Monthly Archives: May 2014

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 2

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up.

Show Index

Image of Smile serving some hardcore ping pong

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 2: A

Wow. This was a fantastic episode. The story mainly revolves around Peco and Smile’s elderly coach, Koizumi, deciding that he wants to mentor Smile and help him to hone his table tennis game. Of course Smile isn’t really about that, acting timidly towards ideas of competition and showmanship. This is what really made the episode stand out for me.

We get several scenes, some flashbacks, that give us more fleshed out understandings of Smile’s role in society up until this point. He was picked on at some point in time and his peers think of him as robotic, due to his cold nature and seeming lack of feeling. Koizumi works hard to pull Smile out of this shell, pushing himself to the limit in order to get the best sportsmanship out of the ping pong wunderkind.

Ping Pong the Animation handled Smile’s character development beautifully. They create a scenario in which we not only see the past that has created the present day Smile, thus fleshing him out, but the plot is also pushed along for us, the episode ending on a type of cliffhanger. It’s also easy to empathize with Smile, even though he’s been so lackadaisical up to this point. He’s a young man who has been dealing with expectations of who he should be his entire life and he finds himself increasingly more interested in folding into himself. In a society built on a rather rigid idea of professional success, Smile strives to do things because he wants to do them, rather than because he feels someone else wants him to. And even though this theme speaks specifically to Japan, it certainly fits into the US model of success as well.

The animation in this episode made me feel like a damn fool for ever hating it so much to begin with. I can’t say that some characters don’t look the south side of homely, but the table tennis match scenes are executed perfectly. Ping Pong expresses motion through paced manga-esque panels that will each focus on different parts of a character’s body, for instance. We’ll see a sliding foot in one panel and then pops up a second panel of a paddle-holding hand that swats the ball away. This pacing keeps the show exciting but this particular editing style never feels overdone or to frenetic. Just beautiful.

Image of the Masked Man walking amongst bodies

Black Bullet, Episode 2: B+

The second episode of Black Bullet improves considerably over the first, mainly in the way it fleshes out the world around its central characters. The episode starts out in the thick of things with Rentaro and Kisara Tendo, president of Tendo Civil Sercurity (whom Rentaro and Enju work for), heading to the Ministry of Defense, a central office for all Civil Security branches. Rentaro meets several other Promoter/Initiator pairs and realizes that other Promoter’s have a much colder relationship with their Initiators than he and Enju have.

A theme builds throughout the episode of many people in society treating the Cursed Children–those female children born with the Gastrea virus–badly, or treating them like a means to an end, rather than as people. This is where Black Bullet got a lot of points from me this week. This episode cut down on the weirder elements of Rentaro and Enju’s relationship–in fact it was much clearer this week that Rentaro protects and loves Enju as a daughter or little sister rather than as a romantic figure–and instead focused on many of the moral quandaries existent in their society. A lot of philosophical ideas of “the other” are raised, as well as thoughts on the impact of ostracizing a group of people within a community. Because the Cursed Children are branded in such a way, they are seen as only useful to society in the role of Initiator. Any other Cursed Children are treated as if there lives do not matter, simply because they don’t have the chance to fill the single role that are allowed to play and because they “tainted” by the Gastrea. This ideology brings us closer to Rentaro, as he begins to feel less and less okay with the role that the Cursed Children play in society.

At one point in the episode, Enju and Rentaro run into a worn out Cursed Child who is being chased by the police. Even though she wants to help the young girl, Rentaro won’t let Enju come between the girl and the police, most likely because Enju doesn’t have the right as a simple Initiator and would end up in a bad predicament with the police. We get the feeling that Enju is supposed to feel lucky to be in a position so far removed from what the young girl is going through, and yet her malaise causes her to rethink her role within society.

Aside from all of this philosophizing and character building, there are some terrific scenes with the Masked Man–soon known as Kagetane Hiruko–where we get a slightly better understanding of his role in the story. We also meet Seitenshi, the ruler of the Tokyo Area who calls the meeting of the various Civil Securities. Seitenshi comes off as mysterious and slightly ominous, telling the Promoters/Initiators to track and take down the recent Gastrea strain and to recover a case therein. Of course, Seitenshi won’t explain what’s in the case, so we see some tensions and questions being built at the same time.

All in all, this second episode really elevated the series for me and got me more interested and excited for future episodes. Of course they could still drop the ball, but there seems to be a lot of rich material here for Black Bullet to delve further into.

