This Week: Barakamon, Free! – Eternal Summer, M3: The Dark Metal, Mobile Suit Gundam-san, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, Space☆Dandy Season Two, and Tokyo ESP.
Halfway through the season, and thankfully that means some of these productions will be mercifully drawing to a close in relatively short order.
Some good stuff will also end up getting board wiped in that future process too through, which means I should value my time with them while I still can.
This post is a day later than it normally would be for my usual schedule, but personal circumstances delayed it coming together sooner.
The only series this impacts would be Tokyo ESP, which has already aired a new episode in the time since. I do not see this causing a significant enough issue to push the post back any further, so episode six of that production will be covered next week as it normally would be.
Barakamon [Episode six]
If you have been reading my opinions on this series for the last several weeks, you have seen my relationship with it has been on the back and forth side.
There is a lot Barakamon has going for it. The rural island community atmosphere is a good mix to want to play with, especially against other recently successful countryside anime like Silver Spoon and Non Non Biyori. Characters have a level of, for lack of a better word, fluidity in movement (not that the actual animation is more frame heavy, but rather favoring sweeping, speedy gestures and such befitting a calligraphy comedy series). It has some good character personalities to deal in and take us out for a ride with. My issues so far then have come primarily from chunks of the show just missing the mark for me on the amusement front, lurching from ghost events in the hospital to fujoshi snipes to having little kids jerk off “Doesn’t this look like a dick!?” marine life onto each other. So I end up liking a half episode here and there, then it wobbles off somewhere. But, I do not think it has been a bad show so far on the whole.
So, that all being said, if you have been keeping score with Barakamon yourself at home, you would have probably seen this episode by now. And you would likely think I would like it a lot more than some of these other episodes so far.
Assuming I have done a reasonable enough job in conveying my opinions in the past to get you that far, then yes, you would be right!
I feel this has been the strongest episode of the series since the very first one, and not without good reason.
The episode relied on a very classic standby of comedic set up, wherein some of our characters attempt to obfuscate or otherwise interrupt information about another for the sake of someone else. In this case, the likes of Takao and Kousuke coming to the island, and as Kousuke is the teenage calligrapher who managed to beat the more experienced Seishuu in a previous competition Hiroshi and Miwa attempt to ensure Seishuu does not realize who he is actually dealing with. It is all character based, effective humor mechanics that does not depend on more strained or insular otaku gimmicks, and it is when Barakamon I feel looks its very best as a program. As a rural comedy series, having wider reach or more relatable techniques is I feel part of what one signs up for picking such a show up. In my case, this is part of the delivery I have been hoping for over several weeks now.
That Kousuke is already a known figure to Seishuu, so all the efforts of Miwa and Hiroshi are for naught, is also itself useful. It means rather our leading calligrapher can deal a bit more directly with issues relating to why he is on the island, this younger admirer of his work thinking Seishuu’s time on the island is actually damaging his technique somehow, and all that. It transitions well between these first and second thematic halves, which has been a definite issue for the series I feel when it has made its more extreme seesawing elsewhere.
It was a nice, solid episode about where the source of calligraphy only Seishuu can write may lie, and I hope we see more like it going forwards.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode seven]
As expected previously, Aiichirou did not make the final cut of the Samezuka relay team for the prefecture event. By a younger member of the swimming team taking the spot at that. He must then instead come to contemplate his situation from the sidelines of it all.
This does run against what I had been considering before, that Sousuke would have somehow pressured Aiichirou out of the team himself as a part of his efforts regarding getting Rin to think more of his future and such. That his childhood friend would be in a better position to be scouted and the like without being held back by others. We instead see Sousuke give advice to Aiichirou, even if “only” in words he says Rin would say himself. Though in either way it is in stark contrast to his more aggressive exploits earlier where he was significantly more combative and threatening towards Haru to get him to back away from “interfering” with Rin. One would not have necessarily pegged Sousuke to be one encouraging Aiichirou to try even harder, that his failure to qualify for relay participation now in the prefecture tournament does not itself mean he can no longer swim a relay with Rin again. Because there are those looming higher level events coming up.
