[12 Days] Day 12: Best of Anime, 2016!

What better way to end off the 12-day barrage of articles than with a list of my favorites of 2016! Today we have awards categories for: top airing anime, best male and female characters, OTP, top opening and ending numbers, and best background piece. Do note that I drop shows mercilessly and don’t watch that many per season, so if your favorites aren’t on there, chances are I haven’t watched them (blame my garbage taste). And with that, let’s get started!

TOP ANIME

5: Mob Psycho 100

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I enjoyed Mob’s endearing obliviousness, the miscommunication and conflict (aka ANGST) between the brothers, and the animation and the pure adrenaline in the battle scenes. Mob Psycho 100 also happens to tell a meaningful tale about the trials and fears of adolescence, and uses Reigen to provide a refreshing adult perspective. But that’s not me talking: this article on the Isn’t it Electrifying blog explains it better than I ever could.

4: Flip Flappers

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This placement comes with a big caveat that Flip Flappers isn’t finished yet and could still come apart in its final episode, but hey, I wanted to get this article out on Christmas. I mentioned Flip Flappers in my post about anime that go over my head, so I’ll defer in-depth discussion to those who can better dissect it than me. Other than that, I still love the visuals, and I’ve grown attached to the characters. Cocona’s struggles have become more relatable, and I love Papika’s earnestness and especially Yayaka’s suffering and growth as they get dunked on but continue struggling anyway. You go girls!

3. Hibike! Euphonium season 2

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The first season combined laser focus on the nature of ambition with some gorgeous visuals, resulting in a stunning experience. The second season couldn’t live up to that, with less of a thematic focus and an underwhelming climax to the first arc taking away from the ever-consistent visual presentation. Nevertheless, I’ve become endeared to the entire cast, and I’m content just to watch them spend time together. Plus, Mamiko’s and Asuka’s stories gave such sublime emotional payoffs that I’m overall happy with this season. And unlike Flip Flappers, Hibike! Euphonium’s thematic threads have basically all been concluded, so even if the last episode falls apart, I can just ignore it.

2. Thunderbolt Fantasy

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Yes I know this isn’t anime. I also don’t care. I ranked this above the others because although it doesn’t quite reach their emotional peaks or thematic depth, all the episodes were engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed the scheming, the plot twists, the betrayals, the flashy fights, the blustering and bravado, and the Wuxia setting that made me feel like I was reliving my childhood days of reading old Chinese stories. Nostalgia is a powerful drug.

1. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

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As I’ve said in the previous post,  I love this work because it reminds me of my favorite book Wuthering Heights. However, it stands on its own merits as well. The character work is gripping: Kikuhiko drives the story with a compelling mix of insecurity, jealousy, pride, and devotion; Sukeroku charms us with his charisma and fierce independence even as we decry his actions; and the others are sympathetic in their own right (you can read better episode/character analysis here at the Josei Next Door blog). I became invested in the characters and relationships even as the show drives them headlong into tragedy. Combine this with a confident visual presentation and several emotional highlights, and you’ve got a top-tier anime for me.

BEST MALE CHARACTER

Honorable mentions:

  • Arata Reigen (Mob Psycho 100) because of his adult perspective and good-hearted guidance of the angsty adolescents.
  • Shang Bu Huan (Thunderbolt Fantasy) because he is generally charming with his “I’m too old for this shit” attitude, and because it’s funny to see the show provide comedy at his expense.

Winner:

Kikuhiko (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu)

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Among the shows I’ve watched this year, I can’t think of a more compelling, fleshed-out male character than Kikuhiko. Through the first watch and the rewatch, I noticed and appreciated the skill gone into crafting his conflicted personality, from his inferiority complex, to his complicated relationship with Sukeroku and Miyokichi, to the way he responds to pressures of his master’s name, the Association, and indeed the entire Rakugo art form. All characters in Rakugo Shinjuu are sympathetic, but Kikuhiko is my favorite.

BEST FEMALE CHARACTER

Honorable mentions:

  • Kawamoto Hina (March Comes in like a Lion) for her resilience and caring for Rei despite the stress in her life, and for the show’s sympathetic portrayal of her struggles. I’d have considered Akari as well but she gets less of a character focus.
  • Yayaka (Flip Flappers) because she gets dunked on by the story despite having a good heart and a willingness to sacrifice for her friend and I just want her story to end well T.T

Winner:

Tanaka Asuka (Hibike! Euphonium)

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Tanaka Asuka = best Asuka.

Sorry I had to give my #animehottakes.

