The Bracket: Commence Round 3

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With round 2 in the history books, we’re down to 24 anime vying for dominance in this double-elimination tournament. The first six seeds are all sitting pretty in the winners bracket, along with two surprise comedies rounding out the current top 8. Speaking of 8, precisely that many shows were just eliminated in the losers bracket, and that many more will suffer the same fate in the coming weeks. Unlike this past round, where seeing shows get eliminated hasn’t been all that painful, there are some killer matches coming up that can only crown a winner at the expense of another deserving competitor. Let’s preview a few of them right now.

Matchups to watch for:

Watamote (#2) vs. Hoozuki no Reitetsu (#26): Watamote finds itself in the featured match section for the second straight week, this time against another comedy. Assuming that tournament favorite Mushishi defeats Sabagebu! next week (and given how strong the girls with guns series has been so far, that’s hardly a given), the winner of this match will be the only comedy to advance to winners semifinals. Hoozuki is one of two currently undefeated shows that was originally seeded in the bottom 25% of the bracket, and it’s looking to extend that winning streak as far as possible.

Rozen Maiden (#19) vs. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (#8): On the surface, these two shows couldn’t be more different. After all, one is about dolls and their masters fighting, and the other is about beefy dudes with supernatural powers fighting, but the keyword there is “fighting.” These are two series whose specific focus is combat, and they’ve both taken pains to set up their respective conflicts through these first three episodes. Looking at the bracket, whichever anime wins this match has a decent shot at making Top 8, but the loser will place an inauspicious 17th.

Silver Spoon (#13) vs. Barakamon (#7): The similarities here are plenty: both anime are beloved by the blogosphere, both star a city boy coming to grips with country life, both include heavy doses of comedy in each episode (to varying degrees of success), and both can be categorized under the nebulous umbrella that is “slice of life.” Unless one of these shows has an absolute clunker of a fourth episode, this will be the toughest decision I have to make during the next round.


And now, let us bow our heads and say a prayer for the first of many fallen series in this Best of 2013-2014 tournament:

Ace of Diamond (#24)

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 Ao Haru Ride (#22)

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Gatchaman Crowds (#20)

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Gingitsune (#28)

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Gundam: Reconguista in G (#32)

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Knights of Sidonia (#18)

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The World Is Still Beautiful (#23)

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Tokyo ESP (#30)

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R.I.P. in pieces.


NEXT UP: Mushishi vs. Sabagebu!, One Week Friends vs. Ping Pong

Round 2: Tokyo ESP vs. Non Non Biyori, Hitsugi no Chaika vs. Ao Haru Ride

tokyo esp 3-2Tokyo ESP – Episode 3

Tokyo ESP reminds me of the later seasons of Heroes, the American superhero drama that ran for a few years starting in 2006. Beyond their obvious similarities, these two shows share the same approach to introducing characters and story elements, which I’d summarize as “throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks.” The result is messy and, even worse, not engaging. The only thing that stopped me from dozing off during this episode was the return of Peggy the flying penguin, who took a sword to the neck but somehow ended up unscathed. Also, a blond, roided-up Wolverine lookalike punched his daughter in the gut so she would pass out, but she brushed it off like it was nothing and kicked him in the balls so he would pass out. This show is actually insane. Dropped!

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Non Non Biyori – Episode 3

I really needed an episode like this one to remember why I like this show. Last week’s focus was on Hotaru and Komari, and as a result there was too much of a “senpai please notice me” air to the proceedings. This time, however, NNB devoted all of its attention to Komari and Natsumi, whose sibling dynamic is much richer with storytelling possibilities. This episode was a true slice of life, moving deftly from disappointing school field trips to watching scary movies to running away from home, and each segment provided us with true-to-life evidence of their sisterly relationship. Whether it was making fun of each other for getting stuck in the mud during a rice-planting expedition, one sister crawling into bed with the other to avoid facing her fear of the dark, or the younger sibling forcing the older one into an alliance against their mother, these scenes all had an authentic feel to them. Add in the lovely scenery and surprising amount of character detail at long distances, and Non Non Biyori becomes just as pleasant a watch as any other show in the bracket.

The Verdict: More like Trainwreck ESP, am I right? Dohoho. But seriously, I have no qualms about dropping Tokyo ESP. The show was a complete misfire, at least through three episodes, and not an interesting one.


