This Week: Barakamon, Free! – Eternal Summer, Mobile Suit Gundam-san, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, Space☆Dandy Season Two, and Tokyo ESP.
A surprising three shows this week end up with prominent birds in their screenshots. Two of which are penguins, and another being an Angry Birds gag involving the Principality of Zeon’s most prominent user of red mobile suit paint.
I feel I should grant featured image rights to Gundam-san this week, should I want to avoid having that face call to have my residence pelted with crazed avian creatures.
Barakamon [Episode four]
Comedies are so very, very tricky. So much depends on timing, character personalities, let alone any actual writing involved. Then there are matters of personal taste to account for on top of that.
On that front, the front half of this episode by and large just did not work for me. In what was in part me being drilled from an early age regarding the ability to be able to maintain and fix consumer electronics, because they are increasingly essential, the standby “I don’t know how to fix my computer!” joke sort does not work for me with a guy in Seishuu’s situation . The broken cell phone I can give Seishuu a bye on, as that took a dip in the ocean and trying to perform any kind of dark necromancy to bring it back would be little than futile at best.
But then him in turn trying to use a rotary phone by pushing the numbers rather than spinning the requisite parts, when he already said he had seen these before in media, well that also misfires for me. I fully get what these bits are going for (it isolates him a bit more, recognition of influx of technology versus country life, etc), I just think the jokes would be funnier were they more characters based. Having Seishuu as a young adult embarrassingly needing the children to teach him how something as seemingly archaic or simple as a rotary phone works, for instance. Which they do, arguably, as he makes the call eventually, but that goes on off screen and between cuts.
Make more of an inter-character connective bit out of those sorts of moments on screen, is what I am saying. It makes for a sturdier comedy experience, I feel.
Our second half primary bit then involves Miwa’s scruffy liquor selling dad and his brand new boat. Which he has named as “I Alone am Holy” for, uh, reasons of remaining imposing as if his eyes could shoot celestial fires of divine incinerator judgement towards those he thinks may have intentions with his daughter, I assume. Whose name, incidentally, Seishuu inquires about if that was going to be the name of it originally due to tradition, so he is certainly retaining those tidbits from the other week.
This half of the episode I enjoyed significantly more, as it presents our perfectionist calligrapher with a more extreme and out of left field conundrum to navigate. How on Earth to ink a name on the side of a curved boat body, without using lettering stencils because the owner desires it to have a more freehand and personality driven unique look. In turn, our lead gets one shot and no retries, since ink is as ink does. With a combination of carefree children running around underfoot as well. They naturally play in to the vision he ends up pretty much by necessity needing to create in an effort to fix the errors they introduce to the equation with their grubby hands, and in this way we again speak to Seishuu’s need to let go more and go with the flow of things rather than attempting to create clinical results in his art form.
By all means, I would not want the show to be all calligraphy all the time, much like how something like Polar Bear’s Cafe was not always about the cafe. But Barakamon does seem to have a better hit rate for me so far when it builds its comedy as character moments around that, than some of the other efforts it has made.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode five]
Our swimming boys show seems to have been taking some lessons from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, in the event variations of “You thought it was Haru in his bathtub again, but it was…!” jokes have somehow not been driven into the ground already.
But, yes indeed, for what looked to be yet another morning sequence where Haru needs to be dragged right on out of his own tub, it turns out it was Nagisa all along waiting for Makoto. Nagisa, as it turns out, was also camping as Haru’s house the night before. Which is the sort of thing that immediately sets off some signals, at least in my mind at the time, that something was not quite alright. While our four man Iwatobi band do operate together as a swimming unit, they are definitely more paired off between Rei – Nagisa and Makoto – Haru lines which tend to operate more closely together. It is not that Nagisa and Haru could not be casually hanging out in whatever capacity, after all, but in terms of how the show tends to flow this does mean something is likely going on which is putting a strain on him.
So too then, in this case.
For all of Nagisa’s energetic qualities, to effectively be able to come into and out of a location like hurricane before anyone really catches on to what actually happened, even he can not keep his continuous sleepover game running forever.
Nor can his pangea misdirections and mackerel bribery hold up over the long term. Going along with that, when he said he had run away from home due to an argument with his parents, I did not actually figure this was the real answer either. The text message from them that was hurriedly pocked and freaked out about I could certainly see as being a case where he had gone off on his own and the resulting parental worry. But I think at the time I was considering more that Nagisa perhaps had left on his own in some misguided late high school attempt to have more hangouts, sleepovers, etc before graduation. Certainly, we rarely ever seen him and Haru together as a unit, and the like.
That it was “just” a case of running away over test scores and the threat that he would get pulled from the extracurricular activity of the swim team works too though, of course. As well as we would get in an equivalent “Girls Doing Things” show, we are presented his tale of significantly more unfun and study filled middle school years. Parlayed as they are to his friends and us within the darkened hall of their reborn childhood swimming club, it sets up a bit more why he is who he is today. Likewise, it allowed for a kind of role reversal between Rei and Nagisa, as Rei recognized himself. Now he can work hard to maintain the membership of the one who used to do so much work to rope him away from the track team originally.
