Streaming Anime Round-Up – Summer 2014: Week 7

Welcome to the weekly streaming anime round-up. I’ll be updating the post on a near-daily basis so that each review is as fresh as possible. Below, you’ll see the index with quick links to each of the eight series under review.

Show Index

Image of swimmers prepping for their turn in the relay

Free! Eternal Summer, Episode 7: B-

As much as this should be one of the best episodes of the season–focusing on the prefectural relay race between the Iwatobi and Samezuka swim teams, amongst others–it plays rather mediocrely, the pivotal race only taking up a few minutes of the episode, while melodrama resides over every other scene.

We continue the trend of the Samezuka team getting its share of the spotlight, with several scenes of the group prepping for the relay. After a disappointing performance by one of the Samezuka swimmers in the individual competition, Rin chooses to substitute Momotarou in his place for the relay race. Ai is let down because he feels passed over by Rin. Sousuke notices, and off-handedly advises Ai to prep for future relays, instead of being down-trodden about this one. The day of the relay race, Iwatobi and Samezuka both put in good performances–no spoilers here–putting them in position to compete at the regional competition. In the fallout of the prefectural matches, Haru and Rin both get scouted by universities, while Sousuke seems to be holding something back.

By the end of the episode, Free! Eternal Summer does seem to be heading in the right direction, mainly due to some interesting character developments. However, there seemed to be a certain kind of energy going into this episode that was almost nowhere to be found on arrival. Overly dramatic scenes between Rin and Sousuke take up time that could have been devoted to fleshing out the relay race itself. Obviously in real time, the race would probably last about as long as it does here, but sports anime are notorious for spreading out the action of a tournament or match in order to draw out dramatic tension. These scenes are infamous because they often border on the ridiculous, but using such drawn-out tension sparingly and in the right places, can have a big impact. It’s hard for us to care about the philosophical differences between Sousuke and Rin when we basically saw the same dynamic between Rin and Haru last season, albeit with less fanfare. Fraught, action-packed swim matches, however–since this show is about swimming after all–are just what the doctor ordered, early and often. I realize that with the regional competition looming, there’s still plenty of time for such moments in Eternal Summer–and one could argue that had this episode been more match-heavy, we’d be worn out by then–but it still seems a waste of an opportunity to make the series into the very best swimming anime that it can be.

Image of Nagisa pushing through in the relay race

On another note, it was interesting to see Nagisa and Rei philosophically break down what it meant to be Haru’s version of ‘free’–a conversation that comes up when Rei wonders why Haru seems aloof and unaffected by being scouted. Rei comes to the conclusion that Haru is ‘free’ due to the fact that he’s not bound to anything, a good point since Haru seemed reluctant at times about the relay race in the first season. Hearing that, I realized that that is the true flaw in Haru’s character, and why he is–along with so many others–a bland male protagonist that isn’t particularly fun to follow. Haru’s general lack of interest in his surroundings–besides the idea of being and swimming ‘free’–means that his character lacks stakes. Things are never particularly dramatic within the inner-workings of Haru’s mind, only when he is acted upon by an external force, like Sosuke, Rin or the positivity of his teammates. That can be refreshing at times, but it also makes it hard to root for Haru. Luckily, just as these thoughts accumulated, Haru seemed to realize the same thing, taking Rei’s seemingly kind words as an impetus to become bound to something–we see him come to practice the next day, a schedule for relay training prepped for the rest of the team.

The actual swimming segments of the episode could have been handled better–and the external drama should have been tampered down to give more time to those segments–but this episode eventually sets things in motion for the rest of the season. Much like the Samezuka team, individually it could have been better, but hopefully it will prove to have pulled its weight in the grand scheme of things.

Image of Nanako hugging Yui

LocoDol, Episode 7: B

This episode was surprisingly descent, and might have been the best of the series so far, were it not for the needlessly dry second half.

