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Rate the Last TV You've Seen #8

Oromous

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Sineya
Erased: The Town Without Me - 8.8/10
When I first heard about the popular 2016 anime, Erased, my initial thought was, "Another time travel anime about fixing your past? Come on." It didn't impress me and I wasn't sure what all the hype was about. Madoka Magica did it, Mamoru Hosoda did it with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time; all of them taught you that traveling back in time to change your past is a very bad idea. There just doesn't seem like anything new you could say that hasn't already been said. By the time I've finished the series, however... I was left in tears.

Erased is probably one of the most sincere love letters to the often mocked values of friendship and optimism in children's anime. The series is a message of hope even when there is none, and it even reconstructs the idea of friendship in anime by saying that friendship is not given freely, and you need to dig deep and take that first step first if you're feeling lonely and disconnected from the world.

Such a message couldn't be more relevant for our protagonist, 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma, a comic book artist who's struggling to create a compelling story. His editor tells him to "dig deep" to find that voice, but at the start of the series, he doesn't know what that means. He's someone whom I relate to on some level because it's revealed that he only puts up a polite and civilized front as a way to make friends as he doesn't know how else to socialize with people. In a society like Japan with an increasing number of hikikomori (or social recluse), this is probably a very relevant theme for them as well. Satoru also possesses an ability called "Revival," where he's able to experience events ahead of time (usually from 30 seconds to a minute) whenever something bad is gonna happen. However, even when he does use this ability in the beginning, it doesn't feel like he does it because he genuinely cares about others - it feels more like he does it because the power is a part of him, so he might as well help others with it. There's this detachment Satoru has from "normal people" where he doesn't understand their humor and doesn't try to communicate further than ordinary greetings and conversations. In that sense, you could almost say that it doesn't even matter if he's erased from his town. Nobody will miss him that much aside from his own mother.

But everything changes when a tragic event involving his mother, Sachiko Fujinuma, leads to his Revival powers magically transporting him back to 1988 in his 10-year-old body. In order to prevent Sachiko from meeting the same fate, he tries to find the links to the incident that led his Revival to return him 18 years into the past. This leads him to encounter his classmate Kayo Hinazuki, a victim related to the tragic event in the future. She accurately discerns that Satoru is merely acting amiable towards others just to get along with people, and through his interactions with Kayo and his other classmates (whose help he seeks to protect Kayo), he gradually learn what it means to connect with people and the precious friendship one could gain from such effort.

Usually, I'm not one to care about anime dealing with themes of friendship and family, not because I think they're childish, but because because I don't have many friends and I'm not that close to my own family. Friendship is practically an alien concept to me and I'm in the shoes of Satoru as well, putting up a front just to get through life. But there's just something so sincere about Erased and its childlike way of dealing with an adult issue of disconnection, the way it brings you back to your childhood when you were playing heroes with your neighborhood pals, and the way it shows how such small efforts could result in greater relationships in adulthood that inspires one to try putting in effort the way Satoru does. Furthermore, the anime isn't simply about good guys fighting bad guys like many adventure anime such as One Piece, but instead, it's a mystery thriller that deals with the very realistic theme of child abuse and how hard it is for child protection services to find out the truth about these abuse.

In a report back in May, the National Police Agency of Japan says that a total number of 1,991 minors in Japan aged under 18 were victims of child abuse in 2019. Of the 1,991 child abuse victims, 1,654 were subjected to physical abuse, followed by 248 who were sexually abused, 53 who were verbally and psychologically abused and 36 who were neglected. Naturally, in the year that the anime is set in, 1988, such abuse was very much prevalent in Japan with unclear regulations as to what constitutes "abuse" (particularly unclear was the definition of physical abuse). In a survey during 1984, over 70% of parents supported the use of physical punishment on their children. Even the revised Civil Code of '97 approved the use of such punishment as a form of discipline 'in so far as it is necessary,' so it can be very challenging for the authorities to determine what is abuse and what isn't.

Knowing what I know about child abuse, the anime feels very realistic in its portrayal of such crimes: the Child Protection Service would be unable to protect Kayo in spite of repeated reports of abuse; her mother, Akemi Hinazuki, would hide away bruises and coerce her daughter to lie about the abuse; and Kayo's behavior of reclusiveness, anxiety and self-loathing feel very much like the traits of such abuse victims. Oftentimes, it can prove difficult to watch the anime because of how authentic its portrayal can be. It all goes back to the anime's theme of disconnection between people, how it can be difficult to reach out and help someone facing such hidden abuse or even to reach out and seek help when you're under the coercion of your own parent, the person whom you trust and look to as a guiding beacon. Growing up with such physical and emotional scars of my own, I just can't imagine how someone could bring himself to hurt an innocent child. It's explained why Akemi acts like this in the anime - she was a victim of abuse herself - but I found it hard to sympathize with her in spite of understanding this perpetual cycle in abusive families.

