Monthly Archives: June 2014

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 9

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

An image of Smile slappin' the silly out of that ping pong ball

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 9: A

The table tennis tournament continues in this episode, taking us up to the final four players. Meanwhile, we get several more enlightening moments with the gamut of the cast, growing our understanding of each characters reasons for competing in the tournament. Ping Pong may have started as a sports anime about two young boys who are trying to find themselves amongst intimidating competitive nemeses, but it has quickly become much more.

Seemingly, Kong’s story–which started out with him as a pompous fallen table tennis champion from China–has come to a close with this episode, or is at least sitting on the sidelines. We get a last sweet touch with him putting the needs of his team in front of his own concerns about his failure. It’s easy to see a character like Smile going on to be his generation’s Butterfly Jo–the one-time ping pong great turned ping pong teacher–but maybe it’s been Kong all along. He does seem happiest when he’s able to impart some kind of wisdom upon his teammates, since they look up to him with such admiration. In contrast, with so much to prove as a former champion, Kong’s matches seem ripe with heavy expectations that would be hard for anyone to shoulder.

Enter Dragon, whose own place in the world of ping pong seems to be troubling him, leading up to his match with Peco–slated for the next episode. Dragon spends half the episode cooped up in a men’s bathroom stall, having been automatically ascended further in the competition than some of the others. He seems to be shook up due to his own misgivings about being a champion. We see a flashback where Dragon’s father makes a comment about birds having an easy time reaching incredible heights and how this causes them to not care about the goings-on on the ground. With Dragon having fought to reach the top of the table tennis world and still finding himself unfulfilled, one has to wonder if Smile or Peco are the metaphorical birds of this story, since they both have an almost effortless talent to their game.

Smile ends up in a show down with Sanada of the Kaio team–the one in love with Yurie–in the third round of the competition. We have some dramatic tension due to each player assessing the skills of the other, but the eventual conclusion makes sense with where the show currently is. Towards the end of the match, we get more and more of Sanada’s psyche and get to see the way he views himself in relation to Dragon and Dragon’s relationship with Yurie.

We also get a reunion between Dragon and Demon–the latter now sporting a doo that would make Dandy proud–when Demon shows up in the bathroom looking for Dragon. Demon, now older and wiser, philosophizes about Dragon’s reasons for playing ping pong and his understanding of what makes a great player. It’s obvious that Dragon, for all his experience, doesn’t know the answer to either of these queries but he opens up to Demon in a way that he has to so few characters on the show. Perhaps Dragon respects Demon for leaving the game when he did, instead of spending his years reaching for something that wasn’t there. One last interesting thing about Dragon in this episode; he’s back to wearing the commercial shoes that he had advertised and then abandoned in the last episode. These shoes represent those athletes who believe they can better their game through gear, rather by their own accord. Maybe it wasn’t as intentional as I’m thinking, but it does put Dragon’s expectations of his future in a different light.

Besides all of this, Smile and Peco continue to make it through the competition, with Peco straining or hurting his leg in the process. Peco has a chat with the old lady who’s been training him, about Smile, in which he says that Smile was so named because of the way his spirit changed in the midst of a good game played by himself or Peco. Peco goes on to say that he’s not seen Smile smile like that in years, mainly because his own skills–this is Peco now–have become so lame in the last few years.

By the end of the episode, Peco is determined to make it through the competition, hurt leg or not. His showdown with Dragon will prove to be a true challenge but a blast to watch. Much like the writers did with Kong before him, Dragon is now sympathetic enough to illicit a small desire to see him succeed, even if he’s already been there, done that. The emotional attachment that we’re stuck with by the end of each episode, leads directly to stake-laden matches and good anime. So many series could learn something from Ping Pong. Oh, well.

An image of the adjuvant cheering to the... adjuvant

Black Bullet, Episode 9: B-

This episode’s a real hodgepodge, mixing a cool story arc with more lame jokes in the “Renatarou is a pervert, harharhar” vein. That said, the plot is still moving along nicely with new characters added to the adjuvant this week and the decaying monolith coming even closer to its inevitable demise.

We start off with a few scenes between Rentarou, Tina and Sumire–the scientist who works with the Tendou agency–where Tina abruptly brings up her previous employer–Ayn Rand–and worries that Rand’s pursuit of Tina will cause trouble for the agency. Sumire and Rentarou assuage her fears, of course, but this really felt like it came out of right field. Why hasn’t this been brought up before? And Tina blurts this out soon after Sumire “jokes” that Rentarou has assaulted many young girls before. It’s just an example of how Black Bullet wants to have it both ways; intense emotional drama with pedo jokes.

Aside from this, we find out that Sumire has uncovered evidence that someone in power is attempting to conceal the facts about the Gastrea war–facts long thought lost to the ages. This speaks to a level of government corruption that has been running throughout the series, getting at a “power to the people” motif, with strong characters like Rentarou and Kasara making a bigger difference to society than any government officials.

To add to this, the collapsing monolith and the lack of government acknowledgment of it becomes a focal point of conversation for the citizens of Tokyo. We hear conversations about how the rich have already bought up all air travel in order to flee, leaving the rest of the people of Tokyo to fend for themselves against the Gastrea.

Luckily Rentarou and the gang continue on, looking for more pairs to add to their adjuvant in order to have a fighting chance against the oncoming Gastrea attacks. Eventually Kisara joins the team, taking Tina as her initiator–after Seitenshi reinstates Tina into the promoter/initiator hierarchy–while a new character from Rentarou’s past–Shouma Nagisawa, an old teacher of his–joins the group as well, his initiator–Midori Fuse–in tow. Shouma has a high rank amongst promotors, so he’s bound to come in handy in future fights. Meanwhile, Midori Fuse has cat-like powers and finishes off this show’s otaku checklist with her cat ears. Sigh.

The 9th episode is neither good nor bad. It just is. We are ramping up to some intense action though, so maybe the series will cut back on its stupid jokes and inch up a little in quality. I’m excited to see the upcoming Gastrea action, since the creatures have been largely missing since episode four or five.

An image of Souta with a knife to his throat... do it!

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 9: D-

If Her Flag Breaks is a hot mess and there’s no two ways around it. The series spends the first eight episodes milling about and treating its female characters like mindless, lovesick dolls only to start telling a story… 5 EPISODES BEFORE IT FINISHES. It’s not hard to see why the creators waited so long, as many of the plot points addressed here either feel contrived, pointless, silly or out of left field entirely. Of course maybe that wouldn’t be an issue if we had been at this point seven or eight episodes ago.

Take for instance the entire storyline with Nanami and her sister princess, Hakua. I realize that we only met Hakua in the last episode, but why are we JUST now getting this background for Nanami? Oh, it’s because If Her Flag Breaks has no greater purpose than to titillate. I understand that some of these shows have to fit into a certain type of niche because there are avid fans of the genre, but why couldn’t the writers/creators take some time to make this show mean something? It just seems lazy. It’s like someone who goes into the office and does the least amount of work possible to not get fired. That’s what If Her Flag Breaks is in a nutshell; just barely making the cut for coherency and minimal plot to be considered a series.

And what’s with this new mythology with Souta physically being a flag and needing the help of two princesses and ten heroes? This obviously fits the newest cast count for the series, but what happened with the mage, knight, ninja and cleric thing? Is that tied in with this somehow, or have they just let it fall to the wayside? Basically, if you weren’t watching this show for the scantily clad underage girls, you’ve wasted the last three hours. Of course, any anime aficionado could smell the crap on this one from a mile away. Damn me for trying to diversify what I reviewed this season. *Shakes fists at the sky*

Four more episodes. Just four more episodes.

An image of the man who needs no sleep in his rice fields

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 9: A

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho is the kind of show where you can know what to expect in form but not in style or tone. There’s always a parable and a lesson to be learned by the end, but the tools used to tell that story always seem different and are becoming more ambiguous as the series goes on.

This episode finds Ginko stuck in a winter storm, cold and unconscious. He is quickly saved by a man named Houichi, who is passing through and throws Ginko on his back, carrying him to Houichi’s home. Houichi’s family nurse Ginko back to health, but soon what has seemed pedestrian quickly proves not to be so. Ginko notices that the family has green paddy fields all around their house, something not commonly scene in the winter. When Ginko asks Houichi his secret, he says that he has the ability to work almost all day and night without need of sleep or feelings of fatigue. In usual Mushishi fashion, we quickly come to understand that Houichi’s abilities aren’t from some sort of miracle occurrence, but can instead be traced back to a mushi.

After some sleuthing, Ginko realizes that Houichi’s mother had somehow given her own life to keep Houichi healthy and fed. When Ginko attempts to tell Houichi of this fact, Houichi’s father gets upset and shoos Ginko away, saying that he has no right to question the health of Houichi and the family’s valley of rice paddies. Soon, however, when Houichi passes out whilst working the fields late at night, his father decides it’s time to tell him the truth.

