This show has a disturbing set-up and uses the heck out of it.
Emma (Sumire Morohoshi/Erica Mendez), Norman (Maaya Uchida/Jeannie Tirado), and Ray (Mariya Ise/Laura Stahl) are three 11 year old children who live together at an orphanage called “Grace Field House.” They live an idyllic existence with their foster siblings and their caretaker whom they call Mom/Mother (Yūko Kaida/Laura Post). One night, after one of their siblings is adopted, Norman and Emma sneak out to give the child her stuffed animal, only to find the child dead at the hands of a demon. It turns out that Grace Field House is not an orphanage, it’s a farm and they’re the crop. Now the three have to find a way to escape along with their other siblings while evading Mom and her assistant, Sister Krone (Nao Fujita/Rebeka Thomas).
This show is one of the most aggressively disturbing set-ups I’ve seen in a long time. It hits harder than many shows because it’s not just a dystopia, it’s a dystopia focused on killing children. Almost all of it, at least so far, has been off-screen, but it’s still a horrifying idea that this happy orphanage is literally just raising children to be slaughtered. The show does a good job of keeping the pressure on all of the characters through that and it’s all the heavier because these are young people who normally wouldn’t have to consider their mortality.
What sets the show’s cast of characters apart is that these aren’t normal 11 year olds, they’re all prodigies on an epic scale. They not only are heavily educated, but they’re constantly trained to think critically. The explanation of WHY they were raised that way is a bit of a stretch (at least the one they gave so far), but it justifies having a hypercompetent set of protagonists so I can accept it. Against a normal adult, these kids would likely triumph without issue, so naturally their opposition, Mom, has to be unbelievably intelligent and resourceful. Watching the two groups scheme and counter-scheme is like watching a high-level chess match, sometimes literally. It’s tense and exciting and full of twists.
Overall, this was a really solid series. It’s rough to watch, because of the plot, but it’s worth it.
I take a look at an adaptation of a medieval fantasy video game series.
In the medieval land of Gransys, Ethan (Yūichi Nakamura/Greg Chun), a hunter, loses his wife Olivia (Miyuki Sawashiro/Cristina Vee) and his surrogate son Louis (Yūko Sanpei/Jeannie Tirado) to an attack by a savage Dragon (Takayuki Sugō/David Lodge). The Dragon, sensing Ethan’s hate, takes Ethan’s heart and revives him as an Arisen. He is soon joined by a magical humanoid creation called a Pawn, whom he names Hannah (Nana Mizuki/Erica Mendez). Together, the two head through Gransys to slay the Dragon, and all of the monsters they meet along the way.
This show’s apparently an adaptation of a video game, and that’s kind of what it feels like. Every episode feels like the next level that slowly gets to the “boss” Dragon. While this provides some boost to the structure and pacing of the show, it does get a bit repetitive, mostly because the characterization of Ethan and Hannah is really thin until the very last episode. Even the episode that fleshes out Ethan’s backstory doesn’t really do it in a way that evokes a lot of emotion. The monster designs are pretty solid, but only a handful of them are particularly creative. The rest are just picked from a DnD Monster Manual.
Every episode is named after a particular sin representing one of the monsters in it or the general theme, which, at times, feels a little like a PSA. This is particularly true of “Sloth,” which generally comes off as being a Reagan-esque “Winners Don’t Do Drugs” fable. This vibe conflicts with the fact that the violence and nudity give the show a distinctly adult feel. This tonal inconsistency is only matched by the character inconsistency, with several supporting characters seeming to change motives at a moment. It’s particularly noticeable with Ethan and Hannah, who both seem to fluctuate between “help the people” and “kill the dragon, screw the people” depending on what the current episode needs.
In positives, the fight scenes are pretty good. Some of them are creative or at least have nice visual elements. I will say that the last episode does make me want to see more of this show, because they open it up for a completely new direction. At seven episodes, some of which are under 20 minutes, the show isn’t a major investment if you just have some time to kill.
Overall, if you like hack and slash, give it a try, but if not, maybe wait until we find out if Season 2 is any better.
The overworked, underpaid, death metal singing Red Panda returns.
If you’re not familiar with the show, I’ve reviewed seasons 1 and 2 here and here. Watch it. Love it.
Retsuko (Kaolip/Rarecho/Erica Mendez/Jamison Boaz) is trying to get over ending her relationship with Tadano (Chiharu Sasa/Griffin Burns) and gets addicted to VR games, with the microtransactions eating away at her savings. She then gets into a car accident which results in her owing a man named Hyodo (Sota Arai/SungWon Cho) ¥200,000 (~$1900). She takes a job working for him as the financial manager of his Idol Group O.T.M. However, she soon finds herself recruited into the band and followed by an angry stalker.
