Ascendance of a Bookworm – 02 (Second Chance)

This week Myne rides an older boy while pondering being ridden by his younger brother. Also, she’s thinking about parchment and how to get her dirty peasant hands on some. Also she invents shampoo from an avocado fruit. Also she faints while a pig gets slaughtered for her winter sausage. Also she gets a fever again and flirts with the solider who works for her father that is teaching her to write.

Bookworm’s slice of life where nothing of consequence happens format plays out like a run-on sentence. It’s almost watchable, if I’m honest, largely thanks to ongoing character introductions and world building, but Myne remains a barely likable character. We did not learn anything more about her past this week, nor has she recognized the impact of hollowing out her host vessel, nor does she entirely care about anyone around her. She just wants her god damn books and, even though we know she will eventually get them, each moment we wait until she does, will feel like an eternity.

Blade of the Immortal (2019) – 01 & 02 (First Impressions)

To me, producing an anime adaptation to Blade of the Immortal in 2019 is  like producing an anime adaptation of Jurassic Park or Schindler’s list. I enjoyed all three when they were originally released in 1993 but, and this is debatable, it feels like my taste has moved on a bit since 8th grade…

If you are not familiar with the source material, BotI is a beautiful manga about a swordsman who is held together by magic worms and a teenage girl who’s family was killed by some prick anti-samurais. The illustrations are mostly un-inked pencil. The anti-hero’s clothes are filled with an unreasonable number of knives and swords, and they are often spinning. It’s freakishly dark, violent, yet slow paced and often introspective. I stopped reading about 1,600 pages in.

These first two episodes faithfully adapt the source material, in a knock-off Afro Samurai sort of way. The story telling does not lend itself to animation, nor has the lovely pencil style been kept. Dear lord that processed video effect for the moving trees made me want to vomit and a few strobing effects may kill someone with epilepsy. It’s not terrible but it’s also intentionally unattractive, lacking color, and murkily hard to see.

TLDR? It’s a little pretentious.

If you are not familiar with the source material, you may enjoy the graphic violence and somber tones. Rin and her Yojimbo have a curious sister x brother relationship that develops over time, and a small number of the enemies reveal interesting motivations.

Don’t expect resolution or a coherent place for this story to end. Certainly not a happy one, unless eating peoples pets to get stronger, headless moms grafted onto peoples’ shoulders, and the short lives of prostitutes is your happy thing?

Personally, I’m happy for my Blade of the Immortal memories. I’m just gonna leave them where I made them, back in 1993.

Oresuki – 02 – Golden Sombrero

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Joro’s thankless parallel missions to help both Cosmos and Himawari win the heart of the same guy would continue on for a number of episodes, but this week that’s just a small part of a much bigger picture, as the plot progresses farther than I could have anticipated. Lesser shows might’ve have kept the cupid act going longer, but Oresuki sweeps it all aside in favor of something new. It has more to say. Much more.

It also reveals something I touched on last week: the intentional repetition of situations and dialogue that lend the show an appealing poetic rhythm. While Cosmos and Himawari are equally terrible in executing the plans Joro lays out for them (due mostly to how nervous they get around Sun), their particular ways of bombing are both unique to their characters. It takes a lot of hands-on involvement from Joro to get the two definite dates with Sun.

But it’s not just the girls’ ineptness that makes things hard for Joro. Either consciously or not, Sun is simply hesitant to go on a date with either Cosmos or Himawari, and on Pansy’s urging, learns that there’s a girl Sun already likes. In a third “Darth Bench” scene, Sun confesses to Joro that he’s in love with Pansy, adding further complexity to an already unwieldy love polygon. His story is also very similar to the girls’, as there was a third exit from which he encounter Pansy, who encouraged him after seeing him cry.

This scene with Sun features some subtle yaoi undertones, such that until he specifically said “girl” instead of the vaguer “someone,” I thought Sun might confess his love for Joro. Not only that, after the way Joro genuinely blushes when Cosmos and Himawari mentions his strong bond with Sun, I had to remind myself that Joro was interested (at least initially) in those girls…and hence not into Sun.