Image of Megumu exploding with heart flags

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 2: C-

This second outing of If Her Flag Breaks certainly moves the plot along–introducing two new characters and moving them all into a house together, for shenanigans, I’m sure–but it really doesn’t do it in a fun or even interesting way.

First we meet Okiku, a childhood friend of Souta’s who ends up in his class for no particular reason. She’s older than the rest of the group–held back a year because she attended school in a foreign country or something (this is revealed just as flippantly in the show, mind you)–and plays the role of an older sister for Souta. Anime in general has an issue currently with brother/sister relationships but luckily things don’t get TOO weird between Souta and Okiku, though their non-blood tie allows for some accidental sexual innuendo, of course. Eventually, Okiku decides with Akane and Nanami that Souta’s living quarters need to be updated because they are relatively ramshackle. They get to it and this takes up most of the episode.

We eventually meet Megumu, a boy whose sister dresses him up in girly enough clothing so that the entire school mistakes him as such. I really don’t think there’s anything in the character design that points to Megumu being a boy except for his relatively flat chest but whatever… I guess the show gets to have a second male character without actually looking like it has a second male character. Oh, and there are plenty of jokes to go around about confusion over Souta and Megumu hooking up.

By the end of the episode Souta’s dorm has been rebuilt and modernized through the help of his close compatriots and his classmates. A class president mentions that the dorm must be demolished if it doesn’t have at least 5 occupants, so of course Akane, Nanami, Okiku and Megumu MUST move in with Souta, setting up wacky occurrences on the horizon. Oh, and we get about a minute of the lore that I was interested in and mentioned in my last review. So much for that.

I really wish this episode had focused more on that same lore instead of filling up the running time with bad gags. In the shows favor, it did a decent job of giving time to its two new characters so we were able to get a sense of their role in the show. The problem is that we’ve seen these roles before, so the lack of anything new and the prevalence of bad jokes makes this episode pretty worthless. Cross your fingers for more in-depth stories about Souta’s abilities and the reason for the group he’s slowly assembling.

Image of Ginko looking out at an ominous sea

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 2: A+

This second episode of the season is proof positive that Mushishi‘s format is the perfect fit for the show’s overall message. For the 25-minute length of the episode, we follow a young girl named Mina and her father, who has decided to break ties with their neighbors in a small coast-side village. Ginko happens upon the town and finds some bird-like Mushi hiding in seashells that clue him into the fact that a sea-based disaster looms on the horizon. Ginko warns the father and daughter but is forced to go inform the rest of the village on his own when the father refuses to speak with them. Meanwhile, the daughter becomes friendly with one of the neighbor girls and eventually loses her ability to speak after she listens to the song of one of the Mushi birds she finds in a shell.

All these elements combine to tell a morality tale of sorts. There is the father figure who can’t overcome his own anger in order to return to the community. His daughter’s loss of speech represents the fact that he has forcibly taken away her ability to communicate with her neighbors for his own selfish reasons. Avoiding spoilers, the events that lead to the obvious conclusion of the story seem slightly mythical and aren’t quite explained, almost as if another force brings about the outcome, in the end. There’ve been plenty of stories that focus on the futility of vengeance and unforgiving anger, but Mushishi handles it in a quiet, somewhat somber way that’s refreshing and allows you moments of inner reflection.

Compared to last week’s episode, this story was much more engaging and show great promise for the show. I love that the show gives us small snapshots of people lives and allows us to make of it what we will. The tone of this episode and the last were considerably different, though the ideology of strength of character through community was prevalent in both. That consistency of message really elevates the show to a higher level.

Lastly, I want to mention the fantastic animation in this episode. While many of the scenes look fairly plain and the characters don’t have massive amounts of detail, there are certain scenes that are almost breathtaking, for instance a scene towards the end when all of the Mushi birds take flight around Mina. Scenes like this showcase the majesty of nature while the simple character designs reinforce the fact that each character is just 1 in 5 billion. Still, each of those people’s stories have something to teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

Image of Kanade remembering her musical history

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 2: B-

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky continues on at a steady pace, faltering in some places and excelling in others. The episode lingers slightly in waiting for the orchestral skills test that Kanade and Kyouya are expected to take, before getting placed in the Seisou orchestra. On the plus side, we get a more fleshed out version of Kanade, delving further into her long history with music and the differences between the way she approached music as a young girl and the way she plays it now. Kanade ruminates on the joy she once experienced when playing music as a child and wanders if she has let that slip away from her over the years. This gets to an overall interesting commentary on the way that creatives handle their art form, sometimes becoming bogged down in the need to succeed or to create the perfect work, rather than enjoying the process. This revelation pays off by the end of the episode and I see it going on to inform much of the rest of the series.

