Posts in Category: Anime (Spring 2014)

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 5

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up.

Show Index

An image of Peco throwing his paddle into the river.

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 5: A+

In the review for Ping Pong‘s last episode, I talked about the competing ideologies of natural talent and hard work showcased in the episode. This week’s episode makes it clear which side of the argument the creators fall on.

We start off several weeks in the future. Kong is at the airport saying a fond farewell to his trainer/coach and deciding to stay behind in Japan in order to continue to better his name as a table tennis player. I like this direction, as Kong being on his lonesome may give reason for him to ally with Smile at some point. Though Kong can come off as arrogant and condescending, there is a human side of him that the show is slowly leaking out, making him a more empatheti character.

Kazama–Dragon–is also at the airport, returning from recently winning the singles tournament at the Youth Olympics. As press crowd around him, he relates his disappointment in his team as a whole–since they didn’t advance very far in the preliminaries–and his interest in recruiting players like Smile. This causes ripples through the Kaio team, including Demon feeling rejected by his idol and thus feeling a strong need to prove himself. We get some interactions between Kazama and his suspected girlfriend–Yurie, the daughter of the Kaio team’s coach–that try to delve into Kazama’s character, but he almost seems to lack one.

Meanwhile, Smile has been putting his all into training with Koizumi and Peco has been beach bumming it, gaining weight, more hair and a dark tan. It’s obvious that Peco’s loss from the last episode really took its toll on his psyche and how he views himself as a ping pong player. Smile, on the other hand, is tackling his demons by trying to become more competitive and taking his natural abilities more seriously. He actually plays a relatively subdued role in this episode, reacting relatively coldly to most of what happens around him. Smile is frequently cold, but in the past we’ve gotten more insight into his inner thoughts and emotions. Here, we see Smile from the perspectives of Kazama, Peco and eventually Demon, and we get a strong idea of his place and esteem in the world of table tennis.

Eventually Demon shows up at Katase High School and dramatically challenges Smile to a match. I won’t speak to the outcome, but taking down Smile does prove to be a challenge for Demon, even though he’s spent years and years putting every bit of his being into becoming a ping pong champion. Meanwhile, Smile has been neglecting his own abilities out of a lack of interest for competition. At one point, Demon laments this fact, pointing out–rightfully–that it doesn’t seem fair that one who puts 100% of themselves into something can still be bested by those who don’t seem to care as much. As an American, this episode was at times hard to watch, since the ideology of hard work leading to a positive outcome is so ingrained in American culture. In Japan however, where failure is seemingly more acceptable, not accomplishing something that you set your mind to, simply means putting your mind to a different end. Peco exemplifies this ideology best in the last scene of the episode when he makes a choice that is hard to blame him for.

One last tie-in to this belief is a very small character who was beaten by Smile in the preliminaries of the last episode. After losing, the young man decides that it is time to try his luck at the beach. He makes a short appearance in this episode as a waiter on the beach who is verbally hassled by Peco’s girlfriend. The young man concludes that the beach isn’t for him either and wonders if his fate lies in the mountains. It’s a clever wink that the creators added into the show, one that points out that Ping Pong is just as much about natural abilities as it is about being realistic with the kind of person you can and can’t be. It’s about accepting yourself for who you are, talent or no, and understanding that sometimes it’s time to move on.

An image of Rentarou, Enju and Seitenshi ducking just as a bullet flies overhead.

Black Bullet, Episode 5: B-

So last week I said that I wanted Black Bullet to take a little more time and focus less on fast paced action and more on character development. This week, I was reminded of why I shouldn’t be asking for that.

Maybe that’s a little harsh. This fifth episode really started out great, after all. Things are much calmer after the attack of the fifth level Gastrea, with Rentarou and Enju training and Kisara and a new character but old acquaintance of Rentarou’s–NAME HERE–inviting themselves over for dinner. The episode gets even better when Rentarou meets with Seitenshi over the possibility of becoming her bodyguard during a meeting she has planned with NAME HERE. I really dig the character dynamic between Rentarou and Seitenshi as she is in a position of power but is willing to listen to and consider Rentarou’s views on the society in which they live–something that other members of the elite have failed to do with Rentarou. I’m sure this relationship will play a larger role in the future.

Sadly, we also meet Tina Sprout this episode, a moe character that handily gives Enju a run for her money in the creepy/annoying category. At first Tina is just a very young girl with pajamas that are almost falling off her–why Japan? Why?–and a bad case of sleep deprivation. Rentarou meets her in a park that he’s walking through and–in usual moe fashion–she comes off as helpless and in need of the strength of an older man. Tina does go on to be a more interesting character, which breaks out of the usual tropes, but a shower scene later and I’m completely creeped out by this show all over again after the good will it’s built with me over the last few episodes.

Alright, underage fan service aside, by the end of the episode we’re set up for what looks to be a pretty cool arc. Though the new villain is a tenth as intimidating as the Masked Man, the situation that are characters are put in is far more interesting. Let’s just cut back on those shower scenes. Please.

An image of Souta standing in front of an ambiguous light source.

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 5: C-

If Her Flag Breaks was surprisingly bearable this week, with a through story of Souta taking each one of his gal pals–and Megumu–on one-on-one dates. That one-on-one part is to thank for what makes this episode more watchable than the others that have come before it. Separating the girls–and Megumu–keeps the obnoxiousness down to a decent level, though all the harem tropes are certainly present here. Each girl is either shy about being alone with Souta or overjoyed to be allowed the experience. It’s weird, because I’ve never met a guy who is so incredibly awesome as Souta. Could this be some sort of wish fulfillment for people who can’t attract women??? No, no of course not.

What more is there to say? Megumu gets cream on his face–pale white and inches from his mouth–that Souta has to sensually wipe off. Akane wears frilly lingerie under her clothes–on a tip from her mother–during her and Souta’s boat ride. Okiku has Souta lay his head in her lap and calls him her little brother, just before burying his head in her breasts. Oh, and all the girls end up in a bath at the end. If we’re gonna do these kinds of scenes, can they PLEASE have adult aged women in them?

This review’s clearly gone of the rails, but in the midst of it, I’ve realized that I only felt okay about this episode because it was marginally better than the previous four. But being marginally better than shlock, does not a good anime make. It’s also annoying that the series keeps making slight nods to a more interesting storyline without ever delving into it for more than a few minutes. Hopefully the similarity between this week’s image from the show and last week’s will make that apparent. The ambiguity of Souta’s powers and the realm that we MAY one day get more information about, are indicative of how good this show is about spinning its wheels. I don’t care about how every woman in this universe thinks that Souta is their personal savior, just give me an interesting storyline. But even that, much like the quasi nudity and sexuality strewn throughout the episode, only exists to tease the audience.

Some harem shows are able to get past the genre tropes and flesh out good characters, or, better yet, slyly analyze those tropes and what they say about the society that created them. If Her Flag Breaks doesn’t attempt either, but damn if they don’t revolutionize the “boy on a date with a boy” joke. And that parfait does look good.

An image of Masumi with the mirror water mushi looming behind her

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 5: A-

Mushishi this week offers another enlightening parable but one that doesn’t quite come together as well as the previous few, even if the message is just as good. This episode revolves around a girl–Masumi–who has recently experienced a kind of crippling heartbreak. She returns stoically to a place where she would meet with her former love interest and lingers by a nearby river, watching her reflection in the water. Ginko arrives in time to inform Masumi and her parents that a Mushi–Mizukagami or “Water Mirror” Mushi–lives in these waters and has been getting closer and closer to taking the form of Masumi in order to replace her.

Like in episodes before, here Mushishi builds its message through metaphor, with the Mushi that is a threat to Masumi’s existence acting as the all-consuming heartbreak felt after the sudden end of a relationship. Ginko warns the family that Masumi must show the Mushi its reflection in the moment of full transformation, just before it attempts to replace her. Of course, she must be willing to be rid of the Mushi, instead of letting it quietly consume her. As we saw in episode 3 of this series, any kind of loss can be debilitating and can cause one to lose themselves in a kind of despair. The same is true of Masumi, who in facing the possibility of becoming a shell of her former self, seems not entirely sure that she wouldn’t enjoy disappearing. It’s a lighter commentary on suicide even, as that’s technically what she’d be doing by allowing the Mushi to replace her.

By the end of the episode, Masumi is forced to make a decision and to account for her life, deciding if it’s worth pushing past the pain in order to live another day for more heartbreak, or maybe for reciprocated love. The episode had a fantastic way of capturing the bleakness that comes from feelings of self-doubt or a lack of self-worth. Masumi’s considerable silence and the way in which she drudged through her days in this episode, all did a wonderful job of setting the tone.

