Weekly watch round-up 16th June

Content note: post contains spoilers for the most recent episodes of ‘One Punch Man‘, ‘Fruits Basket’, ‘Carole and Tuesday’, ‘Midnight Occult Civil Servants’, ‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ and ‘Sarazanmai’, as well as season 2 of ‘Aggretsuko’.

Is there any point writing about shows that aren’t ‘Sarazanmai’ this week?

Well, let’s try, at least.

Season 2 of ‘Aggretsuko’ hit Netflix this week, which made me very happy. I’m six episodes in, and so far I like the way the show is bringing in enough new characters to keep things fresh while still letting us learn more about those we met in season 2. One thing I like about this show is the way it can make you re-think characters after you thought you knew all about them. The best example so far is Kabae, the gossipy hippo in Retsuko’s department. Mostly a thorn in Retsuko’s side for her overbearing nature and rumour-spreading, season 2 shows us that it’s more the case that she’s used to mothering people and can’t help but take an interest in everyone’s lives. While her approach might seem annoying to some, we see that there are times when some adults need a bit of motherly support, such as new office member Anai.

While Anai initially comes off as a total jerk by taking Retsuko’s tentative instructions as personal criticism, his responses to Kabae’s support suggest that he’s possibly quite lonely and lacking in positive people in his life. When we see him out of the office, he’s always alone in an empty apartment, fixated on his phone or making picture-perfect lunchboxes in what looks like an act of self-parenting typical of people who’ve grown up with negligent parents. Couple that with the way he responds to Kabae’s positive reinforcement, and we get a harsh reminder that some people just work and learn differently than others, and we shouldn’t dismiss them because one approach didn’t work. (Personally I’d be right behind Aggretsuko in telling him that an adult absolutely should know how to answer the telephone, but then I’ve never been especially sensitive or motherly.)

I feel the same way about calls from my mother.

New love interest Tadano seems a little too good to be true. I haven’t watched to the end yet, but it’s a given now that in this world, good things don’t tend to fall into Retsuko’s lap, so as good for her as he seems, pushing her dreams of marriage so far that the Wedding March is constantly part of the background music, there’s bound to be some setback to their relationship. It’s interesting to watch a show where you can root for a character and want her relationship to fail at the same time. I guess it’s another facet of this show that it reminds you to be aware that initial impressions of people usually turn out to be shallow and ill-informed, and that we should generally try to get to know people better before making judgements about them.

Retsuko’s karaoke is less of a feature this time around, which makes sense now that we’ve gotten used to the joke. There are still a few intense songs, translated well enough that the subtitles still rhyme in English while still expressing her rage and frustration.

This far in, the show feels like an adequate development from the first season. Retsuko seems less prone to making bad decisions and in some cases actually tries to be proactive in setting goals for herself, but still feels like the same character as last season, just a tiny bit wiser. She actively tries to help others with their problems, but also remains oblivious to some of her own, or otherwise feels powerless to deal with some of them. The scenes with her interfering mother will ring painfully true for some viewers, and there’s still the odd bit of ship tease with Haida. The short episodes fly by, although sometimes it feels like some plot points could have been developed a little bit more.

Is he a horse? A zebra? I don’t know, but he’s cute.

Still, I’m enjoying it and looking forward to seeing how the last few episodes play out. Also, I keep thinking I recognises some of the seiyuu then it turns out I am wrong. Which is frustrating. Although I like that the credits have all the names in English as well as Japanese.

Uh…what else? Seriously, ‘Sarazanmai’ has messed with my head enough that I can barely remember what else I’ve watched this week.

‘JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’ was another fun romp, this time playing bodyswapping and having a few predictable laughs at girly-girl Trish ending up in stinky-boy Mista’s body. Still, kudos to the cast for doing a decent job of imitating each other’s speech patterns.

New stand-affecting arrows make for an interesting plot point now that we’ve presumably met all the characters relevant to the final few episodes of the season. Super-powered stands could either make the final showdown more intense or just make everyone laughably overpowered – having not read the manga, I will have to wait and see.

It’s funny ’cause girls don’t do that.

‘One Punch Man’ finally moved away from the Martial Arts tournament, although it still took a long time for Saitama and Suiryu to wrap up their little chit-chat. And even then, we still had to watch Saitama and King ambling through deserted streets, seemingly oblivious to the carnage and chaos that had been happening during the tournament, At some point, I would like this series to address directly the fact that Saitama has no sense of urgency when it comes to major fights – he’s so blasé about his abilities that he seems to forget that other people are in genuine danger while he’s wandering around looking for the fight.

Again, I know the pacing issues stem from the manga and aren’t the direct result of the anime team, but having such an action-free episode when we’re supposed to be nearing the end of the season is very frustrating.

‘Midnight Occult Civil Servants’ is ramping up the tension, giving us a human character who is actively out to eliminate the Anothers rather than just keeping them out of trouble like the rest of the department. I was genuinely pleased when the giant moth-lady showed up to serve up some just desserts. I know some viewers have expressed dissatisfaction at the pacing of the season and suggested that the Azazel mini-arc would have been better placed at the end, but personally I like that the final conflict is one engineered by humans – I think the show tells us as much about human society as it does about the Anothers, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the season wraps up with the final two episodes.

