A hearty omedetou gozaimasu to Hideki Matsuyama, the first Japanese and Asian-born man to win the Masters!—RABUJOI STAFF
A sport’a anime’s second episode typically has three goals: introduce each character on the team, demonstrate the protagonist’s value to that team, and explain how the sport works to the viewer. In this regard, Hoshiai no Sora sticks to the script by showing Maki dominate the twenty lap test and rapidly pick pick up the basic tennis swings. And those swings are demonstrated with delicate slow animation. It’s informative, engrossing, high quality fair.
But Stars Align earns another must watch rating because it tackles bullying, homosexuality, child abuse (and how everyone can be oblivious to the warning signs), and the desperate situation an abused spouse must deal with behind the scenes. It tackles each of these points without pretension or being over the top and just wow. This show does not disappoint!
Why not devote 12+ minutes of airtime to Rin and Misa’s first jet ski race? Why not break the fourth wall nearly as often as the commentator’s and exposition break the momentum of said race? Why not swap awkwardly between hand drawn and 3D rendered versions of the girls while they race? Why not follow the race with balloon-bewbs!, more exposition, and some fat shaming?
Because boring, boring, boring, awkward, boring, boring, awkward? (in that order)
Well… that didn’t take long did it? Where last week featured many puzzling design choices, which worked to elevate the material from slop to creepy psychodrama, this week couldn’t reach ‘slop.’ If you are earnestly excited by the made up rules to a water-gun shooting + jet ski racing sports anime, I guess you got something from it. Otherwise, not so much.
After smacking him to the ground, Maki’s father delivers a rib-shattering kick to his teen son for good measure. Maki crawls to the corner of his apartment’s brightly lit living room and curls into a shivering ball. His father takes all the money, almost laughing, and walks away. Some time later, Maki silently finishes dinner for himself and his hard working single mother.
Hoshiai no Sora is a well drawn sports anime about a loser tennis club, a transfer student with epic reflexes, and a team captain who must win the summer tournament or lose his club funding. From garden gnomes in front lawns, to heavy-set female characters, its world is richly detailed and lived-in and the people living in it have much more going on than you may first suspect. This show is the true dark horse of Fall Season.
Kurumatani defeats the punk basket ball club, earns the respect of the girl’s team captain, and starts to warm the punk-captain’s heart through endless practice and flash backs. There is also a panty-hook.
Most sports anime feature an under dog with endless optimism and dedication to practice. This makes sense, practice is key to getting better, and the only way to make practice watchable is to show how much fun a person is having while doing it. In this regard, AnS has nothing special going for it. Except a panty hook.
Rin is surrounded by a warmth as adults chat aimlessly and give us a glimpse of their family-like fishing community. Their world buzzes with detail but stands motionless. Not even a ripple ebbs near the boats docked at port. Not until Rin’s mother is announced as Jet Girl World Champion! As she speaks into without a sound, we zoom in close to her exposed chest and watch her gently wrest a hand above her heart. Rin mirrors this while dry-humping an oversized dolphin plushie beneath her.
Now grown up, teen-Rin saddles a jet ski, buffeted by sports graphics and announcer narration. A delicate smile dances on her lips and a yellow wetsuit like her mother’s hugs her ample curves. There is joy in her and her partner’s face as they ride from wave into the air, rising to the upbeat throb of the opening theme music.
Teen-Rin now sits in darkness before a picture of her trophy-holding mother at the family shrine. Rain and stillness hang like death in the air.
Elsewhere in the dark, a phone alarm wakes another girl. The emptily-chirping phone lays loose in her sleepless hand. Her eyes do not hide her depression. Her student’s room describes an empty life to us in clean but heartless stills. Pens not quite neatly arranged beside a pad on her desk. A simple mug holds her plain tooth brush by the window.
The girl strips for us and her young breasts bounce with natural weight, as if rejecting their sexual impact. The scene is almost silent, broken only by her sliding door sticking in it’s track. It fights to keep her inside before letting her pass. Misa Aoi is written on the name plaque as the hooded girl marches passed.
Rin now sits by her father at the docks, sharing empty chatter about moving to Tokyo for school and part time jobs. He stands there and does not look at her, nor do either turn to face us. We do not see his face. While the setting and color and coldness match, it becomes clear the girls live far apart.
A steam boats horn blares and music returns. In the distance, Rin now faces us waving. Briefly we come close to her smiling face, and as briefly see the smile slacken, her inner shadow cast long by the rising sun.
