The Stream
Space Case

by Bamboo Dong, Oct 2nd 2012

The summer season has finally drawn to a close. Many of fallen, but yet more so remain, and the list we've got here is mostly solid. There are still a couple shows that I could give or take, but for the most part, these shows are good, solid entertainment. Plus, if you've been following the column all summer, you got to experience some of the longest threads in column history. Yeehaw!

Alright, let's get this wrapped up.

#1 - Tari Tari [ep. 13]

The impromptu White Festival is finally here, and the students have all rallied together to make it a reality. Despite considerable opposition from the uptight bureaucrats who want to tear down the school, they receive help from some welcome places, including the principal and the softened vice principal. Finally, we see her cold exterior melting, and inside her shell of insecurities and feelings of personal disappointment, we find someone who has the capacity to be a kind and caring mentor.

What I deeply appreciated about the musical that the choir club (that sometimes plays badminton) put on is the song that Wakana wrote. A couple episodes back, when Wakana showed an early draft of the song to the vice principal, the VP said that she was pleasantly surprised by how the song veered from the theme in nontraditional ways. And indeed, when we finally hear it, it's exactly as one would expect—it's reminiscent of the song that Wakana's mother wrote, but with a very unique voice. The main theme is there, but it takes unexpected musical twists and turns, and it sounds delightfully raw, like a song written by a first-time composer. Typically, anime series that feature character songs often get a little lazy and just end up replaying the same songs over and over again, thinking that no one will notice. With Tari Tari, they definitely made an effort to present Wakana's version of her mother's song.

Although I started off not giving Tari Tari much credit, it soon became one of my favorite series of the season. The characters are sweet and earnest, and the series did an excellent job of portraying everyone's troubles and aspirations as they go through this transitional period in their lives. The series starts off a little slow, but it definitely picks up after a few episodes, and I urge everyone who likes slice-of-life shows to give it a try.

Status: The surprise hit of the season. Tari Tari was a little cheesy at times, but I enjoyed it immensely and the emotional payoffs during the series are worth it.

#2 - Polar Bear Cafe [ep. 25-26]

I'm constantly amazed by how easily Polar Bear Cafe is able to traverse that boundary between weird/hilarious/sarcastic, and downright adorable. The first set of adjectives I associate with more adult-targeted entertainment. Sure, this is a show that kids could enjoy, but a lot of the humor seems to be written for an older audience. Only “grownups” would fully appreciate the predator gathering in episode 26 when Lion, Tiger, and Wolf meet at Grizzly Bear's bar to catch up. They've given up their wild days in exchange for tame careers in un-predator fields like confection making. Tiger is a family man who proudly talks about his many offspring. He gets ribbed a bit by Wolf, but when Lion pretends to be tough, they chastise him. I'm not sure kids would fully grasp the humor in this scene.

And yet, Polar Bear Cafe can also be immensely cute. We see a flashback of how Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear came to be friends, and it's simultaneously adorable and endearing. If anything, it just reinforces my belief that Polar Bear is one of the greatest characters to ever be scripted. If he were a real (human) person, I would desperately want to be his friend.

Even better, though, is his secret past as a rapper. Yes, you read that right. And yes, it's everything you could hope for and more. Going by the name 469Ma (apropos for a lover of puns—as it's pronounced shi-ro-ku-ma, or, polar bear), he is just goofy enough to be cool. I might have watched that scene a few dozen times. Polar Bear Cafe is a treat every single week, and if I could have one wish, it'd be that everyone give it a shot.

Status: A polar bear rapper? Sold.

#3 - Space Brothers [ep. 25-26]

I'm continually impressed with just how incredibly detailed and well-researched Space Brothers is. Some have tried to rain on my parade and say, “They just need to copy a photo!” but I won't hear any of that! Seriously, the Texas Roadhouse they go to in Houston looks exactly like the Texas Roadhouse in my hometown (and I imagine, every Texas Roadhouse in America), from the trademark facade, to the interiors with the fake cacti and plastic armadillos. It made me want to throw peanuts on the ground.

