The Stream
All That Jazz

by Bamboo Dong,

Beloved readers, The Stream is back. Thank you all for your patience over the months, as I know this column has a been a little more irregular than in previous seasons. I wasn't expecting my cold from last month to have such a butterfly effect, but when there's a metric ton of simulcasts in one season, I feel the effects for a while. Now that we're nearing the magical part of the season where everything is gearing up for its respective finale, everything is going to get a lot more exciting soon. Be gone, filler episodes, and bring on the fun!

Also, now that summer convention season is upon us, I'll be headed to a few West Coast conventions in the upcoming months. If you happen to be at AM2, AX, or SDCC, I hope that we'll have a chance to meet! Then we can talk about anime until our faces melt.

Let's dive in.


#1 - Kids on the Slope [ep. 6-9]

Music plays an enormous part in this series, and it is a genuine blessing that Yoko Kanno is involved in this project. Not only is it the driving force of many of the character interactions—most of Kaoru and Sentaro's interpersonal connections are forged through emotion-packed jam sessions—but it's also a gift to those of us tired of listening to the same plinky anime incidental music.

There's a school festival that inadvertently becomes the catalyst for Kaoru's skyrocketing popularity with the girls. He initially feels left out because he feels abandoned by Sentaro, who agrees to play in a classmate's pop cover band, but in a moment that can only be described as joyous and liberating, he lights up the festival when he and Sen perform an impromptu duet. As their hurt feelings melt away, audiences are reminded again of just how much can be said with absolutely no words at all. If that sounds mostly like sentimental slop, then one only needs to keep watching the next couple of episodes, where music is used not only as a vehicle for anger and frustration, but also bravado, hurt feelings, and forgiveness. In every case, the emotions are conveyed flawlessly, and each time, nothing is said.

As Kids on the Slope progresses, it eschews its formerly simplistic themes of friendship and teenage love in favor of more complex and adult themes. Folded in are the sour tastes of the real world and life outside of high school, from life-changing decisions, to the sordid matter of growing up. What's always made Kids on the Slope so universally relate-able is that even though the main characters are high schoolers, they tackle problems we've almost all faced in our lifetimes. Whether we look back at them with nostalgia or bitterness, they're there for us to re-live, and the series does a magnificent job of vividly reenacting all of them.

The more I watch Kids on the Slope, the more I cement my love for the series. It's always been a solid show from day one, but as it explores more intricate situation and emotions, it shows its enormous capacity to grow with the audience.

Status: This is the series to beat this season. There are others that are equally entertaining, but few as good, and I look forward to it every week.


#2 - Space Brothers [ep. 9-11]

It's easy to forget that amongst the wide-eyed wonder and glamour of space travel, astronauts are hurtling themselves through space at 18,000 miles per hour. They get to see things that few will have the privilege to experience in their lifetimes, but it all comes at great sacrifice. For the first time, all of that slowly sinks into Mutta's head when he accidentally finds Hibito's hidden stash of wills. Then, through conversations with some of the other JAXA applicants, he realizes just how much rides on a solitary space mission. And if that doesn't plant the idea of death into his head… well, the introductory video that the JAXA applicants are given before their third test surely does.

I appreciate that Space Brothers takes viewers down this path and raises these ideas—like Mutta, we rarely think about the downside of space travel—the long missions, the risk, the fact that you expend so much of your life on the chance to pursue your dreams and go to space. This is a series for enthusiasts who have a deep love for actual, real-life space exploration, more so than just the passing admiration for science fiction-glamorized intergalactic travel. I think it's one thing to think about how sweet it would be to pilot a spaceship, but another to fantasize about dropping everything for a shot at the stars. Space Brothers fulfills that latent desire and rekindles those old feelings for every adult who's ever wanted to be an astronaut when they were a kid.

There's a fabulous book by Mary Roach called Packing for Mars which talks about some of the trials and tribulations that astronauts go through—not only in the selection process, but also the agony of being wait-listed for missions. I kept being reminded of it during Mutta's celebration party, during which he learns Serika's reason for wanting to board the ISS, despite its imminent closure. It was a sobering episode, not only for Mutta, but also for me, and I appreciate that the series is able to shelve its comedic tendencies when it needs to. For those curious, Packing for Mars actually also has a really great chapter on one of JAXA's selection exams—fittingly, it's remarkably similar to the situation that Mutta and his fellow applicants find themselves in for the third exam. In real life, JAXA applicants are indeed asked to live in confined quarters and carry out various tasks. Not only does it evaluate the psychological states of the trainees in stressful situations, but also plays a fair amount of head games—if an applicant serves others food first, he may be seen as a team player, but weak; if he serves himself first, he may be a leader, but selfish.