It was an episode that does not do a whole lot for the regional and national relays that have been talked up prior. Or those bigger questions concerning Rin and his other childhood friend.
But it does give a little more dedicated attention to someone who is usually in a more strict comedic role. If the series had gone just a little further along, it likely would not be able to get away with this episode without derailing a significant event or closing arc, so this was really one of its last opportunities in that department.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode four]
The Lalah Sune Episode.
Kind of. Now featuring way more Angry Birds.
…Alright it was mostly the Angry Birds episode. Which works for me, if only because I was really wondering if they were going to do anything with that big Char caricature who looms large in the ending credits, or if that was just going to be the extent of that particular gag.
So we hurl Angry Char Bird into a vending machine, waggling around that avian butt of his to get Lalah’s attention. He is just so irresistible, after all. She was going to get herself some nice red bean soup to warm up with, but no, bird butts win the battle of the day.
Actual Gundam-san Char is, perhaps understandably, less than impressed by the new log cabin roommate. You can not even really say there would be much to fry up on a little feathered friend like this one.
I remain impressed at the ability for this show to not go for the “Char-broiled” line of remarks for things one could do to a bird during the cooking process.
Our Angry Bird Gashapon though, he knows the score. He knows the kinds of overly ambitious to points well past insanity Zeonic plans one could make in this situation.
There can be only one.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode fifteen]
The “You Can’t Go Home Again” episode, essentially. Which is true, in the sense that if one has actually progressed or gone anywhere in life, then there is going to be those massive disconnects one picks up on between what things are now and how they used to be (or how they perceived them to be). Not always for the worse, mind you.
So our big guy is coming home for a bit via regional rail, and the Matsutaro family come to get him at the main station. Which is nice of them as a gesture in itself because of how much that would cost even just as bus fare. You are looking at the cost of mom plus almost half a dozen small children, from a family that does not have a whole lot of income.
Sakaguchi, because he is less of a complete monster now than where he started in the show, does treat them for parfaits and other delights with money he has earned and saved from what he has accomplished so far. Which includes hiring two taxi cabs to ride back home to town in, over the bus. Mom gets to sit, be more comfortable, get the kids out of her hair for a bit, and so on, while also handing over to her the big wad of bills he has saved up for them after all this time.
Standard “Guy used to be a big jerk, but he is looking out for his family though he does not really want to show it” stuff, but it works well enough given the journey this has all been. Plus, in all this we get to see more of Sakaguchi in that fabulous dragon tie of his, with a new purple suit to match. One wants to look fresh for the occasion. Even after arriving, the next day he still puts on a nice shirt and all, which is even better for putting fools in their place.
Otherwise though, yeah, while many of the episodes do play out generally as expected much of this does go exactly as one would think would happen when a guy like Sakaguchi comes home.
He is much bigger than before, for one thing, given the sumo regimen. Even the general framing of the episode uses a lot of low angles during many of his scenes to emphasize his general girth. The house, town, and so on do not quite feel the same, having been living it up in Tokyo as he has been. Things like him observing his mom at the little household shrine to his father, or noticing the scrapbook full of newspaper clippings of his achievements. He crashes the school day, and while on the one hand he gets to show off things like the ritual shiko exercise, things like him participating in classroom cafeteria affairs does not quite feel the same anymore. He walks around old dogs down, rather than kicking them out of the way, or threatening to splash the older women of the town with buckets of water as he used to, but he can not bring himself to do so.
And it is frustrating, in a sense, to him. As it does mean things are different now. And he wants to leave without saying goodbye. Which also goes as one would think (which is to say, those townswomen noticing and set up something for him, and he manages to actually bring himself to have some parting remarks, in his own way).
I still have no idea how long this series is actually supposed to go on for, as there are still two whole sumo divisions for him to conquer. But, ideally this episode means he as a character reflected on how different his life has become, and thus burning through the next level faster. We would like to see him in the top division sooner rather than later, after all.
It helps as well that this was one of the best looking episodes of the entire series, playing with lots of soft lighting effects and the general camera work going on. It more than shows the team working on the show have the resources within what I am sure is pretty tight purse-strings to step things up when they want / need to, which speaks well for the program on the whole.
We still do not have an end episode count for a show, near as I can find, and I have no clue how well this series is doing in the ratings. But I imagine even its (I’m assuming to be) limited budget would have gotten slashed down had it not been meeting or exceeding expectations.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode four]
One of these days I risk getting really lazy and just hurling my shorthand notes up as a comment instead. An avalanche of character reference observations and woefully abhorrent spellings, especially when everything is me gleefully reacting to 1980’s montages and High School Prom Queen event musical numbers.
The credits this week were a field trip, and I am really glad I have the ability to record episodes via my satellite setup so I can keep the screen paused. There are a couple of odd things in this episode. For one, Hayashi Mori has never written or even worked on anything else involving anime prior to this. He happens to be a live action television screenwriter and actor in various shows, such as Tough Nights of Club Indigo and Delusional Investigation – A Stylish Life of Associate Professor Koichi Kuwagata.
