Midseason Update: This Winter in s-CRY-ed Quotes

Back in the day, before I had the money to import anime, or eve to buy them at a discount, I had access to a VCR and a stack of 5 VHS tapes. I learned to program that VCR for the express purpose of recording Toonami, Adult Swim Anime, and the like on days when I couldn’t make it home. And if there was one show that was my number 1 at the time, it was battle/rivalry series s-CRY-ed.

Fueled almost entirely by banter between the leading duo. Kazuma and Ryuho were as memorable a pair of rivals as I can recall having watched to this day, and the script that was field-raised ham on a whole-wheat drama bun produced a memorable, unique-tasting fight series. And plenty of potable quotes, which is why I’m dedicating this entry to cemented legacy club member director Taniguchi Goro.

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And to punching things while yelling loudly

Oh, and incoming spoilers for a 12 year-old show, if you’re averse to that kind of thing.

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Lists Are Fun to Make: Favorite Episodes of 2013 By Title

I find anime episode titles lined up to be aesthetically pleasing. There’s an art to picking a good title that really speaks to the content of the episode. Here I tired to keep things simple, and limited myself to one episode per show to keep Gatchaman Crowds and the non-racist parts of Space Brothers from dominating the chart and keeping some other interesting ones out.

10. Change the World (Samurai Flamenco)

9. Autumn of Arts, Appetite, and Attack (GJ-bu)

8. Soccer… Soccer? (Outbreak Company)

7. Because It’s Fun (Yuyushiki)

6. Everyone has Close Calls. Learn from Them and Keep the Workplace Healthy. (Servant x Service)

5. Shocking No Breathing (Free)

4. Muromi-san and the Ryuuguuju (Namiuchigiwa no Muromi-san)

3. Qualifications of a Hero (Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure)

2. Excitement of My Youth (Space Brothers)

1. Crowds (Gatchaman Crowds)

First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 11

It seems like a bit of a truism to say that SF has changed significantly since the beginning of the show. While it’s true that the show has upped the ante in a number of ways since the main duo defenestrated a gorilla, the change in the core of the show has been a little more delayed and tougher to identify. Before the obvious change, and even immediately after, the show was weird in a quirky kind of realistic downbeat humor. Then things got serious with King Torture, but now that that’s past, the show doesn’t seem to be going back to that kind of small-things approach. Instead, we got Red Axe in full costume and a helicopter tapping Masayoshi to lead a fight against alien spore warriors apparently created by a combination of alien spores and Sketch Turner.

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First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 10

This show seems to be getting returns on everything. Way back in episode 4 when Mari was introduced, it seemed like her too-aggressive side was ultimately going to be used for comical purposes, and would ultimately end up being the umpteenth example of the stereotypical angry, overaggressive girl. That characterization choice, while irritating at the time, yielded huge dividends this week, as King Torture took only a few minutes to shred Mari’s heroic resolve to pieces.Flamenco-10-1

It was a scene every bit as creepy as the picture implies

In an episode where Goto was driving a jeep off a cliff into a missile, KT was swapping his hand for a chainsaw, and Masayoshi humbled up a bit after understanding how much he needed people’s support (though that element could have been played for better development if they had really tried), what I really can’t get over is how much I like that scene with Moe and the pliers. Because of how deep-cutting KT’s words and actions were to Mari, and because of the quiet strength supposedly shallow Moe showed while her finger was getting the steam press. One of the nice things about scenes like this is that they can reveal hidden depths to characters you didn’t think had them. More so than any other part of the continuation (including Masayoshi’s unmasking), I want to hear the next conversation those two have.

First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 9

King Torture’s organization is a really big enigma at this point. It’s got the Sunred comically incompetent villains, but it’s also got a definite second gear that puts it on a creepily effective streak, and that was full-up on display this episode.

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According to the man at the top, that was all part of a deliberate ploy. I’d like it less if this were all part of some elaborate plan and not changing gears to fit the situation at hand, but if it is a 100% intentional strategy, then it’s a surprisingly astute one. There’s been plenty of good exploration in other works of what happens when the heroes (or really anyone) win repeatedly and overwhelmingly over a long period of time.*

Whether the initial winning streak was a deliberate one, it was really interesting to see the protagonists react. Mari got a weird combination of angry and bored, tempting fate with an in-your-face challenge to K.T., an acto fo poking the iron maiden that probably made her kidnap target alpha. Masayoshi lost a lot of his initial “I don’t care if it’s just one kid” determination and let his small-time celebrity go to his head. I like him quite a bit less now because of what I saw this week, but I kinda think I’m supposed to. Time will tell whether that move was a good idea or not; it’s harder to stay engaged with a story this sidewindery without a likeable cast of characters. Gotou does kind of take care of that, since he’s still the level-headed smart guy he’s always been. By all accounts, he and the professor were the only ones who saw that the big twist might happen, and I totally emphasize with him flaming Masayoshi’s video streams at this point.

