Early Impressions: Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou

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Three episodes in, I don’t think I’ll have a scenario where I watch zero anime this season.

To be frank, this was the only standalone (as in no sequels) anime this season that I thought had any sustainable (as in no gut feeling, a la URAHARA) chance of being good. Everything this season looked so… tryhard and exploitative of current trends and like obvious cash-grabs. And here I thought I had become less jaded throughout the year. Perhaps I’ll start Blend S

A world where humanity has died out, an empty world of ruins and silence. Two young girls travel around the world looking for something; perhaps a reason to stay alive. The only premise that made me think, “Oh. This definitely has potential to not be complete shit.” It hasn’t disappointed. With only the two characters (aside from episode three) being shown, they’re the only perspectives we get from the world, slowly filling in the details about their past and why the state of the world is what it is. Light-hearted in its development (and character design), it has the essence of being both sugary sweet and disguising serious emotional trauma/existentialism. Complexity in anime is always nice.

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At first, the design of the two girls somewhat threw me off. They’re actually moe-blobs, with huge, round eyes and heads like mochi. How, or why, did the author believe this to be an adequate choice to represent these characters? My mind cracked from its suddenly jaded state, assuming the worst money-grubbing motivations behind making characters cutesy for no reason. As the series continued, I began to assimilate myself to seeing them as they are, and what was initially cynical became more understanding; perhaps these characters are less about being cute and more about being soft catalysts into this dark and depressing world. It is the contrast that makes it so intriguing to think about, with girls one would typically see in something like Yuyushiki being placed in a setting devoid of anything. Isolation and fear of the unknown, and bits of surviving in a cruel world, through the symbols of assuring optimism.

That isn’t to say both of these girls are just happy-go-lucky planks of wood. Chi and Yuu are—because of course they are—complete opposites. Chi is more booksmart, level-headed, and the mother of the two girls. She attains the duties of survival and responsibility through her quiet determination and spirit. Yuu is more carefree, more open with her desires and motivations, such that it leads her into trouble. The daughter in the mother-daughter relationship the two girls share, but has a number of capabilities necessary to their survival (she’s handy with a gun). As paraphrased, Yuu is “the brawn” to Chi’s “brain.” Once again, this aspect of contrast plays in effect to these characters’ bond and interaction on an episodic basis. They wouldn’t seem like they’d be friends outside of this context, yet they understand each other’s needs and moods as though they’re perfect for one another. Time and isolation is implied as the reason for this, yet there is a tenderness between them that is charming from an outsider’s perspective. Yuu cannot read, so her idea of apologizing is drawing a picture of Chi with an aside saying, “I’m sokky.”

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Look at these big, fat paragraphs. Look at how much detail I’m allowed to spew about this anime, despite how it’s literally just two girls driving around desolated areas all day. The proof is in the (contextual) pudding. Reading between the lines, analyzing things from a more intimate detail, and the extraction of what we take for granted becoming part of what brings out true character. Yuu and Chi are so used to living alone that they now take for granted the reality that they may never see a true civilization again. This gives birth to curiosity; how long has the world been like this? Why are they the only two living (until episode three)? What happened to this world? What do these two girls hope to find? One of the best things about Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou is that it has no tolerance for bullshit. There are no distractions. The world is dead. All that is and can be shown are the two girls and their interaction with the non-moving environment. This level of intimacy is almost unheard of in anime. And I applaud it for it.

I’ll wrap it up here, as this is starting to become lengthier than it should be. Bottom line: a respectable idea with a slow, but effective build. I’m not ready to recommend it fully, as there’s much that can still be shown to ruin it for me, but for now, it’s ripe with potential. It may be the only anime I’m watching this season, but it feels like a journey in and of itself, building the bridge within my mind that leads to many different pathways as a multitude of series would give me.

Early Impressions: URAHARA [Dropped]

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(This series has since been dropped. There will be no entry for it for the foreseeable future.)

Three episodes in, it ended up not meaning anything.

With this gone, I am now down to only one seasonal anime to view on a weekly basis. If anyone has something to recommend that is not complete garbage, please feel free.

