First impressions, part 4

Final part of my first impressions of this winter season. I had meant to make these write-ups a lot shorter, so clearly learning to prune my thoughts is something that I need to work on if I want to be a more efficient writer. I think a quota of eight shows to watch “seriously” is enough for per week, but I do have a couple other “fun” shows that I’m watching I won’t expend to much analytical thought on. I’ll try to drop off some periodic impressions on those shows if I get to them. Anyhow, feel free to read on!

 

77834Akagami no Shirayuki-hime Season 2

Coming back to a second season of Snow White with the Red Hair is like returning home after a long, hard slog. The art and aesthetic remains warm and inviting, and the characters are as likable and adorable as they were in the first season as they were in the first season.

I didn’t think I would like Snow White as much as I did when I first saw it last year. Even though it actually doesn’t have a lot in common with the original Snow White tale, it’s still extremely Disney-esque in its execution, from the setting to the music and the romance between dashing Prince Zen and court herbalist Shirayuki. Unless Disney princesses of
yore, Shirayuki isn’t a hapless damsel in distress, but an intelligent, independent young woman capable of finding her way out of difficult situations using her guile and wits. Conflicts are remarkably low-key, and any conflict presented was basically a push forward for Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship. This hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing — the show knows that its focus is Zen and Shirayuki’s growing relationship, and is so far executing their story with grace and respect.

Nothing actually happened for the first fifteen minutes of this episode — we are reintroduced the characters and peaceful world that they inhabit. What stood out were Obi and Ryuu’s interactions, which were warm, fuzzy, and absolutely adorable; boy genius Ryuu hasn’t done much since he was introduced as Shirayuki’s mentor, while Obi has cemented himself as one of the more perceptive characters of the cast. There were a lot of little character moments between the two — Obi stifling a laugh when Ryuu accidentally bumped his head and Ryuu’s expression of confused pleasure when being carried on the shoulders by Ryuu — a showcase for their personalities that hadn’t been explored much before. Ryuu has seemingly always been treated as an esteemed court herbalist and never as a twelve-year-old boy, and seeing his reactions to Obi affably knocking down those walls is a welcome perspective to his character.

Only in the final few minutes were potential conflicts introduced for the rest of the season. Mihaya, a minor antagonist from the first season who seems like he might become a major player, returns to warn Shirayuki that a bishōnen teenaged boy named Kazuki is after her. Shirayuki, meanwhile, is ordered by Zen’s older brother, Prince Izana, to attend a diplomatic ball in her home country of Tanbarun. Zen, of course, is having none of this, so he orders Mitsuhide to accompany Shirayuki to Tanbarun. So far it doesn’t seem like these two storylines are connected, but it’s nice to see Snow White building some new plot lines that could add a lot more color to its already colorful world.

Random observations:

  • Prince Raj of Tanbarun is as spoiled as ever, but at least we get to see some background to how he became the little shit he is today.
  • I was slightly surprised that Zen asked Mitsuhide instead of Obi to accompany Shirayuki to Tanbarun, but that’s fine, because then maybe we’ll get to see more of Ryuu riding on Obi’s shoulders.
  • I have a feeling Shirayuki knows something about the mysterious teenager that the viewers don’t. We actually know very little about Shirayuki’s background, so I’m hoping this Kazuki character will shed some light on her story.
  • I only just realized this now, but Snow White is the might be the first fantasy anime whose world isn’t mired in an apocalyptic war. Peaceful kingdoms might not make very explosive storytelling, but it’s really allowed Snow White to talk about the intricacies of running a kingdom. I’m hoping that the Tanbarun storyline will have some interesting things to say about diplomacy and negotiation between countries.

 

77907

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Safe to say there’s nothing like Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu this season.

I did come into this premiere having only knowing that this was going to be set during the Shōwa period, or sometime in the 1950s or 60s. I had, however, no idea what rakugo was until I did some quick research (i.e., Wikipedia) before jumping into this episode. From what I gathered, rakugo is a form of verbal entertainment where a storyteller sits on a stage with nothing more than a paper fan and a tenugui (an all-purpose piece of Japanese cloth) as props and regales a comical, complicated story with two or more characters. Something like a live-action narration of an audiobook, if you will.

Shouwa’s premise is fairly simple. Yotaro is happy-go-lucky ex-con who seeks out a star rakugo performer named Yakumo to be his apprentice. Yakumo had once performed at the prison where Yotaro was incarcerated, and inspired Yotaro to take up rakugo once he was released. Yakumo is a grumpy and somewhat arrogant codger but begrudgingly takes him on, but begins to regret his decision when Yotaro’s rakugo style begins to remind him of his late friend and rival Sakuroku, who also happens to be the father of Yakumo’s ward Konatsu.

This episode was twice the normal runtime of an anime episode, and it took full advantage of its length to really breathe life into the characters and the world of rakugo. Yotaro, for one, is a louder-than-life character, with his Cheshire-cat like grin, all-or-nothing personality, and rambunctious performance style. Yakumo is unrivaled in his technical skill who can’t quite seem to shake off the shadow of his old rival nor the resemblance between Yotaro and Sakuroku’s performance styles. Meanwhile, Konatsu is still enveloped by her father’s shadow, holding plenty of resentment toward Yakumo for reasons still unknown, while intrigued by Yotaro because of his resemblance to her father. Konatsu also harbors a desire to step into her father’s rakugo shoes, but is held back by the gender norms of her time.

Shouwa really reminds me of Sakamichi no Apollon, another anime that was set around the 1950s and 60s. The atmosphere and aesthetics, slightly sepia tones, distinctive but understated character designs, and the music — we see of this in the opening montage scene that immediately sets the setting for the rest of the series. This show is exemplary at art of showing, instead of telling, story and complexities. There were many wonderful and subtle character moments in this episode, from Konatsu wishing out loud that he had been born a man to her and Yakumo’s terse interactions in their car, but my favorite scene by far was Yotaro’s premiere rakugo performance. I liked that the show decided to show his entire performance, and it was breathtaking. The way the camera switched perspectives each time Yotaro’s changes characters, the close-ups on his hand gestures and nervously-clenched feet and beads of sweat on his neck, the shots of Konatsu mouthing the words along with Yotaro, and the jazzy, upbeat music that sneaked in halfway through his performance and swelled as Yotaro reached the comedic climax of his story — it was stunning showcase of character and personality and a wonderful initiation to rakugo.

Shouwa is the adult entry for this anime season, and I don’t say that because I’m anime braggart of any sort (I binge-watched High School of the Dead and enjoyed every second of its ridiculousness). Anime has an obsession with the high school experience and characters under 20 years old. I have nothing against high school antics — heck, some of the best anime in recent years have high-school age characters — but it’s just nice to see a more mature show that doesn’t have a hint of moë. So I can understand why this show got so many “they don’t make shows like this anymore” type of reactions. It just shows anime is an art form that can pretty much tell any kind of story with the appropriate direction and animation.

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