FranXX 7, Evergarden 7-8, Slow Start 8

The inevitable beach episode.

Darling in the FranXX 7 is, of all things, a beach episode. Well, they do more than that. They introduce that blond kid and apparently he’s going to be surveillance, but what he’s surveying is unclear, 02 and Hiro of course, but I think he ought to keep an eye on these other kids as well. Ichigo is still pining for Hiro, and the suggestion comes out that the person you kiss might not actually be the one you love. Even 02, earlier talking about being together forever, seems to get this. Meanwhile, the rest of the boys work out their frustrated and unrecognized adolescent yearnings, asking Hiro what a kiss is, ogle the girls, etc, while the girls seem oblivious, apart from 02 and Ichigo. Mitsuru and Ikuno, meanwhile, display the mutual indifference that makes you wonder how they manage to pilot their Franxx at all. God only knows what’s going on in Kokoro and Futoshi’s heads.

What passes for plot in this episode comes when they discover a way off their secluded beach and discover an abandoned city (you know, the plantation runners really do a shit job with keeping an eye on the kids, or maybe it’s intentional). They are astonished and confused, and Kokoro finds “Your New Baby” guide (maybe THAT’S what going on in her head) while Ichigo finds a poster showing, gasp, kissing. Apart from that, they mostly reject this fascinating old town in favor of their shut-in, restrictive existence, but I’m sure they’ll playing with this metaphor again in the future, when adolescence gets the better of them. So nothing much this week, really, just some plot-seed sowing, but that’s what I expected after the craziness of episode 6.

It looked like in episode 7, Violet Evergarden would follow the same dull but beautiful-looking path where a quick-learning automation touches the hearts of the humans she works for, and for almost the entire episode that’s what happens. Oh, there is the concept of “living with my sin,” written by a drunken playwright Oscar Webster, our troubled person of the week, a line she reads early on, somehow touching her, but it’s forgotten in Oscar’s story. He wants to write a final play to celebrate his dead daughter, and Violet looks a little too much like her. But they talk through it, Violet commits a miracle (an amazing scene, combining the story with KyoAni’s matchless animation), and the story wraps up with a scene of Violet becoming overcome by her murderous past. Or so I thought.

I was hardly prepared for Violet finally learning the truth about Gilbert’s death, it was slipped in so suddenly and without buildup, and now we finally have the story you might argue should have started in episode 1. I myself think they were waiting too long. Every time Gilbert didn’t tell her when he had the chance he looked weaker and weaker. But now that we know I wonder if the delay wasn’t necessary. Week by week Violet had subtly displayed more emotion, both in her actions and her voice. Maybe the show was waiting for her to gain enough knowledge of her own self (with that reprise of the “burning up inside” line that she now accepts, and this was before she learned about Gilbert) so that she could react to the knowledge the way a human might, with disbelief and guilt that she had survived him. On the other hand, how would she have reacted had she not had all of these encounters before? Well, whatever, I just hope the show doesn’t cop out and bring Gilbert back to life.

Meanwhile the next episode appears, so here we go. And so goes Violet, into the flashbacks, where we watch her grow from a cute, biting thing that can’t speak into a merciless, puppy-eyed instrument of murder, while Gilbert, the only one she pays attention to, gives a lot of guilty, pained looks, tries to connect to her on a more human level, and probably falls for her. And of course Violet has always been devoted to Gilbert even if she didn’t understand what the feeling was. It’s completely predictable, but as usual the animation and art are so good that I didn’t care. However, they left out the last “I love you bit,” so we got no clue as to the nature of his … disappearance. When not in flashbacks, the episode had Violet running around looking for Gilbert–her natural, human, healing process beginning to work, but still in the denial stage

I have almost no idea why Hana is saying this.

It appears I missed an episode of Slow Start. No matter. The point of this show is not its story arc. In episode 8 Hana tries to overcome her crippling shyness, well, Eiko and the others do, by introducing her to a number of her classmates, who politely come on, act eccentric for about a minute, and leave again, making me wonder if we’ll ever see them again apart from a line or two. I think my favorite was Sachi, the latest to be sucked into Eiko’s web of … whatever she’s got going for her that she seems oblivious to. Sachi gets too close then runs in a panic, and we learn a little about salmon, too. Elsewhere the girls buy swimsuits with the usual swimsuit-buying bits these shows have. And again, an incredibly odd line will just pop out, for no reason.

