Anime Preview

Gekidol is a post-apocalyptic mess, and you shouldn’t watch it

A popular trend in anime criticism is where a reviewer intentionally watches anime they know they won’t enjoy for the purpose of making fun of it. I’m not sure where it started — probably with MST3K — but I and those that came before me played a role in popularizing it in the podcasting scene.

After a decade of practicing this review approach, it began to feel stale — lazy, even. Many times it’s not even a review; it’s just a plot summary with edgy commentary. It was also beginning to affect my ability to appreciate things. When viewing the world through the lens of potential comedy for your podcast or blog, you start looking for things to riff on in every experience.

It’s a weird way to live, and I had to stop doing it. Working in the film industry also gave me a newfound empathy for the creative staff. Now when watching anime I don’t like, I try to consider the circumstances that led to its imperfection. I think about the staff and how they might feel when confronted by a mountain of misguided negativity.

Gekidol is not one of those shows

Episode summary

Your guess is as good as mine. I was six shots deep when I watched this, but I don’t think being sober would have made a difference.

In the world of Gekidol, there is a virtual reality version of live theater called the Theatrical Material System. Although, it might also be called Super Material Theater. The Funimation sub uses both names indiscriminately, so I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe they’re competing companies. I was too drunk to care.

From what I can tell, TMS/SMT is just like regular theater, except you can interact with the characters…I think. It’s a cool idea on paper, but in practice, it’s a parasocial nightmare. 

Case in point, our protagonist, Seria Morinoi, becomes obsessed with TMS/SMT after her first experience. When approached by a talent recruiter for the Alice in Theater group, Seria suddenly decides that acting is her passion and goes in for an audition.

Episode review

I have to give Gekidol credit — it was dumber than I expected.

During the episode, they keep hinting at something more sinister going on. Part of Tokyo has been destroyed. Like, obliterated. But not enough to inconvenience people and stop them from going to the theater. It’s similar to what we’re going through right now.

If this were the only weird thing happening, Gekidol wouldn’t be worth writing about. However, when Funimation launched the series, it was presented as a double episode with out of context zombie survival horror OVA Alice in Deadly School.

From a canon perspective, Alice in Deadly School is a play that exists in the Gekidol universe (Gekiverse?). An opener like this can work — like when The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya debuted with the short film episode — but it’s nonetheless bewildering. Combined with the strange PR surrounding Gekidol from 2016 that promised a medium-length film, it’s apparent that they had no idea what they were doing.

Alice in Deadly school is an incoherent mess. Ostensibly, it’s about a group a high school girls stuck on the roof of their school, hiding from a zombie attack.

It drops us in the middle of the story, which is fine. In medias res is a perfectly acceptable storytelling mechanism. However, there are so many time cuts that it’s difficult to follow what’s going on. Things continue to escalate until the episode ends without resolution.

This wouldn’t be a problem if this were the first episode of a longer series, but it’s not. Is a weird bonus OVA, which, while technically canon, feels incongruous. Will there be another Alice in Deadly School? Possibly, but the way that anime is released in the US is mysterious. There’s often zero information about something until it’s released.

I don’t think I can blame Funimation for this one either. Sure, they could have prepared viewers better for what’s going on, but I have a feeling that even they don’t know what to make of Alice in Deadly School.

You shouldn’t watch this. I wasn’t going to watch this, but news of the weird release piqued my interest. Don’t make the same mistake I did. This isn’t so bad that it’s good. It’s just bad.

I’m going to keep watching it. Fuck my life.

Suppose a Kid From the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town is a lot better than it’s dumb name would imply

The other day I had an exchange with a friend about whether anime production should be unionized. Our conversation was in response to an article on Crunchyroll about how Japanese voice actors are paid the same regardless of how popular an anime becomes.

My friend agreed that wages should increase, but expressed concern that it could result in studios going bankrupt. It’s true that some productions wouldn’t be able to handle the increased cost of a union contract. I stressed that worker’s rights are more important than how much anime we get each season, but wondered if I was being too militant in my approach.

Shortly after our conversation, I watched the first episode of Suppose a Kid From the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town. When it opened with the Universal Studios logo, it reinforced my stance. Anime is a multi-billion dollar industry, and the companies financing these productions have a lot more money than they lead on.

Episode summary

Lloyd Belladonna is the weakest person in his village, so he goes on a quest to the capital to train and become stronger. Little does he realize that his town is adjacent to the most dangerous dungeon in the world. While he may be a weakling in his hometown, he’s exponentially overpowered compared to everyone on the outside.

Last Dungeon Boonies is interesting because it has video game sensibilities despite not taking place in a video game. At least, not yet. Similar to Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, it asks what would happen if a maxed-out RPG character started over without resetting their stats.

The first episode doesn’t do much other than establish its setting and introduce the cast.

Episode review

After a decade of christening anime with a naming scheme reminiscent of 2000s era emo, you think we would have moved on to a new trend. The premise-as-the-title bit was cute at first, but it’s been run so deep into the ground that this once clever nomenclature can now push people away.

Suppose a Kid From the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town is such an unequivocally stupid name that it soured my expectations. Timing is the only reason I watched it. If the first episode premiered next week after more shows had their debut, it might not have made the cut.

This is unfortunate because it’s actually quite charming. The setup is nothing special, but the approach feels fresh — perhaps due to veteran screenwriter Deko Akao’s expertly crafted script. For a show that relies heavily on shouting as humor, I laughed harder than I should have. Maybe I lost my edge after being locked in my apartment for eight months.

