This Week: Free! – Eternal Summer, M3: The Dark Metal, Mobile Suit Gundam-san, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, Space☆Dandy Season Two, and Tokyo ESP.
The calm before the storm, in a sense. One of my shows took a week off, at least five will be ending before the end of the month, and bringing with that a wave of finales. I will then need to figure out what on Earth I want to keep track of next season all over again.
But for now, things are familiar, and the conclusions juuust far enough over the horizon.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode ten]
This has been a heavier season than the original series, on the whole.
Initially we had our our head nods towards looming graduation and life affairs, then ramping up things to situations like Haru last week quitting in the middle of his race. Here then, we have the relay between Samezuka and Iwatobi, while also even prior to that needing to deal with the reasons for Sousuke’s shoulder acting up. The series has three episodes remaining after this, which I would have to imagine would be an arc regarding anything to do with nationals, and more prominently needing to deal with the guidance counselor form Haru and the like keep putting off.
While some would see it as more on the contrived side, personally I am fine with the idea Sousuke attended the regional swimming event last season and was in a position to see parts of Rin’s meltdown and resulting turnaround as he came back and enjoyed the relay with his friends from another school. It is not like it was a smaller event with smaller stands, where attendance would be lower and Rin would have had a higher chance of seeing Sousuke. So I am willing to throw the situational convenience of it all a suspension of disbelief bone for plot purposes. Much too like Haru being in a position to overhear Rin and Sousuke talking about the affected shoulder the latter possesses and the lies he had told regarding being scouted and all.
It keeps things compact without affecting overall flow too terribly much.
Some would say the series could have jettisoned a more comedic episode to draw this out longer or more “realistically,” I would hesitate to pull the trigger on such a notion. This season does need those more carefree moments in the front episodes to set up more what these characters will be afraid of losing as they get nearer to a graduation scenario. It is why Nagisa was in the personal situation he was in a few episodes ago, it is what Sousuke was even now still trying to search for going into the relay we had here today, and so on. All these aspects of being together as friends while also enjoying their swimming with one another as a unit. Which is, of course, what a relay functionally is.
That this situation plays out here in episode ten I feel is, for now, a good move. In many ways this is a climax to the more showdown oriented narrative beat between on the Iwatobi versus Samezuka direct competitive front, while still leaving three whole episodes for aftermath affairs and the actual character beats to resolve later. I think that is a healthy move for the series to take, and not merely because it avoids the issue of having a similar finale as it did in the first season.
Kyoto Animation clearly wants to lean on this growing up, Is There Life After High School Swimming direction, as has been brought up throughout the season. Here now, they have given themselves ample time to work through whatever else may happen in Iwatobi’s national run and amongst the characters themselves. There is the sense of wanting to provide a kind of finality to it all and give more of a send off than merely sputter along to the of end of the series. Which is a nice move, for a show which has done as so very well as this has for them. I mean, when one gets right down to it, the only way we would have a third season of more high school swimming out of Free! would be if it turned into Free! The Next Generation.
Seeking to wrap things up more properly and give a satisfying conclusion is a far better move than just drifting along with the expectation the home video discs will sell regardless of what they did. It would, well, mean that the characters themselves would get to be free too at the end, rather than aimlessly and forever caught in a more passionless second season.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episode twenty]
Four more episodes after this one. Slowly but surely, the finish line will be reached.
This episode has three primary modes: Crying, Drinking, and Crying While Drinking. As much as I am not a fan of this series, I am even being too exagerated here. The episode begins with Tsumugi crying alone with “I didn’t do anything you make you hate me, right?” statements regarding her still held on to childhood crush regarding Akashi, Kasane drinks heavily with Susan at the bar, and said scene turns to tears as does a later one during the primary fight scene of the episode.
This has more than once been causing flashbacks to my time with the Mari Okada composed Nagi no Asukara (which you can read part one and part two of my comments from when it was airing). But at least there the characters were better defined because the love and relationship issues were front and center to the entire show. It was everything. M3 never really knows what to focus on at any given time, lurching as it does between the Lightless Realm expansion, the government and scientist intrigue, the mecha combat, character relationships, forgotten memories, and so on.
