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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.