Barakamon 4, Zanyou 3, Free 3-4, Hanayamata 4

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Barakamon 4 starts with a crisis of communication. Both Handa’s computer and cell go on the fritz at the same time. But before we can settle down and watch what we think’s going to be the episode’s theme explored, it gets bored with it. Well, there’s an amusing bit where he has to deal with a rotary phone, but that’s it for whatever technological statements they were going to make. Instead, we switch to Handa getting coerced into writing a strange piece of kanji on the hull of a guy’s boat. It gets tiresome after a while watching him struggle with the concept and working with the new materials, but it livens up once Naru forces his hand or, I should say, HER hand, I should say. Not much to this episode.

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Zankyou no Terror 3 works mainly as an examination of Shibazaki, the detective, and his effective deduction which prevents another bomb from going off. While his backstory isn’t the most original (investigated the WRONG person, got transferred, maybe carrying a grudge about Hiroshima so especially doesn’t like people who play with uranium), he’s good at what he does, and the battle of wits he has going on with the two kids is the best part of the series right now. As for Nine and Twelve, we get another glimpse at their own backstory and learn nothing more from it except they were once unloved and abandoned, which we had already figured out. So they remain two bratty kids who are trying to get revenge for something the show won’t tell us. As for the girl, i.e., the possibly humanizing connection to them, we barely see her at all. She runs away from home, to where I don’t know, and that’s it. I think it’s about time the show puts some other pieces into play. Well, they will. For all my snarking here I admit the creators know what they’re doing.

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Next week Free! finally gets to the prefecturals and we can put aside the pointless little dramas like we had in episode 4, where Nagisa may have to quit the swim club because his grades suck, so he runs away from home. It’s one-third “What’s wrong with Nagisa?”, one-third “We have to hide him from his parents!” and one-third “I’ll go and tell them what I really feel for the first time in my entire life!”. I was drumming my fingers near the end, knowing what would happen next, no surprises, no twists. Maybe if I actually liked Nagisa I would have cared more. Episode 3 is better; they continue to work Sousuke into the series by showing the bond he has with Rin, and the sacrifice Sousuke makes in order to share something his oldest friend has and he hasn’t. It’s a better story than anything the clowns at that other school have going.

I was waiting for someone to pick up that umbrella and use it.
I was waiting for someone to pick up that umbrella and use it.

Hanayamata 4 sort-of brings Tami into the group. Sort of what Nagisa went through in that she’s going against her parents’ wishes, at least her father’s. Her mother isn’t mentioned. Odd that considering all the princess-y flashbacks we got this this week. On the other hand there’s no question that her father will agree to her joining the yosakoi team if she wants to. Meanwhile, I’m not sure about her logic in getting to her sad place. She loved ballet, her father enjoyed watching her dance, and then, to further please him, she quit it. Maybe he was secretly disappointed in her quitting and that’s why he’s become more distant, and he sees yosakoi as a feeble substitute. Anyway, we have one future scene sewn up: he’ll watch her dance with her friends and grudgingly approve. Also interesting that part of the appeal for her is to do things with friends, just like Hannah, though judging from her schedule she does tons of things with other people. Oh well, it was cute as always, though a bit on the slow side, with all the tearful declamations.

Twos and a three: Tokyo Ghouls, Nozaki-kun, Free 2

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I’m dropping Tokyo Ghouls, not because I think it’s a bad show, but I’ve never been big on horror and this show is dripping with it. Episode 2 had Ken get a lecture from Touka while she beats him up, and later he gets a lecture from Nishiki while HE beats him up. It’s satisfying in the latter case that Ken takes hold of his inner ghoulishness and proceeds to beat Nishiki up, but I couldn’t stand the lectures. However, these lectures come from the POV of the characters, i.e., they’re not just generic ghouls but people with personalities, a point made in Yoshimura’s lecture, where he DOESN’T beat Ken up. They’ve also set up Ken’s dilemma (Ghoul? Human?) very well, establishing the threat to his human friend Hideyoshi in the process. Well done. Just not my bag. One more thing: what is it about coffee that ghouls like, and could they extract whatever it is and make non-human food, solving the problem, or do the ghouls just not care? I may never find out.

WIll this shot will appear in every episode, with a different person facing Sakura?
WIll this shot will appear in every episode, with a different person facing Sakura?

