With a variety of shows airing this summer, we writers at Shibieru Darou? thought it’d be an excellent opportunity to gather up our thoughts in an entirely different manner this season! Presenting Summer Splits, an assortment of summer reviews put into two neat packages. For our first Summer Split, we’ll be covering Uchouten Kazoku, Watamote, Tamayura ~More Aggressive~, and Free!.
Uchouten Kazoku Episodes 1-2
gallifreyians: Of all the shows in the 2013 summer season, this was the first one that I watched; a decision that I don’t regret making. Overall, I feel that it is one of the strongest shows of the season so far, having both strong technical and narrative work. Many people have compared the art to Tsuritama, but to me the character designs seem to be more akin to those of Katanagatari than Tsuritama; although most definitely do Tsuritama and Uchouten share similar background design. Nevertheless, the point is that the visuals do pop rather well and certainly stand out from the rest of the anime this season, which seems to favor much harder lines and less diverse palettes.
In the first episode, we meet Yasaburou, his brothers Yashirou and Yaichirou, Yasaburou’s elder tengu sensei Akadama, and the enigmatic Benten — even in the first episode there is a sense that the cast will encompass more than just these characters, but the anime takes care to make sure that each of them is unique and memorable without going over the top in doing so. The first episode focuses primarily on the relationship between Benten, Akadama, and Yasaburou, and in doing so seems to set that up as the primary focus of the plot of the series.
Episode two introduces further characters — the unnamed mother of the Shimogamo brothers; the second Shimogamo brother, Yajirou; and the Ebisugawa twins, Kinkaku and Ginkaku — as well as serves to develop the relationship between the Shimogawa family. I have to say that while I am not completely invested in any of stories that the anime has to tell, the flashback of right after the Shimogawas heard the news that their father had been turned into a stew very much got to me and was far more emotional than I had anticipated.
illegenes: Starting off with my favorite show of the season, Uchouten Kazoku has yet to disappoint me two episodes in. On the contrary, it has impressed me in nearly every fashion available. Combining stylistic aesthetics on par with Gatchaman Crowds with Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei‘s character designer Kumeta Kouji, along with the mature writing of Tomihiko Morimi (who also happened to write The Tatami Galaxy), and what do you get? A very interesting show that manages to weave in a fascinating setting, bizarre characters, and very human themes while maintaining a light and entertaining atmosphere. It takes skill to do all of these things at once without seeming heavy, and yet, Uchouten does it with ease. From the witty remarks and pranks of Yasaburou to the sexy and alluring Benten, to the cranky professor Akadama, to the cosplaying prince mother of the family, to the bullying twins Kinkaku and Ginkaku – there’s a large cast here, but despite that, the characters feel very real. They are anything but standardized pieces of cardboard with stiff lines; their distinctive personalities and interactions bring as much life to the atmosphere of the show as the setting and plot itself.
What I really love the most is how the show treats these characters as adults; yes, there are somewhat cheesy moments here and there, but I actually feel like the cast of Uchouten is properly depicted rather than completely exaggerated. We have an older brother who is destined to take on the family burden, but often trips up over his own desire to get everything done properly. Our main character is extremely laid back but can act the role of a supportive son or brother when the time calls for it. The frog family member whines about his life, but also accepts his own undoing and that he’s literally shielding himself away from the world. And lastly, the mother, while indulging in her pool hobbies, has her own fears and most of all, cares deeply for her children. All of these traits make the characters somewhat relatable but original, and I look forward to seeing more of that.
As Steven has noted, the plot of Uchouten has yet to really begin – it’s only until Episode 2 where we learn about the tragic incident of the Shimogamo brothers and the mystery behind it – but what’s been shown so far is incredibly fun, and I can’t wait to see more of what Uchouten brings to screen. It’s perhaps the show that stands out the most out of the rest airing this season (despite it being a P.A Works) and I have high hopes that whatever is in store for us will be as exciting and memorable as these two episodes as we venture further into the lives of the tengu, tanuki, and humans as they all interconnect.
Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui! [WataMote] Episodes 1-2
illegenes: Confession time! I’m somewhat social anxious. I’m probably not as socially anxious as Watamote‘s main character, but I’m a bit scared to talk to people in public nonetheless. When I was in middle school, I had no concept of popularity, no idea how to be beautiful, and had just as hard of a time to be socially acceptable. And thus is my link with the brooding comedy of the season, Watamote.
