Summer Split One — #2: My Pride Made Me Distant

summersplit1_2

Welcome back to Summer Split! In this week’s issue, we take a look at family bonds, overused jokes, and swimming friendships.

Uchouten Kazoku Episode 3

gallifreyians: Uchouten Kazoku remains to be amazingly sweet and serene. Directors often overlook the effect that atmosphere and pacing can have on their works, but Uchouten seems to be an exercise precisely in the use of atmosphere to augment a simple plot. I think that if the plot did not unfold in the way that it does, with deliberate and properly spaced movement, that we would honestly have a really weak show. The enigma of Benten and her fickle nature isn’t just established in the plot and dialogue, but in things like the moment where Yasaburou and Yashirou were walking down the hallway, entirely not sure what waited ahead of them.

Having a simple plot isn’t to say that the plot isn’t important however, or that the meaning of the plot isn’t very powerful. Episode three sees Yasaburou try and secure a party boat for the family to use at an annual tanuki festival, which has him go to Benten to borrow their Master’s flying parlor. The significance of this isn’t something we can ignore; the Shimogamo family has lost it’s powerful head, and is now the laughing stock of tanuki society — the family’s inability to even procure something that is painted as ubiquitous as a flying party boat is reflective of this. What it is also reflective of though is their desire to latch onto some sense of normalcy. Back when the boy’s father was alive — when they were presumably a happy family with status and influence — this was something that they did every year, something that became normal. The Shimogamo family no longer has to participate with the rest of the tanuki in this festival, because they no longer have status or influence that they need to preserve by observing the set of tanuki customs. No, what is going on here is that the Shimogamos want to participate with the rest of their society, because it is reminiscent of a time when they were whole and happy. Additionally, for the person who this quest is given to to be Yasaburou of all the brothers is not only symbolic of the responsibilities that have been passed down to him by his late father, but also of the similarities he supposedly shares with his father. Yasaburou does what his father had always done, taking his place in a sense.

On the outside, Uchouten Kazoku is quite simple; yet it boasts a complex underbelly of hidden meaning and symbolism that is heighten by the director’s astute use of expert pacing and atmosphere.

illegenes: Three episodes in and Uchouten Kazoku still is going strong. The show hasn’t lost its taste in comedy and heartfelt moments – moments that do not lie in the plot or circumstances most of the time, but the dynamics of character interaction. Every character in the show stands out on their own ground; the mom is caring but firm, the eldest brother demanding but insecure, the youngest brother trying to overcome his own fears, and the main character being very laid back but also extremely foolish and selfish. The result is a very eccentric family indeed, but human nonetheless. Every tanuki, human, and tengu in this show has a weakness that’s often exploited in one fashion or the other, leading to either tender or comedic moments. The scenes change, but the heart of the show doesn’t, as seen in Episode 3 when the main character is sent to help his elder one in getting a magical tea transportation room…..

…which leads exactly back to Benten, the elusive and charming young woman who is as terrifying as she is sexy. I really enjoy watching the chemistry of these two and how they interact with one another. There’s obviously some unsaid history here (something regarding pushing their professor and breaking his back) that’s to be brought out later, but in the meantime, I like the mystery. They enjoy playing with one another and honestly? It’s tastefully done, as with everything Uchouten does, even swimming naked with sharks; the kind of fanservice I’m into. The show is light, memorable, lacks clutter, and yet manages to be meaningful and easy to watch at the same time. If Uchouten continues to hit the marks like this for the next 9 episodes, we could very well have a top anime of the season – and possibly the year – here.

Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui! [WataMote] Episode 3

illegenes: Watamote doesn’t stop digging into my skin by being both hilarious and oddly on point. From things like appearance (as a girl, my hair always curls into a mess with humidity and there have been days where I have spent a good amount of time* straightening my hair only for it to be a complete wreck by the time I go to school due to rain) to completely lacking a subject to talk about when approaching a stranger.  Tomoko is both a character to be pitied and admired; her despair is what drives us to empathize with her, while her passion and enthusiasm – or need – to be accepted by society is a feat I could only dream of accomplishing daily. (No, I’m not a complete shut in, but we’ve all been in Tomoko’s shoes at one point or another, dreaming of a day where we can be ‘popular’).

One thing I really enjoy about Watamote despite its low production is the coloring, which establishes different moods and atmopshere throughout the episode.

Two points I’d like to note in this week’s episode: the first is probably what’s a direct allusion to Tsuritama when Tomoko uses the ‘drowning’ metaphor as a way of showing her anxiety when approaching the other two students in the rain. The idea may seem far-fetched, but considering how Watamote has already made several direct allusions to other anime, I wouldn’t put it past me to say that this is also a fair comparison. The second is probably a trend that works into the irony that is Watamote. Tomoko sincerely wants to be a part of the society she loathes at the same time; she tries so hard to approach people and act ‘normal’ but when all else fails, she shoves this normality under a bus and condemns it.  This sort of ‘better than thou’ attitude is also reflected in another assumption; Tomoko also believes that she can be accepted by people, but when this plan fails, she accepts the idea that she will be alone forever and that no one will ever notice her, let alone recognize her. This kind of self pity is turned into another thing to both laugh at and sympathize with. Tomoko in this week’s episode attempts to converse with two other middle schoolers when stranded in the rain with no umbrellas, and even faints from trying to connect with them, but wakes up to a fresh umbrella near her side. This act reveals two things: Tomoko isn’t as weird as she thinks she is, and secondly, ‘normal’ people aren’t as bad as she conveniently wants them to be.

