This Week: Barakamon, Free! – Eternal Summer, Mobile Suit Gundam-san, M3: The Dark Metal, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!!, Space☆Dandy Season Two, and Tokyo ESP.
The last week before anything covered in these posts comes to their conclusion, for all the dread or joy that entails.
There are even final episode counts finally out now for Gundam-san and Matsutaro, so this entire board will indeed be wiped out after the next two weeks! I will get to rebuild completely next season, rather than anything carrying over, which should be pretty freeing when it comes to selecting what to write about.
Barakamon [Episode ten]
This follows one of the two blueprints I had laid out not that long ago, and what I had deemed the more likely scenario at that. The idea Seishuu would indeed leave the island, the second to last episode will deal with anything related from that, leaving room in the last one for him to return / realize where he belongs / come to terms with what his calligraphy and he himself needed in life / etc.
We need to get to that penultimate rollout of potential melancholy and sadness though, and so here we are with trying to put some finishing touches on things regarding our leading man’s time and experiences on the island.
Fundamentally, this episode is thematically / topically sliced in half as many of them have been in the past. Here though, given the overall goal here is that this will be Seishuu’s last day in this community, it does allow opportunity to show different sides of that. In the first part, we receive attention on him getting roped into assisting the process of building a typhoon wall, in addition to rewriting a net set of commemorative signage for those who originally donated to construct the area temple. While at the time of these activities he does not yet know this will be his last day here, it jives well with the notion of how he has managed to integrate himself (even if that at times has been either against his will or to his embarrassment). Likewise, these are each pretty gosh darn important tasks to have someone assist with, one being for physical protection and another a kind of cultural preservation, so there is a degree of trust implicit in these interactions and requests as well. Heck, that Seishuu turns out to be really rather good at assembling and sliding together a sound wall out of the haphazard collection of area rocks even speaks to his eye for having extremely precise, formal calligraphy.
So, while that had gotten him partially into this whole relocation mess to begin with (after having felt insulted and punching out the Director and all), it does even here have outside applications beyond his traditional trade.
The second part, dealing in the festival as it was, is essentially our more personable approach to the matters at hand.
We get all the classic sights and sounds, ranging from goldfish scooping to food booths to fireworks. It is a sentiment I have certainly expressed before elsewhere when they have come up, but I really do enjoy festival episodes. Regardless of if they are pleasant affairs or an instigator of a larger dramatic point, they tend to be visually colorful while also acting as a gear check for all the character interactions and relationships thus far. On a thumbs up versus thumbs down level in viewing an overall show, they provide ample opportunity to see a sum of its parts acting together in quick succession. Essentially, while I was colder on what Barakamon was up for a number of episodes, this is a chance for me as a viewer to reflect back on things a bit early before the end and gauge how much I may or may not have warmed up to it over time.
And I feel I have, in ways.
And I would rather start off a bit nonplussed by a series which then grows some on me over time in small aspects here and there as opposed to a number of other ways a piece of media could go. With this direction, I have more faith and confidence it should not botch the ending, which I would have been far more questionable regarding back during episode two and three or so.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode twelve]
Second to last episode of the season, and with that we bunker down to focus on but two characters. The childhood friendship thread between Haru and Rin.
While last season Rin was brought back to reality by Haru and friends in the Japan he had returned to, here we head around the country he had previously left for. Australia. The pacing slows down even more than the previous more dramatic episodes have been, but in a generally warmer and more personable way. This is a big change of location, and two people who have known each other a long time and are now in a different country. Tonally, things are rather warm in these interactions, even if the actual weather in Australia at the time they are there would be on the winter end of things.
An interesting thing in how all this plays out is Rin mentions on the beach that he was rather certain Haru would never agree to taking this trip with him, and if something had happened. So this is not a situation where, for instance, things worked their way down the grapevine and Rin learned of the meltdown Haru at at the festival just the other night. Given the character expressions, he was guessing when he was prodding if a fight had broke out between Makoto and Haru. Though he did also know Makoto had decided on what he was doing with his post-graduation plans, and the dialogue indicating Makoto had talked to Rin about that directly before, and how excited the Iwatobi High School swimmer was to share it with Haru later. We in the audience, naturally, know things had transpired a little different last time around.