Houichi’s father goes on to describe the story of the mushi which his mother drank, one that basically caused her life force to pass on to Houichi, making him much stronger in the process. Houichi of course feels a level of guilt over this, but decides that his family needs his special abilities in order to stay prosperous from the abundant rice paddies. Ginko warns him that someday the effect of his powers will kill him after the years of pushing himself to hard. In this way, Houichi may sadly repeat the decisions of his own mother, by sacrificing himself for the good of his family.

We don’t get a definitive answer as to what Houichi will decide upon in the future, but the message is clear that great abundance and prosperity usually comes with some kind of a sacrifice. At one point, Houichi says that he must work even harder in the fields, since his mother sacrificed her very life so that he may live. Though he may feel guilty, Houichi’s mother sacrificing herself for him, is a metaphor for what parent’s are supposed to do for their children; put them above themselves. Houichi’s father, on the other hand, isn’t quite doing that as he is profiting off of Houichi’s hard work like the rest of the family. When Ginko attempts to tell Houichi the truth, the father stops him, more worried about the future of the family’s valley than in his own sons well being. Of course the father eventually comes around, but there is a definite difference between his and his wife’s parenting choices.

Ginko’s own butting in to the family’s dynamic, is new to the show, not because Ginko hasn’t stuck his nose where it didn’t rightly belong before–as he’s done in almost every episode, speaking objectively–but because this family saved Ginko’s life. When the father gets after him like he does, Ginko comes to realize that it may not have been his place to say anything in the first place, even if he was trying to do some good. As a mushishi, Ginko’s role seems to be that of informer to the world at large of the impact that mushi have on their lives, their habits and their abilities, if the case may be. However, maybe certain people or families are left better off not knowing. I would argue that that’s not true of this family, but it’s an interesting thought.

As the penultimate episode of Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, this one delivered its ideology and messages to us in the usual form. That being said, the tone is interesting enough–sometimes even having the feel of a David Lynch film–to warrant watching it. Unlike every other show I’m watching, I’m not expecting any fanfare in the last episode of the season. Per usual, we’ll get a quick story, we’ll get a message and we’ll be left to ponder the meaning after the credits roll. That’s more than can be said for most shows, and that’s what makes Mushishi worth it.

An image of Kanade and Sei amongst the blue roses

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 9: B-

Blue♪Sky this week had a lot going for it, but the formula used in previous episodes–to make the audience sympathize with Seiso’s counterpart ensemble in the competition–was employed much more sloppy here, and makes the series seem a little more rote in hindsight.

When we left off, the Seiso academy ensemble had advanced to the final round of the competition and were awaiting the results of a showdown between the Amane high ensemble and the–heretofore unknown–St. Clair ensemble. We quickly find that the leader of the St. Clair group has had it out for Reiji ever since he shamed her brother in a previous competition. This whole storyline is one reason why this episode didn’t work for me. We get a laughable flashback to the St. Clair leader’s brother having a break down after Reiji has a fantastic performance–in the vein of “Who could ever be that good?”, his eyes darting about fiendishly. I would say that it’s played for laughs, but Blue♪Sky is a show that seems to take itself so seriously that it wouldn’t go for that.

Not only that, but the St. Clair leader decides to get back at Reiji by having her group perform the song which was playing when Reiji and his family got into a fatal car crash that left he and his sister orphans. Let’s just put aside the obvious question of how the St. Clair leader could possibly know what song was playing when the incident happened 10 or 15 years ago. To think that playing a song that would raise such emotions is a proper punishment for Reiji having shamed her brother through second-hand, is crazy. The leader of St. Clair is crazy. And how could we not side with Reiji after such an occurrence? We couldn’t. Much like Chiaki’s storyline with his father in the last arc, this tacked-on storyline is meant to make us understand that Reiji has a sensitive side and that all of his bad attitude up to this point can be explained away by such a tragedy. Sadly, it’s so badly handled here, that it retroactively makes me feel naive for appreciating the Chiaki storyline and Hodzumi’s background as a jerk with a heart of gold.

I completely understand the need to make a richer narrative by fleshing out the characters, good and bad alike, but Ping Pong is a great example of a show that knows how to accomplish this subtly. Before I knew it, Kong–a looming and pompous figure in the first episode–was one of my favorite characters, and watching his growth over the length of the series has been one of the best parts of the show. With Blue♪Sky, on the other hand, it feels like they’re trying to squeeze this story in under a deadline; the impending match between Seiso and Amane.

At least the Amane high ensemble puts on a cool performance here, even if Reiji’s darkness dominates the piece. Reiji’s style of play–which calls for his ensemble to keep up with him instead of bringing their own sensibilities to the music–is in such opposition to the current philosophy of the Seiso ensemble, that I’m sure that will be coming up in the next few episodes.

All things considered, I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, if only because the performances are always fun to watch. I still like these characters–Reiji included–but I just wish the writers would handle them a little better.

An image of Captain America looking like a badass

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 9: C+

This week’s episode of Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, felt very vanilla and droll, as it seemed to simply move the story from one arc to another.

We start in the midst of the battle that began in the last episode. The Avengers are taking care of business with the baddies until Loki shows up, disguised as Hikaru. He’s able to trick Thor to the point of getting a stunning attack in on him that throws the Avengers off guard. Loki and his crew take the chance and abandon ship with Abomination starting to sink it before they leave. Our heroes quickly search the ship for Spider-Man, and–after a goofy filler scene that proves to be in his head–rescue him from the sinking frigate. Stark and co. end up in his Japanese penthouse, prepping us for the next story arc that involves the Silver Samurai–a classic Marvel villain.

A cool plot line did grow behind the scenes of all this action, by which I mean only a minute or so of the episode was spent on it. We find out that Loki–acting as Senator Robert–has been able to get legislation through that requires all heroes to either register with the government or be arrested. While it’s not outright spoken, I have to assume that this means that Loki is trying to have all heroes legally secured within the DISKs. It would only make sense, seeing as how the series seemingly needs a larger pool of heroes so that Akira can wield more than just Iron Man, etc. Since the larger title of this series is Marvel Disk Wars with the more specific title being The Avengers, you have to wonder if a similar X-Men or Fantastic Four series is being considered based on ratings and the success of the toy line. Oh yeah, you better believes there’s a toy line.

Back to the Senator Robert storyline. It feels like a quiet nod to Marvel fans, both in its registration or arrest idea–which comes from Marvel’s 2006 event Civil War, in which Iron Man worked with the government to persuade his superhero pals to give up their identity–and the power that Loki is wielding, leading to our heroes having to run from their own government–similar to the Dark Reign year-long event, in which Norman Osborn gained control of S.H.I.E.L.D. and used his new-found power to hunt the Marvel heroes, leaving them in hiding for the majority of the event. There’s not much more to say about it, but I appreciate the attention to recent Marvel history for sources of storyline and plot development.

There’s still something fun to the idea of this show, but in execution, it’s becoming more of a chore for me to sit through, since few episodes have substantial going ons included, or even particularly interesting characters. Probably worst of all, like many other shounen shows, the fights and story arcs here are carried on for too long without much payoff. And when the show’s central universe is only so interesting–versus something like Bleach, which is certainly stupid but at least has a unique and interesting universe–it’s hard to see it staying fresh for long.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 8

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 Kong after his match with Peco

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 8: A+

One of the reasons why it’s so easy to love a show like Ping Pong is that from week to week, something vital is always happening but never at the expense of developing the characters and giving us memorable moments with them. It’s the kind of writing that is always taught but much harder to achieve; moving the plot through growing the characters.

Take this week’s episode for example. Though the prefecture preliminaries played a huge part just three or four episodes ago, we’re now one year later, back at the preliminaries and ready for more make-or-break moments for our cast. Dragon is in the midst of an existential crisis between his selling out and trying to stay at the top of his game. Kong’s team is finally starting to make a name for itself after his assimilation into the group–and thus his table tennis guidance. Smile is getting his due by being name checked in the same conversations around the competition as Dragon. Most importantly, Peco finds out that he will facing off against Kong in the second round.

It’s hard though to know who to root for in Ping Pong. Kong started out as a jerk but has been humbled after being beaten by Dragon a handful of episodes back. He’s now a well-rounded player, caring about the goals and ambitions of his teammates instead of quickly dismissing them. Meanwhile, Peco has seen the errors in his ways and has reached out for his last lingering chances to fulfill his childhood aspirations of being a ping pong hero. Plus, the show has created a tale that really requires him and Smile to face off in the final round of the tournament.

I won’t spoil the end results of Peco and Kong’s match–in fact the way in which Peco and Kong are equally likable makes the question of who will win even more interesting and suspenseful–but I will say that it’s handled in a very satisfactory way. The loser’s character–and what the show has to say about him–is summed up perfectly through images that let us inside his mind during the loss.

I’m still struggling with the meaning of the last scene of the episode, but I know it’s getting at something that the rest of the series has consistently ridden on; the dreams we cultivate as children and our maturity–and reality–that crushes them. It’s sad for sure, but there’s something in the resignation of those dreams that’s oddly sweet, much like Ping Pong itself.

Image of Tina dodging a kick

Black Bullet, Episode 8: B+

This week’s Black Bullet did as much wrong as it did right, but somehow the good won me over this time around in the form of interesting plot developments and more fast-paced action scenes.

