Important! There may be a few incidental spoilers here, so please be careful!
Winter 2017 gave us some enjoyable series. The ratios of series I started to those I dropped was pretty good: I only dropped two! One them, Seiren, would have been in this post. I dropped that show not because I thought it was terrible, but because I didn’t think it was compelling. Sure, Hikari Tsuenki was sexy and fun to watch, but I just wasn’t that interested in her relationship to Shouichi Kamita, who didn’t strike me as a very strong male lead.
If you liked Seiren, you might be interested in its soundtrack:
I not only finished the other three shows in this review — I thoroughly enjoyed them! And here they are:
This show starts with a simple premise: some humans are affected by genetic conditions and become vampires, succubi, snow women, or a dullahan. Historically, society not only pushed those folks aside; they were often killed. Modern Japanese society’s a little more polite about such differences, but there’s an unstated backdrop of exclusion at the beginning of this show. Instead of following where that dark path could have led, we meet Tetsuo Takahashi, a high school teacher, who is honestly interested in learning more about these demi-humans. He’s a little dejected because he hasn’t been able to meet any of them.
His luck changes dramatically in the first episode. He not only gets to meet student Hikari Takanashi, a vampire, but he gets to meet two other demi-humans, Kyouko Machi (a dullahan) and Yuki Kusakabe (a snow woman). To top it all off, a new teacher at the same high school, Sakie Satou, turns out to be a succubus. A succubus who teaches math and wears sweats all the time to make sure she doesn’t over excite the male students — or teachers.
It’s the details like that that pulled me into the show. Satou had to go to extra lengths so her enhanced sexuality wouldn’t cause trouble in her life or in the lives of folks around her. So she felt isolated. Since Machi had to carry her head, it was hard for her to carry her books without dropping her head on the ground. She couldn’t exactly talk freely about that or other dullahan concerns, because the people around her all had their heads firmly attached to their necks and might not understand what she was talking about. Kusakabe was afraid she’d give off cold vapors and hurt someone; how does one bring that up in polite conversation? So they all lived on the fringes, trying to make connections where they could, but still hampered by aspects of their natures or by the subtle pressure of others not knowing how to approach them.
It took Hikari’s unfailing cheerfulness to push over the first domino. She reached out to Tetsuo for help when Machi fainted, and when she led him to Machi, he was understandably surprised when he found only her body with its glowing green flame where her hear would have been. Hikari explained Machi’s head was light enough to carry, but she needed help with the body.
The show gently explored their various conditions, and it showed them building friendships first among themselves, then among others in the student population. The show never felt preachy; it just dramatized the events in realistic ways. For example, Tetsuo talked the principal into granting Machi an exception for the “no backpacks” rule. With her books in her backpack, she could carry her head in both hands.
My favorite part of the show was the mature way it presented Satou. In the anime I’ve seen, a succubus generally goes a number of ways, from the relentlessly sexual Ageha Kurono from Rosario + Vampire to the powerful and scheming (and relentlessly sexual) Maria Naruse from Testament of Sister New Devil to the entrepreneurial succubi from Konosuba’s first season. Though fun in their own ways, these portrayals didn’t add anything to the discussion of what it means to be a succubus, from the perspective of a succubus. Satou’s struggles to first contain her sexuality, then to present it in an affectionate way to Tetsuo, was a dramatic treat to watch. I never would have considered that a succubus might be awkward or embarrassed to show her powers to a man she liked! In fact, before this show, I hadn’t considered the succubus’ perspective at all.
This show was a wonderful treatment of what it means to build relationships that pull a person into society. Put another way, it shows how those relationships can build up society and make it more enjoyable and more welcoming. I think that’s an idea that has real implications for the world we live in. I hope we get a second season!
From the first time we see him on screen, Jean Otus seems out of place. Though he’s the second in command of the main ACCA office, he never seems to quite fit in. There’s a good reason for that, and I’m not going to spoil one of the show’s main reveals. But there’s something that Jean does, all the time, that also turns out to be important: he smokes cigarettes.
That’s important because a) cigarettes are rare and therefore expensive and b) they have political implications that come to light as the show goes on.
The series takes place in the kingdom of Dowa, which is made up of thirteen highly individual states. A king rules over them, but the states enjoy consider autonomy. There’s been peace for the last 99 years, partly because of ACCA, which audits all thirteen states and makes sure everything’s above board. Lately, though, there have been rumors about a brewing coup d’etat, and the ACCA’s 5 chiefs, along with the ACCA director Mauve, are increasingly concerned about the potential political destabilization. So they send Jean out to each state, ostensibly to conduct routine audits, but really to ascertain the political climate.
