Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 03 (OOPS!)

Oops! Episodes 3 & 4 posted very close together and possibly out of order, which I did not catch until watching episode 5 today. This means last week’s review should be read for episode 4 and this review retcons for episode 3.

What did I miss? The real episode 3 introduces Xiao Tang as a naturally APM-talented friend of Boss Guoguo, who Guoguo considers her ‘personal cheat code.’ However, Tang is not a Glory player, because she finds the game too simplistic…until she loses a string of PvPs against Ye Xiu.

While this setup is only a small portion of the episode, seeing Tang as a competitive player with social connections to the cafe, changes her relationship with Xiu a bit. Her interest in his play style being sincere thirst for self-improvement and revenge than casual interest of a layperson who’s been swept into the game through Xiu’s recent pop culture impact.

This doesn’t really change my review of episode 4, other than explaining where Xiu got money to buy everyone McDonalds food, and why he shares it with Xiu (it’s her money, which Xiu won through wagering on games and he’s giving it back to her as food, in a way of softening his harsh critique of her ability). However, it makes Tang’s participation in episode 5 more believable.

What Else? The episode also introduces the frozen forest stage and Xiu’s first speed clearing of it as a player for hire. Again, this doesn’t change anything in episode 4, except to make the alert at the end of the episode about a specific event, and not that competitors are generally catching up ti Xiu, but there’s that. Also, like Tang, the frozen forest plot is a major component of episode 5. Regardless, it’s not necessary for understanding that plot…

In some regards, it actually weakens episode 5 because its just one more example of Xiu smugly beating everyone’s expectations with ease. More importantly, episode 5’s raid on frozen forest reuses animations from episode 3…

Verdict: Graphically, King’s Avatar’s use of CGI for figures can be distracting, the action is often tightly framed and difficult to follow, reused animations are disappointing, and I can’t help but laugh at the crystal-clear sky it presents above China. Overall, its clunky, smug, soft nationalist propaganda full of McDonalds advertisements…but that’s what its been from the beginning?

As before (and after) QZGS remains watchable, weird, and by definition ‘different’ as does not quite follow Japanese or Western conventions. Tang x Xiu has potential to be an interesting relationship and Glory, as an arbitrary item for them to compete over, is serviceable. Nothing else to say about it ;)

Renai Boukun – 04

“There are piranhas in that pond.”

The Gist: Yuzu-chan takes center stage this week, with a silly backstory that explains her love for her sister Akane and establishes that Yuzu has always been a tripping-prone clutz for… some reason. We also learn that Yuzu doesn’t actually attend Akane/Aino’s school but, instead, an all girls school in which she uses male body-doubles in drag to fill her place.

Back in the present, Shiramine Shikimi shows up and is clearly just pretending to be a meek girl in need of help. (She’s obviously the mean pink haired girl from Akane x Yuzu’s past) After getting Aino to follow her to an abandoned hospital, she traps him with magic gum and begins to torture him with nails and BDSM.

Fear not! While it ends to be continued, Guri x Yuzu x Akane are on their way and at least 2/3 of those characters have an idea what is going on…

Cell phones occupied much of the humor this week. The biggest player being Guri’s new smart phone, which is full of romance-specific apps as well as a weather report for the afterlife. However, Aino’s flip phone makes an appearance to deliver a gag that Guri has sent him undressing pics of Akane with the subject line “Present for your personal pleasure.”

Otherwise, much of the humor focuses on Yuzu’s foolish personality and the phone’s “Compatibility Barometer” which shows the various one-sided romances in the four way couple. Unsurprisingly, from a humor stand point, Yuzu and Aino would make the strongest couple, even though neither would be happy to admit that…

The Gist: Renai Boukun is all about great gags and subtle details. Yuzu’s family fountain is full of Piranas, the unexplained app icons on the phone featuring art for each of the show’s characters, rescuing Yuzu from an extremely shallow stream, great audio cues and timing like Yuzu’s rejection noise and face — it’s all hilarious!

Renai Boukun also took a risk this week. Going dark with Shikimi — really dark with a sadist dry humping a torture victim — spins our soft and care-free expectations of the show on their head. It says boldly that anything can happen. Except, that’s not really want anyone should want from a well timed comedy is it?