What Blue♪Sky does pretty well is melodrama. In this story, we meet a troubled young man named Sousuke Nanami who has been kicked out of a nearby orchestral school. Kanade comes upon him at a bridge where he’s preparing to throw his cello into the river below. Kanade jumps between Sousuke and the water, saving his cello and bringing him to his knees. This could all be described as a little overwrought, but I appreciate the weight that is brought to the issue, even if it isn’t how things might realistically happen. Many shoujo and shounen series are bloated with goofball characters whose antics are usually more annoying than they are funny–If Her Flag Breaks anyone? Most of the characters in Blue♪Sky take themselves pretty seriously, which presents a nice backdrop for Kanade’s self-realization about the importance of enjoying musical creativity. Such a character amongst half-wits wouldn’t seem nearly as interesting or endearing.

That being said, give me three more of these sorts of series and I’ll be spent. It’s times like this when my lack of history with this genre of anime makes me a somewhat impartial judge of such things. If I knew all the classic shoujo series, I probably would be grading this one much more harshly. Of course, this episode certainly deals more in the musical aspects of the show rather than all the pretty boys. I’m hoping they stick with that direction.

An image of Spider-Man taking on the Goblin

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 2: B-

I’ve already lost some of the zeal I had for this show last week, but this episode is still fun, and I really don’t blame the show itself for these feelings. Honestly, a show like this will naturally pale in comparison during a particularly good week (such as this one) when other series are handling much more “important” material. That being said, I’m still pretty giddy to see some of these characters, such as the introduction this week of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis, the Green Goblin. Speaking of which, we get plenty of Spider-Man this week and he’s handled pretty well by the writers, as they utilize him as a protector of the series’ children while the rest of the heroes have to deal with the bigger bads. Spider-Man is always best in the capacity of watching out for the little guy, rather than choosing to take on the most powerful of foes.

This episode also ends on a cliffhanger, like the last, but we see Akira and his cohorts taking on a more prominent role as the superheroes begin to take a backseat. To that point, this series has gotten pretty bleak as far as the fate of the Marvel heroes goes. The path this show takes is relatively unique compared to how the characters are handled in the US. I just don’t see an American animated series leaving the lives of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor in the hands of school aged children. That sentence sounds a little ridiculous, but this premise works really well for the show, and while it may not be unique among Japanese animated series, it’s certainly unique in the Marvel U.

Like I got around to last week, you know what you’re getting with this show. That being said, I’d argue that it’s considerably better than you’d expect, so think twice before tossing this one out.

“Rebirth, Part 2” Wraps Up the Neo-Batman Origin Perfectly

An image of Bruce Wayne contemplating helping Terry

Supers looks at series that focus on superheroic beings, from Spawn to The Tick.

“Rebirth, Part 2” obviously continues from where the previous episode left off. Bruce has Terry down to the Batcave and they investigate the data which Terry found in his departed father’s briefcase. The disk holds information on some sort of flesh-eating virus that Powers has been developing in hopes of selling it to foreign terrorists. This is supposed to be a kids show, right? But hey, maybe kids need to know about the evils of the world too.

Wayne is furious that Powers is using Wayne-Powers Industries to bankroll this biological weapon but seems intent on letting the police handle the situation. Eventually Terry, who wants to take matters into his own hands, sneaks back into the Batcave and steals the most recent Batsuit. With the writers putting Bruce into a more passive role–after all, he must have really been effected by his eventual ineffectiveness to put his faith in the Gotham police–Terry steps up to the role of the vigilante. Much like Bruce in his younger days, Terry realizes that he must take justice into his own hands due to the corrupt system in which he lives, and is thus the ultimate neo-Batman.

The rest of the episode plays largely to this theme, with Terry going after Powers on his own, rogue if you will. He gets in some quippy dialogue here and there and has several scenes where he’s learning the suit as he goes, thus informing the audience of its capabilities. In some of these scene, I’m reminded that Terry McGinnis is sort of a mix between Bruce Wayne (lost his father, somewhat dark) and Peter Parker (is kind of a smart ass, is much more of a novice than Batman). Take for instance a scene where Terry is standing on a ledge, far off the ground and eaves dropping on one of Powers’ conversations. Before long security guards find Terry and corner him, asking if his costume is for Halloween. Terry replies, “I was thinking more for Fall.” and then falls backwards off the building, using Batwings to glide down. This sort of repertoire was hardly the kind of dialogue issued by Batman in Batman: TAS. I think at the end of the day, Batman Beyond needs a lighter hero, since its setting is arguably darker than it’s sibling series.

