This Week: Barakamon, Free! – Eternal Summer, M3: The Dark Metal, Mobile Suit Gundam-san, Space☆Dandy Season Two, and Tokyo ESP.
In a quality of life upgrade for readers, I made a new category over the last week, where I collected my previous episodic opinions on shows as they were airing and placed them with their series friends. The goal is to make things a lot easier for folks to read past opinions from these posts without needing to flip through a dozen or two separate pages, which is especially helpful if someone only picks up a show after it has ended.
So, if you ever wanted to refer back to my longer Ping Pong The Animation write-ups from last season, experience my pain of Pupa all over again, among many others as they were in their weekly formats here, now you can!
Given that my other categories have Things I Can Find In My Closet naming schemes, the section is merely called Notebooks. While I backdated these entries so as to not flood the blog in the present, going forwards I will merely publish these as shows or seasons end. M3: The Dark Metal lacks one for now due to insufficient previous material, and Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! has an uncertain series length I am willing to wait a few more weeks before collecting its prior write-ups together.
By the same token, I wheeled this out two months ago without an announcement, but while I am here: There is also now an Index page and related sub-pages, which contains a much easier to navigate collection of lists and links back to previous material across all the categories on this blog.
Ideally these enhancements make for a more convenient reading experience, especially with the number of posts in the archives.
Now then: TV shows and stuff!
Barakamon [Episode five]
The episode where Naru, Tamako, Miwa pull their “Teach us calligraphy!” card on Seishuu. Or, at least an episode where that happens, as I can not imagine this will be the last time such an event transpires.
In this case, we turn then to how our sudden penmanship professor can not be in all places at once, and needs to leave the room for a bit while the practice on with what they deem to be repetitive writing exercises. So things turn to questions of if Seishuu is dating, who he would be dating, or perhaps even married to, and our trio of girls generally turning some of his possessions inside out in search of an answer. Antics go as could be expected in this situation, in that even the most promising of potential leads turns up empty. Everyone is very much caught red handed, as opposed to being perhaps a bit more spattered with black ink, and at that I think the scene delivered. Naru freaking out as only a little kid would at the thought of someone dating, the two older teenage girls having their more level headed inquisitive-with-intent-to-embarrass-the-new-guy modality, and so on.
Just a nice little amusing character moment for all those involved, which I appreciated, especially after my previous concerns over the show generally not being as funny in the non-calligraphy moments. Though, perhaps this was arguably still one of those, in that they were supposed to be writing but chose to stop after a while.
The second half revolving around the beach brings those same concerns a bit more up to the surface again though.
I still do not really find Tamako’s “I’m not a secret fujoshi!” character bits all that funny, which is not really a deal killer since it is only a single character and Barakamon has a wider cast to lean on. But, I really do not think the show needed to break out the sea slugs and have characters jerking them off like “Doesn’t this remind you of anything, audience?” Complete with pixelated fluid excretions being generated by grade school girls rubbing the slug.
I mean, hell, there are people who read this blog who know me in real life. They know full well I am not against dropping innuendoes or the like for charged comedic purposes. But, well, I also think this little bit was kind of out of line for a show like this. I do not think Barakamon needs to lean on little girls yanking This Is A Dick Ejaculation Joke style comedy, as it has such a large swath of other and more robust character material it can pull from.
Silver Spoon and Non Non Biyori each made use of their country settings in their own ways for instance that made them really enjoyable for me, and I could show them to non-anime watching friends and family with no fuss. Barakamon feels a lot more otaku oriented for now, sadly, which is a shame.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode six]
While it took us most of a full season last time to get to the prefecture level tournament, here we are again! The characters are pretty pleased with this as well.
And not a moment too soon, really, as I imagine we have a longer national run to try and fit in this time as well for the second half of the season. In addition to any looming ticking time bomb issues Sousuke is here to introduce.
In bringing back the tournament event selection matter from several episodes ago, the notion that Makoto and Haru will be each participating in the 200m Freestyle returns. We see a bit more of their childhood together, which I think is fair as these two characters are the ones who have known each other for the longest period of time, and how they originally came to decide to join the Iwatobi swim club as children. Right up to and even including a bit on where the dolphin imagery that surrounds Haru comes from, via something as simple as a little keychain toy of the animal that Makoto also wanted but decided to switch gears to a clownfish and allow Haru to have instead.
