Summer 2014 – Week 3 in Review

Welp, we’re a third of the way into the season now, and this season’s looking pretty damn predictable. The top shows continue to impress, the speculative picks have pretty much all fallen off the wagon, and Barakamon stands alone as the one surprise hit. It’s looking like I’ll be reduced to my usual half-dozen shows a little quicker than usual this season, which may just mean I’m getting better at dropping things efficiently, but I’m not really complaining. All I need is a couple standouts to be happy, and this season’s certainly got those – let’s run them down!

Tokyo Ghoul 3: I was really all set to drop this show this week, and that may still happen, but this episode felt like a bit of an improvement over the second one. For one thing, the strong visual flare returned – episode two felt very visually bland, and the fight scene wasn’t particularly engaging, but this episode had a bunch of nice compositions, great use of lighting, and lovely backgrounds. That’s still very easily the series highlight, but the narrative situation wasn’t quite as dire this weak, either.

The ghoul society worldbuilding doesn’t really do much for me (fantasy societies tend to be interchangable for me unless they actually reflect on people or the real world in compelling ways), but the scene between our MC and the young girl that rounded out this episode might have been the first one where I actually sorta cared about any of the characters. MC has basically been a passive figure in the show so far, but seeing him actually engage with this girl, and demonstrate his passion for reading, offered a bit more spark to hold onto. I think this may be too little, too late for me, but it’s at least a good sign for the show in general.

Tokyo Ghoul

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 16: This week’s JoJo sadly marked the end of Enyaba and Polnareff’s torrid love affair. Alas, it is the candle that burns brightest that most swiftly flickers out. RIP in peace Enyaba, Polnareff will avenge you.

This week also featured some top tier “OHHHH MYYYYY GOOOOD” from Joseph, along with Jotaro being forced to be a bridge (pictured: Jotaro’s “are we seriously fucking doing this” face). You brought it on yourself, Jotaro – you can’t get away with breaking the rules of JoJo and straight-up complaining about what you always do without any consequences! Now get to work.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Zankyou no Terror 2: Zankyou’s first episode was a very deliberate hook – it kept the focus very tightly on Lisa and the initial terrorist plot, and each scene was purposeful. In contrast, this second episode didn’t really need to prove itself, and so it felt a bit more like the kind of thing Watanabe loves – it built atmospere through great environmental shots and an excellent score, and though it still ran on suspense, the show’s long-term mysteries were less foregrounded this time. Like Kyousogiga, one of the things that stands out to me in this show’s sound design is the absence of noise – Zankyou understands the power of silence, and its musical strokes are made that much more significant through the untouched silence of so many other scenes.

The focus on the Oedipus myth is also an interesting and hopefully purposeful one. Considering we already have plent of indication this could be a story about a rejected, vengeful younger generation falling into the sins of their predecessors, Oedipus seems like a pretty apt touchstone. Guessing the endpoint here would be pretty ambitious, but it seems like Nine sees in Lisa some failing of his past self, something he hopes to “correct” – and attempting to “fix” that cycle could easily mirror the larger narrative cycle of what he hopes to “fix” with his terrorism. Which in turns fits in pretty well with the inescapable cycles articulated by this week’s detour into mythology.

For all that potential goodness, this episode’s overt narrative was in large part a reiteration of the first episode’s plot. So while there were certainly many things to praise here, considering this show is in large part a thriller, I’m hoping future episodes will push those strands forward while also acting as distinctive page-turners in their own right.

Zankyou no Terror

Barakamon 3: And a solid recovery by Barakamon! This episode was a pretty great return to form after the lackluster second one, and succeeded by correcting basically everything I disliked about that one. Though the animation wasn’t as tremendous as the first episode, this one still used visuals to great comic effect, particularly during the fantastic cold open. Though this episode still incorporated two largely disparate stories, much more focus was given to the more important MC story, allowing his self-doubt arc room to breathe and actually feel “earned.” And even though the fujoshi jokes weren’t exactly groundbreaking material, this episode still had a lot more character-focused humor than the second one, giving it personality and heart at the same time. Lots of shows have strong first episodes, but this episode seemed to indicate Barakamon is actually going to be reliably enjoyable, which is a much tougher trick for any show (and comedies in particular) to pull off. And also goddamnit those Naru faces Barakamon stahp.


Sailor Moon Crystal 2: Crystal has gotten me pretty interested in checking out the original series, but man, these faces are terrible. Whoever decided these characters designs were both a good idea and clearly should constantly be adhered to needs to be double fired. Twitter really doesn’t help here – pretty much every week, I see someone making their way through the original series and cataloging all the great, evocative faces along the way. If I’m going to watch this series, I’d like to be watching the definitive version, and it really seems like Crystal isn’t that. A shame.


