Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 10

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 Peco and Dragon having a showdown

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 10: A+

The penultimate episode of Ping Pong the Animation focuses solely on the match between Peco and Dragon in the semi-finals, as each brings their own personal baggage to the game. Peco enters the match with his leg the worst it’s been so far, while Dragon brings with him his history of victory weighing heavily on his shoulders.

While the storyline of this episode is pretty straightforward and doesn’t delineate too much–besides jumping back in forth in Peco and Dragon’s timeline–a fantastic job is done in fleshing out these two players and expounding on their individual games. A great delineation between how Peco views table tennis and how Dragon approaches it is raised, leading us to reassess the way that we’ve viewed the characters up until now. Dragon–arguably the series’ power horse of the game–comes off as cripplingly frightened of defeat and his own failure, so much so that the game of ping pong has largely lost whatever allure it once held for him.

Peco, on the other hand, is easy to classify as a lazy player earlier on in the series. While it’s true that he didn’t focus on his talents as much as he probably should have–or that he lost some kind of spark that he once had for the game–in hindsight, one could view Peco’s cavalier attitude towards ping pong as his way of enjoying it–an aspect that proves invaluable in his match against Dragon.

If Smile’s storyline throughout the show is about one needing to have a natural skill at something in order to succeed at higher levels, then Peco’s story is about dedicating yourself to something for the journey of it, rather than the destination. And that’s what makes Ping Pong such a great sports show; an attention and appreciation for its characters, while slyly getting across that central theme of “just enjoy the sport” that so many series before it have attempted to convey much less successfully.

In fact, the message the Peco delivers through his actions boosts Smile’s storyline while invalidating it. Just because someone isn’t an ace ping pong player, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t play the game for the fun of it. In fact, the real losers are those who are playing for the sole reason of victory. Peco is the “hero” discussed so many times throughout the show, because his philosophy and style of play frees every table tennis player from the bonds of expectations heaved upon the sport. The expensive shoes, the rubber mats and the custom paddles fade away, as Peco enjoys the hell out of the game that he loves.

I’m really looking forward to this finale. In the meantime, I think I might try to find a table tennis club. After all, it does look pretty fun.

Image of Kisara waiting behind a tent

Black Bullet, Episode 10: B+

This week’s Black Bullet–while full of lite-harem moments–overcomes the few tropes it employs with its greater message. This arc as a whole, is proving to be a nice wrap-up for the series, though I have to assume that there will more than likely be a second season, so long as it’s popular enough.

The episode starts with Kisara and Rentarou continuing their teaching duties–even though there is impending doom?–and taking the many Cursed Children they teach to the Flames of Revolution memorial site–a tribute to those who gave their lives in the Gastrea wars. We get some creepy moments with most of the girls in the class saying that they want to marry Rentarou and then all of them climbing on top of him and giggling–once again, I think this would be cute in Western culture, but something about the frequent moe qualities in many anime, make this feel somewhat nefarious. In contrast to this, we get several sweet moments between Rentarou and Kisara as they walk to the decaying monolith and contemplate their inevitable fight against the Gastrea, comforted by holding each other’s hand. It’s moments like these that make the way the writers handle the Cursed Children relatively annoying, since it’s obvious that they can write sincere moments of sweetness between characters, versus the oddly sexually charged comments of Enju or the suggestive moments between Tina and Rentarou.

Soon we get a view of the breakdown of Tokyo in reaction to the crumbling monolith that helps to protect it. The citizens have widely grown agitated by the Tokyo government, which they believe have hand picked the individuals who have been chosen–apparently at random–to be given shelter beneath the city. This causes a backlash–as it usually does, throughout history–against the group which society fears but which it also has the ability to strike out against; the Cursed Children. We first see this when Rentarou comes upon the blind girl–who is one of the Cursed Children–surrounded by an angry mob, basically ready to kill her. Rentarou saves her and but then seemingly leaves her on her own again, an odd choice given the fact that he had done this previously which proved to not be beneficial to her.

The next morning, Rentarou and Enju head to the area where he and Kisara have been teaching the Cursed Children. Rentarou loses it once he sees that the area has been cordoned off, the recent site of a bomber attack. Through subsequent scenes, we realize that the many Cursed Children that he and Kisara have been teaching were victims of the attack. I’m not big on spoiling the main plot twists of these shows, but this one plays a particularly important role in the emotional pathos of the episode. There is an entire feeling to the show in general–and particularly to this episode–of the Cursed Children having their innocence stolen from them too early. Enju, for instance, is able to escape the worst of her circumstances once she partners up with Rentarou, going so far as to becoming a huge fan of a Magical girl TV show. That even plays into this episode, as she plans on introducing her new Cursed Children friends to the show–a plan that’s unrealized, of course. The attack even retroactively makes the girls’ crush on Rentarou feel less weird, as their demeanor towards him–smiling and giggling–seems wholesome and innocent, a far cry from the deeds that the girls’ have been expected to perform in the past. Rentarou represents a hope that the Cursed Children will one day be free from society’s pressures on them–both those derived from expectation and fear–in order to simply be children.

