Animation - Anime, Anime Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Sound! Euphonium 2 (Fall 2016) Anime

Original Name: Hibike! Euphonium 2

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/31988/Hibike_Euphonium_2


(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

I must admit that out of all the series I was blogging last year, Sound Eupho 2 was the one I’m saddest to see it ends; not because it was my absolute favorite anime last year, but because the sheer amount of their attention to details and their ridiculously quest for perfection are something that out of this world, in this day and age, which I will get to that later in my review. This is a sequel to Sound Eupho last year but I will keep the comparison to the first season to minimum in terms of quality because this season is great enough to be judged by its own.

The story is a direct continuation from the end of last season, as the Kitauji high school concert band just qualified from the qualifying round, now heading to Kansai region competition and later on, the National competition. Unlike the first season where the main dramatic events like Aio pulled out from the music club to focus on her study; the audition to choose the best players for the competition or the challenge to pick the lead trumpet arise and resolved around the development of the band club itself, the second season concentrates more on the band members’ personal issues. This change of focus is more apparent in the second half, when the show completely drops the band practice, even to the point of not showing the national performance at all. I understand this bold choice can cause disappointment to many fans who want to see the band in action, and moreover focus on individual character drama can cause the lack of cohesive theme; this shift of attention, on the other hand, also brings out some of the best character developments and intimate moments the show has ever achieved.

I will get to the negative part first. When the show concentrates more on character’s heightened drama, those dramas can be uneven and doesn’t add up much to the big picture. Two of this season’s acts for example: Yoroizuka and Reina act don’t play well for me because they have the exact opposite problems. Yoroizuka (the only character that I used by surname here, as this is how Kumiko refers her) is a secondary character who was suddenly given the spotlight and while her final confrontation with Yuuko and Nozomi was effective, the drama was resolved too quickly, Yoroizuka changed so fast that I personally don’t see her grow as natural at all. Reina’s affection to Taki-sensei grow to another level this season, but I’m not alone to say that this was the show’s weakest act because almost everyone can see the outcomes. That drama isn’t much to speak of to begin with; it’s a shame because Reina was my favorite character the first season and I’d like to see other kind of developments for Reina, any other development but this.

Moreover, sometimes it does feel like Sound Eupho stumbles around those dramas in order to “create the situation”; as a result sometimes the show loses its focus because it has to cover too many grounds (like in episode 6), other times some of the conflicts feel forced and calculated (of all time, Mamiko choose she decided to tell her parents to quit college on that stormy night, and “she quited because it has to be now”. Why?). While the Mamiko act actually turns out pretty great, those issues speak to the lack of single unified theme that made the first season so tightly constructed. The last issue, which was also the show’s biggest flaw, lied in the fact that when they focus too much on one set of characters for the drama, other cast members unfortunately don’t have much roles so all they do is hanging around and making the best out of little screen time they had. Reina, before reaching her act, serves as a shadow behind Kumiko; Shuichi becomes the unluckiest guy in the world and worst of all, Hazuki and Sapphire don’t have any development anymore, given that they are still billed as the lead characters.

In contrast, if anything, this season will be remembered as the season of Kumiko and Asuka. They are the heart and the soul of this season, and it’s a blessing to see how far both of them have matured in the end. Asuka has been one of the most complex character in Sound Eupho’s universe and the show did a damn fine job to underline her struggles with both her parental figures, as well as gradually peeling off the mask to reveal her true feeling inside. The most brilliant part of it was that she never lose her strong side at all, never in many moments we are allowed to see her vulnerable side, because it’s more that she becomes honest to herself, embrace herself to what she loves most and comes out even stronger than before. In additions, most of Asuka and Kumiko moments develop into the highlights of the season. When Asuka played that Sound Euphonium piece to Kumiko in episode 9, it was one of the best moments of the whole show, period. When Kumiko poured her heart out to convince Asuka to come back to the band, it was one of the most effective drama the show could ever committed. As the two getting closer and more honest to each other, it makes a whole lot sense that we have that final confrontation between them that warmly tied up this whole season together. This show indeed ends on a high note.

