Summer Split Two — #4: Rise and Fall

[HorribleSubs] Watamote - 06 [720p]_Sep 2, 2013 10.25.50 AM

This week of Summer Split combines both Part 1 and 2 as we see many of our favorite characters stumble into making huge mistakes!

Free! Episode 7

gallifreyians: I find the character of Rin to be a very curious construction. A lot about his backstory seems to paint him as a sympathetic character, and the way in which a lot of the moments of the show are portrayed seem to want to make me feel bad for him; but then the show has him turn around and do some incredibly rude shit that makes me absolutely hate Rin. In this episode, we have the dream sequence and that sad story about Rin’s father never accomplishing his dream, which really is screaming that Rin is just someone who is misunderstood and has complex feelings about his friends and swimming. However, we then have the ridiculous gloating coming out of Rin when the race was over. I mean, gloating itself is one thing that I think would be a completely different matter, but what we see out of Rin after the win is just so mean-spirited and something that he would have know would be absolutely crushing for Haru to hear — it’s just not okay and not cohesive with the the other ideas about him that the writing is trying to push.

There are also problems with the overall execution of the episode, as there is a lot of effort put into building up to the swim meet and the race between Haru and Rin, but it all falls pretty flat. The swim meet doesn’t feel as big or meaningful as it has been hyped up to be and when we do see Haru finally face Rin, it’s really boring. There is literally zero excitement in that scene, which is really quite a disappointment considering that with the large crowd, everyone cheering, Haru and Nagisa providing narration, and the ability to look into what Haru and Rin are thinking we should have had something really interesting to watch.

While I did open with talking about Rin as a character, I really can’t impress upon you enough as to how un-exciting the race was. Another sports anime that I’ve seen is Chihayafuru, which always manages to make me sit on the edge of my seat and nervously bite my nails during the matches — and that’s an anime about playing a card game. When you compare the two subjects, swimming and karuta, you would think that swimming would be the more exciting thing to see onscreen; it isn’t. The people at Madhouse took an activity that is rather visually un-interesting and elevated it to be something active and engaging that captures the audience’s attention. In direct contrast, the team behind Free! at Kyoto Animation took a competitive sport and made it dull and formulaic. I don’t get a sense that anyone in the race is actually racing anyone else; that instead everyone is just mechanically swimming with the blankest of minds.

After the disappointing writing from the last two episodes and now the lackluster delivery of what is supposed to be an incredibly pivotal moment in the emotional narrative of both Haru and Rin, the show really needs to step up it’s game.

WataMote Episode 6-7

illegenes: Watamote continues its streak of being naughty and nice with Tomoko as the spearhead of caustic sympathy.

Episode 6 and 7 are all about the summer; in Episode 6,  Tomoko’s antics reach a new level when she tries to look beautiful and in the process, does the exact opposite – she doesn’t shower for days (ew) and ends up being covered in ants (definitely ew). The second half is more about Tomoko desperately seeking a companion to watch the fireworks . This half was much more emotional than the previous half as Tomoko visits the old place where she used to watch the fireworks, only to find that she has no one to come with her and more importantly, how the place isn’t even special anymore – it’s become a hangout for younger people. It was here that I was in fear that Watamote would end in complete, utter despair, but luckily Tomoko finds two middle schoolers to sit down and have a good time with. While Episode 6 concludes with a Hatsune Miku song (Vocaloid music has always been a hit or miss for me), it was done brilliantly and worked really well with the moment. I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to be squeamish, hiding my eyes, feeling sorry or even rooting for the fact that Tomoko had found someone to share her fireworks memory with, but in essence, that’s what Watamote has  been about since day one, so I’m not as bothered as I was before. The show has made itself clear that it purposefully wants to make us feel uncomfortable about our heroine and doesn’t romanticize her neurotic and deeply misguided thoughts, and I’m alright with that.

Episode 7 hits pretty close to home with the Summer Break episode as Tomoko spends most of her days inside, either playing video games or reading manga. The waves of lethargy wash over her as Tomoko often ends the day lying on her bed or on the floor, almost bored to death. Eventually, she decides to break out of her cycle and try to do something else for a change – talk with her brother, go out to see her favorite VN voice artist in action, only to fail when she combines every sentence she’s loved from his voice.  Caught between not wanting summer to end and wanting to spend the valuable moments with someone so that they can be better remembered, Tomoko agonizes over every minute of her mundane life, and it clearly shows with the dramatic experiences and expressions and contrast with her brother’s life which is quite normal.