Back to the story, in the midst of fighting his way into Powers’ bioweapon processing center, Terry hear’s the voice of Bruce Wayne telling him that he (Terry) needs to return the Batsuit. Terry refuses and Bruce goes so far as to disable the suit–leading Terry to be practically paralyzed and come within an inch of his life–before letting Terry carry out his plans, albeit begrudgingly. When Bruce starts helping Terry, getting him to safe passages and teaching him how to use the suit, we hit upon one of the coolest features of the show; the relationship between Terry and Bruce, with Bruce playing mentor and Terry playing the surrogate child that Bruce never had, well besides Robin, Nightwing and Batgirl.

The plot plays out as expected, with Terry eventually coming up against Powers’ right-hand man who calls Terry a Batman imposter. Terry gets off the iconic line, “I am Batman”, sealing the deal that’s been building over the last two episodes. Terry has ascended to the role of Batman. He belongs there even, as we’ve seen in his character up until now.

The episode ends with a non-alias alliance being formed in the day light between Bruce and Terry–Terry is to “work” for Mr. Wayne as a “gofer”–and a haunting scene reminiscent of the Joker’s origins in Batman (1988) but with Powers. Not only is Terry Batman, but a new villain, directly linked to him, has emerged as well.

All in all, “Rebirth Parts 1 and 2”, serve as an enthralling origin story for Terry’s Batman Beyond, even if we’re prepped for some of the paces.

“Human Flesh” Ushers in an Animated Family for Modern Times

An image of Bob looking in at his family through a broken window.

Prime Animation takes a look at shows that air/aired during prime time in the US. I’m looking at you Capitol Critters.

I’m fairly late to Bob’s Burgers, the newest (if you can call 4 seasons new) addition to Fox’s Sunday-funnies comedy block from creator Loren Bouchard, of Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and Home Movies fame. Watching the pilot episode, “Human Flesh”, I feel like I’ve really been missing out on something special.

The series focuses on the titular character, Bob Belcher, a family man whose burger restaurant is middling at best. He utilizes the help of his wife Linda, a nasally but affectionate woman, and his three kids, Tina, Gene and Louise, to help him run the family business. So far, the three children prove to be the most entertaining part of the show, though the family dynamic is where the heart lies. Tina is a budding teenager, yet plays the role of the least problematic of the three Belcher kids, coming off as a more human and likeable Meg (Family Guy). Gene is the next oldest of the children and is rather loud and obnoxious, though in a surprisingly endearing way. Rounding out the kids is Louise, the closest the show gets to a Lisa Simpson figure in her “beyond her years” quality, though Louise is far less interested in using her smarts for good. Rather, she is often impishly causing problems for Bob and reminding us more of the other Simpsons sibling. At one point, Louise’s attempt at humor–changing Bob’s burger of the day from “New Bacon-ings (Comes with Bacon)” to “The Child Molester (Comes with Candy)”–results in adding to the complaints that the local health inspector has about the restaurant. To add to that, the inspector is checking out Bob’s burger joint in the first place on a rumor that Bob and co. and have been making patties out of human remains from the neighboring crematorium, a piece of gossip spread by Louise in another prank gone too far. Just as an aside, though I’ll get more into the voice work on the show as I get further into the series, it deserves to be said that Louise seems like the role Kristen Schaal (of Flight of the Conchords) was born to play, as she really makes the first episode stand out.

Back to the whole human remains in the burgers thing. It’s a pretty self-explanatory plot and the road it leads down is entertaining enough, with a nice twist at the end, but most importantly it gets at what makes Bob’s Burgers unique amongst its Sunday night peers. In the pilot episode, the writers do a fantastic job of mixing the over-the-top edginess of Family Guy and the heart of the golden years of The Simpsons to produce an awesome piece of sitcom animation. This episode had plenty of “did they just go there?” moments–the kind that Family Guy is sadly built upon–but here, those moments are usually only setup for a better payoff. Take for instance the moment when Tina tells Bob, “My crotch is itchy.”, to which he questions, “Are you telling me as my daughter or my grill cook?”. Moments like this abound in the episode and mix in just enough of the over-the-top humor found in almost all modern comedy, without making it sickening. I mean, The Simpsons don’t even know how to do this anymore. Not consistently at least.