We find at the end of the eleventh episode another frustrating cliff hanger, but it only confirms how engaging Space Brothers can be. Every episode leaves you wanting more, partly because you want to know what's in store for the applicants, but also simple curiosity about how Mutta's brain works. He's a fascinating character and charming in his simplicity. I hope the series takes its sweet, sweet time with this third exam, as I think it could provide for excellent entertainment. Given the stipulations about what the trainees have to do at the end of the exam, too, I think we're in for a lot of great character writing.

Status: The past few episodes made me love the series even more. I've always loved its awkward humor, especially when it comes to Mutta, but this most recent episode made me realize that the series has a lot more going for it than just laughs. Definitely a must-see.


#3 - Polar Bear Cafe [ep. 8-10]

It's official—Polar Bear is the best cast member on Polar Bear Cafe. His humor, once centered mostly around puns, has evolved into this bizarre, surreal flavor of comedy that also involves straight-faced comments about killing seals, S&M, and long, elaborate (and made up) stories about hardship and suffering. Whatever he is, he's certainly not boring. If ever you thought he was the straitlaced one, then you need to catch up on the most recent slew of episodes. What a hoot.

Week after week, Polar Bear Cafe continues to get better. The humor gets wittier and edgier, and the characters settle more comfortably into their grooves. Now that the writers have figured out a way to set the world and all the players, everyone is free to play up their character quirks. Panda, as it turns out, is kind of an asshole, and loves only himself. He's incredibly adorable, but he damned well knows it, and it makes him the jerk you can't help but like. The way he mercilessly snubs male panda aficionados, but plays up the fanservice for cute women is a riot; in his defense, Rin Rin's obsession with pandas—given that animals are accepted as part of normal society—is borderline creepy. It's this constant tug-of-war between the self-aware animal cuteness and the artificial construct of a talking animal-inhabited world that gives this show the kind of awkward, mildly dark sense of humor that makes it so incredibly funny. There are times that, ten episodes later, I still can't get over that Panda works part-time in a zoo as a panda, which is completely sinister.

The fact of the matter is, despite its name and character designs and first impressions, Polar Bear Cafe is not the cute, cuddly sugar-fest that we all, myself included, originally thought it would be. I'm really glad this series is being simulcast.

Status: Polar Bear Cafe is on a short list of shows that I actively look forward to during the week, and make a point of watching the day of release. Also, can we talk about how amazing that Spoonbill editor was?


#4 - Lupin III - The Woman Called Fujiko Mine [ep. 7-10]

In a swirl of disturbing imagery, thick smudges of ink, and lots of creepy owl people, the latest episode of Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine brings it all back to the first episode, when she infiltrated a cult that uses hallucinogenic drugs on its members. I want to focus specifically on this most recent episode because, aside from the standalone episodes inevitably receiving the, “Lots of fun; keeps up the high standards!” label, this one is particularly cool. Not only is it nice to see the series wrapping back to an earlier story, but it raises some interesting questions about Fujiko's past. Then again, considering that half of the episode is told through the lens of a very drug-addled Lupin, it's hard to say for sure what's real and what isn't.

What makes The Woman Called Fujiko Mine so inescapably interesting, more so than its animated predecessors, is that it's quite dark—not only in its sinewy character designs, but also in its subject material. Aside from the obvious sex (this is a series about Fujiko Mine, after all), the story isn't afraid to get rough and uncomfortable. This is especially true in episode ten, where Fujiko's past is revealed to be one of turmoil and tragedy. What exactly happened is unclear, but whatever it is, it's not pleasant, and I'm interested to know how she copes with her past.

I'm not really sure if the series will continue on this arc, or how long this arc will last, but I'm really happy for the change-up from the standalones. Like I said, the standalones are great fun, but it's nice to have an overarching storyline—especially one that's as eerie and revealing as this Fraulein Eule arc.

Status: I've enjoyed this series all along, but this last episode, “Ghost Town,” really blew me away. It shows that the series is definitely capable of stringing together a sustainable story, and its unexpected grit is a thrill. I can't wait for next week.


