Handa-kun – 06

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The Gist: Kawafuji is aware of Handa’s increasing paranoia in the wake of the amnesia plot and tries to introduce him to a new friend. Handa, being paranoid, dresses in a disguise for the meeting. However, at the end of their hang out day he comes to like the new person… but totally confuses issues be rescuing his new friend from bullies as Handa.

Later, Handa defeats his middle school nemesis, a track star named Dash. Dash gets raped by a horny dog. Twice.

Then the school palm reader is stumped by how average Handa’s palm is. Also, that he will never marry nor have love, but will be surrounded by many children in the near future. She too takes this as an accidental compliment from Handa and strives to work harder.

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The Verdict: while I greatly enjoyed the dog-rape segment for it’s rapier like subtlety, the third act was the most concise joke. There’s not much to say beyond that really… Handa-kun’s accidental nice guy hero formula is pretty straight forward and the cast around him follows such a predictable pattern, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen it all.

Still worth a chuckle. Not a very clever chuckle but a chuckle all the same;

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Handa-kun – 05

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The age of males is long gone…

The Gist: This week’s unintentional conflict pits Handa against Tennouji Sawako-sama, the man-hating student council president. This is because Handa is popular, technically viceless, and looks like he is amassing a group of powerful students… all things that could challenge Sawako’s domination of the school, and males in general.

Sawako’s first plan is to seduce and control Handa with two of the school’s most predatory females but it’s thwarted in traditional Handa fashion: the girls overhear what seems like a genuine life lesson directed at them and leave, only for Handa to actually be talking to stray cats.

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Sawako’s second plan is to capture Handa and force him to wear a skirt. This leads to a chase by de-masculinated student council vice-president Rikimaru, which culminates in Handa and Sawako falling down the stares. Handa appears to have protected her during the fall and, again following the show’s formula, wins Sawako’s heart without knowing what is going on at all.

In an unexpected twist, Handa loses his memory and becomes a creepy opportunist clown. There are many jokes about him trying to pick up girls but everyone things he’s just another fake because the real Handa would never cheapen himself like that. Eventually, Handa becomes depressed again, maybe or maybe not actually regaining his memory in the process…

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The Verdict: The opening act was pure formula but it was moderately entertaining. The jokes were well timed, the visuals were silly, and the accidental life lesson was amusing.

Unfortunately, the second act was not so good. It didn’t do anything with the amnesia tropes, it was short, and nothing really came of it except end everything was back to normal by the end.

To its credit, Handa-kun builds a remarkably lived in world where any character that has received a face and screen time continues to weave in and out of future episodes. Suicide-chan and the Predator Girls and not-Handa all make appearances here. But it’s a pretty average, lightly funny world to have dedicated so much effort to.

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Handa-kun – 04

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The Gist: This week Handa-kun continued to hit its stride with another trio of silly nonsensical situations. First we meet a Handa-kun cosplayer with terrible teeth, then students misunderstand Handa’s mom to be his girlfriend, and last Handa tries to make small talk because his parent teacher meeting doesn’t go well.

The Verdict: Handa-kun’s shortcomings as a show remain the same but so do its strengths in comedic timing. This leaves me with little to say beyond summarizing the episode, unfortunately. Fortunately, I was laughing most of the way!

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Handa-kun – 03

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The Gist: This week concludes the character introductions with Tsutsui Akane-kun, Kondo Yokio and Kawafuji-kun. The three-part episode format makes each segment feel a little short but, honestly, that’s probably for the best.

Even though the core gag is the same in each segment (Handa-kun thinks the opposite of what everyone thinks he thinks), hopping from segment to segment keeps it from feeling over used. Played out or not, the question is, does Handa-kun have enough to like in the first place?

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Tsutsui Akane-kun’s segment is the most interesting, structurally. See, Akane-Kun used to be a girly boy and he was literally tormented by the way Handa imagines being tormented. In a way, it is the way Handa is tormented: Girls thought Akane was stealing their boyfriends.

Unlike Handa, Akane broke and left school to become a shut in. Then he became a tough and redefined himself. When Handa/misunderstanding inevitably brings Akane back to school, the cycle continues with his own awkwardness leading Handa to think they are enemies.

tl;dr? It’s smarter than it is funny but it was also pretty funny.

