Monthly Archives: July 2014

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 3, Group C

Inspired by this year’s World Cup, I’ve broken 24 different series into six groups of four, each group roughly representing a different genre. Each series will go head to head with the other three series in its group over the next three weeks, a letter grade for each episode used as the deciding factor. At the end of the three weeks, the two episodes from each group that have fared the best, will move on to the next round. Now in the third week, we’ll figure out which two shows from each group will be making it to the weekly review column.

Check out the preview page for an overview of all the groups.

Group C: Slice of Life/Romance

1st Match:

Images of Handa glancing skyward and Ikumi in a stupid outfit

Barakamon: A-

In its first two episodes, Barakamon proved to be a thoughtful show–each episode intent on passing along a message–while never feeling dull or preachy. The third episode follows suit, even better at times than the previous episod.

Slightly different in structure from the previous episodes, the first half of this one is largely devoted to Tamako–one of the girls that was holed up in Handa’s place before he moved in. She begins to bond with Handa when she confesses her desire to be a mangaka. Handa agrees to help Tomako improve, but before he knows it, she’s loaded him down with a grocery bag full of manga that she wants him to read so that he may better grasp the medium. Handa takes it in decent stride–though he finds Tomako to be a little intense–but once he leaves, Tomako wonders if she may have accidentally placed a boys love manga in the bag she gave Handa. The rest of the half plays this up, with Tomako fretting about being shunned by the community once she is outed as a fujoshi. Foolishness ensues. The second half is what really makes the episode, as Handa gets word that a recent calligraphy work he submitted to a competition didn’t win the grand prize. This leaves him thinking over his place in life and generally moping about with a dark aura all around him. Eventually Naru and the rest of Handa’s hanger-ons, convince him to join them for a local tradition, where a family with a new boat celebrates by tossing hand-made mochi out to the rest of the villagers. Handa is willing to participate–after his friends goad him into it–but does he have the desire and resolve to fight for the a piece of the mochi pie?

This last segment of the episode was not only refreshing, but needed, since most of the first half is relatively goofy. It’s funny at times, but we’ve seen the “woah, what an otaku” joke many times before, so it never feels fresh or interesting. When it gets into the boys love stuff, it just gets annoying with Tomako running around yelling and unable to cope with the fact that she is into boys that like boys–there is a funny scene where she is disgusted by a BL manga, yells about how gross it is and then can’t help but take a peek. It successfully captures the feeling of shame many of us have with the things we enjoy, but it feels a little lazy for an intelligent show like Barakamon. Luckily, the second half gets back to the level of quality we’ve become used to over the last few episodes, with a rumination on Handa’s ability to pick himself back up again after a defeat. He attends the mochi toss soon after finding out that he’s been beaten in a competition by a kid several years his junior. It’d be a hard blow to anyone, but after a conversation with one of the older women in the community, Handa picks up some great tips on how to get mochi during the toss, which can obviously be applied to his creative goals as well. Specifically, she tells him to keep his head low instead of high, because it allows him to find the mochi that everyone else has ignored or missed. Lastly, she points out that if someone else beats him to some mochi, he needs to move on to the next and not dwell on his loss. It’s a thoughtful message that teaches you to focus on your own abilities, successes and place in life, rather than constantly comparing yourself to others. It’s those comparisons that allow us to fall through the cracks and think that we’re not worthy or capable of doing great things. If, on the the other hand, we focus solely on our own goals–our heads low, quick to see the next opportunity instead of yearning for a big break–we have the capability to win out in the long run, just as the old woman does, a full bag of mochi in her hand.

Episodes like this are the reason to watch a show like Barakamon or Silver Spoon before it; there’s competent character work, the dialogue is funny a decent amount of the time and–most importantly–they actually have something of note to say. Put that against most other anime of any season–whether it’s moe’d magical girls or bad game adaptations–and it’ll win out, because the show and its message will stick with you. Of course certain scenes from bad shows will also stick with you, but never for the right reason.

Jinsei: D+

Another week gone, another bad episode of Jinsei to deal with. Luckily this week’s show is much less uncomfortable/rapey than last week’s. Hey, that’s a sign that things are looking up, right?

The episode starts with Yuuki and the gang getting a letter from a first year student asking about self-confidence. Soon, they’re at the park and they have Rino hop on a bike in order to prove that self-confidence is helped along by encouragement–she doesn’t know how to ride a bike and Yuuki, Fumi and Ikumi cheer her on. Eventually the Jinsei gang runs into a group of doppelgänger journalists from another school who also write advice columns. “Hilarity” ensues. Next, they all go to visit Fumi’s grandfather to get his permission that Fumi can join them on a camping trip. Yet again, “Hilarity” ensues. Lastly, Fumi, Ikumi and Rino try to sell products at the local supermarket in order to gauge which one of them is the best seller. For one last time, “hilarity” ensues.

There was nothing particularly annoying about this episode, only that it was generally bad and was a metaphorical desert, as far as comedic moments were concerned. Whatever jokes are here, don’t land the way the writers want them too and the characters rarely feel appropriate as the deliverers of such jokes. When the group preps to visit Fumi’s grandfather, she goes on a long tirade about the power he can wield when he becomes mad–say in the instance of meeting a boy that’s an integral part of Fumi’s school life. It is a reference to shounen action series–where characters have levels of strength and always seem capable of some serious mass chaos–that falls on its face, not only because it’s not funny but because of the delivery thereof. The fast pace of these episodes and the lack of focus on any one topic, tends to hurt Jinsei more than help it, as nothing is given the time it deserves to be developed, from the girls, to the situations and–especially–even the jokes.

Jinsei is one of the easier shows of the season to part with. It’s meaningless in the worst way, in that it lacks the usual entertainment value that fluff media tends to have. Good riddance.

Winner… Barakamon
Image of Handa noticing an uncontested bag of mochi

Through and through Barakamon rocked Jinsei‘s bland world this week. It packed a punch in the ideology department while staying true to its characters, a value that would make the world of anime much better if all shows could be described in such a way. It’s nice to be rid of Jinsei though. Things suddenly feel much more fresh and new. Funny, even.

2nd Match:

Images of Kou looking into the distance thoughtfully and Sakura looking slightly annoyed

Ao Haru Ride: B+

Ao Haru Ride is the kind of show that you want to see succeed. Sure, it can be melodramatic at times, and the relationship between Yoshioka and Kou feels a little cliche at times, but the series ultimately arrives with a lot of heart and characters that the audience can easily internalize because of their relatability. This third episode doesn’t disappoint, going so far as to build and strengthen the group dynamic that’s been ready in the wings.

The episode starts off directly after the last one. Yoshioka–having just accepted the loss of two big friendships–happens to run into Kou, after thinking about how much she wants to see and talk with him. They don’t have long before Kou’s brother–Yoichi Tanaka–pops up, introducing himself to Yoshioka. We get a hint from Yoichi that Kou may be more interested in Yoshioka than she realizes, but she doesn’t catch on herself. Later, Kou and Yoshioka walk home together and he seems to need her as a soul to rest his head on. The show luxuriates in this renewed–yet still somewhat emotionally distant, on Kou’s end–closeness between the two for most of the episode. Things end with several characters taking on a level of responsibility, as we see a clear ensemble forming.

