by Nicholas Dupree,
How would you rate episode 9 of
After the bloody events of last episode, both the Trans-America race and Appare-Ranman! decide to take a breather this week, allowing the cast (and audience) to spend some quality time together as they regroup in the nearest supply town. That could have been a bad move given how much energy the last few episodes have managed to build, but thankfully even without any racing or high-stakes drama, AR proves it can still create an incredibly entertaining episode by just letting the cast cut loose.
“Short Break” is more or less a series of short, mostly comedic vignettes as different characters have chance encounters, training sessions, and even a few heart-to-heart moments. Hototo's are probably the most substantive, as he first thanks, then gets some questionable advice from Dylan, who confides a bit in the boy about the mysterious “Claudia” he lost some time in his past. There's also a sweet moment where the Bad Brothers prove to be pretty Good brothers, sharing some pie with the boy and reminding him that what he wants to protect might not always be what he needs to protect, before casually telling him to brush his teeth after the snack. I really have to marvel at how seamlessly Chase and Tristan have shifted from the most obvious antagonists to a gruff but well-meaning outlaw and his sweet, Disney Princess brother. In so many other shows that could feel hollow or ridiculous, but something in AR's delivery just makes it work.
Beyond that, this episode is entirely comic relief, and in embracing the absurdity of its own setting and aesthetic it winds up being one of the funniest, goofiest episodes of anything I've seen all year. Part of that is just the show's commitment to its running gags, like having Appare spend the entire episode muttering to himself about how to complete his hybrid engine as he blindly paces through the whole town, in and out of houses, and even has a run-in with Thomas Edison of all people. It's a broad, cartoony joke that could easily fall flat, but though sharp timing and gradually-building absurdity it manages to nail the landing. The rest of the gags are no less broad, but they work nonetheless by fleshing out the cast and just letting the characters have fun along with the audience. Be it Sofia drinking TJ under the table, Dylan getting and then hiding a haircut after TJ calls him “shabby looking,” or Kosame mistakenly thinking American hot springs are as clothing optional as Japanese onsen, every joke works to make the cast feel like a group of friends who just happen to be competing in a race, and it's infectiously wholesome.
All in all, this episode, along with the preceding two, have made Appare-Ranman! the show I look forward to the most each week. It's (ironically) not reinventing the wheel with anything it's doing, but sharp execution, likable characters, and a rock-solid production have made every episode a blast to watch. There are no doubt darker roads ahead as we enter the final leg of both the show and race, but with how well it's handled itself so far, I'm very much anticipating what the series will pull next.
Appare-Ranman! is currently streaming on Funimation.
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