Round 1: One Week Friends vs. Kyousougiga, Silver Spoon vs. Gatchaman Crowds

Leading things off today is the match between One Week Friends (#4) and Kyousougiga (#29). Despite the gap in their starting positions, Kyousougiga has a lot of underdog potential, while One Week Friends could stumble if it doesn’t deliver on the promise of its first episode. Let’s see who advances and who gets dropped to the losers bracket!

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One Week Friends – Episode 2

Well done, Brains Base. This is how you adapt an ongoing manga: keep the story moving, rather than pad it out. One of the concerns I had about One Week Friends’ amnesia plot was whether it would grind the relationship between Fujimiya and Hase to a screeching halt. Instead of angsting about his misfortune, though, Hase was proactive in this episode and suggested that Fujimiya keep a diary, which is the most logical solution to her problem. Why she wasn’t doing this already, I don’t know – maybe because her memory loss had always stopped her from making friends, so she had no reason to remember anyone outside her family.

That’s a little sad to think about, especially when we see how friendly Fujimiya is after she’s warmed up to Hase after meeting him for the second and third time. The diary doesn’t stop her from losing her memories, but it lets her know that she has a friend who likes to eat lunch with her and hang out after school, which is a happy milestone for a girl whose brain gets wiped every Monday. What the show needs now is to broaden its cast of characters, so we can get a different perspective on what’s going on between the two leads. I’m sure One Week Friends could survive ten more episodes of just Fujimiya and Hase being cute, but if it’s going to excel rather than be another above-average high school romance, it has to build a believable world for itself.

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Kyousougiga – Episode 1

This is exactly what I wanted to see from this show. After a prequel episode that created far more questions than answers, “Episode 1” of Kyousougiga starts from the very beginning, telling the story of a Buddhist priest named Myoue whose drawings come to life. One such drawing of a black rabbit falls in love with him, and a Bodhisattva at the priest’s shrine gives the rabbit human form so it can express that love. She takes the name Koto and raises three children with Myoue (all of whom appear to be alternate versions of characters we saw in the prequel) in another dimension called Mirror Kyoto. When Myoue and Koto flee that world to escape her fate of becoming a rabbit again, their children are left behind, and grow up into still more characters from the prequel. Youngest son Yakushimaru notably becomes a priest and takes his father’s name as his own. And as if that wasn’t confusing enough, the girl with the hammer from the prequel arrives from another dimension, going by the name Koto, just like the elder Myoue’s wife and the younger Myoue’s mother.

There’s a lot of backstory to absorb here, and a family tree to memorize that defies memorization. But Kyousougiga handles its characters more deftly in this format than it did in last week’s jumble of action scenes and art styles. Koto’s guilt over having borrowed the Bodhisattva’s body for so long was convincing, and the banter between the second Myoue and his lover achieved a level of authenticity you don’t normally get from anime, especially when it comes to romance. Like The Eccentric Family, this series has gained the ability to generate interest in its story and characters via dialogue. Hopefully that trend continues even as we leave the flashbacks behind and join the new Myoue and Koto in present day Mirror Kyoto.

The Verdict: Both series took big steps in the right direction this week, but if these matches are like races, then One Week Friends had a head start. I know I said it above, but it’s a shame Kyousougiga started at such a disadvantage, because now it needs to run the gauntlet if it wants to stay afloat in this tournament.

silver spoon 2-3Silver Spoon – Episode 2

This was a solid but unremarkable entry in what I hope will be a better season for Silver Spoon going forward. “Finding your ambition” is a popular theme in fiction, but it’s hard to write about without going the same route as this episode: too much introspection, not enough plot, and the word “dream” getting beaten to death by the script. It would help to know why Hachiken is at an agricultural school, to provide some context for how out-of-place he feels. Ordinarily I’d be fine with saving that revelation for a conversation with a best friend or a love interest, but with all the wheel-spinning the show did this week, I was itching for something new.

Hachiken is afraid to eat food grown on the farm. Hachiken doesn’t get along with animals. Hachiken is reluctant to join a club. Hachiken doesn’t like waking up early. Of course none of those fears and feelings were going to disappear overnight, but apart from the Equestrian Club plot this week, none of them got a different coat of paint for the show’s second outing. Hachiken’s assignment to clean out the stables with Mikage during Golden Week is promising, though, especially since his crush has been kept at believable levels thus far. It’s an odd association, but I always loved the chapters in Harry Potter books where most of the students went home for Christmas vacation, giving Harry and his friends the freedom to explore a mostly empty Hogwarts at their leisure. Hopefully Silver Spoon brings a similar feeling when Golden Week arrives for its agricultural school.

