The animation industry in Japan did seem to be rallying three months ago. Series that had come to a sudden halt just a few episodes in or been postponed altogether three months before that were starting up again. However, I have to admit to worrying about “wishful thinking” leading to everything grinding to a halt again and turning straight back to titles where I knew every bit of content was ready to hand. Never that plugged into “weekly reactions,” this was endurable, and there were things I was looking forward to.

Some movies that had attracted attention last year but which I hadn’t worked myself up to seeing if any of their limited theatrical screenings were near me were now coming out on home video. Promare, from the studio Trigger, had produced a good amount of the positive side of all-or-nothing fan reactions towards their works. My high-concept description of it would be “high-tech firefighters versus telepathic firestarters,” and the high-tech side of things evoked a few pleasant straight-off thoughts of “the mechanical toyboxes of 1980s anime with modern polish.” I couldn’t fault the movie’s driving energy, which might have helped me remember seeing comparisons to Gurren Lagann, a series people who’d helped found Trigger had worked on at Gainax. Another comparison there involved a particular kind of “hot-blooded manliness” much more agreeable than some, which in this case did wind up with an invitation to “slash” two main characters so played-up even I couldn’t miss it. When considering some much-dwelt-on apparent invitations to slash female characters in other anime I’ve seen, I could think “turnaround is fair play” (aware even so Promare isn’t the only such example out there, just the one I’ve watched), even if I’d already thought the movie had included a bit of “plausible deniability” in a slight suggestion of supposing a mixed-sex relationship including one of the main characters. After all of that, though, I also wondered a little whether Promare was trying to go back to an idea from another one of Trigger’s works that had been sort of buried by the negative side of the all-or-nothing reactions.

Not that long after that, I got around to the Sound! Euphonium movie Our Promise: A Brand New Day, continuing the story of the high school wind ensemble band into the second year of the main characters. Reprising try-outs and competitions from the first year covered by the TV series but at a quicker tempo, it did seem to play up emotions to frothing crescendos (while still managing to imply the subtler developments of Liz and the Blue Bird were taking place off in the background). As for the slashy innuendo between female characters I’ve just mentioned, I’d noticed some indignation at the main character Kumiko getting a bit more involved with her previously established boyfriend; there’d been just a few efforts at reassurance a lot could still be read into her friendship with the trumpet player Reina, though.

In between those movies, I’d started settling into a lengthy series, the third of the “1990s Gundam alternative universes” I had recent releases of to open. Gundam X didn’t require quite the same commitment of time and focus as G Gundam and Gundam Wing, but that was due to one of the familiar brush-offs of this particular series, namely that it hadn’t done well on first broadcast as the fourth Gundam series in four years and had been cut short. A first description of Gundam X might be “the post-apocalyptic Gundam,” and with elements of Robotech from its constituent anime and pretty much all of Battletech that does seem a bedrock element in my mecha-awareness. However, the “Mad Max in giant robots” elements of the first episode soon fade back, and the setting comes to seem more a way for the main characters to go on an odyssey seeking “Newtypes” without having to worry about superiors, even as authority coalesces by itself over the course of the series. There might be a sense of the alternative universe Gundams “converging back on the original” (they would go further yet, raising complaints I’m afraid don’t weigh quite as much on me), and along with Newtypes and “ordinary Mobile Suits” that look to me like skewed yet less appealing developments of the original series’ models Gundam X’s opening apocalypse is at once a considerable amplification of an iconic moment from the original and a sort of “what happens when the young heroes fail” shock, if with opportunities to bounce back. All the same, I was able to keep liking the characters, perhaps in opposition to the theatricalities of Gundam Wing. Gundam X just might have “you will have this reaction” insistences lie the lightest on it out of the whole franchise (or at least I’m more positive towards it than Victory Gundam), and perhaps I just didn’t make many grand demands of it. That it concludes (if with some rushed introductions and developments I can find a strange amusement in all the same) raising some questions about the totemic importance of “Newtypes” but might get away with it for being “an alternative” is interesting; that it can “conclude” rather than just being one more runaround in an ever-continuing story is appealing to me.

As much as other fans complain about Netflix holding its anime exclusives back until it can stream all their episodes at once, that’s the reassurance I’m seeking right now. While I have unfortunate suspicions some might have found their own cautions in Trigger animating BNA: Brand New Animal, for me that could have outweighed the series happening to feature “anthropomorphic animals.” To point an accusing finger at “the furries” and “their specific development of the subject” might only be a mean-spirited distraction; it’s just as possible almost the same finger might be pointed at “anime fans.” I did get to wondering if the “Disney Afternoon” cartoons, which could have played their own role in deepening the interest of others in anthropomorphic animals, were the closest I came to thinking myself “getting too old and sharp for cartoons.” I can’t say anime has avoided the subject altogether, of course. Netflix did make another anthropomorphic animal show available not that long ago; it having used computer animation, though, might have been my excuse for skipping it. BNA’s animation was “hand-drawn” and quite impressive, although a draw overwhelming to diminishing the themes in its story for some. I did take some note of its characters being able to switch between anthropomorphic animal and human forms to the point of seeming human most of the time, although the main character, for which her transformation to “tanuki” had happened all of a sudden, was stuck that way at first and then, after becoming able to change back also all of a sudden, stayed an anthropomorphic animal afterwards with the comment anything else was like wearing high heels.