Maybe the conclusion of Watamote will be the point where Tomoko realizes that she’s not completely isolated from society as she wishes to be at times; that perhaps, as Yura has found out with her friends, that being a little odd is acceptable, and popularity is only a figment of the mass’ imagination; a useless prop that we strive to become. Until that day however, Tomoko will continue to entertain – and enlighten/depress us – with her antics.

Free! Episode 4

gallifreyians: Free! is probably the only show that I’m watching out of pure enjoyment. It remains to be hilarious in how ridiculous and gratuitous the fan service is as well as in how strange the character interactions are. The crotch, abs, biceps, chest, and butt shots were abundant in this episode, and Rei was continually amusing to see trying to learn how to swim; but that’s not what I want to talk about.

First of all, the “I told you, it’s Kou, not Gou.” thing has been wearing down on me. It was slightly amusing at first, but has quickly become one of the things that I hate the most. The fact that Gou herself seems to have given up on correcting Nagisa makes me think that they will finally let this bad gag die, which will drastically increase the quality of any of the following episodes. One of the things about Gou that makes does consistently actually entertain me, however, is her status as a shameless self-insert for the audience to ogle the rest of the cast. Normally I would never say that though, as self-inserts are usually left as blank, dull, and rather boring — Gou is not simply a self-insert though, she is a character in her own right. Gou has a personality with clearly defined characteristics and even more clearly defined hopes, desires, and motivation. While she certainly isn’t a big part of the show, Gou most definitely helps to differentiate Free! from the rest of the fanservice shows around and helps to make the show better than it otherwise would be.

Something about this show that continually confuses me and makes the show sometimes hard to understand is the relationship between Rin and the other boys. I can understand growing apart from your childhood friends and not being able to reconnect with them, but the animosity that Rin displays is baffling. There has to be frustration associated with his unique situation — I would be so frustrated if I was uprooted from my life and sent to a school in another country, only to still not be able to measure up to someone like Haru — but I don’t understand where Rin’s distain came from. I can understand feeling jealousy, self loathing, and alienated; but I don’t know where Rin gets off blaming Haru for all of this — not only do I think that it is something really shitty of Rin to have done, but I also don’t think that on a metatextual level that it is something that he would have done because it simply doesn’t make sense. Rin and Haru were painted to be really good friends — almost as close as Mako and Haru were — and if someone is your friend, something as petty as not being able to measure up to their ability doesn’t make you turn around and hate them. I’ve been in so many situations where something about myself simply didn’t measure up to the skills of another, and never has that made me harbor any sort of ill-will towards the other person; it simply isn’t their fault for being more naturally talented than me, and it isn’t Haru’s fault for being a better swimmer than Rin.

Perhaps I’m just not seeing something in the Haru-Rin dynamic that everyone else is, and perhaps given more insight into Rin’s character and more characterization of their relationship I will see it, but right now it is just something that I don’t understand about this show.

illegenes: Count me in on the “Kou/Gou” jokes getting really old. If this keeps up I might just throw something out the window; I don’t mind repetitive jokes, but when they’re used more than once every episode, it gets quite irritating.

That said, Free! continues to be immensely enjoyable from the animation level to the character level. Interestingly enough, while I had difficulties connecting with Hyouka‘s main character, Oreki, I find much more depth and facets to Free!‘s main character, Haru, who is much more than the stoic “I don’t do anything unless I have to” remake of Oreki. He’s willing to interact with his friends more often, even giving Rei advice when he’s pushed into a corner, unable to find a way to swim. Even his confrontation with Rin doesn’t seem forced or out of character, as he tells him that he’s willing to take swimming seriously again only if Rin is willing to move on and make this more than just a personal vendetta. It’s really refreshing because I often have trouble connecting with KyoAni’s main characters, and yet Haru is surprisingly…easy to watch. He’s so far is proving to be a great protagonist and I love the way he’s developing.

Another thing I’m enjoying about Free! is how little it actually focuses on swimming. The episodes so far have made much more emphasis on developing the cast rather than displaying how much money KyoAni has with beautiful splashes and water effects. I assume this is a way of saving the budget for the race episodes which will probably happen in the latter half, but that’s perfectly fine with me. As someone who is much more partial to character development than plot development, I’m having fun watching the Iwatobi team communicate with one another through shopping and swimming style rather than diving into the water all the time. This interaction, it seems, will continue into next week’s episode where the team goes to the beach (a beach episode??? with MEN??? how exciting is this) to get some swimming done…in the sea. At the pace Free! is going at, I have no anxieties regarding a rushed ending of sorts. It reminds me of Tsuritama where the show primarily focused on the characters rather than the fishing, and it seems like Free! has the same idea. If it follows the same line, then I wouldn’t be surprised if Free! became the most consistently enjoyable and fun show of the season for me.

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