Summer Split #06: Break out of the Cage!

SS_06

We’re terribly sorry about the lack of updates!  To celebrate our proper (and permanent) return, Summer Split is back with your three favorite shows and plenty of discussion. Expect regular updates shortly!

Gatchaman Crowds Episodes 8-10

wendeego: I feel like I’ve already said everything that’s needed to be said about Gatchaman Crowds in the post I released just a few days ago. That said, this series is exactly what I was hoping for, and as the story sprints to the finale just about every character arc or plot thread is being paid off in immensely satisfying fashion.

What the show really comes down to is a duel between Hajime and Berg Katze. Katze is the enabler of humanity’s worst impulses, leaning on our tendency to say or do whatever we want when given unlimited power and no consequence. When Katze gives the power of CROWDS to thousands of people at once, what he’s doing is a direct attempt to forever prove that Rui’s idealistic vision of utopia is impossibly naive. The actions of the CROWDS demonstrate humans at their worst: malicious and destructive, but also lazy and solipsistic. Crowds might be one of the few anime I’ve seen to acknowledge that humans on the internet given powerful abilities and no direction are more likely to laze around pontificating than anything else, even with the ability to immolate the world in their hands. It takes Katze reinstating the “rewards” that Rui once used to “update the world” in order to push the CROWDS into action.

If Katze aims to enable humans to do horrible things, Hajime believes in enabling her friends and peers to be better people. Many modern superhero narratives revolve around heroes saving society from themselves; Hajime’s objective is to prove once and for all that through the use of transparency and proper communication humanity can save itself. In any other series the ruthless optimist would be the one belittled or ultimately proven wrong. But the show thus far as been very aggressive in pushing Hajime’s point of view as the right one, demonstrating at every turn that she’s possibly the only character in the series capable of (or willing to) engage Katze on the same level. Katze does his best to troll Hajime as he does everyone else, vanishing on her GALAX monitor and pushing the CROWDS to greater and greater heights. But Hajime presses on, and as she does her best she inspires all who surround her to “break out of their cages” as well.

Watching the series, it’s fascinating to see ripples spread from Hajime to the rest of the cast, leading them to throw off their bonds and inspire others to fight as well. Hajime inspires Sugane and OD, the former of whom finally transcends his allegiance to JJ (God?) to become the protector of the people he’s always wanted to be; the latter who sticks pictures of Hajime and Utsusu in his NOTE. Sugane leads Jou, who set him on the path to become a Gatchaman in the first place, to realize that he might be a thirty-year-old man in a dead-end government job living in a world where old-school heroes are worthless and outdated, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t keep trying. Even the pre-school featured in episode 8, which some called an unnecessary diversion from the plot, is brought back in one of the tenth episode’s funniest and most cathartic moments as Paiman finally comes to terms with his limitations as a leader and decides that getting out there and helping others is more important than sitting back and remaining safe.

The first few episodes of Crowds didn’t focus overmuch on character, having so many themes and ideas to put into place before the writers could bring the hammer down. But I think it’s important to note that at this point in the series, almost every important character has grown enormously from how they began, and in ways totally consistent with how they were originally presented. This is some fantastic, tight writing, and while the cast isn’t necessarily deep I think it’s very impressive how much ground the staff have been able to cover in such a short time. There are Chekov’s Guns that remain to be deployed (*cough*MESS*cough*) before the series finishes in earnest, but the way the staff have been handling the series thus far leads me to think they’ve got it in the bag. This is tremendously impressive stuff, clever and cathartic, not just examining what it means to be a hero in this day and age but reestablishing how important it is to be a good person in a world becoming more connected and transparent by the day.

Uchouten Kazoku Episodes 10-12

illegenes:  Sure, Uchouten Kazoku hasn’t managed to surpass the brilliance of Episode 4 or Episode 8. But it hasn’t backtracked or lost its game as it progresses towards a more plot-focused path, similar to the structure of Tsuritama, which also took its time in fleshing out the cast before diving into the actual story. But whereas Tsuritama felt loose and uneven in the last third due to shaky pacing, Uchouten seems to nail those critical moments.

