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Anime News / Nomad: Megalo Box 2 – 03
« on: April 22, 2021, 05:32:15 PM »
Nomad: Megalo Box 2 – 03

And then there’s Nomad: Megalo Box 2, which is kind of laughing at everything else and contentedly doing its own thing.  Forget the Super League, Nomad doesn’t need the help of a bunch of greedy billionaires and a fixed system – it just does it better than anyone else.  It’s no disrespect to anime to say this series isn’t really like an anime, because there aren’t many like it in any medium you could choose.  I could ask nothing more from the first three episodes of a series, which is all the more remarkable given that I was skeptical about this one’s need to exist in the first place.

What’s most important about this series is without question that it’s beautifully written and (albeit not lavishly) produced.  But I don’t think it can be overlooked that it’s mercilessly condemning the treatment of immigrants in Japan.  That’s a subject that’s normally taboo (they have a lot of those here), and unsurprisingly, given how much the country has to be ashamed of in this respect.  Maybe it’s the fact that it’s dressed up as a story about the immigrant experience in America (which is fair game too, no question) that’s allowed this premise to survive to production.  I wouldn’t be shocked if the people who’d be most offended by what this show is about are incapable of realizing that they’re being played.

What’s hard to dispute for me is that Nomad has thematically raised the bar from Megalo Box in every sense.  This is a subtler, more reflective, more somber story – a much more “grown-up” version of what was already a very mature and nuanced premise.  That it so little resembles any conventional anime is unsurprising given that the writers are not anime writers – they work in films and TV drama.  That includes Shinya Shokudou, which is a series (albeit based on a manga) which is similarly focused on the forgotten and disdained in society.

I had only one real criticism of the first two eps, in fact.  That was Joe seemingly kicking the opiates far too easily – and I fully retract it, because Nomad had that covered.  Joe’s withdrawal is ongoing and crippling, and it’s a process that Chief has gone through himself after the death of his son.  We still don’t know what happened with Joe’s downfall, but Nanbu’s appearances are obviously Joe’s guilt manifesting itself with the aid of his withdrawal.  Nanbu was clearly sick, and it seems as if Joe asked him to train him anyway – perhaps “one more big shot”.  Did the overwork cause Nanbu to die sooner than he would have – and this is why Sachio blames Joe?  Or is there more to this than that?

Clearly we haven’t see the last of Sachio, because in order for Joe to move on he needs to make peace not with a ghost but with a living piece of his past, and that’s Sachio.  Chief is making his peace by trying to single-handedly save his village, so he can use all the help he can get.  His reveal to Joe about the theme of his saloon ballad – a call to the restless souls of the dead to return home – only solidifies the impression that was left when Joe had his wolf encounter in the desert.   The implication is almost as if Joe is already a ghost himself, which certainly doesn’t bode well for his prospects with the ending (which haven’t looked too good all along, to be honest).

As a trainer, Joe is exactly what Chief needs.  He knows the ins and outs of these tournaments, and basically counsels Chief to play rope-a-dope for as long as he can and try to save himself for the final match.  But Hikawa’s unnerving calm as Chief rolls through his first match shows that he’s not about to leave this up to chance and Chief’s skill.  It starts with nasty graffiti, moves on to sabotaging water pumps – and in the end, as it always does in these situations, escalates into violence.  I can’t imagine Chief is going to come out of that burning trailer unscathed, but whatever the case what’s happening now is effectively a war.

In a country where immigrants are routinely harassed, verbally abused, and exploited, this is a very edgy course for Megalo Box to take.  And with the country it’s superficially based on undergoing its own rise in white nationalism and anti-immigrant terror, the timing could hardly be more apt.  But in the end, Megalo Box 2 is only as good as the story it’s telling – and even just focusing on the character side that story is already masterpiece material.  It makes such a huge difference when a series comes from someone who clearly has something to say – that alone doesn’t elevate it to art, but it’s pretty much impossible to get there without it.


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Weekly Digest 04/18/21 – Shakunetsu Kabaddi, Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song-

Shakunetsu Kabaddi – 03

It’s 8 episode posts this weekend if you’re keeping score at home (and that’s not counting the BokuYaba video).?  It’s way too much, so this is going to be a brief one.?  I had originally not planned to cover Burning Kabaddi this week, but the episode was damn good – easily the best of the three so far.?  At the very least I wanted to touch base and point that out, but if the next few continue to be at that level it’s going to force me into some very tough decisions.

This episode did a lot right in sports anime terms.?  It provided us insight into Yoigoshi’s competitive nature – the elements that made him such an elite soccer player and that led to his eventually crashing out of the sport.?  His relationship with Azemichi was interesting to watch play out, especially as the latter started standing up for himself.?  And it continued to provide insights into the nature of this very strange sport, to the point where I’m almost able to convince myself I understand it.

So – good sports anime there.?  That’s always a tough thing for me to say no to, but life sometimes calls for compromises.?  Just know that if I don’t cover this show next week it’s not because I don’t like it (unless it jumps the shark, but it probably won’t do that).


Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- – 04

Wow, was that hokey.?  Well – by contrast with Shakunetsu Kabaddi, I’m pretty confident that Vivy isn’t going to make the cut.?  There’s some good stuff going on here, but even if it isn’t literally one this series plays like a light novel adaptation.?  The emotional manipulation is too much – the soaring soundtrack in every key moment, the melodramatic situations, the reversion to trope.?  I just don’t get the appeal of this sort of series to be honest, as I don’t think it respects the audience very much.?  On the other hand it is relatively pretty…

When I think of the other stuff Wit could be spending their time on, it grates a little that Vivy is eating into so much of it.?  This isn’t MAPPA we’re talking about – Wit is a studio that’s very selective about what they work on, and as a fan of their work that makes every production that doesn’t click a tangible loss.