#5 - Fate/Zero [ep. 20-23]

Gosh, talk about epic. Fate/Zero is not pulling any punches as it hurtles towards the finale. The characters are still dropping like flies as we get closer to the final battle, but not without the teary farewell scenes owed to them. With each episode chock full of eye dazzling battles and background music that will eat your heart out, episode after episode already feels like that moment at the end of a fireworks show where everything's being thrown into the sky.

I suspect some animation fans might cringe a little bit at the flagrant use of CGI, which occasionally sticks out like a bruised thumb, but it certainly makes an impact—especially now that all the characters are pulling out their best attacks. I mean, if you thought the crazy battles near the front end of the show were grandiose, these last few episodes will drop your jaw at the sheer creativity and magnitude of it all.

Fate/Zero is pure action fanservice at this point, and it's great. Sure, every now and again it'll pull out some big talk and philosophical ideas for viewers to chew over, but as of late, it feels like throwing your eyeballs down the aisle of a candy store. Some of the battle setups are a little questionable—I really didn't need to spend almost an entire episode watching Saber riding a motorcycle—but the series completely makes up for it when she faces her next few enemies.

It's hard to pick just one favorite fight since so many of them are memorable. I'm just glad that each new episode continues to be inventive. Each battle is imaginative and unique, and I'm glad I'm along for the ride.

Status: Candy for the eyes and ears, Fate/Zero's final crescendo is one of the treats of every week. It's steamrolling toward the finale at a breakneck pace, and I'm enjoying it.


#6 - Tsuritama [ep. 6-9]

Imagine that. A series that started out about a boy who was afraid to make friends, and an alien who only wanted to have fun, and a boy who only cared about fishing... ended up with invasions galore. Invasions by some kind of (government?) organization suited in giant, squeaky, rubber duck (bunny??) suits who are forbidding the Enoshima residents to use water, and to hunt down the now-missing Haru. Their reasoning is that some foreign organism is using water to control people by making them dance and otherwise enjoy mirth. Somehow, boats are also disappearing. Whether it's actually some kind of alien microbe, or some bizarre analogy for the infectious nature of happiness, I'm not quite sure, but it's an unexpected turn of events.

Despite its... mysterious and not wholly pleasant twist, there are still good moments that shine through the ridiculousness. Through a conversation with his grandmother, Yuki realizes how much Haru meant to him as a true friend. That he even opened up at all was due in part to having a friend, and it's an upbeat message. Tsuritama is full of upbeat messages, even though it tells them in unconventional ways. A few episodes back, there was one minor scene that stuck out to me in a big way. When a girl calls Yuki, he starts to stammer and lose himself, but he recovers an instant later. The scene lasted maybe half a minute long, but it was pivotal in the development of his character.

Visually, one thing that struck me as I was watching this series is that the backgrounds remind me a lot of paint-by-number kits. The landscapes are shaded in contoured chunks of solid colors. It helps give everything a bright, cartoony sheen, and it goes well with the rest of the art design in the series. If the backdrops were colored any other way, I don't know that the series would've been able to get away with the yellow rabbit suits.

Watching Tsuritama has been a wild ride. I initially fell in love with it because of the human elements of the story. I certainly wasn't expecting the alien element to be such a dominant aspect, but I guess I should've known better. I'm curious to see where this will go.

Status: Well, I'm in too deep now. Honestly, I don't know if I would've liked this series so much if it had pulled out the rabbit suits earlier, but now I'm kind of stuck.


#7 - Bodacious Space Pirates [ep. 20-23]

There's a really great short story by Isaac Asimov called "Old-fashioned" that always reminds me of why I deeply love Golden Era science fiction (back when science fiction still had "science" in it). In the story, two astronauts are trapped in a situation where their spaceship and communications systems are damaged near a black hole. To call for help, one of them throws rocks at the black hole, using the resulting x-ray bursts to spell out "SOS" in Morse code.

I was reminded of this when I was watching the Nebula Cup portion of Bodacious Space Pirates. At some point, mayhem breaks loose and Marika is tasked with the duty of protecting the racers from a gunship. Because they're left only with the use of their main beam cannon, they need to combine their artillery know-how with one of the racer's information about wind direction to track down their target. It's scenes like that which make me appreciate Bodacious Space Pirates. There have been a few similar moments throughout the series (the Bentenmaru's efforts to escape the time quake en route to the ghost ship, for instance), whose scientific bearings may or may not be entirely accurate, that try to solve problems in a unique way. I appreciate that not everything is solved with a few direct pew-pews of a super giant mega blaster, and that some semblance of ingenuity is required.

