Sophomore Slump? Not for Umaru or Hoozuki!

Welcome, all, again, and happy Thanksgiving to those who so celebrate.  Today I’d like to discuss two series which are currently airing second seasons, Himouto! Umaru-chan and Hozuki’s Coolheadedness (Hoozuki no Reitetsu).  I was a fan of the first seasons of both shows (and own both in my personal anime library), and have found myself pleasantly surprised at the sustained quality and  ambitious direction of their new seasons.  And I quite purposefully say direction, as both shows seem to share a pronounced emphasis this season on character development, particularly that of their respective protagonists.

Ladies first, so we’ll begin with Himouto! Umaru-chan R.  Like so many of us, Umaru displays a distinct change in behavior and mindset between her public self and her private self.  She works hard to present a public image of being self-contained, effortlessly beautiful, polite, and humble.  Once shut away from the world, however, she morphs into a spoiled, whiny, self-absorbed junk food and gaming addict.  And when I say “It ain’t pretty,” you can take that any number of ways and probably still be dead-on right.  She is her older brother’s pride and poison as he takes care of her in the apartment they share.  Season 1 established her split personality and let us watch as she conveniently compartmentalized the people and other things in her life.  Things became so complicated, in fact, that at least two of Umaru’s classmates believe that they each know two separate and distinct people who are both actually Umaru.

Season 2 begins to humanize our heroine somewhat as she begins to both recognize and regret the difficulties she causes her brother, and to also loosen up around her friends.  Of course, this increased openness with her friends allows us to discover more about them as well, particularly her best friend Ebina.  This creeping maturity in a character who for so long so easily mimicked responsible behavior is a well-played plot progression that has, in my opinion, revitalized the show.

Meanwhile, Hozuki’s Coolheadedness is traveling a similar path, in this case humanizing its lead by exposing elements of his past even as he plays at becoming something of a family man.  That’s right, we finally get an origin story for Hozuki, Great King Enma’s stern Chief-of-Staff, and it was nothing like what I expected.  But nor did I expect its roundabout catalyst, Hozuki’s seeming to dote upon two new visitors to Yomi (the Japanese underworld), twin zashiki warashi.  While nonchalantly explaining away their presence by asserting that many supernatural beings visit Yomi, Hozuki seems quietly fond and blatantly protective of these two, even giving them names.  (It should be noted that they specifically saved that request for Hozuki.)  In turn, Ichiko and Niko respond to Hozuki quite singularly, even seeming to become a bit clingy at times.  Mind you, this is no Usagi Drop, but you can’t help but feel happy for all three–they almost seem to have needed each other.  And Hozuki’s character has certainly gained a pronounced depth through this exposition and development, especially his interactions with the girls.  Now, I just wonder if the sudden presence of children around Hozuki will lure Peach Maki back into his orbit?

And speaking of Peach Maki, she has also returned in this second season, and is now part of an idol duo, Maki-Miki.  Moreover, the show’s closing sequence is given to her (sans Miki) in a music video format.  Which of course leads me to comment upon the artwork–exquisite, just as we’ve come to expect from this series.  Recent viewing seasons have seen an uptick in the artistic quality of various anime offerings, but this remains one of the most beautifully drawn and colored series that I’ve ever seen.  It is, in fact, uniquely visually beautiful while remaining cuttingly funny.  I’m hooked.

And there you go, two very different shows walking down the same path as their second seasons progress.  I approve and applaud.

 

Fifi Rong Returns with “Awake”

Now, how’d she get up there?

Welcome, all, again.   Just a quick post, here.  Two weeks ago I suggested 3 possible crowdfunding opportunities for your consideration.  Two of those–the new, extended production of Under the Dog and the launch volume of Goth Ghost Girl comic–have closed with successful funding!  Meanwhile, the anime premier of Halloween Pajama (brainchild of anime legend Yasuhiro Irie) is still seeking backers: [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1489287301/yasuhiro-iries-animation-film-halloween-pajama-in]

Fifi Rong at SXSW

But I bring exciting news!  EDM artist Fifi Rong, whom I have several times before championed on this blog, is working on a new project and again seeking supporters.  We’ve reached out and supported her before, especially when she made her first trip to the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this year–now let’s show our appreciation yet again!  Jump over to her pledge page and listen to the sample tracks.  Then, if so inspired, help her out with her new EP.  She’s an extremely talented singer/songwriter and a mesmerizing performer, not to mention a surprisingly charming person, so please take a look: [https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/fifirong-awake?utm_campaign=project18155&utm_medium=email&utm_source=pledgemusic]

Thanks for your interest and support!  I’m constantly amazed at the beauty that we as fans can now help bring into our world, and I’m solidly behind these two projects.  Meanwhile, I promise more actual anime review for next time.  In fact, I’m very eager to discuss a couple of past favorites that are currently showing strong second seasons. . .so, see you then!

