As is fast becoming an annual tradition, between work going into Christmas closure on Dec 24th and reopening on Jan 4th; I did my best to have zero human contact/interactions and spend the time lazing about watching random stuff and having no plan more than 15 minutes in advance. Was great, but felt especially brief this year compared to previous years. So here’s my comments on the stuff I watched:
The Mandalorian Season 2
Fucking fantastic. Episode 1 (or 8?) was maybe a little too much repeating S1 stuff but from there is went in some great directions. The Dad-Bod Boba stuff was great, as was the stuff with the other Mandalorians and expanding on Dark Saber and post-ROTJ-pre-TFA Empire shenanigans. My only criticisms is that I’m not sure if the age of Bo Katan in Mando S2 is correct. She was flying around in The Clone Wars which is ~30-40 years before Mando (I’m not sure of the exact timeline) but doesn’t look to have aged much, if at all. Also that last sequence with Luke casually dismantling the entire Dark Trooper squad (foiling Moff Gideon’s otherwise perfect trap to fuck up Mando, ruin the Mandalorians inc Bo Katan and get Grogo) was incredibly- echoing the corridor scene from Rogue One while also featuring the return of the green saber. And seeing Luke not as a randomly washed up bitter hermit was great. But overall this was such a great love letter to not only the original trilogy but also the prequels (shocking they were acknowledged in Disney era content) while also being great, original content that expanded the universe (although bringing in Boba and Bo and Ahsoka and Luke across the series did stretch the idea of this being a vast universe). Also if Grogo goes with Luke to train, the canon implication is Kylo Ren kills him and kind of undermines the audience attachment to the character and/or Mando-Grogo relationship. But this season in partcualr was also a big middle finger (maybe not deliberately) to the people involved with the Sequel Trilogy that it’s really hard/impossible to make new stories that acknowledge the prior stuff yet are still original/good so I have faith they’ll have a clever solution to that issue too. Super highly recommend. Unsure how I feel about a Boba Fett show though.
Kingdom of Magi (Magi S2)
From memory I randomly watched S1 last hibernation so makes some poetic sense to continue it this hibernation (and I guess watch the prequel next year). S2 was solid fun although nothing super amazing or new compared to the first season. The opening arc of the faux Peter Pan villain robber group (ignoring the semi-arc before that of the characters deciding to split up) was mildly annoying given it was clear padding before the real meat of the story in the magic kingdom/city place. But it was extremely aggravating that the female lead Morgianna just fucking disappeared for most of the season. Sure it mostly focused on Aladdin so Alibaba’s journey was also glossed over but Morgianna got less than an episode allocated to her individual story which was kind of fucked. Conversely it was mildly funny how often we had scenes flashing over to Sinbad and his crew reflecting on what the MCs were doing/likely doing, perhaps reflecting an author/production acknowledgment of what the big audience draw was in S1 (and given they’re the focus of the prequel, rather than having a S3 continuation, I suspect I’m on the money). And it caught me by surprise how outright ecchi perverted Aladdin was as a child-esque MC, although aside from the ‘humor’ in those scenes the comedy is generally pretty good across the series. The direction the story goes overall is pretty interesting in terms of both world building and character development, although the last 5-6 episodes are the typical battle shounen thing of a single fight of escalating stakes/colourful powers and explosions with an exponentially increasing number of characters involved in the fight. So it started blending in with itself and being a bit meh. And it was weird that the ep1 flash-forward preview was not this final fight but a mid-season fight. Which isn’t interesting beyond being unusual. If you liked S1 you’ll like S2, but otherwise nothing much to crow about here of interest.
I first watched this nearly a decade ago at my university anime club and I’m shocked that the show is a decade old (ish). It was such an incredible show that not getting a second season is criminal negligence by Japan. Such great world-building/lore, it looked good in terms of art/animation (not fantastic but solidly holds up many years later) and had dynamic/interesting characters that were unusual in their specifics, putting aside the female lead having early 2010s insane tits (although it was lampshaded as ridiculous in-universe) and the requisite tsundere character loving the male MC (although in this case there was a story reason for it beyond fanservice). The huge reveal(s)/twist(s) in episode 7 explaining the event that sowed the seeds for the conflict of the series and caused several key characters to be the way they are was shocking (and to a lesser extent a similar thing happened in explaining another precursor event for the final fight). All of the factions were engaging (in either good or villainous ways), the issues being faced were multi-faceted with legitimate opposing views and both the OP/ED songs are bangers (plus the in-universe music for the main kakashi is a haunting earworm). Possibly the best average music level for an anime ever. I’m so annoyed that it doesn’t have a sequel that wraps up the story as the ending was a huge tease for a S2 or movie and I am legit trying to find a way to read the manga instead. Oh on the music, there is a fantastic clue in ep7 about the kakashi music which is easy to miss given all the other shit going on but it explains what happened in the fight before this episode where a weird thing happened and also what the fuck happened at the very end (and why things stopped working for Utao). Highly recommend people give it a chance and just ignore the insane tits on Hibino.