To Bob’s detriment, the B-story, which focuses on Bob and Loren’s anniversary and Bob’s ineptness at giving Loren the attention and love she wants on such a day, feels pretty pat with what we’ve seen between Homer and Marge or Hank and Peggy (King of the Hill). Bob isn’t quite Homer and Loren isn’t quite Marge but the similarities outweigh the differences in many ways. Hopefully in future episodes, the writers will be able to make the relationship unique amongst Bob’s animated counterparts. One interesting aspect is the fact that Bob’s Burgers is set in the restaurant, versus the family home, so the idea of a show about a family trying to run a business together is certainly unique. This is what compels me to see the show as a more modern take on the American family, as we see Bob and Loren putting any assets they have to good use in order to stay in business and stay afloat, an aftermath of the economic recession that hasn’t had as big an impact on like-minded shows. Sadly for Bob, his family rarely makes his job easier and often is the reason for business problems, though they seem to come together in the end and make it work despite everything.

“Human Flesh” isn’t the perfect half hour of animated television ever made, but it does an enviable job of setting a tone for the show and introducing characters that are almost all lovable (in spite of their foibles) by the 15 minute mark. For my money, that’s a feat that hasn’t been pulled off since King of the Hill, and that definitely carries some promise for Bob’s Burgers.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 1

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up. I’ll be updating this post throughout the week with short reviews of 4 or 5 different shows so be sure to check back as you can. Let’s kick it off with a unique series…

Show Index

Image of Peco Destroying at Table Tennis

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 1: A-

I first tried Ping Pong a few weeks ago but was sadly driven away by the style of the animation. After hearing Kran’s review of the show on the “Anime Addicts Anonymous Podcast”, I was persuaded to give it another try. For that, I owe sir Kran a big thank you and Ping Pong a sincere apology.

The series focuses on two young men, nicknamed Smile and Peco, who are a part of the local table tennis club. Neither are particularly engaged in the club, but the arrival of an ace Chinese student, a ping pong wunderkind, changes all that.

The plot is relatively simple, but the character’s are well fleshed out and don’t seem to fit into the usual anime character tropes. The animation and the soundtrack, help to define how unique Smile and Peco really are. The animation, for instance, is downright ugly, but this tossed off execution creates a mood around Smile and Peco that embellishes their own disinterest in meeting the expectations of others. Smile is too good for the local club, finding himself bored when facing his teammates. Peco, on the other hand, prefers to play by his own rules, using his table tennis skills to make money off of cocky players who have half his talent. The roughly drawn locales and border-line awful character designs, strike home this feeling of not needing to prove anything to anyone. The beginning theme song, “Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, feels like it was written sometime between the (American) cultural transition from Pavement to Weezer and adds to the same style which the animation imparts on these characters. There is a garage rock aesthetic that alludes to Smile’s lackadaisical attitude, along with some punk inspirations that speak to Peco’s anarchic glee.

Bottom line, if you were scared off by the way Ping Pong the Animation looks, give it another try. I’m only an episode in and I’m already really digging this show.

Image of Rentaro after a Guy Fawkes rip-off attack

Black Bullet, Episode 1: B-

Black Bullet follows Rentaro Satomi, a high schooler who works for Tendo Civil Security as a Promoter in a not-too-distant future plagued by a virus with a physical form called Gastrea. Rentaro works with a young girl named Enju who is an Initiator and his partner in crime, so to speak, as their powers combined are able to take out powerful Gastrea during attacks. This anime is very heavy on the world building so there is much more to the storyline (and the lore) than this. Half the fun is finding these things out organicall, so I’ll leave that to you.

I’ll start by saying that Black Bullet has some gorgeous animation and that the action scenes really knock the show into the higher echelon of series this season. The show, like many others recently, attempts to incorporate 3D animation alongside the more routine 2D, but here, it actually works to decent effect. The 3D animation still looks slightly clumsy, in the way that it’s obvious when what’s on screen is CGI/3D and when it’s classical animation, but that being said, the 3D work here looks very smooth in comparison to tons of anime where the 3D animation comes off extremely choppy and unnatural. To put it simply, watching the action scenes in Black Bullet is a blast.