‘Fruits Basket’ had its obligatory onsen episode this week, and again, there wasn’t a vast amount of deviation from the original series. Still, we got a cute bit of character development for Yuki and a sweet scene between Tohru and Kyo, with those white sheets which manga readers will show up again later on. I haven’t watched the dub for a few weeks, honestly because I’m still put off by Momiji’s accent, but knowing that we’re getting closer and closer to the return of absolute lej Christ Sabat as Ayame means I’ll probably pick it back up again next week.

‘Carole and Tuesday’ gave us more stunning dance animation and a fantastic anthem for self-love and acceptance from Pyotr. At first listen, his lyrics sound like a call to gay kids, especially given the visual reaction from one of the judges, but I felt also a hint of pro-aromantic or asexual identities in there too. Either way, it’s a great nod to the show’s acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQIA people and relationships. The final dramatic sequence featuring Carole and Tuesday trying to find each other backstage was frustrating – as someone who’s done enough theatre and live radio to know that you should be in the wings/studio in plenty of time to hit your cue, seeing them dashing around like they weren’t about to go live almost had me shouting at the screen. Still, this isn’t meant to be real life, and instead we now have the drama of Tuesday possibly being injured and unable to perform, due to what we assume was Cybelle’s ‘gift’. As much as the show needs that little boost of tension, I do wish the story didn’t keep positioning its non-binary characters as antagonists.

How we all felt watching Pyotr sing ‘Love Yourself’.

In non-anime viewing, I took a chance on ‘Men In Black: International’ today. It’s an enjoyable murder-mystery with some pleasingly predictable twists. Nothing too taxing if you’re looking for a fun way to spend two hours, although it annoys me that Hollywood still sees nothing wrong with putting a woman in four-inch platform heels for an action movie. Have we learned nothing?

So. ‘Sarazanmai’ really did that. Mabu’s been Mabu all along, just stripped of his ability to tell Reo he loves him. Like all of Ikuhara’s stories, it’s the kind of reveal that makes you immediately want to go back and rewatch the whole thing so you can see how the new information makes you view everything differently.

Major kudos to Miyano Mamoru for exploring every possible emotion during that episode, from rage and desperation to heart-rending agony. Must have been a tough day in the booth for the actors.

This was definitely Mamo-chan’s episode.

I think it’s still fair to say that the amount of Keppi-related physical comedy in each episode is inversely proportional to the amount of heartache.

There’s plenty to be said about the parallels between Enta and Mabu, such as Enta’s inability to lie about his feelings compared to Mabu’s lying out of a need to stay by Reo’s side. I don’t know if that should set up any hope of Enta/Kazuki being end-game – personally I’m not committed to any ships with this show. I do, however, feel like we’ll have a pleasantly hopeful ending to the story overall – Keppi has implied that Reo and Mabu aren’t truly dead, or at least their story isn’t entirely over yet. I do feel vindicated in my earlier guess that Reo and Mabu were originally aligned with the kappa kingdom and only served the otters out of a need to keep Mabu alive.

I will need a whole week to recover from this episode.

Over on Twitter, @shipperinjapan has an interesting thread about the ReoMabu storyline being Ikuhara’s commentary on the treatment of same-sex couples in Japanese media which is definitely worth a read. The show isn’t just about the importance of connections, but about the ways in which we connect and express our connections. Mabu, prevented from expressing his love in words, has spent years searching for other ways, dedicating himself to perfecting Reo’s perfect food as a way of proving himself to be true. But Reo, like a lot of viewers, has only been focused on the words themselves, assuming their absence to mean an absence of love. Compare that with Enta, who’s expressed his feelings by going along with Kazuki’s wishes even when it hurts him (and ultimately going along with his self-serving desires in secret), or Tooi, who took his brother’s words at face-value and ignored Chikai’s actions until it was too late, denying just how bad a person Chikai was and how much it would hurt Tooi to stay by his side.

For anyone new to Ikuhara shows who was annoyed by the use of repeating song sequences, I hope the re-using of ‘Sarazanmai no Uta’ in episode 10 made it clear why those sequences are important – when they stop happening, it means the story is getting serious, and when they finally come back, it’s always with a serious twist that makes you almost long for the way things used to be. Reo and Mabu’s version was sad enough to take away any humour from seeing them as kappa and kappa-zombie respectively. And although we were denied Hosoyan’s beautiful singing voice in this episode, Mabu’s speaking of his lines showed his mournful resignation to his fate as he prepared for his shirikodama extraction.

You know it’s an Ikuhara anime when this feels perfectly normal.

There’s only one episode left, and as much as I have loved this show, I actually think I’m going to be grateful to give my emotions a breather once it’s all done!

Remember that you can follow me on Twitter @oldanimefan, where you’ll find my more immediate reactions to the shows I’m watching. Feel free also to comment here and tell me what you’re watching, what you enjoyed (or didn’t) about this week’s shows, and what you’re looking forward to watching next season!

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