With the first episode of URAHARA, I was charmed by its attempts at appearing somewhat off. I had anticipated that it would take this incredibly avant-garde color palette and premise to places that would end up being intriguing to dissect. Through three episodes, I saw no signs of anything of the sort, so as my patience continued to wane, as did my interest in continuing along with the series. Truth be told, I didn’t even watch three whole episodes, only two and about twelve minutes of the third, only to skim through the rest to see if I would miss anything. I wouldn’t.

Three girls are within their own world of Harajuku (I believe it was called) when aliens come out of nowhere and start taking various artifacts of human culture to have for themselves. A talking shrimp puff that doubles as a scarf for a mysterious little girl explains that the aliens cannot think creatively for themselves, so they steal landmarks of creativity from other planets to compensate for it. The three girls are given powers (I genuinely cannot remember how or why) that allow them to combat these thieving aliens and the rest, well, kinda plays out like a villain of the week, Saturday-morning cartoon. All the clichés are present with none of the charm from the characters or consequences of the plot at hand.

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Skipping ahead from my normal structure, art is something that made me both stay at first and leave at the end. It’s very simplistic design, with a lot of rough-around-the-edges style of animation that made it seem incredibly amateurish. Once again, I was suspicious as to whether the series was doing this purposely as a form of parody or satire, which made me question the style they presented (lots of girly, light colors). With no evidence of anything of the sort, I can say with almost certainty that the animation is simply atrocious and the studio behind it takes numerous shortcuts that reek of low budgeting and laziness. Hell, characters don’t even have the same succinctness to their jawlines scene-after-scene.

There are some things I could say about the story of URAHARA, but there’s a deterrent to my further elaboration: what story? Aliens rob Earth of their culture, then a giant bubble surrounds a certain portion of the girls’ town and then… they do stuff. They do normal girl things and hardly worry about it. They talk to each other and develop their friendship. And at the end of each episode, an alien conveniently swoops in and starts shit, only to be defeated without much effort. That’s about as much as I can remember articulate. Simply put, it’s pretty dull, with only the expectation that better things are yet to come leading me along with this nonsensical production.

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It would at least be tolerable if the characters weren’t cardboard cutouts of… anything, really. There is so little differentiation between these three girls that it barely matters what any of them do. One is a blunt, yet shy fashionista (who I liked at first). Another is a soft-spoken and absent-minded accumulation of girliness. And the last, I guess she’s the “main” one, is the main character. Any veterans of the industry can immediately fill in the blanks with only “the main one” as context, sadly. Altruistic, you before me, normal in almost every regard, nothing stands out except their “chosen one” background. These three have little expression to them, nor do they have a lot of intriguing chemistry. Chemistry they have, but it’s nothing one hasn’t seen before. Almost akin to the chemistry one sees between background characters that’s never elaborated on.

I thought I’d picked a sleeper when the synopsis of this anime popped out at me. The burst of color, absurdist premise, and the hunch in my brain made it seem ripe with potential; for the first episode, I still believed it to be there. Time has gone by and nothing has shown for it. It’s dull and empty. Unbelievable that a plot this strange and an environment so colorful and bouncy can be this boring. I almost want to make my own URAHARA and fill it with strange symbolic gobbledygook parodying Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura, while also establishing a point of emphasis on the way girls with superpowers in anime are expected to behave in the eyes of the general public. Oh, what could be with enough work.

Quick Thoughts on New Game!!

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I apologize in advance for how short this post (and likely future posts) will be. I simply want to get it out there before more work in my real life piles up and I won’t be able to update my blog efficiently anymore. Please bear with me.

New Game!!, the second season of New Game!, is much of the same as its predecessor, only slightly worse. Semblances of self-critique and intrinsic motivations presented in the first season felt fresh and lively in the face of anime’s typically mechanical approach to the topic. While it harvested moe tendencies and sexual fan service, it all felt as though it were believable within that context, aside from a few lingering fallacies.

If only its second season could keep the boat afloat with a lot of the same thing, except more motivated on divvying up the character development between a large number of characters and adding more sexual fan service to fill in the bland spots. When focusing more on the cast around the once central character of Aoba, especially when there are so many, it tends to lose the focus on presenting Aoba’s challenge to the gaming world, the intended purpose of the original work. Eventually becoming a character drama (though not that dramatic) for those who bounced off of Aoba, which leads into Aoba taking the role again, only to bounce back to someone else, and then even more new characters enter the scene and they take the spotlight. Deary me, this is all getting so complicated and messy. I don’t even know who to root for.