The first half of the episode showcases Nanako, Yukari and Yui’s anticipation and viewing of their national television debut. Nanako watches with her parents–her mother having bought a recorder, specifically for the broadcast–Yui watches with her extensive family–everyone gathered around the didner table–and Yukari attempts to watch at her mansion, but instead has to entertain her parent’s dinner guests. Each, for various reasons, miss segments of the broadcast and feel embarrassed the next day at school when they can’t properly congratulate one another. This sentiment is quickly overshadowed by their schoolmates noting that the three girls were on national television the night before. Soon, back at Nagarekawa girls headquarters, Nanako and Yuakri find that a new girl–Nazukari–has been brought on to the team to fill in as Uogokoro, every now and again.

The best moments of this episode prove this series to be one of the hidden gems of the season–most viewers having written it off because of the subject matter or potential for fan service. We get a glimpse into the individual lives of our three heroines–as well as a small peek at how Satori and Nanako’s uncle are watching the televised event–that succinctly etches out the differences and similarities between the three. Nanako’s situation represents the average family–2 parents, 1 kid–while Yui and Yukari exemplify the opposites of that dynamic–Yui with a large family in a small home and Yukari, whose parents we never see, living in a huge mansion. The three girls couldn’t be more different, as far as their domestic lives go, but being a part of the Nagarekawa girls brings them together and give them a shared experience that they otherwise wouldn’t have. And therein lies the rub of LocoDol; its ability to showcase the influence–or lack thereof–of celebrity and idol status on Nanako, Yukari and Yui.

Image of Uogokuro getting hugged by a bunch of kids

From the beginning of the series, we’ve seen the three–mainly Nanako–grow from regular school girls to local idols and now to idols on the fringes of national awareness. Throughout, the girls have been able to keep a relatively cool head and haven’t lost themselves to the excitement that would come with a level of celebrity. Yui is as folksy and aloof as ever, Nanako is still nervous, no matter the broadcast medium, and Yukari still provides the calm and patient center that the group needs. Still, things never feel to saccharine–like in another idol show, Shounen Hollywood–and being an idol isn’t necessarily seen as the greatest thing one can do. More than anything, being an idol becomes just another job that some people happen to land in. Certainly, if there are local idols in Japan, only 1 in every 50 groups would end up on a national level, but the three don’t seem particularly transformed by their new status. It’s just the route in which life is taking them. Now whether this is an accurate depiction of what real girls would act like in the same scenario, is up for debate, but that inaccuracy is the escapism that the show revels in. It’s sweet to think that three small-town girls could grow to be the talk of the town–much less the nation–and not have it go to their heads. It’s easy to root for Nanako, Yukari and Yui because they represent the best parts of celebrity aspirations and lack the worst of the reality.

Sad to say, the second half of the episode dangles limply off the first and drags out an uninteresting–but ultimately important–storyline. The problem, seemingly, is that there’s nothing unique about Nazukari, at least not yet. She’s nervous too–like Nanako–and her lack of clothing throws me into the “worried about annoying fan service” category that’s probably pushed many folks away from the series. Most annoyingly, after the episode does such a great job of showing us more sides of Nanako, Yukari and Yui, it introduces Nazukari as a relatively one-dimensional character. Hopefully she’ll get the same treatment as the other three in future episodes.

It’s easy to dismiss LocoDol. The series isn’t especially ambitious and it covers ground that’s been tackled before–in the idol realm, that is–but it has a unique spin in it’s small scope on these three charming characters, plus the oddballs that surround them. The show does have it’s ups and downs though, and an up episode this week, does not an amazing series make if next week is back to the usual shenanigans. Time will tell if LocoDol is worth watching in the long haul.

Image of Kaneki in his new ghoul mask

Tokyo Ghoul, Episode 7: B+

This week’s Tokyo Ghoul hit some odd notes, but it generally served as an entertaining piece that set the show back on the right track, after being de-railed somewhat by the Tsukiyama arc, a few episodes back.

Mado quickly dispenses of Hanami’s mother in the intro to the episode, setting the stage for a fast-paced and efficient storyline. Back at Anteiku, there is a split in opinion on what should be done about Mado and Amon–or the police presence in general–with Yoshimura urging everyone to lay low and not draw the attention of the Doves, while Touka decides to single-handedly hunt down those responsible. She ends up murdering Kusaba, a local police detective assigned to the case, which incites Amon and causes Mado to fight her off. By the end of the episode, Amon is incensed to take greater action against the ghouls of the 20th ward, while Mado draws ever closer to the Anteiku crew.