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 03

The Gist: Benten returns and crushes Tenmaya, who is both obsessed with and terrified of her. Yasaburou and his mother Tousen visit Tousen’s mother, an ancient white fluffy tanuki, and ask for help turning frog-brother back to normal. The grandmother is blind, kind, and cryptic, but offers some medicine.

Later, Yasaburou and his little brother visit Nadaime’s new location, which is a lovely roof top mansion, and share some afternoon tea. Benten shows up and completely fails to dominate Nadaime. Major magical conflict can not be far off now…

As is often the case, Uchouten Kazoku wandered us through several lovely, dialogue-heavy scenes that straddle the line between inconsequential and deeply magical. However, because Uchouten Kazoku treats its magical settings and characters as everyday occurrences, exposition is kept to a minimum.

What is grandmother’s place in tanuki culture? What are the other tanuki doing around grandmother? Is it a ceremony simply because she is old or is she part of the shrine or something else? Leaving us with a heavily detailed but unknowable scene renders it dreamlike. Captivating.

The rise and fall of Benten is more or less the defining arc this week. As with Nadaime, she abruptly falls from the sky full of power and crushes Tenmaya. While we learn no details about their rivalry, and Benten is almost as interested in Yasaburou’s moon (stolen by Tenmaya) as she is in Tenmaya himself.

Here Benten is full of power and flaunts it. Yasaburou has no course but to ask very nicely for his moon back and Tenmaya has no choice but to shed his fake skin and flee. Benten casually rolls the moon around her fingers and, when she tires of it, simply throws it back into the sky before demanding even more courtesy from Yasaburou and wandering off to visit her master.

That domination comes to a quick end when Benten arrives at Nadaime’s new house and arrogantly lays down on the couch Nadaime had planned to use for his afternoon nap. Always polite, Nadaime asks her to leave and when she will not, he spreads a sheet on the floor and dumps her out. Paying her no mind, he thanks everyone for their visit and gets ready to nap.

The contrast between Nadaime and Benten is rather interesting. Both are powerful and throw their weight around but it is hard to figure out which is ‘good’ or not. Despite her malice and abuse, Benten seems to care for Yasaburou. (At least she cares enough to want his attention) Where as Nadaime, despite being generally polite in dialog, is obviously dismissive of Tenuki in general. He’s tolerant of them, but does not especially desire to have them around.

The Verdict: Despite the masterful craft poured into Uchouten Kazoku, it is not always an exciting nor engaging show to watch. Again, as last week, episode three was full of action, characters and conflict, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Nadaime’s shirt ironing, Yasaburou’s grandmother, and Benten playing with the moon were all interesting curiosities but, not counting Nadaime and Benten’s cliffhanger showdown, nothing consequential actually happened.

Renai Boukun – 03

The Gist: Akua meets Guri officially, Akua and Aino work out their troubles, Guri’s love note book gets burned up, everyone is worried their relationships have fallen apart, Tiara-san is introduced, the trouble with the notebook is resolved, everyone is happy ever after. (sorta)

So much wacky goodness happens this week and basically none of it matters in detail. Sure, Akua is chased by a rapacious demonic penguin that cemented her relationship with her brother long ago in their childhood. Sure, Guri’s notebook is burned during a hilarious gender-role-reverse-expetation fight between a bad boy and a squad of scorned ladies. Sure, Tiara-san is one trashy former cupid that god knocked up and her phone has now replaced Guri’s book as the prop of the show.

But the joy of Renai Boukun is just in the timing of all these absurd happenings. The penguin could have been pedo-bear or an 8 bit character or anything random as long as the joke remained that it talked with its eyes. Guri could have lost the notebook in any number of ways — or the relationships could have become at risk through any number of megufins — as long as she basically showed no concern while all the other characters freaked out. Tiara-san didn’t even have to exist — they could just have written ‘love note’ on a new book and had everything else play out the same.

But, despite the lack of importance to any detail, all the precision in how those details play out in sound, framing, gesture and timing works very very well. Giggle on the floor blade sticking out of your head wonderfully well.

“It’s okay! There’s steam and mysterious lights. So people can see anything important.” – Guri, nude in the bathroom

The Verdict: Love Tyrant is almost the complete opposite of QZGS in so far as Love Tyrant doesn’t look special at all and doesn’t try to be cool either. In fact, if the comedy were not so tightly orchestrated, I wouldn’t even think it was trying hard to do that.

