It’s relatively common knowledge that the second season of Birdy the Mighty: Decode is better than the first. When I’d finished the first season I found that claim odd because although I echoed the sentiment of many people that it was good but not outstanding, I wondered how the second season could improve on the formula.
sees Birdy fight in a ruined city, bursting through crumbling buildings and trickling water mains with destructive abandon
Boy meets girl, boy ends up cohabiting girl’s body. It certainly feels familiar in the same way that any gender-bending situation is - Kokoro Connect, Ranma ½, Kämpfer et. al. - but here there is the quirk of the girl being an absurdly strong intergalactic investigator on the hunt for dangerous criminals on the “backwater” planet Earth. I thought I knew what to expect from that sort of introduction which perhaps explains why I stopped watching it when it first aired in 2008. It’s fair to say then that my expectations were challenged in the first season, then totally surpassed by the second.
We’re done with the portmanteaus, no more Bakemono or Nisemono, just Monogatari Second Season. It’s a bit of a misnomer really considering we’re thirty episodes deep already with ONAs scattered about like confetti and a series chronology that’s increasingly difficult to cohere into a straightforward story. Straightforwardness is not what you get with the Monogatari franchise though, which is both in its favour and to its detriment; however more than any of the previous series - the watershed Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari then Nekomonogatari - this is what everything has been building up to.
this isn’t just fan-service, this is Shinbo x SHAFT fanservice
Not in terms of story mind you, it’s still the dialogue-heavy, supernatural-affliction scaffolding that has driven the plot from the outset. Certainly not in terms of characters either with the return of just about every female lead barring Suruga and barely a handful of new additions, some of which are difficult to tell apart from already established cast members. No, the build up has been there to tear down and put back together, to lay bare the characters and tropes that, to a certain extent, the franchise has built around itself.
Usagi Drop proves that good characters and a solid story never go out of fashion. It divorces itself from so many anime tropes - big eyes, sparkles, eyecatches - that it seems hard to understand why it was animated in the first place. With both the time-spanning manga and feature film recently released, like Kimi ni Todoke, you can now pick your particular brand of drama. But as the curtain closes on the final episode, it's obvious that without the watercolour palette, Rin's sparrow smile and the abstract perfection of animation, the series could only be half as charming and half as endearing.
it's just endlessly satisfying to have a story that doesn't stupefy, that deals in characters rather than archetypes
The story cheats somewhat by placing Rin as a cogent six year-old rather than a bratty teenager or howling babe, either end of that spectrum and moments such as losing one's first teeth, or going to school for the first time are lost and replaced by times far less adorable. Similarly Rin's demeanour as a mature proto-maid and Daikichi's chronic sensibility smooths over a lot of the abrasiveness that adopting a growing child would entail. Like all good stories though, it is brevity that keeps the story tight. Eleven episodes means omissions and dangling threads are many, but crucially these do nothing to alter the warmth at the heart of the series.
Like the creatures themselves, Mushishi came more or less out of nowhere. A critically acclaimed manga by Yuki Urushibara mostly unheard of outside of Japan, and Studio Artland for which this would be one of their first fully produced series outside of some relatively obscure OVAs. For it to be so unspeakably brilliant is at odds with common wisdom; story and sound fuse together to create an astonishingly beautiful vision of Japan. Blossoming with wonder, it is a world that is delightful to be lost within: enraptured by the craftsmanship applied to the smallest detail and ensconced within the gentle auditory landscapes.
the loss of a child, the desire for the wellbeing of a community, the sacrifice of one for many - these are the heart and soul of the series
Comprising twenty six mostly episodic stories, the series follows Ginko: a silver haired nomad and a self-proclaimed Mushishi. Picking up where physicians may fail, he concerns himself with mushi, a primal and fugacious life force that suffuses the world but is often only known through their effects on its inhabitants. Sometimes these can be as innocuous as a living painting within a kimono, other times causing afflictions such as memory or hearing loss, but sporadically, they can affect entire communities whether inadvertently or through the misguided auspices of humans themselves. Regardless, Ginko travels listlessly from case to case, sometimes stumbling across one and other times cajoled by letters which travel through the mysterious mushi roads.
Based upon well-known Japanese literature, no opening music and a simple perfunctory closing animation, Aoi Bungaku could barely be more art-house. It's an odd situation coming from a media that is still mostly marginalised, even in its country of origin: aiming for a further niche would seem counter-intuitive especially for something with such stunning production values.
when the only noticeable fault is a merely proficient soundtrack, one knows that the series is something particularly special
At times it is breathlessly beautiful, judicious use of soft filters and colour grading means everything has an ephemeral reality to it - helped by a keen eye for details in the most fleeting of scenes. Combined with a story of childhood, loss, sex, suicide and emotion it's dangerously easy to fall in love with the series and be utterly enthralled by it. A live action introduction by Sakai Masato, notable drama actor, explains the aim of the series is to introduce viewers to well known stories, the first of which is "No Longer Human" by Dazai Osamu. At only twelve episodes long and six works to get through, the first story is the longest occupying four complete episodes and tells the life of the troubled Yozo Oba.