Misa dons VR Goggles and we see a machine’s hydraulics flex with her weight. We see a simulation through her eyes, and we see her eyes too, each we see tightly framed. Virtual water splashes but Misa never leaves the dirty wooden room. Nor do we see Misa’s projection into the simulation. She can not see herself there. She curses, feeling the representation is lacking, and hurts her leg in anger.
Rin returns, eyes wide and balled fists held together in surprise. Pair after hyper-sexualized pair, Rin encounters stylish Tokyo girls in love with each other. A foreign couple offers sepuku. Another, selfies. Later, she is mugged by a plain man, who is ultimately tripped by Misa a short chase later.
As Misa stands, Rin’s eyes trace shapely legs, lingering on the dress shirt, and distant eyes. Rin’s hand returns to her heart, where it hasn’t been since her mother won the championship. Judging from the shrine photo, perhaps moments before she died. Rin exhales and blushes with glistening eyes and lust. Delicate piano keys finger a short rise. Unable to contain her excitement, Rin unzips her duffle bag and her dolphin plushie erupts forth like a skyward facing erection.
Later still, the girls become roommates. Rin attempts to make Misa touch her breasts before leaning in to smell Misa’s neck. She can smell Misa on their bunk bed. Misa violently pushes her away, disturbed but their name plaques now hang together. Rin’s childish mug and personal items sit next to Misa’s on the walls and desk.
The creeper factor runs thick with deceptive charming, as if Misa’s alarm over a sexual predator and stalker could be gently batted away by Rin’s playful grin, poking and chest rubbing. Misa eventually cowers behind a wall to hide, while Rin chats-up another student. The conversation is yet again inane, but introduces Rin’s Jet Ski experience within range for Misa to hear.
The episode culminates in a race against a river side mean girls, during which most of the sexual themes and azure colors are repeated with gusto. Misa is anally penetrated by rifle fire. Tears flow from her eyes. Her clothes detach and fall away.
Point of view impacts storytelling. Not only who’s point of view, but how they see (what angle, the framing, what they focus on) feed us details about their character and the world overall. In KJG’s case, we mostly share Rin’s point of view but the contrast of what that view shows us, and how people see Rin (a smiling happy girl played straight), creates a deeply unsettling juxtaposition.
What makes any of this interesting is that Rin is not simply a ‘flip’ on a male anime creeper. Where most anime and manga would use creeper icons and conventional expressions like drool and ‘that elbows bent arms up wiggle gesture’ to convey Rin’s desires to the audience, KJG does not. Rin’s expression is played straight. In part, this hides her inner feelings from the other cast members as well, which in turn makes her feel dangerous because we, the viewers, are the only ones who can see more is going on with Rin underneath the surface.
KJG sprinkles other weirdness like suicide, the cheapening of Japanese cultural icons, and untreated (and socially ignored) depression. None of these are pushed to the forefront as much as the sexuality but the sexuality is obviously more the point: if you don’t think about how KJG presents itself, you could be forgiven assuming it was just cheap smut.
what the **** did I just watch? (twice)
Kurumatani is a short kid who’s mom was good at basketball BEFORE SHE DIED! (and gave him her shoes) He gets in fights he cannot win. He unintentionally becomes friends with a giant Afro-Japanese kid and becomes enemies with his new school’s basketball team. He also peeps on the girl’s basketball team while they get changed in the room next to the boys’ club room.
Yeah it’s hard not to compare it to Haikyuu, which I watched for 3 seasons. However, where AnS lacks the ‘spunk’ and energy of Haikyuu!!! AnS has good comedic timing. That said, it doesn’t contain much comedy to begin with (what with Kurumatani’s downer mom and being beaten up and all). The visual style is little gray and… well it’s a short kid wins basketball anime?
This week’s opening scene practically oozes foreboding, and Yuna D. Kaito has never looked more suspicious as he prepares tea for Akiho. Whether there’s something in that tea or not, the scene all but confirms he’s operating against Sakura behind the shadows—unbeknownst to Sakura, Syaoran, and even Akiho.
It’s also pretty much certain Akiho is the cloaked figure in Sakura’s dreams, and that the dreams are being shared between the girls, with neither of them know the other is in them. All Akiho knows is the feeling of wanting something the other person has. That thing is Sakura’s key, and Yuna seems pleased the dream is “progressing”, most likely in his favor.