So why not a higher grade? It may have been the pacing or even a slightly more corny nature to the episode than I’m used to, but something felt off about this one. Too is the fact that this episode felt similar in message to the 3rd episode and similar in its eerie tone to the 4th episode. My lack of being able to quantify what felt lesser about this episode–if you can call any episode of Mushishi lesser–makes me wonder if I judged it too harshly. But what’s done is done.

Aside from the main storyline, I really appreciated the way that Ginko–as the resident Mushi expert–handled the Mushi in the episode. His number one goal was to help Masumi, but throughout the episode he relates general feelings of sympathy for the Mushi’s place in the world. He points out how lonely their existence must be, since they seem to live on a different plane that lacks physical connection to the human world. At the end of the episode, he even helps to guide the Mizukagami Mushi to a better location that it can live in. Ginko understands the negative attributes of Mushi and generally tries to use his knowledge to help out humans and animals, but that same knowledge fuels his understanding and compassion for the creatures.

Lastly, I’ll say that the scenery art in this episode was terrific and blew me away. It was a wonderful answer to the dreary and often frightening setting of the last episode. If the woods in the 4th episode represented death and decay, these represent the mystical nature of the forest, as well as the feeling of isolation that permeates the episode. And yet, it’s not impossible to see how a vulnerable person could allow themselves to be lost to such a simple and beautiful place.

An image of the Shiseikan wind ensemble chucklin' it up.

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 5: B-

This week we get the beginning stages of the music competition that Seiso academy is competing in, seeing Kanade and her fellow musicians prepping in various ways for the performance against Shiseikan high school. More importantly though, we get a closer look at the five members of the wind ensemble of Shiseikan high, mainly Hozuki, who fits somewhat into the “jerk with a heart of gold” model.

First we see him take care of Kanade when she passes out during a practice in the woods. He seems reluctant to show his sensitive side, as these characters usually are–see Kyo from Fruits Basket as well as a dozen others–but is nevertheless there to bring Kanade back to full health. Soon we find out that the Shiseikan wind ensemble doesn’t have the best prospects at their high school once they return from the competition, largely due to the attitude and confrontational nature of Hozuki. When we learn that Hozuki’s particular infraction was a result of standing up for another member of the wind ensemble, the “jerk with a heart of gold” character type fits him even better. Hozuki does care, especially about his fellow musicians who he sees as kindred spirits.

One of the best parts of the episode comes as proof that the ensemble members care equally for Hozuki. The ensemble is faced with the possibility of continued support from the school but only if they kick Hozuki out of the group. The group leader, Yuki, decides that he’d rather see the ensemble be disbanded by the school than to continue on without Hozuki. The rest of the members agree, with Yuki saying something to the effect of how the musical performance is directly proportional to how the members of a group or ensemble treat one another. In this way, if they kick Hozuki out just to carry on, their output will be influenced by the negativity of the compromise. Having in been in bands before, it’s a hard ideal to strive for, and maybe one that’s more romantic than it is realistic. Look at The Beatles and how they replaced Pete Best with Ringo Starr. Musical history has hundreds of such examples, but it’s still a sweet philosophy and one that certainly suits the overall message of Blue♪Sky.

By the end of the episode, we get a very enjoyable performance by the Shiseikan wind ensemble that sets up our own heroes–those of the Seiso ensemble–with a high mark to overcome. After all, in all the sweetness and thoughtfulness of the characters this week, they’re still in competition with each other. This element lifts the show out of shoujo mundanity and into the realm of the watchable.

An image of Thor ready to destroy

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 5: B-

Another week goes by and another episode of Marvel Disk Wars finds me with a stupid grin on my face. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the immaturity of enjoying such a show. For all the guff I like to give to the crowd that’s really enjoying If Her Flag Breaks this season, I’m really no better with my affinity for this show. I just happen to have a slightly different inner child within me; one that jumps for joy when Hawkeye busts out his first arrow–will it explode, cast a net, electrocute the target?–and aims at the villain of the week.

Once again, this show pulls off another episode that feels true to the overall tone of the lighter, more kid-friendly, Marvel comics while still infusing its own story lines. This series is also fleshing out the rules of its world, insinuating in this episode that each character only has control over one superhero instead of several. Akira is able to utilize the Iron Man D.I.S.K., while his brother Hikaru ends up with Thor, a heavy-hitter to be sure. The Pokemon similarities seem to continue, though, as Iron Man largely plays the role of a wise-cracking Pikachu to Akira’s Ash–the heroes have mini-holographic versions of themselves that can communicate with the kids while their physical forms are still trapped inside the D.I.S.Ks.

Spider-Man is also beginning to play a larger role as he seems to be the catalyst for the inevitable reunion of the five children. By the end of the episode, we see him visiting the punk kid from the origin arc, most likely there to hand off one of the D.I.S.Ks to the older boy and show him how to utilize it. Meanwhile, Hawkeye is entering the fray as a a type of secret agent, looking to root out the forces behind conspiracies within the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. And as we see by the end, Hawkeye has much uncovering to do.

While this episode was a fun watch, it’s hard to find much movement in it aside from action and adding numbers to the cast. A show like this doesn’t really foster character development and growth, so we’ve come to the point in the series where what you see is what you get. I guess Disk Wars has always been that, but the first few episodes were a little more interesting and engaging. What I’m getting at is that for a Marvel fan like me, just seeing some of these characters pop up in their different incarnations in this world is fun, but I’m more than aware that that really won’t do it for most. As awesome as Hawkeye is, a casual Marvel fan won’t be won over by this series’s depiction of the arrow wielding agent. I will though… for now.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 4

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up.

Show Index

Image of young Demon, Smile and Peco

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 4: A

This week Ping Pong picks up exactly where it left off, with the conclusion of the prefecture preliminaries. With Smile knocked out of the tournament in the previous round–due to him subtley losing the game to Kong on purpose–our main horse in the race is Peco, who’s showdown with Sakuma, or Demon as Peco calls him, takes up the majority of the episode. Throughout the episode, we get some back story that fills us in on the relationship between Peco, Smile and Demon going back to their elementary school days. If Peco represents cocky, natural talent, Demon represents hard work and technical mastery as he spends much of his time as a youngster reading up on the sport and practices far more than Peco.

I loved how this dynamic naturally led to the question of experience over talent and at what point the former begins to overcome the latter. Though Peco seems as though he can play the game with one arm behind his back–and he might have in previous episodes–when faced with a true competitor who has put a large part of his life into the game, Peco’s shortcomings due to his laziness as a player become strongly apparent. So here we have this idea of natural talent being meaningless, in the long run, if you don’t foster it properly.

On the other hand, Koizumi has an interesting conversation with the lady who runs the table tennis hall about talent. They touch on her history–it seems that in her prime, she was a ping pong force to be reckoned with–and go on to discuss Smile’s future as a ping pong player and if he will ever rise to his potential. Koizumi ponders that those who know themselves don’t feel the need to win as they have nothing to prove to themselves. I like the idea and it certainly fits with Smile’s personality and his own sense of self, even if he is somewhat damaged. It concurrently shades the way we view Peco, Kong and Demon even though the conversation’s about Smile. Scenes like this are what put Ping Pong on a different level than the majority of sports anime I’ve watched over the years.

The competition finishes out with a match between Kong and Kazama–also known as Dragon–who’s played an important role in the tournament as well as in the future of Smile. Animation wise, this match gets about as experimental as the show has gotten so far, with metaphor’s littering the ping pong table by the end of the match. Though I was still most impressed by some of the animation in the last episode, the creativity in these scenes alone would make the episode worth watching if it weren’t already so good. Much like his match in the last episode, this one made Kong slightly more endearing, making me wonder if he won’t soon team up or ally with Smile and Peco in some way.

By the end of the episode, one of our players is sitting alone in the stadium as a voice over the loud speaker informs us that the tournament is over and that anyone still left in the stadium must exit immediately, unfortunately. A plane flies overhead and, after the speaker cuts off, the far away buzz of its engine is the only sound we hear besides a sniffle from the player. The message is clear–and largely tints the entire episode–; time is of the essence and those who are serious about competing need to stand up to the challenge. Anyone else needs to move to the side and be content with their role in the game. Of course, the image says it better than I ever could.

