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

watamote 3

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.

hozuki 3

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.

noragami 3

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


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