Round 2: Watamote vs. Nozaki-kun, Hozaki no Reitetsu vs. Noragami

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Watamote – Episode 3

This is a series that makes me regret setting up this blog in a tournament format, because Watamote aims for a different reaction than most of the other shows it’s competing with. Most fictional protagonists have at least one redeeming element to their character, which makes us hope for their success. Tomoko has nothing of the sort, yet we root for her anyway because she’s so consistently pitiful. But if Watamote only goes for a gut punch and succeeds every week, does that mean it’s better than a more tonally varied opponent that hits the bullseye only 8 out of 10 times?

Eh, that’s enough meta-commentary about my own blog. This was a strong episode, if strength is measured in the tears of high school girls. Tomoko was driven to cry not once, but twice this week, first by her terror of a teacher who noticed that she had forgotten her textbook, then by her own awkwardness around two similarly-aged boys taking shelter during a rainstorm. The first instance put a lump in my throat as well, as the camera cut to exterior shots of the school while Tomoko’s sniffles played in the background. Since it’s highly unlikely that she’ll be “all better” by the show’s conclusion, part of me hopes that a future episode will be dedicated to an elaborate revenge plot against that teacher.

The second instance was far more awkward than sad, however, as Tomoko’s nervousness around boys caused her to suffer a total social meltdown, complete with stuttering, bad jokes, and Captain Obvious moments, and ending with her hiding in a bathroom. This was apparently as difficult for the poor girl to experience as it was for me to watch, because she promptly falls asleep after returning to the comfort of the bus stop bench. One of the boys returns during her nap and leaves an umbrella next to her, which was a really touching moment, but it the show immediately undercut it with Tomoko’s wish that a boy would be nice to her for once. How else could a brand-new umbrella have appeared next to you, dummy? Ugh. Gut punch #3.

Tomoko’s multiple humiliations put her in a foul mood when she comes home, and she proceeds to take our her frustration on her brother, first locking him out of the bathroom after he’s been stuck in the rain, then harassing him after he catches a cold as a result, and later flying into a fit of jealousy when a couple of cute girls stop by to give him his missed homework assignment. She gets the idea to catch his cold and stay out of school the next day, but her plan backfires and her symptoms only show up after she’s come home from class on Friday, which ruins her weekend, the only part of her life that she even comes close to enjoying. The whole sequence feels more than a little karmic in nature, but so does the show: Tomoko’s extreme self-absorption constantly lands her in situations she’s not equipped to handle, which her disorder frames as everyone’s fault but hers, which causes her to withdraw further into herself. It’s more than a little sad that her anxiety forces her into the kind of mindset that prevents objectivity or personal growth, but that’s the fine print at the bottom of the contract you sign when you watch Watamote.

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Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun – Episode 3

Coming into this episode, I was fairly confident that Nozaki-kun would upset Watamote and prove itself to be the strongest comedy of the tournament. Instead, after introducing two new characters last week, it brought *another* set of fresh faces into the fold, and the whole thing came off as a bit too crowded. I think the main reason for this difference is that last time, the newbies were introduced as friends of our two main characters, Chiyo and Nozaki, whereas this week the new girl was a friend of Mikorin, a supporting cast member, and the new guy was the president of the new girl’s drama club. Truthfully, I don’t even remember their names, so minimal was the impact they made on me. A bigger cast means more opportunities for comedy, so I’m not opposed to new characters on principle, but if you turn everything up to eleven as this episode did, it all starts to sound the same. The blue-haired girl, as she will be called from now until the moment she does something noteworthy enough that I learn her name, has just two jokes in her repertoire: flirting with other girls (a habit which has earned her the nickname “The Prince”) and getting hit upside the head by her club president, both of which were repeated with the same manic energy several times through the episode.

