Round 2: The Eccentric Family vs. Rozen Maiden, Parasyte vs. Psycho Pass 2

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The Eccentric Family – Episode 3

“It’s so dense, every single image has so many things going on.” This quote from Rick McCallum, infamous producer of the Star Wars prequels, popped into my head more than once while watching this episode. Just look at the screenshot above – that level of background detail easily matches that of Mushishi, which is no mean feat. Unlike the newer Star Wars films, however, Uchouten Kazoku has a story worth following, even if that can be a difficult task at times. This week especially I felt as though the unfamiliar names of tengu clans, past conflicts, and unseen characters were whizzing by all too quickly. That conversational style was no detriment to my enjoyment of the episode, however, as I followed the overarching plot of the episode from start to finish, and greatly enjoyed the art and atmosphere as usual.

The Gozan Fire Festival is quickly approaching for our eccentric family, and before that day comes they’ll need to borrow Professor Akadama’s “flying inner parlor” to participate in the aerial celebration. Yasaburo asks his former teacher to borrow it, but the old codger has given it to Benten, a revelation which prompts a fit of jealousy from Yasaburo. Even though there are plenty of romantic feelings between the three of them, it’s interesting to note that Yasaburo and Benten share a type of sibling relationship as well, with Akadama functioning as the father. This is a series that laces each piece of dialogue with as much meaning as it can muster, and that holds true for the ending scene between Yasaburo and Benten at the sunken clock tower. 99% of romance in anime is dull and formulaic, resulting in audience arguments about “best girls” and which cast member will “win” by hooking up with the main character. These are stupid, superficial lines of conversation, but what else is there to talk about when your characters are so paper-thin? Not so with The Eccentric Family, which nails the complicated, true-to-life feeling of crushing on someone who you know could really hurt you. Benten’s association with the Friday Fellows, who treat tanuki as a delicacy, makes her a dangerous acquaintance, and her abilities to fly and control the weather make her powerful and potentially threatening, but she’s also attractive, fun-loving and agreeable, and in the end she does lend the inner parlor to her friend.

There’s a lot more I want to write about that clock tower scene, but I really do need to start limiting these recaps to just a paragraph each, at least until the field is narrowed down to just 16 shows or so. This is a great series that I expect will make Top 8 at the very least, so hopefully I can do some more thorough analysis of its characters and themes in a couple weeks.

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Rozen Maiden (2013) – Episode 3

Even though Sabagebu! and Hoozuki no Reitetsu were seeded lower, this incarnation of Rozen Maiden is probably the most surprising success of the tournament. This is a sequel to a 2004 TV series I’ve never watched, which is based on a manga about dolls fighting that I’ve never read. All I knew going is was that time travel and/or alternate universes were involved somehow, but there’s no way I could have expected the series to be both this engaging and this low-key. Of all the introverted slacker protagonists I’ve seen in anime (and if you’ve seen my MAL you know that’s not many, so take this with a grain of salt), Jun is among the most relatable. His hatred of his job doesn’t lead him on winding internal monologues about how the whole world is rotten to the core. He doesn’t obsess over his female co-worker, nor does he ice her out. He has a hobby that he’s passionate about, which feels normal thanks to an unobtrusive series of flashbacks around the episode’s middle. From what I understand, the dolls were the main characters of the original series, but this time Jun is carrying most of the narrative weight, and doing a great job of it.

The Verdict: Rozen Maiden has been surprisingly good, but The Eccentric Family has been consistently great. I’m still very excited to see both series to completion, though.


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Parayste – Episode 3

This was easily the best cliffhanger of the tournament so far. Every scene in this show carries some ideological weight behind it, and the confrontation between “A” and the duo of Shinichi and Migi is no different. “A” claims that he “will eat when he is hungry, and eliminate any who stand in his way.” Shinichi, on the other hand, is capable of empathy and selflessness, which we see in his horrified reaction to Migi’s plan to use his classmates as a wall of meat. The thing that makes this show stand out, though, is that the characters aren’t just walking mouthpieces for their respective philosophies. If A’s sole concern were subsistence, he wouldn’t target Shinichi, whose parasitic right hand makes him much more difficult prey than the average human. Instead, he may be targeting him due to anger at their conflicting world views, or to assert dominance, or even because he views Shinichi as a threat to his sexual relationship with Tamura. Whatever the case may be, he has some motivation for his actions, which gives meaning to the upcoming battle and increases our anticipation for the event.

Just as interesting, though, were the revelations that there are other parasites who have managed to retain some element of their host’s humanity, or at least disguise themselves as humans quite effectively. One of these is Shinichi’s math teacher, who reveals over lunch that after having sex with A, she became pregnant with a perfectly ordinary baby. Her desire to fit into human society makes sense, then, although with Tamura it’s a little harder to tell whether she’s only interested in self-preservation, or if she has any maternal instinct towards her unborn human child. Judging by her neutral, almost bored expression as she delivered the news of her pregnancy, I’d lean towards the former, but as Parasyte goes on I have a feeling that the line between humans and parasites will become blurred to some extent. Very keen to see more of this show.

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Psycho Pass 2 – Episode 3

This was a step up from the last episode for sure, although a large part of this episode’s success must be attributed to its opening scene. Finally we got a lengthy look at Kamui, our villain, who has captured an Inspector, ripped out her right eye, and suspended it in some magical liquid so she can monitor her own crime coefficient. It’s a fascinating setup, and his goal – to make everyone’s hue clear and break Sibyl’s hold on society – is just as interesting, although Stockholm Syndrome has set in for his prisoner a little too quickly to be believed. All he did was speak in a soothing tone of voice and let her chew on his thumb for a bit. I’m guessing that whatever drug was in that IV drip is what’s actually responsible for lowering her crime coefficient, as well as calming her down despite her foreign surroundings. All in all, this was one of the better cold opens I’ve seen so far, but how did the rest of the episode fare?

