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This Week in Anime
Anime Director Tsutomu Mizushima's Wild Ride

by Nicholas Dupree & Steve Jones,

Nick and Steve look back on director Tsutomu Mizushima's work so far, from his latest Train to the End of the World to Shirobako, Girls und Panzer, and more.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Train to the End of the World, The Lost Village, and Prison School are available on Crunchyroll while Shirobako, Girls und Panzer, and The Magnificent Kotobuki are streaming on HiDive. Blood-C is available on Hulu, and The Wicker Man (1973) is available on Tubi.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet

Welcome, Steve. Or should I say...

ALL ABOOAAAAAAARD HA HA HA HA HA HA— Wait crap, I already did the Crazy Train intro the last time we covered a train anime.

Dammit. Shit. God dammit.

It's okay, Nick. I know just how to salvage this. See, I've been watching a lot of really cool, normal guys on YouTube, and they've been teaching me so much about this thing called 7G and what it's doing to male virility. I can't wait to tell you all about it.
Well, with influencers as trustworthy as this guy, I can't wait to sign up for his $1500 video course!
I like how that guy's name, "Poison," has somehow become one of the least weird details about Train to the End of the World.
It's one of the least weird things of the surrounding 60 seconds of that premiere. This train has no brakes and is ready to make the Crazy 8888 Incident look like a Hot Wheels playset.

Sidenote: I'm glad I got into engineering podcasts between this and the Mugen Train column so I can have more niche train trivia jokes.
I know they go choo-choo, and if that's good enough for Zenjiro, then that's good enough for me.

Also, in my defense, accurate train lore seems pretty low on this show's priority list. Like, its announcement coincided with the 150th anniversary of Japan's first railway, so I'm sure concern is there, but it's somewhere beneath horny zombies and butt mushrooms.
Oh, for sure. I'm sure there are some nice details for the sick freaks who play train simulator games, but the titular train is purposefully mundane and by far the least important part of the title. I'm looking for a way to turn this column into a 30-minute explanation of dumb railway history.
I will cop with being a little jealous of people who can probably look at this and go rainbolt mode, giving me the exact make and model of the train in question.

The best I can do is instantly identify when a shot uses the 1973 Wicker Man film as a visual reference.
Now, that is one I've been prepared for since childhood. I was pretty disappointed that the episode didn't feature an all-anime girl rendition of "Sumer is Icumen In." We can't have everything in life, even if this show is determined to have almost everything in a single season.
Sometimes, it feels like it's trying to cram everything into a single episode!

This show was pretty tight-lipped about what exactly it was going to be. All we knew ahead of time was that some vague form of apocalypse had happened, and a bunch of girls would ride a train like they were the Quad City DJs. So the sheer variety of weird crap really did take us all by surprise.
I certainly didn't anticipate the extent of the madness these tracks would lead to, but I had an inkling. Astute readers might remember that this was my pick for the most anticipated of the season. That choice was based almost entirely on my faith in director Tsutomu Mizushima and writer Michiko Yokote. They hadn't let me down before, and they're doing pretty darn good here, in my opinion.
I'm decidedly less on the Mizushima train (Get it? I'll be here all week.), but I was certainly curious. Mizushima is one of those few directors who's been able to consistently put out original shows alongside his adaptations over the last decade and change. Whenever he gets the chance to branch out, it's at least an interesting ride, regardless of how it ends.
Yeah, I kind of love his CV because you've got niche crowdpleasers like Squid Girl and Girls und Panzer alongside infamous B-movie schlock like Blood-C and Another, solid manga adaptations like Witch Craft Works and Prison School, and absolutely deranged stuff like The Lost Village and now Train to the End of the World. It's such an eclectic spread.

And oh yeah, there's Shirobako.

Ah yes, the hottest anime nerd favorite of 2014 that I still haven't made time for a decade later.
Shirobako really came along at the exact right time for me. This was about a year or so after I started seriously getting into anime again, and the show helped me perceive and think about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into every anime. It's not a perfect vertical slice of the industry, but it does have cartoon Hideaki Anno with Evangelion-coded couches, so I think it's pretty cool.
I remember my Twitter bubble going wild for it and bouncing off the first episode—a trend with me and Mizushima shows. Train was the first project of his since Another that hooked me for another episode, and revisiting some of his past premieres reminded me why.

For instance, it's a bit of a bold choice to start your show by introducing 30 main characters with names, including three who technically have the same name.
I'll accept no The Lost Village slander. Its premiere is flawless and arguably Mari Okada's most sophisticated script.