One of the more refreshing qualities of Ao Haru Ride, is its ability to be a sweet, heartfelt show without ever feeling cloying. Many of these kinds of series leave you feeling as if you’re choking on the cheese; the unrealistic friendships, characters being TOO nice to one another, etc–see Shounen Hollywood. This series, on the other hand, seems to carry a tension with it–mainly because of Kou’s emotional background, which we’re not entirely sure about yet–that keeps the dramatics in play in spite of the charming characters. It’s almost as if we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, since things are seemingly going so well for Yoshioka. The main hope, would be that once that shoe does drop, it doesn’t come with overwrought character melodrama. Ao Haru Ride seems to straddle this line, sometimes tipping over into the melodrama but usually staying impressively balanced. This episode, for instance, seemed to handle the drama pretty well, whilst last episode’s scenes involving Kou seemed a little over the top–the scene where he held Yoshioka to him so that no one could see her cry, looked nice but was trying too hard. Here, we get shots of Kou looking off into the distance and ruminating over his life, but it simply doesn’t feel overstated, for whatever reason. Maybe the shots aren’t held as long or the hazy, dream-like filter isn’t used, but either way, the emotions come off nice and realistic.

Ao Haru Ride has quietly slipped itself into one of my favorite shows this season. It’s never the best from episode to episode, but I have a feeling that as a whole, it’ll end up being a very worthwhile show. From an anthropological perspective, it’s good to see that emo kids are still alive and strong in Japan. This one’s for you and your Sunny Day Real Estate album collection, Kou.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun: C+

There’s something sensible about giving an anime series three episodes before deciding whether it’s one to keep up with or not–three seems to be the cut off point suggested by most anime fans. Usually it’s a good idea, in case a show gets off to a rocky start but eventually pulls itself together to become worth the time investment. Other series–like Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun, for instance–start off with a good premise and charming characters, only to feel tired and border-line annoying by that third episode.

This week, we’re left with the same structure that served the show last episode; two new characters that have some type of involvement with Nozaki’s manga are introduced, each character structuring each half of the episode. First we get Kashima, a girl that’s labeled the “Prince of the School” due to her way with the ladies–she calls them all Princess and is shown to be a smooth romancer. We come to learn that Kashima is the basis for the male protagonist in Nozaki’s manga and that her and Mikoto are close friends, after being rivals for a short time. The second half of the episode focuses on Hori, a member of the theatre club who is constantly corralling Kashima into doing her part in the club–her aloof nature leading her to not be as involved or punctual as Hori would like. After some worries of Nozaki working closely with a female artist, Sakura finds out that Hori is the background animator for Nozaki’s manga, adding to the ensemble manga team.

It certainly wasn’t a bad episode–after all, nothing was particularly egregious–but this week’s Nozaki-Kun is a staunch reminder of the kind of show we’ll be getting for the rest of the season. It’s unappologetically light–which can be relieving in the right circumstance–but that lack of depth doesn’t work in Nozaki-Kun‘s favor. By now it’s seemingly unreasonable to hope for the show to get more into the production/creative side of a working mangaka and his crew. Sure, that’s present, but the show seems much more interested in doing short comedic character studies on characters who–arguably–don’t deserve to be studied. Kashima is a spin on an old trope, but its a character that we’ve come to see more and more in the last handful of years, as more shows focus on girl/girl relationships–though the scene in which she forgets a girls name and plays it off by calling her “Princess”, was classic in some ways. Hori is underwhelming as well, existing mostly to fill out the numbers of the manga crew and to knock Kashima around for not following his orders. Tidbits–like the fact that he feels too short to play a leading role in the theatre productions–only serve as corny jokes, rather than sketching out Hori’s character through storytelling. What’s worse, Seo–the tough girl that the second half of last episode introduced–only shows up here for a throw away line or two that prove her general crassness, which the last episode did just fine. Of course Mikoto does play a large part in the show now, but it still makes you wonder if Kashima and Hori won’t be relegated to a similar fate as Seo, next time around.

In a weaker season, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun would certainly be a show to keep up with, but as it stands, the lack of consequence, ideology or even comedy to a large degree, keep the show in the realm of the mediocre. That’s a bummer too, because the premise inherently has some promise to it, if you’re at all interested in the working of the creative process. Sadly, the first three episodes just don’t delve into those possibilities enough to warrant a follow through.

Winner… Ao Haru Ride
Image of the gang of five making up the classroom representatives

It would have been nice to see Gekkan Shoujo do more with its premise and characters, but it truly wastes them in its lack of substance. If you’re into a kind of “character of the week” series, then Gekkan Shoujo may be for you, but if you find yourself needing characters that grow and evolve as the series progresses, Ao Haru Ride is the show to watch.

With those results, it looks like Barakamon and Ao Haru Ride will be making it to my weekly review post. Just to note, this is the first category where I’d say that both shows earned the advancement, so I’m looking forward to see where they go from here. Tomorrow we’ll be wrapping up the Fantasy/Magical Girl group with Sailor Moon: Crystal fighting for it’s life against Akame ga Kill and Sword Art Online II packing in the dirt over Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei‘s desecrated grave. Good imagery? I hope so.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 3, Group B

Inspired by this year’s World Cup, I’ve broken 24 different series into six groups of four, each group roughly representing a different genre. Each series will go head to head with the other three series in its group over the next three weeks, a letter grade for each episode used as the deciding factor. At the end of the three weeks, the two episodes from each group that have fared the best, will move on to the next round. Now in the third week, we’ll figure out which two shows from each group will be making it to the weekly review column.

Check out the preview page for an overview of all the groups.

Group B: Action/Mecha

1st Match:

Images of Slaine ready to shoot and the worst of the Trail Kriegers

Aldnoah.Zero: A-

The action and story this time around–as well as a few plot twists–really power this episode along, though that’s not to say that there isn’t an appreciable amount of character development going on too. Since a middling first episode–with a fantastic surprise ending–Aldnoah.Zero has consistently proven to be one of the more entertaining shows of the season. The fact that it makes time amongst all its set pieces to deliver small character moments, is simply an added bonus.

The episode picks up where the last left off, with our heroes regrouping after being attacked and cornered by Trillram and his domineering pillbug mech. Nao–in the wake of Okisuke’s death–takes the battle on his back, leading the group of children–himself, Inko, Calm and eventually Princess Asseylum and Rayet–into battle with Trillram after discovering some tactically helpful info. Meanwhile, Marito attempts to piece together some type of rescue force to go back for the group under attack by Trillram. The second half of the episode is straight-up mech showdown, but it’s worth noting that Slaine eventually enters the picture and Princess Asseylum takes on a larger role as well.

Contrary to many other popular mecha series with young adult protagonists, Aldnoah.Zero doesn’t play well with kids who aren’t up to the task of piloting the mechs. Flying in the face of Shinji’s everywhere, the show’s bread and butter is characters who are quick to take on responsibility, rather than pilots who are scared for their lives. In one scene in particular, Inko questions Nao about how he is and was able to jump into battle so quickly and being so head strong. He says that once he considered the fact that his death was practically imminent–due to the Martian attacks–he realized how ashamed he’d be–on his deathbed–if he didn’t contribute at all to fighting back. With Okisuke recently departed, the viewer can easily understand how Nao came upon this particular way of thinking, but one still has to question if high school students would REALLY rise to such an occasion. Then again, it’s a show about gigantic robots, so reality is already thrown out the window in many regards. Most of the group of young adult fighters get their individual moments of bad-assery and have to band together to legitimately outsmart Trillram, adding on to the “hold the fort” narrative. At the end of the day, that’s really all this episode is. Scenes like Nao’s resilience in the face of his friend’s death, or the drunkard–Marito–getting his act together in order to save fellow troops and civilians flesh out our heroes, but they are carefully nested into that overarching theme. Thank goodness though, because this careful placement of enriching scenes amongst heavy action–or at least strong dramatic tension–help to keep the show at a brisk pace–it’s already much further into the storyline than one would’ve expected by the end of last episode.

