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Three-Episode Test: Ink's Winter 2017

Of maids and monsters.

Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why.

Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid

Streaming on Crunchyroll
In what turns out to be the ultimate consequence of beer (sake) goggles, office worker Kobayashi wakes up one morning and forgets a kindness she paid to a dragon in distress the previous night while stumbling through the woods. That creature, named Tohru, then shows up at Kobayashi’s door as she opens it to go to work, morphs into a cute maid (complete with horns and a tail), and moves in with Kobayashi. Hijinks ensue.

The whole “human saves creature, then creature returns to repay human in money/love” theme is a common one in Japanese folklore, but this series carries a way sillier tone than most of those folktales straight off the bat. Also, I’ve evidently got a thing for female drinkers in their thirties who work soul-draining jobs and have spherical heads. What can I say?

My interest in Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid lies much more with the defeated malaise with which Kobayashi both walks through her daily life and confronts the reality of supernatural beings than any aspects of her newfound servant or her flying, tail-swinging friends (who also adopt the moé maid form factor as their default domestic countenance). However, I do love some of the choices made in-series regarding the art – specifically colors, framing, postures, and scale. (No pun intended, ‘cause, you know…dragons). This is my surprise long-form comedy of the season.


Streaming on Crunchyroll
A sequel of sorts to Suzuka in that it focuses on the daughter of that title’s protagonist, Fuuka features the titular girl, an aimless high school student who loves music, and a boy (Yuu) who comes to be quite stricken by with her. Fuuka suddenly obsesses over starting a band after meeting the well-intentioned but hapless Yuu, who seems fated to accidentally stare at Fuuka’s panties. But those aren’t the only panties peeking out at Yuu; his sisters can never seem to find anything to wear (literally), and a long-separated childhood friend-turned-pop idol just so happens to suddenly give him a call, a visit, and a romantic conflict.

The first three minutes, let alone those that follow throughout the first three episodes, show exactly what this series is going to be. Even though I’m a sucker for a love triangle drama, overly detailed fanservice and the abundance of it (evidently a trademark of Kouji Seo, the original work’s manga-ka), literally shoved in viewers’ faces via a camera with zero sense of personal space and a leerer’s eye for a lens, severely detracts from what could be the series’ saving graces: Fuuka’s independence and flirty forthrightness; a slightly less-than-usual milquetoast male protagonist; and earnestly inspiring moments of clarity/awe. Other than the cliffhanger confrontation at the end of Episode 3, there’s far too little to entice me to watch this weekly or continue at all.

Interviews with Monster Girls

Streaming on Crunchyroll
As a biology teacher, Tetsuo Takahashi takes a particular interest in the demi-humans – a vampire, a snow girl (yuki onna), a headless girl (dullahan), and a succubus – present at Shibasaki High. Not knowing too much about the daily lives of monster girls, Tetsuo decides to sit down with each and talk with them to gain a greater understanding of both his students and life as creatures not wholly human.

After my gag reflex to Monster Musume, I did not, in any way, ever see myself watching Interviews with Monster Girls (much less genuinely enjoying it). And while this show could easily be titled “Interviews with Mo(nst)é(r) Girls,” the setting, the girls’ ages, and the fact that they’re effectively minorities in a “normal” human school justify their design and demeanor. On top of that, and even though there’s a harem air regarding the male protagonist and the supporting female cast (all the students and even one of the teachers are in love with him to some degree), the series manages to avoid the outright lewd and capture both the humor and reminiscent sweetness inherent in (first) crushes and awkward situations. To that, there’s a great bit of subversion going on regarding the succubus being portrayed as a typical “glasses girl” in an effort to not appeal to a moé-seeking audience, and the detail given to the animation of the dullahan’s eyes, hands, and arms is probably the best thing about the series. All this makes for a good enough excuse to keep watching weekly.

