Monthly Archives: June 2014

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 4

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 young Demon, Smile and Peco

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 4: A

This week Ping Pong picks up exactly where it left off, with the conclusion of the prefecture preliminaries. With Smile knocked out of the tournament in the previous round–due to him subtley losing the game to Kong on purpose–our main horse in the race is Peco, who’s showdown with Sakuma, or Demon as Peco calls him, takes up the majority of the episode. Throughout the episode, we get some back story that fills us in on the relationship between Peco, Smile and Demon going back to their elementary school days. If Peco represents cocky, natural talent, Demon represents hard work and technical mastery as he spends much of his time as a youngster reading up on the sport and practices far more than Peco.

I loved how this dynamic naturally led to the question of experience over talent and at what point the former begins to overcome the latter. Though Peco seems as though he can play the game with one arm behind his back–and he might have in previous episodes–when faced with a true competitor who has put a large part of his life into the game, Peco’s shortcomings due to his laziness as a player become strongly apparent. So here we have this idea of natural talent being meaningless, in the long run, if you don’t foster it properly.

On the other hand, Koizumi has an interesting conversation with the lady who runs the table tennis hall about talent. They touch on her history–it seems that in her prime, she was a ping pong force to be reckoned with–and go on to discuss Smile’s future as a ping pong player and if he will ever rise to his potential. Koizumi ponders that those who know themselves don’t feel the need to win as they have nothing to prove to themselves. I like the idea and it certainly fits with Smile’s personality and his own sense of self, even if he is somewhat damaged. It concurrently shades the way we view Peco, Kong and Demon even though the conversation’s about Smile. Scenes like this are what put Ping Pong on a different level than the majority of sports anime I’ve watched over the years.

The competition finishes out with a match between Kong and Kazama–also known as Dragon–who’s played an important role in the tournament as well as in the future of Smile. Animation wise, this match gets about as experimental as the show has gotten so far, with metaphor’s littering the ping pong table by the end of the match. Though I was still most impressed by some of the animation in the last episode, the creativity in these scenes alone would make the episode worth watching if it weren’t already so good. Much like his match in the last episode, this one made Kong slightly more endearing, making me wonder if he won’t soon team up or ally with Smile and Peco in some way.

By the end of the episode, one of our players is sitting alone in the stadium as a voice over the loud speaker informs us that the tournament is over and that anyone still left in the stadium must exit immediately, unfortunately. A plane flies overhead and, after the speaker cuts off, the far away buzz of its engine is the only sound we hear besides a sniffle from the player. The message is clear–and largely tints the entire episode–; time is of the essence and those who are serious about competing need to stand up to the challenge. Anyone else needs to move to the side and be content with their role in the game. Of course, the image says it better than I ever could.

Image of a city explosion

Black Bullet, Episode 4: B

This week’s Black Bullet was annoyingly inconsistent in the quality department. On the plus side, we got some really killer fight scenes between Rentarou & Enju and Kagetane & Kohina (The Masked Man and his Initiator). On the down side, though, the pacing of the episode seemed off and there was a quick pushing of the plot which didn’t feel right for the meandering and philosophical mood which this show sometimes carries.

To gloss over the plot, the episode picks up directly after the last, with Rentarou and Enju heading into the nearby city after a Gastrea attack. There they find Kagetane and Kohina, who’ve seemingly been killing Promotor/Initiator pairs in the are that responded to the attack. A brawl breaks out between these four with some really exciting action scenes taking place. These scenes–littered with things like the Masked Man rapidly sliding backwards after a hard kick from Rentarou–reminded me of how well-executed anime fight scenes can almost be breath-taking. I’m sure that Black Bullet isn’t the best action series of the season, but it’s more than good enough for me.

In the midst of the fight, we come to a realization about Rentarou that didn’t entirely hold water for me. Without going into detail, this revelation puts Rentarou into an equal–if not higher–power bracket as Enju, which in some ways dilutes their relationship in my opinion. It was interesting to see an adult male rely on the physical powers of an elementary school girl. Sure shows like Gunslinger Girl have already touched on this dynamic, but I feel as though making Rentarou a more powerful character takes away from one of the core values of the show. That being said, as mentioned, the fight scenes are amazing, so maybe this plot twist will pay off even if it does change up the power dynamics of the show.