Speaking of the drama club president, he ends up being another one of Nozaki’s secret lackeys, which Chiyo discovers after noticing the similarity between his beta markings on Nozaki’s manga pages and the drama club’s backgrounds (which results in the episode’s only good gag). His character has a little more potential, being an actor who clearly still loves to act, but concedes leading roles to the blue-haired girl because, according to her, he’s not tall enough. Realistically, though, he probably has a soft spot for her. This may be a shoujo parody, but plenty of seeds have been planted throughout these three episodes for romance to bloom midway through, and honestly, with the hit-and-miss nature of the comedy this week, I wouldn’t mind if the series pulled the trigger on one of those relationships sooner rather than later.

The Verdict: I kind of spoiled it above, but Watamote clutched it out with a more focused, consistent effort this week.

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Hozuki no Reitetsu – Episode 3

Having just criticized Nozaki-kun above for introducing too many new characters, I was relieved that Hozuki no Reitetsu spent so much time fleshing out a single new character with this episode. The fellow in question is Hakutaku, who sports the title “mythical beast” but nevertheless looks very much like Hozuki. You might not want to express that sentiment out loud, though, because Hozuki flies into a murderous rage upon being compared to his arch-nemesis. Their rivalry is explained in the second half of the episode, a thousand-year flashback to their time as judges at a sort of Olympic competition between the Japanese and Chinese hells called the Goodwill Games. Detailing the bet that drove them to such mutual hatred would take more words than I plan on writing here, but the reason it’s so effective is because it exposes the pedantry and competitiveness that makes them so similar, despite appearing to be polar opposites.

The first segment sees Hozuki travel to Shangri-La with his adorable animal pals, where they encounter Hakutaku for the first time. Even without any backstory explaining their rivalry, the encounter is funny and effective. The show checks in with a minor character from the first episode, Momotaro, and provides a reason for their visit (Shiro wants to get a peach of immortality as a present for his supervisor; Hozuki has placed an order with Hakutaku for several types of medicine and uses the opportunity to pick them up). I’m increasingly drawn to this show, which I once feared would be to be too dense with linguistic and historical meaning, for the way it uses these details to construct a world rich with comedic possibilities.

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Noragami – Episode 3

Yato’s habit of spray painting his cell phone number all over the city finally bites him in the butt this week, as fellow god Lord Tenjin calls him up and dumps his own phantom slaying duties into his lap. Desperately in need of cash, Yato accepts, which gives him a chance to test out his new Regalia, the sword with a ski cap also known as Yukine (his introduction was decent but hardly noteworthy). This is a perfectly good setup for a third act full of supernatural beat ’em up action, but Noragami’s major problem at this point is that phantoms are old hat. They’re mass antagonists without personality or purpose, and although I found their designs colorful and distinctive at first, now I’m just tired of their big stupid faces. Phantoms are supposed to be creatures from the “far shore” that feed on negative emotions, but when they do unprecedented stuff like pin an unwilling victim to the tracks of an oncoming train, their status as placeholders for some bigger antagonist becomes clear. Hopefully the gun-wielding bikini girl from the opening theme shows up soon, but to be honest, I kind of soured on Noragami this week, so even she might not be able to save this show from quiet elimination within a couple rounds.

The Verdict: While Noragami spins its wheels, Hozuki stays fresh and funny by introducing characters that feel custom-made for its unique concept of the afterlife.

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


Round 2: One Week Friends vs. Silver Spoon, Ping Pong vs. Witch Craft Works

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One Week Friends – Episode 3

You know what I really love about this series? It never wastes my time. We learned about Fujimiya’s memory loss before the first episode was over. She started keeping a journal the following week, a crucial step towards building a linear narrative around an amnesiac. And just when the show needs to shake things up a bit and expand its cast, Shogo arrives to rain all over the happy couple. It’s interesting to note that when he asks whether they’re dating, Hase begins to stutter and denies it, but Fujimiya says nothing. She actually looks pensive, like she’s considering whether what she’s read in her diary qualifies as a relationship. If they ever do start dating, an event that Fujimiya would certainly record, it would be a lot harder to rekindle a romance each week than it would a friendship. She might not even believe what she’d written, no matter how routine the journaling process would be by that point.