Episodes 9-11 take a definite turn for the worse as the once fragile bonds that the Shimogamo family had shared (now united through the truth of their father’s death) are put to the test by the Ebisugawas. Nearly everyone is captured – even our main protagonist, Yasaburou – and in one of the greater moments of these episodes, the show turns to the most unlikely heroes to save the family. I really like this approach for two main reasons. The first is that whereas Uchouten Kazoku has been a show about the strange relationships found in a supernatural/natural world, it features Yasaburou as its main protagonist. Therefore, he is the one narrating the show, and for the most part, we’ve seen things entirely from his point of view. Even Yajiro’s shining moments were narrated by Yasaburou and while that didn’t deviate from the power and importance of the arc, it definitely fits in line with the fact that Yasaburou will always be the untold hero, the one who matters the most – the one who the story is ultimately about. But with him being captured, there’s a shift. The point of view (and the odds) are no longer completely in Yasaburou’s favor. Instead, Uchouten acknowledges that Yasaburou is no longer  the most critical aspect of the story and takes turns looking at other members of the family and their troubles.  And while I love watching Yasaburou sneak around with his usual antics and silver tongue, it was also great to see Yashirou, Yaichirou and the mother make their own moments as well.

The second reason is part of a larger concept I often have struggles with, and that is the concept of the underdog. We’ve often seen it in anime – the one with the most unlikely traits will somehow end up winning in the end ,either through luck or by chance. In fact, it’s become so common that for the underdog to not win is almost refreshing because that idea has become the norm in narratives. Not that this is a problem – I personally still enjoy underdog stories, but the idea has become a bit stale, and that’s where Uchouten comes in by giving it a new twist with Episode 12. Sure, the biggest underdogs come to rise to the moment and save their family, but I think what’s important is that Uchouten stresses that it is the idiotic blood of this family that makes them unique. It in no way tries to deny this and hell, it goes as far as to use a drunken Yajiro to save the day rather than fleshing him into some kind of bold hero who’s escaped from his cowardice. It’s that same stupidity that makes Yajiro and his brothers fall into a lake only to be saved by the same kind of stupidity (genius creativity, modeled from the tea house back in Episode 4). And it is that stupidity that Yasaburou manages to use to his advantage yet again in trying to evade himself from being food for the Friday Fellows as well as saving his mother from the group’s clutches. In a moment of brilliant catharsis, the pre-finale of Uchouten Kazoku ends with all of the groups holed up in the same area, ready to clash together and create what’s likely to be an excellent finale. It’s been a wonderful ride and while I’m a bit sad that the ending to this show has come so soon (I would have liked more adventures) I know it’s going to be a heck of a conclusion, and I’ll spend all week before Sunday praying for our beloved tanukis.

Rozen Maiden Episodes 7-11

illegenes: Rozen Maiden has kind of lost its inner grace and charm as it dives into the more plot-heavy material, leaving Jun’s arc as nothing more but a mere memory. But there are cathartic moments in these episodes which makes Rozen Maiden still really enjoyable, even for a newcomer like me to the franchise.

The first good half of Rozen Maiden sacrificed some of the more fan-favorite aspects of the series (also known as Doll interaction) to take a look at this older, more worn out, and disillusioned Jun. The result was subtle reflection on the idea of choice and how it can drastically change a person.  And yet, through interacting with mini-sized dolls, Jun is able to take small steps forward and transforms into a better person (yes, I haven’t seen the first two seasons of Rozen Maiden but I understand that younger Jun also breaks out of his shell and becomes more open and confident in himself). It makes sense then, that the latter half of this season would focus more on the bits fans have missed – younger Jun and the other dolls. While I have no connection with these characters as I’ve never really seen them before, the way they’ve written is enough to fill me on what I may have missed. Each Doll is distinguishable not only in terms of appearance but also in personality – something obviously seen with Sugintou and Shinko and the show uses these opportune moments for them to rise to the occasion and show off their abilities (such as Souseseki, .  It’s here where Rozen may not have the best writing, but it certainly has the some of the most gorgeous artistic direction I’ve seen from such a low budget show.

Of course, the show is nothing without Jun, who in the meantime is slowly developing his own goals and beliefs in life – suddenly taken advantage of by none other than Kirakishou when he unknowingly makes her body for this side of the universe. This slow build up is accompanied by Jun also slowly interacting with Suigintou as she holds his secret. Of course, things erupt at the center of stage – literally – when Kirakishou comes into full form, revealing her true intent: unlike the other dolls, she does not feed on Rose Mysticas (the soul of a Rozen Maiden) but rather their Masters. It’s a terrifying thought that such a Doll nurtures on the properties of others, like a parasite, rather than fighting to retrieve her own soul and become a true Alice (though interestingly enough, the other Dolls steal each other’s Rose Mysticas, so isn’t that essentially parasitism on its own?) Jun is held captive while Sugintou and Shinku must join forces once again to try and defeat her before she becomes fully materialized.  Enter several other dolls at the right moment however, and what do you have?