Eventually, Rentarou and Enju are charged by Kisara–and Seitenshi by extension–to take down a level five Gastrea that has been spotted in the area, assumingly released by the Masked Man. This thing is massive and reminds me of some of the odder looking enemy creatures from The King of Braves GaoGaiGar. While the animation in these scenes is still top notch, the storyline seems rushed, as I mentioned earlier, and I found myself wishing that they had pushed this level five Gastrea attack off until the next episode. I’m probably in the minority here, as who wouldn’t want a rip-roaring action show to be fast paced? Still, I feel like the more thoughtful aspects of the show–like ruminating on the Masked Man’s intentions–were sacrificed in the name of rounding out this arc. There is a touching scene between Rentarou and Enju that re-enforces their importance to one another, so I appreciated the time taken for that.

All in all, I was more annoyed with this episode because of the few things it got largely wrong compared to all that it did right. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but luckily Black Bullet finally seems to be heading in a good direction, so long as it can get out of its own way.

Image of Ruri blowing Souta's mind

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 4: C

This week’s episode of If Her Flag Breaks proved to be considerably better than the last–now that it seems that the cast is finalized–but the harem shenanigans is still too annoying to really rise much in my regard. The plot focuses mostly on the school athletic competition between the dorms that the series has been leading up to since last episode. Though everyone is gooey-eyed over Souta, Rin proves to be the leader of the group at the beginning of the athletic games, giving pep talks and setting up the schedule for the group. We get various glimpses of the different competitive sports and how the denizens of Quest Hall are doing in them. There are some chuckles here in the ridiculousness of–and the lack of athleticism involved in–the games that the school is competing in. All the girls–and Megu–put their best foot forward and seem to give it their all. Souta, however, struggles in the matches he competes in due to his drifting focus on the death flag that hangs over his own head.

Ruri confronts Souta about his feelings and the funk he’s in and Souta confesses that he’s worried about the effect his death will have on everyone in Quest Hall. This is probably the most annoying part of the episode as Souta’s egocentrism, played as thoughtful consideration of his friends, plays into the worst facets of harem tropes, outside of the usual ‘girls throwing themselves at him’ cliche. Of course the entire world of If Her Flags Breaks would crumble if the lame and characterless Souta died. Each member of the harem has more character–albeit stereotypical character–in their pinky than Souta has in his entirety. Well maybe not Ruri.

And going back to Ruri, we see her show Souta a hologram of some sort of otherworldly place after he realizes that some of his friends match up to roles mentioned in a cryptic letter he got a few episodes back. Nanami represents the Princess Knight, Akane the Mage, Ruri the Ninja and an unknown gir–one that Souta spots in the hologram–the cleric. The show gets markedly more interesting with this addition–the lore that I’ve been hankering for in each of these reviews–but we get a scant two minutes of it before we’re back in the show’s ordinary reality. I can’t help but feel jerked around by the more interesting tidbits of this show while annoying and nonsensical character behaviors take up the other twenty minutes of each episode. Potentially I’d be loving the show, if I were a big fan of harem anime.

When our “heroes” get back to the athletic tournament for the final day of competition, Souta lifts their confidence and competitive nature by raising flags for each of them–besides Nanami, since she isn’t effected–through mini-pep talks and general kindness. He laments using his friends but understands it’s a necessity in order for them to have the right outcome. By the end of the episode, everyone’s given the tournament their best and they’ve become closer for it. These scenes of legitimate human emotion–or at least as close as this show can get to it–also help to raise the episode above the rest of the series. In some ways though, it feels too little too late for a series usually so focused on its harem blandness.