My heart soared in the subsequent episodes with the sudden introduction of pirate hunters. Basically, there are ships under the command of the Galactic Empire that are targeting pirate ships in order to try out their new secret weapons. The Bentenmaru has personally encountered two such ships, and even though they've also tried their best to aid other pirate ships who've been attacked, their efforts are not enough. Now Marika and Chiaki must re-convene a pirate council to stop these hunters. If this is the track that the series is going to take leading up to the finale, then I am one happy duck.

In the last column I wrote, I bemoaned that Bodacious Space Pirates didn't make enough use of the past it had written for itself, regarding the historic strife between the Galactic Empire, the rebellious colonies, and the various pirate ships that participated in the war. Now it is, and I couldn't be happier. When Marika visited the Legendary Chef's son and heard the comm crackle to life, I could've leaped for joy. I have a soft spot for any sort of rallying cry in any kind of movie or TV show, and this was immensely satisfying for me. I love large orchestrations of people fighting under a common banner, and I was overjoyed that the series was finally utilizing the backdrop it had crafted for itself in the prologue. This series had enormous potential for a grander story, and I feel like it's now finally realizing that potential. I was seriously getting bored with the endless trivial missions that the Bentenmaru and the yacht club were embarking on, but this new arc is full of promise. It's about time the big, bad Galactic Empire was brought to the surface, and it's about time we got to see the true “power” of the pirates that's been verbally invoked the entire series but never actually seen. It's about damned time we got some pirating up in here.

Status: I have been reinvigorated by episode 23. I was slumping pretty hard about Bodacious Space Pirates and its lack of any drama, but it seems as though things are kicking into high gear. I can't wait to see this out.


#8 - Sankarea [ep. 4-8]

A couple weeks ago, my roommate and her boyfriend were hanging out in the living room while I was plowing through a backlog of anime. Of all the shows that I watched, they were all the most intrigued by Sankarea. Mind you, neither of them typically watch anime, but they were immediately drawn to Sankarea because it was “weird” and “funny.” Looking over this season's offerings, I can see how it would pull in casual viewers. The colors are bright and cheery, the inherent premise is quirky and new, and it's got a sense of humor that isn't replicated too often in either Eastern or Western entertainment.

There are lots and lots of zombie shows and movies out there, but a romantic comedy about zombies? That's different. And that's what makes the show so easy to watch. There are serious aspects to the series that level it out—the entire reason why Rea is even dead is because of extremely troubled relations with her father, who continues to be a bother in her (after)life, but it's surprisingly light-hearted despite that. For a zombie, Rea is super cute. I never thought I'd type that sentence in my entire life, but I just did. And because the characters are all cute and loveable, and the overall vibe of the show is that of a cheery romantic comedy, it makes Sankarea a good vehicle for some of its more dramatic elements. It's a good balance of both, and that may be what makes this show so easy to swallow for new viewers.

As much as I've been enjoying watching the dynamic between Chihiro and Rea, I am looking forward to seeing what happens next after the mall episode. Whatever is going on between Rea and her father is obviously not over, and I am curious to see where this story is going.

Status: Still going strong. This is one of the more enjoyable series to watch every week. It doesn't require much thought at all, but it's engaging, and that's one of the best qualities a show can have.


#9 - Dusk Maiden of Amnesia [ep. 7-10]

Damn. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia really changed its tune after the school festival episode, which was kind of a sociological teaser for what comes next. As Teiichi and the rest of the Paranormal Investigations Club try to figure out Yuuko's past, they start having problems with Shadow Yuuko, the split personality that embodies everything hateful and evil about Yuuko. As Shadow Yuuko grows stronger, though, Yuuko herself changes, losing her memories of the club members and fading away from everyone's collective memories. Along the way, Teichii discovers a memorial tablet that chronicles exactly what happened to the town sixty some years ago, including the fate of Yuuko. What's revealed is bone-chilling and depressing.

If that revelation doesn't curdle your blood, then episode ten will, when Teichii relives the last days of Yuuko's life through her eyes. Before I get into that, I wish this series would go for half an episode without breaking it up with a cheesy, “Oh no! Boobies! Mustn't look!" joke, because it really detracts from scenes of people dying. But aside from that, this is a really cool episode. It'd be one thing to just show Yuuko's final moments, but it's another to draw everything from this quasi-fish lens perspective. It gives everything a hazy, dream-like quality, and it's a really nifty way to retell a story. It makes everything twice as spooky

I'm really happy that Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has taken a really dark turn. It was reasonably cute for the first half of the series, with the quirky ghost and her ghost-seeing buddies, but now things are really interesting. It's still cheesy at times, but I appreciate it for trying new things. Having Teichii experience Yuuko's memories in the setting of an abandoned theater was cool, and I hope the next episode is just as unique.

