Spring 2014 – Week 5 in Review

Man, my schedule is so optimized at this point. Four great shows, one okay but very enjoyable show, and Captain Earth as my only speculative pick. I also finished Mushishi last weekend, so I’ll soon be catching up on that as well. Grahh all these good shows anime YEAH.

Ping Pong 4Goddamnit I wrote a full post again how does this keep happening.

Ping Pong

Hitsugi no Chaika 4: Some good and some bad in this episode. Bad news first – this sure is a light novel adaptation! While it avoids most of the relevant pitfalls, it still occupies otaku-land reality, meaning Akari really is kind of into her brother, and defeated dragons turn into shapeshifting lolis who join you on your adventure. But on the good side, this episode made it absolutely clear that Chaika is interested in exploring its one repeatedly referenced theme – the search for purpose as an old soldier in a time of peace. Toru’s ambivalent feelings towards his own talents, and tendency to steer situations towards his strengths in spite of his clearly empathetic nature, is easily the most interesting thing about any of this show’s characters. That hadn’t really been central to the show’s narrative up till now, but this episode basically took place inside a monument to an age of war, and so we appropriately got to see a much more direct elaboration of nostalgia for a time of battle. Whether the show actually goes to interesting places with this theme remains to be seen, but having your show actually be about something is a very good first step!

Hitsugi no Chaika

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 5: No contest this week: the best thing was without a doubt Dio’s amazing bird. First, just look at the expression on that fucking bird. Look at how smug that little asshole is. And if that weren’t enough, holy shit his bird has a hat and a tiny little bird-scarf. Most villains understand that great villainy requires silly pets, but how many villains go that extra mile and really accessorize their shoulder-warmers? Goddamn that bird is great.

The rest of the episode was pretty great too, though. We had Joseph once again proving he is best Jojo, and our new challenger making first this and then this pose. He says he’s been training for years, and I don’t doubt him – poses like that don’t come for free!

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure

Knights of Sidonia 4: An excellent episode of Sidonia this week, one that secured this show as something I actually really look forward to. I’m not a natural fan of scifi, but this show really plays to the strengths of the genre. The first half was a chilling demonstration of this, as the worldbuilding Sidonia has slowly built up came to a head with Sidonia’s “evasive maneuvers.” One of the problems with worldbuilding is that if it’s not actively contributing to the narrative, it’s just “stuff” – fanservice, essentially. Information with no real value. Not true here – the nature of Sidonia, and the details of humanity’s ark, led to a thrilling sequence as the ship was forced to veer sharply to dodge the approaching threat. Many were able to attach themselves to support bars and survive, but many others weren’t– the episode’s first dramatic centerpiece was a pan down the center pillar as glass, debris, and falling bodies demonstrated how tenuous humanity’s position here really is. Last week’s finale demonstrated the level of complacency humanity had reached on a micro level – here, we saw the macro version, as what had become an ornamented home was roughly shaken into its original form as an escape vehicle, at tremendous human cost.

The second half of this episode opened with a grim mirror of the first episode’s ending. In that first episode, the pre-flight ritual was shot as tense but exciting – space was scary, but it was also beautiful, and something well worth exploring. The world has changed now, and so this time the countdown conveyed none of that – space isn’t a place of discovery, it is a place of fear.

Then we had some action scenes and they were pretty sweet too. Nice work, Sidonia.

Knights of Sidonia

Captain Earth 5: The first half of this episode was heavily weighted down by dry, unnecessary exposition, but fortunately the second half displayed the series at its best – admitting it’s a story about adolescence, not one about giant robots. Teppei’s path to accepting and valuing the presence of his “father” wasn’t exactly groundbreaking material, but it rang very true with what we’ve learned about him so far, and he also bounces very well off Akari – in fact, the dynamic between him and Akari might be the best of any pair of characters here. And as with last episode, this show’s fundamental optimism made for a great twist on the generally bleak tone these parent-child relationships tend to possess – far from being a force of anxiety or inferiority, these parents clearly care about their children, and this show is expressing these relationships from a very democratic perspective.

