The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Grand Blue Dreaming
How would you rate episode 1 of
Grand Blue ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Well, that was something. I don't know what I was expecting from Grand Blue Dreaming, but “bawdy college comedy starring JoJo-tier lovable giants” certainly wasn't it. Grand Blue is an extremely silly show, but it had me laughing all through its ridiculous first episode. Some shows just understand their own strengths.
Grand Blue Dreaming first introduces to Iori Kitahara, our twenty-year-old protagonist who's moving in with his uncle for college. The show opens strong with an incredibly catchy opening song that basically feels like a self-contained summer vacation, and firmly establishes the show's “we're all going to have an exuberant good time” tone. From there, Iori spends twenty minutes being ruthlessly abused by Tokita and Kotobuki, two extremely giant men who love drinking, enthusiasm, and drinking with enthusiasm.
It'd be almost useless to describe the actual “plot” of this episode, as most of it is basically dedicated to Iori desperately trying to find a pair of pants. Instead, Grand Blue Dreaming procedes more as a collection of ridiculously enthusiastic jabs and longer gags, as it introduces new characters at the pace Iori runs into them. Male nudity is a persistent theme, as are over-the-top Chromartie-style expressions, and also idiocy. I guess that's the show in a nutshell: nudity, idiocy, Chromartie faces, and a whole lot of drinking.
Grand Blue's jokes land for a wide variety of reasons. For one thing, the show is highly energetic throughout, and presents its characters endearingly enough that everything feels like genuine, light-hearted fun. The base designs also help greatly - Tokita and Kotobuki's fundamental massiveness somehow stays funny all through this episode, and the show's expression work is top-notch.
But beyond its aesthetic and tonal qualities, Grand Blue also just understands the relative weight different jokes can be assigned far more than most comedies, as well as the fundamentals of comedic progression. Jokes about Iori trying to find clothes build and iterate on each other, while many of the most absurd segments (like Iori's acquaintance Kohei tearfully acknowledging his harem dreams) are smartly sold entirely through the show's tonal commitment to them, as opposed to anyone actually underlining the joke. And this premiere's finale is a tour de force of comic repetition, as the visual beat of someone lighting a glass of alcohol on fire is reframed and reiterated to the point of absurdity.
On the whole, while Grand Blue Dreaming's animation is only par, and Iori's relationship with his cousin Chisa somewhat bland, the show's understanding of comedy is top notch. “JoJo meets Animal House” isn't something I knew I wanted, but Grand Blue Dreaming is here to provide.
If anything, this summer has reinforced that I'm a total mark for any show that combines “stupid people acting stupid” with “ridiculous and disturbing anime faces”. Asobi Asobase and Grand Blue Dreaming both supposedly revolve around the gentle adventures of a school club, but they're actually about how a bunch of petty idiots waste their time embarrassing themselves and generally making for poor representatives of the human race. It's just that Grand Blue Dreaming has a cast of mostly college-aged men instead of high school girls, so there's much more drinking involved. And nudity. There's a lot more of that too.
Look, I won't pretend that Grand Blue Dreaming's premiere is anywhere near as good as Asobi Asobase's; it's too rough around the edges, and its gags are much more hit-and-miss. We open on a pretty rough start with our hero Iori mistaking his future Diving Club members for psychotic sexual predators, which is a stale gag that's always had homophobia embedded within its premise. Thankfully, the show evens out after that, with Iori quickly realizing that it only takes a couple of drinks to get him to strip down and act a fool, and the embarrassment he suffers because of his own idiocy is much funnier on principle alone. Iori's increasingly sketchy attempts to ask for clothes when he ends up attending his first day of university in his boxers is a great example of a stupid gag that gets repeated just enough times to be funny, and the show's penchant for gleefully over-the-top facial expressions sells the episode's more pedestrian jokes.
If Grand Blue Dreaming has a major Achilles heel, its that it isn't self-aware enough to recognize when a joke has run its course. Late in the episode, Iori engages in a drinking game with his new rival, the pretty-boy otaku Kouhei, and the main running gag of the sequence is that the Diving Club members keep offering the boys copious amounts of liquor instead of the tea and water they ask for, which is given away when one of the boys lights their drink on fire. It's a funny bit the first couple of times around, but Grand Blue runs it into the ground about halfway through the scene, and by the fifth or sixth time it just becomes obnoxious.
Grand Blue Dreaming is a guilty pleasure sort of comedy. It's intensely and intentionally stupid, and it's so willing to indulge in its frat-boy sensibilities that many viewers will understandably run for the hills about halfway through the premiere. For those that stick around though, this could be another worthwhile comedy to add to your summer watch list.
No bones about it: Grand Blue Dreaming is as loud and dumb as the hard-partying college guys who make up the majority of its cast. If its premiere is anything to go by, this is a series that specializes in having its characters make apocalyptically bad decisions and then drawing humor out of the ensuing mayhem. Some of the big jokes in this episode revolve around the main character getting chased down the street by naked dudes, that same protagonist running around a college campus in his underwear, and pretty much every single male character chugging a lifetime's worth of booze. It's not going to be everyone's cup of alcoholic tea, but it does have a few solid moments of humor if you're on board with its particular style.