What this episode had going for it, was a need to push the story along and feeling like we’re finally dealing with a storyline that might last for the rest of the series. While there were interesting parts of the Tsukiyama arc, the further we get away from it, the more it feels like filler which served little purpose. This storyline with Mado and Amon hot on the trails of Yoshimura and his gang, however, questions allegiances amongst the group and fleshes out everyone from Yosimura to Renji to Touka, with some really nice action scenes still in the midst. Our estimation of Mado is also raised, as he not only poses a real threat to several of the main characters, but is able to piece together more than the Anteiku crew would probably like for him too. He’s a dangerous man–or beast, even–who has been given too much power, and now Touka, Kaneki, Nishiki and whoever else will have to handle his wrath.

Image of Touka prepping to roundhouse kick Amon in the face

We’ve seen an interesting volta in the series from the first episode until now, with the ghouls going from a creature to be feared–look at the kind of monster that Rize represented–to one that’s on the run, in many ways, and almost feels endangered. Touka acts out against the local police force out of fear, as much as she does a need for revenge. It’s not an entirely new take on horrid creatures, but few horror stories–that come to mind at least–paint a sympathetic picture without adding a touch of romanticism. Tokyo Ghoul largely lacks that flavor, as we never want to know what it’s like to be a ghoul–the opposite of many vampire tales of late–but still want to see the main characters succeed and come out unscathed by the end of the story. Through all this, Tokyo Ghoul still clings to it’s gory and gothic underpinnings, being careful not to shed the more sickening side of the ghouls, amidst defining them as more clear cut protagonists. It’s a hard line to balance, but this episode is an example of the series handling it exceedingly well.

So it’s stated, there are a few scenes here that feel completely out of left field and don’t work at all. The main one the comes to mind, features Amon trying to cheer up Kusaba’s police partner by letting the partner pay for a practical feast that Amon consumes, after finding out that the partner used to pay for Kusaba’s meals. I understand where the sentiment is coming from, but it’s lost in the fact that Amon’s getting a free meal out of the deal AND he gets to act gallant. There are a few others–mostly involving the Doves–but this episode was a blast to watch for the most part, and got the series back to a good place for the next five or six episodes.

Image of the island crew watching the plane leave for Tokyo

Barakamon, Episode 7: A-

The 7th episode of Barakamon doesn’t seem to have an overarching message, but it does serve as a great centerpiece for the show, capturing the tranquility and folksiness of the island in contrast to the fast paced–and often cold–existence that Handa and his friends are accustomed to.

On Kawafuji–Handa’s friend–and Kanzaki’s–the kid who beat Handa in the calligraphy competition–last day on the island, Handa and the gang take them fishing. Miwa and Naru help the city boys with the finer points of fishing throughout the episode, while Hiroshi attempts to catch a hisaniwo–a particularly high grade fish. By the end of the episode, Handa and the island crew bid their fond farewells to Kawafuji and Kanzaki, as the two head back to Tokyo

It’s a relatively simplistic episode that works because it’s allowed to sit back and soak in the depth of Barakamon‘s cast. Naru is in rare form here, each of her moments more comical and touching than the last. I’m still blown away by the show’s ability to capture the mood and attitude of young children, without the need to make Naru precocious. She’s brilliant in many ways, but it’s her simplicity–not some sort of forced depth of feeling–that allows her to see the world in a way that takes many of the adults around her longer to catch on to. Miwa and Hiroshi work well as foils to Kawafuji and Kanzaki’s “fish out of water” sensibilities. Meanwhile, Handa stands between them philosophically, making us wonder if he will eventually return to his home in Tokyo, or if he’s found a kind of life that he never knew he wanted. It’s certainly true that Handa has learned more about himself–and has generally been able to see outside of himself–in the handful of weeks that he’s been on the island, than in the rest of his life. Seeing Kawafuji and Kanzaki leave the island crew behind, alludes to the fact that Handa too, may one day have to leave his new-found friends behind.

