Highlight: Spring 2017 anime season

Tsuki ga Kirei header 2
“I want to tell her that no matter how far apart we are, my feelings for her will never change” — Kotarou Azumi

Two years of blogging seasonal reviews and I have yet to see any anime season as powerful as this season. Three shows made it to the top for their successful delivery of one awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping moment. It is always delightful to watch the story slowly building up to that decisive moment, and to see the climax being executed beautifully.

Erwin, you glorious bastard! Advance!

But not everyone can stomach eleven episodes of slow burns for that one explosive moment. Thankfully, Spring 2017 also features stories that deliver mini-climaxes every few episodes. Boku no Hero Academia (HeroAca), Sagrada Reset and Tsuki ga Kirei got this strategy nailed. In term of writing quality, I must say HeroAca and Tsuki ga Kirei are on equal footings. But, highlight goes to the latter because HeroAca is still ongoing and it is difficult to judge an incomplete show.

And then, there’s the nostalgia trio Clockwork Planet, Little Witch Academia and Tsugumomo whose character interactions and art styles are so dated, they give off the vibe of shounen anime in the 90s. I can’t complain, at least they fared the test of time much better than Warau Salesman did.

Seasonal Selection
Show Expectation Rating
Tsuki ga Kirei Star Highlight (1)
Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka? Question mark Highlight (2)
Boku no Hero Academia Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Shingeki no Kyojin ss2 Cash cow Decent (Pending)
Sagrada Reset Star Decent (Pending)
Eromanga-sensei Star Decent
Sekaisuru Kado Question mark Decent
Re-Creators Star Decent (Pending)
Clockwork Planet Question mark Decent
Little Witch Academia Star Decent
Tsugumomo Star Decent
Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records Question mark Mediocre
Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho Star Mediocre
Alice to Zouroku Old dog Mediocre
Warau Salesman Old dog Nope
Highlight: Tsuki ga Kirei
(As the moon, so beautiful)

Tsuki ga Kirei is a poetic romance novel set in modern time. The story revolves around two junior high students, Kotarou Azumi and Akane Mizuno, as they meet and grow attracted to each other. It is a slice of life story about growing up, seeking common grounds, supporting one another and pursuing dreams.

In a sense, Tsuki ga Kirei is the purest manifestation of classical literature in anime form. It retains the subtlety and intricacy of classical literature.

Characters are recognized by their personality traits and less obvious differences in body shape rather than princess Cotton Candy’s hair color, eye color or her over-saturated accessories. Plus, for once, common sense is actually common in anime and realism is actually…realism and not grim dark masquerading realism.

Tsuki ga Kirei snapshot
Body language says it all

Its greatest strength lies in its ability to capitalize on body language in storytelling. Strategically placed shots of minute changes in gestures and expressions speak louder than internal monologue, actions speak louder than spoken words; and where spoken words are called for, they are natural and casual.

Show, don’t tell” is a storytelling rule often forgotten in modern writing. It is all too easy to write a dialogue (internal or vocal) that says “I’m so nervous” but it is much harder to convey the same idea using actions. Tsuki ga Kirei managed to pull this off in its animation, its character interactions and voice acting: fidgeting, having stiff posture, conversational hiccups and becoming easily startled.

If I have to draw a parallel, Tsuki ga Kirei is the junior high version of Rakugo Shinjuu, with more focus on romance than death. Both shows use monologue device sparingly, both shows manage to capture real conversation (with all its flaws and hiccups), and both shows put great emphasis on body language.

It is not just the gut feeling that tells me the show is thriving to be a work of classical literature. The show makes explicit references to what it wants to be. The poetic title “Tsuki ga Kirei”, the quotes from classical author Dazai Osamu, the male lead is striving to be an author in “serious literature”, and the author’s not-so-subtle allusion to the dreadful distinction between serious literature and light novel.

TsukiKirei_snapshot2
How I feel when the credits roll.

In term of memorable scenes, I can’t put my finger on one particular in the show. There are simply too many of them: the night scene at the shrine, the one at the park, the one in the bookstore, the one under the rain, that one at the festival, that other one before the exam, that other other one by the riverside, and that last one on the train. They are all accompanied by a fantastic soundtrack for completion.