This one marks the beginning of the next arc in the series–and maybe the last one too–wherein Rentarou–now a much higher ranked Initiator–is called upon by Seitenshi to complete his toughest mission yet. She asks him to form an adjuvant–a team of civil officers–in order to take out 2,000 or so Gastrea that are patiently waiting for a level four Gastrea–Aldebaran–to take down one of the Monolith’s that keep the Gastrea out of the city. Though he’s hesitant at first, due to the sheer magnitude of the mission, soon Rentarou takes his task on in full force, hitting the road with Tina in a “getting the band together” kind of narrative–something I’m a sucker for. By the end of the episode, Rentarou and Tina show up at Tamaki and Yuzuki Katagiri’s place, for isntance, looking to recruit the Promoter/Initiator pair for the adjuvant. Tamaki will only work for someone who’s stronger than him, so this leads to an awesome fight scene between Tamaki and Rentarou–ending in a massive power kick–and Yuzuki and Rina–including invisible spider wire. I hope this kind of dynamic keeps up as we continue on with the “getting the band together” storyline.

In the background of this, we get nods to a decaying relationship between the humans in the world of Black Bullet and the cursed children, whom many of the humans see as direct links to the Gastrea. There’s an X-Men like focus here on the way in which people tend to treat the “other”, piling many of their problems–often those that “the other” have nothing to do with–onto them. Considering that the city is just a handful of days away from a substantial Gastrea attack that its citizens aren’t prepared for, this particular plot point is sure to become more important in the future, and potentially change the role of civil officers in their society.

All these interesting stories coming together so effortlessly, makes it a real bummer when the writers succumb to jokes about Tina accidentally giving off the vibe that her and Rentarou recently slept together–after, of course, her decision to call Rentarou her big brother. I’d like to think that these writers aren’t adding in all the moe stuff nefariously, but then I try to be realistic. On the other hand, many of Enju’s jokes about wanting to marry Rentarou come off as cute instead of pedo-y. I guess at the end of the day, Rentarou never seems to enjoy the colorful things that Enju and Tina say, and that seems to validate the jokes a little bit.

I’m stoked to see who else Rentarou and Tina grab for the adjuvant, but there’s a good chance that the end this arc will be the best so far, with the “band” formed and fighting all the monster madness.

Image of a Ruri with an arm gun

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 8: D-

I’ve certainly disliked If Her Flag Breaks before, but this episode hits new lows on the level of idiotic jokes, pandering fan service and Souta worship. The only thing this episode has going for it is a new character who’s joined the show–I think we’re up to a dozen ladies now swooning over lame Souta–who has a cool character design.

The episode starts with Souta in the lap of luxury–or Kikuno, as the case may be–getting pampered and treated generally like a king. Rin walks up and calls Kikuno out for spoiling Souta, worried that he’ll become a good for nothing if he’s always treated in such a way. Okay, so we’ve got some good commentary here on how waiting on a man hand and foot may not be the best tactic for a healthy relationship. Interesting. But soon enough, Rin caves, basically saying that she likes seeing Souta so happy and defenseless.

And the entire episode plays like this, with Souta being closely followed around by his entourage of gals–ready to lay their life down for the supreme Souta–wherever he goes. Wouldn’t it be suffocating to be Souta? He never gets a moment to himself since these girls are always throwing themselves at him. The HBO series Big Love had a clever take on polygamy, as it showed the more realistic side of being married to multiple people and the problems that come up with that odd group dynamic. If Her Flag Breaks, on the other hand, is adolescent male fantasy run amok with no thought given to the complications of a dozen women all throwing themselves at the same man.

This one doesn’t really deserve much more analysis, but I’ll give a run down of some more ridiculousness. Ruri’s main body has to go into the shop for repair so she comes back–temporarily, thankfully–as a chibi version of yourself, which everyone thinks is so cute. We soon realize that this plot contrivance is so that later in the episode the group can be attacked by another Ruri model and not confuse the audience. Two equally sized Ruri’s? But which is which? Several of the girls this episode have Souta body pillows–huge pillows with his likeness on them. Those that don’t, ask where the others got their pillows. Everyone ends up at Akane’s mansion–she’s an heiress, you’ll recall–and has pillow fights and end up in her outdoor spring, which changes between male only and female only every hour for no particular reason. Of course, this leads to Souta being caught naked by Rin when all the ladies come out to the spring. Rin helps to hide him and he makes it out without anyone else noticing him, but we get plenty of fan service in the meantime. Again, Souta body pillows? Come on!

I HATE this show and its asinine story contrivances and its shallow characters and its simplified male fantasy and its damn Souta body pillows. That said, I started reviewing it, so I must see it through to its bitter, bitter ending. I need to go watch some Ping Pong.

Image of Ginko covered in the shadowy snake mushi

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 8: A

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho has been consistent in the last few episodes as a great source of entertainment and thoughtful meditation on its themes. It’s not the best thing I watch every week, but that ability to deliver in every episode should be hailed and appreciated. In fact, in a slightly weaker season, Mushishi would be the best thing on the air.

This week’s episode follows a sailor with the ability to whistle for bird mushi which act as strong wind gusts in the real world, thus moving whatever boat he’s on in the direction and at the speed he desires. Ginko, traveling on the boat to reach a new destination, is wowed by the sailor’s skills but reminds him never to whistle at night.

Of course, later that night–whether on accident, as he says, or out of a new found curiosity–the sailor sounds off his whistle and is surprised when nothing happens, not even a response form the bird mushi. Soon however, the boat is surrounded by snake shaped creatures that have the appearance of dark shadows. These mushi can put holes in the boat, which quickly causes it to begin sinking with the entire crew on board. The sailor makes it back home but he ends up bringing the shadowy snake mushi with him, eventually leading them to make his mother sick.

Like usual, Ginko gets involved and attempts to understand the sailor’s reasons for acting the way he does–the sailor continues to whistle and call the shadowy snake mushi to his home, making his mother worse. We as the audience are in the same boat, as we only get a handful of time with the sailor and his mother, for whom he seems to hold some kind of grudge. The closest we get is the sailor saying that his mother basically didn’t raise him with the sweetest care. We don’t know if it’s true or if his viewpoint is slightly skewed, but that’s the way it should be in a show like Mushishi. The mushi themselves–of all types and kinds–are curious and mysterious creatures with agendas that are never evil but just self-serving.

The water mirror mushi from a few episodes back is the perfect example. It wasn’t interested in destroying the girl’s life but only wanted to imitate her out of loneliness. Here too, the mushi are coming to the sound of the whistle because they expect the bird mushi from earlier to be around. They are driven by their hunger and that keeps the natural world in the series from being purely black and white.

No matter what angle the sailor is coming from, there is a message here about understanding the repercussions of your actions and not taking special abilities for granted. It’s not too far from the famous Spider-Man line about great responsibility coming with great power. Ginko attempts to help the sailor recognize this responsibility, but as we’ve seen in so many other episodes, he’s limited in what he can do. Man, like the mushi, must listen to his nature and decide what’s right for him.

Image of the auditorium during the Jinnan high performance

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 8: B+

This episode of Blue♪Sky really made up for last week’s lackluster storyline and plot movement. Here, we get to see the performance of both Jinnan high and Seiso academy as well as the end results of their performances.

Continuing from Kyoka’s revelations of last week–helped along heavily by the words of Kanade–we see a rejuvenated Seiso string ensemble. Kyoka is now leading the group and doing a decent job of it after coming to the conclusion with Kanade that he must find his own path to the music, instead of feeling like he has to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Kanade, while inspired by this change in Kyoka, still seems to not entirely have her footing in her performance, though she does a fine job with it never the less. There is a feeling though, that we’re waiting for Kanade to unleash some sort of mystical musical performance, alluded to by Chiaki who says that he can’t wait for her flower to bloom.

The Jinnan high performance is pretty spectacular. Chiaki and Housei–working with a piano player we haven’t seen much of up until now–wow the younger women in the crowd with their showmanship and ability to entertain, while transporting the audience off to a romantic Victorian looking locale. The trio create a sound that is quite different from the performances we’ve seen so far from Seiso and Shiseikan. The underlying story of Chiaki trying to prove himself and his artistic merit to his father, is a touching one that never comes off as cheesy or ham-fisted, even if it’s a little “by the books”. It pays off well by the end of the episode, proving that Blue♪Sky does a good job of letting all its characters “win” at the same time.

Seiso’s performance is pretty spectacular too, with the image of two birds in flight being expressed to the audience through the ensemble’s sound. Kyoka’s bird is black and shining, giving us the impression that he brings a darker, more morose quality to the ensemble than did Ritsu. Kanade, on the other hand, is represented by a white bird as she is the light and the emotional core of the group. They don’t get too much into this episode, but I have a feeling that the central dynamic between Kyoka and Kanade is of the utmost importance to the sound of the Seiso string ensemble. In this way, Kyoka certainly brings something new to the group that sets it on a different course than when under Ritsu’s leadership, though he is still guiding the group on a basic level.

