Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crunching the Numbers: Heart of the Cards

Welcome back to Crunching the Numbers, the biweekly anime simulcast recap! Last time, we started with 7 anime, but now we've got 9 anime to talk about this week. Forget the fact that I'm currently sick, let's crunch the numbers!

1)      Chihayafuru 2 (episodes 3-4)

Is it unfair of me to be covering Chihayafuru? I left Space Brothers off the list despite the fact I’m still watching it, but that’s been continually running without break for a while now, while this only recently had a second season. However, I never get tired of talking about Chihayafuru, so while I doubt it’ll go down in the rankings at all, I’ll still cover it here on Crunching the Numbers.

Only four episodes in and the two new Karuta Club members have already started to leave an impression on me. There’s a bit more focus on Akihiro than Sumire in these episodes, but considering the screentime she got in the first two episodes it’s well-needed. We get to meet Akihiro’s younger brothers in this episode, and he gets to participate in the school tournament for a round as well. The pressure’s on as he feels the need to impress his brothers, but he’s up against a Class A opponent!

It’s good to see more karuta tournaments after all this time. Chihayafuru has great characters, but it also has great love for the game, and it comes out best when they’re actually playing the game. Just seeing what’s going on in the minds of all the players alone is compelling enough. I don’t think I’ll ever have a full grasp on the game myself, but I really get into matches, which is the mark of a good sports show.

The show hasn’t forgotten about the old members as well. There’s a nice moment between Tsutomu and Akihiro where Tsutomu’s empathizes with Akihiro’s stress over being a new player. Taichi’s given a good amount of focus in the latest episode. You really get into his head when it comes to his need to get to Class A, but he can never get a break. For the romance fans, specifically the ones that ship Chihaya and Taichi, you’re going to love this one. Overall, the series continues to be as solid and engaging as ever, and the definite best of the season. However, that’s not to say this season’s been dry.

2)     Oreshura (episodes 1-5)

This was the most pleasant surprise I had this season. Most of the shows met my expectations for the most part, but Oreshura was not a factor at all until I started watching it for this list. Eita doesn’t like romance, as does the new transfer student Masuzu, who’s the most popular girl in school and sick of getting asked out. To stop the confessions of love, Masuzu comes up with a devilish plan: she blackmails Eita into being her fake boyfriend by taking his notebook, which is filled with his crazy fantasies from middle school. Further complicating things is Eita’s childhood friend Chiwa, who clearly has feelings for Eita. Circumstances lead to Masuzu forming a club to help students become popular, which Chiwa joins in an attempt to better herself and get Eita to notice her.

I initially dismissed the show as I knew it would be a harem, and as of episode 5 there are now three girls vying for Eita’s affection. But for once, I’m not bothered by this, as the writing is actually solid for once. Eita’s a much more realized character than the Tenchi’s or other male characters of harem shows. He’s not a tough guy, but he shows personality and manages to be active when the situation calls for it. He has actual goals (he wants to be a doctor), and in one of the best moments of the series so far, he calls out another student when he plays around with Chiwa’s affections. Chiwa’s no slouch either when it comes to characterization. The childhood friend who secretly pines for her best friend is nothing new, and her hip injury could make her a moeblob, but she’s not as she’s more than capable of taking care of herself despite it. But the showstealer is Masuzu. In real life, she’d be an unlikable bitch, and she does some horrible things in the series such as the blackmailing and manipulating Chiwa with made-up ways of becoming popular, but at the same time she’s more entertaining and intriguing for it. It could easily be passed off as sadism, but the series has hinted that there might be more to it.

