The Promised Neverland – 02 – Building a Boat Out of Mud

Learning the truth of their home has shaken Emma to the core. She has vivid nightmares of Conny being served up as a fancy main course, can can barely hide her look of terror upon hearing and seeing Mama for the first time since their discovery. But Norman tells her they have to keep smiling like nothing’s wrong. Mama may know someone was at the Gate to leave the bunny behind, but she doesn’t know who.

Or rather, if she does, Emma and Norman are too valuable to kill just for witnessing Conny’s “processing.” During playtime, Emma and Norman agree escaping through the forest is the safest way, but when they cross the short fence they soon encounter a massive, seamless concrete wall. Further complicating matters, when a little tyke is lost all Mama has to do is glance at her “watch” and she knows exactly where to find her.

So, now they know that security is rather lax because they have some kind of tracking device implanted somewhere in their bodies. Mama seems to make a big show out of wordlessly warning the likes of Norman and Emma. Back at the house, while having a private moment of grief for Conny, Mama suddenly appears before Emma, wondering why she’s been “less cheerful” of late.

All Norman can do is watch in horror around the corner as Emma puts on a cheerful front for Mama. Ray ends up bailing them both out when he rings the dinner bell (likely intentional on his part), but as Emma and Norman depart, Mama asks them straight-up if they were at the Gate the previous night. They cheerfully say of course not, that’s against the rules, and continue on…but Mama is definitely suspicious. You could cut the tension in the atmosphere with a knife.

Once they’re alone again, neither can hold in their sheer terror anymore. Emma even collapses to her knees, but Norman helps her up with a trembling hand, and Emma sees she’s not alone and all hope isn’t lost. They’re going to get out of here…they just need a plan.

That plan involves stashing a bunch of table linen in a tree hollow near the wall that they’ll use to make rope when the time comes to escape (Norman figures they have two months left before the next child is taken). But someone followed them out to the wall; fortunately for them, it’s their friend Ray, who wants to know what’s up.

They tell him, and to their amazement he believes it all without a hint of incredulity, because he knows Norman well enough to know he’d never lie about something like this (Emma being a different story). While Ray is willing to lend his not inconsiderable intellect to the big escape plan, he has a big problem with Emma’s insistence that all 37 children will be escaping.

He brings up the virtual impossibility of getting everyone away from Mama and off the farm without serious or even total casualties, and something I didn’t consider: beyond that wall, it’s a Demon’s world, not for humans. Escaping is just the first step. The young, small, and weak will have to be left behind to ensure any chance of the survival of the older, bigger, and stronger.

But Ray’s way isn’t going to work with Emma. She doesn’t care if it’s impossible; everyone is being saved, and that’s that. It may be foolhardy, but Norman is with her. When Ray asks why in his otherwise right mind he’d go along with Emma’s “mud boat”, Norman explains simply that he likes Emma, and wants her to keep smiling no matter what, and that if dried and hardened it’s possible for a mud boat to float.

I have to say, I’m kinda with Ray on this one: if the sole purpose is to survive, not merely escape, they can’t take everyone. But at the same time, you can’t eliminate emotion from the equation, because these 12-year-olds are going to have to be able not just to live, but live with themselves once they gain their freedom. So mud boat it is!

Advertisements

Yakusoku no Neverland – 01 (First Impressions) – Green Acres

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

Look at how happy everyone is at this country orphanage! Clean white clothes, soft, warm beds, good food, plenty of friends, and fresh air…and a “Mama” that loves and cares for them all! What’s not to like?

Three 11-year-old “elite” orphans named Ray, Norman, and Emma distinguish themselves with their smarts and athletic ability. These three are the oldest at the “House”; everyone leaves the orphanage at age 12, but no one has a clear idea where they go and what they do.

All they know is, no one has ever written back. Ah well, they’re probably having too much fun, right?!

The boundaries of the orphanage are not particularly stout, but a warning from Mama is enough to keep even Norman, Ray and Emma from crossing them. And while she’s not yet 12, the day arrives when lil’ Conny is to leave the House, and she gets a warm sendoff. She promises she’ll write back.