I think Episode 6 and 7 clearly show what’s so brilliant about Watamote; the show is soaked in self loathing to the point where it’s embarrassingly and painfully hilarious, but with every stressful experience is a grain of truth and loneliness. Watamote is about a girl steeped in anxiety to the point where she takes it out in the most odd and yet sympathetic ways possible (hiding herself on the internet, rooting herself in fantasy and even looking down on others) but it’s ultimately about the bitterness of reality – heatbreaking, soul crushing despair and how  one combats that bleakness with the most odd but empathetic ways possible. We may not necessarily act like Tomoko every day, but the root of her actions are extremely on point. Whether it be the ache to cherish your life with someone else or the fear that you will end up missing out on every opportunity of fun and freedom – these are normal, human feelings, and while Tomoko isn’t the most realistic depiction of the lone unpopular wolf, her emotions are, and that is where Watamote hits and succeeds the most.  Behind the dark humor are hellishly uncomfortable and yet beautifully sad truths, and if the show continues this streak for the last half of the season, then we may have one of the better successors to shows like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei! in years.

Stella Jokakuin-ka C3-bu Episodes 7-8

gallifreyians: Honestly these two episodes are like day and night. Episode seven — while being incredibly important to the plot and the set-up of episode eight — is slow and tediously uneventful. There is a burst of action in the first few minutes of the episode with respect to the sniper and such, and everything after that is a non-event. Sure, Yura and the girls go through some intense training to prepare themselves to win the 24-Hour Tournament without Sona, but it is delivered to us through five or so minutes of a montage of pen drawings that don’t convey anything other than “Wow, those drawings sure are pretty.”; so while we know that there has been some growth and changes in the characters and their relationships, we don’t actually see it.

Episode eight shines in comparison to this, bringing lots of action but also development to the character of Yura. We get to see the C3 team compete against a variety of other teams and win out against all of them, as well as experience first-hand the person that Yura has become in her quest to win. Yura pushes her team all throughout the competition, even sometimes to the point where she is blind to the pain she is inflicting upon them — such as the heavy burden she placed on Ren. The exploration of Yura’s drive to win eventually comes to a head at the end of the episode where, in order to take out Rin and win the competition, Yura actually plays zombie and shoots Rin after already having been taken out by a member of Rin’s team. This makes the ending incredibly bittersweet. The girls are happy, they’ve won the tournament and can take the trophy back to Sona; but Yura knows the truth and the heavy personal price she’s now paid for the victory — committing the airsoft equivalent of a war-crime.

That’s all well and good (no, honestly, I love personal narrative that has been established for Yura), but for a show that is about tactical decision-making, there is surprising little strategy shown onscreen. We don’t see the evolving decisions of Yura and company as a match goes on, and we don’t get to see how the adapt to new situations and the strategies of their opponents; both of which would be incredibly important in a sport like airsoft. It isn’t really a big complaint of mine, but in addition to continuing to see how Yura grows I’d also love to see the show evolve to include the more strategic elements that should be more prevalent in the show.

illegenes: I do agree with Steven that Episode 7 is a bit tedious; it’s basically Yura and the team training as hard as they can to ensure that they have a chance of success in the tournament. Episode 8 on a macroscopic scale isn’t necessarily spectacular either; the fights are minimum as we continue down the road of endless battles and shots.

But if we took C3bu by its mechanical parts, then what we would have is a jumbled mess of corny moments and inconsistent pacing. What we wouldn’t have is a fascinating series that touches on some realistic growth and neatly curves away from the most typical of cliches that we find in anime today.  Yura’s progress has been incredible to watch but also bittersweet – we’ve seen her take steps from becoming a passive girl rooted in fantasy but social anxiety to developing into a girl who is brave, daring, impulsive and fiercely emotional about competition. Often in anime,  progress is associated with positive movement. Our protagonist moves forward and learns about friendship and the importance of having fun. Here however, Yura’s development has become lopsided. She’s no longer the little girl who has to rely on seeing the world through a lens of fantasy in order to succeed. Instead, she relies on hard work and planning, easily taking up the role of Sono as captain while Sono herself is locked away in the hospital, trying to recover.  At the same time, she’s also following the route of Rin, Sono’s ex-companion, in believing that winning is everything, as we see her take her biggest and first fall since Episode 2: playing zombie.

In that sense, I think what makes Episode 7 weak is what makes Episode 8 strong. Episode 7 is rinse, lather, and repeat – and in a sense, so is Episode 8. But it’s also progress on Yura’s downfall. All those previous battles and training sessions in a sense have pushed the team to limits and made them reach the top, but on an individual level it’s made them much more disbanded. That comes rushing into the final battle when Yura is so bent on winning that she easily forgets the actual results of those efforts on a emotional scale – improving hard with your teammates, rather than the mechanical results – getting stronger. The team is more out of sync in the Meisei battle than ever before, simply because Yura is no longer a leader, but a girl seeking desperate revenge against Rin for taking Sono out of action. The emphasis of course isn’t with the team, but with Yura herself. Her zombie play strikes like a discordant string in a harp, and it is heartbreaking to see Yura realize that this is the sort of person she has become; a player who flew far too close to the sun, with her wings of wax easily melting and falling off. Episode 8 is brilliant simply because it doesn’t romanticize Yura’s downfall, in the same way Episode 7 doesn’t romanticize the tediousness of endless battles and training (but in a far less effective and emotional way).

