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.
Some other bloggers have already been floating the specter of season previews for fall coming up, which is kind of surreal when you get to thinking that means I and many others also will end up trying to hammer out some kind of personal end of the year lists by the time that final calendar year season wraps up.
One thing at a time though, by all means.
Really, I’m just looking forward to fall so I can go back to my “Autumn Anime” header in these posts. I appreciate the alliteration a lot.
Barakamon [Episode eight]
“No actual live insects were harmed in the production of this television episode.”
Anyway, I had heard from some who are far more enamored with Barakamon than I that this was a lesser week of the series before I actually started it. I can see where they may have been coming from, I suppose. Seishuu going bug catching and the arguments that ensue does not have the same particular level of energy one would be able to suss out had it been the Seishuu – Naru vector, for one thing. Of course, the entire reason for her being removed is due to the insect catching in question being for her birthday, so she can not be involved in obtaining her own intended present. And, on a certain level, it is nice to see more of these less prominent younger characters, who tend to come in and out of various scenes but usually get overshadowed by other personalities.
Perhaps that is a similar situation the creative staff found themselves in however, as Kentarou is the only one able to carry any kind of presence here. There really is not anything wrong with the actual situational comedy scenario they are in, really, catching bug as they are. Harmless (unless you are a beetle), and none of the more insular quirks that sometimes take me out of the moment in other episodes. But, I could see it being a little on a less memorable side I suppose, in trying to see what the fans of the series see. As again, I do not think it is necessarily a bad show so much as its humor tends to just run off of me when it is in those more hyped up antics.
The grave visitations and celebration second half of the episode coming to line up around the Obon season is a nice little nod. I’d have loved to see this episode bumped up to last week, actually, when Mastutaro even took off for it over the weekend, though I know the actual calendar time of the holiday varies on locale.
The actual scripting I think is a little on the awkward side. Statements like “Are you sure you want an outsider like me at your family grave?” and “Sensei’s gradually starting to fit in here” flow strangely to me, despite them being completely grammatically sound. As if the characters need to harp on the themes of the series to the outside viewer this late in the game or something to make sure nobody misses them, that sort of thing. But, tonally, I do like what it is going for. Local area customs such as the onde dancers, the general progression of the lighting to indicate the passing of time and how long the characters are actually there at the graves for the duration of the day, and so on. Some nice fireworks and community offerings, etc.
I think this was one of the stronger episodes of the series, really, even if I may sound sort of hedged on it. Its the sort of thing that perhaps does not play as well to lengthy discourse, but was a generally pleasant experience in the actual viewing. It stuck to a more even tone than some of the wilder diversions and tangents the show gets into a points, and so I feel the overall flow was all the better this time for it. It is interesting to me, then, how some folks who I see on Twitter or on blogs seemed perhaps a little less enthused by it this week, while for me I would mark it as more of an upswing.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode nine]
I actually only have three notes for this particular day at the pool. Which is saying something, when one considers I can and do usually fill a lot more space with stream of conscious observations I then try to come back to. But, that does not necessarily mean I have less to say, so let us work through them.
The first related to Aiichirou doing well, and at that we can be pleased he managed to make the progress required to achieve his goal of wanting to be on Rin’s relay team. It is how we start the episode at that (at least insofar as others at Samezuka marveling at his improvements, while his actual name being called for the team comes later). Which for Rin’s Ultimate Team initiative, in an attempt to forge something at his own school he can be personally proud of even at the potential expense of raw time in other areas, is a good achievement for a character who was largely a hanger on and bit role during the initial season.
Really, it would not surprise me if Eternal Summer were to continue on long enough to where Rin needs to hand over the Captain position, that it would likely fall to Aiichirou. With likely a sentiment where he would seek to carry on with trying to make a new class generation of swimmers at the academy and instill the feeling of swimming Rin was able to inspire within him, despite Aiichirou himself not being as good as many of the other swimmers previously.
On a second and third front, as they sort of blur together or overlap, we have the more significant meat of the episode. Haru’s nightmare sequences, all the way from stress running to actual sleeping insurrections complete with mannequin or ventriloquist dummy looking people, and the constant presence of scouts for an event like regional qualifiers.
