Calling it a Day

As this garbage year draws to a close it feels appropriate to actually ‘end’ this blog. Regular readers (all 3 of you) have probably noticed that posts fell off hard this year. I managed only 1 full review (of Urara Meirochou of all things) and 2 posts of multiple shorter reviews over the entirety of 2017 – for a review blog that’s pretty bad!

Truth is, it’s felt more like an obligation and a chore rather than an engaging activity and productive outpouring of a passive hobby for a while now. When I was still at university (back when this started) I had far more time to spend a day writing 1 or 2 posts; with work, my free time has become much more precious. On top of that I find far more of my weekends are spent doing other stuff – so unless I write after I come home from work (which I rarely have the energy for) I’ll just never get it done. And even ignoring all that, after 6 years I’ve just lost enthusiasm in writing long form reviews that only maybe get 100 views. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I look at all the unfinished posts sitting around from this year and I’d rather watch more anime instead.

So: it’s over. Why bother posting this at all? I don’t like to let things peter off quietly – I’d rather have definite closure, for myself if nothing else – so a definite statement feels right. And never say die, of course; I may find myself with a burning need to post something, which will obviously end up here. I might do 12 Days again next year too. Just don’t expect anything with any semblance of regularity.

I’m pleased with what I did on this blog – with this I’ve made 300 posts, most of which are around the 1,500 word count, an average I imagine substantially higher than most other blogs. There are some posts I’m really quite proud of (the last few 12 Days posts in particular), there are posts which were forced out, and then there was the unnecessarily long Guilty Crown review which was incredibly dumb and gained its own notoriety. I had a good time. But it’s time to call it quits.

Thanks for reading!

My Top 14 Anime of 2017

2016 didn’t really end when it became 2017 and this hellscape of a world continues to get increasingly stupid and hostile, but hey! At least the anime was good.

These are my favourites from this year! I’m only including series that completed this year (i.e. if it’s a multi-cours series, it gets counted if the final cours aired this year. So March Comes in Like a Lion counts but March Comes in Like a Lion 2 does not) and films if I actually got the chance to watch them this year. Why top 14? Too many good shows, and I couldn’t cut any of them. It’s been a good year for me!

Without any further ado, let’s begin.

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In horror we find empathy. Would we be terrified if we weren’t sharing in the protagonist’s plight? Why are we afraid if we’re not imagining ourselves in their ordeal? When horror fails it’s because we stop caring; when it succeeds it’s because we care too much. Horror and empathy are inextricably intertwined.

Made in Abyss understands this well, and so great pains are taken to have us empathise with Riko and Reg. The abyss is terrifying not simply because it’s a dangerous unknown, but because it’s a dangerous unknown that Riko and Reg are facing. Without them it would be mysterious, captivating and creepy – but not something to fear.

But Made in Abyss also understands that the object of our empathy need not be distinct from the source of horror. Under the right circumstances, a horrifying being can evoke far stronger empathy as a result of their horror. Mitty represents this profoundly.

MAJOR spoilers for Made in Abyss follow. Do NOT read this if you have not yet watched this series.

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I had the good fortune getting to watch A Silent Voice in the cinema this year. It was quite the little event – it was one of the first showings outside of Japan, as part of a Japanese film tour, in a small arthouse cinema in London. I went with my good friend processr, meeting up with Thaliarchus before the film and buildknuckle afterwards – my first time meeting anitwitterers!

That would make the occasion memorable enough by itself, but the film truly was the star of the day. Moving and sublime, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. The audience watched with rapt attention in respectful silence (I imagine this was in part due to the film demanding it and in part an effect of the environment), allowing the sensitivity of the story to come through without distraction. It was a tremendously intimate experience; the small, serious theatre brought me closer to the film and helped frame its artistry, and the immersion was enhanced by the superb sound. Recalling a moment of submersion, and how enveloping that scene felt, still sends shivers down my spine.

There’s so much I could talk about here – it was a wonderful day and the film is so precisely tailored to my tastes that I’m certainly not lacking in material – but there’s one thing right near the end that I feel I have to discuss. It’s only a single shot, but it acts a microcosm of the film’s quality and everything it stands for. And despite only being a couple of seconds long, I noticed it and drew all these conclusions in real-time – something I’m rather proud of, so this post is also me allowing myself some self-indulgence.

Mild spoilers ahead

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I quit playing Cardfight!! Vanguard this year. I suggested I would last year, but it took me until November to call it an end. It wasn’t the easiest decision to make as it had been a big part of my life over the past 3 or so years – I met new people, travelled a bit, spent way too much money and had a ton of fun – but it was a necessary one for my time, my wallet and my fucking sanity.

Because Vanguard is not a good game. In fact it’s terrible. Irredeemably, fundamentally bad. The problems are present top to bottom, from core mechanics, through Bushiroad’s handling all the way to the player community. Taking a step back, it’s so easy to see it for what it is.

But I think some context and my history with the game is important before I dive into that. I started playing in the summer of 2014, after graduating from uni. I turned up at my friend’s place for our RPG night to find them grouped around the table playing a card game – Vanguard – and suggested I give it a shot. I flatly said no, as I didn’t want to get suckered into a moneysink hobby. Eventually they convinced me to play a game with one of their decks (a game which I won), and I distinctly remember that my exact words after that were: “oh, fuck you guys.” I was hooked already.

(In retrospect, picking up a children’s card game as soon as I entered the real, adult world probably says a lot about me, but whatever – I was enjoying myself.)

