I’ve finally gotten through all the episode ones I was interested in, though it took me almost an entire week to carve out the time. My gosh what a brutal season this is – I’m interested in 14 shows, which is something like 2-3 times the number of shows I normally try following. Though some might end up abandoned as they go along, it’ll still be busy. That said, too much good anime is a good thing, not a bad one.
Today I’ll cover the last of the shows that are compelling me this season, which will include Just Because, Land of the Lustrous and Girls’ Last Tour, all three of which hit me hard enough to jump essentially to the top of my list.
Just Because took a good halfway through the first episode to set the hook, but once it did I was surprised by quickly and thoroughly invested I got. If I had to choose one word to describe it, I’d use “liminal” – Just Because is a story about time passing, and the big weird feelings that come over people when they’re just before the precipice of new and unknown things.
The characters are thoughtful and reflective; in the last half of the last semester of high-school, they’re keenly aware of being at the end of the current chapter of their lives, and are looking to the future with anticipation, anxiety, impatience and even a bit of sadness. The script reflects this, relishing in long pauses and quiet moments. There’s a segment in the the episode where main-character Eita reflects on failing to keep in contact with middle-school friends after his family re-locates, and how he came to realize that it’s a normal thing. It’s a somber moment, and evoked a deep nostalgia in me for my own pre-graduation days.
The visual designs at play here are reserved and the color palette muted, which helps with the somber atmosphere, but it’s by no means joyless. Though they aren’t the smilingest bunch, but the they’re expressive, and the grounded facial design lends some them some additional weight.
I’ve heard tell that this show is having production issues, though I’m hard-pressed to say I could tell – it’s possible later episodes will show the signs of this more, though I hope not. For the moment, I’m very happy with how this show looks. Every once in a while the a character will let loose and do something bright and exaggerated, and when that happens it’s a delight to see.
As a final highlight, I’ll point out the soundtrack in this episode. Towards the end of the episode, a trio of characters launch into a trumpet trio that becomes the background soundtrack for an extended segment, and for me at least it worked. I admit I’m weak to this, as I’m an avid lover of brass ensembles in any format, but dang if it didn’t charm me entirely. I’m not sure if this sort of thing is going to be typical for the show, or if it was more of a one-time event for this first episode, but I could stand to see more.
I’m looking forward to the next episode (which technically is already out, though I won’t be able to get to it for a number of days).
Around a year ago, I’d have sworn that CGI was a grievous sin in anime (Kemono Friends excepted) but damn if Land of the Lustrous isn’t making me eat my words. This is almost entirely CGI, but it’s one of the most impressive looking shows thus far this season. Its sense of color and composition is superb, and almost every frame is a delight.
In particular, what tends to distress me most about CGI anime is limited expression range and stiff character models. Land of the Lustrous debunks this readily, with fluid characters and bright and expressive facial features. While the lack of smears is noticeable, the action is often staged with quick, smooth motions that please the eye even without them. Forget talk of “good-for-a-CGI-anime”, this show has some of the best character acting I’ve seen in a show this season period.
Though the visuals are all spectacular, the characters and the world they inhabit are no less delightful. The genderless gems that populate this world are lively and full of personality. Phos, the seeming main character (although we may end up with a scenario where each episode focuses on a different gem) is rude and rowdy and childish without being annoying about it – they’re an instantly sympathetic character. Their companions are personable too, and I glean will be learning more about them in future episodes.
Cinnabar, the other central character of this episode, deserves a special callout. Their fundamentally toxic nature (a physical property, not a personality trait) forces their ostracization to the point of exile, and they bear the emotional scars from it. Both Cinnabar’s circumstances and their personality, might be a bit over the top (Cinnabar literally cries poison-mercury tears), but it works. The story already has a surreal, fairy-tale/operatic quality to it, and Cinnabar’s seemingly-suicidal emotional scars are messy and raw, going right along with that. They’re appropriate to the story, and that weight is necessary for grounding the flighty Phos.
It would admittedly be a bit much of the world that surrounded this was deary and dark, but beautify seems to suffuse everything in the Land of the Lustrous. Bright colors, beautiful scenery and elegant geometries permeate the world. This alleviates what would otherwise be oppressive story. Even the antagonists – strange entities who come from the moon to harvest the gems as jewelry – have an ethereal and terrifying beauty to them.
All in all, I’m looking forward to continuing Land of the Lustrous. I’m hoping this visuals are able to stay at this spectacular level, but regardless of that the story and the characters have engaged me utterly.
A cute but quietly tragic story about a pair of girls, scavenging for survival in the ruins of an apocalypse of the previous generation’s making, Girls’ Last Tour is already something special just one episode in. If you asked me to stake a prediction for my anime of the season at this early point, this would be it.
There’s deep and intentional thematic dissonance going on here. On the one hand, both in terms of episode structure and dialog, Girls’ Last Tour has the feel of a comedy show. Main characters Yuuri and Chito have a solid jokester/straightman dynamic going on, and their rapport, which ranges from friendly flirtation to sibling-like tussles, is charming and compelling. But the world that functions as the backdrop for this is no joke – an austere and claustrophobic maze of military industrial remnants: the hollowed out shell of a violent society. This run down and world is one of desperation and struggle, and this undercurrent colors the tone of everything that follows.
This is evident even in the visual designs at play. Chi and Yuu are cartoonishly rendered; they’re moeblobs to an extreme that gives even Hidamari Sketch a run for it’s money. But the props they interact with, and the backdrops they travel through are intricately detailed and grounded in reality – the guns they play with, the tank they ride around in, the ruins they explore are all carefully and thoroughly represented, so no matter how exaggerated or abstracted an expression the girls might be wearing, you rarely get a cut that doesn’t remind you of the setting of the destroyed world. That said, world is not without beauty, and Chito and Yuuri are able to take joy in the things they find; this is critical, and brings a much-needed sense of solace to what might otherwise be a crushing show.
Each vignette we see puts this fundamental disjoint of tone and reality squarely in the cross-hairs; Chi and Yuu might banter and bicker cutely through each sequence, but their actions and goals in each scene are survival-critical. Lost in an abandoned factory complex with no fresh air and little food and water, they must find a way out or die. Stumbling upon a desolate battlefield, they search for any food and supplies they can find. Though their words have a lighthearted delivery, it’s clear that their existence is a desperate one, and that sense pervades the entire show.
The character animation is loose and enjoyable – the characters feel natural in motion, in part assisted by those blobby designs. The concept of cute & cheerful girls with PTSD trapped in a state of near-constant desperation seems like it should fall apart, but combination is well-implemented through impressive character acting. The simple designs of the girls enable the conveyance of exaggerated expressions that really capture this duality – woundedness and hope, weariness and determination, all superimposed in the same motions.
The soundtrack accompanying this sparse or even non-existent for most of the episode, but the first episode is punctuated by a pair of lonely, ethereal vocal tracks that sells the tone of the show, capturing both the expanse and the loneliness of the world that has been left to Chi and Yuu.
Enjoyable and compelling, yet with an undercurrent of sadness and mourning, Girls’ Last Tour is easily the thing I’ve been most smitten with this season. I’ll be picking up the manga as well, and I’m looking forward to following the show for the duration as well.