Image of a city explosion

Black Bullet, Episode 4: B

This week’s Black Bullet was annoyingly inconsistent in the quality department. On the plus side, we got some really killer fight scenes between Rentarou & Enju and Kagetane & Kohina (The Masked Man and his Initiator). On the down side, though, the pacing of the episode seemed off and there was a quick pushing of the plot which didn’t feel right for the meandering and philosophical mood which this show sometimes carries.

To gloss over the plot, the episode picks up directly after the last, with Rentarou and Enju heading into the nearby city after a Gastrea attack. There they find Kagetane and Kohina, who’ve seemingly been killing Promotor/Initiator pairs in the are that responded to the attack. A brawl breaks out between these four with some really exciting action scenes taking place. These scenes–littered with things like the Masked Man rapidly sliding backwards after a hard kick from Rentarou–reminded me of how well-executed anime fight scenes can almost be breath-taking. I’m sure that Black Bullet isn’t the best action series of the season, but it’s more than good enough for me.

In the midst of the fight, we come to a realization about Rentarou that didn’t entirely hold water for me. Without going into detail, this revelation puts Rentarou into an equal–if not higher–power bracket as Enju, which in some ways dilutes their relationship in my opinion. It was interesting to see an adult male rely on the physical powers of an elementary school girl. Sure shows like Gunslinger Girl have already touched on this dynamic, but I feel as though making Rentarou a more powerful character takes away from one of the core values of the show. That being said, as mentioned, the fight scenes are amazing, so maybe this plot twist will pay off even if it does change up the power dynamics of the show.

Eventually, Rentarou and Enju are charged by Kisara–and Seitenshi by extension–to take down a level five Gastrea that has been spotted in the area, assumingly released by the Masked Man. This thing is massive and reminds me of some of the odder looking enemy creatures from The King of Braves GaoGaiGar. While the animation in these scenes is still top notch, the storyline seems rushed, as I mentioned earlier, and I found myself wishing that they had pushed this level five Gastrea attack off until the next episode. I’m probably in the minority here, as who wouldn’t want a rip-roaring action show to be fast paced? Still, I feel like the more thoughtful aspects of the show–like ruminating on the Masked Man’s intentions–were sacrificed in the name of rounding out this arc. There is a touching scene between Rentarou and Enju that re-enforces their importance to one another, so I appreciated the time taken for that.

All in all, I was more annoyed with this episode because of the few things it got largely wrong compared to all that it did right. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but luckily Black Bullet finally seems to be heading in a good direction, so long as it can get out of its own way.

Image of Ruri blowing Souta's mind

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 4: C

This week’s episode of If Her Flag Breaks proved to be considerably better than the last–now that it seems that the cast is finalized–but the harem shenanigans is still too annoying to really rise much in my regard. The plot focuses mostly on the school athletic competition between the dorms that the series has been leading up to since last episode. Though everyone is gooey-eyed over Souta, Rin proves to be the leader of the group at the beginning of the athletic games, giving pep talks and setting up the schedule for the group. We get various glimpses of the different competitive sports and how the denizens of Quest Hall are doing in them. There are some chuckles here in the ridiculousness of–and the lack of athleticism involved in–the games that the school is competing in. All the girls–and Megu–put their best foot forward and seem to give it their all. Souta, however, struggles in the matches he competes in due to his drifting focus on the death flag that hangs over his own head.

Ruri confronts Souta about his feelings and the funk he’s in and Souta confesses that he’s worried about the effect his death will have on everyone in Quest Hall. This is probably the most annoying part of the episode as Souta’s egocentrism, played as thoughtful consideration of his friends, plays into the worst facets of harem tropes, outside of the usual ‘girls throwing themselves at him’ cliche. Of course the entire world of If Her Flags Breaks would crumble if the lame and characterless Souta died. Each member of the harem has more character–albeit stereotypical character–in their pinky than Souta has in his entirety. Well maybe not Ruri.

And going back to Ruri, we see her show Souta a hologram of some sort of otherworldly place after he realizes that some of his friends match up to roles mentioned in a cryptic letter he got a few episodes back. Nanami represents the Princess Knight, Akane the Mage, Ruri the Ninja and an unknown gir–one that Souta spots in the hologram–the cleric. The show gets markedly more interesting with this addition–the lore that I’ve been hankering for in each of these reviews–but we get a scant two minutes of it before we’re back in the show’s ordinary reality. I can’t help but feel jerked around by the more interesting tidbits of this show while annoying and nonsensical character behaviors take up the other twenty minutes of each episode. Potentially I’d be loving the show, if I were a big fan of harem anime.

When our “heroes” get back to the athletic tournament for the final day of competition, Souta lifts their confidence and competitive nature by raising flags for each of them–besides Nanami, since she isn’t effected–through mini-pep talks and general kindness. He laments using his friends but understands it’s a necessity in order for them to have the right outcome. By the end of the episode, everyone’s given the tournament their best and they’ve become closer for it. These scenes of legitimate human emotion–or at least as close as this show can get to it–also help to raise the episode above the rest of the series. In some ways though, it feels too little too late for a series usually so focused on its harem blandness.

Image of Tatsu vs. the crows

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 4: A+

It seems a common question asked by anime fans is, “What are some good horror anime?”. The issue is that series in this genre are few and far between, out side of a Boogiepop Phantom or Paranoia Agent. This episode of Mushishu: Zoku-Shou however, comes pretty close to being horrific and is certainly disturbing.

The storyline here is pretty simplistic; Ginko–walking through the forest–becomes literally petrified when a dark figure looms nearby, a sweet stench accompanying it. Once the figure realized that Ginko is human, it disappears and he is able to move again. The next day, Ginko–curious to figure out the occurrences of the previous night–wanders into a small nearby village where vendors are selling good and food. Ginko comes upon a sickly young boy–Usuke–selling what seems to be rotten meat. Ginko asks if the boy has anything fresher and the boy takes him back to his house where Gingo meets Tatsu, the boy’s older brother.

Thought the episode has been eerie up to this point, Tatsu is what pushes things into the realm of horror. Tatsu, surrounded by rotting animal carcases, greets Ginko and offers to go fetch some fresh meat when Ginko is unhappy with the rotting meat that Tatsu has on hand. Ginko follows Tatsu on his unt and watches as Tatsu lures a deer to his hand and then kills it simply by holding his hand over the deer’s head. Ginko realizes that it was Tatsu who almost attacked him in the woods the night before. Soon we–and Ginko–come to understand that Tatsu has a hole in his hand that basically passes a toxin on to any creature he touches, thus killing it. After Tatsu says that their father had the same ability, Ginko enlightens the two brothers that Tatsu’s ability is actually a type of disease that has been passed down through their bloodline. He also warns them that Usuke–having not gotten the powers–will likely die from the disease. Ginko believes that he can cure the brothers–through the use of kouki, a life-blood sort of substance–but can he save Usuke’s life and Tatsu’s soul in time?

While the episode’s premise is disturbing enough, the mood set by the colors found in the animation, the sound design and the imagery used to convey Tatsu’s dark powers, really push the episode over the edge. I certainly haven’t seen anything this unsettling since those first few episodes of Boogiepop. It isn’t even Tatsu’s powers that are so horrifying, but his willingness and growing eagerness to use those powers. His attitude toward his powers–and the animals that fall victim to them–fly in the face of the natural world that Mushishi revels in. Much like his father before him, Tatsu begins to depreciate life, carelessly killing forest animals when he and his brother don’t even need the meat. I can’t help but see Tatsu’s tale as an allegory for the western meat industry, where the hunt has largely been reduced by Tatsu’s control over the animals he kills. His waste, too, is indicative of the west, as he leaves carcases behind him with more thought put into want than need.

Meat industry politics aside, this is an extremely well-made episode and speaks to Mushishi‘s ability to play in almost any kind of sandbox. So far the show has dealt in magical realism, ideals of forgiveness and loss and now, eerie detachment from the weight of death. The show feels like it can do it all, and–more importantly–each episode sticks with me for days after I watch it, as the images and potential meanings of each parable rolls around in my head. Any piece of media that can do that and be entertaining deserves to be seen.

Image of Housei and Chiaki violinin' out

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 4: B-

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky this week was nothing special but was serviceable, and got the show from point A to point B. That point A is Kanade coming upon a young man named Arata, whom she walks home with after finding the he needs help carrying a bunch of sodas that he recently won. To her surprise, he takes her to Seiso academy and we find out that Arata and his cohorts–fellow musicians from Shiseikan High School–are bunking up there in preparation for the upcoming ensemble music contest that they’ll be competing in, alongside Seiso. We get introduced to more male musicians–the cast is really filling out here–, most importantly Hodzumi, a second year trumpet player at Shiseikan who is an intimidating presence but also seemingly kind. Some focus is put on the talent of the five-piece Shiseikan horn ensemble, with Kanade wowed at the unity between the musicians, Arata and Hodzumi among them. It’s cool to see the show expanding the different kinds of musicians it showcases so that the series isn’t one big stringed instrument commercial. An equal reverence is given to the horn players of Shiseikan, even though their sound is considerably different than the music of the Seiso or Amane academies.