Conny has already left the orphanage, escorted by a wordless and very creepily-lit Mama, when Emma discovers she forgot her stuffed bunny. Well that won’t do at all, will it? She has to reunite Conny with her treasure! Norman decides to tag along.

They will both come to regret doing so.

Once they cross the gate (Norman says they’ll “get scolded together” for the transgression) they come upon a truck; the first either of them has ever seen. And in the back of the truck is Conny, only she’s dead, and there are flowers sprouting out of her chest.

Utterly shocked, Norman and Emma just have time to hide under the truck when monsters arrive to collect Conny’s corpse, going on about how it’s “high quality human flesh for the rich.” That’s right: Norman, Emma, Ray, Conny and all the others are free-range children. The orphanage is a farm. And they’re meat.

Norman and Emma just manage to slink away before a monster smells and discovers them, but they leave the bunny behind, so Mama, AKA Isabella, knows someone was there. They’re alive for now, but along with Ray, they’re going to be the next kids to be killed and shipped off to be eaten by some kind of well-to-do monster gourmands.

Emma and Norman return to the House, forever changed and scared out of their wits. But Norman decides that he’s not going to let anyone else follow Conny’s fate. They’re going to get out of there, along with all the other orphans. It’s just a matter of strategy, and if any kids can do it, it’s the elite three. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and I highly doubt Conny is the last victim.

Even as little hints spring up here and there in the first half that Not All Is Well, Yakusoku no Neverland is masterful at holding us in suspense until the big horrifying reveal, mercilessly upending the world of three kids. Emma’s initial face mirrored my own upon seeing Conny.

That was one hell of a start, and it’s pretty easy to root for children to escape the fate of being killed and eaten. But of course, once such a bullet is shot, it is shot; the show will have to find new ways to shock us now that we know the gist. I’m guessing they have plenty more horrors in store for us.

Violet Evergarden – 06

Violet Evergarden is not content to keep its titular character holed up at C.H. Postal, which I feel works to the show’s advantage. This episode in particular introduces Justitia Province, a fresh and fascinating new locale where she and 79 other Dolls have been summoned.

There, Violet takes an aerial tramway above the clouds to a vast observatory dramatically perched high atop a mountain. There, the 80dolls are paired off with 80 men from the Manuscript Department to undertake a massive effort to transcribe old books that are on their last legs.

It’s unlike any other mission Violet has undertaken, and one would think the impersonal nature of transcribing old books would not afford her the same insight into love and other human emotions as, say, writing letters for a client.

However, it’s all about who she meets there, and that’s Leon Stephanotis, whom we learn right at the outset harbors an inherent distrust for all Auto Memory Dolls, believing it “a profession full of women who hope to one day marry into money.”

While there may well be Dolls with that goal, it hardly seems proper to lump them all into one category, and Leon learns this firsthand immediately upon meeting Violet, who is, as we know, neither a normal Doll nor a normal woman.

Leon is fairly chilly to Violet, but the fact that Violet doesn’t react like he is throws him off. She doesn’t regard his conduct as particularly chilly, just efficient, and if there’s one quality one could be used to describe Violet, it’s efficient…when it comes to taking dictation, not sorting through her feelings for the Major.

The night after they do three day’s work of work in one, Leon asks why Violet is a Doll, and she says, simply, because “it is a role I can fulfill”, expressing her gratitude that she can do such a wonderful job, while questioning if she deserves it—no doubt the words of Gilbert’s brother weigh on her, even if she has nothing to apologize for.

When other scribes ask Violet whether it’s trying working with an annoying guy like Leon, who is a penniless orphan only there because of donations. Violet sets the lads straight by saying she’s not a person who has lived the kind of “proper life” they’re assuming; she’s also an orphan, never laid eyes on her parents, and only recently learned to read and write, further warning them that if one’s birth or upbringing is such an important requisite for being able to speak to someone, they should stay away from her.

Leon overhears her defense of him, but it was never meant to be a defense; just the facts. But regardless of her intentions, he’s all but smitten with her, and does what so many other scribes must be doing with their Doll partners: he asks her if she’ll join him for the comet viewing (a comet that appears only once every 200 or so years). She agrees without hesitation, and he’s so elated he tears his baguette clean in half.