Image of Tatsu vs. the crows

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 4: A+

It seems a common question asked by anime fans is, “What are some good horror anime?”. The issue is that series in this genre are few and far between, out side of a Boogiepop Phantom or Paranoia Agent. This episode of Mushishu: Zoku-Shou however, comes pretty close to being horrific and is certainly disturbing.

The storyline here is pretty simplistic; Ginko–walking through the forest–becomes literally petrified when a dark figure looms nearby, a sweet stench accompanying it. Once the figure realized that Ginko is human, it disappears and he is able to move again. The next day, Ginko–curious to figure out the occurrences of the previous night–wanders into a small nearby village where vendors are selling good and food. Ginko comes upon a sickly young boy–Usuke–selling what seems to be rotten meat. Ginko asks if the boy has anything fresher and the boy takes him back to his house where Gingo meets Tatsu, the boy’s older brother.

Thought the episode has been eerie up to this point, Tatsu is what pushes things into the realm of horror. Tatsu, surrounded by rotting animal carcases, greets Ginko and offers to go fetch some fresh meat when Ginko is unhappy with the rotting meat that Tatsu has on hand. Ginko follows Tatsu on his unt and watches as Tatsu lures a deer to his hand and then kills it simply by holding his hand over the deer’s head. Ginko realizes that it was Tatsu who almost attacked him in the woods the night before. Soon we–and Ginko–come to understand that Tatsu has a hole in his hand that basically passes a toxin on to any creature he touches, thus killing it. After Tatsu says that their father had the same ability, Ginko enlightens the two brothers that Tatsu’s ability is actually a type of disease that has been passed down through their bloodline. He also warns them that Usuke–having not gotten the powers–will likely die from the disease. Ginko believes that he can cure the brothers–through the use of kouki, a life-blood sort of substance–but can he save Usuke’s life and Tatsu’s soul in time?

While the episode’s premise is disturbing enough, the mood set by the colors found in the animation, the sound design and the imagery used to convey Tatsu’s dark powers, really push the episode over the edge. I certainly haven’t seen anything this unsettling since those first few episodes of Boogiepop. It isn’t even Tatsu’s powers that are so horrifying, but his willingness and growing eagerness to use those powers. His attitude toward his powers–and the animals that fall victim to them–fly in the face of the natural world that Mushishi revels in. Much like his father before him, Tatsu begins to depreciate life, carelessly killing forest animals when he and his brother don’t even need the meat. I can’t help but see Tatsu’s tale as an allegory for the western meat industry, where the hunt has largely been reduced by Tatsu’s control over the animals he kills. His waste, too, is indicative of the west, as he leaves carcases behind him with more thought put into want than need.

Meat industry politics aside, this is an extremely well-made episode and speaks to Mushishi‘s ability to play in almost any kind of sandbox. So far the show has dealt in magical realism, ideals of forgiveness and loss and now, eerie detachment from the weight of death. The show feels like it can do it all, and–more importantly–each episode sticks with me for days after I watch it, as the images and potential meanings of each parable rolls around in my head. Any piece of media that can do that and be entertaining deserves to be seen.

Image of Housei and Chiaki violinin' out

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 4: B-

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky this week was nothing special but was serviceable, and got the show from point A to point B. That point A is Kanade coming upon a young man named Arata, whom she walks home with after finding the he needs help carrying a bunch of sodas that he recently won. To her surprise, he takes her to Seiso academy and we find out that Arata and his cohorts–fellow musicians from Shiseikan High School–are bunking up there in preparation for the upcoming ensemble music contest that they’ll be competing in, alongside Seiso. We get introduced to more male musicians–the cast is really filling out here–, most importantly Hodzumi, a second year trumpet player at Shiseikan who is an intimidating presence but also seemingly kind. Some focus is put on the talent of the five-piece Shiseikan horn ensemble, with Kanade wowed at the unity between the musicians, Arata and Hodzumi among them. It’s cool to see the show expanding the different kinds of musicians it showcases so that the series isn’t one big stringed instrument commercial. An equal reverence is given to the horn players of Shiseikan, even though their sound is considerably different than the music of the Seiso or Amane academies.

