Noitamina [First Impressions]
Alright, not much time to talk. Tofu has been diligently keeping Sekijitsu alive through his first impressions, and it’s time for me to carry my weight. Hopefully, by the end of the day, SJ will have first impressions for the two Noitamina, Zetman, Lupin III, Medaka Box, Jormungand, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, Mysterious Girlfriend X, and Eureka Seven AO. Maybe a few more, but I won’t get ahead of myself; I’ve got work to do.
Noitamina shows first. I wanted to save the best for last, but this is a blog, not a batch of birthday presents (what? I always opened the smallest presents first). Better get the most anticipated out before everyone else tears into them. What, what, I’m too late? Everyone has gotten to them? Argh, learn to delay, people. You know, like Noitamina.
Sakamichi no Apollon
Refreshingly enough, this was flawless. Exactly what you’d expect of director Shinichirou Watanable collaborating with composer Yoko Kanno on a coming-of-age josei manga adaptation with a jazz hook that airs in Noitamina. Keep in mind “exactly what you’d expect” is no small victory. The most hyped series of the past few seasons-Star Driver, Guilty Crown, Another, you name it–had impressive pedigrees, too, and they all failed to deliver.
Now, flawless doesn’t mean perfect. It’s true that Apollon’s premise isn’t particularly ambitious, and it’s overwhelmed with cliches. It’s got an awkward transfer student, dramatic inner-monologues, a love triangle, a delinquent with a heart of gold, spoiled rich brats, a hipster hook, the whole artsy high school drama shebang. There’s not much re-inventing the wheel here. But the wheel doesn’t always need to be re-invented; sometimes, it’s more important that it’s well-executed. And that Apollon is.
Should be mentioned that in lesser hands, this could be a dud; this anime plans to adapt nine volumes of material in twelve episodes. This episode covers at least three long chapters, included an extended introduction. But the pacing here never comes out as rushed because of the masterful hand of director Shinichirou Watanabe. Scenes are brief, sure, but they’re poignant. Watanabe uses a little to say a lot.
And while there are cliches, there are so many moments that are wonderfully subtle. A boy awkwardly takes off his glasses when talking to a girl because earlier she said he looked handsome without them, for example. And there are some moments that are wonderfully funny. A friend dries another’s hair by spitting on it. Bit counter-intuitive, but comedy gold.
Oh, why am I bothering with this when I have more controversial stuff to write about? The whole show is just wonderful. Moments of humor, moments of heartbreak, moments that strike close to home, brisk pacing, crisp graphics, classic music–it’s all there, and I’ve faith it’s all in the rest of the season to come.
Should you try this? Yes.
Tsuritama isn’t flawless, but it is fresh, and that’s also exactly what you’d expect from it. Direct Kenji Nakamura is on the opposite side of the “consistently good anime director” spectrum as Apollon’s director Watanabe. While Watanabe is polished, Nakamura prefers the bizarre. The contrast between the two series is present in their art styles, in their premises, in their casts. While Apollon’s art is beautiful, meticulous, and always on model, Tsuritama’s is bold and saturated and rough. While Apollon is about an awkward boy coming-of-age through a love of music, Tsuritama is about an awkward boy coming-of-age through the power of fishing. And goddesses and aliens and dragons and water pistols and ducks.
And while Apollon’s characters are subtly characterized through gestures and glances, Tsuritama’s characterization is done via in-your-face metaphors. When the protagonist Yuki gets anxious, he doesn’t throw up like Apollon’s Kaoru. No, he drowns in his head, and in the real world, his face freezes into a state of horrifying, catatonic shock. When he wakes, puddles splash, though he’s indoors. This series is kooky, and it relishes in its kookiness.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not real and not relatable. It is in sort of an off-the-beaten track sort of way. I think the best example is through the graphics. This is a bit personal, but my hometown is also warm, breezy, and sea-side. I’ve never seen an anime that so well captures that atmosphere with its visuals. They’re whimsical, sure, but they’re authentic. Again, there’s the masterful work of a director here. Taken alone, backgrounds are primary color cut-outs, but when combined with music and color contrast and the right angles, it doesn’t feel like a hipster’s art project gone wrong. It feels like home.
It’s the same with the characters and the story. They’re not real in the sense that they can happen in real life, but they’re grounded in abstract, a really warm sense of humor, and light music. It’s weird, but it clicks. This show isn’t great in the same sense as Apollon, and yes, it’s not as great as Apollon, but is it great? Oh, yeah.
Should you try this? Yes.
It’s been said a half a dozen times in the race for everyone to blog these premieres, but these series are so similar that it has to have been done on purpose. They’re both in Noitamina. They’re both about transfer students with social anxiety problems. They both have a unique hook that will force these characters to overcome their problems. They both contrast their awkward protagonists with their weirdo, soon-to-be best friends. They’re both gorgeous. And, most importantly, they’re both really good.
That last point is a special victory for me because I’ve always been a huge fan of their timeslot, Noitamina, which was made specifically to host artsy, adult anime. It used to feature quirky anime you could never find anywhere else (Mononoke, Honey and Clover, and The Tatami Galaxy, for example), but it’s recently strayed from its roots with high budget, otaku wish fulfillment garbage. Now it’s back. The timeslot still hasn’t shed its newfound preference for high school students, but the point’s clear anyway. After the abysmal Black Rock Shooter and Guilty Crown, Noitamina has crashed, burned, and been born anew.
Alright, I’m being a bit melodramatic, but the message still stands: go try these shows. I haven’t commented much on the season yet (that’s about to change with a few more blog posts), but with these in the fray, it’s shaping up to be awesome.
Or have you already seen them? If so, what did you think?
Thanks for reading!