I am DONE with You: Summer 2014

hisui_icon_4040 So another anime season is wrapping up and anyone who regularly follows the blog and podcast will know that means we have to do the Case Closed Reviews as shows end. We have to do them quickly because the new shows for the SWAT reviews are right around the corner. But there are a few shows that I watch on my own that have wrapped up recently. Since Kate did not watch them I don’t feel like recording a solo Case Closed Review but I do feel like I should put down my finals thoughts in some format. I decided to put out this post just in case anyone was curious how these shows turned out in the end.

Captain Earth has been an interesting ride. For better and for worse the spiritual link to Star Driver was very clear as I watched this show. While Bones was able to bring over several parts of Star Driver that really made that show shine it did little to correct the major flaws of that series a well. I had a good time watching the show but I saw a better anime that was never able to break out of its shell and transform into the story it could have been. There were all these seeds of a better anime that were never given enough time to germinate. It was not a show that needed more time. Theoretically the could have explored those under baked elements if they had another 13 episodes but I think at that point the show would have dragged on too long. What it really needed to do was manage its time better. A bit more focus at key times would have been able to flesh out things that needed expansion and cut a bit of the flab that held the show back. It never needed a major overhaul. Just a bit of optimization in the right places.

I thought the characters had potential. Daichi was a bit of the hot-blooded leader type but they never have to be that complex. They usually work best when they are allowed to push everyone else forward in a way that steps around much of the angst and indecision of other types of mecha pilots. You leave the emotional depth, layered storytelling, and shades of grey to the supporting cast. In the respect Teppei is a good counterbalance to Daichi. Teppei was a constantly searching for his moral center whereas Daichi just marched forward with a mind for justice. Hana was a character who felt like an ever shiny love interest but showed herself to have a more melancholy and nuanced core when the truth was exposed. The main problem is Teppei and Hana feel a bit too unexplored. They had more depth but it is mostly just hinted at. When episodes focus on them it was clear that they had greater stories but sadly those episodes were too few and far between. Also Hana in the Flare Engine Impacter and her crazy Livlaster skills go criminally underused. By the time she is coming into her own they make her the intergalactic bus driver instead of the third pilot.

A liked Akari the best but in general she is my type of character. She is probably the only time you will see an actively useful Decker character. Most of the time the hacker character is either a really minor character or useless. When they are a main character the tend to be dead weight 50%  of the time, a liability 45% of the time, and only able to shine in remaining 5%. Ask anyone who has ever played a pure hacker character in an RPG and they will most probably tell you the tale of regret filled choices. The fact that Akari is an invaluable part of the team did mean they occasionally gave her god tier hacking skills but it was far better than her just being a bump on a log.

Also she was a cutie.

The villains were fun but they could have probably done more with less. Amara, Moco, and Setuna get the most screen time and complexity. In fact if they were the only three villains it might have been better. The other four Planetary Gears were not bad but they tended to do little to really shine outside of their introductory episodes. It is one of the clearest cases of how a little economy of storytelling could have made this a tighter story. They could have shown a little more of the history and motivations of the Planetary Gears. I don’t need a three-part history of their race but just a little more would have done wonders.

Thankfully Puck got about as much screen time as he needed. That was a good thing otherwise I think the series would have felt utterly hollow as opposed to needing more fleshing out.

Also Salty Dog has to be the silliest name for a shadowy organization. It sounds like the Salty Bet alternative that Kate would make with Dogecoin. It did not help that Reito Hirosue was the main face of the organization for the longest time. He is more creepy and unsavory than anything else and once he is mainly dealt with the three shadowy heads of Salty Dog act so indirectly involved that their machinations feel very detached. It was good to have a human based obstacle but most of the time Salty Dog felt more like a time eating roadblock than a major element of the story.

Also some things like Teppei’s father and the possible sinister secrets of the  Livlaster were brought up but really do feel like dropped plot threads. While I have brought up several other flaws at least by the end of the series they were mainly addressed. They might have not gotten all the time they needed but there was a complete arc to that story. Some of the other plot threads got brought up but were never really went anywhere. These parts really needed either to have been dropped or focused on.

Also not to spoil too much but the show basically saw the end of  Mobile Fighter G Gundam though that was a good way to end a series and borrowed it to a large extent. The reveal of the true villain, the dramatic confrontation, the last battle, and the resolution of the fight really felt beat for beat like the conclusion to the Gundam series. It is hardly a total reenactment but if you have seen the end to G Gundam it is probably impossible not to see the parallels after I have pointed it out.

