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?

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