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Hitsugi no Chaika – Episode 3

This is the first episode of this show I’ve really enjoyed. There are still a lot of “Oh, anime!” moments, including Akari’s continued pining for her brother, girls who walk around without pants for no adequately explained reason, and an orange-haired tsundere named Vivi whose main beef with our heroes is that they “defiled Gillette-sama.” But putting those things aside, this episode was like a good introductory chapter in an adventure novel. Our heroes arrive in a new town, find an inn, restock on supplies, and prepare for their next objective. The problem is that even though Chaika is supposed to be in charge (dibs on the sitcom title “Chaika in Charge”), she doesn’t have the foggiest idea of where to go or what to do next, so Toru has to step up and lead the party. It’s a refreshing change from my last Chaika post, where I lamented how he seemed to be a mere accessory to the plot, rather than a driving force. The two most promising aspects of this episode, though, were the revelation that the main antagonists have captured “several Chaikas,” and the constant mention of Dragoons, which I assume is another word for dragon. Multiple versions of one character suggest time travel or parallel universes, and dragons are generally amazing, so I’ll probably watch another episode or two of this show, even if it gets eliminated here.

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Ao Haru Ride – Episode 3

Maybe it’s because I don’t look back on my time in high school too fondly, but I’m just not buying what this series is selling. The female lead’s obsession with her social status fails to get me invested episode after episode, and her crush on her tall, dark and insulting middle school flame is just dull. Plus, what do you know, all the main characters end up becoming student council members together, after having been established as main characters. The show tries to play it off as some beautiful coincidence, but it’s really just lazy. Dropped.

The Verdict: Ao Haru Ride is one of those rare anime that makes me regret the existence of the three episode rule. Chaika, on the other hand, benefitted immensely from it.


After starting with 32 shows, the field has been cut down to 24. Another post should be coming soon, where I’ll discuss the updated bracket, preview the next round’s crucial matches, and pay tribute to the fallen series of the tournament thus far.

Round 2: Sekai Seifuku vs. Knights of Sidonia, Barakamon vs. The World is Still Beautiful

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Sekai Seifuku – Episode 3

A handful of blogs have been including this series in their Top 10 lists for 2014, and before watching this episode I was greatly confused as to why. But after witnessing Kate’s hatred of secondhand smoke manifest into the most violent anti-smoking campaign in history, I finally understand what people appreciate about Sekai Seifuku, at least in part. This is a show that is so committed to its ridiculous premise that it doesn’t even bother winking at the audience. Sabagebu has an ironic narrator, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is structured as a farce, and Hoozuki no Reitetsu employs traditional setup/punchline delivery, but Sekai Seifuku is a straightforward tale of a little girl who wants to conquer the world and reshape it in her image. And if you think that’s funny, you’d better not laugh, because if you do she’ll produce a giant magical hand from her pink stuffed animal and crush you with it.

Of course, a comedy can’t succeed without humor, and this was the first episode out of three that managed to locate my funny bone. The ease with which Kate was able to turn all of West Udogawa against its smoking population had me chuckling, but when it was revealed that she couldn’t control the smokers with her ultimate weapon because it only works on those who have human souls, I finally started to laugh in earnest. The entire plot had been in service of that one joke, and it stuck the landing magnificently. That our main character has finally become a full-fledged member of Zvezda (Kate’s evil organization bent on world domination) also works in the show’s favor, since his bland personality stuck out like a sore thumb during the first couple episodes. There were great jokes interspersed throughout the whole episode, like the crowd member who speculated that smokers must come from another planet, or the bucket of water that magically emptied itself on Yusa’s head whenever he lit a cigarette. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Sekai Seifuku after one good episode, but I certainly feel justified in having decided to watch it in the first place.

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Knights of Sidonia – Episode 3

Once again, we have a pretty good episode of a show I wasn’t too fond of coming into the round. Knights of Sidonia’s preoccupation with girls in their underwear was abandoned this week in favor of some honest character work. There’s a gigantic tentacle monster called a Gauna on its way to Sidonia, so the show introduces a squad of four elite pilots tasked with intercepting and destroying the alien threat. In just fifteen minutes, these pilots go from same-faced nobodies with names I couldn’t remember to same-faced human beings whose deaths were, if not affecting, at least noteworthy. Akai is friendly, talented, and bears no prejudice against main character Nagate for his inability to photosynthesize. He’s a simple guy who claims to be more afraid of his girlfriend’s father than of a gigantic space monster aiming to destroy the last remnants of human civilization. Of course, all of his likable qualities make him the first to die in battle, which prompts his girlfriend, also a member of the subjugation squad, to go charging in and get killed herself. The other two are eventually overwhelmed as well, and the result of this total annihilation is our hatred of the Gauna, and thus our continued interest in the story. It was about time Knights of Sidonia whipped up a reason for us to care about any part of this weirdly animated, badly soundtracked space epic.

The Verdict: This is the end of the road for Knights of Sidonia, which has been merely competent in execution despite its highly detailed setting. The result would be different if I were judging these two series based on their overall potential, but Sekai Seifuku produced a much better episode this week.


