Miss Kobayashi‘s Dragon Maid is a very silly show, and a very warm show. It’s easy to call things “comfort food” but no other animation studio can craft the endearing low-key stories that Kyoto Animation does. And while Dragon Maid may not have the versatility of K-ON! or A Silent Voice it most certainly has a lot of the heart. It’s like meeting a good friend, a friend who’s fun and trustworthy and always pleasing to be around. It has its quirks and issues but you’re glad you came to know them.
Content Warning: Discussions of slurs, as well as discussions of erasure and violence against trans people. Be aware if you find these topics confronting in any way.
Okay, let’s get some things out of the way. I love anime, and I love it for its trashiness. And I think it’s totally cool and okay to like crossdressing characters in anime. But I have… an issue with the word “trap”. The word “trap” has been floating around online for over a decade now, particularly in western anime communities, but it’s especially picked up steam in recent years. It’s often used to refer to crossdressers and transgender individuals both in media and in real life. And heck, I know trans people who refer to THEMSELVES as “traps”. But even with the intent to reclaim the word it doesn’t sit right with me at all, so let’s talk about it.
I used to be an avid defender of sorts for slice of life anime. Now I’m less enamored by most of them but they’re still an easy watch. If Kyoto Animation’s works stand as the peak of the genre then Doga Kobo would be the middle point, generally not hitting the craft or subtlety of a K-ON! but usually being competent at fun character animation and comedic timing. To that end the first season of New Game! is well up to par, a standard slice of life wrapped in a mellow workplace story with a few good laughs and some surprising sincerity.
Rick & Morty has been all the buzz lately. And that’s great because it truly deserves it, it’s an intricate and funny and moving series. Its third season has been its most profound yet, giving genuine introspection into the character of Rick Sanchez and how toxic and destructive a human being he truly is. But that’s not what my social media feeds have been interested in. They’ve been talking about the fandom, the would-be real life Ricks who find themselves in almost every online community spewing indulgent nihilistic hatred on everything they touch.
Some friends have even expressed being turned off the series by this, which just really sucks. On one hand I can’t blame them but on the other it’s really just not fair. It’s not fair that people find themselves unwilling to have new media experiences because of hostile fan culture, and it’s not fair on the creators of earnest good works that they need to be accountable for crappy people. So what should you do if something you want to get into has a rubbish fanbase?
At the very beginning of Revolutionary Girl Utena we’re given a fable-like tale of a girl whose parents have died. She meets a prince in a fateful encounter, and that prince empowers her with the will to keep pushing forward. And so she decides from then on that her dream is to become a prince herself. That girl in question is Utena Tenjou. “Is that really such a good idea?”, says the narrator. After all we surely understand that princes are men and princesses are women. But that doesn’t really mean a whole lot to Utena. Utena is willing to dream, and even if she doesn’t yet fully understand the weight of her own convictions they’re still a defiant gesture — defiant of all our entrenched social norms. Utena’s one hope of making her dream a reality is to bring revolution to the world. It’s a tall order for a 14 year old but she’s giving it a shot. Her dreams will be challenged, they’ll be crushed, they’ll be rebuilt, and they’ll be re-evaluated. This is Utena’s quest for revolution.
I think Puella Magi Madoka Magica is pretty neat. I wrote about it not too long ago but it’s a series I frequently feel compelled to write about. I probably consider it my all time favourite anime series, whatever the heck that’s worth. It’s a series of great craft and empathy.
One of its biggest achievements is how it pulls off its core mystery elements, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Make no mistake, there are a ton of stories that handle mystery really badly. They can be hollow or even downright deceptive. Some would even accuse Madoka Magica of this, but I’m going to make the case that it’s quite the opposite. Madoka Magica is a series that gets mystery.
Little Witch Academia: Enchanted Parade, even more so than its predecessor, embodies the sheer fundamental joy of animation. The sincere joy of seeing images come alive, images bound only by the limits of imagination coming into motion. Enchanted Parade is sometimes breezy and whimsical, sometimes awesome, sometimes funny, sometimes intense. But through genuine mastery it makes all those moods look like second nature. It’s Little Witch Academia‘s ongoing love letter to the traditions of animation and so much more.