This is a romantic comedy that manages to be both romantic and comedic. That doesn’t sound impressive, but considering the amount of rom coms that fail to do both effectively, I think it is. Masuzu using Eita’s book as a source of inspiration for Chiwa is the main source of comedy in the series, and it hasn’t ceased to be hilarious. There are a few dumb things about the romance, like Eita not figuring out that Chiwa loves him, but in the context of the story it kind of makes sense. The choice for who Eita should fall in love with isn’t even clear cut, as both girls make sense for him. In a weirdly compelling way, Eita and Masuzu are very alike. Not just because they’re both nerds (JoJo’s and game references are constantly made) with similar tastes, but their distrust of romance as well. The viewer wants to see Chiwa get together with Eita as well, because the poor girl can’t seem to catch a break sometimes and the love is there, but I’d be okay with it ending either way. Well, there’s a third girl complicating matters, but her appearance in the show is too brief to see if she’s fitting competition for Chiwa and Masuzu, who make for a great triangle with Eita.

Maybe the show will start to go downhill now that it has to juggle three girls, with a fourth planned to come, but five episodes in and I think this is currently the best anime this season that’s not a continuation or sequel.

 3)      Maoyu (episodes 3-5)

Can a show get away with having all of its fights and adventures off-screen and instead focusing on trading corn? If such a show existed, it would be Maoyu, as it does just that and manages to still be interesting.

I’m still fairly impressed by this show. I don’t think I’d like it nearly as much if it wasn’t tackling a topic that’s rarely covered by anime, but it’s rather smart about its discussion of war economics and trade negotiations. We’re introduced to the Merchant Union, the organization supplying the humans’ war on the demons. As the war has become a huge source of income for them, it’s important for the Demon King to negotiate with them to help fix the world’s economy so the war can end. Meanwhile, Hero has taken on the mantle of the Dark Knight in order to better serve Demon King in the Demon world.

I mentioned before that the romance between Hero and Demon King was a bit lacking. Well, I’m finally starting to get into it. Hero’s been avoiding Demon King for months while she’s busy trading and setting up new farming techniques in the human world, and it causes a great deal of tension between the two, but the Hero has his reasons for keeping at a distance. It comes to a head in episode 5 when the two finally discuss their relationship, and while it doesn’t end with them totally in love with one another, it ends in a rather sweet moment between the two, adding some much needed sugar to the otherwise dry but informative economics of the show. It’s still no Spice and Wolf, but Maoyu is something to keep looking forward to.

4)      The Unlmited: Hyobu Kyosuke (3-5)

After the waste of time episode 3 was, I was almost ready to rank The Unlimited lower. Then episode 4 reminded me that this show could be badass, thanks to the appearance of the Zettai Karen Children. The Children were the heroes of the series this show is a spin-off of. The show is still mostly very conventional, and Hyobu hasn’t truly been threatened in a fight just yet, but the Zettai Karen Children put up a good fight against our heroic criminals, almost managing to capture them at Japan’s ocean. Meanwhile, Andy’s still playing the role of the mole in the group, but he may be growing too close to PANDRA as he starts question whether Hyobu is really a villain or a savior.

While episode 3 is completely useless, at least for now, The Unlimited manages to show off some really cool visuals in its psychic battles and manages to develop the characters and world as well. The famous BABEL organization finally shows up, tying the show back to its Zettai Karen Children roots, but the show is still very accessible to new viewers. Side characters like Yugiri finally get some much needed screentime and backstory, and Hyobu’s good qualities are starting to show more and more. You could basically sum it up as “Magneto’s X-Men”, and it’s true that the show, as fun and competent as it is, isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, but it’s still a good watch.

Also, yes, the Nostalgia Critic makes a cameo in this show. It’s only for one second and not the only reason to watch the show, but it is kind of neat.

 5)      Love Live: School Idol Project (episodes 3-4)

Speaking of conventional shows, Love Live continues to be the uber-cute and sincere show it has been since episode 1. Despite some setbacks, our school idols have managed to impress more students with their talents and gain some new idols for their group.

My biggest fear with this show is that it might already be growing stale. Not that the show is boring, mind you, but it’s settled into a predictable pace with not much new to talk about. But I still highly respect it for being a moe show that doesn’t portray its girls with a creepy otaku gaze as many moe shows tend to do, and while I’m not much of a J-pop fan, I’m actually enjoying the songs and the dance numbers continue to be a highlight. There are now more characters to root for, and while I think at some point there’ll be too many idols to keep track of (the opening pretty much spoils this), I’ll still be cheering them on because of how good the show is at making you care about them without pandering.

