Tuesday, June 30, 2020

May and June 2020: Bring on the Summer Heat

May and June 2020: Bring on the Summer Heat

Warning: The following post may/will contain spoilers of various anime series. If you don't want to know what happens in any of the shows I'm talking about here, it's best if you join me once you've watched the first few episodes of each. But then again, if you want to take that warning with a grain of salt, feel free to stay put.

With that said:

Summer is officially upon us! While COVID has put a damper on the activities I like to do outside my house during this time (go to the mall, library, pool, working a summer job, volunteering for VBS), there's still plenty of memorable things going on to make this summer one to remember (educating myself, getting takeout every Friday night for Drag Race, library curbside pickup, working on the podcast with Luke, great books and shows). The season's already flying by, and with a lack of new anime content this summer due to production delays, it's time, more than ever, to jump to our backlogs and see what we haven't watched yet to fill the "void."

Granted, I haven't really been keeping up with the ongoing seasons for a few years now, but you get my point. 

In today's post, I'll be telling you what shows I've been watching for the past two months (minus three seasons of Chesapeake Shores, since that's not anime). Out of the four (five if you count the second season), one has already gotten a review, but the other four won't. This is mainly due to time, but one I had to cut because I didn't feel motivated to write it. My goal is to write at least one review next month, but we'll see what happens in the next few weeks.

Time to dig in:

Juuni Taisen.

A show I'd been looking forward to watching for a time, Juuni Taisen had some good moments. The story moved at a good pace, I liked most of the characters, the animation had many high points with the staff effortlessly incorporating 2D and CG animation (most of the time), and the score and voice acting were incredibly enjoyable. However, Juuni Taisen did have its weak points. 

Don't go in knowing more than the synopsis, because finding out spoilers beforehand does put a damper on some aspects of the anime. The Taisen's world-building wasn't good, and I felt the character focus, while helpful in getting to know backstories, made the outcome of the tournament obvious or failed to give others the screentime they needed. I also wished the abilities of the characters were explained more, and the ending came off as anticlimactic based on what I know about the franchise.

Run with the Wind.

When I said Given topped the anime I've seen this year, I hadn't seen Run with the Wind yet in its entirety. After watching the first seven episodes of this series with my college's Anime Club, I had a hunch this series was going to be a good one.

And oh, it was. Production I.G's definitely found an audience with their sport properties. Based on a light novel that was adapted into a manga and movie ten years prior, Run with the Wind combines a compelling story with a compelling cast of characters. Each character has a clear role in Run with the Wind, and as the show goes on, Kohei Kiyasu develops them beautifully. Kiyasu has worked on sports anime in the past as a seiyuu, and the joy of those experiences really shines through in his writing. Marta Bechtol's adaptive script also hits these high points but without some of the problematic subtext revolving around Musa Kamala, an exchange student from Tanzania.

I was immediately sucked in to these college students, some with no running experience, train for the Hakone Ekiden and go through many bumps in the road to get there. There's a lot of growth, both subtle and overt, in these 23 episodes that made me such a proud anime viewer. Run with the Wind still made me root for the main team (in this show, Kansei University), even if winning wasn't on the top of Haiji's mind. Production I.G had consistent production values, Yuki Hayashi's score slapped once again (big shock), and Sentai Filmworks' dub was great and showed a lot of progress the company has made over the years in its dub quality. I liked every voice except one, and normally, I don't like more than that. There was so much love put into the English track and watching it early because Luke's Blu-ray shipped early was everything I didn't know I needed.

For those of you who have been sleeping on this show, stop sleeping.


Kuroko no Basuke's second season.

It's about time.

I wish I hadn't taken five years to watch this (especially since I watched this in almost two weeks compared to the first season's almost two months), but it is what it is sometimes. Back in 2015, I enjoyed watching Kuroko no Basuke because while shonen cliches were present, it never felt like the show relied on them to a certain extent. Each game brought something new to the table in terms of how I felt about it or what happened (Shutoku putting Kuroko in a corner still irritates me thinking about it). I enjoyed what we saw of the characters, and the score sucked me in to anything going on, whether the Japanese Lunch Time Rush or some cool game moves. This show also set a standard for Production I.G's sports anime in the 2010's, with consistent game animation and distinct character designs.

Naturally, I couldn't go into this season without reminding myself of what happened in Season 1, so I read through the Wikipedia and KnB Wiki episode descriptions and watched the first fandisc special. Yes, I could have re-watched the past 25 (26 counting the OVA) episodes in a week and a half, but that would have taken too much time. Plus, I wanted to get to this ASAP. I think other anime viewers can relate.

Getting back into KnB was an experience I didn't expect. The characters were the same (although Junpei and Kiyoshi's mini arc before the Kirisaki Daichi game showed how the Seirin team formed and how they've come a long time in their teamwork), the animation was still consistent, and Seirin found a way to win every time they faced trouble (although they tied in their first game this season). However, Yoshihiro Ike took over as composer, stepping back on the electronic elements and bringing orchestral to the forefront. That didn't make the score lack impact, though. There were a lot of great pieces that sounded like they'd play in disaster movies and created excellent tension as the games got tougher and plans...well, didn't go according to plan. I also had a change of tune towards Midorima, whose brash personality went into iconic territory the more times he said "you fool," and I was proud when he relied on his teammates more in the game then making it about himself. There were plenty of potential script lines, too.