Emily pinpoints why Tomoko is such a sympathetic character – the show focuses more on her personality rather than her self indulgent hobbies – but what I particularly enjoy the most about Watamote is how it finely treads the line between comedy and tragedy. The style in which it’s done is similar to Aku no Hana and its main protagonist; Kasuga and Tomoko both share neurotic traits in which they manage to put themselves both above and below other people around them, yet seek company and love. In doing so, their actions are almost comedic; Tomoko more so because she’s eccentric and very dramatized. Tomoko dilutes the pain of her loneliness through internet hobbies, video games, all the while looking for opportunities to gain friends. It’s pretty funny to see her put on terrible makeup and attempt to converse with her homeroom teacher. It’s also hilarious to see Tomoko try to put herself in a position where she must disguise herself so she doesn’t catch the attention of her classmates or her brother. But it’s also extremely sad. The end of Episode 1 and 2 of Watamote are tragic, rather than comedic. Tomoko’s antics end up failing and we see her spirit waver as she sits lonely on the swing or goes back to her closet world of gaming and fantasy. Personally, every time I end up watching Watamote, I get a good laugh out of it, but there’s also a lot of sadness in that laughter.
Therein lies the distorted truth of Watamote; in laughing at Tomoko and her desperate attempts to become normal, we also painfully laugh at ourselves. Both Aku no Hana and Watamote utilize the tool of nostalgia and empathy; Watamote recognizes the comedic material of it while Aku no Hana delves into some of the more dark and deeper aspects. What both shows accomplish in the end however, is the same. In watching these shows, we bring out the worst in ourselves and recognize us for who we really are: shit eaters. In the world of Aku no Hana, it’s a tragedy and a burden to live by. But in Watamote, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing after all. Perhaps that’s just what it really is: normal.
(An additional note: Watamote definitely holds first place for me in terms of having the most creative OP/ED sequences; both blindside you, are incredibly funny and original, and are addictive to watch/listen to.)
Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ Episodes 1-2
illegenes: I’ve always been a big fan of the Tamayura series. Ever since the OVA aired, I had come to see the show as something akin to Natsume Yuujinchou featuring girls rather than boys. There may not be anything supernatural in Tamayura – its focus lies only within a group of girls and their love for photography – but it deals with similar themes, most notably, relationships and overcoming loss and loneliness.
Fu Sawatari has come a long way from where she was in the first episode of Tamayura. She’s definitely more confident, open about herself towards her peers, and most importantly, more honest about what she wants to do in her life. A lot of this has had to do with photography and using the camera to capture moments most important to her in her life, but the focus of Tamayura isn’t necessarily the camera as it is about the process of making friendships; something that lasts more than a picture. If the OVA and the first season were about establishing these relationships, then Tamayura ~More Aggressive~ is well, about being aggressive. Not necessarily in the bold sense; but this season is all about making those choices Fu couldn’t have made earlier before. The first choice then, is most appropriately trying to make a photography club for the school. Even more appropriate is how Fu chooses to make it on her own rather than just relying on her friends – something that marks how far she’s come from being the insecure individual Fu once was.
That’s only the beginning of the hardships that come across Fu’s path; Episode 2 deals with the idea that Mitani Kane may be a better photographer than Fu, and thus should be more qualified for the position of captain. Fu must once again rely on her friends’ encouragement to gain the courage to become the president of the club while facing her own doubts about the style of her photography. It’s interesting to note that Fu’s photography skills aren’t necessarily the most professional – Mitani Kane’s photos are definitely more stylish – but Fu’s power lies in her photos being candid. There is something real and honest about them in comparison to Mitani’s, which are much more prop-like and seem staged to an extent. Opinion is subjective in the end however, and it doesn’t really matter who is better; Fu manages to resolve her conflicts by accepting that there’s more than one style of photography, and the two finally gain some respect for each other.
I think what I’m particularly enjoying about this season of Tamayura is how the show is straying away from using the camera as a way for Fu to console herself over her father’s loss, and it becoming something Fu enjoys for herself. If Watamote argues that a girl can be defined by her personality rather than a hobby, Tamayura says otherwise; both however, get their points across effectively regarding social anxiety, and I’m eagerly anticipating how Fu will overcome more of her fears through the help of her friends, her camera, and by herself.
Free! Episodes 1-3
gallifreyians: Where do I even start with this show? It’s premise is that it is an anime about a bunch of guys who start a swim team at their high school; while that does sound a little off, it doesn’t seem too strange. It doesn’t seem too strange. Seem. In execution, the premise goes from a bit off to downright weird and really funny. The guys who are starting this swimming club are all childhood friends who, four years prior, all belonged to a specific swimming club and won a relay race with a fourth friend who then left the country to go to a special ~swimming school~. It is when this fourth friend returns from his extended time away as a changed person do they start this swimming club so that they can… get closer to him? By competing against him at competitions?
The premise isn’t where the oddities of Free! stop though, because while this show could have been executed like any other sports show, it is instead executed in a really gay way. No, I don’t mean gay as in stupid; I mean that the show is (in execution) really incredibly homoerotic. Crotch shots, ass shots, and chest shots of the boys are plentiful and everywhere. Even the interpersonal relationships between the boys are done so in a way that could turn from heterosexual friendships into very homosexual romances. I don’t necessarily think that KyoAni will go there — almost no one ever “goes there” — but I do think that is important to point out that they are purposefully executing this anime in a specific way.