Should one keep pushing, Rin’s biggest admirer still has their opportunity there should things work out.
This all links up with Rin and Sousuke clashing together now, even after doing so well in said relay together.
Sousuke’s dynamic is one where he came into the show having already been scouted and selected for high level swimming on a competitive level after high school ends. So his powers and abilities in the water, taken on their own merits, have never really been in question. He is clearly a solid swimmer and deemed valuable for early scouting offers, of which he has already accepted. This is known, top level material. And given his prior aggression, he had a certainty of presence where he could be imposing in a scene while doing or saying very little in the interim.
The wrinkles then, as they can be better perceived now, may well be more on the end of the matters of the heart front that Rin was speaking of before. That, while certainly Sousuke was inspired enough by what Rin was talking about regarding his old Iwatobi friends and being able to find such synergy through their communal spirit to have made that impassioned plea on a prior night to be included in the Samezuka relay team to see what he was missing, he may well still be missing a lot. Which is to say, as he does himself, that he does not know even now after the tournament if he got out what he was looking for from being involved in the relay team. Much to Rin’s own frustration and discord.
In a sense, I can now sort of perceive Sousuke as being very much like a mirrored Rei. Beyond the known butterfly stroke specialty positions they share, Rei is very analytical in regards to beauty, grace, and form, but lacks a lot of practical ability in significant areas. Meanwhile, Sousuke has far and away the performance aspects down to their letter, but in turn the “fluffier” notions are more coldly striped out.
Which may well come from a place where, much like Dragon in Ping Pong The Animation, he was worked so brutally hard in his pursuit of meaning and drive in the activity that he may have well lost complete sight on the notion of swimming as a fun sport to play. A game to engage in. And the walls closing in effect that can sort of come along with losing sight of all that. In Sousuke’s case having it dawn on him that he may well not even be looking at the same sport Rin is anymore.
Which would be a far better turn of character for him than a more routine cold machination that exists merely to drive wedges and nothing more, so I do hope the series actually chooses to run with that.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episode seventeen]
While I did a multi-episode marathon through this series to get caught up to date last week, I figured I should at least toss in an episode this week as well for the mid-season timing. Plus, there are only seven episodes remaining (if we exclude this one), which means I should not need to play a massive catch-up game with it again. But, it is still entirely possible I may still put it off some weeks, which I do not think is unfair given how uninterested even the staff seem to be in this project and the calamities which have befallen it.
As of last time, given the delivery of the series, I was led to believe that everything which had occurred relating to our teenage characters causing the Lightless Realm disaster due to playing Hide and Seek with Tsumugi. There they were in the auditorium playing, the group happened to go outside, and from beyond everything was turned to greyscale hell and back. This week, it seems the issue is more rooted in Tsumugi getting jealous of Akashi and Sasame as children, taking a promise from Akashi to always be together radically serious. To the point where she breaks out the Corpse in the middle of a Tokyo park, all the other kids ran away because that is an understandably frightening thing to see (and her intent, to reclaim Akashi in a way). But Akashi and Sasame go along with the others and that made her sad. Which would still imply the actual Lightless Realm creation could still very much have occurred during a later Hide and Seek game, and she was being passive aggressive about this other event.
This is a serious structural problem the series has, in that there are very definite ways one can engage in out of order storytelling to either compelling or disastrous effect. And M3 as a show is so very much on the latter end of the equation.
The production is a jumbled up mess where rather than these flashbacks and context provisions giving us a sense of being grounded in what is going on, it has more of a distanced and bored air to itself. Have you ever been to a party where someone is trying to tell a personal story of something that happened to them, but it is missing a lot of the details that give it proper flow and direction? That for this individual, because they know all the information, establishing details just sort of get forgotten in favor of broader plot beats? And then attempts to ask for said establishments get answered with a degree of audible disdain or reserved contempt, that you as a listener are inconveniencing them as a storyteller?
That unfun party scenario is what this whole series feels like, even beyond what should be this core plot attempt at the moment to explain what events a decade ago actually made the Lightless Realm. The overall tonal posing of the series does not help matters either.
This show hates its female characters. Straight up, no questions asked.