I will say I would have flipped my lid a bit if they never explained who the Girl with the Recorder is. Since they pretty spell it out without ever directly saying who it is I will take that as a win. It remains another element that could have been expanded upon more but I will take an answer that could have uses a bit more meat on the bone over no answer at all.

Overall I never regretting watching Captain Earth but at the same time it is a bit hard to recommend other people casually watch it. If someone wanted a Bones mecha show I would point them to Eureka Seven and/or Star Driver before this. They are far stronger shows. At the same time I would not discourage anyone from watching it as well. It does have some nice designs, fun characters, and solid conclusion. It is just that the half-baked parts to make it feel like it needed to stay in the oven for another ten minutes to have been fully satisfying.

Hanayamata is a show I went into with a little trepidation. It really felt like it could have either been an utterly pandering show, just plain boring, or even worse both at the same time. A story about a girls club for yosakoi dancing can easily just doom a show to mediocrity despite the fact that yosakoi dancing is an original twist. Then the story added in one of those elements I am always a sucker for: Characters with low self-esteem learning to conquer their fears. So when the first episode ended fairly well I was convinced to watch more even though the show was not on our watching schedule for the blog. I’m glad I continued watching this series. It has a warm heart that easily refreshes.

Naru is the soul of the show. She starts off as a girl who has faded into the background of her own life. She loves fairy tales and so she dreams that someone will come along and give her an exciting life. I don’t think her story is supposed to be a modern critical look at the Disney fantasy of One Day my Prince will come in the way Frozen was but at the same time it does acknowledge how that archetypical story can be used as a method of escaping from the need to change your life. Naru never throws away her love of fairy tales. Instead with the catalysis of Hana she learns to transform her life into something more vibrant on her own.

I totally forgot to mention this to Vincenzo Avarello but it seems that New Jersey finally has an anime hero to call their own. She is Hana N. Fountainstand. Hana is the firecracker who is the initial spark that starts the story. Hana is sort of the mixture of what Japanophiles would like to be mixed with what most of the actually sound like. On the surface Hana does feel very similar to Alice Cartalet from Kiniro Mosaic but there is a complete energy level difference. While Alice has the distinct air of a proper English lady Hana is clearly a Jersey Girl. I think that should say volumes.

The rest of the yosakoi team is charming. Yaya starts as a villainous character in the Mean Girls vein we eventually see that her actions come from an earnest place that has been twisted by a mixture of loneliness and selfishness. She is also part of a band called Need Cool Quality which has to be one of the dorkiest names for a band EVER. Tami is more the Yamato nadeshiko although she can be a silly as the rest of the team. The last member to join is Machi Tokiwa. I was a little surprised it took her so long to join. That is hardly a spoiler because the opening could not make it more clear she is eventually going to join. It is more the fact that she only formally joins the group during the last fourth of the series. She is prominent from the start of the show but shows like this don’t usually take such a long time to assemble the main cast. But in a way considering Machi’s personality it would be a bit out of character for her to casually join up unlike the others.

I also like that everyone on the team added something to their overall performance outside of the dancing. It might be the music, choreography, design, or technical skill they all had some other artistic contribution that made them invaluable. It is too easy to make a member the cute dead weight but that did not happen here. Each girl was shown to have a wide selection of skills and abilities. Competence can be cute.

My favorite character is probably Sally-chan-sensei. As Kate has mentioned on the blog several times as you get older you slowly find yourself drawn to the stories of the older characters. In the respect I did find myself draw to her story. She did remind me a lot of Miho Amakata from Free! but Sally-chan-sensei does feel like even more of a slacker with a heart of gold. Also she who can not love her self assessment. The shop owner who looks like a Yazkua thug is equally amusing.

The major complaint about the series seemed to be that every episode had some sort of point of emotional drama that had to be solved and it was almost always solved in an episode. While I admit the series could have been a little more delicate with its setup and resolution I think they made it so the series had a decent sense of weight without losing the light-hearted charm that made it fun to watch. No major conflict could have turned it into a fluffle puffle story like Kiniro Mosaic which while fun did feel very inconsequential. At the same time draw out drama could have dragged the series down into a pool of misery that the shows did not need. The drama never felt clumsy and it always made sure to move the characters forward in their growth. Most importantly when it needed to hit hard it did so but it made sure never to take away from the positive vibe of Hanayamata.