Now I have a Vietnamese friend who is very knowledgable about East Asian culture, and we have often discussed the cultural divide and basic differences between the East and the West that make cross-analysis of one culture by the other difficult — one such of these things being the differences between Eastern and Western standards of masculinity. One of the things that she has said on the matter that truly sticks out in my mind went like this: “White people see boys holding hands in the streets and go ‘OHMEHGOD THEY’RE GAY’ when really that is just them showing affection, just like how girls sometimes hold hands.” I am certain that she would make the case that the different standards of masculinity are what make me interpret the interpersonal relationships of the characters as being distinctly homoerotic; in all honestly these vibes of homoeroticism that I am getting from the show don’t seem to be that — it would be too big a coincidence for this to be the case considering all of the fanservice visuals —, they seem to be deliberate.
When I first heard that the swimming anime PV that was going to be turned into a full-length series, I had assumed that it would be a regular sports anime with simply more opportunity for yaoi fangirls to get their slash on due to the subject matter. With respect to the execution of the show, however, I have been proven wrong; Kyoto Animation is not releasing another sports show that the yaoi-reading crowd just so happens to be into, they are creating and releasing a show that is specially catered to the yaoi fanbase and just so happens to be a sports anime. A problem with media is the general lack of communication between audiences, creators, and corporations that creates a market in which creators work on projects that they don’t necessarily like and audiences receive products that they don’t necessarily enjoy. For KyoAni to be delivering something that is made for a specific audience means that they are making an effort to listen to the people who consume their products, which — to me at least — is something that more corporations need to be doing. I can think of an endless amount of products that could be vastly improved upon by the creators and the corporations behind them simply listening to the things that their fans say.
That doesn’t mean that I am entirely happy with Free! and it’s fandom however, because while it is important that KyoAni is listening to their fans and that there is a show out there that explores men through the female gaze, I feel that this show could easily go into an ugly place of queer-baiting. I am all for slash shipping, but as a gay man I am diametrically opposed to queer-baiting and to the fetishization of gay men and of gay relationships. I bring up these two issues because they are the only thing that I can see going wrong with Free!, but already the show is walking a fine line between indulging the desire of the animanga community for a show featuring gratuitous imagery of semi-naked men and condoning the yaoi fandom in trampling over queer representation. Like I said, I haven’t really seen it yet, and so I am not going to explore those issues at this time (needless to say I will not hesitate in tearing apart both this show and it’s fans in the future).
My, I went on a tangent! It was an important one, but still not quite the note that I want to end on here. I want to end with this: I am thoroughly enjoying Free! and it’s array of eye-candy and of genuinely interesting characters. Already I find myself waiting eagerly for Wednesday to roll around so I can watch the next episode!
illegenes: From the PV, Free! seems like your typical all-boys sports series; just another Kuroko no Basket or Tsuritama, filled with athletic lean men and a lot of homoerotic shipping. But KyoAni has brought something new to the scenes. Free! is a message to fans, by fans, for fans. What we’re seeing here is a connection from the studio directly to the audience, and it shows.
As Steven has mentioned, a lot of Free! so far is well, pretty fanservice-y. The male characters stand out with their sculpted torsos, clearly in the forefront of every scene to attract attention and be the stars of the female gaze. Half of Free! focuses on these boys casually stripping off their clothes to reveal their half naked bodies and jumping into the pool. The other half however, is a genuinely fun storyline that revolves around the bonds of these kids and what they once shared. I find myself drawn to both sides of Free! equally; for others, one may mean more than the other, and that’s perfectly fine. What does matter is the fact that Free! is providing something we don’t see often: tasteful fanservice with an enjoyable story added with a bit of depth.
Take the main character, for instance. Haruka Nanase is almost the equivalent of Oreki from Hyouka; he’s quiet, doesn’t like to do more than what’s expected of him, and usually wants to be left alone. He enjoys the company of his fellow friends, Makoto and Nagisa, but more than anything, Haruka loves water. He could almost be considered a dolphin; he spends his free time in his bath and like a superhero in disguise, always keeps his swimsuit underneath his regular day-to-day clothes. When first introduced, Haruka looks like an odd and antisocial dork who prioritizes his hobbies over his studies and relationships, but three episodes in, and we begin to realize that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Haruka does value his relationships with his friends – to the point where he quits competitive swimming because he can’t accept the fact that a hobby he loves is something that could be used to hurt someone who is important to him. Likewise, Rin may seem incredibly arrogant and narcissistic, almost to the point where he’s looking for a fight, but underneath that cover is someone who is much more self conscious and anxious about his swimming future. And so what starts off as a show meant to cater to the female gaze becomes something a little more.
That’s only the beginning of what’s likely to be an entertaining outlook at swimming, friendship, clubs, and summertime as our boys take off their clothes (and their chains) and jump into the pool. In the meantime, I’ll continue to gawk at these teens’ muscles and diploids, Gou-style, thank you very much!