Another week down and Aldnoah.Zero keeps up the consistency of astonishing fight scenes mixed in with dialogue that helps keep the show from feeling vapid. Most people should at least be giving this show a chance, but if you’re into mecha, that added layer should make it all the more enticing. Speaking of the mechs, I was even happier this week with the mech animation, which is CGI based here. The CGI and the classic animation styles mold together in a way that’s almost seamless, or at least as close as they’re going to get in the immediate future. Of course, it’s no Arpeggio of Blue Steel, BUT WHAT IS???

Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen: B-

Watching Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen in comparison to Aldnoah.Zero, really dampens whatever impact the show may have. Argevollen looks cheaper, feels stodgier and handles its characters in a much less adequate way, while also telling a more boring story. After all, the two series don’t have an entirely different synopsis– \both of them having the military conflict between two countries/planets as the central story. All that taken into consideration, Argevollen is still enjoyable at times, especially for the mecha/military crowd.

We get a few minutes of peace at the beginning of the episode before the shit hits the fan, as the Ingelmian army begins to surround the Arandan forces in the mountains. Administrative officers burn important files and destroy much of the bases computers in order to keep information out of the hands of the enemy while soldiers prepare for a massive fight. Meanwhile at the Ingelmian base, we get a view into the inner politics of their military where there is some obvious splintering of personnel over ego and desire for power. Back at camp Arandas, Tokimune and crew prep to hold back the Ingelmians while the rest of the Arandans evacuate the base, but when a particularly brutal attack starts–originating from just three Trail Kriegers–it becomes questionable if the Arandan army can hold back the Ingelmians, even with Argevollen in tow.

Argevollen‘s biggest flaw is its quick digestibility. In other words, it’s a show that’s easy and entertaining to watch but one that ultimately doesn’t leave any lasting impressions. Sure, it’s great that the show seemingly focuses on the more militaristic aspects of war–tactics, strategy and statistics–but whatever knowledge it may have to impart, doesn’t leave a mark because it’s all rather flaccid on delivery. Add to that, the fact that Argevollen does take the time in each episode to rest on its laurels–in opposition to the fast-paced Aldnoah.Zero–but never properly utilizes that time to showcase anything more than basic facts about the characters. We do, however, get a scene where Jamie sticks her butt in Tokimune’s face in order to start up Argevollen. That says something about her character, right? It’s got to! Where Argevollen does shine, is in its mech battles, which don’t show up until the second half of the episode. The brutality of the Ingelmians is conveyed quickly through the blonde pilot, who is willing to shoot his gigantic robot gun into the driver side of military vehicles and then skate off to the next target. This black and white look at the two countries–the Ingelmians as pure evil and the Arandans as white knights–does not an interesting dynamic make–though the feeling of locals taking on the juggernaut outsider is certainly felt here, as the Aranadans take full advantage of their knowledge of their surroundings to meet fire with fire.

Argevollen isn’t a bad show, per se. In fact, when it’s heavy on the action, it’s a great show to snuggle up to with a bowl of popcorn. It is mediocre though, and never seems too interested in breaking out from the simplest of character formulas that exist to hold the show together between fight scenes. The show is ultimately as cold and lifeless as the mechs that fill its frames, but its also not meant to be an effort in humanity or the meaning of life. It’s really just a vehicle for robots with people inside of them to fight other robots with people inside of them. That’s why we watch, and sometimes that’s okay.

Winner… Aldnoah.Zero
Image of a battleship firing on Trillram's mech

That’s three straight wins for Aldnoah.Zero, the best mecha series of the season. The problem for Argevollen this week, is that even its best assets–the mecha on mecha actions scenes–are executed better in Aldnoah.Zero‘s own confrontations. Aldnoah.Zero is simply bigger, brighter and smarter, making it a no-brainer for this match.

2nd Match:

Images of Sasshou and Sakurai not doing much and Miou gunning it up at the carnival

Rail Wars!: C

Rail Wars! has gotten worse and worse as the series continues. Last week’s episode had some tension and drama amongst the bomb disarmament and the love/hate relationship between Takayama and Sakurai. This episode casts most of that aside for a few new characters that don’t really impact anything and a lot of dialogue that goes nowhere.

The episode starts out by introducing us to Sasshou, a young girl who works as an attendant for the Japanese National Railways and is a huge audiophile, going so far as to record the noises of various trains for her own enjoyment. We soon see that she is acquainted with Takayama through both of their enjoyment of the railways. Nothing much happens for a solid eleven or twelve minutes until Sasshou shows up at the Defense Crew Four HQ, asking the group to help find her kidnapped friend, Kaori. The rest of the storyline unfolds from here, with Defense Crew Four using their limited resources to try and figure out what could have happened to Kaori, while external forces–anxious to find the kidnapped girl themselves–pressure D4 to solve the case sooner rather than later.

There are a number of comically odd things with this episode that mainly serve to push the story forward, even if illogical. Most notable of all, is that no one knows if Kaori was actually kidnapped on the rails–Sasshou says that that’s the last place she was headed when they talked–so it would seem odd to go to D4 with a kidnapping instead of the Japanese police. Someone’s causing trouble on one of the trains! Oh, call up D4. Woah, there’s a bomb set to go off in 5 minutes! Hmmm, the police can’t make it in time. D4 will have to do. There’s been a kidnapping somewhere and trains MAY be involved! Hmmm… I don’t know about that one… D4! Beyond all of that foolishness, its annoying that so much time passes while nothing really happens in the first half of the show. Sakurai complains about having to write a letter of apology to an innocent guy she knocks over. The girls and guys end up at a restaurant but at separate tables… with hilarious results. Koumi unknowingly shoves her breasts in Takayama’s face whilst trying to help him on the computer. These kinds of scenes waste so much time, the characters handled so sloppily in the process. Koumi and Sakurai take turns being walking oppai sight gags, Sakurai climbs back into the guy-hating rabbit hole and Iwaizumi is barely treated as a breathing and moving entity this time around. When the show finally gets into the “solving the mystery” part of things, it’s more than halfway through and can’t even afford to spend much time on the mystery itself, leading to Sasshou solving things on her own, through little help from D4.

There are so many problems with the episode, but the aformentioned moments are among the worst of them. It’s be nice to see the show get back on the rails–that’s right–but for now, it’s a series to avoid, at all costs.

Sabagebu!: C+

There’s something about knowing that you’ll never have to watch a show again that, in some ways, endears you to the last episode you watch. Take Shounen Hollywood for example. Were it not for prepubescent girls making out with one another–see Fate/Kaleid liner etc.–it would be the worst show of the season, hands down. And yet, there’s something about the third episode that points out whatever quality elements the show does have–like its questioning of the reality of stardom, for instance. Sabagebu! could easily fall into the same category. The show is borderline reprehensible–I still can’t get over the oppai girl being purposely shot in both breasts, even though crazier things have frequently occurred in anime–but its acknowledgement of this fact and the more tongue-in-cheek moments are endearing in a weird way.

The episode follows two storylines. The first sees Ena Sakura–the teacher and adviser to the Survival Games Club–show up at the club house asking for the girls’ help in taking out a hornets’ nest. The girls agree–begrudgingly–and attempt to use their gun skills to shoot down the nest, with zany results! The second involves a school girl who’s been wronged in the past by Miou and is looking to get revenge on her through a survival game showdown. Momoka gets wrapped up in the situation and ends up having to deal with the young girl in Miou’s stead.

