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

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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

First Impressions: One Week Friends, Gatchaman Crowds, Barakamon, Rozen Maiden

The seeding process is underway! Over the next few days, I’ll be watching the first episode of all 32 shows and determining their starting bracket positions based on how much potential I see in each. Obviously, I won’t be able to properly rank the episodes until I’ve seen each one, but I’ll provide brief impressions of each premiere, plus an estimate for how high or low its seeding will be. I’ll be watching these episodes in random order to prevent seasonal bias or anything like that. Let’s get started with…

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 One Week Friends

I was pleasantly surprised by this episode. The narrator speaking about the events of the series from the future actually makes sense, given the show’s day-of-the-week format and Fujimiya’s condition. Once the nature of her memory loss became clear, Hase’s requests for friendship and Fujimiya’s constant rejections became charming, rather than annoying. Whether their relationship can possibly develop beyond that of two classmates will be the big hook going forward. The constant blushing, stray hairs, and same-y character designs were all minor blemishes on a watercolor art style that does this series a lot of favors.

Seeding estimate: Between 8 and 12

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Gatchaman Crowds

This is basically Men in Black: The Anime, but with transformation sequences. The books that cause amnesia in Gatchaman Crowds are just neuralyzers with extra functionality, the mission to protect humanity from alien threats is the same, both revolve around a secret organization with an underground base, etc. The biggest difference is that Men in Black doesn’t feature a grating lead character who seems to derive sexual pleasure from collecting notebooks, or a panda who coughs like Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter. The OP oozes style, but it hasn’t carried over into the show as of the first episode, with two uninspired action sequences so far. Still, the art is distinctive, and I love superhero stuff, so I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Seeding estimate: Bottom 25%

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Barakamon

Young punk from the city moves to the countryside, meets the locals, discovers the simple pleasures of small town life, and learns something about himself in the process. It doesn’t get much more trope-tastic than Barakamon, but as with One Week Friends, it’s elevated by its execution. The two things that struck me most about this show were its playful sense of humor and the fantastic performance by Naru’s voice actor. I don’t know if it’s standard practice in Japan to use age-appropriate seiyuu for child characters, but I greatly appreciated the decision all the same. Handa’s backstory was as mediocre as his calligraphy, but this series will be defined less by his character and more how he interacts with Naru and the rest of the island oddballs.

Seeding estimate: On par with One Week Friends

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Rozen Maiden (2013)

This episode is a bit of a special case, as it attempts to summarize the entire 2004 Rozen Maiden series, and I can’t say it was entirely successful. The time jumps, dream worlds, and rapid-fire introduction of all the characters left me without any room to breathe or make sense of what was happening on my screen. Visually, however, the series is beautiful and inventive, and the premise of the Alice Game – which is essentially a seven-way death match between dolls – still has my interest. Based on the cliffhanger at the end of the episode, Jun is traveling into either the future or an alternate dimension next week, which could provide this show with the clean slate it needs to go deep in this tournament.

Seeding estimate: Between 20 and 24


NEXT UP: Hozuki no Reitetsu, Watamote, Gingitsune, Noragami