I’ve tried watching this show many times before but never got through the first episode. But it is very highly acclaimed by people’s who’s opinions I respect and is often touted as better than the authors follow up work Durarara (which is also highly acclaimed but, and perhaps I should have taken the hint, I don’t like). The non-linear story was interesting as it is not typical (and now how the source material goes apparently) but I’ve seen non-linear stories done better. I think the issue is that I didn’t care for or about almost all the characters. The only enjoyable characters were Isaac and Miria, although I found them grating to begin with too. Had no interest or sympathy for anyone else and actively disliked half the cast. The other issue is that the non-linear storylines are set at multiple time periods that are, with one exception, close enough to each other to make it hard to delineate what exactly is happening when. So it all kind of blends in as a confusing mess rather than being a fun puzzle to piece together. To the point that in the ‘Murder-on-orient-express-on-steroid ‘main’ time period I was legitimately unsure how many factions were on the train and if/how they had relationships with each other. But despite all this confusion, the very end arc per se where everything came to a head and wrapped together was done pretty well. Just maybe not enough pay off for 10-11 eps of meh. Oh and I dunno if ‘Alchemists’ are the people who summon demons. That was weird.
Man in the Highcastle S2
I watched the first half of this ages ago but fell off for some reason. Going back to it I guess the middle was a bit weak (typical of these show you’re meant to binge in one go) as ep6/7 were a struggle but the last bunch of eps were captivating and great. The reveal about Heimlich/Hausman being the mastermind traitor was great, as was the way it was dealt with by utilizing the high castle videos in a biggest bluff ever. Although it became pretty clear that I’m only really enjoying the John Smith/Nazi commander storyline (although I have a soft spot for the Trade Minister of Japan storyline). The rest of them go from meh (Chief Inspector, Julianna) to actively uninteresting (Joe, Ed-Frank-Antique guy-Yakuza). Probably no coincidence that the two former tie in with John Smith and Trade Minister while the rest don’t. And it is kind of funny that I legitimately uttered the sentence “Oh no, Hitler is dead. That’s terrible news”. The fallout of the Kempeitai bombing was perhaps a little underdeveloped but maybe that’s just teasing interest for S3. Recommend but definitely something one has to watch in a big chunk or two. And given the vibe of the current world fully understand, fully get that watching Nazi-victory alt history show is not setting a good mood so maybe not what people are into right now.
The first half of this season was great- a three way political struggle between Earth, Mars and the Belt imposed over the struggle of humanity against the mysterious proto-molecule and the nefarious corrupt/capitalist forces trying to take advantage of the situation(s). . After several episodes of escalation and complication…. everything got wrapped up and solved very quickly. Just past the middle episode of the season. Then there was an ambiguously long time skip of a couple months where a bunch of stuff happened off screen (e.g. Naomi living the Rocinante to join the Belters, the proto-molecule forming a giant ring structure) that was incredibly jarring and confusing. There was no clear indication that there had been a time jump and instead of the expected immediate fall out/detail of stopping the three-way war (or explaining the random twist that happened at the end of the prior episode where a giant squid thing rose out of Venus’ atmosphere) suddenly unrelated shit is happening and it is very confusing. Especially as key details of the solution are suggested but not actually show to work e.g. convincing Fred Johnson to use his stolen missiles to shoot down the escaping proto-molecule pods. And then, despite having been on the brink of war and having heaps of military combat occur (with lives/equipment lost) everything seems to have been easily swept under the rug and everyone is working together and it’s all great a couple months later. Seems the story was written in an era before ‘Fake News’ if one broadcast can have such a huge effect with everyone accepting it. I buy that people would unite in the face of the weird alien shit, but I don’t buy there is zero residual tension, retribution or even just personnel conflict on co-missions. That being said, the second half of the season was really interesting in terms of a mystery/investigation storyline (big genre contrast to the first half, due from what I can tell being them adapted from two different books. Hence the jarring transition as that in between period was also skipped in the books) and the ending was a big surprise . Although very much leaving a cliffhanger ending (well, pseudo-cliffhanger open ended ending) going ‘let’s hope there’s a season four fam!’ ending But given there is, I think, a season 4 it is worth checking out at least up to this point of the show.
