Twelve Days of Anime #5: Streaming Anime and “Power Hours”

In the spring season, the two far-and-away best series (by most viewers’ estimations, anyway) were Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders and the new season of Mushi-shi. The latter’s new season was vastly superior to even the excellent first, and a lot of people felt the same way about Jojo’s (as I make my way through the first two arcs, I’m not entirely sure I agree with this). Since just about everyone was watching and enjoying both of these shows and they aired on the same day (Friday), they gained their own nickname on Twitter: the “Jojoshi Power Hour.” A lot of it was a joke about what completely opposite shows they were (as I briefly detail here), and how jarring it was sometimes to watch them back-to-back. Yet, a surprising number of us started doing that, including me. Those Fridays in spring were some of the best hours I’ve had in anime-viewing this year.

JJBA Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 5.33.39 PM

“Power hours” as a concept, if I’m not mistaken, come from children’s programming blocs (or channels, like Toon Disney or Cartoon Network) that would air two episodes of the same show “back-to-back,” or ones of separate shows that were linked in some way. (At least, I remember those channels describing stuff that way when I was a toon-watching kid.) As an adult, where you’re voluntarily watching these series whenever you want, it’s a fun way to organize your viewing habits. A lot of us grown-up anime viewers also watch a lot of live-action American TV dramas, whose episodes are usually an hour rather than half-hour long. It can be a fun way to keep our attention spans stable across the two media. And when a bunch of people were doing this, it helped ensure you were watching along with everyone else—one of the best things about the proliferation of legal anime streaming. Anyway, 2014 gave us a lot of opportunities for “Power Hours.”

In the summer, there was the Fujoshi Power Hour on Wednesdays, with fangirl-bait Free! Eternal Summer and actual BL title Love Stage both airing that day. I loved both those shows and, with the exception of Free!’s weird (but excellent) streak of more psychological episodes in the middle, they usually hit the same tonal notes for me. So I could easily mix and match them, though Free! coming out a few hours earlier meant it was usually what I watched first. But not always. Sometimes, I just need to wake up my senses on Wednesdays with the clueless baby-gays.

No, not these two.

No, not these two.

This season’s “power hour” is the ART Hour on Thursday, when we have Shirobako and Your Lie in April. Both deal with the struggles of young people trying to make it in artistic fields, with a mixture of comedy and drama. (The latter is considerably more dramatic than the former.) This is one I can’t really “break,” per se, because I have to review both shows for ANN. It still makes it kind of difficult to watch them back to back considering their overlapping subject matter, and how much both resonate with my life as a writer and musician. I kind of have to put a few hours’ distance between my viewings of each just to make sure my impressions don’t bleed into each other. I envy some of my friends who can watch them days apart, and not have to go through an existential crisis about their career every Thursday.

With this pair, I’ve been pretty strict about watching Shirobako first, since it airs first and therefore my “deadline” for it comes up first. I’m starting to wonder, though, if that’s really the best decision, especially since I usually turn these guys in with ample time to spare. Your Lie in April’s last few episodes have been very emotionally draining, and now it’s hard to look forward to doing more work with that show if I’ve just been perked up by Shirobako. (At least, that’s how it makes me feel most of the time. It’s pretty good at laying on the pathos when it wants to, but rarely with the devastation that Your Lie in April achieves. Shirobako hasn’t broached child abuse yet, after all.)

Still, it can hurt when it wants to.

One of Shirobako’s more hurtful moments…

There were less “powerful” hours, too, this year. Saturdays in the summer, Aldnoah Zero and Captain Earth formed my “mecha” hour, and both ended up failures to various degrees. (Aldnoah Zero was at least like watching a trainwreck in slow-motion. Captain Earth was just boring.) That was a slog, and if I got through it, it was just that the “hour” gave me the chance to burn it out of my system really quickly. The things I do for you, anime, and my desire to be a well-rounded anime watcher who’s seen both the good and the bad.

I’m interested to see if the next year will bring with it any oddly similar (or in the Jojoshi case, strikingly dissimilar) shows that happen to be airing the same day, that we can organize these ways. Bring on the winter season and its own power hours!

(P.S. In case you’re wondering why this is so behind, I had a lot of work to do yesterday that left me unable to blog on here. I’m planning to write two posts today to make up for this.)

Advertisements

Summer 2014 Anime: First Impressions Part 1

It’s not often that I find myself watching more anime in a winter/summer season than I am in spring/fall, but here we are! I stuck to five series in the spring: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Mushi-shi Season 2, The World is Still BeautifulCaptain Earth and Haikyuu! (I tried Ping-Pong and found it wasn’t for me.) And yet, I find myself following a lot more in the usual drought that is anime’s summer season.

Granted, many of these are continuations of spring series; Jojo’sCaptain Earth and Haikyuu! are all soldiering on for the next several months, at least. But there were also a number of new summer series – or sequels of previous series I enjoyed – that intrigued me. Let’s look at some first impressions.

I’ll be starting with the second seasons/reboots, and get to the brand-new stuff in a future post after I have two or three episodes to discuss.

FREE! ETERNAL SUMMER: Episodes 1 and 2

Haru (right) and Sousuke, a new rival for Rin’s affections?

