Weekly watch round-up 5th May

Notice how this week’s title is ‘watch’ and not ‘anime’? That’s because I’ve actually been watching some non-Japanese things this week! Some of them were even live-action and not animated!

I surprise myself, sometimes.

I’m writing this much later in the day than I usually do, partly because today I’ve been playing ‘how many different ways can I be ill at once?’ and partly because I’ve had a lot of Thoughts about stuff I’ve watched this week, that I’m still trying to get in order.

Let’s start off with ‘One Punch Man’, since I usually put that one off to the end of my round-ups. Followers of the manga will know there’s nothing especially new about the show’s content – it’s following the manga pretty much scene-for-scene. With the case of the Monster Association/Martial Arts Tournament arc, that does mean that Saitama himself starts to feel a little sidelined, but it does let us see more of some fun characters like Metal Bat, who I actually like a lot more after watching his episode than I did just from the manga. Much like with ‘My Hero Academia’, the expanded world of ‘One Punch Man’ is an effective deconstruction of the superhero genre because it shows the hero world as an industry like any other, where heroes are people doing a job (a job with celebrity status, but also a job with its downsides and an internal hierarchy). Seeing heroes take on jobs they don’t particularly like helps to humanise them, I feel, especially when we get to see them dealing with annoying clients in a way that most of us who work in the service industry can relate to.

I’d have liked to see a better sense of scale during his fight with CentiSenpai (the second of Metal Bat’s three fights this episode). In the manga, even the first of the three centipede monsters looks enormous compared to Metal Bat, making each successive enemy look more of a threat, which didn’t really come off so well in the anime until the last of the three. The fact that Metal Bat could take them down with just a baseball bat is supposed to be majorly impressive – he’s an S-class hero after all, despite possessing no apparent superpowers like Tatsumaki or Pig God – but I didn’t feel that, even with the second centipede monster. The last of the three did look like a genuine threat to the city, which was something of a relief, but I feel like the build-up didn’t work so well.

Nothing symbolic about that bat at all.

It’s a shame, because I do actually feel like this season of ‘One Punch Man’ is still giving me what I want in terms of entertainment. There’s a lot of debate among the fandom right now about whether the studio change and the shift in animation style has ruined the show, and while I understand a lot of people’s reactions (I shared that sentiment for a while, I’ll admit), I think sometimes anime fandom gets too caught up in critiquing things like art style and animation quality.

Anime is entertainment, first and foremost. Sure, good-quality animation can mean the difference between a good show and an amazing show – just look at the glow-up that was ‘Mob Psycho 100 II’. But all the amazing animation in the world can’t make a poor story enjoyable. I’d have watched MP100’s second season even without the jump in animation quality, because it’s a story with heart and because the dry humour is right up my alley.

Watching the fandom going off on ‘One Punch Man’s animation made me think that, for some fans, talking about stuff like animation quality and studio styles feels like a short-cut to being an expert on anime. That, and the trend for treating cynicism as a sign of intelligence, honestly does make me roll my eyes in despair. Over on YouTube, Mother’s Basement once again has an insightful look at why animation isn’t necessarily the mark of a quality show (and if you dare venture into the comments of that video, the reactions are a good insight into why some folks are just awful fans).

I watch anime (and anything else) because I want to be entertained. A show doesn’t need to have stellar animation to be entertaining. Like I’ve said before, shows like ‘Midnight Occult Civil Servants’ are getting overlooked because they don’t look as flashy as, say, ‘Kimetsu No Yaiba’, but I still enjoy watching them. If a show has a gripping storyline, interesting characters, or well-crafted comedy, it’s a good show as far as I’m concerned.

I like to compare it to theatre. I’ve done my fair share of am-dram and stage comedy, and a well-written, well-acted and well-directed show can get away with doing costumes and props on a shoestring budget. Likewise, a slick-looking show becomes tedious if the script or the acting aren’t up to scratch.

‘One Punch Man’ is going to lose some of its audience this season; it probably has already, to be honest. But I’m sticking with it, and I’m enjoying it.