While Mutta stresses out about his interview, we get a few more perfect glimpses at the kind of person he is. Not only does he have a long, long list of astronaut names memorized, he considers all of them his favorites. When he's asked to give the scoop on his fellow JAXA applicants, rather than dish out dirt, he gives frank and complimentary information. And of course, there's classic Mutta—in a scene that I rewatched several times, he psychs himself up to go for a run. When he opens the door, it's pouring outside. From the outside “camera,” all we see is the door quietly close. It's a hilarious scene that had me laughing out loud. Like I said, Mutta is very relatable.

Space Brothers has been one of my favorites for the past two seasons, and it's still one show that I look forward to almost the instant an episode ends. For newcomers to the series, yes, the pacing is a little on the slow side, but once you get to know the characters, you can't help but get pulled into their lives. I can't wait to watch more of it.

Status: I think I could watch Mutta do just about anything. His personality sells his actions, and I've been more than happy to sit by and wait for the JAXA results with him.

#4 - Binbogami Ga! [ep. 12-13]

The craziest thing about poverty gods—apparently when you give them a good, hard scrubbin', they turn into docile, adorable, empty-shelled humans. Momiji is still the cute self she was after the hot tub episode, but now all her colleagues are scrambling to hit her with trash to turn her back.

Around the end of the last episode, Momiji tells Ichiko that she's changed a lot since they've met. As viewers, we can all agree. Binbogami ga! has been as charming and touching as it has been wild and wacky, especially through Ichiko's character arc. While she may have started off as a lovable brat, she ends up even more likeable, and watching her shed her rough exterior has been one of the highlights of this crazy series.

Ultimately, if given the chance, I'm not certain I'd volunteer to watch this series again. I think once was enough. But I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it, and I would urge others to give it a chance. It's certainly not one of the more anticipated shows of last season, but it ended up being one of the best, and I am glad I watch it.

Status: I'm impressed with Binbogami ga!'s ability to be cute and sappy and insane at the same time. I often get bored of WACKY HIJINK COMEDIES!!!! pretty quickly because they don't usually have anything else to offer except crazydoodle slapstick, but this series really delivers on substance as well.

#6 - Utakoi [ep. 12-13]

What's made Utakoi so captivating all season is that none of the characters face the same challenges. Every poet had a unique set of personal trials that fueled their creativity, be it unrequited love, familial pressures, sexism, or class differences. It's kept Utakoi from being just a compilation of fluffy love stories, and instead, one feels for the poets. Yes, their lives are greatly romanticized and the series is only very loosely based on historical accuracies, but when one reads the poems in the Hyakunin Isshu, the emotions can't be missed. Some of them shout exuberance, while many speak of longing and love lost.

The last couple of episodes may have been different, but followed a similar thread, which is that back then, even if you were madly in love, it wasn't always up to you. Familial and societal pressures abounded, as well as the responsibilities of those born either rich or poor. It reminds one that sometimes, the best love stories are the ones in which the lovers never end up together. If Hollywood dabbled in that line of thinking more often, we might get better love stories than the tripe that's usually pumped out.

I've warmed up to Utakoi considerably throughout the duration of the season. Part of the reason is because I learned to appreciate the diversity of the love stories that were told. Another reason, though, is that I think the second half of the season is simply better than the first. The stories were more streamlined and the connections between the characters were better established. Rather than being just one-shots, many of the more complex stories were drawn out over a few episodes. As a result, the series felt more compelling week to week, and I found myself wanting the next story. In the end, I'm glad I gave Utakoi a chance. It started out as a, “I might as well keep watching this” series, but by the end, I began cherishing it.

Status: One of the more delightful series this season. Even though each of the characters is only on screen for a few episodes at most, I found myself drawn to their lives and in return, gained a stronger appreciation for their literary works.

