In Fall of 2007, I was very much a beginner at anime. I’d explored the discount stores in my neighborhood and encountered some very interesting, engaging titles, but I wasn’t any kind of plugged in to what stuff was current. One series changed all that, basically on its own.* Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji was the complete package in so many ways; tense, human drama, a rich cast that skirted the line from likeable to detestably inhuman, tight direction, idiomatic yet pithy dialogue, and the best narrator in anime bar none.
Those last 2 attributes also make the show handy for an alternate purpose; rampant quotation abuse! There’s a Kaiji quote for everything, and the Fall 2013 anime season is no exception. In celebration of the show’s free availability on crunchyroll, let’s break it down.
There are a couple of primary rules to following modern anime that I’ve discovered since first getting into it in 2007, something I feel I should mention because I violated one of them last week:
1. Never count out a show before it airs. It doesn’t matter if the studio, staff, and source material are all seemingly dog meat, miracles happen more often than you’d think.
2. Dropping anything new after 1 episode is perfectly acceptable. Shows that don’t have a gripping intro in today’s ultra-competitive market are the ones missing a beat. If they don’t care about themselves, neither should I. The inverse is not necessarily true; a good first episode means a lot more than a good third episode, where the staff can afford to throttle down for the sake of a particular story because they know they have their audience.
3. 90% of all game adaptations are bad according to people who played the game. Not so much for manga, where plenty of anime staffers have gotten absurd amounts of praise for storyboards that were basically carbon copies of their award winning source material.
4. Don’t expect people to like or hate the same things you do. Learn to love the party going on around a show or just leave it alone.
5. Doubt Takahiro Omori, Kishi Seiji, Kenji Nakamura, and Taniguchi Goro, under any circumstances, at your own peril. Though they don’t always hit home runs, they can do anything, they’ve proved it, and they just keep grinding like they’re playing Dragon Quest and unmade anime are a bunch of hapless slimes.
True to form, Omori and writer Hideyuki Kurata didn’t take long to go from the introduction of Flamenco Girl’s clashing colors to weave her and the consequences of her actions into the larger tapestry of circumstances. Now she’s been humanized, the cast in general has matured, and we’re set with at least 3 or 4 new emerging plot and character threads that ought to keep things fresh perhaps even to the halfway point.
Kyoukai no Kanata’s 6th episode was very heavily reliant one particular scene, repeated, many, many times. And, fortunately, to great effect.
I’m 100% behind an episode where the cast manages to fail in increasingly hilarious ways. In comedy, there’s a big gulf between the skill at which people can tell the same joke over and over again. This style of joking can go South real fast; when a writer is bad at repeating his or herself, you get a formulaic example of characters running through the motions, something that ultimately comes across as an episode that could as well be cut from the series. It’s the prototypical filler episode, and nobody likes it. But that’s not what we saw here; I had a lot of fun with the group’s attempt to take down the pus-spewing roof vegetable with eyecandy and sneak attacks that proved futile for a cornucopia of reasons..
Arpeggio really seems to be alternating its format week by week, going from battle episode to aftermath to battle episode again. It’s a format that makes sense for a series that’s packing 2 episodes per disk (some of the biggest selling point goes into every volume), and they’re liable to keep it up unless the ending shaves the time between battles down to nearly zero and turns every matchup into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink shakedown like the one in episode 4. In which case the people who stuck around just end up getting more bang for their buck.*
Flamenco Girl definitely brings the punch to the show (even though Masayoshi can actually block punches now). She’s ridiculously violent, in contrast to Masayoshi’s passive-aggressive style of heroing, and comes backed with crazy theme music and a jazzy fight soundtrack. It would almost have been a fair contrast of methods, except she tazed a cop within 10 minutes of showing up. Considerably less cool.
(Though to be fair, he probably should have used ripple to defend himself)
Ishidate Taichi evidentially doesn’t believe in bringing his B-game to an interlude episode. While the nominal content to this week’s episode was mostly small fallout from last week’s midway-climax, the execution was a thing of beauty, and the cast actually fleshed out a lot through body language, without any need for backstory. More to the point… They did the glass thing! The deliberately awkward, “I don’t know what to say so I’m looking down at my drink” glass thing! If I needed another reason to import this show, that would have been it. First-person camera has been vastly underutilized tactic for over a decade, and it was a real pleasure to see it pop up here.
The core to the fun of the Arpeggio experience is the 80s-esque naval combat; multi-layered, adaptable strategies that focus on overcoming a big resource deficit with tactical mastery. This week saw that in spades, as Gunzou’s squad had to come out with a win in a 2-on-1 with their biggest gun out of the picture and only 6 effective shots left. What actually won the battle wasn’t the most innovative twist in the world, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes. The battle itself was a thrill to watch unfold, topping itself repeatedly with increasingly larger barrages of heavy weaponry while still not defying the universe’s physics and keeping the sense of fluctuating advantage that defines an engaging confrontation high.
As much as Samurai Flamenco still seems to lack a good dramatic soundtrack, it doesn’t much matter when it keeps the focus on comedy and brings those cranky accordions to the table. That dimension of the series seems to be becoming more prominent, as the cast added another awkward adult. And it should be mentioned that Goto is looking like less of a traditional straight man as time goes on.
Last week, I had Kyoukai no Kanata pegged for an episode full of awesome combat choreography. The first half was just that, a chase through a labyrinth of jumbled escalators mixed with argumentative running and some clever action that screwed with my sense of direction to all hell while never losing me entirely. It definitely helped that the banter, both between Mirai and Akihito and between the siblings when they cut away from the main action, felt as natural as could be. I wouldn’t say the show is firing on all cylinders, but there’s definitely a piston pumping that engine full of organic uncertainty. Continue reading →
Arpeggio continued to impress this week by folding in some well-placed imagery and bringing along a Greek chorus to the battlefield. It’s the first TV anime I’ve seen in a while that really feels like it’s bringing the best aspects of anime movies to the table. And it’s doing it while continuing to post legitimate heat-check tier numbers in the marketplace.* The 3D still isn’t 100% perfect**, but things that were kinks even as recent as last episode were ironed out, and the sense of spectacle is exactly where it’s been.