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.

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