That said, this episode once again didn’t really do very much. Akari and Teppei grew a little closer and Teppei found another reason to consider himself a legitimate human – that’s fine, but it doesn’t justify how much of a narrative diversion this was. This show has some fine human drama, and some mediocre action spectacle, but it’s having trouble making the one reflect meaningfully on the other. Considering this is a story about adolescence where the villains are literally trying to steal the protagonists’ libido, that really shouldn’t be a problem, so hopefully Captain Earth pulls itself together a bit more in the future.

Captain Earth

One Week Friends 5: I was a little worried this episode would feel kinda “light novel second volume”-y (even though I know this isn’t a LN adaptation), because the last episode offered such a firm conclusion to the show’s first act. Turns out that wasn’t a problem – Saki adds a very different and welcome dynamic to the group, and each episode continues to illustrate Hase and Fujimiya’s characters in small but compelling ways.

Hase in particular I am a big fan of, mainly because he’s so clearly and earnestly flawed. He’s kind of insensitive (as episodes two and four demonstrated), he’s clearly insecure, and his form of “friendship” is both overbearing and prone to selfishness – but he’s trying to be better than that. I really like seeing a character who’s naturally got all sorts of problems, but doesn’t articulate that as “distant and cold but secretly caring” – he’s upbeat and initially nice, which covers a layer of teen ugliness, which itself covers a third layer of trying to be a better person. His initial reactions are often not good, but again and again we see him consider those reactions and then turn against them. He’s far from perfect and very human.

Alright, that’s kind of a detour. This episode was about Saki, and Saki is great – the show makes it pretty much endlessly clear that Saki is the kind of friend Fujimiya needs, in contrast to someone like Hase, who has his own needs. Her chemistry with Fujimiya is excellent, and this episode was a sugar-rush in pretty much the same way the second was. One Week Friends is an endlessly pleasant show.

One Week Friends

24 thoughts on “Spring 2014 – Week 5 in Review

  1. I found it very refreshing and somewhat peculiar how Saki doesn’t seem to fall into any stereotype that I know of. She’s not kuudere, dandere, or dojikko; she’s not clumsy but forgetful, not shy or silent but careful with words, nor is she cold to others, but simply straightforward. I really wish there were more characters like Saki, she’s such a wonderful addition to this cast of on-the-surface-they-seems-like-they-would-be-super-stereotypical-but-are-actually-totally-not characters. One Week Friends, keep on floating along in your fuzzy-atmospheric bubble~

    I must say, Knights of Sidonia 4 was intense. I was completely immersed in the unfolding events, had to go back and watch it again with full speakers and on my big-screen TV to get an even better experience, only to go back and watch it several more times. Sound, visual, everything was simply spectacular this episode. I do hope the next one isn’t entirely the solo rescue-op, although I would be forgiving after such a satisfying episode prior.

    • Yeah, Saki’s great. I like how she’s kind of oblivious and soft-spoken, but also very confident – normally confidence is always expressed in a much louder way, but she’s very comfortable in a very different personality.

  2. As a natural fan of sci-fi, Captain Earth held my interest solely because of its contemporary space program aesthetic. I wanted to see its rockets overcome physics and aliens, and have it become an optimistic counterpoint to Sidonia’s cruel universe. But based on last episode’s zero gravity blunders, the grounded NASA-esque imagery seems to be the sort of empty window dressing you mentioned in your Sidonia comments.

    • Haha, yeeep, we’re in Utena-physics here. I think Captain Earth will only move further and further away from real-world science as it continues.

  3. There is no way Dio’s bird isn’t a Stand user. Look at that guy! Look at those accessories! That bird is going to fuck shit up later. Now all I can do is hope that Joseph is the one to fight it.

    I’ve fallen behind on One Week Friends by a few weeks but I think I’m okay with that. I’ll save that show for a rainy day. I’m a little annoyed with Captain Earth still, hopefully it can really get going soon before I start to lag behind. Also I’m sure you’ve heard this before but Hunter x Hunter has been an absolute blast these past few weeks. I’d love to see your thoughts on the rest of the Chimera Ant Arc as a whole once it’s over, even if it’s just on the week review! Especially since your writeups on how HxH is so good on here are what convinced me to check it out.

    • Yeah, people are telling me to keep an eye on that bird. I guess shit’s really gonna get that crazy later on.

      And I knooow, Chimera Ant. My twitter feed is continuously crying or gasping over it, I gotta catch up.