6)      Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman (episodes 3-5)

Meanwhile, I don’t have to worry about this show getting stale, because it’s already stale. In contrast to Unlimited, episode 3 made me hope the show might be going somewhere, as it gives some backstory on Roman’s power suit that he used in the first episode and introduces some foes that can actually defeat him. After that, the show slides back into its episodic nature of Roman taking random missions to help people. 

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Episode 5 does delve more into Roman’s backstory and the reasons he helps people. It’s almost heartwarming, in fact. However, it’s hard to get excited for a series like this when you know how all of the episodes are going to play out. If the show can manage to have more episodes like episode 3 or little moments like Roman helping a runaway girl, it’ll be a fine show, but it’s on the forgettable side as of now.

7)      Kotoura-san (episodes 3-4)

I really want to like this show. I really do. As perverse and unfunny the show can be, it certainly has merits and it’s trying to be a compelling rom-com with a twist. Makabe, while still the butt of the “has dirty thoughts” jokes the show likes to use, still comes across as sweet and a good boyfriend for Kotoura, and I do like seeing the two of them work off of one another.

The show still suffers from tone dissonance. In one episode, it tries to be serious by having Kotoura stop attending school so she won’t get Makabe hurt again after an incident with another student. The show’s trying to pull at your heartstrings and it really wants you to feel for Kotoura. Then cut to Kotoura at her grandfather’s mansion (where did he get the money?) and her reading her grandfather’s mind, revealing that her grandfather is fantasizing about her butt. Congrats Kotoura-san, I’m almost cared for a moment, and then you had to ruin it with an old man having sexual thoughts about his underage granddaughter.

There is stuff to like here, but I find it hard to really recommend this show to someone unless they’re fine with dramatic tone shifts like and comedy that comes off as squicky at times.

8)      Problem Children are coming from another world, aren't they? (episodes 1-4)

That title’s quite the mouthful, isn't it? This is the other new on the list this week, and boy is this show a mess. I actually like it more than Kotoura-san, but I can’t in good conscious say it’s better. Three children with superpowers are magically brought to a 
world called Little Garden. The world has something called “Gift Games” as explained by a rabbit girl known simply as Black Rabbit that the kids are invited to play in, but they end up fighting against something known as the Demon King.

The best way to sum up Problem Children is that it’s a hodgepodge of cool fantasy tropes and ideas with little thought into how they all fit together. The kids have cool powers like super strength and talking to animals, there’s dragons and gods and vampires and a bunch of other things you’ve seen in fantasy before. It’s hard to really hate the show for it, but it doesn’t quite work. Despite having a character for exposition, the show makes little sense and the motives of the titular Problem Children are for all intents and purposes nonexistent and unexplored. On top of that, the show’s only supposed to run for 10 episodes. The show’s practically halfway over and it hasn’t found any real footing. But I must restate, it’s still kind of fun, and not even in a so bad it’s good way. It’s really stupid show that has no pretense about being the next big thing, and I’m okay with that. It’s complete junk food; unhealthy and not recommendable, but tasty and addicting as well. It helps that the OP is pretty rocking to boot.

 9)      Vividred Operation (episodes 2-4)

You know, I was convinced that this show wasn’t going to be more perverted than its predecessor Strike Witches until the docking sequences came into play. If you thought the male gaze was disturbing in the first episode, it’s only gotten worse, and now the show has two more underage girls to leer at. There’s been little progress in the plot so far, instead focusing more on adding the girls from the opening credits to the team. There’s some cool over-the-top sentai stuff going on in the fight scenes, but you have to get through the disgusting fanservice and cliché storytelling to get there. It’s like having your favorite toy covered in dirt and guts; it doesn’t matter how cool it is, it’s too disgusting and unpleasant to watch.

The show’s not bad enough to make me drop it just yet, but as of now I certainly do not recommend watching the show unless you can stomach the fouler parts of the show to get to the good stuff.

No comments:

Post a Comment