Apologies once again for being late, I’ve been suffering a bout of depression-induced creative block that I’ve been trying my best to get over. Nonetheless, I did eventually get to watching a few things this season, so late though it may be, I thought I would offer a few thoughts regardless.
First up is Arte, a period piece drama set in Renaissance Italy, more specifically the cultural hub city of Florence. Alongside my love of character drama, I have a particular adoration for Renaissance Italy as a setting, so this show was pushing all the right buttons for me right out of the gate. Particularly noteworthy is that this show appears to be a Künstlerroman, that is, a coming of age story focused on one’s growth as an artist. This is a genre very common among books and film, but much rarer in anime. The setup of this show is incredibly standard for an example of the genre, but I held out hope that the show would do something to put a unique spin on things. First impressions were not good, the story made clear from the very beginning that it would focus on a girl coming of age as an artist in a society that shuns her for her gender, but it chose a setting that does not mesh with this concept. Renaissance Italy, while sexist and patriarchal by modern standards, did indeed have female artists. By no means were they common, especially since most art tuition was limited to men, but they were enough of a sight that the kind of categorical “you cannot because you are a woman” comes off as out of place. This also feels like a missed opportunity, since the gender dynamics of Renaissance Italy were extremely complicated in a society that was experiencing change from the ground up, and boiling it down the way this show does really feels like a shame, since they had the opportunity to make a much more complex and interesting relationship between the main character and the society she’s a part of. Despite this mountain of missed potential, I was willing to scale back my expectations and meet the show where it’s at, and see what it did with that chance. The introduction of Angelo in episode 2 made things a little more interesting, presenting a character with a more fleshed out relationship to the gender question, and that made for an interesting dynamic with the main character as the two had interactions that went beyond the black and white presented earlier in the show. The show picks up immensely in the third episode, as it focuses more on how Arte herself grows as an artist, teaching both her and the audience by extension about the skills she needs to learn. It’s really unfortunate when a period piece is at its best in moments that have nothing to do with the setting, but ultimately that’s very consistent with the show’s strengths. In episodes 2 and 3 the show starts to add romantic overtones to its central dynamic, and as a fan of the genre that isn’t unwelcome or anything, but it could certainly have been handled better. Really, I think that idea sums up My entire experience with the show, I can’t find many things it explicitly does wrong per se, but every time I think it’s about to do something exciting it disappoints me. The end result is an okay show that should have been excellent.
Next up is Great Pretender, a show that is in no small part responsible for this article being as late as it is due to Netflix’s unbelievably shitty release schedule in the US. This show starts off on a strongly evocative note, doing an excellent job of grabbing the audience’s attention with the first shot, depicting the main character strung up by his heels from the Hollywood sign. Starting from this strong first impression, this show does an excellent job of presenting a stylish and engaging narrative that held my attention from start to finish. While you won’t find much if anything special about the actual barebones structure of the narrative, the presentation and delivery of it are nothing shy of fabulous, in a way that keeps the show interesting and tense as it tells the story of a con artist who bites off more than he can chew and keeps sinking deeper and deeper into the trap. It’s a show I don’t necessarily have a lot to say about, in a way that’s actually a compliment. There isn’t necessarily too much I have to say about this show, and that’s a good thing. It’s simple, and executes on that simplicity very well, which is really all it needs to do. Also credit for using Freddie Mercury’s The Great Pretender as the ending theme, that was an excellent decision.
Next up is Kakushigoto, perhaps the most anticipated show of the season in the circles I run in. I like dad stories as much as the next guy, and thus I had high hopes for this one. The premise is very cute, the idea of the protagonist hiding his profession from his daughter out of shame is an amusing one that the show gets a lot of jokes out of. The cold open is functional if not particularly exciting, establishing that this story takes place in two time periods, one before she finds out and one after, sort of like the Illusory World scenes in Clannad without the symbolism. By the third episode, it became clear that this show wouldn’t just be cute and funny, it has a large dose of sadness to it as well. As much as I love my fluffy cute shows, I also love sad ones, and the juxtaposition of a cute story with a sad one makes both sides hit much harder. I found this show to be incredibly charming, with funny writing and sublime animation that really brings its characters and story to life. Strong contender for best of the season, and an easy shoe in for end of year awards.
Next up is Sing Yesterday For Me, another highly popular show in my social circles. While the opening shot is incredibly bad, starting off with the alarm clock, overall this show starts off on a strong note. I immediately fell in love with this show’s aesthetic, it mimics the texture of penciling flawlessly and serves as a wonderful breath of fresh air in comparison to the styles of most of the anime I watch. The writing of this show is equally charming, and the superb vocal performances really tie it all together to make this show a very compelling experience. A beautiful aesthetic, likable characters, good dialogue, solid pacing, there isn’t much more I can ask out of a show like this. Its story is fairly light and far more focused on character interactions than plot, which leaves me very little to talk about as far as impressions go. While it may not be especially deep or profound as far as writing goes, it takes its simple plot and executes on it extremely well, so while it may not reach the heights of those more complex shows, it nonetheless presents a solid experience that remained a joy to watch at every moment. It did such a good job with its character writing that I was even willing to forgive it for being a Will They/Won’t They love triangle plot, which is by itself everything I hate in most romance shows. In that regard, this show is a perfect example of how good character writing and good presentation can trump bad or uninteresting plotting to keep a show compelling, especially in this kind of slice of life/romance series. While I don’t think these aspects carry it well enough to be a very strong Best of Season contender or a particularly likely candidate for end of year awards, they do make for a show I was very happy that I watched and would gladly see more of.
Finally this season is BNA, or Brand New Animal, the newest offering from Studio Trigger. Right from the first scene it’s clear that this is a show about prejudice, and likely one for which the in-universe animal people are representative of some minority population. Given my extensive history as a viewer of RWBY, this was a red flag, the worst part of that show was the use of its equivalent characters as a vector to talk about prejudice despite a clear lack of understanding of the nuance of the issues. Expanding that problem to encompass the entire main story of a show would be a recipe for disaster, and I had thoroughly hoped this would not happen. Thankfully this series handles the topic with a lot more skill and understanding of the topics it portrays, alongside its delivery of an interesting story with some fun characters and gorgeous presentation, exactly the things I love most about good Trigger shows. There are some worrying signs, the undertones of conspiracy that run through some of the show’s scenes could really screw up the story and turn it into something far less compelling in future, but from the 3 episodes I watched for this, the show is really looking like a winner. Watching it did a lot to remind me of why Trigger is my favorite animation studio, and that feeling is more than enough to earn this show a hearty recommendation.
Overall this was another solid season. 4 shows I liked, and one that was disappointing. I hope this year keeps up the trend, there will be some very strong contenders for the end of year awards if it does.