I’m not sure I can say the same about ‘Fairy Gone’. What started out as a surprisingly mature and kind of quirky war-themed anime is starting to feel a little tedious. Instead of learning about the lead characters, what we’re getting is a quickly-expanding cast of secondary characters all in search of the same McGuffin. I want to know why I should care who gets their hands on the Black Fairy Tome in the end, but so far the only apparent reason to care about Maryla and Free is that we met them first. I hope this one picks up, because all the well-animated fight scenes and cool monster designs in the world can’t save a boring plot.

‘Fruits Basket’ was starting to worry me just a fraction, as it hadn’t really given us anything new in terms of plot development, until episode 5 allowed us to see a little more of Yuki and Kyo in their response to Tohru potentially moving back in with her grandpa. We also got a nice little flashback of Kyoko, letting us see more of just why this woman was so important to the people who knew her. When I wrote last week about re-making old shows, this was the kind of thing I was hoping for – fresh new insights deftly woven into the existing plot, fleshing out what was already a substantial story.

This episode was well-crafted enough to bring on the waterworks in a way that the original show hadn’t by this point – I feel like we really saw just how much it meant to Tohru to feel wanted by the Somas, and how much she’s already come to mean to them, and it’s that theme of inclusion and found families that is the very heart of ‘Fruits Basket’.

I’m still slightly on edge about Momiji’s later appearances in the dub, but I can at least console myself with the stellar job the Japanese cast is doing.

If you follow me on Tumblr, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’ve dropped every other fandom to become a ‘Sarazanmai’ blog. But this show is honestly what I’m living for right now. The fandom, small as it is, feels like a team solving a puzzle together. I love how everyone is so keen to share theories and insights, and how much effort people are putting into picking the show apart to look for meanings and connections.

Being familiar with the general structure of Ikuhara’s previous works (and knowing that this series will only run for 11 episodes), I was expecting episode 4 to take a dark turn. It kind of did, but I guess it says a lot about Ikuhara’s plotlines that Tooi’s reveal didn’t actually feel that dark. It was hinted at just enough in the preview that it didn’t come as a shock, but I do hope it’s the start of a deliciously downward turn in the tone of the show. The gradual reveals about Reo and Mabu’s exploits are just teasing enough to keep my attention (and the puns are fabulous!).

I have my theories for what’s going to happen in future episodes, but honestly I feel like I’ll be just as happy if they don’t turn out to be true. That ‘Sarazanmai’ feels grounded in modern-day Japan and contemporary culture makes the magical aspects of its story that much more enjoyable by contrast, and unlike the messiness of ‘Yuri Kuma Arashi’, which didn’t seem to know what it was trying to say about society and relationships, I feel like this will be a show with a solid enough plot and tone to make it enjoyable right to the (not too distant) end. I think I will be genuinely sorry to see it finish.

I’ve also been catching up with some other stuff that wasn’t originally on my watch-list this week. ‘RobiHachi’ made me realise that there isn’t a whole lot of comedy in this season’s line-up, and while it’s not exactly a top-quality show in terms of script or direction, it’s enjoyable enough to hold my attention and it feels like a welcome break from some of the high-intensity stuff I’ve been watching.

Best ending sequence of this season?

‘Carole and Tuesday’ looks like a contender for best show of the season, up there with ‘Sarazanmai’ and ‘Kimetsu No Yaiba’. The art style is lovely to look at, and the music shows both genuine care for the craft and attention to style and appropriateness. I also love the ways in which the show references pop culture (what is actually ‘history’ in the context of the show). Seeing the interior of Ertegun’s apartment, for example, and his emoji-artwork, immediately tells us what kind of person he is before he’s even said a word. For what it’s worth, I also love seeing Miyano Mamorou play over-confident celebrity characters: much like JJ Leroy in ‘Yuri On Ice’, seeing him play what is essentially a self-parody is so much fun. The music video plot was a hoot, too, with too many visual references to count.

