Revisiting Flying Witch

Welcome, all, again.  Flying Witch is a leisurely slice-of-life offering which was simulcast on Crunchyroll earlier this spring and summer (2016).  Its titular heroine is Makoto Kowata, a teenage girl of magical lineage who moves away from home to train.  Well, almost away from home.  Like her older sister Akane before her, Mako-chan moves in with cousins living in Aomori, a rural community.  This branch of the family, the Kuramoto(s), have no magic but are quite accustomed to its possession and use by their kinfolk, making them the perfect support network for a young witch-in-training.  (Poor Kiki only wished she had it so good!  Still, a beautiful continuity of theme from Kiki’s Delivery Service.)  It also helps that Makoto used to regularly visit the Kuramoto family years ago when Akane lived with them, making her own stay more like a homecoming.  Oh, and that her cousin Kei Kuramoto is Makoto’s own age and used to play with her during those visits.  So despite her move, Mako-chan is home again.

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But Makoto was never very good with directions, and things have a tendency towards change.  Taken together, these two facts can make even the most welcoming environment assume certain challenging aspects.  Upon arriving in Aomori, Makoto isn’t even sure how to find her relatives’ house; she certainly isn’t prepared for the inquisitiveness of Kei’s younger sister Chinatsu, who is unfamiliar with the Kowata side of the family.  Chinatsu’s deadpan responses to the changes in her little world are gems of humor!  But although almost severely skeptical at first, she becomes enamored of the new experiences and characters revealed to her by her older cousin.  And once Akane starts stopping by to check on Makoto–then begins extending those visits–Chinatsu wastes no time apprenticing herself to the more (the moe?) experienced witch!  After all, not all witches are born so; thus, it looks as if the Kuramoto clan will finally have a witch of their own, and with the full moral support of her parents and brother.

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And that pretty much sums up the essence of this series.  You’ll probably notice that I placed very little emphasis on witchcraft and magic.  Frankly, that’s because this show isn’t so much about witchcraft and magic, but about a family–in this case, an extended family–providing its members with love and support in which to root themselves as they become the people they wish to be.  These are not perfect people: they make mistakes; they get in each others’ way.  But they accept that about themselves and each other.  If I were to compare Flying Witch to just one other show, it would be Non Non Biyori–and that’s a high compliment!  A young female student from the city moves to a rural area and proceeds to establish herself within the community, making friends and learning about local life.  Both series have a certain quietude about them, and both focus upon the close bonds of family and friendship.  (Meanwhile, Chinatsu and Ren-chon share an understated deadpan delivery that packs a wallop, and a certain amount of pampered indulgence from the the older members of their respective groups.)  Magic is inherent to this story, but it is not the story.  And Flying Witch is a better show because of that.

 

Going Berserk!

Welcome, all, again.  We will in this installment discuss Berserk, an action/fantasy series following the exploits of the warrior Guts as he tries to rescue a former companion from the chaos of civil unrest and inquisition.  This is rather straightforward storytelling, allowing the easy accumulation of supporting characters and accretion of subplots.  And if the themes of intolerance and institutionalized evil are somewhat commonplace, they bear repeated examination.  (After all, such things do not independently manifest themselves, but are carefully cultivated by people for use against people.  Lovely, no?)  I will, however, state that I am openly dissatisfied with one element of the show, and it’s an important one: the animation.  CGI animation just isn’t my thing–I miss the fluid continuity of movement in more traditional animation.  Still, this show enthralls!

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Guts is a warrior seeking revenge upon the man he once followed, Griffith, who led a mercenary group called the Band of the Hawk.  But Griffith had larger ambitions, and was willing to literally sacrifice his loyal followers in order to gain power (fans of C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy might recognize similarities to the Neocount of Merentha).  Beyond Griffith, only three of the former mercenaries survive: Guts, Casca (the companion and love whom he longs to save), and Rickert, who was away during the sacrificial rites.  Rickert now works as a blacksmith, while Casca has lost her mind.  That would be bad enough on its own, but she was branded with a symbol that summons evil spirits and ghosts.  Such is never a good thing; is worse during a religious inquisition; and is worse yet when the victim hasn’t the wits to know what’s going on or why.  Casca is in deep.

