July/August 2021 - Bamboozled (But in a Good Way)
Well, the weeks certainly got away from me, didn't they :P
As of today, I've finally finished and posted the Koikatsu cards for all ten of the core Sailor Senshi, with my beloved Saturn being the last (and most difficult). It's a hell of an accomplishment, I think, and I'm proud as can be of my work. Knowing that people love my creations and are willing to support me to see more... well, that's the dream. I got a thrill several weeks ago when I found that a Japanese artist on Pixiv had used my blank Senshi fuku to create their own Senshi OC. That's exactly what I made it for, and it's gratifying to see it put to good use.
I feel justified in taking another break after all the good work I've done. Originally it was just going to be for a week, but that would mean I'd be set to post my next release on my birthday, so since it's right up at the end of the month, I thought why not start fresh in September. No, I am not finished yet, there's still far more I want to do.
Madoka Magica news has been happening lately! I didn't really comment on the announcement of the long-awaited fourth movie back in April... I know, I know, shock and horror. Other stuff was going on. : P Anyway, of course I'm thrilled. I don't want to make any predictions or bring in any expectations; I just hope that SHAFT and Magica Quartet know better than to give us another enormous cliffhanger that leads to another near-decade-long wait for the next installment. As long as that doesn't happen, I'll be satisfied.
Then they followed that up with a surprise announcement at the end of June: that Magica Record Season 2 would be launching in a month. I'll be honest, I've been a little turned off by MagiReco in general since they shut the English version down, but I figured there was nowhere to go but up after a somewhat uneven season 1.
And boy howdy, did they come out of the gate swinging.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
I was expecting a relatively straightforward run-through of the story's second act, with some allowances made for the (mostly minor) differences that season 1 had from the game's plot. What I (and I gather most other people) did not expect was that the first episode of Season 2 would essentially be like a lost episode of the original series for the vast majority of its runtime! After season 1 took pains to remove almost all of Madoka's appearances from the game in those same events, I was straight-up flabbergasted by her grand return to the small screen. Not just her, but Homura was back too, taking the game's intro scene and expanding it into an absolutely gorgeous showcase for her, Madoka, and Sayaka working together. This, my friends, is how you open a season. Judging by the high-quality setpieces in episode 2, they seem committed to giving us a wild ride for the remainder of the run. And if you've played the game and know what's going to happen in the third and final season, coming in December... if they keep this up, I think we'll have a winner on our hands.
The other thing I want to gush about here is a series that as of last month now ranks among my all-time favorites: Zombie Land Saga. I am somewhat well known for how much I normally detest idols and idol culture, so it was surprising enough that I gave the first season a chance, and even more surprising that I liked it as much as I did. The second season, though? I've been telling pretty much everyone who will listen that ZLS season 2 is one of the best examples I've ever seen of how to do a second season right. It gave me everything I wanted and a ton of stuff I didn't know I wanted, and its spectacular finale left me salivating for the inevitable season 3.
So enamored was I, in fact, that I talked Drake into watching the series again with me, start to finish... and later in July, I did the same thing again with another friend. In the space of two months and changed, I marathoned both seasons twice... and from there I gained a whole new appreciation for the show, its characters, and its peculiar genius.
Because you see, much like SHAFT did and continues to do with the Madoka franchise, Mappa manages to bamboozle ZLS's audience, but in a good way. The show got almost no advertising, and what there was of it portrayed it as a generic "cute girls meet zombies" horror series, something like School-Live! That it was actually not just a comedy but an idol show only became apparent halfway through the first episode. The inherent ridiculousness of the (actual) premise won it a ton of fans right out of the gate: an insane and spectacularly hammy producer/talent manager forms an idol group made exclusively of reanimated dead girls, in order to "save" a prefecture that was basically Japanese flyover country... though the how and why of this plan of this, he refuses to explain. The first five episodes lean hard into absurd comedy, and they pull it off with aplomb.
But starting with episode 6, and this is where it gets brilliant, the show pulls a rug out from under the audience a second time, by starting to take the characters and their journey seriously. This is a much more low-key and subtle bamboozlement: without losing the comedic edge it's built up, it starts introducing dramatic elements as it explores the characters' backstories and gives them an astonishing level of depth. I've seen this happen to me and to two others now, and it gets me every time... before you know it, you honestly care about the girls of FranChouChou and you want to see them succeed.
The true message of the series, when it hits, is a powerful one. Far from being just about wacky zombie idol antics, it's about following your dreams and reaching for the stars, even if the world is against you. Doing it because the world is against you... and that's the other thing I think is special. As hard as Sakura and her friends try, they do fail sometimes, and fail often... hell, season 2 opens with the group having bombed a huge concert, become a laughingstock, and plunged deep into debt. However, they've proven in the course of two seasons that nothing will keep them down for long: not limited recognition, not emotional tragedy and trauma, not interpersonal friction, not lack of money, skill, experience, and/or venue, not just plain rotten luck, not natural disasters, not even their own deaths. It sounds like the weirdest thing, but in its own bizarre way, ZLS has become one of the most inspiring series I've seen in recent memory. It speaks to the part of me that's always longed to get up on stage and perform, damn the consequences. I keep trying to describe it to people and they keep looking at me like I'm crazy, but I swear, it really is a phenomenal achievement, and one of the best anime in years. That the guy who stubbornly refuses to get into anything idol-related is telling you this should be proof enough. Come for the comedy, the adorable characters, and/or the wide variety of fantastic music... stay for the message. It's worth it, I promise.