Rather than these combinations giving the series depth and ambition, it has all come off instead over the course of the series like a collection of ideas that were never really fleshed out past their initial phases and instead stapled together to form something resembling a whole.
More on this episode specifically, a large contingent of the IX scientists have quit we are told (and we really are told, via Maamu looking out the window and observing it, but we never get to see).
This is understandable, given the prior combat and losses the facility has sustained. That said, given that IX allowed a clear madman like Natsuiri to be as influential as he was (remember, he would do things like bring out vials of what he threatened was Necrometal during board meetings so as to get his way), it would still kind of surprise me that scientists here would have such a free ability to just quit as they pleased rather than be forced to stay under emergency conditions. At the very least, this would suggest we will not have a grand final assault on the IX campus. Or even were one to happen, well, there would not exactly be a whole lot of staff people left at this point to kill off in a last stand, be they faceless plot nobodies like random scientists or otherwise. Even the folks in the big board room we cut to at points we barely have the foggiest idea about outside of what their faces are. No real clues regarding their personal motivations, drives, character, and so on. They are just generic guys in office chairs, sure to probably be equally generic canon fodder before this is all over I would imagine. Gendo Ikari and SEELE they are definitely not.
Much like how the previous two episodes attempted to establish everything regarding Natsuiri’s character and flashbacks to Mimei, here we have scenes of Kasane being forced to reflect on Aoshi. And it is so very, very late in the show for any of this, as despite how often the series liked to poke every now and again that Kasane and Aoshi used to be an item, that has been all it has really done regarding their relationship. There has not been a whole lot of actual reflection, inner thoughts, or conversation about it though.
Here we get then what should be a more emotional moment, as Aoshi and his brother resonate harder within their mecha in such a manner where even in LIM form Aoshi gets to save his former girlfriend from an Admonition and chat for a bit. But because the show never really wanted to do much with their prior relationship, there is no resonance here for me as an audience member. The plot wants to do one thing (give them closure), but the delivery of their time together has been such where these moments are weightless when we consider the show has not provided the involved characters with anywhere near nuanced arcs. We may as well just be coldly reading two bullet points one after another another.
And it took us roughly until the end of the show to do so.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode nine]
We leave the oddball sexually charged escapades of the last few episodes to return to the waters of Char “Tom” Aznable and His Angry “Jerry” Bird Doppelganger.
It is kind of a strange welcoming act in some respects. This is around the point where, after we had two of these murderous misadventures back to back before, I had kind of hopped the second of them had been pushed further back down the line. After the last few episodes have been less than optimal in my eyes by comparison, we are then not only at that further point now but these shenanigans are at least ones that come off as more within the capable tonal range of what this kind of series can actually accomplish. No swings for the ladies showers or bouncing breasts here.
Just Char and Lalah’s wooden cabin and the Red Comet’s attempts to put a bullet in a bird.
In that respect, everything this episode goes exactly according to those similar Tom and Jerry style fundamentals. Threats of violence from one party, reaction faces, dodges, and the situation coming to a screeching halt at the worst possible time for the bigger of the two. In that respect, it was not an ambitious more Gundam-comedy episode by any means. This episode really could have been done with any characters from any franchise, and it would flow the same.
But, I do not think that is too terribly big of a deal to mark against it. It keeps the series stable at any rate, and stability is arguably better than veering into areas it just can not manage. I would much rather the show engage in this sort of activity, which it can accomplish on its smaller budget and time, than the ones trying to deal more in sexual humor and related fanservice comedy. Even so, on the overall I do feel we have lost steam since where the series was in the first episode. There is no stated end date at this time, so while the show must be fairly affordable to create, it can certainly be doing better than just trying to tread water.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode nineteen]
We return more formally to the Raijin stable proper. Or as “proper” as this show ever gets, I suppose, compared to the psychic adventures of our last outing.
Then again, this is an episode about a wedding. The one of the daughter to a primary funder of the entire sumo stable, at that!