These more personal exploratory prods are interspersed with Rin sharing things from his own background, and largely cluing his friend in on more of what transpired for him while he was away in Australia. Situationally, while this does work to inform the viewers of this information as well, I feel it played out in a way that felt appropriate to the narrative at hand. Haru is, at his core, a bundle of mixed up feelings at the moment. Depression, anxiety, anger, confusion, etc. Even the first fight with Makoto on top of all that. So Rin talking about some of his own fears that he had gone through in the time they were apart during the study abroad process is entirely warranted in my eyes. It feels appropriate, and organically acts as an opportunity for him to touch just a little bit on things like having homestay parents before actually coming to introduce Haru to them.
We have not gotten to see much in the way of parents in general during this show, so these folks are very particularly special as a narrative moment and the series of interactions which follow.
The English, as much of the commentary I have already seen about this episode has mentioned, is excellent here.
Both in how the homestay parents, airport personnel, and so on sound on a natural level, but so too in having Rin get to act as translator and general handler of affairs (like at the hotel desk) for Haru. In my own experiences with study abroad and other international trips, I have certainly been in situations where I have needed to rely extra hard on having someone else handle language and conversation for me, so I can by all means identify with what Haru is going through during these scenes. There are parts he can understand, and others that go far and away over his head. But he has the visuals of things like Lori winking at him after mentioning his and Rin’s names (which he would have picked up on at minimum, so it knows it was about them), plus Rin’s embarrassed reaction. So too can his eyes dart around to try and pick up on non verbal stories, like pictures in the house. A viewer can in a way leave it up to their imagination how much of the little dinner conversation at the table about younger Rin’s depression Haru would have picked up on, as it went entirely untranslated. Understandably, as Rin was more caught up in reacting to the moment.
Traveling is an opportunity through which folks learn a lot about themselves, and indeed each other should they go with others. And there is what I find to be a personally fascinating leader – follower vector which can come out of not everyone knowing the same language in a given conversation.
As Rin recognizes that he always had Haru leading him by being a swimmer to strive for, him coming to quite literally take on a guiding effort for his friend here in this foreign country feels great not just as a raw narrative gear but as a swell series of character moments between and around them.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episode twenty two]
Something I did not mention last week was a confrontational moment where Minashi got into an “You Just Don’t Get It!” and “You Are Not Open Enough With Your Feelings!” argument with Akashi, and ran off towards the expanding Lightless Realm alone in a stolen MA-Vess.
Here, Minashi reaches his target, which is Tsugumi at the center of it all. Trying to make a connection with his childhood friend, attempt to save her and talk what he considered to be sense into the situation, and all the rest. However, there are two very, very large albatrosses around the neck of this half of the episode. For one thing, the entire back and forth plays out between the two of them via their mental link. Visually then, what we end up with are back and forth shots of stern faces staring at their mental conversation partner off screen. Within the grey-ish color palate sludge of the Lightless Realm in general on top of that. It is an incredibly unengaging exchange to watch. For as Evangelion as this show wants to be at times, the legendarily budget depleted final episodes of that show were able to at least be taken as graphically abstract. M3 however, takes this chance to just be downright static, flat, and otherwise showcase how creatively bankrupt it has really been leading up to all of this.
The other part of this sequence is that when it does somewhat decide to be animated, it rapidly turns to sexual assault imagery. Minashi forcing Tsumugi down, his mental thoughts being all about “saving her” while she responds with “Stop it!” oriented psychic speak, the slab they are on being an elevated rectangular stone slab which is clearly indicative of things like a bed, etc. Now, Tsumugi does stop him from…whatever Minashi was trying to do there, but even so: this is not a series responsibly equipped to deal with these kinds of issues. Indeed, it has used sexual force and other aggressive imagery elsewhere, ranging all the way back to Heito assaulting Emiru in the lake in the early stages of the show. Even this episode, it drags the largely incapacitated Heito out of narrative storage so his psychic self can assault Akashi and speak of “forcing” himself to resonate with him as he did Emiru. The series never wants to really delve into any of these matters though, so it comes off time and again as a cold Sexual Assault As Drama mechanism devoid of any larger attempt to do anything with the material. Heck, even Violence Jack at least leaned so far on the exploitation and sexual harm angle that it achieves a kind of power through how extravagant and repulsive it freely wants to be.
M3 feels like it wants “edge” via these scenes, as a way to conveniently amp up a perceived threat and inflict some spreadsheet check mark of a character trauma, but they are so mishandled (and indeed, even overused at this point) that they come off as all the more artificial for it.
Elsewhere, we do receive what is arguably the one single strongest point of character development to occur throughout this entire show.