By laying out some meaty plot progression right off the bat, the more slice-of-life ball sports tournament at school feels more earned and less like more stalling (though if you’re not watching Sakura at least in part for her high school slice-of-life…why are you watching?).
It helps that the sports are a lot of fun, as watching BasketBaller Sakura toss no-look passes, crossover dribble, and nail shots from downtown is just as fun—and smoothly-animated—as watching her battle and capture cards.
The school doesn’t allow students to film the events, but Tomoyo finds a way around that by using Kero-chan, who is more than game to redeem himself after the playground footage debacle.
The sports tournament again demonstrates not only Sakura’s athletic skills, but those of Syaoran and Akiho, the latter two specifically in the field of badminton. I loved how seriously Sayoran was taking his match, which Akiho was keeping very close, and how Sakura wanted to root for both of them.
Just as she hopes for a tie, a surprise hailstorm rolls in, ending the match in a tie and sending everyone scattering for shelter. Sakura stays out, because she’s pretty sure this is a new Card. Unfortunately, as of yet she has no fire-element Clear Cards, and Reflect only sends hail into the building, causing damage.
Syaoran, still sore about not being able to put Akiho away (if he was even capable of doing so!), summons his fire sword to help out his girlfriend. His initial lower-powered attack isn’t effective, so he breaks out a bigger spell that stops the Card in its tracks, allowing Sakura to secure it.
It’s a great bit of Sakura/Syaoran teamwork, and shows that her friends will be there to fill in her weakness (in this case, no fire Card). Now, at least, if she comes upon a fire Card, she’ll have Hail to counter it.
After the battle Akiho comes running, and when she sees Sakura in the poncho Tomoyo made, she assumes it’s for another play that doesn’t really exist, but Sakura doesn’t correct her. That night Sakura turns in early, seeing as how it was a very active day and she overslept that morning.
Upon falling asleep, Sakura’s right back in Clockworld with Cloaky, who we can now assume is an unwitting Akiho, possibly working as Yuna D. Kaito’s puppet in the dream. She again tries to steal Sakura’s key, but Sakura grabs it back, and a giant dragon appears just below Cloaky, ready to swallow Sakura up.
She wakes up before that happens, and checks to make sure she still has her key before going back to bed. But she’s definitely unsettled than ever before. The figure is not only taking things up a notch in the dream, but perched on a utility pole just outside Sakura’s house. Some great semi-revelations this week that really escalate the tension.
That all of this is going on without any of Sakura’s allies’ knowledge makes me feel all the more worried for Sakura. If she were to lose her key, she wouldn’t be able to capture or use cards. That…would be bad!
Hoe Count: 4
P.S. Going forward, we at RABUJOI have agreed to use more descriptive (if not always the most perceptive) titles to our posts. We’ll see how that goes!
In what felt like a brisk episode, after a class lesson in formulas and equals gets Sakura thinking about how similar the Clear Cards are to Clow Cards she once captured, she has lunch with friends, during which Yamazaki informs everyone the ball sports tournament will begin soon.
On the way home from school, Sakura, Syaoran and Akiho encounter Yuna D. Kaito, who escorts Akiho the rest of the way home. Syaoran, meeting Yuna for the first time, is spooked—the butler is definitely a magic user. Eriol tells him via video chat that there’s an order in the UK that grants it’s highest-ranked magic users “D”—and for Syaoran to stay on his toes.
CCS is nothing if not adept at suddenly shifting from ordinary life to weird magical scenarios. After dinner with her brother during which she notices he switched up a recipe to include butter, she senses the presence of another card, which leads her and Kero to Penguin Park, the venue of a Clow card encounter in previous series.
Tomoyo placed Kero in charge of getting Sakura dressed up and filming her in case of her absence, and it’s a good think Tomoyo isn’t there, because this card loves pulling things off or out of the ground, inverting them, and smashing them back to earth.
In a rare interruption of Sakura’s capturing routine, it even lifts her off her magical circle. It’s only thanks to Kero diving in to catch her that she doesn’tsuffer a big bump on the noggin…or worse. But he wouldn’t have been able to save both Sakura and Tomoyo simultaneously.
Sakura figures out that up and down don’t matter if she’s already in the air, so she activates her Flight Card and secures the “Reversal” Card while airborne in a short but sweet little burst of action.
Unfortunately, just like last time the inverted playground equipment attracts the attention of bystanders and ends up a news story on TV; Sakura and Kero are able to fly home without being seen.
