Of course Shelter is anime

So electronic musican Porter Robinson got anime studio A-1 Pictures to collaborate on an anime music video for his latest song, it got posted to /r/Anime, the moderators removed it and a flamewar broke out over whether it was really anime or not before death threats forced them to allow it — just Reddit being Reddit. The mods argued that their initial banning was correct because Shelter didn’t adhere to their definition of anime: “An animated series, produced and aired in Japan, intended for a Japanese audience”.

They should’ve gone with Damon Knight’s old idea on how to define science fiction: “science fiction is what we point to when we say it”. By which he meant that it’s the whole community of readers, fans, writers, editors, publishers and so on who collectively determine what is and isn’t science fiction by what they talk about as science fiction. Individual opinions on the definition and what does and does not belong to science fiction may differ but a rough consensus emergences nonetheless. Definion as a process, rather than a rule set, witht he understanding that there never can be a complete agreement.

Had the /r/Anime moderators been less rigid with their definition and more willing to follow Knight’s lead, they could’ve saved themselves the death threats, as in that case it would’ve been obvious that Shelter is anime. Though the creative lead, Porter Robinson, might’ve been an American, A-1 Pictures is of course a Japanese studio employing Japanese (and Korean) creators, while Crunchyroll, involved witht he financing and distribution of the project is probably the world largest anime streaming site. They think of it as anime, as obviously did the /r/reddit readership. That alone should’ve been enough for the mods to have allowed it.

Not actually lesbians skating

Yuri Katsuki carried the hope of all Japan on his shoulders in the Figure Skating Grand Prix, but suffered a crushing defeat in the finals. He returned to his hometown in Kyushu and hid away in his family’s home, half wanting to continue skating and half wanting to retire.

Figure skating is a sport I got into thanks to my late wife, who liked that sort of sport which mixes atlethic with aesthetic concerns, where routines don’t just have to be done correctly, they have to be done beautifully. Not that we were huge fans of it, just that we watched it whenever it was on the Olympics and such. Seeing it in anime form would at least be a novelty, but I didn’t expect too much from Yuri on Ice otherwise. I figured that at best I would get a typical sports anime.

Yuri on Ice: full frontal male nudity

Judging from the first episode, I was wrong. The average sports anime doesn’t star a twentythree year old who already reached the top of his sport, only to find himself not good enough to compete there. The average sports anime doesn’t have a childhood friend who has already married and gotten kids with his rival. It certainly doesn’t have naked, well toned Russian figure skaters. it’s refreshing to have actual adult characters for a change, to not have to go through the usual high school routine of club training montages and Interhighs, to not focus on a naive but talented rookie, but rather deal with somebody who has already experienced both success and defeat.

Yuri on Ice: comedic deformity

As you’d expect, and can see in the promo video up top, the animation in the skating sequences is beautiful, graceful and elegant, an animator’s showcase. But where it also sparkles is in the humour scenes. The animation gets distorted, kinetic, while the characters (mostly Yuri) devolve into cartoony, semi-chibli forms to better drive the comedy home. But there’s also a real warmth to these scenes, especially once Yuri is back home, something that contrasts well with the coolness (in both senses of the word) of ice skating. Yuri’s family is a little bit goofy, but supportive and it may be embarrassing that his home town has posters of him as the hope of Japanese skating up, but it’s also nice to be appreciated.

Yuri on Ice: elegant skating

This first episode was all setup and back story, but crucially it didn’t feel that way. The way Yuri’s past came out was handled naturally and it never bored, because it was so unlike what we’re used to from sports anime. He’s not a naive newcomer, he’s already had a taste of the top and he’s already gotten his resolve back to try again. Which means the rest of the series doesn’t have to bother with this and can go straight into the yummy stuff, ice skating routines and providing Tumblr with endless opportunities for slash fiction between Yuri, Victor and Yuri.

Magical Girl Razing Project

it does not look good for Princess Tutu

Magical Girl Raising Project is a popular social game that has an ability to grant players a 1 in 10,000 chance to become a real life Magical Girl with unique magical abilities to help people. However, at some point, Fav, the magical administrator fairy, decides to cut the population of Magical Girls in half. The game quickly changes into a twisted, wicked battlefield as the 16 magical girls get dragged into a battle for survival against each other.

The magical girl genre, with its magical creatures handing out superpowers to elementary or middle school girls in order for them to fight some ill defined evil, is of course ripe for deconstruction, showing the dark reality behind the fantasy. It had its Watchmen back in 2011 in the shape of Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica and there have been a few shows following in its footsteps. Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku seems to be one of them, but I secretly hope it’ll be more optimistic than its marketing shows it to be, as with very few exceptions, grim and gritty magical girls just don’t work for me. It’s too easy, too boring to be cynical about them.

When nobody else is into your hobby

What gives me hope is that the first episode takes care to not just set up our heroine, Himekawa Koyuki, is not just a magical girl true believer, but also to show that she’s slightly too old for it, that normal girls her age don’t watch those shows, without making her into some otaku. There isn’t so much geek pride that she alone kept the faith, more a bit of sadness that she doesn’t have anybody to share her love with. This could all be a setup to make the almost inevitable pulling the rug out from under her even more painful, but I feel the show is too sincere and insistent on this point for it to be only that. It would be tawdry and boring if all of Himekawa’s deep love for magic girls would be revealed as naive and an illusion. Not that I mind that the story will get dark, as promised in the pre-opening scene, as long as it’s smart about it and not just relentlessly negative but allows for a spot of hope as well.

