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 episode of Free!, while every other show in this lineup moves to the diving blocks so they can set up for their finales.
As a reminder, after weekly shows conclude for the season, I now collect my episode remarks and move them into separate posts with the other episodes of the same show. This way, if readers new or old ever want to check out what I thought of a particular show as it was airing, they can do so without having to click through the weekly posts and be surrounded by unrelated series.
As such, while I will be releasing the post for Free! soon after this one goes up (as it is just the one series ending), next week does have six finales for me.
After my week in review post next week then, I will spread the collection posts out over several days, so as to avoid flooding reader feeds.
Barakamon [Episode eleven]
For our change of scenery episode, we have ourselves a non-standard opening focused on the more clinical cityscape environment Seishuu has returned to. Not much to be said in the way of music or the like, and indeed far more quiet than how this series normally starts.
It should, appropriately I think, feel a bit more alien or foreign.
Of course, any awkwardness factor does also seep in through Seishuu’s actions, which is where the episode is going to succeed or fail for many. Personally, as I have wavered back and forth a fair amount of this series (I have never outright thought it below average, but it had to struggle to get me to higher levels over time), my feelings for Seishuu here are rather mixed. I can understand, for instance, his immense nervousness at meeting the Director again after punching her out the last time they met. Even his being nervous about showing off his work to him after the long exile, I can get behind the fear that would exist for him of if his time away would be seen as worth it or not and trying pass of his “Star” calligraphy as a test work rather than a prized final product.
But whatever moment was supposed to be him grandstanding and launching tea at the big canvas to ruin or destroy it did not really do anything for me, comically, as a character moment, or otherwise.
This goes back to my tonal struggle with the series earlier on, where it seems to want to maintain a more realistic mode of operating with its comedy and then tries to pull more extravagant whiplash moments. And those parts of the show have always, even now, just sort of broken down for me. I never really laugh at those moments, am sold by the intimidation they may try to sell, or what have you. They seem more jarring or out of place to me than anything else. A series like Polar Bear’s Cafe pulls similar “quiet situation of the heart suddenly cranked up” stunts I end up enjoying, but my mental abstraction level is on a different plane because of talking animals running food establishments. Similarly, the bondange misunderstanding joke used this episode also did not hit where I feel it should have, as it took what I would have definitely laughed at had it maintained the uncomfortable tone and instead ramped itself up to lots of excited screaming and yelling.
I had mentioned before I felt the series was a bit more otaku-oriented in its rural humor antics than Non Non Biyori or Silver Spoon, and that still feels about right. It leans harder on being louder and more directly trying to tell the audience this is a big funny part in certain showpiece sections, rather than more indirectly trusting the character dynamics.
But, humor is as always pretty much one of the hardest things when it comes to individual tastes. Trust me, I am never really all that pleased when so many other folks whose opinions I trust are having such a grand time with a slice of life comedy series, and I just can not manage to get into it on quite the same heights. I am sure others have perhaps thought the same of me at points, when I may have clearly enjoyed a comedy they just can not click with in the same manner.
I can say that as a character moment it does make sense to me how frustrated and lost Seishuu is after he has destroyed his “Star” work for the show and needs, due to his own mouth, to make something even better. And failing at it so badly in his different (well, returned to) environment from his time on the island. So as a storyline, the phone call reminding him of the people he knows and the connections he now has there, that is still going down the route I would expect and hope for from a series like this. His final work, unseen in this episode but whose display is looming, sure to include those memories and people associated with them.
So I am not dreading the finale, not at all. It will be nice to see what the series considers his artistic culmination of thoughts regarding all of the day to day misadventures that have made up his previous weeks.
Free! – Eternal Summer [Episode thirteen]
Fundamentally, this is largely an episode dealing in trying to wrap a big bow on the entire package. Kyoto Animation serves up large portions of flashbacks, reminiscing, and so on so we can send everyone off into whatever the future holds for them.
In the immediate reactions I was observing via Twitter and the like, I can understand how this could be seen as somewhat disappointing, or taking a bit of the wind out of the sails since last week. And episode twelve really was quite a strong episode for what the series was going for. Anything related to a climax or the like has already elapsed prior to this. Compare to the finale for the first season of Free!, which had Rin’s outbursts and threatening to quit swimming and folks like Haru managing to rope him back into the swing of things again, and this Eternal Summer could seem quite tame between the two endgames.
I think this sort of misses the point, however.