That night, before the comet reaches its most beautiful position, Leon tells Violet the story of how his father once traveled the world collecting manuscripts but went missing. Rather than stay with him, his mother, who loved his father more than anything (certainly more than him, he figured) left to find her husband, and also never returned. If love makes people such “bumbling fools” they forget the well-being of their own children, he wants nothing to do with it.

When he asks how her story goes, she tells him about the one person who cared for her, and who she cares about more than anyone else. Leon gets her to understand that what she’s feeling in the Major’s absence is, indeed, loneliness. Leon tests her, asking what she’d do if she heard the Major was alive and in need of his aid in the middle of her job there at the observatory.

He assumes she’s upset he put her on the spot, but that’s not the kind of person Violet is. She’s upset because she’d have to find some way to apologize to him, meaning yes, she’d go just as his mother went, in order to find the person she, well, loved.

It feels like a kind of gentle rejection for Leon, who might’ve thought he had found the perfect woman for him. But quoting the first manuscript they transcribed together, “That parting is not a tragedy.”

Indeed, Leon is not sad when the job is complete and Violet heads home, because being with her even for this short time didn’t just subvert his expectations about Dolls. It made him rethink and alter the course of his very life.

As Violet departs on the aerial tram (making for some very nice camera angles) Leon resolves to tour the continent as she does and as his father did, collecting manuscripts. And perhaps they’ll even meet again somewhere, under a starry sky.

Or Leo my man, you could always keep in touch by, uh, writing to her from time to time. Why leave their next encounter to such small odds…unless the show intends to reunited them. We do have a lot of show left to go…fortunately.

Hundred – 12 (Fin)

hun121

That’s all, folks; Hundred is over! At least its first season; there’s no mention of a second but certainly talk of “more things happening in the future” which could be just that; talk. And we never learn why hundreds are called hundreds…I guess they just thought “hundred” sounded cool? It kinda does!

Anyway, if this is the last episode, it goes out with a bang; several bangs, in fact, from Vitaly’s hand cannon. She only uses one of the three hunter “tools”, Nakri, to get through an electrical security barrier. After that, a revived Mai-Mai trades gunfire and forces her to flee. So yeah, about all those possibilities with the three conditioned Hunters on her side…that didn’t pan out.

hun122

In fact, Vitaly’s grand master revenge plan comes to a screeching halt just as quickly as it totally overwhelmed the rest of Little Garden’s defenses and Slayers…all thanks to Judar. Seems like she has some kind of romantic past with him (gross!) and the reason she’s here is because she’s A Woman Scorned.

Ultimately, she just wants to kill Liza by shooting her. You’d think such a science and technology whiz would have a backup plan if Liza’s shielding was bulletproof. Not only that, Liza takes semi-corporeal form to shield her brother so he can shoot Vitaly, killing her and ending what had been a pretty built up threat with all the finesse of air coming out of a balloon.

hun123

Speaking of unappealing noises, Vitaly’s last gasp tactic is have all her replicants emit a loud screeching sound, but Liza kisses Karen, giving her use of her legs (hey! why not?) and Karen and Sakura neutralize the noise with their non-animated singing.

Ethereal Liza also kisses a KO’d Hayato in order to give him the strength to take down not only Vitaly’s flagship replicant, but a Nesat who’s gone absolutely berserk due to her siblings getting hurt.

hun124

Nesat threatens to explode after a predetermined period of time, taking the ship with her, but Hayato is able to reach into her subconscious and calm her down by telling her they’re friends now, and the final threat is dealt with without much fuss. Glad the Hunters didn’t end up getting hurt or worse, and now that they’re free, they can be useful members of garden society.

hun125

That just leaves the resumption of the festival, culminating in, what else, a fireworks show, under which Emilia and Hayato dedicate themselves to being with one another. Unfortunately, while they’re kissing, the entire rest of the cast comes topside, and their myriad reactions are priceless.

Suffice it to say, Emilia’s secret is out: she’s a girl, and a princess, and loves Hayato. Of course, Claire isn’t okay with that, and unleashes her Hundred cannon at the lovebirds to close the episode, and possibly the series. The goofy slapsticky mood of the scene indicates she’s not really going to murder Emilia and Hayato, just scare them. Still, she’s not exactly setting a good example as captain of Little Garden, is she?