Sword Art Online II 3: Another unusually strong episode of Sword Art Online this week, though in a very different way. This one had none of the fun, self-contained energy of the previous episode, but actually seemed interested in exploring some of the many concepts the first season breezed over. Its elaboration of Sinon’s motivation was extremely direct, but in the context of SAO, I’d say any character writing is good character writing, and only a couple moments of this really leaned over into silliness. Yeah, my standards for this show are probably pretty low – but if everything holds together, this second season might actually be a legit 6/10 popcorn show. Here’s the full writeup!

Sword Art Online

Aldnoah.Zero 3: A very engaging conclusion to what I guess we can consider the first mini-arc of Aldnoah – our ragtag heroes versus the invasion force and that terrifying force field. This episode played out more or less like an episode of Code Geass, with Inaho demonstrating a great deal more overt personality as he devised and executed a counterattack on Trillram’s Kataphrakt. Using the river was a clever trick – I figured they might just try to overwhelm the field, but using the constant pressure of water to search for weak points was a nice resolution. Inaho’s plan depended on the pilot being somewhat overconfident, but why wouldn’t he be? Overall, this episode’s action centerpiece really worked for me.

Aside from working on a pure engaging-entertainment level (which shouldn’t be understated – Aldnoah is probably the most fundamentally enjoyable show I’m currently watching), I also liked how this episode continued to bounce its cast off each other, and to treat everyone more as people in a crisis than representatives of warring “sides.” Many shows build up to “everyone has their own reasons” – Aldnoah basically just starts there, from an assumption that everyone is trying to do their best given their current circumstances. The efficiency with which last episode brought together the soldiers, the students, the princess, and the spy is already paying dividends in illustrating how arbitrary such distinctions are when you’ve got a goddamn invincible Kataphrakt breathing down your neck. For someone who’s often accused of putting words in his characters’ mouths, Urobuchi is definitely letting the story do the talking this time, and I think it’s making this story feel somewhat lighter than much of his previous work. Now we just have to see what happens when Urobuchi stops writing the scripts…


Tokyo ESP 2: Alright, here’s an easy drop. The first episode was too clearly a hook for me to really gauge what the show would actually be like – but this episode seemed much more standard, and it turns out the answer is “not very good.” Nothing about the actual narrative was particularly interesting here – it was all pretty standard shounen-beginnings stuff, with perhaps the most creative touch being our MC’s father’s awesome character design. But that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker for an action show – the thing that sinks this episode is that the actions scenes are just really boring. Very floaty, no weight to anything, uninspired direction, mediocre animation, bland sound design. That’s not really a failing an otherwise mundane action show can overcome, and so I’m happy enough to drop ESP here.

Tokyo ESP

Hunter x Hunter 139: That’s right, I’m back on the Hunter x Hunter train. I spent the first couple days of my vacation burning through the end of Chimera Ant, and now I’m actually up-to-date for the Election arc. I’m really enjoying this one so far – Pariston’s already as  big of a hateable shithead as Pouf ever was, it’s great to see all the old characters again, and Killua has clearly earned a being-adorable-with-his-sister arc. This episode was mainly dedicated to setting up future rules of engagement, so it wasn’t the most exciting, but it still had great moments like Killua’s mom being oh-so-proud of her treacherous son, and Hisoka’s deadpan “I may have issues, but you are one fucked up dude.” I’ve actually been preferring the election side of this so far (the interactions between Pariston and basically everybody are just way too much fun), but overall it’s kind of refreshing to get back to upbeat, adventure-style Hunter x Hunter after the endless overwhelming drama of Chimera Ant.

Hunter x Hunter

33 thoughts on “Summer 2014 – Week 3 in Review

  1. Be sure to try out Ao Haru Ride.

    Oh, and, Aldnoah has got to be sentient; something like a Reaper. I see that as probably the simplest explanation for the sudden turn in Martian culture towards the imperialistic.

    • For Aldnoah.Zero, that’d certainly make a tad more sense politically. I’d assume the original immigrants from Mars were people that hailed from the world’s various democracies (hell, it was apparently the U.S. that first stepped on Mars), so it’s curious how Mars ended up in its current state as a dynastic autocracy, monarchial regalia and all.

    • Ao Haru Ride and Nozaki-kun are kind of battling among the readers. I guess I’ll check out an episode of each.

      If Aldnoah’s sentient, there’ll be a few interesting directions they can take the story, but I’m gonna let the show speak for itself for now.