Perhaps naturally, it falls to Mammu, who again is the only character in the cast who I have had much of a thin sliver of sympathy for at any point.
Due to Tsumugi’s continued and indeed now explosive expansion of the Lightless Realm, and Minashi having stolen his MA-Vess, the rest of the primary robot pilot cast are kind of stranded and caught with relatively few options. Raika and Iwato are linked, but neither is a LIM unit so they can not pilot a hardier unit to do much extended deployment into the danger zone. Akashi’s brother is dead, so his machine lacks a LIM unit. Which leaves Mammu, the resident bookworm, shy girl, and general third (if not fourth, fifth, etc) wheel to most operations and her mecha with Emiru in it. She volunteers to enter the Realm and do what needs to be done herself, and it even all comes complete with a “I used to be satisfied just writing stories” line to round things off.
She manages to charge in, and understandably still has a terrified reaction upon seeing the actual Corpse and runs for cover outside of the larger mission parameters to draw it out. This, opposed to just having a sudden switch flick in her head and suddenly being supremely unencumbered in this situation. So these events play well and lead into her settling herself down again and even engaging in direct hand to hand (well, mecha to monster beast) combat with the Corpse for a time. It is a rather surprising display at this stage of the show, and I am not above crediting it when it does things like this which I find work well even in these end days.
Of course, it immediately undercuts this entire character moment and a potential message of her in the end getting to do what the others could not by having Akashi intervene in the fight out of nowhere with what we assume is a sudden Heito powered LIM unit in his mecha. So she got to have all of, what, a few minutes at best? Which still end up being among some of the better moments in the show before it pulled the rug out and put Akashi right back into center stage again?
This show really does find new ways to make me groan time and again, as for a brief series of moment it actually had something going here.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode eleven]
The implication of a continuing story from last week much have meant it will be picking up the larger Angry Bird storyline again later, as this episode certainly has nothing to do with either of the previous escapades.
However, we do instead get back to some actual mobile suit comedy, which we have not really seen all that much of outside of the very first episode oddly enough. Here then we have the traditional series Gundam as Amuro Ray piloted, and a random Guncannon unit who claims to be named 10Q. And I say “claims” in this case as the two of them can actually talk to one another! Which makes for some unique situations, as the units undergo maintenance, get taken apart, and so on.
The Gundam unit portrayed as a more gruff celebrity type figure, while 10Q is oriented more as a frothing at the mouth joyous fan of its history of work and so pleased to be in the same general unit as their military idol.
Honestly, this is to me probably the most genuinely amusing the series has been in weeks.
The giant robots have been very underused by this show, and while characters are what make Gundam work as a franchise the iconic machines are tools through which their wills are often expressed. It is a simple episode, but having these interactions between the two mecha while having Amuro trying to understand their language as a Newtype who should have a greater capacity for such a thing?
That worked for me for the duration a program like it goes on. It was enjoyable, and is thus far likely a key highlight of a program which has often felt like it has not been doing as much with its potentially rich vein of comedy targets as it otherwise could be.
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode twenty one]
As of last week I still could not pin down a projected end date for this series, but in the time since things have finally locked down on that front it seems: twenty three episodes will be its run here, be there another later season down the line afterward or not.
We pick up where we left off then, with Matsutaro coming to learn Reiko supported him as a student and former student but not as a love interest. As well as the crushing sadness which hit him upon this revelation, and how he has continued to be in such a state for a week straight now. So, this is almost real time, in a sense!
Anyway, the situation as such is one that in the short term is found to be agreeable to the other wrestlers at the Raijin stable. Their most problematic member is effectively out of commision, which means the overall number of problems he has caused have dropped dramatically. This, of course, eventually leads into the understandable recognition that unless he snaps out of this funk, everything the team have put up with to get him to this point and the potentially great future he could have for them as a wrestler would effectively be thrown out the window.
That all of the traditional loves of our lead (nice eel takeout orders, favorite idol magazines, etc) fail completely to dissuade him from his course of continuously crying under a pile of blankets is the perhaps expected route in a situation like this.
That he escapes when nobody is looking to drown his sorrows somewhere else is also within the realm of what one would think would happen next. In this case however, after a series of misadventures of poor descriptions to pedestrians trying to track him down, he is found on top of a temple in a combination scene fit for both a a King Kong movie or a suicidal jump. Given the physics of this show he would likely turn out reasonably well in such a situation, but still. He needs to be brought down somehow.