  4. I’m honestly expecting One Week Friends to keep up its terrific standard for the whole series at this point. Saki was a fun, endearing addition to the show, and your point about Hase – a flawed but honest lead – was well made.
    At this point, I’m considering picking up Chaika, if only for Chaika herself and the promise of some light fun. Thoughts?

    • Chaika is a good show to pick up for Chaika and light fun. I actually think it might turn out to be a rather solid show overall (the most recent episode made it clear the overarching plot is going to reflect on the ideas I discuss in this post), but either way, it’s a nice light fantasy with endearing characters, silly faces, and solid action scenes.

  5. Episode 5 of Captain Earth was easier to watch for me than the others, and made a little more sense of what was going on. Maybe because there was time to think about what had happened up to this point since they didn’t try to add even more yet-unexplained elements in this episode.

    • Yeah, it was mainly character-focused, and that’s clearly this show’s strength. Hopefully the show will be that strong more consistently once we’ve got a bit of a clearer idea of everything going on (if they let us get that).

  6. One of the problems with worldbuilding is that if it’s not actively contributing to the narrative, it’s just “stuff” – fanservice, essentially.

    Of course, that cough requires you to make a decision about what the narrative is defined by in the first place. Some stories are about people. Some stories are about places.
    What I’m basically saying is that if someone crafts his definition of what a narrative is around worldbuilding, characters are fanservice, essentially, to them.

    • I think I’ve come up with a way to explain this. In the old russian novels from the nineteenth century I’ve read (that would be mostly Dostoevsky and Gogol), the authors had a tendency to characterize entire peoples. Russians were like this. Frenchmen were like that. Englishmen would respond in this way. Germans are afraid of this. These characterisations were so vivid and detailed, that it felt like the author had met every single person from each of these peoples and seen through them down to their core, even though that obviously wasn’t the case. They characterised peoples as if they were individuals, with much of the same personal insight that you would see in individual character studies.

      The line between worldbuilding and characters really starts to blur if you view it this way, because the same rules of storytelling apply to the ‘worldbuilding’ here, only on a greater scale. I think the reason why worldbuilding is viewed as discrete and separate from characters now is because its done in a bloodless way, where it is assumed that social spirituality, motivations, fears, anxieties, sources of guilt, joys, and all these other, intangible, things don’t lie in the worldbuilding domain at all.
      That’s a load of rubbish. They totally do.

  7. Man, at this point Captain Earth is just pissing me off. It’s episode 5 and we’re still being treated to info-dumps with little groundwork to latch onto. It talks about loss and familial love and demands tears for its characters but it still hasn’t really given us a meaningful reason to justifiy that demand. Towards the end of the episode there was a line about “humanity’s last hope” (or sth) and it dawned on me that I still don’t really know who’s fighting who and why. Whole world is supposedly on the verge of going boom at any moment but everything looks awfully cheerful to me: there is no palpable feeling of fear or anxiety or restlessness. Even Kill la Kill was better at conveying a sense of heavy stakes than Cap’n, and that’s saying something. (The belly button joke is cute, though).

    Sidonia, on the other hand, is really good. Even the clunky CGI is kind of adding to the eerie crudeness of the show somehow. Don’t you love how everything is so blunt? The Ark is a giant, slow and heavy rectangular pillar with two giant thrusters, with pipes and cuffs for safety equipments—and there isn’t even enough pipe-space for everyone anyway. You defeat your enemy with a giant, glorified toothpick to remove their brains—but there aren’t enough toothpicks for everyone so you have to risk your lives to fetch it if one gets adrift. Your ultimate weapon is not some sophisticated energy beam but a giant hammer head for a bullet that hopes to keep the alien away more than it means to kill it. Couldn’t grab a pipe? You’re dead. Crossed this line of space? We won’t slow down for you—you’re dead. Got too emotional over your friend’s death and broke the formation? This isn’t child’s play, this is survival. You. are. dead. I’m loving it!

    I haven’t seen the other ones yet, but JoJo… JoJo is just incapable of being bad, I guess, so it’s hard to talk about it apart from going omg did you see that fucking birddd?? and how about this fucking pose this guy’s talking in??. So, yeah 🙂

    • Yeah, there’s no real sense of scale in Captain Earth, and Sidonia is its opposite in basically every way. That could be fine, too, but as you say, it needs to make us care about the small stuff if it’s going to be about the small stuff.