Now, I do not think it would have been necessary at all for the show to establish something like this. It can just have Haru like dolphins and be associated with them given his enjoyment of the water. But, especially as Haru has retained this dolphin character since childhood while Makoto is now more regarded with whale imagery, I think it was a nice little bit that plays well to how their lives or focuses have developed in the time since. Certainly even the compromise on who gets the little dolphin toy plays directly to the notion that Makoto only wanted to swim with Haru, and allowing Haru to have that toy would by all means do a lot more to keep him around and swimming together in those earlier years than potentially competing for it.
There are a lot of smaller bit scenes over the course of the episode, which is fitting for how broken up and structured something like a tournament event happens to be.
Even beforehand, we get the small but mechanically useful aspects like Rin and Gou heading to their family grave to see their father for a bit before the competition, the outside aspects like the Mikoshiba brothers fawning over Gou together, and Nagisa and his Samezuka equivalent Aiichirou for a little goofy yet embarrassed chit chat together. It does well for setting up the more communal effort of it all, as this season does require a larger cast and more significant influence on the Samezuka side of the narrative equation. That Makoto or Aiichirou go on to not qualify further out of their respective events despite their best efforts is expected, but also setting up elements that will have their dividends further forwards.
That when the end of the season come and I assume Makoto is looking back on his high school swimming career after whatever comes of Iwatobi’s national push, he will be pleased despite the loss to Haru here because he was still able to race against his good friend in a tested environment. Likewise, and perhaps far more importantly, that Aiichirou is the clear “weak link” in the Samezuka relay team, which does not sit well with Sousuke at all because of how much he is looking out for Rin to be able to continue on with a higher level swimming career after collect. After his earlier stage private intimidation attempt against Haru we have not seen too terribly much of Sousuke, despite him being seemingly quite relevant to future plot events and how they will play out. That he will attempt to muscle Aiichirou right on out of the relay team is expected, if only because I can not see another reasonable path for their characters to go.
It is not like I am cheering for Sousuke to be a jerk and rile everyone up, but more of a consideration that we are about halfway through the season and we are only waiting on how he will do this, not so much on the if he will do it, given the pretty straightforward nature of his character arc so far.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3 Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episodes 12 – 16]
I marathoned my way back up to speed with this show the other day, to check in on how Junichi Sato, Mari Okada, and Shōji Kawamori are doing.
Given that the official website it dead, home video releases have stopped, and general internet activity on this show is a near ghost town, I am going to be a bit more direct in terms of just relaying what happened in these episodes.
Someone needs to remember that this show existed and how it operates narratively, and it can not just be me.
The worst kind of quasi-recap episode, in that it is taking active events in the present (Akashi fighting the Corpse in the Lightless Realm), while interspersing it with previous events we already know (here being essentially every scene with Sasame and Akashi), while also dumping in the character/s having flashbacks to new information we as the audience are not familiar with (Akashi and Sasame as kids). The kind of construction that really does not make it skippable like a more standard recap, since everything is bundled up in these competing balls. As much as I may not be a fan of recap episodes, I do find ones where most of it is recycled but there is essential story material I am expected to have to trudge through the things I already know to get to it in random little squirts as more annoying for the pacing of a narrative. I as a viewer am just flat out bored for most of the episode, which is not even a recap of the whole show so much as it really is more focusing on whatever “relationship” between Akashi and Sasame there was supposed to have been.
Given that Sasame is the kind of I Never Knew The Emotion Of Happiness Until Now yet while also being the quiet and demure Flagship Fantasy Vessel Who Will Never Speak Up Against You, Dear Viewer, to call her characterization up to now flat would be generous. As a result, her offscreen move to become a LIM system, so she can power a mecha for Minashi to go into the Lightless Realm and save Akashi, holds no dramatic weight whatsoever.
Here, Minashi and Akashi in their retreat come upon a magical glowing tree, to which Minashi immediately says will prevent the effects of the Lightless Realm from turning them into Necrometal for a while. How he knows this at this point in time is not given, as we have never seen anything to confirm this. Nor is it questioned by Akashi, which is more crucial. Really, it just serves to allow them to get out of their robots and have a chat face to face about Sasame, The One Girl With A Personality On Par To Akashi’s Ability To Pass As A Loaf Of White Bread.
From a screenwriting standpoint, I get the idea that having the characters have this discussion in person could make it a bit more compelling than having it done via their respective cockpits and communication links. Outside allows Akashi to hurl his body around and all that a bit more, after all. But this scene just does not make much sense given the information the viewer and Akashi has. The Lightless Realm is a high grade lethal deathtrap, where even these top of the line mecha can barely survive in its condition. Exposure results in damn near immediate convulsions and the onset of Necrometal corruption. Plus, they are in an active retreat mode, ideally. There is no reason for Akashi to get out of the damn robot, at this time, with the information provided to him.