Status: The last few episodes have definitely injected new life into the series. No pun intended, of course, because that would be mega dark and kind of messed up! If you've fallen off the Dusk Maiden train, episode seven might be a good place to jump back on again.


#10 - Hunter x Hunter [ep. 32-34]

The cruelty that both Gon and Killua are capable of is often overshadowed by their goofy exteriors. We all know that Killua can be a heartless killer, but his relaxed friendship with Gon hides his nature. Even in the way he casually tosses aside his past softens it a bit. When he fights Riehvelt, he shrugs off a million volts of electroshock as “part of [his] torture training.” One needs only to pause for a second to reflect what a terrible statement that is, and what he's gone through. Even Gon, with his cheeseball personality, is a total shark on the tournament floor, but we forget his bone crushing and limb snapping the second he sticks his tongue out in jest.

The duel-sided nature of these protagonists is part of what makes Hunter x Hunter more palatable than your typical shonen tournament arc. Oftentimes, characters can be so black and white that the tournaments feel like they're just there to fill up space. In the case of Hunter x Hunter, each fight feels like another building block in Gon and Killua's lives. They grow not only as Hunters, but also as young adults, and it adds an extra layer to each fight. As a viewer, it makes me want to follow their adventures further, and there's a reason that even after 34 episodes, I'm just as excited for this show as I was at the beginning.

Also, Gon is about to fight Hisoka soon, which is going to be amazing.

Status: Keep this truck rolling, show! Hunter x Hunter always feels shorter than its runtime, and that's how you know you're having fun.


#11 - Kuroko's Basketball [ep. 7-10]

Part of the reason Kuroko's Basketball is so riveting to watch is because there are constant fake-outs that falsely signify the end of the episode. Even if you don't consciously think about it, your entertainment viewing habits have tuned you to pick up these signals. The music crescendos in a certain way, dialogue is punctuated by certain inflections, speed lines are drawn in a specific manner—these are all various cues that shows typically use to denote cliffhangers. Only in Kuroko's Basketball, these fake-outs happen every few minutes. Each scene ends with a cliffhanger-esque moment, only to carry through to the next scene.

What that results in is a show where you're constantly at the edge of your seat, wondering if the tension will be resolved. More importantly, every scene feels more important than it really is, and every two-pointer feels like the game changer. It's a really clever tactic for a show about basketball, a sport that is inherently difficult to sustain drama over several episodes because it's such a high-scoring game. A one point shot is going to matter a lot less in a game where teams routinely score upwards of 50-some points or more.

Originally, I was put off by Kuroko's Basketball's endless back-to-back games because it left little room to highlight other aspects of the sport, like team building or strategy sessions. As this pattern wore on, though, I find myself forgiving it more and more, simply because I was so entertained by these high-stake games. Yes, I'd like to see more time spent off the court and more rapport established between the players, but I'm too busy being entertained by Kuroko's ridiculous swipe passes. That his passes are always illustrated with a swooshing blue arc is pretty campy, but one can't deny that it ups the drama factor. Plus the series is doing better about explaining the characters' thought processes mid-game, although I'd still rather an episode off the court every now and then.

Gripes aside, Kuroko's Basketball is good, silly fun. Its energy level is always at 200%, and it does a really good job of maintaining suspense over every episode. In fact, maybe it's a mixed blessing that the series never spends any time outside of games, because it would lose a lot of momentum. As it is, it's always barreling forward at a hundred miles an hour, and whether you like basketball at all, if you like the thrill ride of sports anime, you'll want to give this a shot.

Status: I'll admit it. I just like Kuroko's magical blue arcs of doom. More shows need to have ridiculous, over-illustrated motion lines. It would make the world a better place.


#12 - Medaka Box [ep. 7-10]

Medaka is not quite what we expected—neither the series, nor the titular character. While the first several episodes largely paint the series as a happy-go-lucky mission-based comedy where Medaka and the rest of the Student Council members endlessly take on do-good tasks, this is quickly upset with the introduction of the Disciplinary Committee. It starts off innocuously enough—one of the DisCom members is continuously infuriated by the way the Student Council flouts school rules, but she's impressed by the obvious love that the student body has for Medaka. Then DisCom chairman Unzen gets involved, and things really spiral out of control. Before the audience is aware of what's happening, the aimless comedy of Medaka Box turns into something much darker and way more action-packed.