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Yokio’s section would be straight forward except we, as viewers, can draw a deeper understanding of Handa’s weird popularity from Yokio’s conclusions. Yokio see’s Handa’s decisions as bizarre, and he can see everyone is forcing themselves to think of these decisions in a positive light, but he can also see that the results are positive. Handa-Force stops fighting to pay attention to Handa’s kitchen fire and they all appreciate getting ‘treat’ of special custard at the end, even if it’s gross.

The results make the intention unimportant. In a way, because Handa is an eccentric artist, his actions are basically performances too, which makes them not out of place for him to do… in an academic sense.

Looking at it from another angle, Yokio knows Handa’s work is high concept and he gets that ‘an ordinary Joe can’t grasp his appeal’ but that’s not going to stop him from trying.

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Kawafuji’s segment isn’t particularly interesting from a structural stand point and the jokes are over the top instead of funny. However, it shows us why Handa is so terrified of everyone, why Kawafuji is his only friend and why they would still be together in Barakamon.

Spoilers: it’s Kawafuji’s fault because he was jealous. It’s also his fault because he hasn’t told Handa the truth yet. It’s also likely in Handa’s favor not to learn the truth because a normal acting Handa loses all the mystique. It loses any purpose to watch the show, really.

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The Verdict: This week gave us the best Handa outing so far, largely because Akane, Yokio and Kawafuji are more interesting characters than the chairman and the model. Yokio and Kawafuji are especially good, because they actually see Handa for what he is: a wreck and bizarre.

Now that the comedic timing and dialog are tight, Handa-kun is enjoyable to watch. (even with the socially awkward cringe-factor) If some chuckles and tie-forward to the better show is enough to warrant keeping it on your schedule, there you have it. If not, summer’s packed with great shows. No big loss.

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Handa-kun – 02

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The Gist: Handa ‘defeats’ the two girls from last week, as well as ‘glasses’ Aizawa Junichi and ‘model’ Nikaido Reo who were introduced as members of Handa-force last week.

As with last week, Handa ‘defeats’ these opponents largely through his lack of understanding and, for the same reason, most people think highly of him. As you may have expected: all’s well that ends well: ‘muscles’ Juri-chan and Maiko-chan are back to being friends… and accept being romantic rivals.

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What makes Handa-kun special: its protagonist is a hot mess of illogical responses that, against all odds, turn out in his favor. Take his misunderstanding of Maiko and his choice to write her a letter.

By making Muscles (Juri) fall for him, she became aware of the inequity of her relationship with Maiko. Then, after they both fail to win his affections and choose to try calligraphy, their relationship realigns, but with a new balance between them. A truer balance. That’s good narrative building!

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What holds Handa-kun back from being great is that it only gives us one side of the coin seen in Barakamon. There, Handa played off of another character, and there was warmth from their back-and-forth.

Here, there is truly no warmth. Handa doesn’t like anyone here, not even a little. This isn’t ‘wrong’ but it is a little weird if you think about it: it’s about a talented jackass getting away with whatever and everyone assuming he’s a nice person.

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The Verdict: Handa-kun has a solid formula and it deserves plenty of laughs. There’s real craft to how the narrative is constructed too. That said, it’s hard to imagine Handa-kun standing out without Barakamon.

And this is no Barakamon.

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Handa-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

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Barakamon was an awesome, often frenetic comedy with a ton of heart, so I was weary of a prequel taking place in high school. There was no need to worry: Handa-kun is an entirely different animal in the best way. It’s no match for Barakamon, but it has it’s own absurd energy and charm.

If you’d assume the first half of the first episode of a show called Handa-kun would contain…Handa-kun, you’d be mistaken! Instead, we get a lengthy, and very meta, scene in which four of Handa’s friends miss the first episode of his anime, and so make their own horrifying Handa-kun, until the studio mails the real anime to them.

The scene plays with out own expectations and ignorance about what exactly this show is going to be about (besides Handa in high school), while taking a couple of good-hearted digs at the expectant audience-anime studio relationship.

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When we finally get to Handa in high school, he’s an absolute mess, as expected. While everyone around him either loves, envies, or reveres him, Handa doesn’t have a clue, and gets the exact opposite vibes that are being thrown his way. Even the button-cute class idol wants to date him, but he assumes she’s trying to beat him up.

Handa’s talent also lets him get away with murder in class, as his thought processes often leak into public hearing, the math lesson be damned. He doesn’t bother to look or hear anything anyone does or says correctly. He’s hopeless.

