Finger Food – Jujustsu Kaisen (Episode One)
On the long list of things I would never do with the severed body part of an ancient being, eating it would be pretty dang high up there. Though I suppose that’s why I’m not the one imbued with the power of a curse powerful enough to be labelled a “special threat” even when correctly stored. So yes, much like Blue Dragon, Jujutsu Kaisen seems like it will follow the story of somebody who decided that consumption is nine-tenths the law of the jungle. Though definitely an unexpected turn in the grand scheme of things, the series sort of tipped its hand when Yuji asked why anything would try to eat a cursed object—in this case a severed finger—only to be told that doing so would grant the consumer tremendous power. Still, it was decidedly cool to see somebody oblivious of the potential dangers turn the opponents strategy against them—the “opponents” in this case being horrific abominations known as Curses. There is also certainly a greater reason for Yuji’s one-in-a-million reaction to eating the finger—allowing the spirit to whom the finger belongs to reincarnate, rather than simply dying from the influx of power—but those are questions for another day. Okay…I might ask just one of those questions today: how is Yuji so strong? The guy destroys world records in sprinting and shotput by a country mile, and people are simply shocked. I mean, anyone would be shocked, but how is this guy not a way bigger deal?
Regardless, this episode did a fairly solid job at inviting us into this twisted world and even managed to create a fairly poignant moment between two characters we barely know. Yuji’s interpretation of his grandfather’s dying message is also fairly interesting: everyone deserves a proper death. Yuji knows that he can’t stop death from claiming people, he just wants it to hold back until a fairer moment. Though this ultimately amounts to Yuji fighting Curses all the same, it’s a more complete mentality than one usually sees in these action-packed series. Which I suppose feeds into my biggest takeaway from this episode: it’s interesting. I’m interested to see what comes next…assuming it isn’t actually Yuji’s immediate execution. You know…because he ate a finger.
Up Is the Game – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode One)
If there is one thing that anime has taught me, it’s that screaming is a tremendous way to tap into one’s hidden potential. Also, on a more relevant note, school clubs are super-duper important. So much so that Iwakakeru doesn’t even bother introducing us the regular school life, it just blazes straight into our protagonist, Konomi, on the hunt for a club. Luckily for her, and the premise of this series, her school is loaded and has its own rock-climbing wall. Honestly, the fact that the school has such a thing is treated with so little reaction that it made me wonder if that’s just normal in Japan. Are kids climbing all over the place? Either way, this school has one and our lead wants to climb it. So she does. Not too surprising given the conceit of this series; neither is the fact that the threat of her not joining the club never comes to pass. Still, after claiming that climbing is fun, Konami is challenged by the far more serious Jun to a climbing race. It is in this race that we see the most characterisation of our cast. Jun has been obsessed with climbing since see was a child and reacts with anger to anybody who doesn’t take the sport seriously. Konami was a hardcore gamer in her past and is now looking for a passion to fill the void created when she stepped away from video games…which is where this series lost me a little. Perhaps I am a touch biased, given my personal gaming habits, but the series is sort of pointlessly mean to the hobby. Though Konami did play to an extreme, Iwakakeru does not even attempt to create a parallel to Jun’s obsession. Konami even saw success in her hobby—winning some gaming tournaments—but it is still treated as a detriment to her future. Why was Jun’s obsession with climbing not a hinderance to her school grades? I know this series is about climbing, it just didn’t have to dunk on other hobbies to prove that it was cool: it’s a major jerk move.
Though we saw a solid amount of climbing in this episode, the series has yet to fully round out its characters. I know that takes time, but there’s only so far that a desire to solve puzzles and a passion for climbing can take this series. Two of the main cast are also barely present in the episode, literally appearing to facilitate the race between Konami and Jun. Again, I know there’s only so much that can fit into one episode; I’m just hoping the characterisation becomes a strength of this series. It’s either that or powerhouse animation that will make rock climbing consistently enjoyable to watch.