So it’s certainly a simplistic episode, with nothing of real consequence happening to these characters who don’t evolve whatsoever. That lack of character growth, is Sabagebu!‘s strong point, in many ways. Characters like Miou and Momoka are unapologetically self-centered and inconsiderate–the young girl’s beef with Miou comes from an incident where Miou seemingly won a prize for the girl, only to take it as her own, while Momoka is consistently selling out her new friends for her own benefit. It’s a type of character–and humor–that we’ve become all too familiar with in the states–thanks to shows like Family Guy and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia–but that isn’t seen as often in anime, to the point where you may get one show like this a season. Compare that to the number of slice of life shows–though most of them are good–or idol shows, and Sabagebu! at least gets points for being mildly unique in its comic stylings.

Winner… Sabagebu!
Image of the group looking on as the duck gets grabbed by a crow

Rail Wars! was just too bland this week. In fact, watching it almost felt painful at times due to the desire for something–anything–interesting to happen. Its ideals of grandeur mixed with bouncy breasts fly in the face of Sabagebu!, a show that never pretends to be something it’s not. Add to that, the fact that this episode of Sabagebu! was almost entertaining, and it makes it this week’s winner by a hair.

That wraps up Group B. Rail Wars! and Sirogane no Ishi Argevollen tied at one win and two losses each. Rail Wars! got a B, B- and C over its three episodes–what was I thinking?–which basically averages out to a low B-. Aregvollen got a B-, B+ and B- over its three episodes, which averages out to a low B. That makes Argevollen the winner of the two, meaning that it and Aldnoah.Zero will be showing up on the weekly review. Check out Group C’s last few matches next time, as Barakamon teaches Jinsei a thing or two about self respect, and Ao Haru Ride makes things interesting with a fight to the death with Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 3, Group A

Inspired by this year’s World Cup, I’ve broken 24 different series into six groups of four, each group roughly representing a different genre. Each series will go head to head with the other three series in its group over the next three weeks, a letter grade for each episode used as the deciding factor. At the end of the three weeks, the two episodes from each group that have fared the best, will move on to the next round. Now in the third week, we’ll figure out which two shows from each group will be making it to the weekly review column.

Check out the preview page for an overview of all the groups.

Group A: Sports/Music/Idol

1st Match:

Images of Gou lusting after some muscle boys and Tommy reminiscing on his golden years

Free! Eternal Summer: B

This week’s episode of Free! Eternal Summer felt very much like a throw back to the first season, in which characters were always having a sort of inner turmoil. These episodes are particularly enjoyable to watch–so long as you appreciate the characters–because it allows them to stretch and to define themselves better within the swimming world. There’s also plenty of sitcom style comedy due to the misunderstandings that run rampant throughout the episode, leaving the viewer equally in the dark until the crowd pleasing–if not mundane–conclusion.

It starts with the Iwatobi swim club competing in a school-wide relay, where each club–basketball, tennis, wrestling, etc.–runs a relay race using a symbol of their club as the passing baton (the guys use a life board). Rei, though slow, has a momentary appreciation for the beauty of track racing, the club he was a part of before he joined the swim team. Later, Gou and the guys discuss how they will compete in the big swim competition, with Makoto and Nagisa pledging to compete in a race based on a swim style that they’re not the best at. Nagisa urges Rei to do the same, which forces him to consider that his lack of general swimming skills keeps him from competing in any style besides the butterfly stroke. Soon, Rei is in the library researching swimming styles and techniques when he runs into the captain from his track team days. The captain tells Rei that he’d be happy to have him back, if Rei ever feels the desire to leave swimming behind for the track club. The rest of the episode follows this trajectory, with neither the audience nor the Iwatobi swim club completely privy to Rei’s true intentions. But if Rei does leave, can things really ever be the same? Well, the fujoshi elements will still be in place, so at least that’s safe.

Returning to some of the feelings and emotions brought up in the first season of Free!, really struck a chord this time around. Though the episode–like much of Free!–is dramatic pomp with little circumstance, it’s still enjoyable to watch, whether its for the friendships in the show or the attention to swim styles and forms. Similar to a show like Fruits Basket, Free!‘s biggest appeal–besides the swim scenes–is how kind each of the members of the Iwatobi swim team and Gou are to one another. These characters truly appreciate and relish the ideals of both friendship and teamwork, always wanting to do things together–mainly led by Nagisa, who is consistently concerned about Rei’s distance from the team throughout the episode. Not to editorialize, but in a time of many friendships taking to digital spaces, it’s refreshing–very much in an escapist sort of way–to see people who genuinely like being around one another. And no, it’s not a gay thing. That’d be completely fine if it was, but it would certainly make for a different kind of show. Instead, the guys of Free! almost seem asexual, rarely–if ever–aware of ANY person as a sexual object of desire. They care about getting their swim on and being there for one another in times of need. Sure, they are sex objects for anyone who wants to put that on the show, but they aren’t to each other. That being said, an argument could be made involving the homosexual underpinnings of Haru and whichever male antagonist he’s pissing off, depending on the season–there was certainly an air of sexual tension in the confrontation between Haru and Sosuke in the last episode.

It was another strong episode of Free! Eternal Summer this week, so long as you can handle the fan service. But hey, women have had to deal with panty shots and faces stuffed in cleavage–in series that are otherwise quality works–since the early days of anime, so it’s time we man up and appreciate those washboard abs.

Shounen Hollywood: C+

This third episode of Shounen Hollywood proved to be decidedly better than the two previous installments, though the show’s unapologetic “rose-colored glasses” view of Japanese idols is in full force here.

The episode centers around Tomii, who became interested in the idol lifestyle at a young age after being visited by one of the original members of Shounen Hollywood, Tommy–yeah, it’s a little confusing. Add to this that both Tomii and Tommy grew up in a boys home, and the formula is ripe for a cloying story about Tomii seeing his own potential in Tommy, and deciding to pursue a dream of idoldom from that young age. In the present day, Tommy–now a successful actor–revisits the Shounen Hollywood theater and we get several stories about the days of the original idol group, along with some male bonding between the two Toms. It’s a simple story, and though it’s rather saccharine, it’s handled well through good pacing and the development of Tomii’s character.

While that’s all well and good, the episode is at its best when Tommy is reminiscing nostalgically about his and his fellow idols bygone days. Recorded footage from the time period is conveniently around, and the viewer gets a glimpse inside the hopes and dreams of the original idol group, from the guy who wants to make a solo record, to the one who wants to build a bigger theater for the group. When the video is over, Tomii–who’s been watching it–remarks that none of the dreams came true. In fact, Tommy is the only one from the original group who still has a level of fame. This touches on a level of realism about fame, mainly the idea that most celebrities are left with their 15 minutes rather than a consistent career in entertainment. It’s a sobering message in a show that largely serves to celebrate how amazingly awesome idol groups are and can be. Sadly, even in these scenes the writing is so stiff that it lacks heart. Try as it may, the audience can’t help but feel a little indifferent about the future of this new Shounen Hollywood group and its individual players. And that is the ultimate flaw of Shounen Hollywood. Oh, and that creepy Teshi guy who doesn’t age. He’s the Richard Alpert to Shounen Hollywood‘s Lost. Spooky.

Winner… Free! Eternal Summer
Image of Rei stoked about his new swim techniques

Shounen Hollywood may have had some decent moments, but Free! does such a better job with its characters. It doesn’t matter that their relationships may be overstated and unrealistic, because they work in the universe that the creators have set up for them. The pacing is also strong enough to keep the audience from checking their watch during the more naval-gazing scenes. Shounen Hollywood can’t do that on its best day. Farewell young idols, we hardly knew ye… thankfully.

2nd Match:

Images of Nanako looking determined and some of the Shinsengumi boys rockin' out

LocoDol: C+

Disappointing may be too kind a word to describe this week’s episode of LocoDol. Where the premiere episode had a small amount of fan service but an equal amount of charm, and the last episode thankfully focused on the growing friendship between our two heroines, this episode offers nothing of interest but a lot of people’s faces getting pushed into cleavage. Oh, and Nanako spends most of the episode lamenting the fact that her breasts aren’t larger. Come on LocoDol, you’re better than this.