While not a traditionally amusing series of comedic adventures at this particular point, it does allow Tanaka to get a spotlight character scene again. Where all other efforts fail resoundingly, Tanaka takes charge of the megaphone situation and proceeds to verbally reem Matsutaro out for several minutes. Bile, contempt, dismissal, anger, and so on. Things which have built up over his time with the man who cares for but a select few outside of himself, and opinions coming on after another on how much of a failure as a man Tanaka considers Matsutaro to be. That other characters take it as a reverse psycology move is perhaps understandable, but, I am pleased the show does the time to have Tanaka explicitly tell such others verbally that he really does mean every word he said. There is a lot of pent up aggression and frustration in that head of his after all these weeks.
I am pleased when productions do not have the characters in similar Scream Them Down situations hedge things by saying they did not really mean what came out of their mouth (either officially, or saying that as a cover for their actual feelings to paper things over after the fact). Tanaka is unapologetically angry. It does not mean he wholesale hates Matsutaro though, and indeed even shares with him that he too fancied Reiko as well and thus was affected by her marriage meeting in his own way.
Friends just sometimes need to yell at each other to get them on the right path again. And I feel that is an important little thing for a show like this to remember now and again, especially given everything Matsutaro drags everyone else into.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode eleven]
This episode is the second ever anime script worked on by Toh Enjoe.
The only one prior, incidentally, being episode eleven in the first season of Space☆Dandy (the library planet episode). He is a fascinating pick-up, as he has such an unlikely career path to get to where he is currently: He has a Ph.D from the University of Tokyo (from a project which involved a mathematical study on language), did a bunch of post-doc and research position gigs for almost a decade, quit the academic life to join a software firm, then quit that to become a writer and novelist. Appropriately, his previous episode was a kind of The Twilight Zone style thought experiment, and here we are dealing in everything from a Fourth Dimensional Being to Zero Dimensional Space. And the 3D, 2D, and 1D positions in between, in their own ways.
Elsewhere on the staff, Fumihiko Takayama is a very particular talent to pull in for storyboards. They have only a few anime credits to their name, when accounting for being in the industry for so long: an Episode Director on roughly a third of The Super Dimension Fortress Macross television show way back in the early 1980’s, handed Screenplay and Series Composition duties on Sword of the Stranger and Sweet Blue Flowers respectively, and were even the Director of Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. Storyboarding on episodes can often be an undersung responsibility, but especially with a lot of the concepts Enjoe would b e bouncing around in his script Takayama’s varied experiences between science fiction, action, and romance productions I imagine provided a solid foundation to visualize the flow of a multidimensional narrative.
On the Animation Director end, we have two this week, each with extensive histories on high profile works. Kawamoto more so, whose resume even includes involvement on things like Royal Space Force – The Wings of Honnêamise, Macross Plus and Cowboy Bebop (among others), but Saito has his own Bebop history to boot, in addition to Key Animation on the Neon Genesis Evangelion television series and was a co-Animation Director on Sword of the Stranger.
Satoshi Saga’s involvement as Episode Director is perhaps the least standout-ish, but I by no means that as an insult. He filled this same position on episode twelve of the first Space☆Dandy season, and as I mentioned there he is more of an industry omni-tool. Key Animation here, Storyboard there, but primarily a prolific Episode Director who comes in and maybe handles around one to three episodes of a given production (and usually one, at that). This is its own kind of talent, as rather than guiding his own auteur works Saga instead needs to usually slot in to an existing setup and essentially perform personnel management.
Given the high profiles of some of the other creative staff cobbling this episode together, such a hand is invaluable as a directing style.
As for the actual episode itself?
Much like with the library planet episode Enjoe wrote, it is one which on the textual surface wants to deal in a lot of high level concepts. Multiple dimensions and how they look / function compared to others. The secret of warp drives and how they work within this view of universes. The consistency of oneself as a being between them. And other similar topical branches and facets.
Here also though, we have this wrapped up within the notion of an ex-girlfriend of Dandy’s (who is in our view akin to a tesseract around a heart), and the implied jerk she had left him for to be with someone who is quite literally two dimensional. A royal leader of his universe, mind you. But, still two dimensional, with the thinking and views to match (such as not being able to tell when the Aloha Oe was directly above them in three dimensional space, because it would be incomprehensible to a 2D worldview). That, in addition to elements like Doctor Gel plunging into the 2D universe to fight off its forces Galaga, R-Type, and Space Invaders style, likely made this far easier to swallow than it otherwise could have been. I enjoyed the primary black and white color scheme of the library planet episode for instance, though I understand how it could have drained some visual enthusiasm in others, and this episode came equipped to deliver on holding attention via vibrant colors and pixel style art.