But the show gets a special mention this week for its handling of Gus and Marie’s relationship. It means so much to see someone be so respectful of their ex, to wish them well and be able to want the best for them. The show could so easily have played the ‘let’s get back together’ storyline or have Gus be bitter or jealous, so kudos to the writers for letting us see mature, good-natured adults being kind to one another.

Gus – serious contender for Best Boy.

And of course, kudos for acknowledging that same-sex relationships exist in this world and are not so out of the ordinary. It’s hard to tell from the tone of the show whether we’re meant to find Marie’s new relationship a shock – there’s surprise from the bartender, and from the two leads when they see two women kiss, but it’s not outrage, and the moment isn’t played for titillation. So I’ll take that.

And as for non-anime? Well, after some indecision I took a look at ‘Tuca and Bertie’ on Netflix. I can’t figure this show out. The characters are supposedly in their early 30s, making them not much younger than me, but I didn’t find them especially relatable, perhaps because of some slightly clunky ‘down with the kids’ dialogue. The visual style feels like ‘The Mighty Boosh’ and ‘Parappa The Rapper’ had a baby and left it to be raised by wolves – sometimes it feels like it’s trying too hard to be quirky. I’m about four episodes in and still trying to make up my mind whether I actually like it or whether I’m just overwhelmed by how much is happening.

Also on Netflix, I watched the short but funny ‘I Think You Should Leave’, a sketch show with some deliciously surreal and at times uncomfortable humour. It’s definitely not for everyone, and I’m not the biggest fan of crude toilet humour, but the sketches that work best for me are the ones that take a mildly awkward moment and escalate to absurd and unexpected levels of horrendous embarrassment. And surprisingly, it’s a comedy show that doesn’t make any actual people the butt of the joke – there’s unpleasantness and rudeness, but (unless I’ve missed something) nothing to be offended by.

Lunch with these dumdums! ‘I Think You Should Leave’ on Netflix

Wrapping up this week’s round-up is ‘Dumplin’, a Netflix film about a fat teenager taking on the pageant scene to spite her beauty queen mother and honour her dead aunt. There’s the wonderful camp world of American pageants, reminiscent of ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ in the best of ways, a dash of drag queen magic (and a pleasant reminder for me that American drag acts don’t seem to come with the vicious misogyny I see in their British counterparts) and a big dollop of Dolly Parton in both the soundtrack and some inspirational quotes.

As a viewing experience, it’s sufficiently fun and heartwarming. I only wish I could have watched it without analysing it to death along the way. It brought back a lot of unpleasant memories of being the fat kid in high school, being both desperate for inclusion and love and determined to reject the people who make you feel bad about yourself. If that’s a journey you can relate to, then the film makes for powerful viewing. Whether it does the same for people who don’t have those experiences, I honestly don’t know.

Really, I want us to be past this. I want fat acceptance to come in the form of fat girls and women being the lead in stories that are not about fatness. Sure, Rebel Wilson can play the lead in a highly publicised rom-com, but she still uses her body as a source of comedy – the audience is still expected to laugh at a fat woman having a confidence fat women are not supposed to have, or playing pratfalls and clumsiness that would be excused as endearing awkwardness in a thin actress. Much better, in my opinion, to be a plus-size lead in a romance and just get on with the romance. Hollywood is still insisting on selling us the ‘conventionally unattractive guy wins over beautiful and successful women’ storyline (see ‘Long Shot’, or rather, don’t, because we don’t need that story again) but seems reluctant still to let conventionally unattractive women be anything more than comic relief.

I feel like I’ve overdosed on non-anime stuff this week – three shows is more than enough for me! There’ll probably be a mid-week supplemental when I get caught up a couple of other shows, but otherwise I’m trying to be a bit more relaxed about what I’m watching. Plus this week is my birthday, and all being well I’ll be treating myself to a cinema trip to see ‘Detective Pikachi’ as well as prepping for Yorkshire Cosplay Con next week.

What have you watched this week? Still watching ‘One Punch Man’ or have you given up? Want to tell me whether ‘Tuca and Bertie’ is worth sticking with? Shout at me in the comments or find me on Twitter (@ oldanimefan).

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