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Anime News / Godzilla Singular Point – 04
« on: April 21, 2021, 08:43:52 PM »
Godzilla Singular Point – 04

I gotta be honest – the combination of jackhammer dialogue, pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, and not exactly professional subtitles has me stretched to the limit watching this episode of Singular Point.  I feel like I get the gist of what’s happening here but I’m not going to be surprised if I watch a better release and find out I got some stuff wrong.  One thing’s for sure, the production committee is getting their money’s worth from Pero’s seiyuu Kuno Misaki.

Mei is in Dubai, that I’m sure of.  She’s there to meet with Professor Li of course.  Li finally has a voice – that of Kouda Kaho.  And the theoretically impossible material she’s marketing – the “Architype” – is surely at the center of this series’ kaiju mystery.  It’s little wonder Li would want to seek out Mei’s input, since her specialty is the non-existent and scientifically impossible.  Mei is also wrestling with a riddle from Yun, which Pero could clue solve for her but is apparently under orders from his creator not to.

Another key new figure here is Kai Takahiro (Suzumura Kenichi), a “self-employed investigative reporter” who’s skeptical of the official explanations of the radon phenomenon.  The fact that Kai specifically asks whether other kaiju – “quadrupeds, bipeds” – might be out there suggests he knows a lot more than he’s letting on.  His investigation takes him to the forested spot where the remains of hundreds of radon have been laid out.  There he crosses paths with Yun and Haberu, doing some investigating of their own.  Satou-san from the observatory shows up too.  All of these men share a suspicion that something big and terrible is brewing, though Satou isn’t ready to cross the lines and actually help the others figure out what.

Apparently at least a few of the radons are coming back to life, which seems, you know, bad.  Yun is convinced there’s some sort of controlled evolution at play here, though just who or what is doing the controlling is unclear.  Also unclear is what’s going on at the massive secret base we see for the first time here, which I’m assuming is a different secret base than the one where the bones are (and the alarm was coming from), under the observatory.  Kai and the Outaki boys take their search into the trees, following footprints to a secluded river in the woods, on the trail of something bigger than any radon we’ve seen…

Of the title character there’s still no head nor scale, but the kaiju family continues to expand.  I’m still betting that was Manda we saw at the end of Episode 3 and the pre-open here, and as for the beast confronting the soldier in the woods, that was surely Anguirus.  He’s one of the earliest of Godzilla’s stable-mates, turning up in the second film in the series, 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again.  In the context that this is a world that doesn’t know Godzilla exists, franchise tradition would dictate this his first appearance gets teased out til about Episode 6 or 7.


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Anime News / Second Impressions – Shadows House
« on: April 21, 2021, 10:22:01 AM »
Second Impressions – Shadows House

It probably wouldn’t be precisely accurate to say I’m disappointed in Shadows House.  Or fair, for that matter.  It’s not as if I dislike it, and I had no experience with the manga beforehand.  My expectations were mostly based on intuition (which admittedly I hate being wrong with) rather than anything concrete.  Still, it was the series that most intrigued me among the cold turkey premieres this spring, and that alone raises the bar to a not inconsiderable degree.

So far, if I’m honest, this show isn’t really working for me.  I like the look, I like the overall vibe, I like the music.  But the actual narrative seems kind of clumsy.  And Emilyko is, frankly, very annoying.  To the extent that she’s the center of the story it’s always going to be a problem for me unless her character completely transforms (which doesn’t seem likely).  Most seasons have at least one series that I find myself wanting to like more than actually liking, and my fear is that this time it’s going to be Shadows House.

Still, it’s only two episodes.  And I am intrigued by the premise, which those episodes actually did a decent job teasing out without revealing too much.  We know there’s a “Grandfather” Shadow, who apparently decides whether a family member is good enough to make the cut (“discarded” has an ominous ring to it).  It seems as if the shadow residents have relatively little contact with each other.  That’s certainly true in Kate’s case, though she may be an unusually shy and retiring resident.  Is this some sort of demonic situation?  Scientific experimentation?  I’m interested enough to be curious.

The devil is in the details, as usual.  I see something in here that reminds me of a bit of The Promised Neverland (from the same studio, as it happens) in that both strike me as series with great premises and mediocre execution.  With Neverland of course the execution was best at the start of the series and it started to go downhill once the premise was expanded (I’m just talking the manga here, never mind the dumpster fire adaptation).  So maybe Shadows House will be just the opposite – a stumbling start, then finding its footing?  It feels more like wishful thinking than anything else at this point, but I don’t think it can be ruled out.

I guess all I can do is give Shadows House an “incomplete” at this  point.  None of the characters (Kate is the most interesting of them) have connected much, and my interest is more an abstraction than a concrete reality at this stage.  But because of how much this series tripped my sleeper radar going in I’ll likely give it a pretty long leash, even in a season as bonkers (by modern standards) busy as this one looks to be.  That means at least one more episode to do something to grab me, and possibly more.  Hope springs eternal, and spring is the season of hope (in 2021 anime terms, anyway).


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Anime News / Second Impressions – Tokyo Revengers
« on: April 20, 2021, 10:46:54 PM »
Second Impressions – Tokyo Revengers

With episodes like this, it’s always a question of what I lead with.  Do you talk first about what bothers you or what you liked?  And that’s been a theme with quite a few shows this season – overall good with lots of potential, but most (not all) with some significant caveats.  I tend to favor the “rip the band-aid off” approach, because that gets the unpleasant part out of the way, so I guess I’ll go with that here.  Especially since it’s pretty straightforward in this case.

