Zombieland Saga – 06 – Not Ready to Be History

Let’s face it: as quirky and hilarious as Tatsumi is, he has technically been holding the zombie girls in a kind of servitude. As such, they find themselves compelled to rebel now and again, as Ai does when she sneaks onto the internet during Tatsumi’s long baths.

She lets the others in on her little act of resistance, and they even find a potential new gig for Franchouchou: the famous Saga Rock Festival. Here, the differing philosophies between Ai and Junko (already shown when Junko can’t quite keep up with Ai’s faster, more modern dance moves) are laid bare.

Junko thinks incremental improvement is better in the long run than aiming too high, while Ai’s past career and present purusal of the ‘net has taught her that you have to strike while the iron is hot; stiving for perfection is a luxury they can’t afford.

The next gig Tatsumi lines up for FSS is the kind of even that is commonplace in the present day for idols: a mini-concert followed by a swag sale and photo-op with fans (and yes, they have a good number of those now, as hilariously reported by an oddly kabukiesque Tatsumi).

Everything goes swimmingly—as their gigs tend to do—until its time for the picture-taking. Suddenly, Junko is completely out of her element. Idols in her time would never dream of closing the distance between their fans to such an extreme. She walks out of the job.

Because Junko and Ai are two idol veterans living in the present, they both believe they are right in their views on what an idol should and shouldn’t be. But because they’re from different eras, they end up clashing, and because they’re both stubborn, it flares into a lasting fight the other girls can’t extinguish.

Junko goes to the beach for contemplation, but Sakura catches up to her. That’s when Sakura learns why Junko is so loath to interact so closely with fans: it would be crossing a boundary and going against what she believes an idol is supposed to be: a timeless dream to aspire to, not a fallible chum.

That brings us to how Junko died: while on her way to her next gig, her plane crashed into the sea. Sakura’s death was presented as a joke, but Junko’s is treated far more soberly.

That brings us to the most tragic (and, incidentally, most metal) death to be revealed thus far: Ai’s. We learn what her fate was when Saki finds her cowering in a thunderstorm. Unlike Junko, in less than a year Ai’s Iron Frill was performing in front of tens of thousands in packed arenas. At her biggest show yet, which happened in an open-air venue, it started to rain.

One moment, she was lighting up the crowd with her energetic performance…the next, a lightning bolt zapped her into a cinder. Her charred remains, still holding her final pose, simply stood there in front of her stunned fans. It was a deeply traumatizing experience for all, and a national tragedy.

Most distressingly for Ai, it was history. She became history because of the completely bonkers, completely heartbreaking way her life was snatched away at the very height of her powers.

She may be deathly (undeathly?) afraid of lightning to this day, but she’s not ready to be history quite yet. She’s back, and she’s going to make the very most of it. I liked Sakura and Saki, who each heard the sad tales of Junko and Ai’s respective demises, meeting up when neither could sleep. After all, being told what they were told would unsettle anyone.

But neither of them have an answer for how Junko and Ai can make up. Right now, Junko isn’t even sure she can be in FFS, if they have to do things like the photo op. It’s as much a question of pride and identity as shyness. But by episode’s end, Tatsumi has already made another decision for them: he’s booked them for Saga Rock, just as they had intended to do anyway.

That means Ai will have to perform in an open-air venue, which literally killed her the last time she did it. Even worse? Her old group, Iron Frill, will also be there. Will they recognize her (if they’re even the same members, which is doubtful after ten years)? Will Junko participate? Can they find a way to put their generational differences aside? We shall see.

Really strong and emotionally resonant outing for Zombieland Saga, showing it can be just as adept at serious drama as madcap comedy.

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Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.

But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.

His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.

We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.

Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.

But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.

But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.

There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.

But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.

Sore ga Seiyuu! – 10

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As the OP states, even though Kohana Rin is only fifteen, she’s been working for ten years. As such, she’s by definition not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fifteen-year-old junior high schooler. She’s a special case, which is why her counselor counsels her to seek education at a high school better suited for special cases such as hers, in which she can take acting classes and her work-related absences can be worked around.

The whole reason Rin’s been working so long (in addition to being talented) is that she used to be so painfully shy, so her parents put her in a theater trope. Since then, she’s simply gone with the flow, but it isn’t until now, when she’s now faced with going to a different school than her oldest and best friend, the heart-eyed Sayo, that she starts to doubt whether she even should be a seiyu.

The episode makes it a point to show that unlike Futaba and Ichigo, her present situation didn’t come about as a result of a choice she consciously made; her parents made it for her in hopes it would help her social skills. Futaba and Ichigo don’t lets their doubts get the best of them because they know they’re on the path they want to be on. But Rin isn’t so sure anymore.

