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

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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…

Chihayafuru2 and Tamako 8

Chihayafuru2 8, i.e., first round of the Nationals, is relaxed (mostly) and funny. A good way to start what’s going to be a very tense story arc. After the usual settling in routines (Why aren’t they wearing formal garb this time?), such as Retro trying to get in some friendly trash-talking with Taichi, Akihiro amazed that he’s a starter, and everyone else amazed that Desk-kun selflessly gave his spot to him, and Sumire discovering yet another ultimately dorky karuta-girl while scouting, we quickly settle into the first match.

OMIGOD!  GAIJIN!
OMIGOD! GAIJIN!

This leads to the funniest moment of the episode, after Taichi gets a good listen to their English. Even after the opponents are exposed, there’s still plenty to distract the Mizusawa team. After all, they wouldn’t be spending screentime for a match unless there was something for our gang to angst about, whether it’s Akane’s bothered by her blonde opponent wearing her outfit backwards, or Akihiro intimidated by his opponent being black. And so they fall behind even though the Chiba team are barely beginners.

Chihaya settles down.
Chihaya settles down.

I’ve heard of this before. An expert player being bamboozled by the sheer guilelessness of the opponent. And if it had gone on for too long I would have been disgusted. Can’t the team get through a single match without throwing all their hard work in doubt? But happily the episode handles it well. We get a glimpse into the Chiba opponents world, the difficulties of growing up in Japan looking like a foreigner, discovering and falling in love with a game, just enough so that Mizusawa and we see them as fellow karuta-nerds. Then it takes a shout by, of all people, Chihaya, to get the team focused; after that’s it’s all as it should be. The Chiba team get a learning experience and encouragement from the people who beat them, and we can move on to the REAL stuff, like Arata and Shinobu, who show up at the last minute. This could be fun.

That damn bird is always causing problems.
That damn bird is always causing problems.

Though these days I only write about a couple of shows, I’m watching a few more. Tamako Market has been one I’ve enjoyed not writing about. It’s a thoroughly modern KyoAni series that feels old-fashioned. I sometimes go through an episode wondering if it’s actually happening in the present day, until someone mentions the Internet or something, and I feel both disappointed and reassured. Reassured because I like the idea that these people can live like they do yet allow modernity into their lives when they want it. In other words, I could live there. There’s still too much of the damn bird, especially in episode 8, where he’s finally forced into a diet. But the episode isn’t really so much about that as it is making Choi more comfortable in their happy community. New friends, warmer clothes, all of it happy and chatty. At the end we get a bit of actual plot with another Dera-vision message, but as far as I’m concerned they can hold off on that as long as they want. I’m having much too good a time the way things are.

New Winter 2013 shows pt. 2, or I’m beginning to get worried.

Moving on from those mostly regrettable first episodes from my last post, let’s look at some more!  Surely things will get better!  Er …

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Next we get Ore no Kanojo to Osananajimi ga Shuraba Sugiru, hell, let’s just call it Oreshura like everyone else.  It stars Eita, a high school boy bent on getting into a good medical school and so studies all the time.  It also helps take his mind off his parents splitting up for other partners and deserting him.  With this going on you can understand why Eita has no interest in romance at all.  Several clumsy scenes come and go, petering out the moment they had done their expositional job.  It’s when the beautiful Masuzu winds up beside him when the class desk order is shuffled that anything happens, which is Eita doing his best to ignore Masuzu’s charms and Masuzu getting more interested in him.  Eventually she confesses, and reluctantly walking home with her, Eita learns the reason.  The good news is that she’s actually unpleasant, devious, two-faced, and seems to get what she wants–a character with potential.  The bad news is she’s about the only good thing about the show.  Okay, Eita’s childhood friend/sidekick, whose name we don’t get in spite of her screentime (well, she’s nicknamed Chihuahua) has some moments.  But almost everything else rings false.  You mean to say Eita didn’t recognize that notebook right off?  And all those scenes which just fade out … there’s no flow to this thing until the conversation near the end.  Another show not off to an auspicious start …

She spends much of the episode saying things like that.
She spends much of the episode saying things like that.

Amnesia starts with a girl waking up with no memories of anything whatsoever.  And there’s a friendly floating guy from another dimension named Orion trying to help her out.  And there’s bad people out there (three grumpy women and one long-haired bishie) who want to do her harm.  None of this is explained in episode one.  The girl (whatever her name is) stumbles from one situation to another trying to figure out who she is and these people are without giving away her amnesia.  Why can’t she tell anyone?  Orion gives a lame excuse that makes him suspect.  it’s not all that bad, but the scenes where she has to work at her maid cafe job when she’s forgotten everything about it felt like one of those work-anxiety dreams everybody gets, and made me cringe with sympathy.  But what about that other cafe?  Or is her life resetting every goddamn day, except for Orion?  On a personal-taste level this looks like a reverse-harem series and I don’t care much for those, anyway.  So this innocuous first episode fails to pass my more stringent watch-list test.

I think this is ninja training.
I think this is ninja training.

Much easier to fail Senran Kagura, about five big-busted schoolgirls who go to a rich school but really attend ninja training.  We don’t learn much about them in this episode, like why they chose this way of life or the threats that they’re up against.  Instead we see a lot of underwear and bouncing boobs.  The five girls are all types.  There’s some humor in the gags, like their senpei Kiriya’s over-use of smoke and dumb Hibari’s devotion to Yagyuu, but really this is mostly about girls with bouncy boobs doing ninja things.  Unlike the heroine Asuka, who just barely manages to pass her practical exams, the show fails easily.

And we finish with one of the great hopes of the season: Tamako Market, the latest collection of cute characters, smart direction, and drop-dead glorious animation from mighty Kyoto Animation!  And indeed it’s off to a comparatively decent start … apart from the damn bird.

Shoo!  shoo!  Go away!
Shoo! shoo! Go away!

It stars (I think) Tamako, cute daughter of a mochi-maker, who sells in a shopping district right across from another mochi-maker, who has a son her age, aw how cute.  We see Tamako doing innocuous cute things like interacting with the other shop-owners, who are all, naturally, happily eccentric.  Oh, and she clobbers herself with batons.  It’s all fine, if slightly underwhelming after Hyouka and Chu2koi.  Then that bird shows up and steals every scene.  He talks, you see, so every time he opens his beak it stops whatever cute happy conversation the humans were having.  He’s also vain and annoying as all hell, and I can only hope that now they’ve established his existance they can move on with more interesting things.  So it’s not the best start for this series, but the way the season’s been going so far it might wind up as the best new show by default.