Genius Takes Flight: Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou, Episode 6

Welcome, all, again.  Today I digress from all past practice in order to focus upon one particular episode of a series, returning us to Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (hereafter referred to as SSR).  Some while back, I wrote a post about how certain specific episodes of anime can buoy the spirit, fitting corresponding moods.  The best of these individual episodes can actually create from scratch the moods that they then inhabit.  Take episode 1 of Usagi Drop, for instance.  The unwary or uninformed viewer finds him/herself caught-up and tossed by the emotional maelstrom coiled within these quiet characters and their impending, imploding familial situation.  And while March Comes in Like a Lion begins its story more subtly,  viewers soon stand as bereft as Rei in the face of the gaping, hungering emotional chasm that is his life.  Episode 6 of SSR packs a similar emotional punch, taking viewers on a veritable roller coaster ride of the heart.  Thing is, this episode builds up so very subtly that its ultimate impact might come as a surprise.

So, just what is it that makes episode 6 such a big deal?  Its quietude, dear reader, its quietude.  After all, still waters are said to run deep.  Episode 6 sees our girls find another human, their first such encounter since they crossed paths with the mapmaker Kanazawa in episode 3.  Ishii is a female living alone in the ruins of what appears to be an aircraft hangar.  She presents the demeanor and focus of a scientist, even while designing like an engineer and building like a mechanic.  But in a post-apocalyptic world, those distinctions are basically meaningless.  Ishii has a dream, and it’s a big one–she wants to construct a working airplane and use it to fly to another city.  Still, she is able to couch her dream within the sensible, saying that to remain in one place until all resources are used or devoured is to invite not just death, but first, privation.  I’m sure that Yuu felt that listening to Ishii was a lot like listening to an older version of Chii; I certainly felt that way.

And here’s where the story starts worming its way into your psyche before you ever realize it. . .the girls and Ishii bond in a way never possible with the male Kanazawa, of whom the girls remained at least vaguely wary.  Chii (and therefore Yuu) needs help repairing the damaged Kettenkrad, while Ishii’s dream will manifest much more quickly with extra hands available to perform extra work.  There is mutual need and mutual respect, not to mention shared admiration for and curiosity about the decision to either travel or homestead.  Bonds are established through the sharing of food and living space.  For a brief moment, these three enjoy the creation of what is almost an ad hoc  family.  As we watch, these characters quietly establish emotional investment in each other, in themselves as a group, and even in each other’s pursuits and decisions.  So do we.

Potato!

As usual, I am ignorant of this anime’s source material.  I’ve never read the manga (although I’ve heard that this anime is being relatively faithful to said material).  But I had somehow heard about this Ishii/airplane business, and had been eagerly anticipating it.  And I was consequently amazed that the whole thing was covered, beginning to end, in just one episode.  Amazed, but not disappointed, because this was some tight and careful writing! Conversations remain leisurely to the ear, but you soon realize that not a word nor even a pause was wasted, and that you have been walked to the edge of a precipice.  As Chii records the momentous flight in her journal, she tells Ishii that she might well be the last pilot in human history.  Hauntingly, she gives no voice to the recognized continuation of that thought: that Ishii is probably the last person with the skill and understanding to even construct an aircraft.  In the aftermath of catastrophe, mankind fell from the skies; in the aftermath of Ishii, he might never return.  The heart rises to the throat at this realization, then falls to the stomach as the plane approaches take-off. . .this is an episode to which you will repeatedly return, so rejoice!  This is why we’re fans.

 

Opportunity Knocks! (Current Anime Crowdfunding)

Welcome, all, again.  Normally within these digitally confined walls, I review an anime while suggesting that you watch it.  Occasionally, I even suggest crowdfunding projects for your consideration; these are, however, usually related to music albums.  Not today!  Today I submit for your perusal two anime projects and one comic book, so please take a look:

Anime project #1: UNDER THE DOG the Movie                                          Now, this is really the addition of two new parts to the original half-hour UNDER THE DOG Episode 0 released in 2016.  The first addition will be a live-action short of approximately 20 minutes during which intended series protagonist Anthea relates her story.  This will segue viewers into the actual anime, following girls who fight for a paramilitary organization called Flowers as they carry out one of their missions.  Then will come the second new addition, a closing music video made by K-ON! veterans Atsushi Isoyama (producer) and Shoko Omori (lyricist).  The ultimate goal of this theatrical release is to help generate interest in a televised anime series.

