Oigakkosan’s Summer 2019 Anime Season Wrap-up

Arifureta began as a grim, visually unremarkable dungeon crawler, hinting at global conflicts and structures of political and social control… before devolving into guy-shoots-monsters-gets-harem-rinse-repeat. Pitting guns, missiles and motorcycles against orcs and wolves is tricky to make compelling, and Arifureta’s mediocre animation, slow plot, and constant battles doesn’t help.

Worse shows aired this season but few featured dragons being anally raped by the protagonist with a giant metal spike, nor said dragon joining said protagonist’s harem afterwards. However, and I’m going out on a limb here, even if this is up your personal kink, Arifureta’s PG-13 sensibilities probably wont go far enough for you. Niche at best, Barely Watchable for the rest of us.

Dr Stone is delightfully consistent with it’s focus on science process, over the top characters, and methodical plot to rebuild society from the stone age up. While its medium term objective (defeat super-strong/ super evil antagonist with science) has taken a back seat to gaining support of the villagers Senko discovered mid-season, its not forgotten.

We’ve learned about electricity, food chemistry, and glass as much as human nature, motivation and weakness. Hand in hand with lovable characters and charming visual style, Dr Stone is probably my most recommended show of the season.

Given’s relationship story is lovely, thoughtful, and matured with deeper issues of loss. The wow is in the details. From taking a dozen buses just to stand by the ocean, just to stand where you once stood with a close friend, to walking off stage after only one song, Given doesn’t over explain itself with dialog.  It’s solid but, like real romance, the best parts come from getting to know the characters. So I called it quits after episode six. Still, highly recommended

Granbelm finally developed an emotional core: Mangetsu is a magic puppet created by Ernesta’s subconscious desire to have a friend who isn’t an effed up mess. Also, despite earlier signs that losing wasn’t that big a deal, it has been revealed that girls die all the time in magic fights but no one remembers because… magic amnesia.

These are solid reveals and Mangetsu’s heart filled good bye to the cast (almost all of which immediately forget she ever existed) was strongly delivered. It just took way too long to develop. Combined with a dull pure evil villain, power levels that swing at the whim of the story, and Granbelm’s misunderstanding of what a mystery is (as opposed to just being confusing) and the show is only watchable.

Maou-sama, Retry! started off so absurdly bad, so generically Demon Lord/Isekai, that it had a certain charm. As it strolled forward, it took no greater objective than to introduce new characters to Maou’s harem, and forget about previous characters and potential destinations for the story. Aku hasn’t even been in the previous two episodes. The result is powerfully without purpose. It doesn’t care. You shouldn’t either. Barely watchable.

UchiMusume also suffers from a lack of purpose and follow through. For a show that features a central character who’s past is a mystery, and a hero who occasionally kills people for political gain, there’s an awful lot of wandering around aimlessly and eating food!

The result is harmlessly cute but smidgens of world building do not make up for a four episode long trip to and from a village to buy a new trench coat. It’s Barely watchable.

Given – 04 and 05 – Roaring to a Stand Still

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Uecchi is utterly befuddled, agitated, and his google-fueled antics put Harkuki and Kaji in hysterics. Perhaps oblivious to the meltdown he has caused, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets a part time job at the live music venue.

When Uecchi finally goes to confront Sato, old friends interrupt and STRONG IMPLY Sato’s guitar belongs to some one very special and very tragically dead…

Thankfully, Uecchi shakes him out of it and demands to hear Sato sing. The following episode is largely dedicated to Uecchi creating a song for Sato to sing and the lead up to their first public gig.

…Also, the episode reveals revealing that Harkuki loves Kaji, that Kaji has a boy friend no one knows about, that Sato is pretty damn good at basket ball, and Uecchi learning that Sato was dating a boy in middle school but that boy may have suddenly killed himself in an extremely tragic way! Appropriate, this last bit of news comes amidst a deafening roar of white noise punctuated by a hard cut to black.

Given remains beautifully rendered, even when it’s being ‘lazy.’ Seriously! The backgrounds and colors and level of unnecessary detail are insane. Episode 5 did take a noticeable dip, but that is to be expected mid season and it didn’t hurt the narrative’s more introspective focus.

I’m really enjoying the idea that Uecchi is the only semi-straight member of the band, yet imperfect knowledge may prevent each member from realizing that. I’m finding it even more interesting to watch Sato, who seems like he’s characterized as having a spectrum disorder in addition to being gay. It makes for some curious takes on his scenes with Uecchi.

Sato strikes me as a sincere representation of a gay male who’s not romantically into the straight male who is pursuing him. He seems aware of that Ueechi may not realize he is even pursuing him, which seems ironically likely since Uecchi resorted to dating advice to get Sato into the band. Now that the sexuality angle is out in the open, we’ll see if Uecchi reconciles with his own obsessive feelings, or if his obsession is purely based in the art of music the way he previously seemed to think it was.

Given – 03 – Rejection!

In a delicious twist, Sato rejects Uecchi’s offer to join the band. Ue is utterly befuddled, agitated, and turns to google for advice on how to win over someone after they’ve rejected you. This goes about as well as you would expect, and Harkuki and Kaji think it’s hilarious!