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Barakamon – Episode 3

It’s still hard for me to believe how much better Barakamon’s first episode was than its second and now third. The premiere had it all: the physical comedy was sharper, Handa’s struggle felt more real, and the resolution seemed to be more effortlessly heartwarming. This week did come closer to achieving that delicate balance than the last, however, so that’s progress. In fact, Naru’s seinen manga face from the opening scene is arguably the funniest moment the show has produced so far. There were a couple language gags that I was able to follow thanks only to the translator’s notes included with my subtitles, but even if they hadn’t been there, the cute sound effects and facial expressions would have left me smiling – this is a show that’s been packed to the brim with charm. The biggest gripe I had with this episode was the fujoshi segment, which I assume was some sort of meta-commentary on the show’s audience. It didn’t gel with the rest of the story, and I wonder if that time could have been used to show us a little more of Handa’s artistic process. When the reveal came that he was super gloomy because he’d gotten second place at a calligraphy competition, that felt more like a narrative device than anything else, but if we’d been given a whiff of it beforehand it might have seemed more organic.

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The World Is Still Beautiful – Episode 3

This was probably the most boring episode of the tournament thus far, in large part because its structure was nearly identical to last week’s. I spent the first half of this grueling twenty minutes watching Nike and Livius argue and make anime faces at each other, same as last time. They reached a tentative understanding around the halfway point, same as last time. Livius then banished her from his kingly presence, same as last time (although it was for a different reason), but she returned to summon the rain by singing the same dreadful song as last time, after having sworn up and down that it was a sacred ritual and she wouldn’t do it, exactly like she did last time. My big hope for this episode was that some conflict or story would start to run alongside the romance, but that didn’t happen. Instead there was a party, the Sun King asked his mail order bride to entertain the people by making it rain, she refused, they fought, made up, and she made it rain. That kind of lame, ad nauseum plotting is pretty bad on its own, but when you factor in unremarkable art, dollar store animation, strawman villains of the week who exist just to get blown away by the main character’s beauty in the third act, ridiculous string flourishes indicating heroic behavior when Livius simply sticks up for his wife, and all the silly dialogue about “reaching out to his heart,” you end up with something truly horrendous.

The Verdict: The World Is Still Dropped.


NEXT UP: Tokyo ESP vs. Non Non Biyori, Hitsugi no Chaika vs. Ao Haru Ride

Round 2: Kyousougiga vs. Gatchaman Crowds, Gingitsune vs. Yowamushi Pedal

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Kyousougiga – Episode 2

There was a long stretch of silence in this episode that seemed at first to be artistic, then started to try my patience, and finally revealed itself to pack quite an emotional punch. That’s a good description of the show as a whole, as well. Its schizophrenic presentation jumps from one visual style to another, but it’s consistently inventive and often beautiful. I’ve said enough in the past about how deliberately opaque the show with regards to its characters, but the advantage to telling stories about families, even when you’re not sure who’s who and how they’re related, is that our personal experiences with our own families make them universally powerful. When Koto realizes that Inari is her father, and it clicks in our heads that this moment was the source of her motivation to travel to Mirror Kyoto in search of her mother, all the confusion and ambiguity evaporates in a heartbeat.

What I’m most curious about at this point is the nature of Koto’s training. She belongs to an organization called Shrine, whose members carry swords, hold the title of “priest,” and can apparently visit other dimensions. There’s a big emphasis on combat: students are not discouraged from fighting amongst themselves, merely given instructions such as, “Keep your arms closer to your body!” when they throw punches. Exams consist of being suspended inside a giant floating cube while scientists measure your priestly potential, I guess? This scene reminded me heavily of another one from the first episode, where a bunch of folks in lab coats watched Koto and her spirit pals wreak havoc in an alternate dimension (which we now know to be Mirror Kyoto). Sometimes I wonder how much of this show’s repetition is intentional and how much results from the director’s obsession with certain themes, but either way, the end product is a fun puzzle that I intend to finish, no matter when the series takes its second loss.

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Gatchaman Crowds – Episode 3

If I had to pick one word to describe this episode, it would be “anticlimactic.” Gatchaman Crowds has introduced a superhero organization whose members carry notebooks that let them transform into robots, a smartphone app that miraculously compels people to work together for the good of humanity (run by a cross-dressing genius and his army of glowing eyeballs), and a villain who mimics people’s physical appearance by kissing them, and what kind of story does it choose to tell this week? A bad shipment of milk has gone out, so let’s use social media and stop people from drinking it. I do appreciate the show’s dual commentary on technology and empathy, but when you introduce an antagonist like the MESS and suddenly come to terms with them, you have to move onto the next conflict a little more quickly. The end of this episode gave us a standoff between Joe and our nameless, wild-haired villain, as well as the start of a rescue mission that may force our programming genius out from the shadows, but it’s too little, too late to save this show from the jaws of elimination.

