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.

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