So, about that.  This is all, in a word, very convenient.  Naoto has figured this whole thing out, seemingly (and of course he’s right).  Naoto-bo believing Takemichi in the first place.  Adult Takemichi believing Naoto-san’s explanation without questioning it.  The ease with which Takemichi can (apparently) go back and forth in time.  It all carries the feel of “I want to get that stuff out of the way so I can get this serialized and get on with telling the story” – which is annoying, but ironically does have an upside.  If you can get past the skepticism (and frankly irritation) and suspend disbelief, well – at least it’s out of the way.  It’s not like you’re going to be thinking about the original setup every week.

And that’s the flipside of all this.  Tokyo Revengers may have an annoying way of setting it up, but for me at least it’s very good at telling the story.  Better in the past than the present so far, but that part of the series is excellent.  I wasn’t part of any gangs when I was a teen and avoided fights religiously, but I still remember the terror when that looked like it would be impossible.  We had bullies, we had torturers, we had turf wars.  There’s a visceral anxiety when you’re in middle school that isn’t quite replicated at any other point in your life, and Tokyo Revengers has a real aptitude for capturing that.

The essence of the assignment adult Naoto has for Takemichi is a pretty straightforward one – infiltrate the nascent Tokyo Manji and prevent the two future leaders from ever meeting up.  Is that actually the best way to prevent Hinata’s future death?  Well TBH, I’m not sure why you couldn’t just take her aside and tell her “don’t go to that damn matsuri in 2017”.  I suppose she might not be as trusting as Nao-ko and Takemichi are, but if you were insistent enough I would think that’s something you’d remember anyway when the moment came.  But I digress…

As predicted, life for Takemichi-kun and his mates turns into a living hell in the aftermath of their disastrous field trip.  They’re made to be part of a fight club pretty much every day, and if they lose beaten to a pulp by the ToMan members.  Takemichi’s idea to directly ask the current banchou Kiyomasa-kun (Hino Satoshi, quite against type) to meet one of the leaders is a terrible idea on the face of it, and the results are predictable gruesome.  One of the future capos, Sano Manjirou, seems to be an especially sore point with Kiyomasa – to the point where he tells Takemichi he’ll kill him if he ever mentions that name again (he doesn’t stop far short of that as is).

All this, of course, serves to remind Take-kun of just why he ran away in the first place (I honestly don’t blame him).  He heads to the Tachibana apartment to meet Nao-ko and shake his hand back to the future, but it’s Hinata who gets there first.  And seeing her reinforces his courage, in a rather charming way (I especially enjoyed the bit where he casually called her “Hina” and caused her to practically hard boot).  Back at school, the next fight club ominously targets Yamamoto Takuya (Hirose Yuuya), the weakest and gentlest of Takemichi’s pack.  And the others rally around him in a way that further shores up Takemichi’s resolve.

This part is really effective and again, very authentic.  Adolescents, for all their penchant for animal savagery, are also capable of great kindness.  And boys are creatures of loyalty.  But there’s not much these boys can do for their friend, it seems – that sense of powerlessness against the brutality of the world too feels very authentic.  Takemichi, that creature of retreat, decides to be bold – very bold indeed.  And it seems likely that this foolhardy but courageous act may capture Kiyomasa’s interest in a way that ultimately proves beneficial for the cause.  It feels like the first step on the long climb up from the bottom for Takemichi.  And for all the quibbles I have with the way it’s set up, that’s a climb I remain very keen to watch play out.


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Anime News / Mairimashita! Iruma-kun 2nd Season – 01
« on: April 20, 2021, 12:55:52 PM »
Mairimashita! Iruma-kun 2nd Season – 01

If you could distill positivity into a TV series, I think it would look a lot like Mairimashita! Iruma-kun.

OP: “No! No! Satisfaction!” by DA PUMP

Unless you count the still-in reruns Kingdom Season 3, I believe this should be the last major premiere of the season for me.  If so, it’s feels quite fitting for it to be Mairimashita! Iruma-kun.  There are shows that will ultimately rank higher on my year-end list of course, but in terms of pure, unadulterated happiness this series is pretty hard to beat.  I made a big mistake dropping it from coverage during the first season, but a part of me actually feels like it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  Blogging a series is a sort of work, and Mairimashita! Iruma-kun is so much fun that maybe it should be free of such connotations.

Happiness is a drug, they say.  But this series could wipe out drug use if more people knew about it.  This first episode flew by in about five minutes, and there was barely a moment when I wasn’t smiling or outright laughing.  From the moment Iruma-kun walked to school with Azz and Clara – a power trio that could rival Cream – the charm offensive was overrunning all defensive formulations and negativity was in a disorganized retreat.  Iruma is such a pushover that all you have to do is say “please” to render him powerless.  Yet rather than make him the subject of misfortune as a result of that as most series would, this one sees him rewarded for being an unabashedly good and kind person.  How radical is that?

Could it get better, after last season’s finale complete with Valac family production numbers?  One of my core tenets in anime is that no series exists that can’t be improved by adding Miki Shinichirou, and not even Mairimashita! Iruma-kun is an exception.  Iruma’s Gluttonous Feeder Ring suddenly decides to start talking, and happily for us it’s using Miki-san’s voice.  He’s one of those actors who seems as if he’s been around forever (in reality only about 25 years), and by now has excelled in every type of role from the sober and dramatic to the utterly madcap.  This is definitely closer to the latter, and listening to Miki obviously having fun with a part where he can really cut loose just adds to the fun overload.

