I’m back with a fairly long write-up about the ever-fascinating Made in Abyss, and I have to say it’s a pleasure writing about such a show! Kakegurui has returned, bringing its usual dose of craziness back into this AniDiary. As for the rest, I don’t have an awful lot to say in this intro; I’ll let you read my full impressions below!
Ballroom e Youkoso
I thought Ballroom e Youkoso was meant to start again next week; it seems I’d been fooled. Putting that aside, it seems Tatara is continuing a steady progression; I’d go as far as calling it abrupt given how fast he becomes able to perform quick steps in perfect synch with Mako. I understand this is an underdog story, but isn’t it going a little too well for our young man so far?
More engaging was his emotional development: he, a meek boy who thought no one would ever look at him, realizes that dancing can make him, even if for a short while, the center of attention; that people are indeed looking at him. He finally understands that he is allowed, and that he should, seek to express himself via dancing instead of giving his partner all his attention; and at the end of the episode, he allows his body to do the talking for him. The ending is a nice display of how dancing can help convey one’s feelings without words. It’s also a development toward a healthy form of individualism; he’s not going to be a tyrant with Mako, but simply be himself, sharing with his partner the joy of being fully himself and letting all his feelings out when he dances.
Beyond that, I wasn’t overly impressed with the rest of what this episode had to show. Gaju revealing he’s had a crush on Shizuku since childhood essentially outs his reason for pairing up with her as shallow, as his nose bleeds while dancing with her; it’s honestly quite off-putting seeing him like this, especially given he threw Mako away for this. It makes Gaju a less interesting rival, reducing him to a “bad guy” who treated his sister awfully simply because he found this other girl hot; it reduces his rivalry with Tatara to a schematic, boring “good versus evil” kind of thing. The protagonist’s rivalry with Kiyoharu is simply much better, and it’s disappointing that the show hasn’t been able to bring in other interesting elements via Gaju so far.
Otherwise, this episode was mostly preparing for the showdown between Tatara and Gaju; I have to say, I like our protagonist’s pairing with Mako. They seem to fit each other well, both in terms of personality and physique, and Mako’s sincerity allows Tatara to realize what he does at the end, and thus grow. We’ll see how this story develops; for now, I remain cautiously optimistic about this show.
Centaur no Nayami
Centaur no Nayami remains hard to define as a show, given it comes off as fluffy most of the time but still manages to integrate more serious themes in the midst of its lightheartedness.
The first part is utterly unmemorable; not that folklore doesn’t matter, but I’m not sure Hime’s hair and the origins of its color is the most meaningful bit of information this show will ever output, although it’s part of the show’s world building and the mention of slavery was at least something that has the potential to be explored further.
The second part, however, is somewhat more interesting as it touches upon questions of aspirations: what do our protagonists want to do with their future? They’re all somewhat lost, as summarized by Nozomi’s candid words at the end of the episode; but they’re working their way through their desires. Kyouko is acting as her father’s assistant, and although she doesn’t talk about how she sees her future directly, she seems very assertive about taking care of her father’s writing business, and even goes ahead and makes dinner when the work is done; in this sequence, she appears surprisingly homely.
A thread that runs through this half is artistry: Kyouko’s father is a writer, while Minami’s is a talented painter stuck between his aspiration and his desire to remain a good parent. The referencing to Akutagawa’s Hell Screen is interesting, as this short story is an interrogation on the artist’s rapport to their art: should they treat their art as their very life, or should they distance themselves from it? Within the story, the protagonist enters a somewhat Faustian pact to accomplish his work, but descends into madness as a result; it’s a tale that explores what giving oneself to one’s art may entail.
Here we see the two sides: Kyouko’s father is a writer, yet it’s very much a profession for him. He’s also a father, and his life isn’t entirely devoted to his art, as shown by how he could hardly get his draft done in time without Kyouko around. Minami’s father, on the other hand, seems to have aspirations and talents that may lead him into the other path, one that would see his art becoming the center of his life. Centaur no Nayami doesn’t seem to output an opinion in this case: it shows both sides of the coin, and embraces the two of them as possible life paths. This was good, as I believe there is no right choice beyond what each individual desires: there is no judgment to be made here, and the show doesn’t go out of its way to make one, which I really liked seeing.