I remember trying to watch this when it first came out and I just couldn’t get past the first two eps (even with a fanaticism opening segment), despite people insisting the end of ep2 was the clincher for the how being great as it was a good rap song (or hip-hop? I can’t remember but in either way it was bad). Bad CGI in performances, bad music, one uninteresting genre (idols), one overplayed genre (zombies), annoying characters etc. But with S2 incoming the hype train is building so I decided to try again. And found that by cleverly skipping through the songs in the opening handful of sidesteps, it is actually a decently interesting show. Probably help zombie stuff has agone oaway so it doesn’t feel as tired a genre. As has been mentioned multiple times on this blog, any music that is being performed in universe in anime is always very, very bad music. And that is still true here. But about halfway through the show things switch and they a) stop using terrible CG for the performances and b) the shows are no longer about the music but are the mechanism by which one of the girls overcomes some obstacle. Like Juno overcoming the changes in idol expectations since her death decades earlier or Lily helping her dad get closure for her death or Ito(?) dealing with the trauma of being killed on stage during a show by a freak lightning bolt strike… in a performance at the same show where she is again hit by lightning… (also given she is again hit by a lightning bolt doing the same festival, the organisers really need to rethink their event timing/logistics and OHS processes too stop having performances in thunderstorms. Also how on earth did they get insurance sorted?). So the shows/music are abridged and its more about the emotion and development of the characters rather than the band. Lily and her dad’s episode is particularly full of ‘the feels’ and had me crying a bit at the gym while watching it. The Saki arc with the daughter of her best friend lady biker was great, both in the comedy of how biker gangs had changed/not-changed and how Saki and the friends had changed (plus the effect they used to show intimidation was quite funny too). The last arc where Sakura gains her life memories but loses her zombie ones (and the mountain training to learn the value of teamwork) was good if a bit heavy handed. But the final concert where they performed in avenue that was literally collapsing around them due to the snowstorm/typhoon (and Sakura’s terrible bad luck) was sufficiently insane to make it work. While not a great as people seem to make it out to be, it was an enjoyable enough show in the end.
Damn I thought S1 was great but S2 was even better. I watched the whole thing on Jan 2nd and I reckon it’s probably the best thing I’ll see all year, taking the great work in S1 and escalating it to new heights. From my vague understanding, the general fan community doesn’t like the anime as the details, especially the end, vary from the visual novel ending. Which makes me want to check those out to see what the even better ‘true ending’ is. The opening episode is a great ’30 years later’ for the end of S1 where we find out that despite the promises of Keichi, shit still got fucked and everyone died in the swamp gas explosion. Except a very broken Rena. And hinting at Rika being really weird. This combines with the OP doing this really effective ‘interrupt transmission’ ominous scratchy bit (I’m explaining it very poorly, just go watch it) that really matches the show vibe as it undercuts the happy OP song. But ep1 was a bait and switch as ep2 starts another time loop back in the 80! Fuck! (At which point in my notes I worried that this great set up and twist on S1 had me worried it wouldn’t pay off at the end. Those worries for nothing). The second arc of S2 switched focus to Satoko and really expands on how weird shit is going on with and around her friend Rika. And how fucked the village is for mistreating a ~8 year old girl for the decision/actions of her now dead parents. But in an incredible tease, Satoko survives the weird men who killed Rika, survives the ‘swamp gas’ explosion that wiped out the village and as she and Ooshi are shown to have the pieces of the puzzle that if combined will solve everything. But as Ooshi rushes to the hospital when Satoko is recovering, where she had regained consciousness earlier and called for a nurse, he finds ‘her heart gave out’. And he drops to his knees wailing in aguish at it. Then bam episode 6 starts another time loop. UGH SO CLOSE. THE TENSION! This next arc is a bit longer and starts with some more confusion and a bit of frustration. The confusing part is that Rika can apparently talk to a similar looking demon ghost person called Hanyu who has been observing the time loops with Rika for over 100 years worth of looping. The frustrating part was that in this loop Rika is spurned on to actively try use her knowledge to change the outcomes of things e.g. explicitly warn the people who are killed they’re going to be killed, giving the people who broke into the shrine and got the ‘curse; on festival night early and permitted access to circumvent the supposed curse etc etc. This is frustrating because, while I get she is an ~8 year old girl; surely after the first, I dunno, three decades in your 100 years of loops you’d start doing this shit either a) out of desperation or b) out of boredom. So doing it apparently for the first time ever in this loop was very frustrating (especially given this loop where she changed things got the thing in place for her to save/fix everything in the next and final loop. Could have shaved decades off the whole thing!). Eventually