In short, Love Tyrant doesn’t take anything seriously in it’s search of fun. Laugh with it as it laughs at anime in general, and the romance genre specifically. Laugh until you puke. And love it!

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 03 (CORRECTION: – 04)

(This is the review for episode 04. For the review of episode 03, click here.)

The Gist: This week introduces Xiao Tang, a female player who appears to be new to Glory and has come to the cafe for guidance. Like many in the cafe, she’s become aware of Ye Xiu, not only for his string of skilled first-kills but also for his unusual classless-character and all-crafted gear. To the cafe owner’s annoyance, Tang wants to pursue a classless like Xiu. However, the two women quickly move on from any conflict when Tang is willing to watch the owner’s deep collection of tutorial videos…even though Xiu snarks that they are 9 years out of date.

Tang has decent APM and is a quick learner but we don’t know anything significant about her. While it’s likely that she will end up in Xiu’s team of noobs and weirdos, her current role is the same as the unnamed onlookers of the cafe—simply a perspective to show us Xiu’s growing impact on Glory’s popular culture.

To QZGS’ credit, showing us Xiu’s impact through Tang and keeping Tang only one step removed from the background, is a decently subtle conveyance. Unfortunately, QZGS also has nameless characters utter unintentionally hilarious lines like “I’ve truly broadened my view today” and “He is truly wearing money” when they view Xiu’s all silver armor and gatling-gun-spear-warhammer-umbrella.

This is unfortunate because the crowd-tells-us format is much more conventional and the opposite of subtle (it’s used by many manga artists to convince the viewer that a character or action or item is cooler or more important than would be obvious to the viewer on visuals alone). The resulting contrast makes Tang’s more restrained and interesting expression of the same narrative concept less impactful. It feels like the creators don’t trust the viewers to be smart enough to get the point, which is kinda insulting…

It’s worth noting that King’s Avatar is brought to you by McDonald’s. At least, that’s what appears to be the case, as several long-sweeping glamour shots are dedicated to the brand (and it featured prominently in the background of the first episode).

While the scene itself isn’t terribly obtrusive, perhaps even making a cultural point about the characters, the product placement itself is jarring. Not counting an inexplicably photo-textured tree outside an office window, the food packaging is the highest detail content in the episode. The rendering quality is high enough, it may even be output with real commercial grade frames and textures from McDonald’s itself.

This choice is bizarre for a few reasons but the biggest is one of QZGS’ core failings. Simply, if Glory is so important to QZGS’ world, and the pro-players are a significant vector of Glory’s connection with the masses, we should see physical evidence of Glory and the pros all throughout the world. Putting Glory branding and themes on the food packaging would have been a very easy way to show that. However, since no such attempt was made, the food only reads as a commercial for a real world brand, and the believably of the QZGS world is again diminished.

Similar can be said about the photographic tree. From a technical stand point, it’s a very lovely panning shot with a shift in ‘camera’ focus from the tree to the wall of the office. The colors are rich and it sets an interesting mood…except it doesn’t. Like the food, it doesn’t expand our understanding of the world beyond being ‘pretty’ and if it is an intentional attempt to contrast the beauty of the real world against the claustrophobic, dark, and lower render quality of the online world and the interior of the cafe, it fails without more scenes to reinforce that point. Animation is expensive and time consuming, so if a scene does not add value, why create it in the first place?

Back in Glory, the three most powerful guilds are camped outside a graveyard watching a bunch of noobs foolishly go after a world-boss. While none of the guild captains especially like or trust each other, often having lost major club events at the hands of one another, they eventually agree to work together to take down the boss when the noobs get squashed.

Except one of the noobs turns out to not be a noob so much as a chaotic idiot who passes up finishing-move-openings of his own making to do things like slap the boss and cause said boss to go into rage mode. (Comically, this character has wolverine claws on his right hand and carries a brick in his left.)

Xiu shows up too and quickly takes charge, APM/Umbrelling the heck out of the vampire-gunman-boss’ head. Of course this spurs the guilds into action, as they don’t want to let Xiu score another first kill on the server. Too bad for them, Xiu has anticipated this outcome and uses the noobs to max out the Boss’ redline counterattack, effectively dumping an army of zombies into the charging guilds.