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Land of the Lustrous has gone from strength to strength over its run. From the utterly captivating premise and aesthetics to the highly distinct and entertaining personalities in all the gems, it demands your attention from the very beginning. But it’s the sheer emotional complexity of Phosphophyllite that’s the star of the show – their fantastical, naïve dreams of joining the fights against the Lunarians stands as a stark rejection of their physical limitations, with a profoundly lazy attitude and a personality that refuses to accept any responsibility for their actions or goals, ultimately leading them to relative isolation as nobody really trusts or respects them. Despite how deeply flawed Phos is, they’re still sympathetic because of how painfully relatable they are. God knows I see too much of myself in them.

When Phos messes up, they can – at best – cause a huge headache for everyone involved, or – at worst – seriously endanger others. Phos doesn’t want that, not at all. Phos isn’t malicious. But they are lazy, they do shirk responsibility, they do deflect blame, and, unsurprisingly, that does breed resentment in others. But Phos doesn’t want that either. And because Phos isn’t entirely lacking in self-awareness, Phos wants to change. They want to be useful, they want to be powerful, they want to be respected. But they can’t make the changes required to get there, instead falling back on unhealthy, damaging habits time and again, because Phos simply doesn’t have the mental or emotional capability to make those changes.

Because Phos is depressed and full of self-loathing.

MAJOR spoilers ahead for pretty much the entire series

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Anime has a reputation for lacking meaningful closure; between adaptations of ongoing manga, blatant sequel hooks and a cultural preference for ambiguity over concrete finality, a lot of series feel more like they stop rather than end. This is a problem exacerbated in many romance series due to a cowardly aversion to developing relationships to any satisfying degree – where they bother to properly pair them up at all.

Major spoilers to the ending of Tsuki ga Kirei follow – don’t read if you haven’t watched it. Go watch it! It’s good!

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To call Kemono Friends the ‘dark horse’ series of 2017 is to undersell it to the point of wilful misrepresentation; it’s one of the most absurd, bizarre, and triumphant success stories in the medium ever. The scale of its reception has led to a wide influence and a deep interest, and thanks to that I couldn’t pick just one ‘moment’ from this year to talk about – in the interest of giving even a moderately fair representation of its saga, I’ve had to go with three!

First, we need to start at the beginning: the collective international realisation of “wtf, Kemono Friends is actually good”. Even now the series is a hard sell, so imagine what it was like seeing that on the spring lineup. Here we had a CG anime based on a failed mobile game about animal girls (so a cheap cash-in on a cheap Kantai Collection bandwagoner), with a premise that suggested nothing of note was happening. Digging deeper revealed that the team working on it were tiny and not known for anything, and one of the two main characters would be voiced by a newbie. The only slightly promising thing about it was that the character designs were done by the same person who designed Sgt. Frog, but that wasn’t exactly widely known (or, for that matter, cared about). To be honest, most people – myself included – just skipped it as soon as we saw it was going to be CG, because rarely has that resulted in anything visually appealing. So it went ignored.

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Undoubtedly the weirdest anime related thing to ever happen to me occurred this year. It’s not even a case of ‘small world’, just a bizarre series of coincidences; the intersection of the super-niche with the extraordinarily unlikely that leaves me – and potentially only me – in a position to truly appreciate just how fucking dumb it is.

A couple of years ago a new barbershop opened up near my office. In need of a haircut, and it being closer than where I had been going (and with never being satisfied with their cuts I had nothing to lose) I decided to give this new place a shot. Far from the personality-less barbershops I was used to, this was a small place hidden down a little alley and below a tattoo parlour decorated with records and Pokémon cards across the walls, owned and solely run by a trendy 19 year old married gay trust fund baby with Asperger’s and Tourette’s (or so he says).

In short, a hipster barber.

And damn did he give me one heck of a haircut. In an epic one-and-a-half hour session (that was supposed to be 10 minutes during my lunchbreak) he lopped off inches of my head and gave me something radically different. And, thanks to his incessant pressure over the next year-and-a-half, he got me to actually care about my hair. I wake up earlier now to sort it out! I’ve used a variety of products and have opinions. I actually feel good about how it looks for the first time ever! You have no idea how big of a change this has been for my self-image and self-esteem, and I owe him so much for getting me to this place.

I swear the anime part of this story comes in soon

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God DAMN I’ve been loving Kirakira☆Precure À La Mode. It’s been so much fun, with endless energy, fantastic characters, compelling villains and a lot of tremendously heartfelt episodes. Each one has been a delight and has given me too many great moments to list. It was a hard choice, but I’m going to use this opportunity to highlight one of the absolute greatest Precure transformation sequences that I’ve seen: Cure Gelato’s.

How can you not love that? Aoi’s attitude just pours out of every moment. Her rockstar delivery of “cure à la mode decoration!”, her mischievous grin with a hint of rebellion, the absolutely badass jacket tug (god that jacket tug is divinely stylish characterisation), an assertive sock pull for awesome asymmetry, head movements to simulate a lion’s roar, and of course throwing the horns before pulling off a punk-rock guitar shredding, everything she does tells you so much about who she is and what she’s like, and it’s all incorporated so elegantly into the transformation.

And then you have the amazing animation! Dynamic camera work makes for an exciting, ambitious watch, the weighty body movement gives it subtle impact that demonstrates the tremendous care put into it, and it’s all tied together through a smoothness befitting the finest ice creams. I wish I knew more about animation to gush over this with technical accuracy, but at the very least I know that this is some fantastic work. I have rewatched it so many times and I simply cannot get bored of it and it perfectly exemplifies just what I love about the magical girl genre.