That being said, Handa tries to hear Maiko out, but in the strangest way possible; writing a note for Maiko’s gruff, bizarrely proportioned friend Juri, in a scrawl elaborate and nigh-incomprehensible to a high schooler. Not exactly the best way to relay a clear message!

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His note convinces Juri that he’s into her, and so when Handa arrives at the agreed upon spot behind the gym after school, both Juri and Maiko are there waiting for him. Naturally, he assumes the worst: some kind of challenged or fight is imminent, but you have to respect his “courage”…if only he had a friggin’ clue what was going on around him! Alas, his constantly churning mind obscures all.

We close on that spot behind the gym, and go back to the group of four friends who started the episode, just as frustrated as I am by the “To Be Continued.” But the kicker is when they mail Handa their creepily-drawn homemade anime, and before the OP is over,  he simply has to switch it off.

Well, that’s not what I’ll be doing with the real anime…it was a gas, and I’m excited to see what bizarreness it can bring to bear next time.

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Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 10

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In the first half, Ao and three classmates take care of Hime when she falls ill. Vice Principal Uzu visits to deliver the elders’ offical request that she resign as mayor as she’s “not suited for it”, though he himself believe she’s doing a great job. In the second half, Hime, Kana and Mina visit Juri, but she’s asleep. She dreams of when she first arrived in Tokyo, eager to grow into an adult so she can silence her ancestor’s detractors. She meets Hime’s grandmother Machi, who takes Juri to the empty lot where her descendant ran a clinic. There Machi tells her she can take her time, and introduces her to Hime.

This week is even lighter-weight than last, starting with a sick-day slice-of-life that confirms what’s already quite well-established: the quartet are tight, devoted friends. Hime is beloved as the mayor. Everyone depends on one another. Ao wears shimapan. Then we were treated to the origin story of Juri, a minor character in the previous YQ anime, but is being given a lot more to do here. The thing is, just as the elders aren’t sure Hime is suited for mayorship, we’re not sure Juri is suited to such prominence in the show. She’s got a great bod and all, but the Frankenstein story is just a tad ridiculous. We’re not sure why that particular name from literary history had to be dropped (suddenly, like a mic) into a story primarily about human-youkai relations.

It doesn’t help that past Juri’s a dull, bull-headed, angsty high school student who wants to kick all the adults’ asses for making all those libelous movies about her many-great-grandfather(?). However, we can forgive half the episode being about her if it meant finally meeting Hime’s granny, who’s just as magnificent as we imagined (we also catch a glimpse of adorable Lil’ Hime). Machi is a quiet but immensely strong old woman who makes everyone around her better—as a mayor must. She has no trouble at all setting young Juri on a more peaceful,  life path not dominated by hatred. Be they loud or soft, Juri’s words won’t change anyone’s minds, but her actions will. As she wakes up in the present, her honorary little sister curled up beside her, in the clinic she built to help the townsfolk, we’d say that they have.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 09

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In the first half, the episode follows new resident Kurumaki Zakuro as she finds her way around Sakurashin, encountering fellow half-youkai Kotoha and Shinozuka on the way and ending up at a memorial ground for the tuned. In the second half, Akina, Juri, Morino and Kohime visit the same ground, and are confronted by Enjin, who tries to steal Akina’s body. Elder Iyo and Shidare arrive and intervene, as Enjin is desecrating the memorial. Juri and Akina also fight him, and he eventually retreats.

Our first thought at the end of this episode was “Wow, what a scattered, disjointed, random mess!” But we did learn a great many things: Kotoha prefers going commando in the summer; Juri is descended from Frankenstein and wears pink panties; the elders use a kind of scientific magic substitute called “esoterism” to keep youkai in check. And once you get past the persistent and overt fanservice (from which even poor Kohime isn’t immune) and look back on everything that happened, there’s a method to the madness, and it’s this: the episode focused exclusively on half-youkai and humans, and their role in the coming trials.

