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Goodbye to two happy shows: Polar Bear’s Cafe and Tamako Market

March 30, 2013 Leave a comment

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Maybe it was clear when Polar Bear’s Cafe screwed around with the cardboard figures routine, sticking it in the middle of the episode, and in London, that maybe it was time the show had a rest. So with little regret I watched episode 50 today. As you would expect, all the characters have a moment of facetime, except the giraffe, one more scene of penguins hawking their cards, another extreme closeup of mandrill’s face, Rei-Rei giggling over handsome Mr. Handa. To my relief, they didn’t feel obliged to get Sasako a boyfriend. But I preferred the first half more because it confronted two of the show’s biggest and most important mysteries: what does Penguin do for a living and how does he get up on that stool? And they answer neither. Why spoil the fun?

'Penguin-san Penguin san!'  'Nani, Panda-kun?'

‘Pengjuin-san Penguin san!’ ‘Nani, Panda-kun?’

I think a year run is enough for this series. As I said, the format was getting tired. But give them credit. The show was a low-key affair but they kept up their easy-going humor for fifty episodes, while other series can barely manage twelve. They could get laughs out of normal cafe conversation or through some peculiarity of a species, or simply with non-sequitors (like Sasako’s ancient statues), and they would move on to the next bit. Had it not been for Space Brother‘s Mutta, Polar Bear, with his great sense of fun and unflappable demeanor (plus, girls love him), would have been my 2012 male character of the year. Penguin-san was a superb straight man. Sasako, the most important human in the show, was absolutely charming even if she rarely had anything to do. As for Panda-kun … well, let’s not talk about him. Good job, people.

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I was going to write something about Tamako Market‘s ending, too, but I can’t think of much. It was one of the very few good new shows this season and showed you what production values and good direction mean to a show. It felt slicker and smarter than the other shows even though it had almost no plot at all and no real point that I could find. I am, however, grateful that they didn’t try to give each character in the mall a whole episode. And, well, KyoAni will probably come up with something just as good in a season or two…

Sasami-San 7, Robotics 18, Polar bear 45

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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After the latest episode of Shin Sekai Yori with its thoroughly depressing story of possible human extinction at the hands of rat-pigs, I turned today to a Sasami-San@Ganbaranai with its equally depressing story where Sasami is dragged off by the cruel fragments of her mother after all her friends got the shit kicked out of them or dragged into the underworld, or both. Episode 7 cheered me up considerably, well, as much as it could with its bittersweet overtones of loss. While I was hoping for Tsurugi to return and deliver an ass-kicking of her own, having Tama, the innocent, do the damage was just as satisfactory. I wonder about the mountain of legends that this story is undoubtedly based upon, that she could deliver such a smackdown to an ancient, powerful god almost accidentally, flinging her arms about like a child throwing a tantrum, a righteous tantrum, to be sure, but still a child’s tantrum. But her speech, done as a little girl, had almost as much power as the longer one Sasami had just delivered, and that’s not even including the bites that accumulated on the “mother.” The words may have been infantile but the emotions behind them were as powerful as those of any adult. And she has god-powers to back it up. Heh.

It was either this image of one of Misaki's back.

It was either this image of one of Misaki’s back.

With that last shot in episode 17 (circles appearing on maps–never good) I thought Robotics;Notes was gearing up for some depressing episodes too, but in episode 18 the latest and scariest Kimijima report appears to be nothing more than the dissimulation of the reports to other sources, not a big attack from the sky. And for much of the time we’re back in pluck-kids-making-a-robot story, well, until the very end of THIS episode, a bizarre scene where Akiho finally meets her sister after all those years, only Misaki keeps her back turned, is wearing a robot-suit, speaks, er, robotically, about family matters, and runs off when Sawada shows up and pulls a gun on her. The scene is so full of confusing things that I don’t know where to start. I’ll just say that if the series wanted a BAM moment, they ought to let us know what’s going on first. And finally, while there’s some emotional power to the Gunvarrel showing its moves at the festival (with no one caring except a little kid), I can’t believe that security wasn’t all over that asshole who threw a bottle at Akiho and knocked her off a fucking ladder, for chrissakes! Well, at least Sumio gets to prove he’s worth something other than money. Oh, and there’s Taiko’s nightmare, which was very effective.

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Polar Bear’s Cafe has been slipping a bit recently, really ever since they put in their latest OP, the weakest of the lot. It makes the series look like a children’s show. But episode 45 shows some life in it. Why Panda-kon didn’t get Handa to keep Rin-Rin to stay away before I don’t know. And the fishing was fun to watch, especially Polar Bear’s explanation why smelt are so small.