Meanwhile, Sato does exactly what he was asked to do and gets himself a part time job working at a music events space. When Uecchi goes to confront him there, everything is interrupted when Sato’s old friends recognize him and STRONG IMPLY the guitar over his shoulder belongs to a dead friend.

Sato is a polite, if not slightly stereotypical take on a person with a spectrum disorder. He can not express himself well and the added trauma of death makes him aware that something is wrong. He doesn’t even realize he is already expressing himself, and that Ue is rocked by that expression down to the core.

Alone on the street, Ue grabs Sato and shouts that he wants to hear him sing. Ue needs to hear him sing and Sato agrees. Unseen, Kaiji has heard their exchange and knows their band is in for something special…

Another episode of Given is another episode possibly a hair short of Masterpiece level work. From framing, to color, to writing and emotional candor, if it connected with you before, it will do it again. Why on earth are you not watching it already?

Given – 02 – Insiders x Outsiders

Uenoyama struggles with the idea of being a good teacher. He’s not even sure what Sato wants out of the guitar. Uenoyama is stuck inside his own head, oblivious in class, and unabsorbent of his classmates’ growing curiosity over the nature of his relationship with Sato, even when they ask him about it directly.

Sato struggles with expressing his interests and objectives. He’s not even sure what he wants out of learning guitar. He’s not even sure he has a favorite song, though a melody keeps playing in his head. Sato is often oblivious to Uenoyama’s instruction and questions, but he absorbs the training quickly. Sato has a very keen ear.

These are the early days of training, where Sato’s newness and mystery is exciting. Pretty Harkuki feels a change towards a better, kinder man in Uenoyama but Tough Kaji insists it was already there. To himself, he wonders if Uenoyama’s kindness is something closer to that of a protector, which has broader implications he does not share.

Sato’s transition from outsider to insider begins with the learning the technicalities of music but effectively completes over dinner, when the band reveals they each have part time jobs. Kaji tends bar, delivers items on his bike, and even works security. Harkuki is a hair model in a video channel, and works with Uenoyama at a convenience store. Each boy’s job descriptions are playful but made with care. No matter what job Sato chooses, and he must choose one to support the band, he should consider one that feeds him during his service.

Given is a master class in framing and composition. Above, the criss-crossing shadow connects Uenoyama’s eyes up to his friends, and the sweep of the drum set sends our eyes around to the door. But the rigid green door, which completely encloses Kaji and Harkuki traps them there, stuck behind the drum set.

This fraction of a scene expresses hesitation. It implies Kaji and Harkuki are waiting for their friend to stand and join them emotionally. That waiting shows us they care, and emphasizes the conversation they share outside about Uenoyama comes from their caring.

And It reads equally well for western left right and eastern right left.

Given is also a master class in color, pattern, and skilled integration of 3D rendered backgrounds with traditional animation. It’s subtle at first, but the range of color (especially as it pertains to the the believability of lighting) and consistency of perspective in this show is fantastic. Yet, unlike the space ship in Astra Lost in Space, these 3D elements do not stick out.

Great care was used to control the pallet and soften edges. The over all effect makes Given believable looking, yet also dream like. A perfect aesthetic choice to match its cast introspective, dreamlike state.

This week ends with Uenoyama pressing Sato for direction. There must be a song he wants to play that Uenoyama can teach him. So Sato sings the music that is inside him. It has no title. It is only brief. It brings Uenoyama to tears.

Even though Uenoyama doesn’t officially ask Sato to join the band until after he hears Sato sink the secret song inside his head, the decision has all but been made official during their dinner. Weird, awkward, mysterious, and with much to learn, Sato is the change agent everyone needed. I can’t wait to see — and heard — where this is headed!

Given – 01 – Boys in the Band

Mafuyu Sato lives his life in a dream state. He wakes each day from the same nightmare, fear gripping Sato’s body only as tightly as his grips the neck of his guitar. The guitar he carries but has no idea how to play. He is a mystery.

Ritsuka Uenoyama lives a life of diminishing purpose. He commands great skill with his guitar, but as he sharpened his art, he dulled his passion. He is tired but awake. He lives with with his art-def sister and his father gave him his first guitar. There is no mystery in his life. Only routine.

Sato and Uenoyama meet by chance at Uenoyama’s favorite nap spot, nestled behind the gym. Then Sato witnesses Uenoyama play, and Uenoyama’s bandmates witness Uenoyama in rare form. Slowly, bonds begin to form…

Given is, by miles, the most interesting anime running this season. Given is very good looking, though this is more due to great use of color, lighting and character design than actual animation. Given is also very good sounding.

However, what makes Given sing and shine is solid crafting of characters and storytelling. The nuance of how Uenoyama and Sato are living opposite parts of life makes it special. The choices of how we see that play out, without dialog or other characters telling makes it masterful.

Given does not have the artcraft value of Yuri on Ice but Given nails the depression and challenge of being an artist, and of an artist feeling love, with an equally flawless sincerity. You owe it to yourself to check it out.