While spending time finding clues to what he's supposed to do, Satoru comes across an essay written by Kayo that the anime title is based on: The Town Without Me:

When I get bigger, big enough to go somewhere by myself,
I want to to a land that's faraway,
I want to go a faraway island,
I want to go to an island that has no people,
I want to go to an island that has no pain or sadness,
There are no adults, children, classmates, teachers or my mom on that island,
On that island I can climb a tree when I want to climb,
Swim in the sea when I want to swim,
And sleep when I want to sleep,
On the island I think about the town that I left behind,
Kids go to school as if nothing has changed,
Adults go to the office as if nothing has changed,
Mom eats as if nothing has changed,
When I think about the town without me, I feel sense of relief,
I want to go far far away.


The town without Kayo, where she becomes just another statistic that's forgotten in 18 years, another unsolved case in some record book. It's a depressing yet realistic view of cases like hers. Determined to change her fate and that of his mother's, Satoru begins to dig deep and welcome Kayo into his life. For the first time ever, he makes a great effort to do whatever he can to reach out to someone to prevent tragedy from repeating. It's an emotionally riveting tale that makes you root for him, even as he fails, stumbles and has to do it all over again with his 'Revival.'

Interestingly, the essay and the title's meaning would take on an opposite tone by the end of the anime, a more optimistic tone that reflects on how Satoru's earnest efforts have left behind impact on the people around him. Even when he's far away from people, his actions have made him memorable in the hearts of many. In a town without him, his friends and family patiently waited for him. Something has changed, but only because of his conscious effort. But that's the extent of spoiler I'm going to go into.

Remarkably, a lot of people hated this ending with a passion, most notably those who have read the original manga and loathed the changes the anime has made to the conclusion. There are two major changes that led to this outrage; one involves a more subtle change related to romantic commitments that I personally find nonsensical to complain about, while the other is a change that's more understandably hated because it lessens the depth of the antagonist and reduces him to a generic psychopath that does things "For the Evulz." I'll address the second change first.

Apparently, the final episode of the anime crams several chapters of the manga into a single episode, resulting in not only 1) the villain's motivation not explained, but also 2) a contrived plan put together by Satoru and his friends. I could understand why people were upset with this, but I'll explain more on why I'm not that bothered by the this change later on. Satoru's plan does seem annoyingly contrived and convenient, yes, but when you consider the larger theme of friendship and belief that the anime seems to be subverting, it just makes sense why this ending plays out like a typical children's anime where the hero conveniently saves the day.

The other major change is the more subtle one. There's a very tiny detail where between the events of episode 10 and 11, the manga explains why Kayo gradually grows separated from Satoru and marries someone else instead of waiting for him. The anime left the detail out. Yeah. That's the complaint, that the anime fails to explain why a 10-year-old girl wouldn't wait for her savior and chooses to move on with life. Such an action is normally something one wouldn't need to ask about if he uses common sense, but apparently, this change is too drastic for many manga fans as everything needs to be explained.

And the thing that's so peculiar is that the anime didn't even really seem like a romance drama to me. It's supposed to be about a guy learning to open up to people around him through his childhood friends. It's an endearing exploration of the relationships you could build if you make an effort to dig deep and find that courage to reach out to people. I don't get why whether if Kayo moving on is explained or not should matter in such a story. Why does everything have to be about romance? It's not a romantic story! It's not about whom marries whom or which characters you ship!

And while I could understand that the exclusion of the villain's backstory is indeed problematic, the thing is, I wasn't that bothered by it because 1) I didn't read the manga so the difference wasn't noticeable for me, and 2) the villain doesn't really matter because this is a story about Satoru. The story still works fine even with a stock villain because it still manages to touch on its more heartfelt themes of connecting with people; the villain is secondary. And if not having experienced the source material still results in you enjoying a show (such as watching Watchmen without reading the comic book), is the adaptation really that bad? It must be made quality enough to still generate such emotions from the audience, and in the case of Erased, I was literally moved to tears by the time the anime ends in the final scene.