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Y’know who I won’t root for? “Nenecchi.” She’s got the most irritating voice in the existence of everything, and her character is so naively simplistic in its waxed moe aesthetic that it makes me sick. How convenient that she just so happens to like video games enough to join her equally gorgeous female friend at Eagle Jump, where every employee is a gorgeous young woman. At this point, I’m just ranting about the things that I wasn’t fond of this time around. More of the same, I suppose.

There is some essence of dramatic narrative points, such as Aoba’s ascension as lead character designer in the face of the previous (and incredibly famous/established) lead in Yagami Kou. These were perhaps the more enjoyable/impactful moments of the show, seeing these two duke it out to the best of their abilities, which somewhat highlighted the better portions of the first season. Unfortunately, these moments are far between situations where other characters fuck around and do nothing aside from treating half-an-episode-long anxieties that resolve themselves in no time flat. Even the new characters fall victim to this. They all just need to be honest and express themselves, so that they can become comfortable enough to grope one another and suck on the skin of their collarbones. This doesn’t actually happen, but I wouldn’t put it past them with the insinuations constantly presented.

It is worse, though not so much worse that I didn’t find myself ravished by the dazzle in front of me. Less focused and less polished, it still harbored a lot of what made the first season good. Though, above all, there’s a sense of aloofness that this season provides, where most of it doesn’t really matter in the long-term. Without avoiding spoilers, I can only think of two situations that actually made any difference between the end of season one and the end of season two, new characters excluded. I take that back, three, but it was so aloofly handled that I forgot it happened. Did I even like this show?! I seem so harsh with it… At least this post didn’t turn out as short as I thought it would.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Thoughts on Tsurezure Children

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To those with good eyes, there is a distinction with how this series’s name is pronounced. It can either be Tsurezure Children or Tsuredure Children. I’m gonna stick with “z” because that’s what it’s more commonly known by.

This technical anime short has been garnering a lot of praise around the ani-community for its straightforward portrayal of young romance. By golly, two kids almost have sex with one another! Isn’t that just gross? A far cry from the typical behavior surrounding love where characters blush at the thought of even looking each other in the eyes. Tsurezure Children is an experimental production dedicated to true, unfiltered romantic shenanigans between kids who have no idea what to do with it, while at the same time organizing it in a sort of slice-of-life/comedy structure. With context like that, this series seems right up my alley!

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Initially, the series showed a lot of promise, with keen focus on the trials of understanding how to make a relationship work and how absolutely awkward teenagers are despite their bravado. Despite how many characters it showed, I found each couple (or potential couple) to be charming and relatable to some degree, if not for the random bits of comedy that carried into each scenario. The pacing was fairly good and it displayed each couple fairly evenly as the episodes progressed, with some variety to the situations they faced in their everyday lives. Somewhat unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of crossover between these characters until much further on, which would’ve tied the whole school together instead of isolating all of these incidents and characters as though they controlled the universe they inhabited. The charm of the progression these characters have into becoming committed to one another mostly made up for it.

And once the series pairs (almost) everyone up, it decides to slow the pace down to near unbearable levels. For the love of God, one couple was close to having sex in episode four, and then the rest of the series they don’t even kiss (seriously) no matter how hard they try? What kind of logic is that?! It seems that once the couples have been established, it’s smooth sailing to the finish line. Like skinning a potato like lightning, only to flop it right on the pan to heat over a low flame. At least these couples are established, sure. At least these couples progress further than hand-holding (usually), sure. But if that’s the cutoff where writers think that’s all people want, that’s naive.

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You know what would’ve been a really interesting plot to follow? Imagine the couple in episode four really did have sex. What would happen with them afterward? Would they carry on like normal? Would they try to create an image of superiority to hide how awkward it probably was? Or working with another angle, what if one of them (likely the male) really liked it, and they continue to have sex quite a bit, and then the one not enjoying it so much feels as though that’s all the relationship is to their partner. Doesn’t that sound relatable? Like your partner is just in it for the physical benefits? I praise Tsurezure Children for taking a step forward with its progressive take on young romance, but I’m also criticizing it for not continuing their path to trendsetter status. It doesn’t work if you have cold feet halfway through, which is notable with the second half of the series.