The Verdict: I thought this decision would be a lot tougher, but after a rather silly third outing I’m ready to drop Gatchaman Crowds. From the tournament, anyway – I’ll probably watch the next episode to see how this cliffhanger resolves.


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Gingitsune – Episode 3

Apart from a brief scene near the start, this episode of Gingitsune left its burdensome school setting behind and focused on the shrines and spirits I’d been wanting to see from the beginning. None of the humans here are strong characters, but they don’t need to be, so long as the show commits itself to telling individual stories about new heralds each week. This time we were introduced to a displaced turtle whose shrine was, of course, torn down as a result of urbanization. His slow speech, impotent fury at the construction crew that drove him from his home, and gratitude at having found a new shrine to occupy were all very charming. I’d be grateful to live there, too – just look at the screenshot above! The background (and foreground) art in Gingitsune really is a treat to behold, but this is the first time I can say I’ve truly enjoyed an episode. Judging by the preview for the next one, two major characters are about to make their entrance, and one of them is a human male around Makoto’s age. Let’s hope his introduction doesn’t take us back to high school.

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Yowamushi Pedal – Episode 3

I’m so relieved that Yowamushi Pedal was able to rediscover the charm of its premiere with this third episode. Onoda was back to his earnest, awkward self rather than the stunted outcast we saw last time, and that’s great news for Yowapeda’s future. There’s a whole laundry list of things that set this show apart from Ace of Diamond, the other traditional sports series of the tournament. Among them are the superior character designs and clearer motivations, but the biggest difference lies in their protagonists. Onoda is a novice in the cycling world, as opposed to Eijun, who was his middle school team’s only experienced player. Given the choice between the two of them, I’d say it’s much more rewarding to watch a rookie learn the ropes and slowly become a strong competitor. Onoda is also on the fence about joining the bicycle racing club to begin with, as his main passion lies elsewhere, so we’ll get to see him fall in love with the sport from the beginning. Plus, his desire to connect with other people is clearly present, despite his lack of close friends, so we can watch him develop socially. This is the kind of sports anime I could see myself following each week for a good long while.

The Verdict: Surprisingly, I’m a little reluctant to drop Gingitsune from the bracket this week. After getting such little enjoyment from its premiere, I figured it was destined for a quiet three episode death, but I’ll probably check out the next episode in my spare time.


NEXT UP: Sekai Seifuku vs. Knights of Sidonia, Barakamon vs. The World is Still Beautiful

Round 2: Gundam vs. Tokyo Ghoul, Stardust Crusaders vs. Ace of Diamond

shot0066Gundam: Reconguista in G – Episode 3

Please direct your attention to the subtitles at the bottom of the screenshot above. Did you read them? Cool. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what must have been going on during the production of this show for that line to be included in the next episode preview. Ordinarily a creative team would make their case for your continued viewership by working hard to write, storyboard, animate, and direct a watchable piece of entertainment, but not Gundam: Reconguista in G. No, unless this was a gross mistranslation, it seems as though somebody in charge of writing these previews was capable of recognizing the ridiculous, inane nature of the show that they and their fellow staff members had created. So they took stock of their situation and realized that, in the interest of keeping audiences interested and their job secure, the best course of action would be to ask the viewers, who the preview assumes are uninterested in watching another episode, to just watch anyway, based nothing whatsoever. Sasuga Gundam.

This show is still dumb, but in this third installment it crossed into “so bad it’s good” territory, or at least “so bad it’s funny.” There were constant shots of poor little animals in their natural habitats being disrupted by the big bad military, the best of which resulted from a jaguar falling out of a tree and landing on a python. Aida, the female space pirate who was captured in the first episode, makes her escape from the capital by simply taking the elevator to the hangar where her robot was being kept, getting into the cockpit, and flying away. Nobody appears to have a problem with this, including the man responsible for her detainment, who simply watches from another room as she flees. Aida takes three other people with her, one of whom is totally baffled as to why an enemy combatant would want to escape captivity (presumably because she thinks that the capital is just so nice). The incompetence displayed by literally every character in this episode was laughable.

For all its silliness, though, I’m curious about the next episode. Bellri, Aida and company are headed to the enemy camp, where I’m sure we’ll get another perspective on the conflict between the capital and the pirates, and maybe clear up some of the confusion surrounding the “plot” so far. Getting away from the pointless cheerleaders, religious ceremonies, and beautiful architecture of this first chapter could make the show a bit leaner. And I still like all the retro elements that this new Gundam brings to the table, including character designs, sound effects, and of course giant robot fights. If Tokyo Ghoul has a mediocre or bad showing in just a minute here, this nonsensical, desperate series could actually advance to the third round. I kind of hope it does.

