Monthly Archives: July 2014

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

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 D: Fantasy/Magical Girl

1st Match:

Images of Illya prepped for battle and Usagi not impressed

Fate/Kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!: F

I was maybe seven or eight minutes into the second episode of Fate/Kaleid liner, etc., when I started thinking that maybe the series would begin to focus more on, what’s seems to be, its initial premise; two young girls gain magical abilities and use them to save the world. Maybe all of that meandering and subtle moe fan service in the first episode was just a ruse to get the butts of the worst kind of otaku into seats. After all, we were getting some pretty kick-ass fight scenes between Miyu, Illya and Illya’s evil half–Kuro Illya–and the animation during these scenes is quite beautiful, one must admit. Not two minutes later, Kuro Illya was forcibly making out with Miyu before leaving her balled up and drained from the experience. Not long after THAT, Illya delivers a blow to Kuro Illya that conveniently disintegrates most of her costume besides her cape, leaving Kuro Illya to merely cover herself up with her hands and fly away. AND by the end of the episode, Illya is used as bait for Kuro Illya by her pals, and tied up in a rather bondage-like way.

Now, I’m a fan of Kill la Kill–the Trigger series that premiered last Fall–and that show is notorious for being liberal with the bodies of its underage female characters–like the scenes wherein they use their clothing to access their powers. The difference between these two series, however, is that Kill la Kill‘s scenes are tongue-in-cheek, meant to make fun of these similar scenes in Fate/Kaleid liner, etc. because of their ridiculousness. Fate/Kaleid liner, etc seems to have a reasoning behind its more lascivious scenes. Why did we have to see Kuro Illya make out with Miyu? Well, because we needed to see that Kuro is evil–though she’ll probably be “one of the gang” by the end of the season–and she wanted to make things more complicated between Illya and Miyu. Why was Kuro practically naked? Illya is just that powerful, you see. And so on, and so forth.

There’s nothing more to say about Fate/Kaleid liner, etc. this week, except that I can’t wait for it to be over. Ugh.

Sailor Moon: Crystal: C+

Note: Since Sailor Moon: Crystal is being released on a bi-weekly basis, I’m re-posting my review of the first episode here for context.

This iteration of Sailor Moon has been long awaited by fans of the show, and I feel like it must disappoint to some level. For anyone not in the know, Sailor Moon: Crystal–and Sailor Moon before it–is about Usagi Tsukino, a young school girl who meets a talking cat named Luna that bestows upon Usagi the ability to morph into Sailor Moon, a magical warrior. We don’t get much more back story than that this episode, but it’s sufficient enough to get the main idea across; Usagi has gone from a general failure–in school, at least–to a defender of good.

Where Crystal goes astray, is in its lack of importance. There’s a real feeling–especially after Usagi becomes Sailor Moon–that we flit from scene to scene with a minimum of consequences. Sure, there’s a villain here, but I never once felt particularly attached to Usagi, so I didn’t really care what happened to her either way. The same is true of her friends. I would say that the lack of stakes is perfectly fine for a kids show–last season’s Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers suffered from the same issue from time to time–but I’ve been hearing for a while now that Crystal is aimed more at the adult fans of the original series, rather than simply children. Even if they are still aiming at a new, younger audience, there are ways of writing compelling stories and characters that don’t go over kids’ heads. For instance, Crystal just BARELY dabbles in some interesting territory when the villain–some kind of demon, risen from magic and inhabiting the body of one of Usagi’s friend’s mother–is able to brainwash a number of women that purchase jewelery from the mother’s store. So what are they getting at? Women are controlled by physical objects like jewelery? Setting oneself free of possessions frees one from their demons? We don’t really know, because Crystal is more interested in the setup and the follow through than any larger meaning the situation might have. Once again, if this show is still meant for children, I take back my harshness. Using that as an excuse though, is kind of a cop out. There’s so much media for kids these days that’s able to work on numerous levels. Crystal just isn’t one of them.

On the other hand, though the cell shading parts look bad and the characters designs are a little odd, the overall style of the show feels pretty close to the original series. I really dig the hazed graphics and flowers that pop up when Usagi finally meets Mamoru–the love interest of the show but also the alias of Tuxedo Mask. Crystal owns up to a schlockiness that is reminiscent of the cheesiest shoujo series from the 80’s and 90’s, meaning that it at least works as a good call back to the original series. I guess the problem is that Crystal feels like a pointless show so far. The story has been done before–widely heralded as one of the better anime that certain people have seen, whether that’s nostalgia speaking or not–the advancements in animation really aren’t doing much good here, and the writers of Crystal seem complacent in keeping the status quo, instead of trying some new story lines. If you’re a Sailor Moon fan, I guess Crystal has an appeal in the fact that it allows you to watch the series in a new way, but otherwise you’d probably be best seeking out the original. Moon power! That’s the saying, right?

Winner… Sailor Moon: Crystal
Image of Sailor Moon at her Sailor Mooniest

Hey, there’s a win for the first episode of Sailor Moon: Crystal. And all it took was to be paired against the–arguably–worst show of the season. Seriously though, this is a good chance to mention that even though this current incarnation of Sailor Moon doesn’t rank too high for me, it certainly seems to be the best Magical Girl series of the season. Crystal‘s throwback style–both in its artistic style and the style in which its main characters aren’t solely meant to please creepy older men–is a win for the show and clearly sets it far above Fate/Kaleid liner, etc. in the quality department. Don’t let the character designs fool you, stay far far away from Fate/Kaleid liner but cozy up to the 80’s super-cheese of Crystal. That is, if you REALLY need a Magical Girl show in your rotation.

2nd Match:

Images of Sinon firing her sniper rifle in mid-air with a missing limb and Tatsumi looking frightened

Sword Art Online II: B-

This felt like a pretty strong episode of Sword Art Online II, outside of the first and last two or three minutes. My biggest worry is that I can’t tell whether the middle part of this episode–the section that’s fairly compelling–is the norm for the rest of the series, or a striking departure just to introduce a new character.

To get into it, the episode starts very blandly, with Sinon–a player in the Gun Gale Online virtual game–sniping at a giant monster. Despite the senseless killing, there’s no style or even movement to this scene whatsoever. It just seemed oddly placed, really. Soon though, Sinon is in the battlefield, prepping a strike against some rival gamers with her team of fellow assassins. It’s quickly established that she is an ace sniper–one of the best in the game–and that she has tactical skills to boot, as the team chooses a strategy for taking down their targets. Sinon points out a hooded figure in the group that worries her, but the leader of the assassins tells her to take out the target with a large gun instead. The rest of the episode is basically just one long shoot-out that’s choreographed really well, and captures what it’s like to play games like this. That can be a good thing or to the show’s detriment depending on what kind of a viewer you are and how much gamified storytelling you want in your anime–admittedly, such storytelling is often handled horribly, but it seems to work here. The episode ends with a cut to whichever game Kazuto and Asuna are in–I didn’t catch the first season, so this is all new to me–as we get a tease that Kazuto will spill the beans on the info he got in the last episode to Asuna.