Iruma dubs the ring’s persona “Ali-san“, and it in turns dubs him “Iru-bo”.  Ali-san is a live wire to be sure, and though he initially calls Iru-bo “Master” he’s pretty much the one giving the orders.  Ali-san has no idea why he’s suddenly gained consciousness, and not even Sullivan has any knowledge of a GFR suddenly talking, much less exhibiting a full persona.  In fact he and Opera are worried that Iruma has started to lose it, leading to a hilarious moment when Opera sings him a lullaby that’s as effective as it is out of key.

Another hilarious turn comes when Amelie (seriously, how great is the supporting cast with this show) walks in on Iro-bo when Ali-san is forcing him to test his magic through cosplay.  She’s already obsessing over how much that idol from S1 looks like Iruma, and seeing him in an unused classroom wearing fluffy and furry clothing again is all the proof she needs.  I see more hilarity springing from this misunderstanding, much more, as I strongly suspect Amelie is rather turned on by all this.

As for a reason behind Ali-san’s mysterious level up, after considerable digging Iruma stumbles upon the solution – it’s his own leveling up (in terms of rank) that’s the cause.  That’s only a partial answer of course, but it promises more fun (and opportunities for Miki to riff) to come as Iruma-kun will surely be climbing the ranks at least once this season.  It’s all just a blast, and it ended way too soon – but at least we have another 20 episodes of this to look forward to.  Thanks, NHK – and thanks, Mairimashita! Iruma-kun for being the easiest show around to love.

ED: “Kokoro Showtime (ココロショータイム)” by Amatsuki


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Anime News / Boku no Hero Academia Season 5 – 04
« on: April 20, 2021, 02:34:03 AM »
Boku no Hero Academia Season 5 – 04

Let’s be honest.  One of the challenging things about training arcs for a blogger is they don’t offer much to write about sometimes.  HeroAca has plenty of exceptions to that, but there are definitely episodes that are perfectly entertaining but don’t lend themselves to this.  What they really require is play-by-play (and Present Mic provides that on occasion), not after the fact 木下 秀吉 Hideyoshi Kinoshita ysis.  You saw what happened, you don’t someone to sit around describing it afterwards.

That leaves me to think of stuff to talk about.  And of course, one of the eternal pastimes of a series like Boku no Hero Academia – especially Boku no Hero Academia – is the “who’s strongest?” debate.  We’re talking about made-up superpowers here so in the end, this is no more exact a science than arguing who’d win between the 90’s Bulls and the 10’s Warriors (the 90’s Bulls, for the record).  But it’s fun just the same.  And I’ve felt since this point in the manga than Shinso Hitoshi was a credible late contender in that argument.

There are as many opinions on this topic as there are BnHA fans, of course.  My personal pick will be in focus next week, but while I don’t think Shinso is at the very top, I think he’s in the top tier for multiple reasons.  In the first place, he’s got a quirk that to the best of our knowledge is fairly close to unique.  Add to that the fact that he’s done so much to augment it through going the Batman route – tech and savvy as opposed to superpowers.  Mirio is an example of a guy who takes what in my view is a relatively middling quirk and becomes one of the most powerful quirk users by getting the absolute max out of it.  If Shinso – with a much stronger quirk – could do that, he’d be a real contender.  And he’s made a fine start.

In truth, though, I think it’s Tsuyu who stands out as the MVP of Class A’s win here.  Denki shows some surprising strategic aYorokobi no shunkan 喜びの瞬間en, and with proper guidance Shinso is the key in many ways, but Tsuyu is the one who proves the most versatile.  She pretty much acts as the captain, too.  Her mucus comes in extremely handy in confusing the Beast Titan’s sense of smell, but in the end I don’t think the plan works at all without Shinso’s voice modulator.  So maybe it’s really Mei who was the MVP, because that doohickey multiplies the offensive potential of Brainwashing by a factor of 10.

It also strikes me in watching this ep that Mukai Masahiro’s comic book style is ideally suited for a training battle arc like “Joint Training”.  Frankly it needs that little extra bit of visual flourish (“THUMP”) that Mukai favors more than Nagasaki Kenji does.  Mind you, the arc that’s coming in the second cour strikes me as more suited to Nagasaki’s style – and it’s not like they’re going to tag out in the middle of the season, so I guess in the end it all evens out…


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Enzo Loves Manga Episode  4 – Boku no Kokoro no Yabai Yatsu (The Dangers in My Heart)

I love BokuYaba.  You may have heard me talk about it already, but it didn’t feel right to have a manga program and not dedicate an episode to this, my favorite currently serialized romcom and maybe the new series I most look forward to every week.  It’s already popular, but I think this is only the beginning.



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Anime News / Mashiro no Oto – 03
« on: April 19, 2021, 05:18:56 AM »
Mashiro no Oto – 03

I can already tell that Mashiro no Oto is going to be one of those series that drives me nuts with its highs and lows.  When three episodes in a row have moments (and characters) that are outright groaners but also some among the best of the season, the die is pretty much cast.  What can you do but tag along and take the bitter with the sweet?  I never say never, but it’s hard to imagine ever dropping this series when it can move me the way it already has.

The annoying character problem is a very real one, as there’ve been at least four by my count already.  Umeko is the most obvious though at least she’s a lot better when she’s singing rather than talking.  The teacher Keiko-sensei is a real dumpster fire, clearly supposed to be comic relief but just fingernails on a blackboard.  My hope is that she’s a minor presence – but that makes Yamazato Yui a bigger concern.  As Shuri’s best friend she figures to be a major presence, all the more so after the events of this week.