Psycho-pass 8, Polar Bear 35

November 29, 2012 Leave a comment

No, it’s not.

Psycho-Pass 8 finishes up its latest routine crime story and brings very little new to it. We have Ouryou, the crazy killer artist girl, give a rather mundane reason for choosing the victims she did, that they were in a girls school that was designed to create “ladies,” or good wives for successful men, I suppose, and goes on about how many other ways their talents could flower except for this society, etc. Which doesn’t explain why she’s killing the victims of society rather than the instigators. Well, she’s young and has to start somewhere, I suppose. But if were looking for an insight on their society that we might wish to relate to our own, forget it. She’s just crazy.

Your typical detective soliloquy.

Meanwhile, it occurs to this bunch of hi-tech investigators that there might be other ways in and out of the school far too late to save anybody. And once they do realize that they don’t act upon it. The only reason they found the girl’s lair is that she was caught on camera going where she shouldn’t be. No, the big insights this week come from Shinya, using his brain and a visit to an artist friend to give them the clue that they need. Akane is again along for the ride. But no one said she was the main character, I guess. And next time Makishima is targeting Shinya, I assume to be his next project, which will be interesting indeed, now that the girl has been despatched. When Makishima tells his former colleagues before killing them that they’ve failed him is it only because they got caught? I suppose you can ignore the quotes he makes as well. He’s just crazy, too.

Nothing in Polar Bear’s Cafe 35 is laugh-out-loud funny but both parts gave me a higher-than-average number of snickers. In the first, Sloth decides he wants to work at the cafe. This coul never work, of course, in spite of his advanced doctorate (in research on being high up in a tree), and ballroom dancing skills (unverified), and that fact that when he gets older algae will grow on his body. Polar Bear hires him anyway because “it could be fun,” demonstrating why he’s just behind Mutta in “male character of the year” voting in my brain and ahead of Araragi and Apo. It’s the expected jokes after that, but you have to admire sloth’s work ethic. Yes, it took him three hours to polish a glass, but that was three hours of solid work!

The possible romance takes another baby-step forward.

The second story has Handa trying to figure out what to give Sasako for Christmas. This would be dull except that all the animals try help by coaxing Sasako’s interest out of her, most amusingly Polar Bear tailing her while she goes window shopping; she’s fully aware that he’s up to something, I mean, PB is pretty obvious, but she’s too nice to call him out on it. The ladies tea section wasn’t bad either. I have a suggestion for them. Sasako could use a new outfit. Apart from her uniform she wore the same thing for both parts. Granted, it looks adorable on her, but how about a little variety?

Chu2Koi 8, Bakuman3 7, Polar Bear 34

November 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Thinking ahead to Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! 8 I was hoping for something really big. Rikka’s been leading this little fantasy life of hers ever since her father died and now, having to accept reality, she prepares for an epic battle against the overlord, her older sister. It won’t be the same after this. Even though we knew how the battle would turn out.

The battle itself turned out to be the usual, except that in fantasy-mode there was nothing around them at all except the house, which burns away after Tooka slaps her. Finally Yuuta intervenes, but all he can really do is point out that unlike the others in the family Rikka had no time to prepare for her father’s death. Tooka doesn’t even need to bring up that it’s been a while now, but Yuuta’s further point about platitudes about reality don’t do a damn thing, true though they may be, softens her a little. Next thing you know Rikka runs off and the episode moves on. 

Could we get back to Yuuta and Rikka please? Or even the girls? Anyone but you.

Rikka is surprised to find Yuuta thought she might be on the train home, while the other half of the story is so trivial it feels like an irritation when they switch to it. Kumin goes out at night to look at the moon, and Isshiki joins her, leading his frantic phone calls about what to do with a girl and proving again that he is probably, in terms of action, the most pathetic harem lead sidekick in anime history. The girls aren’t terribly interesting since all they do is reprise the jokes (sunburn, friendly dog) they were given last week. These scenes only show some life when they speculate on what Yuuta and Rikka are doing alone, hem hem.

No, nothing naughty happened.