It may have been random to focus on Zakuro, a character no one who hadn’t seen any previous YQ would know about, for half an episode but it’s also a very interesting move. Everything newbies needed to know was shown, not told, in the opening credits. We see that even those with horrendously violent pasts can live a peaceful existence in Sakurashin: watching her awkwardly adjust to that life with Rin, Kotoha, etc. demonstrates what the town is all about. And whether it’s esoterism, Frankenstein strength, or the powers of the dutybound, there are humans who will stand with their full- and half-youkai friends to preserve and defend it. It’s okay if everyone’s a “monster”, as long as there’s balance.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

 

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 06

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Akina and Kyousuke are beaten back by Shinozuka, but Shidou, Touka and Ao rescue them in Shinou’s car. Unable to leave town, Kotoha conjures a railway gun and fires it at the Tokyo Tower, destroying the anti-youkai field. Rested enough to fight, Hime relieves Akina, takes out Shinozuka, and and along with a revived Kyousuke, fights off the numerous lizards their opponent is summoning. When the old storekeeper watches Hime protect her shop, he blows it up, revealing the “Dragon Vein” from which Hime is able to draw the Dargon Lance Sakanade.

We carried lofty expectations into this payoff episode after last week got all the game pieces into place. In the end, this episode didn’t quite meet them. Despite some truly inspired and redonkulous moments of action (Kotoha’s awesome railway gun; Kyousuke hitting a lizard with a telephone pole like a batted ball; Hime’s sundry acrobatics), and some lovely isolated moments (the flashback with Hime andJuri catching the KIshis; Akina grasping Hime’s scarf) the episode suffered from bouts of what we’ll call “Shounen Battle Paradox”, in which a battle actually hinders its own momentum with too many escalations in the combat, thus stretching things out when a shorter battle would’ve had more potency. Take the old bad guy (whose name still escapes us) helping the mayor: He creates giant lizards that Hime and Kyousuke quickly dispatch; then he just makes another batch. Tactical genius, this guy is not.

A smarter villain would’ve retreated as soon as the anti-youkai field dropped, yet he stays put. The battle gets a bit too tag-team happy, with someone showing up just in the nick of time to someone else. And the entire sequence with the old man and the giant crane that pops out of his shop—that just didn’t make a lick of sense to us. Kotoha’s toying around with giant machinery makes sense—she’s a conjurer—we don’t know what this guy’s deal is. He’s just there so he can blow up his shop (inches from where Hime was—a lil’ warning would’ve been nice, geezer!) and show Hime the next escalation in the battle, when she pulls the real Dragon Lance out of the wreckage. The last flaw that keeps this Part II from living up to the potential of Part I? The fact there’s a Part III next week.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 05

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An old man arrives at Hime’s house with the mayor Kohime is running against and a powerful monster, and activates an anti-youkai field that weakens full youkai, including Hime, who is badly beaten. The man demands Kohime drop out of the election and for Hime to relinquish her mayorship to him. Juri arrives and takes Hime to the hospital. Akina and Kyousuke fight with the half-youkai Shinozuka while Ao uses her Satellite ability to locate the source of the field: the Tokyo Tower.

This episode is only one half of a two-parter and is mostly setup for a showdown with a so-far nondescript villain, but it was a waaaaay better effort than last week’s dawdling clunker. We already knew from previous version of this anime that Hime was a youkai, but the flashback with Akina was very touching, and we liked Hime’s reasoning for wiping everyone’s memories of what she really is so she can better understand her constituents. This episode did something else gutsy, in taking perhaps the most powerful fighter of the quartet completely out of action in the first minutes.

This leaves her friends to save the day, and so far they seem more than up to the task. Once everyone leave’s Himes house and splits up, there’s a great energy to the story. Everyone is given something to do (except Touka…where’d she go?) and they have to do it under considerable duress (in the form of flying scooters for Akina and a rampaging dragon-thing for Ao and Kotoha). This was more or less table-setting, but highly competent table-setting. We look forward to seeing how things shake out, which is more than we could say after last week.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • That “anti-youkai field” is a hell of a plot device…but we like Yae’s workaround, as well as Yuuhi’s subtle hint to Ao. Gods can only interfere so much, after all.
  • As soon as we heard “Minato” and “high place”, Tokyo Tower immediately came to mind. Though we’re a little disappointed it wasn’t the Tokyo Sky Tree.
  • About Minato: didn’t Juri point out to Akina and Kyousuke that no one could physically leave Sakurashin? If that’s the case, how are Ao and Kotoha going to get to the field? Hopefully this quandary is answered and isn’t just a plot hole.
  • Seems odd how Ao is able to use her ability at such a high level when the anti-youkai field still in place and Yae weakening all youkai power town-wide. Perhaps it’s just evidence Ao is one seriously powerful cat girl. She says all of Tokyo is “no sweat”; perhaps if the field were down she could read the whole country’s minds…
  • The huge pile of gifts from townsfolk was a cute little scene that quickly showed Hime that the people in fact do love their mayor. Who wouldn’t? That scarf is adorable.
  • So far the nameless villain is pretty damn bland. Here’s hoping we won’t have to watch him standing around yammering all next week.

