This Week: Bananya, Mob Psycho 100, Cheer Boys, and Amanchu!
Doing dangerous things out of sight together.
Bananya [Episode Two]
The first episode had the understandable task of setting up a few thing. Our fearless faceless narrator, Bananya himself, and the household space they somehow occupy together. The series has a long list of ensemble characters to roll out, and I feel there was strong potential for Bananya to more or less be just that. A fresh character each week or so with a new gimmick. It is a safe if functional to a fault approach. Many harem romantic comedy series or monster of the week shows lean on this for good reason.
Yet, the small Bananya Identification Guide segments fulfill any one by one introductory purposes. So this episode finds itself, on quite a literal level, putting all its (banana) chips on the table. No fewer than eight additional bananya’s enter this episode. If we count each of the small siblings which make up the Bananya Bunch as individuals rather than a singular unit, it rises a few more.
This is far and away a more confident look for the show to take. This particular episode may be on the gearlike mechanical side, but it does mean the ones to come will get to play with the cast faster. Which, for a short series with an eye towards moving plenty of merchandise, is to its benefit. The show needs to be simple, cute, and quick. But not fall into the trap where each episode could have felt like a first episode just with a new character each week. I feel these few minutes indicate the series is off on the right footing.
Bananya will have more weeks to leverage odds and ends from its ensemble, meaning more time for proper gags.
As I mentioned the voice choice for the narrator in the previous episode, it is only fair for me to do the same with the on-screen stars.
To that end, just two people voice each and every bananya shown so far (Yuki Kaji and Ayumu Murase). Or to put it another way, Eren Yaeger from Attack on Titan and Rui Ninomiya of Gatchaman Crowds. Earnest professionals for being here, the both of them. There must have been an interesting audition process for this series.
I like this choice quite a bit, all things considered. The bananya’s themselves do not have complex dialogue. Variations on “Nya” covers most of their language, after all. A full one to one voice cast would be a huge resources sink. The small comedy of multiple characters voiced by the same person performing at differing tones and pitch is a timeless theatre tool. It plays well to Bananya’s positive traits as a short episode series. Hearing two people go “Nya” to each other (or to themselves) in different ways adds at least a little more humor to things in its absurdity. All while a somewhat puzzled narrator character tries to make sense of it all. The poor guy even had to name all the bananya’s for us himself.
This series is by and large an exercise in not slipping over a variety of production banana peels. I do not find it laugh out loud funny, or a comedy renaissance of a program. But, it does not need to be either, as that is not its intent. However, I am also mindful of how it would be a very simple series to mishandle. So I can appreciate a team making the best of this kind of contract work, which will (I hope) help it to have the studio energy it needs to land little gags in the weeks ahead.
Mob Psycho 100 [Episode One]
Mob Psycho 100 is at least in part a story of a young talented psychic finding a place for themselves. Which, given the anime market environment it is entering into, provides some metaphorical aspects to the production.
Arriving less than half a year after the anime adaptation of One-Punch Man wrapped up and sharing the same original author, Mob Psycho 100 will have a big shadow to fill for many. Not only that, but the One-Punch Man anime was itself adapting from an adaptation. Yusuke Murata’s extensive redrawing effort of the original webcomic chapters done by manga artist ONE. ONE’s drawing abilities, as they are quick to bring up themselves in any given interview, are not high fidelity stuff. Their style is more akin to childhood doodles in the margins of school notebooks when pretending to pay attention to lessons. Yet Mob Psycho 100 does not have anyone giving it the manga a sculptor’s hammer visual pass for an anime to run with. But even so, ONE is a multi-million book selling manga creator. Leveraging their second longest running work for an anime and corresponding source material push just makes good business sense.
The task at hand here falls to Studio BONES, which I find amusing just on a wordplay level given the manga creator. That little laugh aside, our headliner staff skews quite young. Director Yuzuru Tachikawa has been rocketing upwards since Death Billiards, and later given control of Death Parade as a full series. Hiroshi Seko more or less only has about a year of Series Composition credits under their belt, courtesy of Ajin and Seraph of the End. Big risks for a property with big potential. Yet everyone at the committee table seems to agree: the best way to handle One’s scribble style is to just let eager hotshots cut loose.
Mob Psycho 100 may have have an actual linear narrative, but its first few minutes of lavish alien hellscapes make me recall when the studio was using Space☆Dandy as an industry wide animation playpen.
The chief concern of our starter episode is the relationship between Mob and his part-boss, part-self serving mentor Arataka Reigen.