Less blastastic is the dynamics between the characters. Rentaro, Enju and others we meet over the first episode aren’t particularly unique and come off feeling like the usual anime character tropes we’re used to seeing these days. Specifically, Enju’s infatuation with Rentaro and her semi-sensual advances come off as creepy. Luckily, Rentaro doesn’t seem interested in Enju (and it is anime, so let’s hope it stays that way) but Neon Genesis Evangelion played a similar card with Shinji and Misato and never seemed so unsettling, maybe because everything was implied instead of outright stated. Or maybe it’s a gender thing. And don’t get me wrong, the younger girl having a crush on a much older guy simply because he’s older happens all the time and CAN be cute to an extent, but Black Bullet takes it to a suggested sexual realm that’s way too bizarre and is, more than likely, trying to appeal to the otaku fans of the show, though one could make an argument that the writers are trying to stick closely to the original material; a light novel of the same name from 2011.

Anyway, the show and its storyline is certainly engaging so I hope that they cut out the 2 minutes spent on a suggesting a pedophilic relationship and replace it with better character development or even more action. By the by, the main villain (at least at this point) reeks of badassery, overcoming his Guy Fawkes rip-off costume to seem a formidable, and heavily psychotic, foil to Rentaro and Enju. I’m intrigued to see what role he plays in the rest of the series and in the lore of the show in general.

Image of a friendship flag

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 1: C

With nearly 30 shows airing each anime season, and often times only a handful that are truly exceptional, there are bound to be numerous series that fall into the category of average. Enter If Her Flag Breaks.

The series follows a young student, Souta Hatate, who has the ability to predict the behavior and outcome of those around him based on flags–which appear above their heads–that only he can see. This ability allows Souta to change the direction of events by breaking people’s flags, usually through verbal abuse or simply being rude. Souta is able to break friendship flags, for instance, by telling the flagged individual that he doesn’t care to be their friend.

Of course, the two female protagonists that have surfaced so far aren’t affected by Souta’s abilities, albeit in different ways. Nanami Knight Bladefield, a sassy sender who resides somewhere between a moe character and the “abusive-girlfriend-with-a-heart” trope, doesn’t raise a single flag on meeting Souta. Akane Mahougasawa, on the other hand, frequently has her flags broken by Souta but quickly regenerates them, rendering his abilities rather useless.

The intrigue comes in Souta’s abilities to control the outcomes of those around him by breaking their flags. When a death flag is introduced, we come to realize that Souta’s powers are slightly more intriguing than originally thought. He’s not just breaking flags, metaphors for the impact we have on one another, but he’s changing lives for the better.

While the storyline is intriguing and the character dynamics are in place for mild conflicts, If Her Flag Breaks’s unique gimmick can’t entirely save it from its two-dimensional characters. Most bothersome, is that the series seems far more interested in its gimmick than taking a few scenes to develop Souta, Nanami and Akane. To be fair, that’s an issue that can be addressed in future episodes, so I’m not entirely ruling this show out just yet. Looking at the light novels the series is based on, there is a mythology to the storyline that could prove to develop these characters more fully.

Hopefully the creators take some time to flesh out the characters in order to lift a potentially unique series out of the realm of average anime fodder.

Image of a boy carrying sake back home

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 1: A-

Over the last few weeks I’d heard a number of people say that Mushishi: Zoku-Sho was a little slow. I blew this off, thinking that these reviewers didn’t have the patience of someone of my artistic merit and understanding. Of course, I look like a jackass when I fall asleep several times in the first episode. I guess they were right. This second season of Mushishi IS slow.

That doesn’t really speak ill to the series, however. I think we (the audience) get used to a certain kind of speed, pacing and editing in the series’ we watch that leave us unprepared for a show like Mushishi. Not only is this series written well, but this deliberate slow pace really fits with a theme of the show; taking time to appreciate the living world around you.

This season, much like the first, follows Ginko, a wanderer who can see Mushi, primitive lifeforms that most human beings don’t notice in their day to day life. Each episode, Ginko runs into a different character and their interactions and stories about the Mushi make up the majority of the show. This first episode finds Ginko connecting with a sake brewer who has to deal with Mushi who crave his sake and try to take it from him, albeit gingerly. We get a backstory for the young brewer and some folklore that informs us about the Mushi as well.

There’s really nothing happening here, and that’s exactly what this show is supposed to be. It’s lazy almost, but in this laziness is an appreciation for taking the time out of the work-a-day world to bask in the gloriousness of life. Yes, that sounds cheesy, but it’s really what this show is getting at. Though the brewer seems slightly threatened by the Mushi, he revels in the life that exists in the sake that he brews and he yearns to perfect his craft until he creates the perfect sake.

Call it boring if you will, but Mushishi: Zoku-Sho does what any good piece of entertainment should do; transport you into its world. This first episode in particular asks you to explore the world on its terms, and if you can’t do that, you’re really missing out.

