I’m sometimes asked where one should start when diving into the (ever-growing) behemoth that is the Fate franchise, and, as a sub-question, if the Netflix-nested Fate/Apocrypha is a suitable jumping-in point. The answer to that question is that there is no wrong answer*, and if the epic-action-adventure tone and structure of Apocrypha is the one that most calls to you, go for it! I would say, however, that while it can probably stand on its own as a fantasy action thrill ride, the series does have an added layer of enjoyment if you’re familiar with other, earlier works in the storyworld. It’s a spinoff, for one thing, a canon alternate universe based on a “what if?” that diverts from the original formula. Even beyond the premise, though, Fate/Apocrypha’s bread and butter is intertextuality—it revels in its connectedness to other stories, making use of familiar aspects and then playing with expectations for all sorts of purposes within the show. Spoilers ahead! Continue reading
The Kara no Kyoukai movies (aka The Garden of Sinners) are a series of haunting, violent supernatural mysteries involving murderous ghosts, vengeful psychics, and a girl who can see Death… not that you would guess that from the first film’s opening scene. The first few moments of movie number one drop the audience not in a spooky cold open or tense action sequence, but instead into a quiet scene featuring two people hanging out in a small brightly-lit apartment. One of them has been to the convenience store and bought the other some ice cream he thought she’d like. They chat about the ice cream. The conversation is mundane and slightly bickery without underlying malice, giving the audience the impression that these two characters have known each other for a while. It’s only after this very domestic sequence that the narrative gives us a glimpse of ghostly goings-on, and then the opening credits roll.
In a lot of ways, this is a weird choice for the opening minutes of a gritty urban fantasy. Surely the first scene of your story ought to set up expectations for the audience: what genre are we in? What’s the tone? What’s the focus? What are we in for, as we settle in for the next however many minutes of screentime? This opening scene with Shiki and Mikiya hanging out in the flat is very slow and quiet, and does very little to establish any genre conventions that would locate the series anywhere near mystery or horror—in fact, if you hit play not knowing anything about the films, you might guess that you were watching some sort of quaint relationship drama and be very shocked by the appearance of murder and ghosts. And… unconventional as it might seem, you would be absolutely right. Continue reading
It’s been another big year for anime-watching on my part, with more access than ever before to both the currently-airing series themselves and the hot goss on which of them are worth checking out. And so once again I’ve gathered mini-reviews of my favourite series into one handy-dandy post! This is a mix of series that came out this year, series from days of yore I decided to rediscover, and series that were locked away on Amazon until recently that I’ve only just had the chance to check out (R.I.P., Anime Strike or whatever that was). This list contains coming-of-age stories, steampunk shenanigans, magical mayhem, a friendly skeleton, and a lot of queer themes and female protagonists. If that sounds like your jam, do take a look–I’m happy to share my thoughts, and maybe you’ll find something that sounds fun! Continue reading
However ill-founded, however misguided, hope is the basic stratagem of mortality. We need it, and an art that fails to offer it fails us.
Ursula K. Le Guin, in Dancing at the Edge of the World
Girls’ Last Tour is probably the most melancholy slice-of-life series I’ve ever watched—either that, or it’s the most charming and sweet post-apocalyptic sci-fi I’ve ever watched. Generally speaking, setting a story after the end of the world gives you violent thrillers in the vein of Mad Max, The Hunger Games, or Fallout, action adventures that highlight the desolation of the setting and the natural wild awfulness of humans. Not so for this little show, which tells the story of a handful of survivors navigating a wartorn wasteland and, instead of becoming torn up themselves, doing what they can to hold themselves and each other together, making the most of the worst situation. While it’s a tale with a lot of heartache built in, Girls’ Last Tour also has an inescapable undercurrent of optimism and resilience—and that’s something we could all do with a little bit of these days. Continue reading
Emotions are a nuisance in espionage. Princess Principal’s leading characters, especially gravity-defying expert liar Ange, make a grand point that for one to survive as a spy, one must reveal nothing, feel nothing, and most importantly, trust no one. It’s delightfully ironic, then, that the heart and soul of the show is not the spy missions that these girls carry out with expert, emotionless precision, but the emotional bonds they form with each other. As with most “ragtag bunch of morally dubious professional misfits” ensemble stories of this nature, what brings the audience back is not in the episodic missions themselves but the colourful characters and their varied dynamics with each other. PriPri is very much a “come for the concept, stay for the cast” affair, with a moving throughline about girls supporting each other that ties the series together much more neatly than the overarching political plot. Continue reading
Let’s talk about a cute little show about scuba diving, and what it gets right about the benign terrors of high school.