Image of Kanzaki fishing by himself

Leaving the island also comes up for Hiroshi and Miwa, when Hiroshi begins to look forward to the day when they themselves will leave their quaint home for a bigger life in the larger world. There’s equal parts excitement and sadness that comes with the sentiment; excitement about getting to see the world outside your window and sadness from leaving behind those that cared most for you and provide that immediate sense of comfort. It speaks to Hiroshi and Miwa’s age but also captures a general tone that Barakamon carries; the separation of rural living with close connections from a more detached but culturally richer, big city experience. But does the big city–here Tokyo–really provide a culturally richer experience, at least for Handa? He’s learned local customs that go back through the years, painted calligraphic designs on his neighbors’ boats and has been more artistically influenced than ever before–remember the ‘Fun’ painting in the premiere episode? Barakamon is quick to admit that the rural life can be stifling–Handa has a hard time connecting with the outside world once his phone dies, Tamako worries that she may be ostracized, at one point, because of how quickly gossip spreads on the small island, and the towns people in mass, seem hesitant towards change–but beyond that flash point, the island is an idealic place to work in many ways. While Handa is often times bothered by his young entourage, their vitality and naiveté–in contrast to his own cynicism and anger with the world–seem to fuel his creative process and help him to work through his evolving calligraphy stylings.

Does this episode tackle any one message, like those before it? No. Instead it assumes to have no agenda and allows the viewer to relax with the characters we’ve seen fleshed out over the first handful of episodes. There’s nothing grandiose here, but that’s a microcosm of Barakamon as a whole; it’s a series that insists on slowing down and appreciating that which is around you. If you’re always chasing the biggest fish, you’ll miss out on the smaller ones that may be more worthwhile in the end.

Image of Princess Asseylum and crew flying the Martian aircraft

Aldnoah.Zero, Episode 7: B+

Since the first three episodes, Aldnoah.Zero has largely gone downhill. Besides, Slaine–easily the best character–everyone else has been pushed from “monster of the week” to “monster of the week”, with little to no regard given to evolving them as people. The best we get, is plot movement through soap operatic melodrama. That being said, one can’t discount the 8 year old boy in themselves, yelling “This is awesome!” at the top of their lungs after every fight scene. Plus, this episode isn’t AS bad as the last three.

Slaine continues his one-man rebellion against the Vers, as he attempts to escape from the mother ship that landed on Earth. Soon he joins up with Inaho and the rest of the Terran gang, taking on Femieanne and helping to protect the remaining Terran ship. Meanwhile, Princess Asseylum and Rayet assist Lt. Marito in changing the tide of the battle. However, with Slaine and Inaho working towards two separate goals, will they come together in the name of the Terran race or face a questionable outcome?

It would’ve been nice to see some of these characters move past their mindset of three or four episodes ago, but I guess it can’t be helped, especially sense the Vers–for the most part–are so unflinchingly bad. Had the Vers some sort of redeeming quality, maybe a handful of our characters could be questioning their actions, wondering if the Vers were truly bad or just misunderstood in their actions and dialogue. Luckily we do get this in a very small package, through the relationship between Slaine, the Terran boy who grew up with, and served the Vers, and Inaho, the high school-aged “everyman”.

Image of Inaho and Slaine doin' it up teamwork style

It’s a spoiler, but by the end of the episode Inaho is questioning the loyalty of Slaine to the Terran cause, wondering if he’s willing to do anything–like utilize the Princess in whatever way may be needed–for the cause. It’s a scene that may be the tensest we’ve seen so far, and it FINALLY gives us a window into the type of character that Inaho is. One hazards to give them as much credit, but it’s interesting to consider if the writers purposefully shadowed Inaho’s characteristics to pull a 180 on the audience midway through the series. Of course, that eschews a more complex question; is Inaho’s ultimate choice right or wrong? On the one hand, he and his people have been pushed into a corner by the Vers, trapped, on the verge of being conquered and looking for an escape. On the other hand, is Inaho not on the same plain as the Vers after he makes his decision? He may not have sent hundreds and thousands to their death, but Inaho does ultimately do something very chilling to serve his own goals, and it would seem that he’s going to continue down the same path in the near future. Even through all of this, it’s hard to decide whether Inaho’s character is frustrating or a breath of fresh air after over-the-top characters who feel the need to shout what they are thinking and feeling, or even what they plan to do. The frustration comes from wondering if the writers even have a set of characteristics in place for Inaho, or if he’s just a cold and lifeless shell for them to shove plot points into. Either way, Aldnoah.Zero would be considerably better if events like the one that ends this episode, did more to shape the characters.

