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