When The Rolling Girls debuted in early 2015, it immediately caught the attention of the anime blogging community. Kunihiko Ikuhara’s new project which had first been named “Penguinbear” and later was revealed as Yuri Kuma Arashi had dominated my thoughts on the 2014-2015 winter anime season. The Rolling Girls only appeared on my radar thanks to Twitter buzz and colorful screencaps.
Halfway through the series’ first episode, The Rolling Girls treats its audience to a quiet moment between two young women who are sisters in spirit — although not by blood — riding home on a empty road after a hectic afternoon. They are forced to stop — literally, thanks to a traffic light — and end up chatting about their work.
Masami Utoku, the eldest, is a supposed aide to local hero Matcha Green (also known as a “best” in the world of The Rolling Girls). Nozomi Moritomo, the youngest, is a Matcha Green superfan, and additionally looks up to Masami as if Masami herself is the hero. What follows is a quiet conversation where Masami not-so-deftly avoids revealing to Nozomi what we as an audience already know — Masami is Matcha Green. This is framed with nuance and an appropriately serious touch, a stark contrast to the bombast and brightness of the rest of the episode. Director Kotomi Deai strikes a perfect balance, putting their sibling-like relationship at the forefront while the idea of the superhero “best” and peon “rest” form the backdrop.
“There is the story about Hayao Miyazaki entering the anime industry because he was moved by Panda and the Magic Serpent. Then he watched the movie again afterwards and was disappointed by how bad it was. Yet, even if it’s actually not enjoyable at all, it can be irreplaceable for that person. What’s important is the feelings you got from watching it, and the fact that you had admiration for it. That’s the theme we were looking for.”
-Yoh Yoshinari, interview with AnimeStyle (2013)
It’s time to talk about Akko Kagari’s Panda and the Magic Serpent: Shiny Chariot.
In this moment, he’s thinking of his classmate — and soon-to-be significant other — Rihito Sajou. The band moves around him, but he’s lost in his own world, as shown by isolating his moving fingers in a panel and later, his still body in a full frame. Paneling is used a few times in Doukyuusei, always to display heightened emotion or to draw attention to the feelings of a specific character. It reminded me of the currently-airing series Scum’s Wish, which uses paneling as its primary visual technique.
Every episode of Little Witch Academia reiterates the theme of inspiration. Protagonist Akko Kagari embodies this theme through her love for disgraced entertainer Shiny Chariot — which she shouts from the rooftops despite Chariot’s poor reputation in the magical world. School prodigy Diana Cavendish was also inspired by Chariot, but keeps her love hidden rather than face similar ridicule that Akko inspires.
When Lotte Yanson received her own, poignant episode about her love of night fall, a trashy and expansive novel series with a rabid fanbase, it became likely that Akko’s other cohort, Sucy Manbavaran, would receive her own episode as well. Although the main narrative focuses on Akko’s love of magic against the backdrop of magic as a dying art, supplementary stories involving other characters within the series are only natural, especially for a series that’s more episodic in nature.
I knew that a Sucy episode was on the horizon, but was also apprehensive about its execution.
Sucy Manbavaran is a deceptively tricky character. Her role in Little Witch Academia has been fairly one-note, and while that note is hilarious it also toes the line between lovably insane and genuinely awful. Giving her a sad backstory, or any backstory that explained why she is who she is, would ruin her delightful, occasionally evil, nature. Nothing ruins a joke more quickly than explaining the joke, and I was worried that Sucy’s episode would do just that.
“I love the word ‘fate.’ You know how they talk about ‘fated encounters.?’ Just one single encounter can completely change your life. Such special encounters are not coincidences. They’re definitely . . . fate. Of course, life is not all happy encounters. There are many painful, sad predicaments. It’s hard to accept that misfortunes beyond your control are fate. But I think sad and painful things happen for a reason. Nothing in this world is pointless. Because, I believe in fate.”
-Ringo Oginome, Mawaru Penguindrum, Episode 2
Ringo Oginome is a complex character, steeped in guilt, longing, love, and later, forgiveness. Her many facets make her not only tolerable within the scope of Mawaru Penguidrum, but wholly lovable, despite her introduction in the series’ second episode as the stalker of the Takakura brothers’ homeroom teacher.
She’s introduced with a grand speech about fate, rivaling the iconic opening monologue from Shouma Takakura in the series premiere and the equally passionate closing words of his brother Kanba that bookend the episode.
She’s also introduced with a toilet flush, stars wafting from the bowl like a lingering, undeniable stench.