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Tokyo Ghoul – Episode 3

This episode was more slice of life than horror, and it was all the better for it. Ken’s lonely struggle to remain human despite his ghoulish hunger wore thin pretty quickly, but I could watch an entire series where he stars as an empathetic half-breed learning the ropes of ghoul society, and that’s just what we got this week. By making its main character into a server at Anteiku, the coffee house where ghouls “come together for fellowship,” Tokyo Ghoul has created an easy way to introduce the rest of its cast (including The Gourmet, who makes his first appearance right before the credits roll). This in turn helps set the stage for whatever big conflict is brewing between Tokyo’s ghoul population and CCG, the task force responsible for hunting and killing humanity’s newest predator.

Amon and Mado were the two ghoul hunters we saw at the tail end of the second episode, but this time they snagged a good bit of the spotlight for themselves. Amon is level-headed, well-groomed and professional, whereas Mado (pictured above) is twitchy, greasy-haired, and constantly on the verge of losing his shit. Honestly, he looks more like a ghoul than anybody else in the show. Scenes featuring these two gentlemen interrogating and then killing unfortunate ghouls broke up the sunshine and rainbows of Ken’s plot this week, giving the whole production a well-rounded feel. In fact, this was one of the best episodes of the tournament thus far: fluid animation, tight narrative structure, cool soundtrack (the ED recently struck me as being reminiscent of The Pillows), and just an overall entertainment factor that anime is uniquely capable of achieving.

The Verdict: If you’d told me after I seeded it in last place that I’d be reluctant to drop Gundam: Reconguista in G a few weeks later, I wouldn’t have believed you, but here we are. I’ll probably watch one or two more based on the goofy fun supplied by the third episode, but I won’t be blogging it anymore. Sayonara, G-Reco!


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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Episode 3

This was not a great episode, and neither were the two before it. Stardust Crusaders has been paced very deliberately so far, which is not something I was anticipating after how quickly things progressed in the 2012 series, but I think I’ve adjusted to it now. And just in time, too, because after a ridiculously contrived series of Stand powers and research trips, the gang is on a plane to Egypt, intent on killing Dio and lifting the curse on Holly. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a tough series to blog in a lot of ways: its superb visual style makes it difficult to choose screencaps, its ludicrous plot defies any sort of analysis, and its characters are all such gigantic meatheads that they don’t really undergo any sort of growth or development. But all of that is forgiven in light of the fact that “Walk Like an Egyptian” was revealed to be the ending theme this week. Stardust Crusaders is definitely sporting the best OP/ED combo of the tournament, and the consistent post-credits tags featuring Dio are just icing on the cake. This series might not be operating at its peak just yet, but it always features the best opening and closing minutes in anime.

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Ace of Diamond – Episode 3

Sports series – or at least sports series that aren’t directed by Masaaki Yuasa – have their work cut out for them in a tournament like this one. Many of them follow an established formula: a brash but talented newbie joins a team, bonds with each of its members at a rate of one character per episode, makes the starting lineup, and then the narrative becomes a string of games, one after another, until the end of time. The bonding process is slow going, sometimes agonizingly so if you don’t take a shine to any of the characters. The thing is that this formula not only works, it’s capable of producing excellent results, as with Haikyuu!!, which I watched as it aired just months after this show. I love Haikyuu, and while it has much better production values than Ace of Diamond, it probably wouldn’t have fared much better than its sister series if it had to fight to stay alive each week.

Eijun is the sort of character (and by extension, Ace of Diamond is the sort of show) that makes faces like this one in response to almost everything that happens to him. He’s late for his first day of practice, talks back to his coach, accidentally puts spin on a ball that he was trying to throw for maximum distance, and is generally a bonehead all throughout this episode. There’s an inherent likability to the earnestness of protagonists like these, but Eijun is as stock a main character as they come, even down to his physical appearance. I have no doubt that other characters will distinguish themselves and the team will become more than the sum of its parts as the series goes on, but unfortunately it’s three strikes and you’re out for Seidou High.

The Verdict: These two shows are similarly paced, but Stardust Crusaders looks and sounds much better. I’ve decided to drop Ace of Diamond, and it wasn’t a tough call.


NEXT UP: Kyousougiga vs. Gatchaman Crowds, Gingitsune vs. Yowamushi Pedal

Round 2: The Eccentric Family vs. Rozen Maiden, Parasyte vs. Psycho Pass 2

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The Eccentric Family – Episode 3

“It’s so dense, every single image has so many things going on.” This quote from Rick McCallum, infamous producer of the Star Wars prequels, popped into my head more than once while watching this episode. Just look at the screenshot above – that level of background detail easily matches that of Mushishi, which is no mean feat. Unlike the newer Star Wars films, however, Uchouten Kazoku has a story worth following, even if that can be a difficult task at times. This week especially I felt as though the unfamiliar names of tengu clans, past conflicts, and unseen characters were whizzing by all too quickly. That conversational style was no detriment to my enjoyment of the episode, however, as I followed the overarching plot of the episode from start to finish, and greatly enjoyed the art and atmosphere as usual.

