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.

chaika 3-3

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: The Eccentric Family vs. Tokyo ESP, Non Non Biyori vs. Rozen Maiden


The Eccentric Family – Episode 2

This episode focused on Yasaburo’s immediate family, rather than his makeshift one, and while his relationships with Benten and Professor Akadama fascinated me last week, his mother and brothers may be even richer characters. Like Kyousougiga, The Eccentric Family is hard to write about because any explanation of its complicated family dynamics becomes so involved that it threatens to swallow whatever else you’ve written. The fact that all four Shimogamo siblings have names beginning with “Y” doesn’t help. Suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoy the lived-in quality of this series – the dialogue establishes a world that’s already in progress, and the whole cast seems to have existed since long before their first on-screen appearance.

We see multiple sides to every character here. Yasaburo has settled comfortably into his reputation as a slacker and an idiot, but he cares deeply for his family. Over the course of this episode he accompanies his mother to her favorite pool hall, visits his older brother (who transformed into a frog one day and found himself unable to change back) stuck at the bottom of a well, and protects his younger brother from the Ebisugawas, a rival tanuki family. His mother is a brash pool player who pretends to forget her opponents’ names in order to insult them, but she’s deathly afraid of thunder and lightning, and must take refuge under a bridge when a storm arrives near the show’s end. Eldest brother Yaichirou carries the weight of the world on his shoulders trying to live up to his departed father’s legacy; he gets too nervous to properly coordinate a search for their mother, but he also transforms into a badass tiger to fight the Ebisugawas and save Yasaburo and Yoshiro. Even in death, the former head of the Shimogamo family is a nicely-rounded character. We learn that he had the respect of many tanuki in Kyoto and used that influence to unite tanuki society, but Yasaburo insists that his father wasn’t the type to fret about honor or personal standing.

The series is lovely to look at as usual. I love everything about the visual style, from the characters’ oddly-shaped ears to the detailed shrubbery to the always-drifting clouds. The music team really stepped up their game this week, with a swaggering synth-based track providing some good tension during the bridge fight scene, and soft piano tunes fitting nicely with the tender moments at the episode’s beginning and end. Plus I got really into the opening theme this week for some reason. For this show, however, art and sound are really just the icing on a delicious character-based cake. I just love spending time with these tanuki and watching how they get themselves in and out of trouble, how they fight and then reconcile, and how they influence each others’ lives. Yasaburo speaks the truth when he says in the opening moments of each episode, “More fun than anything is watching that wheel spin.”

tokyo esp 2

 Tokyo ESP – Episode 2

After an uninspired in medias res beginning, this episode flashed back to the origin of protagonist Urushiba Rinka’s powers. Schools of glowing orange fish that swim through the air are apparently the new cosmic radiation, as contact with the fish awakens esper abilities in Rinka (phasing), her father (magnetism), the teleporting male lead whose name I forget, and an invisible thief called Black Fist. Apparently the fish also gave the power of flight to this penguin, which was probably the most memorable thing about the episode. The music was bad, the characters were flat, and the fanservice was insulting. Both the classic Spiderman line “with great power comes great responsibility” and Wolverine’s signature hairdo were stolen from much better franchises. I’d pile on the show even further and criticize its subpar animation, but honestly that was the least of the show’s problems.

Instead of harping on Tokyo ESP’s weaknesses any more than necessary, though, let me predict how we’ll get from the introductory moments of episode 2 all the way to the climactic showdown featured in the premiere. I remember one of the villains from that first episode having the ability to teleport, but a completely different character with the same ability was introduced this week, so the bad guys will probably acquire some method of stealing other mutants’ powers. Superhero shows usually don’t double up on special abilities, after all. Taking someone’s power probably involves killing them, as the death of a close friend or lover (read: the teleporting guy) might give Rinka the motivation to become the fearsome fighter we saw in the first episode. Unless the flying penguin pictured above becomes the main character, though, I doubt that Tokyo ESP will get far enough in the tournament to prove this theory right or wrong.

The Verdict: Despite all their flashy powers, Tokyo ESP’s boring mutants are no match for the lively shapeshifting tanuki of The Eccentric Family.

non non biyori 2-3

Non Non Biyori – Episode 2

Boy, was this episode ever lacking the charm of the first. Half of it revolved around a piece of candy belonging to Komari, coveted by Natsumi and Renge, and given to Hotaru. After this exchange, the two hungry girls scheme about how to win the candy for themselves, while Hotaru freaks out at the significance of the gift and starts blushing, quite literally, like a schoolgirl whenever she sees or thinks about Komari. This weird obsession extended into the second half, with Hotaru feeling the need to do her hair, put on makeup, and wear something “more grown up” before hanging out with her friend. This makeover results in possibly the most underwhelming case of mistaken identity I’ve ever seen, and I’ve watched my fair share of 80s sitcoms. The two take a trip to the local candy store (which somehow manages to stay in business despite the town’s child population of five), and this date leaves such an impression on Hotaru that, next we see her, she’s sewing a doll in Komari’s likeness. This show went from cute slice of life to The Middle School Stalker Hour really fast.