A charismatic yet enigmatic figure throughout the first season, Asuka got her well-deserved focus this season, and man was it beautiful. I related so hard to the stubborn pride and fear of causing trouble to others that prevented her from reaching out for help or letting people close to her, despite that being exactly what she needed and wanted deep down. I cheered silently from the edge of my seat as she allowed Kumiko to break through her defences, allowed herself to believe that yes, it’s OK to be selfish from time to time, it’s OK not to always be a perfect adult. It was a cathartic, heartwarming closure to her arc. Plus her euphonium solos were among the most beautiful moments of the show.

For more in-depth analysis of Asuka, refer to Nick Creamer’s two excellent articles written on Crunchyroll.

OTP (best couple)

Mitsuhide and Kiki (Akagami no Shirayuki-Hime season 2)

You will read everywhere else about the Shirayuki x Zens, the Cocona x Papikas, the Yuuri x Viktors, so I’d like to use this opportunity to highlight a couple that’s out of the spotlight. Yes, Mitsuhide and Kiki have a fascinating rapport between them, in which they can freely banter and tease each other while knowing they have each other’s trust. When Kiki volunteers to disguise herself as a captive on the pirate ship, Mitsuhide protests, worried for her safety, but ultimately respects her decision. Kiki then gives him her sword, trusting him (and not someone else) to return it when she needs it. And he lives up to that trust.

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OK I may have generously interpreted some of the above considering I haven’t rewatched the show. But they’re so darn cute together, and they don’t visibly show much affection, so my imagination and my shipping goggles may have led me to exaggerate.

THE MUSIC AWARDS

The next section is the music-related awards, a topic I’m even less qualified to talk about than storytelling. I’m not usually one to pay much attention to the music, and I will skip the OP/ED numbers unless I like them enough to listen through them. And honestly I think most of these songs are here by default because they’re the only ones I listened to in their entirety. Therefore, please, take anything I say with a grain of salt.

TOP OPENING NUMBERS

Answer, by Bump of Chicken (March Comes in like a Lion): because the chorus was catchy

Serendipity, by ZAQ (Flip Flappers): because the visuals are flashy, which is appropriate with the show, and the song is catchy (especially the part where she sings “even if we’re far apart I’ll be by your side”)

History Maker, by Dean Fujioka (Yuri!!! on Ice): jeez are the visuals pretty, with the splashes of color, and the beautiful choreography and animation. The English is pronounced very well, and the song and lyrics are pretty catchy. The time signature is 3/4 which is also a nice bonus.

TOP ENDING NUMBERS

STEEL-鉄血の絆, by TRUE (Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans 2nd cour): although I think I skipped it a few times, I liked it enough to eventually listen to it in its entirety for the rest of the show.

FLIP FLAP FLIP FLAP, by To-Mas feat Chima (Flip Flappers): the screen splits the visuals in half, with the top showing Cocona and Papika in a fairy-tale setting, and the bottom showing Papika goading Cocona out of her comfort zone. Both are cute touches, nicely summarizing the setting and themes of the story, respectively. And the song is catchy as all heck and I can’t get FLIP FLAP FLIP FLAP out of my head.

Dawn (JPN: かは、たれどき), by Shibue Kana (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu): no lyrics, no problem. The smooth, almost melancholic jazz is beautiful in its own right and perfectly complements the story’s tragedy.

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TOP BACKGROUND MUSIC TRACK

Main theme from Flying Witch, by Dewa Yoshiaki.

I went into Flying Witch knowing it would be an easygoing, relaxed anime. The first episode started with a cold open, so I was treated to this as the first piece of music I heard in Flying Witch. Within two seconds, I felt my mind noticeably relax, my day’s stress carried away by the acoustic instruments singing a gentle melody above a set of simple chords. If the purpose of art is to move you from one emotional place to another, this piece did its job so well I simply cannot put another above it.

And done!

Thus concludes my top list for 2016, as well as the 12 Days of Anime challenge. This was 12 days of gruelling writing, image-finding, and editing. But I’m glad I did it. It was an amazing community feeling to read personal and analytical posts from other talented writers, and I’ve added quite a few of them to the list of blogs I can trust for quality work. I doubt we’ll continue to write at such prolific rates (I know I won’t), but I’ll definitely treasure this experience. Happy holidays everyone! Now I can finally binge watch anime instead of writing all these articles.

You can read about the 12 Days of Anime on my introductory post here.

[12 Days] Day 11: Rakugo Shinjuu, Wuthering Heights, and a tragedy of generations

Note: this essay was written before the release of the second season of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, so I will only be talking about the first season.