And what DO they do? Superficially, not much. Rikka has to stay the night alone with Yuuta, so we get a few moments of terrified realization from Yuuta coupled with the usual keeping up with whatever antics she’s up to. Rikka’s behavior is more interesting. Beneath the speeches she’s also nervous about being alone with a member of the opposite sex, but she’s also more intrigued by it. Something begins to stir in the void beneath the pure darkness of (oh, stop it). He even catches her watching a romantic movie in the middle of the night! But there’s more to it than the hormones. Yuuta had told her that he had drifted toward the dark flame business while he was with friends and yet felt totally alone. Perhaps Rikka took on her affectations for similar reasons… but now there’s this boy she likes, who puts up with her outlandish talk and posing, who came with her when she needed to escape and knows where to find her … They haven’t done anything romantic yet, but the second half of this episode it sure feels like they did.

Naturally, everyone else shows up as well.

I really couldn’t care less about Bakuman‘s Hiramaru/Aoki’s side story, but they do a nice job in pulling it off. And it’s nice to see the pressure on someone other than our boys. And it unfolds cleverly. On Hiramaru’s side, he wants to confess to a girl, but his evil editor doesn’t want him to because it will mess with his manga drawing. And he’s exactly right. So they set up a situation where Hiramaru ditches the others and takes Aoki off alone. As Fukuda (because all the others, naturally, are roped into the chase–more fun that way) says, he’s more worried that Hiramaru will screw up the date than anything else.

To add to the ridiculousness, Yoshida hints to Mashiro that there might be a double suicide involved. Anyway, it pans out beautifully. Aoki’s been put through a lot of male crap in this series, but here’s a guy who sincerely likes her, runs away with her as if it were a shoujo romance, and spouts all the right things about how he feels in his passionate verbal duel with Yoshida. Naturally, Fukuda, the boys and Kaya are arrived to cheer him on. What’s not to like about him? The irony is that if they had been left alone in the first place the date probably would have ended badly. Well, like all the artists, it’s back to work next week, with a new super-talented rival to worry about. Oh, congrats Fukuda, on Road Racer Giri getting an anime.

Polar Bear, disguised as a panda, visits Brown Bear’s Cafe.

Polar Bear’s Cafe 34 doesn’t live up the the standards set by previous episodes. Neither half really stood out. Also, it doesn’t help the mystery of why Penguin-san is spending more time at another cafe recently when the story title is “Penguin-san’s New Love.” As for the first half, Wolf casting about for a new goal in life, it plays out like any tv drama. I hope he’s happy at his new job. I liked the sparse decor of Brown Bear’s cafe, though. Not fancy, but full of books to read. A good place to settle down with a book and some coffee for an hour or two. And brown Bear is a bespectacled, bookish-looking type.

Psycho-Pass 6, K 7 and maybe the last, and Polar Bear 33

November 16, 2012 2 comments

Psycho-Pass 6 gets down to business with the main story arc. It’s true that we’ve seen the ultimate culprit already; he’s been smirking on the sidelines in just about every episode, awaiting his turn to take the field … er, manipulate another person from the sidelines.

It only struck me now that the cops this episode aren’t working on a new case. Oh, one’s developing, but it’s only at the end when the workmen discover a charming piece of modern art in a fountain that it becomes an active case again. Up to that point in the episode it’s been Akane digging into Shinya’s background for no good reason I can think of. “I can’t figure that guy out” is a rotten answer. I can’t figure most people out but I don’t go digging through old police files and public records looking for clues. The fact that we have a couple of scenes of Shinya obsessing about the murder of his former partner. Like the culprit, Makishima, we’ve seen it before, but now the show begins to put these things together.

I’d have to agree, but coming from you … etc etc.

It’s well-done and straightforward, told steadily and patiently. And rather chilling as we see the bad guy has infiltrated a cloistered girls school, supposedly free from the whole psycho-pass thing. If Makishima can get in here then no place is safe. Yoshika is befriended by a dreamy upperclassman who talks to her about the strict limitations the government has placed on peoples’ lives. Even though she’s in cahoots with the bad guy(s) I have to agree with her. In fact, how many of us would wish to rebel against that world? But it does bother me that this show never gives us anyone who actively rebels against the rules who isn’t a murderous bastard or with cloudy credentials. What about normal people? Or is the very act of disapproving of the system enough to cloud you over, so to speak?

Some fine art and classical literature between murders.

It’s especially troubling because Makishima, says Shinya, is essentially giving people with the intent to kill the means to do it. The intent to kill bit can be easily looked up, apparently. But the means, that’s something the cops won’t be able to predict. And it doesn’t quite match with the current evil project with soulless Ouyou and her drawings. She’s not the one going all resin on innocent victims. Is she simply luring victims in? Surely Makishima is too sophisticated to need that sort of help. Maybe she’s a kindred soul? Another Shakespeare fan? How did she get involved in this in the first case? A lot of questions. This arc is off to a good start.

