Summer 2016 anime: what you should watch (or not)

Not counting sequels or continuations, here is a list of all the anime series I’ve tried this season. I’m still following some twentysix of them, which is a lot and I completely understand Frog-kun’s policy of only following one series at a time, but I’m easily distracted and like variety as much as I like binging.

39: Hitori no Shita – The Outcast
Hitori no Shita:
An actual Chinese cartoon, as in anime created in China, this was dull, looked awful and took me less than an episode to drop.

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Orange: the selfishness of time travel

Orange: a letter cannot change your personality so quickly

It’s only when watching the third episode that I finally realised just why I got so annoyed at Takamiya Naho, Orange‘s protagonist. Her timidity and passivity reminded me too much of the worst aspects of my own personality — not often a character can get under my skin enough to have me shouting at the television. The central gimmick is that the sixteen year old Naho gets a letter from the future, in which her ten year older self tells her to please avoid making the same mistakes she made and especially her “biggest regret”, which revolves around transfer student Naruse Kakeru. What annoyed me was that even with those hints Naho still ends up making some of these same mistakes, while she drags her feet on others. But what annoyed me even more was the way Future Naho instructed her past self to not invite Kakeru to walk home with her and her friends, something that she had good reasons for wanting to avoid, as was explained in the second episode.

Orange: seriously

Seriously? Who thinks that’s enough to convince anybody, especially your own weak, going along with the crowd, past self? So incredibly vexing watching that once you know just what happened because he did walk home with her. Yet as a character flaw it’s oh so recognisable, to want to persuade somebody to do something but lacking the nous or the will to do it properly. And to be fair, Future Naho is in a tight spot, because how can you make anybody believe you’re writing from the future without evidence? Easy enough to tell your past self she’ll oversleep on her first day of school, not so much revealing the reason behind your request to not invite the new transfer student without having it dismissed as a prank. However, you’d expect Present Naho to at least start following her future self’s instructions to the letter afterwards, but episode three still finds her dithering. So frustrating.

Orange: ethics of time travel

Meanwhile it’s interesting how Kakeru reads Naho’s character, not as somebody insecure and unable to make decisions, but rather as somebody who’d rather sacrifice her own desires to keep others happy, something he first noticed on that walk home from school. It seems to be the theme of the series, with both Kakeru and her future self urging Naho to think more about her own desires rather than what others want or what the proper thing to do would be. As we get short scenes set in that future ten years on at the end of each episode, we also get a hint of where Naho’s self sacrifising nature got her, apparantly married to her best friend Suwa Hiroto, with at least one child. Writing a letter to her past self then might be Naho’s ultimate act of selfishness, because if it is successful, that marriage and child wouldn’t exist anymore… So far this hasn’t been acknowledged in the series, but might this also be why she went about it so half assed, subconsciously realising that?

Macross Delta 12/13 – the end of the beginning

Macross Delta: Hayate will protect Freyja

Episode twelve and thirteen of Macross Deltaare a turning point in the series, the point at which everything goes wrong for our heroes as Windermere starts its final offensive and the UN Spacey forces show their own sinister side, so let’s talk love triangles. So far it’s not been much to be fair. Hayate and Freyja from the start had a nice, easy going friendship going, but it hasn’t been that romantic, while Mirage disappeared to the background for many of the episodes so far. For all of Hayate’s pledges to protect Freyja, compared to Macross Frontier it’s all somewhat lackluster. The Ranka-Alto-Sheryl triangle had been established by the third or fourth episode; the Mirage-Hayate-Freyja one still hasn’t quite started.

Macross Delta: Mirage protects Hayate

Poor Mirage though. Of the three she’s arguably the one most aware of her feelings, therefore the one who suffers the most. She’s a character I can identify a lot with: serious, aiming to be the best but who already knows she lacks that essential spark, that bit of genius that could’ve put her at the top. In love too her personality works against her, awkward in a way that Freyja has never been with Hayate. She tries so hard but hard work is not always rewarded…

Macross Delta: Freyja protects Hayate

Even when Mirage gets the chance to save Hayate, she’s upstaged in the same episode by Freyja again, who dives from the Elysium to where his plane is in trouble to encourage him with her song. Which means while Hayate pledged to protect them, it’s actually both Freyja and Mirage who save him this time and later team up to give him the chance to duel with the White Knight who killed Messer back in episode ten. Episode thirteen is one long battle fought in the skies of Ragna, as Walkure and Delta Squadron mount a final stand against the Windermerean forces while the NUNS forces want to use a “reaction bomb” to blow up the ruins. It’s a classic Macross battle, but one that ends in failure for our heroes as they’re forced to evacuate the planet in one of those handy flying city space ships.

Macross Delta: Freyja protects Hayate

Not without loss either. Spare a thought for that poor waitress from Nyannyan, who we here see for the last time, protecting her family from the shockwave of the reaction bomb…

Amanchu!