Play to a Different Drummer – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Fourteen)
Jumping right back into where the last half of the series left off, Haikyu!! presents us with Karasuno versus Inazaki…and the Inazaki cheering squad. Now, I know that fans are wont to express their joy at sporting events, but intentionally trying to throw off an opposing team is just scummy. It’s not even a few members of the cheering squad either, Inazaki has taught their school’s band how to intentionally throw teams off their game. Shouldn’t there be rules against that sort of behaviour? Even them loudly booing every time Karasuno serves is enough to be classified as terrible sportsmanship, but to then add a whole band? What a bunch of jerks. Still, it is interesting to see the different ways Haikyu!! goes about vilifying Karasuno’s competition. I mean, at the end of the day these characters are high schoolers playing volleyball; they’re not actually heroes and villains. Regardless, I do wish the brass section would can it. Oh, there was also volleyball in this episode. Though most of the drama actually was related to musical accompaniment, there were some developments on the court: namely that Inazaki’s setter, Atsumu, is crazy good. Multiple points of the episode see Kageyama pondering how perfect Atsumu’s movements are…before being immediately scored on. Though Karasuno gets a few good shots in, it’s still curious to see Kageyama so enamoured with an opponents technique. He’s always accepted other player’s skills, but he almost immediately uses that knowledge to counter in some way. I’m sure that will happen, but his recent attitude seems to have a touch more awe to it. This is probably furthered when Atsumu and his twin brother, Osamu, mimic Hinata and Kageyama’s freak quick. Which is a big deal. Plenty of teams have held their own against Karasuno, but never with their own techniques. It’s…it’s pretty cool turn of events.
With how little of the actual volleyball match played out, I have a feeling that we’ll be watching Karasuno versus Inazaki for a decent chunk of time. Still, it’s off to a pretty solid start. Inazaki has done their best to lay down the law—both through their skills and their jerk-bag cheer section—so we’ll have to wait and see how Karasuno responds. I’m putting money on Hinata’s new “boom jump” coming into play, you know, if the series is done focusing on the drum section…bunch of drumming jerks. Oh, and it’s also canon now that Saeko can kill people with her awesomeness. Deal with it.
Reverse London Calling – Burn the Witch (Episodes One, Two, and Three)
As almost anybody with a passing interest in fiction can attest to: dragons are cool. They’re big, they breathe fire, and…they’re cool. Plus, it’s interesting to see how they’re interpreted throughout different media: in this particular case, they’re terrorising London…well, Reverse London. According to Burn the Witch, a majority of fatalities in London involve dragons—which is a lot. Also, only certain people can see dragons and they live in Reverse London, which is different to Front London. I’m not entirely sure how, because the series is a little vague on that front. Some people are apparently able to travel between the two, but dragon attacks only affect Reverse London, but dragons can also appear in Front London, but Wing Bind—the group who protect the populace from dragons—were aware of an unreported dragon in Front London: it’s all very confusing. Which is not a good sign for world building. It probably doesn’t help that there is a whole prequel manga of content not covered in these episodes—namely the introduction of Balgo. See, Burn the Witch keeps offhandedly mentioning how Balgo is important—culminating in him summoning a sword for two seconds in the third episode—but he really adds nothing to the story. Honestly, it wasn’t until the fight with Cinderella—a legendary dragon known as a Märchen—that the series seemed to find its stride. The concept of a group protecting a secret world from dragons is cool on its own, as was Bangnyfe’s fighting style that involved spray-painting sigils to summon otherworldly powers…also, the dude’s name is Bangnyfe. And he’s not even one of the main characters…I think. I mean, Ninny and Noel are presumably the leads of the series, but these three episodes keep pulling focus in a thousand other directions. If a series’ world need explaining, then an audience needs a character to tether themselves to; if a character needs explaining, then an audience needs a world it can understands. Burn the Witch attempts to do both at once, leaving everybody slightly interested but mostly confused.
Oh, and can we talk about the reveal at the end of episode three? If Reverse London is Soul Society West Branch, does that mean everybody there is dead? Where are the Hollows? I’m all for references and combined universes, but I also like said things to make sense. Now, if Japan’s spirits took the form of yokai and Europe’s took the form of dragons, that’d be neat; I’m just not sure that’s how things work. I’m just not sure how anything in this world works…and that kinda sucks.
Live and Let Dai – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode One)
As a long-time Dragon Quest fan, I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t have the faintest clue who Dai was until I first saw him in the game Jump Force. After a bit of research, I soon learned that at one point Shonen Jump serialized a Dragon Quest manga by the title of Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai. I thoroughly enjoyed playing as Dai in the Jump Force game and had begun to build a curiosity regarding the character and his story. To my pleasant surprise, an anime adaptation was announced and here we are now with episode one having hit screens across the world. I, like many, eagerly loaded up and streamed the episode on Crunchyroll with a big goofy smile across my face throughout its entire twenty-four-minute-and-two-second run.
