Tuesday, December 31, 2013

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: KILL la KILL & Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea)

Disclosure: Actually posted January 17, 2014, originally scheduled for December 31, 2013 as that month's "Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick", hence the date. My apologies…

While I try to avoid popular titles for Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month (particularly current titles), I may make an exception for those of note (see the Monogatari Series and Little Witch Academia). This is one of those exceptions, as well--only this time, I am highlighting two series that I feel are showcasing the power and potential of animation at its highest level, albeit in two very different ways.


Official Sites: Japanese, English
Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Crunchyroll*, Hulu, DAISUKI*, Aniplex Channel
*Multi-language subtitle options available

The first of these is perhaps second to only Attack on Titan as the most rabidly-popular title of 2013: KILL la KILL. From the very moment it was announced, it was certainly the most anticipated title around, and it has not fallen short of that hype since its October debut. It is Hiroyuki Imaishi's first full directorial work at his new studio, TRIGGER, since leaving GAINAX (whose first work was the aforementioned LWA), and true to the sheer creative potential and imagination it possessed, it is as artistically-free as one might hope.

The scissor blade-wielding heroine Ryuko Matoi's quest for her father's killer leads her to a towering school ruled by totalitarian student/headmistress Satsuki Kiryuuin and a talking, blood-drinking school girl's uniform that transforms her into a barely-clad warrior only seems to make perfect sense in the wild world of KILL la KILL. It possesses Imaishi's trademark mix of cartoonish animation, ribald humor, and shameless (but oddly befitting) fanservice, but it also highlights what makes his works special, from the epic framing of its story and knowing when to get down to business, to the presence of a strong, memorable score (this time supplied by GUILTY CROWN and Gundam Unicorn's Hiroyuki Sawano. 'Nuff said.).

Within this furious cyclone of energy, action, and comedy is a series that pushes the boundaries of what one can do--and "should" do--in an animation, Japanese or otherwise. The series makes game use of its many talented artists and each of them brings their own flair to the production (another Imaishi staple). Animation styles, for example, may change from one scene to the next, one battle from other, or from one character to another, but they still fall under the same visual umbrella and are congruent with the overall feel of the show. Imagination is the only limit, and the way some enemy attacks and character animations are depicted can be quite bold and inventive (as the case is with Ryoko's upbeat best friend, Mako).

As a result of KlK's freewheeling sprit, it either messes with or breaks a number of tropes and conventions of storytelling and animation, such as with Episode 4's adherence to quasi-chibi character and cut-out-style renders, the unforeseen events of Episode 3, and a momentous--but not not totally unexpected--showdown in Ep. 7 that winds up playing a major role in a latter episode, instead of being treated like a one-off event. Some moments may occur that seem significant, but turn out otherwise, and vise-versa. Throughout all of this, screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima manages to keep the series planted on the ground (relatively-speaking) and strangely workable through all of the insanity, much like he did in Gurren Lagann. And much like what that Imaishi series did with mecha and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt did with parody and risque content, KlK does with changing up and elevating the genres/tropes of fighting and student council-centric works.

Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea)

Official Site: Japanese
Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Crunchyroll*, Hulu
*Multi-language subtitle options available 
Where KILL la KILL has pushed the boundaries in what you can do in animation, Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea) has done so in what you can do with animation, in terms of sheer execution and storytelling through the medium. The series chronicles the coming-of-age of four sea-dwelling middle-schoolers, who now have to attend a school on the surface following the closure of their old one. Tensions and misunderstandings abound between the two sects of students, but the hot-headed Hikari has an even bigger problem on his hands when his childhood friend--and crush--Manaka becomes interested in the surface-dwelling boy, Tsumugu…

The first thing that is readily apparent is both how beautiful and beautifully-realized the show and its world are (particularly in concerns with TV series and their budget restraints). Little surprise given P.A. Works (Another, CANAAN), but even here, they are outdoing themselves with their crisp and colorful depiction of the sea dweller's town and the vibrant, realistic details that can be found there and on the rustic surface world. The character designs themselves, with their big eyes and slightly unorthodox features (at least in the vein of traditional anime designs), take some getting used to, but they become an attractive sight not long after. (They are based on original designs by Buriki (Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko/Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl, Haganai), but for all of his animation-friendly work, these are the least reminiscent of his, though not in a bad way.)

Backing the visual strong effort is the impressive screenwriting effort turned in by none other than Mari Okada. Though I did not give her a ringing endorsement of her previous work in a series of posts in 2012, she has put in some of her best work to date the past two years, as seen in Black Rock Shooter (TV), Blast of Tempest, and the critically-acclaimed Lupin the Third: The Woman Named Fujiko Mine [very NSFW]. She makes great use of her now-controlled emotionally-charged writing in delivering a coming-of-age story with believable teen reactions in Nagi no Asukara, and the characters and the situations they find themselves in are very well-written. Those two aspects and show themes may have been trodden in the past, but feel original and renewed here, thanks to the high degree of execution on all fronts (as any such effort can do with the most shopworn of concepts). And as an original work, that is magnified both in importance and accomplishment, and whether you are watching in awe of fish swimming through a town like butterflies in the air or enjoying the development of the five adolescents and supporting characters, it is great to see a work push the standard of how you depict a tale you want to tell.

It's not very often that you get not only two prime shows in KILL la KILL and Nagi no Asukara (Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea) that showcase what you can do with the medium of animation in very different ways in the same year, but to have them in the same season and be around 24-26 episodes, at that (with no mid-season break, either). That said, as great as both shows have been, it remains to be seen how well both will end up. In the meantime, you can view both titles for free at Crunchyroll and Hulu (as well as DAISUKI and Aniplex Channel for KlK).

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