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.

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