Joro refuses to help Sun with Pansy, claiming not to know her well enough (partly true, but also partly a lie) but when Sun brings up a baseball metaphor, Joro responds with advice as if it were about baseball and not love. Sun’s confession of love for Pansy ups the danger for Joro exponentially, since that bombshell renders not just one but both of his cupid missions futile.

When Sun sees Joro talking with Pansy about Sun, and Pansy gets angry for Joro cruelly pushing his friend on her when it’s him she loves,  he gets suspicious. But Pansy of all people bails Joro out, confirming Joro’s claim that they’re not close and were only talking about official school business.

Still, Joro keeps Cosmos and Himawari in the dark, clearly overestimating how much time he has before they find out on their own…which of course they do when Sun does the same thing to the two of them that they did to Joro: ask them to help him get closer to someone else…in this case, Pansy!

That brings us to the Golden Sombrero, a baseball term for when a batter strikes out four times in a game. In this episode, Joro strikes out once when he’s not entirely honest with Sun vis-a-vis Pansy, once when he’s callously dismissive of Pansy, and twice more when he tries to explain to Cosmos and Himawari why he kept Sun’s true feelings from them.

As a result of Joro’s Golden Sombrero, his friendships with both Cosmos and Himawari are in the toilet, all because he took Sun’s words about baseball literally and inadvertently advised him to do what he thought best, which was to ask the two girls he went on a date with about another girl. His friendship with Sun seems secure for now, but Joro is still keeping him in the dark about who Pansy really likes.

That brings us to his latest scheduled meeting with Pansy in the library after some time off, which I assumed was to get a possibly-still-suspicious Sun off their trail. Instead, Pansy comments about how “interesting” things have gotten now that Joro’s plans for the girls have gone up in smoke and the girls are now doing what Joro did for them: supporting someone they love in their quest to be with someone else.

Early in the episode, I wanted to take Joro to task for being so unceasingly hostile towards Pansy in all of their interactions, since we hadn’t really experienced enough of Pansy as a character to justify that attitude. And yet, here we are, with Pansy effortlessly manipulating people and having a gas doing it! She even brings Cosmos, Himawari, and Sun to the library in order to find out how much more interesting things can get.

While that final twist feels very Jerry Springer-esque, it’s entirely earned by the events that preceded it. Sun may be the school’s ace pitcher, but when it comes to twisting people into knots with change-ups and curveballs off the diamond, Pansy wins walking away!

Cautious Hero – 02 – Is This Really Going to Work Out?

First off, while the promo art shows six other characters, I’m glad the focus stayed with Ristarte (AKA Rista, or Listarte/Lista) and Seiya. Nothing worse than introducing a bunch of new characters before we’ve had a proper amount of time with the core duo. In this case, it behooved the show to maintain that focus for their first “town mission” scenario, start to finish.

Seiya flees Chaos Machina to his hut in the Divine Realm to continue working out, even as Chaos beheads one townfellow and threatens to behead Mina’s dad. Things get a bit awkward, pacing-wise, as Rista tries in vain to urge Seiya to get moving.

I really shared in Rista’s frustration during the scene leading up to Seiya’s logical-sounding rebuttal.  Not only does it seem absurd for a hero to just keep doing push-ups while people are dying. When she prepares to storm out, calling him a terrible hero and a coward, he makes his position clear: if he goes in half-cocked and gets killed, everyone in the village—and possibly the world—die anyway. So he must be perfectly prepared.

Seiya seems to be proven right when in the battle Chaos Machina constantly unveils previously-hidden, increasingly more powerful forms to counter his leveling up. But once Chaos transforms into a kind of Bahamut ready to smash him into dust, Seiya blocks her strike with one hand. Turns out the stats on Rista’s scan were grossly underrated due to a “Fake-out” ability. Seiya had more than enough power to defeat any form of Chaos from the beginning!

Because he’s so overly cautious, at least one innocent man died needlessly. Things get worse when, after eliminating Chaos Machina, he repeatedly burns the charred remains—little more than scraps of charcoal—with his hidden abilities, setting all of the town’s shops (and some of its people) aflame. You’d think he could move the collected remains somewhere where there wouldn’t be such horrific collateral damage, but Seiya’s caution only applies to his own survival. More so than Goblin Slayer, Seiya’s an unrepentant bastard.

