Panning the Stream: Winter 2017 Midseason Review

It’s Valentine’s season, but this post is more of a Like Letter than a Love Letter.

A teen girl with chin-length hair wearing a boy looks at another girl facing away from the camera. The girl with the hairbow is wearing an expression of exaggerated disgust.

My watch list has slipped a few shows shorter than it was at the Rule of ThreeInterviews with Monster Girls is out mostly for the reasons I mentioned in that post, and Yowamushi Pedal has fallen by the wayside as well. Which suits me fine; I have other projects and hobbies on my plate at the moment and not feeling like I’m constantly playing catch-up on 10-plus series has been kind of a relief, to tell the truth. Maybe I should be pickier in future seasons, too.

Barring a few major exceptions, it isn’t what I’d call a memorable season thus far, but there’s a fair bit of “good” to make up for the lack of “great.” As is often the case when life gets hectic, I’ve found myself gravitating toward comedies, and thankfully winter has some solid ones in its catalog (although they’re not without their issues, I admit). It also has underrated gem ClassicaLoid, and of course Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, which. I mean. Just. All of the chef’s kiss gifs and emojis. Every last one ’em. So not too shabby, all things considered.

Rookie Standouts

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ACCA

Grade: B+

I’ve given up on writing a proper write-up for this series, because I still don’t really know where it’s going or what it’s trying to do. I’m interested, to be sure–in the way it slowly builds the cultures and politics of its nation, develops the ACCA organization’s agents and relationships, and tosses a number of seemingly disparate threads at the audience, daring us to make connections and warning us not to jump to conclusions.

It’s surprisingly low-key for a series that’s technically about an impending coup d’etat, with everyone playing their cards close to their chests and our main characters often more interested in eating baked goods than in addressing the looming political threats. ACCA is still an enigma to me, but one I’m willing to stick with. Hopefully it comes together into something I can actually discuss by the end.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Grade: A- with one major caveat

I was all ready to come in here singing this show’s praises, to flail over its adorable normalization of queer families, the way it tackles issues of prejudice and difference within and between cultures, its ability to discuss sexuality often without sexualizing, and how it balances the silly, the sweet, and just the right amount of bawdy. And all of that is still true, and I still like this show a whole heckuva lot. The dynamic between the introverted Kobayashi, the over-excitable Tohru, and their too-cute-for-words “daughter” Kanna is magnificent, and every scene that centers on one or all three of them exudes humor and heart in equal measures.

But the most recent episode also included a troubling new dynamic: Busty ex-goddess Lucoa sexually harassing a terrified boy literally named “Shouta.” The “joke” seems to be that she’s unaware what she’s doing is wrong or even sexual (her attempts to sleep and bathe with him are very much things a mother or older sister might do for a young child), but no one ever explains to her that it’s wrong, and he tells her to stop and she doesn’t, meaning the series is tacitly approving of her behavior (or at least not seeing it as harmful). This is emphatically Not Good.

…And yet. Precious Dragon Family. And Elementary School Crushes. And Nerd Boyfriends. There’s too much good in this series for 10 bad minutes to turn me away from it. Plus there’s still hope that they’ll fix this story line in a future episode (or at the very least avoid it altogether). I’m still with it, and I’d still recommend it overall. But not gonna lie, those 10 minutes definitely dampened my enthusiasm.

Off the Bench

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Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki)

Grade: B

Like its titular character, a cute kid inhabited by the soul of a self-serving salaryman, Tanya is a series that revels in absurd contrasts and seeks to undercut itself at every turn. It clothes itself in the garb of a war drama, full of pitched battles and scenes of stern men debating strategy, but the quiet sight gags and ever-present reminder that someone put a freaking 10-year-old in charge of a battalion ensures that the “war drama” is never all that dramatic.

While there’s something almost admirable in Tanya’s stubborn survivalism, s/he is at heart a cynical egomaniac, interested only in themself (sorry; I have no idea what pronoun to use with Tanya, so I think “they” will have to do). They’re likably detestable, the kind of character you want to watch fail but not necessarily fall. And yet their godlike adversary is no better, really, playing with human lives out of a petty need to satisfy its own pride. Tanya often feels like watching a sporting event where you’re rooting for both teams to lose.

