This Week: Barakamon, Free! – Eternal Summer, Mobile Suit Gundam-san, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, Space☆Dandy Season Two, and Tokyo ESP.
As it goes, I realized Matsutaro has never had me use it a featured image before. Even the likes of Pupa and Coppellion managed that on separate occasions, and our salty sumo wrestler is in a far better show than either of those!
Shave free then, Sakaguchi. Shave those pandas free.
Barakamon [Episode three]
I have seen various murmurs around about the tonal swings this series has taken even within the span of three episodes, and I can not say I am unsympathetic.
The first was from the relatively heartwarming but hints of manic behaviour school of thought. The second episode was a gear check “introduce these additional side characters” affair, with a second half which fell pretty flat for me. This third episode cranks the wackiness dial significantly higher, through extreme facial exaggeration, vocal loudness ranging from extreme to quiet mumbling other characters need interpret, and so on. In that respect, those hoping and pining for a nice slow rural down home pacing may by all means find themselves increasingly left out in the cold. I can understand if the show they wished for or imagined turned out not to be the series they received.
But, let us look at the show in front of us as it is.
Seishuu mailing off his calligraphy for competition, seeing he is running out of ink, and running off to the general store for misadventures in hearing via country life elderly ladies? I liked it. Especially with how far this show actually goes in terms of messing with accents, dialects, and so on. It is a lot of work for jokes that really are not laugh out loud funny at all, but are quite appreciated for where and how the misunderstanding occurs via their own internal wordplay.
The second “bit,” if we can break the episode up like that, landed flat for me. Tamako being both really into manga as well as crafting her own I think is a fine character quirk to give her for a character show like this. Especially for one set in a rural area like Barakamon. And then it gets too, well, insular for its own joke. It is not enough for her to just be into manga, to make manga, to create boys manga, or even violent manga on top of all that. She also has to be giving all manner of frenzied remarks about fujoshi as she switches personalities entirely to someone far more domineering. It is the sort of very otaku oriented joke making approach (ie, Say Lots Of Words And Descriptions About A Thing They Know, Thus Comedy) that just does not amuse me very much. It does not really require much in the way of comedic timing, craft, and so on, and it lasts almost a third of the episode on top of that. To say nothing of the fact that, well, the whole She Loves Boys Love Comics schtick is a one note character joke that got old for me so many years ago I do not even think Tamako would have been born yet within our reality timeline.
The third and final part of the episode then turns to a community celebration over a new boat being acquired and named, and there it aims to turn back to inspirational aspects for Seishuu’s situation again. Him being down about only achieving second place in that most recent competition he had entered, and then even here being unable to catch or pick up any of the celebratory mochi being thrown. He gets some regulation but appreciated advice from one of the elderly women about the value in at times allowing others to pass oneself for later benefit down the road.
It was pleasant, though I feel it does highlight the drastic swings this show will go through from one area to the next even within the confines of the same episodes.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode four]
An intriguing thing when comparing this season of Free! to last season’s Ping Pong The Animation is this episode the former laid out the “No amount of natural talent trumps hard work” theme at the start of this episode.
Meanwhile, in Ping Pong, there are strong character narratives that involves plenty of hard work coming to vastly different conclusions between various people. They are each very different kinds of sports shows, of course, but that even Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! leans heavily on the natural talent ropes is an interesting divide to have so clearly. It carries down through how the productions are structured on so many levels beyond this, and how they wish to go about their tones and character stories within their respective series sports.
I suppose that is not entirely fair or the full story though, in the sense that even the end of this episode Rin is in a far more mixed state than those more clear cut statements relating to hard work he made at the start of the episode. But not in a bad way.
Rather, that through our exploration of aspects relating to Rin and how he viewed relay swimming even as a kid, he decides by the end that he wants a relay team of folks who really want to be on said team. Not merely those who achieved the best times in various individual events, but people who wished to be be able to swim together as a single unit. And he flat out states that he knows this is not the “best” way to select a relay team in terms of raw performance, but more of a personal goal or quirk. To swim together with others in a relay once again because they wish to. Which is respectable and admirable, even, as far as a choice goes that could radically affect his ability to be able to swim at a higher level in his post-high school years.
