What I Watched This Week – 9/12-9/18

Title image for Joshiraku. Five young women in solid-colored kimonos kneel in a circle.

Joshiraku – While I haven’t read or watched everything Kouji Kumeta has done, after watching this, Kakushigoto, and parts of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, I suspect he may be kind of talented at writing gag manga. The story is nominally about five young women employed as rakugo performers, but is really just an absurd gag comedy where the characters sit in a room and clown on each other. The jokes are rapid fire and packed with cultural references to everything from Japanese TV to anime to manga to Hollywood movies, and I’d be lying if I said I caught them all, but I was steadily entertained regardless. 7/10

Title image for Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Yang Wen-Li in black beret and uniform stands behind Reinhard with flowing gold hair and white cape with each nations' military commanders below them.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaiden Ep.27-52 – Like I said last week, I’m watching this via Hidive, who mashed together the 1998 and 99 gaiden series and organized the stories chronologically according to the story timeline, so these episodes covered most of the 98 series and one story from the 99. They all primarily focused on Reinhard and Kircheis as they rose through the officer ranks of the military, although they did give glimpses of Alliance figures from time to time. With the exception of the story Disgrace, which wasn’t very good, the stories all gave more definition and flavor to the characters while also delivering more of the political wrangling and space fleet battles that made the main series so entertaining. Big shout out to the hair-twirling scene between Reinhard and Kircheis. That was the reddest meat I’ve seen thrown to shippers other than the “there’s only one bed” scene in Free season 2. 7/10

Title image for Land of the Lustrous. Multiple vibrant-colored gem people holding swords against a plain white background.

Land of the Lustrous – This is one the first shows I added to my VRV watchlist years ago, and with all the Hidive titles leaving at the end of the month, now was the time to watch it. While I am not generally a fan of 3D animation, Orange has shown they’re one of the few studios that knows how to use it effectively, and this show about translucent and shimmering gem people is exactly the sort of thing that benefits from it. It took me several episodes to warm up to the main character, Phos, who is selfish and lazy and impulsive, only to find myself a few episodes later wishing for their old personality to come back after they go through several traumatic changes. While the show is animated beautifully, and the writing swept me right along with it, at the end of 12 episodes it felt like the story stopped just as it was getting good without feeling like it concluded. 7/10

Title image for Blue Gale Xabungle. Six people in pilot jumpsuits stand in front of a giant robot.

Blue Gale Xabungle Ep.1-12 – I generally enjoy older anime, and I knew this wasn’t trying to be a particularly serious mecha series, but I’ve given it the old college try and I’m just not enjoying this. The comedy bits aren’t hitting for me, and I absolutely cannot get past how much the main character looks like Ernie from Sesame Street. Although I don’t think I’ll continue this, it was interesting to watch yet another old mecha and see how it influenced later shows, like Back Arrow in this case.

What I Watched This Week – 9/5-9/11

Title image for Uta no Prince-sama. A red-haired girl in a school uniform surrounded by six handsome boys in uniforms singing or playing insruments.

Uta no Prince-sama – I’ve watched a fair amount of different kinds of anime, but this is my first real foray into idol anime, and it was a mixed bag. It has a real bad case of placeholder heroine syndrome, where the main character is utterly unremarkable and ordinary, but is seen in-universe as a groundbreaking visionary. She begins the show as a timid first-year student at a prestigious music academy without knowing how to read or write music, and ends the show as the indispensable muse and composer for an idol supergroup of six handsome guys who find her irresistible. I’m not necessarily opposed to a reverse harem fantasy setup like this, but this is an idol anime where music plays a large role, and half the cast couldn’t sing, and the music was mediocre at best. 6/10

Title image for Armored Trooper VOTOMS: The Pailsen Files. A man in a helmet and respirator looks at the camera.

Armored Trooper VOTOMS: The Pailsen Files – I liked the original series, and the first few OVA sequels and prequels were pretty good, but the quality has been steadily trending downwards, and this was close to being straight up bad. The 3D animation for the mecha battles wasn’t technically poor, but it was such a stark mismatch with the 2D character animation that the combination was kind of nauseating. As for the story, the dramatic tension relied on being in suspense over whether or not the increasingly dangerous situations the higher-ups subjected Chirico’s group to would kill them. This being a prequel, it’s obvious what the outcome is, and it all just felt repetitive and tedious. 5/10

Title image for Un-Go: Chapter of Inga. A man and woman lie with their heads touching among some morning glories.