Meanwhile, Haida (Shingo Kato/Ben Diskin) finds the new girl, Inui (Rina Inoue/Abby Trott), is interested in him. Fenneko (Inoue/Katelyn Gault), Gori (Maki Tsuruta/G.K. Bowes), Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki/Tara Platt), and even Tadano encourage him to ask out Inui and abandon his unreciprocated crush on Retsuko.
So, I knew this season was going to be pretty good when one of the first lines in it is Retsuko looking at a VR boyfriend who asks her for money and she screams “Take it all, you sexy unicorn!” There is no work of art anywhere that includes those lines and is not good. If they had included that phrase somewhere in Gigli, it would have won three Oscars.
The key to this show has always been how well it meshes the cute Sanryo characters with the crushing reality of their lives. In this season, Retsuko gets caught up indulging herself in a new hobby, in this case a VR Boyfriend game, which puts her in financial jeopardy. She manages to cut back enough to keep afloat, but one accident later, she’s completely screwed. If you’ve ever had a sudden medical expense or a car problem that wasn’t covered by insurance, you understand this problem. When the full extent of her circumstances become apparent, she even busts out a song entitled “Screw you capitalism,” which I’m sure will be reblogged repeatedly by certain groups on the internet. I would draw attention, though, to the fact that, although Retsuko is a relatively low-wage worker by Japan’s standards, she is never really in danger of losing her apartment and she actually had several thousand dollars in savings before she spent it all on her game. I just find it interesting.
This is the first season where Retsuko’s singing has really become a plot point. She is forced to perform in front of an audience in order to help pay back her debt, but actually starts to become moderately successful. While it is fun to see her achieve a dream, the show quickly reminds people of the price of celebrity. She is pursued by a stalker in one of the creepiest depictions since the film Perfect Blue (which I’m reviewing next month, if you haven’t seen it). Despite the fact that she had nothing to do with what the stalker dislikes about the band, the experience is deeply traumatic.
I also like the way they handled Haida this season, because he is still portrayed as flawed and the show points out repeatedly that, despite his long standing crush, he actually doesn’t know that much about her. He just admires her from afar rather than talking to her. Inui actually makes an effort to talk to Haida, which finally gets him to recognize his failings.
Overall, solid season, but a bit intense at times compared to the previous ones.
It’s always fun to watch bad guys be the best good guys.
In the land of Brittania (not to be confused with any real place with similar name), the kingdom of Liones lived in relative peace until the king was overthrown by the Holy Knights, his elite armed forces. The Princess, Elizabeth Liones (Sora Amamiya/Erika Harlacher), set out to find the exiled warriors who previously betrayed the Holy Knights, the Seven Deadly Sins. She actually manages to find Meliodas (Yūki Kaji/Bryce Papenbrook), the captain of the Sins, and the pair embark on a quest to find the others. They succeed in locating four more of the group: Ban the immortal (Tatsuhisa Suzuki/Ben Diskin), Diane the giant (Aoi Yūki/Erica Mendez), King the Elf (Jun Fukuyama/Max Mittelman), and Gowther the doll (Yuhei Takagi/Erik Scott Kimerer). The five, later joined by Merlin the sorceress (Maaya Sakamoto/Lauren Landa), manage to liberate the kingdom from the Holy Knights, only to discover that the entire takeover was engineered to release an even greater threat: The demonic Ten Commandments. Together with the seventh Sin, Escanor (Tomokazu Sugita/Kyle Hebert), the group must stop the Demon Clan from taking over Brittania.
I will admit that when I first checked out this series, I had already read some of the manga, so I think I might have expected too much of it. The anime is a pretty faithful adaptation, particularly compared to some others that I’ve seen, but it didn’t feel like it added enough for me. As a result, I kinda bailed after the second season. However, since the manga has wrapped up in the interim, I decided I wanted to see how the story ended. So, I checked it out again and I will say that they did get a little bit better at layering extra imagery onto the anime that wasn’t in the manga to keep it fresh.
The main thing that I liked about the series at the beginning was that most of the main characters were, in fact, depicted as sinners. Meliodas was a pervert who constantly groped Elizabeth (which she apparently liked, but is still wrong) and was presumed to be concealing an impossible amount of rage beneath his joking facade. Ban was a thief, King was responsible for his species nearly being destroyed, Diane constantly tried to force Meliodas into a relationship with her, Gowther was literally amoral, Merlin was willing to experiment on people without their knowledge, and Escanor, as is true to his sin, was the embodiment of haughty pride. Having protagonists with such flaws almost always makes the story more interesting, but they tried to make a few of them a little more likable at the cost of removing that moral ambiguity. Still, the personalities and character traits are pretty solid for a show like this.
It also helps that the show references a diverse number of mythologies, either directly or via allusion, and that it builds on elements from them to quickly create a world that contains a huge number of species and cultures. The show has traditional fantasy races like elves and giants, but also celestial and demonic forces that are a blend of DnD and Abrahamic religions. Arthurian mythology is directly invoked, as is modern vampire mythology and even some Western pop literature.