A fast thinking and faster talking con artist fronting a psychic investigative office. Right on down to having no ESP abilities of his own, or even proper blessed spirit purification salts. He has managed to convince Mob to “apprentice” under him, and pay well below any good split of caseload wages for the privilege. Arataka is bottom feeding opportunistic scum, taking every advantage of a kid he sees as a gold egg laying goose. Though I feel this is the point. I can let him ride for now, as I do not get the sense we intended to sympathize with him.
The series presents Mob’s emotional suppression as a means to maintain an even tempered demeanor. Scolded at home for bending spoons, while his younger brother finds praise for his normality. Mob has a crush at school he wants to pursue, via a girl named Tsubomi. But he does not know how to approach a girl he see as pretty to the point where everyone around her is a mere vegetable. Reigen is ready and willing to pump as much business as he can out of using Mob’s skills, while giving less in return. He was not even willing to spot him equal meat, eggs, and other add-on options to his “treat” of a ramen dinner at the end of the episode.
Mob has a lot of pressures piling up. The episode tracks adjustments with on screen percentages. The series name puts the gauge limit in lights. And there is the incremental title theme song count-off itself. All wailing emergency sirens about a rather particular number. And by the end of episode one, we are about a third of the way to it.
For the time being, this is a series all about promises. From the staff selection, to introducing us with a future point in Mob’s timeline of surreal sights and countless rampaging nightmare beings.
I have sat in a corner and counted to one hundred before, waiting for everyone to get in position for the real game to begin. So, sure. With the hand they have shown so far, I am willing to be patient.
Cheer Boys (Cheer Danshi!!) [Episode Two]
Another week at what is sure to become regular days at the curry cafe, and several new boys to meet along the way.
First up, as our trio becomes a foursome, is Ton. The speed curry eating champion of the their local hangout. I like Ton a lot, and I am glad to see him introduced to us this early on. We will have that much more time with him over the course of the series. He does not fit traditional standards of cheerleader body types. Ton’s weight, by his own disclosure, clocks in around two hundred and twenty pounds. He has never participated in a physical sport. Ton’s height is even far less than others, so his weight is less spread out. But he wants to make positive health and body changes in his life, and cheerleading places an extreme emphasis on drawing attention to one’s form. He is aiming to put himself out there as much as possible this way, to improve and gain confidence. It is a great space for a character occupy in a series like this, and works well with the more grounded nature this series wants to curate. Ton is not even sure if he will ever even be able to learn how to do a handstand, but I am sure by the end of the series he will be doing that and more. So that potential growth arc will be a keen thing to look forward to.
And hey, Wataru gets to pull inspirational quotes from things like American Beauty as encouragement for him.
So it is good to see that particular quirk of his not go to waste at a time like this.
Wataru drinking his face off at the restaurant as the group infiltrates the post-practice meeting of the tennis club also throws a new wrinkle into things.
Age wise, this indicates he failed his initial university entrance exams. Some oddball situational circumstances could account for such gaps, sure. But he does (alcohol driven or otherwise) mention to the group how he may have failed his exams, but he will not fail them. As Wataru is the dry, dweeby type of the group with a clear talent in memorizing all kinds of tidbits to recall at a moment’s notice, it does put a more curious light on him. Something must have been going on in his personal or family life to throw his exams into such a bad state. He has clear, if stilted, excitement in trying to use things like nicknames as well, so we can already feel out the idea he has had limited social experience. Combined with these examination mishaps, it is apparent he is not some sort of machine in a human body. It gives him a better place than just being The Analytical One. Given how fast he aimed to join the cheerleading team, it positions him better for any future episode segment aiming to dig deeper into his particular backstory motivations.
I am glad the series is making use of the university setting as much as it has so far. Things like those who are of age being able to drink is one thing, of course. But schedules are also quite a bit less rigid at this level compared to high school. The credits for Cheer Boys already show us who is going to join the team in due time, and it is a nice touch how in these first two episodes several have shown up just in passing. Members of a moving crowd while those already in the team are practicing, that sort of thing. There is a fair bit more flexibility for folks from their university to be out and about the local area at various times of day while our core group does their thing. It gives a little more of an organic feel to introducing a large ensemble cast, having them occupy similar spaces. It is a much more welcome approach than treating this as a character introduction conveyor belt.
I do feel the narrative of Haru being from a Judo practicing family is in a somewhat odd place. His resigning from the sport has caused some resistance and blowback from his sister, and Haru being stiff at cheer practice goes back to his shoulder issue. But, we are in the dark on a lot of the full situation there. At two episodes, I do not feel we are in a good spot to click with Haruko’s frustrations. We have not had time to see much of Haru’s home life or his Judo years. The series may be trying to juggle a few too many things at once here.