Amanchu: Futaba and Hikari

This particular screenshot, from the second episode of Amanchu! perfectly shows the relationship between the cautious Futaba and the much more adventurous Hikari. Futaba is timid and shy but willing to trust Hikari. She may not jump in the pool immediately, but she did put on the drysuit after all. Hikari meanwhile for all her impulsiveness doesn’t just jump in head first, because she of course is also in a drysuit. She likes adventure, but is methodological in preparing for it, as shown in the very opening seconds of the episode, as she runs through her preschool checklist. Futaba meanwhile, for all her timidity, is far more likely to act on impulse as long as somebody shows her the way, even if she hesitates more when it comes to taking the plunge. The faint lesbian subtext is of course totally imaginary.

ReLIFE: high school as refuge

reLIFE: would you take drugs offered by this man?

ReLIFE takes a typical wish fulfillment fantasy — going back to high school as an adult, being able to do all the things you couldn’t do when you actually were seventeen — and uses it as an indictment against modern Japanese society. Because it’s apparantly easier to imagine inventing a pill that turns a twentyseven year old loser back into his seventeen year old self so he can get a chance to redeem himself than it is to do something about the root causes of why he quit his first job after only three months, or why this would keep him from getting a new one. This makes ReLIFE one of the most subversive anime series of recent memories. Even a series like Welcome to the NHK tended to blame its protagonist more than society for his troubles, but ReLIFE‘s Kaizaki Arata has good reasons for having become a semi-NEET. Those are only slowly revealed in the course of the series; it’s episode eleven before we get the full story, though hints are dropped early on.

reLIFE: rom-com antics

On the surface though ReLIFE behaves as a standard romantic comedy, but with the twist that this time it’s not the protagonist who is at the heart of things. Instead it’s Kaizaki’s flashy new friend Oga: handsome, excellent student and dense as a brick when it comes to romance. His childhood friend Kariu has been chasing him since middle school, wants to be the class representative together with him and is miffed when instead resident uberbrain Hishiro took it. Hishiro herself admits she’s socially awkward with no friends and therefore has no clue about Kariu’s feelings, instead attempts to befriend her which Kairu sees as sneering. Kairu also has a friendly rivalry with the captain of her volleyball team, who like Hishiro completely fails to notice this rivalry. What with his more adult outlook on life (and his ability to actually talk normally to girl, something his classmates aren’t slow to notice) Kaizaki seems to be in an ideal position to help solve these problems.

reLIFE: the first step to not being a friendless loser

Which seems to be one of the reasons Ryo, Kaizaki’s supervisor in the ReLIFE project and fellow classmate, wanted him there. So far, so conventional: loser dude redeems himself by solving cute girls’ problems for them as they fall in love with him. Only the latter doesn’t happen while Kaizaki is far from interested in redoing his life, treating it as a job rather. He’s also rather peripheral to resolving several of those problems, little more than a bystander as the girls resolve their conflicts on their own. Which to be honest is a step up from him having to solve all their problems for them, even if it makes him a bit superfluous to the story. Kaizaki of course has good reasons not too get too involved with high school girls, considering he’s still twentyseven year old even if he looks ten years longer, but there are also deeper reasons for why he is hesitant to interfere too much, reasons having to do with just why exactly he left his first job after only three months, reasons that are going to be spoilers to talk about.

reLIFE: keep it together

The shut-in or NEET is a character you see a lot of in anime, usually as a side character to function as a figure of fun or pity. Even when they’re the protagonist, whether as mental wreck unable to hack real life or proud otaku rejecting a world they never made, their NEETdom is shown as a character flaw, a consequence of them being broken in some way, their own fault which they have to overcome on their own. It’s rare that a show actually takes a critical look at a society that produces such people, but ReLIFE does. There are very good reasons for why Kaizaki walked away from his job. It turned out he actually worked for a socalled black company, one that overworks its employees, where bullying ran rife and his senior, the woman who trained him, was the main victim as she was the best salesperson and none of her male co-workers could accept that. When Kaizaki found out about this, he attempted to help her, but ended up making things worse. In the end she committed suicide at the office and it was he who found her. Even this didn’t break him; rather it was the callous response of his co-workers and boss that drove him to quit.

reLIFE: depressed but not wanting to show it

Once you get the whole picture of just why Kaizaki was in the place he was in at the start of episode one, clearly depressed and blaming himself, but having made some progress in getting back to his feet, you have to wonder why it is nobody seemed to have worried about him, or why he is indeed blamed for his depression. Because these revelations only occur late in the series, with only hints about his true situation given at first, their impact is that much bigger. It works very well as an indictment of the sort of real life attitude that condemns people like Kaizaki as losers and shut-ins with no attempt to actually help them. Because you get to know Kaizaki as a person first and see how decent he is when you still think of him as an unmotivated loser, learning how he got broken only increases your sympathy for him.

reLIFE: if I had been more grown-up

A recurring sentiment in the series is about being a grown-up, accepting things, not going against the flow, fitting in. It’s what Kaizaki’s senior said when she wanted him to accept her being bullied, it’s what he worries about when trying to help his new high school friends with their problems, whether he should actually do so. That’s the “grown-up” attitude that Kaizaki has thoroughly internalised, which lets bullying fester in the name of “harmony”. ReLIFE offers no solutions to this, other than having him get a do-over in high school; there at least he can help other people with similar problems before they grow toxic. High school as the last refuge, the last chance to get your life on the rails as you won’t be able to change yourself afterwards. And as somebody who did turn his life around at twentyseven without going back to high school, that’s a really strange attitude.