Episode 15

by Rose Bridges,

How would you rate episode 15 of
Nanbaka ?

I was wondering when Hitoshi was going to show up again. He was a pretty memorable presence at Nanbaka's beginning, and you don't just introduce a character like that and then drop him. Well, here we are, in episode 15—and he wasn't worth the wait.

When a character returns like this, you hope the show will offer a fresh twist on him. I was eager to see a side of Hitoshi that I hadn't seen yet. Unfortunately, with one rather shallow exception, that isn't the case. The first half of "Super Hitoshi-kun" is basically the same two jokes we've already seen, padded out. Hitoshi crossdresses and is nothing like his brother! Hajime is overprotective and doesn't like Hitoshi being here! Lather, rinse, repeat.

In the second half, the show introduces a new gag: Hitoshi's secret strength. It turns out that his small stature and frilly dresses belie the force of a brick wall. Hajime uses his brother like a battering ram to chase out the Building 13 inmates during their latest escape. This leads them to conclude that Hajime and Hitoshi must be related after all. Still, Nanbaka flubs this because it's seconds-long material that gets dragged into minutes. The show simply needs to do more with this character to warrant spotlighting him.

Hitoshi's main character traits so far are that he's innocent, stupid, and dresses like a girl. That doesn't make him much less complex than most of Nanbaka's other cast, but few of them have had feature episodes of their own—when they do, they're built around more than their personalities. The Building 13 inmates apart from Jyuugo are also still shallow, but their episodes featured backstories to try and mitigate that. Hitoshi needs a little more substance to take center stage. Putting him in the middle of a larger, more dramatic plot might work—but not just a series of gags like this week.

For all the gags about Nanbaka being a comedy, it's done its best work in more dramatic episodes. Overall, the show succeeds when it mixes comedic and dramatic tones. These "pure comedy" episodes just aren't working anymore, and "Super Hitoshi-kun" is definitely the weaker of this recent pair. At least last week's installment included a greater variety of jokes. "Super Hitoshi-kun" drags out the same handful of gags over and over. I found it difficult to get through this episode—not something I often feel with this show. Nanbaka isn't always good, but it's always energetic and memorable. It never feels like a chore or a bore, but that's exactly what it felt like this week. It improved for a bit in the second half, but then dive-bombed back into tired crossdressing jokes.

Luckily, it looks like next week brings with it some return to form. The episode ends with some dramatic foreshadowing, and the announcer makes it clear that it's not a fake-out this time. Perhaps we'll have a return to Jyuugo's dramatic plot? That's been the show's strongest material so far, so that would be welcome. Unfortunately, next week could also bring another drawn-out tournament arc. Hopefully this one will be shorter and better-paced. Pacing continues to be this show's biggest problem, but mostly between episodes. "Super Hitoshi-kun" is unique for having poor pacing within one episode.

Regardless of where it goes from here, Nanbaka needs to stop spinning its wheels. The return to comedy was welcome after the first cour took us down some dark corners, but two episodes in, it already feels stale. That doesn't bode well for the show's pacing going forward. If it returns to its comfort zones though, maybe it will pick up.

Rating: C-

Nanbaka is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a music Ph.D. student who loves overanalyzing anime soundtracks. Follow her on her media blog Rose's Turn, and on Twitter.

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