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 04

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On an unusually hot spring day, the office has a pool party, after which Yuuhi warns Akina that the Seven Pillars will bloom in a year or less, merging the human and youkai worlds. Hime’s nine-year-old cousin Kohime, who is running for mayor of her town, joins Hime patrol; they’re observed by Kohime’s incumbent opponent. After a party thrown for Kohime at Hime’s house, Akina tells Hime about the Pillars upsetting her. Ao and Touko answer her doorbell and encounter a strange white mass filling the doorway…

Yozakura Quartet dispensed with the pretense and simply devoted nearly half of the episode to a pool party that is nothing more than an opportunity for the animators to draw the girls in swimsuits (and only the girls; the guys curiously elect not to swim, despite the heat). Yeah, you could say it portrayed how sweet life is now compared to what Yuuhi warns is down the pike, but it still seemed overindulgent and a careless use of time considering what’s looming. We also could have done without the new character, a hyperactive nine-year-old who is running for mayor of her town for some reason. We’re not sure what she adds besides shrillness. Less full orchestra, more quartet, please.

The episode wasn’t a total wash, as it did a good job laying out the respective weights both Akina and Hime carry on their shoulders. Akina is staring down the very real possibility of the town being destroyed by the very apparatus his ancestors erected. The pillars will bloom, and may well bloom sooner than expected due to all of the unsavory elements working to make it so. Meanwhile Hime harbors doubts about whether she can ever fill the shoes of her late and universally-beloved granny; she’s shaken by an old man calling her a failure and even more troubled when she hears the truth about the Pillars for the very first time from Akina. They both face tests in the near future, as does this series: can it dig itself out of the hole it’s digging after a promising start?


Rating: 5 (Average)

Yozakura Quartet: Hana no Uta – 02

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An ordinary day unfolds in Sakurashin, as Hime juggles her mayorship and high school while Akina, Ao and Kyousuke work at the counseling office, receiving youkai health certificates from Juri then issuing copies for Shidare and Shiina from the Senate. After school Hime and Kotoha spar within a safety box conjured by Yae as Ao keeps watch. Lily appears and recites and incantation that causes Kotoha to go berserk, but Yae diffuses the situation.

This episode featured quite a few moments of superfluous indulgence: Ao’s weekly panty-shot; Juri teasing Kyousuke with her sexy nurse outfit; a peek in a girl’s locker room; and boob-gropings that went on for far too long. But those were only moments; thankfully there were much longer sequences in which the episode seems to totally forget we’re watching, so we can sit back and enjoy a typical day in the town. Taking calls, making copies, ordering take-out…getting ogre shackles repaired; these seemingly mundane things enrich our exposure to both the characters and the setting.

There’s also an element of foreboding here: we know what the gang doesn’t: that Lily is more than a lost little girl – so when they all get identical postcards from her, we know something’s rotten in Denmark. That, and Ao keeps seeing Lily in the corner of her eye. When Lily finally makes her move, manipulating Kotoha, Yae puts a stop to the impending carnage. Lily’s still poking and prodding, researching her prospective prey. The overt presentation of everyone’s ordinary, fun, happy, balanced lives showed us what’s at stake should Lily and her ilk keep ratcheting up the mischief.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • While the episode is focused on the office, Kyousuke gets excited and storms off without explanation. When the focus switches to Hime, we learn why: he ran off to stop her from eating too many calories. Clever way to tie the two stories together.
  • For all the short skirts and boob-groping, we really appreciated how maturely and subtly Kotoha and Ao’s apparent relationship is handled – especially when Ao tries to snap Kotoha out of her trance by giving her a passionate kiss.
  • We liked how Hime couldn’t get her shirt off because of her ridiculously long scarf she always wears. Hell, if we had such a scarf, we’d probably rock it constantly too.
  • In case anyone doubted the potential danger Kotoha’s powers pose if left unchecked, she dumps several heavy weapons in a park in the middle of town in the blink of an eye. Yikes.