reaching a wide audience. Furthermore, a few of its comedic interactions were exaggerated, untimely and were genuinely cringe-worthy.

Of course, the show wouldn’t have reached the stage it is on without the impeccable directing, bombastic animation and spectacular music. The story makes heavy uses of symbolism (silvery dazzling water, the burned field, the thieving birds, etc.) and I imagine it would be a massive headache for any studio to animate properly.

Thankfully, SHAFT, the masters of head tilts and symbolism, were at the helm this time and they managed to pull off yet another Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu miracle despite all the drawbacks. Their efforts allow Sangatsu no Lion to come out on top of Koi wa Ameagari no You ni in execution alone but it falls short of Violet Evergarden‘s greatness. Still, it is a solid Slice-of-life show and I highly recommend it for fans of the genre.

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