This end scene seemed so out of place, maybe because it was the only scene which took place outside of Gun Gale Online, but also because Kazuto had plenty of time in the first episode to explain the situation to Asuna. Here, he simply sits up and decides it’s time. It’s not only silly, but it’s bad writing. Luckily, that middle section–wherein Sinon proves the kind of bad-ass she is–is a blast to watch, with many surprises strewn throughout. It’s not only fun for the audience, but also helps to set up our expectations of the kinds of adventures that Kazuto and Asuna will get into when they reach this world. At least I hope the series is going in this direction. All I know of the first season of the show, is that it notoriously objectifies women, with one character being in a cage for most of the series, a sexual slant given to the situation. I can’t speak to that, but I do know that the worst this season has gotten so far, is one cheesecake shot of Sinon from behind in the first episode, and a male-gaze heavy come-on from one of Sinon’s fellow assassins, which gets turned down pretty quickly. If the first season was about taking away female empowerment, the creators must have listened to the complaints, because so far Sinon is ten times the hero that Kazuto is. Obviously, he’ll probably come to save everyone in the Gun Gale Online universe and Sinon will begrudgingly fall in love with him–as all strong female protagonists do–but for now, this show is in decent opposition to something like Fate/Kaleid liner, etc., and for that I’m grateful.

Akame ga Kill!: B

There are shows that overcome their fan service leanings, proving that certain shots–like one where a girl with large breasts sets them on another character’s head–are simply side-fodder, rather than a big reason why the show exists. Luckily for us, Akame ga Kill resides in this category, sticking fan service into several of the scenes but still telling an engaging main story that never feels bogged down by such fanboy fair. It’s a credit to the show that it can get away with both goals, since most series have a difficult time with the task.

The episode starts with Tatsumi being officially introduced to the members of Night Raid–the group of assassins, as you’ll recall–by Leone–the large chested, cheetah-looking woman who conned him in the first episode. He also meets Najenda, the leader of the group who seems calm and laid-back, but firm in her resolve. The group soon forces Tatsumi to decide whether he will join the group or not, leaving him with inner turmoil over his capability to kill on command. When he hesitantly decides to join the group, Najenda teams him up with Akame for his training. We get a few scenes showing the process of Tatsumi’s training–from kitchen prep to burst fishing–and before long, a woman hires Night Raid to assassinate two high-level officials who framed her husband for a crime they committed. With half of the crew away on a separate mission, Tatsumi joins up with Akame and Leone, tasked to take take down one of the targets–Ogre, a captain of the defense force for the capital–all on his own. The ensuing fight is a little anti-climactic–even in its twist–but it’s still fun and it’s a good way to showcase the evolution of Tatsumi from regular citizen to an official member of Night Raid crew.

Akame ga Kill! continues to surprise me, as I continue to enjoy the series. This episode is better than the last, as it gives more time to the individuals of Night Raid, whether it be Bulat–the ex-officer of the empire whose segment feels a little homophobic– or Mine–a sniper who is quick to verbally cut Tatsumi to the quick. Its various characters are never the most unique you’ve ever seen, but they seem fresh enough for the series–though Akame’s “quiet yet skilled” demeanor seems a little played out in action shows. I also appreciate Akame ga Kill‘s interest in the evils of government corruption and its characters fighting against that, instead of pitting them against looming monsters from netherworlds. Most fantasy anime that I’ve encountered, play up that fantastical element to such a degree that the show is hardly relatable. If you aren’t in to the protagonists slicing up blob monsters and demons, then there won’t be much for you to enjoy. Akame ga Kill!, though set in a semi-medievel world, subtly points out the government corruption rampant in our own times–even if it doesn’t mean to–simply because it focuses on individuals forced to become outcasts by the unfair society which puts power in the hands of the wealthy. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

I’m classically known for stuffing philosophical messages into otherwise empty media products, but Akame ga Kill!–whether it carries such lofty ideas or not–should at least get brownie points for not being easily shuffled off to the mortal coil of anime mediocrity. Maybe I’d feel differently if my knowledge of anime fantasy series was more well-rounded, but as it stands, I’m really enjoying Akame ga Kill!.

Winner… Akame ga Kill!
Image of Tatsumi taking out the corrupt official

Sword Art Online II was surprisingly enjoyable this week, but its lack of character development–in the face of Akame ga Kill!‘s new character introductions and evolution of Tatsumi–ultimately lost it the match. Akame ga Kill! takes it home, yet again.

Tune in tomorrow when Tokyo Ghoul takes a bite out of Persona 4 the Golden Animation and Dramatical Murder attempts to come to terms with the ramifications of Zankyou no Terror.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 2, 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 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 C: Slice of Life/Romance

1st Match:

Images of Hiroshi and Naru in Handa's calligraphy room and Yoshioka and Makita being friendly

Barakamon: B+

Barakamon was enjoyable this week, but never quite as good as the premier episode. It starts with an introduction to a new character, Hiroshi–the son of the family that’s helping to take care of Handa during his stay on the island. Hiroshi is annoyed that his mom cooks meals for Handa, basically allowing him to live off of Hiroshi’s family. Meanwhile, Handa is losing sleep in order to reach the level of success he wants to with his calligraphy. He’s not helped by an overly rambunctious Naru and the return of Tamako and Miwa, the two girls who’d been using Handa’s new place as a hideout before he moved in. They come back to reclaim the house in their name–much to Handa’s chagrin–and he ends up kicking everyone out so he can get some work done. When Hiroshi shows up at Handa’s place, food in hand, he’s surprised by Handa collapsing into his arms after he opens the front door. Soon, Hiroshi and Naru are watching over Handa as he sleeps, passed out on the floor. Naru shows Handa’s room of calligraphy sketches to Hiroshi, and he realizes that Handa’s talents lie in his ability to pursue his passion beyond any kind of barrier. Hiroshi is obviously inspired–being a ‘B’ student who has convinced himself that he’s tried his hardest, when he really hasn’t compared, to Handa–and begins to see Handa in a different light, as he comes to and eats the food that Hiroshi brought. The next time Naru visits Handa, she finds him passed out once more at his doorstep. He’s quickly rushed to the hospital and brought back to health. He gets several visitors–and is generally annoyed by all of them–but he soon meets an old man in the hallway who points out that Handa has so many people who want to be around him, whether they are annoying or not. This brings some kind of passion back to Handa, and he find himself ready to get back to his work, his spirit refreshed.

The overall message of Hiroshi’s storyline–involving the difference between someone who utilizes their passion and someone who pretends to–was a nice touch this time around. Between a show like this, and one like Ping Pong the Animation, I’m constantly torn between thoughts of natural talent and hopes for a positive outcome through hard work. Maybe the trick is putting hard work into what you’re passionate about. That seems to be the core message here, and it certainly bridges the gap between hours and hours of practice versus natural abilities. The addition of Hiroshi to the cast is another smart move, as it allows Handa to instill certain values and principles in Naru while being able to pass on different life lessons entirely to Hiroshi, due to the age difference between the two supporting characters. Add in Tamako and Miwa, and that’s even more people that Handa can have an impact on. Of course, this episode seems focused on the ecosystem of the friendships that Handa is building on the island, in the way that each relationship is symbiotic. I also feel like the episode was getting at the difference between pushing artistic creation and letting the world–and the people–around you be its driving force. Handa spends most of his time trying to get his various neighbors out of his hair this episode, but by the end, they are largely to thank for his recovery, no matter how much they may annoy him from time to time. This episode encourages the audience to appreciate those around them while they’re there, instead of always worrying about how much they aren’t getting done. In fact, in the first episode, Handa does his best work in an explosive bit of creativity after spending much of his time with his fellow islanders. His attempts to shut himself off in this episode, largely backfire and create the opposite effect of what he wanted.

