Seasonal Check-in: Spring 2020

Gleipnir

Let it be said that if nothing else, Gleipnir is far better than it has any right to be. To strip away all the extraneous guff (and my own biases at least for the moment) what Gleipnir essentially is, at least right now, is a battle shonen with a much darker outlook than most. I would also argue that because of said darker outlook it thinks it’s about a hundred times more clever and insightful than it actually is in a way that is sort of insufferable, but a lot of people like this kind of thing so it’s not a huge surprise that Gleipnir is proving to be one of the season’s bigger shows.

Now, to be frank, I think the show is flat-out ugly both in its thematic core and occasionally visually. PINE JAM largely do their damnedest to bring this material to life, and, god help them, make Shuichi’s ridiculous fursuit look seem intimidating, but it only intermittently works and occasionally the production values slip, depriving the show of its biggest asset. When the visuals don’t connect what you have is a fundamentally wrongheaded show that is constantly working against itself in an effort to wring some kind of pathos out of its setting and characters in a way that frankly gives me secondhand embarrassment. Yet, that said, the most frustrating thing about Gleipnir is actually that it’s occasionally kind of stupidly cool.

Much of episode 5 centers around Shunichi and Clair fighting a huge skeleton dude with blade arms who kinda looks like Summoned Skull from Yu-Gi-Oh! I love everything about this character design. He looks like he just walked off a DeviantArt page. And holy hooray, he actually survives to the end of the episode, so we’ll probably get to see him in action a bit more. (The show is swiftly approaching the point where I dropped the manga, so who knows, maybe it becomes Actually Good at some point going forward. Honestly my recollection of Skeleton Boy here is pretty fuzzy, which makes me wonder if he doesn’t die in short order or something. I guess we’ll find out).

On another note entirely: I wish the show had the good sense to let Shuichi and Clair’s relationship breathe a little more. You can do a lot with the idea of two fundamentally broken people finding solace in each other, but the series’ approach to writing this is so clumsy that it actively gets in the way of the surprising amount of genuine chemistry they have. But, of course, if it had good sense it just wouldn’t be Gleipnir. Lastly, because I feel compelled to mention it somewhere. What is it with this show and a commitment to just being stepped-on-a-slug gross about once per episode? A few episodes ago we got some bafflingly grody empty visual metaphors. Last episode we were treated to the sight of the alien slurping down one of Clair’s hairs like a spaghetti noodle. This week we get This Fucking Thing.

Sigh, why did I pick this up instead of My Next Life As A Villainess again?

Sing “Yesterday” For Me

I have never been so purely flummoxed by enjoying an anime as I am with this one. You don’t really watch Yesterday it more just kind of….happens to you. It’s an odd show. Despite its very grounded premise (Serial Experiments Lain this is not), its portraits of lives gone sideways feels weird and surreal; like a Mountain Goats song or a Youtube video on a little-visited channel.

The most recent episode introduces a photographer character with a tendency to perhaps unwelcomely subject others to his strong opinions on the artform and a fondness for circular metaphors. Yet, I find Yesterday‘s literal plot to be kind of hazy and hard to recount, it’s almost the least interesting thing about the show. (It helps that the gist of it is simply a complicated love triangle.) Instead, I was struck by, how, when taking screencaps for this very column, I ended up (by pure happenstance) grabbing a picture of Haru in the exact same manner that said character photographed her at episode’s end, just facing the opposite direction. It is not often that an anime gets one’s head all a-tizzy about their role as a critic, but here I am.

Wave, Listen To Me!

Now this is a show with a few screws loose. Some four or five weeks ago I called it the most promising premiere of the entire season. That of course does not mean that it would actually live up to that promise. So far, of Wave‘s five episodes I’d say only the most recent (the fifth, at the time of this writing) really lives up to that first episode, which is a little disappointing but maybe a good sign that the show is finally starting to get somewhere.

The issue with Wave is that when it’s focusing on what it does best: being a vehicle for voice actress Riho Sugiyama‘s portrait of Minare, its protagonist, it’s great. This is a woman whose life is in shambles and maybe always has been, saved (well, “saved”. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves) from both existential despair and the setting-in realities of poverty by the magic of early-AM radio. Minare’s a very three-dimensional character, which is great, but does leave much of the rest of the cast feeling a mite flat by comparison and branches of the story that revolve around characters that aren’t Minare tend to feel kind of underdeveloped. In particular, the gaggle of men that exist as supporting characters (some of whom the show is trying to build as potential romance partners for Minare) are slight, and the chemistry between any of these pairings is pretty minimal.

By contrast, Mizuho, the other woman in the show with a large role, really seems to be hitting it off with our heroine. Especially given that the two are now rooming together. It’s probably too early to hope for a gay conclusion to this particular part of the story, but Minare’s cracks about the chef who owns the curry restaurant she works on and off at being gay do kind of come across as jokes from within the closet. Time will tell.

But the romance outlook being kind of dicey would be less of a problem if the show spent more time elsewhere. When Minare finally gets another chance to cut loose in episode 5 like she did in the premiere it instantly ratchets the show back up to a real contender. Sugiyama’s performance, giving Minare a convincing, blown-out, rambly bluster is something you just don’t see that often in anime, especially for women. This is without mentioning the bizarre radio drama she manages to adlib about half of on her own, involving a woman who murders her boyfriend and then gets abducted by aliens.

More of this, please.

Even here though the show tries to tie things back to relationships. The character of Matou, Minare’s greasy boss at the radio station, essentially openly fetishizes her voice, which makes Sugiyama’s performance a bit harder to appreciate, adding a totally unnecessary sleaze to the proceedings. The entire thing comes across as a bizarre attempt to make the audience complicit in a creeping “man vs. woman” streak within the show’s writing. One that it’s not difficult to interpret as simple misogyny if you’re feeling uncharitable. Of course, we do need to be open to the possibility that this is all being set up to be knocked down later, and indeed at the end of episode 5 Minare explicitly rejects romance at least for the time being.

On yet another hand, this episode introduces an actual murder subplot which, who knows if we’re ever going to actually follow up on that. This show is certainly going somewhere, but it’s still an open question as to where, exactly, that is.

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