It has been something sort of hinted at, or at least material one could extrapolate from, but given an overall message of this season being what one swims for and what they will do once high school actually ends it is an angle that needs addressing. This is the highest level of competition we have seen from our main cast to date, and it does have an impact on their potential futures. Doors open by doing well in tournaments like this, as opportunities for further advancement will arrive. Haru chose to shut those gateways down, right in the middle of his individual event heat.
It is an understandable angle, really. One I can even identify with a bit personally, on a certain level. I used to play a lot of soccer as a kid, namely. Like in the two to three leagues a year sort of frequency. And I carried on like that up until around middle school or so, because the game was becoming less about, well, a fun game and general strategy concepts and much more clinical and surgical. Even in middle school, teams that seemed as though they were trying to intentionally cause injuries on the other side so as to hamper if not this present game then matches down the road for the eventual final league tables and the like. Things were becoming less like the game I wanted to be playing. So I stopped participating, albeit not on the more dramatic or last possible minute level of Haru quitting in the middle of a match. His concern and emergency stop are quite real though, because his present position did mean he was on the cusp of his swimming becoming more of a colder, mannequin like robotic performance for crowds and accolades he did not care for.
It is a kind of surreal pressure that gets placed on ones younger mind, as something that was once a fun game or actively slowly threatens to morph into something where they are not even sure if they will recognize the activity if they keep going to higher levels. And if one is participating so as to express themselves, like Haru with his swimming, that is a concern when the sport itself is one which can be locked down to the milliseconds of form. It is not like, say, a card game where Haru is using a suboptimal but good for him decklist that he can play well. Swimming is a lot more clear cut. So he too took a clinical step in withdrawing.
Ping Pong The Animation last season was by and large about a cast of characters who either had or slowly did lose their way regarding why they even played the game to begin with, and how they developed from there or found their way back again. Haru managed to keep himself from slipping down that path for now, though how his relay team will react to all of this more prominently next episode I am sure will be significant as we move into the last stretches of the season and their potential final high school swim meet together.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episode nineteen]
This episode is entitled “Overlapping Sound Of Love.” Which is a dangerous suggestion right from the get go. This show can barely handle any one thing, do not go giving it too much to juggle at once!
A significant part of the last showing involved a flashback data dump on Natsuiri’s earlier professional research years and the plot convenience character of Minashi’s never heard of before (and likely never again, after this episode) sister. In the event one somehow missed the previous episode but tuned in again this week without catching up, they would still be relatively up to speed because most of the sequences and scenes shown for those sections last time reappear here. Natsuiri was having his previous years explained to others before, you see, while now he is reflecting on them all himself (by and large without commentary, but playing them back as-is with maybe some visual filters and some tighter editing).
Or at least I imagine that is the most cursory of production justifications for recycling so much footage anyone watching the show would have pretty much just seen when we tuned in before. These are not events and backstory we saw so long ago to need so much repetition, or this would make sense otherwise. Perhaps if some of Natsuiri’s history had been dealt with before, like him reflecting a bit during one of his earlier alone times when the show had just seen fit to have him cackling while eating candy, and then maybe rolling all those sequences back here would make some sense.
Otherwise though, it all just feels as cold and cheap as it likely was needed to be on the backend to get the episode out on time at all. Even Minashi getting the snap sense Natsuiri has passed away and announcing it all very matter of factly feels less like any psychic link or connection regarding his faded life force, and more of a justification to just move things along as quickly as possible. This project is a large scale bust with numerous problems pretty much from day one, and it would not surprise me if more egregious recycling occurs as we move ahead.
I get what this episode, in conjunction with the previous, perhaps may have wanted to do on some early level draft stage. The arc of the show where it tries to show the troubled internals of the mad scientist, and all that. Sure, I can appreciate wanting to do that, and this is right around a good part for a show like this to pull such a move with only five episodes remaining. Even to have him comment some on the properties of Necrometal as he slowly wastes away, since we barely know too terribly much about it even now.
But not like these last two episodes did. Never like how M3 chooses to do anything, really.
I can only imagine what minimal production effort dread infernal awaits as we begin to move towards the actual finale.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode eight]
Unlike the last couple of episodes, this one does not feel a need to try and explain any character circumstances or other trivia to the viewer at home. Which I feel is a good move, as it probably should only be the sort of thing used selectively, rather than becoming an all the time feature.
