The God of High School – 03 – Life Is a Battle…Do What You Want

After a quick check-in on a cult consisting of members with black pointy hoods (the third such anime to feature this after Misfit/Demon Academy and Food Wars 5—not sure what’s up with that) Mira faces off against Ma Miseon, an American pro-wrestler built like a brick house who assures Mira her wooden sword will be useless.

Miseon indeed exhibits incredible speed, agility and power and Mira looks not only overmatched but like she has no business fighting in the ring…until she loses her wooden sword and Miseon thinks she’s got this in the bag. That’s when Mira demonstrates that she doesn’t actually need a physical blade; her entire body is a sword, and she uses it to quickly eviserate Miseon and claim victory.

Daewi and Mori are happy their new friend has advanced, with the latter itching to fight her himself, but he must face punishment for interference in Gambo/Manseok match (both of whom are out of the tournament). Park Mujin sees that Mori is the grandson of Jin Taejin, and decides to test him by pitting him against a Commissioner. Mujin also gives Mori some suspicious produce, which causes Mori to cough up blood and pass out when after eating it.

We know Daewi wants to win the tournament for money, but now we know what that money is for: his ill friend/brother Seungtae, cut down at the height of his powers by cancer (or something like it). Thugs Daewi used to tangle with think Daewi is vulnerable without Seungtae to back him up, but they might not be thinking that if they saw Daewi dismantle the cerebral Baek Seungchul in the GoHS ring, which he does after taking one hell of a metal bat beating.

With Mira and Daewi both advancing, Mori recovers and arrives for his match with the commissioner, albiet a bit late. It’s a handicap match, and all Mori has to do is knock the guy down. He does that so quickly and both “Green Four-Eyes” and the crowd are insulted, and the former loses his temper and unleashes a summoned jester-like demon-beast.

Park has the other commissioners tackle their colleague and ends the match, naming Mori the winner since he knocked his opponent down. Now he knows he’s dealing with Jin Taejin’s “Tiger Cub” and apparently has big plans for someone of his power and potential.

The God of High School – 02 – Gotta Have a Code

Interestingly, the second GoHS doesn’t pick up where the first ended, but after the battle royale. Mori, Mira and Daewi all advanced, but Mori’s fight with the “slipper jerk” was interrupted by Mira. Turns out all three share the same route home, much to Mira’s consternation. During their walk we learn the basics of their being in the tournament. For Mori, it’s to become stronger. For Daewi, it’s for money.

Mira is fighting for honor and family; namely to save her late father’s dojo. When Mori snatches her sword again and she moves to snatch it back, it ends up in the drink. Mira slaps Mori and tell the other two to scram, but it’s not long before the lads are helping her search the water. They actually find the blade off-screen, but the point is the three bonded over the activity.

The next day the preliminary brackets are set, and the last person standing will move on to the national tournament. When Slipper Jerk (AKA Gang Manseok) attacks his opponent Go Gamdo in the locker room, Mori steps up to defend him, earning Gamdo’s gratitude and respect.

Mori, Mira and Daewi end up winning their respective matches easily, while other faces like Ma Miseon and Baek Seungchul get brief moments in the ring; I’m sure we’ll see more of them as the brackets narrow. But the main fight of the episode is between Manseok and Gamdo.

While Gamdo practices a very pure and conservative tai chi style focused on balance, Manseok reveals a rare northern-style Taekwondo developed for survival in war, filled with all kinds of low blows. As such, this is a match between the “cleanest” and “dirtiest” fighters. We also learn through brief flashbacks that Manseok was once a groveling wretch and transformed himself thanks to a powerful teacher.

Gamdo’s best efforts to win the battle of wills results in his getting beaten to a pulp. Manseok unbinds both his hands and starts breaking Gamdo’s limbs one by one, but Gamdo still won’t yield. In the end, Mori enters the ring (breaking the rules and risking a DSQ) to protect his new friend, and shows that he’s a far more formidable opponent to Manseok—which is probably what he ultimately wants!

The chaos is then broken up by tournament administrators and the arrival of Korean Assembly member Park Mujin, fresh off a visit to the Pentagon where he waltzed right in without fear of getting harmed. He has Mori taken away for TBD punishment, then announces the tournament will resume.

Honestly despite the big central fight this GoHS was a bit of a step down from the premiere in pure manic craziness, mostly because any indoor fight is going to seem restrained compared to the dynamism of a motorcycle -bicycle race. It also wasn’t nearly as funny. It made up for it with a key bonding moment between the likable main trio—though I hope they get more fleshed out soon.

The ep also added more intrigue surrounding users of the superpower cheryeok, which we saw employed like the hand of god smashing out an island last week. I’m confident Mori’s road won’t end with his rule infraction, because the whole point of GoHS tournament seems to be to find exceptionally strong fighters like him.