Sooo…Hundred: Definitely a show. With stuff that happened in it. Totally inconsequential and derivative stuff that hardly ever went anywhere interesting, but mostly fun stuff nonetheless. Will I be tuning into any possible second season? Maybe…if nothing else is on.

16rating_7

Hundred – 11

hun111

Though shit was going to hit the fan immediately after Vitaly activated her  army of Evil Roombas? Nope! That doesn’t happen until five minutes into the episode.

Instead, we get more of Karen and Sakura’s concert, which consists of several slow pans over still images set to music that seems to be coming out of a handheld Dictaphone speaker. Needless to say, the shit can’t hit the fan soon enough.

hun112

Claire is actually made aware of Wendy’s unconsciousness, short-term amnesia, and talk of coreless savages, and for a second there, one hoped that she’d lock down the entire Garden before Vitaly could accomplish too much, but…NAH.

hun113

Yeah, time to go up a shirt size, AMIRITE? One thing’s for sure: VItaly knows a good villain tailor.

hun114

Anywho, when the Roombas start turning into giant robotic bees, they’re treated as a nuisance…until they turn out to be much more than that, and the Garden is literally brought to its knees.

One assumes Vitaly has been planning this multi-pronged attack since she left the Garden…which begs the question: why the heck was she allowed to roam free and buy up so many warplanes? Where’d she get the money and raw materials in a world supposedly beset by the scourge of the Savage?

hun115

I loved this: Karen and Sakura informing their crowd of 100,000 that they’re going to evacuate, but everyone else should stay right where you are! Never mind if a giant plane crashes into the stadium – The Slayers Will Protect You!

Somehow, if I were in that crowd, Sakura’s assurances wouldn’t be very comforting. I mean, she doesn’t even bother to lip-sync; she just stands or flies around smiling while the music plays?

hun116

I do love Claudia’s attitude: she doesn’t care what’s happening, because she wasn’t able to share a chocolate banana with Emilia. Sure, she springs into action when Vitaly’s robots storm the flight deck, but it’s clear that she’s only attacking them because she’s less likely to hang with Emilia if Emilia’s city-ship sinks.

hun117

Claire orders Hayato and Emile—who are on the sidelines this entire episodefor some reason—to protect the three captive Hunters, but with the Garden’s shields failing, Hayato decides to go topside instead, and Claire lets them go, hoping Mai-Mai will suffice as prisoner guard.

She doesn’t; Vitaly takes her out without much difficulty, then activates some kind of sonic torture device that bends the three initially reluctant kids to her will. I tellya; this Vitaly is one omnipotent villain, and this episode doesn’t reveal any obvious flaws in either her plan or her many powers.

She basically made Charlotte, Claire, Judar, and Little Garden look pretty damned weak and foolish all by herself. Now that she has three obedient (for now) Hunters flanking her, stopping her is going to be a bitch. But if anyone can do it, it’s Hayato…with some help from his friends, of course.

16rating_7

Hundred – 10

hun101

It’s a festival episode, which means lots of inconsequential milling around soaking in the sights and sounds. But before that we meet Wendy, a slayer we later learn is friends with Reitia and Fritz, who is overpowered by Vitaly Tynyanov (who has an interesting fashion sense). Vitaly brainwashes Wendy into getting her into Little Garden undetected. It’s pretty telegraphed.

hun102

Not only that, Erica just as clearly points out the means of Vitaly’s future mischief: an increased number of Roombas Vitaly is inevitably going to turn into killing machines, all as her Hunters…well, not rot, but shall we say lounge comfortably in the bowels of the Garden. I came to like that trio of near-as-makes-no-difference siblings, and hope they play a bigger role next week.