As the end credits roll in the final moments of the last episode, we see Satoru, now a successful comic book writer who has found his voice, narrates an essay he has written in his younger 10-year-old voice. The essay, titled "My Hero", is written in a way that mirrors Kayo's essay, and it describes how he lacks the courage to dig deep and take the first step in gaining allies. The choice of word for "allies" used in the Japanese dub of the anime is a special one: nakama. It particularly carries a lot of weight in children's anime like One Piece and Fairy Tail, and while it can be used to say "friend," it's mostly a boyish term for "comrade" or "ally," a relationship that's closer than just a "friend." Satoru says that while he has "friends" (he uses tomodachi to denote 'friends' here), he doesn't have "allies" because he lacks the courage to reach out... unlike the superhero he worships on TV, "Wonder Guy", whose perseverance to fight on no matter how tough life gets earns him his allies. I can't tell you how much I love this final scene because not only does it show how much Satoru has grown as a person, having his own allies that he bonded with as a result of reaching out to Kayo and his classmates (as opposed to just "friends" he works with at his workplace), it's also clearly a tribute to those anime someone like me would normally dismiss as "kiddish" and "juvenile" because of their simplistic themes like courage and friendship. By the end of the anime, it shows how much significance such values we'd usually take for granted can mean in the adult world, having that courage to step out and bond with people. I think with how I feel towards such values and anime that explore them, such a message resonates deeply with me.

In the end, Erased isn't just another whodunit mystery or even another generic time travel sci-fi, and even though it portrays child abuse very realistically, it might not even be about that. Considering that it's a seinen anime targeting adult males, one might say that it's meant to appeal the aforementioned social recluse who has lost touch with the world and forgotten the bonds one could make with others if only you just dig deep with courage and make that first move. It might seem like a childish notion that relies on the belief in people, that they will reciprocate your gesture, but Satoru has said something else in the last episode that addresses such a belief: "'I believe' is such an odd turn of phrase, isn't it? I mean, if you truly believed from the bottom of your heart, you wouldn't need to spell it out. It's like saying 'I believe in air.' So people only say 'I believe' when they doubt something? I'm not trying to say that 'believing in something' is a barefaced lie, just that they are words of hope born from a desire to believe." Notably, Satoru only comes to this conclusion because, while he was accused of a crime the villain has committed in the anime, his co-worker, Airi Katagiri, was the only one who believed in his innocence. When asked why, she said she didn't necessarily believe in him, but rather, she wanted to believe in him, the same way an innocent man like her father (who was also accused of a crime) wants to be believed in.

Perhaps that childlike faith is what's required for us to connect with people. After all, what are stories but a medium to empower our beliefs?
 
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The Vampire Diaries S1 - 6/10
The first half is almost painful to get through, saved only by the presence of the charismatic Damon Salvatore, who makes it bearable to watch the cheesy love story between his brother and Elena; more than once I almost thought I was watching Bella and Edward interact! Episode 9 gives us another character to enjoy in Alaric Saltzman and then, as the second half begins, there are even more things to enjoy as the plot of the season begins to unwrap. But, overall, this is something to get through to get to S2, which I adore :)
 

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Tell Me a Story S1 - 6/10
Sigh. Why does this keep happening to me? It happened with Locke & Key, too. The season starts out great, even amazing here and there, I tell people excitedly to watch it, and then we get past the middle...and everything turns and suddenly I feel awful for recommending it and I worry that someone will watch it and think I have really bad taste in TV or can't tell good writing from bad writing and I just want to take back all of my praise!

The show went from being a clever modern fairy tale retelling that broke tropes and did the unexpected - to being a show that did every goddamn cliche and trope in the book. Ugh! I'm probably never gonna rewatch and I'm gonna wait to watch S2 - which is, thankfully, a brand new story and new characters, like American Horror Story.
 

Oromous

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Tell Me a Story S1 - 6/10
Sigh. Why does this keep happening to me? It happened with Locke & Key, too. The season starts out great, even amazing here and there, I tell people excitedly to watch it, and then we get past the middle...and everything turns and suddenly I feel awful for recommending it and I worry that someone will watch it and think I have really bad taste in TV or can't tell good writing from bad writing and I just want to take back all of my praise!

The show went from being a clever modern fairy tale retelling that broke tropes and did the unexpected - to being a show that did every goddamn cliche and trope in the book. Ugh! I'm probably never gonna rewatch and I'm gonna wait to watch S2 - which is, thankfully, a brand new story and new characters, like American Horror Story.
It's a shame. I was initially intrigued by the premise when I saw your post and Googled the show. I like myself some fairy tale reinvention as well, but it seems like writers always had trouble doing this, whether it's the utterly boring Grimm that became a procedural cop drama of all things to Once Upon A Time which pretty much became a melodramatic soap after season 1.
 

