Ah animé, my manic-depressive, intermittently abusive spouse of an art form. When you are good, you are very, very good. When you are bad, you are horrid. And when you are weird…well, you’re never not weird so that’s an exercise in redundancy.
Here in the Mouse House animé has actually been having a bit of a moment. Ms Mouse has been binging the Ace Attorney animé as an accompaniment to re-visiting the games on Switch, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Cells at Work. That said, and despite having reviewed well over a dozen animé movies and TV shows by this point, I wouldn’t call myself an animé fan (much, much less an authority). Partly that’s because there’s just so damn much of it, and I find it impossible to have a single unified opinion on all of it. It’s like saying “I like food”. Some food is awesome. Some food is made by force-feeding geese. I don’t feel comfortable offering a blanket endorsement.
Oh but hey, do you know who does love animé? You beautiful people. In fact, I got so many requests for specific episodes of various animé shows that I’ve decided to just blitz them all in one post and actually make some progress on that damned list that haunts my every waking moment like Banquo’s ghost.
So these are going to be light, snacky little reviews. I’m not doing any in depth research, I am going in cold, watching these episodes, and telling you if liked them or if I did not, in fact, like them. I’m not going to be doing in depth analysis. I’m not going to be giving you background on their creation. None of that, no sir. In and out and over with in a few minutes which is the most satisfying way to do anything, I have been assured.
Internet reviewing like Momma used to blog. Let’s do this. Garcon? Could you please bring out the appetiser?
Flip Flappers: Episode 6- Pure Play
No no no no no no I am not doing research. This is supposed to be light and snacky! SNACKY BY GOD! Alright, fine, I will watch the first episode just to get an idea of the premise and skim Wikipedia and TVTropes.
Well, that helped (he said, sarcastically, through gritted teeth and frothing bile, cursing all and sundry).
Okay, so, as near as I can tell the premise of Flip Flappers is as follows. Cocona is a serious, uptight school girl who one day runs into Papika, a rambunctious manic pixie dream girl with a flying surfboard who’s honestly a bit of a creep. Papika works for an organisation called “Flip Flappers” that explores an alternate universe called “Pure Illusion” and she takes Cocona with her on adventures that serve as a metaphor for the blossoming of young queer love. Now this episode has Cocona (I think) visiting the memories (?) of her friend (??) Iro and her friendship with a much older retired teacher who may be her grandmother or maybe she just calls her “Granny” as a term of endearment I’m honestly not sure. Iro keeps running away from her abusive parents to spend time with Granny who looks after her and gives her the love and safety she doesn’t get at home but in the end it’s revealed that Granny has Alzheimer’s and she eventually forgets who Iro even is.
Okay…I did not care for this at all. But I think that’s less a reflection of Flip Flapper‘s quality and more the fact that my attempt to review this episode was a disaster from start to finish and it’s much my fault as anyone’s.
My first mistake was in thinking I could just go in blind (I mean c’mon, how much world-building could have been done in six episodes?!) but I spent almost the entirety of this episode just trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Second problem…ugh. Okay, so, there’s really only two reasons why you get asked to review animé in my experience. Either somebody wants you to review something they really love and maybe hope you can bring it some attention or, they’re setting you up to gawp at some really fucked up shit.
Now animé has a reputation in the West for positive portrayals of paedophilic and or incestous relationships. A reputation that is neither entirely fair nor entirely unearned. And…in some of these scenes with Iro and Granny I started to get a vibe.
It was a couple of things, the fact that I knew nothing about this animé and was waiting to see why I had been asked to review this particular episode, an early scene where Iro and Granny have a bath together and the fact that Granny was apparently a teacher who was asked to resign for reasons that go unstated…it all kind of coalesced in my mind and long story short I was watching this less like a reviewer and more like Chris Frickin’ Hansen.
Now, to be absolutely clear that is NOT what is happening here. I’m just saying that impression seriously coloured my viewing. I also…look…
I lost both my grandmothers to dementia and it’s a really raw wound for me, even after all these years. So what I’m saying is I can’t really be objective about this episode of Flip Flappers. This show and I got off on around three wrong feet simultaneously which should not even be anatomically possible. But then I had a moment of realisation.
