Diamond Is Unbreakable
Surprise, surprise. This was locked in the top spot since the announcement. Taking a break from Around the World in 80 Days for the adventure in your backyard not only gives the core cast breathing room to be properly fleshed out, but also means less one-off baddies and more befriended foes. Every stand encounter doesn’t have to be a fight, in terms of a brawl and the fun here is seeing the usual absurdity consume more trivial matters like daycare and rock, paper, scissors. Finally capitalizing on fate to significantly steer the narrative and no longer having to go to the lengths of granting death wishes so your comrades can fight the good fight, the usual selflessness branches out into a love for the community. Even when production hell of non-stop 3-cour hindered the show visually, the sound design picked up the slack and Morioh was given the oomph of The World’s rapid-fire kicks for the show’s entirety. Smart arc integration too and I suspect the decision to re-shape the direction around slick transitions is all building up to a certain Part 5 moment.
Shoutout to Goldfish Warning. The sad truth you may never be as good as those who inspire you and likely will follow in the footsteps of the one you vowed to never become. Chasing a foregone conclusion, the fatalistic script gradually builds into history repeating itself and feeds into how rakugo performers retell these age-old stories time and again. Thankful the second season is just around the corner, but I’m pretty satisfied with this marriage of entertainer and audience in art’s imitation of life and vice versa.
Mob Psycho 100
My main issue with One Punch Man was the comedy being too divorced from the action and Mob makes for a better hybrid as simpler designs allow for cartoony and visceral all in one stroke. Aware of the English meaning of the protagonist’s name, mob mentality surrounds him with the temptation to get in where he fits in, but at the cost of his identity. While the Mob Choir’s chanting counts towards his explosion, they also flip this mindset on its head by asking Mob what he wants, individually. All the power in the world is meaningless to a low self-esteem, so the real battle is mental. The latter half is a relentless seesaw of upset expectations, where too many people have their minds made up already and suffer for their slavery to assumption. Even behind bars, the real imprisonment is the work of an illusionist repurposing postcard memories for idealistic fantasies of manchildren, but also the dream that Reigen is someone worth looking up to. His relationship with Mob mostly flirts between manipulative jerk and accidental guidance, but when Reigen finally becomes the mask, it’s a sight to see.
Sound! Euphonium 2
While there’s the necessary evil of over-reliance on flashbacks and it doesn’t transition between the opening act and the main event as smoothly as the first season, I’ll never forget how warm it sounds. Oddly fitting how ensemble drama reshapes itself into a desire for boundaries, from admiration behind the fences to the risk of maintaining such distance. The disillusionment of your idols, no longer as perfect as you imagined, but seeing the blemishes up close invites an intimacy you never even knew you wanted.
The Great Passage
Dictionaries as a means for empathy kind of makes sense on paper, but needs the right guidance to walk the tightrope between silliness and sincerity. Not to mention, what could’ve turn out rather dry in the wrong hands is enlivened with such strong character acting. Attention to detail is so valuable in dictionary editing and the direction breathes it, from Majime being introduced beside information to the slight changes in perspective when speaking on nuance. Meanings are always changing just like you can’t truly understand a person at any given time, much less through the ages. Although, dictionaries can help us understand, even a little better.
#8 seems to be a sore spot among fans, with it being Bu-chan’s fantasy and all, but the problem is the voyeuristic framing exists outside of this episode. Rather than the broad blanket of sexual awakening, it’s ultimately reasoned with as a perverse alternative to the witch’s claw, which I’m mostly ok with. That aside, its heart is in the changing perceptions of optical illusions and the faces we share while both wishing the best for our loved ones, yet taking it from them. Eventually, the distinction between reality and fantasy gets blurry in favor of imagination as genuine experience, but looking back at this mountain of foreshadowing, I see this wonderful adventure was just waiting to be explored.
Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song
An initial obstacle I had with the first season was how the time jumping seemed to hinder narrative momentum, but moving forward through the latter half, I begun to see it as less of a gimmick and more essential to a show so indebted to history. Mistakes of the past still haunt the present and we should hope to learn from them, but maybe that’s foolish? Possibly, but ConRevo champions that childlike naiveté that still believes in heroes and how it shouldn’t be wrong to search for a better tomorrow. Somehow, through the simple smiles and firm footsteps leaving their mark, revolutio(n)s were made around its own cynicism until it arrived at inspirational.
Might as well be anime with an Urobuchi script and Sawano OST, but thankfully, it only shares elements and its international creation is born on a different playing field. With production problems constantly plaguing TV anime, so much body language here could be reduced to lip flaps instead. Puppetry enables the expressiveness (comparable to Oregairu business hands, at times) necessary for how often verbal confrontation takes priority over physical battles. Immaculate set design houses the ideal backdrop to compliment lines like “surely, you jest” and the villain boomeranging his exit by way of skeleton bird. Icing on the cake is knowing the staff was so worried about these intricately costumed puppets being thrown around all over the place.
Not everything worked, but each skit was instrumental to crafting a wheelhouse of ideas to play around with. It also seemed like the show grew with its audience; not in a mature sense, but there was a growing thematic focus on escapism and more of a dialogue between skits in the latter half. I prefer the ending to a reprise of #23, not because it leaves room for a sequel, but rather, it remains true to a growth-stunted cast. Besides, I can’t help but love the irony in them literally escaping this world at the very end.
More than anything else here, the setting is its own character and the restrained sound design certainly contributes to this. Amidst the clarity of bird chirps and bat swings, it recognizes the double-edged sword of defiance and the frequency of fades translates into my favorite ending of the year.
Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou
I just kept shuffling between complete shock and hiphop happiness at the BPM of minced cabbage. Chill outtttttttt.
I like to laugh and even better when said humor acts as a springboard for drama or in this case, hints at the way of the world. The general idea of running away from your fears is familiar, but its approach is unique. Many shows bide their time, one way or another, but I’ve never seen a show so hellbent on derailing conflict for laughs. Time has only proven how difficult it is to juggle a large cast and transition from comedic to serious and back, but Mayoiga basically does both in its sleep.
Even with Yuuki’s harsh words at the end, I feel it never really condemns the interference of family matters. They’re the glimmer of warmth, which simply can not coexist with the cold detachment required to be a spy. On top of that, the spymaster’s head is shaped like a lightbulb.
#4 absolutely floored me and remains one of my favorite episodes of the year, delivering the trio’s bond as found family, under the umbrella of home-cooked food.
The show’s at its best admiring nature’s sweet serenity, but its real charm is balancing that minutiae with larger than life supernatural adventures. Also, Chinatsu is probably the closest thing to Ren-chon in recent memory. Only complaint is that it feels like the OST doesn’t leave much breathing room, but it’s so good, I don’t even care.
In a woman’s journey to find herself as an artist, embers of a burning building rise like a phoenix at the same time Camellias colorfully crumble.
The male gaze sees everything, yet nothing at all.
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle
Cynical towards connections online, because they bring people together, but at a distance. Fake glasses, fake applause, fake smiles, all under the spotlight. Relationships are distorted through glass while the cast identifies as fictional characters, in charge of fabricating families. And yet, it’s in this very facade that Iwai manages to find happiness. Under the lens of fairytale, sleepwalking through life becomes dream-like. Somehow, a genuine bond is born out of such elaborate roleplay. Thanks, Ramba Ral.
A rush of urgency in curious camerawork and snappy editing, only slowing down for a brief sigh of relief and an ending equally inspiring as it is discouraging.
Right Now, Wrong Then
Fascinating experiment on whether honesty is the best policy or not and I can’t really turn down finger goggles.
Anthem of the Heart
A myriad of different things coming together in culture, art, music and architecture; the joy of falling upwards. Still amused by the arrow hiding in plain sight, it’s beautiful.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Weaves in and out of setpieces like a dream with ships made of leaves and music for your eyes. The importance of storytelling, the power of memory its fueled by and how they write our identities. The essence is distilled into the shifting, sliding storybook credits for probably a good 2-3 minutes of animation metamorphosis. Afterwards, the real credits appear on an ancient scroll and the story is swiftly retold. A closed curtain only gives rise to the cast reimagined as icons, immortalized. Immense scale is one thing, but its life, death and rebirth as a story create a grand scope, unique to Laika’s filmography.
Who is you, man? Hanging onto a thread of masculinity and not by choice, denying the beauty of honest expression, because you don’t feel safe in your own skin. Couldn’t look away.
Swiss Army Man
The most profound movie about farts and masturbation? Maybe so. Execution is everything and jumpstarting the jetski that is Daniel Radcliffe for undoubtedly, the year’s best way to introduce the title card.
Terrifyingly delightful or delightfully terrifying? Either way, helluva debut. Eggers’ commitment to authenticity makes the dialogue difficult to understand for modern ears, but the only thing you need to hear loud and clear is the holier than thou nonsense that begins the film. Being somewhat incomprehensible is key to a world you shouldn’t be in, watching something you shouldn’t be allowed to see. And by the time Black Phillip appears, it’s already too late to turn back. The real witchcraft is how strict adherence to religion, especially in hypocrisy, can rip a family apart from the inside out. Jump scares are replaced by a deal with the devil being the first time a woman is granted the power of choice and we still haven’t left the dark ages yet. On the bright side, reading about Eggers express his frustration with the uncooperative goat is hilarious.
Garo: Divine Flame
Inadvertently, addressing the nature of sequels, how bringing back the dead will never be quite the same as love at first sight. Not a monkey’s paw deal, just can’t reach the emotional heights of the series proper and that’s understandable, considering the obvious that a feature-length runtime doesn’t allow for the catharsis of an 8-hour Chekhov’s Gun. That said, the emotion it does manage to wring out of both nostalgia and newfound memories, alike, is affecting nonetheless. Plus, the tradeoff is a significant improvement in creating a more singular visual language to the action and staging its world in melodramatic extravagance the series could only dream of. Setting its sights on generational obligations is all it really needed to do to succeed as a sequel, but I got that and then some.
Girls und Panzer der Film
The ferris wheel scene is truly innovative. Still amazed half a year later, that never happens.
A mishmash of genre corpses reborn into Frankenstein’s search for identity. I thought The Witch’s implied horror would be unmatched, but no, actually seeing the devil is even worse.
The opening slideshow says it all, literal day and night contrast with the waves of today and their diminishing returns, but the music continues to play anyway. While some of the magic may be lost to the sands of time, every person, every place, every thing holds a history and I can’t erase the ending from my memory banks.
Hell or High Water
Well, if that ain’t Texan (even if it is New Mexico), I don’t know what is. Didn’t expect a That’s What She Said, let alone racial tension deflating under the umbrella of thieves who don’t discriminate. An exhausted cast is fading with its genre, populated by rundown towns, only selling what don’tcha want, but I think I needed this indian woof. Also, a title card withheld until the credit roll? Might be a first for me.