The Gozan Fire Festival is quickly approaching for our eccentric family, and before that day comes they’ll need to borrow Professor Akadama’s “flying inner parlor” to participate in the aerial celebration. Yasaburo asks his former teacher to borrow it, but the old codger has given it to Benten, a revelation which prompts a fit of jealousy from Yasaburo. Even though there are plenty of romantic feelings between the three of them, it’s interesting to note that Yasaburo and Benten share a type of sibling relationship as well, with Akadama functioning as the father. This is a series that laces each piece of dialogue with as much meaning as it can muster, and that holds true for the ending scene between Yasaburo and Benten at the sunken clock tower. 99% of romance in anime is dull and formulaic, resulting in audience arguments about “best girls” and which cast member will “win” by hooking up with the main character. These are stupid, superficial lines of conversation, but what else is there to talk about when your characters are so paper-thin? Not so with The Eccentric Family, which nails the complicated, true-to-life feeling of crushing on someone who you know could really hurt you. Benten’s association with the Friday Fellows, who treat tanuki as a delicacy, makes her a dangerous acquaintance, and her abilities to fly and control the weather make her powerful and potentially threatening, but she’s also attractive, fun-loving and agreeable, and in the end she does lend the inner parlor to her friend.

There’s a lot more I want to write about that clock tower scene, but I really do need to start limiting these recaps to just a paragraph each, at least until the field is narrowed down to just 16 shows or so. This is a great series that I expect will make Top 8 at the very least, so hopefully I can do some more thorough analysis of its characters and themes in a couple weeks.

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Rozen Maiden (2013) – Episode 3

Even though Sabagebu! and Hoozuki no Reitetsu were seeded lower, this incarnation of Rozen Maiden is probably the most surprising success of the tournament. This is a sequel to a 2004 TV series I’ve never watched, which is based on a manga about dolls fighting that I’ve never read. All I knew going is was that time travel and/or alternate universes were involved somehow, but there’s no way I could have expected the series to be both this engaging and this low-key. Of all the introverted slacker protagonists I’ve seen in anime (and if you’ve seen my MAL you know that’s not many, so take this with a grain of salt), Jun is among the most relatable. His hatred of his job doesn’t lead him on winding internal monologues about how the whole world is rotten to the core. He doesn’t obsess over his female co-worker, nor does he ice her out. He has a hobby that he’s passionate about, which feels normal thanks to an unobtrusive series of flashbacks around the episode’s middle. From what I understand, the dolls were the main characters of the original series, but this time Jun is carrying most of the narrative weight, and doing a great job of it.

The Verdict: Rozen Maiden has been surprisingly good, but The Eccentric Family has been consistently great. I’m still very excited to see both series to completion, though.


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Parayste – Episode 3

This was easily the best cliffhanger of the tournament so far. Every scene in this show carries some ideological weight behind it, and the confrontation between “A” and the duo of Shinichi and Migi is no different. “A” claims that he “will eat when he is hungry, and eliminate any who stand in his way.” Shinichi, on the other hand, is capable of empathy and selflessness, which we see in his horrified reaction to Migi’s plan to use his classmates as a wall of meat. The thing that makes this show stand out, though, is that the characters aren’t just walking mouthpieces for their respective philosophies. If A’s sole concern were subsistence, he wouldn’t target Shinichi, whose parasitic right hand makes him much more difficult prey than the average human. Instead, he may be targeting him due to anger at their conflicting world views, or to assert dominance, or even because he views Shinichi as a threat to his sexual relationship with Tamura. Whatever the case may be, he has some motivation for his actions, which gives meaning to the upcoming battle and increases our anticipation for the event.

Just as interesting, though, were the revelations that there are other parasites who have managed to retain some element of their host’s humanity, or at least disguise themselves as humans quite effectively. One of these is Shinichi’s math teacher, who reveals over lunch that after having sex with A, she became pregnant with a perfectly ordinary baby. Her desire to fit into human society makes sense, then, although with Tamura it’s a little harder to tell whether she’s only interested in self-preservation, or if she has any maternal instinct towards her unborn human child. Judging by her neutral, almost bored expression as she delivered the news of her pregnancy, I’d lean towards the former, but as Parasyte goes on I have a feeling that the line between humans and parasites will become blurred to some extent. Very keen to see more of this show.

