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.

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