I clicked that the weird ghost (Hanyu) was probably, in some way, the Oyashirosama god/sacrifice and their later actions kind of support that as a general idea. This third arc (and the rest of the series) was from the view of Rika and really showed how shitty the village was in traumatizing Satako through negligence and ostracisation. Like actively letting her live with a known abusive Uncle and just sitting by. But the actions of Keichi ‘changing fate’, as spurred by Rika ultimately let them save the day and repair Satoko/her family’s position in the village. Plus there are a few good little comedy gems like Keichi confronting Shion/Mion’s grandma (who is secretly in charge of the village) and when the head of child welfare services getting his arse metaphorically handed to him by the Sonozaki’s for being unhelpful. But this victory dovetails into an incredible twist where we find out that Miyano (the blonde nurse) is not an inquisitive investigator trying to unravel the Festival Death mystery but actually the secret villain behind all the problems. Who then kills the photography guy and the head Doctor as she runs a coup on her shadowy military operation on behalf of another shadowy political faction. But Ooshi and the cops figure it out and are on their way to village to help… when they get FUCKING SNIPED and die. Then we get out hopes up as the MC gang trick the villains, escape an ensnarement, beat them in confrontations and are on the verge of getting away through the forest. Then Miyano shows up and shoots Keichi, killing him. And then proceeds to hunt them through the forest and kill them one by one (including ‘capping’ Mion executioner style) before killing Rika. By gutting her while Rika was conscious. And she then rounds up the whole village and gases them. All for political machination reasons. Holy fucking shit. We then go into the last arc which is about half the entire season where using the changes from the third arc, Rika realisesthat she needs Hanyu to (somehow) become corporal and become the 6th member of the MC gang. Which leads to an excellent arc filling in backstory and details not only of what is happening right now but the preceding five years of Festival deaths. Of particular note was the episodes giving detail of the history through Miyano’s eyes about the Hinazama disease theory/experimentation and her causing many/most of the deaths over previous years to protect her experiment (leading to her getting manipulated into staging the coup in the secret military op by shady political people). Plus the revelation that Satoko (probably) killed her parents by pushing them off the cliff and that her brother Satoshi is still alive! Plus Arasaka (random cop from the 3rd arc in S1) come back and we find out his wife didn’t die like in the 3rd arc of S1 (yay!) and he’s a goddamn martial arts beast in fucking up bad guys. And Kaisai is a goddam ex-Yakuza legend and sneak in doing his part to help Shion rescue Satoshi. Also Satoko’s traps are disconcertingly deadly for things set up by an ~8 year old child as they take out scores of trained military operatives. The escalation, twists, turns, reveals, moves and countermoves are paced and executed so perfectly in this arc (and the whole show to frank) it is incredibly gripping television. With the final overall story being an incredibly satisfying end/reveal for the initial mysteries that were set up and questions that were raised, with things cleverly fitting into place. And the final scene is so fucking emotional and impactful despite being the simple act of the calendar changing to July. Goddamn this show was fantastic. Super super super highly recommend people give it a shot.
Cardcaptor Sakura Clear Card
This was disappointingly the only bust of the things I watched in hibernation. Not disappointing that there was only one bust but disappointing that this was it. Cardcaptor Sakura holds a special place in my heart as the only show I unambiguously loved when watching as a child AND unambiguously loved when watching as an adult. In no small part I credit that to the (much maligned) English dub being great for kids and the original Japanese being great for adults. And I strongly felt that the final movie was about three frame short of making it a perfect overall story (it ends with Sakura mid-jump to joyously reunite and celebrate with Syaron). And while I remember liking the OVA years ago, I was so nervous about the sequel show not holding up to my memory that I put off watching it week to week while it was airing and then sat on the whole show for (check notes) two years. Just a couple GB of files sitting on my computer I was too scared to touch. But I broke the seal, got hyped to watch it this hibernation and found it so unwatchable I couldn’t finish episode 2. It started with a wobble as it revealed it was set with Sakura just starting middle school. Given the age of a) the original show and b) the convention of magical girl shows now; I was really expecting there to be a bigger time gap between the end of the original and the start of this one. High school aged to say the least. By going to middle school it really missed all of its target audiences as a) the nostalgia fans (i.e. me) aren’t really interested in the troubles and stories of a ~12-13 year old child anymore, we;ve changed as we got older and want to see the same in these beloved characters, b) potential new viewers who are fans of the genre likely are not interested in characters that young as well and c) kids who are into characters that young will probably be put off by the fact its a sequel and as no backstory is really explained or