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Psycho Pass 2 – Episode 3

This was a step up from the last episode for sure, although a large part of this episode’s success must be attributed to its opening scene. Finally we got a lengthy look at Kamui, our villain, who has captured an Inspector, ripped out her right eye, and suspended it in some magical liquid so she can monitor her own crime coefficient. It’s a fascinating setup, and his goal – to make everyone’s hue clear and break Sibyl’s hold on society – is just as interesting, although Stockholm Syndrome has set in for his prisoner a little too quickly to be believed. All he did was speak in a soothing tone of voice and let her chew on his thumb for a bit. I’m guessing that whatever drug was in that IV drip is what’s actually responsible for lowering her crime coefficient, as well as calming her down despite her foreign surroundings. All in all, this was one of the better cold opens I’ve seen so far, but how did the rest of the episode fare?

Not as well, I’m afraid. Lots of conversations and no action were the orders of the day here, and I’m not necessarily against that (I liked the first Psycho Pass, after all), but like I said last time, this show is going to live or die as a thriller. I just wrote about characters serving as mouthpieces under the Parayste recap above, and that’s exactly the problem with this sequel: some of these characters are just names and colons on a script. Musings on identity and technology are always welcome, but when they dominate the proceedings to this degree, they need to be brilliant rather than just serviceable. And when you remove my investment in returning characters like Akane and Ginoza from the equation as well, it becomes a bit clearer that Psycho Pass 2 is merely getting by. The revelation that Togane’s crime coefficient was at one point the highest in recorded history was intriguing, though, so I’ll be watching to see how the writers handle that plot thread.

Disclaimer: Because the show has finished airing, I’ve had the chance to read a lot of criticism of Psycho Pass 2’s subpar plotting and resolution, which may have colored my views on this episode.

The Verdict: A great cliffhanger from Parasyte beats out a great cold open from its opponent. Plus, you know, better story and characters.


NEXT UP: Gundam vs. Tokyo Ghoul, Stardust Crusaders vs. Ace of Diamond

For the first time so far this tournament, the losing series in these matchups will be dropped from the bracket. I’m predicting victories for Tokyo Ghoul and Stardust Crusaders, but both of those series were upset by lower seeds in the first round, so it could happen again here!

Round 2: Watamote vs. Nozaki-kun, Hozaki no Reitetsu vs. Noragami

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Watamote – Episode 3

This is a series that makes me regret setting up this blog in a tournament format, because Watamote aims for a different reaction than most of the other shows it’s competing with. Most fictional protagonists have at least one redeeming element to their character, which makes us hope for their success. Tomoko has nothing of the sort, yet we root for her anyway because she’s so consistently pitiful. But if Watamote only goes for a gut punch and succeeds every week, does that mean it’s better than a more tonally varied opponent that hits the bullseye only 8 out of 10 times?

Eh, that’s enough meta-commentary about my own blog. This was a strong episode, if strength is measured in the tears of high school girls. Tomoko was driven to cry not once, but twice this week, first by her terror of a teacher who noticed that she had forgotten her textbook, then by her own awkwardness around two similarly-aged boys taking shelter during a rainstorm. The first instance put a lump in my throat as well, as the camera cut to exterior shots of the school while Tomoko’s sniffles played in the background. Since it’s highly unlikely that she’ll be “all better” by the show’s conclusion, part of me hopes that a future episode will be dedicated to an elaborate revenge plot against that teacher.

The second instance was far more awkward than sad, however, as Tomoko’s nervousness around boys caused her to suffer a total social meltdown, complete with stuttering, bad jokes, and Captain Obvious moments, and ending with her hiding in a bathroom. This was apparently as difficult for the poor girl to experience as it was for me to watch, because she promptly falls asleep after returning to the comfort of the bus stop bench. One of the boys returns during her nap and leaves an umbrella next to her, which was a really touching moment, but it the show immediately undercut it with Tomoko’s wish that a boy would be nice to her for once. How else could a brand-new umbrella have appeared next to you, dummy? Ugh. Gut punch #3.

Tomoko’s multiple humiliations put her in a foul mood when she comes home, and she proceeds to take our her frustration on her brother, first locking him out of the bathroom after he’s been stuck in the rain, then harassing him after he catches a cold as a result, and later flying into a fit of jealousy when a couple of cute girls stop by to give him his missed homework assignment. She gets the idea to catch his cold and stay out of school the next day, but her plan backfires and her symptoms only show up after she’s come home from class on Friday, which ruins her weekend, the only part of her life that she even comes close to enjoying. The whole sequence feels more than a little karmic in nature, but so does the show: Tomoko’s extreme self-absorption constantly lands her in situations she’s not equipped to handle, which her disorder frames as everyone’s fault but hers, which causes her to withdraw further into herself. It’s more than a little sad that her anxiety forces her into the kind of mindset that prevents objectivity or personal growth, but that’s the fine print at the bottom of the contract you sign when you watch Watamote.