Rounding out the new characters we’re introduced to–or reintroduced to, in the case of Chiaki–are Housei and Chiaki, a duo from Jinnan High School who wow crowds of young girls with their masterful violin duets. These two are also prepping for the music competition and they take the chance to measure the enemy when they slyly push Kanade into playing live for the duo’s crowd. After her performance, Kanade is told by Chiaki that he’s disappointed in her playing after all that he has heard about Seiso academy and its reputation. Kanade is obviously wounded, as she has been before by other musicians in the series, but I love that it doesn’t cause her to give up. This is one of the better aspects of the show, actually. Kanade and other players have to deal with harsh creative criticism from their betters when it comes to their skill level. Some can’t handle it but those who can–like Kanade–stand to learn a great deal from the criticism that is leveled at them. Criticism forces one to confront the worst parts of themselves or their creative process, not to abandon that creativity, but to find ways to nourish it, or change it or to make it better. While it could be said that many of these pretty boys are simply mean spirited towards Kanade, more than anything they are simply interested in helping a fellow musician become better, and thereby, a stronger challenger.

All this being said, not much happens in this episode. We eventually get to the first few rounds of the musical competition in the last few minutes of the episode–and are left on an intriguing cliff hanger–but ultimately, much like the previous episode of If Her Flag Breaks, Blue♪Sky is still in character introduction mode, and by this point we’ve met plenty of characters. It’s nice that we have some time to get attached to the ensemble from Shiseikan high, as I think it will payoff in the future, but the high number of characters mean that almost everyone besides Kanade and a handful of others, seem pretty blank. I guess this is a necessity as the show is moving into a music competition where dramatic stakes exist through inner character relationships, but I’m still not the biggest fan of the character overload. Oh, and while I’m complaining… I really wish the show had a larger budget so that it could spend more on animating the characters when they play their instruments. Though each character’s playing seems tonally and aurally unique, they all look exactly the same when the play a stringed instrument. Maybe this is asking too much, but the simple quality of the animation during these scenes belies the grandeur of the music itself.

On the plus side, amidst all the new characters that take up empty space, we get a unique back story for Daichi, Seiso academy’s vice-president of the orchestra club. Daichi brings an added layer to the current Seiso orchestral ensemble and continues to flesh that group out as underdogs compared to some of the other ensembles in competition. Mainly, Daichi’s story speaks to an acceptance and friendliness at the Seiso academy that seems to be lacking at both Jinnan High School and Amane academy. Seiso’s own orchestral ensemble has a ways to go in the competition, but hopefully the positive energy that they carry–alluded to through Daichi and Reiji’s first meeting–can power them past their competition in the upcoming episodes–which will hopefully prove to be more engaging than this one was.

Image of Iron Man and Spider-Man chattin' it up

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 4: B-

The fourth episode of Marvel Disk Wars starts a new story arc and continues a surprisingly consistent quality with the “origin” story told in the first three episodes. The episode is halfway a break from the Loki attack and subsequent D.I.S.K. debacle and halfway a lead-in to new villains and heroes. The episode starts with some exposition from Nick Fury and the holographic Iron Man explaining to Akira and his brother Hikaru that their abilities to utilize the D.I.S.Ks–and thus release Iron Man and the other heroes for battle–work for only a limited time. In other words, they can only access the heroes inside the D.I.S.Ks for roughly 5 and a half minutes. This is a clever tactic–if not tacked on plot point–by the writers in order to increase the stakes in any upcoming battles. With the time limit, the Marvel heroes will only be able to help out the boys–and the other kids who gained abilities–in fights for so long before the kids must fend for themselves.

The story goes on to lightly introduce Hawkeye and create a scenario where Nick Fury is believed to have been in cahoots with Loki and needs his name cleared. We also get a–some would argue B-list–Spider-Man villain causing trouble in downtown New York and a few recognizable Avengers villains who put the next storyline into motion. Spider-Man also begins to play a larger role in the overall storyline as he happens upon some very important devices. I won’t go into the storyline anymore since this show is relatively shallow and its entertaining storyline and action scenes are the best thing it has going for it.