The running theme with these characters is that they’re very tropey, very cliched.  Yui is a prospect we’ve seen in anime many, many times -= the overprotective man-hating shotgun rider of the pixie heroine (and Shuri certainly fulfils her role in that sense.  Is she interested in Shuri romantically or just abusively proprietorial?  Too early to say, but not too early to be annoyed.  That’s why I took such pleasure when Setsu told her “Talk to me when you’re interested yourself” and walked off when she ordered him to join the Shamisen Appreciation Club.  It was exactly the right response in the right measure from his character.

But…  Here’s the thing.  As soon as the music starts, Mashiro no Oto becomes transcendent.  In fact even before and after, because when music is the language it’s using to communicate the character drama this show becomes positively eloquent.  The music sequences themselves are flat-out bangers, don’t get me wrong – these are amazing performances.  And not only that, they’re so well-animated.  The only downside is one can watch the first 15 minutes of this episode and clearly see the budget is far from unlimited.  They’re doing as they should and saving it for the scenes that matter, but some of the non-musical material is pretty rough – off-model characters, wonky movements.

The MacGuffin, for the first arc at least, turns out to be Shuri’s Grandma.  Shuri is listening to her grandma humming an old tune from her childhood during the war on her phone when the teacher causes a scene and embarrasses the hell out of her.  This is abominable behavior from the teacher (and I’ve seen that it’s not uncommon in Japanese schools sadly, though the bully teachers seem to prefer attacking the boys), but the upshot is Setsu hears and realizes the old lady is humming his grandfather’s “Shungyou”.  You know, the piece he begged the old man to teach him, to no avail.

If we’re honest this is a pretty contrived scenario and a huge coincidence, but even I have to admit there’s a lot of dramatic potential in it.  Also a coincidence is that the shamisen left behind in the clubroom belongs to Ogata Kousuke, stage name Kamiki Seiryuu – the man who defeated Wakana in his most recent competition.  Kamiki is a well-known professional about to play a concert in Tokyo, and Keiko-sensei arranges for a meeting afterwards to seek his permission to use the instrument (and because she has the hots for him).  He’s fine with that – he says he left it there hoping someone who recognized its value would find it.  But once he discovers who Setsu is, he more or less demands to hear him play.

Once more this last musical sequence carries the episode, and it’s a fascinating one.  Kamiki’s performance on-stage is melancholy and beautiful, while Setsu’s is virtuosic but “insipid” as Kamiki calls it.  Am I a keen enough listener to pick up on all that?  No – but I can hear the sadness in what Kamiki does and the fact that Setsu is more or less just speeding through the notes.  It all comes down to having a reason to play – and that’s definitely a major theme of Mashiro no Oto, both here and going forward.  I feel certain there will be great moments and cringey ones along the way – all you can do is hope the former outnumber the latter.


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Anime News / SSSS.Dynazenon – 03
« on: April 18, 2021, 10:59:23 AM »
SSSS.Dynazenon – 03

It occurs to me in watching this episode that while I genuinely love this series, it’s unusually hard to capture the reason in words.  I can tell you why Fumetsu no Anata e or Nomad is great pretty easily, but with SSSS.Dynazenon it’s much more difficult.  There’s something more elemental and less intellectual about it, I think – less emotional even, at least in the superficial sense.  I have an instinctive reaction to Gridman and Dynazenon – they speak to my soul as an anime fan.  They connect with parts of my brain that anime hasn’t connected with in many years.

An episode like this is really a marvel of direction and writing, I think.  You sit back and think not much as happening, but then you realize at the end a crazy big shit-ton of stuff happened.  But it felt so relaxed, so natural.  This is the essence of the Anno style of anime direction (a style he himself largely abandoned in the Rebuild movies, apart from the brilliant prologue section of 3.0+1.0).  The intersection of the bizarre and fantastical with the mundane realities of adolescent life is the heart of Evangelion, and could be argued even to be the heart of mecha anime in its most elemental form.  Dynazenon isn’t as emotionally tortured as Eva to be sure – or Yomogi as much so as Shinji – but they’re painting on the same canvas.

It certainly helps that in Yomogi and Yume we have a truly winning pair at the heart of the story, and in Gauma a pretty charismatic plot driver.  The Ys are an adorable couple even if they aren’t one yet – their faces make for lovely close-ups and tell us a lot about what’s going through their heads.  Yume has evolved a good bit already, clearly opening up to Yomogi in a way she hasn’t with anyone else.  And this has given her the courage to start reckoning with what happened to her sister, about whom her own feelings are complicated.  As for Yomogi, he’s the anchor at the heart of the narrative.  He’s got a sensible, practical solidity to him.  He asks the questions he should be asking, though his demeanor in doing so is astonishingly calm.

Yomogi deciding to start training indicates that he’s taking this whole kaiju thing seriously.  But he’s a skeptic at heart, and Gauma has given him no reason not to be.  And after a generally low-key (apart from Onija, who seems incapable of it) meeting with the Kaiju Eugenicists, he finds himself asking himself uncomfortable questions.  Juuga in particular seems quite reasonable.  And when Juuga seeks him out for a one-on-one meeting, Yomogi has even more reason to be uncertain.  Juuga is polite and what’s more, he tells Yomogi more in their one chat than Gauma has in their entire relationship.