I enjoyed most couples, such as Ayaka and Takeru, though a few travel the line of “Waiting for the inevitable” a tad too uniform for my taste. A girl who doesn’t know much about love. A boy who loves her. She’s completely oblivious to his advances. As the series progresses, she begins to understand love, and now the boy who’s too scared to take the initiative (because of course he is) is inhabiting her mind more and more, and she can’t figure out why! I wonder how that’s gonna end… Situations such as this appear sporadically throughout episodes, though are more prevalent in the second half. Even without the clichés of romantic development, many of the couples have their own niché when it comes to their development. One misunderstands the other until they actually make their intentions clear. And… Well… Actually… Yeah, that’s about it. One person misunderstands the other until they make themselves clear, and then they love them more. Okay.

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While I admire the look and presentation of the anime, its animation is actually rather mediocre. Almost every episode has a noticeable frame jump that defies reality, and movement isn’t nearly as smooth as one would see in, say, Shingeki no Kyojin. Some of the more “intimate” details of characters’ bodies are only ever emphasized if they’re focused on, while from far away don’t always match how they look up close. What is praiseworthy is that most characters look actually different, with different styles of eyes, hair, and facial structure to differentiate person to person. It adds more to that whole “universe” of characters that inhabit the school (that I really wish they’d take more advantage of!); revealing differences in physical appearance, yet similarities in morals and values.

Something I would absolutely recommend if only for the eleven-to-twelve-minute runtime per episode, resulting in a much more convenient marathoning experience. The quality of the series, despite the general amount of praise, is mixed for me, as the later portions of the show tend to overinflate the filler instead of actual development of characters or their relationships. I enjoyed it enough, but it starts and finishes in a way that leaves the viewer feeling unfulfilled. Should the series continue with a sequel season, this may not be so much of an issue. Regardless, it’s cute and cuddly, as well as an encouraging foray into the relatable world of romance that most anime series never dwell on.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Early Impressions: New Game!!

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Four episodes in, I almost miss the first season.

Now, it’s been more than half a year since I watched New Game!!’s debut season, so my collective insight on the ins-and-outs of the series may not be as I remember. All I seem to hold on to is that this second season feels a little more… serviced than its predecessor. Good things may be lying in wait, but was there ever so much fan service in the first season? Not just in conveniently-angled shots that showcase characters’ assets, but the sort of behavior that is considered very, very moe. Thinking about it, all of these characters are moe to some degree, and a third of the way through this season, the series seems determined to flaunt that. Though encouragingly, there is some degree of inner conflict with characters who didn’t receive a ton of development in the first season. Only issue is that some are resolved quickly.

More than anything, the essence of a sequel is something I’ve discussed to varying lengths before, whether in anime, movies, or video games. A sequel should seek to improve upon what came before, or allow a different direction to take place that still holds its own within the context its predecessor designed. New Game!!, so far, feels as though its meandering around its potential for the sake of character cuteness.

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Why is Aoba’s friend suddenly into game design? Why is the Eagle Jump company that the girls work for only taking in young, beautiful women? Why is it that so many young, beautiful women are suddenly within a realm where young, beautiful women design video games and sleep within their office space without pants on and flirt with one another. Why are all of these women conveniently different in personality so to blend with one another in a dysfunctional family-esque environment where they must learn to deal with each other’s quirks? Why am I bringing all of this up? Evidence; there is a disconnect from reality that this series has that makes it feel somewhat artificial. How everything comes together so perfectly, so succinctly exploitable for fan service, makes its attempts at serious development feel too self-indulgent. The best of both worlds is so hard to capitalize, such as with my wavering thoughts on Mahoujin Guruguru.

Even with my stabs at its moe nature, New Game!! offers more than the average Urara Meirochou. At least it’s doing something with its characters past the benign standards of archetype development. At least it’s allowing for the motive of self-improvement to take the forefront when the serviced charm wears thin. While inner conflicts resolve somewhat quickly, they’re there, and to some extent that’s all one can ask for. Thus far, it’s worse than its predecessor for reasons relating to its balance of serious development of characters/plot (whatever it may be) and close-up booty shots—at least I think so. What it all amounts to in the end is an above-average show.