But, it is still this show, after all. Nobody is getting out alive from any of this without breaking a few eggs. Or cakes, as it were. Although in this particular case, the bride is in on the shenanigans and actually is seeking as many of them as possible to muck up the entire day so that she does not have to marry someone she does not actually have any feelings for in that department.
As a character bit, this is a good day out for the series to take.
Matsutaro is effectively helping out and doing a good deed, even if his reasons may be for the idea of being able to somehow obtain a personal reward. As general viewers, most people reading this would probably be sympathetic to someone trying to break out of an arranged marriage they do not want to be in.
So tonally, Matsutaro’s ensuing rampage and shenanigans take on an entirely different tone than where this episode was suggesting more towards the start. That is, that he was supposed attend the wedding to pound mochi, while he then pursonally planned to make a much larger scene. The destruction here is “positive,” in a social sense, since the wedding does not go off. This is unlike a lot of the other breakouts and dustups of activity elsewhere in the series, and this a good place to see it come into play. Nowhere near too soon after his massive jerkface beginning, a successful sumo season already elapsed and the developments that came of it, and another one readying to start.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode Nine]
Going into this episode, as far as I was concerned, it was going to be one that would almost be required to lean more extensively on Kameda’s skills as Animation Director. Episode Director Miyoshi and Yoetani on the storyboards end each have numerous one shot episode positions in their respective roles, but not a whole lot of extended time doing any one thing. In turn, they have generally needed to gel into an existing setup than getting to do more of their own overt things. So, they are excellent for the setup of Space☆Dandy to get to strut an experimental end of their creativity more.
Kameda’s inclusion for the group is interesting for the mix then. Not only as a relatively young (he only turned 30 this year) but highly proficient Key Animation talent, coming in off productions like Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo, but if one goes so far as to check a visual compilation of his animation resume highlights they will notice where his proficiencies are often applied. Namely, should one watch the linked video, they will see he is skilled in making use of highly dynamic camera work within the action scenes he often charged with drawing himself. Flairs for shifting linework heaviness for anything from selling rage to speed. Characters can often end up stylistically contorted or otherwise “messy”, but such sequences where that comes into play are also generally aiming for visceral nature to their impact. This kind of work is technically extremely difficult to pull off appealingly while also retaining attention to relative proportions within any exaggeration. And yet this is what he does himself, so he is well placed to be granted an Animation Director chair.
Here then, we turn to an area that requires similar “action” skills and complex animation desires, but an entirely different tone than even he normally gets to play around with: dancing.
This has for certain been a much more musically oriented season of Space☆Dandy, between the rock band episode, the high school musical, the ukelele man episode, perhaps even last week on Planet Limbo if one wanted to extend it to how heavy the acoustic guitar use was, etc.
Another music heavy episode then I could see being perhaps disappointing to some. And I did see ruminations to that effect on Twitter and such as the episode was airing. Interestingly, this is also the third episode this season Keiko Nobumoto has done the script for. They previously worked on episodes two [“There’s Music in Darkness, Baby”] and six [“Gallant Space Gentleman, Baby”] in season two, compared to just episode eight [“The Lonely Pooch Planet, Baby”] in season one. This is also by far the most laid back of their writing in the franchise I would say, which may indicate they too wanted to just break out further / focus more on raw “fun” with their submissions.
Certainly the content plays to that effect. Disco. A planet named Grease (for the double jab at musical references and the crushing economic issues of real world Greece like the planet is suffering from). A cast of colorful characters, including even M.C. Hammer and King Ghidorah knockoffs, as well as an afroed space dancing alien named Ton Jravolta. Reaction faces. A record which accelerates and rewinds time, for all the character visual changes that results in as they age in both directions. It is very much banking on just being a groovy time for everyone at home.
While I enjoyed the episode on the whole, I would also say it did not do as much for me as the high school musical or rock band episodes did. Those are more comprehensive vessels and stories on the whole, while this entry was very much a more spectacle oriented affair. Which was really neat, and I appreciated the song and light show as it was happening. But, it all likely works better as an accessory to the larger fashion line of the series than as a central look on the runway. This would not be an episode I would introduce someone to the franchise with, but it likely has more value only if one is already invested in its brand of creative roulette wheel shenanigans.