Kumiko also deserved to be one of the year’s best character here as she has changed a lot from timid and passive with no real passion into the one who is really honest to what she feels. Aside from her interaction with Asuka, her moments with her sister, while soft and never overly dramatic like other acts, feel all too real ans intimate on how siblings care about each other. The last few episodes when we follow her through her quiet tears on the train, her outbursts, her confessions were a joy to watch and each step she made feel like a natural progression. I have to give extra gratitude Tomoyo Kurosawa, the saiyuu of Kumiko, for delivering such a deadpan, plain but strangely distinctive voice of our main girl.

But what make Sound Eupho stand head above the rest of the crop lies in its production values. That 10-minute performance in episode 5 simply outperformed everything else I watched in recent years. KyoAni’s always known for their gorgeous designs and their attentive to make every little detail right, but this is just another level of insanity the more you get to know what they achieved. Almost every performance you heard in the show was correctly timed to their single notes (meaning that if you hear the character hits the notes onscreen, they were the right notes), the position of their fingers, their postures, even down to the preparation of the members before hitting the notes, were all accurate. Now imagine all of these in animation with a band of thirty something characters for the whole two seasons. I can’t even think how on earth one could achieve animating all that, let alone making it all flawlessly. They even go as far as making the echo of the announcement on the firework scene in the first episode, because they wanted it to be real (the city Uji is surrounded by mountains). No, something as insane as this don’t happen often, especially on TV-anime level, so to see it finally at the end of its road suddenly make me feel a little sad.

This second season is indeed a worthy follow up to the Sound Eupho the series. Just a bit of note that the score I’m giving above is for this second season alone, if I have to give a score for the whole series it would be 93/100. Sound Eupho is an install classic and for me is up there as one of KyoAni’s best works to date. As of this writing right now, there is one more novel about our Kitauji school that is more of a collection of short stories (like the real reason Aoi quit the band, or the story of Shuichi finally confesses to Kumiko) so I think OVAs will be the most possible outcomes. Otherwise we have the spin-off novels that focus on Azusa (Kumiko’s childhood friend) and her Rikka high school marching band and for now I think there’s a high chance that in the future KyoAni will return back to that universe by adapting this spin-off. Well, they better adapt it, or on that note, why not adapting Haruhi season 3?

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

The Great Passage (Fall 2016) Anime

Original Name: Fune wo Amu

Studio: Zexcs

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 11

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32948/Fune_wo_Amu


(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

This series is, in retrospect, a really appropriate title that speaks to the very spirit of noitaminA block: an adult drama slice of life about the making of dictionary that surely don’t try to target the young audiences. Sound as dry as it is, Fune wo Amu’s actually one of the strongest noitaminA show come out for the last few years (not that the TV programming have been doing well to begin with). In Fune wo Amu, we follow Majime as he transferred to the dictionary department with the main mission is to publish a new dictionary called The Great Passage, along with the small team. That process, of course, taking time: 10 years, 20 years, you call it. The series is divided into 2 parts, the first follow him as he begins on the project and detailing how his normal workplace look like, the second part jumps 13 years later at their nearly-publishing phase. The decade-long efforts that he and the people he worked with delicate themselves in is something that you rarely seen in this anime medium.

I will be the first to admit that making dictionary doesn’t sound like an interesting subject matter to me, not because there isn’t anything great about it, but mainly because the subject will get dull very fast. But even I am surprised to say that the show keeps me hooked from start to finish. The tricks of how the show nailed it in making dictionary interesting are 1) the way the show managed to demonstrate how important dictionary is and 2) show us how those characters giving their all to make it possible and 3) point out to us the love for words and that each dictionary has, in fact, each own personality. For the first point, the show frames dictionary as the passage for everyone (not “everyone” everyone. Japanese people only) to communicate and connect to each other. Words are the way to express our thoughts, our feeling, so using the right words at the right time can make others understand the context completely. The Great Passage is one of a way to connect that gap between what we want to express and what we actually express, between one person to another. It is irony, but still fitting to that theme, that our main character Majime is a socially-awkward type. He has an extended knowledge about words, but he’s struggle to express what he wants to say. His love letter to Kaguya perfectly demonstrate his geeky nature, as even Kaguya herself can’t figure out it was a love letter, but being moved nonetheless.