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Gatchaman Crowds – Episode 2

The thing that struck me most about this episode was how much more tolerable Hajime had become by the end of it. She came off as an idealist rather than the giddy enthusiast from the premiere. Gatchaman Crowds managed that transformation by making Sugane the kind of “suicide is selfish” hard-liner next to which anyone would seem sympathetic, but also by showing us that Hajime is capable in her own way. She’s a good cook, she’s popular on social media and uses her influence to help people, she adapts quickly to her Gatchaman transformation, and she intuitively understands how to communicate with the aliens that Sugane had insisted they destroy. She’s still an airhead, to be sure, but she’s the kind of airhead who can carry a show like this one.

Bringing Hajime back to Earth took most of the time and effort of the creative team here, as there wasn’t much action to speak of. The closing scene didn’t intrigue me like it should have, either. The powers of the wild-haired villain we saw last week were revealed, and a new character – a cross-dressing programmer who created the social media app GALAX – was introduced, but neither of them captured my interest with their brief screen time. This episode’s focus on character and lack of plot essentially makes it the opposite of last week’s impersonal info dump. Hopefully we’ll get the complete package next time.

The Verdict: I almost gave this to Gatchaman Crowds for its work in making Hajime a relatable character. But even though I was harder on Silver Spoon in my review, it has a better structure in place after two episodes, and I’m more hopeful for its future than for Gatchaman’s vague one.

NEXT UP: Ping Pong vs. Gingitsune, Witch Craft Works vs. Yowamushi Pedal


Round 1: Stardust Crusaders vs. Sabagebu!, Aldnoah.Zero vs. Ace of Diamond

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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Episode 2

How much you’ll like a given arc of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is directly correlated to your tolerance for its new lead character. For me, Joseph was the ideal Jojo, which made Battle Tendency the ideal JJBA. Brash, funny, and resourceful, Joseph’s improvised battle strategies and cocky trash talk made the show endlessly entertaining with him at its center. And while it delights me that he still has a major role to play in Stardust Crusaders, I have to accept that Jotaro – brooding, humorless, brawn-over-brains Jotaro – is about to take center stage.

This would be easier to Stand (pun obviously intended) if Jotaro weren’t such a dick toward his mother for seemingly no reason. Sure, she’s a little overbearing, but she raised you, dude! I harped on this series’ treatment of women last week, too, but it was worse in this episode. The girls who follow Jotaro to school do nothing but harass him and pick fights with each other about their looks and bust sizes. The school nurse giggles and keeps one hand on her hip at all times, and when she becomes possessed by an opponent’s Stand and attacks Jotaro in the episode’s lone fight scene, her shirt magically unbuttons itself in the scuffle. Honestly, this is some despicable stuff for a show produced in 2014, even if the manga it’s adapting is significantly older than that.

There’s a lot I love about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Its inventive use of color and retro character designs give it a great look. It has the coolest theme songs, featuring video game visuals (pictured above) and testosterone-fueled rock tracks that always get me hyped for the episode. It has one of the greatest anime villains of all time in Dio, who’s back this season. But when all of this isn’t enough to distract me from how boring and brutish Jotaro is, something is wrong. Stardust Crusaders is still setting up its dominoes for the rest of the season, but it can’t wait too much longer to knock over the first one.

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Sabagebu! – Episode 2

One thing I appreciate about Sabagebu! is that despite its gag-heavy script, it doesn’t break up its runtime into two and three minute segments like Nichijou or Daily Lives of High School Boys. Those are fine shows, but I prefer some measure of plot with my comedy. This episode tells three stories that run about six minutes each, all of which focus on one of the girls in the Survival Game Club, so taken as a whole the episode tells the story of the growing bond between its five principle characters. Even beyond that, there’s continuity between the three stories, with Momoka’s underhanded tactics and Urara’s masochistic streak carrying over from the first miniature episode into the second and third. The setup of Momoka discovering a club member eating breakfast in her home is used twice to great comedic effect, as well. In these scenes, Momoka’s mother professes her adoration of “upperclassman with glimpses of madness in their charisma” and “little loli girls who seem to be hiding darkness within them,” clearly spoofing the kind of anime fan who keeps the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ genre afloat. Last week I identified Sabagebu! as an absurdist comedy, but there are elements of parody at work here as well.

The Verdict: Both series feature plenty of cleavage and girls comparing bust sizes, but one is offensive and one is funny. Beyond that, Sabagebu! is simply more fully-formed after two episodes than this third arc of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Sabagebu! was a whopping 17 seeds behind Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, but it was victorious in Round 1. It’ll be taking on the winner of this match, Aldnoah.Zero (#9) vs. Ace of Diamond (#24). Could we be in for another upset here?

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Aldnoah.Zero – Episode 2

This episode was dedicated entirely to the destruction of Earth’s resistance forces. By destroying their satellites and cell towers, the Martians disrupted their enemy’s chain of command, mitigating the Terrans’ home field advantage. From there, superior Martian technology essentially guarantees victory. Their Kataphrakts are equipped with forcefields capable of deflecting RPGs, and can phase through buildings as though they’re made of air. The robot chasing Inaho and his friends doesn’t seem to be equipped with projectile weapons of any sort – it just uses its gigantic hands to swat at opposing robots until their pilots are crushed to death. A thorough job was done of depicting Earth’s helplessness against this dominating force, so I’m curious to see how Inaho plans to fight back. His stoicism is obviously meant to mask a strategist’s brain, but what can he possibly do against such overwhelming power and technology?