I say this because I’m struggling to articulate why I liked this show. Nothing special happens. We are introduced to the main characters, and that’s about it. What Last Dungeon Boonies really excels at is pacing and blocking.

Many first episodes feel like they’re double the length. This is because they spend so much time setting up the story they forget to do anything interesting. Last Dungeon Boonies does use half its runtime on exposition, but it does so in an interesting way

That feels like such a low bar to set to find something entertaining, but TV anime is so regularly flat that it makes me question what a director’s job is. A sight gag like pulling a mug out of nowhere and pouring a cup of coffee mid-conversation shouldn’t be that impressive, but I’m still laughing about it.

The characters move around the set and interact with props. It actually feels like time is passing. It’s not just two people statically talking for ten minutes in an empty room. I’m looking at you, Konosuba!

When I started working in film, a writer told me that if you can’t get your point across in 2-3 pages, you’re wasting the audience’s time. Scenes with large page counts should be saved for massive events, like when the villain reveals their scheme at the end of the movie. 

I don’t fully agree with this stance, but it’s something I think about every time I watch something with a pacing problem. A lot of anime has pacing problems. Many shows rely on cute character designs that check off a list of tropes to do the heavy lifting. Storytelling often takes the backseat.

While I don’t expect Last Dungeon Boonies to tell a groundbreaking story, I appreciate that they’re not phoning it in.

Funimation is on thin ice with their lack of marketing for Skate-Leading Stars

Do you remember when Funimation proudly announced that they would stream Skate-Leading Stars two weeks ahead of the Japanese broadcast? That should be a big deal. It’s one thing to premiere a series a day or two earlier. That’s barely even news at this point. But half a month? I mean, wow.

Something was odd about their announcement, though. They didn’t mention a date. Two weeks ahead of when? I didn’t overthink it at the time. Details were probably still being ironed out behind the scenes. They’ll make another announcement when everything is finalized.

Turns out — no. Skate-Leading Stars was silently released three days after we reported the news. It took me so long to notice, that the next episode is almost out. I would have expected a bigger marketing push for one of the first new shows of the winter season. No one is talking about this series. Even Anime News Network, who goes all out with their preview guide, has yet to publish anything.

Does Gorō Taniguchi’s name not have pull anymore? He created Code Geass for fuck’s sake. Now he’s making an original anime full of hot guys on ice-skates. Am I missing something? I checked the Funimation app on my Apple TV and on my Nintendo Switch (which features their new layout). Nothing.

There’s no splash screen on the homepage. They don’t list it under the new or exclusive release section either. I had to look the show up with the search bar to find it. That’s wild to me. What benefit it is to the client to put in extra work to make an exclusive release deadline if Funimation doesn’t properly advertise the show?

Funimation made a post on their social media when the first episode came out, but it was quickly overshadowed by conversations about the best anime of 2020 and Nesuko from Demon Slayer’s birthday. I know that both of those are super important topics, but come on.

Episode summary

Skate-Leading Stars screeches into the station full blast with a train full of melodrama (that was a weird metaphor). Some kid is screaming at another kid that he’ll never figure skate again if he loses that night’s tournament. We don’t know who these kids are because context is for cowards.

Shoutmaster General’s name is Kensei Maeshima, and his parents died in a car accident two months ago. We know this extremely intimate detail because the announcer commentating Maeshima’s tournament performance tells the crowd. The boy he was yelling at is 11-year-old Reo Shinozaki.

Maeshima comes in second place, beaten by Shinozaki by only .30 points. Ouch. Before Shinozaki steps away from the winner’s podium, he tells Maeshima, “You’ll never beat me. You’re just wasting your time,” with the emotionless face of a serial killer. I will not be surprised if it’s later revealed that Shinozaki caused the car accident that killed Maeshima’s parents.

We cut to a few years later to find Maeshima in high school. He pretends that he didn’t use to be a hot shit figure skater, but everyone knows, and they’re tired of his shit.

Shinozaki’s professional career is beginning to take off. Maeshima does his best to ignore this while keeping good on his promise to never skate again. That is until a mysterious man asks him, “But what if you did skate again?”

Episode review

Skate-Leading Stars is a lot better than I was expecting. With the radio silence from anime fans on social media, and Funimation’s marketing team leaving it to fend for itself, I was prepared to suffer through 23 minutes of boring garbage.

Instead, I got a mildly funny story about honor, knowing when to accept defeat, and how those concepts are stupid. It’s much more gratifying to embarrass your childhood rival because, honestly, fuck that guy. Is it petty? Oh yeah, but you should have seen the look on his face.

When I first reported on the early US release, I expressed concern about what it could mean for the animation quality. While the episode itself looks fine, the opening credits are alarmingly bare. Normally this is where animation studios showcase their best work. The opening sequence is their first opportunity to captivate the audience, so they’re usually bursting with color and energy.

Skate-Leading Stars opens with a mostly white text on a black screen. It’s pretty clear what happened; they ran out of time. It’s not that big of a deal. It can always update later, but it really disrupted the mood going into the first episode. A shift like that can be the difference between someone sticking around or not.

The ending credits and next episode preview are similarly minimal, but I’m more forgiving of that. If someone makes it that far, you already have their attention. The content of the episode will be what determines if they come back. It also helps that the “Oh fuck! The deadline is tomorrow!” approach they took with the preview was hilarious.

Considering the lukewarm welcome it’s getting from people online, Skate-Leading Stars is unlikely to be a hit this season. I enjoyed what I watched, but I probably won’t stick around much longer. At the very least, I’ll watch the next episode when it comes out tomorrow. With Yashahime: Half-Demon Princess taking the week off, it’s not like I have anything better going on.