Xiu, Wolverine/Brick, and the noobs from Xiu’s previous party manage to take down the boss in the ensuing chaos. Little Little Moon is even there. As before, Xiu only wants the glory and the crafting materials and everyone but the guilds leaves happy. And even though the guilds are not happy, a quick back and forth over messenger leaves them without much room to complain. World bosses only exist for first kills anyway…

Can a westerner appreciate the nature of Chinese storytelling, which has not yet adopted western standards as universally as the Japanese? Can a Chinese show be criticized for failings in timing, sound design and narrative purpose as established by western convention? Should Chinese viewers be expected to have the ability to the difference between nationalist propaganda, clichés, or quality?

There are two core ways to approach art made outside of your own culture and choosing which is appropriate depends on context. The first approach is to judge the art strictly on its source-cultural’s standards and is appropriate for art made exclusively within those cultural standards and for that culture only. Think of this as the “art history” method, because it applies mostly to pre-global cultures or situations where the artist knows something ‘isn’t right’ technically, but has a reason to do it anyway. For example, pre-renaissance art often contains figures of all different sizes that make no sense in space but that isn’t important to critique because, in that cultural context, the figure’s size showed his or her importance.

The second approach is reflective of the foreign culture’s response to your own culture. The key is that the artist/creator is aware of you own culture’s norms and is either emulating them or using them to make a comment about the foreign culture. In this case, critiquing the effectiveness of that culture’s use of your own conventions is just as important as what that culture could be saying about those conventions. A funny example of this is Russian ‘Cowboy’ movies in the 1950s, which had a political message, as well as a popularity because all-things-American were popular, even in Russia.

QZGS clearly falls into this second category, as it employs many western techniques, and its subject matter is relatable to topics in the western world. In techniques, QZGS uses discordant sound effects to punctuate sight-gags and guitar/rock music to assert ‘coolness.’ It is also clearly made to be an ‘anime,’ which could be argued to be cultural appropriation from the Japanese for the sake of coolness too.

In topic, QZGS touches on capitalism, sense of identity and belonging, virtual addiction, and aging out. While the views on capitalism (notably spearheaded by villainous blonde people) are obviously Chinese-state message norms, westerners can relate to all of these concepts. Quite easily in fact, because so many western norms are exploited in their delivery.

The delivery of those norms fail miserably. Take the sound that accompanies Tang’s decision to try Classless for example. It’s not only misaligned with the gesture, but the sound itself is wonderfully out of place. The result feels slapped on because the creator knows a western-style joke would have a discordant note there, but the creator has no idea why or how to use it specifically.

In another example, as seen in the image above, we are treated to six seconds of…floor tile. Eventually, Ye Xiu steps into said frame, after hearing people talk about him in the background, but the six seconds of floor tile is mostly without sound or motion or purpose. Certainly this creates nervous tension through our expectation that something will happen, which is based on conventions of story telling where showing the viewer a dark and empty space at shoe level will mean something… but, in this case, it appears to mean nothing.

More importantly, lingering on floor tiles and empty frames has no Chinese cultural significance either. It’s just empty, un-animated space and like the photographic tree it begs the question: why?

Verdict: Thus far, QZGS features a hero that’s smarter and nicer than most. The fighting is conventional and the twistless-take on the virtual MMOs, there are no stakes to be had. The viewer knows that hero will win the fights at hand and even if he didn’t, what would it matter? There is no drama.

Then there’s the product placement, which you could read a few ways. The cafe boss is proud, ignorant, and haughty, so of course she’s taken by western fried foods and is a bit of a glutton (she’s not even willing to give thanks to Xiu for buying the food for the group). Is this misogyny a Chinese cultural norm, is it simply to reinforce how this gluttonous woman is losing her connection with Chinese culture (she’s not even aware that a cultural hero is sitting next to her), or does it have no meaning at all? It’s hard to answer, given how un-thought-out QZGS has been to this point.

Yes! QZGS is constructed well enough to be watchable. In the future, it may even serve as a snapshot for how far Chinese animation and pop culture has come or where they are going. QZGS may even produce interesting musings on internet addiction and the emptiness of modern life—the core cast all exist only to play a game, which is just an MMO.