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Though I’ve noticed, perhaps because I’m more actively looking for it, some fluctuations in animation. The overall design, which is still absolutely spectacular for its moe undertones, holds its own yet again. Although, animation can be shaky from time to time. Nothing incredibly noticeable, but aside from highly-detailed booty shots, basic mannerisms come across as too sketchy. Moving in just the perfect amount of delay to make things feel a tinge robotic. Easily ignorable, for those who wish to do so.

If Made in Abyss is current MVP of the season, this show would be LVP—though not by much. Only that the magic contained in the first season that made it so enamoring to watch is fading fast. For the first time, despite looking forward to watching this sequel season, I felt bored going through some episodes. Perhaps it is the artificial nature of the anime’s absurd setting that finally feels too noticeable to ignore; unfortunately, I value realism more than most in realistic settings. Should New Game!! employ a “Why are there so many girls running a video game company? That’s weird!” without making it sound like an obnoxious preaching from the cronies of social justice, I would find the setting more natural to take in. However, even stating that desire opens up a can of worms I’m not about to put my stake into.

Early Impressions: Mahoujin Guruguru (2017)

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Six episodes in, it rekindled my appreciation for occasionally lowbrow parody anime.

Sometime in the lost years of my innate weebness, I would watch an anime by the name of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo every week on Cartoon Network’s “Toonami” block. Initially, I found the show immensely entertaining, though as it went on I became more interested in “serious” anime, such as Naruto. Hehe. Mahoujin Guruguru reminds me quite a bit of Bobobo, though while the latter’s absurdity overtakes everything else, Guruguru has the awareness to remain both serious and non-serious, with priority being given to whatever feels necessary. The first episode was nearly perfect; introducing things light-heartedly while also establishing the inborn bond between the two lead characters, the only thing that made it better was the satire of classic JRPG scenarios. Needless to explain further, satire is something I can get behind in series.

Normally I would complain that a series mixes serious and non-serious vibes too earnestly for one to be able to take the serious moments seriously. One only need to reread that previous sentence to realize how serious I am about it. Within satire, however, it’s easier to justify, as the viewer is under the impression that a lot of it shouldn’t be taken seriously anyway. Nichijou isn’t technically a satire, so when it tried to develop its characters (in the little time it chose to), it only worked minimally due to the outright bizarre scenarios hogging all of the attention. This also applies somewhat to Guruguru, as it is prone to making serious plot developments within non-serious situations, which makes it lose a little of its magic. Yet, it’s the fact that it tries to deepen the relationship between the two leads and their desire for adventure and fun on a semi-consistent basis that makes it so fun to watch.

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Is the series funny? Not usually. Guruguru has actually managed to make me chuckle twice, which for those who have read my blog long-term know is an accomplishment in and of itself. Occasionally lowbrow humor, much like one would find in a kids’ show (potty humor, especially), is accompanied by anime standards, like the Straight Man set-up and random zaniness pushed to extremes. I actually find my favorite parts to be when the male lead is taken by his lust and constantly halts everything serious so that he can gaze upon the female body with the most grim of expressions. I’ve always been fond of the “seriousness” behind the male’s desire for sexual intimacy in anime. The most I could say is that the series is consistently humorous.

Another consistency is within its design, which is so vibrantly varied (though less so later on, sadly…) that one can’t help but appreciate what it’s parodying. Simple, chibi-ish designs that every so often spur into random changes in aesthetics to emphasize humor. Pixel-animation is also used quite often, which speaks to me on a personal level. Pixel animation is best animation. In-anime text boxes will also spring up randomly, further emphasizing the parody aspect, which altogether makes for a dazzling display of heart within its goofiness. It doesn’t hurt when the general aesthetic for the show is clean and bold, making every character and creature poignantly placed in the world around them. And within the satire genre, it allows animators to get creative with the presentation… while also justifying their need for shortcuts on occasion.