Athene

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The Haunting of Bly Manor episode 1:
8/10
I'm enjoying the atmosphere and characters. It took me until I heard the children's names Miles and Flora to figure out that it's based on 'The Turn of the Screw'.
 
HowiMetdaSlayer
HowiMetdaSlayer
be glad you didn't see The Turning

TriBel

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The Haunting of Bly Manor episode 1:
8/10
I'm enjoying the atmosphere and characters. It took me until I heard the children's names Miles and Flora to figure out that it's based on 'The Turn of the Screw'.
Bly's the name of the house in Turn of the Screw but it didn't click with me either. If it's good I'll give it a try.
 
Athene
Athene
I think it's good you should try it

HowiMetdaSlayer

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The Haunting of Bly Manor episode 1:
8/10
I'm enjoying the atmosphere and characters. It took me until I heard the children's names Miles and Flora to figure out that it's based on 'The Turn of the Screw'.
2nd half of premiere was better than the 1st. Half wonder if this season's been ruined by having the misfortune of watching last year's The Turning? 😖
 
Athene
Athene
I agree, I think episode 1 and 2 were better than 3. I haven't watched The Turning.

Mr Trick

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Not into Bly Manor yet. I feel like making it seralised like Hill House doesn't work. Part of that is I'm just not as engrossed in the characters so don't really care about their backstories. Think this would have just worked better as a straight up ghost story with all the focus on the present. Also its not as scary. Feels a bit soapy too. But I've only watched the first three. Hopefully it improves.
 

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The Vampire Diaries S2 - 8.5/10
I love this season. I'd need to finish my watch to know for sure, but this is probably going to be my favorite season; maybe S3, we'll see. I just love this one - it's funny, to me, how big the difference is from S1. I don't know what happened behind the scenes if they got new writers or a new showrunner or whatever, but someone was responsible for fixing all the bad things from S1 and strengthening the few good things.

Elena and Stefan are actually a decent couple, even though I don't ship them, instead of them acting like Bella and Edward (there was one moment where they clearly plagiarized the Bangel Becoming scene) and I can see why some fans like them together. There were far more characters worth watching for than just Damon and Alaric. This season also has my favorite storyline, which is Caroline becoming a vampire; her arc is brilliant throughout and the changes she goes through serve to finally make her a character worth following and loving.

Also, Niklaus :)
 

Oromous

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Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt - 9.3/10
"Gag series" (a sub-genre of the coined genre "widget series" on TV Tropes) are not new to anime or even American animation. In fact, there's even a whole page listing anime that are light on plot (usually a nonlinear plot) and heavy on comedy without regards for a traditional narrative structure containing a beginning and an end. For a Gainax comedy (the studio infamous for their nonsensical endings unrelated to the larger plot such as those in Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL), a savvy viewer should have already been prepared for such unorthodox storytelling. However, while there are dozens of comedy anime like the slapstick Nichijou and the dramedy Gintama out there that revel in absurdist humor (a form of humor more traditionally rooted in Japanese culture), Panty & Stocking takes pride in its own ridiculous universe and its ludicrous logic instead of having the kind of self-aware, fourth-wall breaking, "winking at the camera" kind of guilt comedies like Gintama would express towards its own silliness. This is especially evident by the final episode when the voice of reason "geek boy", Brief ”Briefers” Rock, asks how the two titular characters could be so flippant about everything, to which the angelic duo answers, "We're always serious," "Dead serious when it comes to screwing around." In spite of its ostentatious crudity, especially when it comes to the more promiscuous "Panty" of the protagonist duo, the show implies that it's a representation of the freedom to do whatever it wants, not bounded by boring ol' rules. This is pretty clear when you realized that the main antagonists of the show, two demon sister counterparts to the titular angel siblings, "Scanty" and "Kneesocks", have a serious passion for enforcing the rules.