Adolescence is, for many people, defined by a lack of self-esteem and a haphazard quest to find your place in the world. This is something Amanchu! portrays with loving care, telling the story of two nervous teenaged girls finding confidence and community in their shared hobby with both heartwarming gentleness and heartbreaking realism. The different ways their insecurity manifests, the underlying stress they face about finding purpose and a sense of identity, and how they help each other grow more confident, felt at times painfully true to my own teenaged experience, as I’m sure it did to many other viewers. Amanchu!’s slice-of-life school club setting means this is not a coming-of-age story with high stakes or high drama: it instead gives weight and importance to these girls’ down-to-earth struggle, creating a quiet and poignant story about friendship, love, and finding your feet in the weird world of high school. Continue reading
Coming up with a solid mythology, belief system, or set of traditions and folklore, is a key part of a lot of fantastical worldbuilding—making stories to go within the story, if you will, to make the world feel more fleshed out. After all, it’s human nature to tell stories, and any group of humans will inevitably come with their own folklore, be they creation myths or cautionary tales. But the tricky thing with stories, especially ancient ones passed down by word of mouth, is that even though they’re presented as historical fact, they may not be as true as they once were. Or, in the case of the in-universe folklore I’m talking about in this post, they might contain more truth than the characters hearing them first realised—throwing the nature of the stories into question, and making the world they’re in much stranger, richer, and more mysterious for the reader engaging with them.
Spoilers for the end of Night in the Woods beyond this point! Continue reading
The opening moments of Laid-Back Camp show a soothing scene of a group of five girls gathered around a campfire, cycling through images of toasted marshmallows and little jokes, and ending with them all taking a group selfie. “Alright,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be one of those Cute Girls In a Special Interest Club series. Fun!” Once the episode proper begins, this introduction turns out to be (presumably) a flash-forward of sorts, as the audience is introduced to one member of the group and her established hobby of solo camping. Over the course of the premiere she meets one of the other group members (the selfie-taker herself) and they begin to form a sort of clumsy friendship. “I see,” I thought to myself. “So we’ve gone back in time, and this is the story of how the Special Interest Club is brought together. Inevitably, the solo camper is going to be dragged into the camping circle where she will, through many hijinks, come to understand The Power of Friendship and abandon her status as a recluse. Fun!!”
Though it has a waft of cliché about it, I would have been alright with this plotline—I’m watching Laid-Back Camp to relax, after all, so I didn’t go in with too many demands (the bar was set at the ankle-high “let the anime girls star in a sweet and fun story without the camera ogling them”, on which I’m happy to report Laid-Back Camp has delivered so far), and you know I’m a sucker for any kind of story about blossoming friendship. But I’m also happy to report that the show surprised me, by taking a perfectly justified but often unexplored—and thus unexpected—route in regards to its story of the solo hobbyist. Continue reading
Here’s a question for all you content creators out there: would you let yourself be turned into a cartoonish alien being and taken into space if it meant you were guaranteed endless praise and popularity for the things that you create?
At the heart of the pastel-toned magical girl adventure that is URAHARA is a story about the dilemma of creativity. Creators—be they writers, artists, chefs, designers, etc.—are an incredible breed because of their imaginative abilities, and their power to give the things in their imagination physical form for others to see. The great magical halo surrounding The Artist is their ability to do what they do purely for the love of it… but as I’m sure many of us know, The Love Of It can only get you so far. After all, what’s the point of creating if you receive no approval, praise, or recognition for your creation? Creating art for art’s sake often gives way to anxieties about creating the “right” kind of art, creating art that people will like, caught in an endless tug-of-war between trying to follow trends to get a foothold and trying to be “unique”. The very human need for validation, and the contradictory yet complementary need to be seen as different and individual, is a driving force in content creation, as it is the driving force behind the conflict in the middle arc of URAHARA. Continue reading