For now? It’s just people hanging around playing an MMO that isn’t notably original or interesting. If that’s not enough to hold your attention, go watch something else.

Yo! Daitouryou Trap-kun (First Impressions)

The Gist: Donald Trump shows up as an exchange student who raps, is vile, and horrifies all the Japanese around him. Episodes are 60 seconds long, with the first introducing him and ending with a reveal that his head is a bento box and the second focusing on gym class and that his hair is a 5 kilogram stone weight. There’s censored nudity.

You may find Yo! Daitouryou Trap-kun interesting if you want to see what another country thinks of the US president. The rap is pretty good, if a little simple, and the same can be said for the art style. It’s expressive, gross, funny, and terrifying in equal measure.

You may find Yo! Daitouryou Trap-kun (trump kun?) unacceptable if you are one of his supporters. While it fits Trump’s image as a loud, unapologetic sociopath that makes excuses for his inadequacy, it does feature the president peeing into the air and landing bare-ass naked on a little girls face. Subtle this is not.

The Verdict: if this wasn’t about Trump, no one would notice it at all. The art style is primitive, the 60 second format is too short for more than the most bizarre of sight gags, and the humor itself is as shocking and nonsensical as can be.

Since it is about Trump, and since it is from a non-US source, it’s interesting to see as a snapshot of our world. Beyond that? It’s not especially worth hunting down a copy.

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 02

The Gist: Ye Xiu is labeled a Team Killer loot thief by the fraud player who was planning to do just that. However, they both end up in a raid together again and Xiu’s pro-skills make everyone’s jaws drop and quickly all is forgotten and forgiven. (He gives almost all of the drops away to the other players after all.)

After scoring first-kill on three bosses in the server’s first night, Xiu gets invited to join one of the three powerful guilds but manages to negotiate for a lot of rare crafting materials instead. Then he takes a nap in a dirty side room because the internet cafe’s employee dorm is too full.

Meanwhile, his former team announces his retirement and a lot of people seem to be broken up about it. Especially the cafe owner, who sits outside sobbing next to him, completely unaware that she her newest employee is Xiu in the flesh…

King’s Avatar slides into its second week with the confidence only a truly clueless production can muster. The bangin’ guitar music is trying so hard to be cool. The flawless gamemaster protagonist can take down anything with a wry smile and already has other good players tripping over themselves. Fans are openly crestfallen with the news that Xiu is retiring because he was just so goddamn important to the world that we viewers should really feel for his dilemma.

It’s hard not to laugh at, honestly. While not incompetently delivered, visually or in sound, the particulars are silly. The central conflict, that Xiu is a nice guy and mean capitalists have chased him out from a game where everyone apparently loves him and he was the best of the best…lacks impact. If he weren’t obviously at financial risk for lack of livelihood, there would be no stakes at all.

Verdict: comparing Quan Zhi Gao Shou to Sword Art Online articulates the fundamental challenges faced by the show. Where SAO is a somewhat over the top tale about the life or death stakes of a virtual world on those who are not able to let go in the real world, QZGS is a more general low-key tale about the cultural impact the virtual world has on people who can’t emotionally let go in the real world. Both shows feature best-of-the-best protagonists that get vilified early on and who’s climb up the ranks will probably save a number of victims along the way.

There’s just no positive comparison beyond that. QZGS’ characters don’t imply subtlety, the real world doesn’t present cues of significance to bolster the conflicts in the narrative (we do not see sponsorship and money effecting anyone but Xiu) and the emotional connection common folks have with Glory’s pros is just tossed at us from nowhere.

It’s watchable. It’s interesting as a snapshot of Chinese culture (maybe?) and an early dive of their industry into the animation art form. However, it’s far and away from ‘good’ by any objective standard.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 02

The Gist: Akadama and Nidaime’s top-dog Tengu fight ends before it even begins, with Akadama falling off the building and Nidaime not seeing his father being worth the effort to fight. For whatever reason, Akadama takes this as a victory, which Yasaburou thinks is patently absurd.

Though perhaps that’s Nidaime’s point in not calling himself a Tengu? The very definition of Tengu may project an arrogance that he finds unnecessary and unproductive.