 

I loved the original pilot, and look forward to this new, expanded version.  Especially since the current team is promising to avoid repeating the many mistakes and disappointments experienced by supporters in the actual release and distribution of the original.  If interested in contributing, please visit: [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1356660673/under-the-dog-the-movie-live-action-short-and-musi?ref=user_menu]

Anime project #2: Halloween Pajama in Seattle: the Dream Catcher                So, what have we here?  Halloween Pajama is the creation of Yasuhiro Irie, known for his work on such anime as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Alien 9, and–two of my personal favorites–KURAU Phantom Memory and Scorching Ping Pong GirlsHalloween Pajama marks his foray into the world of manga (with volumes 1-5), but, as might be expected from someone with such an extensive anime pedigree, he began wishing to see his creations in motion.  Halloween Pajama is herself the superhero alter-ego of 10-year-old Jakou Ran, a clever and energetic girl immersed in a world of Halloween motifs.  One last thing: the anime will be a musical.  But, seeing that this is scheduled for a roughly 20-minute run time, that shouldn’t become a problem.  This guy is the real deal, so I anticipate the same from his new work!  Please find information at: [https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1489287301/yasuhiro-iries-animation-film-halloween-pajama-in?ref=profile_starred]

And, finally, our comic book project: Goth Ghost Girl comic book #1          OK, so there’s no pressure here, because this one is more than fully funded already.  But don’t you still want to be part of this, to know that you were there at the beginning for what became one of your favorite comics?  The murdered guitarist of an all-girl punk rock band returns from the grave to seek vengeance and mad beats. . .the first storyline sees our heroine Lilly O-Siris (and I’m loving that name-play!) try to help an abused girl with some sickening home issues.  But if the story sounds intense, the artwork is glorious[!], illustrated by none other than Sergio Quijada.  Seriously, I can get lost for hours just on that guy’s DeviantArt page.  This looks to have some solid storytelling by creator and author John Schlim, Jr., and Quijada’s art is already amazing, so check things out at:[https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/fablehaus/goth-ghost-girl-comic-book-1?ref=user_menu]

And there you are, three projects actively seeking your help in jumping from idea to reality!  I’m excited for all three, and encourage you to consider their merits relative to your own tastes.  Moreover, I encourage you to visit crowdfunding sites such as kickstarter.com and pledgemusic.com to explore your own interests–you might just become part of something really special!

 

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (Girls’ Last Tour)

Welcome, all, again.  I hope that everybody enjoyed their Halloween (Samhain, for some of us)!  I had a good time handing out candy and inviting family and friends into my home.  I even managed to give away most of the candy; I can’t imagine what I’m going to do with my one leftover bag of Milky Ways. . .anynom, imagine trying to exist in a world without a home or without any dependable means of obtaining food.  That’s the scenario for our heroines in today’s discussion, which focuses upon Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou (also called Girls’ Last Tour).  And, appropriate for this time of year, this is one scary anime!

Somebody’s hungry!

Chii and Yuu wander through a post-apocalyptic landscape in constant search of food, fuel, and shelter.  The end seems to have come through some huge war, and weapons and vehicles lie scattered everywhere like so much windblown litter.  Indeed, the girls travel on a Kettenkrad, a WWII German contraption that looks like the ungainly lovechild of a motorcycle and a small tank, and was originally designed as a military small tractor.  Both girls are dressed in what appear to be old military uniforms, and Yuu carries a rifle with which she seems quite capable and accurate.  Chii eschews weapons and is instead skilled in mechanics.   She also enjoys reading and keeps a journal.  And while it seems to be a constant struggle to survive their situation, they persevere through a quietly pedestrian tenacity and reliance upon each other.

Because we only have each other. . .

Sounds more bleak than scary?  Watch again.  How overpopulated did the world become that we had to build multilayered cities?  How quickly would food production have become inadequate to feed so many people?  Or watch Chii read without knowing what certain key words reference or mean–then watch Yuu struggle to read at all.  Notice how desolate of life is their world.  Then, perhaps most ominous of all, consider how (beautifully) detailed the background artwork is in comparison to Chii and Yuu themselves, whose faces seem practically featureless.  Everything, even their Kettenkrad, is attentively drawn in much more detail than our protagonists–why?  Is it to show them as Everymen, thereby thrusting viewers into their roles and struggles?  Is it to emphasize their transience and mortality, mocking that they are destined for the grave long before the already dead civilization that birthed them?  Or, worse yet, might it be both these things combined?  Revelation and accusation of our individual insignificance in the face of the world we’ve created?  Now, that is scary!

I love this series and strongly recommend it!  It is starkly beautiful and picturesque even while being visually disturbing.  Meanwhile, Chii and Yuu are sympathetic characters who are nonetheless more apt to elicit feelings of camaraderie than immediate concern.  (You worry about them, but seldom with any urgency.)  It would have been easy for this simple premise to devolve into a monotonous bore of a story, but the slow pace is well-managed and the writing quietly clever and strong.  So watch for relaxation or for contemplation, just so long as you give this show a try.