Catching up and falling behind with Slow Start, Yuru Camp, Dagashi and Takunomi

Every now and then the show tosses out weird lines like this.

Slow Start 6 has little to write about. It’s the usual well-balanced dose of cheerful girly activities, friendship, kindness, innuendo, fanservice, and weird lines. I think the winning conversation this week had to do with the toughness of Eiko’s nipples, though I rather like the one in the photo above, too, though how Hana’s mind reached that concept I don’t really get. The plot of the episode was a study-sleepover that Hana holds for everyone, well, that and the fact that Tama might get annoying at times, but she is also a highly responsible person, entrusted with her family’s food budget, and now I’m hungry for chop suey.

And now that I’ve watched Yuru Camp 6, I’m hungry for just about everything, especially if you cook it on a grill. Hmm, pork jowl … Anyway, while Slow Start avoids story by emphasizing friendship and nipples, among other things, Yuru Camp avoids story with breathtaking scenery (Lake Shibire this week, and wherever place Chiaki is scouting out) and by having the girls drool over meat. Rin’s bought a cute little mini-grill that you can hold in one hand. Don’t know how sturdy it really is, but we’ll find out next week, because this week was all about prep, driving, and drooling over the food they’ll eat on the grill rather than actually cooking it. And that’s fine. It’s nice to have a show where the girls wait breathlessly for something, and when it comes it’s never a disappointment, well, maybe a minor one … No beef tongue at the supermarket!

One of the pleasant things about the show is how things that could be big events are treated matter-of-factly. That lake Shibire monster business played out as expected, even with Rin spotting it, but it was over practically before it began and we get a sense it was a minor event that existed only to get the girls in the same tent. Then there’s that old man from last episode who turned out to be Rin’s grandfather, told in almost an “oh, by the way …” manner. And finally the odd bits like the drunk girl next door and the chestnut that said hello … Oh, and we learn about charcoal.

Like kids in a candy store.

And once again a new episode appears before I’m ready for it, meaning I have to add it here. Though there’s not much to say about it, it’s an in-between camping episode, but again the girls’ enthusiasm is infectious. It makes me want to take up a new hobby. Not only do I look up the campsites on the net, but I look up the stations and towns they visit. I will probably never go to any of them … This time we learn about seasoning cast iron and wood, Caribou outdoor shops, mats, and a little bit about the sleepy town of Minobu. And in the “by the way” department, the drunk girl truly does enter their school.

Dagashi Kashi 6 introduces us to the manager of the sweets shop’s new rival konbini. Yutaka is, like Hotaru, passionate and a little insane about his passion, which is convenience stores. To an extent, I can understand his enthusiasm. konbinis in Japan truly do have everything–aside from the usual juice, beer, and bentos I get regularly, I have bought an 8gb thumb drive in one and a tie in another. One of the Lawsons nearby has very good desserts, while everyone agrees that the 7/11 makes the best coffee, and I hope when it gets warmer the FamilyMart will bring back their chicken wraps. But back to the story. Kokonotsu is worried, but he notices that a lot of the sweets at the place are too expensive, sending a shock to Yutaka, who then tries to entice Kokonotsu to join his staff. And the twelve minutes is up. I hope this, dare I say it, story arc won’t hurt the show’s old, plotless charm, but I’m worried. There was only one reference to candy this week, and it was never actually discussed. And Hotaru is still missing. Yutaka may be passionate and insane, but he is no replacement.

Hajime, who we finally meet in episode 7, is closer to a replacement than any of the others. She’s that girl who didn’t fit in at the convenience store, but the manager called her four-eyes, but she’s a fuckup, never managing to say the appropriate thing, meaning there are all sorts of reasons why she desperately asks Kokonotsu for a job. The fact that Kokonotsu is only fifteen but the more mature one of the interview will tell you how it went, but we have our new character anyway. She’s crazy, but not the same kind of crazy as Hotaru, who is more of a rich-girl crazy. Hajime is more generic, but she wins points for pointing out the cubist elements on the box for Chocoballs.