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Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun – Episode 3

Coming into this episode, I was fairly confident that Nozaki-kun would upset Watamote and prove itself to be the strongest comedy of the tournament. Instead, after introducing two new characters last week, it brought *another* set of fresh faces into the fold, and the whole thing came off as a bit too crowded. I think the main reason for this difference is that last time, the newbies were introduced as friends of our two main characters, Chiyo and Nozaki, whereas this week the new girl was a friend of Mikorin, a supporting cast member, and the new guy was the president of the new girl’s drama club. Truthfully, I don’t even remember their names, so minimal was the impact they made on me. A bigger cast means more opportunities for comedy, so I’m not opposed to new characters on principle, but if you turn everything up to eleven as this episode did, it all starts to sound the same. The blue-haired girl, as she will be called from now until the moment she does something noteworthy enough that I learn her name, has just two jokes in her repertoire: flirting with other girls (a habit which has earned her the nickname “The Prince”) and getting hit upside the head by her club president, both of which were repeated with the same manic energy several times through the episode.

Speaking of the drama club president, he ends up being another one of Nozaki’s secret lackeys, which Chiyo discovers after noticing the similarity between his beta markings on Nozaki’s manga pages and the drama club’s backgrounds (which results in the episode’s only good gag). His character has a little more potential, being an actor who clearly still loves to act, but concedes leading roles to the blue-haired girl because, according to her, he’s not tall enough. Realistically, though, he probably has a soft spot for her. This may be a shoujo parody, but plenty of seeds have been planted throughout these three episodes for romance to bloom midway through, and honestly, with the hit-and-miss nature of the comedy this week, I wouldn’t mind if the series pulled the trigger on one of those relationships sooner rather than later.

The Verdict: I kind of spoiled it above, but Watamote clutched it out with a more focused, consistent effort this week.


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Hozuki no Reitetsu – Episode 3

Having just criticized Nozaki-kun above for introducing too many new characters, I was relieved that Hozuki no Reitetsu spent so much time fleshing out a single new character with this episode. The fellow in question is Hakutaku, who sports the title “mythical beast” but nevertheless looks very much like Hozuki. You might not want to express that sentiment out loud, though, because Hozuki flies into a murderous rage upon being compared to his arch-nemesis. Their rivalry is explained in the second half of the episode, a thousand-year flashback to their time as judges at a sort of Olympic competition between the Japanese and Chinese hells called the Goodwill Games. Detailing the bet that drove them to such mutual hatred would take more words than I plan on writing here, but the reason it’s so effective is because it exposes the pedantry and competitiveness that makes them so similar, despite appearing to be polar opposites.

The first segment sees Hozuki travel to Shangri-La with his adorable animal pals, where they encounter Hakutaku for the first time. Even without any backstory explaining their rivalry, the encounter is funny and effective. The show checks in with a minor character from the first episode, Momotaro, and provides a reason for their visit (Shiro wants to get a peach of immortality as a present for his supervisor; Hozuki has placed an order with Hakutaku for several types of medicine and uses the opportunity to pick them up). I’m increasingly drawn to this show, which I once feared would be to be too dense with linguistic and historical meaning, for the way it uses these details to construct a world rich with comedic possibilities.

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Noragami – Episode 3

Yato’s habit of spray painting his cell phone number all over the city finally bites him in the butt this week, as fellow god Lord Tenjin calls him up and dumps his own phantom slaying duties into his lap. Desperately in need of cash, Yato accepts, which gives him a chance to test out his new Regalia, the sword with a ski cap also known as Yukine (his introduction was decent but hardly noteworthy). This is a perfectly good setup for a third act full of supernatural beat ’em up action, but Noragami’s major problem at this point is that phantoms are old hat. They’re mass antagonists without personality or purpose, and although I found their designs colorful and distinctive at first, now I’m just tired of their big stupid faces. Phantoms are supposed to be creatures from the “far shore” that feed on negative emotions, but when they do unprecedented stuff like pin an unwilling victim to the tracks of an oncoming train, their status as placeholders for some bigger antagonist becomes clear. Hopefully the gun-wielding bikini girl from the opening theme shows up soon, but to be honest, I kind of soured on Noragami this week, so even she might not be able to save this show from quiet elimination within a couple rounds.

The Verdict: While Noragami spins its wheels, Hozuki stays fresh and funny by introducing characters that feel custom-made for its unique concept of the afterlife.


NEXT UP: The Eccentric Family vs. Rozen Maiden, Parasyte vs. Psycho Pass 2