Rounding out the new characters we’re introduced to–or reintroduced to, in the case of Chiaki–are Housei and Chiaki, a duo from Jinnan High School who wow crowds of young girls with their masterful violin duets. These two are also prepping for the music competition and they take the chance to measure the enemy when they slyly push Kanade into playing live for the duo’s crowd. After her performance, Kanade is told by Chiaki that he’s disappointed in her playing after all that he has heard about Seiso academy and its reputation. Kanade is obviously wounded, as she has been before by other musicians in the series, but I love that it doesn’t cause her to give up. This is one of the better aspects of the show, actually. Kanade and other players have to deal with harsh creative criticism from their betters when it comes to their skill level. Some can’t handle it but those who can–like Kanade–stand to learn a great deal from the criticism that is leveled at them. Criticism forces one to confront the worst parts of themselves or their creative process, not to abandon that creativity, but to find ways to nourish it, or change it or to make it better. While it could be said that many of these pretty boys are simply mean spirited towards Kanade, more than anything they are simply interested in helping a fellow musician become better, and thereby, a stronger challenger.

All this being said, not much happens in this episode. We eventually get to the first few rounds of the musical competition in the last few minutes of the episode–and are left on an intriguing cliff hanger–but ultimately, much like the previous episode of If Her Flag Breaks, Blue♪Sky is still in character introduction mode, and by this point we’ve met plenty of characters. It’s nice that we have some time to get attached to the ensemble from Shiseikan high, as I think it will payoff in the future, but the high number of characters mean that almost everyone besides Kanade and a handful of others, seem pretty blank. I guess this is a necessity as the show is moving into a music competition where dramatic stakes exist through inner character relationships, but I’m still not the biggest fan of the character overload. Oh, and while I’m complaining… I really wish the show had a larger budget so that it could spend more on animating the characters when they play their instruments. Though each character’s playing seems tonally and aurally unique, they all look exactly the same when the play a stringed instrument. Maybe this is asking too much, but the simple quality of the animation during these scenes belies the grandeur of the music itself.

On the plus side, amidst all the new characters that take up empty space, we get a unique back story for Daichi, Seiso academy’s vice-president of the orchestra club. Daichi brings an added layer to the current Seiso orchestral ensemble and continues to flesh that group out as underdogs compared to some of the other ensembles in competition. Mainly, Daichi’s story speaks to an acceptance and friendliness at the Seiso academy that seems to be lacking at both Jinnan High School and Amane academy. Seiso’s own orchestral ensemble has a ways to go in the competition, but hopefully the positive energy that they carry–alluded to through Daichi and Reiji’s first meeting–can power them past their competition in the upcoming episodes–which will hopefully prove to be more engaging than this one was.

Image of Iron Man and Spider-Man chattin' it up

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 4: B-

The fourth episode of Marvel Disk Wars starts a new story arc and continues a surprisingly consistent quality with the “origin” story told in the first three episodes. The episode is halfway a break from the Loki attack and subsequent D.I.S.K. debacle and halfway a lead-in to new villains and heroes. The episode starts with some exposition from Nick Fury and the holographic Iron Man explaining to Akira and his brother Hikaru that their abilities to utilize the D.I.S.Ks–and thus release Iron Man and the other heroes for battle–work for only a limited time. In other words, they can only access the heroes inside the D.I.S.Ks for roughly 5 and a half minutes. This is a clever tactic–if not tacked on plot point–by the writers in order to increase the stakes in any upcoming battles. With the time limit, the Marvel heroes will only be able to help out the boys–and the other kids who gained abilities–in fights for so long before the kids must fend for themselves.

The story goes on to lightly introduce Hawkeye and create a scenario where Nick Fury is believed to have been in cahoots with Loki and needs his name cleared. We also get a–some would argue B-list–Spider-Man villain causing trouble in downtown New York and a few recognizable Avengers villains who put the next storyline into motion. Spider-Man also begins to play a larger role in the overall storyline as he happens upon some very important devices. I won’t go into the storyline anymore since this show is relatively shallow and its entertaining storyline and action scenes are the best thing it has going for it.

I was really expecting a dive in quality after the first arc ended, but this episode was just as fun a watch as the last three. We’ll see if the show can stay out of filler territory–this one of the reasons I hope the series has a relatively short number of episodes–but for now, I still recommend it to any fan of Marvel or well-done shounen series’. The Fury storyline was certainly in keeping with the usual Marvel storytelling I’m used to, so it’s obvious–at least at this point–that someone who cares about the Marvel brand is helping in the production of the show and ensuring similar kinds of stories as we’ve seen in the comics these last 50 years.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 3

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up.

Show Index

Image of Smile considering his options

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 3: A+

This week’s Ping Pong starts off quietly, with Smile visiting Koizumi’s home and speaking with his wife to make sure the old man is alright after the crushing blow Smile leveled at him at the end of last episode. I’ll get to this theme more, but this scene adds nicely to Smile’s overall character developments (or maybe lack thereof) in this episode. Though he aggressively took Koizumi down just days before, he’s now interested in the man’s well being, hoping that he has recovered from the physical exhaustion of their match. Soon the show sees Smile and Peco on their way to the local ping pong prefecture preliminaries. The episode follows the various rounds of the competition and the way in which Smile and Peco progress through it. We also get some tense moments with the members of Kaio Academy, Kazama, the team captain who quickly notices the potential in Smile but is sickened by his lack of competitive spirit and Sakuma, who has a strong rivalry with Peco that’s patiently waiting to play itself out. There are interesting power dynamics at work here, like Sakuma’s annoyance with the lowly way in which Kazama views his table tennis skills. This makes his desire to beat Peco that much stronger. And then, of course, is the inevitable match between Smile and Kong, which really makes the episode. Smile, as a lowly first year, makes waves in the competition when he gives Kong a run for his money. The episode ends on a really terrific note that fits so well with how we’ve seen Smile and Kong portrayed up until now. Smile has to be one of the most sympathetic protagonists I’ve seen in a while. Ping Pong makes a point of raising questions on the validity of athletic expectations in opposition to basic human kindness and understanding. What’s beautiful, is that these ideas hit so quietly and effortlessly–much like Smile’s table tennis game–that they never seem hackneyed. Digging such themes out of the story feels natural for someone who’s looking for them, but it’s just as easy to sit back and enjoy the style and flow of the show.

Speaking of which, this week’s animation was phenomenal. By now, I’m completely over what I thought of as ugly character designs and I love the way the show captures the fluidity of table tennis, making the game much more exciting than I’ve ever experienced. There’s a series of shots in particular that introduce us to the prefecture preliminaries and cuts between our main players on a ping pong ball being smashed at the camera by each of them. Explaining it in words takes away the artistic panache that resides therein, but it had me grinning in awe in spite of myself. Because of the high amount of action in this episode–due to all the table tennis matches–the animation is really able to take the front seat and prove itself, in spite of what some–including myself, at one point–initially thought about it. Now more than ever, I see why the show is animated the way it is, its loose and fluid lines coupling well with the spirit of the game it embodies.

To round it out, we finally got a real opening sequence this week, instead of the sped-up, stylized recreation of 2 minutes of the particular episode in its place, like we saw the last 2 weeks. I really like this OP as I feel like it speaks to the show and a lot of the fluidity I’ve been talking about. I especially like the segment wherein 2 pencil-shaded forms resembling people knock a small ball between them on a levitating table. In seconds, they, the table and their surrounding environment is fleshed out, reminding us of the simple focus of the show with everything else as mere backdrop.

Ping Pong the Animation is certainly up there with Mushishi for me this season (so far) and I’m really hoping that they keep it up. It’s refreshing to watch a show where you have no expectations of the story and just want to let it take you where it takes you. Ping Pong delivers that in spades.