That’s just one way he’s not quite the hero Rista hoped for; he’s got all the stats but none of the…heroism. Before leaving town, Mina’s dad offers some money as thanks, but Seiya demands all his money…and after burning half the town, too! She also has next to no power when it comes to where they should go and what they should do next; she thinks they should move to the next town, but he demands they return to the Divine Realm so he can work out more…and so they do.

Cautious Hero’s second episode lacks the novelty of the first, but is still both fun and watchable. I appreciated its willingness to let its simple character dynamic play out. Now I imagine it will rinse and repeat with a new and more powerful foe, introduce more characters, or both. I’d say it’s the right time for a new face or two. Otherwise, Seiya being ruthlessly condescending to Rista while spamming enormous fire spells on nothing but dust will get stale.

Kemono Michi: Rise Up – 02 (Second Look)

Between his heroic pro-wrestler muscles, love for animals, and need for cash, Shibata Genzo clears a dizzying number of guild missions this week. Unfortunately, Shigure and… whoever that demon ant is… are the only people who know Genzo’s latter motivations and he is quickly dubbed “Demon Beast Killer” by his fellow guild members. That does not go well for them, of the walls of the guild, in hilarious fashion!

As with last week, Rise Up’s humor is elevated by how straight it’s played. Genzo’s behavior may seem random, but it sticks to a nicely defined character, and that character plays off of Shigure’s limited morality very nicely. However, the contrast truly works because no one else is strange. From bankers to adventurers, the NPCs of this world react to weirdness in a believable way: they are cautious, confused, or simply don’t understand what Genzo is even saying. This interplay makes the limp bodies hanging from the walls and NPC commentary while Shigure steals a downed adventurer’s sword even funnier.

Genzo’s character continues to develop too, this week showing how he thinks of Orcs as basically human. Maybe he gets along with them even better, since ‘speaking with his fists’ resolves his Orc quest pretty quickly. The match itself was rendered quite nicely. Naturalistically may not quite be accurate… but it has a grounded feel. It’s probably what you wresting fantasies looked like, if you had them in your youth?

As a comedic, hero-style Isekai, comparisons of Rise Up and Cautious Hero are inevitable this season. To me, Rise Up gives us more insight into what everyone is thinking and feeling, and also keeps the action more grounded. The result is a bit more plain looking, with fewer opportunities for vivid color and over the top character designs. However, I laughed more often with Genzo and crew. (though not quite as loudly)

In closing, there’s something really nice about how different the character builds are from typical anime. Genzo has a brick wall thickness and weight that further sells the ‘realism’ angle. Heck, even Shigure looks like a muscled adult.

If ratings were simply how happy a show made me, Rise Up would score a 10! Its dedication to well told jokes carries it predictably through. Sure, that predictability limits surprises but it absolutely deserves your attention.

Ahiru no Sora – 02 (Second Chance)

Kurumatani defeats the punk basket ball club, earns the respect of the girl’s team captain, and starts to warm the punk-captain’s heart through endless practice and flash backs. There is also a panty-hook.

Most sports anime feature an under dog with endless optimism and dedication to practice. This makes sense, practice is key to getting better, and the only way to make practice watchable is to show how much fun a person is having while doing it. In this regard, AnS has nothing special going for it. Except a panty hook.

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 01 (First Impressions)

Rin is surrounded by a warmth as adults chat aimlessly and give us a glimpse of their family-like fishing community. Their world buzzes with detail but stands motionless. Not even a ripple ebbs near the boats docked at port. Not until Rin’s mother is announced as Jet Girl World Champion! As she speaks into without a sound, we zoom in close to her exposed chest and watch her gently wrest a hand above her heart. Rin mirrors this while dry-humping an oversized dolphin plushie beneath her.

Now grown up, teen-Rin saddles a jet ski, buffeted by sports graphics and announcer narration. A delicate smile dances on her lips and a yellow wetsuit like her mother’s hugs her ample curves. There is joy in her and her partner’s face as they ride from wave into the air, rising to the upbeat throb of the opening theme music.