So, if I’m dropping TG, what am I keeping for now? How about Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun, about as opposite as one can get (no … Tamayura would be the opposite, but anyway …). It’s episode two and time to introduce new characters. We start with Mikoto, handsome, brash, often rude. Happily, after establishing this, the show goes to great lengths to make fun of him. He’s embarrassed by his own bad boy lines, after he says them; he has a desperate need to be needed, so much so that Nozaki asks Sakura to ask Mikoto something so he’ll get to be the wise senpai he sets himself out to be. In fact, Nozaki uses him as a model for his shoujo heroines. Sakura, meanwhile, is dutiful but irritated by all this. Sakura’s irritation is becoming one of her better traits.

Seo's approach to sports.
Seo’s approach to sports.

Good as Mikoto is, he’s outshined by Seo, Sakura’s friend, who is so oblivious to her surroundings and the feelings of people around her that Nozaki can’t believe it’s not an act. For us she’s a character who’s not afraid of anyone and says whatever she thinks. Sakura’s sort of the same way, but she has to think her opinions. Seo gets to say them. Calm Nozaki is a little overwhelmed by her, another good thing for the series. I don’t know about the contrasting side of her, singing like an angel, though. It seems a little forced. Still, a nice job: two good new characters in one episode.

Er, what?
Wrong sport.

Three episodes into Free! Eternal Summer, and every time the show threatens to get darker the creators back off. They introduce Sousuke, Rin’s best friend from way back, an excellent swimmer and an all-around decent fellow, only he carries a grudge against Haru for “making” Rin swim on their team last year. The confrontation they have at the vending machines feels like it’s from another, more intense sports anime, and even after they race he still has that attitude toward Haru, but to no one else. Meanwhile, Haru does some glaring of his own, but I don’t know what to make of it. Neither does the show, apparently, as it’s pretty much dropped for other, sillier plotlines, like a relay to open Goro’s pool, and the mistaken belief that Rei is considering rejoining the track team, leading to a few dull spying scenes. And while that business doubles back to Sousuke and Rin, the former doesn’t seem to care much anymore. So, is this show going to go back to Sousuke’s grudge or is it going to chase butterflies for the entire season?

2014 Summer Shows #1

I’m going to go in order as listed on Random Curiousity’s preview page, except that I overlooked Glasslip, so I’ll start with that next time. Like last season, I’m going to post an image of the first second or two of each show.

A sky, which we'll surely pan down from.
A sky, which we’ll surely pan down from.

Bakumatsu Rock starts by giving us a concert by a boy-group in medieval Japan, most of it still shots with spotlights waving around. Not a good sign. Then we meet the young and hungry, er, Ryo, who’s come to the capital to become a star. He plays his guitar (which is a forbidden instrument) to everyone around, whether they’ll listen or not, and since his music sucks, he’s roughed up and peed on a lot. But he meets two others, interested in his guitar (because they think he stole it), who become his bandmates, and a kid whose importance we don’t know yet, I’m guessing the Shogun or his son, or daughter–it’s hard to tell.. When soldiers (who are in another boy band) try to confiscate it, the three team up, whip off their shirts, and perform Rock, and trigger a Peace Soul. Or something.

No-talents have been asking that for thousands of years.
No-talents have been asking that for thousands of years.

Some of it is amusing, but because of the content and implications rather than the mundane story. All the Shogun’s warriors perform in boy groups now, and they only get to play “Heaven’s Song,” which must make their concerts really short. In other words, only boy-groups are acceptable to the government, and most of the tickets to go the wealthy. On the other hand, Rock is a western style of rebellious music and must be stamped out. Fun, but this alone can’t carry a series. Ryo is a passionate nitwit, and sometimes he’s fun to watch; other times I want to smack him. His new bandmates Shinsaku and Katsura aren’t a lot better. The story will probably mix a getting-to-the-top story with cultural warfare with a lot of bad songs mixed in. I’ll pass.

And now for another show with boys ripping their shirts off, though I’m thinking it’s going to be a lot better.

A lovely drop of water which Haru gets philosophical about.
A lovely drop of water which Haru gets philosophical about.

My biggest concern for Free! Eternal Summer, is that KyoAni will do with it like they did Chuu2Koi, that is, do a second season but not come up with a decent story. Season one ended satisfactorily in terms of wrapping up loose ends, so what will they do now? We get some hints in episode one while they reintroduce all the characters and show us their muscles. A transfer student is brought in who’s supposed to be really good, but he’s keep offscreen until the end. And Rin makes a couple stabs at getting Haru and the others fired up about the future, so there’s a more philosophical angle for you.

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But mostly, the episode is light, as I said, reintroducing the boys (and a couple of girls) as they move along after the match last season. This means spring-cleaning the pool, trying to attract new members (loved the shocked faces on the audience), and participating in Sasabe’s rebuilt pool event, where we get Rin racing Haru for the second time in the episode. Meanwhile, I can’t tell for sure, but I think they upped the amount of fanservice from last season. I suppose that’s one way of welcoming us back. Another way is to present us with a beautiful-looking, impeccably-directed episode, which this is, even if we don’t really know what the story is yet.