Meanwhile, a noodle shop opens on the roof of the shopping arcade and the owner wont take it down. Apparently, he can extend his chin as a whip, amongst various other illusions and even Yasaburou’s foolishness is not enough to win the day. Actually, Yasaburou ends up a hypnotized bear, and is nearly shot by the police…

This conflict leads to a few passing confrontations between Yasaburou and his formerly betrothed, who’s angsty at him for a variety of things but, most obviously, that they are no longer engaged. Even though Yasaburou is the only one who doesn’t realize there’s no reason for them not to be engaged anymore…

It also leads to the introduction of a painter who doesn’t want to sell his paintings and reveals the name and identity of the noodle shop owner. Tenmaya, who appears magical but is also consistently referred to as just human, apparently climbed out of a painting of hell because the painter illustrated a Buddha holding a spider’s thread out to the damned… it’s unclear who the painting belongs to or what the significance of all of this is. (Tenmaya doesn’t seem to want anything from life except amusement)

What is clear is that Yasaburou probably shouldn’t have tried to scare Tenmaya by turning into a demon, which is where the episode ends. A shotgun pointed right in our poor foolish hero’s face…

The official theme this week is that we are in the age in which Man plays tricks on Tenuki. However, for me, the story was more about the world not being able to move forward. (or not being aware of its lack of forward development)

Akadama is not only stuck in the tradition of Tengu, but also stuck on his conflict with his son. Despite his rejection of Tengu, Nadaime hasn’t moved ahead himself, which is evident from his characterization of Akadama being pathetic because he interacts with Tenuki, and Nadaime’s somewhat vaguely contradictory like/disrespect of Yasaburou throughout their encounters.

Yasaburou is stuck in last season’s position of servitude to the community, pranking around without purpose, and with not advancing his relationships with family and his love interest. He doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative reason to have changed, but he hasn’t changed regardless.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku takes a casual approach to narrative. It just sorta wanders all over the place, touching on many different story threads, but without any sense of specific purpose. This very much fits the nature of Tenuki, and the experience is enjoyable enough due to the odd and specifically weird situations, but it does risk becoming so whimsical as to lose my attention.

It’s already somewhat hard to follow, due to the gigantic cast, many of which can shape-change and many others who simply don’t get enough story time for me to remember who they are or what their objectives may be.

For now, the magic has me under it’s spell. However, like Akadama, I too miss Benten and the sense of specific adversarial focus she brings. Hopefully, we’ll see her sooner than later…

Renai Boukun – 02

The Gist: Aino’s sister Akua has come home early and she clearly is frustrated with her brother. However, the real meat of the show is Guri and Akane’s sister getting into weird antics to fulfill their roles as cupids.

Ultimately, they stumble on a sensei and class rep who they want to put together. On the surface, the class rep doesn’t appear to be a willing participant (treating the sensei like he’s her younger brother in need of constant help and scolding).

However, after the class rep (and Guri) are taken hostage during a bank robbery gone wrong (which just so happens to line up with Guri’s plan to take the class rep hostage anyway) it’s revealed that the love is mutual. The class rep had always planned on waiting until after she graduated to let him confess and accept him.

Of course the bank robbers are completely embarrassed and infuriated by how calm everyone is and how much they are being ignored. They even shoot at Akane’s sister and Aino takes the bullet in her defense…not that any of them can die due to being angels now.

Regardless, Akane goes full yandere upon arrival and the police watch on in terror. All is well with the happy ending, though Akua watches on unobserved (and frustrated) at the fringe…

The Verdict: Love Tyrant has a Master Level-sense of timing and breaking our expectations and being sly while doing it. The class rep just oozes a malicious grin at the end of all this, since she’s known more or less all along what’s going on and what she wants.

But there’s also a lot of heart right along side that comedy. The class rep truly wants to experience the ‘work’ of being in love, and not just the realization. It’s a charming sentiment that plays off against the silliness around it. It also makes for a good contrast to the hot (and somewhat automatic) love that’s going on among the love rectangle. Sure, Aino ‘saved’ Akane’s sister, and Akane saved the day herself, but it’s all so jump-first and think later teenager love that you can imagine it all burning out and/or stumbling over itself as different parts of the rectangle fall in and out of love with other parts.