Going along with that though, we may have thrown the baby out with the literal bath water. This episode revolving around, well, Amuro Ray’s attempts to sneak into the White Base shower and bathing units while folks like Sayla are in there getting their scrub a dub dub on. I can give you three guesses as to what his particular goals are and what he wants to see, and even if you were a nameless and faceless generic action show combatant with the accuracy rate to match you should still be able to hit the mark.
This is padding, really, and I use that turn of phrase very much on purpose.
And it is sort of bewildering, in a sense. I mean the series started with simple but effective nods to Gundam history and delivering on pretty easy gags which have been made for ages (Char’s fascination with red, etc). And that is, itself, a kind of fanservice, really. The “I get the reference they are making!” kind of moments. Fanservice in the ample skin and copious bouncing breasts department though? It seems like too much of a bridge for a low budget show like this to reach for.
There are so many better animated productions that specialize in that very kind of market and demographics. So aiming to go head to head with them time and again seems pretty unwise. Writing, meanwhile, does not take animation time and holds up better. Really, there are wittier Gundam gags floating around on the likes of Reddit and such than within this show most of the time, which is slowly becoming more of a drag for me at this stage. Even if it only is two and a half minutes.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode eighteen]
Between last episode and this, a significant chunk of the senior level cast went to Hawaii on their touring season.
Naturally, this did not include Matsutaro. He is kind of peeved about it.
Which is understandable, to be honest. I mean, I would want to see what a runaway freight train like him would get up to while on a resort vacation. We get some fantasy bit sequences, sure, but that is not quite the same.
This is one of if not the silliest of the more “filler” type episodes in some time. Tanaka smacks his head too hard during training and gain psychic and precognition powers. Our leading man makes a direct cutaway fourth wall break to any sumo fans in the audience about if his goal to hit Yokozuna rank within a year seems too fast. Misunderstandings and one faux pas after another ensue during simple grocery shopping trips gone horribly wrong. Meanwhile, Tanaka’s own mental extrapolations on the situations at hand are all in a very super deformed limited animation style, mixed into flashbacks from his childhood relating to neighbors dressed up as demons.
It was just a downpour of gags, complete with Matsutaro getting hit on the head in the exact same way to the exact same reaction via different situational objects at hand.
Really, the only thing holding it together is sheer momentum and commitment to the task at hand. The comedic style of the series, as mentioned before, does historically tend to sit around a very particular Dad / Granddad Jokes level of corniness. So for it to veer off into psychic powers and such for a time is way out of left field, even if the series has been rather elastic in the realism department. But, it does thoroughly commit to the effort, from Tanaka crossing wires with Matsutaro’s thoughts and getting offended how to it is envisioned of all the ways Matsutaro will wreck a situation unless Tanaka intervenes. Which does, of course, cause its own issues down the line.
All in the name of a framing device where Tanaka needs to learn to make more robust chankonabe for an eventual post-sumo retirement restaurant career option.
It is by every measure the most wildly elaborate of these off season touring episodes compared to the train and Osaka eating episodes, so ideally this means the regular sumo season will be back in session soon. Better to end this “arc” on a note like this, I figure, as otherwise another would seem wasteful unless it pushed the levers even further. At which point, the entire operation would likely break down.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode eight]
Yasuhiro Nakura’s name showing up in the direction and storyboard department made me all kinds of hopeful for this episode going into it. He was the fabulous Animation Director during Mamoru Oshii’s lavishly ambitious Angel’s Egg project, as well as Rintaro’s realization of Metropolis (where he also took command of designing the characters), and he also did Key Animation work for both. Likewise handling some of that later role in the visually enchanting Night on the Galactic Railroad, among others. He is an undersung powerhouse when it comes to visuals, their construction and direction, and being an essential part of productions I still enjoy greatly and come back to again and again. I looked forward to what he was going to lead here.
Shinichiro Watanabe, as a man with enough industry clout to get the entire Space☆Dandy operation off the ground, I historically have issues with in the writing department. Even in the first episode of the initial Space☆Dandy season, I went off regarding his writing in respects to other parts of his work. His production strengths, many as they are in areas like directing and music supervision, I do not feel often extend to tight and snappy character writing. His own episodes of his critically acclaimed series do not tend to hold the same level his other screenwriters can employ, and that is fine. Certainly, I do not begrudge him dipping his toes into the water now and and again, and he seems to generally have writers who cover his weaknesses on this front, which is essential in any creative process. I think it is something that manages to make his directorial works as generally memorable as they tend to be, as having others able to forge scripts synergistic with his other areas of expertise is part of what makes them so.