As far as the soap opera leanings of the show, the storyline between Lt. Marito and Magbaredge–in which Marito apparently had something to do with the death of Magbaredge’s brother–feels entirely tacked on and meant only to fill up time. The plot may eventually grow to make this particular storyline an integral part of the whole, but for now it’s handled in a ridiculous enough way to make it worthy of an exasperated eye-roll. Magbaredge turns on Marito–the setting sun outlining her figure in a golden glow–to drop the bomb that she was related to the man he apparently killed. Marito gasps and is instantly sent back to that moment, holding the dying man in his arms and cursing to the skies. It’s a series of scenes that belittle the greater narrative of Aldnoah.Zero, one that may be tried but is also true, at least as far as entertainment is concerned.

Dropping any sort of analytical probing, this episode of Aldnoah.Zero had a frenetic energy that was hard to disavow, especially in the latter half. The CGI mechs are still a wonder to watch, whether they’re gunning down flying robot arms or jumping on to alien ships, and the strategy element to the mech fights–most enjoyable back in episode 3–is back in full force and as entertaining as it’s ever been. Aldnoah.Zero is probably best suited for those who are already mech fans, but its amazing action sequences and the fact that it’s coming out of a narrative lull, means it’s at least worth a look see, even if it is just to watch big robots shoot their big guns at bigger robots.

Image of Dandy singing in Johnny's face, Meow and QT disappointed

Space Dandy S2, Episode 7: A+

It would seem that your mileage with Space Dandy is somewhat dependent on what genre/style the show is taking on that week, and how much you appreciate or know that genre and its tropes. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes Dandy isn’t lampooning a particular genre, such as the fish episode a few back, and other times the overall themes of the episode can lead even the least knowledgeable through some deep cut references. Episode 7–“Rock N’ Roll Dandy, Baby”–clearly lands in the latter group, obviously lampooning music anime series before it, but telling a compelling story that doesn’t need the references to leave an impression.

Dandy runs into a young musician–Johnny–who hears Dandy humming a tune. After the two come to fisticuffs, Johnny insists that they start a band together and Meow and QT are soon thrown into the mix as well. Dandy and Johnny spend time planning out their future as rock gods, thinking up band names and creating merchandise, rather than actually practicing or writing music. Before long, Meow gets the band a gig and Johnny is forced to write a song that they then play as their one and only single. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, Johnny is the Commander of the Jaicro empire, a group of war mongering aliens with the Gogol empire in their crosshairs. When the band’s biggest gig and the first Jaicro strike against the Gogol fall on the same day, what will Johnny and Dandy do?

Whether you catch the references to Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad–or any of the other music anime references–or not, the stupidest arguments between Dandy and Johnny are played with such dramatic gusto, that it’s hard not to like, cultural nods or not. Best of all, even though the characters and their actions are amplified to 11, the writers capture something truthful about the average experience of being in a band, or just being creative in general. For Dandy and Johnny, thinking–and arguing–about the band’s lofty future goals or current marketing strategy comes easy, it’s the actual creativity that’s a little more difficult to grasp. It’s a perfect snapshot of how creatives–or faux creatives, as the case may be–can languish in the ethereal world of “could’ve beens”, when they don’t put the effort in. It also speaks to the human condition and our ability to dream of reaching the stars while only putting in the time and energy to climb up to the roof. Of course, being Space Dandy and all, the band DOES reach that level of success accidentally, which sets up the early 90’s comedic situation that gives the episode its fitting ending.