This sequence of Minashi trying to explain Sasame becoming a LIM really only exists to provoke Akashi to emit Rage And Screams, because these were emotions he heard one time that human beings possess. Which results in him going into personal I Do Not Have Time For This mode, hopping back into his robot, and deploying the Mari Okada patented Curl Into A Ball And Cry Forever transformation mode of the machine, displayed above. The Corpse, to its credit, has no idea what to do at the sight of this as our lead character shuts down and wails a bit. Before then transitioning into bloodlust mode and aims to kick the everloving stuff out of the Corpse as a coping response.
All of which comes down to a song, from the ethereal girl we have seen a bit prior, to calm folks down as she vaporizes the Corpse.
We have a new intro! Which seems tonally… very, very out of place. The first one was a flat, generic M3 Is A Soaring Teen Robot Anime Show vibe, while the second is more upbeat and more Go Get ‘Em! energy.
Command is angry that one of the teenage robot pilots did not explicitly abide by mission parameters and had the gall to actually kill something with their robot that they considered a threat in the deadly Necrometal hellzone. Which is understandable, in that now the Lightless Realm is expanding, which is was not doing so much before. But also, this is one of those situations a reasonable organization would have already pegged as a risk, that maybe the weapon systems on the mecha could be used by emotionally underdeveloped teen pilots in a sense of personal rage or other feelings to kill something attacking the robot. Naturally, Lollipop Scientist and all around obvious bad guy Natsuiri then gets pedantic about the definition of the word Kill for a while, that the Corpse was “Defeated” but it can not be “Killed” since it was arguably never “Alive” to begin with and such other things that continue every effort to grind the show to a halt.
As Emiru’s machine is now back, and Heito is very much Necrometal contaminated due to being flopped around outside of it so long, we have a machine with a LIM but no pilot. Incidentally, Lollipop Scientist considers the notion that maybe viewers did not get the message before, and thus needs to remind everyone that Heito Could Only Pilot His Machine Because He Is A Sexual Predator Who Abused A Female Team Member.
We turn to Maamu then.
Winner of the Most Animation Attention Given To A Scene In This Show award for being assaulted by sports equipment back in the earliest days of this show, and to be honest really the only character in this show I have any interest in. Her fictional story writing from before tending to come true and all that, while also being the only member of the team with no psychically linked partner, makes me at least somewhat intrigued in what her actual purpose is in this story.
That said, the show sees this as more opportunity to do things to her body, this time via tentacle entities in her own mind as part of the attempts to see if she can resonate with Emiru’s machine.
Narratively, apparently Maamu sort of knew everyone else as a kid too, but was always off to the side writing sad fairy tale stories in her notebook. Emiru happened to come across this most prominently, chatted with her about it, and tried to edit one of her stories once to give it a happier ending. So now that they both have remembered this, and Emiru got to chew Maamu out for a bit as a Necrometal zombie, Maamu can seemingly now pilot Emiru’s machine and be best buddies going forwards.
Which is not quite the Death Note inspired supernatural antics I was sort of hoping she was going to end up bringing to the table here.
Akashi continues on as a blank slate who is also quite unlikable as a human being. Injured, and unable to speak, but safe, he considers the girl who saved him to be a “wench” several times. Like, there is the general unpleasantness of his character anyway, given that half of the show was it flopping his one note brother issues around like a fish gasping for air, then a trying to shoehorn in a haphazard One True Romance as quickly as possible before writing out Sasame. But “wench” is what he is going to go with towards this other girl, multiple times? I can not remember where I last I heard that word out loud outside of a period piece or someone who is otherwise supposed to be acting as or mimicking a pirate. It feels like someone at Daisuki did a Find – Replace or dug up a thesaurus or something, for how awkward it flows from Akashi’s thoughts.
The girl, who is clearly not Sasame in any capacity but Akashi has the consistent observational powers of a broken taillight and keeps calling her that when not using “wench” (which brings up its own set of very unfortunate implications), gives him a magic bracelet made of that magic tree from before so they can go outside for a while. Akashi goes along with this for a time, and then breaks the bracelet off because… plot reasons, really. Necrometal crows descend to attack. He beats them with a steel bar. They go to an amusement park in rain in the Lightless Realm, which would be kind of interesting to me (I have been to the abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, for instance), but not a whole lot is done with the scene other than for it to be a transition bridge.
Akashi, we are told, must apologize to the Corpse. Because it is sad and such towards him, and at least a hell of a lot smaller now after what was done to it previously.