I was really expecting a dive in quality after the first arc ended, but this episode was just as fun a watch as the last three. We’ll see if the show can stay out of filler territory–this one of the reasons I hope the series has a relatively short number of episodes–but for now, I still recommend it to any fan of Marvel or well-done shounen series’. The Fury storyline was certainly in keeping with the usual Marvel storytelling I’m used to, so it’s obvious–at least at this point–that someone who cares about the Marvel brand is helping in the production of the show and ensuring similar kinds of stories as we’ve seen in the comics these last 50 years.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 3

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 Smile considering his options

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 3: A+

This week’s Ping Pong starts off quietly, with Smile visiting Koizumi’s home and speaking with his wife to make sure the old man is alright after the crushing blow Smile leveled at him at the end of last episode. I’ll get to this theme more, but this scene adds nicely to Smile’s overall character developments (or maybe lack thereof) in this episode. Though he aggressively took Koizumi down just days before, he’s now interested in the man’s well being, hoping that he has recovered from the physical exhaustion of their match. Soon the show sees Smile and Peco on their way to the local ping pong prefecture preliminaries. The episode follows the various rounds of the competition and the way in which Smile and Peco progress through it. We also get some tense moments with the members of Kaio Academy, Kazama, the team captain who quickly notices the potential in Smile but is sickened by his lack of competitive spirit and Sakuma, who has a strong rivalry with Peco that’s patiently waiting to play itself out. There are interesting power dynamics at work here, like Sakuma’s annoyance with the lowly way in which Kazama views his table tennis skills. This makes his desire to beat Peco that much stronger. And then, of course, is the inevitable match between Smile and Kong, which really makes the episode. Smile, as a lowly first year, makes waves in the competition when he gives Kong a run for his money. The episode ends on a really terrific note that fits so well with how we’ve seen Smile and Kong portrayed up until now. Smile has to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve seen in a while. Ping Pong makes a point of raising questions on the validity of athletic expectations in opposition to basic human kindness and understanding. What’s beautiful, is that these ideas hit so quietly and effortlessly–much like Smile’s table tennis game–that they never seem hackneyed. Digging such themes out of the story feels natural for someone who’s looking for them, but it’s just as easy to sit back and enjoy the style and flow of the show.

Speaking of which, this week’s animation was phenomenal. By now, I’m completely over what I thought of as ugly character designs and I love the way the show captures the fluidity of table tennis, making the game much more exciting than I’ve ever experienced. There’s a series of shots in particular that introduce us to the prefecture preliminaries and cuts between our main players on a ping pong ball being smashed at the camera by each of them. Explaining it in words takes away the artistic panache that resides therein, but it had me grinning in awe in spite of myself. Because of the high amount of action in this episode–due to all the table tennis matches–the animation is really able to take the front seat and prove itself, in spite of what some–including myself, at one point–initially thought about it. Now more than ever, I see why the show is animated the way it is, its loose and fluid lines coupling well with the spirit of the game it embodies.

To round it out, we finally got a real opening sequence this week, instead of the sped-up, stylized recreation of 2 minutes of the particular episode in its place, like we saw the last 2 weeks. I really like this OP as I feel like it speaks to the show and a lot of the fluidity I’ve been talking about. I especially like the segment wherein 2 pencil-shaded forms resembling people knock a small ball between them on a levitating table. In seconds, they, the table and their surrounding environment is fleshed out, reminding us of the simple focus of the show with everything else as mere backdrop.

Ping Pong the Animation is certainly up there with Mushishi for me this season (so far) and I’m really hoping that they keep it up. It’s refreshing to watch a show where you have no expectations of the story and just want to let it take you where it takes you. Ping Pong delivers that in spades.