See, the first reviews for When the Sparrow Falls are starting to come in and so far I’ve been ecstatic with the response overall. But, every so often there will be a review that essentially says “this just wasn’t for me so I didn’t finish it”.
And that’s absolutely fine. Sometimes something is just not for you and it’s not your fault or the work’s fault. It’s just not for you. So…I’m actually going to tap out on this one.
And, look, I’ll tell you right now, it’s a gorgeously animated show with some lovely fluid motion and really striking backgrounds. And it has a fanbase who genuinely love it and consider it one of the most underrated gems in all of animé. I came across this site called Wrong Every Time that has a lovely write up of this episode by someone who clearly loves this show with all their heart and soul and I strongly recommend that you check it out. As for me, I’m just going to move on to the main course.
My Hero Academia-Episodes 1-4
Aw fuck yeah, now that’s what I’m talking about! Starting at the start so I’m not completely lost with a nice simple, easy to understand premise.
In a world where 80% of the population have a superpower or “quirk”, being a superhero is the most elite and respected profession in the world. Our hero Izuku Midoriya is one of the 20% of people who are “quirkless” but he has big dreams of becoming a superhero and enrolling in an elite superhero training college. A chance encounter with All Might, the greatest superhero of all time, changes his life forever. All Might witnesses Izuku selflessly throwing himself into battle against a supervillain to save his school bully. All Might reveals to Izuku that he’s actually “quirkless” himself and was passed his power by someone else. All Might takes on Izuku as his protege, training his body until he’s ready to take on his power. All Might then has Izuku eat one of his hairs, as the power is transferred by ingesting All Might’s DNA.
It was at this moment that I realised that I too have a superpower: precognition. Because I instantly knew that that one scene has spawned a million and one horrific fancfics where the power is passed on with a very different DNA sample and I didn’t even need to check, I just KNOW that I’m right. Anyway, the final episode I watched has Izuku taking the entrance exam and getting in, not by winning, but by selflessly throwing away his chance to win by saving another student’s life.
Well hot damn, that was a relief. After my utter bafflement with Flip Flappers it was such a joy to watch something nice and straight forward where I am in no doubt as to what to think.
Look, I may have never seen My Hero Academia before but I’ve definitely heard the name bandied about enough to know that it’s a big effing deal and one of the pre-eminent animé series of the 2010s. And since this thing has clocked up 90+ episodes I would be shocked if the quality hadn’t risen since it debuted. But…I was asked to review the first four episodes and Mouse no like. I’m not even talking about the fact that the animation is dogshit (although the animation is dogshit). Hell, like I said, I love Cells at Work and that’s not exactly Miyazaki. But the art in MHA is unforgiveably bad.
Oh well. At least it’s not weird and creepy? Right?
Too damn much of this show is Izuku crying, or having weird stuff put in his mouth or crying while weird stuff is being put in his mouth to the point where it starts to feel almost fetishistic.
In fact the show’s whole emotional register is downright bizarre. There’s a scene where All Might offers to train Izuku and, sure, it’s an emotional moment for this character. He’s finally going to get his chance to achieve his greatest dream. But they have him react by kneeling over on the ground, sobbing floods of tears and it’s all just a bit much. It’s like the show’s emotional volume is always turned up to eleven so it ends up just being so much noise.
In conclusion, maybe the rest of the show is great, but the first four episodes are crap.
Well, this has all been rather disappointing. What’s for desert?
Death Parade-Episode 4
Oh. Hell. Yes.
So after the debacle of Flip Flappers I did actually watch this one from the start. Unlike either of the other two shows I then proceeded to binge this entire series because it effin’ rocks. So here’s the premise.
A typical episode will have two recently deceased souls arriving in the afterlife at a stylish bar named Quindecim. The barman, a gorgeous, emotionless, white-haired, tall drink of water named Decim, tells these two souls that they have to play each other in a randomly selected game which usually turns out to involve torture. Both people are essentially put through the ringer until one of them reveals their true nature. One soul is then allowed to return to the word of the living to be reincarnated, the other is consigned to total spiritual oblivion, their very soul annihilated in an endless void.
So…The Good Place meets Saw. It is a dark premise with episodes frequently becoming pitch black, nasty as hell little morality plays about man’s inhumanity to man. What do you imagine the opening theme of a show like that would be? Would it be like this?