I had a phase in high school where I fell in love with Wuthering Heights. I think my teenage self resonated with the angst, the cyclical tragedies, Heathcliff’s singular charisma, and the general wild, tumultuous atmosphere. I’ll admit to devouring essay after essay on critical analysis of the book, and digging deep into the corpus of Brontë’s other works.

When I watched Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (henceforth Rakugo Shinjuu) this past winter, I was fairly lukewarm about the story until I hit episode 9 and 10, when I saw the same angst and cyclic tragedies that I loved in Wuthering Heights. I instantly warmed up to the show. Suddenly, Rakugo Shinjuu made sense to me. It mattered.

Or, maybe I just have a huge soft spot for angst: especially set against such beautiful visuals
Or, maybe I just have a huge soft spot for angst: especially set against such beautiful visuals

(This is going to be the most far-fetched essay I’ll have written so far, isn’t it…)

Of course the two works are different. Heathcliff stands at the center of Wuthering Heights, motivated by a resentment towards the established families, an obsession over Catherine, and a laser focus on revenge. Meanwhile, Rakugo Shinjuu highlights Kikuhiko’s conflict: an inferiority complex towards Sukeroku borne out of jealousy but also an inexplicable attraction. But notice the similarities in the nature of their tragedies:

Both works take place against the backdrop of old families and traditions. Wuthering Heights features the ancient Earnshaw and Linton families, while Rakugo Shinjuu has the long-standing Yakumo name as well as rakugo itself as an old, fading art form. These lineages establish a generational or cyclic feel to the conflicts, and also weigh heavily on the characters’ shoulders as they contemplate the decisions that would determine their fates.

The major turning point in both works feature a conflict between emotion and reason (in other words: ANGST). In a painful scene in Wuthering Heights, Catherine rejects her heart’s desire for Heathcliff in favor of societal pressures to marry into a well-established family, which sets in motion Heathcliff’s revenge plot. In Rakugo Shinjuu, Kikuhiko snubs Miyokichi for the sake of the rakugo tradition (it’s debatable whether Kiku has feelings for Miyokichi, and if so he doesn’t show it, but they did see each other for a long time. I like to think of him as conflicted). This sets off the angst-filled scene between her and Sukeroku as they discuss eloping as the “rejected ones”, setting the stage for later tragedies. Both decisions seem logical at the time, yet they are part of many other small decisions that add up to greater misfortune, giving a feeling of inevitablilty to the tragedy.

Both works show the tragedies propagating through generations, with an important cause being the baggage from the previous generation. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff’s vengeful nature is a product of his childhood bullying by Hindley and the perceived betrayal by Catherine. He in turn exacts his revenge by raising Hindley’s son Hareton in barbaric conditions and abusing Catherine’s daughter Cathy, setting the stage for the dour household in the present day. In Rakugo Shinjuu, the misfortune is multifactorial, but the baggage from the previous generation plays an important role. The seventh generation Yakumo’s spat with the previous Sukeroku is one of the underlying reasons that he snubs the current Sukeroku as his successor. This rejection in turn sets the stage for Sukeroku and Miyokichi to decide to elope, which, combined with their financial troubles, is responsible for Konatsu’s difficult childhood. Meanwhile, Kikuhiko’s conflicting feelings toward Sukeroku and Miyokichi lead him to visit them, indirectly setting the conditions for the tragic confrontation that leaves Konatsu orphaned. This traumatic event, combined with Konatsu’s distrust for her new guardian Kikuhiko, results in a bitter household by the present day.

The part where I realized the cyclic nature of these tragedies. Also, more angst.
The part where I realized the cyclic nature of these tragedies. Also, more angst.

In both works, the households are first introduced at the nadir of their unhappiness, but both sets of cyclic tragedies are broken at the end by people deciding to genuinely care for one another. In Wuthering Heights, the younger Cathy decides one day to make friends with Hareton, and their new amity helps Heathcliff realize the meaninglessness of his revenge, thereby liberating the household from misery. In Rakugo Shinjuu, Yotarou and Konatsu are distrusting at first, but by the end of the season have developed a cordial relationship, which, combined with Kikuhiko taking a less strict approach, has resulted in a less bitter household. Both works seem to imply that the key to breaking cycles of unhappiness is to forgive the previous generation’s injustices and reach out in goodwill.

All of the above is to say: I loved Wuthering Heights, I found elements of Rakugo Shinjuu that were similar to Wuthering Heights, therefore I began to like Rakugo Shinjuu. Enjoyment is a curious thing: once I decided I cared about the conflicts, not only did I enjoy the rest of the episodes, but when I rewatched the show, I was able to pay attention to and pick up on a lot more of the earlier details I had missed previously. As a result, I enjoyed the rewatch a lot more. Rakugo Shinjuu is undoubtedly my favorite anime of 2016, and I’m wholeheartedly looking forward to the second season in only a few weeks.