But back to Shogo. His tepid personality reminds me of the love interest from Ao Haru Ride. He doesn’t even make eye contact with Fujimiya when he returns her forgotten notebook midway through the episode. He posits the theory that she’s faking her memory loss, and justifies his coldness by pointing out that people are always talking about her, so she ought to be used to it. The guy is a first-class jerk, really, but because he’s not friends with Fujimiya, she remembers him from week to week. I wonder what use the show will find for this loophole? Oh, and speaking of loopholes, I was elated when Fujimiya remembered having made the fried eggs for Hase. His certainty that this was only the beginning of her recovery warmed my cynical aniblogging heart. This show’s ambition isn’t large enough to land it in the pantheon of all-time classics, but its execution will keep it afloat in this tournament for a long time.

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Silver Spoon – Episode 3

Silver Spoon is the best romance of 2013. Not for Hachiken’s one-sided crush on Mikage, of course, but for the irrefutably canon ship of Hachiken/Pork Bowl. His connection with that runty piglet was instantaneous, and his attachment so strong that he couldn’t resist naming him, even as his classmates insisted that it would only make it harder when Pork Bowl met his inevitable death. I have a pet theory that Hachiken is the youngest of several siblings, hence his strong identification with Pork Bowl, whose small size resulted in an inferior spot on his mother’s teat. Even after being moved closer to her chest, where more milk is produced, Pork Bowl still preferred its original position.

This show is great fun when it explores animal behavior like that. In fact, I have more fun learning about the chickens, cows, and race horses of Silver Spoon than I do about its human characters. We finally got a flashback to Hachiken’s pre-Yezo High days, but disappointingly, it was just a conversation with his middle school counselor. We also saw a text from his mom and eavesdropped on a phone call between Hachiken’s old counselor and his new principal, but none of these moments shed any significant light on our main character’s backstory. It’s past time for us to get something tangible there, or else future conflicts like the one between Hachiken and Komaba this week won’t hold much weight. I know I keep beating the same drum every time I write about this show, but when a series’ animal cast is a bigger draw than its human one, there’s an imbalance somewhere that you have to correct.

The Verdict: Both shows had good episodes this week, but only one is capable of tugging on my heartstrings, and that’s One Week Friends.


Ping Pong: The Animation – Episode 3

Of all the ways Ping Pong could have opened its excellent third episode, I never would have predicted “Smile has a pleasant chat with Koizumi’s wife” to be the one it would select, much less that it would be such an effective scene. After all, Smile and Koizumi’s last encounter ended with the Katase prodigy leaving his coach injured on the gym floor. She assumes that Tsukimoto has come to wish her husband well, but the reality appears to be that their paths crossed by chance – Smile isn’t the type to spend a lot of time in other people’s homes, and he says as much. But Koizumi’s wife isn’t discouraged by Smile’s severe introversion. She doesn’t push or pressure him – in fact, she says his lack of charm is “wonderful,” and invites him to stop by any time. Smile blushes at this and, to my great surprise, promises that he will. In less than a minute, she managed to gently pry open the shell that took her husband weeks to crack. From this conversation we learn that what Smile wants isn’t to be left alone, as he claims, but to be accepted for who he is. Koizumi’s wife presents no expectations or demands during their talk, and suggests that he visit again at his leisure, on his terms. It’s no wonder, really, that even a shy kid like Smile would accept her invitation.

Everybody else in this episode wants a piece of Tsukimoto, though. Dragon wants to recruit him; Koizumi, though he’s backed off a bit, wants him to win at all costs; Wenge wants to beat him when they meet at the Kanagawa Qualifiers; Peco wants him not to use different playstyles from match to match. It’s all a bit too much for Smile, who destroys his first two opponents of the tournament as a retort to Dragon’s criticism that he cares too much about his opponents, but folds against Wenge despite being in a dominant position midway through the match. Wenge’s coach has been a great foil for Koizumi thus far, displaying great patience despite his student’s difficult personality, but he transforms into a different beast during the fourth set. Preying on Wenge’s nationalistic pride and the fear that he’ll never return to his former glory, he issues a verbal beating to the former prodigy, administering the final blow by yelling, “You’re not in Japan to see the sights, moron!”

