Monthly Archives: August 2014

Toondiculous Podcast: Episode 1 – Dungeons and Dragons

Each episode, musical aficionado Dennis Harvey and I take on a beloved–or not so beloved–ridiculous cartoon from cartoon history, pointing out the crazy, the inane and the downright awful. Of course we love them too, so there’s that.

Image of the Dungeons and Dragons kids

A look at the premiere of 1983’s Dungeons and Dragons, leads to some interesting questions of late adult-aged depression–onset by tabletop role-playing games–and the effect this mental illness has on our younger generations. Also, we finally take on those smug unicorns.

This episode is dedicated to Frank Welker, a king among men, at least in the voice acting community.

Check back next Friday for a mini-episode full of Dungeons and Dragons extras, such as a more thorough look at those involved in the writing process. We’ll also do a very special table reading of the last few minutes of the never produced finale to the series, which resolves all those Dn’D questions that are raging inside you, ready to be freed.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Bonus #1

While I would have liked to jump right into a weekly review post, reviewing 72 episodes of anime in a month’s time set me back a week or two–I’m re-evaluating this for the Fall season, by the way. In order to get back on track, we’ll take a week to look at episodes 4, 5 and 6 of the twelve series that made it this far and pick four series that I’ll just do season reviews of, come end of the Summer season. I’ll be reviewing each episode of those eight series leftover–starting with episode 7–throughout this week. Sound confusing? Then we’re ready to do this!

This time we’ll get started with a race between Free! Eternal Summer, LocoDol and Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen. Will it be pecs, mechs or weird mascot fish that are kicked to the curb and subjected to season review? Let’s find out.

Image of Rei freaking out over pizza

Free! Eternal Summer: B

Episodes 4-6 of Eternal Summer do not disappoint. While each falters somewhat in its own way, the three episodes do a fantastic job of keeping up the quality that’s been set so far, and go even further in the lead up to the swimming prefecturals in the 6th episode. The beef-cakiness is still there, sure, but by the 6th episode Eternal Summer has clearly slotted itself as a top tier sports show for anyone who’s willing to put the pretty boys behind them. Uh, no wait, I mean…

Episode 4 focuses mainly on the Samezuka Academy swim team, dealing with Rin and Sousuke’s tight-knit friendship as well as their competitive drives that sometimes cause them to clash. We also see Momotarou and Ai progressing in their abilities and becoming more integral parts of the team, leading up to Sousuke having it out with Rin for wasting his time helping others when he could be focusing on his own improvement. After convincing Sousuke of the power of friendship and teamwork–and thus, the awesomeness of relay races–Sousuke calls in an old favor and asks if he can join Rin on the Samezuka relay team. Rin says he’ll only allow it if Sousuke can beat him in a swim race, and we get one of the best animated showdowns of the series, so far. The 5th episode feels a little more filler than the other two, dealing largely with some problems Nagisa is having at home that may keep him out of the upcoming swim competition. He pretends to have a reason to stay at each of his friends’ houses, until they realize that something’s up and force out of him that his bad grades have made his parents apprehensive about him being on the swim team. Haru, Mako and Rei put their heads together to help Nagisa figure out how he’ll be able to stick with the team. Lastly, the 6th episode–the best of the three–finally takes place during the swim prefecturals and delves deeper into Haru and Mako’s friendship, while providing some really great swim matches. Haru thinks back on the first time he met Mako and what their friendship has come to mean over the years, Mako putting Haru ahead of himself more often than not. We get some glimpses into the Samezuka camp, with Ai nervous about his upcoming match against Nagisa and Rin and Sousuke watching over their fellow teammates with a certain level of pride. The Iwatobi swim team cleans up in the individual races, with the Haru/Mako match being especially tense at first. By the end of the episode, Iwatobi has proven themselves as a strong swim club and are ready to take on the relay race, where teamwork is the number one indicator of success.

Image of Rin and Sousuke in a showdown

These three episodes felt like they captured the best parts of Free while also shoehorning in the more annoying elements–the very same that drive many a potential viewer away. More than swimming, friendship seems to be the overarching theme we’ve seen with this series, and these three episodes certainly don’t break the mold. From Samezuka’s newly formed group dynamic, to the Iwatobi teammates working together to keep Nagisa on the team, to the numerous matches in the 6th episode, the characters seem driven and stronger thanks to their strong friendships with one another. Rin even considers he’s friendship with the members of Iwatobi to be crucial in his own abilities as a swimmer. What’s more, there’s an ideal of friendship and close bonds driving competition and vice versa. Rin and Sousuke seem to see the swimming world in different lights–though Sousuke is basically just a less jaded version of the Rin we got in the first season–but their varied points of view and competitive natures seem to drive their friendship and help it evolve. With Haru and Mako’s match, we come to find that Mako is particularly interested in competing against Haru because he’s somewhat jealous of the friendly rivalry between Rin and Haru. Something about Haru trying his best against Mako, and Mako getting to see Haru at the height of his swimming performance makes him feel as if they are closer for the competition between them. It’s a nice message that–more than anything–promotes healthy competition and rejects the idea that competitive nature comes from a strongly individualistic place. Instead, Free! Eternal Summer wants us to view these swim matches as a strong sign of a mutual love of the water and traversing it between two swimmers. The animation certainly supports this, as it’s gorgeous, especially during the swim matches.

Image of the Iwatobi swim club under the stars

Where Eternal Summer arguably does falter, is in its cloying depiction of these friendships, depictions that certain viewers just won’t buy. Everyone on the Iwatobi team, for instance, is nice to one another almost to a fault. If a scam artist worked their way into the club, they could take every one of the team members for so much money, with the right sob story–I smell a third season idea! The fact that every character on the show is so singularly focused on what it means to be a good teammate and a good friend–so Sousuke’s not there yet, but he’s willing to learn–is unrealistic to say the least, but it’s certainly a relaxing thought. Each guy on the Iwatobi team would bend backwards for any of the other three members, and this is going to be too much to deal with for some of the more cynical viewers out there. Personally, I’d like to think that we can only create a more perfect world by believing that one can exist, but the same people who couldn’t handle Eternal Summer, would probably pop me in the face for saying something so asinine. Beyond this, there are definitely moments that come off as fangirl bait–though Free never goes nearly as far as the opposite kind of series that’s aimed at guys. Take for instance a short comparison to last season’s If Her Flag Breaks; in Free, Nagasi surprises Ai at one point, and almost spooks his towel off him–the only thing covering his loins–while in Flag Breaks, a four or five minute segment is devoted to the white bread male protagonist squirting his harem of eight or nine girls with a water gun, exposing their bras through their white shirts. Which is more exploitative? I’ll let you decide. Of course, Eternal Summer has other scenes that seem to suggest certain things for certain audiences–Mako and Haru reaching for the dolphin key chain at the same time felt a little loaded–but that doesn’t keep the show from being an excellent sports anime.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; guys who are afraid of this show, need to push the worry that they’ll actually like the ripped abs to the back of their mind and actually give the show a shot. I couldn’t imagine any fan of sports anime not finding some kind of value here. Most importantly, Free! Eternal Summer does what every great sports series should do; it convinces the audience to see the merits of the sport and even the joy which it can bring to those who partake in the sport. Watching Eternal Summer, you can’t help but throw on your swim trunks and practice your butterfly stroke. That’s right. I said butterfly stroke with pride.

Image of Nanako, Yui and Yukari rasing their hands to grasp their futures... or maybe there's a bird up there

LocoDol: C+

The 4th, 5th and 6th episodes of LocoDol seem to waste their time with many a superfluous joke–most of which aren’t particularly funny–losing out on opportunities to tell a richer story and to grow the relationship between Nanako and Yukari. While we do get some scenes that lean in that direction, these episodes ultimately feel more like a waste of time and less like an intimate look inside the life of local idols.

The 4th episode starts a new arc in many ways, as we see Saori Nishifukai joining the Nagarekawa girls–taking over the role of manager while Nanako’s uncle moves to director–while Nanako and Yakari suspect a pervert in their midst. Saori seems to have the perfect mixture of business acumen and personal care for the girls, but she comes off as a bit trigger happy with her camera. Though the girls are oblivious, we the viewer come to find that Saori is obsessed with Nanako and Yukari, and is running a racy fan site that includes all of her pictures of the girls. The 5th episode starts with Saori mentioning that one goal of a locodol should be to create external relations between the town they represent and the rest of the world at large. Nanako particularly takes hold of this idea, and brainstorms with Yukari and Yui about how to spread their brand. Yui mentions off-hand that she has entered Uogokoro–the mascot that she plays–into the National Cute and Loose Character Field Day, meaning that the Nagarekawa girls will be on national television. The three deal with their classmates reactions to the news and prep for the upcoming event, while considering how they represent Nagarekawa. Lastly, episode 6 focuses extensively on the National Cute and Loose Character Field Day, with Nanako and Yukari acting as supporters and spokesmen for Uogokoro, introducing him–the girls refer to Uogokoro as he, even though Yui is the one portraying him–before the field day begins and later singing his theme song. Uogokoro competes in various competitions against other mascots from across Japan, such as Nishi Shirahama’s Pantaro and Segawa’s Chushakki–a mascot with a giant syringe for a head. Uogokoro manages to make it through to the next round by sheer luck, but Saori tells Yui to take it easy because the Nagarekawa team doesn’t care if she wins or loses, just that she is safe. With such forward momentum, maybe Uogokoro/Yui still holds a win in his/her back pocket.

