Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 07

The girls’ fantastic journey to Antarctica is feeling closer and realer than ever now that they’re in Fremantle, not just looking at the Penguin Manju but boarding her, getting settled into their four-person berth (where there will be fights, LOL) and touring its gigantic-ness.

But the girls are just as united in their suspicion that something…odd is going on on the ship as they are in their awe at being aboard her. There’s a lot of negative press about the expedition not having a chance of actually getting to Antarctica, let alone accomplish anything.

When Kanae will only vaguely tell them that their crew is “determined” to “see the sky”,  the girls take matters into their own hands and stealthily follow the adults around while wearing masks. What they hear and observe confirms their worries that what they thought would be an ironclad operation is threadbare and held together with a lot of hope and not much cash or manpower.

What can the girls do but have faith everything will work out? Perhaps the discovery of the glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of a bunk is a good omen; the other girls give Shirase that bunk, assuming her mom must’ve painted them.

Walking the deck at night, Shirase runs into Gin, who fills in most of the blanks related to the hardships they’ve encountered, as well as the ill-fated previous trip when they lost Shirase’s mom in the unforgiving cold. Gin says despite their scrappy underdog status, most of the original team has returned in spite of everything.

Gin speaks with such confidence and conviction that she manages to convince the other girls (who were listening off to the side). And on the eve of their departure, Kanae introduces the girls to the rest of the crew (and indicates that they are not legal, repeat, they are not legal) and gives them a chance to introduce themselves.

There, after having failed in front of Hinata’s camera so many times, Shirase gets a pat on the back from Hinata, steps forward, and delivers the most charismatic intro of the four, pledging her commitment to “do catchy, witty, sensational reporting” (we’ll see) and opening the “treasure box” of Antarctica with her own two hands.

The crowd is pumped—all that beer probably helps!—but I think having the older members seeing such passion in a high schooler, particularly the daughter of one of their founders, can’t be anything but inspiring as they prepare to shove off. It isn’t just Shirase; everyone on that boat is out to prove the doubters and the haters wrong. They’re like the Philadelphia Eagles. And they’re going to freakin’ Antarctica.

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Haikyuu!! Second Season – 02

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Haikyuu!! introduced two new characters this week: the grouchy but driven college girl Saeko and timid but smart first year Yatchi Hidoka. While Saeko barely made an appearance, Yatchi adds a few hooks for the show to tell its story, and even retell the viewer some details about volleyball and school life.

Over all, it was a successful second episode for a second season and fleshed out the non-sports side arc that the first episode’s “same old same old” was lacking.

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As an unwitting applicant to replace Team Raven’s soon to be graduating manager, Yatchi feels like a plot convenience, but she fits well enough. Her over the top panic about people wanting to kill her matches the rest of the cast’s hyper activeness to be sure and, as a academically competent student, she immediately has something to do in the story: make sure Hinata and Kageyama don’t flunk their exams.

Silly, quick, but effective at adding some high school slice of life to a show that spends the majority of time in the gym.

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Saeko adds a sense of space and context too, albeit only briefly and barely more than Hint’s baby sister and off-screen mother telling him to stop shouting. That context is that: yes, these are hyper teenaged boys, who go to school like everyone else and live with normal families. (by anime standards)

Both girls also give us a chance to see normal people respond to the cast when they are not on the court, slamming volleys. As you would imagine, they find them as over the top as we do as viewers.

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So my verdict ticks up from last week. Because Yatchi doesn’t know about volleyball, you’re probably going to get a refresh on how the game is played, which means you won’t be as lost without the first season.

Similarly, we got a scene where Hinata texts back and forth with one of the opponents from last season, which gives you more context for the relationships and challenges the team will face.

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It’s enough to make it coherent for a first-time viewer I think and, if it continues on this track, you should be fine without going back. As long as you want a hyper, Naruto-like show about volleyball, that is?

My schedule is probably not reliably open enough to review the show for you but you can bet I’ll be watching.

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Haikyuu!! Second Season – 01 (Quick Glance)

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Haikyuu!! has always reminded me of Bleach…albeit drawn with a quarter the budget and doing away with all the plot to focus exclusively on its orange-haired hero’s tactical growth. Maybe it’s unfair to call Haikyuu out on this, given that many sports anime feature underdog teams (and players) with potential and the drive for fame and Naruto-like-enthusiasm.

If anything set the original season apart, it was that the team loses their big game anyway, not even making it to the final show down of the regionals, let alone to their goal: the nationals. That, and I swear the characters’ chins and overall head design is the ugliest in all of animedom.

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You’ll like it if: you enjoy stories about the little guy struggling to be the best, about teams coming together, and enjoyed the first season, without which you won’t have enough context for the characters’ motivations to grip you.

You may not like it if: you didn’t watch the first season and get to know the dozens of characters, rivalries and relationship growth. Season 2’s opening is also a little disappointing is how quickly the characters ‘rebound’ from their crushing defeat. Everyone is driven, without reserve, for heroic ‘revenge’ and absolute victory in the Volleyball world. And guess what? A new tourney is already just around the corner for our heroes to grow, surprise more opponents with their speed and tactics, and probably win the day.

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This is the deep-fried candy coat of fun that I watched Haikyuu for and my criticisms are a little unfair. Watching characters wallow in self pity or be broken by defeat would have been a bold move for a show that sets the stakes at: win volleyball or not.

But goodness! Season 2’s first episode already feels like more of the same. Watching is a guilty pleasure show, to be sure.

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Chihayafuru 2 – 18

Ayase Chihaya, Yamashiro Rion

Chihaya overcomes her injury to cut down Rion’s lead, but it’s still nagging her. Nishida is desperate for a win after two girls injured themselves giving it their all. After mis-analyzing his hair blowing, Tsutomu loses to Yamai, who energizes Rion, whom he secretly admires for her beautiful play. At the third-place game, Akashi and Hokuo continue to play hard, disgusting Shinobu, who suddenly remembers how she was isolated to strengthen her. Tsukuba loses to Ichimura, putting Mizusawa down 0-2. Nishida, Taichi and Chihaya will all have to win their games to take the championship away from Fujisaki.

Arata nudged Shinobu into sitting in on the karuta game, but not just to fulfill her duty as queen, but to try to change her mind about team karuta. She wasn’t very moved last week, but this week as the games intensify, like the Grinch, she starts to feel something in her she doesn’t recognize: excitement. Interest. Well, maybe. There’s a lot of conditioning to cut through to get to Shinobu’s soft side. After all, she was kept away from others her age so she wouldn’t ever go easy on anyone. The idea was, the more alone she was, the stronger she’d get. She is a strong karuta player – the strongest, but she’s a terrible queen and her social development has also suffered.

But back to the game: while Mizusawa had five chances at three miracles against Fujisaki, two of those chances go quietly into the night. We don’t mind Tsutomu and Tsukuba losing so forcefully; no amount of fighting spirit could overcome the sheer gap in ability and experience. By episode’s end we only know that Taichi is four cards down against Eroga, not a great place to be but not hopeless, while Chihaya and Porky’s scores remain a mystery. Mizusawa’s back is definitely up against the wall, but their three strongest players still stand, and there’s still a chance they can pull out a win. If not, we’ll be sorely disappointed. We already saw them lose in the last series. We want a win.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)