You can read about the 12 Days of Anime project on the intro post here.

[12 Days] Day 10: Anna at Marnie’s party

This year I watched When Marnie was There. The experience is best described as an emotional gut punch followed by a hug.

It’s not easy to watch Anna’s struggles if you’re not at peace with yourself. Like Anna, I find it hard to talk to people, I have trouble starting and maintaining close friendships, and social situations drain the life out of me. As such, there are days where I struggle with my self-esteem. Unsurprisingly, I found it suffocating watching her struggle with similar issues I grapple with.

There was one sequence in that film that continues to haunt me with its heartbreaking accuracy. I remember watching it and wanting to jump at the screen yelling “that’s exactly me!” The sequence in question is when Marnie invites Anna to her party. Let’s take a look:

The film has a panning shot of the crowd, making the claustrophobia a lot more clear

Marnie tells her guests to buy some flowers from Anna, and they flock around her. The camera then switches to a claustrophobic first-person point of view, panning around a blurry crowd laughing and reaching in as they surround Anna.

At least in my experiences, it’s not the people that cause the discomfort, but rather being at the center of attention. So no wonder Anna dashes out of the crowd to the sanctuary of the walls. And, just for good measure, she pulls her hood over her head to help her disappear better.

Please don’t notice me…
Also note how the background characters slide right over Anna, showing how well she’s disappeared from everyone’s attention

Once at the walls, Anna is safe to watch the rest of the party: exactly what I do for most of the social gatherings I attend. Unfortunately for Anna, she witnesses her only friend (for people like us, friends don’t come easily) make fluid conversation with another person. I can’t presume to know what happens inside Anna’s mind, but at moments like these I feel a pang of irrational betrayal and jealousy. How dare they be so socially adroit, when I can barely survive being in the presence of strangers? And then I berate myself for even thinking that way, and feel even more terrible.

What right do they have to socialize with other people? Why can’t I be like them?

Finally, we arrive at a shot I know too well: exhausted from the hubbub, Anna slinks away from the crowd for some peace and quiet (granted, she is drunk, so I may have projected a bit of myself on to her, but I think my point still stands).

Peace and quiet

Thus concludes a painful sequence. Honestly, the entire movie was incredibly difficult to sit through, but I’m glad the film chose to portray Anna’s struggles in a sympathetic light. Hence, when Anna learned to get along better with herself, I felt a hint of encouragement. If she can do it, so can I.

You can read about the 12 Days of Anime challenge in my intro post here.

[12 Days] Day 9: Reddit’s Sound! Euphonium Rewatch

I originally got a reddit account because I thought that was where most of the anime fandom was and I could promote my blog entries there. That kind of failed, though, considering I don’t participate much and don’t churn out enough blog posts to be a regular on the forums. However, one experience for which I’m thankful to reddit is this year’s Sound! Euphonium rewatch. I guess the community had decided, sometime in the summer, that since the new season of Sound! Euphonium would be coming out this Fall, it would be nice to rewatch the first season before that, one episode per day. I signed up for it on a whim, and I’m glad for the experience.

Each day, the host u/Quartapple would announce the latest episode that we arrived at and provide a few discussion questions. Then the responses would pour in. Some would gush in point form about their favorite moments, complete with imgur links to screencaps (and who could blame them: it’s a beautiful show). Others would zero in on one or two highlights and analyze them in depth. I really liked the discussion questions that focused on interpreting a particular scene, because it got me for the first time to think critically about what each detail meant and how it contributed to the larger narrative. I ended up challenging myself to think more analytically, and express my thoughts coherently (or so I hope). Shoutout to you for your excellent hosting.

Scrolling through the comments, I quickly saw who could write and argue eloquently. One user stood out to me, and I ended up visiting their blog and finding a wealth of essays analyzing Sound! Euphonium and other shows from small details to large narratives. It was a great find. Shoutout to the Minute Art blog, and keep up the good work.

By the end of the rewatch, I had gotten busy and wasn’t able to keep up with posting stuff every day. However, I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate.

For more information about the 12 Days challenge, please refer to my intro post here.

[12 Days] Day 8: talking out of my ***

Let me confess something: often times I have no idea what I’m talking about.

I don’t have any background in critical analysis, so I learned most of how to interpret subtext through reading other critics’ essays and seeing how they did it. Even so, there are still many shows for which I have trouble piecing their themes, narrative arcs, presentations, etc, into a coherent message that I can appreciate.