I’ll decide how I feel next week, but I haven a feeling I’m going to drop K. This after an episode 7 that looked all right and had possibly interesting things in it, but it was presented so blandly that lapsed into the lassitude I felt while watching it other weeks. There’s a fight between Kuroh and Munakata which, while animated well enough, had no life to it at all. It might have had to do with the choice of soundtrack there, music for playing after the party’s over and you’re coming down. And it was for naught because Shiro returns anyway. Then Shiro puts on an act with the aid of Neko and they escape, and we then learn that Neko can conveniently change memories as well. In this way we learn that the entire high school life was a lie, so right there they cut out the most interesting side of the anime. Homra are a bunch of dull, chiched thugs, Scepter 4 are priggish, upright nazis, and that’s all we got left, well, apart from the guy in the airship, and I have no interest whatever in meeting him. It’s a shame. This show can look really good, there’s a lot of talent behind it, and they’re pissing it away.

Polar Bear’s Cafe 33 brings us one story with an interlude where we learn just how important hand-picked beans are to a great cup of coffee. In the main story the Penguins’ action show is a big hit and Panda feels his corner is in a slump. Of course, Full-Time Panda has his part-time job to keep him occupied. Rin Rin offers as solution which isn’t quiet enough, but it’s strange to see him and Panda working together. The episode isn’t terribly good until we get the solution and a descent into classic Polar Bear Cafe lunacy, a panda family drama in which the prodigal son returns, but reveals … well, I won’t spoil it, but make sure you have your tissues on hand!

Psycho-Pass 5, Polar Bear 32, K 6

November 9, 2012 2 comments

Unconventional police work.

Psycho-Pass‘s attitude toward new technology and the people who use them seem to be as old-fashioned as any other show. Many of the characters seemed unaware of the social networks’ size and significance, while others wonder why people would bother. Only Akane, the youngest, seems to understand the what’s going on. Masaoka seems to have it both ways as he paints flowers while others are plugged in, yet can quote Rousseau and discuss how humans are basically social animals and suggest the online world is another reflection of this (in an other wise confusing speech I’m still trying to find a purpose for, though I like the bottle of booze he plunked down if only for its later, practical use). And we see it later when the team try to raid a couple of places only to find that the enemies had set up little tricks that might seem obvious to us (well, maybe not the interior hologram distortion) but befuddle and nearly kill the police. Though it’s Masaoka who finds a way out of the hologram trap using two practical, physical items, the booze and a lighter.

Conventional police work.

As far as the episode goes, it’s a basic police procedural with a “acquaintance of hero gets killed” twist, meaning we get two scenes where Akane stares off at nothing allowing the more experienced cops to drop some condolence and advice on her. Their method for pinpointing the person now doing the avatars felt smart and was a combination of statistical data analysis and human insight. And it’s not over. The people really responsble for all this are still smiling smugly in the background. I figure they’re going to the official series villains. In all it was an interesting story, even if the ideas of avatars being the pure creation of users’ expectations fell flat, and if that one cop didn’t notice that electric eye trigger.

Polar Bear’s backyard has a lot of fun things.

On Polar Bear’s Cafe 32 we learn all about Polar Bear’s yard. We already know there’s a terrace there and a cherry tree, but did you know that the cafe grows its own vegetables, and the garden is tended by kangaroos? You remember that they roast their own coffee with the help of red squirrels, but did you know that Polar Bear also employs Lemurs to make their mozarella from water buffalo milk? They also grow herbs, but no one seems to be in charge of that. And there’s a driving range, basketball court, and two mysterious paths that I wish they had gone up, but also wish that they don’t. Like Snoopy’s doghouse, some things must remain a mystery. The second half isn’t bad but we’ve already seen the penguins try to unload their surplus cards, and a penguin hero action show doesn’t sound very interesting to me. Question: why doesn’t our Penguin-san participate in these meetings? Or why isn’t he invited?

Oh, for the love of god, don’t sing! Don’t … No wonder he got murdered.

K 6 is better than last week’s but that’s not saying much. We spend much of the time with Shiro and Kuroh (Neko runs away at some point) and watch as Shiro’s perceived world begins to break down. He calls Kukuri, who does not know who he is. His parents’ phone isn’t reachable and even his house is gone. He treats this all with a tragic bewilderment while I, for about the first time all series, really want to know what’s going on. It’s the only reason I’m going to watch next week. The other half gives us Totsuka’s story, starting as a kid following Mikoto around, finally getting in with the gang in spite of his non-violence. He says an important line to Mikito about his powers being only used for good, etc, but otherwise he’s a complete bore. He even sings folk songs (and worse, we have to hear one)! So when he gets shot by the colorless king or Shiro, it’s supposed to be a great tragedy, but I can only breathe a sigh of relief.

