More often than not, the new anime season has a surprise. It could be a highly anticipated show that ends up dropping the ball in unexpected ways; it could also be a show no one was paying much attention to that ended up being unexpectedly funny, thoughtful, or otherwise high quality. Last year had a number of the latter sort, such as Osomatsu-san and Maria the Virgin Witch. Winter 2016 has been going pretty much as expected – the shows everyone expected to be good are good, and the ones generally expected to be crap are. This season’s biggest surprise is Please Tell Me! Galko-chan, a short series made up of seven-minute episodes. Based on the promotional art – specifically, the main character’s enormous breasts vacuum-packed into her cardigan – it looked to be an unremarkable fan service show. However, the positive word of mouth it was getting after the first episode intrigued me, and I decided to check it out despite my better judgment. I’m glad I did, because rather than perverse, male-oriented comedy, I got a charming series about three teenage girls frankly discussing their bodies without shying away from the grosser parts of the human experience.
Note: As always, this analysis assumes the reader has seen the episodes being discussed.
Rakugo is a traditional form of Japanese theater in which a lone performer, aka the rakugoka, sits alone on a stage with only a small cloth and fan for props. They tell a story, usually comedic, involving multiple people, distinguishing the characters using only their voice and mannerisms. Rather than making up their material, rakugoka have an established body of material to work with but are expected to put their own spin on the story. These days, it’s considered the domain of fussy old people, but it was once populist entertainment.
Like most traditional performance arts, rakugo is completely male-dominated. Once it was the sole domain of men, since most of the characters in the stories were male and it would have been odd to hear women using masculine speech patterns. Nowadays the field has opened somewhat, with women and foreigners (and occasionally both!) among top performers. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu takes place before that shift, however, and the gender dynamic inherent in such an unequal system informs much of the show.
Miki Ishimoto hated art school. She hated sketching geometric shapes and sculptures and she hated her teachers for criticizing her for deviating from the models. She’s excited to leave that whole world behind when she gets a job managing the hot new idol group, Sekko Boys. Much to her dismay, she discovers the members of Sekko Boys – St. George, Mars, Hermes, and Medici – are all marble busts. Available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Well, that was silly! The premise of Sekko Boys is utterly surreal, and well-aware of it. The episode opens with the boys performing to a stadium full of glowstick-wielding screaming fangirls. They shout their catchphrases, setting up their personalities: Mars is a warrior but also a passionate lover, Hermes is beautiful and multitalented, St. George is a protector of the weak, and Medici is charming and innocent. Yes, this is a world where marble busts are alive sentient, retain the personalities of the the ones they represent, but also are still heavy statues that must be carried and carted from place to place, injuring their handlers’ backs in the process. Working in a profession where back pain and other stress injuries are a major occupational hazard, I felt for Yanagisawa, their chief manager.
Artists, on the other hand, will doubtless feel for Miki’s backstory. Her frustration at endlessly copying the masters in the name of developing fundamentals, without her teachers ever allowing her to put her spin on things, is a common complaint, as is her resulting burnout. Much of the episode’s humor, other than the sheer absurdity of the premise, stems from her shock and horror at being confronted with the exact subject of her anger at a completely separate job.
The verdict: Sekko Boys’ premise is unlike any other, to be sure. I look forward to seeing how the silliness develops.
Likelihood of weekly coverage: Low. It’s too light to really warrant any heavy discussion.
A popular thing to do among anibloggers is to watch the first episode of every new show each season. Me, I don’t roll that way. I simply don’t have the time or energy to watch four or five new episodes of anime each night – I tried it once and I didn’t even enjoy the ones I felt like I should have, because I burned out so fast. I prefer to watch whatever catches my eye and/or is getting good word of mouth. Sometimes they’re everything I was hoping for, but just as often, they’re duds… but at least I didn’t waste my time watching shows I knew I wouldn’t enjoy. This season, I’m also on the lookout for shows that would be worth giving weekly coverage from the point of view of the blog.
Without further ado, let’s look at the shows!
I love fantasy shoujo. I love romances where the two people treat each other kindly. I love smart, capable heroines. I love Studio Bones’ expressive character animation and stunning background art.
So why, oh why, didn’t I love Snow White with the Red Hair?
All was well for the first three episodes or so. Shirayuki showed the spirit I so adore in my heroines when she cut off her red hair and left it for Prince Raj as a special little “fuck you.” Her adventurousness and excitement as she anticipated exploring her new home in Clarines spoke to me, as I suffer from my own case of wanderlust. Her expertise in herbalism gave her opportunities and the ability to stand on her own two feet.
With each passing week, however, I became less and less eager to watch the new episode. Something about the show just wasn’t grabbing me. I didn’t understand – this show had everything I could possibly want! I should be shivering in anticipation of each installment. As the show marched stolidly on toward its season closing, I had to admit it: it was dull. Boring. A slog. How could a show, with so many winning ingredients, made by one of the most consistently excellent studios, fail so hard?