Most of my interest in how the story will progress is left over from the nuclear bomb hype of the first episode. Beyond that, Aldnoah’s characters are pretty thin. Asseylum and Slaine are certainly in compelling positions: one is a princess whose nation betrayed her in the hopes of starting a war, the other is an Earth-born soldier in the Martian army with conflicted feelings about attacking his home planet. Still, it’s not enough to simply give your characters cool backstories and let them start shooting guns and operating giant robots. The fact that this show will be getting a second season in January makes me wish it had taken more time to establish itself before going full mecha.

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Ace of Diamond – Episode 2

Ace of Diamond is the kind of sports series that wears its heart on its sleeve, so it’s only natural that its emotional milestones would be strong. Still, after the majority of this episode left me cold, it was a pleasant surprise when the farewell between Eijun and his former teammates at the train station caused me to break out with goosebumps. Things were lighthearted between the two parties until one of Eijun’s friends, with tears in his eyes, apologized for not doing more to help the team. The chain reaction of goodbyes that ensued, capped by the confession that “we all wanted to play more baseball with you,” was the most honest moment of the tournament thus far. The regret on Eijun’s face after hearing those words was devastating, and even the scene where his friends ran after the train as it pulled away was totally earned. What a wonderfully bittersweet moment all around.

The rest of the episode was dedicated to Eijun’s time in Tokyo, seeing the facilities at his potential new high school and picking fights with potential new teammates. He meets a talented, fun-loving catcher named Kazuya, the two of whom will obviously form an amazing duo as the series progresses. After returning home and agonizing about it for a while, Eijun decides to transfer to this famous baseball school. None of this came out of left field, if you’ll pardon the pun. It was all standard stuff, elevated by neither the writing nor the direction. Lucky that last scene was so powerful, then.

The Verdict: While Ace of Diamond took a page from its opponent’s book and closed its episode with a very strong scene, Aldnoah.Zero still had too much going for it this week. This was the closest match so far, however.

NEXT UP: One Week Friends vs. Kyousougiga, Silver Spoon vs. Gatchaman Crowds

Round 1: Mushishi vs. Gundam, Tokyo Ghoul vs. Your Lie in April

Time to kick off this tournament with its most lopsided matchup in Mushishi Zoku Shou (#1) vs. Gundam: Reconguista in G (#32). Spoiler alert: Mushishi wins.

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Mushishi Zoku Shou – Episode 2

While this episode didn’t match the sublime heights achieved by the premiere, it did feature the most beautifully animated scene of the tournament thus far. The birdlike creatures in the screenshot above are actually a type of mushi whose appearance on land signals impending disaster at sea. Listen too closely to the songs they sing from within their seashell homes, and you may lose your ability to speak. Mina, a young girl from the fishing village where this episode takes place, falls victim to that fate, but learns to speak again after her father allows her to converse with the other girls in the village (more on that in a bit). What makes this scene work so well is not just how gorgeous it is visually, but how the mushi’s flight represents Mina’s freedom – freedom from the life of isolation her father had required her to live, and freedom from the muteness brought on by the Yadokaridori’s song. Here’s a link to a (rather large) .gif of the scene in question. Even apart from the rest of the story, it’s marvelous to look at.

Ten years before the events of this episode, Mina’s mother was killed by a shark while diving on the village elder’s boat. The elder chose to pull his own wife from the sea first, leaving him with no time to rescue the other woman from her death. Mina’s father Sakichi, made bitter by his loss, isolated himself from the rest of the village and forbade his daughter from talking to any of the shore folk. We see both fathers deal with their daughters very differently here – the elder is gentle and reassuring, while Sakichi is stern and unforgiving. We even see the elder, still carrying the weight of his decision ten years later, plead with Sakichi to return to the village. Despite our understanding of his grief, we know that Mina’s father is in the wrong. But when the village’s fish farms are ruined by the red tide (which was foreshadowed by the presence of the Yadokaridori), Sakichi presents the elder with a valuable pearl he’d been hoarding, knowing that it’s the village’s only chance at survival. In exchange, he asks that he and his daughter be allowed to return to the village. The elder, overcome with emotion, accepts both the pearl and his old friend’s request through his tears.