I think the message that Blue♪Sky has been getting at in the last handful of episodes–that is, finding the pathway to express your soul uniquely as a musician–has been a nice touch and reaches beyond whatever shoujo shortcoming the series might have. The series isn’t nearly as entertaining as a music show like Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, but they do share the ideal of the characters desiring to better understand themselves through the music they create. Maybe I’m giving Blue♪Sky a hefty pass that it doesn’t deserve–because at times it does feel a little rote–but it’s an enjoyable series that does have something more interesting to say about its characters than how pretty they are. I have to appreciate that, even if the genre tropes and character designs muddle the water slightly.

An image of the Avengers assembling and what not

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 8: B-

The quality and appeal of Marvel Disk Wars rose a bit this episode, with some added definition given to the biocodes that let the five children D-smash the Marvel heroes. Still, the plot is rather predictable and the appeal of the show is wearing off the further we get into the series.

The episode starts where the last left off, with Iron Man fighting against a tornado–created by Whirlwind–in order to get to the ship that the bad guys have been stowing Ed, Jessica and Spider-Man on. He eventually gets the Hulk DISK to Ed–who’s able to use it to D-smash Hulk–but in the meantime we get some flashbacks to when Tony and Akira’s dad–Nozomu–were building the DISK units.

These flashback segments are what give us more info about the biocodes and their limitations. Through a kind of plot contrivance, Nozomu says that the biocodes or something–it’s represented in a purposefully disorienting way so that we don’t question the logic–can only hold so much information, or something, and that any entity that gets contained in a DISK will belong to one of five types: tech (Iron Man), energy (Thor), fight (Cap), power (Hulk) or animal (Wasp). Furthermore, we find out that once a biocode locks onto a particular type, that’s the only kind of hero/villain that they can D-smash. So Akira can only D-smash heroes/villains that are of the tech type, making me assume that this show is going the Pokemon route, in that each character will have their “team” which they can use during a battle. Though Pokemon is wider open when it comes to which kind of pokemon the trainers can wield, the show largely sticks certain characters with certain elements, so there’s that similarity too.

As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of both Marvel and Pokemon so I’m pretty good with this revelation, though others may find it unoriginal. Whether you’re into the “gotta catch em’ all” mentality that’s sure to define the show in the coming episodes or not, this arc has yet to feel like filler, which is nice. That being said, the series seems like it’s been leading to this moment, so we’ll see where they go from here.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 7

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

An image of Ota and Smile playing a lonely game of table tennis

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 7: A+

At this point it’s almost a given that Ping Pong is going to get a strong “A+” from me. Maybe that means that I need to heighten my standards for next season, but I do like to criticize things in relation to their contemporaries rather than the grand totality of their medium, and Ping Pong lands high above the rest. And this week is no exception. While it’s hard to reach the levels that the music montage of last episode did, this one still knocks it out of the park–or should I say out of the table tennis arena? har har har–with more quick-paced plot development, some great character interaction & history, and some blatant foreshadowing that leaves me waiting in anticipation, even if it does whack the audience over the head.

I’m starting to realize with each successive episode of Ping Pong, that a theme is usually present from story to story. Last time, the idea of the hero was largely probed by the series’ characters. This episode keeps the theme of the hero around but focuses mainly on what it means to be an underdog, and the ramifications of not grabbing every opportunity for your own personal gain. Of course, more subtly raised is the opposite question; what does it mean to take those opportunities?

The episode starts with Peco and Smile training with Obaba–the old lady from the table tennis dojo–and Mr. Koizumi–the coach of the Katase high table tennis club–, respectively. Peco is getting back into the swing of things–losing weight and taking himself slightly more seriously–while Smile is becoming closer with his coach. The status quo is shook up when Dragon shows up with the manager of the Kaio team in order to recruit Smile. Smile hears out their offer, mostly interested in finding out if Mr. Koizumi knew about the Kaio team’s plan to poach him. Smile is told that Koizumi thought it would be best for him to transfer to Kaio, as Smile would be able to get the kind of training that Katase high couldn’t offer. Soon, Smile is back training with Mr. Koizumi, giving a half-hearted reason for why he has no interest in joining the Kaio team. When Koizumi admits that he didn’t think Smile would mind being handed off to Kaio, Smile suggests to his coach that even though he’s a relatively cold and quiet person, he still has feelings and Kaio academy isn’t the right place for him. I love the way this series is slowly building onto Smile’s–and almost every other character’s–psyche, so that we never quite know how the characters will react to situations. Just like in reality, we have a construct of who these characters are but that doesn’t mean we can peg them down and predict their actions. It’s so refreshingly different from a show like If Her Flag Breaks, where every character’s actions can be assumed from the beginning of each episode, since they’re all dolled up tropes. Here though, Yurie isn’t just the girl in commercials dating the star athlete, Dragon isn’t just the star athlete and Peco isn’t just the smartass with a heart of gold.

There’s really too much going on with this episode to catch everything, but I’ll highlight a few of the best moments. Dragon’s isolation from his team due to his high expectations vs. China and Smile becoming closer to their own teammates–specifically Smile’s bonding with the captain of the Katase team. Peco training at the National Japanese Training Center thanks to Obaba’s connections. Yurie’s reaction to Dragon being absent all of the time and focusing all of his being into ping pong. Examinations of the histories of both Dragon and Koizumi, the latter of which practically writes the rest of the series. Sanada’s advances on Yurie after he witnesses Dragon’s own disinterest in her presence. The growing father/son relationship between Koizumi and Smile.

And that just scratches the surface of this fantastic episode. One thing that Ping Pong does amazingly well, is to capture the perspectives of all involved in a sport, from the heroes, to the the underdogs to the casual players. Even though the series generally focuses on Smile and Peco, we get enough information about a very minor character like Ota–the captain of the Katase team–to understand where he’s coming from and to see a part of ourselves in him. Ota is forced to watch Smile grow as a player while he–Ota–stagnates, and prepares to live the rest of his life as a relative nobody. That’s not to debase his career–he seems to be a television installer–but there is a strong feeling of watching greatness from the sidelines, in characters like Ota or Demon, that really resonates with someone who’s been in that position before.

As I mentioned before, Koizumi’s telling of his past as an up and coming table tennis player–nicknamed Butterfly Jo–practically writes the rest of the series. But I don’t care. The characters are interesting enough that even if I know where they’ll end up, I have no idea what they’ll do when they get their or the final light the show we’ll cast them in. Plus, with the fast pace of this series, what I assume will happen in the final episode could be done and gone in the beginning of the next.

An image of Tina prepping to destory Rentarou

Black Bullet, Episode 7: B

Black Bullet is at its best when the action is cranked up to 11. With so much going on, the show doesn’t have time to wander down the stray paths of moe-dom or to attempt gags that aren’t funny. Plus, the animation in this show is some of the best of the season, so it’s not hard to look at.

One thing that makes this episode more enjoyable than the previous handful, is the relative absence of Enju after the first few establishing scenes where we find out that Tina Sprout has hospitalized her. She just doesn’t do anything for me and her and Rentarou’s relationship has been underutilized for so long that I couldn’t care less what happens to her in the series. Lately, Enju simply serves as the deliverer of a boob joke or to confess to Rentarou how much she loves him in a ridiculous way.

She does serve as a catalyst for the dramatic stakes of the episode, as Rentarou questions how he alone can take on Tina Sprout when she took down the much stronger Enju quite handedly. Rentarou eventually comes up with a plan to create a fake meeting for Seitenshi and to leak the info so that Tina will come out of hiding. She takes the bait and Rentarou confronts her, getting into a close-combat situation soon enough. I have to say that scenes like this make the show a little odd to watch sometimes. Here’s Rentarou beating the crap out of what looks to be a 9 year old. He’s kicking and punching her into the ground so hard that she’s crashing through to the floor below. It makes total sense in the universe they’ve created–since Tina is just a powerful villain, like any burly man on any other action show–but it did take me out of the awesome action scenes, if only a little.

I won’t get into the ending, but it doesn’t go the way I’d like as far as subtracting annoying characters rather than adding them. I’m worried that the show will have even more jokes about young girls wanting to sleep with Rentarou, but we’ll see. On it’s own, this is a pretty decent episode with great action scenes, even if the story is a little bland.

An image of Souta coughing up blood

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 7: D+

In theory, this episode should’ve been better than the last because we get to see a lot more of the fantasy world that lingers in the background of this silly series. We also spend time with two ladies who are more independent and thoughtful than all the other gals combined. Of course, as has been the trend with this show, If Her Flag Breaks takes a good thing and shits all over it.

First, the new roommates. This episode sees the arrival of four new girls to Quest Hall, half of them with no real reason for moving in. Souta’s “little sister” from the last episode moves in–and there is plenty of sister v. sister action going on here between her and Kikuno, until Kikuno shoves Kurumiko’s head between her breasts–which at least makes sense with the dialogue from last week. Mei–the girl who can topple flags like Souta–moves in, but why? I actually like the character but she appeared at the end of the 5th episode and was barely seen in the 6th. Now she’s moving in for no real reason besides that Kurumiko wants her there. Maybe I’m an ass, but if I just invited someone to stay at my house–Souta just invited Kurumiko–I’d be a little annoyed if she went around inviting people to live there as well, being a new tenant and all. Oh yeah, and the student council president–Mimori–and “the elder”–Tsumugi–also move in. In the show it’s treated as flippantly as that last sentence I just tossed off. Nanami gets off a “What?”, but no one else bats an eye. Gah, this show!