An imaging of Shirou performing for an audience

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 1: B-

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky hits so many different buttons in its genre mashing. Most importantly for me, it’s a music anime–something I’m a sucker for–with a main storyline revolving around several orchestral high school musicians and a competition between their respective schools. Secondly, it’s a romance/shoujo series due to romantic ties and doey eyes abounding, not to mention the ratio of prominent, pretty male characters to the singular female protagonist, Kanade. And lastly, it seems to be building into a low level fighting/championship show, with the orchestral competition feeling more like a shounen battle-arena homage than a UIL competition.

These points considered, it’s hard not to like Blue♪Sky, even if the characters are pretty two dimensional and the genre tropes explicit. The first episode specifically, sets the tone for the show with some non-competitive solo orchestral performances. We see that Kanade was once a wunderkind but now questions if she’s hit her limit, talent wise. The main two male protagonists, Ritsu and Kyouya are brothers and were childhood friends of Kanade. Things seems strained between the three old friends but Ritsu, who attends a prominent music school, Seisou Gakuin, invites Kanade and Kyouya to join the school and to help him and his classmates win the orchestral competition.

Blue♪Sky certainly introduces characters and relationships that we’ve seen before, but something about it is charming enough and intriguing enough to make it work. I’m really hoping that this show keeps it up and doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. It could really go either way from here.

Image of the Avengers gang ready to throw down

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 1: B

Every now and again, a series comes around that really grabs you. It excites you and makes you anxiously await the next episode. Then you browse Wikipedia and realize that that wonderful series is actually geared for kids a third your age. Alas, I don’t even care because Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers is a blast.

The show actually reminds me, at least in tone, of The King of Braves GaoGaiGar, with a young boy, Akira Akatsuki, as the main protagonist. Akira isn’t the driving force of the action in the series–that’s obviously left to the Avengers–but the show has set up a gimmick wherein people can house others in DISK’s (it’s an acronym, SHIELD style), technological wonder devices created by Akira’s dad and Tony Stark. Whoever is inside the DISK can be released later during combat, almost like Pokemon. I see this as being a point of power that Akira may come into at some point, fulfilling the GaoGaiGar similarities.

I’m not saying that everyone will like this show. It’s pretty simplistic–thus the B instead of a higher grade–and it certainly speaks to me personally as I’m a pretty devoted Marvelite (I had a good laugh when Cyclops and Beast appeared out of nowhere). Still, it’s a fun show, and though I may not stick with it until the end–after all, these kinds of shows tend to continue far beyond the regular season–I’m definitely going to keep up with the next handful of episodes. So far, this series is better than some of the more recent American Marvel cartoon series, so if you’ve been putting up with those (I’m looking at you, Ultimate Spider-Man), brush them aside and try this one out for size.

As an aside, this show seems to get Tony’s inherent jerkiness better than most of its American counterparts, which tend to put Iron Man up on a pedestal. I’d say it’s a clever commentary on American smugness, but this is just a kids’ show… right?

Silver Spoon’s Second Season Captures the Human Element of Farm Life

Image of a Food Gathering from Silver Spoon

*** The following article contains spoilers ***

It’s rare in American culture to find entertainment that focuses on food, outside of the Food Network of course. Odd when you consider that we spend roughly 2 to 3 hours a day eating–and some of us just as much time prepping–food. Even a show like Bob’s Burgers is more interested in the family dynamic than in the burgers themselves. Maybe I sound crazy. Who needs to know that much about food? What’s interesting about that? Thankfully there is Silver Spoon, a show that not only details the lives of students at an agricultural school and the animals they care for, but also makes all of this interesting and engaging.

The first season of Silver Spoon, which aired last summer (2013), focused on Yugo Hachiken and his move from an urban high school, where he was largely floundering as a student, to the Yezo Agricultural High School. It largely played as a “fish out of water” tale with Hachiken getting more and more used to the ways of agricultural work as the season went on. Underneath this simplistic tale however, were ruminations on the human relationship to food and the animals that provide that food to us, whether it’s milk and cheese from cows or meat made out of pigs that the students raise themselves. In particular, a touching story builds where Hachiken raises a small pig that is the runt of its litter (metaphor much?). As the season builds and the pig grows, Hachiken becomes closer to Pork Bowl (the name given sarcastically by Hachiken’s fellow classmates). I won’t spoil the ending, but the season’s main take away was the importance of connecting to your food, both in the work that went into the craft of it, as well as where it came from. The students of Yezo High may kill animals for food but they care for the animals in a way that speaks to a deeper appreciation. **For more on connecting to your food, check out the Connect a Bite blog.**