Just kidding. Slander it all you want. It only makes us Mayoiga-heads that much stronger.
Just saying, there are more proven ways of hooking viewers than:
There's a lot of friction in that episode; I'll give you that. Mizushima, in general, is a strange case because while I like him as a director, he doesn't have a super distinctive style like an Anno, an Ikuhara, or a Hatakeyama. And yet, there's an identifiable feel to a lot of his work. Something almost jester-like.
Yeah, he's not a director with consistent visual or thematic predilections, unless "putting anime girls in large mechanical vehicles" counts.
That always counts.
However, the focus on military tech does bring out a similar side from him in Girls und Panzer and The Magnificent Kotobuki. For example, extended shots are framed like they're an on-board camera attached to the tank or plane. It's not consistent enough to call it a recurring style, but it's a rather playful touch in both shows.
The dogfights in Kotobuki were so good and made such smart use of the advantages of CG animation. That was a sorely underrated and under-watched series. It's worth checking out if you like planes. And for everyone else, there's always this:
I don't know, I like my ladies how I like my coffee: consistently rendered in the same dimension across a full series.
Suit yourself. That's the small-mindedness we're trying to eliminate in our post-7G world. Anyway, another recurring theme across his works is an appreciation of over-the-top B-movie strangeness. A lot of stuff in Another, Blood-C, The Lost Village, and even Train comes together when you realize that the man must love schlock. At least, I don't know how else you explain the giant rabbit monster massacre in Blood-C.
Genuinely could have told me that was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit from Train, and I'd believe you.
Hey, the show's not over yet! They could show up at any time. These tastes made him a natural fit for Prison School's evocation of exploitation films and other abject trash.
More than anything, I think Mizushima is engaging to follow because he puts his all into whatever he's working on. Not being tied to a particular style or visual identity means he can mold that energy to fit a given project. Prison School is so deeply, intentionally irony-poisoned that an adaptation could easily go too far into sincerity or parody. Yet Mizushima's anime version just about threads the needle perfectly.
Mizushima is many things, but a coward is not one of them. When the man commits, he commits. Moreover, I suspect he eggs on his writers to do the same when working on an original project together. At any rate, that's my running theory for why Mari Okada was even more unhinged than usual in The Lost Village and why Yokote's work on Train has resulted in the least predictable anime of the year.
If that's the case, then I think he also bears some of the burden for why I glanced off so many of his premieres. Train managed to hook me with the absurd premise, but even that first episode spent much time on comedic dialogue that seemed too aimless and repetitive for its own good. They'll stick with an odd or simple punchline, like a character saying "probably" every sentence for too long, or get caught in up circuitous bits, running out of energy long before they finish.
That kind of indulgence is a double-edged sword. It will wear on you extremely quickly if you don't vibe with it. Depending on your perspective, I'm lucky in that regard (or unlucky). Something about Train syncs with my neural wavelength and makes me enjoy the sensation of my brain matter leaking out of my ears.
Oh, when it hits, it hits. The Mushroom episode, for instance, has a great horror motif to riff off of, allowing it to build a ton of good gags around just how weird this rendition of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is. All while also building a solid bit of character drama that develops the cast. It's probably my favorite part of the show so far.
It's a great episode! It is also a relic of a time when the show appeared, and it might follow the conventional rules of a serial television program.
Yeah, the show drifts away from the traditional comedic and narrative structure not long after that. Instead, it adopts the tactic of hurling every idea the writers could come up with at the wall, creating a parade of horrors that patently refuses to explain itself.

It's somewhere on the continuum between Heybot and Sonny Boy right now, which I suspect is borderline insufferable for most people but good sickos.jpg shit for freaks like me. This week's episode is the most egregious example yet—just completely nonsensical, by design, in its bizarre reconstruction of Alice in Wonderland from first principles.
I saw a lot of folks going wild over that episode, but honestly, it just put me off. It starts as loud as possible and stays at that level while ping-ponging between gags at triple speed. While I can respect that commitment, the overall experience was more exhausting than entertaining. Once I'd acclimated to the style, I struggled to laugh at any of the jokes before getting slammed into the next one. I don't need this show to be a sitcom, but a little more structure to the jokes would be appreciated.
I think I get where the episode is coming from—it's partly a commentary on the perceived dichotomy between chaos and structure—but I also get where you're coming from. Furthermore, this is the first episode of the season in which Mizushima is credited with the script, so one could argue that this is the closest to his "vision" for the series overall, for better or worse. I suppose a lot of it comes down to whether or not you find it hilarious that he threw in upwards of a dozen slides detailing the biographies of characters from a fake anime that's only tangentially germane to the warped setting of the train stop.
I admire the dedication! If only more genre parodies would put that much work into constructing their world instead of just "What if Magical Girls but sex and violence?" I wish the show would take a second to breathe and maybe develop stronger jokes than "shogi exists."
Meanwhile, I'm sufficiently amused by foley-based jokes like tire squealing that fades flawlessly into pig squealing and living shogi pieces that chant the acronym for polymerase chain reactions for no discernable reason. I guess I'm just built differently. Also, the show throws so much out there that I can't help but have affection for its gumption.
It felt like I was being played random TikTok compilations of 2000s-era YouTube Poops while sitting inside a wind tunnel.
Weirdly, I feel like there's a much older quality to the breakneck pace of its dialogue, like it's one of those old Hollywood comedies from the '40s or '50s where the actors are throwing out at least five zingers per minute. But for the brain-poisoned shitpost generation (me).
Anyway, I hope that as we enter the show's 3rd (?????) act, it'll more closely resemble the first half. There's a charm to that rapid-fire approach, but the same goes for tactically deployed land mines like the book-eating bit from Akira's Butt Mushroom Brain Problems.
This week's cold open would indicate they might tackle the girls' heavier traumas with a presumably steadier hand so the show could recalibrate. Or it might just keep getting stranger and stranger. I've given up on trying to predict its next move.

I should note that I also threw my hands up in a similar fashion partway through Metallic Rouge last season, but Train's wild pacing and narrative swerves feel so much more confident and intentional.
There's a difference between a train barreling forward because the engineer has the throttle thrown as far as it'll go and one screeching down the tracks unattended. While I haven't enjoyed every bend or switch, I do not doubt that Mizushima and his collaborators are still fully in control of this thing. I hope it doesn't turn into the anime version of the Ashtabula Horror.
Hey, with these smart, savvy, and completely normal heroines at the controls, what's there to worry about?

...maybe trains need seatbelts after all.

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