The God of High School – 01 (First Impressions) – Stand Tall, Smile Big, Strike Hard

Fresh off the heels of Tower of God—which Hannah enjoyed, though admitted frustration that it was essentially just an extended prologue—comes The God of High School, another Korean webtoon-based anime with “God” in the title and an appealing blend of action, comedy and drama.

After a ominous, cryptic cold open that doesn’t even pretend to explain what’s going on (suffice it to say some guy on an island with designs on blackmailing the prime minister is literally wiped off the map), we dive straight into one of three main would-be Gods of High School, Jin Mori, resident of Seoul.

Waking up from a dream in which he was encouraged by his gramps, Mori realizes he smashed his alarm in his sleep, and must race to the GoHS preliminaries at KORG Arena. He takes a shortcut by riding his bike off a cliff, and immediately it’s apparent that these are no normal humans.

There’s a lot of influence from Durarara!! in the ensuing action, and not just because there’s a purse thief on a motorcycle whom Mori feels compelled to chase (he makes up a sob story about the elderly woman who needs the cash for her grandson’s surgery or some such). The mere fact Mori can keep up with a motorcycle on his bike, and the reasons for doing so, are great shorthand for the kind of character he is: as relentless as he is just.

His first encounter with fellow GoHS contestant Yu Mira is kinetic, to say the least: while she’s admiring the ample muscles of some martial artists who failed to make the cut, she’s absolutely obliterated by Mori (accidentally, of course). Mori attempts a quick apology, but Mira uses her trusty wooden sword to stop him in his tracks.

When she hears he’s chasing a thief, Mira tags along, and provides more offense against the biker as Mori keeps up. She’s about to deliver a decisive blow to the baddie when a road sign jumps out at her and her face is driven so deeply into the metal it creates a ghoulish mask.

The cartoonish amount of punishment these characters can take is matched by the utter hilarity of the way the violence and various acrobatics are rendered. I suddenly realized the episode was almost half-over, but things were so non-stop from the moment Mori jumps on his bike, events fly by effortlessly and breathlessly, evoking shades of Mad Max: Fury Road.

While Mira and Mori fall behind, the motorcyclist’s face ends up meeting the fist of a third GoHS contestant in part-time convenience store employee Han Daewi, and the impact of his punch is akin to the superhuman strikes of Durarara!!’s Shizuo. Daewi knows who to punch and why thanks to a roving rapper live-streaming the chase online.

With the chase finally complete, the three contestants head to the locker rooms of the arena and formally introduce each other, having already demonstrated from their actions in the streets that they’ll be tough competition in the prelims—and perhaps useful allies as well.

The preliminary is wonderfully simple: a battle royale of all the assembled fighters, and the last people standing move on to the tournament proper. There isn’t really any doubt that Mori, Mira, and Daewi will advance, but when a convict with the title “King” enters the battle late, the three seem to meet their match, with Mira giving her best shot and Mori answering the challenge.

This is a show that is deliciously simple in premise, wonderfully energetic with its trademark Studio Mappa action, and as moves along at a rapid clip without causing whiplash. The three main characters look poised to complement one another, while the way the episode ends in mid-fight guarantees I’ll be back for more rock-em, sock-em madness.

All that said, I do find it odd how red everyone’s noses and ears are in closeups…it’s like they’re all suffering from colds!

Noragami – 02

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There’s a funny cutaway to Hiyori’s past when her mom first warns her about “useless members of society”, while she considers whether Yato is such a person. After all, her out-of-body experiences are really starting to be a problem (even if she has a group of dependable friends who laugh it off as narcolepsy), yet despite promising to “fix” her, he hasn’t done anything in two weeks. This is a classic introduction of someone “not at their best”, which makes both the skeptical party and the audience that much more impressed when we finally see them at their best, or something like it. Yato’s performance in the climax of this episode provides Hiyori with her answer: he’s not useless.

What we love about Hiyori’s predicament is that it’s a double-edged sword, not just a ‘curse”. She never knows when it’s going to happen, nor do we; the show manages to surprise us along with Hiyori with it every time. But when she’s in “Far Shore Mode” she’s also free of her human limitations: she can leap huge distances, run along power lines, and can put serious power behind her MMA moves. These new abilities fuel her confidence that she can help make her god less useless by finding the regalia he needs to cut Phantoms. Then, when she snags a giant tick-like phantom that then starts chasing her, she learns that finding an uncorrupted soul suitable for regalia duty is no simple matter.

