Round 2: Gundam vs. Tokyo Ghoul, Stardust Crusaders vs. Ace of Diamond

shot0066Gundam: Reconguista in G – Episode 3

Please direct your attention to the subtitles at the bottom of the screenshot above. Did you read them? Cool. I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what must have been going on during the production of this show for that line to be included in the next episode preview. Ordinarily a creative team would make their case for your continued viewership by working hard to write, storyboard, animate, and direct a watchable piece of entertainment, but not Gundam: Reconguista in G. No, unless this was a gross mistranslation, it seems as though somebody in charge of writing these previews was capable of recognizing the ridiculous, inane nature of the show that they and their fellow staff members had created. So they took stock of their situation and realized that, in the interest of keeping audiences interested and their job secure, the best course of action would be to ask the viewers, who the preview assumes are uninterested in watching another episode, to just watch anyway, based nothing whatsoever. Sasuga Gundam.

This show is still dumb, but in this third installment it crossed into “so bad it’s good” territory, or at least “so bad it’s funny.” There were constant shots of poor little animals in their natural habitats being disrupted by the big bad military, the best of which resulted from a jaguar falling out of a tree and landing on a python. Aida, the female space pirate who was captured in the first episode, makes her escape from the capital by simply taking the elevator to the hangar where her robot was being kept, getting into the cockpit, and flying away. Nobody appears to have a problem with this, including the man responsible for her detainment, who simply watches from another room as she flees. Aida takes three other people with her, one of whom is totally baffled as to why an enemy combatant would want to escape captivity (presumably because she thinks that the capital is just so nice). The incompetence displayed by literally every character in this episode was laughable.

For all its silliness, though, I’m curious about the next episode. Bellri, Aida and company are headed to the enemy camp, where I’m sure we’ll get another perspective on the conflict between the capital and the pirates, and maybe clear up some of the confusion surrounding the “plot” so far. Getting away from the pointless cheerleaders, religious ceremonies, and beautiful architecture of this first chapter could make the show a bit leaner. And I still like all the retro elements that this new Gundam brings to the table, including character designs, sound effects, and of course giant robot fights. If Tokyo Ghoul has a mediocre or bad showing in just a minute here, this nonsensical, desperate series could actually advance to the third round. I kind of hope it does.

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Tokyo Ghoul – Episode 3

This episode was more slice of life than horror, and it was all the better for it. Ken’s lonely struggle to remain human despite his ghoulish hunger wore thin pretty quickly, but I could watch an entire series where he stars as an empathetic half-breed learning the ropes of ghoul society, and that’s just what we got this week. By making its main character into a server at Anteiku, the coffee house where ghouls “come together for fellowship,” Tokyo Ghoul has created an easy way to introduce the rest of its cast (including The Gourmet, who makes his first appearance right before the credits roll). This in turn helps set the stage for whatever big conflict is brewing between Tokyo’s ghoul population and CCG, the task force responsible for hunting and killing humanity’s newest predator.

Amon and Mado were the two ghoul hunters we saw at the tail end of the second episode, but this time they snagged a good bit of the spotlight for themselves. Amon is level-headed, well-groomed and professional, whereas Mado (pictured above) is twitchy, greasy-haired, and constantly on the verge of losing his shit. Honestly, he looks more like a ghoul than anybody else in the show. Scenes featuring these two gentlemen interrogating and then killing unfortunate ghouls broke up the sunshine and rainbows of Ken’s plot this week, giving the whole production a well-rounded feel. In fact, this was one of the best episodes of the tournament thus far: fluid animation, tight narrative structure, cool soundtrack (the ED recently struck me as being reminiscent of The Pillows), and just an overall entertainment factor that anime is uniquely capable of achieving.

The Verdict: If you’d told me after I seeded it in last place that I’d be reluctant to drop Gundam: Reconguista in G a few weeks later, I wouldn’t have believed you, but here we are. I’ll probably watch one or two more based on the goofy fun supplied by the third episode, but I won’t be blogging it anymore. Sayonara, G-Reco!

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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Episode 3

This was not a great episode, and neither were the two before it. Stardust Crusaders has been paced very deliberately so far, which is not something I was anticipating after how quickly things progressed in the 2012 series, but I think I’ve adjusted to it now. And just in time, too, because after a ridiculously contrived series of Stand powers and research trips, the gang is on a plane to Egypt, intent on killing Dio and lifting the curse on Holly. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is a tough series to blog in a lot of ways: its superb visual style makes it difficult to choose screencaps, its ludicrous plot defies any sort of analysis, and its characters are all such gigantic meatheads that they don’t really undergo any sort of growth or development. But all of that is forgiven in light of the fact that “Walk Like an Egyptian” was revealed to be the ending theme this week. Stardust Crusaders is definitely sporting the best OP/ED combo of the tournament, and the consistent post-credits tags featuring Dio are just icing on the cake. This series might not be operating at its peak just yet, but it always features the best opening and closing minutes in anime.

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Ace of Diamond – Episode 3

Sports series – or at least sports series that aren’t directed by Masaaki Yuasa – have their work cut out for them in a tournament like this one. Many of them follow an established formula: a brash but talented newbie joins a team, bonds with each of its members at a rate of one character per episode, makes the starting lineup, and then the narrative becomes a string of games, one after another, until the end of time. The bonding process is slow going, sometimes agonizingly so if you don’t take a shine to any of the characters. The thing is that this formula not only works, it’s capable of producing excellent results, as with Haikyuu!!, which I watched as it aired just months after this show. I love Haikyuu, and while it has much better production values than Ace of Diamond, it probably wouldn’t have fared much better than its sister series if it had to fight to stay alive each week.

Eijun is the sort of character (and by extension, Ace of Diamond is the sort of show) that makes faces like this one in response to almost everything that happens to him. He’s late for his first day of practice, talks back to his coach, accidentally puts spin on a ball that he was trying to throw for maximum distance, and is generally a bonehead all throughout this episode. There’s an inherent likability to the earnestness of protagonists like these, but Eijun is as stock a main character as they come, even down to his physical appearance. I have no doubt that other characters will distinguish themselves and the team will become more than the sum of its parts as the series goes on, but unfortunately it’s three strikes and you’re out for Seidou High.

The Verdict: These two shows are similarly paced, but Stardust Crusaders looks and sounds much better. I’ve decided to drop Ace of Diamond, and it wasn’t a tough call.

NEXT UP: Kyousougiga vs. Gatchaman Crowds, Gingitsune vs. Yowamushi Pedal


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.

gundam 2-2

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

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

ping pong 1-4

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.

shigatsu 1-2

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