We can already call the team now of course (Momotarou, Aiichirou, etc), so the natural conflict then comes from how much of an oil in the water force Sousuke will be going forwards. We already know he is quite protective of Rin, as far as previously wanting our shark toothed captain to focus all of his time on making himself better regardless of others. While he has the nice sentiment of being inspirationally inspired to want to join Rin’s relay team because of the dream Rin shared, I would expect that in time this will sour or crack a bit. Perhaps trying to nudge or encourage Aiichirou via intimidation to drop out down the road, for instance, as perhaps he does not manage to pass a particular speed level. I can not imagine those scenes showing the significantly younger Sousuke and Rin butting heads over theory versus feeling were shown without reason for them, after all. Some of that is sure to come back around again before an eventual making of amends or more permanent split between the two. One way or the other.
To be honest, I am kind of surprised that Sousuke’s victory coupon to force Rin to do one thing of whatever he wants was not burned on saying “You can not hang out with X, Y, or X persons” anymore. Or, while that is surely rather extreme, something else to similar time absorption and personal separation effect. He clearly has already been cast in a “villainous” light for this season, given the loggerheads he already reached with Haru previously about not getting in Rin’s way.
I just keep waiting for the ticking time bomb to go off.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode three]
“The Melancholy of Haro-Man”
Haro. Long misunderstood as a potentially out of place or annoying bouncing roboball mascot figure to some. But, he has his own story. In this, the trying times of the great space wars of a future century.
A flexible man in body and mind, he is in fact not a robot. He contorts himself into the Haro suit to the best of his ability. Day after day, for months and years. His son, now in fourth grade. His marriage, on the rocks.
Strained times of smoking, tears, and Jojo’s poses.
War constantly ravages the crew of White Base.
Haro-Man must continue on. He must bring up their morale. To be a constantly bouncing force of chipper information delivery. He must juggle the long distance calls from his wife. The cries of his son as their marriage disintegrates.
He must be the Haro-Man.
To tell Amuro things about his brainwave activity, as the mascot’s own family exists now only in ruins.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode 14]
There was a whole lot of “This is hell” quotes dropping out of characters mouths this week in respect to out leading man, and yet it at the same time took us back into its more lighthearted mode.
Sakaguchi wants himself a victory parade after last week and all, and folks need to take his mind off of the entire idea by whatever means necessary. And those means happen to in this case involve dragging Reiko back into the show and essentially railroading her through a sort of day out or afternoon date series of misadventures.
I can certainly imagine I may get future mileage out of screencaps for the headache patches used by our sumo stable master and his wife. That, or maybe their “I’m not playing dead, I’m fainting” commentary at the sight of the large angry man who wants his convertible ride and confetti celebration.
What has been interesting to me is that Reiko has been so far removed from so much of the events of the show, despite in many respects being a genesis for Sakaguchi’s wildest night at the start of the series and running off to Tokyo to be closer to her far more than being a sumo wrestler.
I do not expect her to have much of a compelling romance or even of a relationship to our lead, so the focus here being on the volume of the locations they go to is noteworthy. Temple, a city park, the amusement park, and so on. The structure is one that is playing more to the frantic or furrowed “Please for the love of all that is good, forget about having a parade” worry over a more interpersonal human connection. I mean we have our champion sumo wrestler now chasing pigeons in public because he wants to shave them with hair clippers so they can be roasted. We can not take him to the zoo, because he would want to shave them too. Never mix up “shave the pandas” with “save the pandas” unless you are in the right company, incidentally.
Also: dad jokes.
“I don’t want to take you to the zoo, Sakaguchi.”
“You’ll go ape with the clipper again.”
I like dad jokes.
Because of the nature of this show, that the mission to make Sakaguchi forget about having a parade fails is not only not a surprise but the expected natural way of things. He just gets a slightly more refined version of what he wanted.
And if the large sumo man now wants to pedal around town in a little panda car over the original convertible dream, well, who am I but to encourage his continued behavior.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode three]
I did think it was rather darkly humorous that the “nobody cares about that dumb space stuff anymore” plot was playing out very close to the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission.
Episode Director: Masaaki Yuasa, Animation Director: Masaaki Yuasa, Script: Masaaki Yuasa, Storyboards: Masaaki Yuasa
Well, on the production front this is pretty straightforward.
Moreso than even the Planet Planta or library world episodes last season, here we pretty much just hand the keys to Masaaki Yuasa. What becomes more interesting below that surface level though is that means he brings some of his own rag tag group of contacts with him, such as key animator Achille Bibard, who has never worked on an anime prior. All in all, there are almost a dozen or so western animators / background artists / etc brought in here, near as I can figure out from the credits and online databases. And that is really the sort of thing that would warrant a fuller post in its own right than me trying to condense it all here. Needless to say though, the group he curates is awfully good at being able to both maintain a style one would expect from a Yuasa project while also getting to place their own personal flairs throughout.
