Spring 2021 – Week 11 in Review

3 months ago 57

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. I’ve got a very old-fashioned Week in Review for you today, as this week, I basically watched nothing but anime. Not airing anime, of course – that’d be too simple, and too likely to actually promote my brand among the recency-addicted anime fandom. Instead, I flew through one of the highlights of last season, SK8 the Infinity, along with a classic anime film and the requisite double-helping of One Piece. This is turning out to be an exceptional year in anime so far; I’ve been thoroughly impressed by Wonder Egg, ODDTAXI, and SK8, and I still need to follow up on shows like To Your Eternity and Megalobox: Nomad. I’ll get to those soon enough, but for now, let’s barrel through some fresh cartoon highlights in the Week in Review!

This week’s big prize was the entirety of SK8 the Infinity, a show I blew through in two sessions with one of my housemates. I’d heard plenty of praise for SK8 over the winter season, but to be honest, neither the show’s skating premise nor its garish color scheme really appealed to me. I was only provoked back into watching it when my housemate demanded to know why I hadn’t informed them of a skateboarding anime by the director of Free!, and then we were off to the races, where I swiftly learned how misguided I had been.

SK8 is pure exuberance, a blast of over-the-top energy in the vein of JoJo or Symphogear, except applied to larger-than-life skateboarding races. Characters flip over rocky ravines and debut devastating special attacks, all brought to life through luscious action animation, dazzling colors, and Hiroko Utsumi’s reliably energetic direction. Utsumi’s experience on Free! clearly steers her well here, as SK8’s narrative is a bulletproof sports template, feeling something like a beloved long-running manga condensed into its core beats. And along with all the action and visual excellence, the show is also charming and funny, with its cast featuring highlights like a flower shop attendant who skates as a nefarious KISS knockoff, and a villain who is played by and also literally Dio.

As a final cherry on top, in spite of the show’s ludicrous action and melodramatic side characters, its core emotional drama is actually quite well-executed. The show centers on Langa, a boy who lost his passion following the death of his father, and Reki, the skate fanatic who introduces him to skateboarding. Over time, Langa comes to understand and find peace with what his father represented, while Reki must grapple with the frustration of recognizing his own limitations as a skater. Their feelings are treated with a light touch relative to the theatrics around them, demonstrating the same confidence of form and execution that the show’s overall structure exhibits. In spite of the show’s second half clearly suffering from the strains of an overtaxed production, SK8 is a terrific ride on the whole, and perhaps Utsumi’s strongest statement of purpose yet. I’m sorry I didn’t check SK8 out sooner, Utsumi, but I won’t miss your next one!

Next up was a classic scifi adventure, Osamu Dezaki’s Space Adventure Cobra. I checked out Cobra because Dezaki is clearly one of the biggest glaring gaps in my anime knowledge, and the film seemed like it’d be an accessible introduction to his style. That theory seemed to bear out: if Cobra’s eccentricities are specifically Dezaki’s style, then holy shit I need to watch more Dezaki.

Cobra is a buffet of visual riches, featuring beautiful backgrounds, dynamic storyboards, and all manner of inspired effects animation. Dezaki is clearly a director who thinks in terms of composition more than physical space; his layouts frequently distort the landscape into an unrecognizable form, stranding characters in otherworldly color palettes, or flipping perspective entirely. The fact that this is a space adventure means perspective is always variable; the floor could always be the ceiling instead, and Dezaki uses that fact to facilitate a wide variety of striking compositions.

At times, the film embraces visual psychedelia entirely, like when its magic princesses commune across space, or when Cobra visits a raging party. Hyper-closeups turn characters into landscapes in a manner akin to Shigeyasu Yamauchi’s work, while chambers filled with mirrors or crystals allow characters to distort themselves on-the-fly, creating their own closeups through the wild projection of the glass. Cobra is overflowing with creative visual ideas, offering a directorial feast from start to finish.

As for the film’s actual plot, it’s basically just a one-off caper in the style of Flash Gordon adventure serials, complete with space princesses and a nefarious villain called Crystal Boy. Nothing particularly engaging, but clearly a fine venue for Dezaki’s talents, allowing Cobra and his lady friends to ramble across a compelling variety of alien landscapes. On the whole, Cobra was definitely more engaging as a visual showcase than a dramatic experience, but it’s certainly got me excited to check out more of Dezaki’s work!

And yes, there was One Piece. This week saw our party storm all the way through Punk Hazard, greeting the New World in characteristically bombastic fashion. After the complex, multigenerational political drama of Fishman Island, Punk Hazard was precisely the change up needed: a pure boss rush island, where the enemies are the enemies because they suck, and the Straw Hats can truly flex their new powers. It’s a template Oda seems to consciously understand; just as Thriller Bark followed Enie’s Lobby’s emotional drama with a straight-on rollercoaster of an island, so does Punk Hazard offer the action antidote to Fishman Island’s complexity.

I’m not quite sure how to articulate this point, but it genuinely feels like one of Oda’s key strengths is his understanding of audience indulgence. Normally, I associate “giving the audience everything they want” with tedious power fantasies, stories that simply gratify the audience’s most base desires, or stories that don’t understand the value of building tension in order to provide impact to the release. But One Piece seems able to indulge the audience without ever undercutting its own consistency or drama; something I’d say works in part because One Piece is working at such a huge scale that mere developments feel like payoffs, and also in part because Oda is so good at finding things the audience didn’t even know they wanted. So it goes with Punk Hazard’s many attractions: fire-ice island! There’s a dragon! Smoker is there! Trafalgar Law is back! They’re making an alliance! THEY’RE DOING THE THING!

Punk Hazard is full of giddy fist-pumping moments like that, attached to a story that lightly (so far as that’s possible, given the subject matter) touches on the various ways ordinary people can end up inculcated into cults, and dependent on some sort of beloved master. There’s a beautifully animated Law-Smoker battle, and Robin seems to have a generally delightful trip, with her mood holding steady between “this is all so exciting” and “I’ma fuck you up.” The crew in general feel more comfortable than ever together; absent a focus-drawing equivalent to Fishman’s history, they’re free to simply enjoy each other’s company, and reaffirm how One Piece’s endearing cast sets its apart from its competition. The arc obviously lacks the dramatic complexity or emotional tug of One Piece’s highest highs, but it succeeds and then some as high-quality action entertainment, and serves as a refreshing, energetic introduction to the New World. On to Dressrosa!

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