Guts bears a similar mark, but with far different results.  Although he is often attacked by the spirits he attracts, he is occasionally able to establish more beneficial relationships with them.  It would even seem that he is not without allies in the spirit realm, even if such arrangements are simply driven by convenience.  (Shared goals and common enemies have redirected history often enough.)  Guts even has the regular companionship of an untainted magical entity, the elf Puck, whom he rescued from violent abuse.  Oh, and a hunk of steel that might make Detroit proud, but carried as a blade.  A really huge, devastating blade.

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And the rest is pretty much who’s getting savaged for that particular episode.  As I mentioned earlier, the storytelling is pretty straightforward.  Guts encounters living or semi-living or even undead things, and then fights them.  There is violence and carnage and death.  And then more violence and carnage and death.  But isn’t that exactly what attracts us to this type of show?  Darkness and slaughter and hateful fate. . .this is good stuff!  Good, bad stuff!  So grab your best scowl and settle in for one ugly ride.

Obsessed with Momokuri!

Welcome, all, again.  I’d like to today focus upon Momokuri, a light-hearted look at young love, self-realization, and the fundamentals of stalking.  That’s right, this show reveals the humor to be found in blossoming relationships, straight down to the police reports and protection orders!  (Well, at least to the collection of used straws.  But we’ll get to that.)  What do you do when somebody recognizably out of your league confesses loving you?  What else?  You jump on that horse and see just how far you can ride it!  (Might’ve helped, though, if you’d at least seen a horse before. . .)

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Shinya Momotsuki (Momo) is a first-year high school student who hasn’t really hit his growth spurt yet.  This makes him noticeably smaller and more delicate-looking than his male classmates; luckily for him, this is not an all-boys school!  He still endures plenty of jokes from the other guys, but it’s all in good fun.  Meanwhile, the female students find Momo’s small size and shy manner to be extremely kawaii and unthreatening–forget about the friend zone, this poor guy’s stuck in pocket pet status!  So, what’s a guy to do?  Apparently, nothing.

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Momo is caught completely off-guard when he is confessed to by Yuki Kurihara, an eye-catching second-year.  She, too, is rather shy, and has become enamored of Momo from afar. . .but not from so far away that it was beyond the reach of a camera.  It seems that as Yuki’s feelings grew, so did her collection of Momo memorabilia; attracted by his cuteness, Yuki began taking photos of Momo long before she ever approached him in person.  And as they grow closer, her collection grows in both size and scope.  But seriously, only a dedicated stalker–I mean, devotee–would already have the actual person and still need (or want) his every used straw. . .

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But that’s a large part of what makes this show so much fun.  The two main characters are exaggerated to the point of becoming caricatures of themselves, floundering through the emotional minefield of first love.  Meanwhile, a supporting cast of generally supportive friends grounds the series against becoming a complete farce–these friends experience their own triumphs and challenges even while basking in the bright comedic light of the main couple’s romantic miscues.  This show mercilessly exposes every self-doubt, insecurity, and misinterpretation associated with building that first relationship, only to lightly skewer them.  Your resulting laughter becomes an almost palpable relief.

[WARNING:  Excessive facepalming can lead to headaches or even the accidental bloody nose.  Exercise caution while watching!]

 

Diving Right into Amanchu!

Welcome, all, again.  Our subject of discussion this time will be Amanchu!, another story of friendship and angst besetting high school students.  See how quickly and neatly I tied that up?  Too bad nothing’s there.  Amanchu! is much bigger and grander than any theme, including its own.  How is this possible?  Because the creators got the single most important element correct–emotional connectivity.  It doesn’t matter that the characters are sometimes exaggerated; nor does it matter that episodic storylines sometimes overreach themselves; nor even that the style of animation frequently changes in situ.  The emotional connectivity in this show between both the characters themselves and between the characters and their audience is amazingly genuine.  We return week after week because we are emotionally invested in these characters.  And that’s as it should be in a well-crafted slice-of-life series.