Smile may not be able to understand this “pep talk,” but based on his scowl directly afterwards he clearly got the message, and soon enough Wenge takes the fourth and fifth sets to win the match. Did Smile lose on purpose the same way he did against Peco in the premiere? And if that’s the case, did Wenge know it? The dejected look on his face, even in triumph, suggests that he did – after all, he could tell just from listening to their game two weeks ago that Smile was sandbagging against his friend. How this will affect Wenge’s mentality as he advances to play stronger opponents like Dragon will be interesting to watch. As for Smile, he appears to have been eliminated from the tournament, but I’m hoping that the show will find a way to reintegrate him into the action soon enough. Wenge may have been my favorite character at first, but after two stellar episodes with Tsukimoto at their core, I’m most excited to follow his growth over the next eight episodes.


Witch Craft Works – Episode 3

This episode of Witch Craft Works featured one of the tensest moments of the tournament so far. Until today, Kagari and Takamiya-kun had only ever defended themselves against grunt level Tower Witches, but on the bus ride home from school, they encounter Chronoire Schwarz VI, an enemy who commands power as effortlessly as Kagari and poses a serious threat to the Takamiya’s safety. First she surrounded the bus with a barrier reminiscent of the ones from Madoka Magica (never a bad series to emulate), giving the whole scene a dreamy, underwater quality that really worked in its favor. Then she froze Kagari in place, preventing her from interfering as she stabbed Takamiya in the chest.

I wasn’t too concerned at this point, since as a main character he has a serious amount of plot armor, but then came the reveal that any bodily harm done to him is transferred to Kagari. Seeing a character so nonchalantly strong get beaten so soundly made me sit up in my chair. Chronoire went on to speculate that this connection was the result of a contract they had signed, but nothing like that has happened in the anime so far. Even after Kagari regained consciousness and they made their escape, Takamiya began to wonder whether he had known her in the past. This question, along with the candy that Chronoire promised would “unleash his power,” provide a couple good hooks for the show going forward.

The Verdict: Witch Craft Works’ characters are much prettier than Ping Pong’s, but they can’t hold a candle to them in terms of likability or depth.

NEXT UP: Watamote vs. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Hozuki no Reitetsu vs. Noragami

Round 2: Mushishi vs. Your Lie In April, Sabagebu! vs. Aldnoah.Zero

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Mushishi Zoku Shou – Episode 3

The last two entries I wrote about Mushishi were quite long, but this one will be brief. I’ve been wanting to start limiting my reviews to just a paragraph each, and this simpler tale provides the perfect opportunity for that kind of brevity. The story opens with a flashback to a sweet conversation between an older brother and his curious little sister, but by the time Ginko appears, we learn that the girl has fallen through the icy layer of a frozen lake and died. The brother is subsequently targeted by mushi that steal his body heat, tricking his senses so that the slightest warmth feels as though it might burn him, and making him impervious to the harshest cold. This is a clear metaphor for depression, and it works rather well as things play out, although the parallels aren’t woven as seamlessly into the fabric of the story as in the best episodes of Mushishi.

What I really want to talk about, though, is just how beautiful this show is capable of looking and sounding. Winter is my favorite season, and Mushishi captures so much of what makes it great with each exterior shot. Look at the texture of the snow in the foreground above. You can tell from the its unevenness and the way the sun catches each layer that your leg would sink straight through to the ground if you were to step into that picture. I love the snow on the evergreen trees, and on the branches of sleeping bushes. Those are winter staples, of course, but Mushishi pays attention to the small stuff, as well. Check out the little twigs all around the bigger plants, poking their heads out from beneath the snow. If you squint, you can even see a few leaves hanging on for dear life. And just look at this screenshot – I’m kicking myself even as I click the “Publish” button for not making that the episode picture instead.

But hey, Mushishi always looks great. Any missed opportunity to talk about its stunning background art can be made up with the next episode. Where this one in particular excelled, though, was sound design. The crackling of the fire as Ginko chatted with the innkeeper, the sound of snow crunching under the characters’ boots, the way Tae’s teeth chattered after she was pulled from the lake – this was a headphone-worthy experience for sure. Mushishi is a series that excels in every aspect of its production, from story and art to music and voice acting. I don’t know how many staff members from the original production returned after nine years off the air, but given how similar Zoku Shou feels to that classic first season, my guess is quite a few.

Oops, looks like I wrote way too much about Mushishi again.

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Your Lie In April – Episode 3

Looking over my last entry on Your Lie In April, it appears that I was quite hopeful for its future, but this episode put a bit of a damper on that excitement. I wrote then that the fragility shared by Kousei and Kaori could be the basis for their romance, but after the way Kaori downplayed and then dismissed her would-be accompanist’s traumatic history, I’m not so sure. I still maintain that Kaori has been hurt in some way: after spending the first eighteen minutes of the show nagging, punching, throwing things, and glaring at Kousei in an effort to get him to play the piano, she finally broke down and cried, but rather than resorting to emotional blackmail, she really did seem hurt in that moment. Still, that moment of honesty came rather late in the episode, and only after a string of ineffective, unfunny attempts at coercion.

My other quibble with this series has to do with the nature of Kousei’s selective hearing, which was given more detail than ever before. He was playing just fine in the coffee shop until he flashed back to the time he choked on stage as a grade schooler. Afterwards, he explains that although he can hear his fingers moving and the sound of the keys sinking, he can’t hear the tones that result from the hammers striking the piano’s strings. I’m no expert, and I haven’t done the slightest bit of research or even Googling, but this sounds totally preposterous to me. If the show weren’t so specific and so adamant about it, it would be easier to overlook as a metaphor for fear, but as it stands we’re expected not only to believe that Kousei has this condition, but to tolerate it when other people insist that all he needs to do is try harder, believe in himself, trust in the power of love, etc. You can’t have your made-up hearing disability and eat it, too.

The Verdict: Shigatsu might have the visuals necessary to compete with Mushishi, but not the storytelling chops or emotional depth.

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Sabagebu! – Episode 3

I was raised on the Nickelodeon cartoons of the late nineties and early aughts. We’re talking Spongebob, Fairly Oddparents, and Jimmy Neutron here – shows that followed the typical western model of splitting their runtime in half and telling two distinct stories. This likely became the standard after some genius “discovered” that kids are more likely to sit still for one longer commercial break than two shorter ones, although now that I’ve typed that sentence I’m doubting whether it’s true. In any case, it’s an effective way to package an animated comedy, and it’s also the form that Sabagebu! took this week.

An excellent first segment introduced the Survival Game Club’s hapless advisor and saw the girls dressed in cool exterminator gear, while the second introduced a rival for the club president Miou and featured Platy in a referee’s uniform. The narrator continues to be the show’s MVP, going off on tangents and contradicting the main characters in a style very similar to that of Ron Howard in Arrested Development, perhaps my favorite sitcom ever. A ton of cute animals joined in the violence this week, from the aggressive hornets at the beginning, to the battle-tested crow who didn’t flinch at gunfire, to the preposterous food chain reaction that led to Momoka’s victory in the second half. This is a very funny show that blends disparate elements with what seems to be very little effort, and I’m really glad to have started watching it.

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Aldnoah.Zero – Episode 3

It’s hard to believe that out of these four series, I have the least to say about a science fiction thriller featuring political intrigue and giant robots, but that seems to be the case. This show is competently scripted and directed, which is more than can be said about a great number of mecha anime. Inaho proved himself to be an excellent tactician, but more than that, the weaknesses of the Martian technology that he exploited actually made a lot of sense. He also got a bit of fleshing out via a standard ‘calm before the storm’ scene with a classmate, which revealed that he’s human just like everyone else.

Even though the methods they used to take out the Kataphrakt were highly inventive, the structure of this episode was not. Even the post-credits tag featuring Slaine was telegraphed like an Eli Manning pass. The questions now are whether any Martian eyes in the sky witnessed his betrayal, and when he’ll join up with Inaho, Asseylum and company.