Most egregiously, this episode shows us more of Mimori and Mei only to take away most everything that makes them interesting. Through some plot massaging, Mimori has to go on a date with Souta while they are still in the beach/mountain area. They go to a stream in the woods and Mimori says she won’t make any excuses for the kind of woman she is; brash, self-assured and goal-oriented. Finally, we have a real life woman on the show who wants to think for herself, instead of being some male construct of the damsel in distress. Alas, as soon as Souta says a phrase that reminds Mimori of a past love–didn’t we already see this with Rin, to an extent?–she falls head over heels for him, telling him that she will do anything to make him happy. A similar thing can be said for Mei, who treats Souta cautiously most of the episode until she realizes the burden he carries, I guess because he has a death flag? It probably doesn’t matter. Anyway, Mei loves him too and all that.

And lastly, Mei takes Souta to an alternate dimension of sorts where he never existed. At first, he runs into Kikuno and Rin, who want nothing to do with him since they don’t know him. Now here’s a chance to completely break down the harem tropes that have muddled the show so far. What if this world is reality and the world in which Souta is worshiped by every woman who breaths the same air as him is in his imagination? Think of the ramifications for otaku-dom. But no. In fact, this dimension is plagued by the fact that Souta doesn’t exist. It’s a hellish landscape, where at least three of Souta’s gal pals are dead because he wasn’t around to save them. Towards the end of this segment, the plot takes some interesting twists with Souta’s capabilities, but I was generally so annoyed with the show by that point that it couldn’t really uplift me.

So, there’s another episode of If Her Flag Breaks. I guess something at least moved the plot this week. There’s that.

An image of Teru looking over a freshly watered landscape

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 7: A

The 7th episode of Mushishi: Zoku-Sho keeps up the trend of a different kind of setting for each episode. Here, we get the desert as the next locale that Ginko visits, and its dry climes form the storyline about a woman who is thought to be a predictor of rain.

This woman–Teru–goes from one drought stricken town to another, promising rain and having her prediction come true within a handful of days. Like a drifter, she doesn’t stick to one town but is consistently on the move, leaving shortly after the rainfall begins. In one such town lives an old acquaintance of hers–Yasu–who wants Teru to settle down with him. Teru feels the same way, but–as we find out–the rainfall that she predicts is closely tied to her, so much so that were she to stay in one place, she could flood the village or city she’s staying in purely by accident. Eventually, Ginko informs Teru that she’s been infected by Amefurashi–or Rainmaker Mushi–and they are what causes the rainfall when she stays in one place for a period of time.

The central message–as far as I could parse it, at least–is about understanding that abilities one has may seem like a burden, but can be used to the right means in order to help those in need. After realizing the harm that her powers can cause, Teru decides that she’s best suited to drift from city to city, improving the water situation wherever she goes while never being able to keep a permanent home. It’s a sacrifice she makes in order to best utilize her capabilities and harm the fewest while helping the most.

There comes a point in the episode where it seems as if Teru is subconsciously choosing to no longer bring rain with her, most likely in order to stay with Yasu. However, her decision has unexpected consequences and she must make a hard choice as to what to do with her capabilities. With factors like this, the episode becomes a reflection on the sacrifices of the hero. Teru, too, is robbed of her ability to cry as the Rainmaker Mushi inside of her suck up all of her moisture.

Although the message is a sweet one, Mushishi still isn’t having the same effect on me that the first four episodes did. Maybe the appeal of the “message through modern-day parable” method is starting to wear a little thinner for me, or maybe some of the messages don’t reach me the way they’re supposed to. Either way, Mushishi is still an entertaining and thoughtful series to check out, so I highly recommend it. I’m just hoping for something that speaks to me a little more than these last few have.

An image of Kanade hugging Kyoya

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 7: C+

Sad to say, Blue♪Sky was kind of a disappointment this week. Not only did the plot not really go anywhere, but the drama of the episode was ramped up to slightly ridiculous proportions. I’m still hopeful for next week, as we’ll be getting to the semi-finals of the competition–between Seiso academy and Jinnan high school–but this episode just likes a filler.

This one largely focuses on the fallout from the end of last episode, where in Ritsu decided to pass his position–first violinist–off to his brother Kyoya after his hand injury was aggravated. With Kyoya’s character type, it makes sense that he would have an existential crisis about this new found responsibility but I’m not sure it needed to take the entire episode. Kyoya basically throws a fit about the expectations that will come along with his new position, and while I can understand where he’s coming from–after years of being compared against the talents of his brother–it’s fairly annoying that he would choose to run away instead of attempting his best. It’s very much a Shinji Ikari move, but here it’s largely lacking in the psychological examination department, which is what makes Shinji’s actions in Neon Genesis Evangelion interesting to watch. Plus, Shinji’s putting his life on the line and carrying the world on his back. Kyoya’s just in a music competition. This whole dramatic flare up seems to be one of the call outs to the show’s shoujo roots, which have been more obscure–besides character design and ratio of guys to gals–thus far.

The only other thing of note we get in this episode, is a further look into Chiaki–the hot-shot blonde, electric violinist from Jinnan–and his personal life. Chiaki and his co-duetist–Housei–confront the Seiso ensemble and Ritsu with the simple message that they will destroy the Seiso group without Ritsu playing with the ensemble. At first glance, Chiaki seems like a huge jerk–proving false my claim last week that everyone on this show is nice to one another–but Kanade is told that that’s how Chiaki encourages his rivals. We soon see a scene between Chiaki and his father that helps to explain where his aggression and brashness come from. We’re told that Chiaki’s father hates the fact that his son plays the electric violin–versus the classic instrument–and refuses to support his endeavors. This coldness from someone who was supposed to encourage Chiaki’s endeavors, forced him to take full responsibility of his own success and to have the conviction of his craft and his individual artistic expression. This causes a revelation in Kanade, though we don’t really get to see the fruits of her epiphany just yet. This thought provoking idea is actually what helped to keep the episode afloat for me, as it called for the audience to reflect on our own convictions or lack thereof.

So it was a let down that this episode spent most of its time spinning its wheels but at least it had a good message in parts. Even though he’s an ass, we’d probably all be a little better were our aspirations as strong as Chiaki’s… and our complaints much less frequent than Kyoya’s. Sorry, had to get that in there.

An image of Wasp blowing stuff up

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 7: C+

This week’s Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers was fairly forgettable, though it does have the reemergence of Wasp in D-smash form. The Hulk storyline plays out as expected and the last two of the kids–Edward and Jessica–spend most of the episode outsmarting the various bad guy goons that they come up against.

Spider-Man is good for a laugh this episode, getting off some nice quips in true Spidey form and ratcheting up the drama with the possibility of him being D-secured by the baddies. There’s a scene where Spider-Man explains to the Wasp her predicament as a hero trapped inside one of the D.I.S.Ks, that reminded me of how depressing this premise is. Obviously the idea that the heroes can only come out for 5 or 6 minutes, is a construct to build dramatic tension in the show. In the Hulk battle, Iron Man and Thor can only fight Hulk for so long before they have to return to their individual D.I.S.Ks, so there’s always the possibility that Akira or Hakiru will be stuck defenseless against a big bad. As bad as that may sound for Akira or Hakiru, think of the ramifications for Tony Stark, a man whose greatest joy was largely made up of tinkering with gadgets in his spare time–thus the D.I.S.Ks. Now he’s relegated to his own creation and his sole role is that of Iron Man. That’s not even considering the outcome for his and Pepper’s love life or for Thor’s home world of Asgard, which frequently requires his help or protection.

It’s a conversation akin to the animal cruelty suggestions of Pokemon–because those are some COMPACT cages–but this episode in and of itself really offered nothing to talk about. Poor, poor Tony Stark.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 6

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

An image of Smile sitting by himself in the dark

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 6: A+

This sixth episode of Ping Pong keeps the pace of the series moving briskly, while allowing the main characters to take stock of their current place in the world. We get a little bit of everybody, from Dragon and the team of Kaio high school, to China and his teammates, to the recently table-tennis departed duo of Demon and Peco.

The episode starts with Dragon caught up in the middle of commercial endorsements whilst his team largely moves on without him–after feeling betrayed from his degrading comments in the last episode. Dragon is a quiet character so it’s always a little difficult to gauge which direction his psyche is leaning towards. Is he selling out or simply putting up with the outcomes of being a world champion in order to assimilate into his new reality? That’s not even considering the way that his relationship with Yurie turns out and the new depths we see of her character.

In fact, every character becomes a little more full-bodied this episode, mainly during the sing-along turned full fledged soundtrack piece in the middle of the episode. A tour de force of narrative showing over telling, these handful of scenes largely tell us more about China, Yurie, Smile, Dragon and Sanada–one of the members of the Kaio team–than we’ve been able to get out of the last five episodes. And that’s not even to say that the last five episodes weren’t written or handled well, but to prop up this amazing handful of scenes. Any show that can make nearly all of its characters sympathetic–especially those who we’ve been spending most of the series rooting against–is going to be high in my regard.