Personally, I do not have a problem with the episode choosing to avoid dealing much in the actual relationship Dandy and Catharine are said to have had in the past. I feel this is a very packed episode on a conceptual front, and with everything it was already doing to keep things fun and active for the viewers at home without losing too many folks in the science talk, too much more on the personal relationship vector would have likely caused other aspects to give out more and collapse. We had our almost-relationship episode last week with Scarlet on the personal character interaction front, which stated some appetites there on seeing Dandy in more of a relationship or dating situation, so this is a case where episode order I feel plays a somewhat larger role.
While this episode still had to kind of switch gears a bit at the end to ensure everything it did have fit, and thus Dandy and Catherine’s farewell was also kind of a denser This Is How Warp Drives Work session, I feel it largely achieved exactly what it needed to do. There is interesting physics, geometry, and overall science concepts at work for those wanting to engage with them in an entertaining way, mixed with an easier to follow former love triangle plot as well and the varied visual aspects to keep events dynamic.
This may be the last “high concept” episode, as I imagine the last one may be more of an all out party, though the one coming up revolving around a trial could go a few ways.
In either event, I have enjoyed this show more than any other I’ve been writing about this season, so I will miss this after the next two weeks.
Tokyo ESP [Episode ten]
At the start of this episode, this series has three twenty minute or so packages to get us on track to the future fight sequence surrounding a floating Diet building and and all out terrorism assault it delved into for the entire first episode so many weeks ago. At the end of this episode, well, we are still by and large waiting for it to make a move in that department. This episode is almost entirely dedicated to The Professor and his background.
It is an understandable and indeed wholly reasonable series of points to want to deal in, because we are so deep into this show and his motivations for wanting to cause such total and complete upheaval have been weak at best. Which is especially baffling as his past connection to helping rescue Kyoutarou from a civil war environment and assist with transitioning him back to Japan, as well as Minami being his daughter, have been things the show has wanted to float out as points of potential personal conflict or ideological division. We just… have not known too much of anything regarding who The Professor really is for any of that to actually have done anything prior.
A tricky thing with this situation is that it does fill in multiple aspects of the story in at once. The Professor, his wife, Kyoutarou’s parents, and so on were all part of a research dig which ended up resulting in excavating what by all accounts is the Arc of the Covenant, stone tablets and all. And said stone tablets contains the psychic power granting fish. So that is certainly an important find and all, if on the gimmicky side for a narrative as already overburdened as this one. And indeed, things rapidly turn into a series of multinational government officials vying for control of it, detaining and then murdering all of the research staff, and so on.
This would be a lot in its own right, but that this is all coming up so late in this show and as a series of extended flashbacks to boot, it is difficult to engage with the material. Outside of a few framing scenes, this is almost entirely a background data dump of an episode. We are not watching, say, two characters having a conversation about this history with bits and pieces of visuals to these stories to give them some higher impact and weight.
Nothing is active about the way this is playing out here.
So our entire story in the present is effectively placed on pause while the production attempts to squeeze in the entire justification for the antagonist’s actions within a compact box rather than having humanized him at all over time. As the lone survivor of his team being betrayed, his overall inner contempt is understandable. Yet this is something I feel he could have been more centrally figured by as a character, as things like his whole team of chaos causing espers have if anything greately detracted screen time from anything that could be done with his personal material.
During the few moments the show is taking place in the present day this episode, we have Rinka wandering around in the rain thinking about how there is no point to being a hero or anything without Kyoutarou at her side. So, her dimensionality as a character is ever flatter, and entirely reliant on a male figure who I am certain at this stage she has been separated from far longer than she has hung out with him over the course of the series. She eventually succumbs to capture due to her single-minded exhaustion, which I am sure from here will allow for the team to get back together again before being released prior to the finale.
Elsewhere, Kyoutarou reflects on The Professor’s background, and leaves us with the philosophical ideal of “What’s wrong is wrong.”
Which, for the exclusion to any kind of nuance that permeates through so much of this series, I suppose I can not consider as out of alignment with the ideological compass it largely operates with. Even last episode, I was mentioning how hollow most of the villainous figures storming the school were as characters. So I suppose I should write off any hope we would get more inference on who they may be as people, as opposed to being mere cackling bowling pins for the show to eventually knock over.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.