To start getting back to newer series that had managed to assemble their episodes in the end, I picked up A Certain Scientific Railgun T again from its first episode. I’d had to leave off with the plot thickening and a character I’d been inclined to dislike and suspect turning out to be more or less on Mikoto’s side in her own peculiar way. All in all I must have forgotten what had happened in the original manga, including how Mikoto had been isolated to begin with but had wound up needing the help of others, and even with all the production delays the look of the series hadn’t suffered too much. At the same time, I still left the next plot arc (also taken from the manga instead of being one of the original continuations of previous instalments some do seem quick to dismiss as “consequence-free filler”) for still later.

With the second series of Lupin the Third finished at last, I moved on to a show only a bit less old. I’d heard of City Hunter back in the “anime on DVD bubble,” but before I could quite settle on seeking out that late-1980s series it had gone out of print. When Discotek had brought it back on Blu-Ray, I’d taken the chance at last with gratitude if also curiosity. I understood the original manga to have drawn by Tsukasa Hojo, who’d also created the slightly earlier Cat’s Eye, which I’d liked the anime of to begin withbut grown jaded about after some “second series” changes; I also wondered a bit about City Hunter having a male main character. Ryo Saeba is a hero-for-hire “sweeper” very competent when he needs to be; he also swings into bizarre comedic modes around the attractive young women he’s helping most of the time, something that results in numerous poundings, often delivered by his female assistant Kaori, introduced just after the series begins in one small diversion from an “episodic” nature. That avoidance of “one day there’ll be a resolution” actually felt refreshing, though, with the women-in-peril of each episode providing the sense of “character development,” reminiscent of my general understanding of how a lot of TV used to be over here. It certainly helped, too, that the female character designs had the “they sure don’t draw them like this any more” appeal I’d found in Cat’s Eye to begin with but had wondered about fading in its second series. Where both that attractiveness and Ryo’s ridiculous reactions to it had been quite acceptable, however, I did have a little harder time with a few bursts of “anything other than cisgendered heteronormativity is comedically terrifying” (Kaori is a bit boyish, you see), if not enough yet to push me away even as I wonder about how much City Hunter there seems to be out there (including a very recent movie that at once seems an intriguing rejoinder to “they sure don’t draw them like this any more” becoming a lamentation and appears to have sparked some indignant “relic of another time” reactions.)

When I’d finished BNA, another new series was now available on Netflix. Japan Sinks 2020 was based on a novel I’d found a translated copy of a while ago now as a library discard in a book sale; I’d also read an old manga adaptation through Crunchyroll’s online manga service. While it’s easy enough to say “disaster stories” might not appeal at present, the series being from Masaaki Yuasa and Science Saru, the director and studio behind Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, was now enough to pull me in. Where the original novel had taken its time with well-placed characters picking up on small intimations of impending disaster, this new adaptation started off with an ordinary family being almost overwhelmed in “the Big One,” then managing to reunite among the earthquake ruins and start heading for the hills with casual comments about water rising. The animation was distinctive and the first episode was harrowing enough to get me watching at a bit brisker pace than usual, but even so I soon ran across people complaining about the series, and the continued sudden demonstations that “nobody’s safe” and stranger zig-zags of the story could have got to me too. Despite that, the series did seem to question the novel’s dwelling on “a vanishing homeland” in a subtle way by making the family itself and the people they came across of mixed backgrounds, even if the dwindling survivors did hold a rap battle on the subject near the end. The conclusion did have me wondering just a little whether, since there had been something arbitrary about the catastrophe to start with, the resolution could be arbitrary in another way.

I had the chance to add another “weekend series” from the antique past when Astroganger arrived packed onto a “standard definition Blu-Ray”; I sit far enough back from my TV I didn’t feel bothered by the lower resolution, instead noticing the smoother “Blu-Ray subtitles” and just how battered the film print was. “From the studio that made Chargeman Ken” might raise definite expectations. However, despite similar character designs (and a strangely proportioned little girl) and a cameraman’s hand being caught in frame for an instant in the third episode, there did seem to be more care going into these full-length half-hour episodes, including a proper explanation of where the giant “living metal” robot Ganger and the boy who can mystically merge with him came from as they battle numbered aliens intending to collect “the green and oxygen” of Earth. Astroganger (the thought did come to me the title would sound a bit more original in Japan, with “Astro Boy” an American invention attached to Mighty Atom) had just preceded Mazinger Z; I pondered a bit about “alternative starting points for something more serious” even if the earlier series resembling “familiar superheroes” just a bit more reminded me of certain issues with “more serious” takes on that subject over the years.

