Fall 2020 – Week 2 in Review

1 month ago 25

Hello everyone, and welcome the heck back to Wrong Every Time. We’re a couple weeks into the fall anime season now, and as it turns out, I actually have some anime to talk about. Though I spent much of the last two weeks luxuriating in the fact that I was no longer professionally obligated to watch all of the season’s new productions, it turns out I kinda do like anime, and so I’ve been slowly working through the properties that seem worth considering on my own time. I’ve also been playing a shit ton more Hades, but since my thoughts on Hades are still pretty much just “oh my god this game is so good Chiron bow is busted why am I writing I should be plotting my next run,” I’ll be sticking with the anime this time, and offering some brief assessments of the season’s alleged stars!

First off, the premiere of Jujutsu Kaisen offered pretty much exactly what I was expecting: stunning visual execution, relatively boilerplate shonen introduction. I wasn’t exactly surprised by much that happened in this premiere, but after the utter narrative disaster that was God of High School, I’m just happy to see Sunghoo Park handling a property written by someone who actually understands characterization, conflict, and narrative structure.

Part of that might also come down to the series composition; composer Hiroshi Seko also handled Mob Psycho 100’s second season, and then further collaborated with Tachikawa by writing all the scripts for Deca-Dence. And with the veteran Tadashi Hiramatsu on AD duties, Kaisen has one of the strongest core staffs of the season, and absolutely looks it. Altogether, it seems entirely up to Kaisen’s source material to dictate this one’s fortunes – if the manga is sturdy, it’ll likely stand as a familiar but altogether satisfying action vehicle. If not, well, the road to hell is littered with Fire Forces and Demon Slayers and other shows whose writing couldn’t begin to equal their animation talent.

I also checked out Burn the Witch, the OVA adaptation of Tite Kubo’s post-Bleach work. I was mostly just curious to see what Kubo’s been up to, and as it turns out, Kubo’s still Kubo – he’s still phenomenal at character design, he still has a natural talent for depicting friends ragging on each other, and he still has a terrible sense of humor and zero narrative creativity. Burn the Witch’s premiere actually felt even more cliche than Kaisen’s, but more damningly, it was littered with jokes and characters that reminded me of the worst excesses of ‘00s anime – juvenile slapstick, panty gags, and characters whose personality is that they are loud and incompetent. It was nice to check back in with Kubo, but I’ve grown up a lot more than his writing has, so Burn the Witch is not for me.

Next up was Yashahime, an equally nostalgia-drenched return to the world of Inuyasha. I watched a fair amount of Inuyasha on Adult Swim back when I was first discovering anime, and while it was nice to see the show’s cast again, I was also quickly reminded that Inuyasha has never been particularly good. Even back then, Inuyasha’s repetitive woodland adventures didn’t really thrill me; my nostalgia is more for that era of my life than the show itself, and so while I enjoyed checking in with these characters, I don’t actually have a particularly strong emotional attachment to them. And with middling aesthetics and an OP promising more Inuyasha-style adventures, there wasn’t really anything to keep me engaged in Yashahime.

Then there was Wandering Witch, which I’ll actually have a full episode writeup for soon, perhaps Friday? Anyway, Wandering Witch was actually pretty pleasant, largely because its seemingly Kiki-derivative setting was such a joy to experience. The show certainly knows how to set a cozy scene; unfortunately, its heroine and first vignette didn’t do much to grab me beyond that. Elaina herself felt like a familiar character type, and this episode’s mean-spirited “breaking your confidence” conceit meant we didn’t actually get to know her teacher Fran’s real personality, either. 

Travelogues like this can hook me with their cast, their worlds, or their thematic intent (sometimes all three!), but nothing really struck me as unique or investment-worthy about Elaina or her world, and this episode’s moral lesson was so clumsy it was more of a minus than a plus. Wandering Witch seems like precisely the kind of show that could improve over time, and become a seasonal fan favorite, but I frankly feel like I’ve done my time waiting for shows to become enjoyable. You folks are directing me through stuff like Spirit Circle and The Big O, I don’t have to settle for less!

Moving outside of anime, my house also screened the first several episodes of The Haunting of Bly Manor, the followup to 2018’s Haunting of Hill House. Hill House was actually appointment television for me, a show I enjoyed so much that I stayed up too late watching it, and then woke up early to start watching it again. Thus, it was devastating to realize that rather than being genuinely good, Bly Manor is at best so-bad-it’s-good, with basically none of the strengths of its predecessor.

Okay, it does have one of Hill House’s strengths: a great eye for visual staging, as well as an understanding of how to draw maximum creepiness out of old spooky manors. But where Hill House was an intimate, slowly unfurling family drama, Bly Manor is basically the collision point of five separate absurd ghost stories, with almost no connective tissue between the characters, their histories, or even what they’re doing between one scene and the next.

Hill House’s characters had demons, but they still acted like people; in contrast, Bly Manor’s characters seem like they are demons, with basically everyone hiding all sorts of dark secrets, and constantly acting in an inhuman manner. This doesn’t fill me with curiosity regarding the true nature of these characters – it just means I can’t really know or care about them in any meaningful way, because they’re more mystery box devices than they are people. And the show is so heavy on its ominous-yet-ultimately-meaningless ghost appearances that in basically any scene, myself and my housemates can point to the object most prominently featured in frame, claim that it’s haunted, and most likely be proven right.

Getting more context about these character stories has only made the situation worse; Ghost Outside the Window is such a contrived character that learning about him only defused his menace, while Ghost in the Mirror’s death was so absurd that it prompted a wave of laughter and applause from my viewing party. Perhaps this show’s ridiculous characters and contrived conflicts could be forgiven, if it were actually scary – but even on that front, Bly Manor is far weaker than its predecessor, and relies heavily on just putting creepy figures in corners and hoping you notice them. In one season, the spooky house franchise has sadly descended from appointment to background television.

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