I think it would be fair to say that the problems with the second episode of Mikagura were easy to predict. Namely, that once you got past he veneer of insanity and things calmed down a bit, there wouldn’t be enough left to sustain interest. This is based on a LN based on Vocaloid songs – I mean, this was always the most likely outcome if we’re being honest with ourselves.
While I didn’t find this ep distasteful or anything, I did find it frankly rather boring. The premiere was so wild that it led to some interesting theories, among them the “Green Acres Conspiracy” model – to whit, the main character is insane and everything we’re seeing is her delusional view of her asylum. In truth it looks like it’s just a far-fetched LN plot without any real effort to explain it, at least so far.
This ep wasn’t nearly as nutty or random as the premiere, and there wasn’t a lot left to carry the load. The hook of a cliche oversexed male harem LN protagonist that’s actually a girl is clever, the Gainiax-inspired visual style has some eye-catching moments, and there are a couple of funny gags (like the yuri heroine being turned on by the girlish pseudo-trap). But past that things look pretty routine now – a magical school with a complicated set of rules, a bunch of students with special powers, an excuse for battles and some light ecchi. It’s not too interesting or different underneath a very thin veneer of distinctiveness, and while I’ll give Mikagura another ep or two to recapture some of the manic charm of the premiere, I’m not too optimistic that it’ll keep me hooked.
Hibike! Euphonium – 02
“At least it isn’t K-On!” has a pretty limited shelf life as a selling point for a series, but at least it’s true. There is some hint of sobriety and dignity to Hibike! Euphonium, but I’m not sure how much else there is. This is a pretty difficult thing Hibike! is seemingly trying to pull off – making the superficially mundane and unexciting aspects of high school life seem interesting rather than… mundane and unexciting. And so far it’s a mixed bag at-best.
Mind you, I don’t think the bar is that high for the series to succeed because it has two natural constituencies wired-in – Kyoto Animation fans and those with an interest in band minutiae. And I don’t see any reason why it won’t work for them. While fairly restrained, Hibike! is still well inside the KyoAni fantasy bubble – the world where 95% of he population is cute teenaged girls and they all act like only girls in KyoAni shows act. The backgrounds are beautiful and the animation fluid (a couple of moments this week were pretty exceptional), and the attention to detail with on band side is pretty high-level.
Is there enough there to keep the rest of us hooked in? Well, I did like this episode marginally better than the premiere so I’ll probably stick around for another couple of episodes. Taki-sensei seems somewhat more quirky than the typical seat-filler KyoAni uses in teacher roles, and while hardly exciting there was something almost hypnotic in the slow, grinding way in which the introductory band meeting played out.
The temptation here, especially for the optimist, is obviously to compare this show to Hyouka. And Hyouka didn’t exactly storm out of the gate, but the difference for me is that I was already intrigued by a few characters two episodes in and there was already a hint of something deeper simmering underneath even if it was just something in the air at that stage. I don’t get that sense here, and none of the major cast apart from the teacher seem far outside the KyoAni norm far enough to interest me.
I would also note that as lovely as Hibike! is visually, Hyouka was clearly on another level – already at two episodes staking a claim as one of the most visually impressive TV anime ever made. It was more than just beautiful – there was a fierce creativity to the visuals that told a story of its own, like a second unspoken dialogue track. That fierce creativity is generally what Hibike! is going to need to be memorable or in any way a show that marks a creative re-awakening for Kyoto Animation, and so far it’s the missing piece from my perspective. But there’s enough here besides to give the series another couple of weeks to find it.