Hayato also shows off a new talent: ruining surprises, when he tails Sakura to a room where she, Karen, and Char are preparing said surprise. When Judar visits later, it had me wondering whether the blonde bishonen bastard had some kind of scheme in mind for Hayato’s sister, seeing as his own sister is presently powering the Garden. A backup generator, mayhaps?

hun103

Emile is spared Claudia sticking to her like glue for the duration of the Festa due to the latter’s security detail, which means Hayato has Emile’s undivided attention. Her enthusiasm—and her photo of Erica in a maid outfit—gets her in trouble, however, when Erica turns the tables, dressing “him” up as a girl, then getting Hayato to grab her real boobs.

hun104

As for the Strongest Frail Imouto in the Universe, she takes the stage with Sakura donning a Hundred that will enable her to stand and walk and even fly. Of course, like the last time there was an idol concert, Hundred can’t be bothered with animating any part of it, meaning the show has all the excitement and dynamism of a Tuesday morning PowerPoint. I guess the episode blew its budget on all those maid extras, huh?

Anyway, as predicted the moment a Roomba and a Wendy showed up, Vitaly infiltrates Little Garden during the concert, and activates the Killer Roombas by making one vacuum up her cigarette butt, which is a pretty bizarre but cool way of startin’ some shit. Unfortunately, all of that shit will have to wait until next week; this episode was all setup and fluff. BRING ON THE EVIL ROOMBAS.

16rating_7

Hundred – 09

hun91

Don’t look now, but Hundred has been steadily improving in the last three weeks, and this is its best all-round episode yet, leaving me so entertained, charmed, and even a little impressed, that I had no choice but to award it an implausible 8 rating and my genuine recommendation.

Now, does that suddenly mean this is a good show? Totally depends on your definition and mood. I’m not going to get into that, and focus on this one good episode, which may not have necessarily surprised or shocked me at any particular point, but it did execute, without getting too cute.

hun92

The opening battle between Harvey and the Hunters gets things off to a fast, exciting start, with the leader Krovanh taking advantage of the sudden rain to put the disadvantaged Queen on the ground quickly.

Their advantage in tactics and numbers doesn’t last, as the cavalry arrives in the form of Erica, Hayato, Emile and Claudia. It’s nice in particular to see Claudia not goofing off and seriously fighting with the others.

hun93

Even with four-on-one, the Hunters are no slouches, as Krovanh crosses both swords and ideals with Hayato. But we know how badass Emile can be when s/he’s serious, and it’s very satisfying watching her pick apart Nakri’s game and “finish” her with a blast-punch rather than a spearing, then turn on to the other girl, Nesat.

These are the first instances of actually feeling a bit of sympathy for these core-hunting machines, but it’s not the last. Nesat’s “You’re going to destroy my eye?” line got me right here (pointing at my chest).

hun94

We learn that the three hunters were once child slaves working in a mine until they escape, trudged through the desert, and were “adopted” by Vitaly Tynyanov, who turned them into Variants and put them to work hunting for cores.

It’s clear Krovanh and the other two aren’t doing this because it’s what they always dreamed of, or even because they want to, but because no other options for survival have ever presented themselves…until now, of course!

Hayato understands Krovanh’s intensity and rage, but he’s not going to let him stand in the way of his own quest to put smiles on everyone’s faces without hurting anyone, which he attempts to do by putting on his Judge Dredd armor and proceeding to try to beat the shit out of Krovanh!

hun95

This could go on all night—and I thought it would—and probably been able to sustain an episode with Hayato eventually getting the better of the hot-headed kid because, well, he’s Hayato (note that I won’t use his whole name every damn time like most of the other characters anoyingly do).

But, and here’s where a bit of a surprise comes in, a one-on-one duel isn’t all that’s in store for us. That duel is suddenly brought to a halt by the arrival of the biggest, baddest, most legitimately intimidating Savage yet to grace the screen of Hundred: a dragon-type. I’ll call him Drogon-dred, or Drode for short, because why not?!

Drode’s Savage version of dragonfire is a gigantic beam that can wipe out an entire regiment if left unchecked, but his Savage version of dragon scales is a wide-area barrier that no single sword strike or cannon blast can penetrate.