Like a lot of anime viewers who are attracted to men, I had a blast with Kyoto Animation’s effort last summer to even the fanservice playing field a bit. I deliciously drank up both the sexist fanboy tears over its existence, and enjoyed the hell out of its homoerotic ab monsters, as they shed their clothes and glistened with pool water. Free! is far from ground-breaking television, but it does what it’s trying to do pretty well. Its characters are simple but never feel stereotypical, and are always entertaining and fun. And its storylines may be well-trod ground for anime about school clubs, but they’re written and directed well-enough that you’re drawn in anyway. Plus, it has the top-notch visuals one expects with any KyoAni effort. Needless to say, I was more than ready for season two this year.

The first episode makes it clear this new season is a show for existing fans, with many shot-by-shot visual references to the series premiere. I still found myself enjoying it, but wondering where the show was going. Well, with this week’s episode, now we know: The series introduced two fun new characters, a cute but somewhat mysterious boy from Rin’s past named Sousuke; and departed Samezuka captain’s energetic and even more girl-crazy younger brother. The former seems to be setting up for fresh tension between Rin and Haru now that Rin’s softened a bit, and both give us reasons to care about the Samezuka team beyond merely being the Vocal Adrenaline to Iwatobi’s New Directions, if you will. (Yeah, I haven’t watched Glee in a few seasons, either.)

SAILOR MOON CRYSTAL: Episode 1

Gaze in wonder at them pretty backgrounds. Ignore that Usagi’s hair kinda looks like tentacle spaghetti.

You could say I’m a pretty dedicated Moonie. I’ve read the entire manga, seen most of the old DiC English dub and I’m now making my way through the original anime as it gets released by Viz on Hulu. I’ve even seen the infamous live-action series. (I don’t think it’s quite deserving of said infamy, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.) I’ve written endless posts for Autostraddle and now, Bitch about its feminism, and how its queer characters helped me come to terms with my own sexuality.

So you could also say I’m pretty well-prepared to review this first episode of the reboot series of Sailor Moon Crystal, and yet, in many ways that extra level of familiarity is a handicap more than a helper. I’ve seen this first episode’s story so many times, in so many forms, it’s hard to talk much about it on its own. So let’s instead talk about the presentation of this first episode, and what it indicates about the different beast this reboot might be.

Sailor Moon Crystal is a Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood type of reboot; it faithfully follows the manga plot where the original anime diverged (albeit, not as much as in FMA’s case). It’s clearly inspired by the manga’s art style in its character designs, which were my least favorite things visually about this series; they look clunky and misplaced given the modern high-quality of all the other visuals, especially the backgrounds. More interestingly, the tonal and character-focus differences between the two main versions of Sailor Moon are already clear from this first installment. As I said in the Bitch article, there’s less camp and visual gags here than in the original anime, and the music is more dramatic, replacing the sleazy jazz of the old series. Usagi is also at the center of the story, with Tuxedo Mask merely looming imposingly in the background rather than saving her as he did in the previous anime.

It’s a little less fun than the old series, but should be just as, if not more, epic in its action-adventure with the eye-popping visuals. And the darker manga plot should reward adult fans of the series as much as the silliness of the first series did. Regardless, I know I’m too much of a Moonie not to stick with this one.

SPACE DANDY SEASON 2: Episode 1

SO MANY DANDIES!

Space Dandy is a series that I’ve always wanted to love more than I do. It’s a sci-fi parody show from one of my favorite anime auteurs, Shinichiro Watanabe. Its particular brand of sci-fi parody is cut from the same cloth as others I already adore (more on that in a moment). It already has a top-notch English dub airing at the same time as the Japanese version, something I love and hope to see more of as a dub fan (especially dubs from Funimation, like this is). So why does it feel like it doesn’t always land for me? Why, sometimes, am I glued to the TV, whereas other weeks it feels more like a fun background distraction while I get some writing done? Luckily, the show is episodic enough that that doesn’t matter too much if one doesn’t grab me a particular week. It effectively reboots itself the next week just fine.

All that said, this first episode in the new season shows some pretty strong promise for the show going forward. It’s a similar idea to the Family Guy “Road to the Multiverse” episode, except, of course, good, and not loaded with tired references. This week, when Dandy contemplates switching careers (which…about time, bro), he finds out that there are versions of his crew (him, Meow and QT) in every universe with differences in occupations and species, but from the same basic molds. It leads to the kinds of zany hijinks you would expect when they get all jumbled up in each other’s worlds, and endeavor to find ways back to their proper places. It includes some references (mostly to other anime, like Attack on Titan) but the real pull of the episode is looking at how all the different versions of these characters bounce off each other, and their madcap attempts to each get back home.

Space Dandy‘s episodic parodic nature makes it seem more like an American adult animated comedy than a Japanese one, which is why I’ve always thought it should have an even bigger U.S. audience than it already does. Its brand of affectionate sci-fi parody seems more indebted to classic Futurama and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than most other anime. But it has enough wit and craziness, and memorable characters, to charm you even if you don’t get the references, to anime, sci-fi clichés or anything else. All that means it’s the best pick this season to bring in non-anime fans, and luckily, they can check in anytime they want. This strong season opener suggests that there’s never a better time than now.

Up in Part 2: Terror in Resonance, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, Love Stage and possibly more!