Plot synopsis isn’t really my thing, so why do I find it so appropriate when it comes to writing about Mushishi? I think it’s to demonstrate how perfectly all the moving pieces come together to create each episode. The Yadokaridori are confined to their seashells at first, just as Mina is forbidden from talking to the villagers, but they both achieve freedom by the episode’s end. The red tide functions not only as a plot point that puts the village in peril, but also as a visual reminder of the death of Mina’s mother, and it forces Sakichi to confront and truly accept the fact of his wife’s passing. And Ginko’s advice that Mina hear more voices than just her father’s offers a compelling reason for them to return to the village, so we know that Sakichi’s decision came not only from his own personal growth, but also his love for his daughter. In fact, in writing this paragraph, I may have convinced myself that this episode is at least as strong as last week’s. That’s the remarkable thing about Mushishi – it maintains for entire seasons a level of quality that few other shows can reach even once.

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Gundam: Reconguista in G – Episode 2

Despite the harsh words I had for it last week, there are some things I like about this series. Its old school character models, animation, and music all have a certain charm to them. And although this is the first time I’ve watched a Gundam show from the beginning, I can understand the appeal of watching giant robots punch and shoot each other. But where this show fails again this week is in its nonsensical plotting and dialogue. I’ll provide one example of each, though really about 50% of the episode could serve as a “what not to do” guide for screenwriting.

Plot: The Capital Army has taken captive a space pirate named Aida, and hidden away her highly advanced mobile suit so that neither she nor her fellow pirates can reclaim it. Bellri Zenam is the only member of the Capital Army capable of piloting that mobile suit, referred to as the G-Self. Bellri is also smitten with Aida, and rescues her from prison with the help of his friends despite his country being at war with the pirates. None of his friends seem to have a problem with this, except for the pink-haired girl who’s obviously sweet on Bellri, and keeps barking instructions such as, “Don’t stick your butt out!” and “Don’t get distracted by some girl!” Bellri’s commanding officer then drops by and demands that he man the G-Self and fight against the attacking pirates, and of course he takes Aida with him, who as the G-Self’s former pilot has more reason than anyone to prevent him from carrying out his mission. But again, nobody has a problem with this, not even the officer who saw her clear as day as he was giving Bellri his orders. It’s not until Aida is physically attempting to enter the cockpit of the G-Self that this moron gives the order to “kick her off,” presumably to her death, as she was thirty feet off the ground at that point. None of this makes any sense.

Dialogue: As Bellri is rescuing Aida from captivity, he asks why someone like her is a space pirate. She responds, “We ought to be coating the Earth in solar panels, but the Capital prohibits it. That’s dictatorial!” Bellri begins to respond, “Because Earth-” and then the scene cuts to three seconds of the conflict going on outside, before returning in time to catch, “-is why!” Then Aida slaps him. This was truly the most baffling scene of the tournament thus far. Why was it necessary to cut to the exterior shot, preventing us from hearing Bellri’s retort? Without hearing what exactly he said to offend her, the slap that follows is laughable. Unless this is some kind of commentary on the futility of anti-solar-panel sentiment (and if it is, it’s likely the worst in recorded human history), this scene also makes no sense.

The Verdict: Mushishi threads its plot points together with the elegance of a master tailor, while Gundam is an incomprehensible mess of an anime. Mushishi wins and it isn’t even close.

Now let’s see who won this week’s feature match between Tokyo Ghoul (#16) and Your Lie in April (#17), or, if you prefer, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. Both of these series had solid premieres but didn’t manage to pull me in for the long haul. Whichever one does a better job of selling itself and its premise will be the victor here.

Tokyo Ghoul 2Tokyo Ghoul – Episode 2

The shows that are neither very good nor very bad are always the hardest to write about. Tokyo Ghoul’s second episode picked up just seconds after its first left off, and like that first episode, it was concerned mostly with table setting. It was expected that Kaneki wouldn’t accept his half-breed status or master his hunger until the end of this episode at the earliest, but those concepts weren’t explored in any meaningful way, just resolved after a lot of shouting, choking, punching and crying. The scenes featuring Rize, who serves as a manifestation of Kaneki’s ghoul self, were ripped straight from probably hundreds of supernatural series before this one. The big fight scene’s inverted color palette made the characters gray (less visually interesting) and the blood neon blue (less impactful than red), so unless this was done to satisfy the Japanese equivalent of the F.C.C., it was merely a poor creative choice.

I was already tired of Kaneki’s “I want flesh/I don’t want flesh” shtick by the second time it recurred, so if that pops up even once next week, my laptop will be at risk of being thrown across the room during episode 3. The closing dialogue between two mysterious ghoul hunters promises the same bigger mythology as the premiere, so hopefully this series will incorporate some of that into its weekly proceedings, and stat.

shigatsu 2-2Your Lie in April – Episode 2

Wow. How amazing was Kaori’s performance of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9? The scenes of the competitors before her all featured lovely music, but were accompanied by static images, so I was worried that A-1 Pictures had blown their blown on that beautiful first episode, but boy was I wrong. Kaori came to life in stunning animation as she played and brought the music with her, turning in a powerful version of Beethoven’s piece apparently of her own composition. This earned her the scorn of the head judge, the adoration of the attendees (enough to earn her the audience choice award and send her to the next round of the competition), and the love of Kousei, who decided immediately after her performance that she was beautiful.