That only means one thing: these two fighting groups have to stop fighting each other and align their powers against this thing; that’s the only way it’s going down. Krovanh, who still needs this thing’s core (to avoid the wrath of his master), offers a bag of the hundreds he’d taken from Harvey’s Slayers so far, and takes Drode on in hopes he can snag that juicy core.

hun96

But even when he almost loses himself to the Variant virus, he can’t put a dent in Drode. Claire and Emile put their cannon together, but Erica suspect they’ll need more. Nesat destroys the hunters’ jamming device so all Slayers can be contacted and their attacks coordinated. It’s a nifty bit of teamwork with previously bad guys you’re temporarily in a truce with, along with some more interesting tactics than “just keep hitting the damn thing).

hun97

Drode’s no fool, however, and he launches an attack just before the slayers can get their off, disabling some of them and forcing some to misfire. Claire needs MORE POWAH, which Professor Char concludes she’ll only be able to get in the needed amounts…by trading tongues with Hayato.

Emile is against this (because she loves Hayato), as is Erica (because she loves Claire), but Claudia, in one of her few lines this week, doesn’t see what the big deal is (because she loves Emile). I’ve liked Claudia, but the episode saw that she could wear thin if over-used, and effectively reduced her role this week to that of a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.

After a perhaps unnecessarily-passionate kiss between Claire and Hayato atop a moonlit bluff, Claire charges, up, crosses the streams with Emile, and combined with all the other slayers’ beams, finally brings Drode’s shield down.

hun98

After that, Judge HunDredd Hayato does what he does, taking care not to lose himself too much in his decisive (and cool-looking) finishing blow. Drode’s head and neck are cleved and his core is shattered, and he falls helplessly into the water like a sack of potatoes. Very satisfying.

However, that attack took a lot out of an already sleep-deprived Hayato who’d just had a little French with Claire, so when he goes into the drink, he has to be rescues. No problem for Emile, an excellent swimmer and transfer-er of air from her mouth to Hayato’s, which just happens to be, for all intents and purposes, a kind of kiss. It also brings him back from Variant Berserk Mode.

hun99

With Drode defeated with authority, Judar has his sister Claire bring the Hunters back with her to Little Garden. She and Erica are suspicious about his motives, and judging from the look of him smirking at the moon with his sake, we’re supposed to be to.

But at the same time, I’m glad these three kids are coming back to the boat, which will almost certainly be better than going back to Vitaly empty-handed. That is, of course, assuming Judar won’t strip them down, put them in tubes, and experiment on them…which is far from a sure thing!

If he doesn’t and the Hunters can interact with the LG’s general population (or at least Hayato & Co.), that will help build out their characters. Meanwhile, Hayato is good as new, to the relief of his little fan club of Emile, Karen, and Sakure, and Vitaly doesn’t seem to mind her hunters won’t be returning, because she’s got a lot more where that came from; likely improved versions.

This was a fine episode because it never let off the action gas until Drode was dead, underplayed the haremness, expanded the central conflict to one between Judar and Vitaly, with our younger heroes as their chess pieces, and made Vitaly’s pieces more human. Next week will be hard-pressed to top this, but that doesn’t mean Hundred can’t give it a try.

16rating_8

Bungou Stray Dogs – 05

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.08.32 PM

Last week, Bungou Stray Dogs disappointed because it lacked tension and it’s tone fluctuated wildly from cheeky to violent. It had no stakes and the characters faced no consequences. This week was no better. It was possibly worse.

What happened? RampoADA’s master detective is sent to a murder scene and Atsushi is sent along because Rampo is useless at everything except crime detection. A new gruff detective is at the scene and he doesn’t know Rampo and doesn’t approve of using private investigators. After some dialog, he relents and Rampo reveals a random police officer at the scene actually committed the crime and a greater conspiracy ensues…

The payoff is, after all the reveals, Dazai tells Atsushi that Rampo doesn’t actually have an ability, and that he even touched Rampo to make sure. Dazai then explains how Rampo would be able to deduce many of the clues and Atsushi learns why ADA respects Rampo so much.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.09.28 PM

While the final reveal is clever, all the parts felt contrived or drawn out. The detective’s objections to Rampo feel like a contrivance to pad the opening act. Dazai being trolled out of the river felt like a contrivance to include him in the act and to explain things to Atsushi in the end.