The second half of the episode focuses most of its time on Peco and questioning the assumptions we’ve been making about him over the length of the series. Demon popping back up and giving Peco a few words of advice, was a brilliant nod to how people can change and reevaluate themselves and those around them. Peco’s own realizations about himself were almost uplifting, making me consider my own direction in life and where I’ve sold myself short. I’m excited to see where the show takes Peco from here.

Lastly, Smile’s scenes throughout the episode have a rather somber and cold tone to them. The continued comparison of Smile to a robot–especially the heroic looking robot at the beginning of the episode–makes us ponder the reality of being a champion and the emotionally solitary life that many seem to lead. This ideal is seen in Dragon as well. Smile might be excelling in his natural talents and finally taking control of his life, but he is no more well liked than at the beginning of the series and that weight still rests heavy upon him.

Ping Pong is a series that’s realistic about the kinds of people its characters are. Unapologetically so, in several instances. Still, this episode proves how much the writers care about those same, flawed characters, making for the most three-dimensional table tennis players I’ve ever seen.

An image of Tina Sprout shooting the place up

Black Bullet, Episode 6: C+

This week’s Black Bullet continues to take a potentially interesting story arc and drags it through the mud. Do we see more of the dynamic between Rentarou and Seitenshi, or better yet Rentarou and Seitenshi’s other bodyguards? Of course not. We get Rentarou feeding the sleepy-headed Tina Sprout, assassin at large, who’s incapable of taking care of herself even though she can hit a target from miles away. Do we get interesting character development? Nope. Enju does pop up out of nowhere though and massages Kisara’s breasts, right in the middle of an intimate conversation between her and Rentarou no less. The plot moving forward in any substantial way? Not really, but Kisara and Miori do fight over Rentarou since he’s the male protagonist and all.

Yeah, so this week was rather frustrating. The show almost dipped to If Her Flag Breaks levels of sexual silliness at points. I’d like to think that I’m not a hardass or a prude, but the way in which these shows handle their raunchy humor just isn’t funny to me. Last season’s Space Dandy seemed to deal with Boobies–the chain restaurant ala Hooters that Dandy likes to frequent–in a much funnier way with an obvious tongue-in-cheek flare. Anyway, I’m kind of going off on a tangent, but the jokes in this series don’t seem to fit with the overall tone and darkness of the world it’s set in.

One of the few scenes that saves this episode from being completely abysmal is a killer fight scene between Tina Sprout and Kisara. Tina shows up to Kisara’s office intent on assassinating her. Kisara surprises Tina by slicing up her gattling gun, forcing Tina to improvise with hand-to-hand combat. It’s only two or three minutes of the episode, but it does make the viewing experience considerably more worthwhile. Aside from the moe act of Rentarou feeding the seemingly helpless Tina Sprout, there’s also an interesting relationship between the two of them. At the beginning of the episode, neither knows the role of the other in their respective missions. What starts out as a friendly relationship between Tina and Rentarou eventually comes to a crossroads, where each must decide how they will handle their new understanding of the other.

The episode ends on a twist that could make the show interesting again if the writers just follow through with it. Sadly, this twist is more than likely just a teaser to keep the audience coming back for next week’s episode. I’m just hoping that next week’s Black Bullet isn’t as annoyingly bland as this one.

An image of Souta and the gals staring at a short woman

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 6: D+

If Her Flag Breaks touches on the mythological side of its world much more frequently this week than in previous episodes, but it’s just not enough to make it watchable. Less than halfway through the episode, I found myself checking how much time was left and being surprised to see that I had only made it so far. It’s such a bland show that’s built for such a niche audience, and its biggest crime is creating a quasi-plot that trick’s the viewer into thinking that something creative is happening when it just isn’t. Gahhh!

Alright, on to the recap.

Souta is made to go on a trip with his gal pals–I’m resigning myself to lumping Megu in with the gals, since he basically is one by this point–to the beach and to the mountains, with the group splitting their time between the two locales. Souta can’t swim and has sympathy laid upon him by his bikini-clad cohorts, whose assets are on full display, of course. A quick aside; I was starting to feel some sort of integrity in the show within the beach setting. Here we have several buxom gals and yet the show was being relatively light on the “jiggling”, which most of these kind of shows–besides the overly moe ones–seem to take to like breathing. Of course, as soon as this thought crossed my mind, Akane got a sea cucumber stuck between her breasts. I should have seen it coming.

Oh yeah, and Souta got a little sister this week! In all seriousness, the main scene between the aforementioned “sister”–Kurumiko–is actually somewhat touching, if not a little intense. Kurumiko is an orphan and popsicle vendor who Souta quickly befriends. They eventually end up trapped in a cave together and Kurumiko becomes quite grim about the situation. In order to make her more hopeful–and to topple three death flags that hang about her head–Souta offers to have her come stay with him at Quest Hall as his little sister. This is all played relatively dramatically though and kind of kills whatever sweetness exists between the two characters. I guess I’m just glad that this episode didn’t take that relationship into the incest realm–although she’s not his blood sister, just underaged, which this show is completely fine with–but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Either way, Kurumiko is added as another female to laud praise upon Souta, whether romantically or not.

So, what happened in this episode. Basically nothing. We got a new character, we saw a LITTLE more of the mythological world and the fan service was racketed up even more. If Her Flag Breaks is going nowhere fast and the fact that I’m still having to watch it for these reviews, is just adding to my resentment.

An image of the medicine man beneath a glowing cherry tree

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 6: A

This week’s Mushishi felt like the perfect companion piece to last week’s episode–about the girl who was rejected by the man she loved. Sad to say, that episode didn’t entirely click with me and neither does this one. That being said, there’s still some interesting storytelling going on here, and–much like Ping Pong–the worst episode of Mushishi is still far better than most every other show that week.

This episode deals heavily in ideas of folklore, introducing us to a man who takes care of an amazingly beautiful woman that has gone deaf and blind. When Ginko comes upon the man’s family farm, he connects a nearby ancient cherry tree that has lost all of its blooms to the complications of the woman. As Ginko informs us and the man, the tree is inhabited by a foam Mushi that has kept it alive for many years, although the tree isn’t always–and isn’t currently–the healthiest. The foam that Ginko speaks of can be seen in a small hole in the tree and he asks the man if the blind and deaf woman has ever ingested the foam. Ginko points out that the foam can cause blindness in people.

The medicine man–who we find out has been using low doses of the foam in his medications–eventually confesses that his grandpa found the young woman as a baby. Abandoned by her parents in that same tree hole mentioned earlier, she subsisted only on the foam until the man’s grandfather found her. After this, the grandfather tried to feed the small child a regular diet but she refused anything that wasn’t the foam. This caused her to grow up very slowly over the years and she was cared for by each successive member of the family until now. There are hints that the woman is supernaturally tied to the ancient cherry tree, mainly because they both grew off of the sustenance of the same Mushi foam. I won’t spoil where the episode goes, because it’s quite beautiful, but the magical realism and folklore elements are slowly ramped up until the climactic finish.

So why does this episode fit so well with last week’s? Both stories are about loss–specifically the loss of an object of desire or affection–and the way that that loss impacts our actions. While the previous episode focused on the feeling of hopelessness and lack of control after a break-up, this one considers what one would do if they had complete control over the situation and didn’t allow the loved one to depart. The man certainly fits into this category as the episode goes on, and he seems more and more willing to cross moral boundaries in order to hold on to what he has.

There’s also a focus here on the inherent problems of man trying to control nature. We see this from the beginning, as the medicine man uses nature–mainly the Mushi foam–in ways that it wasn’t intended. The medicine man and his family before him, thought they could outsmart the natural world and figure out a way to utilize the foam without causing the harm that went with it. Outside of this, the man’s farm has an air of decay surrounding it, especially as the ancient cherry tree isn’t in bloom while other such trees in the area are. Much like the tree, the woman cannot be contained and kept alive for the man’s own personal wishes, but is her own entity. When man tries to control the natural world, he only causes pain and suffering for himself and others.

I have to give it to Mushishi; the last two episodes both started out with lower letter grades until I wrote their reviews. Taking my time to wade through the messages and thoughts of each episode really help me to appreciate it that much more. And Mushishi certainly has a depth of thought and philosophy that is only found in one or two series each season. Add in the folklore elements and this series is as unique as they come.

An image of Kanade soaring high in the sky

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 6: B

This week’s episode of Blue♪Sky stayedconsistent with the quality we’ve seen so far; we got some dramatic tension with a really nice payoff from Seiso academy’s musical performance, there was decent character development in both Kanade and Ritsu–as well as the entire Shiseikan wind ensemble–, and the twist at the end has set the show on a relatively different course than it was heading.

