Arcane’s Final Thoughts — TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You, Akudama Drive, HYPNOSISMIC
TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You
My lack of overwhelming praise for this show is gonna make some people mad.
I almost dropped TONIKAWA after the first episode, and while I’m ultimately glad that I stuck it out, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t pretty disappointed. There are people that will tell you this is refreshing for just being a light romance with little to no drama, and the romance here is sweet (maybe even a little too sweet), but that’s not really what I feel like the show was presenting in its first episode. The story sets up a deliberate parallel to The Tale of Princess Kaguya and then does absolutely nothing with it — wanna know how Tsukasa saved Nasa from getting hit by a car with minimal injury despite taking the majority of the impact? Why she disappears from his life immediately afterwards? Why she’s so eager to get married to a guy she only met once before? Why there’s a moonstone in her family house that she was apparently really attached to? None of these definitely intentional questions are given answers, because TONIKAWA has no plot. It’s just about these two young people forming a post-marriage bond and trying to live life together. By the end, extremely little has happened and none of the things that have happened were resolved in a meaningful way. Expect literally anything else and you’re gonna be disappointed, too.
The thing that really, really bothered me though, because it genuinely didn’t seem like anybody else in my circle noticed, is that TONIKAWA looks extremely bad. They manage to hide it with a few pops of decent color grading that never change so I was sick of them by the end anyway, but this anime is only barely animated most of the time, the faces are constantly going off-model, and there is a very noticeable decline in quality as it continues, starting from the difference in quality between the first and second episodes. Seven Arcs doesn’t do much these days so this was likely made by a small work-for-hire team, but even so, I can’t imagine a world where even A-1 Pictures, which is famous for using such teams, didn’t do a significantly cleaner job with these visuals, because it’s a problem when there is no visual difference between the keyframes and the inbetweens. (That is to say, every single shot looks like an inbetween.) The second-to-last episode features several minutes of airtime entirely consisting of captured Street Fighter and Street Fighter V footage edited with jump cuts, and it still didn’t manage to make the animation surrounding this very weird moment look any better. The whole time, I kept thinking, “a better studio would have animated something original for this”.
Was it still enjoyable? Sure, but not in a way that ultimately felt like I got more out of it than if I would have dropped it after the first episode. TONIKAWA delivers on one thing — being a romantic story that starts with the couple getting together rather than ending with it — and does a solid job of it, even if there were issues I would have wanted to be smoothed out (it takes the two of them an aggravatingly long time narratively to start communicating with each other considering the story itself takes place in a short timeframe). But if what you’re looking for is literally anything beyond a cute little romance with no real conflict, go rewatch Kaguya-sama instead.
The best attempt in a while to make an anime out of one-hundred-percent hype.
Akudama Drive comes to us as an original collaboration between Too Kyo Games, the studio built by the creators of Danganronpa and many of their previous coworkers at Spike Chunsoft, and — this threw me for a massive loop — Studio Pierrot, best known for…Naruto. This studio was, at the same time, also producing Boruto — a show with such bad visuals that I dropped it after five episodes just because I couldn’t stand to look at it — Black Clover, best known for its memetically awful main character, and the third season of Osomatsu-san. I don’t know where they got the manpower to make what is very comfortably their best-looking show ever, as well as the best-looking of this entire season, but my jaw hit the floor in the very first episode and stayed there for the majority of what followed.
But anime is about more than visual appeal, and series composer Norimitsu Kaihou has worked with Danganronpa creator Kodaka before, writing the script for Danganronpa 3: Despair Arc, and the series composition for Future Arc) in addition to cementing himself as an above-average creator himself, being responsible for School-Live! as both its original creator, as well as the script and composition for the anime. Akudama sank its hooks into me from the first minute, introducing a group of criminal misfits and an ordinary girl swept into a job that promises a ludicrous payout in exchange for pulling off what seems to be an impossible, incredibly illegal feat.
The plot goes a little all over the place but still remains mostly easy to follow, the cast is all different flavors of likability but without letting you forget that they’re all definitely criminals who should’ve stayed locked up, and the whole thing goes in an extremely political direction that felt very topical for 2020 but was appreciated nonetheless, even if it didn’t quite stick the landing every time. The story’s dystopian elements are definitely front and center in the latter half, which manages to give it more weight as the events of the story become more clear.
The major stumbling block is the final twist, which is somewhat predictable given the abundance of religious imagery in the visual design and narrative, but even then, gets dealt with fairly quickly to make room for a very strong final episode that ties the remaining loose ends up while making it clear that this is indeed the end of the story. It shows us just how far the remaining cast members have come in their development to accomplish what is ultimately a noble goal, throwing society out of whack in the process.
Akudama Drive is, like the thing its creator is most known for, the type of anime insanity that definitely feels like it’s still going somewhere even as it careens off of the rails. Some of its metaphors get too mixed up in the process, but, ultimately, it’s still an absolute visual treat on par with a lot of full-on movie productions that hopefully will propel Too Kyo Games forward into their next big project. It’s a transitional piece for the people making it, but it’s one hell of a ride anyway.
A bombastic first episode gives way to a show that ends up spinning its wheels for far too long and ends with no resolution.
I really, really liked the first episode of HYPMIC. It smacks you in the face with its style and forces you to go along with it as it introduces four distinct groups of characters and the totalitarian regime under which they live. The key difference between this world versus our own is that there are no longer usable weapons or firearms. All violent disputes are now settled with holographic rap battles, Yu-Gi-Oh!-style. That’s a hell of a concept and, briefly, it totally works.
Unfortunately, despite early signs that it would manage to buck what has become an absolute curse on male-centered mobile game adaptations, HYPMIC very quickly begins stalling for time as it builds up to the titular Division Battle, a tournament that would inevitably see the four main groups competing in its finals. Eventually we learn why the tournament was happening to begin with, and the groups actually get some pretty decent development thanks to sectioning them off so that each episode focuses on three characters at once. However, once the tournament actually begins, the majority of each episode is taken up by some other escapade, and the actual rap battles end up being a massive letdown because it genuinely ends up feeling more like they took the one-way battles and just edited them together. The beats are uninteresting and the fights don’t escalate in a meaningful way, so we just kind of have to take the show’s word that one side or the other was the winner.
And after all that, the plot doesn’t feel like it actually starts until the last third of the series, where the threatening government starts to be taken seriously, and while I give HYPMIC props for recognizing that its shitty ruling party needs to be taken down (a low bar that I have still seen shows fail to clear), a lot of those props are taken away because they don’t actually get to do anything by the time the final credits roll except for gain a few new allies. The show’s massive anticlimax killed my joy for it, because the last fight — the one that’s actually cool and interesting again because they use the opening track but give it new verses from all the characters — is very brief, and it’s against people that aren’t actually villains and who had only just been introduced properly in the previous episode.
That leaves HYPNOSISMIC with, to my extreme displeasure, a sequel hook, after it had spent the majority of its runtime on things that had nothing to do with the overall plot. There are still things I really like about this show — Fling Posse are a fun group of characters, and their leader is the one character in the whole show with an internal conflict and a character arc, the visuals for the fights are still crazy even when the characters start to go CG, and it manages to give more character development and engaging episodic stories than the majority of its brethren. Unfortunately, however, at the end of the day, this show managed to build up to very little and still disappoint.