by Rose Bridges,
There's a lot to love about the presentation in Yatterman Night. It has stunning visual design in its fluid animation and monochromatic palettes. The underwater scenes were great in this episode, from the blue-greys of the mechas floating through the water to the reds inside them. It has a fantastic OST that is always tailored exactly to the moment, from soaring battle music to tender lullabies. The characters are all fun, breathing new life into the original Doronbow team's appeal. Above all, the show really knows how to switch back and forth between the silly and the serious. It's one of my favorite shows of the current season, and a lot of that's in the execution.
There's also some stuff to criticize. Yatterman Night is a solid and engaging show, but as it goes on, cracks peek through in its weaker episodes like this one. I usually love the show's childish humor, like when Oda wakes up the team by biting them on the butts. (I love everything about Oda, in fact.) However, Yatterman Night really stretched its sophomoric jokes to the limit with the introduction of Ryu. He's a weird combination of lecher and fish otaku, which results in him talking about boobs the same way as he would a sardine's shape. In concept that could be funny, but in execution it's just awkward. On the topic of sexuality, this episode also had some leery shots of Leopard in her costume, especially in the squid mecha. These scenes usually make her look older, but that doesn't change the fact that she's not. I always thought part of the point was that it was awkward for a prepubescent girl to be wearing such a sexy costume in the first place. She's not actually the original Doronjo. Let's not forget that, please.
All in all, this week's episode wasn't the most substantial. Its underwater battle made for fun spectacle, but as great as those fight scenes can be, they aren't really what makes this show work for me. It's the quieter, more introspective and relationship-building moments, which we got exactly one of this time. Galina explains to Ryu why he admires Doronbow, and that's about it. So instead, I'm going to talk a little about the nature of the show and how it has and hasn't lived up to my expectations of what it's "really about."
For one thing, this show doesn't actually critique Leopard's childlike view of the world. It doesn't confirm it either, as she's shown to be wrong many times. But the show views it as admirable and refreshing—strong convictions often are, when everyone else must mindlessly follow the government's whims. Leopard has a lot of growing to do, and still sees the world through the eyes of a naïve child (which is partly why the sexualizing shots are so weird). This is her coming of age story, so she'll likely grow out of this somewhat, but she'll never lose her heroic spirit.
Yatterman Night has a lot to say about the nature of "heroes." It reminded me of this interview with the director and writers of the (now best picture winning) film Birdman, where they took aim at the popularity of superheroes, and how dividing the world into "heroes" and "villains" excuses the former for all matter of sins. Yatterman Night takes this concept to the extreme in showing how that sharp divide could lead to a dystopia down the line. In this world, the heroes have become the villains and vice versa, but people are afraid to challenge that. That distinction is baked deeply into their society and enforced through tyranny. I'm not sure if it's intentional, but Yatterman Night is a great critique of superheroes and how they form our understanding of the world.
It's an affectionate critique though, since Yatterman Night doesn't abandon the concept entirely. At one point, Galina tells Ryu that he felt like a "zombie" living in the "nightmare" of the Yatter Kingdom, and it was Doronbow who changed that. They inspired him, taught him new things, and gave him a reason to live again. They were his "heroes," though the show doesn't directly say this. Yatterman Night doesn't reject the black-and-white hero/villain morality I thought it might in my first review, though it could go there yet. It just asks us to think about where we draw those lines, and to base that on our personal experiences rather than what society tells us.
The current anime season is a good one for "questioning societal constructions of evil and villains." It's a major theme in Yurikuma Arashi, Maria the Virgin Witch, and Tokyo Ghoul √A, as each takes aim at a different faction's handling of these ideas. Yatterman Night may be one of the simpler offerings, but it's also the broadest and most accessible. It wraps its deeper ideas in good old-fashioned Saturday morning cartoon fun, with a big heart to match. It's an unusual formula, but it's working so far, occasional filler like this week aside.
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