Anime World Cup – Fall 2014: Slice of Life, Pt. 1

I’ll be doing my Anime World Cup feature a little differently this season. This time around, I’ll be doing full reviews of the 2nd through 4th episodes of each series and then giving each episode a letter grade. After all four series in a group have been reviewed, I’ll total up the wins/losses to figure out which three series I’ll be doing episode reviews of, and which three I’ll be doing season reviews of. We’ll start things off with Tribe Cool Crew, which is more shounen than slice of life, but I have to massage some of these shows into quasi catch-all genres.

Tribe Cool Crew

Image of Haneru ready to throw down

With Haneru–our move-bustin’ boy wonder–privy to the dance sensation Rhythm’s secret identity–the shy and introverted Kanon–he attempts to persuade her into forming a dance troupe. Kanon tags along with Haneru, skating past his requests, until he makes a bold move that may just change her mind.

There’s no question that like many of its shounen peers, Tribe Cool Crew is an easily disposable series when it comes down to it. It hits the usual shounen beats with a similar pacing to series like Pokemon or One Piece–our hero is passionate about a specific endeavor and implores others to join him on his adventure. Even the characters are conventional, if you’re used to the genre–Haneru feels like Ash Ketchum with less height and more eye liner–but their relationship to one another and their specific passions, is what makes Tribe Cool Crew a shounen show worth looking at.

Image of Kanon looking shocked

Haneru and Kanon’s relationship is a vital part to keeping the audience engaged. We’re given two dancers who are equally skilled–Kanon maybe more so than Haneru–and they each have such an intense deference to the abilities of the other. It’s directly stated at one point, that neither has romantic feelings for the other–though I have my doubts from the Kanon end–but both Kanon and Haneru are deeply in love with each other’s dance moves and interest in the art. It’s a refreshing remove from series where the main guy and girl are either antagonistic towards one another, or in love in spite of their need to answer to their higher calling. Even if Kanon turns out to have a thing for Haneru, he is so seemingly asexual–good too, since he looks to be about ten or so… JAPAN–that the dynamic between the two would still be engaging, because he’s much more interested in her dancing than he is in Kanon herself. I could be forgetting a series or two, but there seem to be so few shounen series where our heroine can almost one-up our hero in skill set to the point where he is in admiration of her. Of course, her powerful dance grooves are outweighed by her intense self-awareness, but it’s a start. By the fourth episode, Kanon is the more “together” of the two, since she’s anxious to learn from her peers–in the form of Mizuki and Yuzuru, two of the three dancers in a quasi-popular and local dance troupe called Tribal Soul–while Haneru is somewhat stand-offish and annoying in his unrelenting pride. While Tribe Cool Crew starts with a focus on the typical male protagonist, bouncing off the wall with excitement over the possibilities of his own success, it quickly turns to Kanon who is more subtle–and thus, more likable–in her appreciation of herself. Where other shounen series hang on a hero that is full of themselves, Tribe appreciates its heroine’s willingness to better herself through the help of the talented individuals she meets.

Image of the Tribe dancers with... beams shooting out of their chests?

Beyond the dynamic between Haneru and Kanon, lies the central idea behind Tribe Cool Crew; the power of music, dance, and the arts in general to unite and move people. This ideal sets Tribe apart from its pack, with “battles” becoming less about physical violence–what we’re used to in almost every shounen series–and more about performance and artistry. Granted, that makes this series meant for kids sound a little lofty, but Tribe gives equal importance to its dance battles as other series give to their fights, portraying characters as defined by their dancing abilities and their status amongst the dancing culture at large. Tribe never gets preachy about any of this–art over violence–but the contrast is still present, as given in a scene where Haneru mistakenly believes that an “adversary” is looking for a physical fight, when the guy really just wants a good ol’ fashioned dance battle. Characters exchange shit eating grins, challenging each other loftily, but it’s all to say, “My dance grooves are better than yours.”, rather than, “I’m going to kick your ass!”. Even a show like Pokemon–and I get that I keep going back to that well, but that’s the era of shounen that I grew up with–which doesn’t have physical fights between humans, still revolves around their chosen creatures battling one another until the pokemon passes out from exhaustion. Tribe even creates a world where a countless number of people discuss dancing and collect to watch such dance battles, intrigued to see the artful skill of each challenger, not to mention the chutzpah of live performance.

Image of the bad CGI animation

So what does Tribe Cool Crew get wrong? The reliance on CG in what should be the most engaging scenes, really drives down the quality of the show, since the animation quality just isn’t up to par. Characters that move smoothly and flow through each traditionally animated scene, came off as stodgy during the dance numbers, moments when they should move the smoothest. Granted, this has gotten better as the series has progressed, but much like in last season’s Sailor Moon Crystal, the transition from cell-drawn to CG animation is jarring, the characters moving from energetic 2D motion to rubbery CG movements. It’s a bummer too, because Sunrise–or whichever company they contracted out to–does such a great job with the traditionally animated shots and character designs. Haneru and Kanon, while having an undoubtedly shounen vibe through their “cartooniness”, are still very unique looking and easy to recognize amongst a crowd–Kanon’s pink blob of hair, specifically. In an era of anime when more and more shows are upping the amount of CG animation per episode, there’s a feeling that these studios are running before they can walk. There’s just so much to improve with the way that computer animated characters and shots fit into a show that is otherwise cell animated, that it often feels like someone is dropping the ball, and Tribe is no different.

Aside from its animation woes, Tribe Cool Crew isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, even if it may be giving a new lease on life to the shounen genre, for those of us who have grown weary of its numerous tropes. Instead, Tribe is best enjoyed as relatively mindless entertainment that’s fresh enough to not fall into the “seen it, thanks” category. What more can you ask for?

Episode Results

Ep 2: B-

Ep 3: B

Ep 4: B

Check back next time for a review of the first few episodes of the romantic/anti-romantic shoujo series Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji.

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