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Amanchu! follows the arrival of high school student Futaba Ooki (Teko) in the seaside town of Shizuoka.  Although moving can be a traumatic experience for nearly anyone, Teko is especially affected because of her extremely shy nature.  It seems that she had only just made friends for the first time upon reaching middle school, but must now begin her high school years in an unfamiliar place.  Regret, sadness, and loneliness all compete to drive her melancholy; the detour she encounters is completely unexpected.

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That detour is Pikari (Hikari Kohinata), Teko’s fellow first-year and altogether free-spirited individual.  Pikari, despite her young age, has already concluded that life is a series of moments each deserving to be lived to its fullest.  But what does that mean?  Pretty much whatever her fevered little mind needs it to mean in order to justify whatever she’s doing at that moment.  Pikari is spontaneous but loyal, nurturing and loving, and maybe just a few bricks shy of an outhouse.  Time spent with Pikari is comparable to being locked in a small, dark closet with a panicked hummingbird; in other words, she’s just what Teko needs to force her to focus on the here and now.

And Teko’s here and now requires a lot of focus.  It turns out that Pikari’s great passion is diving, and she is eager to share this activity with her new friend.  But Teko is unaccustomed to water, so she’ll need plenty of coaxing and coaching.  Where better to find it than the school’s Dive Club?

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Honestly, this show follows a pretty standard format: first-years meet and become friends; join a school club together; get alternately bullied and loved-on by their senpais and sensei; and share many happy and touching moments facing their impending adulthood with each other’s help.  So you’re probably asking, Where’s the hook?  Again, the strength of this show is its emotional connectivity.  These characters–all of the main characters, not just the two protagonists–honestly care about each other, and quickly draw us in.  These are imperfect people trying to carve out a little happiness for themselves and their loved ones, and certain moments of clarity invite comparisons to ourselves.  We love these characters so much because we have been these characters at some point in our own lives.  Overall, this show might be a little bit crazy but is a whole lot of fun(!), so come spend some time at the beach.

 

 

Playing at a NEW GAME!

Welcome, all, again.  Our subject today is NEW GAME!, a humorous coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a first job.  And if that sounds a little intimidating, well, it can be–I lived it (albeit decades ago).  Our protagonist is Aoba Suzukaze, who has turned down her acceptance into college in order to pursue her dream job working as a character designer for a gaming company.  But not just any gaming company–she has been hired by Eagle Jump, the company responsible for her own favorite game, Fairies Story!  How much better could a girl’s luck get?

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This much better, apparently–she is assigned to work on the new, third installment of Fairies Story under the supervision of the original character designer, Kou Yagami.  The hero-worship is immediate, amusing, and altogether brief.  (Real people, after all, have flaws.)  Yagami is a paradox, a hard worker with a laid-back attitude, seemingly given to long spells of thought interspersed with periods of frantic activity.  It is dedication rather than laziness that sees her frequently overstay normal working hours and end up sleeping on the office floor.  And while still admiring Yagami’s genius and work, Aoba quickly decides that she might seek a better role model.

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Nor should finding one prove difficult; being the only new employee, Aobi has a whole gaggle of senpais at work.  And she has plenty to learn from just the three with whom she shares immediate work space: Hifumi is a fellow character designer and secret cosplay fan with gorgeous curves but shy demeanor; Yun, a designer of monsters, is an outwardly proper young lady who likes [Loli]Goth clothing and sweets but bemoans her petite figure; while Hajime is a displaced motion designer who is loudly exuberant and about as busty as one of the many figures which she collects.  Aoba’s pairing of eagerness and naivety offers the whole office a canvas upon which to paint, and these three above have first shot.  Good thing they like her!

NEW GAME! is fun and funny, a relaxing bit of slice-of-life with which to calm yourself after a long day IRL.  It is not, as was Shirobako, instructional.  Do not expect to learn anything much about the gaming industry.  Instead, come to laugh at the universal pitfalls which attend starting a new job: learning the office politics; learning the office layout (& getting lost, so lost!); learning your job duties and coworkers; and those two most important aspects, figuring out the lunch and pay schedules.  Aoba has her work cut out for her, but we’ll be there to cheer her on!

