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!

non non biyori 3

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.

ao haru ride 3

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.

psycho pass 2

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: Witch Craft Works, Mushishi Zoku Shou, Hitsugi no Chaika

Seed week rolls on with three shows starring robotic rabbits, mysterious mushi, and saboteur siblings – but mostly that second thing.

Witch Craft Works 1

Witch Craft Works

This show is so, so dumb. Its cookie-cutter introduction starts with a loser main character who introduces himself as a “completely ordinary high school student” living out what he thinks is “another typical day.” What foreshadowing! Our super-popular female lead, whose breasts are roughly the size of her own head, develops a sudden attachment to this idiot, which confuses her adoring classmates, then causes them to beat him up. Worst of all, Witch Craft Works establishes mood by having characters think things like, “This is weird. I’m actually mad,” to themselves. On its face, this is not a very promising series, but there are two reasons why I’m actually looking forward to the next episode.

The first is the power dynamic between the two leads. Ayaka is a highly skilled witch who specializes in, and is apparently made of, fire. She defeats wave after wave of robot bunnies (pictured above, but more on them in a moment) in two beautifully animated action sequences, all without breaking a sweat. She also claims that it’s her mission to protect our loser lead Honoka, who she refers to as her “princess,” and who is so cowed by the threat of physical violence that he audibly whimpers not once, but twice during the premiere. Ayaka is a full head taller and many times stronger than her charge, which turns anime’s predilection for powerful male leads and helpless female love interests on its head. Honoka can be seen attempting to ride a broom in the OP, so my hope is that she will not only protect him, but also serve as his mentor in the magical arts, giving both of their characters a nice arc to follow.

The other reason(s) I’m itching to watch the next episode are the robot bunnies that I mentioned above. Simply put, they are the breakout characters of this first episode. Their CG animation blended very nicely with the show’s hand-drawn backgrounds and characters, especially during the fight scenes, which blew Gatchaman Crowds and Tokyo ESP out of the water. And although they exist to do the bidding of another witch, the rabbits have a ton of personality, much like the minions from Despicable Me. They communicate through a flurry of squeals and squeaks, get into fistfights with each other, and create their own fun by jumping and sliding from high places whenever a spare moment arises. Hopefully these bunnies will become a permanent fixture of the show, because they may be what Witch Craft Works needs to advance past the early rounds of this tournament.

Seeding estimate: Middle of the pack

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Mushishi Zoku Shou

Oh, how woefully unqualified I feel to write about a new season of Mushishi, or any episode of Mushishi for that matter. This is an anime so visually pleasing, so thematically sound, and so emotionally resonant that it nearly defies belief. This series, and this episode, reach levels of artistry which few other anime in history can claim to match. If you don’t love Mushishi, you probably won’t be happy with the results of this tournament, as it’s nearly guaranteed to place in the top 4 and could easily win the whole thing. This has been your Mushishi trigger warning for the day.

Of all the expectations I had for a second season of one of the all-time great anime, finding an intro song more appropriate than “The Sore Feet Song” by Ally Kerr was one of the steepest. That song’s gentle harmonies and chiming acoustic guitars were such a sublime match for Mushishi’s meditations on humanity, nature and family that I thought surely they would just recycle it, but I’ll be damned if “Shiver” by Lucy Rose isn’t an equally fitting companion. The soft piano chords and sparingly-plucked electric guitar, along with Lucy’s hushed vocal delivery, come together in an OP so fragile and so ethereal that I’m a little choked up just trying to describe it. And the visuals, with footage of slowly-moving rivers, light filtering through tree branches, and cherry blossoms carried by the wind all fading into each other, were a wonderful accompaniment.

Briefly, then, since I’ve spent so much time talking about the first two minutes, let me talk about what makes Mushishi such a treat on a narrative level. This episode, despite functioning as a fine introduction to the setting and the concept of mushi, was really the story of a father and son. The son, Rokusuke, works for a brewery, and has been desperately trying to produce the golden sake about which his father, himself a master brewer, used to rave. Eventually he succeeds, and after finishing his work for the day, the son begins to scale the mountain path to his home, gourd of sake in hand, eager for his father to taste it.

Already there are stakes. At the first sign of trouble on the mountain path, Mushishi has its hooks in us. But there are no hundred decibel orchestras or screaming teenagers here to jack up our level of investment by artificial means. We simply desire that Rokusuke receive from his father the same praise that each of us, as children, wanted from our parent or parents. When he stumbles upon the gathering of mushishi in the middle of the forest and his supply of sake slowly begins to dwindle, we pray that he doesn’t run out. When one particularly thrifty mushishi attempts to trade an ordinary cup for some of his golden sake, Rokusuke takes the deal, because even though he knows the cup is nearly worthless, it reminds him of a cup his father once had. When he learns that his sake causes people to see mushi and can never be sold to the public, we share in his feeling of defeat.

In the end, the father does not taste his son’s special brew, but he does receive the cup for which Rokusuke bartered, and it reminds him of the ceremony he once took part in – a memory he now shares with his son. The golden sake is set aside, and mushishi in need of its unique properties come to buy it from time to time, affirming the son’s skill as a brewer. Rokusuke redoubles his efforts to create the perfect sake, now motivated not just by a craving for his father’s approval, but to produce the best product he can for the job’s own sake. By their shared experience, he has already been brought closer to his father, which was the thing he wanted all along.

There are 18 shows left for me to sample before this first week comes to a close, but I can hardly imagine that any of them will come out of the gate stronger than this. It gives me great joy to be watching new episodes of Mushishi again.

Seeding estimate: #1

hitsugi no chaika

Hitsugi no Chaika

After finding so much to say about Witch Craft Works and Mushishi, my first impressions of Chaika: The Coffin Princess will be short. I found a lot to love in the character of Chaika herself, a young girl who dresses like a maid, speaks exclusively in sentence fragments, and hides a magical sniper rifle in a coffin that she keeps with her at all times. The brother and sister mercenary duo who she hires are far less interesting, however, one being a lazy slacker with a complaining streak a mile wide, the other an abusive nag who harbors romantic feelings for her brother. Fifty bucks says one was adopted, or they’re not even siblings in the loosest sense of the word.

The character designs, Chaika aside, offer nothing to catch the eye (unless cleavage counts), and the art and animation are only passable, which is a major disappointment given that this is a BONES series. As for the plot, it’s a mishmash of fantasy, politics, and military history that doesn’t carry much weight, given how little reason there is to care about the characters feeding it to us. Honestly, if this episode had been a solid 22 minutes of Chaika standing in front of a chalkboard and laying out this series’ unnecessarily complicated backstory, I might have enjoyed it more than I did. Still, the opening scene suggests that Chaika was sent to this universe from a different time or dimension, which has me at least slightly interested in where the story is headed.

Seeding estimate: Bottom 25%

NEXT UP: Knights of Sidonia, Sabagebu!, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun