This Week: Ping Pong The Animation, The World is Still Beautiful, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, and Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara.
Some of these programs realized graduation season is soon to be upon them with the end of the spring shows, and stepped up accordingly! Meanwhile, one thinks it can just screw around based on past successes and coast for a bit, so we will have to see if that comes back to bite it come final exams.
Ping Pong The Animation [Episode nine]
Aimless journey dude Egami actually did both head out and return from overseas! Good for him, trying to find himself, realizing camels and deserts are not quite his style. So maybe we will check out some table tennis with him, together.
Something I appreciated here was how much more of Dragon’s habit of holing himself up in the public restroom stall alone prior to game time we had. He gets to overhear others competitors from outside schools talk of his looming competition. They speak of Peco’s performance dominating Wenge, how their own coach thinks he has a real shot against Dragon. Kaio in general being in some pretty tough straits with Smile against Sanada as well.
And Dragon just has to drink it in while in his contemplative chamber.
Meanwhile, Akuma getting to return via just attending the tournament as an observer is a natural way to bring him back in for a bit. And he knows where Dragon is; not just a restroom but the restroom, which stall specifically. Our pompadour sporting old competitor and Kaio’s leader not only never even look at each other due to the stall walls, but are generally facing away from each other even at that. There is a level of understanding and sympathy, but as the prior bathroom group mentioned each of their respective life events are occurring on entirely different planets as well, and even their ping pong meant wholly different things for them.
Notability though: before these talks even happened, Dragon is now wearing the specialty purple mat shoes. His team had mentioned amongst themselves earlier it would look odd if he was the only one not wearing them, after all. But after going off on his own for a bit, and especially in speaking with Sanada and the alternative vocalized answer of who he plays table tennis for, now he wears those shoes all the others had worn together at the start of the tournament. And that carries through the episode, if you follow the shots of Dragon’s feet. Because, yes, it would look odd if he was not more in line with the team that, for better and worse, he carries the weight of on his back. The investment he has given his family and all is a real weight on his shoulders.
The much celebrated Peco then has his leg injury issue pop up more and more prominently so as to mirror the situation Koizumi faced all those years and ago and the choice Smile will need to make regarding winning or the health of his friend. To the point of needing to be shot full of painkillers so as to stabilize himself for the upcoming match against Dragon.
This was on the one hand fully expected, though I would have previously imagined the game with Dragon would have been the one to push him over the edge and then require serious help to even attempt to play Smile afterward. Which can still happen in a way, of course: I am not familiar with the source material, but I suspect Peco will push through in a fit of inspired glory but in a manner where some of the limits of what pre-game painkillers can really reasonably be expected to do putters out. And everyone can already tell Peco’s leg is messed up: the Kaio staff and students, coach Koizumi out of Peco’s own Katase, Obaba and Michio are more than aware, etc.
Aside from the next episode being the second to last one so it gets to be time where an animation team would prefer to start pulling out all the production stops anyway if they have the luxury of it, I think it will make for a very solid game even if the winner is pretty much preordained.
It can be a bit slower about it and have more force behind it, since we are already in the top four. Not just the match itself, mind, but all of the associated character mechanisms that go along with the sidelines or the aftermath. Things like where this episode Wenge got to chat with his own coach for a bit and being apologetic for losing, while being met with the idea that upsets are part of what make the game exciting. Things that naturally play well into the idea of Wenge bringing up his own team of ducklings and teaching them to fly, and then perhaps a more overarching quality that somewhere the decline of Kaio would be met with the rise of others.
Which is great for those who may come to rule the roost, but there is the corresponding impact such a loss of power would have on the previous rulers, which can be just as engaging.
And I feel the series is more than equipped to show that, and what it could do to Kaio as a school and Dragon as a person.
The World is Still Beautiful (Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii) [Episode nine]
…I legitimately looked up to see if this episode had been handed off to a mercenary director or something this week.
It felt very different than how the show has been operating almost since it began. The comedy is still hyper non-synergistic with the drama, and probably more outlandish than ever, but then so too were the drama parts played tighter and more competently than they have been too. It still feels like I am watching two very different shows at points, sure, rather than a light romantic comedy mix. But, the halves are like their own little worlds now? And in doing so they are each like getting a half of two more robust and confident programs, like flicking two channels on the television back and forth? I dunno. It is a strange feeling I am having to try and get across.
Things like the big castle shots, narration, conferences, guests, all that wall more traditional grand fantasy stuff. Throw in the travel element to the Principality of Rain (so we finally are going on some kind of excursion outside of the bloody world capital city, which has bugged me a lot given the things this show has said are important at points), and that came off as solid too. Nice little chat under the stars on the boat about seeing the stars in the country ones significant other was born in, the more personal time the two lead characters have after getting a bit more settled in and Nike’s family separates the clouds for their kingly visitor.
That all is surprisingly well composed, shot, and executed on for this series given its track record.
Now, I still think it has that specific kind of problem where these feel like swell moments out of another program entirely.
The romantic drama element of Nike and Livius has been so haphazard and largely shoehorned or battering rammed around tonally in earlier episodes where now that the show is actually giving them what I find some more genuine sweet moments, it causes I suppose a kind of difficulty to buy into as them personally. I still give it credit for being able to deliver on said moments and figure out how to present these two individuals together in a more romantic sense, sure. But it is so much at odds with the rest of the series where it is almost like I switched to a later year television reboot of the material two thirds of the way through this show.
I mean if the finale arc of the show can maintain this, it may be able to salvage some final scoring points from me yet. But it does remind me: the first episode from weeks ago almost felt like a condensed film, and this little arc will perhaps feel like a small multi-episode OVA. The rest of the series in-between may just be aimless fluff kneecapped by having to be a modern short one season television series given modern production trends, rather than a tighter and smaller approach that would have been punchier and worked far better for this material.
That rain song has a steep hill to climb to win me back over though.
At first I was potentially excited that it was going to be more of an idea that could be taken on by all kinds of different forms and sounds via wholly altered lyrics and the like for changes in feeling or ideas (more thunderous song for thunder, etc).
Which in retrospect may have been a bit overambitious a hope. But, certainly, I think at least even taking the same song and then doing some alternatively sung versions of it would still work.
I can conceptually understand the basic idea that only Livius rather than the audience would be able to hear a difference in Nike’s performance as a personal connection thing within this episode. But, they keep using the same recording for it every time, rather than a few different tempos or styles and then bringing back a previously performed version that Livius could claim to catch something different in only he can hear. So I don’t think it lends itself as well to that set of character feelings in execution since the prior repeated use of the identical song track comes off as so lazy.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode ten]
The title of this episode is Tanaka’s First Victory.
At times, I really would like it if this had actually been a show animated in the 1970’s when the source material was coming out, as it so clearly wants to be that. And it is a hard thing to attempt to recapture today, in a sense, since even with the art design style and more minimal backgrounds it has, it does not move the same way and the low budget digital animation can not capture the same sorts of tonal hues this would have potentially had with decades old painted cels.
Certainly, it would also make things like the show doing things like reusing upwards of a minute of prior material of Matsutaro yelling at Tanaka’s debut game a few episodes back as a flashback far easier to swallow.
I tend to be a lot more forgiving of that with far older episodic programs of the era this series wants to be a part of, since they were designed in a such a way where folks could easily jump on at any time given the huge differences in television consumption and any kind of home video media market. When I am watching a currently airing series streamed over the internet from half a world away from its country of origin on the same day and date though, well, the availability or access to prior material is a lot different. So it comes off a lot more directly as cost cutting as opposed to something that actually came out four decades ago, even if the net implementation is broadly the same.
Either way, this episode was Tanaka’s time, as it said, and it was all about him coming to get over his hesitations and hiccups in the ring and finally win his first game of the season. We see how his teammates attempt to encourage or defend him in various ways, we get to see his dad and some of that backstory which exists there, and we have chestnuts from home being able to bring things about to a happy conclusion for him. It is all pretty by the book, but I felt it was well executed and I think it easily marks the strongest episode the series has had so far.
You get a solid piano soundtrack going, we have the character doing things like waking up before everyone else, taking in the chart full everyone successes, and so on, then one has a totally reasonable little character drama episode without it ever feeling to heavy but it still had some weight to it. We get what likely amounts to our first real honest to goodness sumo match back and forth struggle in the ring this season. A lot less fart jokes and screwball messing around, sure, and I think the show had a better feel this week as a result.
Looking back on the series as a whole at this point, it is kind of noteworthy how more important or forward of a character I assumed Reiko was going to be. Here in this episode she shows up for a few seconds for some “good luck today” style dialogue, and that is more than we often get to see her, despite the character having pretty big footing in the intro credits.
Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (Gaworare) [Episode ten]
In terms of harem show stock episodes, festival / carnival ones relating to school or community are my favorite.
I mean hell, I went on a a several thousand word binge a few months ago on Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer, which fundamentally exists as a film length festival contortion from a certain perspective. One of the best lines to ever come out of something like Tenchi Muyo as a genre codifier was the whole “You know the carnival comes and goes, and if you wait for awhile, it will always come back to you” idea. And so on down the line.
And fundamentally, Gaworare is pulling its entire genre-cliches-ramped-up-to-eleven structure from foundational cores relating back to such series.
So, sure, I was pretty interested in what they would try to pull here!
Hakua is at school now, and almost everyone in class loves her more than her sister Nanami because she fits all the docile princess stereotypes. Megumu gets more oddball noises associated with them, like squeaky toys or that out of left field ringtone used for their sister (see also: there is that whole sister theme cropping up). And Souta does not read paperwork he is signing and thus the entire school beauty pageant is populated by folks from Quest Hall. And he gets to judge it and potentially boil alive in any resulting hot water.
Fair enough, that is a fine setup. I think this is an an area where the sheer size of the cast, even when a few are removed like Kurumiko and Tsumugi as additional judges, begins to put a strain on the mechanics though. It has to blitz a lot harder through things like the girls in their own ways introducing themselves to the audience and why they are here, etc, as there a lot of people to get through here. Though, those who were selected for the pageant do all fit in a Hollywood Squares style visual box for vote counting purposes.
On the one hand, sure, you have the school member hosts talking about how totally perverted it is, and Souta is clearly uncomfortable with the entire situation, being handed the squirt gun to do the fluid application with.
But I am not sure how much self awareness really helps this scene: we still get all the loaded innuendos, the leading visuals of where the liquid landing cut in such a way where it is going for imagery more indicative of viewer insert hentai works, and so on. And it arguably should be able to have such content as this if it wanted to, is the thing. Those skeevier genre elements would be valid for the rolling thunder cliche storm the series operates with, and they stand out so much here given how much the series generally stays away from that more baseline territory. So it has some claims to delve into it or make a point of that, for sure.
…But maybe the bit goes on too long? We are looking at nearly two minutes of what amounts to a series of Money Shot porno jokes. And given, they do find a lot of ways to rework simple context sentences into statements prime for an entirely different kind of program. But it comes at the expense of other contests that only get a passing mention, like cooking, karaoke, and a quiz. Maybe I feel something more akin to a dress-up contest could have done the sex joke job with a little more tact than the wet shirt and squirtgun routine? Perhaps it has something to do with my festival episode fascination thing, and it came off as less festive or creative as a result. At least they didn’t include Kurumiko and Tsumugi as targets for these scenes, which is the entire reason I imagine they were scripted as judges? But that seems like a really depressing kind of anime industry kudos to give, that they should be lauded for not doing simulated sex scenes on those characters.
Given the construction of the show, if it wanted to take a stab at the perverted tropes, I feel it should be able to do that.
In essence though, the “Boy, this sure is so naughty!” stuff is pretty standard stuff on its own, and while some harem productions are more overtly self aware and others less so, being self aware of something does not itself mean being subversive or satirical. So it was these few minutes of weirdness that felt like a pretty different kind of show, though I am not sold on the idea that such effect alone makes it have a direct point outside fantasy freeze-frames for a certain subset of folks. Also, really now, Ruri should probably get her eye checked out and everything.
It is kind of weird that I am left with the net effect of thinking the actual beach episode was a lot less overt, and a nagging sense of “You know, a costume show part of the pageant probably would have been better.”
I would have liked to see more of the ghost maid fried noodle cafe Megumu mentioned as well. You can not just throw something like that out there as the classwide event project, and then not show me what sort of final product they made!
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.