Yukari and Nanako congratulate Yui while Saori gets camera happy

These episodes aren’t bad by any means, but they are quite mediocre and move the plot along at an odd pace. For instance, we get Nanako worrying for nearly half an episode about how the Nagarekawa girls will get a bigger audience, only to have Yui mention the national field day event in a 30-second window and completely shift the tone and focus of the episode. Nanako and Yukari even admit this, speaking to how easy it was for them to reach that larger stage, since neither of them had to take any action to get there, instead riding on Yui’s coattails. It’s an example of how an interesting storyline–say something like Nanako and Yukari exploring different avenues to expand their reach–is sacrificed in the name of an entire episode devoted to the field day, which is arguably funny, but still pretty pointless. Saori initially appears to be a nice addition to the cast, keeping the 4th episode almost fan service free–and less exploitative than the ridiculous 3rd episode–but the show focuses far too much attention on the fact that she is obsessed with the girls, takes way too many pictures of them and runs her own fan site. We almost get a patented panty shot by the end of the episode, all thanks to Saori’s creepy photo taking and her attempt to garner fans for the girls from risque photos. At one point, the point comes up that Nanako should be happy about the fan site–lewd pictures or no–because it will help their popularity. That’s true, but it’s also depressing if real idols have to put up with such non-sense–let’s not forget how old these girls are–in order to become super idols, as the show refers to them as. Ever since the first few episodes of LocoDol, the show has been wrestling with itself over if it wants to make a show about scantily clad high school girls, or one about the friendship between two girls pushed together for commercial reasons. While these episodes tend to lean in the latter direction, the former aspect is still a part of the show.

Image of Yukari and Nanako performing at the Field Day

That being said, whether the series is focusing on Yukari’s growing closeness to Nanako or Uogokoro facing off with a beefed up mascot, LocoDol carries a charm that the lesser shows of this season can’t muster. The series may be equal parts goofy jokes with little payoff and characters that don’t go anywhere, but the sweet interactions between the three heroines really stand out, while those lesser elements serve their functions in the wings rather than center stage. LocoDol certainly isn’t one of the better shows of the season–not by a long shot–but if you like keeping up with a good number of series each season, you could do far worse than this oft charming, oft misunderstood show.

Image of Jamie with Argevollen in the background

Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen: C

Over these episodes, Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen loses whatever steam it may have built up so far, ending in a decently interesting 6th episode that’s too little, too late. It’s the kind of show that draws you in with its potential and then completely squanders that very potential by the half-way mark. Except that we’re more at the quarter-way mark, since Argevollen is apparently 24 episodes long. That length could be to blame for the overly-slow pacing of these three episodes, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that the writers don’t develop most of the characters very well, even when they take the time to.

Episode 4 takes place directly after the skirmishes of the first three episodes, with the Arandan army getting a reprieve from battle while the Ingelmians are indisposed. Back on base, Lieutenant Samonji is scolded by his higher ups but told to hold on to Argevollen, Tokimune considers his feelings for Jamie and about piloting the mech and Jamie is asked by a supposed executive from her company to stay on base and help with Argevollen. In the next episode, Jamie–now resolved to her fate of staying with the Arandan army–follows Tokimune to a graveyard, where he mourns for his sister. Tokimune comes clean with Jamie that he’s trying to move up in the military so that he can find out how his sister died–he believes it has something to do with “the brass”. The two get illogically mad at one another and Jamie takes off. Meanwhile, the Arandan “brass” discuss an ongoing attack from the Ingelmians against a different calvary and Samonji is told to prepare Argevollen and the rest of his troops for a surprise attack. Samonji and company create a strategy to confuse the enemy, but when things go awry, the group may be in more trouble than expected. The 6th episode starts directly from the end of the 5th, with Tokimune trapped inside of the broken down Argevollen mech, unable to actually pilot it anywhere. The rest of Samonji’s crew recuperate from the attack, and continue on with battling the Ingelmian base that was their target from the beginning. Back at the base, Jamie is told to get over to Argevollen in order to save the mech and Tokimune. She travels with a private to get to Argevollen and the two are almost killed by an Ingelmian artillery round. They recover and when Jamie makes it to Argevollen, she’s able to free Tokimune and get the mech back up and running. Samonji’s forces prove successful in their attack on the Ingelmian base, but something sinister seems to be occurring amongst the higher ups back at the Arandan base.

Image of Argevollen looking up at a nearby flare

The most unforgivable crime that these episodes commit, is taking ample time to take a break from the action–in episodes 4 and 5–but not utilizing it to grow the characters in any real way. Don’t get me wrong, there are many attempts at character development here. Tokimune has a dead sister, all of a sudden–a plot point that could work to make the audience sympathize with Tokimune, but is instead written to create false drama. Jamie is forced to stay on base with the Argevollen mech–a development that she gets over rather quick, after being so against it at first. Samonji has to make difficult strategic decisions that end up getting a handful of his men killed–yet we never see him reacting too heavily to this pressure, or the ramifications of his power, for that matter. Other instances for character evolution abound, but somehow the entire cast still feels like the cardboard cutouts we were introduced to six episodes ago. Jamie and Tokimune’s relationship has advanced–seemingly on the brink of dating, or at least fooling around–but it hasn’t changed them in the least bit. Tokimune’s characteristics fluctuate wildly, in fact. Sometimes he seems in adoration of Jamie and others he acts as if he wants nothing to do with her. Often times he comes off as patriotic towards the Arandan army, only for us to find that he has some sort of paranoid, ulterior motive for his actions. Such transgressions could be forgivable, if there were amazingly crafted action scenes in place of all the downtime–Aldnoah.Zero does this on and off, to great effect–but Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen chooses instead to waste the viewer’s time whilst spinning its wheels, fruitlessly.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on a few of the quality moments these episodes present. Episode 6 is certainly the outlier in the group, as it stands alone as a relatively entertaining and thoughtful outing. Most importantly, the storyline revolves around Jamie practically saving the day, and thus taking the role of hero that is usually reserved for the bland male protagonist, in many such action series–especially militaristic ones. Tokimune is left stuck in Argevollen–nervous, but relatively safe in the metallic shell–while Jamie is forced to traverse a dangerous landscape in order to save him. Switch the gender roles in that last sentence, and you have the usual “damsel in distress” scenario. What’s even better, is that this dynamic isn’t given much thought by the characters, allowing it to seem like a woman saving a man is a usual occurrence. She’s simply doing the job that any man in the same situation would do, and she accomplishes it with flying colors. Tokimune doesn’t act like less of a man for being saved by a woman, but instead seems preoccupied by his feelings for Jamie, and the current confusion that is their fickle relationship. Jamie doesn’t even seem to take on some of the usual tropes of masculinity, in the way a character like The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen clearly does. Instead, she makes it past falling artillery rounds and collapsed bridges to Argevollen, her pantyhose the worse for the wear. This handling of Jamie’s character, is one of the few bright spots of these three episodes.
Image of close-up Argevollen

What’s so terrible about Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen? Most notably, its willingness to string the audience along with promises of military strategy and big shiny robot battles, while not delivering much of those or even stories and characters that are worth watching or rooting for. Going into the season, it was an easy assumption–just looking at the vague storyline and myriad number of characters–that Aldnoah.Zero wouldn’t have too hard of a time taking the mecha throne over Argevollen. What wasn’t easily guessable though, was if Argevollen would be just as bland as it looked, or if it could overcome the tropes of the genre to be truly unique amongst the shows of the season. Sadly, it definitely fell into the latter category, and as any long-term anime fan will tell you, nothing’s worse than the series which had something to offer but didn’t know how to share it.

With Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen coming in with a ‘C’, it looks like I’ll be doing a season review of it based on whatever has aired of the show by the end of the season. Meanwhile, Free! Eternal Summer and LocoDol will be showing up in this week’s review post, which I’ll be starting later today and updating throughout the week.

In the next Anime World Cup bonus post, Tokyo Ghoul, Barakamon and Sword Art Online II will show up looking for a fight. See you then!