Saga of Tanya the Evil

Streaming on Crunchyroll
In 2013, a callous salaryman/axman gets shoved in front of a train by a disgruntled ex-employee, meets (a) god, and is reincarnated as a little girl (Tanya Degurechaff) in a Germany-like state during a WWI-like war wherein mages provide areal support for ground troops. Cursed by the god she meets and refuses to acknowledge as such (calling it “Being X” instead), Tanya is born with great magical potential but can only use it if she says a prayer first. This is the means by which Being X hopes to instill faith into the salaryman’s soul.

Saga of Tanya the Evil (a much better title than the original Youjo Senki in that it is much sillier) is everything my melodramatic teenage self would have loved. And honestly the outright internal resistance to organized religion or the concept of God in general is still something that strikes a chord with me. Older me likes the more subdued commentary, such as the admission from God in Episode 2 that “Administering seven billion people is already beyond my capacity” as delivered through a frozen-in-time salaryman vessel who’s tired and slumped over his own watch. Teenage me really just likes Tanya’s selfishness and wickedness and things that go boom. Also, the series is pretty much drawn to give excuses to make Tanya smile like a demon, and it’s a pretty great reason to watch. Her VA also really brings the character to life.

One Room

Streaming on Crunchyroll
During this series comprised of less-than-four-minute, POV-based shorts, you're behind the eyes of a mute, university-aged male who gets a knock on his Tokyo apartment door one day. The person knocking turns out to be Hanasaka Yui, a young girl who has just moved into the adjacent apartment. The first, second, and third episodes are, respectively, dedicated to her introduction, her tutelage and going to a public bath, and her cooking and (more) tutelage – all in one room...your room. (Except the public bath…that takes place in a public bath.)

For the loneliness deterrent/masturbation aid it is meant to be to its target audience, this is a fine example of an anime that never needed to be made. My only real gripe with the show, keeping in mind its intended audience, is that it only mostly holds to first person perspective. That is to say that the camera, the show’s very premise, wanders whenever (and wherever) it feels like it. Each betrayal of the show’s mission statement is mostly to ogle Hanasaka from the rear or side (in cuts too quick to be anything other than third person) or her chest (from her own perspective). As is the case when Hanasaka enters an empty room at the beginning of Episode 2, sometimes the camera isn’t even employed for POV and instead simply serves to establish the setting. And while that example might make the case for the first person perspective to be from the room itself, that is obviously not the case; there are different locales after all, and differences in the height from which you, the viewer, look at this girl range from eyelevel to a god-like areal vantage of disapproval.

Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories 4 (sequel)

Streaming on Crunchyroll
Based on the kamishibai aesthetic, Yamishibai: Japanese Ghost Stories specializes in a specific type of scare in each and every season. The first season brings boo scares based on the art style’s uncanny valley effect and laudable storyboarding. The second season focuses on mental distress applied to metaphysical horror. And the highly contested third season, of which Jared and I also talk about at length, brings monster-based horror home in a wonderfully surprising frame story. So what does Season 4 offer so far?

To start, the fourth season of Yamishibai focuses on narration – a typical and prominent aspect of anime against which I usually (and still do) rail. I’ve mixed feelings about it here though. Vocal exposition falls in line with that of the previous seasons, but narration, which lasts the entirety of each tale, at once dilutes the visual execution while imparting inflections, an overall tone, and a pacing that lends to the aural ambience of the story itself. Did I mention that the narrator is a different VA, including a Noh master, in each episode? In another first, Season 4 integrates live action snippets. This simultaneously imparts a jarring otherworldliness and laughable juxtaposition. It’s not the best visual direction, especially given the hitherto held execution of the series, but it’s a strike at something new, and occasionally, even in the first few episodes, it works enough to keep curiosity alive.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories (sequel)

Streaming on Crunchyroll
I’m admittedly cheating on this one since a prior review obligation to the first season made me wait to indulge in the second. In short: I’ve yet to see the requisite three episodes to talk about this sequel to my 2016 AOTY. But if you listen to the two-plus hour podcast I did with Jared, there’s obviously no way in hell I’d not watch the second season in its entirety. I’m invested in these characters and want to see where the story takes them and how it takes them there. Think of the possibilities inherent in the title's pun (pun intended)!

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