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.

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