Image of Johnny arriving just in time for the show

Aside from the storyline and thinly veiled message on creative success, the animation this time around is something to behold. We’ve had several episodes this season where the art was either stylistically unique–making for beautiful episodes that seemed to showcase the possibilities of animation at large, rather than of anime specifically–or simply lacking in quality–the musical episode jumps to mind. In this 7th episode of the series, the animation is crisp and clear, with manga-like stylistic influences and a 1980’s dystopian sci-fi feel to boot–space battles, giant robots and cultural decay abound. The set piece towards the end of the episode is especially impressive, and really adds to the over-the-top vibe the story conveys in its equal messaging for and against the worst rockstar stereotypes. The animation here is equally vivid and monochromatic at the same time, allowing Dandy and Johnny to create their anarchic band of misfits, while also subtley pointing out the lack of creativity–or color–in their ‘artistic’ process.

The music’s nothing to scoff at either. While there is only the one song to appreciate, it’s definitely an ear worm that you’ll be humming long after the episode ends. The guitar riff is catchy but the uninspired lyrics and the quasi-generic rock song feel, make it the perfect send-up of the kind of music we would usually get from a similar anime series.

While this episode doesn’t have great aspirations as a philosophical text, it conveys many truths about the pitfalls that exist on the path to creativity. With brilliant animation, an entertaining and well-written storyline, and a killer tune, “Rock N’ Roll Dandy, Baby” is one of the best episodes of the season. It’s lucid enough to be easily consumed, but the genre bending and sheer imagination involved squarely mark it as Space Dandy at its best.

Image of Yoshioka and Makita, caught up in their drama

Ao Haru Ride, Episode 7: B+

Having not seen many of the most important shoujo/romance texts–Kimagure Orange Road is begging to be watched, and I swear I have Urusei Yatsura queued up, right after this Sharknado thing–it’s hard to definitely say if Ao Haru Ride is providing anything fresh. It certainly feels like the romance elements of the story are fairly pat, as love triangles are consistently spoken of as one of the more prevalent anime tropes. However, the way that friendship is handled in the series–and the way it shapes the romance elements–hits on different ideas than we’ve seen in the past.

Having come to the realization in the last handful of episodes that she’s in love with Kou, Yoshioka–whose new best friend, Makita, has come out to Yoshioka about her own love for the disaffected youth–has a hard decision to make; her friend or her man. Kou certainly doesn’t help the situation, becoming warmer and more friendly towards Yoshioka in the last handful of episodes. After a touching moment between the two at the train station–in which Yoshioka finds herself in need of coming clean with Makita about her love for Kou–Yoshioka just happens to run into an old friend, Yumi, with whom a falling out occurred due to various boy-related issues. This reunion with a close friend from the past, forces Yoshioka to reconsider her current situation with Makita and Kou, making her romantic choices that much more difficult and fraught. Friend or lover, Yoshioka has to make a choice.

Arguably, this episode doesn’t really push the narrative in any new directions. Yoshioka largely ends up where she began, after all. What it does do, is provide more definition to Yoshioka and Makita, making it harder for us as viewers to decide for ourselves what’s the right decision for Yoshioka to make. Though it’s a little on the nose, the introduction of Yumi even forces Yoshioka to think long and hard on her actions, realizing the way in which indecision or dishonesty effects a friendship over time. All this adds to the fact that as important as romance is to the characters of Ao Haru Ride, it’s friendship that truly unites the group and brings happiness to their lives. We see this in the flashback to Makita telling Yoshioka how important their friendship is to her, and how she will never let Yoshioka pass out of her life as a friend. It’s a little naive, sure, but we come to understand that as much as she may be excited and wooed by Kou, Makita is just as worried, if not more so, about things feeling different between her and Yoshioka. We even see Makita speak to this several times through the episode, either in conversations with Murao or directly with Yoshioka. It’s clear that her lovesick ways aside, Makita still takes the time to consider her new friend’s feelings and the ways that her actions might effect Yoshioka. Yoshioka has a similar thoughtfulness, though she seems to go with her instinct in the long run, rather than calculating her feelings based on the desires of other people. Either way, it may be the jaded misgivings of a non-high-schooler, but logic would dictate that the more informed and well-rounded friendships that make up the show, would win out over high school crushes, in the long run. Which brings us to another interesting point.