If Dagashi Kashi is going to abandon its title of the season’s most educational anime, Takunomi will easily take its place, edging out Yuru camp (don’t get me wrong, you learn a lot from YC as well). Episode 6 was about sake and fish pairing, with a lot of detail about the various types of sake and how much of the grain is used. The more discarded, the higher the quality. I didn’t know that, but I rarely drink sake even though I live here. For me it’s like wine, endless varieties and you don’t know which one to get. But now I know a little more than I did before. Oh, the fish in that episode made me even MORE hungry.

Threes and fours: Slow Start, Yuru Camp, HakxMik

Quick thoughts while I continue my scramble to catch up …

Eiko is not to be crossed.

Slow Start is becoming quite a nice “cute girls doing cute things” (CGDCT) series. It’s taken care of the early hurdles of introducing characters and the situations they’re all in. Episode 4 bought us Hiroe, possibly the last regular character, another girl unlucky with exams who is behind and is so mortified that she’s in danger of becoming a shut-in, prompting Hana to relate her own story, the first time she’s ever done so. It sounds serious but the show’s light touch and little absurdities keep it light.

I’m not sure why Tama said this.

Now that the main characters are more or less introduced, the show moves on in episode 5 to getting a little weird. I think I’ve said before that I believe a good CGDCT show should be weird in one way or another, whether through the characters or the production. Again, the episode’s main thrust is to expand on Kamu’s affection for Eiko, which is sweetly done, but it’s how they get there which matters. First, Kamu forgets to wear a skirt, and everyone riffs in their own way about that. There’s some stealth-peeking from that teacher. Later there’s talk of Eiko having a double which leads to a ridiculous conversation about doppelgangers, body doubles, and the like, and the even stranger appearance of the double, who apparently answers to “Eiko.” Oh, I guess we do meet a new character this week, Eiko’s sister Miki, who is not only a little weird herself, but has a running gag with her name going. She fits right in.

Yuru Camp is a demonstration of how useless categories like CGDCT can be. You could easily argue that Nadeshiko, Rin, and their buddies, are doing things cutely, and the show likes put in little extra cute bits, like that dog in the car, or Rin’s scooter saying “I’m tired!” but the thing they’re doing, camping, isn’t cute, so it fails in the cute things part. It makes me think that when I consider CGDCT shows, I expect them to be somewhat girly, cake shops and the like. On the other hand, the girls are cute and react to things like building fires in a cute way.

Who said there can be no overlap? We can argue (well, I argue with myself) about Yuru Camp’s CGDCT level, but there’s no denying the level of Stop And Smell The Roses (SASTR) the show has. It passes all the tests: beautiful scenery, quiet peaceful music, and most important, lack of dramatic action and the absence of true threat. In episodes 4 and 5, the club girls go off to Fuefuki Park or thereabouts, while Rin goes to (checks notes) Yatsugatake-Chushin Quasi National Park in Nagano. We watch the club girls prepare for their trip (cutely) while Rin just rides her scooter. It looked like it would be a moral lesson of sorts when the club girls continue to have fun while Rin, the slightly antisocial one, gets too cold and meets some setbacks, but at the end she and Nadeshiko are sending each other night view pictures and everyone has a good time doing non-cute things.

Actually this is artistic license, because the girls are over 100 kilometers apart.

And then, how to we categorize Hakumei to Mikochi? They’re cute little things, but I wouldn’t call them girls–did you get a look at their feet? They’re basically stumps–well, they’re female, but they’re clearly not for the CGDCT team. So, SASTR? Except that episode 3 begins with their home blowing up, and episode 4 has Mikochi badly hurt in a fall. And there are predators about, even if the huge scary owl wasn’t as bad as it first appeared. In addition, the show likes to lull us with peaceful moments and quiet music playing, only to break the mood with a cheap laugh, like that ponkan crashing through their tent. Yet both episodes had as much charm as any show in either category I’ve arbitrarily brought up here.

In episode 4 we see Mikochi, closer to nature than any Yuru Camp girl, nonetheless apprehensive about camping. Then we learn what Hakumei does for a living and there’s a brush with death, no, not the house blowing up. They weren’t inside when it happened. Episode 5 explains what MIKOCHI does for a living, and then the scary story with the owl. I pretty much know that nothing seriously bad will happen to either character, but the fall was told well enough that I was seriously worried about her. So what category should we put Hakumei to Mikochi? We could invent a new one, but I don’t know how to describe it nor establish any rules for it. In fact, I probably should not have even brought up SATSR and CGDCT at all. Sorry.