I had heard that Medaka Box undergoes a series of genre shifts over the tenure of its existence, but I have to admit I'm not as blown away by the first shift as I should be. Sure, it's neat that the series abruptly changes tone and throws a handful of curveballs at viewers, but aside from the shock factor, it doesn't necessarily make Medaka Box a better show. It just makes it different. The writing doesn't really improve, nor does the still-ugly animation, although one does have to appreciate the newfound reasons why Medaka is so keen on helping others.

It's hard not to love Medaka's apparently pathological need to assist others. It adds an extra layer to all those peppy-girl-does-tasks-for-free anime out there. She's zealous for it, and it's definitely in contrast to who (/what?) she is—complete with a hair color-changing power-up. It juxtaposes her wonderfully with Unzen, and it brings out a side to her that's much more fun than what we've seen up to this point. Like I said, though, aside from the mild excitement that comes from plot twists, I'm not quite ready to get overhyped about Medaka Box just yet. If anything, the shift almost feels like a cheap diversion to keep fans on their toes, but if this signals a more compelling, over-arching story that stays true in its ability to be both complex and interesting, then it may very well be worth it.

Status: Obviously I'm not going to stop watching the show now that Medaka's a powered-up demon woman, but I can't help but feel like I'm being jerked around a little bit. For now, though, it's worth keeping an eye on, and this new change in tone couldn't have come at a better time.


#13 - Zetman [ep. 7-10]

So get this. Way back in the day, when humans were genetically experimenting on synthetic life forms, and bioboosters, and whatever else goes bump in the lab, there was a glitch in the program that turned their NET experiment into ZET by flipping the N horizontally. A computer program somehow switched a letter… that somehow created one of the most powerful beings on Earth. Don't ask me to explain it. In fact, even the characters on the show can't explain it, because at least twice or three times per episode, someone will throw their hands in the arm and exclaim, “Even I don't understand this!”

Regardless of the reason, we are now graced with the badass that is Zetman, who can transform into a mega-powerful super hero, tasked with the thankless job of protecting the world against monstrous EVOLs. These beings are so unsatisfied with their lot in life that they lash out in a major way, in yet another scene that shows that Zetman definitely loves the sight of blood. Meanwhile, Kouga is being forced by some sociopath to work his way through a labyrinthian test, complete with terrible murder rooms and evil robots.

Basically, Zetman is still as messed up as ever, and still as hard to tear your eyes away from. It's the kind of show that's pure action candy, in that you can't stop watching, even though you're fully aware of the niggling sense that the series doesn't really make that much sense. True, the linear chronology of these past several episodes makes it easier to follow than the first few, but it's still plagued by bad pacing. The story elements jump around frenetically from thread to thread, and it feels a lot more like a disjointed set of separate stories than one cohesive arc. Even when each thread is resolved, the consequences barely carry through to future ones, making the show feel choppy.

For what it's worth, though, it is very difficult to want to stop watching Zetman. It's dark and disturbing, but surprisingly pretty. The character designs are grotesque but sexy, and everything has a masculine polish to it. Even as the story falls apart, one can't help but gawk, and I think that's what's keeping this train rolling.

Status: Seriously, there is so much rape and murder in this show, it's kind of cuckoo. It makes you squirm, and it makes you uncomfortable, but you can't stop watching. It's true that humans just can't peel their eyes from horror and tragedy.


#14 - Upotte!! [ep. 7-10]

Having all the girls be guns actually makes it easier for the show to put a new spin on old tropes. We've all seen the school festival scene a billion times, but when everyone is an assault rifle, it's a lot more entertaining. Instead of watching the girls go gaga over takoyaki or noodles, they can go nuts over gun parts. Instead of watching them set up a lame school plays, you can watch them set up a camel farm for desert-simulated combat zones. Instead of boring old maid cafes, they can serve military rations or food from their respective regions.

Even the hackneyed beach episode is more enjoyable, because it devolves into a literal gun fight. The girls are confronted with a mysterious enemy that lures them into a fight in the town's shopping district. Though masked, the girls can identify them through their guns' characteristics. Because this show is inherently so ridiculous, it has a leeway in what it can get away with. Because its premise is so fast and loose, it has the luxury of being able to make episodes that are totally bonkers. What other show can turn bikini fests into a warzone? It doesn't have to be realistic, because it's only purpose for existence is to blindly entertain. There's even a goofy but clever scene where the girls trash talk each other by shooting out various shop signs.