characters/relationships detailed the story makes no sense. There was a joke of a recap at the very begiing by Kero but it didn’t really do anything other than give a few seconds worth of gorgeous reanimations of classic scenes in the original. The show started strong shwoing some Sakura family scenes with her fighting with her brother again. Great seeing their familiar dynamic like real siblings overall (still fighting) but would have been more interesting seeing the details/execution of their arguments with them both a little older. But then it really trips up with the Syaron stuff. For one thing, for a new viewer it doesn’t really explain who Syaron is or why Sakura cares for him. But more problematically it sets up the separated friend/lover storyline via a sentimwental teddy bear trade thing which makes you think Sakura will have to deal with her emotions around separation for the first bit of the series before they are later reunited. Which would build really wlell on what the second movie did in fleshing out their romantic relationship (remebering that they are like, 10-11 year old children so ‘love’ is a bit much). Nope- Syaron comes home in the first episode. What the fuck was the point of any of that drama then, that’s half the first episode wasted and no set up to run with for the rest of the show. And in the overall timeline he was away for what, two weeks? A month or two at most? I know time feels like ages when you’re that young but lets calm down here writer. Also when they are reunited there are huge delarations about how they will “be toegtehr for ever” which is pretty unlike how a normal 13 year old kid speaks, espeiclaly about love and romance. It was during this scene that I noticed how terrible Sakura’s bowlcut-haircut was and absolutely hated her new design. And also got super annoyed at the unneccessary empahsis on the modern technology in the show- they say the word ’email’ so many times and are clearly using modern iPhones with lightning connnectors and such. I’m guessing it was some blatant attempt to assuage worries it’d be a dated series set in the past or something by production. In whatever event it was incredibly grating. The only other highlight for ep1 was a two second shot where it contrasted the dignified black magic cat living in Enlgand with Erriol (more character unexplained for new viewers) with the rambunctious Keero getting angry at videogames. We then wobble into epsidoe 2 and get an extended scene with incredibly stilted diaglogue as Sakura, Syaron and half a dozen teriary charcters discuss and justify their indivudal choices for what extracurricular clubs they want to join. It is so agonsingly slow and nothing happens. The only thing of note that happens is that Syaron says he won’t be joining a club as he ‘has to sort out paperwork for his return from Hong Kong’ (a very 13 year old boy topic of conversation, paperwork). Given extracurricular clubs are (to my understanding from anime, but this is in an anme so follows anime rules if not real life rules)) a) a three year comittment for your whole school life and b) are effectively mandatory to join one of some sort (if not literally mandatory) I can’t imagine what paperwork a 13 year old kid is having to deal with that gets him out of this. Just more nonsencial stuff that doens’t move the story forward, develop charcters or make any internally consistent sense. As an aside, I noted with some mirth how they specifically wrote out the friend character who was in love with and sort-of-enagged-to their teacher (again, she was 10 and he was an adult) as ‘going to another school now’ to just avoid that whole clusterfuck. But to go back to the club dialgoue scene- on the way to school Sakura was attacked and nearly killed by a myterious magic enemey. So she spends her lunch time leaisurely talking about school clubs rather than, you know, trying to deal with that, dsicussion options with Kero/Syaoron and coming up with a plan etc. Seriously wtf. But then after school she immediately
sets off to deal with this magic crisis/mystery oh wait no she and Tomoyo go step-by-step through a cake baking recipe. So that she can then squee a bit when her brothers definitely-not-boyfriend Yukino (or Julian ands dub plebs like me call him) comes over. Despite apparently being madly in love with Syaron as stated in the prior episode and having dealt with and overcome her crush on Julian in like, the second half of the original series. Great so we are un-developing storylines now. And in a simailir vein, the brother is still suspicous of Keero not being a stuffed toy. I swear that was resolved and moved on from in the original series too. Then they have a battle with a ‘Clear Card’ at the end of the episode where Keero for some reason struggles to say the word ‘rubber’ yet everyone manages to identify it from his repeating stammering of the word “that” and say “rubber” at the same time (despite the situation they were in having only the most superficial resemblance to rubber…), leading to them figuring out the card’s schtick and beating it with… a plain old bobby pin Tomoyo had accidentally broughtinto the trap with them. Right-o. And it was at this point I stopped the video, closed the player and deleted the series off my computer for fear of ruining my warm-fuzzy feeling about the franchise. So dissappointing. What a missed opportuntity. I noted with perverse interest that the series has 22 epsidoes only, which given the pacing of the first two epsiodes makes me assume they had a great story idea for a 13 epsiode series and then had to strecth it out to just barely qualify for two-cour for TV broadcast purpsoes. What a waste.