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.

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