The best thing about this episode though, was that as the half-way mark for the series, it’s safe to say that Blue♪Sky is a music show with pretty boys, rather than the other way around. This series has spent so much time delving into the importance of teamwork for a music ensemble, as well as the need to trust your fellow musicians. We see this exemplified in the reaction of the Shiseikan wind ensemble to the outcome of their performance against Seiso. Mainly, Hozumi reaches a moment of doubt in himself and his contributions to the group. In reaction to this, his president–Yukihiro–becomes so angered by Hozumi’s feelings that he throws Hozumi against a wall and gives him a stern talking to about his talent and the fantastic performance of the ensemble. They may be pretty boys, but they’re serious about their craft.

We see this too in the performance of the Seiso academy ensemble, whose president–Ritsu–pushes himself so hard that he aggravates a prior injury that he’s been hiding from most of the ensemble. This, of course, goes on to rattle the group dynamic and to change the course of the series. That aside, Ritsu’s incredible performance causes his fellow musicians–mainly Kanade–to regain their composure after a shaky start. The teamwork here is crucial to Seiso’s outcome in the competition.

This scene is also a good example of how Blue♪Sky handles its obvious budgetary constraints. To point one such problem out, the animation of the show doesn’t do a particularly good job of catching the details of a musician playing their instrument. Kanade may be playing an incredibly hard violin piece, but we only know this because of the music rather than because of her hand being animated as rapidly bowing all across the violin. To make up for this, the show turns the musical into the magical with scenes such as this one, where the ensemble–after getting into a nice sync with one another–is seen flying high in the blue sky. The imagery represents how their combined efforts are taking them and their audience to another world. Coincidentally, the scenes focus on the setting and the sound rather than the individual players, allows us to overlook the lack of attention given to the specifics.

Most of all, Blue♪Sky is such a breeze to watch because all of the characters care so much about one another. They all want to see each other succeed, and even assholes are such a way because years of neglect and hurt. As much as they may care about their craft–as mentioned before–, the lads and ladies of Blue♪Sky care most about each other. And that’s the kind of escapism I can get behind.

An image of Captain America gettin' D-Smashed

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 6: B-

While I can feel the zest and excitement for Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers slowly seeping out of me, I still enjoyed this week’s episode, as Captain America was added to the pool of “D-Smash”able heroes. The Hulk was also brought back into the storyline when his and the Wasp’s D.I.S.Ks were captured by a few of the bad guys. Eventually, Hulk is released by the baddies to run amok in the city and to cause massive amounts of damage. Akira and Hikaru–with Iron Man and Thor in tow–hit the scene with Pepper Potts and Chris in order to put a halt to the Hulk’s reign of destruction. Chris isn’t interested in fighting, so he refuses to D-Smash the leftover Captain America D.I.S.K. But when the situation gets its bleakest, he has to decide if he will rise to the occasion and help Akira and Hikaru in the battle against evil, or if he will sit back and let the bad guys win.

That central conflict that Chris faces isn’t far from Captain America’s–or Stever Roger’s–own origin story. Many people know it by now, so to keep it short… Steve Rogers was a scrawny painter who wasn’t interested in fighting until the rise of the Nazi’s in WWII. Simply put, his acknowledgement that there was an evil in the world that needed to be stopped, directly led Steve done the path to becoming Captain America. Comparing the Nazi’s to the bad guys is this show is obviously a little extreme, but I think the similarities between Chris and Captain America are there. Obviously Chris is kind of a punk while Steve Rogers was always sort of a boy scout, but the series may have bigger plans for Chris that lead him down a more noble path. Especially considering all the flashback drama we see between Chris and his parents where it is specifically stated that Chris doesn’t know what he wants out of his life.

Aside from the emotional drama and character development, I thought that the Hulk’s rampage being the catalyst for Captain America, Thor and Iron Man battling together, was a nice nod to the history of Marvel, and the Avengers specifically. In the comics, the team originally formed to stop the Hulk during a rampage that was brought about by Loki’s trickery, much like this situation. Of course, Captain America didn’t join the team until a few issues later, but today’s Marvel fans widely consider Captain America, Thor and Iron Man to represent the core of the Avengers. It’s touches like this that allow Marvel Disk Wars to cleverly bridge the gap between Japanese shounen series and American superhero series. Hey, it still beats Ultimate Spider-Man, and that’s enough for me.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 5

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

An image of Peco throwing his paddle into the river.

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 5: A+

In the review for Ping Pong‘s last episode, I talked about the competing ideologies of natural talent and hard work showcased in the episode. This week’s episode makes it clear which side of the argument the creators fall on.

We start off several weeks in the future. Kong is at the airport saying a fond farewell to his trainer/coach and deciding to stay behind in Japan in order to continue to better his name as a table tennis player. I like this direction, as Kong being on his lonesome may give reason for him to ally with Smile at some point. Though Kong can come off as arrogant and condescending, there is a human side of him that the show is slowly leaking out, making him a more empatheti character.

Kazama–Dragon–is also at the airport, returning from recently winning the singles tournament at the Youth Olympics. As press crowd around him, he relates his disappointment in his team as a whole–since they didn’t advance very far in the preliminaries–and his interest in recruiting players like Smile. This causes ripples through the Kaio team, including Demon feeling rejected by his idol and thus feeling a strong need to prove himself. We get some interactions between Kazama and his suspected girlfriend–Yurie, the daughter of the Kaio team’s coach–that try to delve into Kazama’s character, but he almost seems to lack one.

Meanwhile, Smile has been putting his all into training with Koizumi and Peco has been beach bumming it, gaining weight, more hair and a dark tan. It’s obvious that Peco’s loss from the last episode really took its toll on his psyche and how he views himself as a ping pong player. Smile, on the other hand, is tackling his demons by trying to become more competitive and taking his natural abilities more seriously. He actually plays a relatively subdued role in this episode, reacting relatively coldly to most of what happens around him. Smile is frequently cold, but in the past we’ve gotten more insight into his inner thoughts and emotions. Here, we see Smile from the perspectives of Kazama, Peco and eventually Demon, and we get a strong idea of his place and esteem in the world of table tennis.

Eventually Demon shows up at Katase High School and dramatically challenges Smile to a match. I won’t speak to the outcome, but taking down Smile does prove to be a challenge for Demon, even though he’s spent years and years putting every bit of his being into becoming a ping pong champion. Meanwhile, Smile has been neglecting his own abilities out of a lack of interest for competition. At one point, Demon laments this fact, pointing out–rightfully–that it doesn’t seem fair that one who puts 100% of themselves into something can still be bested by those who don’t seem to care as much. As an American, this episode was at times hard to watch, since the ideology of hard work leading to a positive outcome is so ingrained in American culture. In Japan however, where failure is seemingly more acceptable, not accomplishing something that you set your mind to, simply means putting your mind to a different end. Peco exemplifies this ideology best in the last scene of the episode when he makes a choice that is hard to blame him for.

One last tie-in to this belief is a very small character who was beaten by Smile in the preliminaries of the last episode. After losing, the young man decides that it is time to try his luck at the beach. He makes a short appearance in this episode as a waiter on the beach who is verbally hassled by Peco’s girlfriend. The young man concludes that the beach isn’t for him either and wonders if his fate lies in the mountains. It’s a clever wink that the creators added into the show, one that points out that Ping Pong is just as much about natural abilities as it is about being realistic with the kind of person you can and can’t be. It’s about accepting yourself for who you are, talent or no, and understanding that sometimes it’s time to move on.

An image of Rentarou, Enju and Seitenshi ducking just as a bullet flies overhead.

Black Bullet, Episode 5: B-

So last week I said that I wanted Black Bullet to take a little more time and focus less on fast paced action and more on character development. This week, I was reminded of why I shouldn’t be asking for that.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. This fifth episode really started out great, after all. Things are much calmer after the attack of the fifth level Gastrea, with Rentarou and Enju training and Kisara and a new character but old acquaintance of Rentarou’s–NAME HERE–inviting themselves over for dinner. The episode gets even better when Rentarou meets with Seitenshi over the possibility of becoming her bodyguard during a meeting she has planned with NAME HERE. I really dig the character dynamic between Rentarou and Seitenshi as she is in a position of power but is willing to listen to and consider Rentarou’s views on the society in which they live–something that other members of the elite have failed to do with Rentarou. I’m sure this relationship will play a larger role in the future.

Sadly, we also meet Tina Sprout this episode, a moe character that handily gives Enju a run for her money in the creepy/annoying category. At first Tina is just a very young girl with pajamas that are almost falling off her–why Japan? Why?–and a bad case of sleep deprivation. Rentarou meets her in a park that he’s walking through and–in usual moe fashion–she comes off as helpless and in need of the strength of an older man. Tina does go on to be a more interesting character, which breaks out of the usual tropes, but a shower scene later and I’m completely creeped out by this show all over again after the good will it’s built with me over the last few episodes.

Alright, underage fan service aside, by the end of the episode we’re set up for what looks to be a pretty cool arc. Though the new villain is a tenth as intimidating as the Masked Man, the situation that are characters are put in is far more interesting. Let’s just cut back on those shower scenes. Please.

An image of Souta standing in front of an ambiguous light source.

