With so much of my time preoccupied these days with the paces of life, but also trying to come up with reviews and editorials, I decided to come with digest format for my anime reviews that will cover multiple titles instead of just one. This will not replace my more comprehensive and singular focus post, yet will be abit more frequent to cover titles that I have been long overdue or want to do. If you couldn’t guess by the title, this entry will be focused around an assortment of offerings from the Winter 2015 anime season. These will include: Saekano, Akatsuki no Yona, and my belated viewing of The Rolling Girls.
The Rolling Girls
Every season there seems to be no shortage of anime that have easy to comprehend subject matter, but fail to capitalize on them due to their own colossal ambitions. Winter’s 2015 The Rolling Girls is that series. At its heart, Rolling Girls is a title that is all about growing up and finding ones self-worth. The backdrop for the idea takes place in a very different model of Japan – one that depicts the island nation reverting into 10 separately ruled prefectures and 4 girls journey across this brave new world to fulfill requests left for their prefecture’s leader, Maccha Green. Their side agenda is to collect items known as “power stones”, heart-shaped devices able to raise the user’s abilities (like Maccha Green) by the request of one the girls named Chiaya Misono. With most the episodes broken-down into self-contained arcs apart of a larger one, it usually features the girls getting into hair-brained situations as they try to help out the inhabitants in question that in some way represent each arc’s prominent message centering around maturing and finding a place in life. Nice as that sounds, Rolling Girls doesn’t make that experience an easy or digestible one for numerous reasons.
In so few words, Rolling Girls story arcs run the gambit of being very lofty, overburden with ideas and at other times, extremely modest, where the cumbersome ideas still exist, but prefers to let the characters and ambiance do the communication for it. Both approaches obviously has their strengths and weakness, yet somehow, in the end, I feel that those burning and untempered ideas don’t get the chance to amount to anything in either case – always obfuscated by their own devices, and simply boils down to background noise and a story of cute girls on a road trip to see a changing world that will hopefully change them in the process. Nothing wrong with that, but feels like it can be so much more or done with more planning rather than ad-lib. For example: the joint episodes of 5 and 6 is quite an occupied one with a lot going for such a simple message, but gets caught up in the thick of things – over-the-top action, teen romance, drama and all. In contrast, episode 9 – a much more serene one is also one that is very insubstantial due to the whittled down length. Structure aside, the series does seem to try to gravitate towards a little bit of everything common to most anime, yet apparent that very little makes a good case for it. As much as I liked the concept and the show as a whole – I just wish it was more consistent and clear on its intent. For now, it remains as one of the many unimpressive titles of the season.
Akatsuki no Yona
Speaking of female characters, the shoujo genre is no slouch when it comes crafting stories surrounding young women, but out all the series and women in them, I think that Princess Yona from Akatsuki no Yona has won my heart this season. Yes, it is the typical story of a sheltered princesses transforming into a feminine badass (for lack of a better word) out to retake her kingdom and fulfill some encompassing legacy, but the story is done with much more candor, sentiment, and oddly enough, humor than I was expecting it to be. While I will spare the synopsis rehash, one of series greatest strengths and weakness is that it does take a great deal of time to get moving. Of course, with the death of her father and betrayal at the hands of her closest friend/possible betrothed, time is a proper medicine that not only leads to some great introspection, but also fine character development on Yona’s part – wanting to take up weapons to not only protect herself, yet also her protectors, and entire kingdom that hasn’t completely lived an idyllic life under father’s peaceful reign.
Despite the series being rather sentimental and filed with moments of drama, it isn’t hard to notice how ridiculously lighthearted it is – in a good way. Every time when there seems to be a dire development, the tone does a complete 180 and turns that moment into one of levity that still has it place, but also not at the expense of the characters. Another aspect of the show I appreciate is its fantasy aesthetic – mostly likely taken from far eastern roots akin to that of ancient China. The lore of the dragons and other details such as the Kingdom of Kouka’s ruling dynamics (the ruler only legitimized by 4 other lesser clans agreeing) support this, and combined with other elements such as the music – it paints a very majestic picture. Granted the series will probably never see another season, I’m at least happy enough to continue onward with the manga to see how Yona and her companions fare.
If Shirobako represented the professional side of the anime industry and its craft, Saekano would have to be a nearly perfect analog for the smaller and lesser high-stakes world of doujinshi artist. For Tomoya Aki, a born and raised otaku wishing to take a stab at creating a visual novel after some inspiration, he wrangles up a group of his peers and thus, the premise is set. While the series doesn’t dive into the deep end with all the philosophical, pragmatic decisions, and people behind the creative process – it does have an elementary sliver of those ideas, but often apart of the comedic repertoire. That being said, Saekano is very clever with its use of comedy and characters as Aki’s all-female team represents different dating-sim conventions or at least some of them being inverted. Megumi Kato is the girl next door type (yet very plain and easily forgettable) and Aki’s inspiration for the project, Eriri Sawamura is his childhood twin tail friend with tsundere tendencies and artist, Utaha Kasumigaoka is a refined, cool beauty with an even cooler tongue and writer of the group, and his playful cousin Michiru Hyodo acts as the music composer. It’s a note-one ensemble of archetypes that are just as about as trope ridden and pander as they come, but noting all the anime and otaku specific references the shows uses as well as serviceable camera angles on the female characters, it loves to pander. Admittedly, the show is pretty good darn at it.
Other than that, the series does move at a fast, yet smooth clip of events as Aki brings his team together and dealing with all the other challenges that present themselves – most manifesting on a personal level between the girl in question and their relationship with Aki rather than anything relating to actual creation. There are times when the characters and their interactions do seem like the only outstanding and redeeming aspect the show has to offer, yet always does usually counter it with the charm alone. From the beginning to the final (albeit odd) fade out, Saekano has delighted me – more than I thought it would. I’m hesitant to call it my favorite of the season, but did satisfy one desire no other title could. If you’re guessing that desire being something purely ridiculous…well, that is a safe bet.