While the messages in this episode were stand out–maybe even better than last week’s–the episode itself seemed to lack some of the spark of the premiere. Maybe that first episode just took me by surprise because I wasn’t expecting too much from this show. Either way, my expectations should now be tampered and I’m ready to see where the writers take Handa, Naru and Hiroshi–as well as the others–from here.

Ao Haru Ride: A

Ao Haru Ride largely succeeded this week by pushing its love story to the background–though it’s still a very important aspect of the episode–and heavily focusing on Yoshioka’s estimation and reevaluation of herself as a person. We see SO many anime series that take place during the characters’ high school years, but only the truly great ones capture the feeling of being lost and trying to figure out exactly who you are as a person. Ao Haru Ride can now be added to that list, at least for this one episode.

The episode begins the way the last one did–and the way I can assume the rest will–by showing us a glimpse of Yoshioka and Kou’s relationship as middle school friends. In a game of cops and robbers, Kou sacrifices himself while telling Yoshioka to stay safe in a hiding place. Soon, she feels as if she owes something to Kou and tries to save him from the “jail”, only to get caught herself. Back in the present, Yoshioka is asked by a teacher to run an errand and she turns to her friends for help. They refuse to help and wave her off, leaving Yoshioka to consider what Kou said in the last episode about the quality of her friendships. On her errand, Yoshioka runs into Makita–the shy girl that all the other girls are jealous/envious of because of the attention she gets from boys–and they strike up a conversation when Yoshioka realizes that Makita has a similar plush key chain that she had as a younger girl. Makita happens to have two and gives Yoshioka one, much to her delight/embarrassment. After she gets a heavy stack of papers from the teachers’ lounge, Yoshioka runs into Kou, who refuses to help her as well–and is a considerable ass to her–but his older brother Youichi is quick to pick up the slack and help her out. Back with her friends, Yoshioka voices her negative feelings of them when they continuously make fun of Makita behind her back. This causes a rift in her friendships and Yoshioka momentarily finds herself isolated once more–like in her middle school years–until Kou and Makita prove in their turn that they are both there for her. Before long, Yoshioka confronts here old friends and apologizes, only to find that things can’t go back to the way they were, now that the truth about her feelings are in the open.

There’s so much to like about this episode, from Yoshioka’s maturing ideas of what friendship should be, to the relatively quiet affection that her and Kou show one another, never seeming overly dramatic as it may have in the last episode. Makita has some thoughtful lines as well, as she describes to Yoshioka at one point how and why she acts the way she does. She points out that her shyness isn’t a put on just to get boys, but is the legitimate way she feels because boys make her nervous. Makita also points out that even it her shyness was manufactured, it wouldn’t be any different from the make-up that other girls use–especially Yoshioka’s two friends–in order to get attention from boys. It is this eye opening conversation that facilitates Yoshioka’s realization that she isn’t living her life as the person she is, but as the person that others want or need her to be. Her friends are shallow because, for them, Yoshioka is just a walking opposition to what they can offer to a possible love interest–meaning that her non-stop eating and other eccentricities are meant to make her friends look like better love interests in comparison. The scene in which she comes clean to Kou about her friend situation, stands out in particular, as he holds her close to him, mainly out of necessity–so that passing students won’t see her cry–but also out of an appreciation for her growth as a person, though the second of those is never stated outright. Yoshioka’s growing friendship with Makita is also nice to see, as it means that she’s beginning to understand the necessity to see people from your own perspective instead of from others. It was easy for Yoshioka to dismiss Makita before, because Yoshioka’s friends saw her in such a negative light. However, when Yoshioka opens her eyes and truly sees who Makita is, she is able to realize that the two of them have far more in common than Yoshioka does with her other friends.

I found this to be a surprisingly powerful episode and indicative of the fact that Ao Haru Ride has more to offer than a dramatic, shoujo romance story. Yoshioka is certainly one of the most rounded out characters this season, frequently making mistakes but also growing through those same mistakes. I hope to see the rest of the cast fleshed out in such a way and for Yoshioka to continue representing the oddity that is the high school experience.

Winner… Ao Haru Ride
Image of Yoshioka feeling isolated in middle school

While Barakamon had another solid episode this week–and had its own thoughts about the importance of friendship–, it was Ao Haru Ride that dealt with the repercussions of fitting yourself into someone else’s ideal of you. Mayne next time, Barakamon. Maybe next time.

2nd Match:

Images of Yuuki and Rino in the horror send-up and Nozaki gallantly helping out Seo

Jinsei: F

Last week’s episode of Jinsei felt slight and immature, yet seemed to at least be coming from an interesting place storytelling wise. This week’s episode throws all that out the window in favor of fan service, panty shots and a girl getting borderline assaulted. How further the fallen have fallen.

It’s not even worth going into the plotting elements of this episode, as most of it is aimed at delivering up fan service. The only segment that doesn’t have that as its main goal is the send up of the haunted house genre, but even that segment has a really lame payoff in the form of a bad joke. The worst part of the episode, is a segment in which Ikumi pretends to be a gypsy in order to see how predictions affect someone’s outcome. At least, I think that’s the point. The logic in this show–and the transition from one topic to another–baffles me. Anyway, when a customer comes into the gypsy room, Ikumi quickly sticks Yuuki and Rino under the table together. There, in close proximities and with Yuuki on top of Rino, the two are quietly bossed around by Ikumi, who pushes them for lines to say as the gypsy. Of course, Yuuki eventually falls down on Rino, his head collapsing between her breasts as Ikumi holds it there with the heel of her shoe on the back of his head. Rino squirms and tells him to stop but he can’t pull up since Ikumi’s keeping him down. Then out of nowhere, after a swift kick to the face from Ikumi, Yuuki finds himself straight-up massaging Rino’s breasts with her shirt up. I don’t care how hard he got kicked, that’s neither a defense mechanism OR an accident. It’s assault. When he realizes what he’s doing–as if he didn’t do it purposefully–he stops, but he must quickly cover Rino’s mouth before she screams and gives away the fact that they’re under the table. Calling the scene “a little rapey”, would be taking it easy on Jinsei. Maybe we’re supposed to buy that Yuuki isn’t aware of what he’s doing during this scene, or that he doesn’t have control over his actions–Ikumi shoving his head down, and everything–but the writers are aware of what they’re doing, and–to quote Sonic–“That’s no good.”

I think Jinsei is one of those shows that makes you a little dumber after watching it, so you’re best to stay away. Sabagebu!, Shounen Hollywood and, dare I say it, Fate/Kaleid liner, etc. have all been better than this episode, so you really can’t do worse.

Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun: B+

Luckily, the offensively terrible nature of this week’s Jinsei, was made up for by Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun‘s new characters and character dynamics built up over the course of the episode. First we get Mikoto Mikoshiba, the friend of Nozaki who inspired the female character in his shoujo manga–he is consistently embarrassed in public, as is Nozaki’s character. The first half of the episode acts as a character piece on Mikoto; we see how he interacts with women, the kind of artist he is and his slightly competitive nature with Sakura. In the second half of the episode, Sakura introduces Nozaki and Mikoto to Yuzuki Seo, an intense girl who is completely unaware of herself. At one point, she helps out the basketball team by suiting up, being a show off and reminding the rest of the team–through no knowledge of her own–of the importance of teamwork. Basically, she’s a brute and isn’t even aware of it. Nozaki is especially surprised when Sakura leads him to the choir room, where Seo is singly beautifully with the voice of an angel.