C3bu isn’t necessarily brilliant or the most intelligent show of the season. It’s certainly no Gatchaman Crowds or Uchouten Kazoku and doesn’t even retain the quiet charm of Rozen Maiden. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for wearing its heart proudly on its sleeve, refusing to take shortcuts and thus managing to be compelling, dynamic, and exciting.  I’m really looking forward to the consequences of Yura’s actions and how it’ll affect the team next week – a scene that won’t be pretty, but will be interesting nonetheless.

Gatchaman Crowds Episode 6-7

wendeego: I’ve been teaching in China for the past month and a half so I’ve really been unable to say anything about this show on the blog. But now that I’m back, I have a confession to make: I FUCKING LOVE THIS SHOW. Gatchaman Crowds is not the most consistently written series this season (that would be Uchouten Kazoku) but I would say that it is almost certainly the most consistently interesting. I could say tons more about the series in a longer post, but to sum up: after finishing director Kenji Nakamura and co.’s previous work Tsuritama, I thought “if Nakamura could combine Tsuritama’s tight writing with the ambition of [C], that would be something.” As it turned out, Gatchaman Crowds was exactly what I wanted: a fun and irreverent “reboot” that effectively dismantles the tropes of sentai shows and asks hard-hitting questions about heroism, social media, the pluses and minuses of gamification and (weirdly enough) art history and theory. It’s not the auteurist grand slam that Flowers of Evil was but it’s probably the densest anime I’ve seen since Mawaru Penguindrum in 2011.

Up until this point, the series’s greatest flaw is that the budget is evidently minuscule. Select parts of the show are visually stunning  (the Gatchaman hangout, Rui’s apartment, etc.) and the series is loaded with callbacks to past Gatchaman series and pieces of classic art, but the fludity of the animation ranges from mediocre to atrocious. Unfortunately episode six of the series was probably the worst animated to date, with its central chase scene (scored to Taku Iwasaki’s kicking soundtrack) almost completely neutered by the lack of movement and general quality of the art. Thankfully the actual content of the episode was fascinating, with Hajime facing down Rui in an exchange of philosophy and actually succeeding in holding her own. There’s been a lot of talking and surprisingly little action in Gatchaman, but thus far its handling of issues has been just nuanced enough to work.

The seventh episode marks a huge upswing in animation quality, as Berg Katze (shapeshifter and probable villain) wipes the floor with just about every character in the series. Rui is viciously beaten, the Crowds are destroyed, and older Gatchaman Jou (who we realize has been slowly but efficiently developed over the past several episodes) is systematically dissembled, broken not just physically but psychologically. Katze’s approach to villainy really demonstrates what separates Crowds from other sentai shows; at times the series straight-up mocks the conventions of the genre, and Katze (who yells the names of Jou’s special attacks right back at him, who sings along with the theme song as he transforms, etc.) is a perfect fit. He’s a credibly terrifying opponent, and his effect on the other characters really brings home how disruptive he is.

But the highlight of the episode (maybe even of the series) was Berg Katze’s conversation with Hajime. Crowds is an examination of heroism, but also has a lot to say about communication; the fact that the show’s heroine (while brilliant and very empathetic) is almost incapable of communicating with other people has not been lost on many people watching the show. But as it turns out, Hajime is precisely on Berg Katze’s level, and the resulting conversation is both fascinating and scary in equal measure. The fact that Hajime is able to understand or empathize with Berg Katze is surreal enough, but that Katze eventually succeeds in giving even her pause is revealing. Many anime of this type, no matter the philosophical inclinations, eventually come down to fist-fighting, but thus far Crowds is doing a very good job sneakily indicating that communication, rather than violence, is the answer here. Against a force like Berg Katze, who threatens to unbalance the human race with a single touch of his finger, the only way to survive is to bring everyone together rather than fight alone. Whether Hajime and the Gatchaman or Rui and GALAX lead the charge, of course, remains to be seen. (Just a guess: the MESS will be involved.)

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2 responses to “Summer Split Two — #4: Rise and Fall

  1. Pingback: Single of the Week: "Crowds" by WHITE ASH (Gatchaman Crowds OP) | Cely Belly Nonsense | Anime Blog . . . not completely rubbish.·

  2. I love Gatchaman Crowds as well. It’s funny, scary, smart and stylish, all in the name of theme and character. It’s the only show this season I’m confident will meet my expectations. (Not belittling Uchouten Kazoku. I’d rather let it do it’s thing and continue to surprise me every week!)

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