The result is a darkly funny war story about a fascist nation with no real good guys and a central idea about…human agency? the danger of pride?… it slips out of my hands every time I try to grab it. Like Acca, I’m not entirely sure what Tanya is trying to say at the end of the day, and its derisive tone means it’s also always holding the audience at emotional arms-length. Still, it feels like a story that’s trying to say something, and I’m curious to see what that ultimately is. Plus watching Tanya get dunked on is pretty entertaining, I can’t deny that.

Akiba’s Trip

Grade: B-

In all honesty, Akiba’s Trip is probably my fourth-favorite show of the season, and one of the ones I genuinely look forward to each week. It’s hard to explain my fondness for it, but I really think it comes down to an overall atmosphere: I just like the way this one feels, very optimistic and sincere without ever taking itself seriously. It’s a show that celebrates hobbies, those trivial pursuits that make life enjoyable, and it’s tone is perfect for that celebration, capturing the passion without treating it like a matter of life and death.

Yes, it’s 100% a problematic fav, full of panty shots and boob jiggles (although for a show that markets itself as a fanservice series, it’s actually quite tame), but it handles that aspect with the same cheeky sense of lighthearted silliness that it does everything else. With the possible exception of the third episode, there’s been nothing malicious or predatory to its tone, which has always been my main critique of fanservice. The art and characters are charmingly flawed and the tales of nerds being nerdy have a kind of endearing mockery to them. I dunno, team. It just really works for me.

Gabriel DropOut

Grade: C+

Seems like every season I pick up an anime comedy that I enjoy while it’s happening and then don’t think about, and that’s where Gabriel DropOut falls. It’s rarely amazing but it’s pretty much never bad, and it has a pair of characters (the deadpan Gab and the bumbling Satania) who are always good for one solid round of giggles. I like it in the same way I like some American sitcoms: Because the world is stressful and sometimes you just wanna watch something that’s pleasing to look at, requires no concentration, and elicits a few chuckles here and there. There’s totally a place for that in fiction, and Gabriel DropOut fills that spot nicely.

Returning Players

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Aaaand just a quick check-in with the sequels and carry-overs:

  • ClassicaLoid: The real tragedy of the winter season isn’t the light load, but that so few people are watching this goofy, upbeat, endearing, and unapologetically weird little musical comedy. It’s imaginative and clever and energetic and fun, and y’all are missing out on a weekly dose of wonderful.
    Grade: A-
  • Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Surprise surprise, it’s the best show of the season, excellently developing its characters and themes through thoughtful dialogue, gorgeous cinematography, and careful pacing. Here, have all the other words I’ve written about it!
    Grade: A+ (of course)
  • Yowamushi Pedal: Alas, the magic is gone for me. I’m happy with the way the last season ended and not all that enthused with the way this one began, so I’ve dropped it. I’ll still happily recommend the first 62 episodes to people, though!
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4 thoughts on “Panning the Stream: Winter 2017 Midseason Review

  1. As far as brand new shows that premiered in the winter season go, ACCA is definitely at the top of the list for me. That said, yeah, it’s still more of a like than a love thing – and I understand completely what you mean when you say you have little to actually talk about there. It’s a nifty little show but I’m sure glad I don’t have to write about it on a weekly basis or anything, because I think I’d really be scraping the bottom of the barrel for content there.

    Like

  2. I’m really enjoying Tanya. She is a horrible person but there are moments like asking for Visas and the declaration of war that damn near break me with laughter.
    I kind of get your pronoun issue with her as well. I just kind of settled on her because that is what she is now (past lives not withstanding). But it dose raise a question. Could Tanya be considered a transexual lead character?

    Like

  3. Seems like none of what I was looking forward to this year was in the Winter season. I can’t wait for Citrus.

    Doing the math in my head, if Yuru Yuri gets a 4th season it would be this year. I hope it does.

    Besides that I’m waiting for the next Flip Flappers or Izetta.

    Like

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