The biggest problem, for me, was that the series had to do the Dragon Ball Z thing of having to constantly level up the powers of the characters in order to keep them as the underdogs. The series even gives you a “power level” reader just to make sure that you understand that these threats completely outclass our protagonists, such that when the Ten Commandments are first introduced, one of their number is stronger than all of the Sins combined. This seemed almost unnecessary because the Commandments also had innovative powers that could have made them a threat even if they were just even in power. Still, so many series have done this, I can hardly hold it against them. I just appreciate it more when series, like One Piece, for example, at least hint from the beginning that this kind of power exists in the world, so that it doesn’t just feel like the narrator saying “well, you beat Bob the Unbeatable, now you have to beat Tim the More Unbeatable who we didn’t mention before now.”
Overall, I do still think it’s a solid series. Plus, it has an apparent end point in the next season or two, so you don’t have to worry about sitting around 10 years from now waiting for the arc to finish. Lookin’ at you, One Piece.
Aggretsuko returns for a second season, addressing dating, co-workers, and the generation gap in the new millennium.
Retsuko (Kaolip (Japanese); Erica Mendez (English)) is still working in accounting after breaking up with her boyfriend Resasuke (Shingo Kato; Max Mittelman) at the end of last season. However, her Mother has decided that Retsuko is not moving forward with her dating life enough and starts signing her up for matchmaking services, much to Retsuko’s annoyance. Soon after, a new hire, Anai, starts in Retsuko’s department and is revealed to be a slacker who responds to any implication that he’s doing something wrong by recording conversations and making them formal complaints, terrifying everyone. When Retsuko takes driving lessons so that she and her friends Gori (Maki Tsuruta; G.K. Bowes) and Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki; Tara Platt) can take a trip, she meets slacker white donkey Tadano (Griffin Burns), who she likes but thinks is a failure. Tadano drops out of driving school, disappointing her further. She does eventually run into him again and he asks her out, which she accepts due to her underlying feelings for him. However, it’s revealed that Tadano is actually a Tech CEO Billionaire, which delights Retsuko, but she realizes that they might not quite see eye-to-eye on some things.
Holy hell, this show doesn’t shy away from hitting at the problems of people in their late 20s and early 30s. I mean, if you have never worked with a crazy a-hole co-worker who tries to get you in trouble for doing things that you would never have imagined would be a problem, then you should consider yourself extremely fortunate. If you’ve never had a great relationship with someone that just didn’t work out because you were after different things in the long run, then consider yourself fortunate. If your parents have never called to ask how you are going to find Mister/Miss Right and you don’t really want to explain to them that dating has changed since they were single 40 years ago and not everyone is looking to have a family and buy a house and fill it with 2.5 kids, consider yourself fortunate unless it’s because your parents have passed in which case I am sorry for your loss. In this season, we see Retsuko deal with all of this at the same time, and it’s sometimes almost hard to watch due to the accuracy, even though it’s cartoon animals.
Most horrifying of all is that none of these people are actually “Bad” people. Retsuko’s mom just wants her to be happy but doesn’t understand that happiness doesn’t mean the same thing to Retsuko as it does for her. Anai seems annoying and mean, but it’s really just that he’s scared and hasn’t had experience dealing with people. That doesn’t mean he’s not an asshole, but it does at least give you an idea that maybe assholes don’t have to stay assholes. Tadano loves Retsuko, but he believes that marriage and children are bastions of the past that no longer need to be the default, something that Retsuko just disagrees with. Their breakup is sad, but he’s completely understanding about it, just like she is. They just don’t have the same future in mind.
No matter what happens, Retsuko keeps going, because she does know that it’s good to at least find out what you want. A lot of the current people in Retsuko’s generation, like her, feel like they’re drifting, because unless you are lucky you are likely looking for a job to help pay off the debt you had to accrue to get the degree you had to have to get the job. Even then, the job probably doesn’t pay enough for you to dig yourself out of your hole in any reasonable amount of time, but you also see all of the people out there on the internet doing so well and, even though you know it’s a curated image that they aren’t really living, it still makes you feel inferior and like you’re not making use of life, but you also don’t want to be irresponsible and the world’s possibly actually going to end in our lifetime and ohgodimsadnow. Somehow this show has more accurately pointed out much of the modern existential crises that this generation faces than almost anything else, and it’s a f*cking Red Panda that sings Death Metal.