Created by the same staff team that brought you the over-the-top Gurren Lagann, the 2010 anime Panty & Stocking was conceived over the staff's vacation trip, with Hiromi Wakabayashi (who came up with the initial idea) comparing it to the likes of Comedy Central's Drawn Together, a 2004 American cartoon that also crudely parodied several styles of American traditional animation like Betty Boop and Disney princesses. The main premise the anime is loosely built on involves two "fallen angels" who have to work their way back to heaven by killing vengeful "ghosts" in exchange for Heaven Coins. Once they've earned enough coins, their return is assured. Thus, we get a monster-of-the-week cartoon bearing much similarities to The Powerpuff Girls, including the design of the main characters and the opening narration of every episode describing the setting of the show, "Daten City". However, unlike PPG (or even many gag anime for that matter), P&S tells you right from the start that it's not meant for children's consumption (with or without parental guidance), as its first episode, Excretion Without Honor and Humanity, involves the angels fighting... a poop monster. Born out of everyone's feces. Yeah, it's that kind of show. The aptly named "Giant Brown" is also the first of the "Excrement Trinity" where disgusting human waste matter are involved, alongside snot monster "Ugly Snot" in Raiders of the Nasal Dark and vomit monster "Boogey Pukey" in Vomiting Point. As you can tell, many of its episode titles also reference American movie titles, particularly '70s movies, but aside from the stylistic similarities present in the title card, that's pretty much where the similarities to the referenced movies end.

Naturally, the two protagonists of the anime hardly behave in any angelic manner at all, with the blonde Panty being more interested in sleeping with men all day long and the blue-haired Stocking more interested in stuffing her face with confectionaries. While most episodes bear a similar minimalist animation style in the vein of PPG, the series can have a wide range of settings and storylines, though still largely rooted in the comedy genre. For example, one episode like Death Race 2010 is an entire chase sequence stretched out to an episode, but another like Pulp Addiction is bookended by a black-and-white sequence featuring the Normandy landings from Saving Private Ryan... except the soldiers are all personifications of sperms trying to eject. Needless to say, entire location sets the audience might be familiar with could be switched every episode, with Vomiting Point taking place in the more grounded "Little Tokyo", mirroring Daten City the way "Citiesville" mirrored Townsville in PPG's Town and Out. In fact, instead of its usual PPG style, that particular episode features an entirely different animation style that resembles Satoshi Kon's artstyle (the guy that brought you Paprika and Perfect Blue).

I mentioned Gintama a number of times in my comparisons to other anime, but P&S' resemblances are more similar to another title known as Excel Saga, of which its full title is Quack Experimental Anime Excel Saga. Much like P&S, it also has a blonde airhead girl and a more subdued blue-haired girl as its main protagonists, including a pet dog mascot like Chuck in P&S as well. More striking in comparison, however, is its unique shift of genre every, single, episode, ranging from sci-fi alien invasion to romantic comedy and even American animation like Wonder Woman and Disney cartoons. P&S kinda treads this genre-bending territory as well, but more so towards its later-half like the aforementioned Vomiting Point, Trans-homers (a Transformers parody down to Optimus and Megatron changing to Rodimus and Galvatron respectively), ...Of the Dead (a zombie episode), 1 Angry Ghost (a courtroom drama episode) and even Ghost: The Phantom of Daten City, which contained far more emotional elements by the end than one would initially expect (Stocking dating a self-centered ghost with a phallic head and extreme body odor).

In fact, it's because of such a unique structure (which I loved about Excel Saga) that made me a bit surprised about P&S' mixed reviews from critics, most notably Anime News Network which calls it "unremittingly revolting," "generally not funny," and having style over substance. Honestly speaking, I don't usually enjoy style over substance either, with myself not being a huge fan of Kill la Kill, but I feel like there's just something refreshing beyond P&S' obvious shock humor. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely not a deep show by any stretch of the imagination, but I always have a fondness for "meta shows" that play around with the genre in creative ways, pushing the boundaries of what you could shove into a series without traditional structures. With episodes like Chuck to the Future (a mostly dialogueless three-parter with Chuck the dog as the main star), Help! We Are Angels (a literal music video referencing various American musicians) and Nothing to Room (a single-shot episode with Panty and Stocking sitting on a couch waiting for dinner), there's just enough range in flavor to satisfy someone like me who actively seeks out original and novel ways to tell a story. The anarchic spirit of both the show and its titular characters hearken back to the kind of post-modernist shows I grew up with in the '90s, daring to poke fun in shameless ways just to see what works and what doesn't. And for P&S, most of the time, it works surprisingly well right until the end, often intriguing me with some new surprise each episode.