When I saw the first episode Concrete Revolutio I could see it wanted to talk about Justice. A few weeks later, it was still talking about Justice. By the end of the two cours, all I got from the show was: something about Justice.

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When you talk in abstractions, I get lost (image originally found on Geekorner.wordpress.com)

When I saw the first episode of March comes in like a Lion, I was impressed by the suffocating portrayal of Rei’s depression. Fast forward to the present, and I think Rei is still depressed. I’m still not exactly sure what the show wants to tell us about depression. Does it want to contrast Rei’s depression with the Kawamoto sisters’ resilience? Is it trying to chronicle the daily life of a person with depression? Is it trying to show subtle changes in Rei’s mental health?

In these situations, I might stumble upon essays written by more astute folk, and their interpretations may help me understand and thereby enjoy the show. When I first started watching Flip Flappers this season, I saw it as nothing more than an energetic girl dragging a reserved girl on beautifully-animated adventures. However, after reading the wonderful analysis work at the Josei Next Door blog, I began to see the story as Cocona’s coming-of-age journey where she confronts her insecurities and repressed emotions. Once the story was framed that way, I was able to invest more in the characters and enjoyed the show a lot more.

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Visuals as beautiful as always, but now I actually care about what’s going on

But isn’t it good, you may ask, if other people’s interpretations helped you make sense of and enjoy work more? Yes, but I tend to fall into two traps. First, I often take their word as the definitive interpretation, which is against the spirit of rational discourse. Second, I have an ongoing battle my ego: why didn’t I connect these dots myself? Why can’t I come up with an original thought? When I first started writing opinion pieces on anime, I would even search the web to see if anyone has written about the same topic. Even now, when I read a brilliant essay, I wipe my hands, say: “well, this person has said it better than I could ever have”, and shelve away any possibility of writing my own thoughts about it.

At the end of the day, these are issues I know I still need to work on. I need to accept that sometimes, shows will fly over my head and I will need the help of other bloggers in finding meaning in them. At the same time, I can’t read only one critic’s interpretation and take it as absolute Truth. It is often not feasible to come up with original ideas, and there’s no harm in writing unoriginal posts if they are meaningful to me—especially considering my resolution to blog more for myself from now on. And of course, as is honest practice, if I got an idea from somewhere, I need to cite it.

You can read about the 12 Days challenge in my intro post here.

[12 Days] Day 7: Araragi’s point of no return–light novel vs film portrayal

I watched Kizumonogatari Part I this year, having read the light novel twice before. Several parts of the story are memorable to me, the earliest of which is Araragi surrendering himself to the vampire. The sequence goes like this: Araragi walks alone at night, sees the dismembered vampire, hears her plea for help, begins to run away, stops, and for some reason, runs back to the vampire offering his whole supply of blood for her survival. It’s effectively a suicide, and it continues to be an eery, horrific, yet fascinating moment. I think both the light novel and the film did the sequence justice, but they prioritized different things.

Light Novels

The Monogatari novels are famous for their first-person stream-of-consciousness narration, so we get a good look of what’s going on inside Araragi’s mind. He doesn’t give us his reasoning the moment he turns back, suggesting he doesn’t consciously know it himself, but we can infer from his thought process as he realizes the end of his life is near. The major themes of his thoughts are isolation and self-loathing. He has trouble making friends, having boasted to Hanekawa that he doesn’t need them (likely a defence mechanism to stop her from getting too close). He regrets at not having made any true connections of people who would miss him. He mentions a divide between him and his parents, which furthers his isolation. He does feel a hint of remorse toward his sisters, but it’s not enough to stop him. In his own words, he believes his life to be so worthless that the most meaningful thing he can do is offer it to a higher being. The only thing that might have stopped him, he realizes just before losing consciousness, is Hanekawa. Not her underwear (although in this unreliable narration, who knows if he’s telling the truth), but the fact that she was the only one who found him important enough to approach him.

In short, this is a distillation of Araragi’s self-loathing. The light novel pummels us relentlessly with these thoughts of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of being beyond help. And it can hit close to home for those of us struggling with ideas of self-worth.

Film

The film approaches this scene from a different perspective. It chooses to do away with monologuing, a seemingly deliberate break from the monologue-heavy TV series. Instead, the film plays up what its medium can do best: horror. Blood is splattered copiously on the floor, the vampire is drawn grotesquely, her voice screeching with frenzy. When Araragi initially runs away, the jumpy, shaking camera and the thick, uneven lines of his body convey utter terror. We don’t hear his inner thoughts, so we can only gawk in wonder as he turns around and dashes back to the vampire.