Image of Kou soothing Yoshioka… like a dog

Beyond the fact that Kou has little redeeming traits–aside from his rugged detachment and thinly veiled misogyny, of course–he seems to fall neither one way or the other, when it comes to his feelings for Yoshioka and Makita. In other words, there’s still the possibility that Yoshioka is fretting and Makita has her head in the clouds for nothing. That would be the ultimate twist; Yoshioka comes out to Kou about her feelings for him–which she kind of has already, but he took it as a joke–and Makita is broken, only for Kou to say he’s not interested in either of them. It’s a twist that would continue in the vein of friendship over love life, but it’s unlikely to be the case, since this is a romance show after all. There’s definitely a “high-school crush” component to both Yosioka and Makita’s feelings for Kou. He obviously has some emotional problems in that “you wouldn’t understand”, kind of way, which seems like kyptonite to sweet girls throughout fiction. To be fair, Kou can be a nice guy, like the moment where he helps Makita cross a river–thus giving her her crush–or the way he waits around for Yoshioka after school, etc. The problem is that he’s also dismissive of women, quick to see Yoshioka as an idiot who needs a hand held on her head for reassurance. This particular moment was especially odd, as the image reminded me of a dog being reassured by her master. In this way, though Kou can be a sweetie at times, he doesn’t ultimately have much respect for the females around him, at least not for Yoshioka. We also see this in Kou’s ultra-judgemental view of the actions that Yoshioka takes and the things she says, for instance his ridiculing of the shampoo she uses in this episode. It’s delivered as a joke, but Yoshioka certainly doesn’t take it that way, quickly heading to the supermarket to change her shampoo. I’m not saying it’s a completely unrealistic look at high school love or crushes, but that it’s hard to want for Kou and Yoshioka to be together, when Yoshioka would be much better off with someone like Makita in her life than with someone like Kou. Kou is the guy she dates for a handful of months, before realizing that he’s a self-centered jerk who doesn’t know how to love anyone but himself. Great for crushing, but not for a long-term relationship.

Clearly, Ao Haru Ride is an engaging show, causing me to go on and on about the decision that Yoshioka should make. I’m attempting to couch it in critical analysis, but the core message is basically, “You could do better, Yoshioka.” And isn’t that the sort of thing the show wants us to have an opinion about? In other words, Ao Haru Ride uses the friendships that it builds–such as the one between Yoshioka and Makita–and the impact that those friendships have on the audience, to get us to care more about the kind of love triangle that we’ve seen before in many other series. I mean, Kou’s an asshole right, or am I just crazy?

Image of Five monitoring several security screens

Zankyou no Terror, Episode 7: A

Zankyou no Terror FINALLY gets back to the same heights it reached with the premiere episode–or maybe my opinion was just effected by the overall excitement for the series back then–with high stakes and mysterious villains, all played out through an abstract chess game that represents the intellect of the characters as much as it does the overall structure of the show itself.

Nine, having realized that he and Twelve are caught up in a mental chess game with Five–a woman who seemingly went through whatever Nine and Twelve went through in their formative years–tries to keep ahead of her, understanding that a bomb has been planted in whichever space represents a place on a chessboard where he would put her into checkmate. Yeah, it’s a little confusing to conceptualize. Anyway, they are basically playing at a cat and mouse game, with Twelve tagging along with Nine and attempting to keep up with his mental acuity. Meanwhile, Nine and Twelve have employed Lisa to cause a distraction and help them in their endeavor, which leads to her becoming more entrenched in their actions. Shibazaki–and a few others from the Japanese police crew–eventually come into play, adding another set of pieces to the board. The episode ends with a fantastically plotted climax that’s well worth the watch, the stakes being risen between Shibazaki & the Japanese government, Five & the US Government, and our anti-heroes, who are quick to make whatever play is necessary to stay in the game.