Back home, while chatting with Tomoyo, they also learn most of Kero’s footage is useless since the camera shifted when he caught Sakura. Tomoyo, containing her rage well, orders a training session for Kero so such mistakes aren’t repeated.
Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.
But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.
His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.
We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.
Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.
But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.
Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.
But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.
There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.
But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.
“If you retire now, I’ll make you regret it for the rest of your life” – Yurio, snatching Gold from Yuri by .12
The Gist: 6 skaters give 6 performances, marked with their own narration of objectives. The many competitors and supporters who we’ve come to know watch along as the scores come in. JJ seals third place by growing stronger emotionally and in performance as he goes, just shutting out the Khazak skater. But the first big upset is Yuri, who blows the crowd — and the judges — completely away with a world record setting performance. Above even Victor’s world best.
But Yurio is having none of it. Frustrated that ‘beating Victor’ is good enough — that just retiring after only one good year — Yurio puts on 3 minutes of beautiful animation plus flashbacks that add to our understanding: that he was in that bathroom all the way at the beginning of the series because he was intrigued by Yuri’s footwork, but disgusted by the emotional damage he saw.
Yurio wins by .12, entirely due to his advantage going into the second round but the result is the same. Yuri holds a silver at the end and finally comes to realize he never wanted to give up skating. Nor does he have to worry about Victor, who too will rejoin next year’s rotation.
After a lovely duet preluding the next season to come, Yuri find himself training with Victor and Yurio the way they had before, but as truer, closer friends. Their feels out in the open.
The Verdict: That was a fantastic conclusion for all the obvious reasons. Animation, character, world building, sport, and above all else, enjoyable characters that bounce off of each other. Yurio’s reveal was especially fulfilling, as it gave his tsundere personality the final rounding we needed, following last week’s friendship growth with the Khazak skater.
Another fun trick was undermining Yuri’s first episode narration, in which he says this would be his last year as a skater, to retire on a gold. It totally played with our expectations all the way to the end, but gave him a believable reason to stay.
I can not stress how good this show is and how completely un-boy love too — despite the obvious bro-mancing between Yuri and Victory. There’s no date side episode or quiet ‘they did it’ episode. The sexuality isn’t part of the story at all, even if you can imagine it being part of their lives. If that changes your mind about giving YOI a watch, dive in. You will not be disappointed!
The Finale: Cockroach-chan’s showdown with Kaya, Maya’s abuse-fueld alter-ego is intense but ultimately morphs back into a duel with Maya, after a rousing pep-talk about wanting to be proud of the fight. Cockroach-chan wins, of course, having been upgraded by her team mates and having unlocked the full power of the vacuum butt cannon.
But all it well that ends well and the girls have a lovely banquet together afterwards. Despite their on-land meanness, team evil is all puppies and kittens now, and quickly becomes friends.
Final Verdict: This was pretty terrible. I get the point is exploitation backed by friendly non-objectifying girls who love (and take seriously) a sport but… nah this is just nipple-less T&A wrapped around generic fighting tourney tropes. There was no charm at the end, no humor to balance the final fight, and Team-evil never had a chance, nor was there 5 episode arc built up enough for it to have weight or stakes.
The Gist: Cockroach-chan takes Qi-girl head on and gets a whiff of victory… yes, literally. Ultimately, after a lengthy duel that breaks Qi-girl’s mind and turns her hair white, they are still at a standstill.
Meanwhile, Neko-chan and the other girls who’s names I don’t remember defeat a magician who pulls cards out of her butt and a girl with green hair who joins with the magician to form a combination-attack form. Yes, they literally share a swimsuit to do this.
Also there’s a heavy set girl who hasn’t lost yet but she isn’t given much screen time and doesn’t seem to be a real threat…
The Verdict: there are a few truly fantastic moments of comedy this week surrounded by dull fighting tropes, unnecessary backstory elements for the villains, and sloppy pacing. Over all, this was a see-saw affair and how much enjoyment you get from it depends on how much the highs charm you and the lows irritate you.
The magician’s butt cards had me giggling like an idiot but her boob flashing and her ultimate KO were a snooze. The combination form with green hair chan was also great, especially due to the sound effects and the hilarious giant-robo style camera angle for their ‘hook up’ but the minutes spent ‘locked butt to butt’ with Pink-chan was totally uneventful on the flip side. Cockroach-chan sniffing Qi-chan’s arse — especially the poor voice actress doing a pig snort — was to die for but the fight itself was bland paste. I don’t care at all about Qi-chan and didn’t need her backstory or second form to pad out the episode :(