      • As of episode 3, Nozaki-kun featured a girl who actually acts all boy-ish and is nicknamed “the Prince of the school”. She’s also an actress in the school drama club. So if this is not an Utena reference I don’t know what is!
        Either way, it’s whimsical and erratic as only a 4-koma adaptation can be, but definitely a very entertaining time-waster. Funny and actually meaningful meta humour and a truly great OP.

  2. The situation with wrtiers vs. series composers vs. directors in visual media (TV/Film/animated) fascinates me. Aldnoah is highlighting the writers’ aspect.

    In western TV, I know that the showrunner comes up with the overall seasonal outline, and usually pens the pilot and just enough episodes to define the writing style. Then they delegate episodes to individual writers or pairs of writers, but everyone can always help out by discussing things in the writers’ room. (This includes the season outline that the showrunner steers) In more episodic shows, freelancers can come in with plot pitches that the show can buy, and either hire the writer for that episode as well, or give the pitch to one of their own writers to execute. Showrunners have to be a writer of some scripts whether or not they direct, as well, but usually they only have 1-2 episodes per season to their name, and there’s another set of primary writers handling the majority of scripts.
    Some production companies have the writers on set during filming for the director to consult, but not always. Sometimes, over the long run, certain writers will handle certain episodes because they have an affinity for certain characters.

    In western animation, sometimes stand-alone episodes are contracted out to freelance writers with only some notes on seasonal context that can/should be included.
    Adaptive writing for anime dubs come with a head writer and then a sub-team of writers. (For shorter shows, there may be just the one head writer) The head writer adapts enough scripts to define the writing style, (nicknames/honorifics, character voices, world-building terminology, etc. Also, if they know who the VA will be, or have a target VA, how many words they can match to the same approximate lipflaps depending on the VA’s speaking/acting styles.) before turning the rest over to the other writers. In the case of Steins;Gate, I believe the head writer did 12 episodes and had one other writer. The head writer proofreads all scripts and makes sure that they’re tonally consistent, something that the showrunner in original productions also does.
    This also seemed to be the case with Lauren Faust for the early seasons of MLP:FIM. (She did character designs, penned the first few episodes, but otherwise only supervised the writers and directors.)

    No idea about the gaming industry.

    In western TV and animation, the showrunner seems to have the most influence on the flavor of the show, and every season goes through a roulette of directors. On the other hand, I think of how whenever Joss Whedon directed episodes of Glee, they tended to have a better grasp on character. Was that because of Joss’s choices in execution, or did they tend to give him more character-driven scripts because they knew his directing forte? How much was he allowed to deviate from the script and incorporate adlibs and such?
    So in that sense, Space Dandy is pretty Western, except that in anime, the director ends up drawing a bunch, too, so further muddling up the roles of storyboarding and series composition, and in smaller productions, probably key animation, as well. This explains why directors seem to have much more of an auteur influence in anime, but also that directors have more power over the series composers than their western animation directors vs. showrunners?

    Urobuchi’s role in Aldnoah follows some of those western structures. dictating the patterns that future scripts should follow. The only question is how much supervisory power he has for future episodes. I wonder how much anime scripts have explicit cinematography notes, and how much directors/composers/storyboarders follow them.

    Ooh, good questions for when he comes into town a month from now.

    • Yeah, please ask him some scripting-process questions if you get the chance. I’d love to hear his thoughts on this, though I’m sure he’ll be pretty reserved in his answers – he obviously can’t either deny his connection to this project (since they’re kind of marketing it that way) or downplay the work of the other writers, so he kind of has to thread an appropriate-response needle.

      I’d love to hear any writers discuss the differences in scripting process, actually – I know from various interviews by western show writers that the “writing credit” on any given episode is often just a formality (at least for some shows, like comedies), due to the communal nature of scripting, but I haven’t heard an interview comparing styles across productions.

  3. I’m curious what you thought about the end of the chimera ant arc…and how it settles into the arc as a whole. I’m actually liking the Killua side of this arc more, even though I deeply enjoy the election side. Mainly because I am considerably sympathetic to Killua’s character, and therefore just want to see him try and succeed, while the results of the election are something that I care about only in terms of resolving this “rift” in the Hunter X Hunter world of not having a Hunter president.

    • To be honest, when I reread this arc in the manga I skim over the Killua stuff to get to more juicy Election goodness. I just find it so much more entertaining, and Pariston is a legitimately great character.

    • I’ll be posting a limited writeup on my final Chimera Ant thoughts in a little more than a week – I’ve written most of it, but I don’t have access to my image files on vacation, so I need to wait to post it.