But the beauty of dictionary means nothing if we don’t see the love and efforts of people behind it, and thanks god, this is where the show shines as well. Even in the wear-down corner of the otherwise-busy publisher, with so few people in it, it’s their passion to the project that counted the most. As in a line in La La Land (great film! Go watch it), people are enthusiasm about it because YOU are passionate about it. The love that you have can affect other people in the most positive ways. In the series, Nishioka, Majime’s co-worker, isn’t a type of person for this job. He’s socially active, care for others but never really interested in words. Through Majime’s passion though, he started to feel the joy of his works and committed himself fully to make The Great Passage the reality. Other characters, Mr. Araki and Mr. Matsumoto, we can feel their whole lives devoted in words, their meaning and they’re damn proud of what they’ve achieved. Last but not lease, the show successfully depicts dictionary as a creation, something akin to the work of arts. To be fair, think of it that way make the whole process makes much more sense too. The Great Passage is a brainchild of all the people behind the project, so everything has to be perfect, from the selection of words that eventually appear in the dictionary, the description process, down to how to choose designs, mascots and even page’s quality that best represent the personality of The Great Passage. That lead us to the painstaking task but ultimately rewarding of double-checking every single entry to see if there are any words missing. As the tasks done, the team (and ultimately, us) feel relieved that The Great Passage going to be a masterpiece.

Fune wo Amu, moreover, isn’t simply about dictionary-making process, it’s the show about people, too. As with the nature of dictionary, it’s a desire for connection that brings those people together. In the show, we witness how Majime and Nishioka, as vastly different as they are, can really bring the best out of each other. We can also follow Majime and his love affair, as quiet and poetic as it is, this is for me one of the best depiction of romance that I’ve seen so far for the last few years. The romance speaks to me because it grounded to reality, it’s beautiful because it is quiet, and isn’t it the best kind of relationship when you regard your spouse as a partner for life (well, for me it is). Even the new girl Midori fits into that pattern as well. Her struggle from being forced to transfer to the department that she had no idea of (you might not know but this happened regularly in Asian culture, especially 20,30 years ago, but I still have no idea why Nishioka had to hide his relationship with his co-worker partner), we see her from being distressed about the new workplace, come to really appreciate and love her job is nothing but a rewarding experience. Every one of the cast have their own different traits and characteristics, and that precisely the point that the dictionary (and the show by that extend) need all of their diverse voice in order to become multi-layered production.

If anything, the passage of time is the show’s main theme as it lingers in various forms throughout the show. The sudden time-skip, for example, signals us how everything is supposed to change (it’s 13 years for Peter sake), and yes, we can see there are some minor changes from the settings and the characters. But the sameness from the dictionary department’s office really tell us that in the room, time flows slowly; and really, that amount of time spent for making dictionary is nothing compare to how the dictionary might flourish for generations to come. In that 13-year gap, people leave, new people come in, it’s that cycle of life that make the show timelessness. Furthermore, Mr. Matsumoto unfortunate leaves us at the end of the show, but we know full well that the old plants gone in order for the new plants to blossom. Through every change, the words inside the dictionary will continue to live on and connect more and more people together as time goes on.

The show, although very well-pace, still has some flaws too. The subject matter is decidedly niche that unfortunately it will fly below the normal viewer’s radar. The passing away of Mr. Matsumoto before the time of the publishing is a tired cliché that for me bring an unnecessary regret to Majime. The animation as a whole, while serviceable enough and really don’t have many high actions, still a bit below par compared to your regular anime. Although we have a big time-jump, if the series meant to highlight the progression of making The Great Passage and the life of our main characters, I would’ve much preferred if they show us instead how they were doing along the way. I want to follow their journey from beginning to end (not the beginning and the end), and I don’t care one iota if they’ll successfully publish it or not, what I want is the ride to get there.

