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Competition, Coups, and Chronology – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Two) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

 A Reason to Die – Jujustsu Kaisen (Episode Two)

Bad end.

If there was one thing I would not expect to come after chowing down on a demonic finger, it would be seconds. Yep, it looks like Yuji’s decision to ingest Sukuna’s finger is set to take him on a demonically gourmet quest: to eat the other nineteen fingers. Oh, Sukuna had four arms, by the by, hence the twenty digits. Double oh, Yuji already ate a second one to prove his resolve—and his ability to actually serve as a vessel. Essentially, Blindfold convinced the Council of Scared Old-Fashioned Guys to hold off on executing Yuji until he has eaten all of Sukuna’s fingers, as killing a vessel kills the curse within them. It’s not the worst plan, and it’ll definitely make the series last longer than if they killed him right now. I’m certain we’ll eventually learn why Yuji is so special, and it’ll probably have to do with the parents that his grandfather kept attempting to discuss, but that’s a chat for a later date. As for now, Yuji has been transferred to a school in which he can learn jujutsu…which I’m assuming is what Fushiguro used to fight curses. I mean, it has to be important: it’s in the name of the series. Either way, Yuji managed to transfer by proving himself to the principal; figuring out his true motivation for choosing to consume the pieces of Sukuna, rather than vying for a quicker death. Rather than relying on the emotionality of his grandfather’s dying wish, Yuji is immediately forced to forgo said wish as his source of motivation. The principal notes how following this path based on the words of another will lead to Yuji cursing them in moments of strife; that his lack of personal responsibility will do more harm than good. By the way, this comes hot off the heels of a scene where Yuji places his recently-cremated grandfather’s bones into an urn. I don’t claim to understand the funeral practices of Japan, nor am I in any position to denounce them, but I did not expect that to be a apart of the process. It’s just, why make the grieving family pick up bone fragments with chopsticks? It just, it just all took me by surprise.

Regardless, and assuming this is an actual practice in the real world, Jujutsu Kaisen continues to build an interesting relationship with death. Though it at times plays out like a typical Shonen, this series is surprisingly blunt when it comes to serious issues. Yuji’s grandfather died. He got to pass on a wish, but there was no pomp to it: he just stopped being alive. Even then, his final wish is not a force unto itself and is immediately undermined. Nothing is inherently special in this series, and that’s cool. Sure, Yuji is the only one who can contain Sukuna—apart from that mouth Sukuna likes to sprout on Yuji’s body, for the purposes of smack-talking—but even then the council in charge wanted to kill him…the jerks. Still, I hope Jujutsu Kaisen continues to treat its characters and world with this level of maturity and respect: it’ll make for a good time if it does. Also, eating Sukuna’s fingers will never not be gross.

The Cat That Ate Crow – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Two)

Mew Mew attitude in your face!

And, just like that, we’re already in a competition story. Sure, it wraps up by the end of the episode, but these things usually take some time to build up to. Regardless, we are introduced to a few more key players in the world of climbing, and they are all…annoying…or creepy. Between the girl who speaks entirely in cat puns (good job, subtitling team), the girl who adds “-kurusu” to the end of every sentence, and the spider-woman who may or may not have violated the cat-pun girl in the dressing room—just another example of some light-hearted anime groping—I’m not sure who I want to see less of. Oh, and that whole “light-hearted anime groping” thing was heavily laced with sarcasm—Japan is weird sometimes…like, borderline criminally. Anyway, since literally every character is defined by their obsession with climbing, the series seems to be walking the path of making the opponents of our main cast, just, the worst. Cat-Puns, for example, employs a beautiful usage of “tell, don’t show” and explains, to herself, that she despises anybody new to the sport of climbing because they might be better than her—as Jun had once previously done. Spider-Woman seemingly delights in watching girls’ faces contort in any manner of emotion, be it sadness or joy, and just has her creep-smile on lock. Kurusu—yes, she just adds her own name to the end of every sentence—is essentially an idol in the climbing world, with “cute” being her brand. Fun fact: cute can also be annoying. The episode also lists off a few more future-important characters, each with their own climbing epithet—which I’m assuming will also be their only defining trait. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit mean, but it just seems like every character is a vessel to tout the awesomeness of climbing; nothing more.