I have no idea what he best known works would be, as I know little of what is popular in Japanese live action television domestically, but those titles such stood out to me.
Oh my god that whole sentence rhymes, and I am so sorry.
But I can not in good faith delete such a thing now, and especially not in this episode.
Elsewhere, Aoyama is a guy who has been around for a while, having done key animation on Akira and such.
Which is a gig he still does for various Ghibli films even today, as well as being Animation Director for Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars and The Girl Who Lept Through Time. He brings with him multiple Assistant Director’s though, who have worked with him on various projects over the years. Which is fairly essential for an episode like this, by its very nature a big ball of musical sequences with requisite dancing and dynamic camera work that needs to be maintained and watched over to make sure all the parts actually fit together. It is not like most television or indeed anime are made in a linear “start of the narrative to the end” process, one has a lot of animators doing different things. And musicals, for how little “plot” it may have when the tunes get going, are a really technically difficult thing to do.
Perhaps appropriately, Takaaki Wada has never actually directed a full series or film before. Rather, he is one of the industry workhorse types, with a very vast resume over numerous years. One could say this means he does not stand out much, but rather I like to think of it as recognition of his reliability. With Mori’s scripting to turn to storyboarding for the animators, he is not going to be railroading the process with via a headstrong personality or folks worrying about an imposing series of prior award winning achievements. The job will get done, and the workgroup will have a fair amount of fun.
Which, if one is going to make The Space☆Dandy 1980’s Prom King And Queen Sing Off episode, I think is a feeling one needs to be able to maintain in the office, were they to ever have a hope of getting that sentiment across organically to viewers at home.
And between the Twitter references, swirly glasses nerd girl, a clear appreciation for ‘80’s movies and anime to make visual shout outs to, and all the rest, I think they managed that. In terms of raw unleaded enjoyment, for me this has been the most entertaining of any of the episodes this show has cranked out this season.
Tokyo ESP [Episode three]
What to do with this series. What to do and where to go.
From what I understand from someone else who has actually read the source material, this episode and the one prior are by and large draining a large amount of the incidental character comedy so as to perhaps throttle our way ahead at full speed through the “backstory” of the explosive first episode. Having not actually read the manga myself, that would be a line of reasoning I could understand, in the sense that this does very much feel like a show that is not all that interested in spending a whole lot of time on world building or character craft. The direction is incredibly odd, to me, in that everything is brutally efficient (which does not mean good in this case) at moving plot forwards. Progression above on all else. Rinka’s dad, who was so inept with his sudden metal attracting power last episode he rolled up a Tokyo city block of traffic into a Katamari Damacy ball around him, can now just summon a single piece of kitchenware to his hand.
Which would itself not really be as big of a deal were it not a severe indicator of how fast this episode wants to run.
Kyoutarou just instinctively knows to head to Odaiba to track down a flying penguin, and he and Rinka are there to see it and then need to rescue said flying penguin from a Ghostbusters reference team. The penguin, perhaps naturally in a series like this, is the only friend of a shy girl with glasses, and all of this hubbub causes a great big car chase and eventual crash. And it is all so… well, uneventful, with little passion or sense of urgency. Very much as if the series itself knows that we know these characters sort of by and large need to make it to a much larger part of the plot we have already seen a glimpse of, so it is not even trying to sell on any potential danger now.
Kyoutarou’s teleportation powers, for how nice the wisp of smoke effect sort of look in action, are way too much of a conveniently droll card to play when a car is teetering to fall off of a overpass and he can practically sidestep everyone six feet to the left.
Going along with that, his complete out of left field backstory involving an impoverished and violent generic third world nation (maybe they will define it later, but for now they sure have not), is delivered with all the setup and grace of tripping over a box one forgot to move when rearranging their room.
It just sort of appears for a bit, but not in a good shocking way. The series is just pushing us along, always forwards, no moment for any of this to sink in or build an actual human portrait. Likewise, his followup “You’re my hero” line to Rinka searching for an emotionally charged audience reaction seems completely void. They saved some folks together, sure, and that is noble. And Rinka and Peggy the Penguin saved a drowning Kyoutarou. So that is also nice of them. But the timing and craft to it is all kinds of flat, hollow, and unconnected to the audience.
The series is oriented to want to be a massive party of fiction references, superpowers, and the like.
But in the path it is on for now, the show is valuing raw progression and plot beats over absolutely anything else. Recapture the glasses girl because she was already rescued earlier in the episode. Burn the apartment of the leading young lady and her dad down. Have the yakuza involved. Bring in a mysterious masked samurai figure who is distributing all of the glowing flying psychic power granting fish. It feels like a very boring treadmill exercise that can not even provide a runner’s high for the overwhelming experience. It is rapidly becoming a show of quantity with its moments over anything resembling quality to those scenes.
But given the lifeless direction, it is not creating an entertaining or celebratory pileup to go along with any of it.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.