The high drama and emotional tension from the attack leave our characters unprepared for the twist ending of this one–which I won’t go into–so it’ll be interesting to see how–and if–they recover in time.

Image of Souta's girls

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 10: D+

This week’s episode of If Her Flag Breaks had to be the most egregious bit of fan service that the show has amounted to yet. Though in all the rough, there is a small, negligible diamond of awareness and tongue-in-cheek that proves the writers know what they’re doing. Is it worth the episode though? Of course not.

As I’ve stated before, this show serves exactly no purpose but to titillate the exact crowd it was made for; otaku. That being said, I’ll keep the plot description to a minimum and get to the 10 seconds of worthwhile dialogue. There’s a school festival coming up and many of the members of the school want the girls of Quest Hall to be in the beauty contest but the girls need Souta to sponsor them and he does and at the contest the girls all describe themselves by their affection for Souta and then there’s a swimsuit contest with Souta spraying water on the girls and then Nanami explains what she likes about Souta.

So yeah, the swimsuit contest–which entails Souta squirting water at the white t-shirts that the girls’ wear over their swimsuits–is shameless. There’s a lot of noises and visuals that make the segment borderline hentai, even though no one gets nude. The next contest is even worse, as each girl is expected to give a passionate confession to their endorser; Souta. Alas, amongst all this, Tsumugi–the “old woman” whose character will forever confuse me since she is the smallest of the group and fairly young looking–asks if the audience will put up with such a contest. One of the hosts of the beauty contest responds that they’ve been watching the girls do whatever they have to to please Souta the entire pageant.

I realize that at this point, I’m looking for something interesting to talk about and that this show is a desert when it comes to insight. That being said, the way that Tsumugi refers to the audience of the pageant can easily be seen as a meta reference to us–the viewer–who’ve had to sit watching illogical displays of affection for a bland male character the last 9 episodes. To further the point, the hosts response is to point out that those still watching If Her Flag Breaks know what they’re getting from the show, and probably want more. We’ve seen female character after female character–strong and weak, stupid and smart–fall for Souta, usually at the drop of a hat, and we’re still here, watching him spray the girls with a phallic-shaped spray gun. I still claim that I’m only here to review the damn thing, but who knows. Maybe I’m slowly becoming one of them–gooble gobble.

Eventually, Nanami shores up her own feelings of Souta, playing the role of a stand-in for the what the writers hope the audience feels. Nanami basically says that she originally saw Souta as a sad sack, martyr type–dead-on, Nanami, and totally how I feel–but that he’s since grown on her. Sadly, I don’t see how anyone who isn’t in on this for the fan service elements could like Souta. He’s a bore and so’s his show. But at least there’s some cleverness in this episode, amongst all the mindless shlock.

Image of the Mountain lord

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 10: A+

The entire run of Mushishi: Zoku-Sho so far, has entailed Ginko helping out others by bringing his knowledge of mushi to the table and informing people he meets about the way that mushi effect their lives. It’s appropriate then, that the last episode of the season should focus on Ginko’s own relationship to mushi and his ability to still be surprised by the natural world.

The episode starts with Ginko walking through a forest on a mountain, continuing on to a new destination in his journey. He soon senses that all around him springtime mushi–ones that he describes as a pain to deal with–will be popping up before long and he decides that he will pitch a tent and sleep through the spring renewal. Ginko awakes several days later to a harsh winter storm blowing all around him, covering the entire forest. He is flummoxed–having calculated that the winter should be long over and the spring renewal process at least mostly completed by this time–until he sees a nearby mountain where the usual processes have occurred in time with his prediction. After roaming his mountain and literally getting nowhere, Ginko comes to the realization that the mountain has been sealed, an act that can be brought on by the mountain’s lord for any number of reasons.

Going further into plot synopsis would spoil the experience of the episode, and–not to sound corny–but an experience is largely what the final episode of this season’s Mushishi: Zoku-Sho is. The episode is far slower and more plodding than those that have come before it, but it also serves the purpose of the episode’s final message; the rule of nature over man. This isn’t to say that Mushishi is getting all Werner Herzog on us here, but it is interested in the way that human beings–even the most enlightened of us–have ways of mentally removing ourselves from the cycles of nature, or at least have ways of attempting to. Ginko believes that he can outsmart nature by hiding out during the forthcoming spring cycle, but instead he comes to realize that he may have been used by nature the entire time to meet its own bidding. Man is brought down to the level of other beasts, reminding us that we are all ultimately effected by mother nature in ways that we can’t help and that we are closer to the plight of animals than our intellect would lead us to believe.