Magical Girl Raising Project eye catch

in any case, this episode is all about establishing Himekawa as a fan of magical girl shows, the Magical Girl Raising Project game itself and of course her transformation into a real magical girl, halfway through. The rest of the episode follows her as she takes her first steps as a a magical girl and her meeting with the other magical girls in her town. There’s a lot of exposition, but it’s smartly done, through conversation between Himakawa and her friends that feels natural rather than an “as you know, Bob” speech. What I really liked was the action montage of Himakawa’s first heroic deeds: getting a kitten out of a tree, helping an old lady cross the road, freeing a car stuck in a rut and returning lost house keys to a girl frantically looking for them.

Guys can be magical girls too

There’s one thing I liked even more about this episode and that’s the revelation that La Pucelle, an older magical girl, is in fact her (male) childhood friend Kishibe Souta and who like her kept liking magical girls long after he was supposed to grow out of them. Worse, as a boy he was never supposed to like them in the first place and now he’s in middle school he would be called a pervert if anybody discovers he still watches magical girl shows — let’s not even think about fortytwo year old grown men. I’m not sure if you could call Souta a trans character, but there’s at least a hint of the genderqueer in the way his/her transformation is treated; unlike say how Ore Twintail ni Narimasu handled a similar transformation, mainly as a joke. I just hope that La Pucelle isn’t the obvious first victim that they currently look to be. All in all I’m cautiously optimistic about this series amd having a genderqueer character like this is a big part of it.

Izetta: witches and boomsticks

Izetta: Not-Germany attacking not-Poland

The time is pre World War II that looks like Europe in an imaginary world. A large scale war abrupts and bloody battles are taking place through out the world. Eylstadt is a small country without a strong military force or natural resources. Finé who is the crown queen of Eylstadt decides to use a secret weapon against larger countries which was unheard of at that time to battle against larger countries. The secret weapon was using a witch named Izetta and her magical force to fight the war. Izetta is young (same age as Finé) and the last surviving witch with burning red hair.

I’d expected something more along the lines of the Valkyria Chronicles from that description, where any similarity to the real World War II is quickly abandoned, but it turns out Shuumatsu no Izetta just changed the names of the countries somewhat, has its not-nazis go “sieg reich” rather than heil and called it a day. Even Eylstadt is basically only an enlarged Liechtenstein. So far the series seems to track real history close enough that reskinning the countries as Germania, Thermidor, Brittannia etc seems pointless, but of course it’s only the first episode. There’s also less scope for causing offence this way as frex your not-Stukas now don’t have to be painted with swastikas.

Izetta: obligatory fight on the roof of a moving train

The first episode opens with the princess and her escort fleeing from the not-nazi soldiers searching the train they’re taking into not-Switzerland, as she is on her way to see the not-British ambassador to get support from the allies against not-Germany’s threat. They of course end up on the roof, trade shots with the soldiers, then climb into a luggage car where they stumble across a strange device. A second gun battle occurs, one of her escort is fatally shot and they jump out of the train into a river. It’s an action sequence familiar from hundreds of adventure and WWII spy movies, well executed and showing off princess Finé character. She’s not slow to take the lead in organising her own escape. We also get a bit of exposition by way of the two not-Gestapo officers also onboard the train discussing the princess and the legend of the Weisse Hexe — the White Witch — of Eylstadt.

Izetta: pointless shower scene

The second half of the episode sees the show’s writers having reached deep into the anime fanservice cliche playbook, as we see the princess having a shower of despair, mourning the death of her escort. It’s short and doesn’t really add anything. Perhaps the idea was to show off her scars, but to be honest I never noticed them when first watching the episode. There were better ways to have handled that. If we’d gone straight from the shot of her bodyguard sitting outside the room looking down to Finé stepping out of the shower and giving herself a pep talk, nobody would’ve missed the shower scene. Her scars could’ve been shown while she’s doing so (and indeed, we see them again when she’s drying her hair and talking to her bodyguard through the door). It’s not just that this scene is unnecessary and prurient, it also makes you skeptical about other directional choices made elsewhere in the episode. Such as why when the witch finally appears, she’s wearing only a white shift and nothing else.

Izetta: witch to the rescue

Which is a bit sad, because it’s such a great scene, as the re-awakened witch saves princess Finé from captivity by exploding the plane she’s on in mid-flight, grabbing what looks like an mg-34 machine gun and turning a boomstick into a broomstick to chase the falling princess down with. It’s clear from the hints in this first episode that princess and witch share a history and are at the very least good friends. So far, apart from the fanservice hiccup this was a great episode, full of things that tick my boxes: resourceful heroine, semi-historical spy thriller setting, gorgeously depicted setting, a bit of witchcraft and a hint of a romance between the witch and the princess. Hopefully the series can keep up this good performance and doesn’t let fanservice spoil it.