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

Finally we’ve reached the end of the first round. A few weeks ago I said I wanted to accelerate this tournament so I’d be ready to start a new one in time for the winter 2015 season, but obviously that didn’t happen. I’m not too bummed about it, though, since there are only five shows I’m interested in watching this winter (here they are for reference). For now I’ll just be focusing on finishing this tournament, sharpening my writing skills, fiddling with the blog layout, etc. Let’s get to the matches!

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Parasyte – Episode 2

There was some legitimately terrible animation during the first half of this episode, during the basketball scene and the fight directly afterwards. All the transformations and twisting body parts probably suck Parasyte’s budget totally dry each week, but damn, the lack of fluidity during sports and combat scenes stuck out like a sore thumb. And this a Madhouse series, too! Thankfully, the rest of the episode looked much better, or else the story was more engaging and I didn’t have the time to think what a drastic step down the visuals took from last week.

Whenever you’re dealing with a series where humans aren’t at the top of the food chain, you can expect some dialogue about the value of human life to crop up. Parasyte went that route this week, and acquitted itself well. Shinichi’s alien-infested right hand (now named “Migi”) is a curious, rational creature, and thankfully doesn’t get into some philosophical argument when its host insists that the killing of humans for sustenance is wrong, instead repeating several times that it can’t understand. But its “does not compute” attitude is tempered by its human personality, so it doesn’t lean too far in either direction. The Shinichi/Migi relationship is an interesting one, but there’s a lot of foreshadowing here that an actual relationship may develop between Shinichi and Satomi. Migi’s sexual curiosity is just as strong as a teenage boy’s, so this may become one of the most awkward romances in fictional history. What happens when a host mates with a plain old human? If the last scene of this episode is any indication, we’ll find out soon enough.

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Hitsugi no Chaika – Episode 2

What does it say about Chaika’s direction that the image above was the most striking one I could find this week? There was a failure to entertain on all fronts here. Even Chaika, the series’ standout character, just blended into the background. That doesn’t mean the story at the heart of this episode was incompetently told – we haven’t reached Gundam or Sekai Seifuku levels of terribleness here – only that it didn’t inspire me to watch the next one. And when your story revolves around the daughter of a magical emperor traveling the world to reclaim his scattered limbs and give him a proper burial, that isn’t a good sign.

Maybe my lack of excitement has something to do with the calm, almost disinterested way that Toru absorbs all the crazy information being thrown at him. The girl he’s working for should be dead? Doesn’t matter, keep moving. The item they were trying to retrieve was a glowing magical hand? Briefly ask about its significance, then drop it. Letting Chaika roam free might throw the world back into war? Sounds good, bring it on. Toru is a saboteur, so he’s used to taking orders and not asking too many questions, but he and his sister only seem to be along for the ride in this potentially universe-altering conflict, which makes them a little boring. We’ll see whether this show can last a couple more episodes and give its antagonists some personality to compensate.

The Verdict: In a battle between two poorly-animated series from two titanic animation houses, Parasyte wins on the strength of its characters and story alone.

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Psycho Pass 2 – Episode 2

My recollection of Psycho Pass’s first season is that the first half focused on a handful of individual cases, while the second was dedicated entirely to the MWPSB’s pursuit of Makishima. It looks like this season may cut out the episodic stuff and jump straight to the hunt for our shadowy big bad, whose existence has already been theorized by Akane. Working with only 11 episodes compared to 22 definitely forces the writers’ collective hand in that regard. I definitely enjoy this series more as a thriller than as a procedural, so this could be a good thing, but on the other hand I feel as though the new characters are being glossed over. Akane’s female partner has only one personality trait so far, and that’s “nag.” The redhead is just another tech head at this point, and Togane’s brief time in the limelight didn’t do much for me, which was a shame since he’s clearly supposed to be the new Kogami. It looks like this show’s survivability will be based on plot alone.


Ao Haru Ride – Episode 2

This week’s Ao Haru Ride opens with another watercolor flashback, this time for a game of cops and robbers. Destined lovers Futaba and Tanaka end up hiding together, and she uses the opportunity to smell his shampoo. Tanaka catches her in the act, but recovers quite nicely, excusing himself to make a break for the safe zone. When he’s caught moments later, Futaba jumps to the conclusion that his capture was her fault, which means she has to save him. PAUSE. What part of your future baby daddy’s failure to win a glorified game of tag are you responsible for, exactly? You didn’t give away his position. You didn’t tie his shoelaces together. What you did was invade his personal space, which made things a little awkward and caused him to abandon his hiding spot, but he would have had to do that eventually to win the game. The stupefying trend of shoujo protagonists berating themselves over the smallest things (especially things over which they have no control) needs to stop.

And that’s just the first two or three minutes. This show’s grasp of high school politics is about as good as Gingitsune’s, which is to say it’s terrible. These girls are dialogue-generating robots who argue over popularity and proper flirting technique by tossing out lines such as (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If you think that acting cute to get boys’ attention is cheating, then you must care whether boys pay attention to you, too!” Thus it is proven, I guess? After Futaba’s big fight with her friends, she runs into Tanaka, who offers her the most non-commital hug of all time: not only does Futaba assume he did it just to hide her tears from approaching students, but he walks away immediately afterwards while brushing off her questions. That’s what girls like, right? Ugh. This show is dumb beyond belief. I really hope Chaika steps up its game in the next round so I don’t have to watch past episode 3 of this series.

The Verdict: Both shows produced major duds this week, but Psycho Pass 2’s dialogue was less cringe-worthy. (Did I really just type that sentence?)

Updated bracket coming soon!

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.