Supernatural stories at their finest ensure that — no matter how grand of a spectacle their conflicts become — they never stray away from intimate experiences with which their audience can resonate.
For example, one of the most affecting scenes in The Eccentric Family is that of an eldest brother holding up a smartphone to the ear of one of his younger brothers, a brother that just happens to be a frog. Visually, it’s ridiculous. Emotionally, it has the power to move a viewer’s heart, becoming an iconic image.
In its first season, The Eccentric Family started big before focusing on the personal struggles and triumphs of one tanuki family. This allowed the second season to immediately narrow its focus with a personal anecdote, then cast a wider net, capturing a few more conflicts before honing in on the personal once more. The problems and warmth of the Shimogamo family remain in the background — including a wonderful scene where Tousen, now the Shimogamo matriarch, visits her elderly mother — but the series has now shifted to include the devilish human trickster Tenmaya, and Professor Akadama’s (tengu Yakushibo Nyoigatake’s) estranged son Nidaime (Junior).
“Humans live in the city, tanuki crawl the earth, and tengu fly through the air. Since the city’s establishment humans, tanuki, and tengu have maintained a delicate balance. That’s what keeps the great wheel of this city turning round and round. And watching that wheel spin is more fun than anything else.”
-Yasaburo Shimogamo, The Eccentric Family, Episode 1
This monologue from tanuki Yasaburo Shimogamo opens the first season of The Eccentric Family. After a season turmoil, warmth, forgiveness, and love, these words close the season as well.
The first episode of The Eccentric Family‘s second season eschews Yasaburo’s monologue about the hierarchy of tengu, tanuki, and humans in Kyoto. It wasn’t at all what I had expected.
“The show is getting boring. I still like it, but there’s no big bad.”
Naturally, this is paraphrased. Yet a common complaint of the first half of Little Witch Academia‘s television run was that there was no true antagonist. Akko Kagari wasn’t improving fast enough in her magic. Watching her fail episode after episode was becoming tedious. Diana Cavendish wasn’t Akko’s adversary as much as she was her rival. Even then it was a one-sided rivalry. Akko failed most of the time while Diana continued to garner acclaim from her peers and teachers alike.
Episode 13 marked the end of the series’ first half and the end of Akko’s complete failure. With her magic at the Samhain Festival, Akko stepped up and became the witch who impressed her peers and teachers alike. Even the visiting alumni were dazzled.
The series has now entered its second half and a presumed “big bad” — at the very least, a true antagonist — has appeared: Professor Croix.
Yet, I maintain that she too is not a true antagonist. And that Little Witch Academia doesn’t need a big bad to be compelling.
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.