Un-Go: Chapter of Inga – This 45-minute OVA prequel gives the backstory behind how Shinjuro and Inga first met and began working together. Mixing a case shortly before the start of the series with scenes from several years earlier, when Shinjuro meets Inga while travelling abroad, it gives the backstories of several important characters from the main series. It’s dark and gritty, with the same twists and turns and social commentary that made the series work so well. 7/10

Title image for Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Yang Wen-Li in black beret and uniform stands behind Reinhard with flowing gold hair and white cape with each nations' military commanders below them.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Gaiden Ep.1-26 – Technically, there are two gaiden series, but I’m watching this on Hidive via VRV, and they’ve combined the two into one series organized chronologically, so I watched the side stories Spiral Labyrinth, The Silver-White Valley, The Mutineer, and The Duelist. Spiral Labyrinth was the longest of the stories, at fourteen episodes, and it follows Yang Wen-Li several years before the start of the main series, as he investigates the death of a famous commander, and gets embroiled in the occasional scandal. The other three stories follow Reinhard and Kircheis as young soldiers fresh out of the academy. As prequels, they’re all entertaining bits of backstory, and it’s nice to spend more time with the characters who formed the backbone of the longer series, but they lack some of the oomph and urgency of the main story. 7/10

What I Watched This Week – 8/29-9/4

Title image for Kyousougiga. A girl in a sailor uniform against a chaotic backdrop.

Kyousougiga – Oh boy, is this a tough anime to write about without giving away all of the surprises that made it so special. I didn’t really know what to expect when I started this, and after finishing it, I would really struggle to say which genre this belongs in. It’s an absolute feast for the eyes full of vibrantly colored art, creative backgrounds, and lively animation. There’s lots of action, a bit of comedy, a thread of mystery, and some surprisingly heartwarming feelings. The plot mixing time periods and dimensions is hard to summarize, but at its core, it’s a story about family and how gloriously messy it can be. 8/10

Title image for Un-Go. A man stands back-to-back with a boyish figure against a backdrop of a half-demolished building.

Un-Go – After watching a number of mystery anime series, I’m starting to get used to how they differ from English-language whodunnits, although they are still a little strange to me. This series adapts the novels of Ango Sakaguchi, which I’ve never read, and transports them to a post-apocalyptic near future Japan, which seems like a good fit for novels written in the first half of the 20th century. Unlike the mystery novels I’m familiar with, it doesn’t really give you the details and clues to play along with the great detective, so much as just build towards an interesting resolution. I enjoyed the characters who were a mix of flaws and virtues, and the stories had just the right amount of twists and surprises to be entertaining without being convoluted. 7/10

Title image for The Wind Rises. A woman in a yellow dress paints on an easel on a grassy hill under a white sun umbrella, while a man leans in to kiss her.

The Wind Rises – Sometimes Ghibli movies are a little hard to talk about. The animation is excellent, and the art is beautiful, which counts for a lot in a visual medium, so it’s hard to criticize such a gorgeous thing. However, the story for this movie just didn’t thrill me. It’s a fictionalized biography that felt like a flat recounting of events from start to finish without any real dramatic build up or climax to it. Jiro was an engaging character, and his aeronautics work was interesting, but few of the other characters felt fleshed-out, and the romance that dominated the second half wasn’t developed too well. 7/10

Title image for Hakumei and Mikochi. Two tiny women walk up a staircase towards their house in the trunk of a growing tree.

Hakumei and Mikochi – Slice of life series are generally warm and fluffy, but this fantasy-set story about two tiny women living in a forest with other tiny people and anthropomorphic animals was extra strength floof. I adored all of the people in and around the village, from the goth tinkerer girl, to the construction company run by a badger and little person, to the flophouse full of mischievous artists. Each episode was a perfect mix of cozy, low-stakes adventure, and endearing, storybook-style art. 8/10

What I Watched This Week – 8/22-8/28

Title image for Midnight Occult Civil Servants. Four men stand on the stairs of a city office building with various supernatural beings floating around them.