It’s a powerful message and it’s delivered perfectly–on its own terms and in its own time, much like nature itself–but there’s an argument to be made that a level of escapism here is neglecting the power of man in something like global warming. Never the less, the end goal of this episode–while maybe not fitting perfectly into our own world order–certainly fits well with the universe created in Mushishi and naturally evolves from the tales that have occurred all season, with Ginko swooping in to save the day in most instances. Ginko here, reminds us of ourselves; quick to think we understand something as elusive as nature, or to even believe that there is anything we can understand in the first place. In times like these, it’s relieving to imagine ourselves as a tiny cog in a machine that we didn’t start and can never stop.

Image of Kanade reaching an epiphone about herself and fireflies.

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 10: A-

I’m a complete and utter sucker for Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky. I know this because while I’ve been giving it pretty decent reviews, every other opinion on it has seen the series as mediocre at best and not really offering anything new. I’m aware that Blue♪Sky is part of a larger group of series–none of which I’ve seen–but I still find something interesting in the show. That being said, no single episode had yet struck me as going above and beyond the show’s premise and mission statement. That is until this one.

Much like two episodes back, this episode takes place between musical matches, with Kanade and company prepping for and thinking over their upcoming showdown with Amane high school. Just as Kyoya was put through the paces in that episode–as the new first violin of the ensemble–so too is Kanade forced to deal with her own fears as a player, having been chosen to lead the ensemble this time around. Where that episode felt meandering and a waste of time–maybe I just didn’t like Kyoya’s odd need to abandon responsibility–this one feels more telling than even the performance episodes.

The main scene of note, is one in which Chiaki and Housei–having taken Kanade for a ride to relax her mind–bring Kanade to a section of forest where a particularly large amount of fireflies have coalesced. Kanade is taken aback by the beauty of all the small insects lighting the piece of forest in a majestic, green glow. Chiaki points out that each individual firefly on their own, can never convey as much beauty as the group as a whole can. Kanade quickly moves to apply this to her own situation, realizing that each member of an ensemble is like a firefly; they have their own unique idea of beauty and it takes a strong leader to unite those ideas into a beautiful harmony. It’s a really nice way to think of a musical collective, and I think it says what shows like Beck are getting at with their overall message.

The message also happens to fly in the face of Reiji’s style of leadership–at least currently–wherein he decides the musical stylings and forces the rest of his ensemble to follow in his footsteps. While Sei and Sousuke are great musicians, they will only be able to be competent until they are allowed to find their own beautiful sound outside of Reiji’s influence. The pressures of this dynamic are especially felt as Sei looks to be leaving the ensemble right as they are on the verge of the final match of the music competition.

While Blue♪Sky has certainly had astute thoughts on music and musical creation in the past, this episode hits a new level of philosophical thought on musicianship. Kanade’s revelations are sure to push the show to its obvious conclusion–especially with so many characters discussing her potential throughout the series–but I’m still interested in how Blue♪Sky gets us there, predictable or not.

An image of Iron Man and Silver Samurai having a showdown

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 10: B

The 10th episode of Marvel Disk Wars is largely more enjoyable and original than the last few we’ve seen. It takes the show in a more Japanese direction and provides a–more than likely short-lived–respite from the show’s focus on Loki being the big bad.

Here we get the Silver Samurai as the main villain of notice, though he is played as much more complicated than Loki’s mischievous and thought out evil. From the last episode, the gang’s come to Japan in order to escape Senator Robert’s–Loki’s–new rules on superhero registration as well as his interest in capturing the kids and the heroes. Iron Man–realizing that Silver Samurai controls Japan in many ways–takes Akira and the rest of the group to Silver Samurai’s dojo in hopes of convincing him to allow the group to reside in Japan and to not inform Loki of there whereabouts.

It’s a tough gamble as Silver Samurai proves fairly quickly that he isn’t a softie of a villain. He doesn’t like Tony Stark and he finds Akira to be brash and ignorant since Akira is so quick to judge Silver Samurai, instead of considering the levity of the situation and making sacrifices thusly. That being said, the foe is a samurai and the stereotypical Samurai honor comes into play here, as we learn that Iron Man had once saved Silver Samurai’s sister and unknowingly changed the Japanese power dynamic to favor the Silver Samurai. Thus, the Silver Samurai owes Tony Stark, both for his current role in the country and for his sister’s safety. Though he admits to owing Tony, the Silver Samurai first requests that Akira prove himself by dueling with him, D-smash versus katana–yeah, it’s as silly as it sounds.

Though the episode isn’t immaculate–see that last sentence–it proves to be much more interesting than the last few with some dramatic stakes for a change, instead of the Avengers handedly taking down various henchmen. This show is rocky at best, but the handling of Silver Samurai as a quasi-villain whose future role in the show is up in the air, is close enough to the classic Marvel handling of villains to keep things interesting. Though if the preview is any indicator, the next episode will be filler central. Let’s hope it’s worth something and not a waste of 25 minutes.

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