A whole lot more of Eternal Summer has been about pressing personal issues regarding high school, looming graduations, change, and such. So by cleaning everything up ahead of the finale, right down to Haru finally figuring out what he wanted to do with his life going forwards, it does allow breathing room for the characters to both come back together and depart on good terms. Remember, the last time Haru, Makoto and all the rest were together there was a big fight and a lot of strained emotions. So that this finale is more about making up and making good on those relationships, to remember the good times they had together before they have a final high school relay race at the nationals? That is thematically apt, given the higher drama levers this season has been leaning on versus the largely more comedic slice of life charged first season.
This does mean there is a nice amount of recycled footage on display, as the characters think back on various things down by the river at night.
So on a more mechanical level, I can sympathize with those who many have wanted more raw original footage as a sendoff.
Maybe one last hurrah as a group of friends outside of a swimming environment prior to the last race or something. Like maybe seeing more of the dinner scene provided courtesy of advisor Amakata. Certainly, the big tournament day itself was probably always going to have a less central focus, and indeed there is not so much a race with any tension or concern for wins, losses, or even who are in the other lanes. Much like the last season, we get our spirit animal send offs for each member of the central team, as everyone is just enjoying being involved and swimming together towards a common goal.
And that, I feel, is fine. We do not even learn until a few scenes later they came in sixth place at the end of it all. The sport is just a framing mechanism for all of this material about friendship, spending time together, and self improvement to play out and that is A-OK.
Looking back on the entire series, I can not quite shake the notion that folks we met along the way this season like Kisumi and especially Sousuke existed more to serve as narrative gears and tools of the writing department. Sousuke’s role at the start did seem to be alluded to and framed as being far more important to the overall events of the show and perhaps shaking up character relationships. But it is certainly hard to try and wiggle a new character into a cast for a show like this, and that Eternal Summer comes to lean more on the relationships we already know outside of the new guy’s shoulder secret and his contrast as someone with a personal swimming goal he may be held back from.
All in all though, I would say this was solid as a sequel show. It did not get lazy and rest on the sales success of the often carefree first season, and instead pushed for something that had far more serious tones, hoping the viewer base would follow along rather than quit because the fun times train took various detours. Things were structurally shaky at a few stops, and some sequences definitely may have laid on character tears and such hard enough at points where it took me out of the moment. But it graduates with a good head on its shoulders, if this is indeed the last we may see of this series.
M3: The Dark Metal (M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane) [Episode twenty three]
“Proof of the Strongest” is the kind of episode title which reminds me right from the start of how dismal of a time I have been having with M3. I can not think of a strong point in its favor in general, and even in relation to the actual episode nothing is actually proved at all regarding relative strengths of anything.
Well, I suppose there is one thing, maybe. Though this is nothing that makes the series look any better.
I mentioned last week Heito’s turn into a LIM unit made it so that Akashi could advance into the Lightless Realm and steal any kind of character development arc spotlight from Mammu in record time. This, we have now learned, is not quite accurate. While Heito gets to have all kinds of psychic projections into Akashi head, and the visual imagery of him potentially coming to sexually assault said mecha pilot, Heito is actually still safe and sound back in the IX basement. Screaming his head off and painfully contaminated by necrometal just as he was before. Yet, Akashi is moving around his machine just fine, and increasing better and more powerfully at that. So the explanation given by the series here is Akashi is somehow drawing Heito’s spirit towards him, rather than Heito going about any of this on his own. Heito then, as our resident sexual assault perpetrator towards Emiru at several points when they were each fully human earlier in the show, gets to have such statements about how gross he thinks it would be to link with Akashi as a LIM, since they are each dudes and all.
Because if this show was not already highly misogynistic in tone across the boards, it has to also see a need for instigating negative prods at anything perceived as remotely homosexual.
Akashi essentially gets to pilot his machine to super mode levels and even sans-LIM because he has, well, supposedly unlocked some hangup from when he viewed himself as “the most despicable person” ever since he was a kid.
Or so we are told. Really, he has been such a blank slate of general “I hate my brother / parents / etc” over the course of the show, that he is still even now not so much a character as he is an most basic of fictional archetypes. And his “I can’t make emotional connections with people” database character trait going through no discernible organic development outside of the series flatly saying he and Sasame may have liked each other at one point, and it is the only point that even now comes up in any way. Sasame, who has been removed from audio and visual play aside from when they wanted to show her naked episodes ago when Minashi’s mecha was being hit, does herself have virtually no other character establishment over the course of the series than Doomed Quiet Obedient Girl To Be Saved.