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Should there be one core issue to the series, it’s that despite its consistency everywhere else, the only thing it’s not consistent at is delivery. It’s first episode was magical, and I was ready to crown it MVP of the season right then and there. Since then, it’s floundered a tad, flip-flopping between good and decent so long as the type of humor changes and its serious aspects begin to overpower the satirical nature. At one point, near the halfway mark of episode five (I believe), I was actually somewhat bored, as it was ankle-deep in a muck of seriousness that I didn’t think fit the show. It’s at its best when it uses that seriousness as a back-up option, rather than employ it at the first sign of trouble.

I have high expectations for this series knowing that it’s a two-cour adventure. Quite a lot can happen in that span, and for the time being, it’s used its time wisely enough for me to aptly recommend it. Unfortunately, the manner of decreasing charm is starting to rear itself, so perhaps the heaps of praise is but a precursor to serious criticism. Time will tell. Until then, I will marathon this adventure between light hero and dark mage until it kills me. Pleasurably.

Early Impressions: Made in Abyss

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Four episodes in, the atmosphere of adventure never fails.

My one true complaint, aside from being only a third of the way through the series and not knowing what it’s trying to establish, is that the pacing seems a little too quick. By the end of episode three, the whole world has been established, the camaraderie between characters is put to the test, and a number of plot devices are hinted at, resulting in a bloated opening act whose foundation isn’t completely stable. I suppose for those who just want to get on with the inevitable journey, this is no problem, but I enjoy retaining the taste that will lead unto what many refer to as “the good part.”

I lied, there’s one other complaint; I wish Made in Abyss delved more into the societal pressure of profit and competition, almost like an otherworldly capitalist culture. There are occasional hints said in dialogue and established through rules of the central town, but everyone just seems gung-ho and accepts it as non-conflicting. Aside from the adventure-esque nature of the anime and straightforward, yet not completely one-dimensional characters, there’s not much else to grasp onto. Again, this may be to blame of the quickened pace.

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However straightforward, Made in Abyss seems to draw inspiration from many olden tales of young rebels going forth on journeys of self-growth. Its art direction is wonderfully unique and eye-catching, leaving the more intricate details to the world it places its characters in. And wonderfully so is this accomplished, as everything surrounding the mystique of “The Abyss” is accentuated in a calm, mature manner. Overexplanatory by nature of the people who wish to discover its details—and a convenient characterization for the female lead—while also leaving the most weighted nuggets up to viewer interpretation. Through four episodes, I only spotted one sequence that looked clunky from an animation standpoint. Some shortcuts are taken in making the characters look less crisp, especially when shown from far away, but otherwise, I have no issue with artistic presentation.

Believe it or not, I tend to watch anime at a very quiet volume, inhibiting my ability to take in the soundtrack accompanied a lot of the time. Only recently was it that I found this to be something of a cardinal sin, as one should certainly be willing to listen to every detail as one would visually analyze every detail. Made in Abyss was a fantastic piece to hear, as a lot of the instrumentation is rather unique from the standard fare. It sounds almost jungle-like; tribalistic, I suppose. Reminding one of a rainforest setting with men in grass skirts and tiki masks hurling spears at prey. From what has been established, the technology is almost on par with that, and the fear of the unknown, ever-looming in plain sight, allows for more of that adventure-esque atmosphere to take hold of the viewer’s anticipation.

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Somewhat lingered upon above, characters are relatively straightforward in their beliefs and personality. Motivation and goals are more at play here, with the relationships built between one another already established prior to current events or behind the scenes (the first and third episodes have a two-month split). Why do people wish to explore The Abyss? What does it mean to them to become someone who explores The Abyss? Many, thus far, serve to aid with the two leads in their journey, with hardly any intention to make them more complex as characters. The leads themselves are more in it for personal reasons, ones typical of the types of characters they are. Should one want to find any positive attributes within, one should search for execution of base personality, which many are spirited enough. The stars are kids, after all. Kids are usually pretty upbeat, right?

This is a shining spot in a season already full of delectable choices (at least the ones I chose), so it goes without saying that I would recommend this without any true hesitation. Still, there are nine episodes left to change my mind, but I’m not one to cower before the unknown (in anime). Perhaps a spectacular tone and art palette will be enough to cruise past the finish line.