Image of Rintaro getting put down

Black Bullet, Episode 3: B-

The third episode of Black Bullet starts with Enju coming out of hiding–so I guess that cliffhanger from last week was pretty pointless–by trying to attend class again at her old school (the one that got wise to the fact that Enju is one of the Cursed Children). Her plan goes awry when her fellows students treat her like a diseased rat and refuse to even let her back into the school. Enju has a strong sense of her rights as a human and doesn’t want to back down like Rentaro suggests. However, she eventually capitulates to his wishes and then Rentaro, Enju and the gang are up in the air and back on the Gastrea chase. When they spot a large, spider-like creature that Rentaro identifies as a Gastrea, Enju jumps out of the plane without warning and takes on the creature, quickly killing it and accidentally revealing the briefcase that we’ve been hearing about since episode 2. Soon, Rentaro and Enju find that they have company and are violently attacked by The Masked Man and his Initiator daughter. Without spoiling the battle, I’ll say that by the end of the episode we are re-introduced to Kayo Senju–who we saw for a few seconds in the Ministry of Defense meeting in the last episode–, an Initiator who has grown cold after committing numerous murders (her Promoter is a cold and ruthless man, one who sees her as a simple tool and often uses her to brutally kill opponents).

For me, this episode lacks some of the appeal of the last one, with many of the dramatic sequences feeling somewhat hollow. When Enju laments the way her fellow students treat her, now that they know she is a Cursed Child, her interaction with Rentaro sees a little forced and paced oddly. I wasn’t drawn into the moment at all. I’ve got my beefs with this show, but the first 2 episodes did a good job of showcasing the more interesting sides of the characters we see and really stuck the more emotional scenes.

In contrast to this, the meeting with Kayo Senju IS well executed as it helps to flesh out not only Kayo, but Rentaro and Enju as well. When Kayo mentions in passing that murder is becoming easier for her as she grows colder, Rentaro freaks out and explains how awful that sentiment is. Kayo gets emotional back, confessing that Rentaro isn’t remiss in stating such things and that she is envious of the kill-free life that Enju has been able to lead so far. While Enju was so clearly set apart from her peers simply by a label, here is a girl who never could fit into the school setting that Enju loves because she has largely lost her childhood. Kayo is a frightening omen of what Enju could become if ever taken away from Rentaro’s protection. I like the ideology of not quickly grouping Enju in with all the other Cursed Children, when she has never shown the detachment that many of them seem to have. These moral quandaries were bound to come up in a show about little girls basically used as weapons and I’m glad that they didn’t handle it too clumsily.

Getting to the battle that I previously mentioned, the Masked Man (or Kagetane) lays down a serious, life-altering beating to Rentaro and continues to be a truly badass–albeit incredibly evil–character. We also get a bigger understanding of the Masked Man’s super-natural capabilities and the way in which he handles Rentaro and uses his Initiator, Kohina, in battle.

Obviously by my grade, this is an enjoyable episode but it just didn’t hit the same emotional and animation highs that episode 2 had at times. So far it’s kind of a downer, but it’s still a watchable series that deserves some attention if you have the time.

An image of the gang staring down an arrow girl

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 3: D+

This show is still in “adding girls to the harem” mode and it’s certainly suffering for it. This week we get an android girl named Ruri and an archer girl named Rin added to the group, both showing up to help Quest Dorm–that’s Souta and the gang’s dorm–in the school’s athletic tournament. Ruri proves the worst part of the episode as her character literally falls out of the sky in a metal box and lands on the dorm’s front lawn. She asks ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ questions, with the letters ‘Y’ and ‘N’ appearing on her breasts… for some reason? Worst of all, the android tropes of being cold and without meaningful traits are played out so thoroughly with Ruri to make her a blank nothingness of a character, more simplistic than any of the other cliched figures that fill the show. Maybe she can play into the mythology of the show, if we ever get back to that, but somehow I doubt it. Ruri’s type was done much better in the 3-minute series from a few seasons ago, Miss Monochrome.

Rin, on the other hand, is at least a little interesting with her interactions with Souta, though even that plays out to land her right in the harem camp. Her character seems much more thought it and isn’t exactly a trope that I’m at least used to seeing. At first, she heavily dislikes Souta because she doesn’t see him as a physical equal to her and her own abilities. Rather, Rin sees Souta as kind of a wuss because he complains about things now and then. I realize there are so many female characters in anime that verbally abuse the male protagonist in the Asuka Langley style, but I can’t remember any of them being tomboys, so Rin feels slightly unique in that way. Maybe she’s closest to Akane from Ranma 1/2.

Besides being introduced to the two newest ladies, nothing much happened in this episode. The gang started training, mainly through the help of Rin, for the upcoming school wide athletic tournament where each dorm will be facing off with each other. It sounds to me like more stalling before we get back to the mythos I’ve mentioned so often in these reviews, and that can’t bode well for the quality of said mythos. Let’s just hope that we won’t be seeing even more girls taking a random liking to Souta next week. I’d say 5 girls and 1 guy are plenty for 1 guy to handle.

Image of Toki rowing away

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 3: A+

Luckily, after having to sit through If Her Flag Breaks, I get to kick back and enjoy another fantastic episode of Mushishi: Zoku-Sho. This week offers up another enlightening parable–this time about overcoming loss in order to preserve yourself–as well as the moodiness that has shaded these 3 episodes so far. This episode, much like the last two, is quiet and contemplative, taking its time getting to the ultimate moral of the story. Here we, and Ginko, meet a depressed young man named Toki who’s had a snow Mushi (“Tokoyukimushi” or “Never-ending Snow” mushi) attach itself to him and suck away his warmth. This causes Toki to become incredibly cold and brings him pain when he comes in contact with warmth. On top of this, the Mushi’s effects create a snow cloud that follows Toki wherever he goes, eventually practically burying Toki’s home under snow. I love the creativity here by the writers of the show and their ability to craft any sort of Mushi they need to fit the story they’re trying to tell. Also, the reveal of this conceit is done in such a subtle way to immediately endear us to Toki’s plight instead of leaving us laughing from the outlandishness of the situation. In other words, this bizarre lore makes so much sense in the universe of Mushishi.

I won’t spoil the particular situation, but it is hinted at that Toki’s Mushi infection occurred soon after a time when he underwent a huge loss in his life. Ergo, Toki’s eternal winter can be viewed as a metaphor for his willingness to reside in a cold and dark place, emotionally, after his moment of loss. This then leaves the episode to ponder our handling of death and the effect it has on our own quality of life. Toki won’t let anyone close to him–his issue with warmth causes him to push people away–so instead, he stays cold and becomes more and more shut off from the rest of the world. Ultimately, only the realization of the importance of life will be able to save Toki from his own mourning.

It’s these greater themes that Mushishi deals heavily in that make it easily among the top series of the season. Each episode truly is a parable, as the new characters we meet are “everyman” in as much as they represent those people who are going through similar situations and those who have been through them before. Most importantly, each episode is realistically positive, showing that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel for even the worst situations, though there may be a level of self-sacrifice and realization involved.

The animation knocks it out of the park again in this episode, with the snowy climes being equally beautiful and isolating, much like the story at the heart of the episode. So far, over the three episodes, we’ve had dramatically different settings and they’ve all provided a fantastic backdrop for the storyline, so kudos to Mushishi for that. Lastly, I’m finally coming around to the OP song–“Shiver” by Lucy Rose–though it felt a little to Grey’s Anatomy for my taste. Now it seems to set a really good mood for the rest of the show, in its quiet, somber melody with some wistful hopefulness thrown in for good measure.

Three episodes in, I have to say that if there’s one anime you need to be watching this season, it’s Mushishi: Zoku-Sho. While Ping Pong is fantastic in its own right and Black Bullet and are cool genre series, Mushishi has a universality to it that I think many people could relate to, were they just to take the show at its own pace. And admittedly that’s a slow pace, but it’s well worth it.

Image of Amamiya playing the piano

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 3: B+

At the end of this episode, I found myself surprised, not only that I didn’t despise it but that I actually liked it the best of the season so far. I say that because this is the first time that the shoujo romance rears its ugly head in the form of Amamiya, a pretty, blonde and blue-eyed boy from a rival music school, and his affection for Kanade. They meet when Kanade and the gang visit Amane Gakuen, the school in question, with their new acquaintance, Nanami, who was recently kicked out of the school. All the protagonists, males included, are quite taken by how pretty Amamiya is, and Kanade is no exception. In opposition to it’s harem counterpart though, Kanade controls herself, seeming more in awe of Amamiya and his beauty, rather than madly obsessed with him–see If Her Flag Breaks for examples of the latter… or don’t… that’d probably be better. The point is, though Amamiya starts coming on to Kanade a little strong a little fast, it’s far more enjoyable and watchable than one would think. In fact, by the end of the episode we understand Amamiya’s reasoning for being so lovesick throughout the episode and this reasoning fits into the more important music themes of the show.