Getting the plot breakdown of the episode, makes it sound trite and unmotivated, but in actuality, it’s rather entertaining. This time around, the jokes land much better than they did last time and the characters are drawn with a certain level of subtlety–all except Seo, of course, who’s ridiculousness is a part of her charm. Soon after meeting Sakura, for instance, Mikoto tells her to not come to him with questions about the manga creative process because he hates being bothered with those kind of questions. We then see him hawking Sakura and twiddling his thumbs, surprised that she has so much knowledge of the process already. Nozaki clues her in that Mikoto actually does want to be asked how to do things, and that it will make him feel better to be bothered. It doesn’t sound as funny written out, because much of the humor is in the subtle way that the writer’s flesh out Mikoto’s intentions. It’s a greater example of how this episode was legitimately funny without ever feeling like it was pandering to one particular niche of the audience–in less of course I’m that niche and completely unaware of myself. It’s so rare to find that kind of universality in an anime series, when so many are of a specific genre and are very aware of the expectation that that genre carries. Beyond this, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun gives us a small view into the world of a mangaka, from the various art processes that take place in the production of a manga to where the inspiration for characters comes from. Luckily, it’s never to the point where if you aren’t interested in the manga creation process, you’ll be bored to tears, but instead fits nicely into the background of a light character piece.

I was stoked to see that this week’s episode decided to largely forgo the relationship–or lack thereof–between Sakura and Nozaki, choosing instead to focus on it’s current cast as well as the new additions therein. This is a path in the right direction for the show, but I’m still hoping that Sakura will grow to stand out more on here own as the series progresses.

Winner… Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun
Image of Mikoto embarrassed

Jinsei was bad, bad, bad this week, so there was really no chance of it winning out over the much improved second episode of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun. I’m still trying to figure out how the show screwed up that delightful, “high school girls meets Alvin and the Chipmunks” aesthetic. The world may never know.

Check back tomorrow when Sailor Moon: Crystal has to hope last week’s episode can beat a new Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei (it can), and Akame ga Kill makes Sword Art Online II pay for its previous sins.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 2, 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 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 B: Action/Mecha

1st Match:

Images of a mech battle and Sakurai looking on dismissively

Aldnoah.Zero: A-

Wow, this series really stepped up its game with this episode. It kind of had to, after the last episode ended with the Vers–the species from Mars–beginning their attack on Earth. That attack is carried out from the get-go here, with much animated aplomb and with the dramatic tension ratcheted up a few notches. Though we’re told that Earth has been preparing for the attack for 15 years–after all, this isn’t the first time that the Vers have attacked–Earth forces throughout the globe are dealt with quite quickly by the invading forces. After some really amazing action scenes of mass destruction–they’re something to behold–we delve into how the various characters are entangled in the attack. Nao–the quiet one who annoyed me in the last episode–and his sister Yuki, have some back and forth as she tries to convince him over the phone–she’s a soldier, so is caught up in incoming battles–to evacuate the city, which has now become a ghost town. Nao takes her advice but ends up running into two cohorts of Princess Asseylum, who question him first and then inform him that Asseylum wasn’t actually assassinated–which is what set this new war into motion to begin with. We also get some good scenes with Slaine, this time around, as he is forced to make a decision between murdering his brethren of Earth or following the orders of his compatriots from Mars. Lastly, we get a really intense chase scene that brings several of the characters together and sets up the next episode as a starting ground for some sort of Earthling retaliation, or maybe deeper Martian occupation.

While the animation here blew me away, I think this episode did an exceptional job of giving the audience quality character moments that subtlety evolved the cast, in between all the pretty explosions. Nao’s ability to stay calm in a dire situation, played better here and seemed more plausible than in the last episode. Slaine’s on attack of conscious will certainly come into larger play later in the series, but for now he’s likable enough and a good representation of those torn between Mars and Earth. Other characters like Yuki and Rayet–a spy for the Martians–get their own moments, whether it be Yuki’s harrowing battle against Trillram, or the aftermath for Rayet of her family being murdered. Speaking of Trillram, he plays a Mr. Burns-level baddie here, as he coldly destroys so many Earth soldiers and civilians throughout the episode. In fact, the Martians seem to lack many sympathetic characters, outside of the girls that are caught up with the Earthlings. All the Martian males seem rampant with a kind of blood lust, making things a little uneven as far as character development goes. Lastly, I’ll mention that this show probably has the best computer animation this season. Not only does it seem to flow fairly smoothly, but the CGI here blends pretty well with the rest of the animation in the show, something that most series with CGI can’t seem to get right. Anytime that CGI is used to such an extent in an action show, there’s always a fear that it will completely ruin anything good the action scenes have going for them, just because blended animation can look so bizarre. Congrats to Aldnoah.Zero for living in the category of shows that are starting to right this wrong.

Aldnoah.Zero is such sci-fi fun, but–as we see here–not at the expense of growing its characters. That’s a feat too, considering the fact that I only mentioned about a fifth of all the characters in the show, so far. If you’re looking for mech action galore, look no further than Aldnoah.Zero. Two episodes in, and it’s already the best series in its genre for at least the last couple of years. Let’s hope it can keep the quality and the action up, hand in hand.

Rail Wars!: B-

Rail Wars! was pretty disappointing this week, mainly because so much of it was focused on fan service to a distracting level. In spite of that, I actually liked the storyline this week, and though most of the characters didn’t go anywhere–emotionally that is–Aoi felt much more like a real person by the end of the episode–though she was objectified pretty consistently throughout.

This week starts with the gang assigned to the Public Safety Crew, specifically Crew Defense Four, which everyone calls D4. Sakurai is excited to be involved in a defense crew, while Takayama is saddened to be missing out on the cushy life he wanted as a chauffeur on the railways. The tables are quickly turned as the group finds out that D4 is more of a customer service group than anything else, the four of them asked to make sure that all civilians in the station are safe and taken care of. Sakurai and Takayama break off and, though she seems dismissive, Sakurai can’t help but notice Takayama’s way with communicating with people–a trait which Sakurai runs pretty low on. Eventually, Takayama and Iwaizumi are almost killed in a bombing that goes off in one of the station’s lockers. D4 quickly jumps to action, checking out all the lockers throughout the station to no avail. After a dog left at lost and found is mentioned–we see him earlier in the episode–Iwaizumi’s intuition tells him that the bomb is hidden somewhere in the dog’s carrier. The rest of the episode follows this path, with Sakurai acting as the bomb diffuser and Takayama as her close helper.