Image of Rintaro getting put down

Black Bullet, Episode 3: B-

The third episode of Black Bullet starts with Enju coming out of hiding–so I guess that cliffhanger from last week was pretty pointless–by trying to attend class again at her old school (the one that got wise to the fact that Enju is one of the Cursed Children). Her plan goes awry when her fellows students treat her like a diseased rat and refuse to even let her back into the school. Enju has a strong sense of her rights as a human and doesn’t want to back down like Rentaro suggests. However, she eventually capitulates to his wishes and then Rentaro, Enju and the gang are up in the air and back on the Gastrea chase. When they spot a large, spider-like creature that Rentaro identifies as a Gastrea, Enju jumps out of the plane without warning and takes on the creature, quickly killing it and accidentally revealing the briefcase that we’ve been hearing about since episode 2. Soon, Rentaro and Enju find that they have company and are violently attacked by The Masked Man and his Initiator daughter. Without spoiling the battle, I’ll say that by the end of the episode we are re-introduced to Kayo Senju–who we saw for a few seconds in the Ministry of Defense meeting in the last episode–, an Initiator who has grown cold after committing numerous murders (her Promoter is a cold and ruthless man, one who sees her as a simple tool and often uses her to brutally kill opponents).

For me, this episode lacks some of the appeal of the last one, with many of the dramatic sequences feeling somewhat hollow. When Enju laments the way her fellow students treat her, now that they know she is a Cursed Child, her interaction with Rentaro sees a little forced and paced oddly. I wasn’t drawn into the moment at all. I’ve got my beefs with this show, but the first 2 episodes did a good job of showcasing the more interesting sides of the characters we see and really stuck the more emotional scenes.

In contrast to this, the meeting with Kayo Senju IS well executed as it helps to flesh out not only Kayo, but Rentaro and Enju as well. When Kayo mentions in passing that murder is becoming easier for her as she grows colder, Rentaro freaks out and explains how awful that sentiment is. Kayo gets emotional back, confessing that Rentaro isn’t remiss in stating such things and that she is envious of the kill-free life that Enju has been able to lead so far. While Enju was so clearly set apart from her peers simply by a label, here is a girl who never could fit into the school setting that Enju loves because she has largely lost her childhood. Kayo is a frightening omen of what Enju could become if ever taken away from Rentaro’s protection. I like the ideology of not quickly grouping Enju in with all the other Cursed Children, when she has never shown the detachment that many of them seem to have. These moral quandaries were bound to come up in a show about little girls basically used as weapons and I’m glad that they didn’t handle it too clumsily.

Getting to the battle that I previously mentioned, the Masked Man (or Kagetane) lays down a serious, life-altering beating to Rentaro and continues to be a truly badass–albeit incredibly evil–character. We also get a bigger understanding of the Masked Man’s super-natural capabilities and the way in which he handles Rentaro and uses his Initiator, Kohina, in battle.

Obviously by my grade, this is an enjoyable episode but it just didn’t hit the same emotional and animation highs that episode 2 had at times. So far it’s kind of a downer, but it’s still a watchable series that deserves some attention if you have the time.

An image of the gang staring down an arrow girl

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 3: D+

This show is still in “adding girls to the harem” mode and it’s certainly suffering for it. This week we get an android girl named Ruri and an archer girl named Rin added to the group, both showing up to help Quest Dorm–that’s Souta and the gang’s dorm–in the school’s athletic tournament. Ruri proves the worst part of the episode as her character literally falls out of the sky in a metal box and lands on the dorm’s front lawn. She asks ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ questions, with the letters ‘Y’ and ‘N’ appearing on her breasts… for some reason? Worst of all, the android tropes of being cold and without meaningful traits are played out so thoroughly with Ruri to make her a blank nothingness of a character, more simplistic than any of the other cliched figures that fill the show. Maybe she can play into the mythology of the show, if we ever get back to that, but somehow I doubt it. Ruri’s type was done much better in the 3-minute series from a few seasons ago, Miss Monochrome.