Not as well, I’m afraid. Lots of conversations and no action were the orders of the day here, and I’m not necessarily against that (I liked the first Psycho Pass, after all), but like I said last time, this show is going to live or die as a thriller. I just wrote about characters serving as mouthpieces under the Parayste recap above, and that’s exactly the problem with this sequel: some of these characters are just names and colons on a script. Musings on identity and technology are always welcome, but when they dominate the proceedings to this degree, they need to be brilliant rather than just serviceable. And when you remove my investment in returning characters like Akane and Ginoza from the equation as well, it becomes a bit clearer that Psycho Pass 2 is merely getting by. The revelation that Togane’s crime coefficient was at one point the highest in recorded history was intriguing, though, so I’ll be watching to see how the writers handle that plot thread.

Disclaimer: Because the show has finished airing, I’ve had the chance to read a lot of criticism of Psycho Pass 2’s subpar plotting and resolution, which may have colored my views on this episode.

The Verdict: A great cliffhanger from Parasyte beats out a great cold open from its opponent. Plus, you know, better story and characters.


NEXT UP: Gundam vs. Tokyo Ghoul, Stardust Crusaders vs. Ace of Diamond

For the first time so far this tournament, the losing series in these matchups will be dropped from the bracket. I’m predicting victories for Tokyo Ghoul and Stardust Crusaders, but both of those series were upset by lower seeds in the first round, so it could happen again here!

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.

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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: Psycho Pass 2, Kyousougiga, Yowamushi Pedal, The World is Still Beautiful

Now that I’ve seen all the remaining premieres, we’re back to four shows per post. These first impressions will be just a paragraph each, quick and dirty, so that we can start filling out the bracket as soon as possible. I’m excited to see how the first round matchups shake out!

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Psycho Pass 2

As a fan of the original Psycho Pass, I’m happy that we have a new season to look forward to. With two new enforcers, tension between Akane and her partner, a drug that suppresses crime coefficients, a dirty cop for a villain, and the OP’s promise of more Kogami, there’s a ton to look forward to. Psycho Pass always tended to wear its themes on its sleeve, and that hasn’t changed in the two years since it first aired. Not many series dare to touch those themes, though, let alone do it with such style. Plus, Tsunemori is just so cool as a veteran cop who barks out orders, predicts criminal behavior, and bends the Sibyl system to her will. If her arc is as good this year as it was during the first season, Akane will have to be nominated for the pantheon of all-time great anime characters.

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Kyousougiga

Kyousougiga first aired online in the winter of 2011 as a one-off episode, which later became “Episode 00” of the 2013 TV series. I’ve chosen to treat it as the first episode for the purposes of this tournament because it serves as a prequel, although I use that term loosely, since this premiere was utterly baffling. At least fifty percent of its runtime was dedicated to frenetic, physics-defying combat between characters whose names are the only thing I know about them. There’s talk of black rabbits, golden crowns, Outers, and the Council of Three, but no indication of what it all means. A group of scientists attempt to capture our heroes, but without any discernible motivation (my guess is that they’re interested in their supernatural abilities). Scene transitions are abrupt. One of the main characters constantly expresses a desire to go home, but we’re never told where that is, or why she left. Put simply, this series is very difficult to follow, but it’s also the most colorful, kinetic, and imaginative piece of animation I’ve seen so far this year. Hopefully the first episode proper is a little more accessible so the prequel’s low seeding doesn’t kill the show’s chances.

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Yowamushi Pedal

Between Yowamushi Pedal and Ace of Diamond, I see a lot more promise in the cycling anime. Nerdy protagonist Onoda has a Charlie Brown quality that really endeared him to me, even as he kept falling off his bike and stuttering through everyday conversation. What’s interesting about the setup here is that Onoda’s love of cycling is secondary to his love of anime; he rides his bike everywhere so he can save money to buy the latest DVDs and capsule toys. He’s not a hotheaded shounen protagonist, but he is passionate in a different way. How the anime balances his two hobbies should be interesting to watch. The cyclist with the spiky hair and the massive chip on his shoulder is a shounen rival through and through, but at least he’s a dedicated athlete and makes sense in the role.

Just one more sports anime left now. Having seen all three now, I’d guess that Ping Pong will get the farthest, but Yowapeda was no slouch in this first episode, either.

soredemo 1The World is Still Beautiful

Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, if you prefer the Japanese title, tells a fairly standard tale of a backwater princess with magical powers who journeys to a bustling metropolis to marry a member of their royal family. She’s surprised by the expensive prices at the market, taken advantage of by thieves, and shown kindness by a local innkeeper with two daughters who are so cloyingly sweet they’ll rot your teeth straight out of your gums. This series faces the same problem as Gingitsune in that it’s too straightforward for its own good, but several lines of fourth wall-breaking dialogue clue us in to the fact that the writers intend to comment on, if not subvert, shoujo convention as the series goes on. Even without that positive sign, however, I’d be on board for another couple episodes just to look at Nike (pictured above) some more. As far as anime redheads go, she can’t hold a candle to mai waifu, but she’s still pretty cute – very important for a shoujo romance.

Speaking of romance, what’s the king like? Hopefully not some crustacean whose first wife died after giving him a bunch of kids, all of whom are older than his new bride. Yep, somebody young would definitely be preferable to OH GOD THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT. This could be very bad.


NEXT UP: Ping Pong the Animation, Aldnoah.Zero, Your Lie in April, Gundam: Reconguista in G