Speaking of the musical aspects of the series, here we get deeper introductions to two key members of the Amane music club, Myoga, the president of the group, and Alexei, the chairman of the high school. Alexei remains mysterious through this episode, though we see his hand effecting the fates of Nanami and Amamiya at different points in their lives. Myoga however, became an even stronger point of contention after treating Kyouya as if he were a filthy underling (not worthy of touching Myoga’s instrument), and after singling out Kanade as someone who he is “going to crush” in the competition. Creating this tense relationship between Kanade and Myoga while also fostering a romantic one between Kanade and Amamiya, sets the show up for some interesting dynamics between the denizens of Seiso Academy and those of Amane. What’s more, we get a quick rundown of the rest of the school’s that will be attending the competition, giving us a scope of the future showdowns awaiting our protagonists.

I’m still really digging the way the show explores the utilization of music and the inspiration behind it, showcasing love and enjoyment as strong catalysts for good music. This episode holds up the ideals of love and their ability to bring about beautiful music between two people who are in love and collaborating artistically. Beyond this, there’s an even quieter message about trying to build such an idea for the purpose of good music and it being a failure, rather than letting the love (and thus the music) happen organically. The same can be said of Blue♪Sky‘s views on creative enjoyment. One can’t set out to enjoy being creative but must let it come upon them naturally. This is how truly terrific art and music is born.

I’m not particularly interested in seeing Kanade hook up with any of these guys–just bring on the orchestral showdowns–but at least I know that when we get to more of those scenes, they will hopefully be well thought out and will serve a larger purpose that suits the tone of the show.

Image of Akira with an Iron Man DISK

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 3: B-

There’s not much to say about this week’s episode besides the fact that it relatively wraps up the first arc of the series. These three episodes together make a nice start for the show and do a good job of hooking the audience in, albeit a particular kind of audience. I try to avoid as many spoilers as I can, but I’ll say that the plot plays out in the way that you would assume it would, gauging from the first two episodes. The Pokemon meets The Avengers model certainly intrigues me and leaves room for interesting power dynamics, seeing as how these young kids are, in many ways, in control of super heroes. I’ve said it before, but I really don’t think this is something you’d see in America–that is unless they happen to import it over in the next few months/years–so the premise alone keeps me coming back, even though it’s just a mash-up of other ideas, and the show has yet to do anything to ruin that.

A real kick for me this episode was the continued use of Spider-Man and his uncanny ability to get himself (and others) out of tough scrapes. It makes me wonder if he will play a larger role in the show over the other heroes we’ve been introduced to so far, though Iron Man has played a large role. Potentially Spider-Man could play Pickachu to Akira’s Ash.

I’d say my only real complaint is some of the characterization of the different super heroes. They’re not getting anything wrong per-say, but Captain America and Thor (amongst others) are treated relatively blandly while Iron Man and the Wasp seem much more fleshed out. I realize that Captain America is a patriot, and they certainly get that side of him, but he comes off as a simple two dimensional boy scout instead of a thought out character who has his own personal reasons for being that boy scout. Of course, I guess I myself have called this show a mash-up between Pokemon and The Avengers so what can I really expect as far as character development goes?

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 2

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up.

Show Index

Image of Smile serving some hardcore ping pong

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 2: A

Wow. This was a fantastic episode. The story mainly revolves around Peco and Smile’s elderly coach, Koizumi, deciding that he wants to mentor Smile and help him to hone his table tennis game. Of course Smile isn’t really about that, acting timidly towards ideas of competition and showmanship. This is what really made the episode stand out for me.

We get several scenes, some flashbacks, that give us more fleshed out understandings of Smile’s role in society up until this point. He was picked on at some point in time and his peers think of him as robotic, due to his cold nature and seeming lack of feeling. Koizumi works hard to pull Smile out of this shell, pushing himself to the limit in order to get the best sportsmanship out of the ping pong wunderkind.

Ping Pong the Animation handled Smile’s character development beautifully. They create a scenario in which we not only see the past that has created the present day Smile, thus fleshing him out, but the plot is also pushed along for us, the episode ending on a type of cliffhanger. It’s also easy to empathize with Smile, even though he’s been so lackadaisical up to this point. He’s a young man who has been dealing with expectations of who he should be his entire life and he finds himself increasingly more interested in folding into himself. In a society built on a rather rigid idea of professional success, Smile strives to do things because he wants to do them, rather than because he feels someone else wants him to. And even though this theme speaks specifically to Japan, it certainly fits into the US model of success as well.

The animation in this episode made me feel like a damn fool for ever hating it so much to begin with. I can’t say that some characters don’t look the south side of homely, but the table tennis match scenes are executed perfectly. Ping Pong expresses motion through paced manga-esque panels that will each focus on different parts of a character’s body, for instance. We’ll see a sliding foot in one panel and then pops up a second panel of a paddle-holding hand that swats the ball away. This pacing keeps the show exciting but this particular editing style never feels overdone or to frenetic. Just beautiful.

Image of the Masked Man walking amongst bodies

Black Bullet, Episode 2: B+

The second episode of Black Bullet improves considerably over the first, mainly in the way it fleshes out the world around its central characters. The episode starts out in the thick of things with Rentaro and Kisara Tendo, president of Tendo Civil Sercurity (whom Rentaro and Enju work for), heading to the Ministry of Defense, a central office for all Civil Security branches. Rentaro meets several other Promoter/Initiator pairs and realizes that other Promoter’s have a much colder relationship with their Initiators than he and Enju have.

A theme builds throughout the episode of many people in society treating the Cursed Children–those female children born with the Gastrea virus–badly, or treating them like a means to an end, rather than as people. This is where Black Bullet got a lot of points from me this week. This episode cut down on the weirder elements of Rentaro and Enju’s relationship–in fact it was much clearer this week that Rentaro protects and loves Enju as a daughter or little sister rather than as a romantic figure–and instead focused on many of the moral quandaries existent in their society. A lot of philosophical ideas of “the other” are raised, as well as thoughts on the impact of ostracizing a group of people within a community. Because the Cursed Children are branded in such a way, they are seen as only useful to society in the role of Initiator. Any other Cursed Children are treated as if there lives do not matter, simply because they don’t have the chance to fill the single role that are allowed to play and because they “tainted” by the Gastrea. This ideology brings us closer to Rentaro, as he begins to feel less and less okay with the role that the Cursed Children play in society.

At one point in the episode, Enju and Rentaro run into a worn out Cursed Child who is being chased by the police. Even though she wants to help the young girl, Rentaro won’t let Enju come between the girl and the police, most likely because Enju doesn’t have the right as a simple Initiator and would end up in a bad predicament with the police. We get the feeling that Enju is supposed to feel lucky to be in a position so far removed from what the young girl is going through, and yet her malaise causes her to rethink her role within society.

Aside from all of this philosophizing and character building, there are some terrific scenes with the Masked Man–soon known as Kagetane Hiruko–where we get a slightly better understanding of his role in the story. We also meet Seitenshi, the ruler of the Tokyo Area who calls the meeting of the various Civil Securities. Seitenshi comes off as mysterious and slightly ominous, telling the Promoters/Initiators to track and take down the recent Gastrea strain and to recover a case therein. Of course, Seitenshi won’t explain what’s in the case, so we see some tensions and questions being built at the same time.

All in all, this second episode really elevated the series for me and got me more interested and excited for future episodes. Of course they could still drop the ball, but there seems to be a lot of rich material here for Black Bullet to delve further into.

Image of Megumu exploding with heart flags

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 2: C-

This second outing of If Her Flag Breaks certainly moves the plot along–introducing two new characters and moving them all into a house together, for shenanigans, I’m sure–but it really doesn’t do it in a fun or even interesting way.

First we meet Okiku, a childhood friend of Souta’s who ends up in his class for no particular reason. She’s older than the rest of the group–held back a year because she attended school in a foreign country or something (this is revealed just as flippantly in the show, mind you)–and plays the role of an older sister for Souta. Anime in general has an issue currently with brother/sister relationships but luckily things don’t get TOO weird between Souta and Okiku, though their non-blood tie allows for some accidental sexual innuendo, of course. Eventually, Okiku decides with Akane and Nanami that Souta’s living quarters need to be updated because they are relatively ramshackle. They get to it and this takes up most of the episode.

We eventually meet Megumu, a boy whose sister dresses him up in girly enough clothing so that the entire school mistakes him as such. I really don’t think there’s anything in the character design that points to Megumu being a boy except for his relatively flat chest but whatever… I guess the show gets to have a second male character without actually looking like it has a second male character. Oh, and there are plenty of jokes to go around about confusion over Souta and Megumu hooking up.

