Panning the Stream: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Active Raid, Norn9

Excuse me while I flail a bit.

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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

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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.

Overall
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

Active Raid

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.

Dropped

Norn9

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.

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4 thoughts on “Panning the Stream: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, Active Raid, Norn9

  1. I’m really confused and conflicted about Norn9.

    On one hand, the directors and script writers did a lot to eke out the foundation of the plot and world building to come and introduce (most) of the characters organically. The Norn ship, especially, feels far more fully realized and alive than it ever did in the VN – just in this in this first episode!

    On the other hand,”I can’t remember anyone’s names or even anything beyond the general premise” is a thing because…what? Why did they blandify Koharu (pink hair) and Kakeru (blond) then put all the focus on their (anime original) cliché interactions? They’re both fully realized characters, not self-inserts, not ideal boyfriends — so the only thing I can think of is they tried to take out anything possibly irritating or offensive about them for some reason. Unfortunately, that also stripped out anything interesting about them, too.

    Like this. http://imgur.com/fBQenEe
    When Kakeru was schmoozing Koharu with peaches, it should have been this scene instead. ;_;

    I’m hoping next episode will fix this. The VN’s strength is in its characters. For instance, you don’t play just as Koharu but as the other girls too, and whichever POV you’re reading from, the other girls have their own subplots and interests and friendships going on at the same time. Too — my favorite part — there is much more being wooed by pretty men in a fantasy-land romance. All the dudes have their own agendas and fears and relationships going on in the background (or platonically with your chosen protagonist!). It’s so rare and refreshing and just. ♥♥♥ I love it so much.

    Hahaha. I’m babbling. I totally get why the premier would bore you – it frustrated me by how close to great it was but became fell apart due to mediocre anime-original characterization. It could be really great, tho. REALLY great. The plot could work better as an anime than a VN, for once. So I’m holding out. There’s enough hints of future events even in this first episode that the adaption didn’t completely jump the shark just yet. It’s just unfortunate you have to know the source material to even pick that up. Grr.

    /is way too invested in otome adaptations

    :P

    Like

    • I’m sorry I never got back to this comment. Business and general ickiness (finally feeling better, though!) kept me away from the comments. But I wanted you to know that I really enjoyed reading this! I’m always interested in hearing how fans of the original felt about an adaptation. Lackluster anime aside, Norn9 the actual game sounds like something I’d be really into. Is it available in English anywhere?

      Like

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