The other day, one of my coworkers posited that one’s favorite moment or piece of media is almost always going to be one of your first big experience — something that ties you emotionally to that particular property. This isn’t a revolutionary statement by any means, and while it didn’t apply to me in that moment I do agree with it more generally. Singin’ in the Rain is my favorite movie because I was struck by how Gene Kelly moved through space as a sick kid with pneumonia and nothing else to watch but old movies. I revisit things seasonally when they affected me first, which is why I’ve had the itch to rewatch Flip Flappers, Yuri!!! On Ice, and Arcane lately.
Similarly, there’s the urge to view other pieces of media through that same frame of reference that affected you emotionally or stood out to you in that moment (for better or for worse). Although I wouldn’t consider Durarara!! one of my favorite anime, there is one particular scene that has always stood out to me due to its visual and narrative execution. Since the moment I saw it back in March 2010, it has become a point of comparison to any anime attempting to do a similar narrative reveal. Now a very different but equally important reveal joins it as a relative of sorts in Odd Taxi.
Spoilers for the first season of Durarara!! and all of Odd Taxi.
My history with the Gundam anime franchise is surprisingly lengthy for someone who doesn’t consider themselves a Gundam fan. I was first recommended the original Mobile Suit Gundam movie trilogy in a list of anime one should watch as an anime fan (enjoyed it a lot), and then watched Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (loved it). This inspired me to try and create one of those high-concept tumblr blogs that was just Bright Noa eating hamburgers as a joke (unsurprisingly, it didn’t take off). I have also seen Gundam 00 (enh), one episode of Reconguista in G (what?), Gundam AGE (got bored in the second arc), Iron-Blooded Orphans (liked but grew busy with work and did not finish), Gundam Build Fighters (fun), and Gundam Wing (unintentionally hilarious). This makes UC a third of the Gundam series I’ve watched and AU two-thirds (I’m not including Reconguista in G it was only one episode). I’m not sure if that’s sacrilegious or not according to Gundam fans.
Key takeaways from the franchise include the quintessential Gundam statement that war is hell, and a fun addendum that a friend and I made while making our way through Wing: you can never escape your past which we yelled at each other constantly throughout our watch.
There are a few specific things you can say to me that will make me check out an anime faster than “This draws from Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Revolutionary Girl Utena.” Utena is a series that I hold close to my heart in a way that has actually been detrimental to doing any sort of public analysis. I’ve avoided writing about Utena directly many times for fear of not having something “good enough to say” given how many wonderful analyses there are of its characters, visuals, and thematic elements. The excellent Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight helmed by Tomohiro Furukawa was pitched to me this way and deftly managed to be a love letter to and incisive criticism towards the Takarazuka Revue. (Not-so-coincidentally, the Revue is a major influence on a lot of other media properties in Japan and an obvious visual and structural inspiration for Ikuhara as a director.) Last year there was Shin Wakabayashi’s Wonder Egg Prioritywhich started well and ended catastrophically.
This time it’s Hiroshi Kobayashi and his take on the Gundam franchise, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury. Although there’s a more obvious and direct through line from The Witch From Mercury to Utena in series composer Ichiro Okouchi, who wrote the Utena light novels, whether The Witch From Mercury will deliver something anywhere near as incisive or fun as Utena, will rely on Kobayashi’s direction.
“Unlike us, you’re a hollow from the old ritual site, aren’t you? You have a real life. You must have been protected by a very powerful desire.”
-Majikaja to Nanachi, Made in Abyss: The Golden City of the Scorching Sun, Episode 3
When Majikaja loosely explains the rules of the hollows’ village, Iruburu, he also speaks of individuals’ desires and how their transformed bodies reflect those. He then turns to Nanachi and says the above, reminding Nanachi of Mitty. The more that’s uncovered of Iruburu’s rules, especially its value system and concept of what “value” means to different occupants, the more Made in Abyss‘ second season turns the lens back on its three main characters and shows their own desires and reasons for traveling.
Against the backdrop of Vueko’s words that, “longing sometimes gets the better of instinct,” it’s a good time to revisit those desires of Reg, Nanachi, and Riko. Desires and wants seem to be the deciding factor of value in Iruburu.
Kou Yoshinari’s monster designs in Made in Abyss were visibly meant to be different than the humans of Orth and the Abyss from the first moment that a crimson splitjaw chased down Riko in the series’ premiere. The splitjaw moves differently and is animated in a way that makes it seem otherworldly and bizarre. This trend continued for all monsters of the Abyss throughout Made in Abyss’ first season. In a series that plays with as many horror tropes as Made in Abyss does — delving deeper and deeper into them the further Riko and Reg travel in the Abyss — the awkwardness of the monsters only added to the unsettling menace of the Abyss itself.