As far as the actual events of this episode, it was nice that Konomi failed at her attempts to send (climb). Sure, that definitely sounds mean, but having her immediately succeed would have made no sense. Jun herself notes that Konomi is in a competition before she even knows the basics of climbing. As it stands, Konomi is potential; with correct training she will be able to utilise her analytical mind to the fullest. Still, she did achieve a moral victory by besting Cat-Puns—which is nice. Regardless, Konomi has been bitten by the climbing bug, and it looks like her previous successes in gaming have given her a taste for victory, sorry, a taste for “chicken dinner”. It’s a gamer thing, you wouldn’t understand.

Passed Experiences – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Fifteen)

Block memories.

As the match with Inarizaki continues, we see Karasuno run through some of their tried and true plays: Yamaguchi is called in as a pinch server, Tsukishima uses read blocking to shut down spikes, and the synchronised attack makes a return. Now, that might not make a whole bunch of sense on its own, but I’m assuming anybody reading this has watched Haikyu!! before (this being the fourth season and all). Hinata even brings in some classic manoeuvres of other teams, using his memories of “annoying blockers” to halt Inarizaki’s attacks. Though a facet of Hinata’s seemingly simplistic style, it’s actually a pretty genius move: he knows what has blocked his quick in the past, so why not use that knowledge to stop those mimicking his move? Still, having Hinata stumble upon this idea in an attempt to be a more imposing blocker is pretty funny. This evolution of playstyle is also noted in some of the usual sideline chatter that comprises a fair portion of this series. Though one person notes how dejected Hinata must feel at having his signature move stolen, another counters by musing how freeing it must feel knowing that there are setters beyond Kageyama capable of enacting the quick. It’s not the most dramatically presented aspect of the episode, but it may be the most important. Sure the series has seen Hinata develop as an individual player, but there’s always an overhanging notion that he is only half of a powerhouse; it’s nice that the series is even floating the idea that he can be strong by himself…you know, but still in a team. Anyway, speaking of floating, it’s always nice to be reminded that Yamaguchi is a powerful force for Karasuno. Though his panic over not being able to see the exit sign—his method of focusing in a chaotic game—seemed to be setting him up as the reason for Inarizaki winning the first set, it instead led to a nice moment where his coach in serving helped him focus and ace a point. That’s really all I wanted to say about that moment: it was nice.

Though on paper this episode was a showcase of Karasuno’s trusted plays, and similarly series’ favourite moments, it all just felt…flat. After a brief investigation (by which I mean searching on the internet), my thoughts were confirmed by learning that this particular episode was outsourced to another animation studio. Now, I don’t claim to understand the process of producing an anime, nor do I deride anybody for the creation of this episode…but the animation change showed. I mean, the models were generally fine, but character’s movements lacked the impact that make this series so fun to watch. Every play in this episode just seemed to blend together into one long stretch that felt like, like mouthing along to a song: everything should match up in theory, but people can sense a lack of force, a lack of power. Here’s hoping everything is back to normal—or better—next week: I want to feel this match, not just watch it.

-Luke-

Dai Another Day – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Two)

There appears to be a theme here: since the fall of the Dark Lord, monsters are no longer under his influence; however, the worst aspects of humans appears to be heightened. Now, it would be a rather interesting idea for Adventure of Dai to explore, if it is the case, that without having to unite against a common enemy in the Dark Lord, humans would turn against one another. However, with the ending of the episode indicating that the Dark Lord may somehow have returned, I’d be willing to bet that the Dark Lord is somehow influencing these humans to “be bad”. We will see as the series continues I’m sure.

As for this episode, it was another fun, enclosed story where Dai is tasked with aiding a princess by the name of Leona to traverse a particular cave on his home island. However, things quickly go awry when its revealed that Leona’s men are enacting a coup, planning to kill her in the cave and steal her place on the throne. Of course, our ever plucky hero Dai has something to say about this and we get a pretty good fight between Dai and the Killer Machine mecha, with fantastic animation to boot. This episode, like the first, is plentiful when it comes to references to the video games.