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 5: C-

If Her Flag Breaks was surprisingly bearable this week, with a through story of Souta taking each one of his gal pals–and Megumu–on one-on-one dates. That one-on-one part is to thank for what makes this episode more watchable than the others that have come before it. Separating the girls–and Megumu–keeps the obnoxiousness down to a decent level, though all the harem tropes are certainly present here. Each girl is either shy about being alone with Souta or overjoyed to be allowed the experience. It’s weird, because I’ve never met a guy who is so incredibly awesome as Souta. Could this be some sort of wish fulfillment for people who can’t attract women??? No, no of course not.

What more is there to say? Megumu gets cream on his face–pale white and inches from his mouth–that Souta has to sensually wipe off. Akane wears frilly lingerie under her clothes–on a tip from her mother–during her and Souta’s boat ride. Okiku has Souta lay his head in her lap and calls him her little brother, just before burying his head in her breasts. Oh, and all the girls end up in a bath at the end. If we’re gonna do these kinds of scenes, can they PLEASE have adult aged women in them?

This review’s clearly gone of the rails, but in the midst of it, I’ve realized that I only felt okay about this episode because it was marginally better than the previous four. But being marginally better than shlock, does not a good anime make. It’s also annoying that the series keeps making slight nods to a more interesting storyline without ever delving into it for more than a few minutes. Hopefully the similarity between this week’s image from the show and last week’s will make that apparent. The ambiguity of Souta’s powers and the realm that we MAY one day get more information about, are indicative of how good this show is about spinning its wheels. I don’t care about how every woman in this universe thinks that Souta is their personal savior, just give me an interesting storyline. But even that, much like the quasi nudity and sexuality strewn throughout the episode, only exists to tease the audience.

Some harem shows are able to get past the genre tropes and flesh out good characters, or, better yet, slyly analyze those tropes and what they say about the society that created them. If Her Flag Breaks doesn’t attempt either, but damn if they don’t revolutionize the “boy on a date with a boy” joke. And that parfait does look good.

An image of Masumi with the mirror water mushi looming behind her

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 5: A-

Mushishi this week offers another enlightening parable but one that doesn’t quite come together as well as the previous few, even if the message is just as good. This episode revolves around a girl–Masumi–who has recently experienced a kind of crippling heartbreak. She returns stoically to a place where she would meet with her former love interest and lingers by a nearby river, watching her reflection in the water. Ginko arrives in time to inform Masumi and her parents that a Mushi–Mizukagami or “Water Mirror” Mushi–lives in these waters and has been getting closer and closer to taking the form of Masumi in order to replace her.

Like in episodes before, here Mushishi builds its message through metaphor, with the Mushi that is a threat to Masumi’s existence acting as the all-consuming heartbreak felt after the sudden end of a relationship. Ginko warns the family that Masumi must show the Mushi its reflection in the moment of full transformation, just before it attempts to replace her. Of course, she must be willing to be rid of the Mushi, instead of letting it quietly consume her. As we saw in episode 3 of this series, any kind of loss can be debilitating and can cause one to lose themselves in a kind of despair. The same is true of Masumi, who in facing the possibility of becoming a shell of her former self, seems not entirely sure that she wouldn’t enjoy disappearing. It’s a lighter commentary on suicide even, as that’s technically what she’d be doing by allowing the Mushi to replace her.

By the end of the episode, Masumi is forced to make a decision and to account for her life, deciding if it’s worth pushing past the pain in order to live another day for more heartbreak, or maybe for reciprocated love. The episode had a fantastic way of capturing the bleakness that comes from feelings of self-doubt or a lack of self-worth. Masumi’s considerable silence and the way in which she drudged through her days in this episode, all did a wonderful job of setting the tone.

So why not a higher grade? It may have been the pacing or even a slightly more corny nature to the episode than I’m used to, but something felt off about this one. Too is the fact that this episode felt similar in message to the 3rd episode and similar in its eerie tone to the 4th episode. My lack of being able to quantify what felt lesser about this episode–if you can call any episode of Mushishi lesser–makes me wonder if I judged it too harshly. But what’s done is done.

Aside from the main storyline, I really appreciated the way that Ginko–as the resident Mushi expert–handled the Mushi in the episode. His number one goal was to help Masumi, but throughout the episode he relates general feelings of sympathy for the Mushi’s place in the world. He points out how lonely their existence must be, since they seem to live on a different plane that lacks physical connection to the human world. At the end of the episode, he even helps to guide the Mizukagami Mushi to a better location that it can live in. Ginko understands the negative attributes of Mushi and generally tries to use his knowledge to help out humans and animals, but that same knowledge fuels his understanding and compassion for the creatures.

Lastly, I’ll say that the scenery art in this episode was terrific and blew me away. It was a wonderful answer to the dreary and often frightening setting of the last episode. If the woods in the 4th episode represented death and decay, these represent the mystical nature of the forest, as well as the feeling of isolation that permeates the episode. And yet, it’s not impossible to see how a vulnerable person could allow themselves to be lost to such a simple and beautiful place.

An image of the Shiseikan wind ensemble chucklin' it up.

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 5: B-

This week we get the beginning stages of the music competition that Seiso academy is competing in, seeing Kanade and her fellow musicians prepping in various ways for the performance against Shiseikan high school. More importantly though, we get a closer look at the five members of the wind ensemble of Shiseikan high, mainly Hozuki, who fits somewhat into the “jerk with a heart of gold” model.

First we see him take care of Kanade when she passes out during a practice in the woods. He seems reluctant to show his sensitive side, as these characters usually are–see Kyo from Fruits Basket as well as a dozen others–but is nevertheless there to bring Kanade back to full health. Soon we find out that the Shiseikan wind ensemble doesn’t have the best prospects at their high school once they return from the competition, largely due to the attitude and confrontational nature of Hozuki. When we learn that Hozuki’s particular infraction was a result of standing up for another member of the wind ensemble, the “jerk with a heart of gold” character type fits him even better. Hozuki does care, especially about his fellow musicians who he sees as kindred spirits.

One of the best parts of the episode comes as proof that the ensemble members care equally for Hozuki. The ensemble is faced with the possibility of continued support from the school but only if they kick Hozuki out of the group. The group leader, Yuki, decides that he’d rather see the ensemble be disbanded by the school than to continue on without Hozuki. The rest of the members agree, with Yuki saying something to the effect of how the musical performance is directly proportional to how the members of a group or ensemble treat one another. In this way, if they kick Hozuki out just to carry on, their output will be influenced by the negativity of the compromise. Having in been in bands before, it’s a hard ideal to strive for, and maybe one that’s more romantic than it is realistic. Look at The Beatles and how they replaced Pete Best with Ringo Starr. Musical history has hundreds of such examples, but it’s still a sweet philosophy and one that certainly suits the overall message of Blue♪Sky.

By the end of the episode, we get a very enjoyable performance by the Shiseikan wind ensemble that sets up our own heroes–those of the Seiso ensemble–with a high mark to overcome. After all, in all the sweetness and thoughtfulness of the characters this week, they’re still in competition with each other. This element lifts the show out of shoujo mundanity and into the realm of the watchable.

An image of Thor ready to destroy

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 5: B-

Another week goes by and another episode of Marvel Disk Wars finds me with a stupid grin on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the immaturity of enjoying such a show. For all the guff I like to give to the crowd that’s really enjoying If Her Flag Breaks this season, I’m really no better with my affinity for this show. I just happen to have a slightly different inner child within me; one that jumps for joy when Hawkeye busts out his first arrow–will it explode, cast a net, electrocute the target?–and aims at the villain of the week.

Once again, this show pulls off another episode that feels true to the overall tone of the lighter, more kid-friendly, Marvel comics while still infusing its own story lines. This series is also fleshing out the rules of its world, insinuating in this episode that each character only has control over one superhero instead of several. Akira is able to utilize the Iron Man D.I.S.K., while his brother Hikaru ends up with Thor, a heavy-hitter to be sure. The Pokemon similarities seem to continue, though, as Iron Man largely plays the role of a wise-cracking Pikachu to Akira’s Ash–the heroes have mini-holographic versions of themselves that can communicate with the kids while their physical forms are still trapped inside the D.I.S.Ks.

Spider-Man is also beginning to play a larger role as he seems to be the catalyst for the inevitable reunion of the five children. By the end of the episode, we see him visiting the punk kid from the origin arc, most likely there to hand off one of the D.I.S.Ks to the older boy and show him how to utilize it. Meanwhile, Hawkeye is entering the fray as a a type of secret agent, looking to root out the forces behind conspiracies within the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. And as we see by the end, Hawkeye has much uncovering to do.

While this episode was a fun watch, it’s hard to find much movement in it aside from action and adding numbers to the cast. A show like this doesn’t really foster character development and growth, so we’ve come to the point in the series where what you see is what you get. I guess Disk Wars has always been that, but the first few episodes were a little more interesting and engaging. What I’m getting at is that for a Marvel fan like me, just seeing some of these characters pop up in their different incarnations in this world is fun, but I’m more than aware that that really won’t do it for most. As awesome as Hawkeye is, a casual Marvel fan won’t be won over by this series’s depiction of the arrow wielding agent. I will though… for now.