Certainly, the visuals of the episode shift several times throughout, as this is very much an animators animation.
We are playing with textures, layers, viscosity, transparencies, elasticities, and so on. One has the classic cartoon hijinks of things like characters flailing around in mid-air after their rope breaks or falling through the center of a hollow planetary body, sure. And that all works in tandem with reinforcing the emphasis on visual momentum or play.
I feel some may find the actual core script, full as it is of Planet Pushy Boyfriend and Planet Girlfriend and a fish astronaut abandoned by his people who has worked tirelessly alone in the efforts of being able to one day save them from a horrible astronomy secret he learned, to be somewhat lacking. Even potentially erratic near the end, given the rapid onset of things like the star roasting the pompous fish civilization and our pained researcher of many gills committing suicide by racing into the hellish heat. Likewise, that Dandy and Meow are perfectly fine so long as they were in the shade, despite the extreme proximity of the approaching star, could perturb folks who would see it as unbelievable or scientifically improbably.
First of all, this is a show where an alien astronaut fish can set up a blanket, umbrella, and boombox picnic and hold a conversation with a disembodied head. It is better to just let it happen, than go against the waves it wants to surf with serious scientific arguments. Watch more old classic cartoon shorts.
Secondarily though, there is the issue where Yuasa is either very good at adapting other folks work, or dialogue free shorts like Happy Machine from the Genius Party collection. He is know far more prominently for his strong visual aspects that he can bring to the table than his own penned screenplays.
But, even Chief Director of this whole operation Shinichiro Watanabe is to me a rather less than stellar writer all by himself as well. I even mentioned as such in far more detail way back in the very first episode of Space☆Dandy. So that things come to lean more on the other aspects of the production, such as direction strength, does seem wholly appropriate in Yuasa’s task here.
I liked the episode, though certainly without the strong presence on the animation front I feel this entry would have fallen apart in other hands.
Tokyo ESP [Episode two]
As expected last week, we do flash back to less hectic times. Away from mass metropolitan terrorist activity and folks with plant vine control powers trying to beat down our lead, all the way back to when Rinka first acquired and had confusion relating to her new-found extraordinary powers. As they happen to involve object permeability, this naturally has to involve her losing all her clothes and falling through her second floor apartment into her elderly downstairs neighbor’s living room. Because of course it does.
I do not think I was anywhere near as harsh as a number of other folks were to this show after its first episode, so it would do well not to lose me now.
We received our much promised flying penguin and floating fish from the synopsis of the series though. As the progenitors and controllers of where the mysterious ESP abilities are coming from and what is happening, via these ethereal but poorly defined entities slamming into regular human beings, I am actually on board enough for the service they provide. We do not, at this stage, need to necessarily know where these fish and flying arctic birds are coming from.
They can just be a magical visual spectacle.
Except… they are not, really.
The sense of time alone, where we jump between three different layers between the episode (the terrorism we started with, Rinka falling through the floor, then further back to where the powers came from, then back up a layer), is disorientating. Beyond that, so much of the direction here is quite flat. The action sequences, such as Rinka’s dad accidentally triggering an ability to attract metal to himself and thus creating a giant ball of cars around him he can not get out from while rolling through the city, has little weight to it given the materials involved.
Later events like an art museum heist and resulting fight seem downright mundane. And indeed, those flying magical fish are presented very mattery of factly, with little sense of wonder or splendor to the affair. They show up, mechanically bestow a power, and we move on. There is little flair or enrapturing quality to it all. The whole episode really seems quite mechanical, like it was just going through motions. Even resident male lead Kyoutarou Azuma is mostly just explaining things to Rinka or giving exposition for most of his lines this episode, which is itself not a greatly engaging activity.
Any energy or momentum the show had last week seems to have downright evaporated. The series may well be just doing the bare minimum as a part of an effort to conserve resources for later events like the hinted terrorist showdown. And if that is the case I would respect the decision, as there were aspects in that first episode that would be nice to see delivery on in the action superpower fighting department. But even so, it would need to ensure audiences do not mentally check out beforehand
It almost takes its own brand of effort to have a Katamari Damacy Rollerball Made Of Cars Rolling Through seem pretty lackadaisical. Tokyo ESP can not afford to have too many episodes in a row like this.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.