Rin, on the other hand, is at least a little interesting with her interactions with Souta, though even that plays out to land her right in the harem camp. Her character seems much more thought it and isn’t exactly a trope that I’m at least used to seeing. At first, she heavily dislikes Souta because she doesn’t see him as a physical equal to her and her own abilities. Rather, Rin sees Souta as kind of a wuss because he complains about things now and then. I realize there are so many female characters in anime that verbally abuse the male protagonist in the Asuka Langley style, but I can’t remember any of them being tomboys, so Rin feels slightly unique in that way. Maybe she’s closest to Akane from Ranma 1/2.

Besides being introduced to the two newest ladies, nothing much happened in this episode. The gang started training, mainly through the help of Rin, for the upcoming school wide athletic tournament where each dorm will be facing off with each other. It sounds to me like more stalling before we get back to the mythos I’ve mentioned so often in these reviews, and that can’t bode well for the quality of said mythos. Let’s just hope that we won’t be seeing even more girls taking a random liking to Souta next week. I’d say 5 girls and 1 guy are plenty for 1 guy to handle.

Image of Toki rowing away

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 3: A+

Luckily, after having to sit through If Her Flag Breaks, I get to kick back and enjoy another fantastic episode of Mushishi: Zoku-Sho. This week offers up another enlightening parable–this time about overcoming loss in order to preserve yourself–as well as the moodiness that has shaded these 3 episodes so far. This episode, much like the last two, is quiet and contemplative, taking its time getting to the ultimate moral of the story. Here we, and Ginko, meet a depressed young man named Toki who’s had a snow Mushi (“Tokoyukimushi” or “Never-ending Snow” mushi) attach itself to him and suck away his warmth. This causes Toki to become incredibly cold and brings him pain when he comes in contact with warmth. On top of this, the Mushi’s effects create a snow cloud that follows Toki wherever he goes, eventually practically burying Toki’s home under snow. I love the creativity here by the writers of the show and their ability to craft any sort of Mushi they need to fit the story they’re trying to tell. Also, the reveal of this conceit is done in such a subtle way to immediately endear us to Toki’s plight instead of leaving us laughing from the outlandishness of the situation. In other words, this bizarre lore makes so much sense in the universe of Mushishi.

I won’t spoil the particular situation, but it is hinted at that Toki’s Mushi infection occurred soon after a time when he underwent a huge loss in his life. Ergo, Toki’s eternal winter can be viewed as a metaphor for his willingness to reside in a cold and dark place, emotionally, after his moment of loss. This then leaves the episode to ponder our handling of death and the effect it has on our own quality of life. Toki won’t let anyone close to him–his issue with warmth causes him to push people away–so instead, he stays cold and becomes more and more shut off from the rest of the world. Ultimately, only the realization of the importance of life will be able to save Toki from his own mourning.

It’s these greater themes that Mushishi deals heavily in that make it easily among the top series of the season. Each episode truly is a parable, as the new characters we meet are “everyman” in as much as they represent those people who are going through similar situations and those who have been through them before. Most importantly, each episode is realistically positive, showing that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel for even the worst situations, though there may be a level of self-sacrifice and realization involved.

The animation knocks it out of the park again in this episode, with the snowy climes being equally beautiful and isolating, much like the story at the heart of the episode. So far, over the three episodes, we’ve had dramatically different settings and they’ve all provided a fantastic backdrop for the storyline, so kudos to Mushishi for that. Lastly, I’m finally coming around to the OP song–“Shiver” by Lucy Rose–though it felt a little to Grey’s Anatomy for my taste. Now it seems to set a really good mood for the rest of the show, in its quiet, somber melody with some wistful hopefulness thrown in for good measure.

Three episodes in, I have to say that if there’s one anime you need to be watching this season, it’s Mushishi: Zoku-Sho. While Ping Pong is fantastic in its own right and Black Bullet and are cool genre series, Mushishi has a universality to it that I think many people could relate to, were they just to take the show at its own pace. And admittedly that’s a slow pace, but it’s well worth it.