Kousei has no game with the ladies, however, and Kaori is already set on Watari, the middle school Lothario who is nonetheless a good friend to Kousei and advises him to act on his attraction. But the bond between the two leads is already quite strong, even if they don’t know it yet; beyond a love for classical music, they share a fragility and a sensitivity to how their performances are perceived. Kousei had the classic taskmaster mom who drove it into his skull that if you didn’t place first, your efforts were in vain. We don’t know the reason for Kaori’s self-doubt just yet, but despite her claims not to care about the results of the competition, her hands were trembling when she asked Kousei what he thought of her performance. Despite the age of these two student musicians, there’s potential here for a romance based on something beyond fourteen year old hormones.

Shigatsu takes a step toward delivering on that promise before the episode even ends, when Kousei encounters Kaori on his way home from school. She’s waiting for Watari, who’s planning to skip soccer practice to hang out with her, but he’s running late. So when she asks Kousei if he knows what’s taking so long, he lies and says Watari got held up at practice. Kaori is disappointed, but invites Kousei to hang out with her instead. What Kousei did was sneaky for sure, but it establishes him as a character with some guts, who won’t just pout in the corner until his crush notices that he’s been here all this time. These are good signs from a series that I was on the fence about at first.

The Verdict: Tokyo Ghoul offered more of the same in its second episode, but Shigatsu distinguished itself with a great musical set piece and stronger lead characters. Your Lie in April wins the match, and the honor of going up against Mushishi in the next round.

NEXT UP: Stardust Crusaders vs. Sabagebu!, Aldnoah.Zero vs. Ace of Diamond

The Bracket: Best of 2013-2014

The bracket is finally finished! Click to expand

The bracket is finally finished! Click to see the full size image.

From the #1 seed Mushishi to the dead-last Gundam: Reconguista in G, the first episodes of all 32 participating series have been watched, ranked, and seeded into the bracket above, which will provide a structure for the tournament going forward. You can find a constantly updated version of this bracket right here via Challonge, a website I learned about from my participation in Super Smash Bros Melee tournaments. You can always find a link to my Challonge page under the Links widget on the right hand side of this blog, as well (assuming you’re looking at the home page).

As a reminder, this is a double-elimination tournament, so if Gundam were to lose to Mushishi, for example, it would be moved to the losers bracket and face either Tokyo Ghoul or Shigatsu in Losers Round 1, which will happen alongside Round 2 of the winners bracket. The loser of that second match would be eliminated, while the winner would face the loser of another match yet to be determined. Here’s a list of how many shows will be left after each round:

Round 1: 0 shows eliminated (32 remain)
Round 2: 8 shows eliminated (24 remain)
Round 3: 8 shows eliminated (16 remain)
Round 4: 4 shows eliminated (12 remain)
Round 5: 4 shows eliminated (8 remain)
Round 6: 2 shows eliminated (6 remain)
Round 7: 2 shows eliminated (4 remain)
Round 8: 1 show eliminated (3 remain)
Round 9: 1 show eliminated (2 remain)
Round 10: Grand Finals (Champion remains)

I’m happy with most of my seedings, especially the top 8. I might have swapped One Week Friends (#4) and Parasyte (#6) if I had the chance, but the bracket is already locked on Challonge. Looking at the bottom seeds, I’m hoping that Kyousougiga (#29) won’t get buried, as it has a tough match in Round 1, and if it gets sent to losers, its opponent there won’t be a pushover either. I couldn’t bring myself to put it any higher, though, given how incomprehensible it was. Hoozuki no Reitetsu (#26) and Tokyo ESP (#30) have some potential as well, as their first episodes didn’t grab me, but the premise of each series still has me intrigued. The one show I rated far too low was Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (#15), which I feel has the best chance to pull an upset over shows with higher seeds. Not sure what I was thinking putting that one behind Non Non Biyori (#14), when it could have been in the mix with Stardust Crusaders and Aldnoah.Zero for the #8 spot.

Matchups to watch for:

Tokyo Ghoul (#16) vs Your Lie in April (#17): These are the two series that, despite well-directed premieres, didn’t get their hooks in me. It’ll be interesting to see of either one distinguishes itself as a contender in the first round.

Silver Spoon (#13) vs Gatchaman Crowds (#20): Silver Spoon has a pedigree of the gods, but its casual approach to storytelling could leave it vulnerable to Gatchaman Crowds’ stylish, high-octane action.

Witch Craft Works (#12) vs Yowamushi Pedal (#21): Witch Craft Works’ high rank is due in large part to the presence of characters who may not appear in episode two. That may leave the door open for Yowapeda to find another gear and upset a much higher seed.