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 3, 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 in the third week, we’ll figure out which two shows from each group will be making it to the weekly review column.

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

Group F: Wildcard

1st Match:

Images of Yanagi looking dismissive and Black Fist and the mysterious guest watching all the flying goldfish

Glasslip: B+

It’s a let down that Glasslip took so long to get its shit together. With a first episode that meandered like no anime premiere I’ve ever seen, and a second episode that didn’t fare much better in the pacing department, this third episode picks it up, or at least does a much better job of drawing the viewer into the universe and getting us to play by its rules.

After the last episode–where Yukinari admitted his love to Touko whilst Yanagi overheard–things start off a little tense. Touko decides to get Kakeru’s help with looking into the future in order to see what lies ahead for the group of friends. Looking forward in time, Touko gets a small glimpse of Yanagi crying and assumes that it’s her fault. With all the relationship tension in the air, what better way to handle the situation than for the whole group to go on an intimate hiking trip? Not your bag? Well the gang from Glasslip is surely on board and things go quite a bit better than one would expect. Hiro and Sachi get some nice bonding time–they are the outlier couple that both seem interested in one another–while Touko and Yanagi seem to patch up any jealousies or issues that may exist between them. But with Yukinari still interested in Touko, and Yanagi still interested in him, can the gang truly continue in its current capacity as a tightly knit group of friends?

What worked well in this episode, was Glasslip‘s ability to join the quiet tone and mundane character study with a plot that actually went somewhere. It was actually enjoyable to find out more about these characters this week, because we can see that they are moving from point A to point B and that they’re growth, decisions and discussions will effect how they get there. Oddly, Glasslip seems to point to the fact that an extremely slow pace and almost muted character development don’t quite work in anime as they do in other mediums, at least not for this reviewer. Something like the mumblecore movement in the states tries to do similar things with plot and characters–sometimes going even slower and more mundane–but that genre seems to work much better. Maybe as viewers, we have an expectation of anime–even these “slice of life” series–that we don’t have of certain other mediums. I’ll be the first to say that that is somewhat unfair. It’s not particularly easy to sit through an anime where so little seems to happen, but maybe it’s worth trying, just to test ones appreciation for an art form. Though this show won’t be making it to the weekly review post, I think I’ll watch it on the side this season and do a series review of it, once we get to that point.

On another note, the animation in this show was gorgeous. The character designs–though not unique in any way–were probably the most appealing of all the series this season. Oh, and before you say it, I didn’t like this episode more just because Touko and Yanagi got down to their t-shirts and swim trunks at one point–quite modest for anime, when you think about it. At least, I don’t think so.

Tokyo ESP: B

While Tokyo ESP has definitely dipped in quality since its first episode–there was something so alluring about the ambiguity of the back story–it has proven, with its first three episodes, that it has an interesting and decently unique story to tell, at least for a Japanese audience. For an American audience, the number of references to US pop culture can either be annoying or endearing. As an egotistical American, I’m going to go with the latter.

Kuboshi–the thief known as Black Fist that Kyotaro caught at the end of last episode–goes free since their is no immediate evidence against her. She ends up taking up with Tokyo ESP‘s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants–because, let’s be honest, this show is clearly inspired by the X-Men at best, and a rip-off at worst. Elsewhere, a girl named Murasaki has befriended Peggy, the penguin seen by many of the characters when they gain their powers through the floating goldfish. Rinka and Kyotaro–Kyotaro ready to take on the world with his new powers and Rinka anxious to be rid of them–are on the lookout for Peggy because of the the penguin’s ties to the power-giving goldfish, but they aren’t the only ones. Ghostbusters look-a-likes–and it’s surprisingly fun to see them in anime form–kidnap Murasaki and Peggy in order to sell Peggy for plenty of money. Rinka and Kyotaro intervene just in time, saving Murasaki and Peggy and sending the Ghostbusters’ van careening into a nearby river. The two newly-minted espers accompany Murasaki back to her home, where her Yakuza boss father welcomes them in. Before they know it, Tokyo ESP‘s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants attacks the house, the big bad of the group demanding that Murasaki’s father give them his territory. The Brotherhood will hold Murasaki–who they quickly grab and disappear with, even after Kyotaro puts up a decent fight–captive, until her father follows through with their wishes. When Black Fist attacks Rinka and beats the living shit out of her–eventually doing more than just physical damage to our heroine–we have to wonder how Murasaki will make it through her kidnapping, and if Kyotaro and Rinka have it in them to keep up the good fight.

As you can see, a lot happens in any given episode of Tokyo ESP. We’re already at the point where clear villains are teaming up and proving to be viable challenges to our heroes. And that’s what makes Tokyo ESP so watchable; its sheer speed in plot development. It’s what keeps the viewer from questioning the stark black and white tones of the characters–Rinka and Kyotaro are assuredly good while Black Fist and Hotokeda (leader of the Brotherhood) are bad news bears–so long as the viewer gets swept away with the show. That’s really up to taste. The series certainly has its issues–out of place references for one–but if you buy into the general pacing, the superhero knock-off tale–that still smacks of Japanese culture, making it a nice hybrid between US and Japanese heroes–and the fantastic action scenes, Tokyo ESP is a winner. After this episode, the show sets a level of consistency that gives us an idea of what to expect. Many fast moving parts, characters who come and go and a superhero roller coaster ride with enough twists to keep things interesting.

As a side note, the show deserves some credit for its more realistic depictions of the aftermath of a hero/villain battle. When Rinka’s whole ordeal with Black Fist concludes for the time being, Rinka doesn’t just jump up, ready to get back in the game. Her face is swollen, she limps and she has bandages covering open wounds. Sure we’ve seen this in our superhero comics here in the states, but an addressing of the ramifications of such a battle are rarely seen in anime. Of course, a show like Tokyo ESP–even with all it’s pop culture nods–is itself, a show rarely seen in the anime landscape. That alone gets it some cool points.

Winner… Glasslip
Image of Kakeru looking out over the coastal port

Maybe I just feel bad for being impatient and giving Glasslip such a short shrift those first two weeks, but it edged out Tokyo ESP this time around. The series was finally able to get across its intent and character types through its tone and pacing, while still being entertaining enough to reel the audience in. In some ways, Tokyo ESP is getting the bum end of the stick for being consistently decent, while Glasslip is being rewarded for finally having an interesting episode. That’s the way the cookie crumbles. Or maybe it’s the blowed glass that crumbles? No. Yeah, too much of a reach. *sigh*

2nd Match:

Images of Meow salivating at the thought of food and Ciel in prep for some dagger throwing

Space Dandy S2: A+

There are many people who chose to disavow Space Dandy when the first season premiered in January of this year. It would seem that it’s finally time for all of us Dandyites to bow our heads in a collective prayer for those yet to see the light. In other words, this third episode of Space Dandy S2 blew minds, ya’ll.

Alright, here we go. Dandy, Meow and QT are traveling down some sort of tube, food vendors grilling fresh edibles above, below and on either side of them. Meow says he’s hungry but QT points out that Dandy is in search of the perfect waitress. Next, their back on the Aloha Oe, Dandy lacking any kind of food–to Meow’s dismay–but plus a new toy; a flashlight capable of transporting anything the light shines on. Meow, in his anger, shines the light on Dandy’s head, which causes it to transport to a small planet where an anthropomorphic fish has been marooned, all by his lonesome, for a decade. His home planet–where his girlfriend is supposedly awaiting him–looms above the fish, just out of reach. Did I mention that the planet the fish is stranded on is called ‘Pushy Boyfriend’, and his home planet is called ‘Girlfriend’? Yeah, that’s the kind of episode this is. Eventually, Meow uses the flashlight to get himself to planet Pushy Boyfriend and lands on a halibut that Dandy and the fish are traveling on. After a quick, Dandy-centric discussion, Meow and Dandy decide to stick it out because the fish says he will register as an alien once Dandy and Meow help him reach planet Girlfriend. The fish shows the pair a boat he has crafted to ride a water pillar–one that often occurs between Pushy Boyfriend and Girlfriend–up to Girlfriend, thus returning home. Though it is too heavy for any of the three of them to move within distance of the water pillar, Meow uses the last remaining juice of the flashlight to transport most of the mass of the ship closer to the pillar, meaning that Dandy, Meow and the fish are capable of moving the rest of the ship themselves. In time, they are able to use the ship to reach planet Girlfriend, but what awaits them there may change the fish forever.