Atsushi gets nothing to do except his shock-face routine and the actual case, the murder of a female detective, is so secondary that when the episode shifted to it in the second act (via a narrated interview of the police officer who killed her) I lost interest. This show is terribly ill conceived.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.10.22 PM

Lets get academic on the tonal issue: adding humor to a grim scene keeps the over all tone light but, when used masterfully, can paint a deeper understanding of the characters. Maybe they are cracking jokes as a defense mechanism, maybe they are deeply warped individuals how can’t feel anymore, or maybe the writers are lowering our guard so they can hit us with a really shocking point later on.

Unfortunately, Stray Dogs only purpose is to keep things light. The characters are too cartooney for a psychological message to be believable and, thus far, each episode has ended on a dismissively happy-go-lucky note. Even if a grim reveal will eventually come, the script has bled out all of its tension.

It doesn’t help that there is no comedy here either. Dazai’s one-note suicide humor was used up in the first episode and this week’s ADA member is just a narcissist who brags over a corpse about how good he is. All the snap-zoom shock-faces in the world can’t contort his lines into jokes. The punchline is there is no punchline.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 6.09.02 PM

The verdict: Stray Dogs is a comedy without jokes. It’s an noir drama without any weight or humanity. It’s a super natural action piece soft on action and with a hard on for dull ‘resolve the plot’ super powers… which means the episode-to-episode plot isn’t compelling and the long term threat of the port mafia was so neutered last week as to make that unsuitable as an alternative.

I mean, what possible impact does knowing the murderer was dating the victim have after all that slap stick?

Beyond production values, there is absolutely nothing good about this show. It is not terrible but it is also genuinely bland or self defeating in every way.

16rating_6

Bungou Stray Dogs – 04

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.42.27 PM

BSD4 is all about blind alleys and throw away asides that hide a very simple message: Despite their great power, the Port Mafia is no match for the Armed Detective Agency AND Atsushi finally has a place he belongs.

Dazai and Dracula are barely in the episode, Atsushi spends most of it trying to run away and protect his new friends (who don’t even know he’s doing that nor need him to do so) and the rest is given over to red-herrings about Kuni-chan being worried and introducing how bad-ass the Black Lizard squads of the Port Mafia are… only to have them immediately wiped out by the ADA.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.43.26 PM

My concerns from last week are still in play: the show’s tone ricochets between slapstick and torture-grim, but there’s no tension because everyone important to the story survives.

Likewise, 15% of the episode is spent on mini flashbacks or repeats of information we’ve seen multiple times over. It doesn’t respect the viewer and for all the information stuffed into the play time, it doesn’t feel like much of it is valuable.

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 7.42.15 PM

It’s not all bad of course. The show looks decent enough, if not slightly over designed. The animations are decent enough, if only one scene per episode really pops out. It’s just trying very hard and I don’t really get a sense any of this has a point.

Certainly, establishing the big bad Mafia is no match for the ADA already makes it even lower stakes and less significant as a long term conflict. So what’s really left for the show to be about?

16rating_7

Bungou Stray Dogs – 03

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 5.09.00 PM

Between its mixed bag of animation quality, comically abrupt advancement of the plot and introduction of the show’s main villain, and jarring shifts in tone, Bungou Stray Dogs 03 was a complete mess… Bad dogs!

In scene one, Atsushi learns more about last week’s fake-out bomber and his ‘sister,’ as well as Kuni-chan’s background as a math teacher. He also learns Dazai’s backstory is a huge secret and there is a reward for figuring it out, which prompts an entirely unfunny scene where Atsushi lists random occupations and Dozai cutely says nope to all of them.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 5.09.30 PM

In scene two, everyone meets this week’s client, a knock-out blonde who’s company is troubled by ‘rag wearing’ persons up to no good in their alley. Dazai flirts around with the client until Kuni-chan beats him up and Atsushi and the lesser duo of last week are dispatched to help the client.

Also, Kuni-chan warns Atsushi to avoid Dracula at all costs.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 5.10.42 PM

The second act is devoted to introducing Dracula, who it turns out is part of the dock mafia along with this week’s client. As the scene plays out, we lear about last week’s lesser characters, see their powers, and then witness them brutally murdered.