If there is ever a gripe, as there always are since nothing is perfect, it's not even really a gripe at all but more of a disappointment: the series is only 13 episodes long with no sequel. Pragmatically speaking, this is sensible because you can only do so much to parody different genres before it becomes stale (Excel Saga somewhat suffers from this with its 26 episodes). But as someone who had such a great time watching this... god, I just can't help but crave for more. Unlike the many serious anime I've reviewed, P&S has a carefree nature that makes me appreciate American animations like PPG and the many Nickelodeon and even Disney Channel cartoons, that spirit to just give the audience a good time for the fun of it without imparting any serious morals or didacticism. It feels kinda tranquil not having to point out what political or social commentary the episodes might have contained, what real life issues they might have addressed, and just to have a jolly fun time with colorful narrative styles every episode.

Sometimes, style over substance like this is not only appreciated, but necessary in life.
 
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Oromous

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Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt in Sanitary Box 6.5/10
Instead of granting us a sequel, the gods of Gainax instead gifted us this bundle of (very) short episodes featuring more of what made the original series so awesome, with more parodies of American media mixed with the sister angels' wacky raunchiness.

Notable parodies include Geek of the Dead playing on Shaun of the Dead (keeping a zombie as a companion) and Chuck to the Future Part 4, an entire Super Mario Bros. montage. The other shorts are the usual gross out humor like baby foreskins made into Pringle chips (Brothers of the Roundhead) and Stocking getting revenge on Panty for messing up her hair by snipping half her head away then using her blood to replace her hair (The Hairdresser's Bad Wife). You know, typical P&S stuff. The final segment (of which its title I couldn't repeat because it's a swear word) is a play on flash animation with the entire episode animated using it, thus paying yet another tribute to the wide world of animation.

For an 8 minutes short, it's not bad for what it is, though I'd have much preferred a second season.
 

Mr Trick

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What were some of your favorite episodes/stories?
The pilot was good. Also really liked One for the Angels, Walking Distance, The Lonely, What You Need, The Fever, The Last Flight, Elegy, The Monsters are due on Maple Street, A Stop at Willoughby.
 

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The Vampire Diaries S3 - 7/10
Yeah, I remembered wrong, definitely don't love this as much as the previous one. Still miles better than S1, though. I enjoyed a lot of it, it has my favorite version of Elena so far and Bonnie, my least favorite character, was her least annoying self. But some things dragged it down, like the Salvatore/Elena triangle drama being at its peak and overly melodramatic, and also the head-scratching decision of the writers to continue having outside characters prefer Stefan over Damon for Elena, even after all the awful, horrible things Stefan has done since we first met the brothers. But mostly it was a good one, and the last one that I remember fully. I think I last saw an episode in the beginning of S5, so my memories of S4 are a bit hazy - I know the overall plots, but not much else.

Edit to clarify: not saying Damon is better than Stefan now, but that they are pretty equally awful and the choice shouldn't be as clear anymore (for others, not Elena).
 

Oromous

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The Simpsons S6 - 8.5/10
Usually, by the sixth season of the series, TV shows have long reached their peak and have packed their bags for syndication. The Simpsons, however, was only just getting started. Some would even argue that this was the real beginning of its Golden Age that lasted through season 7 and 8. The ratings would certainly reflect that, as season 6 marks the highest-rated season of the series yet. The animated adult cartoon would literally never be as good ever again, for better or worse.

Personally, I had a lot of problems with Mirkin's direction previous season, to turn up the zaniness of the cartoon and dial down the realism or even the satire of earlier seasons. Season 5 became one huge gag show that's made purely for laughs, containing very few of the clever social commentary or even the emotional moments that made season 2 through 4 such a blast. Fortunately, season 6 has returned to form and brought a nice mix of a ridiculous cartoonish nature and a more heartfelt examination of the characters and their relationships.

We get three very nice episodes revolving round my favorite Simpson yet, Lisa's Rival, Round Springfield, and Lisa's Wedding. The last of which was literally an Emmy-winning landmark on its own as it features the series' first episode to be set almost entirely in the future. While such speculative scenes have been present in the series' history before, this was the first to center its entire premise around what might happen to the Simpsons family decades down the road. It's also one of the rare chances we get to have the satisfaction of seeing OFF (Our Favorite Family™) grow up, an element that easily makes me more eager than ever to watch similar episodes like this such as Holidays of Future Passed and Barthood. Meanwhile, we also get two episodes focused on the often overlooked Marge as well, Fear of Flying and The Springfield Connection, even if the former didn't work so well in its attempt to inject humor into a non-humorous character. But from such episodes that lend further depth to the characters, season 6 has a more intimate feeling that reinforce the character qualities that made us like them in the first place. Alongside Lisa's Wedding, the tightening of familial bonds also extends to Grandpa and Homer Simpson in Grampa vs. Sexual Inadequacy. Another standout episode with such a strong emotional core is And Maggie Makes Three, of which its "Do It For Maggie" ending reminds us we put up with his buffoonery: because he's a doting father at heart full of fatherly love.