Over all, it didn’t quite hit the same level of surprise as last week, but how could it? The humor is still there though, and it works great. The accidental real hostage situation, the interrogation in the announcement room, and the requited love reveal at the end all worked great. Neat! Go watch it now!

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 02

Now that’s more bloody like it. Thanks, Akashic Records, for validating my optimism! After an episode that makes Mr. Radars look like a total loooser, this week starts much the same way, with Glenn picking a fight with Sisti over the value and utility of magic, then going so far he makes her cry and slap him before storming out of class.

At the end of the day, Glenn spots Rumia working on a magical circle, and decides to help her out. She (and by extension we) learn a little more about Glenn, and we learn a lot about Rumia. She’s super-gung-ho about becoming a mage because she’s both indebted to and inspired by a ‘mage of justice’ who once saved her life.

Chances of this dude being Glenn are around, oh…99.99%. Still, I like the dynamic between Sisti’s fire and Rumia’s water regarding Glenn. It’s as if she knows he’s a better man than he’s letting on.

Glenn also takes Rumia’s advice and properly apologizes to Sisti, which flabberghasts her, but also eases their conflict considerably. From there, Glenn, outraged by the “For Dummies” approach his class had taken towards magic thus far, decides to actually give a shit and teaches them what he knows.

Mind you, he still manages to tease “Shironeko” Sisti in the process, but turns out to be a really good magical instructor. The class starts filling with rapt students. Shit is getting done. Just as Rumia saw a good man somewhere in Glenn’s initial bastardry, his mentor Celica predicted he’d be a great teacher.

This episode has a very talky middle, but I didn’t mind because it’s all fascinating stuff that delves deep into the magical lore of the show’s world. I also liked how Glenn actually had the know-how to back up his constant posturing.

But when the other teachers peace out for some kind of magical conference, a group of magical terrorists take advantage. One confronts Glenn in the streets, while others invade the school, looking for Rumia, who they call “Princess Ermiana.”

Sisti stands up for her friend, but when it’s clear the terrorists ain’t messin’ around, she comes forward, with a distinctly defiant look about her. Her faith in Glenn hasn’t been extinguished; she believes he’ll come and rescue them.

Sistine’s attitude gets her in real trouble when one of the terrorists takes her into an isolated room with designs on raping her, calling her out for her facade of strength masking a scared and fragile girl, and stating her type is his favorite. Yikes…shit got dark in a hurry.

Fortunately, this asshole’s associate’s magic didn’t actually do squat against Glenn, who arrives just in time to put a stop to his assault. He uses his ‘original spell’ The Fool’s World to nullify all magic within a certain radius around him, then uses some fly physical martial arts to incapacitate the jerkwad.

As Rumia—or Her Royal Highness Princess Ermiana, if you’re not into that whole brevity thing—thought, this Bastard Magic Instructor isn’t going to stand by and let even bigger bastards hurt his dear students. The straightforward comedy of the first episode wasn’t bad, but I enjoyed that same cheeky comedy interspersed with danger even more. The fact the “Magical Punch” is a kick, for instance; call me easily amused if you must.

Makeruna!! Aku no Gundan! – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: A young alien has decided to do something with his life so why not invading worlds? After being sent off by his mom at the space train station, and practicing yelling as the manual tells him to, he starts with the easiest-to-invade planet: Earth. It goes well, with near immediate take over… but he has no idea what to do with the 7,000,000,000 people he’s rounded up in the process.

The Verdict: MAnG is silly good fun at 4 minutes long. I would not describe it as good, or especially funny, but it has a charming sense of almost humor and nothing stood out as annoying.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: the stage is set some time after the events that closed the first season, with the cast serving mostly familiar roles. The Shimogamo brothers are an eclectic, often disrespected, but equally relied upon members of the Tenuki community.

Yasaburou continues to take care of the elderly Akadama-sensei, who appears a bit depressed now that Benten is on an extended vacation. Yasaburou’s older brother is still vying for the position of leadership amongst the Tanuki, the youngest brother is immersed in books and his own world, and the second brother is still a frog at the bottom of the well. Fools’ blood all around but fools’ blood where we would expect it.

One day, while Yasaburou is searching for a mythical snake, a couch falls from the sky. Eventually, this leads him to meet Akadama-sensei’s son, who’s returned after over a hundred years in exile. While their exchanges are guarded, the two wayward sons seem to bond over clever and polite banter. However, it’s obvious that Akadama’s son will be a source of major conflict.

