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.

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