I. LOVE. THAT. SO. MUCH.
I love how how few fucks it gives. It’s like the song is a person and it’s saying “yeah, I know I’m completely inappropriate for a series with this premise, I don’t care, I SLAP.”
And it does. It DOES slap. I’ve been whispering “Boom, Boom Boom” in my sleep, my wife thinks I’ve gone crazy.
If I’m honest, like many supernatural mystery series it doesn’t quite stick the landing and ends up in a pile of overwrought melodrama and pseudo-philosophical folderol but damn, I did not regret the journey. The show is smurges, both in the fluidity of its animation and the wonderfully detailed artwork. It also makes fantastic use of music to establish atmosphere (apart from the opening theme of course, but that slaps, so I don’t care).
That said, I do have criticisms and, looking back, the episode I was actually asked to review (Episode 4: Death Arcade) is actually one of my least favourites. To be blunt, the gender politics in this show…they ain’t gud. There’s a lot of “Good Japanese women don’t wear makeup/get plastic surgery etc etc” going on and the show is, in general, really judgey towards its female characters in a way that it isn’t towards the men.
Death Arcade opens with two new guests arriving in Quindecim: Misaki, the star of a reality TV show about her raising five children from three different fathers and Yousuke, a hikikmori (social recluse) in his twenties. Decim explains the game to them and Misaki, thinking this is all part of a prank show, agrees to go along with it, dragging Yousuke along for the ride.
The game is an arcade beat-em-up and in the first round, the guy who spends all his time indoors playing video games wins, what a shock. Losing triggers memories in Misaki’s mind and we see her backstory. She got pregnant as a teenager, married young and was beaten by her husband until he left her, a pattern that repeated with her next two husbands.
Misaki corners Yousuke in the bathroom and flirts with him to get him to agree to throw the next round (“just to keep it interesting”) and tells him he can win the last round if he wants. Yousuke doesn’t want to lose but Decim causes his machine to fail and Misaki is able to sneak out a victory. We now see Yousuke’s memories: he had an abusive mother who left the home and his father re-married. His step-mother was nothing but kind and loving to him but he refused to accept her and never returned her love.
By the time they start the third round, they’ve realised that this is not a game show and that there will be serious fucking consequences for losing. This time, Decim sabotages Misaki’s machine so she employs some unorthodox tactics to win.
Misaki knocks Yousuke unconscious and he dreams of his last moments on Earth, falling from a window and being taken away in an ambulance. He remembers how, in his last moments, he refused to call his step-mother “mother” despite knowing how much that would have meant to her.
Misaki realises that she’s dead and remembers how she forced her children to take part in the reality TV show and beat them when they objected. She also remembers how she died, when her bullied assistant finally snapped and strangled her. She begs Decim to allow her to go back to her children. Yousuke laments that he never showed other people the love and affection that they showed him. And then Decim does something that he has never done before. He embraces both of them and tells them:
And…look, that’s beautiful. Death providing absolution to two terribly damaged people and telling them that, given their awful circumstances, they both did as well could reasonably be asked of them.
It’s the ending that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Decim leads both of them to the elevator, and as it closes we see that Yousuke gets to be reincarnated but Misaki…
Misaki gets sent to the void.
And look, I’m not excusing what Misaki did, she was a worse person than Yousuke. She abused her children, he ghosted his step-mother, the two are not comparable. But at the same time, she clearly endured far worse than he did. I think if you judge them not only on the abuse they carried out but the abuse they suffered, they come out about the same. So…what the fuck? If she did the best she could, then how is it fair to send her to the void? You just said, she did the best she could. She could not have done better with the hand she was dealt. So why void her?
Now, in fairness, the whole point of the series is that the Arbiters don’t really understand human beings and therefore can’t judge them fairly so that’s quite possibly intentional but it really undercuts the beauty of that proceeding moment.
Anyway, I would definitely recommend watching Death Parade regardless so I hereby declare it the winner of Fuck It I’m Doing All the Animé 2021.
Next Update: 11 June 2021
Next Time: Okay, look. Literally every time I have reviewed a feature length animation focusing on cats it’s been a shit show*. Literally, every, single time. But I got a really good feeling about this one:
*Oh, wait Cat’s Don’t Dance was actually good.
My book, When the Sparrow falls, is now available for preorder! Links here.