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.

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