I’m legitimately sorry for anyone who watched the earlier episodes of this show and simply dismissed it because Dandy said–and frequented a bar called–Boobies too often. This episode is proof of the larger philosophical leanings of the show, as well as the interest in pushing the boundaries of animation. Beyond all of this, Space Dandy is willing to eschew classic storytelling structure with a punk panache that proves the writers are doing it on purpose, rather than out of a lack of understanding for how to evolve a story. At one point, after Meow asks what they will do for food since Dandy purchased the flashlight transporter instead, Dandy responds, “…we could do this and that and then that’ll happen, and we’ll be able to eat as much as we want.” It’s a line that lampoons classic point A to point B storytelling, and even though the episode eventually takes on this form, it does so in a stumbling way, leaving the audience questioning how exactly we got to this point or what the meaning of it all is. Speaking of the meaning, the episode consistently touts its message as ‘good things come to those who wait’. This ultimately ends up being true for Dandy and Meow, but the fish they encounter on planet Pushy Boyfriend, seemingly doesn’t follow the rule–even though he was stranded on a planet for ten years–by trying to control his destiny. Maybe it’s Space Dandy‘s commentary on the usual protagonists motivations and their lack of meaning in the real world. The fish goes out of his way to get back home to planet Girlfriend in order to return to his lover, only to find that she has found another in his absence and that his entire home planet wishes him to be gone. Despite his struggles against the odds–the usual we would see a protagonist in his situation attempt–his end is hauntingly comedic and he serves as a solution to Dandy and Meow’s problems, proving Dandy’s decision to wait a good one. We’re left wondering what kind of a world exists where a dingus like Dandy, comes out on top, and a being of relatively noble ambitions like the fish, loses out to circumstance. Maybe Space Dandy isn’t always so far-fetched after all.

And that’s not even mentioning the beautiful animation in this episode, supervised by Masaaki Yuasa–who is the first creator on the show to simultaneously write, direct and do the story boards for a single episode. Yuasa is well known for The Tatami Galaxy–of which I am in dire need of watching–Kickheart and the recent Ping Pong the Animation, which I ended up being a big fan of. Here, it’s obvious that Yuasa has full reign of the ship, as animation, dialogue and overall message seem so well intertwined. The semi-psychedelic aspects of the artwork go hand in hand with the strange planet that Dandy finds himself on, as well as the circumstances that landed him there due to having a flashlight that can transport random pieces of himself around the galaxy. Of particular note, is the scene in which the invisible halibut–which Meow, Dandy and the fish ride on–glides over the landscape, giving the viewer–and Dandy–the illusion that the three are sliding across the landscape of the planet.

This episode may be the best of Space Dandy we’ve gotten so far. At certain points it becomes so obvious that the world is basically a sandbox in which Yuasa has been allowed to play, that those of us into the experimentation that’s been seen throughout the series, owe Shinichiro Watanabe a big hug. I’m still unsure of his role in the show at this point in time, but one can’t help but feel that he used his name and career to “trojan horse” a really wild show into the anime studio system. Maybe I’m giving Space Dandy far too much credit–and many think fairly lowly of the series–but I can see it making a difference in kids heads all across Japan who are happening to catch it, maybe unbeknownst to their parents, and will hopefully grow up to make something half as creative one day. Say what you will about the series, but I’ve never seen anything like this in anime before. How many other series can say that this season?

Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus: C+

This episode of Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus proved right many of the concerns one might have with the show, particularly because of the franchise it’s a part of. That being said, the show still isn’t outright terrible as I expected it to be when I first picked up the show, but those fujoshi underpinnings are starting to make themselves more clear. There’s nothing wrong with those elements per se, until they start to take up space where the story itself and the main characters could be expanded upon.

Picking up where the last episode left off, we get Sebastian dealing with the snake charmer–an incredibly creepy character that, along with the other circus pals, helps to make the show more interesting–whilst trying to sniff about for the missing children. Sebastian returns to Ciel empty handed and suggests that they continue researching the circus by joining it. Ciel is annoyed with the development–he’s quite a brat about it, actually–but the two of them return to the mansion to prepare for their new adventure. Back at the circus, Ciel is asked to prove himself to the rest of the circus pals. He is tasked with knife throwing and tight-rope walking, both of which Sebastian assists him with clandestinely–by throwing pebbles that correct the direction of the knives during the knife throwing and the balance of Ciel during his tight-rope walking. After the two are accepted as new members of the circus, they are shown around the grounds and taken to their private tent. We get a haunting scene, showcasing each of the circus members prepping for the big show, that serves as a nice wrap-up for the episode. However, before the credits roll, a character who could change everything for Sebastian and Ciel is introduced.

Revisiting the episode was a more enjoyable experience than on initial viewing. The two new pretty boys that pop up at the mansion–Prince Soma and his butler Agni–derail developments for a minute or two, but they aren’t seen after that. Hopefully they won’t be popping up again, because they don’t feel like they’re supposed to fit into the storyline as much as they’re there to add to the pretty boy ratio. While some things in the episode seem like a waste of time, they ultimately serve to help the pacing of the show and are fun to watch. By now we get that Sebastian has powers and that Ciel would be an incredibly lame human being, were it not for Sebastian’s assistance. Still, Ciel’s trial scenes feel clever in some way, and are an entertaining way to pass time in the episode. One may think time could be spent better elsewhere, but the scenes to give credence to Ciel being so quickly accepted into the circus. As a side note, Ciel is a real jackass in parts of this episode. He bitches and moans about not being able to keep up his princely life whilst researching the circus, so much so to the point of wanting to smack him. I’m sure it’s reminiscent of how a real prince would act in such a circumstance–not that a real prince would ever have a demon as his butler or a moe eyepatch–but it really creates a stark difference between Sebastian and Ciel for the viewer. Sebastian is one of the bigger badasses of the season while Ciel can barely appreciate riding in on Sebastian’s coattails.

Rather unfairly, my problems with this episode simply come from a worry of how certain elements that are starting to pop up may negatively effect the future of the show. Fingers are crossed that the goofy Prince Soma has made his one and only appearance, not that he couldn’t be written well in the future of course, but something here says otherwise. Ciel’s ability to shit on everything is also worrisome, even though he seems to be on board closer to the end of the episode. Ultimately the introduction of the new character at the end of the episode, promises interesting developments in the shows future, if it can manage to get out of its own way.

Winner… Space Dandy S2
Image of the fish, Dandy and Meow prepping to blast up the water pillar in the fish's ship

Maybe it’s impossible to heap too much praise on Space Dandy, except I just did it. Either way, it was clearly the superior show this week. While Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus balances an interesting story with countless tropes waiting in the wings, Space Dandy S2 feels like it’s reinventing the wheel with an episode like this one, at least in comparison. Putting all the philosophical and analytical leanings aside, while Book of Circus has plenty fine animation that’s pretty to look at, nothing this season has or likely will do what Space Dandy‘s art team did this time around. Space Dandy is the show to watch this week.

Obviously Space Dandy S2 will be making it into my weekly review post but the second pick comes down to Tokyo ESP, Book of Circus and Glasslip, each with a win and two losses. Glasslip had two C+ and a B+, averaging out to a B-. Book of Circus had two B- and a C+, averaging out to a B-, as well. Lastly, Tokyo ESP had a B+ a B and a B-, averaging out to a B and making it the second pick for the weekly review post.

And so ends the Anime World Cup. It’s been fun but I’ve learned a few things. For one, I certainly won’t be watching 24 series over a three week period ever again. :) It’s far too difficult for one person to do, seeing as I’m now several weeks behind on a few of these shows. In order to correct that, the next few posts will be a kind of World Cup bonus round, as I pit three shows against each other, the bottom of the three bowing out of the weekly review and becoming eventual season reviews I’ll post after the season is over. I’ll be looking at episodes 4-6 of each series all at once for that round, in order to be reviewing in real time once more. So check back next time when Free! Eternal Summer, LocoDol and Shirogane no Ishi Argevollen battle it out to decide which “loser” will end up in the season review category.

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

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

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

Group E: Mystery/Horror/Thriller

1st Match:

Images of Mado looking deranged and Twelve looking decidely happy with himself

Tokyo Ghoul: B+

The third episode of Tokyo Ghoul, is a relatively quiet one that generally acts as a reprieve from the intensity of the last two. Though it slips in quality simply due to a lack of action, the story here keeps the show consistent in its pacing and begins to build a frame for a much larger narrative.