The episode does a good job with the dramatic tension expected of such a situation, but I’m wondering if the incident ties into the overarching story at all. There’s obviously someone behind the bombing, but it seems that they are captured by the end of the episode without much fanfare or a tie-in to whatever larger storyline may be playing out. Most annoying storyline wise–and this is a spoiler, by the by–is the fact that Takayama is promoted to squad leader by the end of the episode. I get that Takayama is good with people, but Sakurai is the one that clearly shows leadership abilities throughout the episode, as she largely corals the team to their eventual victory over the bombers. It’s just an example of how this show–and anime at large–seems more interested in a boring know-nothing like Takayama, rather than the strong female character of Sakurai. Speaking of her, I was torn by the conclusion of Sakurai’s story this week. She practically saves the day through the use of some handy nitrogen-oxide–a MacGuffin showcased for a few seconds earlier in the episode–and then collapses into Takayama’s arms out of sheer exhaustion. On the one hand, it’s realistic in the way that someone of Sakurai’s resolve would need that rest and revitalization that can sometimes only be provided by another person. At the same time, the scene feels like its playing to the otaku in the audience, as there’s a definite sexual element to her action, her figure outlined to the extreme by her tight skirt. It’s representative of Rail Wars! as a whole. The series seemingly can’t decide if it wants to be a character drama with trains as a backdrop, or busty fan service with trains as a backdrop.

For now, I’m still enjoying the show–the action is pretty fun, after all–and the fan service is still only at the annoying level, rather than the offensively dumb level, so I appreciate that. The one thing I’d really like to see, is some sort of over-arching storyline, so I’m crossing my fingers that we get that–and better character development–in next week’s episode.

Winner… Aldnoah.Zero
Image of a Martian aircraft overtaking an Earth jet

Rail Wars! was enjoyable enough this week–if not somewhat vapid at times–but Aldnoah.Zero did its thing so much better, juggling the character drama with the larger sci-fi war as a spectacular backdrop. I’d been anticipating Aldnoah.Zero since I first saw it announced, so this episode felt like a confirmation that my anticipation was warranted. I can’t wait to watch the next episode of Aldnoah.Zero, while I’m fine with catching the next Rail Wars! in due time.

2nd Match:

Images of Tokimune piloting Argevollen in a battle and Momoka and Kayo with guns drawn

Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen: B+

This week’s episode of Argevollen was quite an improvement over the first episode, with many of the characters feeling more fleshed out by the end of things, and the action even better and fraught with more levity, this time around. The episode starts where the last one left off, with our heroes from the Kingdom of Arandas on the run from the military might of Ingelmia, an opposition country. Meanwhile, the newbie–Tokimune–is forced to man Argevollen, the giant mech which can only be piloted by the first individual who used it. We see Tokimune going through the paces in the mech, but he has a hard time getting the machine to do as he wants, since he’s so fresh to combat and piloting mechs. Eventually, he and Jamie–a representative of the company that made Argevollen–start to work together in order to improve Tokimune’s piloting abilities, but an attack from the forces of Ingelmia looms in the distance. When the group of Arandians take a flue-like opening in a mine shaft to get to their destination, they are followed by some of the forces of Ingelmia, including a few heavy duty mechs. Soon our protagonists realize this, and Tokimune is asked to stay in the rear and protect everybody, even though his abilities with Argevollen are still limited. Jamie catches up with Tokimune right before a pivotal battle, and encourages him to throw out all thought about controlling Argevollen, instead relying on his instinct and the bond between pilot and mech. This leads to a really great fight scene between Argevollen and the mechs of Ingelmia, and sets the show on a certain trajectory from here on out.

It’s hard to deny the similarities between Argevollen and Aldnoah.Zero–they’re both mech shows, they both involve two warring nations/species and they both have a large cast. While Aldnoah.Zero beats Argevollen in almost every category, mainly because it’s simply a better written show, Argevollen excels in the design of the mechs on the show. The Ingelmian mech units are just animalistic enough to be intimidating, but also have a coldness and frigidity to them. Argevollen, on the other hand, looks like an evolution of the eva units from Evangelion, and moves so smoothly once Tokimune gets a good grasp of how to handle it. Sadly, the CGI animation does feel a little choppier than in Aldnoah.Zero, so that’s certainly to its discredit, but the action scenes are still a blast to watch. I particularly liked the relationship that the show is building between Tokimune and Jamie, the pilot/creator dynamic working well for this kind of show. It allows small spurts of dialogue between the two characters, while showcasing the fact that Tokimune is growing as a soldier. I’d also say that Argevollen seems to be more interested in military strategy than Aldnoah.Zero, as seen in the attempt of the Ingelmian forces to trap the Arandians in the mineshaft and severely lessen their force. That’s a win for some people–like me–but others may find each countries strategic decisions–and the conversations behind them–more of a bore than Aldnoah.Zero‘s all-out action scenes.

I was really happy to see the improvement in quality with this episode, as I was hoping for good things for this show going into the season. At this point, it’ll have to beat Aldnoah.Zero next week to make it into the next round, but I’m not entirely certain that the show can’t do that. More important than all that, I’m glad that this series is out there for those more interested in the militaristic side of mecha anime, since those seem to be fewer and farther between these days.

Sabagebu!: C-

If Sabagebu! has one thing going for it–and it’s lucky if it even has one–it’s the metatextual elements of the show. It’s one of the things that makes the series bearable to watch, since the narrator is often commenting on how stupid or pointless the show can be at times. Alas, that just isn’t enough to make me want to continue watching this silly show.

This week we continue with the gun porn as Miou shows up at Momoka’s house to remind her that she’s a part of the survival game club. Soon they’re off to school and we get an eerie montage of other clubs suiting up–tennis, baseball, etc.–intercut with our protagonists loading their guns and holstering them. The way this scene is presented, my brain jumps to images of Momoka and the gang taking out the rest of the clubs in a sea of bullets. It’s just the way the montage looks, though I understand what they’re really going for, which is the fact that the survival club is like any other club, at the end of the day. From here on, several annoying stories take up the rest of the episode. First, Urara feels in direct competition with Momoka for Miou’s love until Momoka punches Urara in the face, at which time she falls in love with Momoka. Next, Maya has to be the model in a nato commercial, which disgusts her, so the girls try to help her to become more comfortable with the food. Eventually she gets larger, shinier breasts from the nato, and Momoka has to shoot the commercial in her place. Yeah. Lastly, Kayo team up to take on the other three girls in a shoot-out that is the best part of the show, mainly due to its choreography.

The narrator puts it best himself at the end of the episode, when he says that this is what the series will be like, so the audience is free to go or come back for more, now fully understanding what they’re getting. I can appreciate that, and Sabagebu! is certainly a show that speaks for itself–in other words, I don’t need to explain why the “Maya gets bigger breasts” segment is ridiculous–but I guess I’m just not interested in listening. Heaven help the soul who is, though. This show sucks.

Winner… Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen
Image of Argevollen prepped to attack

Argevollen won this match handedly, as it improved over last week’s more lackluster episode. Sabagebu! just felt even more schizophrenic this week than it did last week, and didn’t really grow any of the characters in the process. I guess we found out that Urara ties physical abuse to romantic desires, so there is that. And really, what more could you ask for?