Image of Amamiya playing the piano

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 3: B+

At the end of this episode, I found myself surprised, not only that I didn’t despise it but that I actually liked it the best of the season so far. I say that because this is the first time that the shoujo romance rears its ugly head in the form of Amamiya, a pretty, blonde and blue-eyed boy from a rival music school, and his affection for Kanade. They meet when Kanade and the gang visit Amane Gakuen, the school in question, with their new acquaintance, Nanami, who was recently kicked out of the school. All the protagonists, males included, are quite taken by how pretty Amamiya is, and Kanade is no exception. In opposition to it’s harem counterpart though, Kanade controls herself, seeming more in awe of Amamiya and his beauty, rather than madly obsessed with him–see If Her Flag Breaks for examples of the latter… or don’t… that’d probably be better. The point is, though Amamiya starts coming on to Kanade a little strong a little fast, it’s far more enjoyable and watchable than one would think. In fact, by the end of the episode we understand Amamiya’s reasoning for being so lovesick throughout the episode and this reasoning fits into the more important music themes of the show.

Speaking of the musical aspects of the series, here we get deeper introductions to two key members of the Amane music club, Myoga, the president of the group, and Alexei, the chairman of the high school. Alexei remains mysterious through this episode, though we see his hand effecting the fates of Nanami and Amamiya at different points in their lives. Myoga however, became an even stronger point of contention after treating Kyouya as if he were a filthy underling (not worthy of touching Myoga’s instrument), and after singling out Kanade as someone who he is “going to crush” in the competition. Creating this tense relationship between Kanade and Myoga while also fostering a romantic one between Kanade and Amamiya, sets the show up for some interesting dynamics between the denizens of Seiso Academy and those of Amane. What’s more, we get a quick rundown of the rest of the school’s that will be attending the competition, giving us a scope of the future showdowns awaiting our protagonists.

I’m still really digging the way the show explores the utilization of music and the inspiration behind it, showcasing love and enjoyment as strong catalysts for good music. This episode holds up the ideals of love and their ability to bring about beautiful music between two people who are in love and collaborating artistically. Beyond this, there’s an even quieter message about trying to build such an idea for the purpose of good music and it being a failure, rather than letting the love (and thus the music) happen organically. The same can be said of Blue♪Sky‘s views on creative enjoyment. One can’t set out to enjoy being creative but must let it come upon them naturally. This is how truly terrific art and music is born.

I’m not particularly interested in seeing Kanade hook up with any of these guys–just bring on the orchestral showdowns–but at least I know that when we get to more of those scenes, they will hopefully be well thought out and will serve a larger purpose that suits the tone of the show.

Image of Akira with an Iron Man DISK

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 3: B-

There’s not much to say about this week’s episode besides the fact that it relatively wraps up the first arc of the series. These three episodes together make a nice start for the show and do a good job of hooking the audience in, albeit a particular kind of audience. I try to avoid as many spoilers as I can, but I’ll say that the plot plays out in the way that you would assume it would, gauging from the first two episodes. The Pokemon meets The Avengers model certainly intrigues me and leaves room for interesting power dynamics, seeing as how these young kids are, in many ways, in control of super heroes. I’ve said it before, but I really don’t think this is something you’d see in America–that is unless they happen to import it over in the next few months/years–so the premise alone keeps me coming back, even though it’s just a mash-up of other ideas, and the show has yet to do anything to ruin that.

A real kick for me this episode was the continued use of Spider-Man and his uncanny ability to get himself (and others) out of tough scrapes. It makes me wonder if he will play a larger role in the show over the other heroes we’ve been introduced to so far, though Iron Man has played a large role. Potentially Spider-Man could play Pickachu to Akira’s Ash.

I’d say my only real complaint is some of the characterization of the different super heroes. They’re not getting anything wrong per-say, but Captain America and Thor (amongst others) are treated relatively blandly while Iron Man and the Wasp seem much more fleshed out. I realize that Captain America is a patriot, and they certainly get that side of him, but he comes off as a simple two dimensional boy scout instead of a thought out character who has his own personal reasons for being that boy scout. Of course, I guess I myself have called this show a mash-up between Pokemon and The Avengers so what can I really expect as far as character development goes?