By the end of the episode Souta’s dorm has been rebuilt and modernized through the help of his close compatriots and his classmates. A class president mentions that the dorm must be demolished if it doesn’t have at least 5 occupants, so of course Akane, Nanami, Okiku and Megumu MUST move in with Souta, setting up wacky occurrences on the horizon. Oh, and we get about a minute of the lore that I was interested in and mentioned in my last review. So much for that.

I really wish this episode had focused more on that same lore instead of filling up the running time with bad gags. In the shows favor, it did a decent job of giving time to its two new characters so we were able to get a sense of their role in the show. The problem is that we’ve seen these roles before, so the lack of anything new and the prevalence of bad jokes makes this episode pretty worthless. Cross your fingers for more in-depth stories about Souta’s abilities and the reason for the group he’s slowly assembling.

Image of Ginko looking out at an ominous sea

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 2: A+

This second episode of the season is proof positive that Mushishi‘s format is the perfect fit for the show’s overall message. For the 25-minute length of the episode, we follow a young girl named Mina and her father, who has decided to break ties with their neighbors in a small coast-side village. Ginko happens upon the town and finds some bird-like Mushi hiding in seashells that clue him into the fact that a sea-based disaster looms on the horizon. Ginko warns the father and daughter but is forced to go inform the rest of the village on his own when the father refuses to speak with them. Meanwhile, the daughter becomes friendly with one of the neighbor girls and eventually loses her ability to speak after she listens to the song of one of the Mushi birds she finds in a shell.

All these elements combine to tell a morality tale of sorts. There is the father figure who can’t overcome his own anger in order to return to the community. His daughter’s loss of speech represents the fact that he has forcibly taken away her ability to communicate with her neighbors for his own selfish reasons. Avoiding spoilers, the events that lead to the obvious conclusion of the story seem slightly mythical and aren’t quite explained, almost as if another force brings about the outcome, in the end. There’ve been plenty of stories that focus on the futility of vengeance and unforgiving anger, but Mushishi handles it in a quiet, somewhat somber way that’s refreshing and allows you moments of inner reflection.

Compared to last week’s episode, this story was much more engaging and show great promise for the show. I love that the show gives us small snapshots of people lives and allows us to make of it what we will. The tone of this episode and the last were considerably different, though the ideology of strength of character through community was prevalent in both. That consistency of message really elevates the show to a higher level.

Lastly, I want to mention the fantastic animation in this episode. While many of the scenes look fairly plain and the characters don’t have massive amounts of detail, there are certain scenes that are almost breathtaking, for instance a scene towards the end when all of the Mushi birds take flight around Mina. Scenes like this showcase the majesty of nature while the simple character designs reinforce the fact that each character is just 1 in 5 billion. Still, each of those people’s stories have something to teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

Image of Kanade remembering her musical history

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 2: B-

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky continues on at a steady pace, faltering in some places and excelling in others. The episode lingers slightly in waiting for the orchestral skills test that Kanade and Kyouya are expected to take, before getting placed in the Seisou orchestra. On the plus side, we get a more fleshed out version of Kanade, delving further into her long history with music and the differences between the way she approached music as a young girl and the way she plays it now. Kanade ruminates on the joy she once experienced when playing music as a child and wanders if she has let that slip away from her over the years. This gets to an overall interesting commentary on the way that creatives handle their art form, sometimes becoming bogged down in the need to succeed or to create the perfect work, rather than enjoying the process. This revelation pays off by the end of the episode and I see it going on to inform much of the rest of the series.

What Blue♪Sky does pretty well is melodrama. In this story, we meet a troubled young man named Sousuke Nanami who has been kicked out of a nearby orchestral school. Kanade comes upon him at a bridge where he’s preparing to throw his cello into the river below. Kanade jumps between Sousuke and the water, saving his cello and bringing him to his knees. This could all be described as a little overwrought, but I appreciate the weight that is brought to the issue, even if it isn’t how things might realistically happen. Many shoujo and shounen series are bloated with goofball characters whose antics are usually more annoying than they are funny–If Her Flag Breaks anyone? Most of the characters in Blue♪Sky take themselves pretty seriously, which presents a nice backdrop for Kanade’s self-realization about the importance of enjoying musical creativity. Such a character amongst half-wits wouldn’t seem nearly as interesting or endearing.

That being said, give me three more of these sorts of series and I’ll be spent. It’s times like this when my lack of history with this genre of anime makes me a somewhat impartial judge of such things. If I knew all the classic shoujo series, I probably would be grading this one much more harshly. Of course, this episode certainly deals more in the musical aspects of the show rather than all the pretty boys. I’m hoping they stick with that direction.

An image of Spider-Man taking on the Goblin

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 2: B-

I’ve already lost some of the zeal I had for this show last week, but this episode is still fun, and I really don’t blame the show itself for these feelings. Honestly, a show like this will naturally pale in comparison during a particularly good week (such as this one) when other series are handling much more “important” material. That being said, I’m still pretty giddy to see some of these characters, such as the introduction this week of Spider-Man’s arch nemesis, the Green Goblin. Speaking of which, we get plenty of Spider-Man this week and he’s handled pretty well by the writers, as they utilize him as a protector of the series’ children while the rest of the heroes have to deal with the bigger bads. Spider-Man is always best in the capacity of watching out for the little guy, rather than choosing to take on the most powerful of foes.

This episode also ends on a cliffhanger, like the last, but we see Akira and his cohorts taking on a more prominent role as the superheroes begin to take a backseat. To that point, this series has gotten pretty bleak as far as the fate of the Marvel heroes goes. The path this show takes is relatively unique compared to how the characters are handled in the US. I just don’t see an American animated series leaving the lives of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor in the hands of school aged children. That sentence sounds a little ridiculous, but this premise works really well for the show, and while it may not be unique among Japanese animated series, it’s certainly unique in the Marvel U.

Like I got around to last week, you know what you’re getting with this show. That being said, I’d argue that it’s considerably better than you’d expect, so think twice before tossing this one out.

Spring 2014 Anime Round-Up: Week 1

Having just recently started this blog, I’m a little late to the Spring season this year but I thought it a good idea to watch fewer shows in hopes of catching up. I’ll be updating this post throughout the week with short reviews of 4 or 5 different shows so be sure to check back as you can. Let’s kick it off with a unique series…

Show Index

Image of Peco Destroying at Table Tennis

Ping Pong the Animation, Episode 1: A-

I first tried Ping Pong a few weeks ago but was sadly driven away by the style of the animation. After hearing Kran’s review of the show on the “Anime Addicts Anonymous Podcast”, I was persuaded to give it another try. For that, I owe sir Kran a big thank you and Ping Pong a sincere apology.

The series focuses on two young men, nicknamed Smile and Peco, who are a part of the local table tennis club. Neither are particularly engaged in the club, but the arrival of an ace Chinese student, a ping pong wunderkind, changes all that.

The plot is relatively simple, but the character’s are well fleshed out and don’t seem to fit into the usual anime character tropes. The animation and the soundtrack, help to define how unique Smile and Peco really are. The animation, for instance, is downright ugly, but this tossed off execution creates a mood around Smile and Peco that embellishes their own disinterest in meeting the expectations of others. Smile is too good for the local club, finding himself bored when facing his teammates. Peco, on the other hand, prefers to play by his own rules, using his table tennis skills to make money off of cocky players who have half his talent. The roughly drawn locales and border-line awful character designs, strike home this feeling of not needing to prove anything to anyone. The beginning theme song, “Tada Hitori” by Bakudan Johnny, feels like it was written sometime between the (American) cultural transition from Pavement to Weezer and adds to the same style which the animation imparts on these characters. There is a garage rock aesthetic that alludes to Smile’s lackadaisical attitude, along with some punk inspirations that speak to Peco’s anarchic glee.

Bottom line, if you were scared off by the way Ping Pong the Animation looks, give it another try. I’m only an episode in and I’m already really digging this show.

Image of Rentaro after a Guy Fawkes rip-off attack

Black Bullet, Episode 1: B-

Black Bullet follows Rentaro Satomi, a high schooler who works for Tendo Civil Security as a Promoter in a not-too-distant future plagued by a virus with a physical form called Gastrea. Rentaro works with a young girl named Enju who is an Initiator and his partner in crime, so to speak, as their powers combined are able to take out powerful Gastrea during attacks. This anime is very heavy on the world building so there is much more to the storyline (and the lore) than this. Half the fun is finding these things out organicall, so I’ll leave that to you.