Over the course of the episode, we learn that despite being able to bind with spells, Dai is simply incapable of pulling one of them off. That is until he awakens some kind of special form, and he finds himself able to hit spells like Sizzle and Kaswoosh. We don’t really get an explanation yet of what this mysterious special form of Dai is, but no doubt we will see more it the episodes to come. Speaking of which, it looks like the series will finally kick into full gear with it’s main plot looking to take off in the next episode, judging by the preview. I for one am really enjoying the pacing of The Adventure of Dai and the superb animation, which mixes old-school style with modern technique to brilliant effect. Adventure of Dai is easily the most straight-up fun anime series airing at the moment. It’s simple fun Shonen goodness that we need in this day and age. It remains my favourite of the season thus far.

The Second First Episode – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Two)

After the baffling first episode of Yashahime that aired last week, which felt more like a lost episode of Inuyasha, Yashahime asks for a mulligan—for a second go around at its first episode, to admittedly better results. This episode opens up by giving us a look at the backstory of our two leads, Towa and Setsuna, and, in doing so, seemingly acts as if the previous episode never happened. We learn that Towa and Setsuna both grew up in the forest in ancient times and were separated when Towa was sucked into a time vortex and flung into modern day Japan. So, the two sisters had been separated across time. However, due to the last episode seemingly being set chronologically after this episode we already know that the sister reunite and appear to be working together, which makes the choice of airing last weeks episode as the first episode of the series all the more confusing.

After seeing the sisters separated, both time-skip ten years ahead and we are reintroduced to them in their respective time periods, now in their teens. Towa struggles to stay in school as due to her inherent super strength she often finds herself the target of local gang members, which has caused her to have to be transferred to other schools. Setsuna, however, has been training in ancient times and is now a demon hunter. By episodes end, the same time vortex that opened ten years earlier conveniently opens once again and transports Setsuna, a weird centipede demon, and a demon bounty hunter by the name of Moroha, into the current day. Somehow, Towa is able to immediately recognize Setsuna by sight and smell, jumps into battle to help her, and our episode basically ends there.

This was a much better introductory episode than the first was, but there is still a lot left to be desired here. I feel the pacing is all over the shop, and it feels rushed. I definitely would have positioned this as the first episode of the series, as it establishes our leads and gives us a general idea what the show is all about. It’s a shame we had to wait until week two to get it, because, honestly, the first episode is just a write off at this point. I’m not sure what to think of this series so far: I want to like it, but its not making it easy for me. That said, this is a markedly better outing than the first episode, and hopefully the series will continue to build on the foundations that this episode has laid.

One last thing worth noting is that the episode raised several points regarding gender fluidity in regards to Towa. Several characters complain or question her decision to dress like a boy in a rather tactless manner to be sure. There is a moment where Towa ruminates on the idea that women must be feminine and men must be masculine; however, we don’t get any elaboration on that just yet. I’d be curious to see if this is a topic the series chooses to explore more, going forward.

Dirty Dancing – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Two)

Picking up where last episode let off, we are informed that a mysterious new figure has rocked up at Ikebukuro: a mysterious red-haired dancer. After performing for an astonished audience at the titular West Gate Park, the dancer begins to build a following of sorts that winds up taking the form of the gang known as the Red Angels. The episode mostly diverts from the topic of the Red Angels from here and explores a corrupt Curry restaurant chain, but as Makoto and King dive deeper into the corrupt chain they realize that the Red Angels may actually be involved with the matter.

Unlike last episode, I felt this episode was lacking the same narrative focus. It was trying to introduce us to the Red Angels as a rival gang to King’s G-Boys, while also having Makoto and King have to solve the “case” of the corrupt Curry restaurant and the shady back-alley beatings of employees of the business. It does an alright job at it, but it still felt like a bit of a lop-sided episode, pacing-wise.

One thing that is becoming clearer to me, now that we are two episodes in, is that this anime version of IWGP is somewhat lacking in the comedic department. One of the things that I loved about the live-action drama was that it had somewhat of a wicked sense of humour. That sense of humour has yet to make an appearance in the anime, which has thus far focused primarily on being “cool” and “serious”. Which I suppose is fine and if that’s more in line with the original source material I understand; however, I would like the absurdity of this Ikebukuro world to be addressed with some comedy from time to time.

Overall, I thought this was a bit of a step backwards from the first episode, but I understand that this episode is all about laying the groundwork for things to come: what with the introduction of the Red Angels as a rival to the G-Boys giving us a taste of what can happen when a new force enters the city of Ikebukuro and how they can disturb the balance that Makoto works so hard to maintain.

-30-

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