Smooth sailing through the summer stream.
I’ve trimmed my watchlist down to a manageable number and am happy to announce that pretty much everything is either holding steady or improving on itself. So if I sound like I’m repeating some of my Rule of Three comments, well, blame these series for being so darn consistent, the little jerks! And then cross your fingers that that trend continues. I’d much rather come back in another five-ish weeks singing these shows’ praises than sighing about how they dropped the ball in the back half, doncha know.
Race to the Top
I picked a good one to cover weekly, here, because 91 Days continues to be an excellently written gangster series that blends pulpy action flick and grounded character drama. With the exception of one minor character who’s so stereotypically over-the-top he’s mostly just boring, the cast is a realistic mess of sympathetic contradictions and uncertainties, making it hard to know exactly who to root for. A smart combination of sharing and withholding information from the audience keeps me on my toes, constantly guessing the next move and frequently guessing wrong, and I’m both anticipating and dreading what is certain to be a bloodstained final arc.
My other weekly blogging venture was less of a gamble since I’d already read the manga, but there’s always a chance an adaptation will fall on its face. Fortunately, that’s very much not the case here. orange is faithful to the source material while also adding some beautiful cinematography and the occasional bits of silly weirdness, making this an adaptation that’s both true to the original’s tone while also possessing an energy and aesthetic all its own.
This is an emotional, sometimes visceral story about loss and hope, a central tension depicted in both its past and future time lines. It’s been plagued by production issues that have led to some choppy cuts and off-model moments in a few episodes, but it’s beautiful when it matters, and the storyboarding and staging have by and large remained impressive. If the animation studio can keep it together for the last act and avoid any really glaring issues, we’ll have a special series on our hands.
I can’t approach Thunderbolt Fantasy from anywhere even remotely resembling “critical distance,” so I didn’t bother trying to give it a real grade. This series is so ridiculously fun, from its swashbuckling action sequences to its archetypal but charming cast, and contains my very favorite dialogue in a season positively bursting with great dialogue, to boot. Gen Urubochi is like a kid in a candy store, and it shows in every exuberant scene of this fantasy epic. 91 Days and orange might be the more emotionally ambitious productions, but Thunderbolt Fantasy is still far and away my favorite thing each week.
Hitting Their Stride
I almost dropped this one after the third episode, and now I’m so glad I didn’t. Amanchu combines painfully real depictions of social anxiety with an overall tone intended to soothe even the most insecure of souls (such protagonist Teko and, er, your blogger as of late). Throw in some gorgeous underwater artwork, a strong central friendship, and a running message about how “finding yourself” can be as simple as enjoying each day and focusing on one single, small goal ahead of you, and you’ve got yourself the “healing” anime of the season.
Thanks to some abrasive characters and a habit of leaning into stereotypical humor at times, it’s not quite as top-to-bottom charming as last season’s flying witch, but then few shows are. I like this one a little more each week, though, so who knows? Maybe it’ll inch even further up the watch list as we go.
Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE! LOVE!
The first three episodes of Cute High Season 2 were fun but unexceptional, to the point where I was multitasking while watching it. Amused, but not excited. Then it was like a switch flipped, and the show became an explosion of silly comedy and inspired stupidity. It’s absurd and self-aware but also sincere as heck, daring you to take it seriously even though it’s so obvious that the people working on it love every single frame. I’m not sure any series has made me laugh this hard and this consistently for four weeks straight. It’s really been an impressive stretch of goofiness.
Of course, if you came here looking for deep character development and insightful commentary on the magical girl genre, you’ll need to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for the perfect encapsulation of high school life–pointless conversations, minor conflicts exploding into drama, and the sense that the world just won’t cut you any slack and let you just goof off for a few minutes–wrapped in a bright, dumb package, you’re going to have yourself a very fun time.
Cheer Boys is pretty good, but it has the potential to be great, and I’ve found my enjoyment lessening the more I focus on what it could be instead of just enjoying it for what it is. This all-men’s cheer squad is fighting gendered expectations and prejudices, which is so My Jam, but it keeps hurting what could be an upbeat and charmingly progressive message by slipping into its own prejudices (some gendered comments here and there, an undercurrent of homophobia at times).
We’re only halfway through, so I’m curious to see if the series presses on some of its characters’ own internalized prejudices and challenges them. It certainly could. And for now it’s still a fun albeit typical sports story about overcoming personal limitations and forming a community with your team. I’d just like to see it be more than that.
Sweetness & Lightning
My Rule of Three review still holds for this one. It does a really nice job of depicting the erratic highs and lows of preschool kids, and the pitfalls that come with being a parent, and showcases some delicious food along the way (I had to make my own gyoza after the gyoza episode). At its core, it’s a show about found families, how no person can live alone, and how even the most well-meaning and kindhearted people can make mistakes or hurt others, and why it’s important to talk to each other, forgive each other, and work to improve. It’s really very sweet. There’s not quite enough meat here for me to miss it when it’s gone, but I thoroughly enjoy it every time I’m watching it.
Shorts & Miniseries
- Bananya: Still a bunch of cats living inside bananas and getting into 3-minute-long scrapes. So. You know. Still good.
- planetarian: After building superb emotional tension through the contrast of the planetarium and the apocalyptic outside world (and the two characters who embodied those locations), planetarian kinda dropped the ball in its finale, smashing its two worlds together and forgoing all that earlier quiet tragedy in place of telegraphed doom and lengthy on-the-nose monologues. This is technically only the first half of the series (the second will be a full-length movie), so I’ll withhold judgment until I see the second part, but right now I’m pretty bummed with the turns this one took.