Teen-Rin now sits in darkness before a picture of her trophy-holding mother at the family shrine. Rain and stillness hang like death in the air.

Elsewhere in the dark, a phone alarm wakes another girl. The emptily-chirping phone lays loose in her sleepless hand. Her eyes do not hide her depression. Her student’s room describes an empty life to us in clean but heartless stills. Pens not quite neatly arranged beside a pad on her desk. A simple mug holds her plain tooth brush by the window.

The girl strips for us and her young breasts bounce with natural weight, as if rejecting their sexual impact. The scene is almost silent, broken only by her sliding door sticking in it’s track. It fights to keep her inside before letting her pass. Misa Aoi is written on the name plaque as the hooded girl marches passed.

Rin now sits by her father at the docks, sharing empty chatter about moving to Tokyo for school and part time jobs. He stands there and does not look at her, nor do either turn to face us. We do not see his face. While the setting and color and coldness match, it becomes clear the girls live far apart.

A steam boats horn blares and music returns. In the distance, Rin now faces us waving. Briefly we come close to her smiling face, and as briefly see the smile slacken, her inner shadow cast long by the rising sun.

Misa dons VR Goggles and we see a machine’s hydraulics flex with her weight. We see a simulation through her eyes, and we see her eyes too, each we see tightly framed. Virtual water splashes but Misa never leaves the dirty wooden room. Nor do we see Misa’s projection into  the simulation. She can not see herself there. She curses, feeling the representation is lacking, and hurts her leg in anger.

Rin returns, eyes wide and balled fists held together in surprise. Pair after hyper-sexualized pair, Rin encounters stylish Tokyo girls in love with each other. A foreign couple offers sepuku. Another, selfies. Later, she is mugged by a plain man, who is ultimately tripped by Misa a short chase later.

As Misa stands, Rin’s eyes trace shapely legs, lingering on the dress shirt,  and distant eyes. Rin’s hand returns to her heart, where it hasn’t been since her mother won the championship. Judging from the shrine photo, perhaps moments before she died. Rin exhales and blushes with glistening eyes and lust. Delicate piano keys finger a short rise. Unable to contain her excitement, Rin unzips her duffle bag and her dolphin plushie erupts forth like a skyward facing erection.

Later still, the girls become roommates. Rin attempts to make Misa touch her breasts before leaning in to smell Misa’s neck. She can smell Misa on their bunk bed. Misa violently pushes her away, disturbed but their name plaques now hang together. Rin’s childish mug and personal items sit next to Misa’s on the walls and desk.

The creeper factor runs thick with deceptive charming, as if Misa’s alarm over a sexual predator and stalker could be gently batted away by Rin’s playful grin, poking and chest rubbing. Misa eventually cowers behind a wall to hide, while Rin chats-up another student. The conversation is yet again inane, but introduces Rin’s Jet Ski experience within range for Misa to hear.

The episode culminates in a race against a river side mean girls, during which most of the sexual themes and azure colors are repeated with gusto. Misa is anally penetrated by rifle fire. Tears flow from her eyes. Her clothes detach and fall away.

Point of view impacts storytelling. Not only who’s point of view, but how they see (what angle, the framing, what they focus on) feed us details about their character and the world overall. In KJG’s case, we mostly share Rin’s point of view but the contrast of what that view shows us, and how people see Rin (a smiling happy girl played straight), creates a deeply unsettling juxtaposition.

What makes any of this interesting is that Rin is not simply a ‘flip’ on a male anime creeper. Where most anime and manga would use creeper icons and conventional expressions like drool and ‘that elbows bent arms up wiggle gesture’ to convey Rin’s desires to the audience, KJG does not. Rin’s expression is played straight. In part, this hides her inner feelings from the other cast members as well, which in turn makes her feel dangerous because we, the viewers, are the only ones who can see more is going on with Rin underneath the surface.

KJG sprinkles other weirdness like suicide, the cheapening of Japanese cultural icons, and untreated (and socially ignored) depression. None of these are pushed to the forefront as much as the sexuality but the sexuality is obviously more the point: if you don’t think about how KJG presents itself, you could be forgiven assuming it was just cheap smut.

what the **** did I just watch? (twice)