Sure enough, by the end of the evening, Father and son stand on a roof ready to duel…

At it’s core, this opening episode is a leisurely exploration of nostalgia and the challenges of tradition (or, perhaps, generally grappling with the past).

Yasaburou’s snake-hunt is something his father own father played at long ago. It’s even how his father and mother met, which Yasaburou attributes as the singular reason he and his four brothers exist.

Meanwhile, Yasaburou’s older brother is attempting to revive the town’s shoji tournament, which has not been run since their father was cooked in a hot pot. Not only does this repeat the shadow of the father motif, but it reinforces the older brother’s need to retain the family place as an upstanding leader in the community. It’s strongly implied this will let him tanuki-bang the wide eye’d girl at the clinic too.

Double meanwhile, Akadama and his son have an unavoidable need to battle, due to their traditional pride as tengu. However, neither seems up for that tradition (Akadama physically and his son emotionally). It’s comical to see the modern tengu, a classless lot, dressed like dime store mobsters, egg them on from afar. As Akadama’s son says when he first meets them: if you’re tengu, at least put some pride in it.

You should probably watch Uchouten Kazoku’s second season because the first was a lovely, whimsical tale of weirdness. While the narrative buildup and payoff, and the tension along the way lacked the emotional impact of other weird-genre shows (Tamako Market, Tatami Galaxy, Mr.Despair), Uchouten Kazoku absolutely rules the roost for world-building. Only Durarara!! comes close.

You may choose to skip Uchouten Kazoku because it’s destined to be a slow build with an all-too-uneventful finish. While the high concepts appeal to me, and pose a creative challenge to tease out and express via review, I must admit that academic focus creates a barrier between the story and emotionally resonant action and conventional drama.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku is solidly enjoyable to look at and confidently cool. Despite being a slow burn, it presents a lot to absorb; at times, too quickly for me to read without pausing.

But that’s hardly a complaint, as re-watching and rewinding lets me revel in its wonderful camera angles, solid color work, imaginative facial expressions, character designs and gestures. The music choices haven’t stuck with me but that also means I have no complaints about them either.

Quan Zhi Gao Shou – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: Ye Xiu, a pro-player of an MMO called Glory gets chased out of his team and is forced to start from scratch at an internet café. Fortunately, Glory’s 10th server has just started and he’s competing with other fresh characters, which makes his 10 years of experience a signficant advantage.

Meanwhile, in the real world, no one really knows who he is. Including the tom-boy who idalizes him, who he now works for, as an underboss at the internet café. Also, his weapon looks kinda like an umbrella…

You may want to check out King’s Avatar because it looks pretty good, albeit with a narrow color pallet and unimaginative character designs. The animation is crisp enough though, and the heavy use of CGI to render the real world spaces lets those spaces be highly detailed (and populated with figures) even if they feel clunky.

It’s worth noting that King’s Avatar is a Chinese production, which still counts as novel by anime standards. Nothing is cringe worthy but, if you watch a lot of anime, you will notice the pentameter of speech, and the sound of words, all feel ‘wrong.’ It’s hard to say if the generically evil boss who fired the MC suffers from this or is just generically evil?

You may want to skip King’s Avatar because it’s actually kinda terrible. Seriously, who thinks a 5 minute scene were pro gamers stand around a table being generically mean to ‘the old guy’ before making him quit the team was an interesting way to start an episode?

The poor choices for flow continue throughout the episode, with the MC immediately walking into an internet cafe and setting up an account the second after he says he’s going to take a year off and retire. The narrative works, as a string of events that make sense (enough) but the pacing is just subpar.

Verdict: I almost feel like I was laughing at King’s Avatar, not with it. Not that it has any comedy but, seriously, I don’t think the creators are aware of how infantile their efforts are. There’s so little character development and no ‘twist’ to the world either, that all this effort to tell the story of an older pro player who loves a fictional game return to glory from an obscure internet cafe a block from his former employer seems like a joke with no punchline?

But the Chinese cultural differences in language, story telling, and implication are enough for me to be curious for now. So I will be reviewing it, if not to the serious degree I normally do.

Did you have a chance to watch it? Drop a comment below!