To sum up, Fune wo Amu, along with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, are the titles that I’m really glad they are made after all. The older I get, the more I’m wearing off at high school comedy anime and high action anime, the more these titles speak to me on a personal level. I’m really glad anime still have platforms like this, the show that tripped out all the spectacular over the top visuals to instead telling the story it wants to tell. What we have in the end might seem nothing much plot-wise, but the sophistication behind the story and the love that the people behind it put into are something that I will remember fondly.

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

Yuri!!! on Ice (Fall 2016) Anime

Original Name: Yuri!!! On ICE

Studio: MAPPA

Season: Fall 2016

Episodes: 12

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32995/Yuri_on_Ice


(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

“Can you hear my heartbeat? Tired of feeling never enough.

I close my eyes and tell myself that my dreams will come true”

That’s exactly what Yuri on Ice offers, a heart-pumping ride to the sport of figure skating. Yuri on Ice’s current success and mainstream breakout is something that no one could have guessed before it aired; but here we are. As the show progressed, it picked up fans along its way, enthusiasm comments episode after episode, even the professional skaters are quite fond with the anime. So really then, how good is Yuri on Ice exactly? Well, let me put it this way, this show is vastly different than your regular anime out there, down from its sheer ambition alone (this is a passion project from one of the most promising anime director), the well-detailed struggling productions (which for me that doesn’t hurt the show, quite the opposite really as I find it adds to the show’s charms) and most famously the very positive portray of gay male romance and of characters from different backgrounds.

Yuri On Ice follows a season-long of Japanese figure skater Yuri after Victor- the current world champion skate figure- decided to take a year break in order to coach Yuri to win the world gold. He then trained and competed with other world class competitors from around the globe, especially with his rival: teen prodigy Yurio from Russia. I have briefly mentioned this before, but sports like figure skating or gymnastics or some performing martial arts are more akin to performing arts (think of dancing, acting or opera singing or ahem… band concerting) than the competitive nature of other sports. While other sports emphasis mainly on winning, those kinds of sports also aim for aesthetic and beauty. Beauty rules. Beauty rocks. Beauty is king. That’s why to do figure skating justice is a tricky job, as you have to both show artistic expressions of each individuals, as the same time still make the sport competitive. On that front, the show’s rather unusual approach of focusing entirely on the routines of each players elevate those parts I mentioned rather nicely, but writing-wise, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The show, at its core, is one huge theme about expressions, as expression is the very nature of figure skating, and through the performances the characters have a space to express their personalities, as well as their own struggles. Even our main character, Yuri, scrambles throughout the series to express his “love” for himself, for the sport and for his coach Victor. Many of the routines are of course over the top and hilariously silly (like the Italian’s sibling complex or the sex appeal ending routine of the Swiss guy, Christophe); but through those performances each player has his own little arc to dwell into and it’s certainly entertainment to watch both their smooth movements and their stream of thoughts from those guys. Every player, as a result, has certain unique traits and each of them add their own colors to this colorful world. I certainly enjoy the company of most of them.

But the hot of Yuri on Ice lies on the “bromance” relationship between our two men: Yuri and Victor. Week in, week out, the exclamations of many passionate fans: “Did they or didn’t they…?” would float up and soon become a massive storm of all kinds of responses. While this sucks that the show as brave as this one wouldn’t go all the way to announce their romantic relationship, it’s all clear in the context. I would say that this series greatest’s strength is the show’s positive depiction of same-sex relationship between two men. Positive but not realistic. I will get to the unrealistic part later but for once, this romance feels exactly how the two persons attracting to each other, the way they cling to one another and try their best to surprise the other partner. I’m glad the show see them as real characters, and describe their relationship not for the shake of shocking the anime world (although it did). More importantly, this homosexual relationship is a positive and necessary statement to both the sports community and the countries where those characters are from; as sports have history of homophobia from way back and the real life gay figure skater Johnny Weir, struggled to this very issue throughout his whole career. In addition, Russia specially also has a history with homophobic and Japan themselves is still debating on legalize gay marriage in their country (well, Australia is still debating as well. What’s wrong with you people? If someone want to marriage, give them the rights to!), so in episode 10, when Yuri and Victor giving rings (even in the name of good luck charms), it is a clear message for gay rights and I honestly wouldn’t wish it other way. If only other shows willing take such risks like that.