For a while it’s a Master game that almost borders on comedic as everyone fights over Jun, but some of the brilliant moments really shine through when Jun must work together with his younger self  to revive Shinku from her rest and put Kirakaishou to an end. Plot-wise, it makes for some interesting twists and clever deus ex machinas, but what I really loved is when Jun must come face to face with his idealistic, arrogant younger self and must manage to regain enough confidence to save the day.  There is just something so immensely satisfying about it.  I can’t really put my finger on it, but as someone who’s connected a lot with older Jun, it’s great to see him be inspired and tough his way out of life’s battles. The concept is not unique – hell, Rozen Maiden isn’t really unique in general – but as I’ve said before and will say again, Maiden has really excelled in execution, enough for me to be attatched to these little dolls and their adventures. While we only have two episodes left till this season concludes, I know that I for one, will be going back to watch the previous two season of Rozen Maiden when I have the time. While it may not feature the older Jun I’ve fallen in love with, I’m intrigued enough to see how these dolls have interacted and the possible nuance I may have missed out on!

Team JUN DEFENSE SQUAD concludes next week!

Watamote Episodes 8-11

illegenes: I think Watamote is a beautiful example of where we have an amazing and creative adaptation of a decently written material. I took the time to browse through some of the manga the other day, and sadly, while it was pretty good at points, I came out feeling like the anime really understood the material better than the mangaka himself. From the music tunes to the OP lead ins to the kind of OP/EDs that the anime has – you can tell that Watamote is made with full heart, and Episodes 8-11 really show this more than anything.

Episodes 8-9 have some really brilliant moments, from Tomoko trying to be a role model (Tomoko of all people) and ironically setting an ‘example’ for her younger cousin, Kii through being herself.  Tomoko often struggles so hard at the daily aspects of life and this episode really shows that, when even a sharp but innocent girl like Kii can notice Tomoko’s erratic behavior. In the end though, it somehow works simply because youth is foolish, and while we’re laughing in the background, I somewhat feel happy that Tomoko was able to make a desirable impression on someone, despite her mentality and behavior being so freakishly unhealthy, as seen in Episode 9 when Tomoko can’t even muster the decency to help her own mother out in cleaning the house.  Something I wish the show had dived into at this point was Tomoko’s relationship with her father and mother; it’s been established that her father obviously spends most of his time away from the house at daytime and seems to be more understanding of Tomoko’s odd hobbies (as seen in the episode where he carries her to bed when she was watching a porno) but it seems like the mother is purposefully ignorant of this and lacks a stern hand in Tomoko’s upbringing. I can’t help but think that it’s partially these two parents’ fault for not steering Tomoko in the right direction, but if they did, we wouldn’t have such a great comedy here, would we?

We also wouldn’t have what makes for some of the most heartwrenching moments in the series. Episode 9 touches some really sentimental ground as Tomoko reflects upon her life as a child with her brother and ultimately realizes how alone she really is. The scene where she sits at the bench watching the meteor showers by herself (and only having a stray cat to keep her company) is just so heartbreaking because at the end of the day, Tomoko if anything, deserves one solid human connection and she is denied of even that (though this is partially her fault for being so condescending towards people). Combine this with Episode 10 when Tomoko dreams of having a club of friends that could motivate her to be successful in school (and breaking out of that dream only to find that she’s holding a tea party with stuffed animals inside her room) and you’ve got some really tragic moments here.

This is all in a sense, completely cleared up with Episode 11, which is by far the warmest episode of Watamote yet. Sure, there are moments of loneliness that Tomoko encounters, but the show spares her for once (or maybe she spares herself and others for once) and Tomoko allows herself to open up to people – namely the school council president and her best (and only) friend during the school festival. Tomoko even volunteers to do these activities, and for once, she’s immensely rewarded for them. She has fun exploring the festival and even at the end of the day, when Yuu leaves her, Tomoko is given exactly what she’s been wanting the entire day: a simple hug. Not with some kind of cruel narcissism or sarcasm behind the meaning, but pure and simple human affection. When you’re dealing with a show that is so often steeped in cynicism, it’s precisely moments like these which are the most powerful, and with one more episode left, I’m really interested in how this awkwardly brilliant show will wrap itself up.

Next Time: The Last Summer Split post arrives as we look at the finales of Free!, Gatchaman Crowds, Watamote, Uchouten Kazoku, Rozen Maiden, and C3bu!

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