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At this point, just the fact that the heroes are in the state they’re in proves K.T. had a point in his monologues. We always knew Mari wasn’t in it purely for the people, but the extent to which Masayoshi soured up, even over an extended period of time, shows that it’s difficult to have motivated heroes without credible villains. And since their battles are looking increasingly like ones that’ll start posting body counts again, the show may start to really deconstruct the hero fantasy in an entirely different way from how I initially expected.

*Including a certain Brandon Sanderson novel that should have been on shelves a month ago. One of the big things I like about A-list manga and anime (as opposed to A-list novels and games) is that they do a great job of keeping their releases to a regular schedule. Granted, from a creative perspective, you do trade away some valuable fine-tuning that way and raise the risk of burnout. But I find that a lot of that is often offset in the quality of the finished product by the increased focus a hard deadline brings. This is one of those issues where each side brings pluses and minuses, and it kinda comes down to what flavor of creation you’d rather have.

First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 8

Eschewing my usual order for this week for the obvious reasons, plus the fact that I’m a day late getting to everything that came out since Monday.

Samurai Flamenco is the Allen Iverson of the Fall season; every subplot you can dredge up is interesting as hell. For starters, King Torture is going to be a thing. Which means that Goto and the Flamencos are an, albeit not entirely textbook, hero team. It’s a dynamic made more juicy by the fact that Mari didn’t really react to King Torture’s proclamation until he acknowledged Samurai Flamenco as the main character of the show. Meanwhile, her finisher remains blunt trauma to the groin even with triceratops-cauldron hybrids.*

On the production side, there’s plenty more to sink your teeth into. Takahiro Omori is still a badass who pulled off a longer version of Escaflowne’s prologue, except in 2013 where that stuff is approximately 20 times as commercially painful. This is far from the biggest right turn a show written by Hideyuki Kurata has ever taken, but the “coolest show by him” crown is very much in a rough and tumble title defense at the moment. The show is still hiding OST at this point; the scene where SF showed up on the bus had another brand-new track. And just how little animation can they get away with? This episode utilized still frames like it was the late-80s.

I’m a huge fan of both Dai-Guard and Astro Fighter Sunred, but I didn’t think you could mix their formulae like that and have it work. It’s working right now, though. The fact that they’ve already gone through at least 8 monster of the week battles after an episode and change does make me wonder whether this arc is going to last for 13 episodes or just 3. The pacing suggests to me that this King Torture business will either be over or escalating wildly when it hits the halfway break in late December.

*Oh, a further fun subplot alert: If it wasn’t enough that Stroheim’s VA showed up last week, now ACDC is getting in on the action. I have to wonder if this show is eventually going to tap the entire vocal cast of Battle Tendency.

First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 7

This is only the second episode of the year to which my immediate reaction was to go back and watch the whole damn thing over again. While the last four minutes of it will understandably get the most attention, that was by no means the only part of the episode that wowed. There was so much stuff happening this episode, well beyond the typical level of “everyone doing their own thing” that characterized the episodes introducing the Flamenco Girls. Looking back on the episode a second time, it’s actually pretty clear that most elements of this episode were there to bring the first, more realistic portion of the series to a close while still keeping some compelling elements simmering. Because while the choreography of the fight scene in the final minutes was delightfully down to earth,* that doesn’t change the fact that it was against a man who had animorphed into a mechanical gorilla with a guillotine in its chest.

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First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 6

Insofar as this show appears to be attempting to dial up the zany each week, this episode’s chase scene/gadget showcase definitely qualified as an upgrade in that department. For one thing, chase scenes are just intrinsically great ways of continually feeding tension, and the stakes (Masayoshi’s identity against 10 million yen) were plenty high. For another, there’s something intrinsically fun about watching a guy casually dodge bodies while talking on the phone.

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Midseason Update: This Fall in Kaiji Quotes

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.

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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.

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First Reactions: Samurai Flamenco Episode 5

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.

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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.

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