A woman and her child–Ryouko and Hinami Fueguchi–show up at Anteiku for shelter and solace after being hunted by a mysterious and violent ghoul. Yoshimura is quick to take them in–as is the custom of Anteiku–and requests that Kaneki travels with Yoshimura’s helper, Renji Yomo to get food for all the ghouls. Kaneki is unaware of where the ghoul food comes from and is shocked when he and Renji wind up on a cliffside where people are known to commit suicide. Renji collects the body and they head back to Anteiku. Amidst all this, we get glimpses of two Doves–Amon and Mado–two ghoul investigators whose goal–through their organization–is to wipe out all ghouls throughout Japan. That begin to make inroads as they attack and kill several ghouls in the 20th ward, all the while getting closer to Anteiku. Back with the ghouls, Kaneki eventually meets up with Touka, who takes him to get a mask so he won’t be as easily identified by the Doves. Will such minor precautions be enough against the two cold-blooded men, hot on the trails of Kaneki and the rest of the Anteiku crew?

The third episode of the series never hits the same quality as the last two, mostly because it lacks the action that’s propelled the show forward in those episodes. Still, we get a solid storyline here and get an idea of Kaneki’s growth as a ghoul, as he slowly comes to terms with his own condition and the actions of those ghouls whom he now considers his allies and friends, to varying degrees. The cliff scene–wherein Kaneki realizes how he and the other ghouls have been getting their food–especially stood out, as it showcased Kaneki’s lingering fear and reservations about ghouldom, while allowing him to come to terms with it later on, as he’s slowly had to do with his situation overall. Through his melodramatic reactions to the ghoul lifestyle, Kaneki is still able to adapt–with help from Yoshimura and Touka, of course–which should prove helpful, as a conflict with Amon and Mado draws closer. Kaneki’s interaction with Hinami later on in the episode, is another indicator of his growth. He initially walks in on her half-way through a meal and is disgusted–she’s a ghoul, if you’ll recall–quickly hightailing it out of there. After a short discussion with one of the worker’s at Anteiku, Kaneki is encouraged to re-approach her, this time without interrupting her feeding. He’s shy at first, but soon opens up to Hinami emotionally and regards her with compassion and empathy, listening to her concerns and trying to soothe her spirits. Kaneki’s ability to see Hinami as a person, rather than as a monster, seems to greatly effect her mood, making her chipper and almost hopeful. If he has one strength, Kaneki’s ability to humanize those who most feel don’t deserve it, may be it.

Tangent time, everybody. Recently on the Anime Addicts Anonymous podcast–one of my favorite anime related review shows, along with the seldom released Anime World Order–the reviewer Kram took Tokyo Ghoul to task in a big way. He called the show dumb, took issue with various plot elements and was generally spittin’ vitriol in the show’s direction. Alright, I just wanted to say vitriol, but he was hating to be sure. I want to state first, that I highly respect Kram’s opinion and his reviews in general. He has a way of breaking down a show to its core message–both literal and metaphorical–that speaks to my love of media studies. He’s also thoughtful in his reviews, never quick to dismiss a show just because it has a few bad elements mixed in. However, he got Tokyo Ghoul completely wrong. Let’s tackle a few of his points–I’m recalling this from the live broadcast last Saturday night, so forgive me and point out any inaccuracies found in my portrayal of his argument. He called the show dumb, pointing out things like the show’s focus on coffee as the sole food item that the ghoul’s can drink, as well as “magic” edible cubes, which serve as a MacGuffin to sustain the ghouls without much narrative explanation. Speaking directly to the cubes issue, I expect that this point will be explained more in a future episode. If not, at the very least we can assume that it contains ground up or powdered human remains in it, which keep the ghouls nourished. Not particularly dumb. Nor is the coffee. It doesn’t serve an immediate purpose, sure, but both the coffee love and the magic cubes work to flesh out the universe in which Tokyo Ghoul takes place. One could make the argument that a writer shouldn’t include a gun in the first act if they don’t plan on having a character use it by the third act, but to be fair, we’re barely out of the first act of the series, so there’s no telling how coffee or the magic cubes may come into play in the long run. Next, Kram complained that the series brushed over Kaneki’s negative reaction to and all-around inability to cope with becoming a ghoul, instead of taking a chance to show the conflict that would come with such a transformation. I’ll point out that the show does this largely in the first episode–to melodramatic effect, no less–and the second episode still deals with his conflicting sides–his desire to eat his friend, by the end of the episode. Earlier in this review, I clearly stated how the third episode handles Kaneki’s transformation and slow acceptance to his fate. All that aside, if the series was simply about Kaneki’s conflicts with becoming a ghoul, there seemingly wouldn’t be nearly enough time to devote to the rest of the world and its characters. Perhaps I haven’t been watching anime long enough to find everything but Kaneki’s metamorphosis cliche, but I want to see more of Amon and Mado’s investigation against the ghouls of the 20th ward. I want to understand what sets Yoshimura and the Anteiku crew apart from the ghouls of the other wards, and what those particular ghouls are like. Kram seems to think that Kaneki’s current pace of acceptance limits the impact of Tokyo Ghoul but I would argue the opposite. Really, this one comes down to taste though, and what the viewer is expecting out of the show. Lastly, I’ll hit on a really specific annoyance that the AAA crew had; Kaneki and Hinami’s relationship. Having thrown huge fits over the moe perversion and incest leanings of a show like Fate/kaleid liner Illya etc., I feel like I’m ready to pounce on such scenes like a watchdog, cutting series to the quick for an ill-begotten “onii-chan”. While Hinami does call Kaneki “onii-chan”, here I truly believe that it is an indicator of the two characters bonding ghoul to ghoul, both in emotionally draining states and able to appreciate that fragility in each other. Being younger, maybe Hinami gives off an air of still coming to grasps with being a ghoul, something that Kaneki can quickly relate too. Either way, there’s nothing sexually charged about their relationship in the few scenes we see of them together, so such thoughts–at this point, at least–are looking for a problem that isn’t there. On another note, to his credit, Kram’s railing against the ridiculous censorship in the show, is spot on. It’s fun to watch the show in real time, but the scene in the second episode where more than half the screen was blacked out due to the apparent graphic violence therein, caused me to consider waiting until the uncensored DVD/BluRay is released. It’s not even that I need the graphic gore scenes, but more that half the screen being blacked out, is incredibly distracting.

Alright, that’s enough point tackling. No disrespect, to each his own and all that. If you aren’t listening to the AAA podcast, definitely check it out. Some shows lean on the silly side, but they are DEFINITELY one of the more adult anime podcasts out there–and not in a pornographic way, though sometimes…–and their reviews go much deeper than a discussion of which sword the protagonist chose to fight with this week, etc. Back to Tokyo Ghoul, it certainly isn’t a perfect show, but I’d definitely recommend what’s been broadcast so far to most people, horror fans or not. The show builds an interesting enough world that it doesn’t have to rely on those horror elements to intrigue its crowd. Well, at least most of them. 😉

Zankyou no Terror: A

While the plot between nine & twelve and Shibazaki & the Tokyo police thickens this episode, another week passes where Lisa feels slightly underutilized. The cat and mouse game may be rich, but this episode’s inability to juggle all the pieces in play, brings the entire episode down somewhat. Fair warning, Zankyou no Terror is probably the only show this season worth watching without being spoiled, so do with that as you will, knowing that the rest of this review gets pretty spoilery.

In the wake of the second terrorist attack on Tokyo–this one aimed directly at the Tokyo police department–Shibazaki moves up to the division that’s investigating the terrorist attacks, due to his too-late understanding of Sphinx’s riddle at the end of the last episode. Meanwhile, nine and twelve plant another bomb and seemingly hope for someone to catch on to what they are after. Back at police headquarters, the man who caused the Tokyo power outage in the first episode–by “accidentally” knocking his crane into some power lines–is questioned by Shibazaki and other police officers until Shibazaki is able to get some answers out of him, ones that allude to the crane driver getting paid a lot of money for his “accident”. When the detectives find an easily traceable e-mail to the driver–one that gets back to a fake account–Shibazaki posits that the Sphinx group are purposefully leaving clues and hints for the police to find. Just then, the next Sphinx riddle goes live and the detectives gather round to take it in. While Shibazaki puts his analytical mind to work, elsewhere, Lisa has to deal with even worse behavior–compared to the last episode–from her overbearing mother, and decides to quietly run away. When we jump back to the police department, Shibazaki makes a direct challenge to the terrorists, but will his words work only to incense and justify nine and twelve’s actions?

First off, to get the few negatives out of the way, the use of Lisa in the last two episodes has been a let down. After playing a vital role in the premiere–and practically standing in for the viewer, allowing us to better understand feelings of empathy or closeness to nine and twelve in the aftermath of their diabolical decision–it feels as though the writers are slowly biding their time with Lisa, keeping her around only until she is needed for the plot. We see her going to school and the message of “nothing will ever be the same again”, comes out loud and clear, though it’s not something the audience really needs handed to them. Later on, Lisa has to deal with the crazy mother that we were introduced to in the last episode, except now she has gotten drastically worse to the point of the melodrama being almost comical. An argument for the inclusion of these scenes with Lisa–and how slow it took for her to begin to get reengaged with nine and twelve–would be Watanabe and his crew trying to hit a level of realism in looking at what situation would cause a smart girl like Lisa to get more involved in nine and twelve dangerous games. In the long run, that’s not hard to swallow, but time will tell if that’s the real issue here or not.