The show has a lot of intrigue. Why does Mauve want Jean to report findings directly to her? Is she part of the coup? Why does Nino show up almost everywhere Jean goes? Why does the crown prince want to do away with ACCA? How did Jean and his sister Lotta end up managing an upscale apartment complex, and why won’t Jean quit ACCA when he has such a low-stress job readily available?
Most importantly: why does everyone in this show love food so much? Seriously, I think there’s more delicious good in this series than Jean has cigarettes — and that’s a lot!
The show has a distinctive style — colorful and deceptively simple in how it communicates complex emotions with simple movements or expressions. The plot trickles details to us in a leisurely way until before we know it, we’re caught up in a struggle to keep Dowa alive. The costumes are ornate and functional as the situation demands, and they vary interestingly per state. The characters all have complex back stories and interesting quirks. To top it all off, the opening sequence oozes cool style with its jazz instrumentation and character sequences.
Its vivid characters and unique style put me in mind of Cowboy Bebop. Not that ACCA: 13 in any way copies that masterpiece; but that both series stood apart from their contemporaries in similar ways. Though I have to say that I liked ACCA: 13’s last episode a lot better. It was a good example of what team work can do compared to Spike Spiegel’s lone wolf tactics.
I had a hunch that I was going to like Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid when I learned that the main character, Kobayashi, was a software developer. We need more shows staring software developers. That shallow observation aside, the show’s premise showed a huge amount of promise: Tohru, a huge dragon aligned with the Chaos faction in her world, suddenly shows up on Kobayashi’s doorstep, takes the form of a human woman, and announces she wants to be Kobayashi’s maid. This raises all kinds of questions, like why would a Chaos dragon want to do anything with humans but eat them? How did the two meet and why did they hit it off so well — to the point where Tohru says she’s in love with Kobayashi?
Within a few episodes, we find that Tohru isn’t the only dragon who can take human form. Kanna Kamui, younger than Tohru, is powered by electricity and has to plug in to recharge. She ends up becoming the family child with Kobayashi and Tohru playing the role of parents. Fafnir, a dragon who hates humans, joins them and ends up living with Makoto Takiya, Kobayashi’s co-worker. Watching their relationship develop gives me hope for humanity’s future, because if a human-hating dragon can get along with a closet otaku, anyone can! Quetzalcoatl joins the crew and causes no end of trouble for the young man she decides to live with. She’s much more forward with her sexuality than the others, but she’s easily embarrassed if Tohru or the others brings up her past. Finally, the fussy and decision-adverse Elma arrives, having followed Tohru with the intention of attacking her (since she’s in a rival dragon faction). That plan doesn’t work out, and she ends up taking a job at the same place Kobayashi works.
I tend to really enjoy Kyoto Animation’s work (one of their series, Beyond the Boundary, is in the Caw of Fame) because their stories are generally well told and the art’s usually beautiful.* This series hit all the right notes on both counts. In an entertaining and touching way, the show answered the questions inherent to the premise. We finally get the full scene of Kobayashi and Tohru meeting in the next to last episode was as hilarious as it was emotionally up-lifting. What elevates this series is how it explores the ideas of family and belonging. When the show begins, we’re not clear why Tohru is so in love with Kobayashi, especially given the human’s near inability to express her own feelings. As the show goes on, though, Kobayashi goes from lecturing Tohru about why she can’t bring about Armageddon to realizing that her life is much better with Tohru in it. So we get to see the relationship growing from both of their perspectives.
These scenes really bring home the show’s central themes:
- Tohru crawling into bed with Kobayashi and slowing opening up to the human about her past after a bad dream (episode 1, about 21:20)
- Kobayashi almost accidentally telling Tohru she preferred her life with Tohru (and Kanna) in it (episode 3, about 14:40)
- Tohru confessing that she’s jealous and hurt at how much attention Kobayashi has been paying to Elma (episode 8, around 19:20), and Kobayashi’s reaction
- Kobayashi melting Tohru’s heart as the human confronts the Emperor of Demise, Tohru’s father, and argues in favor of Tohru staying with her (with bonus points for Kanna helping so quietly) (episode 13, around 19:00)
That’s not even mention the myriad “cute Kanna” moments, or the endearing Quetzalcoatl moments, or even the very low-key but no less genuine Fafnir moments. And yes, Elma has some moments too, but most of them dealt with food. She’d’ve been right at home in ACCA: 13!
Of all the shows this season, and there were several I really liked, I think I’ll miss this one the most.
* There are exceptions. I don’t think I was in the target audience of Free!, for example.