“We created the lightless realm.”
Uh, ok M3. Please, do tell, explain to me how on Earth this ragtag group of orphaned teens with Final Fantasy VIII memory issues of when they played together as kids created the Lightless Realm and are directly responsible for this entire situation.
So Tsumugi, the girl Akashi thought was Sasame but is actually her sister, is at the core of this. Ok, I’m following. Akashi and Sasame grew up in the same community, so the three of them were together as kids on the island of Yomijima. Sure, fine, you may have meant Yoroshima if we are talking about real but equally small islands off of Japan, but I am with you so far. Then the organization the teens presently work for came to the island and arsoned the community the ground, for reasons we are not told.
Cheap, but do continue.
Some village members, which includes our trio, retreat to a cave with the rock crystal thing of the lightless deity, and awaken it for the rural children to run off to Tokyo with to bring torment upon the mainland. This includes needing to throw clothes and things over the Corpse as they lead it around by the hand like it was an elderly lady. The kids meet the other kids by accident, and at first are scared they will need to kill them. But they do not, because of ball in a cup toys. The kids have lots of fun times together, but Tsumugi gets sad during a sleepover in some abandoned auditorium, because of the existential crisis of We Are All Going To Die One Day and such. Everyone promises they will never leave her behind, etc. They play hide and seek one day, with Tsumugi as the seeker and the others going off to hide.
This indoor playdate happened to coincide with the Corpse delivering its intended payload and destroying large portions of metropolitan landscape, because I refuse to believe at this stage the entire reason for everything that has happened is due to someone taking a game of hide and seek to such a pedantic level a decade prior.
This show is exhausting, in that it is so very uninterested in anything it is doing.
It is flat out bored of itself. Despite any spicier wording I may have used for the verbal soup here, this is not an amusing-bad kind of show. It just sort of washes over one is a haze of disinterest. Nobody on this staff seems to want to be working on this project, by the looks of it. Circumstances are delivered with such ill attention for viewer investment and characterization, and scenes that do not make sense in relation to what the characters know or should do in the narrative as they understand their situation to be. They just need to happen because the plot says it needs to, with all the gusto of watching paint drying. The show is no longer wildly careening down the highway, which I will admit is a plus, to instead come to its smoldering wreckage point long ago to where it is at least now no longer a danger to itself and others anymore.
But that still is not saying a whole hell of a lot, and the project must have a bundle of nightmarish behind the scenes stories given everything that has befallen it in sales, animation quality, and so many other areas.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode five]
The Lalah Sune Sitcom continues, or Why Can’t Aznable Find This Angry Bird Char-ming.
All things being equal, this is the first episode of the show to really disappoint me in any noticeable capacity. I mean it is just a two minute gag show for a franchise decades old, so while I have not really laughed out loud a whole bunch watching it I do not hold it to a very exacting standard either. If it treads water and comes out around a 5/10 by the end, I would still consider that a success, basically.
Gundam-san is just a passing novelty for me, I never went into this with expectations for classic comedy to hold up against the ages.
What got me this episode though is this was the first thing things ever felt “more of the same,” as it were.
We did the Angry Bird versus Char while Lalah scolds thing last week, and at that I thought it was reasonably sharp in the time provided. Char insulted the bird, and the bird built a way-too-complex Mouse Trap machine to knock him out in the style of a flying Angry Bird (on the end of a log). And that is fine, I am quite alright leaving the story at that. Or indeed were we to come back to it, perhaps after some episodes to see how things have changed in the time since.
But this was “just” the continuing adventures of Tom and Jerry, as opposed to doing any more character cylicing. Which, when one has such a large cast to work with and pull gag material from, seems off the mark. At the very least, had this episode come much later in the series, I think it would have been broken up a bit better. It just seemed a little repetitive, given where it happened to deploy after last week.
I do rather like the screencap I took though.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode five]
With significantly less fanfare than Maasaki Yuasa received just two episodes ago, we have received our second Space☆Dandy quadruple production crown winner. This is understandable, of course, as Yuasa has a string of critical successes under his animation belt. Oshiyama, by contrast, has a smaller resume in terms of size. He has been a key animator on works like The Wind Rises, The Secret World of Arrietty, Letters to Momo, and Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, and this is what makes up the bulk of his accomplishments so far. Previously on Space☆Dandy, Oshiyama was the Animation Director on Eunyoung Choi’s episode first season (the one revolving around Planet Planta). But he has never professionally directed a full episode, storyboarded, or written scripts for any prior anime. Until now.