K 5, ROBOTICS 4, Polar Bear 31

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m still looking for K to get its act together and do something, but episode 5 is no better than what we’ve seen before. In fact, it’s worse. Shiro, mulling over the bloody clothes he found which throws serious doubt on his innocence, leaves the school with Kuroh and Neko to get more fireworks. At roughly the same time, members of the Red and Blue team show up to apprehend or kill him. The Blues get in their “legally,” by strong-arming school admin, a nice way to demonstrate their clout in society, I suppose. Included in the team is Saruhiko, who used to be red but is now blue (actually, a little of both, as it turns out). He does nothing to improve the characters’ overall annoyance level, taunting Misaki (skateboard kid) so much that NO ONE wants to hear that name again, let alone Misaki.

The least exciting well-animated battle of the season.

So the two of them fight, and it is a total bore. Misaki leaps and grunts, Saruhiko just parries and giggles. Then the other Blues show up and tell them to knock it off. This is a high school, you know! … Could have fooled me. The students are supposedly prepping for the annual festival but the only ones we see are groups of two or three who run off when they see a Red. The courtyard where the fight happens is completely deserted. I honestly don’t know who’s running this thing. A big budget and cast and none of the creators want to DO anything with them. Everyone’s just mailing it in.

K 5 felt like a wasted episode where nothing really happened. ROBOTICS;NOTES 4’s dithering has more purpose.

Kaito should have joined the K creative team for the week.

Much of the episode involves Akiho’s trying to raise money for the robot fund while Kaito and Suburu sit around not caring. About the only things that happen (that matter) are that Suburu gets Kaito to be his pilot at the upcoming world games, and Furugoori, the show’s new crazy chick, moves in next door to the robot hanger. Kaito losing to Suburu after 21 wins suggests that he actually doesn’t mind piloting that robot, or maybe he just gave in. I suspect it’s the latter because Suburu’s robot can’t be as much fun to pilot. But that plot point seems to be a distraction, really, unless it means Kaito’s going to have another Elephant-Mouse Syndrome attack. … That’s right: the show has two plot points and an infodump at the end, though not a dull one since we get flashbacks and not just a talking head explaining it, with a mysterious event to top it all off.

A wicked grin. That’s more like it.

The other point, Furugoori’s moving in, is where the story is really heading–certainly not in Akiho’s desperate and amusing attempts to wheedle money out of anyone she suspects has it, scenes which padded out the episode. A girl who can move into a old building and get it refurbished to do mysterious stuff already makes her interesting. Her twisted grin is also interesting. Her messed-up way of speaking is not (though I love her voice), but she drops a few hints of things she knows or suspects, which at least makes what she says interesting. More interesting this episode than Ahiko, supposedly a main character, running into indifference and shouting at it all episode. And let’s not forget that gray-haired girl who’s been in the ED all along but finally makes a sort-of appearance in the actual show. Very interesting indeed. Good, now that they’ve laid all these interesting plot and character possibilities on the board it’s time to move some of them. Unlike K, I have some confidence they know where they’re going.

Polar Bear’s Cafe 31 is one of the best yet. The two sections exhibited the show’s odd strengths.

Penguin tries bullshitting his way out of it.

First, it’s crisis time (again) for Penguin, as all seven of his would-be girlfriends confront him at the cafe. Which does he like the best? Can he even tell them apart. Polar Bear and the others try from time to time to intervene. Llama shows that he is quite the ladies man, or would be if he could get anyone to notice him, by being the only one of any species who can tell them apart. Penguin tries a comeback, then Panda joins them and ruins everything in his own unique way. Every character interacts using their strengths.

(fangirl squeal) It’s YAMA ARASHI!!

The second half works on the show’s knack for putting animals in human roles, allowing us a splendid WTF moments, in this case, porcupines as an idol group named Yama Arashi. Mrs. Panda and King Penguin adore them and have a super time at their concert in the dome! I sort of wanted a more direct parody of one of the idol shows we’ve had recently, but, face it, porcupines aren’t known for their dance moves, nor the capybaras backing them up. Besides, this show doesn’t have the budget. But there’s something irresistible about the lights coming up on four porcupines to the screams of thousands of girls, a panda and a penguin.