Check out Group C’s matches next time, as Barakamon verbally spars over a spot of tea with Ao Haru Ride and Gekkan Shoujo Nazaki-Kun comes to fisticuffs with Jinsei.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 2, 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 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 A: Sports/Music/Idol

1st Match:

Images of Shinsaku looking intensely into the distance and some of the Shounen Hollywood boys shounen around

Bakumatsu Rock: B-

The second episode of Bakumatsu Rock improves decently over the first one, though a few elements actually get worse. The story starts with Ryouma being confronted by Isami, who seems to be the leader of the Shinsengumi group, though Ryouma isn’t aware of that last fact. Isami is interested in Ryouma’s rock music and tells him to go see a Shinsengumi show in order to get a better idea about performance. The rest of the episode leads up to that very moment, though we get tidbits like Shinsaku’s back story–and why he hates government officials–and the fact that Shoin-sensei–the shaggy master–is missing and that Shinsaku desperately wants to find him. Lastly, we find out about the “Peace Soul” the factor that drives Ryouma’s intense passion for rock. There’s more about that, but it’s more of a MacGuffin than anything else, at least so far. Eventually at the concert, Ryouma and crew spontaneously jump on the stage and overtake the concert with their rock. The audience loves it and Isami seems to be equally intrigued.

For me this episode did a far better job than the lost of telling a complete story and fleshing out the characters in the process. Some things are hamfisted–like how Shinsaku hates the government because his guardian was basically killed by a government official–but by the end of the episode, I felt like I better understood each character’s motivation. Best of all, was the introduction of Isami and the ambiguity that he brings to the story. Is he actually interested in the kind of music that Ryouma and co. are trying to perform, or is he an A&R man of his time, looking to capitalize on the next big thing and ride the wave of success. That second route seems far more interesting, as it could explore the way that art is effected by outside interests, be they corporate or political. Ryouma’s character has more to say about the music industry, as he calls out two of the guys in Shinsengumi for not having passion for the music they play. Shinsengumi is clearly the idols of their day, so that commentary seems apt for today’s music industry as much as it does for the story and situations in Bakumatsu Rock. The audience’s reaction and quick attachment to the new style of music that Ryouma is introducing, furthers the idea that the masses are only kept down by a lack of access to quality art. Even though Ryouma has attempted to gather an audience before, it takes being on the same stage–literally and metaphorically–for him to reach a crowd that quickly accepts his art. I do wish the actual music of the show was better though, as the rock songs here are pretty watered down themselves. Speaking of things being better, the random use of CGI–or possibly cell-shaded–figures throughout the episode is borderline embarrassing. They mainly pop up in the concert scene–with Ryouma and crew animated in that manner during wide shots of the stage and the performance–but even with the characters being fairly small in scope for these scenes, it’s extremely evident what the animators are doing. I’m not sure if it was cheaper to go with the CGI animation or if it meant less work, but it’s really jarring in many of these scenes and takes away from the best part of the episode. The characters look so stiff and lifeless that it’s almost laughable. That’s not rock!

If this episode didn’t get to some thoughtful ideas about the meaning of passion in art, the animation would have killed it for me. Hopefully next week the show will be less reliant on the CGI designs and will keep up the current level of quality. I really want this show to be good, but it’s got a ways to go before reaching a higher echelon, and shoddy animation won’t help.

Shounen Hollywood: C

Realizing that Shounen Hollywood is based on an actual idol group that its creator–Ikuyo Hashiguchi–has been putting together for the last handful of years, makes me see the series in a different light. In one way, it makes the humdrum nature of the show feel more realistic, as if maybe the writers are trying to capture the real life of an idol. However, it also makes it feel dirtier–and not in that fujoshi way, either. At the end of the day, isn’t this anime just one big commercial for the idol group? Of course you could argue that anime in general has always been used as a way to market various manga books after adapting them into a tv series. That doesn’t quite hold water with me, since manga come from a more creative background and landscape than do idol groups. The reality of the Shounen Hollywood idol group, also makes some of the scenes feel idiotic in their own self-serving nature. We get close to five minutes where the assistant to the President of the group explains various forms of idol group to our protagonists. I guess if you’re into this, it may be interesting but I was bored and wondering what point any of it could serve. Is it just to show that the President has bad ideas, since the idol group–in the show, anyhow–hasn’t been successful for years? If so, no one evey mentions that. In fact, the assistant sounds quite wistful and nostalgic about everything. Then the President shows up and everyone’s supposed to follow him blindly onto his next idea for the group. I guess it does prove that only the original incarnation of the group worked, so going back to that format couldn’t hurt. It was scenes like this that really made this episode drag for me.

One of the few standout moments of the episode, came from a storyline involving Kazami’s classmates wanting a particular pair of shoes that are about to be released. His two school chums end up paying a pretty penny for the loafers, while Kazami is given a pair for free by the President of the idol group. It’s representative of the road which Kazami has chosen to go down; one of celebrity, success and privilege. Kazami himself has a dramatic thought about his choice–as a burgeoning idol–to leave his friends behind. It’s a thoughtful scene–and so is one in which the President and Kazami discuss taking risks in life instead of the default path–but it’s really all this episode has going for it. Mostly the show just feels cold and empty, so maybe it does capture the reality of being an idol after all.

Winner… Bakumatsu Rock
Image of Ryouma and Kogorou rocking out... with plenty of glow sticks

While the second episode of Bakumatsu Rock certainly had its issues, its interest in the difference between music that’s played passionately and music that’s played for an end goal, gave the character of Ryoumu more heft and purpose as a main character. Meanwhile, Shounen Hollywood struggled to ingratiate its fancy lads–specifically Kazami–with the audience, only to realize that the angle the show is coming from doesn’t help much in the “feel sorry for celebrities” message it attempts to deliver. I do appreciate the “follow your dreams” thoughts, though they never overcome the relatively boring nature of the show. Rock forever, idols never!

2nd Match:

Images of Nanako and Yukari in front of a ridiculous background and Rin about to attack

LocoDol: B-

I’m glad that this second episode of LocoDol seemed to prove that this series will be more than high school girls playing idol in skimpy costumes. Though the first episode largely played into that mess–and that was probably the show attempting to bring in people who wouldn’t otherwise watch a series like this–here we see that LocoDol is, at its core, a show about a budding friendship. It’s cheesy at times and often goofy too, but I still stand by my original assessment of the show as sweetly sincere. The story here starts with Nanako questioning Yukari about the impact the two of them actually have as local idols and if being an idol is good for the world, etc. Yukari responds ambiguously, saying that she’s not sure but that she and Nanako will figure it out together, and that that’s the important part. Cut to later in the day, when the two girls are doing a food report on a nearby candy shop for their segment of the local news. Nanako is nervous to be eating on camera–and she finds herself intimidated by the shops owner–but Yukari helps to loosen her up and soon she’s giving a rave review of a particular dessert without even realizing it. By the end of the episode, Nanako and Yukari begin to bond while trying to decide on a definitive name for their idol group.

While not a lot happens plot wise here, the writers take the time to strengthen both Nanako and Yukari. By now, Nanako is more interested in being an idol and the impact she has on the community and her school. It’s a charming notion that an idol would be so quizzical about their own ability to positively effect their community, even if it is a little self-serving. This paid off by the end of the episode, as the “angry” man from the candy shop who intimidated Nanako, sends the two girls a thank you letter and puts a picture of them and himself up in his store. It’s a small gesture, but it’s an example of the difference that Nanako and Yukari are making as local idols, when the man lets out a small smile looking at the picture. Obviously it’s debatable whether idols in real life have such an impact, but at least it gives us reason to root for Nanako and Yukari. Aside from that, Yukari’s struggles to please and impress Nanako when she visits Yukari, bring the character down to a more human level, instead of just being the prototypical idol. We see that Yukari hasn’t had guests to her home very often, so she’s intent on showing Nanako a good time. More than anything, this points to LocoDol being a show interested in its two leads and the bond that grows between them over their time as local idols.

