Round 1: The Eccentric Family vs. Tokyo ESP, Non Non Biyori vs. Rozen Maiden

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The Eccentric Family – Episode 2

This episode focused on Yasaburo’s immediate family, rather than his makeshift one, and while his relationships with Benten and Professor Akadama fascinated me last week, his mother and brothers may be even richer characters. Like Kyousougiga, The Eccentric Family is hard to write about because any explanation of its complicated family dynamics becomes so involved that it threatens to swallow whatever else you’ve written. The fact that all four Shimogamo siblings have names beginning with “Y” doesn’t help. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoy the lived-in quality of this series – the dialogue establishes a world that’s already in progress, and the whole cast seems to have existed since long before their first on-screen appearance.

We see multiple sides to every character here. Yasaburo has settled comfortably into his reputation as a slacker and an idiot, but he cares deeply for his family. Over the course of this episode he accompanies his mother to her favorite pool hall, visits his older brother (who transformed into a frog one day and found himself unable to change back) stuck at the bottom of a well, and protects his younger brother from the Ebisugawas, a rival tanuki family. His mother is a brash pool player who pretends to forget her opponents’ names in order to insult them, but she’s deathly afraid of thunder and lightning, and must take refuge under a bridge when a storm arrives near the show’s end. Eldest brother Yaichirou carries the weight of the world on his shoulders trying to live up to his departed father’s legacy; he gets too nervous to properly coordinate a search for their mother, but he also transforms into a badass tiger to fight the Ebisugawas and save Yasaburo and Yoshiro. Even in death, the former head of the Shimogamo family is a nicely-rounded character. We learn that he had the respect of many tanuki in Kyoto and used that influence to unite tanuki society, but Yasaburo insists that his father wasn’t the type to fret about honor or personal standing.

The series is lovely to look at as usual. I love everything about the visual style, from the characters’ oddly-shaped ears to the detailed shrubbery to the always-drifting clouds. The music team really stepped up their game this week, with a swaggering synth-based track providing some good tension during the bridge fight scene, and soft piano tunes fitting nicely with the tender moments at the episode’s beginning and end. Plus I got really into the opening theme this week for some reason. For this show, however, art and sound are really just the icing on a delicious character-based cake. I just love spending time with these tanuki and watching how they get themselves in and out of trouble, how they fight and then reconcile, and how they influence each others’ lives. Yasaburo speaks the truth when he says in the opening moments of each episode, “More fun than anything is watching that wheel spin.”

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 Tokyo ESP – Episode 2

After an uninspired in medias res beginning, this episode flashed back to the origin of protagonist Urushiba Rinka’s powers. Schools of glowing orange fish that swim through the air are apparently the new cosmic radiation, as contact with the fish awakens esper abilities in Rinka (phasing), her father (magnetism), the teleporting male lead whose name I forget, and an invisible thief called Black Fist. Apparently the fish also gave the power of flight to this penguin, which was probably the most memorable thing about the episode. The music was bad, the characters were flat, and the fanservice was insulting. Both the classic Spiderman line “with great power comes great responsibility” and Wolverine’s signature hairdo were stolen from much better franchises. I’d pile on the show even further and criticize its subpar animation, but honestly that was the least of the show’s problems.

Instead of harping on Tokyo ESP’s weaknesses any more than necessary, though, let me predict how we’ll get from the introductory moments of episode 2 all the way to the climactic showdown featured in the premiere. I remember one of the villains from that first episode having the ability to teleport, but a completely different character with the same ability was introduced this week, so the bad guys will probably acquire some method of stealing other mutants’ powers. Superhero shows usually don’t double up on special abilities, after all. Taking someone’s power probably involves killing them, as the death of a close friend or lover (read: the teleporting guy) might give Rinka the motivation to become the fearsome fighter we saw in the first episode. Unless the flying penguin pictured above becomes the main character, though, I doubt that Tokyo ESP will get far enough in the tournament to prove this theory right or wrong.

The Verdict: Despite all their flashy powers, Tokyo ESP’s boring mutants are no match for the lively shapeshifting tanuki of The Eccentric Family.


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Non Non Biyori – Episode 2

Boy, was this episode ever lacking the charm of the first. Half of it revolved around a piece of candy belonging to Komari, coveted by Natsumi and Renge, and given to Hotaru. After this exchange, the two hungry girls scheme about how to win the candy for themselves, while Hotaru freaks out at the significance of the gift and starts blushing, quite literally, like a schoolgirl whenever she sees or thinks about Komari. This weird obsession extended into the second half, with Hotaru feeling the need to do her hair, put on makeup, and wear something “more grown up” before hanging out with her friend. This makeover results in possibly the most underwhelming case of mistaken identity I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched my fair share of 80s sitcoms. The two take a trip to the local candy store (which somehow manages to stay in business despite the town’s child population of five), and this date leaves such an impression on Hotaru that, next we see her, she’s sewing a doll in Komari’s likeness. This show went from cute slice of life to The Middle School Stalker Hour really fast.

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Rozen Maiden (2013) – Episode 2

After the first episode’s confounding distillation of the previous Rozen Maiden series, this installment grounded the series comfortably in another universe where Jun opted not to wind the supernatural doll he’d been given as a boy. This version of Jun is older and arguably lonelier, despite leaving the house on a regular basis to work his part-time job and attend (or not attend) his college classes. His otherwise mundane life becomes a lot more watchable when he stumbles across a magazine entitled How to Build Girls at his bookstore job, takes it home, and begins his slow, well-paced decent into obsession with the doll-making process. The music and lighting did wonders to draw me in as more parts and more issues of the magazine brought Jun ever closer to his goal, until one day the shipments stopped and hope briefly seemed lost. Swearing, pacing, drumming his fingers, putting the kettle on and forgetting about it, the dim lighting in his apartment – all simple tricks to show frustration, but rarely utilized so effectively as they were here.

And then, suddenly, a text from his middle school self. When Zurückspulen shuts a door, it opens ten windows. Jun’s correspondence with another version of himself from another reality is thrilling, tying a hurricane of characters and plot points from the first episode into the main narrative, while giving life to a seemingly stalled quest in the present day. It doesn’t entirely justify the series’ initial whiplash effect, but it definitely has me excited to watch the next episode.

The Verdict: Non Non Biyori went from charming to perplexing, while Rozen Maiden went from perplexing to awesome.


NEXT UP: Parasyte vs. Hitsugi no Chaika, Psycho-Pass 2 vs. Ao Haru Ride

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