Things move quickly at first, with Nanako and Yukari being introduced to the new mascot for the group, Uogokoro–a creepy looking creature that resembles a fat Wobbuffet (of Pokemon fame). Nanako’s uncle has an entire plan in place in order to get the max profit off of the new mascot, so it quickly becomes clear that Uogokoro needs to be well received. At the mascot unveiling event, quite the opposite is true, with many in the audience talking amongst themselves about how Uogokoro looks bizarre, etc. Eventually most of the audience comes around, easily entranced by Uogokoro’s flips in the air. Soon after the performance, it is revealed that the girl inside the Uogokoro costume is Yui Mikoze, a strong fan and the senior of Nanako and Yukari. The rest of the episode is uneventful at best, until the last few scenes, which involve a performance by the idol group that starts off blandly charming but turns into a much more pointed fan service scene than anything we’ve seen up to this point.

It’s a real let down that the series falters so completely in this episode as to let its assets fall to the way side. Nanako and Yukari’s friendship is barely seen or felt and any sort of dramatic tension with Yui–say she begins to steal away Yukari’s attention from Nanako, etc., etc.–is disregarded in exchange for a joke about Nanako having smaller breasts than her peers. Certainly it’s something that girls of that age think about, but let it be in addition to better writing and other character defining lines, instead of being the only way we can tell Nanako apart from the other two. The build-up to the lengthy fan service scene, is also pretty shameful. Nanako and Yukari are put in a situation where they practically have to strip down and the way the show delivers the scene, makes us feel as though said stripping makes the two girls heroic idols. That’s not a good message. And, contrary to previous thoughts, LocoDol isn’t a good show. At least not consistently. Like many other mediocre anime, LocoDol‘s biggest mistake is choosing style over substance. That is, if you can call heads stuck in cleavage, style.

Bakumatsu Rock: C

The third episode of Bakumatsu Rock felt like a retread of the last episode, with our gang of musicians showing up for yet another Shinsengumi concert but with even less interesting results. It’s too bad that the show is really spinning its wheels–the next episode takes place entirely at a bath house–but this episode in particular still has some moments of merit.

After reminding the audience that rock clubs in Japan are being shut down by the government, Kogorou and Shinsaku meet up with Ryouma, who is excited to show them new merchandise that’s been made for the group. Of course, Otose–the restaurant owner who manufactured the merch for the band–expects to get paid, whether Ryouma and the gang have the money or not. This forces the guys to get a job with the Shinsengumi idol group, which leaves them to hang around backstage most of the episode.

That’s about all that happens this time around, and it’s so annoyingly “been-there-done-that”–three episodes in, mind you–that it’s a hard one to get through. One of the only interesting gimmicks in the episode is the documentary style that is found sporadically throughout, built on the idea that some kind of television special is being made about the Shinsengumi and Isami in particular. This takes the show further into Isami’s character–which is nice, since he’s one of the more interesting people on the show–but what little uniqueness these segments bring to the episode, can’t save it. The last episode saw Ryouma and the gang go as far as they needed to into the Shensengumi camp, but this one continues to explore that path with no new revelations, plot point or character development–besides Isami, but that doesn’t require the band to be hanging around. Most annoying of all, Bakumatsu Rock buys itself unwarranted expectations through its appealing premise and the teasing of an eventual showdown between rockers and pop idols. This may never come though, with the rate at which the show is going and Ryouma’s new found appreciation for the Shensengumi. The creators of Bakumatsu Rock are themselves similar to Isami; they understand how to take an interesting idea, hollow it out until it lacks any meaning and fill it with fluff to keep the masses occupied. The main difference, is that there are few anime fans foolish enough to waste their time on Bakumatsu Rock.

Winner… LocoDol
Image of Nanako and Yukari meeting Yui

Neither of these episodes were very good, in fact both were the worst so far of their respective series. That being said, LocoDol‘s charming previous episodes and the damning lack of ANYTHING happening in Bakumatsu Rock means that LocoDol is the winner by a hair. Overall, LocoDol seems more interested in telling a complete story–with Nanako and Yukari’s friendship as a centerpiece–in spite of the over-the-top fan service which colored this particular episode.

That’s it for Group A. Free! Eternal Summer and LocoDol are the first two of twelve shows that I’ll be reviewing for the rest of the season. I may do more showdowns/matches in the next few weeks between those twelve shows, but I may also just shut up and review them. As for the next post, it’s mech on mech, with Aldnoah.Zero taking on Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen. Meanwhile, Rail Wars! challenges the fledgling Sabagebu!. Maybe Sabagebu! can get off a killing blow before packing it up and heading home.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 2, Group F

Inspired by this year’s World Cup, I’ve broken 24 different series into six groups of four, each group roughly representing a different genre. Each series will go head to head with the other three series in its group over the next three weeks, a letter grade for each episode used as the deciding factor. At the end of the three weeks, the two episodes from each group that have fared the best, will move on to the next round. Now into our second week, we’ll see which shows are practically kicked out by losing two weeks in a row. I’m looking at you Fate/Kaleid liner… etc.

Check out the preview page for an overview of all the groups.

Group F: Wildcard

1st Match:

Images of Touko heatin' up some glass and Sebastian prepped for his circus shows

Glasslip: C+

This week’s Glasslip bests the previous episode by at least having some sort of plot movement from start to finish. Sadly though, the series still feels fairly stagnant, which is odd for a show that seems to be about some kind of time travel.

The second episode of Glasslip works to set up the love triangle/trapezoid–between Kakeru, Touko, Yukinari and Yanagi–that’s likely to last the rest of the series. Kakeru asks to meet up with Touko and she agrees, but decides to bring Sachi along with her–yes, the names really have no context here, but it sets the mood for the blandness of many of the characters. When they finally meet, Kakeru clumsily brings up the fact that he can hear or think of things from the future while Touko admits to being able to see things before they occur. Of course, they both happened to have gained a bit of the other’s power during the firework display from the last episode. Aside from that, our love triangle/trapezoid reaches an impasse after certain feelings are revealed to certain characters. Shouldn’t Touko have been able to SEE that one coming?

The most annoying thing this week, is Glasslip’s presentation of an interesting set of circumstances for its characters that largely don’t do anything with those circumstances. The time travel/clairvoyance that Kakeru and Touko are able to utilize, feels wasted here, as it only seems to play a part in the first half of the episode. More than anything, it serves as a bonding device for Touko and Kakeru to connect over, or even as a metaphor for the way in which two people share their worlds and talents with one another when they become romantically involved. Either way, it forces Touko to become out of reach for Yukinari–loved by Yanagi–which sets the love triangle/trapezoid in motion. I still feel like the show is rather slow to develop its characters, which is why the name dumps here feel a little silly and pointless–I’m still glimpsing a name and having to take several moments to connect the character. I would say that while several characters have lengthy scenes this episode–full of revelations and awkward moments–Yanagi is the only one with whom I’m particularly invested in her outcome, now that the show has led me to understand her emotions and her point of view. In comparison, Yukinari seems melodramatic and clueless, Touko comes off as to wrapped-up in her own world and her self-appointed match-making duties and Kakeru feels like nothing more than his abilities and connection to Touko.

I’m glad to see that Glasslip has gotten better since its meandering first episode, but there’s still a ways to go for the show to be recommendable. Maybe next episode, we’ll be able to feel something for a character besides Yanagi, but until then, this one is middling at best.

Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus: B-

If the premiere episode of Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus served to introduce us to Sebastian and Ciel, this one focuses on the varied and eclectic members of the Noah’s Ark Circus. While I’m really enjoying the period piece aesthetics of this show, this episode in particular felt entirely too uneven but was still an enjoyable watch to some degree.

The episode starts with Ciel and Sebastian saying their farewells to the rest of the wait staff at Ciel’s mansion, as the two of them start their journey to London. We learn that Ciel has received an inquiry about a large number of missing children who are believed to have been kidnapped by the Noah’s Ark Circus, which happens to be traveling through London. The two commit to some sleuthing first, checking out libraries and talking to creepy men about the possible going ons of the circus. In time, the two decide that they need visit the circus itself and, once there, meet a cohort of oddballs during a performance they see. Joker is the semi-ringleader of the circus–and proves to be a rather hospitable host, in time–but there is also a snake charmer, a knife thrower, an animal tamer and a tightrope walker. Eventually, Sebastian gets called down by Joker as a volunteer in a performance, but he ends up swooning for a nearby tiger–I guess this is an in-joke for the original Kuroshitsuji show or the manga–which quickly tries to eat his head. Sebastian is fine but Joker heavily suggests that he have his head examined by the circus doctor to make sure that the tiger didn’t cause any unseen damage. Behind the curtains, Sebastian is further introduced to the carnie crew and ends up getting in a scuffle with the animla tamer–Beast–that shows off his fantastical abilities, from dodging Beast’s whip to barely jumping out of the way when the the knife thrower attacks him. Joker mentions off-hand that he would love to recruit Sebastian due to his unique abilities and Sebastian quickly accepts, saying that he will bring Ciel’s talents along as well, the stage now set for Sebastian and Ciel to see the inside workings of the mysterious circus.

Much like the show itself, the characters of Book of Circus ride a fine line of the comedic, the mysterious and the weird. At least these characters are immediately identifiable, simply because of their uniqueness, but things like the knife thrower’s romantic love for his sister leaves a bad taste in the mouth, though it does give a particular feel to the circus in general. Other characters, like the snake charmer or the two young children–Peter and Wendy–offer up a feeling of foreboding that keeps things interesting as Sebastian and Ciel attach themselves to the underbelly of the circus. Another consideration is the revelation that all the performers in the circus have some sort of prosthetic limb, which the circus doctor has crafted for them out of some type of porcelain. It makes every character in the circus feel slightly more fragile, as if their very limbs are just waiting to be shattered. These ideas add an eeriness to the already disturbing reason why Sebastian and Ciel are getting involved with the traveling circus to begin with; to figure out the outcome and current whereabouts of all the missing children. On another note, the animation and style of this show are both big wins for me. In fact, they’re sometimes what keep it afloat. The animation grabs the drabness of the time period–or our perceived notion of its drabness, at least–but is able to bring in the more saturated colors of the carnival, once we get there. It’s yet another example of the interesting mixture of the fantastic with the eerie, in the scenes meant to showcase the carnival. All this being said, goofier moments–like Sebastian sticking his head in the tiger’s mouth, or Ciel doing some sort of unspeakable act for the creepy Undertaker–feel like they throw the episode off its game and take away from an otherwise entertaining story. Now that the introductions are out of the way, I’m hoping that next week’s episode will be even better.

Winner… Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
Image of the tightrope walker doing her thing with a parasol

It’s sad to put the nail in Glasslip‘s coffin, but Book of Circus was both better executed and more enjoyable this week. Glasslip maybe getting at more realistic emotions and relationships than Book of Circus but the love triangle/trapezoid feels very cliche in the anime world. Not to mention that the one thing that makes it unique amongst these types of shows–the time travel/clairvoyance element–is only showcased to make the show feel unique, so far at least. On the other hand, the elements that make Book of Circus unique–both the setting and the characters therein–are the singular highlight of the series, with the two main characters being molded to that frame, rather than the other way around.

2nd Match:

Images of Dandy taking on the Ukelel and Rinka coming out of an explosion, arms swinging

Space Dandy S2: A

Sometimes Space Dandy is able to hit the kind of highs that leave you speechless, or–if that’s too hyperbolic–without the propensity of language to easily describe to someone else what you just watched. This week certainly raised that flag, but not consistently.

The episode starts with a short introduction to Ukeleleman, a creepy wooden creature who plays music for folks and loves to smile. Alas, his inner smile does not come through on the outside–being wooden with fixed features–so he finds himself unsatisfied by the outer self that he portrays to others. Meanwhile, Dandy and the gang are eating at Boobies–Dandy and Meow disagreeing over something–when QT mentions that they should enter Dandy into a Mr. Misunderstanding competition, which sparks Dandy into a type of outrage–or at least annoyance with his two friend. He takes off back to the Aloha Oe where he receives a letter–apparently from a fan–asking Dandy to visit. Though the letter is actually from Ukeleleman–who finds Dandy’s smile to be the best–Dandy immediately assumes that the fan is a steamy young woman, and takes off in search of love. Soon, Meow and QT win the competition they entered Dandy in, but when they realize that he must be there in person, they chase after him. Whilst Dandy continues his search for the perfect fan on the Ukeleleman’s planet, Meow and QT arrive shortly after him and are approached by Ukeleleman, who freezes them in mid-smile through some sort of magical song and dance move. Dandy eventually comes to Ukelelman’s mansion and realizes not only that he isn’t a beautiful woman, but that his intentions are less than good and that he has rendered Meow and QT lifeless. Dandy is able to grab his statue-like friends and high-tail it out of Ukeleleman’s place. Lucky for him–and the viewer–the magnetism of a nearby planet is causing the River of Time–which exists in the atmosphere around Ukeleleman’s planet–to flow backwards, meaning that creatures and objects that get caught in the river’s wave, will revert back to older versions of themselves. For instance, we see several ducks turn into ducklings and then into eggs, as the wave crashes down on them. Dandy–intent on rescuing Meow and QT any way he can–rockets up to the River of Time, leading to–arguably–the most visually stunning anime scene in the last handful of seasons. The question is, can Dandy save Meow and QT from lives as natural art before Ukeleleman intervenes?

The episode isn’t perfect. There’s a lot of information and plot points being fed to the audience at once, almost too much to be crammed into one episode. That considered though, Dandy isn’t a particularly sanely paced or well-explained show. Several episodes deal in the mysterious, never really giving a reason as to why something is the way it is. That’s part of Space Dandy‘s charm. It’s one of the few shows that has set up from the beginning that the audience isn’t meant to ask questions–unless they want to ask them rhetorically–but is instead along for the ride. We don’t need to know why Ukeleleman is the way he is. He’s simply an oddity that helps to fill out the universe of Space Dandy, and showcase even more of the eccentricities therein. In fact, if the entire episode is leading up to the phenomenal set piece at the end–and it undoubtedly is–there are easier ways of getting the characters there besides Ukeleleman. He and the entire idea of the backwards flowing river of time, are more evidence of the brilliance that’s come out of the no holds barred production that is Space Dandy–or, at least that’s what we’re led to believe. It’s the kind of show that a review can only do so much for, as it will likely have a markedly different impact on different kinds of people.

A series with this level of creativity and desire to tread new territory, comes around once in a blue moon, so whether you find it cohesive or not, or if the pacing seems off and inconsistent from episode to episode, Space Dandy is still a must see. After all, maybe that’s the point.

Tokyo ESP: B-

This second episode seemed to work more like a premiere episode, with the audience finally getting the pieces of the storyline that lend a small level of insight into the origin story of the white haired girl. Sadly, it makes for a slightly less engaging experience, probay because less things are blowing up. At the end of the day, maybe that’s not a reason to watch something.