This episode is really no different. Concepts like an individual who has passed away having their own personal Black Box so that on a planet of the dead they can revisit and recall the circumstances of their demise? That is something one can play with, from the phases of rejection on along. The actual execution is kind of slippery in my opinion (especially in the latter half where Dandy is quasi negotiating for his life in an aerial cable car and the kinds of responses the young lady there provides), but to its credit it has buckets of ambition behind it.
Ito, Inadome, and Kubota have all featured as Animation Director staff in previous episodes of this Space☆Dandy season, and the need for so much oversight this time around is abundantly clear.
We have elements ranging from a deceased someone who is also a motorbike, musical interludes, an alien where their eye and mouth exist on their hands, Dandy attending his own funeral procession, Limbo melting away, and so much more.
The episode is a home theater system test unit of a television animation scorcher, really. I know that I dearly enjoyed having access to a 5.1 surround system for this, and around 12:30am – 1:00am when these episodes air on Toonami makes everything naturally pitch dark for the experience. That, in addition to the kind of calmness of mind one would tend to be in around that hour. I have seen every episode of Space☆Dandy with the same setup each week, of course, so this is nothing new. But, this showing has the feel of a demonstration unit, even down to it largely revolving around a singular character so one does not even need to know the cast. The kind of thing one would pop on to show off to a friend what this show can be, and is, for a wide variety of audiences to find an appeal in. Something to try and wow them. That this show is a Cool Thing.
And there is a definite place for that, in a collection such that this series is. I am very glad that this series received its second season, because it has on the whole felt so much more at ease with itself and its ability to indulge like this.
Tokyo ESP [Episode seven]
Our episode this week opens with a guy we met way back in that fast forwarded first episode getting to kick the stuffing out of our leading lady in a sparring match, complete with a “This is why I hate women!” direct quote.
I damn near shut the episode down.
I really am trying to wrap my head around how this production keeps veering so far off what should on paper be a relatively straightforward mark to hit. We have Rinka as the theoretical lead (though never in practice), with a background of poverty situations and single dad parenting. And it just does not want to actually do anything with this material or character on any substantive level. Rather, we get Ayumu, who we barely know, getting to fill a kind of male audience insert role left open now that other resident teen male Kyoutarou has been jammed in a narrative fridge. Complete with clear nerdier framing and with his mother running for political office on a slate grey standard anti-esper platform while he also has esper powers he hides himself for the Mom Just Does Not Understand Me angle. And he gets an uncomfortable misogyny vibe in his dialogue on top of it all.
I mean, I often have ended up selecting screenshots of Peggy The Penguin for these posts because they are probably the only character I am not either disappointed in their use of or otherwise offended by.
Now, Ayumu does get to lose to Rinka in a followup sparring match, as that is a mechanical gear to mark progress or some sort.
Really, it just took her an afternoon to figure out that his short term precognition ability would have issues with multiple simultaneous strikes from different directions. A simple enough puzzle, which in and of itself is fine, sure. But the tone of the fight is not about Rinka overcoming a difficulty, progressing so far with her father’s training, or anything of the sort, despite that visually happening. The fight is about Ayumu and his thoughts and framing. There are some flat lines our panda martial arts teacher gets to spit out plain as can be instead to cover what should have been Rinka’s internal considerations. To where he may as well just be speaking to the audience as the laziest way possible to try and talk about what should be going on visually in this fight while keeping it framed around male voice.
If Tokyo ESP was focused more on empowering its female characters, who we are told are leading figures, it could even try to somehow spin this in a productive way. About overcoming such notions and considerations hurled at them, and so on. Yet tonally and in story framing, with all the scenes of him and his mom, then him needing to try and overcome a violent outbreak at a political rally, Ayumu is really the main character of this episode and we are meant to sympathize with his views.
And I just do not care to. There are so many better things this series could be doing with its time.
Heck, Murasaki mentions in an offhand comment that gets cut off about just having borrowed something from her father. You know, the father she ran away from home from a few episodes ago, and later had a nice scene with getting to see a vision of her mother via her new powers? Apparently that bit of potential family character drama, with her coming back to terms with her dad after all that, all was entirely resolved off screen to no fanfare at all.
That is how tonally broken this show is, between what it could be doing and what it chooses to try and build instead.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.