This season is now extremely light on quantity for me, having dropped Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes, Phantom in the Twilight, Grand Blue, Aguu, and Muhyo to Rouji after their premiere episodes. Luckily, I’ve found I have a surprising amount to say not only about of course Banana Fish, but also about Angolmois, Free!, and Tsukumogami Kashimasu. Rounding off the proceedings is Lupin III Part V, which I’ve also decided to check back in on.
Current Score: 7/10
I’m hesitant to say that Banana Fish is the best series airing this season, or the most appealing given many of its disturbing themes and unfortunate pitfalls, but I will say it’s the one I find the most consistently interesting. At this stage it seems more plot than character-driven, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing so much as it comes down to personal taste. However, while Banana Fish certainly has the potential to be more character-driven, its pacing is just too breakneck for that, with events that could easily take up entire or even multiple episodes and still not come across as plodding instead taking place over mere minutes. Somewhat more concerning is that while Banana Fish has updated its setting, from the mid 80s to present day, some of the intricacies of its plot and actions of its characters haven’t been updated to match. As a result, certain references – particularly those revolving around child sex abuse rings and the like – make little sense from today’s perspective and at times come across as just downright bizarre. In addition (and I’ll grant this isn’t any fault of the series itself), I have a real problem with some of the subtitles. I’m not a translator, and by no means regard myself as being fluent in Japanese. That said, I know enough to grit my teeth whenever a fairly generic insult is translated as a gay slur. And given that the two main protagonists of Banana Fish clearly share a romantic friendship even if they don’t necessarily self-identify as gay, you’d think anyone subtitling this series would want to draw a hard line between ‘gay’ and ‘pervert’ or ‘child molester’. Nonetheless, despite (and in some aspects even because of) its flaws, Banana Fish is a rather fascinating title and definitely the one I sit up and pay the most attention to each week.
Angolmois: Genkou Kassenki/Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion
Current Score: 6/10
In a stronger season I’d probably be tempted to drop Angolmois around this point – not because it’s a bad series per se, but just because it’s not really doing a whole lot with the potential I think it has. Despite its quite unique setting, the show has now devolved into a fairly typical action piece, with most of its battle scenes showing little to nothing of the same flair of the premiere episode. It certainly doesn’t help that the animation is so patchy, although both the action scenes and their lackluster presentation would be just fine if the characters were given more to do between times besides making heartfelt speeches or long internal monologues. There’s no development there as such, and even Angolmois’ most prospectively interesting character – the intriguingly sly and calculating Teruhi (at least back in the first episode or two) – has been reduced to ‘Beautiful Yet Appropriately Feisty Princess’; an archetype I initially thought might be averted or even possibly deconstructed rather than played boringly straight. I honestly don’t have much more to say about the show; at this stage it’s just a perfectly serviceable, albeit predictable and ultimately, slightly disappointing period action piece, and I don’t imagine that’s going to change.
Free!: Dive to the Future
Current Score: 7/10
Boy is this show overly dramatic. Everyone’s just so unjustifiably angst-ridden that it’s mostly plain laughable – but then, this has always been a big part of what makes Free! exactly what it is, and I kinda dig that, in a delightfully ridiculous schoolgirl kind of way. Because while Ikuya clearly has some deep-rooted psychological issues that are no fault of Haru’s (and that I’d frankly want to send him to a licensed therapist for), and while Haru is acting not only like he’s been a terrible friend but is also the scum of the earth (for, GASP, breaking a childhood promise about a swim race), and while everyone on the ‘good’ side of the moral fence is acting as though not wanting to swim in relays is some sort of freaky transgression which must be rectified at all costs (even though, as a former competitive swimmer myself, I can tell you that relays are traditionally the less serious part of any competition aside from possibly the actual Olympics)… well, again, it just wouldn’t be Free! without all that bizarrely unwarranted emotional drama. Needless to say though, it looks amazing doing it, and since this is now season three we’re talking about, I’m sure the vast majority of its viewers – myself included – wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tsukumogami Kashimasu/Tsukumogami For Rent
Current Score: 7.5/10
Tsukumogami remains a sweet, easygoing show that’s heavy on the whimsical slice-of-life feel, light on plot, and highly charming in all-around atmosphere. I suspect most viewers who crave something more dramatic or action-packed have left this title be by now, as it continues to be a fairly episodic series that doesn’t seem particularly interested in being overly complex or serious – this despite Okou’s (and presumably also Seiji’s) rather tragic backstory and the deepening mystery surrounding a certain incense burner. Of course, given that Tsukumogami began airing a couple of weeks later than most other shows this season, it’s only 4 episodes through as of this writing and has plenty of room yet for development in this area, as it looks like it’s currently gearing up to do. As I mentioned in my initial impressions of the series however, the biggest charm point for me is the entirely indirect methods of communication between the tsukumogami and their ‘keepers’; everyone by now clearly “knows” that the other party does too, and yet neither have any intention whatsoever of ever verbally acknowledging it. Additionally though, Tsukumogami’s historical tidbits are a lot of fun – I’d warrant even those viewers who happen to be Japanese history buffs have picked up a thing or two from the narration – and the show is also my favourite this season in terms of art design, particularly that beautifully vibrant colour palette.
Lupin III: Part V
Current Score: 7/10
I don’t normally check in again with ongoing shows from the previous season, as by this time I’ve generally already talked about them twice, but because I now have only four new titles on my plate, I’d like to give Lupin a quick shout-out. While I have little to add beyond what I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m still quite happy with this series , and note that even its breather episodes (in which the style reverts back to Pink, Red, and Green Jacket Lupin) have gotten progressively better. I’m also particularly enjoying this distinctly un-Lupin-like, melancholy tone when it comes to the relationship between Lupin himself and Fujiko. Breather/flashback episodes aside, both of them appear to openly acknowledge that said relationship has been somehow broken beyond repair, so that even Lupin’s customary lechery over Fujiko, and her knowingly flirtatious response, seem to ring hollow – as though it’s nothing but an act on their part, which they each play only because it’s habit and they’re basically just expected to by everyone at this point. Beneath the surface, and for reasons not revealed to the audience, there’s a sadness there that’s curiously more complicated and mature in feel than I’m used to in any incarnation of the Lupin franchise – and personally, I’m really digging it.
Question of the post: Now that we’re right at this season’s halfway point, what shows are at the top of your weekly watch-list list and why?