The episode starts in the middle of a battle–continued from last episode–between the white haired girl and a couple of evil espers. Soon, though, the show cuts back to the first time that the white haired girl became the white haired girl, full frontal nudity and all. She–Rinka being her good ol’ Christian name–awakes to find herself falling into her downstairs neighbor’s apartment. It seems that Rinka acquired the ability to phase through solid forms, after a flying goldfish flew through her–this is, as of yet, unexplained, so that’s about as much info as the audience gets about the circumstances of Rinka’s powers. She initially has a hard time getting a hold on her powers–the floorboard of her apartment becoming more like quicksand than a surface for her–until Kyoutarou–a fellow esper who was effected by the same flying fish incident–shows up to help her sort things out. However, before he can make it to her place, Rinka leaves a stressed voicemail on her father’s phone, who quickly attempts to come to her rescue once he hears it. This ends up being more trouble than it’s worth as Rinka’s father’s own ESP ability–which, he too got from the fish incident–causes large objects to magnetize to him, ending up in a giant ball of cars rolling through Tokyo, searching for Rinka and with her father at its core. This does, however, give Rinka a good chance to utilize her own powers, as she must phase to the core of the ball in order to get her father out without the media or police noticing and attempting to arrest him. The rest of the episode goes on in this way, with Rinka learning more about her powers–and Kyoutarou, by proxy. Eventually a villain from last week’s episode shows up, and though Rinka and Kyoutarou prove a level of adeptness with their new powers, is it enough?

The second episode of Tokyo ESP was a let down the moment the premiere episode was able to outshine some low-level expectations that most viewers had for it. Simply because the first episode was able to create new expectations for the series, this episode was a disappointment. That being said, while this one feels a little drab at times–where the premiere episode felt exciting in the best “popcorn fun” kind of way–it’s important to get some background for Rinka and her fellow good-guy espers. It’s arguable whether her character and back story could have been handled better had they been fleshed out in small doses over the rest of the series–rather than basically putting a halt to the happenings of the premiere episode in order to rewind everything–but it’s worth letting the show play itself out and see if the pacing ends up working out after all. One can’t help but feel slightly tricked though, as if the fun and excitement of that first episode is the proverbial rug being pulled out from under us in this expository-heavy second episode. On another note, while the style of the show may feel uninspired this time around, Tokyo ESP is certainly willing to go into some eccentric territory. From Rinka’s father–a Wolverine knock-off, if there ever was one–and his comical magnetism–at one point a pot from the kitchen accidentally slaps to his side and sticks there–to the entire premise that these folks got their powers from flying fish that air-swam through them, the series is never predictable even when it isn’t particularly entertaining. As pointed out in the Space Dandy review above, that’s something to appreciate in a series these days. Of course, the oddest show with the most bizarre premise could still be terrible if the characters are handled poorly or the writing is particularly bad, so such uniqueness should never simply be a free pass.

Tokyo ESP still lands as one of the more interesting series this season, so it’s certainly worth catching up with, even if the two episodes so far lack a consistency and an evenness in their presentation. Plus, it’s the closest we’ll be getting to a Samurai Flamenco-like, superhero show this season, so if that’s your bag, hop on the bandwagon before it loses its luster.

Winner… Space Dandy S2
Image of Dandy watching a submarine reverse into a galleon

Call me a Space Dandy fanboy, but any problems I have with this week’s episode are completely washed away by those last five minutes. It not only represents the best that Space Dandy has to offer, but it’s one of those scenes that reminds you of why you fell in love with anime in general to begin with; the endless possibilities of animation mixed with a culture that’s interested in mining those possibilities. The more one expands their knowledge of anime, the more tropes become apparent and the realization sets in that maybe these creators aren’t as exciting, fresh or free thinking as you once assumed. Space Dandy–for all its flaws and Boobies jokes–serves to alleviate those fears. Various scenes in Tokyo ESP can be exciting, but what Space Dandy represents as a whole is much more so.

And that’s it for the second week of the Anime World Cup. The top three shows of the week were Zankyou no Terror, Space Dandy S2 and Ao Haru Ride. Aldnoah.Zero and Tokyo Ghoul were also noteworthy in the quality department. I’ll return tomorrow and start the third week with a return to the Sports/Music/Idol group. It’ll be a race between the reigning Free! Eternal Summer and the dearly departed Shounen Hollywood while Bakumatsu Rock and LocoDol vie to make it into the next round. As a side note, I realize that I’m a little behind on these lately depending on the show, but I’ll be able to catch up after this 3rd week when my review count drops from a brutal 24 to a breezy–in comparison–twelve.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 2, Group E

Inspired by this year’s World Cup, I’ve broken 24 different series into six groups of four, each group roughly representing a different genre. Each series will go head to head with the other three series in its group over the next three weeks, a letter grade for each episode used as the deciding factor. At the end of the three weeks, the two episodes from each group that have fared the best, will move on to the next round. Now into our second week, we’ll see which shows are practically kicked out by losing two weeks in a row. I’m looking at you Fate/Kaleid liner… etc.

Check out the preview page for an overview of all the groups.

Group E: Mystery/Horror/Thriller

1st Match:

Images of Kaneki ready to pass out and Yosuke looking intense

Tokyo Ghoul: A-

I could understand if Tokyo Ghoul wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The show is both gruesome and bizarre–I need to get my hands on the uncensored version of this episode–as well as rather melodramatic about Kaneki’s condition. All of that considered, something about Tokyo Ghoul stands out for me in a way that other anime series this season just don’t. I think its subject matter alone pushes it out of the realm of anime mediocrity, but it also captures a tone that’s particularly suitable for what the show is going for. Add to the fact that this episode ushers in some more common action series tropes in a unique way, and you’ve got a winning formula.

This second episode in the series basically works to push Kaneki further into the world of ghouls, with him getting to know Toka better–the ghoul who saved him in the last episode–and meeting Yoshimura–the owner and leader of Anteiku, an organization that helps to keep ghouls in the area fed, but doubles as a cafe to quell suspicion. Yoshimura looks to help Kaneki understand what it means to be a ghoul, as he feels for Kaneki’s circumstances. Kaneki is reluctant to except the help and the fact that he is now at least part ghoul and must adhere to the realities of that lifestyle. Eventually, whilst walking around and thinking on his circumstances, Kaneki is caught by Hide who questions where he’s been. Mainly Hide is just happy to see his friend–eyepatch or no eyepatch–and he quickly asks Kaneki to come meet someone his recently made friends with. When, this friend ends up being Nishio–the same ghoul who attacked Kaneki at the end of last episode–Kaneki naturally feels frightened for Hide and decides to tag along with the two back to Hide’s place. When the inevitable occurs, Kaneki must take on Nishio to protect the life of his best friend.

The universe created in the show–which almost exists as a hidden underground to the rest of reality, since these ghouls must hide themselves away–is well fleshed out here, reminding me in some ways of the better aspects of other supernatural shows, like True Blood here in the states. We come to understand this hidden world as just as complex as our own, with ghouls that have bad intentions bristling at those with good intentions. It’s not the black and white world that one assumes of monsters, but instead an environment where survival butts heads with right and wrong, at least for some of the ghouls. By the end of the episode, Kaneki reaches a moment where he hits right up against against that wall, losing control of himself to what’s left of Rize in his subconscious. We watch Kaneki turn from the sweet and selfless kid who’s starving himself on principle, to the greedy ghoul who set him on his current path. It’s a rather chilling scene, and could be seen as a call for the audience to confront our own inner demons, instead of letting them overtake us in our weakest moments. Alright, so that’s a little melodramatic, but it’s in line with the show, with which melodrama plays perfectly. This is the kind of drama I would expect from someone who feels out of control of their own body and even their mind, from time to time. It’s the level of access we get to Kaneki’s own feelings about his transformation, that still gives me a Cronenberg vibe when I watch this show. And that’s no small compliment.