Aside from whatever problems exist with Lisa’s storyline this episode, things between Shibazaki, nine and twelve couldn’t be more interesting. The riddles that the two young terrorists set up and Shibazaki solve, begin to tap the viewer into nine and twelve’s backstory and the reason’s they have for committing the crimes that they do. So far, the last two riddles have dealt with Oedipus, a character whose own father ordered his execution for fear that Oedipus would one day murder him because of a prophecy that proposed such a thing. Obviously, nine and twelve are fascinated with the tale–wherein Oedipus survives the ordered execution and does end up killing his own father, through no knowledge of his own–so one has to consider what the story of Oedipus has to do with the two attacks. In addition to that, Shibazaki tells his boss–Kurahashi–about what it was like to be a kid in a town with mostly adults; during the summer he felt alone and abandoned, while all the adults chose to stay inside. While the meaning behind the show is open to interpretation, it could be argued that Zankyou no Terror is a reflection on the current state of Japan and its focus on the older members of society rather than its young. Much like Oedipus, nine and twelve–representing their generation–feel left out in the cold, abandoned by a society with a particularly high unemployment rate amongst the younger generations, whilst the typical wealthy Japanese business man is known to be in his later years. Taking the interpretation further, maybe the writers are making a statement about Japan’s willingness to continue on in this direction, potentially because its own leaders–those older business men previously spoken of–are worried about being ousted or bettered by the younger generation. The similarities could go further, but honestly, many other possibilities could also go hand in hand with the allusions to Oedipus, making this interpretation just one of many.

At the end of the day, whether it’s an accurate interpretation of Zankyou no Terror‘s own clues to the viewer or not, the fun of trying to piece together the show’s ultimate meaning says much about the overall quality of this series. A scant scene here–showing us just a peek of nine and twelve’s background–points to the Oedipus analogy being slightly more literal than previously stated, but that doesn’t take away from the intimate experience the show creates. The audience is on two journeys here; riding the wave of riddles and tips with Shibazaki in order to figure out where the terrorists are coming from, both physically and mentally, and trying to uncover the true sides of nine and twelve with Lisa to understand if siding with them makes us morally bankrupt. It’s a show that fires on all cylinders, and even in its slightly off episodes, Zankyou no Terror is about as good as they come.

Winner… Zankyou no Terror
Image of all the police computers watching the Sphinx attack videos

While the week’s Tokyo Ghoul was a great watch, Zankyou no Terror was able to easily put it down, even on a somewhat off week. The show’s handling of its characters and subtle tone stand out as the best of the season, bar none. Tokyo Ghoul has a long way to go before it can take a bite out of Zankyou no Terror. See what I did there?

2nd Match:

Images of the gas mask man with an umbrella for some reason and Yosuke at a loss for words, finally

Dramatical Murder: C-

Dramatical Murder‘s third episode is potentially the most boring of the lot, though the competition is certainly stark, as far as that goes. Storyline aside, the art here is pretty egregious, backed by the fact that the production team officially apologized for the rushed animation.

Things start directly where they left off last episode, as the young guy who was ominously reaching for Aoba’s face simply reaches past him to grab a store product. Later, Aoba comes home to find that the same young man has broken into his place and things start to get tense just as the gas-mask guy and the hair-dresser guy show up to stand in Aoba’s honor. The tension escalates until Aoba’s grandma pops up and forces everyone downstairs for some homemade pie. Eventually, the young guy–now known as Noiz–shows back up at Aoba’s work and kisses him, soon followed by Aoba’s grandma hurting her back and Aoba having to carry her home. Oh, and Aoba’s grandma might be evil, or something.

And that’s the weekly Dramatical Murder round-up. Apologies for the brevity, but one can’t take too much time with the thing they are working on creatively. Nitroplus–the production team behind this series–taught us that. Ice burn. Alright, enough with the dumping on the animation team, you may be thinking. Sad to say, that is simply the most interesting thing about the episode. Take away the drama of an anime production studio publicly apologizing for their work, and Dramatical Murder is one of the least dramatic, most boring and pointless shows of the season. Nothing really ever happens–save for that Rhyme battle at the end of the first episode, but two episodes later…–and even the core fan interest for the show hasn’t been represented yet. After all, the show is based on a boys love game and so far we’ve gotten two characters kissing awkwardly. Don’t mistake me. I’m not knocking down the doors, screaming for someone’s head until I see some hot guy-on-guy action. What I am getting at, is that even the worst shows of the season–Fate/kaleid liner Illya etc., Jinsei, Rail Wars!, Sabagebu!–are aware of why the people tuning in for the show are there. Dramatical Murder doesn’t seem to have an inkling of an idea of what it wants to be, hoping that the badly written characters can somehow overcome the badly written dialogue and story lines to foster something interesting. It was obvious to me–one of those people tuning in in hopes of a cool storyline, void of too much BL action–that I was bum out of luck with this show, part way through the first episode. Once they’ve lost that wider audience–due to the work being subpar, at best–the least they can do is tap as hard as they can into their base audience. Maybe the show is going in that direction, after that kiss between Aoba and Noiz. Either way, I’m just glad to be checking out of this one.

The less said about the art the better–you’ve heard it all, but yes, the designs are that inconsistent and generally bad throughout–but really, even if the art was outstanding, this show would be nearly unbearable to continue watching, simply because it is the definition of bland, mediocre storytelling. It’s pretty ridiculous how many series this season have presented a semi-interesting premise in the first episode, only to completely throw it away in the subsequent episodes. Dramatical Murder isn’t the worst culprit of these, but the fact that we saw the Rhyme world for the last 5 minutes of the first episode, followed by our characters emotionally and physically farting around for the last 50 minutes, tells the viewer everything they need to know about the series. It’s a bore.

Persona 4 the Golden Animation: C

If you’re a fan of the original video game series, Persona 4 the Golden Animation is sure to incite you, if only because it seems to have very little interest in bringing along the central plot elements of its parent game or even the characters, really. Sure, they exist in this anime, but half of them feel completely different than they do in the game. All that considered, sometimes you have to look at a property on its own, removing from it the chains of whatever it may be adapted from. I personally railed against this series in both reviews I’ve written so far, but now that it’s on its way out, maybe the time has come to accept its differences from the game and review the show simply on its own merits. And what better episode to judge a show by, than the beach episode?

The episode starts as simple as it is contrived, with Yosuke standing in front of the rest of the group and yelling “Let’s go to the beach!”–subsequently a character voices the thought of the sane viewer, “Where did that come from?”. Seriously though, after a pre-opening segment that has nothing to do with the rest of the episode, Yosuke’s exclamation is how things start. At least we know what we’re getting ourselves into. The rest of the first half of the episode takes place at the beach–Marie’s swimsuit is too small, thanks to Yosuke’s thought-out pick, it looks like Kuma somehow escaped the Midnight Channel to come frolic on the beach and Kanji loses his tiny speedo in the ocean, forcing him to use Kuma as a human covering for his personal bits. The second half of the episode attempts to make up for the shenanigans of the first half by having Marie go around and ask each character philosophical questions.

That last notion, that Persona 4 the Golden Animation would attempt to ponder over the meaning of life in the same episode where Yosuke does a fist pump after seeing the busty, scantily clad–thanks to him–Marie, is a microcosm of how ridiculous this show is. In fact, it’s interesting that both the Golden Animation and Dramatical Murder suffer from attempting to me more thoughtful and deep than they ever are. Admittedly, the second half of the episode gets into some interesting character parts because of Marie’s navel-gazing questions–like Yosuke coming clean about his semi-vapidness due to the fact that he’s in the prime of his youth–but it never feels appropriate with the other tone set in the first half of the episode. Speaking of youth, you have to laugh at the number of times a character says, “Ah, youth”, or something similar with an appreciative sigh. I just don’t think high school kids inner-monologue in that way.

It would make sense to tackle the beach segment here, but oddly enough, it’s what comes after the beach that feels tacked on and targeted. The second half was the writers bad medicine to the first half’s double fudge sundae. The show’s gone so off the rails though, why not just swing for the fences and do all beach all the time, or whatever it may be that gets the writers/creators excited. The beach scenes are annoying in their inanity, but it’s obvious that someone had a good time working on them at least. Marie’s philosophical digging? Not so much.

