Summer 2014 – Week 4 in Review

Good episodes all around this week! “Sacrifice all mediocre performers to your dark god” is serving me well this season, as I’ve now reduced my lineup to “the shows that consistently impress me plus Sword Art Online because I apparently don’t actually value my time in the slightest.” Barakamon has proven itself generally consistent at this point, Zankyou continues to be the most ‘flawless’ show I’m watching, and Aldnoah has apparently taken it upon itself to be both a satisfying Urobuchi show and my replacement popcorn entertainment. Good work, cartoons.

Zankyou no Terror 3: I ended up accidentally writing a full writeup for this  one. Woops! Sorry, won’t happen again.

Zankyou no Terror

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 17: Sadly, the end to DAN OF STEEL’s reign of terror wasn’t quite as compelling as its beginning, which I’m gonna chalk up to a combination of no more Enyaba/Polnareff shenanigans (RIP Enyaba) and Jotaro actually being in control again. Jotaro’s a big teenage dork whose personality is basically “stoic + cheesy one-liners,” so seeing him being forced to become a bridge for DAN OF STEEL and whatnot was actually pretty fantastic – it’s less exciting to me to see him actually beating guys up with his fairly boring Stand. And while we’re on Stands, this episode was also kind of a disappointment in the fight-resolution department, too – there wasn’t really a clever use of powers, it was just basically “Kakyoin’s Stand has some pretty handy tricks, oh look those tricks defeated DAN OF STEEL.” I figured the first season had basically stretched the ripple powers to their narrative breaking point, but I prefer seeing bullshit like “the ripples turn the icicles into a rope… somehow!” to “Kakyoin’s Stand uses Some Stand Bullshit, it’s super effective!” I feel there was more of a sense of whimsy and invention to a lot of the ripple silliness, and I’m hoping we get back to that again.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure

Barakamon 4: It’s looking like episode two was just a temporary misstep at this point, because this was another great episode of Barakamon. Our main character just has such great natural chemistry with the kids – there’s something very childlike in everything he does, from his pride, to his panic, to his absolute joy in Doing, and all the people around him respond to that very naturally. Normally, when a show has its characters say “there’s just something about that Male Protagonist,” it comes off as the show insisting its characters are more compelling than they really are – here, it’s very clear what people both like and are amused by in him. This episode’s big art conflict was also one of the show’s most relatable so far – I’m sure pretty much anyone who’s attempted a Big Art Project has experienced the terror and shame of that oppressive blank canvas. Whatever you imagine in your mind is pristine – anything you actually do will only spoil both your vision and the poor surface you’re inflicting it on. Naru’s answer was a very useful one, in this case – if what you’re working on is already a mess, then you can only do your best to fix it, and giving yourself a clear goal like “erase these handprints” helps narrow your focus from Infinite Potential to I Gotta Get This Done. Art lessons with Barakamon!

Barakamon

Sword Art Online II 4: Sword Art Online’s streak of actually pretty good episodes was unfortunately broken this week, as we once again sank back into Expositionville. The episode spent most of its running time slowly explaining stuff that the second episode already demonstrated much more gracefully – in fact, you could probably use the comparison of the two as a perfect illustration of Showing versus Telling. Apparently a necessary addendum to that truism is “whatever you do, don’t do both of them one after the other,” which I assume its author figured wasn’t actually necessary to mention. Hopefully this’ll just be a temporary stumble though, as Sinon is still a character and there’s still a conflict to be overcome. I guess we’ll see!

Sword Art Online

Aldnoah.Zero 4: I really liked the little conversation between Inaho and Rayet this week. Inaho was, as usual, unperturbed by learning the princess was alive – his deadpan response, “so that wasn’t just a hypothesis,” once again demonstrated his tendency to look down upon his own life as it’s happening. And when discussing his plans with Rayet, he further noted that “people don’t tend to act rationally in these situations,” a line playing off Calm’s prior and perfectly understandable resolution to get revenge for his friend’s death. His emotional distance actually allows him to feel empathy here, and to see the princess as both a piece on the board (one who clearly didn’t wish for this) and a human being in danger. But that empathy is itself something kind of inhuman in this context – it’s reflective not of some “greatness of spirit,” but of the fact that he’s just strangely good at emotionally removing himself from the situation. Rayet, on the other hand, doesn’t have that option – she just watched her only family stolen by the force the princess inherently represents. Her far more callous answer – “I’ll betray her if I have to, all Martians are the enemy” – is actually the more “human” one here.

Of course, the rest of this episode went on to demonstrate that Inaho’s not actually a robot or anything – he has his own motivations (like actually admiring the princess), he’s just not a dramatically emotional person. This week’s Kataphrakt battle was another neat puzzle, and I’m happy to see that it seems each Kataphrakt has its own unique powers – that clearly leaves room for far more exciting conflicts, and makes this seem more like a series of Angel attacks than standard robot battles. It’s not about spirit and guts, it’s about solving a puzzle against overwhelming odds. The Code Geass comparison is again kind of relevant, though this is “Code Geass if Lelouch were just a softspoken and emotionally reserved boy who performs terrifically under pressure,” which you wouldn’t necessarily think would be this compelling! But yeah, it is – so far, every episode but the first one has both entertained on an immediate, visceral level while also giving me plenty to talk about. Most anime is just really bad at presenting fun conflicts with well-defined stakes and variables, and Aldnoah is nailing that every week while progressing a dozen characters and consistently gesturing at larger ideas. This is an extremely balanced show.