Which they really only established prior to knocking her off / moving her towards being a LIM. While Emiru, Aoshi, and even the non-LIM Heito have had ways to at least speak a little after no longer walking around without necrometal contamination, Sasame we still do not hear from because… Minashi just tells her not to say anything. She fundamentally does not function as anything more than a prize for Akashi or Minashi to win or control. As a character, she is a non-entity. Like the cast throughout, to be sure, but it is far more damning a thing when she supposedly features so prominently in the motivations for our main character and his opponent in this final fights.
That is another thing, Minashi essentially being our final boss. It just does not work as a compelling conflict. He wants to unite everyone through necrometal, and thus will “save” and “connect” all people, but the plot of this series has lurched around so many different things over its run. It is not like there is any friendship or something they and Akashi once had, for instance, that we have seen shatter. I’m sure his memories coming back to him sooner than the others was supposed to play a part in establishing him as something of an antagonistic force. But all it really served before he went suddenly overboard antagonistic in these last few episodes was for him to just spout exposition and other background information, like on the island. The series seems to just lack any compelling human enemy to go with at this point, and outside of general saving the world purposes eliminating Minashi (the only boy of the three island children sent with the Lightless Stone) would by extension mean the supposed triangle of Sasame and Tsumugi liking Akashi could get to be unopposed.
I do not really see a means by which M3 will be able to deliver anything regarding a competent, let alone emotionally resonant conclusion for any of these characters. Which, for a series that tries to use the idea of Emotional Resonance as a plot device for piloting its machines, is all the more a constant reminder of how much it thinks if it just Says A Thing, it accomplishes trying to develop an individual, with no regard for tone, pacing, information, or the like.
Mobile Suit Gundam-san (Kidou Senshi Gundam-san) [Episode twelve]
Another episode leaning more on the actual Gundam canonical nods again, which is often a good sign!
Strangely, unlike our now seemingly one time use of Lalah popping in to explain a reference and establish a character as she did for the Garma Zabi episode for the less well versed Gundam fans in the audience, this episode just plays out without any such establishing. It is odd, because unless the viewer already knows who Degwin Zabi (head of the Principality of Zeon, father to Garma) and Kycilia Zabi (daughter to Degwin, sister to Garma) are in the original Mobile Suit Gundam, seeing them as ten year younger comedy versions where Kycilia is fourteen and her dad lounging about in his underwear probably is not going to do too much for one’s comedy buttons. There is a consistency problem in this series, as while I did question the use of having Lalah show up to give an aside during the Garma episode, I’d rather at least see it used more often if they wanted to go that route.
If it was seen as called for in the Garma episode, that sort of “Here is who they are and why what we are about do is funny” preemptive activity is the exact kind of thing this episode would benefit from.
If one does not know who Degwin and Kycilia are, what does this episode boil down to?
Essentially just watching some big guy in his underwear extravagantly farting, and his barely-a-teenager daughter telling him to stop and how much she hates it. Repeatedly.
I am not saying the episode is necessarily much funnier even if one does actually get who the cast is here. But it at least provides a little more establishing information whereby one can see this entry as a Gundam-san trying to pull some morning cartoon sitcom antics via turning back the clock on two characters who are far more serious in the original work. A move for a silly little “What about when she was a younger girl and her dad was maybe more of a slob” romp.
I still do not really find the abundance of fart antics really amusing, but this series has a really confusing idea of what it thinks it must explain and what it does not. Especially as Degwin and Kycilia have not really shown up in the series prior to now, and with one episode to go I doubt they will again (outside of running out the full cast for the finale, perhaps).
Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro!! (Abarenbou Kishi!! Matsutarou) [Episode twenty two]
Our penultimate episode for this show is entitled “Matsutaro: A Man of Common Sense?”
I do not really think that has ever been much of the case. Just the other week he was hanging handing off the top of a temple he climbed atop as a reaction to his not being able to date Reiko, after all! But, there is also a question mark. Room to wiggle, and a man of Matsutaro’s wrestling size can definitely make use of that.
This episode did, admittedly, confuse me regarding what our timeline has actually been. Episode thirteen of the show was of course named “The Season’s End,” which has his championship bout at the makushita level. But, characters mention in the two wrestling seasons since he has only won about four bouts per season. Which, to me, does not quite seem right, as everything since episode thirteen has been what I thought was a rather linear and closely related series of events like Matsutaro returning home for a spell, the several episodes spent on post-season touring, and so on.
Which may well still the case. What seems to have happened is that, after the events of last week and Matsutaro going through his personal meltdown after Reiko’s rejection, we skipped two whole sumo seasons without much establishing information about having done so other than that one line about Matsutaro’s performance and a later dinner with the stable master.