What makes him turn around? I don’t know what a first-time film watcher would think. However, I think the film presents us with two pieces of evidence. First, Araragi says he’ll do a better job as a person when he is reborn, which implies self-loathing (admittedly an interpretation I borrowed from the novel). Second, there’s a certain sexual tension in the encounter: Araragi speaks that line while putting his head into the vampire’s copious bosom, and the sequence of the vampire going for his blood looks eerily erotic (and there’s a long history in fiction of vampire bites as metaphors for sexual encounters). Therefore, you could argue Araragi had a strange attraction to the vampire, which, coupled with his devaluation of his own life, caused him to turn around.

Overall, the film conveyed this as a surreal, uncanny experience that leads to a major change in Araragi’s life.

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The frantic running emphasizes Araragi’s terror

In summary, the light novel and the film approached this fascinating scene from two different angles, each according to their medium’s strengths. The light novel, suited to free-flowing inner monologues, painted an oppressive mental landscape of self-loathing. The film, suited to tricks of cinematography and animation, portrayed a horrific yet surreal sequence. With the Monogatari series dealing with both ghost stories on the surface and characters’ emotional turmoil on the inside, both approaches worked.

You can read about the 12 Days challenge in the intro post here.

[12 Days] Day 6: Rewatching Princess Tutu (and trying to analyze it)

I had conflicting feelings when I first watched Princess Tutu. The endings to the two seasons were emotionally gripping, but I was bored out of my mind with the repetitive slow boil of the early episodic adventures. Therefore, when I rewatched it this year, I ended up watching ep 1-6, 9-13, 14, and 20-26, thereby skipping much of the episodic material. It was a lot more enjoyable this time around, knowing the basic premise but seeing the major developments in plot and character in a more condensed manner.

To be honest, despite enjoying it more this time, I’m still trying to form coherent thoughts about Princess Tutu as a whole. The best way I can think so far is to organize my thoughts under the themes of Love and Fate. I’ll cover what Princess Tutu has to say about Love in the following paragraphs, and put my half-baked thoughts about Fate in the addendum if you wish to read it.

Best part of Princess Tutu *gets shot*
Best part of Princess Tutu *gets shot*

If we define love as positive feelings toward others, Princess Tutu showcases a variety of examples (and even parodies it with the running gag of Cat-sensei threatening to have his students marry him). Mytho and Duck represent selfless love, with Mytho compulsively needing to protect all weak beings and Duck initially helping Mytho for his benefit. In contrast, Rue and Fakir both have a selfish, possessive kind of love. Rue wants Mytho for herself, and Fakir wants to ensure his safety by keeping him away from others.

Princess Tutu seems to treat selfless love as divine but unrealistic, and selfish love as flawed but sympathetic. Mytho spends most of the story less as a fully realized character and more an emotionless doll to be manipulated by both the heroes and villains. Duck’s self-effacing devotion to Mytho is treated as a naive crush, and she later realizes she can’t play the altruistic role when the time comes for her to give up her Princess Tutu self. Meanwhile, both Fakir and Rue are treated sympathetically, with Rue being brainwashed from childhood and Fakir’s desire to protect Mytho stemming from his genuinely caring about the latter.

However, the show also argues that even flawed, selfish people are capable of selflessness. The culmination of both Fakir’s and Rue’s arcs are great examples. In season 1, Fakir gradually learns to respect Mytho’s growing agency, and eventually sacrifices himself for Mytho, trusting Princess Tutu to take care of him (hold that thought). In season 2, Rue gradually gains the courage to rebel against her upbringing and her role as the villain, and in a moment of heartbreaking yet heartwarming resolve, sacrifices herself to free Mytho from his curse. Both are eventually saved, as if the show is trying to reinforce its approval of altruism.

I'll leave Mytho in your hands, Princess Tutu
I’ll leave Mytho in your hands, Princess Tutu

A final relationship I haven’t mentioned yet is perhaps the most satisfying: the one of tested mutual trust between Duck and Fakir. The two are originally distrustful because they consider the other’s efforts to be against Mytho’s best interests, but realize they have more to gain by cooperating, and eventually grow close through mutual support. Fakir pulls Duck out of despair when she worries she can’t let go of her Princess Tutu role, and Duck encourages Fakir as he confronts his self-doubt as a knight and eventually a storyteller. Their trust reaches its most intimate in the final battle as Duck asks Fakir to write about her, effectively putting her fate under his tenuous control. No matter what you label this relationship, it is a truly valuable (and heartwarming) one.