All of that being said, LocoDol isn’t for everybody, and I’m sure many people would find it particularly lame. If you’re annoyed by the usual facial reaction tropes, like glazed over eyes or blue streaks down a character’s face, this series isn’t for you, as that’s here in spades. If you can’t handle slice of life anime where all the characters are exceedingly nice to each other–and I get that that’s not especially realistic–then you probably won’t dig on LocoDol. If, however, you want to watch a show about the evolution of a friendship, you’re in the right place. No one? Really? Oh. Well, damn.

Free! Eternal Summer: B

I may be the only straight male that watches Free! Eternal Summer with a straight face. I’m not sure if it’s the swimming–a sport I’m particularly keen on–or the dramatic tension that’s rife in this show, but I really dig Free!, in spite of how ridiculously low those swim tights ride. Seriously guys? Pull ’em up! Back to my thoughts, I was particularly impressed this week with the shows ability to create new dramatic situations for the cast, after sweeping aside almost all of the conflicts by the end of the first season. Last week’s episode was kind of problematic in that way, since the only piece of drama was the unknown character, whom the writers had to play up some, just so it felt like something of note was happening. This time around, we are quickly introduced to said mystery character who ends up being Sousuke, an old school chum of Rin’s from his last city. They catch up, with Sousuke saying that he plans to swim for Rin’s team at Samezuka Academy and that he’s been scouted–meaning that he has a life in the swimming world after school is finished. Rin is surprised and maybe a little jealous, but he soon congratulates his friend and is stoked to have Sousuke on the team. Back at the Iwatobi camp–that’s Haru’s team–their friend and previous swim champ–Gorou–plans the opening of his swimming facility. He plans to throw a swim festival in order to garner interest in the new facility, and Haru and the gang agree to compete in a relay during the fest, to hype things up even more. Before long, Rin’s team is signed up for the relay as well and the fun is underway.

The real joy of Free! Eternal Summer, is the way that the show captures the art of swimming through fluent but crisp animation. The first season pulled this off excellently, and it may be even better here, possibly because of a larger budget. Each section of the relay–whether it’s Rei taking on Rin or a tense freestyle race between Haru and Sousuke–is really exciting to watch, which is worth mentioning since swimming–at least for me–isn’t the most exciting sport to watch in real life. Free! employs moments of slow motion to capture one swimmer gaining on another, or both of them being neck and neck, and really ramps up the drama of each race through tactics like these and others. Beyond the awesome animation and style of the show, this episode handles some new character relationships in a really nice way. Right before the relay starts, we see Sousuke approach Haru and threaten him about the way Haru has treated Rin in the past. This provides an added layer of tension when Haru and Sousuke race later in the episode. This kind of drama between characters is what the show was built, on as seen in Rin’s relationship with Haru throughout the first season. It’s nice to see the writers create a new set of problems with a new character, instead of trying to architect more issues with Rin, which would fly directly in the face of the end of the first season. One could argue that the ambiguous nature of Sousuke’s grievance and Haru’s convenient innocence are a retread from last season, but it feels fresh enough for me to stay interested in the outcome. Lastly, the other new character introduced this week–Momotarou, the brother of the old captain of the Samezuka team–really helps to round out the cast and evens out some of the fujoshi elements, as he is a ladies’ man to his core. He also provides some much needed comedic relief–though “woah, he really likes girls” jokes are only so funny.

I feel like this episode improved significantly over the last. If I’m being honest, I gave the last episode more of a pass than it deserved because I knew that these elements were lying just under the service. Hopefully the series continues with this momentum from here on out. Maybe Haru and the gang will even get swim tights that fit them a little better, too. After all, who are they trying to please here?

Winner… Free! Eternal Summer
Image of Sousuke diving in for his section of the relay

This was a close one, as both LocoDol and Free! Eternal Summer had acceptably good episodes. In the end, Free!‘s excellent animation and the handling of its new characters put it just above LocoDol‘s own character development, which, while touching, bordered on cheesy for most of the episode. For this group as a whole, I’m being more critical this week with the letter grades, so hopefully that describes the stronger episodes this week getting the same grades as their lesser counterparts from last week.

Trains and bots collide tomorrow, as Aldnoah.Zero confronts Rail Wars!. Meanwhile, Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen tackles the weak and incompetent Sabagebu! for an easy win. That’s right, I’m already calling it.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 1, 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. For those completely uninterested in soccer or the machinations of the first round of the World Cup, bear with me as I think this will be fun and easy enough to follow.

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

Group F: Wildcard

1st Match:

Images of Dandy pulling the string of alternate dimensions and Touko and Yukinari staring

Glasslip: C+

Glasslip is interesting amongst the “C” graded series, as it doesn’t resort to goofball anime tropes or a particular genre to win over the audience. In fact, Glasslip doesn’t really do anything. I’d been reading and hearing from a few different sources that this series was especially boring, but I figured that maybe these people weren’t particularly into character pieces where not a lot happens; the usual hum-drum slice-of-life kind of stuff. I was wrong. Glasslip really is BORING. And I hate to use that word, because I find one of my favorite genres of American film making–mumblecore, a genre tied to films where nothing much happens besides character study–is often saddled with such definitions. But Glasslip isn’t even good with its character, who are equally boring.

To get to the plot, well there really isn’t a plot. The most that could be said is that a group of friends gather for a local festival with a neat firework show. Some guy shows up, and is intriguing to one of the girls in the group. Nothing much really happens this episode. Not even glass blowing, which is what this show is SUPPOSED to be about. As it stands, glass blowing takes up maybe 30 seconds of this 25 minute episode. That’s ridiculous. The saving grace of the show is its pretty animation, which is what makes 10 minutes of on-screen fireworks worth watching; they’re animated beautifully. The character designs too, are nice if not conventional. I’m drawing a blank for anything else to talk about, so I think that says all one needs to know about the depth and reach of this show so far.

A part of me can see Glasslip coming back and rising above my current thoughts of it–after all, it is interested in its characters, whether it has them do anything or not, or even delves into them–but this first episode is ridiculously lame, simply because nothing happens physically or emotionally. The one girl who is interested in an outsider, seems to be a side story, and nothing particularly interesting comes of their interaction in this premiere. I came for the glassblowing, after all, and words are literally never spoken of the craft.

Space Dandy S2: A

The truth of the matter, is that going into this round I had a certainty that anything that went up against Space Dandy S2 would lose against it. That’s because of how much I loved and revered the first season which premiered back in January of this year. The show follows three lackluster alien bounty hunters, Space Dandy–the “idiot American” version of Spike Spiegel, I still argue–Meow–certainly a layabout and moocher, if there ever was one–and QT–the most efficient and responsible member of the group, but as a robot, only as determined as his cohorts. The first season did some really amazing things–and I may just post a review of it shortly, now that this new season has begun–but it definitely raised my expectations for this second season. Luckily, this first episode gets the season off to a good start.

