The Hero's Path - Chroma's Spring 2017 Impressions
As Anime Expo creeps right around the corner yet again, I'm in a pretty big transitional period in my life. Big changes are happening in my position at work, I'm pretty close to turning 26, and I've finally been able to find a bit of time to start working on some video-related stuff for the site. In the meantime, I've still been keeping with the tradition of watching anime as it keeps me sane (for the most part). How was this season's offerings? Let's take a look.
Sometimes playfully labelled "The Venus Arc" by myself, as it takes place upon the Venus Ark. You can send your complaints to the usual place. If you're joining us for the first time, Aikatsu Stars! is a continuation of the long journey I've been taking through the world of Aikatsu!. It may be a tad bit confusing if you're jumping in at this point, but basically, Aikatsu! was a 178 episode series split into 4 separate seasons. Aikatsu Stars! is a spiritual successor, utilizing many of the same concepts but also introducing a brand new cast and visual style. We're currently into the second season of that.
Now that we're up to date, we can focus on the season itself. After a first season of striking at the iron barricade known as "S4", the elite idols of the academy our protagonists attend, we enter a new environment where the characters get to challenge themselves against a brand new hurdle. Literally running her own elite academy onboard a ludicrously luxurious ark, "Perfect Elsa" (voiced beautifully by Hikasa Yoko) is a force to be reckoned with. She barges into the scene from practically nowhere, proves her prowess as both an idol and a scout for the best of the best, and immediately you can notice how everyone in this show views her as this untouchable goddess. That's where the strength of this arc comes into play, as our main lead Yume is one of the only characters who is not only awed and inspired by Elsa, but contributes this into her goal to surpass this rock solid wall. It's a lot like how the original Aikatsu! had Mizuki, the top idol who used her position to not sit comfortably in fame, but to help progress the idol world for everyone.
If only more people knew about this series, they'd realize that it's absolutely gorgeous, has an incredibly unforgettable soundtrack and is filled to the brim with unique character designs. It's also just a ton of fun, even if there are a ton of filler episodes that pad the meat and bread of the show. I'm usually one who is terrible with approaching any show with lengthy runtimes, but I would gladly return to watch Aikatsu! at any time.
Little Witch Academia (TV)
My impressions of this series in its prior arc were that while it radiated this simplistic, childlike joy like the Harry Potter series brought to all of us, it was stunted by its attachment to the traditional Studio Trigger mayhem of frantic animation. I'm not saying that their style itself is bad, but while it fit in an absolutely mad setting like Kill la Kill, it felt like Little Witch Academia deserved a bit more of that slower-paced animation to match its primary focus.
I believe a lot of these qualms are put to rest in the latter half of this series. Characters take the necessary time to really allow unique settings to sink in. They'll spend really quiet scenes just sitting at a table and allowing the gravity of their words replace the need for any comedy or even music to back them. It even gains much more of a unique footprint with some new revelations and branches in the story, which I really appreciate. While I don't find Little Witch Academia to be a groundbreaking feat of storytelling, I still do find it to be a charming series with an ability to magically encapsulate you into its world and just enjoy being there. After it introduced itself as part of the Anime Mirai incubator program, this full length series did a very decent job of following through with a surrounding backstory and continuation, in my opinion.
Boku no Hero Academia - 2nd Season
On the topic of academies and second seasons, let's talk about a big one that's been quite a bit more popular as of late. Once again, I'm late to the party, and this time, it's a fiesta of quirky (but still somehow not insanely overblown) superheroes that I've been neglecting.
Midoriya is but a simple boy trapped within a superpower-prominent world without any powers. Throughout his childhood, he was viewed as an anomaly and a weakling, undeserved of attention. Despite this, he is obsessed with the goodwill and prowess of the best hero, All-Might. Through a series of unexpected events, Midoriya comes face-to-face with All-Might himself, who grants him a piece of his power and sets him on his path to join the superhero academy of his dreams. Season one focused heavily on Midoriya's transformation and his introduction into this new revelation, and it was definitely a blast.
What about the second season then? It's also quite exciting so far! In the same way Gakusen Toshi Asterisk built itself around a solid combat tournament arc in its second season, Boku no Hero Academia also thrusts its students into an insane competition which not only showcases their individual powers, but their creative methods of using them against the others. Not only has the story itself been surprisingly engaging and even a little mysterious, but this wide gamut of superheroes (and villains) are just damned fun to watch. Every engagement, combative or not, has a meaning in this show, and I'm glad I finally hopped on board with its offerings. Let's hope it continues to prove its "all-mightiness".