The Verdict: Aldnoah embraces its genre and fulfills its tropes with style, but Sabagebu! throws anime convention out the window and is all the better for it.

NEXT UP: One Week Friends vs. Silver Spoon, Ping Pong vs. Witch Craft Works

The Bracket: Round 2 Begins


Round 1 is finally complete! Half of our 32 shows are now sitting in the losers bracket, where one more loss will result in their elimination. The #7 and 8 seeds, Barakamon and Stardust Crusaders, notably fell to opponents with much lower potential – or so I thought. For the most part, though, the higher seeds prevailed, winning 12 of the 16 initial matches. Also notable are the very different fates of the two most popular genres in the tournament. Only two of the seven action/adventure/fantasy series (Noragami and Rozen Maiden) won their first matches, while five of our six comedies advanced to winners round 2. We’ll see whether that trend holds going forward.

Matchups to watch for:

Sabagebu! (#25) vs. Aldnoah.Zero (#9): Outside of maybe Kyousougiga, Sabagebu! is our best hope at a 20-something seed making it to the later rounds. How will its colorful, hyper violent tone compare with Aldnoah’s more realistic approach to warfare?

Watamote (#2) vs. Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (#15): This will be a battle of laughs between what might be the two best comedies of the tournament. Whichever one gets knocked into losers will be a terror in that lower bracket, for sure.

Kyousougiga (#29) vs. Gatchaman Crowds (#20): This is the losers bracket matchup I’m dreading the most. I don’t want to lose either of these stylish action shows just yet, especially since each of their second episodes showed so much promise.

The next time I make one of these posts (and I’m not making any promises or predictions about when that’ll be, since it took me ages to get through the first round), eight series will be out of the running. I’m eager to start separating the wheat from the chaff, but winners bracket matches come first.

NEXT UP: Mushishi vs. Your Lie in April, Sabagebu! vs. Aldnoah.Zero

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.


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!

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.”

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 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.

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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.

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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

Round 1: Barakamon vs. Hozuki no Reitetsu, Noragami vs. The World Is Still Beautiful

Blog updates on consecutive days? It’s an early Christmas miracle! My sudden burst of productivity comes from a slower real life work schedule and a desire to double eliminate the shows I’m not too fond of, so I can write strictly about the shows I like. In an effort to get through this tournament before the start of the Winter 2015 season, my reviews will be shorter in the future, though I might have a hard time resisting the urge to write essays about frontrunners Mushishi and Ping Pong. No projections about when I’ll be finished with this round or the next, as those have been wildly optimistic in the past, but I hope to cut things down to just 16 series soon enough.

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 Barakamon – Episode 2

Just one week has passed since calligraphy practitioner and main character Handa moved to his new island home, but this episode couldn’t have been more different from the last. The voicework that made Naru sparkle with personality in the premiere grated on my nerves this week, and the sense of humor that convinced me to rank the show so highly at first was a frantic, uncoordinated mess this time around. Barakamon’s first offering was a wonderful self-contained story, with Handa’s spontaneous, expressive piece providing a strong ending by contrasting with his usual textbook style. We knew, based on the focus given to the relationship between Handa and Naru, that he was able to make that breakthrough because of her influence.

Things were a little more scattered this time. Hiroshi, the village chief’s son, gets a small plot involving the classic anime theme “hard work vs. talent,” but it feels out of place next to Handa’s hospital trip and all the hijinks perpetrated by Naru and her high school friends. Naru is all over this episode, but only serves as a Tasmanian devil, whirling around the screen and making noise without rhyme or reason. There’s no moment of understanding or tenderness between herself and Handa this time, and while hitting that same emotional beat week after week might get boring, it would also be better than what we got with this episode. I was really hoping for more from this series.