I’ll start by saying that Black Bullet has some gorgeous animation and that the action scenes really knock the show into the higher echelon of series this season. The show, like many others recently, attempts to incorporate 3D animation alongside the more routine 2D, but here, it actually works to decent effect. The 3D animation still looks slightly clumsy, in the way that it’s obvious when what’s on screen is CGI/3D and when it’s classical animation, but that being said, the 3D work here looks very smooth in comparison to tons of anime where the 3D animation comes off extremely choppy and unnatural. To put it simply, watching the action scenes in Black Bullet is a blast.

Less blastastic is the dynamics between the characters. Rentaro, Enju and others we meet over the first episode aren’t particularly unique and come off feeling like the usual anime character tropes we’re used to seeing these days. Specifically, Enju’s infatuation with Rentaro and her semi-sensual advances come off as creepy. Luckily, Rentaro doesn’t seem interested in Enju (and it is anime, so let’s hope it stays that way) but Neon Genesis Evangelion played a similar card with Shinji and Misato and never seemed so unsettling, maybe because everything was implied instead of outright stated. Or maybe it’s a gender thing. And don’t get me wrong, the younger girl having a crush on a much older guy simply because he’s older happens all the time and CAN be cute to an extent, but Black Bullet takes it to a suggested sexual realm that’s way too bizarre and is, more than likely, trying to appeal to the otaku fans of the show, though one could make an argument that the writers are trying to stick closely to the original material; a light novel of the same name from 2011.

Anyway, the show and its storyline is certainly engaging so I hope that they cut out the 2 minutes spent on a suggesting a pedophilic relationship and replace it with better character development or even more action. By the by, the main villain (at least at this point) reeks of badassery, overcoming his Guy Fawkes rip-off costume to seem a formidable, and heavily psychotic, foil to Rentaro and Enju. I’m intrigued to see what role he plays in the rest of the series and in the lore of the show in general.

Image of a friendship flag

If Her Flag Breaks, Episode 1: C

With nearly 30 shows airing each anime season, and often times only a handful that are truly exceptional, there are bound to be numerous series that fall into the category of average. Enter If Her Flag Breaks.

The series follows a young student, Souta Hatate, who has the ability to predict the behavior and outcome of those around him based on flags–which appear above their heads–that only he can see. This ability allows Souta to change the direction of events by breaking people’s flags, usually through verbal abuse or simply being rude. Souta is able to break friendship flags, for instance, by telling the flagged individual that he doesn’t care to be their friend.

Of course, the two female protagonists that have surfaced so far aren’t affected by Souta’s abilities, albeit in different ways. Nanami Knight Bladefield, a sassy sender who resides somewhere between a moe character and the “abusive-girlfriend-with-a-heart” trope, doesn’t raise a single flag on meeting Souta. Akane Mahougasawa, on the other hand, frequently has her flags broken by Souta but quickly regenerates them, rendering his abilities rather useless.

The intrigue comes in Souta’s abilities to control the outcomes of those around him by breaking their flags. When a death flag is introduced, we come to realize that Souta’s powers are slightly more intriguing than originally thought. He’s not just breaking flags, metaphors for the impact we have on one another, but he’s changing lives for the better.

While the storyline is intriguing and the character dynamics are in place for mild conflicts, If Her Flag Breaks’s unique gimmick can’t entirely save it from its two-dimensional characters. Most bothersome, is that the series seems far more interested in its gimmick than taking a few scenes to develop Souta, Nanami and Akane. To be fair, that’s an issue that can be addressed in future episodes, so I’m not entirely ruling this show out just yet. Looking at the light novels the series is based on, there is a mythology to the storyline that could prove to develop these characters more fully.

Hopefully the creators take some time to flesh out the characters in order to lift a potentially unique series out of the realm of average anime fodder.

Image of a boy carrying sake back home

Mushishi: Zoku-Sho, Episode 1: A-

Over the last few weeks I’d heard a number of people say that Mushishi: Zoku-Sho was a little slow. I blew this off, thinking that these reviewers didn’t have the patience of someone of my artistic merit and understanding. Of course, I look like a jackass when I fall asleep several times in the first episode. I guess they were right. This second season of Mushishi IS slow.

That doesn’t really speak ill to the series, however. I think we (the audience) get used to a certain kind of speed, pacing and editing in the series’ we watch that leave us unprepared for a show like Mushishi. Not only is this series written well, but this deliberate slow pace really fits with a theme of the show; taking time to appreciate the living world around you.

This season, much like the first, follows Ginko, a wanderer who can see Mushi, primitive lifeforms that most human beings don’t notice in their day to day life. Each episode, Ginko runs into a different character and their interactions and stories about the Mushi make up the majority of the show. This first episode finds Ginko connecting with a sake brewer who has to deal with Mushi who crave his sake and try to take it from him, albeit gingerly. We get a backstory for the young brewer and some folklore that informs us about the Mushi as well.

There’s really nothing happening here, and that’s exactly what this show is supposed to be. It’s lazy almost, but in this laziness is an appreciation for taking the time out of the work-a-day world to bask in the gloriousness of life. Yes, that sounds cheesy, but it’s really what this show is getting at. Though the brewer seems slightly threatened by the Mushi, he revels in the life that exists in the sake that he brews and he yearns to perfect his craft until he creates the perfect sake.

Call it boring if you will, but Mushishi: Zoku-Sho does what any good piece of entertainment should do; transport you into its world. This first episode in particular asks you to explore the world on its terms, and if you can’t do that, you’re really missing out.

An imaging of Shirou performing for an audience

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky, Episode 1: B-

Kiniro no Corda: Blue♪Sky hits so many different buttons in its genre mashing. Most importantly for me, it’s a music anime–something I’m a sucker for–with a main storyline revolving around several orchestral high school musicians and a competition between their respective schools. Secondly, it’s a romance/shoujo series due to romantic ties and doey eyes abounding, not to mention the ratio of prominent, pretty male characters to the singular female protagonist, Kanade. And lastly, it seems to be building into a low level fighting/championship show, with the orchestral competition feeling more like a shounen battle-arena homage than a UIL competition.

These points considered, it’s hard not to like Blue♪Sky, even if the characters are pretty two dimensional and the genre tropes explicit. The first episode specifically, sets the tone for the show with some non-competitive solo orchestral performances. We see that Kanade was once a wunderkind but now questions if she’s hit her limit, talent wise. The main two male protagonists, Ritsu and Kyouya are brothers and were childhood friends of Kanade. Things seems strained between the three old friends but Ritsu, who attends a prominent music school, Seisou Gakuin, invites Kanade and Kyouya to join the school and to help him and his classmates win the orchestral competition.

Blue♪Sky certainly introduces characters and relationships that we’ve seen before, but something about it is charming enough and intriguing enough to make it work. I’m really hoping that this show keeps it up and doesn’t wear out it’s welcome. It could really go either way from here.

Image of the Avengers gang ready to throw down

Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers, Episode 1: B

Every now and again, a series comes around that really grabs you. It excites you and makes you anxiously await the next episode. Then you browse Wikipedia and realize that that wonderful series is actually geared for kids a third your age. Alas, I don’t even care because Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers is a blast.

The show actually reminds me, at least in tone, of The King of Braves GaoGaiGar, with a young boy, Akira Akatsuki, as the main protagonist. Akira isn’t the driving force of the action in the series–that’s obviously left to the Avengers–but the show has set up a gimmick wherein people can house others in DISK’s (it’s an acronym, SHIELD style), technological wonder devices created by Akira’s dad and Tony Stark. Whoever is inside the DISK can be released later during combat, almost like Pokemon. I see this as being a point of power that Akira may come into at some point, fulfilling the GaoGaiGar similarities.

I’m not saying that everyone will like this show. It’s pretty simplistic–thus the B instead of a higher grade–and it certainly speaks to me personally as I’m a pretty devoted Marvelite (I had a good laugh when Cyclops and Beast appeared out of nowhere). Still, it’s a fun show, and though I may not stick with it until the end–after all, these kinds of shows tend to continue far beyond the regular season–I’m definitely going to keep up with the next handful of episodes. So far, this series is better than some of the more recent American Marvel cartoon series, so if you’ve been putting up with those (I’m looking at you, Ultimate Spider-Man), brush them aside and try this one out for size.

As an aside, this show seems to get Tony’s inherent jerkiness better than most of its American counterparts, which tend to put Iron Man up on a pedestal. I’d say it’s a clever commentary on American smugness, but this is just a kids’ show… right?