When I watch anime, I have different criteria for the shows that I watch. If a show wants to be taken seriously, I will judge it with a different lens than a show like Upotte!, which makes no pretense about being taken seriously. Intent matters a lot.

My main complaint is still that Upotte! is depressingly ugly at times. I don't know if they farmed out most of the animation to an overseas studio somewhere, or they just don't care about the quality of an ONA, but the girls look stumpy and weird 80% of the time. Unless they're just standing around, their bodies are blocky and awkward, like the animators weren't entirely sure what human thighs look like. It's distracting. You'd think with a show that's mostly fanservice, they'd be more discerning about what the girls look like, but it doesn't actually play out that way.

Sadly, I believe this series is only slated to run for ten episodes. It's been fun, though, and it's probably good to have the show end where it does. There's a television series slated to come out next month, so hopefully we'll be able to add that to the summer lineup.

Status: I enjoyed Upotte! a lot, and I'm sad it had to end. It had a bit of a throwaway ending, like they weren't quite sure how to make the girls “grow,” but it was a good run. I learned some things along the way, and I'm looking forward to the TV series.


#15 - Mysterious Girlfriend X [ep. 7-10]

Look, I get it. Your teenage years are awkward. You do dumb things, you make dumb choices. Relationships are weird. But that doesn't mean you need to continue with this spit thing. Okay, the spit thing was weird and new at first, but now I kind of wish it would go away, because it's legitimately starting to ruin a pleasant show.

As an allegory for sex, perhaps, or just the vague notion of “intimacy,” I understand the role that saliva has in Mysterious Girlfriend X. Tsubaki is tempted by the drool of other girls, especially when his middle school crush reappears in his life, but he resists because Urabe tells him it's their special bond. So of course, now the ex-crush wants desperately to get her sloppy, viscous finger in Tsubaki's mouth, and is going to do everything she can to break up Tsubaki and his new beau. These are all very common romantic drama plot trajectories. It's a tried and true path to walk down, and it'll guarantee some drama, fights, tears, and making up.

But this spit! It's gotta stop! Every time I think, “Hey, I really like this show now! I relate to it!” someone has to wave around a finger covered in spit the thickness of a bologna slice. It's past the point where the spit may or may not be this magical substance. It no longer is. Right now, Mysterious Girlfriend X is just your standard awkward teenage romance—which I appreciate, by the way—except also covered in a film of wet, wet drool.

Also, hey, tip to boys. If you steal a strand of a girl's hair, and then take it home and keep it in a plastic capsule, and smell it every now and then—for goodness sake, please keep that information to yourself. That is creepy.

I struggle a lot with how I feel about this series. For a few weeks, I was very forgiving of the spit aspect because I appreciated that the series was fairly realistic in its portrayals of the struggle of young romance. Even now, I appreciate that the couple has to deal with issues of trust and misunderstanding and broken communication, but come on. The spit isn't magical anymore. It's just some strained metaphor. If I could erase it from the show, I would.

Status: Yeah, yeah, I know we're all tired of talking about spit, but it is really damned hard to see the forest for the trees when they're all dripping with drool. It's like watching a movie through grease smeared glasses.


#16- Accel World [ep. 8-9]

Accel World has kind of morphed into a blasé action adventure story, where Haru and his chums now just want to be strong and do strong things. Their goal these days is to keep leveling up and keep gathering whatever points they need so they can be the baddest kids on the internet. The most recent set of episodes is particularly generic, when they chance upon this little girl who is none other than the Red King, an online handle which I think was meant to sound more menacing than it does. She heads a different faction of internet fighters.

The reason she's hunted down the Scooby Crew is because one of her cohorts is being possessed by some old, buggy armor left by a previous user, and is now attacking everyone. Because the series doesn't really go out of its way to outline what happens to users in real life after they get hit by this guy in virtual world, it seems fairly trivial and inconsequential. I'm sure the real world consequences are more dire, but unless things like that are made clear in shows like these, they have a way of not mattering. Even at the end of her spiel, she says to the others that if she betrays them in the e-world, they can just come after her in real life. This of course begs the question, why not just go after the possessed guy in real life and steal his internet cables, or whatever?