But emotional moments aside, this is still a comedy series, and the first few episodes of season 6 (though the first two were delayed from season 5) already gave me a good impression of what's to come, with Simpsons being as biting with its satirical commentary as ever in the forms of Itchy & Scratchy Land and Sideshow Bob Roberts (one was taking jabs at Disney's merchandising and Disneyland's poor working environment almost two and a half decades before their purchase of Fox, while the other was supposed to be a parody of Bob Roberts, but ended up predicting problematic candidacies voted by the people). This was followed by my favorite Treehouse of Horror thus far that's probably also the darkest one yet that really pushed back against the censor-pushing of Fox and the FCC. Later on, Homer Badman once again exemplified the show's hilarious social mockery by predicting SJWs long before SJW culture. Needless to say, season 6 was firing on all cylinders: comedy, satire and emotions.

However, some of the later episodes did fail to get as many laughs from me like Bart vs. Australia (a mockery of Australian stereotypes conceived by Americans), A Star is Burns (a blatant advertisement for another Fox show known as The Critic, a parody of movies that should've been more appealing to a movie fan like me but somehow didn't catch my attention), Homer vs. Patty and Selma, Homie the Clown and Homer the Great. These are the furthest things from being the kind of bad episodes we'd see down the decades, but they are kinda forgettable and just didn't really do much for me with their usual Mirkin cartoonish shenanigans that bored me in season 5. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed Two Dozen and One Greyhounds and its blatant parody of 101 Dalmatians and the Be Our Guest song from Beauty and the Beast. Much like the other episodes I mentioned this paragraph, it feels like a typical episode written for the fun of it (as opposed to having anything that clever to say), but it strikes a chord for me and my Millennial childhood, something rare for a show written by Boomers. In fact, most of the jokes in the show probably don't land well with me because they're obscure references to some '70s talk show host or celebrity I never heard of in my non-American country (somehow, anime like Gintama and their obscure references to other anime and Japanese culture Americans won't get land better for me, a non-Japanese).

But to its credit, season 6 has both a strong start and a strong ending, with winning entries like the aforementioned Lisa's Wedding, Two Dozen and One Greyhounds, Round Springfield, and of course, the famous milestone that's part one of Who Shot Mr. Burns? an episode where the show gets the audience to answer the titular question through a hotline (before revealing the "truth" three months later). Such a publicity stunt is obviously a reference of the 1978 drama, Dallas and the coined catchphrase spawned from its third season finale, A House Divided, but for a comic book fan like myself... well, you comic book fans probably know what I'm about to say. Yes indeed, it's the 1988 Jim Starling series known as Batman: A Death in the Family, where fans were asked to dial a number to decide if Robin should be horrifically murdered by The Joker. It's not the first time audience interaction became that intimate, and with Gravity Falls, it certainly wouldn't be the last. It's an interesting social experiment that led to a whole generation of media sensation and ultimately heightened the cartoon's already heightened reputation as a historical TV landmark the likes of I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, Cheers and of course, Dallas (shows that are so old and yet somehow I have still heard of them).

All in all, even while not every episode works for me, it's still an ambitious season that has thoroughly entertained and even amazed me, possibly more than ever since season 3. Yes, The Simpsons is definitely heading off to a a great future ahead... or at least two more years (or three depending on whom you ask) of glorious laughter before said laughter is behind us, replaced with a husk of its former self. No wonder many consider S6 the peak of the series.
 

Oromous

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Sineya
Tesagure! Bukatsu-mono (season 1) - 7.2/10
Now, the camera quickly pans up from the bottom
And the logo shows up with a thud!

This leads into...
The part where we introduce everybody
All of us, one by one
Our characters are established as we show up on-screen

And now we're running!
We're reaching out our hands!
- Actual lyrics to the anime's opening theme, "Stand Up!!!!", mocking anime opening theme clichés


Needless to say, that title sequence is the reason that got me into watching the anime in the first place. I've expressed on record multiple times my love for metafictional movies and TV shows, especially if those shows are making fun of familiar tropes and conventions. This affection wasn't necessarily born out of some meanspirited obsession to make fun of everything I dislike, but more often than not, it's due to something entirely opposite: my love for those things being made fun of. For example, I remember liking that film class scene in Scream 2 (where everyone is making fun of sequels) more than the rest of the movie itself, even wishing there are more movies like this that just spend all day long talking about movie conventions. Naturally, this is because of my love for movies and talking about them.