rozen maiden 2

Rozen Maiden (2013) – Episode 2

After the first episode’s confounding distillation of the previous Rozen Maiden series, this installment grounded the series comfortably in another universe where Jun opted not to wind the supernatural doll he’d been given as a boy. This version of Jun is older and arguably lonelier, despite leaving the house on a regular basis to work his part-time job and attend (or not attend) his college classes. His otherwise mundane life becomes a lot more watchable when he stumbles across a magazine entitled How to Build Girls at his bookstore job, takes it home, and begins his slow, well-paced decent into obsession with the doll-making process. The music and lighting did wonders to draw me in as more parts and more issues of the magazine brought Jun ever closer to his goal, until one day the shipments stopped and hope briefly seemed lost. Swearing, pacing, drumming his fingers, putting the kettle on and forgetting about it, the dim lighting in his apartment – all simple tricks to show frustration, but rarely utilized so effectively as they were here.

And then, suddenly, a text from his middle school self. When Zurückspulen shuts a door, it opens ten windows. Jun’s correspondence with another version of himself from another reality is thrilling, tying a hurricane of characters and plot points from the first episode into the main narrative, while giving life to a seemingly stalled quest in the present day. It doesn’t entirely justify the series’ initial whiplash effect, but it definitely has me excited to watch the next episode.

The Verdict: Non Non Biyori went from charming to perplexing, while Rozen Maiden went from perplexing to awesome.

NEXT UP: Parasyte vs. Hitsugi no Chaika, Psycho-Pass 2 vs. Ao Haru Ride

First Impressions: Non Non Biyori, Tokyo ESP, The Eccentric Family

Eleven down, twenty-one to go. I can’t wait until the seeding process is complete so we can see exactly what kind of match-ups we’ll have in Round 1. Before that, though, here are some preliminary thoughts on schoolgirls, superheroes, and shapeshifting raccoons.

non non biyori 1-4

Non Non Biyori

Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re going to get from a “slice of life” series. They’re often loosely plotted, and revolve around the home and school lives of a group of friends, but even those broad criteria don’t apply to every show in the genre. There was a moment in Non Non Biyori’s first episode (pictured above), though, that let me know exactly what kind of series it was. The new girl, Hotaru, wonders aloud to her new friends why there are so many buckets sitting in the hallway of their school. They explain that the buckets are catching leaks in the ceiling, but tease her not to get too close to them, or the waterlogged floorboards might collapse under her feet. What Hotaru reacts in alarm, they admit to the joke, promising her that “No idiot has ever fallen through the floor before.” The camera then pulls back to reveal another student who has fallen through the floor, lingers for a moment, and cuts to the next scene. The girls don’t turn and laugh at his misfortune, he doesn’t yell after them at the implied insult – we don’t get so much as a rage mark or a sweat drop. This isn’t some brilliant background gag you’d need a microscope to spot, but it is comforting to know that Non Non Biyori trusts its audience. If only recorder music weren’t featured so prominently in its soundtrack.

Seeding estimate: Middle of the pack

tokyo esp 1-4

Tokyo ESP

If Gatchaman Crowds was Men In Black: The Anime, Tokyo ESP is X-Men. Here we have levitating buildings, a group of mutants attempting a government takeover, and protests from our heroes that “not all espers are bad people.” Super strength, super speed, forcefield generation, precognition, and teleportation were just a few of the powers on display here. It looks like this show’s Magneto actually has Professor X’s abilities, though, so that’s… something? This episode offered plenty of action, but no reason to care about any of it, since we aren’t yet acquainted with these characters or their motives. Apparently this premiere was a giant flash-forward and next week will be the chronological first episode, but I have to question that creative choice, given that what I watched was neither stylish nor intriguing enough to hook me on the series. At least Gatchaman Crowds had a distinctive art style and a kick-ass OP to offset its lame characters.

Seeding: Bottom 25%

eccentric 1-2

The Eccentric Family

What a fascinating first episode this was, both visually and narratively. It took me upwards of fifteen minutes to settle on the screenshot you see above, because all the pictures I’d taken featured great camera angles, beautiful scenery, or both. And it’s fortunate that this series is so well-directed, because apart from the opening monologue about humans, tengu and tanuki, the script was totally free of exposition. Every time the show provides a morsel of information about itself or its characters, a new question arises in its place. For example, we learn that our shapeshifting main character Yasaburo spends a great deal of time caring for his tengu master, but are left to wonder why a tengu and a tanuki would form such a bond, given the hostility that exists between their races. We learn that the master is in love with a human named Benten, and it’s implied that Yasaburo has a thing for her as well, but we can only speculate about her feelings, or her motives for that matter. We learn that Yasaburo and Benten were responsible for their master’s loss of flight, but this bomb is dropped in the middle of a conversation so fast-paced and engrossing that while your curiosity is piqued, you’re left to assume it will be revisited at some later point in the series. There’s an intelligence and confidence to this kind of writing that isn’t found in your average anime, and I love it.

Seeding estimate: Top 25%

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