2-3’s: Sora Yori, Yuru Camp, Slow Start

Somebody suggested that Sora yori mo Tooi Basho was going to be a K-ON for Antarctica, and there were times during episodes 3 and 4 where I began to see their point. Focused, disciplined Shirase turns out to be possibly the biggest idiot of the group with her plan to seduce a male explorer and get him to stow them away, and it led to a scene in Shinjuku where the viewer had no idea what the girls were trying to do. They were trying to act sexy, then two women showed up and everyone starts running around, while we scratch our heads. It’s good that the show grounded itself after that, however, with some reality: yes, there’s a civilian expedition going, but it’s in financial trouble and our girls couldn’t get in anyway.

This didn’t really happen.

The other thing both 2 and 3 do is, of course, gather more characters. Episode 2 brought us Hinata, who quit school for reasons and, like Shirase, feels like she has to prove something to the doubters. She’s also the most practical of the three and thanks to her the show has someone to rein Shirase in when she gets too obsessed (honestly, the whole “My mother is waiting for me” business, is her name Riko?). The second episode presents us with Yuzuki, the girls’ reluctant golden ticket, an idol who’s going on the expedition but doesn’t want to go, so could Shirase take her place? No, says the manager/mother, but there is room for negotiation, since Yuzuki is friendless and lonely. The show does a smart thing by stressing that the girls are not best friends, they’re friendly acquaintances with a shared goal, and since they welcome Yuzuki, it’s more than good enough.

Yuru Camp is shaping up to be a nice slice-of-life, even if Nadeshiko also reminds me of someone from K-ON. The thing is, right now it feels like two different shows. We have Aoi and Chiaki’s club and narrow clubroom, with their little adventures, witn some interaction with Rin, who does not want to join. And then we have the other half, which is Rin camping and reading, and lots of scenery. True, we have Yui, I mean Nadeshiko crashing her private party, but at least she seems to be respecting Rin’s desire for peace. In terms of episode 2’s story, it seems like halfway through the writers said, “the hell with it, let’s go camping,” so we did, and anything resembling plot just stopped. We even get the full text of a nonsense chatmail that has nothing to do with anything.

I guess the show does have a plot: getting all the girls together to camp together. The show is going to take their time about it, too. Three episodes in and we Rin and Nadeshiko have teamed up. I wonder how much longer it will take for Chiaki and Aoi to join them? Not that it matters. Sooner or later they’ll be looking at Fuji-san together, and in the meantime … well, who cares? In episode 4 the most interesting thing that happened is that Rin explained why she likes Winter camping, and they’re good reasons. I also wonder that she doesn’t mind so much about Nadeshiko hanging around. I guess her transition from private camper to social one is going to be as nonchalant and low-key as the rest of the series so far.

I didn’t get this part either, but that’s all right.

Slow Start doesn’t have much a plot, either, and again, it’s all right. Episode 2 is all about the sports testing, and Hana, who hasn’t exercised since middle school, doesn’t do terribly well. In episode 3 all the girls to Hana’s place for some golden week studying, cute things happen, and Hana gets the warm fuzzies from everyone being there. In the meantime, we get a little more of each girls’ personality. I still can’t get over Tama’s constant talking, but it’s nice to know she has some skills. Kamuri is still simply small, cute, shy, and devoted to Eiko. It’s Eiko who’s turning out to be the most interesting. She would say otherwise, and constantly wonders at the harem game references Tama-chan makes, but we see EIko flirting with other girls, and it’s hard to tell if she’s serious about it or unaware of the effect she has on the other girls, and she DOES have an effect.

There IS some plot of course, but it’s kind of ridiculous. Hana still hasn’t let on that she had to miss a year because she was down with the mumps the day of the entrance exam. It’s a credit to the show that while it’s all rather cute, the negative effect this has on Hana’s life comes through enough for me to get angry that there was no other route for her but to miss a year. And in episode 4 she a reference to her birthday makes her suddenly shed tears in front of her worried new friends. A nice little moment that I thought would lead to her confession, but it didn’t. I don’t want to have to wonder, episode by episode, whether she’s going to spill the beans on this innocent issue when we all her friends will not care. Just tell them already.