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Meanwhile, Yato isn’t really useless, he’s just incredibly small-time at the moment, finding lost pets or scrubbing mildew from baths in exchange for 5-yen coins and the occasional beer. He’s not content with this, but if he wants that lavish, subway-adjacent lavish downtown shrine with three shrine maidens massaging him at once, he needs a weapon. Perhaps overwhelmed by the difficulty of that task, he seems to be slow in getting things moving. Enter Hiyori: it’s when she’s in trouble that Yato notices Mr. Right Soul from several hundred yards away, a little dot of light floating around a mailbox—right where it was floating in the very beginning of the episode, unbeknownst to Hiyori. Nice subtle foreshadowing there.

Our impression of Yato’s casual pace to life is bourne out of the fact that because gods live so much longer than mortals, two weeks is less than the blink of a bird’s eye. Yet his transformation from defenseless punk to tick-dominating badass happens before Hiyori’s eyes in no time at all. Unlike many situations like this in anime, where contracting with your weapon takes at least a whole episode, here it happens refreshingly instantly…and it’s Sayonara Ticky. Just as Yato proved that he’s someone Hiyori can put her faith in to (eventually) fix her, Noragami has proven it’s a show worth our attention; further elevated by Iwasaki Taku’s eclectic, thumping soundtrack, which is very assertive throughout the episode.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Noragami – 01

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There’s a pleasant affability to the opening episode of Noragami, owing to its straightforward, efficient, not overly-serious approach to storytelling, its crisp, fastidious Bones animation, and an always-welcome Iwasaki Taku soundtrack. It’s much more lighthearted than the promo art suggested, which merely shows that judging a show’s tone just by its promo art is probably a poor idea. Noragami takes a lot of stuff we’ve seen before in other shows, and tweaks things enough to maintain our interest, for now, at least.

Case in point: a girl being hit by a bus isn’t a horrific tragedy, but the catalyst that begins a transformation…and a friendship. That girl, Iki Hiyori (Uchida Maaya), is a cute MMA fan whose father owns a hospital. It’s quickly established that despite her normal looks her peers consider her a bit of an odd duck, so when her life takes a strange turn, what with the out-of-body-experiences and giant monsters, she takes it in relative stride, even defeating a phantom (the name of the baddies) with her MMA hero’s “Jungle Savate” kick. All this strangeness started right before that bus hit her, when she met Yato (Kamiya Hiroshi).

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Yato’s a down-on-his-luck god wandering the near shore (the living world) for followers. His “sacred treasure” (a weapon with human form, a la Soul Eater) dumped him like a ton of bricks, and he needs a new one to send the evil phantoms back to the Far Shore (the afterlife) where they belong. We liken him to Kamisama Hajimemashita’s Nanami in that he’s just starting out and will have to earn the respect and love of his peers and humans alike. He’s got big aspirations, and is aiming for the top as a god with hundreds of millions of devotees. But it all starts with a found lost cat.

While he does end up under her covers in the hospital and she freaks out a little when she wakes up being carried on Yato’s back, we can gratefully report that the relationship of Yato and Hiyori isn’t limited to her hitting him and calling him a pervert, and we hope the show will continue to show restraint both with that and the panty-shots (just one this week). Hiyori seems mindful that Yato is actually an okay guy, and after paying him the customary five yen, he agrees to tackle her wish to return to normal. So, a decent start, but with such well-tread theme, it didn’t knock our socks off.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Deadman Wonderland 2

It’s more horror and peril than wonder at Deadman Wonderland. What I find very interesting so far is that at least part of the audience of normal Japanese citizens seems to think that inmates aren’t really being torn apart, shot, burned, boiled, or otherwise killed; they think it’s all special effects. Since we’re right with Ganta the whole time, we know otherwise.

This week he meets a couple more friendly faces: the prison nurse, and Yoh, a fellow inmate. He also meets some new not-so-friendly ones, including Kozuji, an MMA champ doing time for killing his girlfriend. Naturally, he has a posse too, and Ganta is punished for not showing proper respect. But after all the threats and ridicule and actually going through a hellish obstacle course and reaching the final stage, it’s the final straw for Ganta. No more worrying about how he’ll die. He can’t control that. He’s going to focus on survival, not fear of death.

He’s helped from death literally dozens of times from Shiro. We still don’t have any answers about who she is, and no officials seem to care that she doesn’t wear a prison jumpsuit, is a girl, and is always doing what she wants. The series meets us halfway with our doubts that Ganta has any chance against larger, more athletic inmates in this race by having Shiro help him. In return, rather than catch her tossed ball to win money to buy candy in the future, he uses his free arm to save her from a Sonic-like spike put. While I thought his sudden change of heart and summoning of courage seemed a bit rushed, at the same time, under such conditions, kids grow up fast, and become hardened to their plight. Rating: 3.5