It’s possible to overlook Tokyo Ghoul. In fact, it’s a show that doesn’t seem interested in trying to appeal to any particular fanboy niche, which is a blessing for the audience and–possibly–a curse for the show. Tokyo Ghoul is just here to tell its story and give the viewer the perspective of a young man in transition from an average high schooler to a savage beast. Or maybe not. Maybe the final transition is up to Kaneki, after all.

Persona 4 the Golden Animation: C

Man, what a let down. Not only did last week’s episode of Persona 4 the Golden Animation blast through some of the most interesting parts of the game, but this week’s episode had NONE of those elements in it, AND took its pretty time. Maybe I’m holding this show to too high of an expectation to be just like the game–which isn’t particularly fair–but that aside, this episode is pretty lame.

The episode starts with Marie meeting Yu’s group of friends before Yuu and Yosuke have a conversation about picking up girls on motorcycles that is FAR too long. This leads to them getting licenses and scooters and making plans to cruise certain parts of the town to pick up girls. But wait… Chie, Yukiko and Marie expect Yu to join them on the same day for a shopping trip. AND Nanako is expecting Yu home for dinner by 5. What’s a boy to do?

So yeah, the rest of the episode plays out like a bad 80’s sitcom episode, with Yu having to trade time between trying to get some digits and judging a fashion contest. Didn’t the last episode involve these same flippant characters walking into a blood-drenched room in some kind of alternate dimension? What the hell are these people doing with their time? I’m willing to accept that maybe this series represents a different storyline–and tone–than the Persona 4 the Animation series that came out a few years ago–similar to Full Metal Panic! and FUMOFFU–but then why have the “Midnight Channel” storyline at all? It makes this episode feel eerie since these kids have this newfound power which they are taking NO responsibility of–or even interest in. Anyway, take away all the expectation from the game, and this episode really doesn’t go anywhere, say anything interesting or even grow its character. In the game, Yosuke, Chie and Yukiko all grow to become interesting individuals, mainly because we get to see their dark side in the “Midnight Channel” world, which fleshes them out and exposes their fears and insecurities. Here they just feel like set pieces and reminders of the intellectual property that the show is based on.

Wow, I really ranted there. Well, there’s no doubt how I feel about this show. Stay away. Stay far, far away.

Winner… Tokyo Ghoul
Image of Toka prepping to defend Kaneki

No contest. Tokyo Ghoul‘s dynamic universe all the way, over Persona 4 the Golden Animation‘s complete and utter waste of an interesting otherworldly space. The next episode is supposed to be a beach one, too. Guh.

2nd Match:

Images of Aoba looking confused and Shibasaki tracking down the terrorists

Dramatical Murder: C

Dramatical Murder will end up being the kind of show that fades from my memory shortly after I watch whichever episode happens to be my last. The characters aren’t particularly memorable, the plot isn’t particularly memorable and the action scenes aren’t even particularly memorable. It’s a bland show, to say the least. At best, Dramatical Murder gets points for not springing gratuitous fanservice on us, guy or girl–though there is a very short shower scene–but that’s about the sum of what it has going for it. Oh wait, I guess that shower scene means it has nothing going for it. Hmmm.

The episode starts off immediately after the last, with Aoba and Ren–in his human-shaped form–battling against some guy in a creepy bunny costume in the virtual game, Rhyme. Aoba shouts out commands to Ren and is able to blow the enemy away, but not without knocking himself and Ren out. When they come too, Aoba and Ren–now back in his dog-shaped form–have no clue what exactly happened to them in the game. The rest of the episode plays this out, with Aoba openly questioning what happened to him. He eventually finds out that the delivery he was making before he was sucked into the game world, ended up being a prank, meaning that someone planned for him to be sucked into the game. And that’s really the bulk of what happens. Oh, we also see that Aoba has a somewhat unhealthy relationship with his robotic dog–that’s Ren, if you didn’t catch on–which has to have some ramifications in a future scenario where Ren is in his human-shaped form, battling beside Aoba. I’m just happy that I’ll be far from this series by the time the BL relationships get hamfisted into here, if they even do.

I feel like a slacker of sorts for not having more to speak to about Dramatical Murder, but my complete lack of feeling says more than any contrived emotion could possibly say. The show even has its creative moments, but I feel like everything is executed with a complete lack of style or substance, by the end of the day. Harsh, but true.

Zankyou no Terror: A+

Zankyou no Terror pulled it off again this week, focusing more on the police force and the national reaction to the terror attack than on Nine and Twelve–though they are still pivotal to the storyline.

The episode starts with Lisa returning home soon after the bombing from last episode. She’s confronted by her mother, who’s worried about Lisa’s safety but almost to an unhealthy degree–stating that Lisa is going to leave her, just like Lisa’s father did. We get some quick cuts of Nine and Twelve prepping some sort of phone-controlled bomb, before a scene at some type of federal headquarters, where many agents have gathered to discuss the bombing. Soon they’ve tied the viral video that Nine and Twelve released last episode to the bombing, though they can’t say for certain how closely tied the incidents are. Soon, however, Nine and Twelve release another video where they offer up a riddle to the police force to give them a chance to halt the next bombing that they’ve planned. The police take the riddle’s answer as a reference to the bomb being placed in a DNA laboratory, but meanwhile, Shibasaki begins to piece the riddle together himself and figure out a different solution. He phones the chief of police–Kurahashi–to inform him of the other solution to the riddle, but it may be too late.

While this episode doesn’t go as deep into the characters of Nine and Twelve, the few scenes with Lisa help us to better understand her home life and her relationship to Nine and Twelve–such as one scene where Nine threatens her if she tells anyone about the bombing. We also get a better look at Shibasaki and Kurahashi, seemingly the two agents who will play the biggest part in trying to catch Nine and Twelve. Shibasaki represents a nice opposition to the worst cop trope–the highly skilled, loose cannon–by coming off as an officer broken down by the mundanity of his job–similar to the brilliant Lester Freamon from HBO’s The Wire. He lounges around his office doing crossword puzzles and not even pretending to be doing work, yet when the second Sphinx video–another name that Nine and Twelve refer to themselves by–is released, he quietly steps up to the task and involves himself by contacting Kurahashi. In this way, Shibasaki is directly related to the terrorist attacks, as they give his life–and his work–some kind of meaning. The show is clearly geared now for Shibasaki to figure out the truth and bring down Nine and Twelve with the help of Kurahashi, but what will happen to him after that? Will he go back to his lackadaisical days without challenges? This makes the genius whose talents are being wasted far more interesting than the hot head who can’t obey the rules.

Giving us a reprieve from the passenger seat of Nine and Twelve’s machinations, helps to ramp up the tension and mystery of Zankyou no Terror. The first episode asked us to trust in the two young men–much like Lisa was forced to do–but two episodes in and we still don’t understand their motivations for the bombings, which keeps the audience at arms length from the show’s–arguable–main protagonists. In stark opposition to most of the other series this season, Zankyou no Terror feels endlessly watchable, and in this day and age of plot lines that write themselves from the first episode, you have to appreciate that accomplishment.

Winner… Zankyou no Terror
Image of Nine and Twelve posing in Sentai masks

Another no contest match between a very good show and a very bland one. Zankyou no Terror deals in an economy of words and shows us–versus telling us–the kind of people its characters are. Meanwhile, Dramatical Murder is both talkative and expository, while never being able to form engaging characters in the process. It would seem that Watanabe has done it again.

We’ll close out the second week next time, with Glasslip slipping to the time of Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus and Space Dandy S2 meeting its rival in the crazy department, in Tokyo ESP.