Juuga’s info drop adds some fascinating new elements to the mystery here.  As Gauma later confirms, the bunch of them are former comrades who died 5,000 years earlier and were revived in the present (which may explain Gauma’s vaguely mummy-like appearance).  There’s a very Wrath of Khan feel to this scenario, which strengthens my belief that Dynazenon is referencing Star Trek quite purposefully here.  It’s not that Juuga tells Yomogi everything, but he quite possibly doesn’t fully understand what’s happening himself.

Yomogi shares his doubts with the others, and their skepticism of Gauma is warranted.  But there’s one essential fact they can verify with their own eyes: the eugenicists are killing people (or trying to), and Gauma seems intent on saving them.  Whatever their motivation doesn’t that make Gauma a person you’d trust over Juuga?  Gauma doesn’t make this easy, refusing to talk about himself until he’s literally given absolutely no choice.  But while his ultimate answer is “for a woman”, that’s still enough to get the kids (and Koyomi) to buy in for the moment – just the fact that he met them half way earns Gauma some slack in the heat of battle.

It certainly doesn’t hurt SSSS.Dynazenon’s case that it’s beautiful to look at.  The character designs are beautiful, the panoramas are beautiful, and the battles are beautiful – mostly 2D with a judicious addition of well-integrated CGI.  It’s all immersive, which I think is a crucial element for a mecha anime – you want to feel like you’re living a quiet life and suddenly get stuffed into a mecha Astro Boy (Mighty Atom) 鉄腕アトムpit in the middle of a crazy battle.  That’s why something like the lack of background music outside of the battle scenes and the prominent use of it in them is so clever – one of many elements that make SSSS.Dynazenon (for me at least) a thoroughly satisfying and visceral anime experience.


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Anime News / Second Impressions – Bakuten!!
« on: April 17, 2021, 11:25:31 PM »
Second Impressions – Bakuten!!

I must confess I’ve seen few second episodes that did less to change my impression about a series than Bakuten’s.  In sum, I felt exactly the same way after this ep as the premiere.  All the things I liked I still liked, all the things I worried about still worry me, and the overall tone of the series was exactly the same.  That said, it’s impressive that the show looked just as good the second time around – that may be a positive indicator for its chances going forward.  But the most positive indicator is just that Bakuten is genuinely likeable, and that’s a good starting point.

The downside of all that is that it doesn’t leave me a whole lot that’s new to say about this episode.  This show is almost unimaginably earnest, which makes Shoutarou a pretty ideal lead.  I would still contend Bakuten is trying very hard to riff on Haikyuu here, but in its defense it does that better than almost any other series I’ve seen try (and I’ve seen a lot try).  Shoutarou is immensely straightforward and kind, polite, sincere – in other words generally adorable and hard not to like.  But as a protagonist he’d probably be more interesting if he had a few sharp corners.  Say what you will about Hinata Shouyou, and you can apply a lot of those descriptors to him too.  But he has some edges to him, some elements that occasionally rub you the wrong way.

 As for Misato, I still think it was a pretty big misstep casting Ishikawa Kaitou here (not because he’s not a good actor – that’s not the point).  But Misato does at least differentiate himself from Tobio a bit more this time.  He’s arrogant, but not obnoxious about it (well, not much).  He doesn’t overcompensate for his insecurities by trying to push people around, but rather by retreating into a shell somewhat.  Whatever the family issues he’s carrying that prevent him from staying at the dorm are, it’s made quite plain that there’s more there than we’re being told.  As is, being the only go-home team member only isolates him from the others more, and he was already the least integrated with the group by far.

As for the drama this week – Shoutarou has to prove to the coach that he can do a full run of backflips in a week or he won’t be part of the team for regionals – it’s standard but effective.  Obviously he’ll make it, so do suspense there.  And it figures to be Misato who helps him across the line.  I would say Bakuten is doing a pretty realistic job depicting Shoutarou as a beginner with a decent amount of talent for the sport.  His development feels like it’s progressing at a pretty natural clip.  “Realistic” is also a term I’d apply to the visuals, which remain really strong.  The gymnastics sequences are an intriguing mix of 2D and 3D that works surprisingly well, and the choreography in these scenes is excellent.

I’m still not feeling anything from any of the sempais.  Part of that is the casting, with old-hat voices playing it safe, but they’re pretty generic archetypes in general so far, and with only 12 episodes to play with I’m not confident that will change.  But that’s not a deal breaker, as this is clearly Shoutarou’s story with a side of Misato, and they’re basically here to facilitate.  Bakuten is getting the big stuff right for the most part – the action, the exposition, the overall sense of idealism and joy at being a part of a family.  There aren’t a lot of risks being taken but so far, playing it safe is working out just fine.


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Anime News / First Impressions – Cestvs: The Roman Fighter
« on: April 17, 2021, 01:11:37 PM »
First Impressions – Cestvs: The Roman Fighter

OK, so – the first episode of Cestvs: The Roman Fighter was pretty good.  But what the hell was the deal with the first three minutes being grisly CGI and the rest of it being, well- normal?  I mean, I’m glad because the CGI was really terrible – and the funny thing is, that’s what they chose for the PV.  But a sudden change to mostly conventional animation after three minutes is odd, to say the least.  It’s not like that was great or anything, though it was acceptable (even the fighting scenes), and I’m sure there will be some CGI action sequences going forward.  But that was pretty damn weird.