[Parental Note: Regular but rather tame fan service.  Nothing of actual concern.]

Revisiting Usagi Drop

     Welcome, all.  I want you to know that it is my intention to review both current and past anime offerings in this blog.  And while I will inevitably focus more upon current shows, I’ll begin by reviewing a series which I’ve previously reviewed on both other sites for which I write.  Why?  Because Usagi Drop remains my favorite series, set within my favorite genre (slice-of-life) of my favorite medium.  And that’s a lot of favorites!  There is a timeless beauty to its themes of love, loss, and nurture.  Meanwhile, the story-telling itself is quietly passionate but very expressive, exploring a year in two separate but joined lives.

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Daikichi is a 30-year-old bachelor called to his maternal grandfather’s home for the old man’s funeral.  But among the relatives whom he was expecting, he discovers a young girl unknown to him.  Imagine his surprise to learn that she is his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter!  Abandoned long ago by a mother she never knew, 6-year-old Rin was kept secret from the family by her elderly father, who rightly anticipated her rejection and his censure.  But she pays the price after his death, a child coldly ignored by these angry strangers who have come to bury her father.  These invaders look through her but not at her; they speak of her but not to her.  Her father is dead, but it is Rin who is turned into a ghost haunting her own house.

But if Rin is hurt and confused, then so is Daikichi.  These people are his family, whom he knows as loving and compassionate.  Where did all that go?  Embarrassed and scandalized as they are, how can they blame a child for the situation of her birth?  Rin is discussed; Rin is ignored; Rin is bullied and bereft.  And Daikichi is exasperated.  Only he asks her if she’s OK.  Only he shows her sympathy and offers comfort, even allowing her to sleep against him as he sits watching the incense and altar at night.  And so it’s no surprise that when grief finally breaks her down to tears, it is to Daikichi that she goes.

But where will she go permanently?  As the family prepare to return to their own homes and lives after the funeral, the question of Rin’s future becomes unavoidable.  How can the family quietly rid itself of the shame she represents?  But when the idea of an orphanage is proposed, Daikichi can no longer stomach the hypocritical machinations of his elders.  Tenuous as their gestures towards each other have been, a connection has been made, and Daikichi is unwilling to watch Rin suffer further.  Angered beyond the reach of his family’s anger, indignant at cruelty so casually heaped upon an innocent child, Daikichi calls to her and offers himself as her new guardian; and upon this pivot, whole worlds turn.

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True, Daikichi is the only one present who has shown her any kindness or concern.  But Rin has only just met him days before, and knows virtually nothing about him.  For his part, Daikichi is a dedicated bachelor with absolutely no clue how to rear a child.  So each has every reason to be terrified of the offer made.  Now watch the subtle nuances of expression on Rin’s face as the idea sinks in, the mix of desperate hope against abject fear.  And then feel that sudden crunch in your gut as you realize that, yes, this really is the first time that one of the adults has called to her by name.

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Viewers are ultimately rewarded with watching a family construct itself basically from scratch, a process of slow and delicate growth in which love is given but trust must be earned.  Luckily for its audience, Usagi Drop remains grounded enough in quirky realism to provide both insight and humor.  What do young children eat?  How do you register a child for school?  For that matter, how do you size children for clothes?  Daikichi and Rin have a lot to learn and a lot of adjustments to make.  The fun is in learning with them.

Some final observations:  Enjoy this series as its own artistic achievement.  The manga upon which it is based covers a far greater span of time and proceeds in some unsettling and–in my own opinion–thoroughly distasteful directions.  This is one time when ignorance of the source material is a real blessing!  Secondly, do not, as I initially was, be put-off by the unfinished look of the artwork.  I came to interpret that look as a subtle commentary upon how a life being lived is always somewhat unfinished.  (Rather clever of them to sneak that in.)  Finally, I encourage you to relax and allow yourself to be swept up in this story.  Its quietude and simplicity mask a depth of emotion, into which you might dive only to emerge refreshed.  Come witness this rare beauty common to both pain and joy.  Come see just how great an anime series can be!