My plan is to do two matchups per day over the next couple weeks, at which point Round 1 will be complete. Who’s excited? Nobody? That’s cool. Maybe people will start reading the blog once I’m covering nothing but currently airing shows, the majority of which will be terrible.

NEXT UP: Mushishi vs. Gundam, Tokyo Ghoul vs. Your Lie in April

First Impressions: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Ao Haru Ride, Parasyte, Tokyo Ghoul

We did it folks. It took a lot longer than the one week I was anticipating, but the seeding process is finally complete. Just these four previews to go, and then I’ll create a separate post for the bracket so we can get this tournament underway!

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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

The third and final sequel entered in this tournament, Stardust Crusaders has a lot to live up to in the original Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, a shounen fighting series so old that it’s managed to both establish and subvert every trope in the book. Thankfully, based on this premiere, I’d say it’s on the right track. David Production clearly has a bigger budget this time around, as the animation is much flashier than it was last season. It’s not so smooth that it loses the charm of Hirohiko Araki’s 80s character designs, though. Speaking of which, I love Joseph Joestar’s character design (pictured above) as a grandfather who’s dragged back into the fight against evil after his father’s murderer returns to life using Jonathan’s body. And now that he’s working alongside his grandson, Jotaro, there’s all sorts of potential for family drama. Jotaro’s attitude towards his mother was a problem for me, but it’s consistent with JJBA’s relegation of women to passive roles. The 1980s were a different time, I guess. That’s just a small blemish on an episode that set up a lot of promising dominos, however, so I have high hopes for this sequel to deliver the same adrenaline-pumping action and campy style as its predecessor.

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Ao Haru Ride

Ao Haru Ride’s first episode starts off rather well, with a pretty watercolor visual style and a convincing depiction of an awkward fateful encounter in the rain. The idealism in the art and the realism of the dialogue formed a perfect contrast, so for one brief and shining moment I thought this would be something more than the standard shoujo romance I had figured it would be when I selected it for the tournament. Unfortunately, as soon as the series flashed forward to the present, the watercolor style disappeared and the characters flatlined. Female lead is late for school? Check. Her friends make fun of the weird girl in class? Check. Girl explains the measures she took to achieve some measure of popularity? Check. Girl doesn’t understand why guy she likes is nice to her one minute and aloof the next? Check.

The hook here is that the boy in the watercolor flashback moved away, ruining any shot that he and Futaba had at romance. Several years later, though, he returns to town as a teacher, having changed his name and personality. I guess he skipped several grades during his absence, or else I just misunderstood his request that his former classmates call him “sensei.” This might have grabbed my interest if the conversation between the two leads hadn’t been so stereotypically hot and cold, and Futaba’s reaction hadn’t been so predictably confused. This show gets some points for featuring a high school cast rather than Shigatsu’s middle school students, but I’d say the latter had a better first episode.

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Parasyte -the maxim-

This was one of the best first episodes of the tournament, and probably the best anime episode I’ve ever watched that featured a boob grab. Apparently that scene wasn’t in the manga, but since Shinichi’s right hand quite literally has a mind of its own, it gets a pass. Everything else was phenomenal. Using the alien burrowing scene as a flashback (rather than opening with it) was smart, because it allowed the director to cultivate a curiosity about who was talking to Shinichi that morning, and what his dad meant by, “Did you find the snake?” There’s an ah-hah! moment when the flashback finally comes, because we already know how he stops the alien’s progress through his arm, but the scene retains a sense of urgency because of some killer direction.

The evolution of both main characters is paced very nicely: the alien uses Google and reads biology textbooks to gain a massive amount of knowledge in a short period of time, while Shinichi takes baby steps by increasing his appetite (what a courteous host) and relinquishing his fear of bugs. Despite Shinichi’s fear and confusion at what’s happening to him, he and his new parasite appear destined for a symbiotic relationship. The alien’s cute voice and visible disappointment at having failed to reach his host’s brain are important tools in making it a sympathetic character, and Shinichi’s horrified reactions to his affliction lend a tense, realistic atmosphere to an unrealistic premise. I even find that the heavy use of dubstep, which a lot of bloggers are taking issue with, helps evoke an unsettling mood that goes nicely with the series’ subject matter.

I don’t want to write as much about this show as I did about Mushishi, but I could. It’s that good. They’re on opposite sides of the bracket, so if they both keep winning, they won’t play until Round 5. What a match that would be.


Tokyo Ghoul

The two horror series in the tournament ended up being the last two shows I watched. Aside from the fact that both main characters are part human and part something else, however, Tokyo Ghoul is very different from Parasyte. The scope of the story is much larger right off the bat: the cold open here features a masked ghoul hunter, very likely some kind of supernatural creature himself, with “orders from above” to capture another ghoul alive. Elsewhere there’s talk of distributing feeding grounds, managing wards of Ghouls, and an organization called Anteiku, regarded by opponents as fence-sitters but who wield a lot of influence nonetheless. All of these potential plot points are only briefly alluded to, which creates a lot of questions for the next episode to answer.