So by now, hopefully one can see Persona 4 the Golden Animation as bad on its own accord, no matter the travesties heaped upon the brilliant PS2 game. By the way, don’t let a goofball show like this one deter you from the game itself. It is insanely long–I MIGHT be a tenth of the way through–but it far outweighs a series like this in almost every way, especially tone and mood. Persona 4 the Golden Animation, on the other hand, loses itself by being the dumb kid in the class that’s trying to sneak words out of the dictionary and plop them into regular conversation. It’s just embarrassing.

Winner… Persona 4 the Golden Animation
Image of the cast gazing inward and outward... so deep

Putting away my intense annoyance over Persona 4 the Golden Animation‘s willful omission of many elements of the game, helped to make the show slightly more watchable, but only slightly. Either way, Dramatical Murder‘s insanely boring plot and dialogue, mixed with the notably bad animation, put it under the bus and let Golden Animation sneak through a win. Make no mistake. I wouldn’t wish these shows on anyone. I think of a future where criminals are forced to watch Dramatical Murder and Golden Animation–their eyelids held open and their eyeballs spritzed with saline solution–in order to reenter society anew, and I shiver. A dystopian hell, if ever there could be one.

Group E ended up being the least contested of the AWC–that’s right, we’re cool enough for acronyms now–with Tokyo Ghoul and Zankyou no Terror running away with the wins. Those two shows will be included in my weekly review post, while the lesser two series will slink off to the corner and die, as should be the case. With the next post over the final results for Group F, we’ll be bringing this season’s Anime World Cup to an end. The failing Glasslip will tackle the superpowers of Tokyo ESP and Space Dandy S2 will showdown with Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus.

Anime World Cup – Summer 2014: Week 3, 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 in the third week, we’ll figure out which two shows from each group will be making it to the weekly review column.

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

Group D: Fantasy/Magical Girl

1st Match:

Images of Ami in Sailor Mercury mode and Mine as a young outcast

Sailor Moon: Crystal: B

The second outing of Sailor Moon: Crystal is decidedly more entertaining than the first. Usagi isn’t as annoying this week–though there are some issues to deal with–Sailor Mercury already proves to be a dynamic addition to the group, even if her character is a cliche–though maybe the 90’s Mercury was the ORIGINAL nerdy girl who studies too much–and the animation as a whole seems better this time around, though oddly jumpy in some places.

We start out with a quiet introduction to Ami Mizuno, a bookish girl from Usagi’s school who’s seemingly sold her social life for good grades and intelligence. Kids at the school talk about her behind her back, and she comes off as envious of the tight knit friendship that Usagi and her girlfriends seem to have. Later, Luna drops onto Ami–literally–and this gives her a good reason to chat with Usagi, who quickly befriends her–we learn earlier in the episode that Luna has been planning all of this to some extent. Ami and Usagi go to the arcade together and start to become closer friends. The next day, Ami goes to a computer lab where a mysterious woman hands her a study disk which quickly brainwashes Ami once she starts watching its videos. Eventually Usagi and Luna walk past the computer lab where the mysterious woman is standing outside, handing out the brainwashing disks with her minions. Usagi and Luna investigate the disk back at her place–somehow they already assume that there’s something fishy about it–and soon realize that the disks have been brainwashing people. They rush to the lab, but can they save Ami in time, or will the brainwashing woman figure out a way to control Usagi as well?

This episode felt much better paced than the last, staying interesting and entertaining throughout, instead of being plodding at times. Ami exists as a nice foil to Usagi, making her moments of whininess somehow more endearing and less annoying. Last episode was a let down, due to a hope for some kind of feminist message underlying the show when all there was was Usagi being a “dumb girl”, in need of saving by Tuxedo Mask. Here, though, Ami is the smartest person at her school, and proves that she can handle herself physically by the end of the episode. If Usagi is a bad example of what a strong woman can be–and she is, as she has to be saved by Ami and Tuxedo Mask immediately after becoming Sailor Moon–then Ami represents the kind of woman than can overcome emotional negativity and physical abuse, finishing stronger for it. It is a bummer though, that Usagi is so easily bested by the villains that encounter her. Her biggest boon by herself, is her ability to whine and scream at such a frequency as to break windows, but that power comes from her sheer fright of the situation. It is only when Tuxedo Mask tells her exactly how to handle herself, that Sailor Moon has her act together enough to use her “Sailor Boomerang” attack. I’m sure it’s true to the original motivations and gender dynamics of the 90’s series–or the manga before that–but in this post-Frozen media landscape, can’t we reassess how this version of Sailor Moon acts and is portrayed? The ultimate argument to this point is the idea that Usagi’s lack of heroics is a source of comedy in the show, and maybe even something that sets her apart from the usual hero. To those points though, it isn’t funny–to be blunt–and that dynamic would be far more interesting and unique to a male protagonist, since the majority of media history casts females in the role of “damsel in distress”. Admittedly, I’m not overly familiar with the Sailor Moon franchise, so for all I know, Usagi could eventually grow to overcome these hurdles and be a reliant woman, Tuxedo Mask acting as a partner instead of a savior. Something with the imagery of Crystal though–the dream sequences where she walks hand-in-hand with a much taller Chiba, etc.–seem to prove my point, rather than invalidate it. Also, I realize that Japan has a different view on gender politics than many in the states do, but that doesn’t seem to invalidate the argument either.

All that said, this is an entertaining episode of the show and is a positive indicator that Sailor Moon: Crystal could be worth a watch this season, especially if you’re into magical girl anime or the Sailor Moon franchise as a whole. It is sad though that the only “updating” deemed necessary for this new version of the story is the animation, rather than the representation of strong women in a male-dominated society. Oh well, “Sailor Make Up!” right?

Akame ga Kill!: B

Akame ga Kill! is really shaping up to be a fun series, harkening back to the ultra-violent action shows of years past. For some reason, the show feels like something you would catch back in the 90’s, yet it’s hard to say why. Maybe that was a time when anti-heroes with loose morals were more prevalent in the industry. Akame ga Kill! certainly delivers them in droves.

Things start out in media res, with the Night Raid crew defending against several groups of ninjas and assassins that are attacking their camp. We get some info on imperial relics–the various weapons that the members of Night Raid wield–and a few demonstrations from their wielders on what sort of mystical powers they possess and how they work. If memory serves, this is the first we’ve heard of these weapons having some sort of supernatural energy tied to them, so it can’t help but feel somewhat shoehorned in, in this instance. Eventually, Tatusmi is tasked by Najenda to apprentice with Nice and to follow her orders, much like he did Akame in the last episode. Sadly, those marching orders come down to following her around whilst she shops, Nice talking down to Tatsumi during the majority of their time together. Things get a little darker once Tatsumi and Nice come upon an execution, and once the audience becomes privy to the inner-workings of the court of the child emperor and the potential advisors that have his ear. Things start to ramp up as the group gets a related case from Najenda that involves taking down one of the child emperor’s relatives on charges of corruption.

While the majority of Akame ga Kill!‘s cast is unique from one another, individually they each embody some of the usual anime tropes that we’re used to seeing. Because of that, the show is creating a nice pattern–in these last two episodes, at least–of sticking Tatsumi in one-on-one situations with the various characters so that he–and the audience–can get to know them better. This played out in the last episode, by keeping Akame generally mysterious while showing that she had an empathetic side and could have pride in Tatusmi’s accomplishments as an assassin. Here, we get Mine’s background, a tale that better defines her point of view and the overall ideology of someone who could murder people in mass without much hesitation. Mine, it turns out, was badly treated by the townspeople–for the simple fact that she was born half-foreigner–when she was younger. This has colored her whole perspective on the inequality of their society and pushes her to side with the Revolutionary Army, who–as allies of many foreign countries–plan to create a more accepting climate in the country that will benefit historically victimized foreigners. Of course, she goes on to say that she’ll also grow rich and live a cushy lifestyle from her role in the revolution, so much of this character development can be taken at face value. Still, this is indicative of what Akame ga Kill! has been doing since the beginning; creating a feeling of immense brutality in its characters, only to later explain where that brutality comes from. Agree or disagree with their methods, at least Night Raid seems to have good motives–or at least to them–for meeting such hatred and corruption with their level of violence. It isn’t particularly in the purview of a show like Akame ga Kill! to explain why its characters are who they are, but it still finds time amongst all the action–and Mime’s moment is all-to-knowingly shoehorned in–to make the world of the show a little less black and white and to remove a slight bit of the anti from the antiheroes.

Aside from the character development, the action scenes this episode are some of the best of the season, ranking up there with Aldnoah.Zero in sheer entertainment value. Seriously, where else will you get the camera pulling back through a freshly shot hole in a guy’s thorax?