Winter 2018 #2

I believe that’s a piece of glass.

To start this second post we have Itou Junji: Collection, only we don’t because I don’t care much for horror. So let’s turn to Grancrest Senki, set in a fantasy world where a royal wedding will put aside years of fighting between the Fantasy Alliance and the Factory Federation. Well, we can’t have peace and harmony, can we, so a demon lord interrupts and kills a number of people. The bride turns her back on the would-be groom (why?), the brief alliance is shattered, and the world is plunged into war again. A couple years later we meed Siluca, a mage who’s contracted to a lord who doesn’t sound very pleasant, but the carriage is halted by people from another country or dukedom or something, and Siluca is just about to kick their ass when this handsome, somewhat stupid lad named Theo rides in, HE fights the baddies, and barely wins. So Siluca makes him fight two-headed monster just for kicks, and after he barely beats that (and gains experience points), she decides to run off with him instead of that duke. So they take over another dukedom in about five minutes and now Theo’s a duke too.

Siluca knows what she wants.

Theo is overwhelmed by this, as you can imagine, while Siluca is having a great time manipulating him. Also, he knows she’s manipulating him, but he doesn’t seem to have the gumption to stand up to her. For one episode, this is entertaining to watch, especially Siluca, who I believe has ideals to save and heal their troubled world but is so practical and full of guile that it’s easy to forget that. Theo is more of a tool, but he’s supposed to be the brave, heroic, and boring one. As for the world, I can’t figure it out. There’s chaos power about, which sounds bad, but people use it for good, too. There are the warring factions but also nasty monsters and spiders around too. Where do you start saving this world? Well, I expect this show will run for at least 100 episodes so I’m sure it has a plan. As for me, apart from Siluca’s guile there wasn’t much to enjoy, just another fantasy story, with the usual character designs and not great animation. Besides, I avoid long series.

Don’t see Devilman Crybaby yet, and I’m not following Nanatsu no Taizai, so …

Sanrio’s misleading opening shot.

Last time we had multiple episodes of girls who find exciting new things to do which will make their lives shine, and now it’s the boys’ turn. After watching Sanrio Danshi, I think the girls got the better deal. But it starts well, with a sword-duel which is tragically broken up by one character who dies, only, alas, it’s just a school play and instead we get the story of Kouta, who loved Pompompurin figures as a boy, especially the big stuffed one his beloved grandma gave him. An unpleasant bullying incident turns him against both Pompompurin and his grandma, and you can pretty much guess what happens next. Thus his high school life doesn’t shine until he unwittingly encounters three other high school bishies who all love other Sanrio figures, and so our story begins! … I’d rather go to Antarctica.

I knew pretty much the setup going in, and there are a few things going for it–the school play bit was clever, and the bullying and the granny dying before Kouta can apologize was effective, predictable as it was. But it can’t mask the fact that this is a show about cute boys loving things only cute little girls are supposed to like, no matter how much they’ll obscure it with male bonding and friendship. There could be a chance if the show manages to use the Sanrio characters as ironic counterpoints to bishie-bonding, threats to Hello Kitty that the boys must unite to fight, but it looks a trifle too realistic for that. Besides, why didn’t Kouta just hand the My Melody keychain back to Mizuno the moment they got out earshot of the girls? Why the absurd chase? The creators aren’t thinking through this enough.

An ordinary city street to begin Citris.

Citris is yet another show this year where a high school girl starts on a fascinating journey of discovery, trouble is, most of it they can’t show on TV. It stars Yuzu, sluttish high school girl who secretly isn’t, whose mom gets remarried, so they move to a new place and an ultra-conservative all-girls school, where Yuzu immediately and accidentally breaks most of the rules, is disciplined for it in an interesting way by the school disciplinary president Mei, has more troubles, spots Mei making out with Yuzu’s homeroom teacher, goes home and discovers Mei is her new stepsister! Desperate for some acknowledgment from this seeming ice princess, Yuzu antagonizes Mei into kissing the hell out of her, rather to Yuzu’s surprise. It’s an interesting first day in school for Yuzu!

Hi Yuzu! How was your day?