#7 - Sword Art Online [ep. 12-13]

Asuna and Kirito have been enjoying playing house, but a few things draw to a conclusion. We find out the truth about the mysterious little girl, aka the wish fulfillment part of the show that lets our lead characters play mom and pop, and it gives our heroes a gentle reminder that they eventually need to return to the front lines to help everyone fight. That, and a message from Heathcliff, asking for their assistance in a particularly gnarly boss fight. Before that, though, we see one last scene of marital bliss, as papa Kirito goes fishing for the day, and mama Asuna cooks it all up.

I don't want what I'm about to say next to spark a giant flare-up in the forums, but I found one comment from the characters to be particularly interesting. Because there was a period of time in which characters were logged out for a few hours, Kirito and Asuna came to the conclusion that everyone's bodies were presumably in hospitals. Kirito worries that this care won't last forever, but I'm left wondering something else. How were the players even transferred to a hospital? Does the NerveGear run on backup batteries? And, if players are allowed to be disconnected from their internet connections, wouldn't it be smarter to disconnect to prevent them from dying in-game, and just R&D a way out of the NerveGear problem?

I'm just saying.

Sword Art Online has been one of those shows where, if anyone breathes even a whisper of doubt about the central premise, thousands of fans will rush to its defense. I'm not saying this is a bad thing—in fact, it speaks very highly of the mass appeal of the series. Not only are sales of the light novels through the roof, but preorder numbers for the series are remarkably high. Heck, it's one of the series I most look forward to every week. I have my questions and doubts about the series, but the show is extremely entertaining. The cliff-hangers are intense, and the fights are insane, and I'm anxiously awaiting the results of the current boss fight. So yeah, I love the heck out of this show, but that doesn't mean we can't insinuate from time to time that there are aspects of the premise that don't always make sense.

Status: I was entertained by Kirito and Asuna's Home Life Adventures, but I'm glad to see them back on the front lines. At the end of the day, no matter how well-adjusted some of the players are, I still want to see if they'll beat the game or not.

#8 - Hunter x Hunter [ep. 48-49]

Even though Gon and his friends are dealing with some of the most vicious and bloodthirsty villains in the world, I like to think of the last couple of episodes of Hunter x Hunter felt more like the Boxcar Children, where everyone's darting furtively through the streets, looking for clues. Part of this light-heartedness in an otherwise dark arc comes from Gon's continued efforts to make enough money to bid on an old video game. While him and Killua are wandering through the market, they realize that they can sniff out rare goods by looking for items with nen. This leads to a pretty goofy segment where the kids basically go Antiques Roadshowing, flipping their finds to other dealers.

Ultimately, I think I find myself enjoying those sorts of episodes more. I love the serious ones—the ones where characters have to battle Phantom Troupe members, or the ones where Kurapika reveals himself to be an insane nen chain user—but there's something simplistic and charming about watching Gon and his buddies scamper around town buying old pots. Even the lead-up to the Phantom Troupe hideout that involves Gon and Killua tailing two people is old-fashioned fun.

As always, I'm enjoying this series immensely. It's always a good staple at the end of the week, and I've yet to even remotely lose interest in the show.

Status: Consistently good. If you want a solid, long-running series to marathon, Hunter x Hunter is your best bet.

#9 - Kokoro Connect [ep. 12-13]

So… the characters have a little spot of fun with their babysitting gig, bring back some old memories and feelings, but Heartseed 2 gets mad because Taichi spilled the beans on his evil plans. Then things go all sorts of crazy for a while, where everyone spontaneously turns into kids. This prompts Iori to go check on her mom and help her deal with an abusive relationship. And then everything is kind of fixed.

In what is possibly the most trivial, hand-waving case of dealing with domestic abuse ever, Iori says, “Hey mom, he sucks!” And Mom says, “What? You don't like him?” and then pretty much tells him to never come back. Oh, okay, so that's how you break the cycle of abusive relationship. Who knew it just involved checking in with your daughter on whether or not she was super psyched to have a shitty, violent stepdad around. Let's hand out some flyers ASAP.