While watching two season’s of Matsutaro fail miserably (due to his still held personal hang-ups regarding Reiko and the effect her telling him “No” had on him) would probably not make for the best long term entertainment, this does still seem rather abrupt and jarring. We did not have a finale episode count for this series until last week or so, while others are established far longer out in advance, and a finale number of twenty three episodes is a bit on the smaller size for a series which stretches two seasons. I have to wonder if it has been doing the numbers TV Asahi and/or Toei Animation wanted, as this is certainly a series dependant more on commercial viewership than otaku merchandise and home video sales. Maybe this is as graceful a way they can manage to cut to the chase and attempt to end on a higher climatic note, maybe this odd time skip was planned for the start.
Either way, in execution it does throw one for a bit of a loop given how much stable opinions of Matsutaro and his (now more mellowed) personality seem to have shifted.
Kondo returns again, which ties in to his previous consideration that he would be meeting Matsutaro again in a future fight.
This time, of course, it is with the background that Matsutaro had injured him on their last encounter and so he needed to be out of competitive competition during his recovery. And he is sure to let Matsutaro know it, and that this time he will be coming for him. Matsutaro, meanwhile, is of the emotional disposition that he has nothing left than sumo anyway. So this whole episode is certainly on the more serious end of the spectrum the series has rolled out when it has seen fit to do so, and we even get to see the family of our leading guy plan to come to visit him and watch on what will be this rematch bout. For the encounter it wants to be building up to (complete with Matsutaro reflecting on his lost love under the moonlight and then encountering a group of masked figures whose intent we do not know), it all does seem narratively appropriate, and as generally well executed for this series as anyone could ever ask for given its style.
It also seems not quite right either though, like skipping over a chunk of chapters in a book. One can see perhaps that the later scenes do make sense, but without some additional connective tissues I feel I am supposed to be more invested than I actually am for this character showdown. If there had been more time, something like seeing more of Kondo here and here over time studying Matsutaro’s moves and physical game would have set him up far better as a potential final boss with a personal axe to grind with the man who injured him.
As it is, this seems more like he was fished up to end the show than anything else. I’m sure Matsutaro will win the day, of course, but this does all seem to have come up in a hurry.
Space☆Dandy Season Two [Episode twelve]
Takahashi is a very intriguing selection as an episode director and storyboarder. Especially, for a second to last episode of a generally non-linear series which looks to actually have its final two episodes flow into one another, and then even further so given that this was the long publically stated episode the overall budget was kept to a minimum for, so as to allow more resources and extravagance to be poured into the very last episode as a send off. While many an episode director in this franchise has had a varied anime industry work history, Takahashi comes with everything from having directed the Blue Exorcist film and the Rideback series, but also Production Advancement crediting for Studi Ghibli’s My Neighbors the Yamadas. He ran publicity for Pokemon 2000 – The Movie, and was even one of Naoki Urasawa assistants on the Monster manga (and who go on to do various storyboarding and directing tasks when it was turned into an animated show). For someone who is going to need to manage so much that goes on during an episode while having far fewer methods at their disposal for their vision, having as much of an omni-tool as possible for the time and budget is essential.
Michio Mihara returns to one of these four spots for the first time this season, though he has done some gust alien design here and there throughout. The last time we saw him up here was back during episode six of Space☆Dandy season one, for the underwear wars, where he ran the quadruple of the four areas I highlight here. Dai Sato is also a returning figure for the first time this season, after having done roughly a quarter of the scripts for season one. I feel there is a tendency where many anime fans do not tend to run either hot or cold on his writing. He has worked on various high level productions, like Samurai Champloo and various parts of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but I rarely see folks championing or deriding him specifically. He does well at geling into large setups and generally blending in as an industry workhorse so the job gets done, for all the good and bad that may entail.
I do not feel one usually sees much of his personal philosophy spill out in his anime screenwriting, for instance, which can be taken as a positive or negative depending on the situation.
This episode then. Our second to last dance with Dandy and pals.
I feel it was appropriate for this episode to be announced weeks ago as being made on the cheap end, and for what reason. At least for me, that tempered my expectations a lot, and so I am probably more forgiving of this episode than I otherwise may have been. Even so, I know it can not be expected that everyone in the viewing audience would have received the sufficient heads up notice, and so their more disappointed reactions are indeed also as equally valid.