Similarly, Tesagure is a slice-of-life anime talking about anime. It's like that one film class scene in Scream 2 stretched over an entire series of 12 episodes, but the topic being anime (and manga) instead of movies sequels. And when I said slice-of-life, I do mean that the entire anime is about nothing else but the mundane conversations between four girls sitting around a clubroom table. It's not really a parody like Excel Saga or Panty & Stocking that imitate the conventions on a visual level, which is a misunderstanding I had going into the show (and from the meta lyrics of the TV intro, could you honestly blame me?). More specifically, it's about a middle school club with a suggestive and problematic name ("The Groping Club") 'groping' around for the identity of their club.

The formula of every episode usually plays out in similar ways: 1) the four club members would decide on a school club theme they want to discuss about (be it a sports club, a chess club or even a music club), 2) discuss what's the first impression they get when they think of the club, 3) talk about the way said clubs are portrayed in anime and manga, and 4) by the end of the episode (though not every episode), they would head over to the gym and try out new and unusual activities related to the club theme (such as a card game but with photos in a journalism club, or Twister but with chess pieces). While the anime would occasionally involve amusing jokes about the silliness of anime tropes, more often than not, Tesagure is more about the girls just fooling around in the clubroom and spending quality time with each other, which is actually the main appeal of a slice-of-life show: characters going about day-to-day mundane activities.

I mentioned before that I'm not particularly a big fan of slice-of-life anime because they are essentially about... well, nothing really. That's the point. But as I've found out, it isn't a genre exclusive to anime, but existent within some of my childhood cartoons as well like Hey Arnold! and Disney's Recess, or more notably and effectively utilized, As Told By Ginger. It's what you do with the genre that matters, but unfortunately, the Japanese seem really obsessed with "school culture nostalgia," thus leading them to create strangely popular shows like K-On! where characters just sit around doing mundane things that don't really make for an exciting narrative or even exciting drama. "Drama" is the keyword to a good American slice-of-life like Doug or even Seinfeld, which is why most Japanese slice-of-life anime don't work for me due to their lack of it.

That being said, slice-of-life can work when they focus on something with more substance than just cute girls sipping tea and lazing around. Nichijou, for example, exaggerates the mundane nature of the genre for laughs, while Tesagure's end credits sequence denotes that the show is intentionally about nothing to focus on the quality time students spend with each other before the tearful graduation split them apart. Even the melody and lyrics of the ending theme, 12 kagetsu or "12 Months" (indicating the 12 months taking place in the anime) are melancholic in nature:

Although there was nothing special
There was meaning to the time we spent together
You'll never return, so I'll tell you
"You're more important than anything else"
Encounters, departures, everything has an effect on our future


The final episode in particular confirms this as the newest member of the quartet, Koharu Tanaka, cries out in sorrow at the idea of the senior members leaving her. For some reason, even though K-On! also contains such a tearful departure, it just comes off more effectively for me in Tesagure, probably because such a message has been repeated in its closing theme for 12 episodes (whereas K-On! merely has a really energetic pop music that I can't stop listening to).

Another reason is also because the conversations between these girls feel very grounded. Tesagure is a "pre-scored" animation, meaning the lines were recorded then animated over them using the MMD ("MikuMikuDance") freeware (originally used to produce the famous Japanese virtual idol, Hatsune Miku). This means that the girls basically sit around and talk with each other about club themes every episode as if it's a podcast, which is why their conversations tend to come off as more natural and realistic, like a group of girls having fun chatting with each other. It's probably the reason why it's so easy to connect with these characters and just act like you're one of them, listening in on the conversation and enjoying their company. Because of such a realistic style, when it's time to depart, that sentiment feels stronger and more relatable. It really doesn't help that an anime like K-On! sidelines the audience while the characters eat cake and dress silly, making the audience feel more like an outsider looking in on something fun you'd much rather participate in than watch.

By the way, the MMD technology has also been used for other recent anime, though they are such obscure titles it's not really worth naming them. However, I've also seen it used to create virtual YouTubers, and more notably, virtual Twitch streamers. It's probably not gonna be my favorite animation style any time soon as they seem like an amateur form of 3-D animation, but hey, it's yet another creative use of the medium in the wonderful world of animation! Or as the characters of this anime would say, atarashii (it's a novel idea)!
 
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