However, the big missing element was: what does Minami want to do? She’s seen doing some occult work, but clearly doesn’t believe in the paranormal; it’s definitely not an aspiration of hers. If her father is to pursue his art, will she be the one sacrificing her dreams to work at home? Or is taking care of the family her own aspiration? This was, in fairness, already mentioned a few episodes back, but it’s somewhat hard to tell; she’s clearly devoted to her family beyond any form of obligation, but it’s never explicitly ruled out that she may have other desires, either.
Could it be that pursuing one’s passions will result in someone else having to pay the price for it? It’s not an easy problem to solve, but at least it seems Centaur no Nayami’s characters are confronting it; given how fluffy this show often is, this definitely counts as a good point. All in all this was a mixed episode: the first half was mostly uninteresting, but the second made up for this, although Minami’s part was the one that raised the bar rather than anything else. Still, I have a hard time settling on an opinion for Centaur no Nayami: I definitely have problems with it, yet I’m not one hundred percent sure I totally dislike it, either. I guess all I can do is watch more, hoping there’ll be something to sell the show for me later on.
Hitorijime My Hero
This episode ended on a note that sadly reminded me of what I tend to dislike about Boys’ Love works: coercion. Just as Hasekura forced a kiss on Kensuke a few weeks back, here we see Kousuke pinning Setagawa down on his bed after breaking into the boy’s apartment (which is certainly the worst part). This the typical behavior from seme which I repeatedly find in BL (except for a few gems) and that tends to put me off the genre. Hitorijme My Hero hadn’t had many instances of such coercive behavior until now, and Kousuke (who’d always been put in a dominant position) was shown to have his worries and his hesitations instead of being a full-fledged rapist like many other seme, so it was a shame to see.
On to the more positive aspects, despite his antics at the end, I like how Kousuke is framed throughout the episode. He’s generally pretty meek about approaching Setagawa, though his attraction is clearer than ever. As our protagonist is being pushed around by the delinquents he used to hang out with, the expectation for Kousuke to appear out of the blue and save the day rises. Yet instead, I thought it was Hasekura who’d become the hero for an instant; he sees through everything, even Setagawa’s association with the bad guys. Although sworn into secrecy, he still manages to push Kousuke to become honest with himself. And in the end, the teacher becomes Setagawa’s hero all over again. Before the ending, we see the blond watching another hero series, thinking about how weak he is. He’s a boy who needs a hero; and in the end, Kousuke’s face will always be behind the hero’s mask. In a sense, this episode was the story of a comeback: Kousuke had been hesitating, yet in the end he can’t escape his own place in this romance.
Now, the whole plot about the delinquents may be getting a little convoluted, but I’m still pleased enough with Hitorijime My Hero to hope that the power of love will see our main soon-to-be-couple pulling through all the hardships.
So Kakegurui returned after a short break, and immediately went back to its usual craziness. Is it for the better though? I’m not entirely sure.
And I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this. Obviously this is the kind of development I’d expect from Kakegurui; yet as I’d always been wary of, there’s a point where sheer excess doesn’t quite suffice anymore, especially when it seems to cross the boundaries of all sanity. So far, Kakegurui’s characters and their actions had been obviously crazy, but the money-driven spectacle made it more akin to the psychopathic crazes I’d expect of a show parodying the world of, say, big bankers. I’d never been enthralled by the story, but there was the amusement of watching something that vaguely resembled an exaggerated picture of what one would find in society’s “higher spheres”.
Yet here, we cross this boundary and go into the world of pure madness; while this just feels like the next step, this escalation is quite boring when it becomes so utterly puzzling (who would accept a gamble in which they could lose their lives?); furthermore, I fear the show may be trapping itself in its own need to become even more grandiose as the story progresses, which will inevitably result in boredom for the viewer. I noticed that, in one way or another, this show had always managed to put a smile on myself so far; this time around, not so much.
More interesting was the episode’s second point of focus: Mary getting invited into the student council by its president. Before this happens however, Mary serves to underline the sheer stupidity in some’s behavior: bullying the “slaves” is a rule, and since most of them never get out of this situation (this part sounds awfully like actual slavery, or its subtler modern version), it’s quite awkward now the “winners” must pretend to be friends with their former slaves, and the so-called “winners” don’t look as smug as usual having to do so. But hey, you have to be friends with those of your class, don’t you? Mary sees the absurdity of it all and is getting annoyed when she realizes they’re all but pawns in the student council’s president hands (because they’re the ones who set up this system, it’s not a self-evident rule of nature no matter how unchallenged it goes… oh god this sounds awfully like our society) when she gets invited for tea by the same student council president. We don’t hear much of their conversation, but although Mary is obviously scared by the president’s cold eyes, her stubbornness in resisting the system even as it may provide her with great advantages is interesting to see; I wonder how long she’ll resist, though.