I apologize to Accel World fans for trivializing the events in this series, but it's really not written in a way to invoke any kind of concern or sympathy for the characters. The actions and reactions in the show don't feel like they matter, because the series doesn't spend enough time really playing up any negative effects. Whereas the beginning of the series showed the various real life applications of being a Burst Linker—being able to slow down time and stick up for yourself to bullies—now, it kind of just feels like watching people play a video game.

I think I will give Accel World one more episode, because I'm curious to see if anything dire will come out of this new “possessed super armor” gig, but I'm starting to think my time is better spent playing video games of my own.

Status: My interest in Accel World has been steadily waning over the season, but now it's barely hanging on. The characters aren't interesting, and nothing they do really seems important.


#17 - Eureka 7 AO [ep. 5-8]

The disclaimer is, I like Eureka 7 AO just fine. I just wish I was watching all of the episodes all at once, with the entire box set in front of me. Chopping it up into episodes makes it harder for me to sustain interest in what's going on from week to week. Because each week only offers one sporadic battle here, one new Plant Coral there, and another Secret elsewhere, it feels more disjointed than if one was marathoning the show. This isn't the fault of the series, per se, but as a weekly viewing experience, it feels flat. I find I spend more time trying to remember what happened leading up to each episode than actually enjoying it.

Every now and again, Eureka 7 AO dabbles in the arenas that I like best—prying into the character's pasts, like why Fleur resents her father, and all those little things that show you what makes each person tick. I like my mecha action scenes too, but unless I feel connected to the characters, I find that I have a harder time caring about who's in the cockpit. However, I don't think Eureka 7 AO really does this enough—especially when it comes to Ao, whose story will likely still be revealed throughout the series—but with such a large cast, more needs to be done to pull in viewers.

Although this may seem like a copout, what I want to say is, I plan on shelving Eureka 7 AO onto my “To Watch” list at some point in the future. I'd rather marathon the entire series when it's reached its completion, rather than battle with resurrecting my interest week after week. It shouldn't be a struggle wanting to watch a show every week, so when I get to that point, I know it's time to drop it. At least for now.

Status: I have to drop Eureka 7 AO. I liked the original series, and there's enough going in this follow-up to make me want to revisit it again in the future, but I'm finding it hard to sustain my interest on a weekly basis.


#18 - Jormungand [ep. 6-9]

Ah, Jormungand, the only show where everyone has a totally ripped six pack, including the child soldier. Well, technically arms dealer Koko doesn't have one, but absolutely everyone else has abdominals that look like those things you walk on to massage your feet. It's kind of grotesque.

Then again, aesthetics were never Jormungand's strong suit, with its creepy white eyelash character designs, and characters who look like they strolled out of a skull shrinker. What is Jormungand's strong suit is the presence of firearms… and there are a lot of them. After all, it is a show about an arms dealer and her bevy of bodyguards. Naturally, the characters often find themselves in standoffs, firefights, and chase scenes. But wouldn't you know it, none of it is ever that interesting.

I know “interesting” is a subjective term, but Jormungand puts me to sleep. With the exception of some of the flashback episodes, which I find more captivating because they actually tell a story, it has taken me twice as long to watch each episode than it should. That's because I've fallen asleep at least once in every viewing. The series is just not compelling. Each episode introduces some new shady arms deal and some new slick bad guy, but at the end of the day, it's all just a fairly convoluted jumble of standalone missions. Because the series tries so hard to paint the black market world as complex and dangerous, its efforts to try and avoid plopping the main characters in straight forward situations ends up making the show feel more dense than it really has to be. Each transaction shouldn't require ten minutes of backstory, unless it's going to factor into a larger story.

I gave Jormungand many opportunities to redeem itself—and was even revitalized a couple times—but I've definitely lost interest. Action scenes or no, this show is an unfortunate bore.

Status: Dropped, like an anvil on a plush feather bed. I really wanted to like this series, but I couldn't stay awake. Sorry, Jonah. May your terrifying white eyelashes guide you forever.

That is it for this week. We are now down to only 16 shows! Which is still more than what we started out with last season, so this is actually a great sign. It's getting harder and harder to rank the top 10, since they're all so good at this point. What are your thoughts? What are you still following? Head on over to the Talkback forum and chime in!

Also, if you're interested in following me on the Twittersphere, the handle is @ANN_Bamboo. I look forward to discussing anime with y'all at 140 characters a pop! Thanks for reading!

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