What’s particularly interesting is the gap between Retsuko, Puko, and Tadano. Tadano represents the people who are hopeful for the future, who want to bring about the grand social change that allows humanity to achieve self-actualization. He has a self-driving car, but hires a driver just so the driver can have a job. He is a developer of automation, but is doing so with the hope that it will bring about the end of late stage capitalism. He’s even developing the neural-net software that is intended to replace Retsuko, but wants to pay her to quit her job and do what she wants with her life. The problem is, his vision fails unless most of the other rich people also think it’s noble to pay people do do what they want. Even Retsuko ultimately turns him down because she prefers the independence that she gets from her miserable job from a life of freedom that’s dependent upon Tadano if he’s never going to be her husband. She’s not afraid of living within her current structure. Meanwhile, we’re shown that Retsuko’s flaky pink panther pal Puko (Allegra Clark) has opened the store she wanted to set-up during the last season and that it is slow and difficult due to her not being able to pay people for help and her employees ducking out on her. Despite this, she’s still happy because she’s doing what she wants, even if it’s hard.
Despite all of this bleakness towards life and corporate wage slavery, the show does manage to present some hopeful moments, mostly coming from Retsuko’s small improvements that remind us that some kinds of change are within our grasp if we want them. Yes, the world sucks and you’re likely to spend most of your time on the Earth doing something that’s unfulfilling and horrible, but hey, at least you can sing with your friends or maybe write a movie review blog. Also, Red Pandas still exist, so we should fight for a better future.
It’s a Red Panda singing Death Metal. If you aren’t intrigued, please call a doctor.
SUMMARY (Spoiler Free)
Retsuko (Kaolip and Rarecho (Japan)/Erica Mendez and Jamison Boaz (Eng.)) is a 25-year-old red panda who works in the accounting department of a large company with her friends Fenneko, a fennec fox (Rina Inoue/Katelyn Gault) and Haida, a hyena (Shingo Kato/Ben Diskin). She is constantly beaten down by the monotony of the work, the harassment of her boss, Mr. Ton (Souta Arai/Josh Petersdorf), and the treachery of her senior accountant Tsubone (Maki Tsuruta/Debra Cardona). To cope with all of the stress in her life, Retsuko lets out her frustrations by going to karaoke and busting out Death Metal songs about her life. Most of the series is just her dealing with things like dating, meeting new friends, trying to lose weight, and trying to find a way out of her job.
First of all, Red Pandas are the greatest animal on Earth and my strongest case for my belief in a higher power, as nothing that cute can possibly have evolved naturally (Note: This is a joke, I get how natural selection works). As such, it made sense that Sanrio, the company famous for making Hello Kitty, would eventually use them as the basis for one of their characters. However, I could never have believed that they would have come up with this series, which, while the characters are mostly adorable, is about as bleak and unforgiving as… reality, I guess.
Retsuko’s public persona is unimpressive in almost every way. She makes a lot of mistakes at her job, she has social anxiety, she’s insecure, she isn’t good at dealing with her bosses or her co-workers, and that’s sort of what puts her in the situation we find her in at the beginning of the series. She’s become so unhappy that it actually starts to lead to her making bad decisions that end up getting her in even more trouble at work, but, like most people, she absolutely can’t afford to lose her job. I hope that this doesn’t resonate with any of you, dear readers, but this does seem to resemble many people I know… and am. She doesn’t really have any hope of promotion in the near future, particularly since the people being promoted aren’t necessarily the people who do the best work, but she doesn’t really have anything else she can do. Even if she looks for another job, it’s likely to be a similar position within another massive company that will have the same problems. The only people who seem to be avoiding it are people who have parents helping them up. Basically, she’s most people between the ages of 25 and 40.
Retsuko’s only respite is that she secretly goes and sings Death Metal in an amazing voice and generally takes on the appearance of a demon while she does (becoming Aggressive Retsuko, or Aggretsuko). At first, she tries desperately to hide the fact that she does this, but as the series goes on, she becomes more open about it, particularly after she befriends Washimi (Komegumi Koiwasaki/Tara Platt) and Gori (Maki Tsuruta/G.K. Bowes), two high-powered women within the office. By the end of the series, she’s sung in front of almost everyone, although several people think they were just drunk and hallucinating Retsuko busting out super-loud metal. There are usually 1-2 songs per episode and they’re all pretty amazing, particularly the ones where Retsuko is complaining about her boss.
I do have to give them credit for how they made the animals representative (for the most part) of the characters. For example, Mr. Ton is a pig (because he’s a chauvinist), Fenneko is a fennec because she overhears everything like a fennec fox, Washimi is a secretary bird (she’s the head of secretarial), and Gori is a gorilla (because she’s head of marketing… guerilla marketing). I still haven’t figured out what, if any, meaning there are to some of the other animals, but I’m betting there’s some pun in Japanese.
This show is good in both Japanese and English, so don’t let people pressure you to only do subtitles.
Overall, I like the show, mostly because it’s just representative of the bleak nature of adulthood in the modern era. We spend all of our time working and most of us don’t even talk to people about the things that we love to do for fun because it might not be “socially acceptable.” Give it a shot sometime.