Oh hi there, P.A. Works. Fancy seeing you again, did I mention I like your stuff? I think I have. Some of my favourite series ever have stemmed from this company, including (but not limited to) Tari Tari, Shirobako, and Hanasaku Iroha. So admittedly, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from their series about a "tourism board and the adventures of their ambassadors".
Adding to the unexpected nature of the premise was my shaky introduction to the first few episodes. Sakura Quest is set in a small area that's quite worn down, and as the show utilizes the first few episodes to establish its setting, you get a lot of these murky backdrops and slow-paced conversation. Dive in a bit further however, and the world starts to open up further. You see, this "kingdom of Chupacabra" may be borderline dilapidated, but with the unexpected addition of an eccentric girl named Yoshino to this mini-town's tourism board, they begin to take action to escape their economical bubble. As boring as this sounds, Sakura Quest has a really subtle way of entangling itself with my affection, and it has me returning week after week enjoying something different.
This tourism board is intriguing because its members are so different from each other. Yoshino is the new addition that isn't afraid to be the public image of the project, netting her the role of "marketing queen". On the flip side, you have other characters who are motherly, grouchy, emotionally introverted, you name it. Just from watching the series, I think I relate so much to it because it doesn't incorporate anything that can't occur in real life. By introducing such a wide array of personalities, I can find my own personality within a character and relate exactly to how they converse with other types. I strongly believe a lot of you can pick up this series and experience the same thing. It's a series I can't really give proper justice just using words, but I really do find joy in watching it, and I hope you do too.
Shingeki no Kyojin - 2nd Season
So we've looked at a bunch of heroes so far, I'd say. Some of them use magic, some of them have superpowers, and now, we're looking at heroes that protect humanity against the relentless attack from deadly titans.
This juggernaut of a series finished its second season and has already announced its third for 2018. To sum up the story, titans attacked one day, tearing down the large walls that were built to supposedly protect us. To fight back, humanity trains and builds an elite army while they study and attempt to discover a method to defeat them once and for all. As simplistic as that summary is, it is in no way a characteristic of how many elements of the plot are shrouded in constant mystery. Brand new species of titan are introduced in this season, and they have insanely bizarre traits that only raise more and more questions. It leaves you with this endless sense of dread and helplessness in watching your favourite characters band together just to survive. The show makes it known that basically...nobody is safe.
Wit Studio continues to provide a really powerful visual aesthetic to Shingeki no Kyojin, somehow making a lot of these ridiculous looking titans feel insanely intimidating. Action scenes are jam-packed with impressive angles, character designs are not overly expressed yet still easily distinguishable, and as mentioned, the plot is a huge hole of curiosity, begging for answers. It's pretty clear that the series is nowhere near ready to be completed, and with the level of quality I received in this season, I can comfortably say that I'm okay with that.
Suki ni Naru Sono Shunkan wo.: Kokuhaku Jikko Iinkai
That which hath been transcribed as "The Moment You Fall in Love". This long-titled movie is a continuation (actually running in the same universe and timeframe of its predecessor) of Zutto Mae kara Suki Deshita.: Kokuhaku Jikko Iinkai, which involved an unfolding high school love story.
This movie follows the same layout as its predecessor, featuring HoneyWorks as its primary soundtrack contributor and the gleamingly pleasant designs of Qualia Animation as its backbone. Unlike protagonist Natsuki however, Hina is our new lead that is generally more concise and to-the-point with her actions. While the premise is almost entirely the same, this small change makes things move at a different pace to Zutto Mae kara Suki Deshita.: Kokuhaku Jikko Iinkai, which I found interesting. As mentioned, Suki ni Naru Sono Shunkan wo.: Kokuhaku Jikko Iinkai also runs perpendicularly alongside its predecessor, which essentially not only establishes a connection, but also gives more context and depth to a movie you probably have already seen before tackling this one. It's just a really pleasant little love story that doesn't rely too heavily on clichés and has its own identity, and I'm glad I got to see it.
Tsuki ga Kirei
To continue on our topic of love stories, let's take a look at something completely new. While Tsuki ga Kirei revolves around a typical high school student setting, it features the romantic developments of a boy looking to find himself as a writer, and a girl who is struggling to decide where she wants to place the next stepping stone in her life.