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Things become a little clearer when, suddenly and coincidentally, her manager hands her a script for an anime film where she’ll be playing the little sister of the lead, voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi (making his second appearance on SgS). The director specifically chose Rin because he wanted a real 15-year-old actor.

With few actors her age out there with as much experience, she seems the perfect choice, but Rin’s recent realization she hasn’t led a typical 15-year-old’s life makes her uncertain. The director cuts several times because she’s either sounding too responsible or too young. But that’s to be expected, considering Rin is more responsible and composed than most kids her age.

Even Kamiya tells her she impresses him; when he was fifteen, all he did was goof off, and even though he’s regarded as one of the industry’s top voices, his own opinion of himself is of someone constantly unsure if he’s even cut out to be a seiyu. He can be negative and overthink things. He never thinks he’s good enough, so he’s always polishing.

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Learning this insight from such a towering voice works wonders for Rin, now that she knows she’s not the only one who feels the way she does. And however her career started, she is a seiyu, and she wants to become a great one. For that, she decides she’ll change schools for high school.

When she breaks the news to Sayo, Sayo takes it as you’d expect. She can’t hide her sadness or tears, but nor does she think it’s the end of their eternal relationship; not by a long shot. In fact, Sayo’s tears are both of sadness they won’t see as much of each other, but also joy and pride that her once-profoundly shy friend has grown so strong, and can now stand on her own two feet.

Of course, Rin still needs Sayo’s help with one thing, and will continue to year after year, no matter what: their annual end-of summer giant parfait.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 09

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After eight episodes focusing on the seiyu, mostly Futaba, this episode switches things up a bit and re-tells many of the past events, along with a couple future ones, from the perspective of Futaba’s petite but tireless manager Konno Aoi.

As the intermediary between numerous seiyu and numerous production companies, her day is never not busy, and it’s full of small victories and failures, either made better or worse by how she reacts to them and how she delivers the news to her charges.

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From a flashback in the cold open we see what brought Konno into this kind of work: while taking the stage or the spotlight isn’t for her, facilitating the rise of others is not only something she’s good at, but something she enjoys, especially when she gets a big hug from the recipient as a reward.

Just as Futaba makes up for her relative deficiency of otherworldly talent of the Kamiyas and Hories by working hard and trying to stay positive, Konno works no less hard to get Futaba two jobs in one day, further building up her experience, motivation, and confidence as she gets better with time.

Plus, their increasingly dramatic run through the city to make a recording appointment (instead of simply calling to say they got held up in traffic) made for an unexpectedly amusingly action sequence.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 08

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This week Futa-Futa, Ichigo and Rin-Rin are reunited for an in-store event marking the release of their first CD single, “Into Your Ears.” There, they learn of the stress and anticipation prior to the event starting, along with the understanding that the designated performance room will not be packed, judging from the wider spacing of the seats and the fact a couple of employees will be in the crowd (I count 31 total people above).

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But despite all that, the girls do their best for their small but passionate mini-legion of fans who did turn out to watch their first performance, and while the song doesn’t start exactly when they think it will, they don’t make any mistakes in the actual performance, which is good. Far from a fiasco, everything goes pretty smoothly.

It becomes clear to Futaba that Rin and Ichigo are more popular than she, but is heartened by an encounter with one particular fan of hers who not only knows her C.V. and traveled from Saga to see her, but bought the same Korori doll she has. I’m also glad the show didn’t go too dark or cynical with regard to the intensity of the fans; they all behaved themselves…except, perhaps, Rin’s hyper classmate/”first fan” Sayo!

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Earphones as a group also learns that they have to be realistic about the speed of their ascent into J-pop relevance, and have to be satisfied with a few CD sales rather than selling out, just as they have to be satisfied with a third- to half-full hall. Everything takes time, patience, resilience, and work work work.

After the event, Futaba ends up being called into Gonzo’s TV studios to do a narration for a show, her first such job. She’s understandably nervous about this too, especially when she learns the guy doing the job with her is the famous TV voice Machi Yuji (also the voice of Ultraman Tiga, and Tsukino Usagi’s dad). Machi-san is a Pro with a capital P, having amassed enough skill and experience to nail a script that’s literally just been handed to him, even offering the producers corrections down to the frame.

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Watching Machi work and make it look so easy is obviously quite intimidating to Futaba, to the point she totally blows her dry run. But when Machi-san tells her he used to be in her position—no one starts out perfect, or even good—she’s stops worrying about how bad she was and starts working to be as good as she can be.

Her second try is much better, and Futaba’s seiyu Takahashi Rie does a fine job clearly differentiating between bad and better to even the untrained ear. She gets through the job, and impresses enough that Machi mentions finishing a story he started next time they meet, suggesting she’ll get more work there.

If she does, each time she goes, she’ll learn more and more, and get better and better. But she won’t ever be able to stop working any less hard than she is now. Constant improvement requires constant struggle, especially for people like Futaba.

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