Spring 2021 – Week 5 in Review

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Hello everybody, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. I’ve sadly got a pretty quick Week in Review for you all this week, as I didn’t actually get around to too many films. On the other hand, my house did push through a fair amount of anime, even beyond our continuing voyage through One Piece. I’m still keeping up with My Hero Academia, even if it seems like the world at large has moved through several Next Big Things since then, and we also made a final push through the last peaks of Bleach’s adaptation. Shonen series have basically consumed all the time slots I was previously dedicating to exploring western cartoons and prestige dramas, so while I feel a little guilty that The Wire and The Sopranos and whatnot have to wait, I simply cannot imagine I would be having more fun with them than the Straw Hats at the moment. You guys will get your turn, I just gotta see what Luffy does over the next seven hundred episodes first. In the meantime, here are my scattered weekly thoughts!

The major prize this week was Dario Argento’s Inferno, which follows up on Suspiria by introducing the “Three Mothers,” three ancient witches with terrible powers and distinctive, sprawling estates. While Suspiria’s witch was located in a German dance school, Inferno is centered around an old New York apartment complex, complete with plentiful labyrinthian corridors and staircases to nowhere. Inferno’s direct focus on the architectural link between these villains clarifies the film’s priorities: in both Suspiria and Inferno, the main character is actually the building they take place in.

Rather than being driven by clear beat-to-beat narrative momentum, Inferno is constructed as a series of long walks down endless, increasingly terrifying hallways, generally culminating in the gruesome death of the focus character. You might think that would get tedious, but it’s actually the opposite; between the phenomenal set design and otherworldly lighting, Argento crafts a series of incredibly tense journeys, reducing horror to a form so visually resonant that words are barely needed. I was absolutely blown away by Suspiria, and though Inferno is a little rougher around the edges in terms of its narrative and characters, it maintains its predecessor’s absurd visual appeal. Watching these characters wander through the nests of the mothers is a delightfully paranoia-inducing experience, as it feels like the very architecture itself contorts around them, reforming into new shapes to torment its captured victims. Every scene is so visually generous that it’s hard to look away; between this, Suspiria, and Deep Red, Argento is swiftly becoming one of my favorite “new” directors.

Along with that, we actually did watch a fair amount of anime this week. Some of it was even airing anime! I’m trying to stay at least somewhat current on My Hero Academia, and thus caught up on the last couple episodes over the weekend. So far, season five is offering an excellent adaptation of an arc that I found myself liking a lot more conceptually than in execution.

I’ve frequently criticized the My Hero Academia adaptation for sticking too closely to the manga’s panels, and thereby failing to satisfyingly translate the manga’s action into a form suitable for animation. For season five, I’m happy to report that the production is pulling out all the stops so far, making great use of its ambitious CG landscapes, and combining that with terrific cuts of traditional animation. My biggest problem with this arc comes down to the source material, which is that for an arc predicated on offering fun strategic possibilities with unique hero lineups, the actual tactical back-and-forth of the fights themselves is pretty lacking.

The Yaoyorozu fight ended up underlining this issue – the entire conflict is framed around the two leaders outwitting each other, but neither Yaoyorozu nor her opponent actually present any clever tactical turnarounds. Instead, they basically just do the same direct strikes and occasional feints as the other teams, while the characters all try to convince us that these are uniquely clever choices. Perhaps I’m just being spoiled by One Piece’s surfeit of lateral thinking, but I feel like this arc is basically designed to scratch one of the core shonen itches, and its failure to do so results in a visually compelling but dramatically underwhelming experience.

Along with that, we decided to finally finish off Bleach, and thus powered through the remains of the Karakura battle arc. Boy, that arc sure has a lot of fights, huh! One right after another, with all the characters standing around in a big circle, waiting their turn to fight. Sometimes two people fight together, and sometimes they trade off, and occasionally someone gets too tired to keep fighting!

Yeah, that’s about the shape of it. With whatever narrative inspiration Tite Kubo once had having long since abandoned him, Bleach’s culmination of the Aizen saga is a tedious slog, elevated only through the occasionally excellent fight animation. There is no shape to this narrative anymore; it’s just a perpetual boss rush, where characters wait their turn to fight while gasping at the ongoing battle, and little strategy exists beyond “look at this new form” “no, look at this new form.” No narrative structure or hooks, no real expansions of the show’s paper-thin characters… heck, even Kubo’s character art feels tired at this point, which is the one point where he usually excels. And by the time Ichigo takes the stage, power levels have scaled so high that there’s not even much sense of unique impact or danger in his fight; just more world-ending explosions, to rattle the debris of the last world-ending explosions.

Later-era Bleach is shonen at its most basic and unsatisfying, with no sense of creativity, pacing, dramatic tension, or emotional impact. Having the genre stripped back so much actually helped clarify my own relationship with it: when you remove everything except the fights, you remove all the elements that actually make me care about your franchise. You can look up and enjoy the Ulquiorra-Ichigo fight for some terrific cuts of animation, but the arc as a whole is an easy skip.

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