Finally, one element I found striking in this episode, although it’d always been present, is sexuality. I’d attribute this to the students’ excessive mindset, as usual; Ikishima makes it obvious that her quest for pleasure is very much sexually driven. Yet this was brought further to light, in my view, by the contrast with Mary and the president’s conversation, which ends with the two in a clearly sensual pose. It’s as if the self-aggrandizing mindset present in most students could somehow be associated with questionable sexual behaviors. Oh wait, doesn’t this sound like our society again?! That said, I have to wonder if the homoerotic undertones are not just there for the male gaze, given what a tradition there is behind this (previous link is NSFW).
In any case, although I’m not sure what interest I still have in Kakegurui’s gambling antics, a few plot points like Mary’s invitation to the student council as well as the oddly familiar setting details retain my attention enough to keep me watching this with a certain degree of pleasure. Hopefully the show is on the upward path to story exploration, rather than on the downward one of ever more insane gambling.
Made in Abyss
It seems that Made in Abyss is one rare show with a capacity to dip its feet into several genres; the scene where Riko looks for the toilets is a relatively successful attempt at implementing horror elements. The strange sounds Riko chases are a typical horror device, but at least manage to introduce a feeling of worried curiosity. Although there’s a reassuring source of light in almost every frame, the tone is always a cold blue one; the music is, as always, on point, instilling a sense that what’s ahead may be more horrifying than anything we’d like to show a girl as young as Riko; and finally, the slow appearance of the monster from the dark builds a growing sense of horror, topped off by the good design of said monster: it’s a little disgusting, in large part because it looks like a crawling human skeleton (an aspect made obvious by Regu who mentions a living thing that looks like a corpse), a few elements only (red strokes, no bottom, and paw-like things instead of proper arms) informing us that it really is a supernatural monster. This mixture between the human and the fantastic isn’t new, but works in making people uncomfortable, as it tends to feel even more abnormal than a completely made-up creature.
Furthermore, the scene ends brilliantly when Riko rushes to hide herself below Regu’s bedsheet, and wakes up with the embarrassment of having peed on it. Made in Abyss’ portrayal of Riko is excellent, and one of its greatest strengths. She’s got a lot of the skills required of an adventurer, and in amounts far surpassing the average of others her age. Yet the show doesn’t disform her into a vague ideal, nor does it transform her into a tropey “kid who is clearly too smart and strong to be a kid”; her youth is what such scenes come to remind us of. Riko remains a kid, and this will become apparent given the right circumstances, no matter how good she is at hiding it most of the time.
Putting Riko aside for an instant, we also have Ouzen’s first appearance. She’s definitely interesting; she picked up Maruruk, and did bring Riko safely back to the village despite her insistence that she thought about leaving the baby behind many times. On the other hand, in situations such as when she leads Riko and friends into a mysterious room, announcing her mother’s death on the way, she’s painted as having an evil smile. Her grey appearance is sad, and her sometimes worrying expression seem to reveal a lurking sense of evil, an idea reinforced by the monster(s?) which hides in her home’s darkness. However, my speculation is that this being very much Riko’s own story, Ouzen’s purpose is, in great part at least, to give Riko a challenge. By confronting her with her mother’s death, she invites the young girl to redefine her quest’s purpose. Perhaps Ouzen’s “evil” is her willingness to confront Riko with the harshest aspects of an adventure she’d started with too candid an objective in mind.
Given Riko’s mother is confirmed to be dead – unless Ouzen was lying, which seems unlikely given we were even shown a depiction of the place where she is buried –, one has to wonder about where the show will go. If the young girl has lost the obvious purpose she’d given herself, what will she now decide to do? The fallback plan seems to focus on Regu’s origins, which Ouzen may know something about (perhaps the strange cube introduced at the end has to do with him?); I personally hope Riko won’t start focusing on chasing glory, which thankfully seems unlikely at this point. At any rate, this was a very intriguing episode, one that renewed my interest in Made in Abyss in a way I didn’t expect; this time the mysteries of the show’s world were put aside, and instead it was much more personal, character-focused aspects that grabbed my attention. Riko’s journey, her purpose, and the mysteries of Ouzen as well as the strange creatures not even Raiza found are all very intriguing elements which I can’t wait to learn more about.
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