Protagonist Kaneki becomes half ghoul when the organs of another ghoul who nearly killed him are transplanted into his body. His sense of taste deteriorates, he tries and fails to injure himself, and eventually he’s driven by hunger to seek human flesh for himself. All of this is stylishly animated by Studio Pierrot, but I wasn’t fully engaged during this episode, well-produced as it was. The periodic censorship of gorier images may have contributed to that feeling, but beyond that I’m not connecting with Kaneki very well. To throw all delicacy out the window, the guy is a wimp. Obviously this first episode put him through hell, but so far he’s not the kind of main character I can really root for. Still, this was a solid premiere, so I’ll gladly watch another couple episodes at least.

And so, First Impressions week comes to a close. I’ll be posting the bracket shortly, along with some thoughts on the current crop of shows and which matchups to keep an eye on going into Round 1.

First Impressions: Ping Pong, Aldnoah.Zero, Your Lie in April, Gundam: Reconguista in G

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Ping Pong the Animation

Barring an episode of Space Dandy, the first episode of Ping Pong is also my first exposure to the work of Masaaki Yuasa. And what a great entry point it makes: this was a master class in how to set a sports series in motion. We learn a lot about our main characters in these twenty-something minutes, and a good chunk of it comes from watching them play their game of choice – or watching somebody else listen to it, as in the very cool scene where Wenge and his trainer glean so much detail about a game without even being in the same room as the players. Smile has amazing talent but no competitive fire, Peco is cocky but can’t take a loss, and Wenge has become mean-spirited and despondent after his fall from grace in China. Wenge is my favorite after one episode – his backstory, unique dialect, authentic friendship with his translator, and interest in Smile (despite his professed hatred of coaching) make him an intriguing and three-dimensional character right off the bat.

As for the series’ visuals, I’d say it’s fair to call them ugly, but I like the style anyway. Without having taken a peek at the manga from which this series was adapted, I think Yuasa’s constantly off-model characters juxtapose nicely against the beautiful, fluid game that high-level table tennis can be. These are imperfect people playing a “perfect” game, and that comes out both in the story and the art direction. Very excited for more of this.

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Two great opening episodes back to back, then. Where Ping Pong is all about its characters, Aldnoah is clearly putting its eggs in the basket of plot and spectacle. The groundwork for the coming war between Earth and Mars was laid out nicely here, keeping the exposition at a bearable level while delivering some good information through actual dialogue. In signature Urobuchi style, political intrigue and ethical quandaries are written into this show’s DNA. This show looks to be more of a thriller than Madoka or Psycho Pass, though, and that’s reflected in the Kill la Kill-aping soundtrack and casual use of missiles and nuclear bombs in the first episode. Speaking of nuclear bombs, those last few minutes where New Orleans got wiped off the face of the map were awesome, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: they inspired awe in me. The music, the images of people being vaporized and buildings crumbling, the implications for the rest of the series – that scene put this premiere on the map in a big way.

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Your Lie in April

Just a heads up: despite my preference for English titles, I may abbreviate this series as “Shigatsu” from time to time, shortened from Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso.

This series is all about beauty. The director has an obsession with natural beauty (cherry blossoms, birds, sunsets, and fireflies and stars during the opening theme), personal beauty (all the main characters are tall, thin, and shiny-eyed), and sonic beauty (extended piano and melodica pieces). One of the main characters claims to see the world in black and white, so obviously he needs the assistance of a beautiful classical musician to remind him how beautiful the world actually is. It’s just the first episode, but I don’t feel it’s premature to say that this series is going for style over substance.

Of course, as far as first episodes go, this was a good one, which is why I seeded it around the middle of the pack. Shigatsu has great art and animation, and all four members of our love rectangle have the potential to grow and change. It’s just that its “violence is cute” trope, obvious themes, and middle school protagonists make it a tough sell for me.


Gundam: Reconguista in G

It’s fitting that this series’ first line of dialogue (pictured above) reads like complete nonsense, because that’s the way this entire episode was structured. It begins with several pilots in mobile suits chasing another robot through the skies, strings blaring in the background from the get-go, but there’s no context to speak of. Are they at war with each other? Was this just a routine flight that was unexpectedly intruded upon? Are the purple haired dude and his friends just harassing this girl for fun? Whatever the case may be, they capture her, we cut to a title screen, and then the series then spends precisely 85 seconds establishing the religion and transportation system of this culture. In a feature-length film or a more assured TV series, I’d appreciate world-building like that, but here it’s time that could have been spent establishing who those jerks in the cold open were and what the other pilot did to earn the privilege of being captured by them.