It feels like the series opened up Iori's past, but either couldn't figure out how to deal with it in a good manner, or simply ran out of time. Maybe if they spent less time focusing on some of the characters who didn't have as much crap going on with their lives, they could spend more time on characters who actually did have a lot of personal problems to work through. Then again, the series also could've spent more time on the Does she?? Doesn't she???? of which girl likes which boy. Maybe in the second season, the kids will spontaneously switch shoes.

Kokoro Connect started off strong, and got even stronger in the middle in the height of the impulse arc, but I feel like it kind of fell apart in the last third. I didn't find much of the kid arc to be compelling at all, and even the conflicts that were resolved felt weak to me. So some guy had unresolved feelings for another girl. Okay. That time could've been parlayed into a more important story, like Iori's family life. However, the story ended up feeling rushed, and it seemed like a lot of things were waved off at the end just to make it to the end of the episode on time. I'm not sure I'm that excited for a second season.

Status: Kokoro Connect shuffled off its path in the end. I would've preferred a little more gravitas in the last conflict, rather than the jokey way it was resolved. Maybe if this were a Tyler Perry movie, Iori's mom would've been armed with a skillet, too.

#10 - Kuroko's Basketball [ep. 25]

The showdown between Kise and Aomine is reaching a sweat-whisking, shoe-stomping, muscle-rippling finale, and everyone has their eyes on this freakishly intense high school basketball game. Who will win?? More importantly, who will be animated in slow-mo next???

As the various characters continue to gasp, “Generation of Miracles!” like they're the collective Second Coming, we see that the breakneck world of high school bball is terrifying shit. Every misstep foretells doom, or something that feels very similar to it, and every wrong fake is cause for despair. Luckily, there's still the winter tournaments a few months down the line, which will undoubtedly be full of new techniques and new superhuman moves. Except Kuroko, of course. We know he'll eventually excel because the show's named after him, but right now, all we see is sad pans of him telling himself he sucks at basketball.

But never fear, soon we'll be back on track for endless game after endless game of high adrenaline basketball. The Generation of Miracles will ride again, and our characters will jump higher than ever before, run faster than humanly possible, and maybe sweat liquid gold. Ideally, this series would eventually end in an epilogue where we see the characters fifteen years later, somberly manning a deserted okonomiyaki stand or repairing old Toyotas.

Status: Kuroko's Basketball is the same as ever. Meaning, it's still ridiculous and campy, but it's still highly entertaining. If you like your anime filled with buff dudes screaming at each other, this is the way to go.

#12 - The Ambition of Oda Nobuna [ep. 12]

You can't really hide from the fact that The Ambition of Oda Nobuna was meant to titillate teenage boys, while quenching their thirst for sexy lady sword action. Every time I thought, “gosh, this series has remarkably little fan service,” something silly would happen. One of the girls would worry about Monkey developing hypothermia and lay her sparsely-clothed body on him. Or, my favorite (after that whopper of a cheesy dream wedding sequences last time), when Oda thinks she's dreaming about seeing Monkey and goes to kiss him, only to have it interrupted with some HYUK HYUK KISS HER!!!! jeering from the sidelines. Sigh.

But despite some of these more eyeroll-inducing moments, my primary complaint has remained the same all season. Things simply happen too fast. Major battles happen in the blink of an eye, injured people spring back to health too quickly, and important, nation-altering decisions are seemingly made on the fly. Maybe the series would've been better paced if the writers only picked a few of the events to focus on. There's a way to make all the ladies still cute/sexy, while writing a solid story. Still, kudos to the team for trying. I have to give them credit for spending more time talking about strategy and Oda's reasons for wanting to be a leader, rather than focusing on Monkey's hunt for a kiss from the prettiest girl in Japan. Good for you, show.

At the end of the day, though, I could give or take The Ambition of Oda Nobuna. If I never thought about it again, I likely would simply forget it existed. It was better than I originally gave it credit for, but not much. It's at least better than some of the other ladies-in-Sengoku-era shows that have come before it. Now that I've said that, let's quietly let this sub-genre die.

Status: Same old fast battles, same old silly dreams about kissing Monkey. Same old stroking of that cracked iPhone.


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