Tie… Sailor Moon: Crystal and Akame ga Kill!
Images of Ami in pre-transformation and Mine seen through a gaping thorax hole

While they’re certainly shooting for different tones for different audiences, the quality of Sailor Moon: Crystal and Akame ga Kill! was about equal this week. Sailor Moon was able to bounce back from a rocky first episode–mainly through the introduction of the badass, Ami–while Akame kept up a consistency that it’s been building since the end of the first episode.

2nd Match:

Images of a young Shino acting in self-defense and Miyu defending Illya with a broom

Sword Art Online II: C+

The week’s Sword Art Online II proved to be neither terribly interesting nor particularly eventful. We get a handful of character moments that help us to better understand the mindset of these people–mostly Shino–but the tone of each is especially melodramatic, and sometimes hard to take at face value.

Shino is at a market when she is confronted by some school mates who try and bully her for some money. She has a physical reaction to one of the bullies pointing a gun finger at her–odd seeing as how she is one of the world champions in a VRMMORPG based on gun play–but the girls are soon scared away by a friend of Shino’s named Shinkawa. When Shino gets back to her home–after a dialogue-heavy lunch with Shinkawa–she peeks at a gun in a drawer and is immediately effected on a psychological level. We get a flashback of her at a much younger age, forced to protect her mother through a brutal and violent act that would be hard to deal with at any age, much less the preteen age that Shino would seem to be in the flashback. Meanwhile, in the Alfheim Online world–a fantasy based VRMMORPG–Kazuto finally breaks it to Asuna that he has to switch over to the Gun Gale Online universe, to help solve the case brought up back in the premiere episode. She capitulates but is concerned, and Kazuto quickly makes preparations for his departure, ready to sleuth around and solve some murder mysteries.

Sword Art Online II seems to have a tendency for overly long scenes where two characters go on and on, usually with some heavy exposition included. It was missing in the second episode–which is what made it so good, one could argue–but the first episode was basically half made up of a conversation between Kazuto and a government official that set up the trajectory of the series, at least for Kazuto. Where the long convo in the first episode involved discussing the murder of a gamer and the ramifications thereof, the lunch scene here between Shino and Shinkawa deals only in the two of them geeking out over the more specific details of the Gun Gale Online universe. They cover the guy that Shino/Sinon defeated in the last episode and the stats he had, tactics for an upcoming championship, what it means to be an “agility” type, etc. It’s hard–at least for some of us–to want to talk about this level of detail in a video game in real life, much less to have to watch two characters go on about it for five minutes. It’s not just that, because the dialogue feels overly stiff even when they move on to discuss making time outside of GGO to focus on school work and those more annoying things in life that keep us from our virtual reality selves (the ones that are so much better). Maybe that’s where this show derails for me; it’s utter love for the idea of virtual worlds where the protagonists can escape to in order to avoid the problems of real life. In Shino’s case, it goes even further, since she hopes to use her ability to kill and maim her opponents through gun play in GGO to calm her nerves over the shooting which she was involved in so long ago. It’s a romanticization of what a video game or virtual world can be that’s clearly made for gamers and by gamers. Largely, if you’re not drinking the cool aid, then you need not apply. Maybe that’s unfair. After all, Shino does urge Shinkawa to take care of himself outside of the world of GGO. Still, there’s almost a knowing wink to all of this, as if to say “We both know what we’re REALLY interested in”. After all, it would be easy to throw all of your time into a fictional world where you have more control over you role in society and the impact you can have therein. As the characters show, however–when they lay down to enter the game world–visiting that virtual reality is tantamount to sleeping here in the real world, and truly accomplishes nothing in reality. The show may try to argue otherwise, but something like Shino’s story of overcoming her fear of guns by shooting a whole lot of guns, just feels contrived for the needs of the show.

To keep it short, Kazuto’s segment of the episode–which involved him getting physically prepped to go into the GGO universe–is entirely underwhelming and rather boring to sit through. There’s always a need in storytelling to logically get from point A to point B, but writers and creators usually figure out a much more interesting way of doing that. This episode is never downright stupid and doesn’t seem to wade in tropes like many other series of the season happen to, but when the show is hitting at this level, it’s just not particularly entertaining. All of its higher aspirations to tell a story about psychological recovery or whatever, come off as just that; higher aspirations. The show doesn’t put enough thought into its characters for those loftier storytelling goals to take root in the way they should. Maybe if they cut out ruminations on just how easy it is to screw up your build as an agility type who can’t find any rare guns, the show would be leaps and bounds better for it. But hey, where else am I going to get all the info I need about character types and weaponry in a virtual game that doesn’t exist? This stuff is important, after all.

Fate/Kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!: F

I say we skip to the end on this one… it wasn’t good. Alright, now that that’s out of the way… but alas…

The final episode we’ll be following of Fate/Kaleid liner etc. shouldn’t disappoint the crowd of hate watchers out there, staying as repugnant and infantile as ever, and even hitting a new low for the show–quite a feat, considering.

We get into the creepiness from the get go, with Chloe–that’s Illya’s evil doppelganger–being tied up for safe keeping in her skimpy outfit and interrogated by Illya and the gang. Luvia–one of the sorceresses who is slightly older than Illya and Miyu–puts a curse on Chloe that forces her to feel Illya’s pain, hopefully keeping her from killing Illya. Now that Chloe is a part of the group–through force of course–things get REALLY wacky. First, she starts blatantly hitting on Illya’s brother–many doting “onii-chan”‘s follow–and then she ends up making out with many of the other elementary school girls–just as a reminder about the age level we’re discussing–at her and Illya’s school. That Chloe. Will she ever learn? By the end of the episode, they’ve used the overplayed “she’s my cousin routine”, and Chloe is fully in the mix. Oh boy!

Wow. Commencing rant. By now it seems fruitful to say that if you are someone who is faithfully watching this show this season, buying its built in excuses for elementary school girls making out with one another–come on, she needs the mana!–then you, sir or madam, are a bankrupt individual, without a moral compass or the understanding of right and wrong. Too far? Fair enough. Too each his own, I guess. Different strokes for different folks and all… NO! These are ELEMENTARY SCHOOL GIRLS! What’s wrong with you? Do you have such issues with your own masculinity–ladies, I can’t psychoanalyze your reasons for watching this show–that you’re left to lust after the least intimidating, most impressionable version of the opposite sex? Now listen, if you happen to be one of those folks with this particular fetish, you could be doing far worse things than watching Fate Kaleid/liner Illya etc.. No one’s getting hurt, no real children are involved, etc. That means you’re already ahead because you’re not breaking any laws or putting anyone else’s rights in jeopardy for your own benefit. Now it’s time to go get some help. Seriously though, shows like this condone such fetishes and behavior and one has to wonder if they don’t foster it in new people who never would have been interested in such depravity, were it not packaged in a nice, innocent box. After all, it’s a magical girl show, so we’re all just having fun here. Hey, I’m here for the story, not any of that other stuff. No. The story isn’t worth a damn, mainly because the writers spend all of their time getting Illya, Miyu and Chloe into uncomfortable situations for the creepiest of the otaku fanboys out there. That’s not an excuse and there are something like 20 other shows out there this season that beat this one in storytelling eight ways to Sunday. Alright, concluding rant. So, if you skipped over that rant part, this show isn’t good. Not only that, but it has scared me away from trying anything else in the Fate series. Oh, and no, I won’t be reviewing the upcoming DVD/BluRay special Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei!: First Bra – Illya-hen though I’m sure it will deftly address all of my prior concerns. That title isn’t a joke by the way. Good game, Japan.

Winner… Sword Art Online II
Image of Shino getting bullied and psychologically damaged

It would have been nice if something of merit had challenged Sword Art Online II this week–especially since it had many problems–but it had the luck of going up against Fate/kaleid liner Illya etc., and we all know by now how I feel about that mess. At least SAOII‘s central premise–that they’re just now getting back to–is interesting and the second episode proved that the show knows how to do action, so all isn’t lost. SAOII could still prove to be a much better show than its widely lampooned predecessor, but only time will tell.

So it turns out that Akame ga Kill! and Sword Art Online II are the two shows that have made it to my weekly review post. SAOII ended with two wins and a loss while Sailor Moon: Crystal had a win, a tie and a loss, clearly making SAOII the winner. Honestly, I have a feeling that Sailor Moon will end up being the stronger show in the end, but it’s premiere was too weak to beat out SAOII that first week, and that really killed it in the long run. I’ll probably keep up with the show and do a separate review of it later on. After all, it’s only seven or eight episodes each season, so there’s no huge time commitment involved. Next time, it’s the end of the road for the Mystery/Horror/Thriller group with two of the best shows of the season–Tokyo Ghoul and Zankyou no Terror–duking it out for bragging rights, while Persona 4 the Golden Animation and Dramatical Murder decide once and for all which one is truly bottom of the barrel material.