I’ll stop my rambling here. If you want, you can read my half-baked thoughts about fate in the addendum. I really enjoyed the rewatch when I was able to skip a lot of the episodic material that did little to move the character relationships along, and I also managed to understand its central messages a lot better. Princess Tutu showcases a variety of forms of love, both selfish and altruistic. It considers selfish love to be flawed and sympathetic, but celebrates when the same flawed people act in altruistic ways. At the end of the day, Princess Tutu is a good anime, and deserves a watch.

For more information about the 12 Days of Anime challenge, you can read my intro post here.


An addendum about Princess Tutu and Fate

Princess Tutu does not hide the fact that life can be unfair. The “God” of the universe, Drosselmeyer, actively wants the story to end in tragedy. However, Duck with her unending hope always finds a miracle to defy fate. Hope is being forbidden to confess your love to the Prince, and then doing it anyway through a wordless dance. Hope is continuing to dance as a duck despite being beaten down by the crows around you. And hope is what binds your friends together to continue the struggle to better your lives. Duck’s refusal to give in to despair inspires Fakir to continue using his writing powers to bring about a happy ending, encourages Mytho to fight his way into the Raven’s lair, and ultimately lifts Rue out of despair. Both triumphs in the first and second season contain some element of a miracle, but with the protagonists defying overwhelming odds through unyielding hope, it feels like the miracles are earned.

OK actual best part
OK actual best part

This kind of resonates with similar themes in Madoka Magica, as pointed out in a fantastic essay at the Wrong Every Time blog. The system is stacked against you, and many succumb to despair, but if there is someone who dares to defy their fate, they will become a symbol of hope against an uncaring universe.

 

[12 Days] Day 5: Asuka’s Euphonium Solo

The new season of Hibike! Euphonium has given us plenty of beautiful moments. These came in the form of honest conversations, character-defining speeches, hilarious expressions (I will never tire of that), or sequences where the visuals and audio speak for themselves. Today I want to talk about one such sequence: Asuka’s euphonium solo at the end of episode 3 [YouTube link here].

We begin the sequence following Kumiko on a sleepy morning walk. She had stayed up the previous night, unable to keep her mind off the band drama that she got roped into. When she mutters that she got no sleep, however, the lighting visibly brightens as if on cue [0:27 into the video]. The screen becomes bathed in a warm morning sunlight reflecting off the fields and the slopes. And immediately afterwards, we hear the tones of a lone euphonium. The leading lines on the screen show the path fading into the distance, as if to imply that the sounds come from a bright, mysterious place [0:38].

We follow Kumiko up a set of stairs, as if into a different world. Our first view of this world is a closeup of Asuka’s lips and mouthpiece [0:54], then a cut to Kumiko’s eyes widening, and finally to Asuka’s blurred figure in the middle of a secluded clearing [0:58]. These shots seem to emphasize that Asuka is in her haven with her euphonium, and we are almost intruding into her sanctum.

cvkmph9wiaqlf68-jpg-large
Gorgeous

But Kumiko wouldn’t be the viewer’s eyes without being privy to moments like these. So we watch as Asuka stands bathed in the sunlight, her euphonium’s tones leaping high into the instrument’s range and daring to climb higher: first hitting the high E-flat as if to test the range, then reaching as high as the A-flat above. Thanks to the euphonium’s conical bore, the high notes continue to sound warm, in contrast to the piercing tones of cylindrical-bore instruments like the trumpet.

This is a moment as raw and emotionally honest as any monologue or confession. Remember that Asuka has always kept her own thoughts beneath a bubbly jocular facade, so the rare moments with her alone give us a glimpse into her true personality. She speaks no lines here, but she doesn’t have to. We know from before she is fiercely passionate about her craft and doesn’t give two flying fiddlesticks about interpersonal drama. We will learn later that she has troubles at home and that the piece she plays is composed by her estranged father, who will be a judge at the Nationals. In context, then, this solo in the secluded clearing is a way to get away from the meaningless band drama, and the high, yearning melody is a way to get close to a father that she could only idolize from afar.

Kumiko’s narration describes this as “a myriad of piled-up emotions”, but it didn’t have to. That much was clear from the presentation alone.

You can read about the 12 Days challenge in the intro here.

[12 Days] Day 4: Mie Tian Hai’s Ultimate Middle Finger

Spoiler warning for this summer’s Taiwanese puppet show Thunderbolt Fantasy ahead.

Thunderbolt fantasy is like gathering your nerdy friends and indulging in a giant nerd party without worrying about anyone judging you. The characters shout the most Chuuni attack names, the story is thick with plotting and betrayals, and the creators are always happy to poke fun at the characters’ over-serious attitudes. It’s in general a lot of fun.