If the first season of Silver Spoon dealt with the role of animals in the agriculture industry, the second season focuses on the role of the human beings that run the farm. The season begins with Hachiken more ingrained in the social hierarchy of the Yezo Agricultural High School as seen by his appointment to VP of the Equestrian club. Hachiken lets this role of leadership weigh heavy on his mind until he sees the love interest of the show, Mikagi, and a member of the Yezo baseball team, Komaba, having a serious conversation. His interest is peaked but both tell him not to worry about the incident. We are made to believe that their is a potential romantic connection between the two but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Hachiken’s interest in their relationship borders on concern that Mikagi is with someone else or that Komaba hurt her emotionally but he is also generally worried for his two friends. This is a recurring theme of the season, as Hachiken becomes even more of a person who wants to carry others on his back and share their burden.

Soon, Komaba and the rest of the Yezo baseball team make it to the Regional Baseball Championship. When they lose the game, thus not making it to the Nationals, we come to find that Komaba has lost out on his last chance to earn the money his family needs in order to pay off the debt on their farm. Hachiken is torn up for Komaba’s situation and, once again shouldering the burden of a friend, travels to the farm with Mikagi to help Komaba sell off the last of his family’s cows.

Here we get several touching scenes where the plight of the farmer takes center stage. For the most part, the series up until this point, paints rural/farm life as being worthwhile and generally fun, though with plenty of physical hardships. Here we see that not everything is as rosey as on first blush. Komaba and his younger sisters have to say their farewells to the dairy cows that they’ve taken care of for years. One character even remarks that the cows aren’t frightened by humans because they’ve been so well taken care of. We can feel the love and hard work that’s gone into building this family farm and yet, after the loss of a baseball game, this family must shed their old dreams and figure out new, more realistic ones. The journey to the farm ends with Komaba bringing a piping hot batch of the last of the farm’s milk to his sisters, Mikagi and Hachiken and sharing it with them. Hachiken, in particular, is humbled by the delicious milk, probably made all the better because of the circumstances. I can try to put it into words but the scene must really be seen to get the range of emotions. It’s one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen in an anime.

For her part, Mikagi is dealing with her own demons as her family expects Mikagi to take over the family farm while she would prefer to work with horses. Here we see a different take on family agriculture, seperate from Komaba who looked forward to running his family’s farm. Mikagi represents a lifestyle that still exists in many families; having your profession or trade passed down to you. Silver Spoon shows us the positives and the negatives in this, stressing that at the end of the day, you have to try your best to do what you love and what moves you, rather than what you feel you are supposed to do. When Mikagi breaks this news to her family, with Hachiken’s support of course, her grandmother, who is often quiet and sage like, is positive about the news but reminds Mikagi to not insult the horses, “…by taking on the challenge half-way.” This speaks to the larger theme of the show, which is the importance of putting your all into that which you are doing.

These two views on farm/rural life are juxtaposed with a trip that Hachiken takes to his home in order to get some old school notes for help with tutoring Mikagi. Hachiken ends up eating a home-cooked meal with his mom and dad, the latter of which he has a strained relationship with. When Hachiken tells his mother how good the meal is, she is taken aback, not used to hearing from him (when he still lived there) or his father the quality of her meals. Hachiken reflects on this and we get a chance to ruminate on how much Hachiken has changed since the beginning of the series. His connection not only to food and the animals and places it comes from, but to the farmers who nurture said food, is clear by the end of the season. Hachiken has become a part of the process and has been enriched mentally, spiritually and emotionally because of that. This speaks to a larger ideal that if the lot of us could have just a fraction of Hachiken’s involvement, we may all be better off. There is also an unspoken divide happening here between Hachiken’s father, who represents urban life and the emotional distance therein and Hachiken, who has come to represent rural life and being more connected with the world around you. Though his father is the adult, Hachiken feels like the character who has gained the most maturity, both in his willingness to connect with others and his ability to see the world in a new way.

I’m not sure if Silver Spoon will continue with a third season, as there is currently no mention of it anywhere, but the manga that it’s based on is still ongoing so there will certainly be more stories to tell. However, if these are the only animated stories we’ll see, we’re still better for it. At its best, Silver Spoon captures realistic human emotions and shows us a side of life that few of us know anything about. What more can you ask of well-made entertainment?