My favorite game this time around was Seirin vs. Kirisaki Daichi. Now, I don't think a team like them would exist in real life, but the lengths they went to make sure Seirin's morale went down the tube and their captain/coach Makoto Hanamiya being a heartless prick was so much fun to watch. My least favorite game wasn't the one against Shutoku this time, but actually the one against Tohou. I found it annoying when after Kuroko regained confidence in his playing ability, Tohou thought, "Hm, let's shut him down now." It got more irritating when Seirin was like, "HAHAHA, we were prepared for that this whole time," and the match turned into who could stay in The Zone longer. While the game ended in a significant way (Aomine needs to stop being put on a pedestal because that's what made him view the sport with a half-assed attitude), Seirin didn't work as well together as I expected. And isn't that what sportsmanship is about?

I'm happy we've now met the rest of the Generation of Miracles, though. Atsushi's height was his best asset, but he's now realized he actually cares about basketball, something he never experienced in middle school. Akashi looks like a ruthless competitor and won't make things easy for Seirin when his team plays against Seirin in the Winter Cup. I mean, he cut Kagami's face with scissors before trimming his bangs and said he won't let anyone get in the way of him obtaining victory, not even his family. He thinks a win for Rakuzan is guaranteed. I doubt that'll be the case.

Hopefully the anime adaptation team is able to expand on more of the side characters beyond gags and we get to see Kuroko do more on the court than just being support in the shadows. He can shoot hoops now, so that seems like a hint at what's to come. Also, what about the other three Seirin first-years? I know one's going to play in the future, but I hope the other two get their one day on the court. There's going to be lots of tears, lots of power-ups, Masakazu Morita, and a middle school arc in Season 3. As you can see, I'm excited by what's in store.


Dream Festival and Dream Festival R.

I wasn't sure what I was going to think of Dream Festival before I started it. Originally a mobile game produced by Bandai Namco, the app enjoyed two years of service before getting shut down in May 2018. It was popular enough to get two seasons of material, which streamed online initially before airing in the fall seasons of 2016 and 2017. Since IDOLiSH7's second season got delayed, I thought getting an idol anime fix that wasn't B-Project for the podcast would be perfect for summer.

To my surprise, it was. While this show doesn't have original characters, the way the adaptation team handled the material was spot-on. We really get to see the five leads grow throughout the show, and it tackled themes I hadn't seen in idol anime before. From twins going their separate ways to balancing college prep and idol work, even finding out why idols do more than just sing and dance on stage, each subject is handled with a lot of maturity. I was shocked by this because angst in other shows of this vein can sometimes get melodramatic. It never felt like that in Dream Festival, where there was only one moment when I laughed where I shouldn't have (someone fell off a stage).

The characters were also great, especially when we got to know more about KUROFUNE, a duo that forms in the middle of the first season. While they're built up to be rivals in that season to DearDream (D-Four Productions initially tries to market three of the five members as a unit named Traffic Signal), I liked how the two groups became more friendly once baggage was cleared and we found out Yuto's backstory. It also helped that Yuto and Keigo have more focus and piping hot homoerotic tension that never fails to seep through the screen at the best possible moments.

While the animation isn't the best, it still holds up, and I think Bandai Namco Pictures also did a good job integrating CG into 2D animation. The budget also increases for Season 2, which allows the "transformation" sequences to have more of a sparkle and performances to look more crisp. To those who like fanservice, the show doesn't shy away from showing guys shirtless, close to full-frontal nudity, and a couple shower scenes. My favorite part of this whole experience was doing the arm choreography unironically during each song that got performed. I also liked the score and felt the voice acting was pretty good considering the leads hadn't done any work prior to this show and haven't gotten much work after (not counting Yuto's seiyuu, who was Musa in Run with the Wind and is going to be Osamu Miya in Haikyuu).

The only weaknesses towards the show are the characters not getting as much depth as they could have (granted, I shouldn't have expected much from that) and the "senior" unit, ACE, not being incorporated into the second season as well as I'd hoped. They barely made a dent in the story when they were supposed to show DearDream how to go "beyond the ultimate." Regardless, if you haven't seen an idol anime before or have been around the block but haven't seen this show yet, I recommend it. Just skip the last episode of Season 12 unless you want to see some songs translated. It's a concert recap.

9/10 for Season 1 and 8.5/10 for Season 2

That ends what I've watched since early May! Thanks for sticking around. I hope you're doing well in the uncertain times we're currently living in. There will be one more update post before I head back to school, where homework comes first and I won't have as much time to watch shows. Hopefully there will be a few reviews out before then.

Please learn more about the current movement, read and watch good material, and if you have to go out, wear your goddamn mask. Until next time:

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