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: Stardust Crusaders vs. Sabagebu!, Aldnoah.Zero vs. Ace of Diamond

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Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders – Episode 2

How much you’ll like a given arc of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is directly correlated to your tolerance for its new lead character. For me, Joseph was the ideal Jojo, which made Battle Tendency the ideal JJBA. Brash, funny, and resourceful, Joseph’s improvised battle strategies and cocky trash talk made the show endlessly entertaining with him at its center. And while it delights me that he still has a major role to play in Stardust Crusaders, I have to accept that Jotaro – brooding, humorless, brawn-over-brains Jotaro – is about to take center stage.

This would be easier to Stand (pun obviously intended) if Jotaro weren’t such a dick toward his mother for seemingly no reason. Sure, she’s a little overbearing, but she raised you, dude! I harped on this series’ treatment of women last week, too, but it was worse in this episode. The girls who follow Jotaro to school do nothing but harass him and pick fights with each other about their looks and bust sizes. The school nurse giggles and keeps one hand on her hip at all times, and when she becomes possessed by an opponent’s Stand and attacks Jotaro in the episode’s lone fight scene, her shirt magically unbuttons itself in the scuffle. Honestly, this is some despicable stuff for a show produced in 2014, even if the manga it’s adapting is significantly older than that.

There’s a lot I love about Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Its inventive use of color and retro character designs give it a great look. It has the coolest theme songs, featuring video game visuals (pictured above) and testosterone-fueled rock tracks that always get me hyped for the episode. It has one of the greatest anime villains of all time in Dio, who’s back this season. But when all of this isn’t enough to distract me from how boring and brutish Jotaro is, something is wrong. Stardust Crusaders is still setting up its dominoes for the rest of the season, but it can’t wait too much longer to knock over the first one.

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Sabagebu! – Episode 2

One thing I appreciate about Sabagebu! is that despite its gag-heavy script, it doesn’t break up its runtime into two and three minute segments like Nichijou or Daily Lives of High School Boys. Those are fine shows, but I prefer some measure of plot with my comedy. This episode tells three stories that run about six minutes each, all of which focus on one of the girls in the Survival Game Club, so taken as a whole the episode tells the story of the growing bond between its five principle characters. Even beyond that, there’s continuity between the three stories, with Momoka’s underhanded tactics and Urara’s masochistic streak carrying over from the first miniature episode into the second and third. The setup of Momoka discovering a club member eating breakfast in her home is used twice to great comedic effect, as well. In these scenes, Momoka’s mother professes her adoration of “upperclassman with glimpses of madness in their charisma” and “little loli girls who seem to be hiding darkness within them,” clearly spoofing the kind of anime fan who keeps the ‘cute girls doing cute things’ genre afloat. Last week I identified Sabagebu! as an absurdist comedy, but there are elements of parody at work here as well.

The Verdict: Both series feature plenty of cleavage and girls comparing bust sizes, but one is offensive and one is funny. Beyond that, Sabagebu! is simply more fully-formed after two episodes than this third arc of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Sabagebu! was a whopping 17 seeds behind Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, but it was victorious in Round 1. It’ll be taking on the winner of this match, Aldnoah.Zero (#9) vs. Ace of Diamond (#24). Could we be in for another upset here?

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Aldnoah.Zero – Episode 2

This episode was dedicated entirely to the destruction of Earth’s resistance forces. By destroying their satellites and cell towers, the Martians disrupted their enemy’s chain of command, mitigating the Terrans’ home field advantage. From there, superior Martian technology essentially guarantees victory. Their Kataphrakts are equipped with forcefields capable of deflecting RPGs, and can phase through buildings as though they’re made of air. The robot chasing Inaho and his friends doesn’t seem to be equipped with projectile weapons of any sort – it just uses its gigantic hands to swat at opposing robots until their pilots are crushed to death. A thorough job was done of depicting Earth’s helplessness against this dominating force, so I’m curious to see how Inaho plans to fight back. His stoicism is obviously meant to mask a strategist’s brain, but what can he possibly do against such overwhelming power and technology?

Most of my interest in how the story will progress is left over from the nuclear bomb hype of the first episode. Beyond that, Aldnoah’s characters are pretty thin. Asseylum and Slaine are certainly in compelling positions: one is a princess whose nation betrayed her in the hopes of starting a war, the other is an Earth-born soldier in the Martian army with conflicted feelings about attacking his home planet. Still, it’s not enough to simply give your characters cool backstories and let them start shooting guns and operating giant robots. The fact that this show will be getting a second season in January makes me wish it had taken more time to establish itself before going full mecha.

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Ace of Diamond – Episode 2

Ace of Diamond is the kind of sports series that wears its heart on its sleeve, so it’s only natural that its emotional milestones would be strong. Still, after the majority of this episode left me cold, it was a pleasant surprise when the farewell between Eijun and his former teammates at the train station caused me to break out with goosebumps. Things were lighthearted between the two parties until one of Eijun’s friends, with tears in his eyes, apologized for not doing more to help the team. The chain reaction of goodbyes that ensued, capped by the confession that “we all wanted to play more baseball with you,” was the most honest moment of the tournament thus far. The regret on Eijun’s face after hearing those words was devastating, and even the scene where his friends ran after the train as it pulled away was totally earned. What a wonderfully bittersweet moment all around.

The rest of the episode was dedicated to Eijun’s time in Tokyo, seeing the facilities at his potential new high school and picking fights with potential new teammates. He meets a talented, fun-loving catcher named Kazuya, the two of whom will obviously form an amazing duo as the series progresses. After returning home and agonizing about it for a while, Eijun decides to transfer to this famous baseball school. None of this came out of left field, if you’ll pardon the pun. It was all standard stuff, elevated by neither the writing nor the direction. Lucky that last scene was so powerful, then.

The Verdict: While Ace of Diamond took a page from its opponent’s book and closed its episode with a very strong scene, Aldnoah.Zero still had too much going for it this week. This was the closest match so far, however.

NEXT UP: One Week Friends vs. Kyousougiga, Silver Spoon vs. Gatchaman Crowds

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.