Cestvs is based on a 1997-2009 manga (with a 2010 sequel, ongoing) by Wazarai Shizuya, a childhood friend of Berserk mangaka Miura Kentarou.  I haven’t read it but it’s apparently quite well-respected, if not massively popular.  It seems an odd choice for an anime now even with a sequel in serialization, and one wonders how many episodes this series will run with 23-plus years of manga out there.  Boxing, for the record, was indeed a sport in ancient Rome.  The rules were different (as we see in the premiere), but it was more or less boxing as we would call it today.

Cestvs, the protagonist, is a 15 year-old slave boy who appears weak and frail.  However, he’s under the tutelage of a former boxing legend named Zafar, and possessed of both wits and reflexes that are lightning-fast and razor-sharp.  The rules are pretty simple for Cestvs and his kind – fight and win, or die.  Cestvs finds this out when his friend and protector Rocco is immediately killed after their trial match by their cruel owner after he loses to Cestvs. Zafar sees all the talent Cestvs needs to win the 100 fights he must to gain his promised (hmmm) freedom, but it’s the boy’s kind mindset that he’ll need to work on.

Also involved here is Nero, who rose to power at age 16 (not 17 as shown here) and went on to become one of the most infamous of Rome’s emperors.  Nero is an interesting figure – history has not been kind to him, but Roman history was written by wealthy elites, and Nero was something of a populist hero and was known to be beloved by the commoners of the empire.  There’s some doubt about the truth of it now, but here at least Emperor Nero is shown to be a rather timid and kindly boy under the thumb of his mother Agrippina (that part is pretty much universally accepted, as the start of his reign anyway).

This is a premise that has a lot of natural pathos to it.  As he points out to Zafar, Cestvs is basically a murderer is every one of the 100 he must defeat is put to death (that thumb doesn’t work very often),  But if he refuses to fight – or loses – he dies himself.  It’s hard not to think of Kingdom just a bit here, as you have a well-written historical manga which probably only needs barely adequate production values to work as an anime – but you can’t help be dubious that you’ll even get that.  I hope we do, because I’m already pretty interested in this story and I’d like to be able to stick around long enough to see where it goes.



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Anime News / Fruits Basket the Final – 02
« on: April 17, 2021, 05:04:08 AM »
Fruits Basket the Final – 02

That was pretty much your classic Fruits Basket sampler there – some Honeycrisps, some slightly overripe plums (and one peach, actually), and a big stinking durian right in the middle.  The usual formula applies here, Furuba being serious tends to be pretty good (at least) and Furuba trying to be funny tends to stumble.  Honestly, I find the school life portions of this series to be close to intolerable – they’re why fast-forward buttons exist – but any “joke” involving Yuki’s annoying worshippers is pure torture.

The only things in the school section that resonated, unsurprisingly, were the short bit with Momiji and the scene where Tohru and Kyou were along together.  In a different universe Momiji would be the protagonist here, because his story really does have the most pathos and is the most realistic in the context of the fantasy, but Takaya only ever seems to give us little teases with him.  At the moment he’s just found out that his little sister will be attending the same high school, and he cheerfully drops the fact that his father is horrified at the prospect.  But Momiji is denied even this small hope, because he’ll be graduating before Momo arrives.

Tohru right now is in torture mode, because she’s learned two honking secrets about the Sohmas and she’s not allowed to discuss either one.  Having swallowed the news that Kureno had broken the curse, she now tries to psych herself up to bring up Akito’s gender to Shigure.  But she can’t do it (not that this isn’t subject he knows all about and then some), though she does manage to hypothetically bring up Kureno’s situation to Kyou.  But he’s not the sort of guy to sink his teeth into hypotheticals, and this brings Tohru no relief.

The real focus of the episode is Shigure, who comes more and more into prominence the deeper we get into the story.  Hints about his twisted nature have always been close to the surface, but in many ways Shigure always seemed like the most dangerous person in the cast.  Turns out he slept with Ren as a means of getting back at Akito for sleeping with Kureno – and, it seems, as a means of getting himself banished from the main house.  It’s impossible to say how much Shigure’s words to Akito all those years ago mean to him, but it’s plain as day what they meant to her.

Are we to take Shigure at his word when he says – either to her or to Kureno – that he loves Akito?  How can one know how to take anything this eternal conniver says?  He even admits himself how conflicted and contradictory his feelings about Akito are, and it’s been clear for a long time that his ultimate intentions are kept very close to the vest.  Akito may pride herself on being able to totally control the lives of her Zodiac menagerie, but she can’t control the one member she probably would most like to.  I won’t ever say I have feelings of sympathy for Akito – we’re way past that ever being possible – but I wouldn’t wish being at the receiving end of Shigure’s machinations on anyone…


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Anime News / Second Impressions – Mars Red
« on: April 16, 2021, 09:11:37 PM »
Second Impressions – Mars Red

Not to be forgotten in the avalanche of bigger-buzz releases this season is Mars Red.  And it was easy to forget, too – the problem with these early preview airings is that you have to wait two weeks or even longer for second episodes.  That was especially long in Mars Red’s case, because when a series comes in way above expectations with its premiere, you have worries about whether it could have been a fluke.  But in this instance, those worries were completely unfounded.

Yes, I’m still loving this series, the only difference being this episode didn’t catch me by surprise like the first one did.  There’s some really high-level stuff going on here, on multiple levels.  The music is fantastic, and so is the art direction.  There’s obviously not a sky-high budget at work here but Mars Red still looks fantastic, capturing the aura of 1923 Tokyo has an ominously mysterious and sometimes beautiful place.  And this series may be my top pick this season in terms of the acting.  There are some terrific actors in this series and they’re clearly enjoying the chance to work with material of this caliber.

The premiere was a setup episode to be sure, but Yoshinobu is still very much at the center of the narrative.  He’s working with the unit he dubs Code Zero, vampires hunting vampires.  And we meet a couple of them here – the bitter old major Yamagami Tokuichi (Yamadera Kouichi), who came up through the ranks at Yoshinobu’s side and resents their respective lots – and the youngster Kurusu Shutaro (Hatanaka Tasaku).  And what’s striking about these two is how human they are.  They’re totally self-aware, which means they understand the curse that they now live under (especially the older man).  And they’re not bloodthirsty – largely because, apparently, they’re supplied with it by the army.  To them, it’s a disgusting necessity of existence.

In effect it seems the members of Code Zero are either the lucky or unlucky 10%, depending on your point of view – the ones who don’t die after being bitten by vampires, but transformed.  This is their life now, or rather their existence, but it’s not at all clear they would choose it over death if free to choose.  Also in the unit are the scientist vamp Takeuchi (Ishida Akira), and the cold-hearted enforcer Suwa (Suzumura Kenichi).  Needless to say this is a mighty impressive seiyuu dump right here, and all are excellent – but I have to say it’s Yamadera-san who really shines brightest.  It’s great to hear Yakumo and Sukeroku together again, and it’s no coincidence that it’s those two series finding actors like this really delivering the goods.

The plot this week concerns a pair of vampire lovers who’re operating in the Kayabacho district east of Tokyo Station.  The evidence?  A rise in spontaneous human combustion, which the army knows the real cause of (and which the nosy reporter from the premiere is still obsessed with).  And the search takes a very mundane form, as Yoshinobu has his men dig through the local garbage looking for evidence of blood use.  He also visits the gorgeously imagined Tenmaya-ya, an exotic shop which deals in blood itself.  The owner is played by Kokoryu Sachi in yet another compelling performance (I was convinced it was Sakamoto Maaya until I checked the credits).

Once more this is a very interesting scenario to watch play out, as Mars Red takes the time to present the two vamps as individuals.  They’re killers, but they’re still recognizably human in many ways – most crucially that they’re in love with each other.  It seems clear that the blood they’ve been ingesting (from Tenmaya’s rival) is a drug of some sort, which heightens their aggression and increases the thrill of the kill.  The older woman is cautious, the younger man is giddy with the rush and that leads to their demise.  Even in the end they’re offered the chance to surrender and “live”, but it’s not to be.  And as predicted, Moriyama cashes in his chips very early in the proceedings.

I can quibble with one or two things here.  Shutaro being the reporter’s childhood friend is quite a coincidence, on top of Misaki being Yoshinobu’s fiancee.  And the exposition in this episode slips into explanation a couple of times.  On balance, though, Mars Red remains pretty great – a stylish (the moment when Yoshinobu walks out of the shadows and into the sunlight is truly brilliant), theatrical, and atmospheric historical fantasy of the type and quality anime seems constantly trying to produce these days but rarely succeeding.  Based on two episodes it looks like the real deal, and that’s becoming a trend this season.


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Anime News / Second Impressions – Odd Taxi
« on: April 16, 2021, 07:55:27 AM »
Second Impressions – Odd Taxi

Even setting aside the various conspiracy theories about what’s really happening with the plot, I still haven’t quite figured out Odd Taxi.  I don’t know if it’s brilliant or just weird and eccentric, though there’s certainly no reason it couldn’t be both.  I don’t know if it’s accurate to say I like it per se, but I’m fascinated by it.  Simply being unique isn’t enough to keep you engaged indefinitely, but it is undeniably a very good start, and Odd Taxi is certifiably unique.

As to those theories, if you read the comments to last week’s first impressions post you have an idea what I’m talking about.  The whole “Ambien Walrus” angle is certainly intriguing, and the idea that this whole zoo could be a figment of Kotokawa’s sleep-deprived imagination is not that far-fetched.  I do wonder, though, about that being the case when we’ve had many scenes where Kotokawa isn’t involved.  If so I would see that as kind of a narrative cheat to be honest, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

The whole intro scene – Kotokawa and Shirakawa in his cab as Homosapiens does their schtick on the radio – is the sort of thing you’ll only get in a really weird show like this.  It’s incredibly awkward, the duo isn’t that funny, but it goes on for so long that it starts to take on a sort of beauty.  What her deal is I don’t know – maybe she really does like Kotokawa-san, but that whole thing about her stealing drugs makes this development highly suspicious.  There are also some interesting tidbits ladled out about Kotokawa’s life – his parents left him “late in elementary school”, some sort of “support group” covered his living expenses, and he was in a serious accident that “should have killed him”.

New to the mix this week is idol Nikaidou Rui, who seems to be mixed up in the missing girl case somehow.  She works with a pair of side girls who she forces to wear masks so they won’t be as popular as she is, and she has a daifan named Taichi who’s living an especially pathetic idol-followers existence.  Also, Kaikihana actually gets a swipe on his Tinder account, an 18 year-old girl who says she wants to meet up (nothing suspicious about that) and Dobo shows up in Kotokawa’s cab and holds a gun to the back of his head (and he may be involved with Rui too in some way).

This is all, well, odd.  But it’s oddly compelling too.  That includes Kotokawa, who whether as a result of the theories or not I’m now seeing not as a walrus but as an overweight 41 year-old who’s basically a decent guy who just doesn’t fit in the human world.  I may not know what’s going on here but I am curious to find out, and that means Odd Taxi is fundamentally doing the job it needs to do.  Maybe it’s profound and this story is going to amazing places, or maybe it will just be weird, but I suspect it will be kind of fascinating either way.


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