Tokyo ESP [Episode eight]
Back to Ayumu, his mom being drunk and bandaged from her prior injuries, and the overwrought one dimensional concern of how her son being an esper will affect her public political image.
It is perhaps a tricky thing to hold against the show, as on the one hand this would be a character vector to explore, sure. But there are problems here. This series does not have the writing chops to handle anything resembling matters of social and political discord on a familial level, so trying to lean more heavily on them now via a mother character only introduced last episode (especially this late in what is only a twelve episode series), is a weak show of form just on a fundamentals level. There is no palpable drama here, since her turn to support her son is all but assured in a series as straightforward like this and with limited time left to boot.
Beyond that though, we still have the core issue with the star and focus of the show. Where the series wants to prop up more and more details about the limited male side characters, while it also is still trying claim the young women are center stage yet without giving them similar characterization time. The end result is we have the actual structure by default being one that favors trying to make the audience sympathize with the male characters. While on the opposite end of the spectrum, their more numerous and more screen time holding female peers seem far more one noted and mechanical to the operation, because they do not get the same attention.
Is is a baffling series of choices, even if it is in manga form run in a shonen magazine. For the number of young women in this series, and for the amount of screen time they take up, we should know who they are far better than we do at this stage.
To better show what I mean, Kyoutarou returns to the scene this episode.
Not just his end of episode arrival at school again, but his whole sequence with Minami and such beforehand as he tries to escape his captivity and they have their rooftop and inside talk. There is a history and conflict there, someone he has known for quite some time, and being on two different sides of the present situation of the esper terrorists and the espers who, well, do not want to be terrorists. A straightforward and not really well smoothly delivered one, again given the overall writing, but there is a divide there and it is recognizable for what they are going for as Kyoutarou remains steadfast with his Hero of Justice ideal. Rinka, meanwhile, who is described even in character synopsis form as the main character, gets an extended series of flashbacks to Kyoutarou as she goes for a run and even a day at the amusement park alone. Riding the Ferris Wheel while thinking of him and such. Even when he is not around the focus remains so much on Kyoutarou, and yet while Rinka is the lead we as the audience know nowhere near as much about her as we do him.
That, I feel, is a continuous problem of this series, as it seems to want to have strong female characters and leads within what is fundamentally a shounen battle series. But it continues even now to sidestep needing to tell the audience much about them. A selection of new recruits to the villain side have been made this week, such as a dismissive lady with a cell phone focus, a more sly one literally taken out of being chained to the ceiling in a restaurant rape cell, and so on one after another. The need to bolster the terrorist forces is there, sure, but again looking at the time remaining and this series track record: I do not expect any of these characters to be more than one dimensional archetypes at best. Simple bowling pins to be knocked down by the Heroes of Justice side of the plot equation.
Ayumu’s issues with his mother are arguably already better delivered on and nuanced further than anything the series has done with Murasaki and her father. And Murasaki has been with us so much longer, in addition to being the owner of our critical esper goldfish gobbling penguin. Yet, her role has now been reduced even further to a swooning cookie baking and love letter sending attachment for Ayumu. Keeping in mind, of course, last episode he was spouting his “This is why I hate women!” lines and making multiple disparaging remarks regarding Murasaki’s age. Charmer, really. Even if he did potentially save her life by the end of last week, Ayumu’s misogynistic vibe is an undercurrent that speaks to a whole lot of problematic things going on in the handling of this series and its characters in general.
I never get the feeling this show actually respects any of the women as individuals, their ability to move the plot on their own, or otherwise regarded as people with stories to tell.
To perhaps end with Peggy: she gets to eat another set of powers this episode. Which, given the giant laser shark whirlwind which has been summoned for it before, should be quite a sight at least as a small spectacle of enjoyment to see. But, it happens off screen, and we only cut to the scene in question after Peggy has already consumed the catch.
Underwhelming and disappointing, like so much else Tokyo ESP contains.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.