Dragon Quest: Adventure of Dai‘s first episode is decidedly old school. It’s the sort of anime you’d watch in the late 90s or early 00s and I mean that as the greatest of compliments. The upbeat and energetic yet focused pacing of this first episode is refreshing in an age of anime that are obsessed with rushing to the “good bits”; forgetting the age-old story-telling concept of laying the groundwork for what is to come. Adventure of Dai gives us a hint at things to come without really giving much away at all. We learn that after the defeat of the Dark Lord, monsters that were once under his influence are now living peacefully and don’t seek to threaten humans; however, there are humans out there that seek to profit off the capture of rare monsters. Much like the Dragon Quest video games, Adventure of Dai treats the colourful ensemble of monsters with reverence; it is a big part of what makes this first episode have such a special feeling. Seeing each monster appear and battle is treated with a sense of wonder, reaching a glorious climax in the episodes second half with the appearance of one of the most iconic Dragon Quest monsters.
Overall, this was a fantastic first episode and a true love letter to Dragon Quest fans. That said, the series does not expect its audience to be knowledgeable about the Dragon Quest series or its lore: it only asks that you give it the chance to make you smile and enjoy yourself. I, for one, am certainly excited to see where things go for our hero Dai from here. The series looks to be mixing elements of the Dragon Quest Monsters video-games—with Dai being able to capture and summon monsters not unlike Pokémon—so that should make for some fun viewing: to see how Dai progresses on his personal goal to become a fabled hero in the Dragon Quest world.
Inuyasha: The Lost Episode – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode One)
Let’s get this out of the way from the start: if you have never watched Inuyasha, this episode will feel like a fever dream. Iconic characters of the Inuyasha series appear in rapid succession in this episode, with little more than a name card appearing to guide viewers as to who is who. Immediately from the outset, Yashahime has put itself two steps backwards without taking a single step forwards. The trust that viewers will have a working knowledge of the Inuyasha series is strong here, as the episode diverts from present day a few minutes in to explore an almost episode-long flashback of Inuyasha and friends fighting a monster called Root Head. What this has to do with the plot going forward is not made clear in this episode, nor is it even remotely hinted at. Even as a person who has watched the Inuyasha series, I was left baffled as to why a series which is meant to be about the new generation of characters spends so long on a seemingly innocuous side mission with the old-generation cast.
Ultimately, the episode was a fine reminder of the great qualities of the original Inuyasha anime series, which is undoubtedly beloved—and for good reason. But this was just not a great way to establish the new characters and story that this series seems to be wanting to tell. I am left absolutely clueless about who these new characters are or their connection to the characters of the past. This was simply a terrible way to begin a sequel series that is intended to focus on new characters. It was really just another Inuyasha episode, bookended by very short segments of some new characters—of which we learn nothing about. Judging by the preview for next week, we may get to learn about the new cast and who they are, but as it stands now all I am left wondering is this: why did we watch what felt like a filler episode of Inuyasha when all marketing material for the series promoted it as a Boruto: Naruto Next Generations for the Inuyasha series? This episode will no doubt prove to be a huge barrier to entry for new viewers without knowledge of the original Inuyasha series. That said, fans of Inuyasha will likely be happy to see these characters again after so many years. In spite of that, I still believe its a rather rotten way to start this series.
Smoking Kills – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode One)
Ikebukuro West Gate Park may very well be my most anticipated anime of the season. Based upon the series of urban mystery novels, which had previously been adapted into the fantastic live action J-Drama series of the same name, Ikebukuro West Gate Park (or IWGP for short) is an iconic franchise in Japan. Anime fans may be interested to know that the IWGP series actually served as the inspiration for the anime Durarara!!—which shares the setting of the bustling urban locale of Ikebukuro.
IWGP‘s first episode proves to be a superb one, to say the very least. It does a great job establishing the setting of Ikebukuro and the ecosystem of characters and groups that maintain the status quo of “peace and love” in the city. Our lead, Makoto, is some what of a problem solver and works alongside the various sides of the Ikebukuro underworld in order to maintain order. In this episode, we see him tasked by King, the leader of the G-Boys gang, to assist in getting a dangerous drug off the streets of Ikebukuro. It looks that, much like the live action J-Drama, the series will see Makoto taking on a different task each week as he encounters and interacts with a slew of interesting and potentially dangerous characters.
All in all, I thought this was an incredibly solid first episode that really did a great job establishing the world of IWGP and its urban-underworld mythos. The animation was great throughout, with some rather fine visuals, and the soundtrack was simply brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the rap song that served as the ending theme for the episode—it gave me Tokyo Tribe vibes. While this was a bit of a simple case for Makoto to deal with, I look forward to seeing matters complicate and more difficult challenges surface as the troubleshooter of Ikebukuro tries to keep the balance of “peace and love” in the youthful urban jungle that is Ikebukuro.