Midnight Occult Civil Servants + OVAs – Based off the series description and the promotional materials, this looked like my kind of show, so I decided to check it out despite its sub-7.00 rating on MAL. I will admit that the animation wasn’t terribly good, and the story did sometimes feel a little bit like a grown-up, urban copy of Natsume’s Book of Friends, but otherwise it was a perfectly enjoyable story about the local government workers in charge of keeping the peace between humans and yokai. Its central message seemed to be that everyone was worth trying to understand, no matter how difficult, and I liked that. 7/10

Title image for Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth. A young Japanese woman in a pink kimono outside a French mansion.

Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth – There are a lot of bizarre premises in anime, but “unmarried and childless Frenchman visits Japan as a tourist and comes back to his Paris metalworking shop with a young Japanese girl as a souvenir” has to be one of the more absurd ones I’ve run across. As a slice-of-life story about adjusting to living in a foreign country well before the internet or mass media, it does a fine job. It was interesting to watch Yune and Claude struggle to understand each other, and I enjoyed watching her adapt to the French way of doing things while staying true to herself. However, one of the supporting characters had this screechy, squeaky voice that just tore through my skull in a bad way, and I could not get behind the way the story was hinting at romantic developments when Yune looked like she was about five years old. 6/10

Title image for Saiyuki Reload. Four men pose for the camera holding their weapons.

Saiyuki Reload – Season 2 of Saiyuki was about as mixed a bag as season 1 was, leaving me wondering if the manga must be really good or something, because I can’t understand how there are so many seasons of such a mediocre story. The general pattern is the same, Sanzo and crew continue heading west and get involved in one- or two-episode long side stories along the way. The fight animation is dreadful, full of static shots with action lines and other shortcuts to imply movement, and the short side stories just aren’t that exciting. I liked the longer six-episode story arc that ended the season, but I still didn’t think this series was what I’d call good. 6/10

Title image for Bubblegum Crash. Three women in street clothes and one woman in a robot suit with a looming male face behind them.

Bubblegum Crash – I liked but didn’t love Bubblegum Crisis, and wasn’t in a rush to watch the sequel, but I did notice it released in 1991, which was the last year I needed to complete my personal challenge of watching an anime from every year since 1980. It wasn’t a bad show, and I didn’t force myself through it, but it didn’t look as good as the previous season, and the writing contradicted a lot of what happened before. I still enjoyed the action scenes, which were animated pretty well and choreographed in interesting ways. The story just left a lot to be desired.  6/10

What I Watched This Week – 8/15-8/21

Title image for Sarazanmai. Several middle-school boys and kappas splash in a big wave.

Sarazanmai – I first tried watching this shortly after it aired, and couldn’t finish the first episode on account of it being so damn weird. After watching people of all tastes praise this show over the past two years, I decided to give it another go and see if I could get past all the butt stuff and singing combat. The first episode was still pretty freaking weird, but after I got past that there really is a wonderful story about forming and maintaining connections with other people mixed in with all of the bizarre action. The first half was the weakest part of the show for me, as it had a fair amount of footage recycling that ate up episode time, and it had a wheelchair character that it handled about as poorly as media generally does. The second half and the ending had the strongest writing and emotional effect, and a solid ending after a weaker beginning is always better than petering off after a strong start. 7/10

Title image for Bubblegum Crisis. Four young women in form-fitting metal suits of armor.

Bubblegum Crisis – This show was a little funny in that I’d never seen it before, but everything about the sound and aesthetic was incredibly nostalgic for me. I just distinctly remember seeing this particular new-wave sort of cyberpunk look in the 80’s and thinking it was so cool. It’s a little amusing to watch futuristic mecha sci-fi from decades ago where the technology is both staggeringly advanced and already obsolete by today’s standards, and the episodic plot could get a little formulaic, but I still enjoyed the gritty urban setting and the well-animated mecha battles. 7/10

Title image for Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Yang Wen-Li in black beret and uniform stands behind Reinhard with flowing gold hair and white cape with each nations' military commanders below them.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes Ep.76-110 – Finally, I reached the end of my watch-through, and I tip my hat to the writer for putting the opera into space opera. It is remarkable how they took an absolutely massive cast of characters with opposing values and motivations and crafted a story where they pushed and pulled each other towards a resolution that was neither too tragic nor too neat. I really enjoyed the show’s discussions of politics, war, and the human condition, and honestly could listen to Yang Wen-Li talk about history for ages. Its only flaws would be a couple ridiculous plots orchestrated near the end by shadowy third parties, and the way sexism and conservative gender roles were baked into the setting in a way that made it clear the writer did not recognize it as a societal flaw. 8/10