Anime fandom can be an unforgiving place.
Here are two shows that are meeting with a pretty harsh reception for the most part, and to some extent I think the reasons behind that are similar. We’re talking about series where events are handled at an unusually deliberate pace, albeit in vastly different genres. In a way it’s easier to understand the criticism with Argevollen, being as mecha is a genre where people expect a certain amount of grandiosity and theatre. Glasslip being basically a slice-of-life romance, it’s interesting to see the same sort of grenades being lobbed at it over the latest episode.
Neither of these shows is among my favorites of the season, but the existence of this post is evidence that I can’t quite them out of my system. That’s more true in the case of Argevollen, which has a low-key realism to it that I find quite effective. This episode was quite an interesting one – basically an all-dialogue episode where the characters dealt with the repercussions of events at the Gate of no Retreat. Samonji got chewed out by his superiors despite having followed orders and done the best he could in a no-win situation. Tokimune got punched out (at last) by a colleague for disobeying orders and risking the lives of the platoon, and apologized to his captain. And Jamie came face to face with the corporate reality that exists after the unexpected field testing of the Argevollen.
In a sense, this series may have as little in the way of artifice as any mecha show I can remember – even the soundtrack is understated. If it weren’t for the presence of the mobile suits it would be easy to place it in something like real life – there’s much focus on drudgery and bureaucracy, and the limitations of weapons and soldiers are more important than their capabilities. There’s also not much heroism, just people enduring the harshness of war because they’ve been ordered to. Jamie’s reaction when she found out that she was being put in command of the Argevollen was telling – she just wanted to go back to being an office drone with a quiet and anonymous life. There’s talk of Tokimune’s dead sister, and hints that Samonji’s role in her death may have derailed his career – as well as that he may be somewhat forgiving towards Tokimune’s insubordination because he was guilty of the same, and for similar reasons.
It’s not every mecha show that would place an entire episode in a pleasant, leafy suburb, focused on the brass desperately trying to avoid taking responsibility for a war being lost and on the internal politics of a defense contractor. And I appreciate that Argevollen is willing to do that, even if it earns a heap of scorn in the process. By contrast, what we see happening in Glasslip seems in line with the sort of show that it quite openly presents itself as – yet somehow, it doesn’t seem to be working for me (or that many others). What I get in Argevollen that I don’t seem to get in Glasslip is a sense of why the characters feel the way they feel and act the way they act. War story or school life, motivation is important – it doesn’t matter the scale, you need to understand the people you’re watching for a series to really work.
Trying to deconstruct exactly why Glasslip isn’t connecting is a bit harder to do than simply saying that it isn’t. For me, there’s a sense of artifice here, of a carefully choreographed dance rather than organic movement. I don’t mind that there’s not much action, and we’ve actually progressed romantic plots more in four episodes than in the vast majority of similar series (P.A. Works’ not least). Everyone has a role they’re dutifully fulfilling and occasional hints of deeper meaning are dropped in conspicuously significant fashion, but the entire experience is somewhat hollow and the conflicts seem quite manufactured. It plays like the work of people making the show they feel like they’re supposed to be making, but unsure as to why.
In sum, we have two shows that are largely failing to connect with their audience. In the case of Argevollen it’s easier to see why, but more unjust – Glasslip at least seems to be the kind of show its target audience should respond to, but it isn’t. I find myself wishing viewers were a little easier on Argevollen because it deserves a better reception than the one it’s received and it’s going to be around for two cours, but I get why it’s not working out that way. As for Glasslip it seems largely to be in a bed of its own making, and while I wish it success it’s hard to muster much in the way of dissatisfaction over its fate.