I frankly don’t really want to watch a yuri show, and I still might not watch this one. The premise is absurd, with Yuzu’s mom marrying a man who just vanishes, leaving Yuzu and the husband’s daughter, who, by the way, is an heir to the rich expensive school they both attend, and which Yuzu attends without anyone telling her anything about how the place works until a side character gives her an infodump. But the first episode is done very well, primarily because of Yuzu. They do a nice job setting her up as a scary delinquent girl while at the same time showing her as a human being, a normal girl who just wants to make friends and get along in a new place, while her life gets more complicated by the hour. And while her sluttish attitude might be fake there is a toughness to her. Wonder how she’ll react to the kiss, well, we KNOW how she’ll react because the girls make out in the opening credits. We haven’t learned enough about Mei yet, but I wonder what attracts her to Yuzu, maybe the fact that she’s completely different from the other people in her life, or she was basically abandoned. Anyway, there’s a lot to chew on in this episode. Again, I don’t know if I’ll keep watching …

First day of school, so they have to do the cherry blossom thing.

Slow Start features Hana, a girl about to enter high school and is worried about making friends, and at first her fears are justified when she sees all the other first-years already seem to know each other from middle or elementary school. Then everyone discovers that it’s Hana’s birthday, and three girls whom Hana had been envious of before come up to congratulate her. Next thing you know they’re all BFF–see Hana? That wasn’t too hard! Now we can settle back and watch a nice Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show.

Eiko, Kamuri, and Tama befriend Hana.

Most CGDCT shows get off to a slow start because characters have to be introduced and their personalities and quirks revealed, but ironically Slow Start starts off pretty quickly, maybe due to Tama’s genki loquaciousness, in fact she goes on too much for my tastes, but it wasn’t a major issue, and it did help drive the episode. Eiko is the tall, possibly mature one, but there is something intimidating about her that I can’t figure out. She seems to be the magnet that draws everyone together. Possibly my favorite is Kamuri, one of those tiny types who talks about food when she says anything at all. So far it’s a good mix. Their conversations have some energy to them, which is good because they talk about nothing at all. A better start than average for this kind of show.

Don’t trust anything you see in Pop Team Epic.

Pop Team Epic starts as a typical, bland high school rom-com concerning idols, while I double-checked my information. However, it shows its true colors just after the OP and we wind up with a surreal series of short sketches involving two weird girls with male voice actors. It stops midway through (with a preview of the rom-com’s next episode) … and starts all over again, with female voice actors this time. Nothing else changes, I assume, because I just skimmed the second half.

Well, my coworker who described the show (while shaking her head in confusion) told me it was weird, and it certainly is. Whether the surreal, sometimes grotesque humor works for you or not is up to you. For me it worked some of the time but not all, and that is all that can be expected for a show like this. One thing that bothered me was the length. There is too much going on for a half-hour show; I was burning out at about the fifteen-minute mark, which is where the show sort of ended anyway. Are all the episodes going to be like this, repeated with different seiyuus, or is it really fifteen minutes and this was a tricky first episode ploy, or is it really going to be fresh material for 24 minutes? I guess we’ll find out next week, but they really ought to make it shorter.

Hey Kero! Good to see you! How you doing?

After that it’s time for some normalcy, so here’s Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card Hen, a sequel to one of the most charming anime series ever made. Sakura’s just entered middle school and the show takes about half its time settling us into her routine. Kind father, meanie big brother, Kero hasn’t changed, etc. Tomoyo, the world’s most adorable stalker, sits next to her at school. Eriol’s in England, Syaoran’s still in Hong Kong but he comes back midway through, Yuki’s fine, so are the other kids, everything is happy … until she puts a pin Yuki bought her in the same box as her old pendant. After that it’s mysterious things in dreams, Clow Cards turning clear, mystifying everybody, until a nasty wind scattering the cherry blossoms (really this show has the thickest storm of cherry blossoms I’ve ever seen in an anime) forces her back into old role, but with an upgraded pendant and wand.

I doubt that this sequel can live up to sequel, but that’s hardly the sequel’s fault, and it tries hard. It knows it has to tell us how everyone from the original is doing before it can get to business, and when the story kicks in it’s almost like we never left. The mystical aesthetic this time is clear crystals and shards, but there are still plenty of bright colors around. Most importantly, it manages to make things a little scary for its young audience while keeping the overall happy vibe going. I don’t think fans of the original will find much to gripe about.