Studio feel. lived up to their name. Every week, I feel nostalgic as I watch a shy boy and a shy girl trying to start a conversation (there was a time, I was in their shoes, oh these times when just being there together would be enough, words did not matter). I feel the warmth rising in my heart as I watch Kotarou’s parents quietly supporting him chasing his dream. I feel joy when their relationship reaches a new stage. I feel frustrated when things did not go their way.

And, I feel sad that the show is over.

Highly recommended for those who want a good slice of life romance. Extra recommendations for those who are still recovering from the heart break that is 5 Centimeters per Second. This show is essentially the hopeful version of that depressing movie.

Runner up: Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka?
(WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?)

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii Desu ka? (SukaSuka) embraces a different strategy to remain competitive. The show bets everything on the finale. It has one climax, one big climax instead of lots of many small ones. The show in its entirety is a long build up for that one epic finale and, by the fact that this show made it on top of Shingeki no Kyojin season 2 so far, its bold investment paid off.

The show is about a post-apocalyptic world where child soldiers fairies are born to fight monsters and die in battle. One such a fairy, Chtholly, begins to develop feelings for her caretaker Willem and…well, like that is going to end well ever.

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasuka Isogashii Desuka Sukutte Moratte Ii Desuka snapshot
Bombastic, graceful and grievous at the same time. Dammit, where’s my jaw?

Very similar to Narcissu‘s premise, SukaSuka, for all intents and purposes, is straightforward; painfully so. It has small twists here and there though these are rather predictable twists. The viewers are given the ending from the get go and they get exactly what they expected. Straightforwardness is an appeal, not a flaw, and I can name a good number of highly regarded shows in which the audience can see how things go down from miles away.

*cough*One Punch Man*cough*

Watching SukaSuka is like reading Narcissu all over again. The parallel is so great. Both shows start with the declaration that the main characters are not going to survive the ending. Both show draw inspirations from the conflict between the dying patient and the care taker. And…both shows have that one place where the residents all have their days numbered.

These kinds of story do one thing exceptionally well: turning innocent and joyful moments into melancholy and heart bleed.

Unlike Narcissu, however SukaSuka really did spend all its capital on the finale. It is a combination of heroic sacrifice, last stand ending, scenery porn, graceful yet badass animation and right-on-the-theme soundtrack. Right, I didn’t mention the poetic exchange between Cththolly and Willem in that last moment, which resonates with the story behind Scarborough Fair song, gives light to which memories these characters felt most endearing, at the same time contrasting their views on her sacrifice.

In other words, the finale packs more layers of information than that meets the eyes. It blows every other scene in this series, and some in other series, out of the water and takes the cake for the best scripted finale this season. It is one of those franchise-defining moments that will linger in mind for a long, long time.

Although, other than the finale, I find the build up not so impressive. It is decent but not great. I recommend SukaSuka for those who seek a fond memory, not recommend for those who are looking for a great overall viewing experience.

Special mention: Sekaisuru Kado
(KADO: The right answer)

Sekaisuru Kado tried to be different. It’s been a long time since I last saw a story on friendly alien contact. For a change, the aliens would be the reasonable and civilized ones and humans are the true monsters. For a change, negotiation and the voice of reason would be mankind’s greatest weapon and not tanks, jets, nukes, laser cannons, power suits or giant robots.

That was the premise Sekaisuru Kado tried to sell at the start. A professional–the best there is–diplomat, Koujirou Shindo takes on an unknown anisotropic life form named Yaha-kui zaShunina whose goal is to remove the limitations of nature on the potential of mankind.

But turn out, this is just another case of misleading advertisement. There were power suits, there were evil alien overlord, there was no negotiation. As soon as a second “native” alien life form appeared to defend the traditional life and exposed the seemingly zaShuina’s hidden agenda to…(you guessed it!) destroy humanity in the most convoluted manner possible, I know the show is not salvageable.

Going mainstream is NOT the right answer.

In the end, despite the jarring, all CGI, art style and the broken writing in the later parts, Sekaisuru Kado did two things right: its soundtrack and its final plot twist. While I still have mixed feelings about the resolution, the twist did surprise both Yaha-kui zaShunina and myself. Do I recommend the show? No. I’m only mentioning this because I’m genuinely pained to see this much potential going down the drain.

At least Sekaisuru Kado has some redeeming qualities. Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho, with all of its lost potential, has zero.