There’s been a handful of complaints amongst the fan community about how we haven’t learned much more about Nine, Twelve and Five’s background by this point in the series. I can see the argument. What could add up to being the crux of this entire storyline, now has only four episodes to unravel and explain its mysterious nuances to the audience. However, as interesting as it may be to know what made people like Nine, Twelve and Five, I’m prepared to get a fairly lackluster answer to that query, and still be content with and excited about this series. I’ve seen too many Lost‘s and Battlestar Galactica‘s by this point, to expect too much from mysterious origin stories. No, what gets me is that in complaining about this relatively mundane fact, people are missing out on one of the best action/thriller series we’ve gotten in a while. It’s not like we don’t care about Nine and Twelve’s well-being, just because we don’t quite understand their background–granted I’ve become much more endeared with Twelve than the somewhat empty Nine, but that’s a different story. Whether we understand their motives or not, Zankyou no Terror has clearly set up the two young men as dangerous individuals, but with good hearts as well. Consider all the times now that the two have run around Japan, trying to stop a bomb from killing innocent civilians. Sure, they put this game into motion, but it’s human nature to cause our own downfall, so that tragic element helps us to sympathize with the two of them, especially Twelve, since he’s most often portrayed as the more cocksure–or at least more justified–of the two. And then there’s the pawn that is Lisa, caught up in Nine and Twelve’s mixed up world, but happy to be making some sort of a difference. The audience is Lisa–as I discussed back in my analysis of the first episode of the series–as the majority of us could never act in the way that Nine and Twelve do, but we could certainly be seduced by their cause. In this way, we’re closely connected to her peril, and every moment we see Lisa used as the pawn that she is, we’re drawn further into the action, hoping that she makes it out of each situation alive, as the relatively innocent bystander. When characters that I care about are playing mind games with a villainous woman ready to take out an airport full of people in order to capture two kids, I’m a little more focused on the dramatic bravura that goes along with that, rather than the logical repercussions of an intriguing but potentially unimportant origin story. But that’s just me.

Image of Shibazaki overlooking the plane yard

Add to the mix Shibazaki, a very cool customer in his own right and easily the best character of the show, and it’s not longer a cat and mouse game, but a cat, mouse and dog game, alliances switching back and forth as the goals of our anti-heroes, heroes and villains evolve. Shibazaki is an example of the best kind of detective, one who is out to get his perp but who is still willing to question his higher ups and play the game in his own way. Though he works for the Japanese government, Shibazaki is his own man in many ways, making use of his title and role in the government to get him places that further his ultimate agenda. The man shapes the uniform, and not the other way around. On the same token, Five is the perfect villain for the show, cold and calculating like Twelve and Nine, but with a considered recklessness that allows her to carry out imaginative plots while throwing a respect for human life to the wind. Though Five never reaches the absurdity of some James Bond foils–she’s much more intimidating than most Bond villains, in fact–she still exists as a character for whom we couldn’t possibly have any sympathy for, at least not at this point in the show. Five’s collaboration with the US government is especially apt, with the rest of the world currently seeing America as a “big brother” who’s always peeking over your shoulder and meddling in your affairs. For Five, meddling is putting it rather lightly.

I’ll get more into the gorgeous animation of this show–and even the outstanding soundtrack–in a later post, but for now I’ll just say that whether the continuity police are out in full force or not, Zankyou no Terror is the most fun at the tv this summer. What’s more, it’s a show that actually feels like it was created for adults, or at least for the more focused teenage viewers. Imagine that.

That wraps up the seventh week review. I’m giving anime of the week to Space Dandy S2, with its episode on Dandy getting in a rock band. The premise alone could have won the week. All in all though, this was a really strong week amongst the shows I’m watching. Besides some smaller issues in things like Free! Eternal Summer and LocoDol, the week helped to prove the quality of this summer season.

Tune in tomorrow for more updates to the week 8 review, starting with Barakamon.

One Comment

  1. Reply
    Rachel Manning August 14, 2014

    I’ve never seen this show, but I like the manner in which you approach your analysis. Great job!

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