When I wrote up the review for the first season of Dandy, I focused most heavily on the episodes that I found some sort of greater meaning to. Episodes that seemingly had something to say amongst all of the idiotic goings on that our three compatriots got themselves into. A focus on those kinds of episodes almost does this series a disservice, as we see in this episode. Here we get a story about Dandy accidentally finding some kind of string in space/time continuum that, when pulled, causes him, Meow and QT to disappear into an alternate dimension and meet their counterparts there. This allows the creators to run rampant with send-ups of different anime genres and popular series, from super robot shows to Attack on Titan, each of them with their own version of our triumvirate. As things get more complicated and Dandy’s original world begins to lose much of its unique flavor, the group must somehow destroy the string that connects the original universe to the other dimensions. Honestly, the last quarter of the episode limps towards the conclusion and spends too much time on a joke that never quite hit with me, but the rest of the antics made up for that.

It’s this kind of action and storyline that really makes Space Dandy feel whole. There are those episodes–like the one in which the gang get stuck in Meow’s hometown in an infinite loop–that seem to be getting at a deeper meaning than what’s on the surface, but the series is also willing to split its time between idiocy and wild creativity. It seems like the obvious product of Watanabe handing this show blindly off to his fellow creators. It’s a media executive’s worst nightmare, and even though this episode didn’t represent my favorite of the week, it was easily the most inventive and unique amongst what the Summer season has had to offer so far. I say, let the creators run wild and free more often. It wouldn’t hurt the cliche-ridden world of anime to have more shows that are interested in doing something different for a change.

Winner… Space Dandy S2
Image of Dandy, Meow and QT in heroic fashion

Going into this group, I knew that nothing could top Space Dandy from week to week, unless the writers REALLY dropped the ball. As it stands, Glasslip doesn’t even come close, wandering aimlessly through its storyline and characters. I feel like I’m supposed to like Glasslip too. It’s certainly pretty enough. In fact, shot by shot, the animation is much prettier in Glasslip than in Space Dandy. The difference is that Dandy‘s art is supposed to be fluid, constantly moving and as schizophrenic as the show’s story lines, whereas Glasslip’s animation–while beautiful–sits as quietly and limp as the show itself.

2nd Match:

Images of Ciel looking ominous and an entirely too awesome sword/motorcycle duel

Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus: B-

Going into it, I had no idea what Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus was related to, as I had never heard the 2010 series, Black Butler, referred to by that name. When the connection dawned on me, I was a little uneasy. Though I’ve yet to see it, Black Butler is heavily derided in the anime fanboy community as a fujoshi series–one that focuses the majority of its time on a potential romantic relationship between the two main characters. While that pops up here from time to time–like a scene where the butler, Sebastian, puts on Ciel’s shoes for him in a loving way–the character dynamics are much more interesting, as we see by the end of the episode. With that in mind, there’s not too much setting up of this series that one could do without ruining the way in which this episode lays things out. So to keep it simple, Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus is about a young boy–Ciel–who has recently become the head of his noble family, and the butler–Sebastian–who helps protect him and keep things running smoothly.

We get strong examples of the way in which the butler helps out Ciel–including certain superhuman abilities which he exhibits–and this episode exists as a really great introduction to the series for those of us who haven’t seen much of the Black Butler storyline before now. That’s both good and bad, as it does help newcomers to the series, but doesn’t have much to do whatsoever–or so it seems–with the greater story that this series in particular will focus on. Admittedly, there’s also a level of silliness to the earliest scenes of the episode, where Sebastian spends time going through the mansion and correcting the wrongs of the ignorant house staff–from the maid to the chef–in order to show off his abilities. In the end, all of this leads an understanding of Sebastian’s powers and why he and Ciel happen to be so close to one another through Ciel’s reign.

I think the problem with many fujoshi shows is the connotation that they come with, rather than the actual elements of the show. Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus is a great example of how the questionable relationship between the two male protagonists takes a back seat to a more interesting storyline overall. Shows like last season’s If Her Flag Breaks spend ENTIRE episodes devoted to female characters telling their male counterparts how much they worship them. In a series like that, not nearly enough time is given to character development or even storyline. Here though, we get the characters fleshed out to a credible amount and a storyline that’s interesting while speaking to the dynamic between Ciel and Sebastian; one that will be tantamount to the developments within the storyline. Shows like Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus are simply written better than the usual harem/ecchi fare, which makes them more tolerable, even when they are leaning towards a particular niche of fans.

Tokyo ESP: B+

I’d have to say that out of all the series I’ve seen so far, Tokyo ESP has been the biggest surprise yet. I had no hopes for this one going into it, and while there is a certain level of absurdness to it, it’s a really fun show to watch. Tokyo ESP follows a group of characters caught up in the midst of a superhuman attack on Japan by espers, individuals with extrasensory perception–basically they can move and attack things with their minds. This episode starts out in-media-res with an evil group of espers levitating the parliament building over Tokyo, intent on taking control of the city and the country as a whole. The rest of the episode deals with the fallout from this first strike.

Much like Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen, I don’t feel as though Tokyo ESP does a good enough job introducing and fleshing out its cast in this premiere episode. That being said, the action and story line really outweigh and obscure any characters whose motivations we don’t yet understand. The show touched a nerve–at least for me–that is rarely impacted by anime, these days. I was ready to sit back, eat some popcorn and watch a girl with dual katanas fight another girl on a motorcycle. Seriously, that’s awesome, and I don’t usually buy into the Transformers 2, “style over substance” camp either. There’s also some elements in this series that deal in the same realm as superheroes, as we hear tell of a mythological girl–they call her “the white girl”–who can possibly fight off the espers’ attack. Being a big fan of American superhero comics, this sort of story line is my bread and butter, so I really enjoyed the hope that the various characters placed in “the white girl”, even when she had yet to make an appearance. Early on, a narrator recites a quote about the two ways in which you can view the world; as if nothing is a miracle or as if everything is a miracle. That sense of wonder ties in easily to the mythology that surrounds “the white girl” and other characters in the show, who use their ESP powers for good. I haven’t even mentioned the animation, which is phenomenal unto itself. Some CGI can be seen here, but it’s integrated very smoothly and doesn’t distract from the action. While the show isn’t as fluid as something like Space Dandy, the animation style suits the overall goal of the series, as well as the action scenes.

I had to knock down Tokyo ESP a point or two for having too many characters without enough time to properly introduce them. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a blast watching this episode though. Who knows, maybe I’m in the minority on this one. It does seem that it would appeal to the same kind of crowd whose anime action tastes are anchored in the 90’s, but even if you don’t fit into that group, I’d still suggest you at least give Tokyo ESP a try. It definitely surpassed my expectations.

Winner… Tokyo ESP
Image of Tooru aiming right at the camera

The sheer fun of watching the premiere of Tokyo ESP, was too much for Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus–an entertaining show in its own right–to overcome. I’m a little worried about the circus element–there’s a campiness that could really appeal to the apparent fans of the show–but I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. For Tokyo ESP, I’m just looking forward to see how all this battling of the minds will turn out. One can only hope for more mid-air motorcycle duels.

And that’s it for the first week of the Anime World Cup. The top three shows of the week were Zankyou no Terror, Space Dandy S2 and Barakamon. As you can see, I lean heavy towards Watanabe–though I guess one could argue that he may have a limited hand in Dandy these days. I’ll promptly pick up the second week with a return to the Sports/Music/Idol group tomorrow. It’ll be a race between Free! Eternal Summer and LocoDol while Bakumatsu Rock attempts to melt the faces of the lads from Shounen Hollywood.