  4. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is definitely worth checking out, if you haven’t done so yet. I had my doubts at first when presented with the premise and cover image (or whatever you call it), but I can confidently say that it is currently my most anticipated show during the week. All three episodes have been consistent with each other, so if the first episode doesn’t do it for you then you know it’s okay to drop. That goes both ways, though – I couldn’t be happier with it, personally.

  5. re: Aldnoah.Zero

    This episode played out more or less like an episode of Code Geass

    I take exception to this. Code Geass was rife with bullshit “genius plans” that succeeded or failed only because the writers said so, not because the universe had a consistent internal logic that could be exploited. By contrasted, Aldnoah gave the viewers and characters every single piece of necessary information, and the solution to the puzzle followed logically from that information.

    If the show manages to keep that up rather than devolving into a succession of prototype mechas that fire larger and larger lasers fueled by the protagonist’s indomitable will, I will be pleased and impressed.

    • Sorry, hit submit too soon. While I do understand where you were coming from with the comparison (superficially the structure of the episode was very similar to Code Geass), the fact that the viewer can play along and legitimately try to anticipate the protagonist’s plans makes the show far more engaging.

      A lot of the stuff in this episode was actually predicted in the Reddit thread for episode 2, just based on observing the behavior of the enemy mecha’s barrier. I see that as a good thing.

      • There are very different ways to make shows exciting. One isn’t necessarily superior to the other. For instance, I find the core cast of Aldnoah Zero a lot less engaging as individuals than the core cast of Code Geass at this time, even if there’s more of an effort to make us follow along with the plans. I don’t see that as an inherently good or bad thing, either way, it’s a case of two different shows with their own distinct goals, objectives and so forth.

    • Oh yeah, Aldnoah was certainly much, much more grounded in its conflict execution than Geass – I actually made a joke to that effect on twitter, about how this was basically what Code Geass would be if Lelouch didn’t have magic plan-succeeding powers. It’ll be fantastic if Aldnoah continues to develop conflicts that the viewer can actually understand as clever responses to comprehensible obstacles.

      • Well…we shouldn’t forget that Lelouch did have a literal magical power after all, but it would be intellectually disingenuous to imply things always worked to his benefit or that he didn’t make any visible effort to observe or judge his enemies at all. Sometimes we got some of the information beforehand and sometimes we only received it after the fact, but the man did come to some understandable conclusions and acted in consequence.

        More importantly, he made mistakes and occasionally even completely failed. Lelouch isn’t Tatsuya, who won only because the plot said he should win and never faced any real challenge.

        That difference is interesting enough, in my opinion, regardless of not knowing exactly how he managed to set up and trigger a bomb, got out of a given room or whatever else. For me, that was relatively secondary or tertiary most of the time, given the structure, tone and direction of the series.

        I do realize some people sincerely value being privy to the credible minutiae of a plan more than others might, but I don’t think that means only Aldnoah Zero’s way is “correct” and the alternative isn’t.

    • I wouldn’t say the two series are really all that similar but, ironically enough, I think also you’re being too simplistic and knee-jerk with your own objection to that statement.

      Evidently, the Code Geass universe was more unrealistic and over-the-top than what we’ve seen of the Aldnoah Zero universe so far, on multiple levels. There was far less of a concern with the plans and events being necessarily plausible from a physical perspective or with convincing the viewers of their usefulness. In that sense, Code Geass is closer to Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, where the protagonist or antagonist might do something clever to exploit a weakness in the opposing faction, even if it was something the audience either couldn’t possibly predict or which simply relies on an extremely high suspension of disbelief.

      However, I wouldn’t say that means Code Geass was illogical or inconsistent. Quite the opposite. It was simply following a more explicitly theatrical, larger-than-life and romantic, in the literary sense of the term, form of battle progression and conflict resolution. Also, there were plenty of times when, even if we didn’t have all the information to work out how a plan might turn out, we did get some thematic or character-centric foreshadowing.

      Where I would say both shows are a bit alike is in the fact that, to be quite honest, most of these plans wouldn’t really work in the real world and, if they did, it certainly wouldn’t be at the hands of teenagers rather than military forces. Not to mention that both series operated on the regular assumption of the enemy factions being usually staffed by a bunch of evildoers who aren’t nearly as smart as their counterparts would likely be in the real world. For that and other reasons, to say the least, I think the Martians and Britannians would get along quite well.

