It’s been a very, very long time since I last did an anime viewing list, and with good reason: not a lot of series worth writing about and not enough energy to write about those that were. Nevertheless, stretching one’s blogging legs after a long dry spell is usually a good thing, and with a fairly decent crop of new shows debuting within the next few days, I decided the time was right to tap out a brief sketch of what I plan to follow this season.
Anime director Satō Junichi won my enduring respect with the three-series ARIA franchise, and his recent Croisée in a Foreign Labyrinth didn’t disappoint. (Never mind that I only saw about 3 episodes of that and will have to wait until next year’s home video release to watch the rest.) When it comes to iyashikei, this chap clearly knows his stuff, which is why I’m looking forward to his latest slice-of-life project about a young girl with an interest in photography.
Iyashikei titles have been quietly gaining dominance in my viewing list over the last few years (in terms of influence if not numbers), mainly because they serve as a very effective antidote to the stress of the daily grind. The sort of work I do – I’ll spare you the details but it’s got something to do with finance – places such overbearing demands on the brain that there are times when I simply want to stop thinking altogether. Now this really isn’t possible when one tries to wade through something like Evangelion, or even comparatively lighter fare such as any episode of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu with Koizumi in a prominent speaking role. Certain comedy titles like Baka to Tesuto to Shōkanjū are stupid enough to fill the role, but that sort of series tends to act like coffee: hits one hard and dissipates in an instant.
Iyashikei, if properly executed, are different. They require no mental commitment, only an emotional one. They don’t require you to think, they merely invite you to feel. A cerebral investment pays rich dividends, as in the case of ARIA which works its medicine best after I’ve had time to pause and reflect on each episode – but it’s possible to just drift along at first and leave the thinking for later. And the effects can be longer lasting than a Lucky Star-induced high; indeed, potentially life-changing (I write this without the slightest shred of exaggeration).
One often wishes for something new, something mind-blowing, something innovative. I make no such demands of Tamayura. If it can take me on a walk around town, show me nothing other than vignettes of someone’s everyday existence, and leave me on my doorstep feeling that all is right with the world, then it will have served its purpose.
Now whilst we’re on the subject of slice-of-life series, let’s talk about . . .
My rationale for picking this title up is the same as that behind Tamayura; namely, the desire to add a good, clean, simple slice-of-life series to my war-chest of de-stressors. In addition, as a natural loner who’s quite happy with his sheltered little world, close friendships are something of an alien concept to me – more to be observed than experienced, a source of both fascination and amusement. Bands of brethren are a common device in the feminine form (K-ON! and Hidamari Sketch to name just two), but an inoffensive story about five male high-school buddies with no hint of shōnen-ai (assuming Random Curiosity’s description can be trusted) is more difficult to ferret out and something I’d look forward to seeing.
Now friendships made in the sheltered setting of a school are all well and good, but the ties that bind may sometimes be better tested in the heat and toil of the workplace. Which brings us to . . .
I liked the first season. I liked it a lot. Crisp, simple animation; good character designs; great laughs; (relatively) clean story; a catchy opening sequence. (So catchy that on my last trip to Tokyo, I bought the limited-edition DVD of episode one just because it was the only way I could lay my hands on the bundled OP/ED CD.) The daily trials of a part-time family restaurant worker may not win any Michelin stars, but it can be a recipe for comedy gold.
More Kotori cross-dressing we can do without, but I’d happily endure slovenly service and sword-wielding staff to have another bite of such tried-and-true goodies as the Dread Claw of Doom.
Even though this series moves us a bit further away from the iyashikei standard represented by Tamayura, it doesn’t hurt to have the occasional sugar rush of cheap laughter in order to recharge one’s batteries. In any case, Working’!! may be less emotional fare but it is by no means stupid (if the first season is anything to go by), so the Wagnaria staff can expect me to become a regular customer as this season progresses.
What’s that, you say? Tired of Salisbury steaks and strawberry parfaits? All right, let’s head on down to the seaside and grab some fries from a beach cafe, where we just might catch a glimpse of . . .
We’ve certainly moved farther away from Tamayura territory here, but my motivation is the same: the search for something to put a smile on my face. I haven’t seen the first season but I’ve read good comments about it, and if this second invasion wave of a petite sea monster who’s pressed into beachside waitressing turns out to be a hit, there’s a very good chance I’ll grab the home video release of the original season.
I only hope there isn’t much in the way of, ahem, indecent exposure here. There’s a beach involved (which usually spells fanservice disaster for even relatively inoffensive series like K-ON!), but ANN has the word “none” in the “Objectionable Content” field for season one so I’m optimistic.
So far we’ve covered land and sea; now it’s time to hop into a vanship and head for the skies to rendezvous with . . .
It’s been eight long years since the first series was released. I didn’t catch that one while it was running, but I did grab the DVD set a couple of years or so after it ended – and I simply loved what I saw. Set on a war-torn planet where two young aeronauts are thrust into a world of aerial battles and feuding empires, the original Last Exile boasted production values that were stellar for its day, and the epic quality of the series had a very strong appeal for this enthusiast of Tolkienian literature. There was so much to drink in and delight the senses that I was quite ready to forgive the spotty storytelling and completely messed-up ending. Needless to say, I hungered for a sequel, and as the years passed (along with unproven rumours of a live-action adaptation) it seemed that this desire would remain unsatisfied.
Now the world of the vanship is back, with both new faces and a surprising set of returning characters. (The bare character list alone supplies a much longed-for bit of closure to a major unanswered question from the original series regarding the survival of one of the main characters.) Like the first Last Exile, this one features two young vanship pilots caught in the midst of a global war – not the sort of story I usually look for in anime, but one that piques my interest in a different way. (Probably best served with a dose of Working’!! or Tamayura to balance things out.)
This title was licensed for home video distribution by Funimation long before the first episode’s scheduled air date, and out of respect for that arrangement I shall wait until the Blu-ray is released and I am able to acquire it before I start watching (which will probably be quite a long time from now). I only hope the reviews and commentaries that will undoubtedly flood the blogosphere shortly after Silver Wing debuts end up fuelling my anticipation, rather than dampening my enthusiasm.
So much for the aerial battlefield. Let’s head back down to terra firma to witness another kind of tough diplomacy at work, where desperate penny-pinchers risk life and limb for the chance to grab the last . . .
Some of my best memories of Japan don’t involve ancient architecture or centuries-old gardens. Sure, Himeji Castle was impressive, and the cherry trees near the Imperial Palace were spectacular, but there was something else that made a real difference, something that never failed to nourish and comfort me every time I trudged back to my hotel room after a long day of walking. One of those little things that made my trips really special was the portable, ubiquitous, and (often) unbelievably delicious bentō.
Small wonder, then, that my ears pricked at hearing about a series featuring students battling it out over discount bentō. There’s no sophistication involved, just loads of fun and mouth-watering images of Japan’s beloved boxed meals (check near the end of the PV above for a peek). If the action is kept high, fanservice kept low and the humour just keeps on coming, I expect we’re in for the great-granddaddy of all food fights – and I expect I’ll have found the brainlessly fun series of the season to serve as a nice counterbalance to Tamayura.