On a mechanical level, we do have a lot of minor shaky camera movement for our courtroom proceedings. Stylistically, this does fit in with what many a live action crime show uses so as to attempt to heighten a sense of realism, disorientation, or the like, while for a television animation moving the camera around is a reasonable and cheap way to ensure we are not just looking at a series of largely static shots. Indeed, we also see a lot of zooming in and out, as well as general camera swings for impact. The courtroom, even a space one like this, is an environment where it is understandable as an audience member that characters are not moving around too much in. Everyone can stay largely seated, and we can just jump cut when different witnesses take the stand over having to animate them walking to or from it. Using largely red outlines for the character drawings gives things a bit more of a flavorful and distinctive punch over black ones, while also not really introducing any additional work on to the studio team. These characters would still be drawn anyway, after all, no matter the outline colors. Even the special credits of showing the backgrounds again over new music, as the series has done at points on particularly special episodes like the Planet Limbo one, is a way to squeeze further additional value out for a viewer while not needing to do too much expensive extra work.
I feel this episode has with it the unenviable task of needing to function both as a courtroom drama for characters we generally do not know (aside from Dandy being charged, and his crew being called up to give some small testimony statements) as well as trying to better establish and explain his connection to pyonium.
And, well, to be honest I do not really care too much about the pyonium stuff. I have seen other commenters across various places like Reddit and Twitter complain more about wanting more definition for elements like pyonium, Dr. Gel, the international relations of the Gogol Empire, and so on, but none of that really matters to me. I take Space☆Dandy, as I always have, as a rotating set of carousel creatives hurling out anything from one shot Looney Tunes to The Twilight Zone style episodes, and I am perfectly content with that. I do not really need to know Dr. Gel’s deep rooted scientific motivation for why he would be chasing Dandy anymore than I need to know why Wile E. Coyote chases The Road Runner. It can just be a thing he does that pretty much always backfires in one way or another.
I feel this episode probably did rather well as a final product given its budget circumstances, but even so: as just a story removed from the animated elements on screen I probably would not revisit it again outside of a larger series marathon.
I look forward to the finale a lot though just the same however, and I still feel Space☆Dandy has been the overall highlight of my summer season.
Tokyo ESP [Episode eleven]
I had previously wondered just how we would manage in the span of two final episodes to get ourselves from where we were and up to the terrorist esper forces storming the diet building as they were in the first episode.
In which case, we have our answer: we can just jump right to that, essentially, which is plenty of reason to cycle through some of that first episode footage again on the cheap. Rinka, now incarcerated by the esper detainment units, still gets to mope around about what Kyoutarou would do, such as has been her disposition now for the majority of the program despite having very little time with him. Kyoutarou, meanwhile, has been stuck on the island he was dumped on the last time he was whisked off, and growing out his facial hair while building a raft to see if he can make it to shore via short range teleportation on it.
Then he meets a giant psychic pelican. Or, at least, he names said creature Pelico.
Without asking the giant psychic bird if they already had a name they preferred being called by, of course.
The big set piece this episode works out as being the terrorist esper forces storming the detainment center, in an effort to free what one would imagine could be a resource full of potential recruits.
This is probably one of the single most reasonable series of actions this show has chained together thus far. In that, I can at least understand conceptually why a lot of high powered esper would gear up for this kind of operation over, say, the random attempts at killing Rinka. As even the theoretical main character, she really has not done too terribly much deserving of such attention outside of her loose connection to Kyoutarou and thus The Professor and Minami.
My understanding is this television series has been skipping huge swathes of the manga that actually establish Rinka’s character and arc better, and I believe in a heartbeat. Particularly this episode.
The terrorists who storm the detention center are pretty much the exact same group of one note female fighters who stormed Rinka’s school not too long ago. She managed to get put in the hospital rather than outright killed, and then was on the run of the detention forces until they caught up to her and brought her in for processing and security. Now Rinka, who had her butt kicked eighteen different ways to Sunday fighting these same people at school in broad daylight hard enough to put her into a coma for a few weeks can now whoop all of their faces into the floor. In the dark. With her eyes closed. Without her psychic fish powers.
And there is no establishment of how or why she can do this all of a sudden. No arc of coming to a personal revelation while in the detention center being looked down on by others (at least, nobody eats with her). No extend series of physical training attempts like one may perhaps be able to achieve in prison. We barely had any idea of how long she has even been in prison. She just gets to have sudden immediate combat prowess beyond anything previously established and with fewer tools at her disposal, without spending any time at all on the how and why. The show is just sprinting to the end as fast as humanly possible, and it just does not care about the leading figure or why we as viewers should care about her.
So I don’t.
Pelico, as an out of nowhere giant psychic pelican looking for a mate (who I assume will come to be Peggy, in some crossbreeding weirdness), makes more immediate sense to me in their desires, objectives, and skill levels than our main character has had whole episodes to have potentially fleshed out.
Hangers is a weekly series containing my passing thoughts on currently airing anime productions. Opinions, as always, are subject to change.