And that’s excluding whether said focus is good to begin with.
Five weeks into this Fall season and I can’t say I’ve been very impressed with it so far. I’m enjoying the new Sound Euphonium obviously and…that’s pretty much it. None of the “new” shows have been really doing it for me. You know how I said before that Mob Psycho 100 is sort of the baseline to what I consider a fun show? Well I think most people can agree that every other anime this season is worse than that show, and I don’t think I have to clarify what happens when your show falls below the fun threshold. And the one anime this season that I really wished I liked a lot more than I actually did is March Comes Like a Lion, because it has some of the most interesting elements of any Fall 2016 show, and yet is marred by so many major flaws. The latest episode in particular really piled on the drama in its second half-episode and while I found it interesting to reflect on, I was actually kinda bored watching it the entire time.
It wasn’t bad, but there’s so little impact because it was just backstory that existed to flesh out Rei’s character and hint at future plot points without actually moving things forward in a significant manner or with an interesting point to it that I can sink my teeth into. Shaft works have always had a bit of a problem focusing too much on the characters so I’m not too surprised at this. What I wasn’t expecting though was for the original manga to be as slice-of-life-y as it was, and I didn’t think Shaft would go the half-episodic route when it came to adapting the thing (that is, each chapter gets its own self-contained eleven minutes). It’s not an inherently bad way to adapt something, but the problem I’m having is that this show more resembles one of Shaft’s old outdated comedies from the early-to-mid 00s rather than a legitimate drama. There are entire segments dedicated to light-hearted bits that aren’t funny and do nothing to endear me to the characters because their only purpose is to shine light onto Rei’s dark world (in a tonally inconsistent manner), and the problem with Rei’s dark world when the segments focus on that the self-contained story told from it never gets developed beyond “life sucks”. Well of course life sucks. Life sucks for a lot of people. We care about them because they’re real. Rei is fictional, so what’s making me care about him?
Well I’ve always kinda liked him, but what made me enjoy him a little more is how Rei was so much better than the kids he lived with at shogi despite all the hard work they put into the game themselves that they hated him, which caused him to drop out of high school and make it into the pro world so he could become independent. That’s a very shitty situation, but what makes it engaging is how no one is truly at fault and the characters have to work out some really shitty compromises regarding their natural talent and their personal lives (mostly from Rei’s end, because we don’t get to know the kids he grew up with that much). I’m sure you’ve seen through my Euphonium posts that I like human dramas where people are forced to make hard decisions based on their personalities and situations, given that the consequences of said actions are just as hard. It’s a very mature, very relatable piece of human storytelling that I love to champion, especially given how I was raised next to my much more talented and sociable younger brother (who admittedly has his own problems, but this isn’t the right place to discuss my personal life, and definitely not his). In addition to Sound Euphonium, Danganronpa and Mob Psycho 100 also utilize compromises regarding talent and such as a big part of their appeal, and considering those are some of my favorite anime of this year, you’d think I’d be all over March Comes Like a Lion.
But of course, those shows have narratives that use it as a major theme and whilst it’s true that these specific narrative chops didn’t appear in any of those shows (or in Danganronpa’s case, the games) until a few episodes in, I’m not sure if March is willing to ditch its half-episodic format in the near future for something with more continuity like those series eventually did. Which wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the drama would actually accomplish something in its limited runtime like some of the best shows on Cartoon Network do nowadays besides “feelings”. I’ve never been a fan of that Uchouten Kazoku/Grimgar/moodpiece-method of drama in where the hard-hitting stuff just exists to convey the right emotional moods in a specific situation without actually pushing anything forward, and so far that seems to be the kind of storytelling that Shaft wants to accomplish with this show. It’s not the most boring usage of it I’ve seen, but twenty-three episodes is a long time.
The closest thing any of my favorite anime have come to being a mood piece are Aku no Hana and Cat Soup. But whilst the former doesn’t have much plot in it strictly speaking, it counterbalanced that with an underlying narrative that was both strong and always moving, as well as starting on the very first (second at worst) episode. It wasn’t just about capturing specific emotions, but shedding light on some really complicated teenage issues as well as the pros and cons of breaking free from a routine. As for Cat Soup, that one is a little hard to describe without any actual animation from the OVA – especially considering its use of animation to tell its story is one of the big reasons why I like it so much – accompanying my thoughts, but let’s just say the main takeaway after all was said and done was how “God is an ass”. Basically, while I’ve seen people argue for them being satisfying on a purely emotional level, I see them more along the lines of Serial Experiments Lain and Haibane Renmei. Not quite on their level in terms of visual storytelling, but definitely a lot better at it than March Comes Like a Lion.
The point being that for all the emotional buttons that March is pushing, it still feels very safe after five weeks of it, mostly because the characterization it provides doesn’t seem to be a core part of any particular story so much as building up Rei for something that may or may not happen in the future. In other words, character development for the sake of character development. And before the very dedicated, very mean fans of the original manga come to rush at me the way they rushed at Bobduh when he dared to criticize their beloved show way more lightly than I do to shows I enjoy, “life is full of light and dark moments” is not a good story. It’s a good baseline for a story, but you have to be more specific than that. And right now, March hasn’t really specialized in anything. Not the family, not the shogi, and not really even Rei’s past or depression. There’s a bunch of good toys you spread out on the floor, Mr. Not-Shinbo. Are we going to play with them anytime soon?
I’m sure a lot of anime people like to buy figurines and just lay them out on a shelf for decoration, but I’ve always been more into stuffed animals that I can hug and toss around whilst badly imitating their voices. I don’t necessarily need for March to get continuity (I could do without seeing Kyouko again for a good while, but I won’t complain if she does come back as long as she doesn’t make a goofy face), but a little more purpose in what I’m watching would be nice, even if it’s temporary. Sure Natsume Yuujinchou has mostly just been telling the same story over and over again without any forward progression long before the new season hit, but at least each episode keeps a direction that lasts twenty-two minutes for the most part. In fact, whilst people consider it one of the grand exceptions to the rule, I consider Natsume more of a baseline for how to do the self-contained emotional storytelling that March is ultimately aiming for.
You know what? Forget setting Mob Psycho 100 as a baseline like everything else this season. This show should aim for Natsume Yuujinchou’s level first. Because unless there’s a giant structure change in the near future, I don’t see why March can’t get there given how close its drama comes to it at times. We can argue about the crappy humor later, but for now, let’s focus on the main problem whose fixing is both simple and wouldn’t cause the manga readers to riot. Just add in some eleven-minute direction like an important shogi match. Or a dying old man that the sisters happen to be acquainted with.
- Keep in mind, I haven’t looked at the new Ajin and won’t until it comes out on Netflix. But that’s a sequel to, so it probably wouldn’t affect my judgment of Fall.
- For the record, Fune wo Amu isn’t bad. It’s just kinda dry and mundane, like most anime that try to focus on adult life. I still remember the boredom of Hataraki Man/Ristorante Paradiso, even if you guys don’t remember those shows at all.