At best, they are treated as cynical chum to be thrown to sharks. Maamu gets to pilot a mecha and sort of fight this episode, which I support because she has not gotten to do too terribly much in this series by now due to her previous loner status with the psychic and childhood pairings. But with her being the same girl previously beaten by sports equipment to the tune of some of the most attentive actual animation in this show, by that I mean this is really an excuse for the Corpse to kick her around a bunch while she screams “Stop it already!” and “I don’t want it like this!” lines. Meanwhile, Minashi just can not bring himself to fight back against the Corpse in his mech either (for extremely vague “guilt” for his “sins” as a child relating to the Tsumugi situation), resulting in lots of visuals of a naked Sasame screaming and in positions of clutching herself in a vain attempt to stave off bodily violation.
Keep in mind, of course, when Akashi has been kicked around in his machine we never see his brother suddenly pop up with sexual assault imagery and tones. Let alone repeatedly. For, at best, a royally tone deaf and mishandled narrative attempt to outdo some elements not harped on in how Neon Genesis Evangelion dealt with twists on the human pilot-machine relationships. At its very worse, an admission of how much of a cheap and passionless ploy so much of this anime is where this may well be the best idea they have at this point to fill airtime.
The Junichi Sato, Mari Okada, and Shoji Kawamori robot show, everybody.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode six]
The Sayla Mass Episode. Or, depending on ones perspective, the Artesia Som Deikun Episode.
She is the same person either way, of course. I imagine it would more depend on how heavily one is considering her past and her relationship to her brother and father. Which in either direction could be deemed pretty irrelevant to a series as pressed for time as this, given that the show chooses to establish her her immediately via hyper exaggerated crotch and breast shots.
I mean, I guess that is one way to place her on screen and attempt to determine her “essential” characteristics for the narrative. But I can’t say the wiggle-wiggle bounce-bounce, noises and all, does anything for me. If I wanted a fanservice show, I do not think a low budget gag animation would be at the top of my list.
Genitalia jokes are a dime a dozen out there in the world, but what about the Gundam references?
To the credit of the episode, they attempt to couch all of this via a Dr. Sayla’s Consultation Room style medical consultation with Bright Noa.
It is actually such a small bit of info, that Sayla was actually a medical student in the original series prior to the One Year War breaking out, that the show itself (not just some Translator’s Note, mind you) sees fit to bring it up as a bit of additional on-screen info. Complete with a “It’s True!” remark. Which they have not had to do much of at all so far, so that does make me wonder if this sort of additional memory jogging data is going to be more prominent going forwards, or if it was just deemed necessary for this gag to work in the here and now.
Bright Noa’s issue, as it happens, is that he punched out a subordinate (Amuro Ray, in one of his most memorable of styles) and wants counseling. The hitting feels good, you see, and this concerns him. That he is enjoying it. Which, to bring things back around, transitions us into Sayla thinking of her own time smacking the face of Kai Shiden around and how much she liked that, leading to… ecstasy exclamations, to put it one way.
This is the kind of episode where I can see everything it wanted to do, it has an internal circular logic in the path it wants to take to bring us back around again. Even the gag with the autonomy screen being effectively useless because we and Sayla all know who the individual involved is anyway, that I see how it is supposed to operate. I just did not really laugh at all, and it seems pretty low effort for a franchise with so much material to pull from to just go for sex jokes for a whole episode this early on.
I sure am glad I was wearing headphones for the benefit of others at the time of watching it though, given the noises Sayla makes by the end, as I can definitely say I did not expect Gundam-san to go in such a direction.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode sixteen]
The series was on a hiatus last week, and the episode shown prior to that was one of its more tonally serious or heartfelt affairs. Matsutaro coming home after a successful sumo season of growth and advancement, and realizing how much he feels out of place now in the location he used to dominate with his size and aggression. Now he is bigger than ever, and yet a degree kinder as well, as he also is coming to terms with his ability to better financially support his impoverished rural family. It was also one of nicest looking episodes of the series so far to boot!