I have complicated feelings toward the trickster and thief Lin Xue Ya. On one hand, I’m fascinated by his wits and schemes, but at the same time, I’m repulsed by those same manipulative schemes and his ability to weasel his way out of taking responsibility. In fact, when he fights the principal villain Mie Tian Hai, I found myself unsure who to root for.

Mie Tian Hai may be the main villain, but at least his motivations are pure: he aims to become the most powerful sword-fighter in the world, consequences be damned. He is relentless in his pursuit of Dan Fei’s Heavenly Retribution Sword, but he never resorts to underhanded tactics to do so, and with his power and arrogance, I don’t think he ever needed to.

Long story short, Mie Tian Hai obtains the Heavenly Retribution Sword, never mind that it’s needed to seal away an apocalyptic demon. Lin Xue Ya, after realizing that Mie Tian Hai’s arrogance comes from his absolute confidence in his sword-fighting supremacy, decides the best treasure to steal is his arrogance, and the best way to steal it is to defeat him in a sword fight. He then crushes Mie Tian Hai’s ego by fighting him to a draw.

Enraged and humiliated, Mie Tian Hai gives Lin Xue Ya (and the rest of the world) the ultimate middle finger. He destroys the Heavenly Retribution Sword and then commits suicide, ensuring that he has the last word in this fight. It’s a petty, childish gesture, but there is a certain nobility to see him die as he lived: doing everything for his own sake, everyone else be damned.

And for the first time, we see Lin Xue Ya lose it. The seasoned thief and trickster, always in control and never the puppet, has just been bested. The opponent who should have been humiliated has instead died in defiance, with no way to force him to acknowledge defeat. And so Lin Xue Ya, who has always kept his calm even in times of greatest peril, is reduced to raging at a corpse.

raging at a corpse
raging at a corpse

It’s always nice to see someone put an arrogant jerk back to his place.

You can read about the 12 Days challenge in the intro post here.

[12 Days] Day 3: Crunchyroll’s Multilingual Subtitles

As a wannabe polyglot (whose actual grasp of non-English languages is somewhat shaky), I sometimes watch Crunchroll videos with non-English subtitles. In this post, I’d like to share some…interesting stories of my attempts.

I remember trying to watch Flying Witch with Arabic subtitles. Unfortunately, with my snail-paced reading speed and my practically nonexistent Arabic vocabulary, I ended up mostly listening to the Japanese audio.

For this Fall season, I was keeping up with Yuri on Ice, Hibike! Euphonium, and Flip Flappers on Crunchyroll. I had decided to watch them with French subtitles because that was my third most comfortable language. Unfortunately, when I began watching Flip Flappers I was disappointed to see it had no French subs. This led me to wonder: who determines what languages of subtitles are available for a given show on Crunchyroll? I tweeted this question to Crunchyroll but they didn’t respond, so I’m still in the dark. Oh well.

What I like about the French subs is they are not afraid to use colloquial language, from dropping the ne in negative sentences to using expressions that I had to look up. I’d like to say it helped me expand my French vocabulary, but I am sad to report that I forgot most of what I had looked up.

Unfortunately, I noticed multiple instances where the French subs were different from the Japanese audio or the English and Spanish subs. I’ll give two examples from Hibike! Euphonium. In episode 2, as Niiyama-Sensei introduced to the class, one of the students says “さすが滝先生”[EN: “Good job, Taki-sensei”, ES: “Not bad, Taki-sensei”, FR: “Taki-Sensei has good taste”], to which another responds “ええ?そうなの?” [EN&ES: “What? Really?”, FR: “What? They’re going out?”]. Notice how the French subs cut straight to the subtext. You could chalk this up to the translator taking liberties, which I personally disagree with–the readers can infer the subtext on their own–but I can at least understand that choice. However, I noticed another instance could only have been a mistake. In episode 9, Natsuki tries to recruit Kumiko into the “あすか先輩を連れ戻すぞ”大作戦  [EN: “Operation Bring Back Asuka-Senpai”, ES: “Operation to bring back Asuka-senpai”, FR: “We need to save Asuka the soldier”]. That was just weird to suddenly call Asuka a soldier when a translation like “l’Opération Ramener Asuka-senpai” would’ve sufficed, unless I’m missing a reference to French literature or popular culture.

I’ll be the first to admit that translators have hard jobs, so think of this rant as nothing more than a nitpick. Overall, I’m very happy that Crunchyroll provides us with content in multiple languages, allowing me to watch anime and practice multiple languages at once.

You can read about the 12 Days challenge on the intro post here.