      Sidonia is the first time in a long while I’ve seen the base variables of a world be used this effectively. It’s something I might want to write about at more length, actually – how smartly linked its world, its narrative, and its tone all are.

  8. Kind of off-topic, but there’s not enough room on Ask.fm, and this isn’t a question anyways, so:
    Considering how you seem to dislike the tangential rambling conversations in Bake/Nisemonogatari, I don’t know how much you’d enjoy the commentaries. Especially since they’re of the REALLY-have-nothing-to-do-with-the-plot Araragi/Mayoi variety. The Kanbaru/Senjougahara ones are literally one 3-episode-long gag about how the two of them refuse to comment on the episodes themselves, and instead engage in the most ridiculous conversations in their own world. If you like that kind of thing, like I do, it’s pretty glorious, but sometimes it gets Lucky Star slice-of-life conversation-y.

    I guess there’s value in further exploring character interactions that don’t include Araragi, and thus aren’t tainted by his point of view. Senjougahara, in particular, skips straight to being revealed as the silly troll teenager she is, which took getting to Season Two to show in canon. And even when Araragi finally shows up, it’s an exploration of the Hanekawa/Araragi dynamic, akin to the Araragi/Senjougahara development scenes in the Mayoi Snail arc. So that might have some points of interest. Plus, everyone calls out how terrible of a person Araragi is, so there’s that.

    But to reiterate, it’s all dressed up in Nisioisin indulgence. (For example, I felt that Kanbaru got a little out of character during her commentary because she kept playing traditional tsukkomi to Senjougahara, which was just Nisioisin adhering to Tsukkomi/boke conversation patterns, whereas I don’t think Kanbaru really is the type to react that way.)

    • Hmmmmm, that does sound like exactly what I consider Nisio Isin’s biggest weakness as a writer. I still do want to check it out, but that’s discouraging.

  9. I dunno, I think Saki is creepy. She has no sense of boundaries. I mean, I’m a dude, but I’ve had people creep on me. It is a lot like the early part of that episode, up to and including people agreeing to your rules and then flagrantly ignoring them with half-assed excuses. And people around you also spend a lot of time going “wow they’re so friendly” when you’re being creeped on and the person is outside the general conception of creeper.

    She got better as the episode went on, and I was hoping that maybe I could block that part out and grow to tolerate her, then it turned out that 1) she was insensitive enough to basically reveal Fujisaki’s condition to an entire classroom (what the hell, seriously?) and 2) crowded Hase out so much that Fujisaki apparently no longer considered him a friend at the end of the week.

    I didn’t enjoy the episode at all; it was hard to make myself keep watching. I’d hope she grows as a character, but the show doesn’t seem to consider her a problem. I think I’m going to have to drop it.

    • Just watched the episode, and I have to agree. She felt more ominous than endearingly peculiar to me—maybe in part because her speech pattern and expressionless face and posture strongly resembles Fuusenzakura (the Vine) from Kokoro Connect. Though I’m not sure that Fujisaki smiling at Hase means she doesn’t consider him a friend anymore, since she never smiles at her regular classmates.

    • I didn’t really get any of this impression from Saki. She’s just blunt and maybe kinda dumb – she might have been a little insensitive, but only at the end of the episode did she even really understand what the “condition” really meant, and I think her reaction to it was more earnest surprise than callousness.

      Fujimiya only really gave her clear negative feedback one time – when she said they couldn’t talk in class after Saki forgot. Aside from that, our understanding of Fujimiya’s discomfort basically came from information Saki did not have available, and thus if Fujimiya wanted her to leave her alone, she probably should have said something. But Fujimiya didn’t want her to leave her alone – she wasn’t immediately comfortable with Saki’s bluntness, but that’s because she’s a shy person with people she doesn’t know, and that faded due to Saki just being relentlessly earnest and friendly.

      I feel the clear loser this episode was Hase – he had to fight against his instinct to be overprotective, where really what Fujimiya needs is to actually get out there and interact with people. It’s a classic “want versus need” situation – Fujimiya would be most comfortable just sitting on the roof and never having to risk the pain of interaction, but to grow as a person and find happiness, she must move outside her comfort zone.

      I also don’t think that bit at the end was meant to indicate Fujimiya doesn’t consider him a friend – it was meant to be another piece of memory that she’s managed to hold on to.

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