The fall season kinda fell right on top of uni finals, hence the lack of a first impressions. But now that’s over and done with, I can finally talk a bit more about this season’s incredibly diverse offering: no individual standouts, just a WHOLE slew of solid ideas, explored in…various degrees of clarity.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting a Star | Mahoutsukai no Yome: Hoshi Matsu Hito
Episodes 1 – 12
For such a bleak character study on abandonment, the exploration of Chise’s lack of agency in her relationships (and the unique exploration of a lack of desiring so) being set against a sometimes magnificent fantasy world, makes her development throughout the season to be rather slow on the intake. In other words: the fantastic depiction of The Ancient Magus’ Bride world so far overshadows the central conflict of the main character story.
Worse still, the rather episodic treatment of the manga material makes the viewing experience choppy in retrospect: the transition between story arcs and the less than endearing false suspense that it leaves the audience in numerous instances really dampens the credibility of its script, especially when its first victim Lindel, the magician caretaker of the Land of Dragons, turned out to be one of the more endearing and interesting characters of the entire cast. Was it necessary for episode two to introduce him with a dragon snatching Chise up, accompanied by dissonant and painful background music? Even the voice actor was instructed to deliver his lines in a more base-heavy manner, trying all too hard to have Lindel sound like a villain.
On the flip side, the episodes that are focused on the Land of Dragons are by far the best parts of this first cour. The show’s slow pacing worked harmoniously with the atmosphere, as it explored the bittersweet existence of the dragons.
Ancient Magus’ Bride’s single bright spot right now is its potential for a rich tapestry of lore and worldbuilding, and while its character drama is lacking in tasteful restraint from show-and-tell and depth, the show’s fascinating enough for me to continue following into the next season.
I don’t have much to say about this one. A character cafe as a central setting, trope-checking cast, a script that mines these tropes for humour-centric interactions, the works.
What did disappoint me the most however, is the show’s late introduction and unforgivable lack of utilisation of Hideri, a cross-dresser who has the aspirations to become an idol. The show’s focus on ridiculous routines and surface-level tease of otaku fetishes would give him the perfect platform to shine as a comedic powerhouse, as demonstrated by his introductory episode. And for him to be thrown into the background for the remainder of the season is just lost opportunity.
And considering how comparatively underwhelming the the other characters are in handling a level of ridiculousness, Blend S has unrefined gold in its clutches, but failed decidedly on cashing it in efficiently.
Girls’ Last Tour | Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou
“Maybe ‘life’ means something that has an end?”
That line. It reaffirms what I’ve constantly appreciated in what this show can do with its unique setting of a peaceful dystopia. Although…if I thought about it: Iyashikei’s internal messaging, which consistently revolves around the uniquity of mundanity and the peace that comes from contentment, would fit almost too well in such a setting. Aria the Animation, Sound of the Sky and Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou; staple flag-bearers of the slice of life/Iyashikei genre combination, all spot worlds that are somewhat post-apocalyptic. And yet, their intent with their setting is of meditative cleansing.
Which brings me briefly to the show’s chief exploration of ‘living vs. surviving’. Yuu and Chi are orphans, forced to flee their homes for an endless journey through dangerous wastelands, stopping only to gather rations and sleep. And yet, they are content, happy to be alive, because they have each other.
Girls’ Last Tour depicts an intensely melancholic atmosphere that is consistently peppered with heart-warming flickers of hope, as inspiring as the few remaining humans (and creatures) that the two young girls encounter throughout their journey. And yet the show doesn’t let us forget the true peril of their circumstance: the memories they made with the people they met, with each other, will eventually fade. But Yuu and Chi will travel onward nonetheless, because Yuu is probably too hungry to care about the despair anyway, and Chi will always have to be there to set the glutton straight.
Land of the Lustrous | Houseki no Kuni
And here is the OTHER stage-stealer.
For a show that deals with such gigantic timelines, the theme of change; the gradual and the abrupt, is ever-present through what the fandom seems to bizarrely classify as straight up body horror.
Now yes, the humanoid gems in their show have their limbs, bodies and eyeballs severed and flying all over the place, but as a person who has gone on record in never finishing a single horror film voluntarily (no, seriously, I despise horror), I viewed the show’s depiction of such instances as almost…chaotic and beautiful. The existential drama in the gems’ memories being stored within the fibres of their bodies, and losing said memories if they were unable to retrieve the shards they lost, makes Land of the Lustrous incredibly interesting as a post-apocalyptic CG project.
And this nod to it being a CG animation project is completely relevant to my short comment here, because the show is a gorgeous showcase of what computer-generated imagery and animation can achieve when there is a competent team behind the production. Such a digital environment allowed the action scenes to take on such dynamic forms which are borderline impossible in more traditional 2D venues. Long uninterpreted takes, camera pans that spins around the subject matter, ducking underneath giant creatures’ legs and framing the sheer speed and ballet-like fight choreography of the gems with effortless grace.
And after all this, my ultimate gesture of praise has to centre around Phos, the main character. The innocent, sassy and hopelessly fashionable young (300 years old) gem’s journey to maturation is one that doesn’t get framed as a desired change, but rather one of circumstance and regret. In fact, although Phos’ change in the show has gotten the most development, the show constantly reminds the audience that its huge ensemble cast of gems, all have their own stories to tell. Stories of devotion, senior-hood, naivety, conquering fear and embracing their own selves.
Talk about a series that knows what it wants…and sticks with it for every episode.
Konohana Kitan thrives on the sentimentality of its setting, and the open acceptance of the audience who are constantly subjected to rug pulls of gut-wrenching revelations. I mean…when the ending of an episode is a hard-working old man who has recently lost his eye sight to an accident, receiving a loyal guide dog as his life companion, and we had just spent the rest of the episode unknowingly exploring their brief backstories. I’d wager that some individuals would gladly accuse the show of being cheaply manipulative and shallow.
The world of Konohana Kitan functions as an utopia, both in-world and on a cinematic level. And that function by its nature is attempting a weekly ritual of simplistic, heart-warming short stories. I am willing to stand by my verdict, that some of its attempts at sentimental mysticism succeeds beautifully. Take for instance, the poetic interpretation of the rainbow as the work of a skilled weaver.