Excuse me while I flail a bit.
I said during my Erased meet ‘n’ greet that there were two new shows that pinged on my radar this season, and we just found the second one, and it did not disappoint. There’s other stuff, too, and some of it was pretty okay and some of it was pretty bland, but really, I’m mostly here to talk about historical fiction and performance art. Hit the jump for words so glowing you could warm your hands on them.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Studio: Studio DEEN
Based On: The manga by Kumota Haruko
Streaming On: Crunchyroll (click here for a list of regions)
In a Sentence: This historical fiction follows a young ex-convict after he decides to become apprentice to the rakugo master he saw perform while he was in prison.
How was it? Scientifically engineered to by My Favorite Thing, more or less.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around how good this premiere was, and especially how good it was for me. Historical fiction set in 1970s Japan about a traditional performance art (if you’ve ever done forensics, rakugo is a bit like a combination between DI and HI) featuring a cast of adults with complicated relationships and psychologies and starring not one but two of my all-time favorite voice actors (Seki Tomokazu and Akira Ishida as the energetic apprentice and impassive master, respectively) showing off their talent and range? Seriously. Are we sure I didn’t produce this thing?
Personal giddiness aside, this is just an excellently staged first episode, introducing the characters and their relationships through action and imagery, and providing plenty of potential for story lines set in the past and future alike. For audiences unfamiliar with rakugo, it provides you with an organic introduction to the medium through actual performances rather than bogging the episode down with lengthy exposition, and an active camera combined with those two top-tier voice talents keep those performances entertaining, capturing both the spirit of rakugo and the personalities of the protagonists.
Director Hatakeyama has helmed two of DEEN’s best-looking shows in recent years (the surprisingly good Sankarea and the criminally underrated Rozen Maiden Zurückspulen), and he continues that trend here: The characters are expressive while maintaining a kind of restrained realism, and the camera knows right where to focus, often zeroing in on a shifting foot or a shaking tree branch to convey more about the scene than a face ever could. It’s a top-to-bottom exquisite premiere, and I can’t wait to see more of it.
On the Fence
Anime is sprinkled with throwback series that feel like they could’ve been as at-home on a schedule 20 years ago as they are today, and Active Raid falls squarely into that category. The opening credits made me feel like I was 13 again, snagging anime VHSes from the local rental store.
Set in the near-future and following a mixed-gender cast of officers in the police department’s experimental Eighth Unit (they use powered suits to fight crime and cause property damage, basically), Active Raid is a solid blend of just-weird-enough-to-be-funny banter and crime-fighting action. It didn’t jump out and grab me, but I had fun with it, so I’ll probably check out the next episode and see if it can hook me for real this time.
Another one that looks better on paper than in practice, Norn9 is a fantasy series with strong tragedy vibes about a group of superpowered teens traveling on a ship to (from what I can tell) become human weapons for various warring factions. Which sounds great until you watch it, because the staff seems utterly uninterested in the material, leading to a premiere so bland I can’t remember anyone’s names or even anything beyond the general premise. It’s too forgettable to bother putting on the queue, so unless I hear positive buzz about future episodes, I won’t be back for more.