Then Atsushi turns into a Tiger and goes toe to toe with Dracula until Dazai shows up. They monolog at each other, explain that Atsushi has a 7 million Yen bounty on his head, and part ways amicably. Also, Dazai reveals he too was once a port mafia dude.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 5.10.11 PM

Where do I even begin? Dracula’s sudden arrival felt absurdly rushed. Similarly, this show is way too goofy for Dracula’s violent murder of police officers (and subsequent bombing of the police station).

The simple fact Atsushi’s fellow Armed Detectives are probably still alive, despite being gunned down just proves my point: the stakes are not high enough and the show is not serious enough to make violent drama fit.

If it weren’t for Atsushi’s cool dodging gun-play early in the fight, this episode would have been a complete snoozefest.

16rating_7

Bungou Stray Dogs – 02

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.42.44 PM

Nakajima Atsushi’s pleasant time with a roof over his head doesn’t last long: Dazai calls him on his new cell phone and informs him there is an emergency!

After a quick fakeout involving an oil drum and a failed suicide attempt, the duo joins Kunikida at the Armed Detective Agency’s head quarters and faces off against a mad bomber to save a hostage hostage.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.41.55 PM

Slapstick ensues, the bomber gets madder, and in a final desperate act to save the day, Atsushi tries to smother the explosion with his own body…only to discover the bomb was fake and the situation was a test all along.

With the president’s approval, he is now part of the ADA, whether he wants to be or not. Roll credits…

…Until Dracula shows up in the sewer, probably up to no good. Those Draculas never are!

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 9.42.26 PM

Bungou Stray Dogs succeeds for a second week, although at a lower action level and less witty humor. Dazai and Kuni-chan’s rock-paper-scissors showdown was charming, and some of Dazai’s expressions (like his spaghetti arms dance) earned a chuckle, but it lacked last week’s punch over all.

BSD’s color palette remains quite nice to look at, though it too was more exiting last week. The character designs are solid and Atsushi’s poses are especially bizarre in an angular sort of way. The goofy rock guitar in the background was either hilariously appropriate or terrible depending on your tastes.

But if I had to choose a single thing that bothered me, it’s Kuni-chan’s special power “Dopa Poet,” which appears to materialize a gas-cartridge-cable-firing-GUN from a piece of paper. Judging from the opening credits, this may well be all his power is good for and yeesh…that’s hugely unsatisfying as powers go.

16rating_7

Bungou Stray Dogs – 01 (First Impressions)

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 1.00.09 PM

Nakajima Atsushi, recently chased out of an orphanage and about to die from starvation has finally come to realize he must turn to crime if he is to survive. He WILL rush the next person he sees and take everything they’ve got.

The first person he sees zips past on a motorcycle, followed by a company of marching soldiers, followed by a body floating down the river. Resigning himself, Atsushi-kun dives in after the drowning man and begins his adventure!

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 1.00.41 PM

As it turns out, that drawing man is suicide-hobbyist Dazai, a member of the Armed Detective Agency, who’s shirking work and ticking off his partner Kunikida-kun, who materializes soon after.

Grudgingly, Kunikida pays for Atsushi’s meals but it is quickly revealed the detectives and the orphan have overlapping interest in a man-killing tiger that is causing trouble in the area and is most definitely not Atsushi himself.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 1.02.15 PM

Later that night, Atsushi turns into a tiger in front of Dazai, who uses his own powers to safely immobilize the ignorant orphan and save the day. We meet the rest of the Detectives and they agree to add Atsushi to their ranks.

Roll…opening credits? Then Preview, then Roll closing credits!

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 12.59.58 PM

Bungou Stray Dogs succeeds in every way Sousei no Onmyouji fails: The render level and visual styling are not only solid, they pull off well timed jokes and present an emotional range for each character.

The characters themselves are likable and quirky. Even Kunikida-kun’s generic ‘Angry Uptight Dude’ fits visually within the world and, given Dazai’s entertainingly suicidal musings, you may even find his exasperation believable.

Supernatural team shows are a dime a dozen, but BSD does not disappoint. The rest of the cast and list of villains, which includes a Dracula, appears equally charming and quirky—but above all else, there’s no dour angst-bro in the driver’s seat here.

I’m looking forward to more of this and hope you have time to give it a look too!

16rating_8