That’s just the first four minutes, including the theme song. And I could go on. I could talk about how the instructor of the Capital Guard punishes his students by attempting to whip them in the face, and yet his students aren’t afraid of him. I could talk about the group of cheerleaders that interrupt his lesson for no discernible reason, accompanied by their small pink robot HAROBE, whose sole function as a cute mascot for kids makes it the Jar Jar Binks of anime. I could talk about all the time the characters spend trying to figure out the difference between the Capital Guard and the Capital Army, when there doesn’t seem to be an appreciable difference. I could talk about the now infamous piece of dialogue, “The world is not square!” and its complete lack of relevance to what was going on during the scene in question. I could talk about how little sense it makes that a bunch of trainees are the ones who end up fighting the hostile robot near the episode’s end, rather than the experienced pilots from the cold open. I could talk about how annoying it was that the girl who was captured near the beginning of the episode could only yell the letter G.

I could talk about all of that stuff, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just seed this show in last place so it has to go up against Mushishi in the first round. Oops.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Ao Haru Ride, Parasyte, Tokyo Ghoul

First Impressions: Psycho Pass 2, Kyousougiga, Yowamushi Pedal, The World is Still Beautiful

Now that I’ve seen all the remaining premieres, we’re back to four shows per post. These first impressions will be just a paragraph each, quick and dirty, so that we can start filling out the bracket as soon as possible. I’m excited to see how the first round matchups shake out!

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Psycho Pass 2

As a fan of the original Psycho Pass, I’m happy that we have a new season to look forward to. With two new enforcers, tension between Akane and her partner, a drug that suppresses crime coefficients, a dirty cop for a villain, and the OP’s promise of more Kogami, there’s a ton to look forward to. Psycho Pass always tended to wear its themes on its sleeve, and that hasn’t changed in the two years since it first aired. Not many series dare to touch those themes, though, let alone do it with such style. Plus, Tsunemori is just so cool as a veteran cop who barks out orders, predicts criminal behavior, and bends the Sibyl system to her will. If her arc is as good this year as it was during the first season, Akane will have to be nominated for the pantheon of all-time great anime characters.

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Kyousougiga first aired online in the winter of 2011 as a one-off episode, which later became “Episode 00” of the 2013 TV series. I’ve chosen to treat it as the first episode for the purposes of this tournament because it serves as a prequel, although I use that term loosely, since this premiere was utterly baffling. At least fifty percent of its runtime was dedicated to frenetic, physics-defying combat between characters whose names are the only thing I know about them. There’s talk of black rabbits, golden crowns, Outers, and the Council of Three, but no indication of what it all means. A group of scientists attempt to capture our heroes, but without any discernible motivation (my guess is that they’re interested in their supernatural abilities). Scene transitions are abrupt. One of the main characters constantly expresses a desire to go home, but we’re never told where that is, or why she left. Put simply, this series is very difficult to follow, but it’s also the most colorful, kinetic, and imaginative piece of animation I’ve seen so far this year. Hopefully the first episode proper is a little more accessible so the prequel’s low seeding doesn’t kill the show’s chances.

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Yowamushi Pedal

Between Yowamushi Pedal and Ace of Diamond, I see a lot more promise in the cycling anime. Nerdy protagonist Onoda has a Charlie Brown quality that really endeared him to me, even as he kept falling off his bike and stuttering through everyday conversation. What’s interesting about the setup here is that Onoda’s love of cycling is secondary to his love of anime; he rides his bike everywhere so he can save money to buy the latest DVDs and capsule toys. He’s not a hotheaded shounen protagonist, but he is passionate in a different way. How the anime balances his two hobbies should be interesting to watch. The cyclist with the spiky hair and the massive chip on his shoulder is a shounen rival through and through, but at least he’s a dedicated athlete and makes sense in the role.

Just one more sports anime left now. Having seen all three now, I’d guess that Ping Pong will get the farthest, but Yowapeda was no slouch in this first episode, either.

soredemo 1The World is Still Beautiful

Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, if you prefer the Japanese title, tells a fairly standard tale of a backwater princess with magical powers who journeys to a bustling metropolis to marry a member of their royal family. She’s surprised by the expensive prices at the market, taken advantage of by thieves, and shown kindness by a local innkeeper with two daughters who are so cloyingly sweet they’ll rot your teeth straight out of your gums. This series faces the same problem as Gingitsune in that it’s too straightforward for its own good, but several lines of fourth wall-breaking dialogue clue us in to the fact that the writers intend to comment on, if not subvert, shoujo convention as the series goes on. Even without that positive sign, however, I’d be on board for another couple episodes just to look at Nike (pictured above) some more. As far as anime redheads go, she can’t hold a candle to mai waifu, but she’s still pretty cute – very important for a shoujo romance.

Speaking of romance, what’s the king like? Hopefully not some crustacean whose first wife died after giving him a bunch of kids, all of whom are older than his new bride. Yep, somebody young would definitely be preferable to OH GOD THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT. This could be very bad.

NEXT UP: Ping Pong the Animation, Aldnoah.Zero, Your Lie in April, Gundam: Reconguista in G