Aldnoah.Zero

Hunter x Hunter 140: ALLUKA A CUTE. PARISTON FASHION SENSE #1. LEORIO PUNCHES YOUR FUCKING FACE.

It is pretty great to be back in goofy, relatively cheerful Hunter x Hunter land. Not much to say about this episode – it was basically a few moments like those ones interspersed with more scene-setting, introducing more of this arc’s relevant characters. Hunter x Hunter has pretty much a small army of relevant characters at this point, and instead of that feeling overwhelming, it’s actually really nice to see how characters like Morel and Leorio end up interacting. I’m still waiting for some kind of Pariston-Cheadle battle of wits, but I’m enjoying things as they come for now.

Hunter x Hunter

27 thoughts on “Summer 2014 – Week 4 in Review

  1. “I feel there was more of a sense of whimsy and invention to a lot of the ripple silliness, and I’m hoping we get back to that again.”

    We really get to that with the Stands in Part 4 onwards. And seriously, shit gets crazy.

  2. Jotaro cashing in the receipt of PAIN and the Brain Crab rave party were pretty awesome though. This breather arc in Hunter x Hunter has been pretty darn funny and a lot more entertaining then what I was expecting. SAO is bullshit as usual.

  3. “I ended up accidentally writing a full writeup for this one. Woops! Sorry, won’t happen again.”
    See you on Thursday.

    [video src="http://a.pomf.se/yvcdog.webm" /]

  4. Your points about Jojo pretty much illustrate all my complaints. Stands have no real rules or logic, so the author can do whatever he wants, ripples required much more creativity. Jotaro is by far the lest compelling of the Jojo’s thus far. Joseph has been basically sidelined and almost never does anything useful, he’s essentially a comic relief character at this point. The one good thing I can say about this fight is that it at least made use of all 4 characters. I am so sick of this season making arbitrary 1 on 1 battles, especially when it involves the rest of them just standing around watching for no reason.

    “I ended up accidentally writing a full writeup for this one. Woops! Sorry, won’t happen again”

    I hope it does happen again. Repeatedly in fact.

    • It’d be nice if the Jojos actually fought together, but their Stands don’t even really seem to compliment each other – or at least, the show hasn’t demonstrated an interest in figuring out silly ways they can. It’s a shame.

  5. I’m actually pretty disappointed by how they decided to keep the secret about the Princess for themselves (and that despite how many people there were, only Inaho and Rayet seen her apparently). You’d think that Inaho would be smart enough to tell the military crew on the ship, who have better training and qualification than him, but no, he decides to keep the information for themselves since apparently all humans are irrational when under-pressure, not including him of course. And Rayet too I guess. What a coincidence that the ones in the know to not be humans who would become irrational upon knowing that the Princess is with them (and that they’re also kids).

    I’m just disappointed in Aldnoah.Zero right now because they seems to be following a somewhat standard mecha plot, with the two things that stands out being only the main character (whom I don’t like) the fights against mecha is a JoJo-like puzzle fight style (with the ones capable of good tactic and strategy only Inaho apparently, part of why I don’t like him). At least the action scene was constantly good I guess, the music and the animation too now that I think about it. That would place the show around SAO rank (popcorn show with not much substance in it) for me and that’s just sad.

  6. I find it a nice coincidence that you’ve begun writing episodic notes for Hunter x Hunter (2011) JUST as I finally brought myself to watching the series. Feel free to dismiss my opinion as “one of those fans” but HxH 2011 is seriously the best shonen I’ve seen to date, and I’ve seen pretty much all but the original king that is Dragonball (Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Fairy Tail, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Soul Eater, MAR… any others?). I cannot wait to see what this arc has in store!

  7. I guess you’ve dropped Tokyo Ghoul? I don’t blame you, it really hasn’t been very compelling so far, but you seemed at least vaguely hopeful in last week’s episodic post.

  8. Basically Star Platinum is the gary stu of this series, I would have said Jotaro, but he actually suffers a lot sometimes, but then he uses his stand, and it acts like Deus ex machina + Gary stu at the same time, developing a new move/attack/technique/awesomeness each time. He´s like “my stand is so kwel he can even invent his own powers!” So whenever Jotaro is in charge, is a sad day…

  9. if aldnoah continues like that it may become “another” great code geass , im confident cuz urobuchi wrote madoka and fate/zero… , and it was freaking GREAT . hope aldnoah will follow the trail.

  10. The biggest problem, really, is that the heroes’ Stands were created before totally established the idea behind Stands for the readers, so they get all the plain, boring ones in Stardust Crusaders. Even to this point I’d say there’s plenty of fun and invention in Stands — it’s just all on the side of the villains, so it’s unbalanced.

    • True. I think the next episode handles this better – the enemy Stand is a fun puzzle, and the Jojos compliment it not by being exciting in battle, but just by being their silly selves.

  11. The question I have about Aldnoah Zero is…what will they actually do whenever one of these “Angels” whose pilot they can’t just easily trick into making a mistake or otherwise defeat by exploiting an either obvious or obscure faux technological weakness comes across next?

    Sooner or later, I’m afraid the series will need to escalate, because the way they’ve set up both sides and particularly the invading forces suggest they can’t keep screwing around like this forever. It would be anti-climatic if the entire story could be resolved in this manner week after week, so a paradigm shift seems inevitable.

  12. I really, really wish you were doing episode writeups of Zankyou no Terror. After this week, it really feels like I am watching a masterpiece that will be talked about like the other big hitters in the past. The music this week was absolutely incredible, and baring a catastrophic collapse it will be challenging Ping Pong for not only AOTS but a staple in the suspense/drama genre.

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