Captions like this always mean we're about to watch a battle.
Captions like this always mean we’re about to watch a battle.

Shirogane no Ishi: Argevollen has two countries duking it out for control of the continent, which looks more like a penninsula or an island, really, but I digress. Arandas, the good guys I guess, since we’re following them, are being pushed back to their great wall and beyond by the bad guys of Ingelmia and their nasty, hopping mecha. We meet a lot of characters, prominently Izumi, who watches the generals flee the danger with a glower, Tokimune is our hot-headed boy pilot out in the field, furious that they’re retreating and deserting the civilians. He sees one civilian car in danger, breaks orders to rescue her from two mecha, only to discover that the truck has a top-secret, brand-new, ass-kicking mecha of its own.

The first thing Tokimune does in the new mecha is strike a pose.
The first thing Tokimune does in the new mecha is strike a pose.

I wasn’t going to watch it anyway, mecha’s not my thing, but I was intrigued by how they laid out the battlefield morals here. You get the idea that Arandas may not be any better than their enemies, who probably have their own morals and angry boy pilots. But when they brought out the new mecha, in spite of the beatdown it gave on the bad guys, I was disappointed; this show is starting like so many others. I would have welcomed a series where neither side has a big weapon advantage but wins or loses due to strategy and resources using conventional means. Looks like this won’t be this show. It’s all told in a conventional way, and while they did a decent job of introducing a lot of characters without over-explaining, I am not terribly interested in any of them.

Modern day Tokyo at night shots mean we'll start with some action or danger.
Modern day Tokyo at night shots mean we’ll start with some action or danger.

Tokyo Ghouls is off to a promising start. After a bloody scene where one ghoul is interrupted by another ghoul and runs off, introducing us to the concept of ghoul binge eating, we meet our hero, hapless high-schooler Ken, who’s telling his annoying pal Hide about a girl he wants to ask out. Instead, he’s picked up by a beautiful woman named Rize, ostensibly because she’s reading the same book he is, but in reality is the binge-eater from the first scene. Hell of a first date, huh, Ken? Implausible things happen, like those convenient girders, and now Ken’s a half-ghoul, especially terrible because he can’t eat human meant for humans, but the thought of eating human food, if you know what I mean, disgusts his human side. But he’s hungry, damn it!

How's the date going, Ken?
How’s the date going, Ken?

I guess that will be part of the story, that Ken will have to fight the urge to eat human flesh once a month, which isn’t all that interesting. The scenes were he tries to eat human food or fights the urge to eat humans were the weakest in the episode. But the show has other things going for it. The ghouls have personalities. They squabble over territory. They have organizations. Not only that, but they’re among us. At least half the characters we’re introduced to in the episode are actually ghouls. Asking “Is he or isn’t he?” for every new character we meet will keep us nicely off-balanced. It looks good, and is appropriately gory and scary, though, as I said, often implausible … Why did Rize go through all that trouble before disemboweling her victim? Are the victims sometimes more than cattle? If so, why? Good beginning.

Fitting.
Fitting.

In Rail Wars! we meet a lad named Naoto as he enters training for the Japanese National Railways, the big, government-run rail system, for a life of tranquility. He immediately picks up sidekicks, grumpy Sakurai, bro Shou, and brainy (and buxom) Haruka, the possible love interest, and we see them go through their training, including shoving coal in a steam engine for chrissakes, and did you know there’s a technique to it, that you can’t just shovel the coal in there? And that the initials on a train number can signify how many wheels (or is that axles?) it has? The show throws little facts like that out every five minutes or so, whether they’re important or not.

By this point in the episode he shouldn't be surprised.
By this point in the episode he shouldn’t be surprised.

So train lovers might like this show a lot. I wasn’t so enthused. While I was relieved that the entire month’s training was done in half the episode, no fucking up scenes or “I won’t make it!” angst (every character in this show is cheerful most of the time), it also means we don’t see the characters bond in any way. The four of them start off together and wind up together as if the show didn’t want to bother explaining. And, apart from Sakurai’s man-hating, they trust each other implicitly, right from the start. They pass every test with just a little difficulty, and the final, unplanned test involving real purse-snatchers, implies that there’s no one at JNR who has a phone. Frankly, why does the show even need adventures like that? I think a show in more of the style of a Karino Takatsu, with lots of train porn, would be highly enjoyable. The characters would be more fun than this lot is. Well, Rail Wars is at least an earnest, cheerful show. It’s one is on my “maybe” list.