And you know, I like this a lot, giving such extensive creative oversight powers to someone who really could use a breakout expressive opportunity in these areas. The series is a lot of different things to various folks. It is a playground for animation directors to screw around in, the setup of the series allows for wildly divert scripts when it comes to tone, experienced professionals get to try some things they have always had kicking around in the back of their head, and so on. But it is also a kind of promotional and training vehicle for more up and coming creative folks too, and in that respect Oshiyama had quite an opportunity here. I will be interested to see what types of projects he gets attached to going forwards.
I saw folks on Twitter going “This feels kind of like a Studio Ghibli episode,” and there is good reason for that sort of reaction given his background.
I enjoyed that we returned to fishing as a pastime activity, as it was something QT had gotten into quite a bit last season.
Here we get to rotate things a bit and give Dandy the line for another one of his more solo outings with a little kid sidekick, such as Adélie’s case in episode five last season. That the character mechanics come to follow a pretty routine path (gruff elderly fisherman nobody else believes in but the little girl, fisherman saves Dandy from a treacherous spill, everyone in the community sets their past differences aside to team up and try to reel in the legendary catch, etc) I think is fine. It is reliable, it works, and especially in a case like this where Oshiyama has so much on his plate it allows for more attention to go towards other areas of the production. More inventive animation, dynamic camera choices, and all the rest.
A pretty straightforward story can be helped a lot by being the stability point for a number of other aspects. And when one has mermaids, Dandy getting harpooned through his pompadour, and giant sea creatures making gravitational jumps out of the ocean to passing planetary bodies I can more than understand the desire to keep other aspects more grounded or relatable for wider audiences.
Tokyo ESP [Episode four]
This is a show where Peggy the Penguin was punched by a psychically powered yakuza leader, and proceeded to emit a laser light show of rage before summoning an ethereal shark to pull the power granting goldfish right out of the guy.
And I am still not having a whole heck of a lot of fun.
That is a depressing state of affairs.
It is a swell thing that Rinka has mastered her powers of object permeability so quickly and on command. Brazenly walking into a known dangerous room and being pumped full of organized crime bullets would have gone to a very different place. Given how ruthlessly this show is trimming away at characterization in favor of delivery plot beats cold as can be, that one of the masked samurai figures responsible for distributing the magical goldfish around Tokyo turns out to be a childhood friend of Kyoutarou’s comes off almost comically inept. It puts Rinka’s father in the position to do a whole lot of research off screen during a transition, and come back to report on the backstory of those two to the characters. As Kyoutarou lost his parents in The Civil War Of An Unnamed Nation Overseas, it is an excuse for showing snipers picking off children, blood in the streets, and all the rest as sad string instument music plays on.
I am highly interested in issues like this, given my graduate school focus and overseas experiences in conflict zones, but I am calling this what it is: nothing more than a cheap ploy for the facade of character depth.
For that matter, the show has made significantly more attempts to establish Kyoutarou’s character via these points than anything it has done with its supposed lead character. Rinka, and to a lesser extent her father, we really do not know very much about. How hard things must have been without their mother, their poverty stricken financial situation, and so on. I know that these are circumstances that exist within the show, but it just is not interested in elaborating on them. As if these were shorthand bullet points notes on a character sheet, and the script filled those in as-is and considered its work done.
I have a more fleshed out idea of Peggy the Penguin’s motivations and drives, and Peggy is unable to speak human language.
Murasaki being rescued from the crime lords and gaining her own super powers in the process via another magical fish is expected enough, and in her case she has a “Theoretically Interesting, But Limited Application” power.
She can get a read on the history of something by touching it. So, eating meat goes right out the window after trying to eat pork and seeing a pig float around in the air and getting carved up. Gimmicky, but kind of nifty. Having introduced Kyoutarou and Rinka to her father though, and they display their special superpowers in front of him, he makes an understandable surprise remark about if they are even really human or not. Which… results in his daughter immediately deciding to run away from home and stay with the rest of the gang, as this was a clear display of ESP discrimination and not, say, her dad being just completely caught off guard at the sight of human teleportation and something sticking their face through a bag with minimal prompting.
This is the level of scripting and event delivery we are dealing in here, and it is just groan inducing.
To the credit of Murasaki’s dad, he does come by again to drop off her luggage for actually running away with, plus a ring from her deceased mom (which seemingly everyone in this show seems to have, now that I think about it). Given her powers, we have a nice credits sequence where she gets to look back and see her mother while Murasaki herself was still a baby and actually see her mom and meet her family for the first time. Which is a super nice sentiment!
It just deserves so much better than this show.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.