Perhaps naturally, this episode then was a cause to take up some lighter events: summer touring across the country in the off season, and the associated slapstick one can engage in with train rides. And an oaf of a guy who despite degrees of personal progress here and there really does not necessarily understand public decency on the whole when left to his own devices.
Particularly in a confined space like public transportation.
It is kind of a disappointment, in a sense, as those stronger serious episodes which have made up a reasonable amount of the output in recent weeks have been enjoyable for a series that I was not necessarily as sold on in its earlier stages.
They have a solid arc to them, as a collection of character development sketches. Now, as a longer running and more mainstream entertainment series that still lacks a scheduled end episode count, I understand the need for filler weeks where not a whole lot actually happens or could in some respects even be seen to be a reversion of previous progress. Certainly, the Matsutaro of the last episode and the one this week do not really gel as being the same person days apart from one another, even with the locational shifts and potential resulting changes in behavior based on surroundings. Even filler can be sort of fun though, but here I am sort of lacking for much to actually say. This was an episode about suitcase packing, how much underwear should one bring on long sports team trips, train car seating and dining shenanigans, with resulting indigestion and bodily function problems.
The episode just sort of washed over me, much like how Matsutaro whooshes in to steal and eat the snacks from luggage that is not his own. Before one knows it, it is gone.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode six]
Hiroshi Shimizu almost runs the complete table this week, which is still a massive feat in and of itself. Similar to Kiyotaka Oshiyama last week, Shimizu here is primarily a Key Animation specialist, whose work ranges from FLCL, The Girl Who Lept Through Time, Jin-Roh – The Wolf Brigade, Metropolis, Millenium Actress, and many others. At times he has stretched out into other production areas (such as Character Design and Chief Animation Director for most of Michiko & Hatchin). But by and large most of his work has been in the drawing aspects of anime team staffing and not so much on other oversight ends. Which is a great opportunity here for him to mess around for a while as part of what is in essence an anthology series.
This was also the episode to provide us the most information, screen time, and overall grounding for Honey as a character. Normally, she is just our passing waitress in the restaurant scenes or an occasional Dandy fantasy related to the same. Which, as a line change of hers in the very first episode of the series between the English dub and the Japanese version caused a member of the production staff at the time to freak out that this would sufficiently alter perception of her character between regions, this episode seems far and away overdue to roll out so we can actually get to know her a bit more.
As I would have expected, all of that prior internet hubbub may as well be deemed as drama for its own sake, as even here we really do not get to see Honey too terribly much.
Captured by Doctor Gel, she is to have her brain scanned so he can perhaps suss out even the most minimal of clues regarding Dandy, but things just do not go as planned. And she is half of a species of alien we have never heard of until now, of which dealing with a more full blooded and male member of that type is what we are generally dealing in for most of the run time. The Cloudians then, as a species, are what essentially amounts to being perfect for running a host or hostess club, as their entire being is pushed in the direction of ensuring others have a wonderful and entertaining time. Which, in the case of a male of the species, results in them literally having their own cloud to whisk a lonely single woman away for a time to embark on an evening of magical wining and dining to provide a light of enjoyment in an otherwise potentially greatly depressing life situation.
The scenario is fine for a passing fancy, as it breaks a character we really do not get to see out of her Alien Registration Center workplace into fresher and more ridiculous set of circumstances. That our male host gets to play the role of the more traditionally gallant gentleman, complete with a challenge of Dandy to a duel, juxtaposes simply but functionally against our more brash leading man. Plus, we get a rather gimmicky laugh track, which I feel while perhaps a bit overused was subtle enough in tone to where it did not tend to suck the energy out of a scene or otherwise grind affairs to a halt. There were not multiple extended beats of dead air while waiting for the laugh track to resolve itself, at any rate, which is my far more significant personal issue when a production chooses to lean on them too much or for too long at a stretch.
I liked the episode well enough on the whole as it was happening, though for a second season that has for me been hitting the mark more often than even the first did this showing reminded me of some of the consumable but less revisitable episodes the series has in its repertoire.
Tokyo ESP [Episode five]
We may be about halfway through the Summer season, and yet even so I only really considered in the past week that most of what I have been following weekly for this part of the calendar year have been comedies. All of them in fact, save for M3: The Dark Metal, which historically I tend to go weeks without watching.