As for the unrealistic part, I’m going to be brief but the premise alone about Victor “suddenly” visits his hometown and declared to be his coach is really a wish-fulfilment plot device. We did learn in the end that Victor was swayed by the drunken Yuri but really this is something that only works in fiction. Even setting aside the mechanism, Victor willingness to see Yuri as his partner at all cost, while fun to watch, isn’t seem real at all. Furthermore, their relationship is depicted mostly in positive light, but when you think about it, putting two people with different backgrounds will of course result in culture shock. Even a small gesture from one side can be interpreted different by the other, but the show brushes any of that off and even more conveniently they made those characters communicate well to each other like they are all come from the big Japan. They do argue with each other but after a while they are overwhelmed by other’s feeling, as I take it as they are still on the early stage of relationship. If they truly can stay together, they will need to see the dark, vulnerable side of each other and as of now I don’t see any of that being shown in the series. Call me cynical guy but yeah while I still enjoy their relationship, it’s just not the real presentation of what true relationship is.

Another strong point that I am personally digging it from the show is how they handled the characters from different backgrounds with stereotype-free for the most part. Like how when you think about an anime American character, you’d think of the blonde, ruthless money-obsessed guy, but the American we got from this anime is the Mexican-background Leo de la Iglesia. Or for the country that is hot and wet all year and don’t even have snow in winter like Thailand, skate figure is the very unnatural sport, but to present a Thai character who is proud of being the first Thai to reach the final stage? That is a phenomenal touch and that approach strangely makes those characters feel so rich and universal.

But because of the show’s choice to concentrate on the performances, many problems arise. First, in order to be more focus, they can only emphasis on the Yuri’s growth and his relationship to Victor, and most of other parts are either undercooked or being neglected all together, especially for those non-professional characters. Remember Yuko? Or Minako? Of course not because basically after the first few episodes their roles are basically over, and the show reduces them to crazy bitch fans. How about their dogs? What happened with Victor’s dog afterward? Also, that part where Victor had to rush home for his dog is poorly constructed so that it feels very forced. Yurio gets some more screentime than the rest, and I particularly enjoy his moments with his grandpa, and with Otabek, but I feel his rival with Yuri is underdeveloped, especially towards the end when the person Yurio often pissed off weren’t Yuri but Victor. Also, I find the ending is so rushed that I would love for some more time to see the aftermath of those main characters.

The repetitive nature of those routines is also their drawbacks. Although of course they are slightly different, with the jump sequences are changed each time and we can see the character’s progression after each routine, it still can’t hide the fact the we listen to the same music, see the same performances for a good number of time. I have lost counts on how many times I’ve seen Yuri perform his pieces (by my count right now, 5 times for each program), as a result it makes the story as a whole rather predictable. There are also some sequences that I can see the huge graded down in terms of quality, but as I said earlier for those parts that did work, the choreography of the performances is something to behold, the animation is one of the fluidest I’ve seen this season and those shaky productions still managed to maintain my attention throughout the show. The music is all around great and creative, and further assist to make all the characters so distinguishable with each of them have their own unique theme song that speak a lot to their characters. I would definitely buy their soundtracks if it ever releases as a physical CD.

As a final impression, I am glad that we have this show. Yuri on Ice stands out in more than one way and if anything, its unexpected mainstream appeal means that Sayo Yamamoto will have more artistic control over her next project, which is a huge bless for everyone. As for the show, they’re not quite there to make history yet, but there’s no denying that Yuri on Ice is a special show.