      By the way, I would also criticize your parting words. Even when the robots powered up and got extra abilities, like lasers or whatever else, this didn’t always lead to an immediate victory. It would be factually incorrect to argue that the “indomitable will” of any one pilot, much less Lelouch of all people, was sufficient to fuel his or her machine to victory. Yes, we did get several scenes showcasing the new abilities of the mecha and killing off a bunch of grunts, but there were often other factors at work rather than just brute force, when it came to finally resolving the larger combat scenarios. I hate it when people are so selective and generalize too quickly.

  6. Everything seems pretty normal.
    Except for the fact that I’m actually liking SAO. Unortunately, Sinon will most likely soon enough become a useless dependent woman that needs Kirito. Which is sad, really, because she is easily the best thing ever to happen to the show. But I’m optimistic! Kind of!
    This is pretty off-topic, but about you not really liking horror-actions shows like Tokyo Ghoul, do you like horror in general (I know you like Shiki, but that’s about it)? Just curious. And because I would like to recommend Hirurashi, which is one of my favorite animes of all times. It has legitimately fun characters, and is a great mystery (with admittedly disappointing answers). Gory moments (though they are kept to moments), and this should about tell you what it is about: Oh, and did I mention it is actually scary (how odd)? 😮
    Oh, and do you watch any TV shows other than anime? Like western animation or sitcoms. Again, I’m just curious .-.

    • I’m okay with horror, but don’t really tend to enjoy it for its own sake – Shiki was enjoyable as a suspense-thriller, but also had a lot more going on. As for other shows, I watch a few western shows (Community, Game of Thrones), but mainly just read.

  7. Hadn’t realized that you hadn’t gotten to Nozaki-kun yet, seconding the recommendation that you do since I think you’d get a kick of how the story loves to take usual, “normal” shojo premises and play them just a bit weirdly.

  8. Oh man glad to see you caught back up on HunterxHunter. Are you planning on doing any kind of a writeup for the Chimera Ant Arc? It kinda deserves it with how fantastic all of the character development was throughout the fighting (which is an extremely rare occurrence in a Shounen Battler). It was such a shame not being able to read your comments for some of the later episodes in the arc,

  9. I think Ping pong has spoiled me because I just can’t get into any of the new shows this season (well aside from Hunter x Hunter, but that’s a special case). I’m not feeling as engaged by Aldnoah as everyone else is (although I’ve always been closer to the crunchier “MS 008” side of mecha rather than the more popcorn “Code Geass” side). Regardless, keep up the awesome SOA writeups!

    • Yeah, you can’t really expect a Ping Pong every season, unfortunately. There’s still some good stuff out there, though!

  10. Aldnoah Zero’s probably my pick of the season so far. It’s been really engaging so far. The music, character designs and animation are all fantastic. I see that Code Geass comparison (and a few others) thrown around quite a bit. Kinda makes me glad I never watched it – this all feels very fresh to me!

    I think Gargantia’s really changed Urobuchi for the better. I know it’s early to say, but Aldnoah has a sort of hopeful quality about it that I didn’t see in his earlier works. It’s also confirmed my hopes that he’s finally got the hang of making characters engaging beyond a thematic level. I know that might make it a little less intellectually dense, but if it’s more enjoyable I sure won’t be complaining.

    Also – Hello B0bduh! I’m new to your blog, but I like the way you focus on themes and character in your posts. Expect comments.

    • A lot of recent mecha shows (and others) seem to owe a lot to Code Geass. Valvrave especially. The theatricality is also found in Zetsuen no Tempest.
      Like FMA 2003, it’s quickly abandoned when the newer, shiner versions pops along.

    • Hello! Good to see you here, and yeah, Aldnoah’s pretty great. As I said, I think there’s a lightness to it that’s definitely a welcome addition to Urobuchi’s style.

  11. Enyaba dying was a very sad moment, that old girl was very funny to watch and her ridiculous maquinations were very entertaining too!
    I wonder why even bother sending stand users after Joestar´s team, when they could just simply blow them away with a bomb or something, well, I guess the bad guys know very well how to play accordingly the rules.
    But still, that silly plan of killing one by one the cool guys is pretty damn inneffectual, if only they targeted all at once, if only they could, hahaha.
    Still, seeing Jotaro suffer that kind of abuses is the best part of him being the protagonist, he suffers the most! Hahaha

    • Yeah, I can’t imagine a sequence of events in which Dan of Steel actually gets out of this situation alive. Like, even if they don’t beat him, eventually they’ll just accept someone has to bit the bullet and throw him off a cliff or something, right?

  12. Tokyo Ghoul has disappointed me to be honest. There is little actual “horror” or suspense in it for that matter and now, surprise surprise, the MC turns out to be exceptionally powerful. It doesn’t bode well for the future of the story.

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