All things being equal though, if the choice were between the series showing most of the cheer team material and only a little of Haru’s home life versus it going the opposite way? The former seems the far better track for it to be sticking to. This is a show about a bunch of university age folks. So I am interested in the lives they want to create for themselves.
Amanchu! [Episode Two]
“The Story of Doing Something Bad With Hikari” may be our episode title, though I get the feeling this should be a tagline for the entire show.
The first day of school is the classic one to be nervous about, but in many respects it is the ones just after that which I have found even more. Seating arrangements, books, and other clerical bits are over. Then things resembling actual work start to get into gear. If you want to even tread water, you need to start making routines. Hikari has a modified a full fledged five step diving checklist of preparations before leaving her house. Futaba, by contrast, is still crawling around in bed while Hikari has made sure to leave extra early for the local bus. She does have a scooter of course, but the feeling is still clear. This may not be the first day in this unfamiliar place. But generating the willpower to tackle the one ahead does happen out of thin air either.
Hikari’s goal with her commute is to get off the bus well before the one in front of the school proper. This gives some texture to her character. When she has the time she likes to walk through the streets of shops still closed from the night before, taking in the scenic paths for morning healing time. She may be energetic and eccentric, but Hikari is not a full on bulldozer either. Which carries over into her immense embarrassment when she goes to press the call button to stop the bus. Someone else (her homeroom teacher, no less) hits it just before her. The crushing realization there were witnesses to her pushing her face into one window looking at ladybugs, switching seats to open a window, and so on. She may be prone to pushing herself on all cylinders, but I also get the feeling she wants to avoid inconveniences to others. Emotional exaggeration for comedic effect can be handy, sure. But selling Hikari as someone with some heavy self-critical (if only after the fact) awareness for some of her actions is an encouraging inroad.
What works for me a fair bit less is how on earth Hikari would ever be able to run any kind of street race against her teacher in those school uniforms. The lilac dresses look nice when folks are just sitting or standing around. They would be well suited to illustrations and posed merchandise. But they limit most leg movement to just one’s knees. So running requires these rather high knee swing angles with limited thigh motion. Which looks awkward over any distance longer than a short jog down a hallway, never mind suburban roads and forested areas. To be fair, the girls uniform at this school does require knee level boots with quite a heel on them. So in that respect there is a lot more foot support there than another series may provide. But those dresses are not designed for any serious active range of movement. This is not a huge knock, as once the diving takes more and more of a role the uniforms should appear less in “Action” scenes.
But it does put further highlights on just how functional (if mundane) the boy’s uniforms get to be.
The other major series of scenes this episode is where our title for the week comes from.
Breaking into the Diving Club storage and meeting room, even though the activities fair or trial period for extracurriculars have not yet begun.
I made a crack in the first episode about how Futaba’s expected arc would lead her to finding Hikari to be less like an alien over time. I seem to have been closer to the thematic mark than I would have thought. Talk turns to astronaut zippers, being in unfamiliar worlds, and the watery origin of life itself. More crucial than this though, Futaba’s anxiety range is also running rampant. She could have gone straight home after school, yet when she spots Hikari doing obvious scouting of the school yard she heads on over to her. She worries about breaking into the club room. About borrowing one of the dive suits in secret. The idea of using said swiped dive suit, which she is already wearing, in the unattended school pool. All this is without permission to the extreme, as she flips between the worried part of brain and the part saying it feels good. Each violation feeling freeing or embarrassing for a moment, before a new fear arises.
This all dovetails in terrific fashion with the visual direction of Futaba at the pool. The execution of this scene is excellent. This is the important first time we see her enter water in this show, and it drives home all the scattershot emotions in her head.
Camera angles go all over the place here, for good reason. The immense sense of distance, as we see long stretches of hard concrete with no water. Hikari and Futaba being on different elevations, one reaching out to the other. In the case of diving, going “down” would be akin to lifting another “up” in most other framing senses. Zipping in so close to Futaba to the point we can not find her gaze. Reframing her same sitting position, so almost everything in the shot is now the soft mirrors of welcoming water rather than a concrete desert. Swinging things into a fisheye lens mode when she does decide to jump in. Hurling the camera itself deep into the pool as the two float on.
Things are different now.
A lot happened for Futaba, even if she did not move much in the physical sense.
Bits and pieces of this part of the episode were all over Amanchu!’s promotional trailers, and taken alone I can see why. It is a strong visual sequence. A lot of care applied to do these events right. In context with the rest of the show, fusing all this with the mixed up emotional state of a character is a robust package.
These two have a long way to go together. And like the camera sinking in the pool, they will dive deeper.