Of these comedies then, stretching across a variety of styles and approaches, Tokyo ESP is by far the least amusing to me. Even a silly penguin which can also brush her own mouth with a toothbrush is not really putting in the necessary shift. And its additional (and really more primary) action genre elements have slacked off significantly so far to boot, so it does not even have those moments to fall back on to put wind in its sails.
While only three episodes separate us from where this series began with the Professor taking over the Diet building and where we are here propping up where his plot and goals originated, it sure does feel like a much longer stretch to have sat through. Where not a whole lot was really accomplished in carving out who the other characters are at that. Lots of haphazard backstories dumped and action scenes engaged in, but with this strange and flat disconnect where there was little sense of weight or pressure to anything. The Professor / Hokusai Azuma having the ability to generate mental spaces and illusions that as far as others minds are concerned are indistinguishable from reality is the sort of thing animation could go very far with, on a technical level. So far in this episode we have seen it used to place characters in a grand palatial lobby for instance, which suitably gets the message across of what he is capable of. Though at the same time it all lacks a certain sense of wonder or imagination about any of it in how it is presented to us as viewers to process.
Very plainly, very matter of factually.
Which on the one hand would be fine for the initiating character themselves to expressing things that way, though to us as viewers we are likely to want to perceive things in a more imposing or sheer scale of impact manner. It is a good power in that it should allow for compelling or fantastical situations, either here or down the road, but so far on the former end it is so direct and lacking in dynamic angles that a lot of the whimsy or fun the show could have with it all gets sucked right on out before it could even begin.
The same situation applies to when we have Hokusai engineering the circumstances for a flying naval cargo ship over the airspace of Tokyo. That what should be a moment of awe, power, or anything of the sort is just sort of, well, there.
It is like one is giving some of the best or most interesting sandbox toys in the world to a kid, and they just sort of joylessly plod around with them because they would rather be playing a sport or something instead.
They are doing functional enough things to pass the time, there is just a general lack of inspired or creative spark due to very much preferring a different activity. And there is nothing inherently wrong with them wanting to have preferences and a desire to do something else, but this is a piece of television entertainment media we are talking about here. For instance, we once again are placing so much time and attention on all around everydude Kyoutarou and his so sufficiently generic civil war backstory that we are still not establishing which country he was actually in at the time. More attention on his relationship with Minami, as well as to Hokusai, and coming from all of that and some times of their past together and getting away from it all. Which would be all well and serviceable perhaps, except Kyoutarou is not the main character of this story as currently presented. Rinka is supposed to be.
She gets the fight sequences befitting a main character and the general narrative framing, but little actual time is spent on establishing personality or backstory.
She is already in the squirming around blushing in the middle of the night thinking of Kyoutarou and being at ease with him phase, but the arc of this is nearly akin to a flat line. These supposed feelings lack substantial activity that would allow me to believe her acting this way as an individual at this stage in her knowing this guy. It is like a checkmark on a list the show feels a need to mark off, that Rinka likes Kyoutarou, but would rather focus more on bland calls to Kyoutarou’s civil war story than anything relating to Rinka and where her emotional headspace arc has taken her in life. Which fits practically everything else related to her involvement in the show. Her family is poor because it says so, but it does not want to dwell on or do anything with such a background. Her dad takes up some reasonable screentime, but if we were to switch some lines around he may as well be an uncle, much older brother, or anything else on the family tree as they lack much in the way of father-daughter bonding time as shown to us. And so on down the line even into her fight scenes, which are never really about her so much as they are about the other character, which are two very different effects. One could by all means engage in the latter, though one still needs to do the groundwork for the former at some points too. So we know their perspectives, feelings, philosophies, and so on.
Tokyo ESP comes off as wanting all of the posturing of having its lead superhero character be a young woman without having any real interest in doing so on an expressive or narrative level.
Given that Gatchaman Crowds was airing this time last year, with Hajime Ichinose blowing away a lot of superhero media issues with unyielding attention, this newer show feels substantially outdated.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.