The other secret reason people might watch this show is that Naru is the yuri harem lead of the show. It is not obvious at first but by the fourth episode it should be clear if this was an all boys show the fujoshi would eat this up and ask for seconds. It never distracts from the story to overindulge in sapphic pandering but any yuri fans will find a lot to like about the show.

Hitohira is still my favorite series to tackle low self-esteem but there is a lot to love about this series. Naru’s growth is very genuine and rewarding. By the end of the series she realizes that she has saved herself from a grey life. Hana started her on the path but by the end it was her who did all the heavy lifting. If there is nothing else to take away from this show it should be that lesson. Everyone can shine brightly. They might not shine the brightest but they can shine enough to light up their life and the lives of those around them.

If things had gone differently I am sure Barakamon would have been an anime we had watched as part of a weekly schedule but it had the misfortune of getting its simulcast delayed by several weeks. It did really feel like a Reverse Thieves comedy show. It was one of the last series to be announced for simulcast and even after it was picked up it took awhile for it to come out. By the time we watched the first episode we already had a busy schedule so we did not add the series to what we were watching. But I remembered really liking the series so when I had some free time I decide to put in some effort at catch up with the show before the season ended. That turned out to be a good choice.

Probably the best part of the Barakamon anime is that they picked a section of the manga that feels like a full story. We see Seishuu Handa come to the island a sad socially awkward disgrace, see him grow as a human being and an artist (although he is still a weird dude), and gain redemption for his actions. The last episode does a nice bit of parallel story telling where there are scenes mirror earlier events but with very different reactions from the more mature Seishuu. It easily shows the audience how the protagonist has grown while still being himself at his core. It really does feel like the story could end at episode 12 and everything would be good. Flipping through the manga it seems they cut out some of the chapters and stories to get to that point but I think that is a very good choice. If the series ever gets another season most of the skipped stories can be thrown in with minimal adjustment but if the series never gets another chapter animated you feel like you were told a complete story. I also think it story a much more even sense of progress. Considering how much people argue over pace these days a show that has a deliberate and steady sense of progress won’t make everyone happy but it will satisfy most people.

But the main charm of the story is the characters. Seishuu is basically sent to the Goto Islands as is he were a misbehaving child being sent to this room and in many ways he acts like a petulant brat as well. It is easy to assume he would be an annoying person. He does punch out old man with a cane (and then throw his shoe at him when he was down) in the first episode. But the show carefully walks the line between making Seishuu a flawed human but never an unlikeable one.

Since he is originally determined to be as much of a recluse as possible the rest of the cast has to be filled with Type A personalities to move forward the plot. Obviously Naru becomes attached to “sensei” like a magnet but the rest of the island is fairly boisterous as well. That type of cast can easily be grating but for the most part they are adorable. Like Seishuu  the rest of the cast is endearing while keeping their flaws large but manageable. Miwa and Tamako tag team works well because they can trade-off being the goofball easily. Also I am sure that Tamako will find her way into Ogiue Maniax’s Fujoshi Files soon enough.

The most fascinating part of the series is probably the more realistic approach to the creative process. While there are certainly dramatic liberties taken with the creation of art I do feel the whole process around making something creative comes off a more genuine in Barakamon. There is much more of a look at the trial and error of making a piece of art. We see Seishuu failures, aborted ideas, test runs, and good ideas that don’t pan out even more than his completed works. His works are 90% blood, sweat, and tears and 10% amazing inspiration. There is a little bit of fantastic realism but overall it at least feels authentic and that is what is most important.

I’m not sure how much more there is to say about Barakamon. If you over explain comedy you spend more time spoiling the jokes than you do selling what makes the series enjoyable. Therefore if you in the mood for an atmospheric piece of comedy with some good heart than give Barakamon a go.

– Alain

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2 thoughts on “I am DONE with You: Summer 2014

  1. matty says:

    I enjoyed Hanayamata. For some reason, someone mentioned on Twitter that Hannah could have been a ghost or something, so I was kind of hoping …for a different ending.
    Or something like that one (very sad) episode of M.A.S.H.
    Maybe that’s just me, though!

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