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Hozuki no Reitetsu – Episode 2

“Wearing underwear is what morale is all about, right? That’s why I call underwear ‘morale.'” This quote, taken from the first half of this week’s Hozuki no Reitetsu, underlines one of my major problems with this series: the language barrier seems insurmountable. Even if the word choice were perfect on Crunchyroll’s part, something is clearly lost in translation there. I know we’re past the age of too many translator’s notes in fansubs, but this is one series that could benefit from that kind of treatment.

On the whole, though, the humor on display here was less impenetrable than last week. The second half of this episode even featured Satan himself, described as “The King of European Hell.” If that isn’t accessible for a western audience, what is? Satan has chosen to pay a visit to Japanese hell in order to perform a little reconnaissance, in the hopes of one day conquering and claiming another slice of the underworld for himself. He’s met with resistance by Hozuki, who Satan assumes is powerful because he’s slender and speaks formally, like the main characters in JRPGs. Hozuki’s deadpan personality and disrespect for his boss begin to frighten Satan as their tour progresses, until the devil’s curiosity compels him to sneak into Hozuki’s room, where he spots a recipe that calls for Satan to be broiled. Fearing for his life, the Lord of Darkness flees while screaming, “Oh my God!” in perfect English. This was easily the funniest moment of the series thus far, and sorely needed after a rough first outing.

The Verdict: It didn’t produce an all-time classic or anything, but my disappointment with its opponent was so great that Hozuki no Reitetsu gets the nod for finally making me laugh in earnest.

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Noragami – Episode 2

Focusing on supernatural newbie Hiyori was a smart move for this show, as her desire to learn more about her condition prompted the same curiosity in me. Taking a bath and staying awake in class can pose a challenge when your soul tends to leave your body at random, after all. The only person who can help her is Yato, the god of war, but despite paying his five yen fee and asking to be returned to normal, he’s a total flake. Our connection with Hiyori makes Yato a frustrating character at first, but his procrastination becomes more tolerable when we learn that he’s currently weaponless and therefore powerless. He needs to find a Regalia, a human spirit that can function as a weapon when summoned, and he does near the end of this episode.

Those last few minutes are the most interesting, as Yato performs a ritual that binds this tiny spirit as either his partner or his servant, depending on how you look at it. Yato declares that the spirit has nowhere else to go, and names him Yukine with no regard for what he might have been called before. But he also appears to experience all the memories and emotions of Yukine’s past life immediately after the ceremony’s completion, which could make their relationship a sympathetic one. How that dynamic plays out will probably make a big impact on my enjoyment of the show going forward.

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The World Is Still Beautiful – Episode 2

After the reveal that the Sun King was a young boy, I was afraid that he’d be bratty, selfish, and even abusive toward his new bride. And those fears turned out to be justified: he mocks her appearance, demands that she use her magic to make it rain because he’s grown bored of constant sunshine, and when she doesn’t cooperate, he throws her in prison and refuses to feed her until she agrees to become his plaything. But hey, he wears glasses to do his kingly business, which is soooo kawaii, so I guess all is forgiven?

Nike breaks out of her cell, and even ends up saving the king’s life by taking an arrow meant to assassinate him. She’s sent back her native Rain Country shortly afterward, which the king’s manservant Neil assures her is out of concern for her safety. But just as the castle is about to disappear over the horizon, they see smoke billowing from its third story and turn around. It’s another attempt on the king’s life, this time via arson, but Pokemon has taught us well that water beats fire, so Nike sings a terribly intrusive ballad and summons a stormcloud that somehow puts out the fire inside the castle. Day saved.

To be fair, shoujo fantasy isn’t my favorite genre. This one is competently written and directed, but competence isn’t the same as purpose. Nike and Livius (the Sun King) both have a fair amount of personality, but so far the show’s only plot points have been “princess and king have arranged marriage” and “princess saves king’s life.” There have been several shadowy scenes so far where nobles plot to send Nike home or strip Livius of his title, but that hardly qualifies as storytelling. The World Is Still Beautiful needs to decide what it’s about, and sooner rather than later.

The Verdict: After two episodes, Noragami is the show with the stronger direction. Barakamon will make another attempt on Soredemo’s life next week in the losers bracket.

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