Not that these two don't have their own hobbies and interests or anything. Azumi, while studying literature, also tends to his culturally rich upbringing by attending the local orchestra that dances and plays taiko drums. On the other end, Akane, while practicing to improve her sprint times at track, excels at her academic studies. These two meet for the first time in a new class, surrounded by their own personal friend groups tied together on the LINE app. While quite different in terms of personal interests, both of them foster some sort of introverted personality and they connect over time. I don't want to spoil any of the development, but something about their interactions with each other makes me really root for them. Azumi, as quiet as he is, is actually pretty respectable and intelligent. Akane is also very respectable, consistently showing off her determination by overcoming her anxieties through her own means.
It should be mentioned that the animation in this series is really pleasant to look at. Azumi's dancing in the orchestra, the taiko drumming they perform, Akane's sprints and key moments in the romantic developments are accentuated with a really generous number of keyframes. The soundtrack that appointed Toyama Nao as its lead performer is also great, featuring her in not only the opening and ending themes, but several insert songs as well. Tsuki ga Kirei is given the proper passion and dedication to its presentation, and it truly feels special because of it.
Uchoten Kazoku 2
Eccentricity evolves exponentially in this new season filled with even crazier unfoldings than its predecessor. Once again, P.A. Works takes a premise that initially sounds uninteresting, and injects it with buckets of personality.
If you're new to Uchoten Kazoku, it was a folklore-heavy tale revolving around the world of tengu, tanuki and other quirky creatures. A majority of our protagonists are shapeshifting tanuki, living mostly in fear of being boiled into a stew that is eaten by a group of humans known as the "Friday Fellows". While not sharing a great relationship, our lead tanuki named Yasaburo often tends to the needs of an old tengu, while interacting with the enigmatic woman known as Benten. The series overviewed Yasaburo's crazy adventures dealing with their surroundings while trying to discover just how their father was caught and turned into a meal for the Friday Fellows.
Uchoten Kazoku 2 explores a lot more of this absolutely intriguing world of folklore. Stressed politics between tanuki-kind and their shaky relationship with the tengu are tested, bringing forth acts of betrayal and deception. We not only see Yasaburo in settings that we never imagined in the first season, but we also get to witness how his three vastly different brothers tend to their own personal agendas. If I sat here and tried to express just how fun I find this mishmash of eccentric characters is, I'd probably be able to watch the entire show from the beginning again before I came close to finishing. While its visuals are wildly different to the typical P.A. Works aesthetic, there's still a charm to it that absolutely refuses to let go.
Koe no Katachi
And as much love I can give to P.A. Works, there's just that little bit extra that keeps Kyoto Animation as my favourite studio to date. They proved it once again by gracing me with a beautiful adaptation of Koe no Katachi, a gripping manga I was introduced to last year.
Living life with accessibility needs is tough, but it is downright excruciating when you're pummelled with abuse about it. Ishida spends his earlier years as a pretty nasty delinquent alongside his equally nasty friend group. Together, they bully a deaf transfer student named Shoko to the point where she is transferred back out before they know it. When Ishida is betrayed and ostracized by his supposed friends, his next few months of school are turned into a living hell, to the point where he seriously contemplates suicide. However, through the loving dedication of his mother, Ishida finds a newfound dedication to study sign language in the hopes that he can one day apologize to Shoko. Koe no Katachi takes you on a journey from Ishida's tortured youth through his slow redemption and reintroduction into the hearts of the people he repelled.
This movie speaks volumes for me personally. I was one of those kids that was not only frightfully shy, but was bullied for almost every facet of my existence throughout school. I'm planning on opening up a lot more on that subject in a separate "blend" article soon, but this movie touches upon a portion of my life that I am slowly overcoming. It's shockingly apparent that friendships can be fragile, but it's also so rewarding to know that a proper one can be one of the most rock-solid tethers known to humankind. Something I was very concerned about was that Kyoto Animation doesn't often deal with the level of graphically disturbing content that Koe no Katachi laid out. Luckily, through a sequence of incredible visuals, really beautifully articulated emotions and the attention and care this one-off deserved, they absolutely nailed it for me. If there is one thing I'd want everyone reading this article to check out, it would be this. If not, please check out my upcoming article on how Koe no Katachi blends itself with the fragility of emotions, as it is a topic that I feel like we as a species need to appreciate more.
So wow, as I cap off my final thoughts about the season, I'm floored to realize that I absolutely enjoyed every single thing I watched. To that, I say "thank you" to Spring 2017. Thank you for giving me this constant feeling of elation that I can take with me to Los Angeles. Before I leave, I'll be posting that special Koe no Katachi post, but afterwards, I'll see you all for Anime Expo!