After returning to three “standout series of the past decade” in the first six months of this year, my top thoughts for what 2013 series I could watch again seeming a bit long pushed me away from that. When I wondered about skipping ahead in the decade, I had to go digging through storage boxes in search of Mob Psycho 100. Before I’d reached it, though, I’d happened on my Blu-Rays of Sakura Quest, and that had me thinking of “taking a chance on something I hadn’t seen instead.” I did know the series was from P.A. Works, who’d also made Shirobako and set “a high bar to match up to,” but had a certain impression this slightly later series tended to be brushed off as not matching up; its also having “five young women among a more varied crowd” might not have helped it stand out. Still, even if they’d only been added to reach a free shipping threshold I’d bought the discs, and now I was opening them. The first episode had one young woman in search of a job stumbling into becoming “the queen” of a dubious little tourist-attracting attempt of a half-empty town up in the hills; she starts working with four other young women of varied backgrounds as assorted schemes to bring in more people play out. Things were a bit low-key, and yet I grew to enjoy them; I could even wonder about the pasts of the five main characters adding to them and making them a bit distinct from the main characters of Shirobako and their defined anime industry positions. At the halfway point through the series I am interested in pushing on.

Slugging through Japan Sinks, I delayed getting to the movie Ride Your Wave, also from Masaaki Yuasa and Science Saru, aware of “uneasiness about comparisons.” There’d been a trailer for that surfing-heavy movie before the screening of Weathering With You I attended, although I recall its own limited theatrical release wasn’t as wide. When I did get to the movie, though, not only was the animation impressive and distinctive (if maybe not quite as distant from “lazy expectations of ‘anime style’” as Japan Sinks), but its young romance seemed about as “healthy” and positive as I can remember ever getting into anime. That, however, might have increased the impact of the midway plot complication (which the trailer got to) and the fantastical resolutions that followed, which added to a sense of “animation” being essential to the work.

It took just little more thought to find something of comparable length from the 2000s, a decade pretty much past OVAs but one I don’t have many movies from. Despite being aware of having managed to get a few of Satoshi Kon’s movies back when they were just on DVD but not having watched them yet, I turned in the end to a deluxe boxed set of Spirited Away. I’d managed to see that movie in a theatre after its seemingly unexpected Best Animated Feature statue at the Academy Awards, in retrospect perhaps the grandest moment of the “anime bubble” that would soften throughout the decade until bursting at last, and had bought it on DVD through Disney along with an assortment of other Ghibli movies. When Blu-Rays had followed, though, an assortment of complaints (including the disc covers playing up the dub casts) had nudged me away; I’d managed to get a good price on a “Hayao Miyazaki collection” box but still haven’t got around to opening it. When Disney did let a bit of intellectual property slip from its grasp, however, GKIDS picked up the license and eventually offered a few deluxe boxed sets without covers playing up the dub casts. On starting to watch the movie agan at last, I realised I’d managed to let a good many of the strange things and sights its young heroine Chihiro comes across after stumbling into a fantastic world slip from my memory; that made it more impactful all over again.

Even after watching two new anime on Netflix, my thoughts turned to an older exclusive of theirs I’d had sitting in “My List” there for a while now, having added it in a moment of optimism, supposed it too close in genre to another series I’d been watching at the same moment, and kept thinking of other things to watch instead even as others were dismissing “Netflix exclusive anime” in general. Lost Song was a fantasy series with a young country lass named Rin going on the run as a slightly older singer named Finis, also with “magical songs,” found herself in difficulties. At first, I wondered if an over-eagerness to find all “medieval” fantasy sort of “generic” was somehow helping me with this series; a little later, I was wondering if it helped to watch something “unimpressive yet ignored by others” every so often to recalibrate my tastes. The series somehow looked “not quite as good as it could,” something that stretched beyond some of its young female characters all but spilling out of low-cut outfits. Then, though, there was a sudden twist to just how the two parts of the story fit together, something that might have helped explain why I’d been having some idle thoughts about the pieces not quite matching. That did help the show a certain amount in the end.

With all of that got through, I still managed to watch something of a recreation of the very first anime club show I saw at university. That opened up several OVA series to return to with revived interest, but that was something I could save for the quarter ahead among another assortment of various things to watch.