The opening scene of this episode pulls off an amusing genre switch, not entirely unlike Asobi Asobase but much more abrupt in its transition from slice of life to raucous comedy. After arriving at a beautiful diving shop and wondering listlessly what his college life will be like, Iori opens the door to find a bunch of mostly-naked dudes shouting at the tops of their lungs. It's a fun little riff on some common genre tropes, and it's not the only time the show managed to make me laugh with its antics. Its comedic timing and delivery are sometimes quite good, like when Iori (who is wearing nothing but his boxers at the time) makes eye contact with a classmate wearing an obnoxious anime T-shirt and both characters simultaneously decide that they should “stay away from that guy.” Naturally, the two of them spend the rest of the episode making one another's lives miserable.
In between its more inspired moments, Grand Blue Dreaming is willfully and aggressively dumb. I don't mean that the show is bad so much as it's loud and crude on a constant basis. If you don't enjoy watching characters getting dragged into situations where they inevitably make fools of themselves, you probably won't make it through this episode. The writing also seems to have a habit of repeating a joke one time too many and wearing out whatever humor it had on the first or second telling. Most of the characters have pretty shallow personalities, and the cast's overall balance is skewed towards having too many oddballs and not enough voices of reason to play off of their antics.
Grand Blue Dreaming looks like it might be a decent entry in a comedic sub-genre that tends to be very hit-or-miss. This episode has a couple of inspired moments and the visuals are slightly above average for a comedy series, but I have my doubts about its long-terms prospects. Much like having a drunken roommate, this style of humor tends to be amusing right up until the moment you grow tired of it, and from that point onward it's just annoying. If you can get through a full season without hitting that wall, then it should make for a good time. Otherwise, I'd recommend bailing out as soon as the jokes start to wear thin.
So allegedly this is a series about a diving club. However, this first episode has very little to do with diving or any other semblance of what you might expect from a club-focused series. Instead it presents a raucous tale of the protagonist's rude introduction to the hard partying side of college life. Whether that's for better or worse is a matter for debate.
In some respects, the series follows a pattern established long ago in the heyday of the Ah! My Goddess franchise, with two muscle-bound seniors partying it up in the club that our protagonist joins in college. Just imagine how that scenario would have played out without a Belldandy to moderate things and you pretty much have Grand Blue Dreaming. Things get extreme enough that the producers felt the need to put a warning that forced and underage drinking are not behaviors that anyone should be engaging in, as if what happens to Iori isn't warning enough. Of course, Iori has no one but himself to blame for some of his woes, as his horrible way of phrasing things not only gets himself into deeper trouble but also drives a wedge further between him and his cousin.
The first episode at least mostly succeeds at making up for all its crassness and lack of actual diving content by regularly being funny. I may have chuckled more at this episode than any other debut so far this season, whether it was Iori getting chased around by the naked guy, his reaction to meeting the otaku guy, or the whole business about lighting drinks on fire to prove that they're alcoholic. I wasn't as thrilled about the artistry's obsession with distorted faces, but I'm growing to accept that as just a comedic device that doesn't work for me. This also looks like it's going to be an equal-opportunity series when it comes to fanservice, as it features buff or bishie guys stripped down but also promises lots sexy young ladies in bikinis. (There's also a suggestion that the older female cousin might not-so-secretly be in love with the younger female cousin, so make of that what you will.) Artistic and technical merits are better-than-average for a gag series but nothing exceptional overall.
I'm told that the entire first volume of the manga is stuff like the first episode of the anime, so if you're looking for a series that's actually going to focus on diving, this might not be for you – at least for now, anyway. But if you're merely looking for a raucous comedy, then you could certainly do worse.
If you're expecting a serious show about diving, Grand Blue Dreaming is not it. That's not to say that it won't get there, especially since the second episode's title makes it sound as if some of the other non-diving shenanigans from the manga's first volume may be skipped past, but it is emphatically not the plot of this episode. Instead this is a purportedly comedic story about Iori, a twenty-year-old newly-minted college student who has just come to live at his uncle's dive shop due to its proximity to his school. He immediately falls prey to the raucous members of the school's dive club (bafflingly named Peek-a-Boo), and then he spends the rest of the episode being pressured into drinking to excess and generally making a terrible start to his college career.
Basically I ran into the exact same problem with this episode that I had with the manga back during the Spring Manga Preview Guide: I didn't find it funny. Instead the total lack of attention paid to what Iori himself actually wanted, the secondhand embarrassment suffered by his cousin Chisa, and the general obnoxiousness of the club guys all became overwhelming to the point where I just wanted the episode to end. The only diving we see is in the opening theme. That does look decent, however, so if scuba diving does become a bigger part of the story going forward, there may be some beautiful underwater scenery to enjoy.
In the meantime, there's fanservice. Somewhat unusually, this is primarily naked (or mostly naked) men, with the only two shots of females are women in bikini tops taking off their wetsuits. That's kind of nice, especially because Chisa (the first such woman) doesn't immediately freak out and call Iori a pervert because he's watching her take off her wetsuit from the porch. There is a lot of censoring of the male nudity in the form of large black circles over their groins even when we technically wouldn't be able to see anything, so that's presumably also supposed to be part of the humor. In any event, there's plenty of beefcake to be seen if that's your thing.
If you go into Grand Blue Dreaming's first episode without the expectation of a story about diving, you may be better off. It isn't my sense of humor, but if you're a fan of boisterous comedies about unruly college guys (and I suppose an Animal House reference wouldn't be entirely amiss here), this may be worth your time.
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