Anime Anime Season's Writings

Gloom, Guts, and Generosity – Fall Anime 2020 (Week Five) – Season’s Writings

-Kane-

Heart Attack – Jujutsu Kaisen (Episode Five)

And Sukuna’s to blame.

Well, we were promised a death. Who would’ve thought it was (stop reading if you haven’t watched the episode yet) Itadori. Okay, there is a chance that he isn’t dead—a very large chance—but let’s just play this out like his death is permanent. And what a way to go it was: having your heart torn out of your chest. Yikes. You know, I’m starting to think Sukuna is a bad guy. Unfortunately, he is also clever. As heinous an act as it is, removing Itadori’s heart to prevent him regaining control of his body is genius. We know Itadori can freely subdue Sukuna’s control, so artificial boundaries needed to be established. Sukuna’s actions also showcase just how powerful his will to persist is. We don’t know why or how Sukuna was split apart and imprisoned, but I expect that is an experience he is not too keen to return to…which probably means he wasn’t happy when Itadori killed them both. Sure, Sukuna said he could revive using his other fingers, but Itadori had three of them already; it’d take some work to get back to that point, even assuming another compatible vessel surfaced. Which is why I’m curious about Sukuna as a character. What are his true goals? What happened to him in the past? Why is he so powerful? Why does he seem to understand curses at a deeper level than even jujutsu sorcerers? During his fight with Fushiguro—if that beatdown could even be called a fight—Sukuna seems to be coaching his opponent. Sukuna even seems impressed by the manner in which Fushiguro summons his shikigami and actually uses Fushiguro’s full name in conversation. Though this could all certainly be Sukuna messing with Fushiguro, the fact that he doesn’t immediately vanquish his foes leads me to believe that Sukuna is…bored. Sure, he’s evil as heck, but why? The fact that he brought up the concept of a “pact”, which implies Itadori could borrow power from Sukuna whilst still remaining in control, also seems odd. Why even put that idea out there? Unless, he wants to see how far Itadori can go?

Speaking of odd, some new curses pop up this episode—chatting away with some guy on his way to lunch. The guy in question is also seemingly unbothered by conversing with curses, immediately putting him in the shady category. Even more suspicious, the guy in question answers a curses question about shifting the balance of the world; setting up curses as the dominant species on the planet. From his answer, we learn not only that Itadori/Sukuna is a key factor in any major conflict—duh—but also that Gojo (whom I previously referred to as Blindfold) is the strongest jujutsu sorcerer. Also, from the question, we learn that there are curses capable of cohesive conversation, emotion, and tactical planning…which is kind of a big deal. Yeah, Sukuna can do it, but we’ve never seen curses not possessing a host show anything close to this level of intelligence. It’s crazy. And who is this guy who knows about curses but isn’t even phased by them trying to kill humans? Also, why did the higher ups think it was a good idea to trick Itadori into dying (which they did by sending him to the curse womb)? Also also, why is one of the second-year students a talking panda named Panda? Also also also, why can one second-year only speak in ingredients to rice balls? I just have so many questions…and I’m excited to learn the answers to all of them.

Falling Short – Iwakakeru -Sport Climbing Girls- (Episode Five)

The height of the issue.

Since this series began, I have noticed a rather singular focus on Konomi. Sure, she’s the protagonist, but she is also part of a team. So, I was rather interested when this episode actually pivoted to focus on Nono somewhat, and it is through this focus that we see her happy persona falter. Reminiscing about previous failures, Nono expresses to Konomi her doubts about succeeding in the competition, before immediately playing her vulnerability off as a joke. Her doubts are, however, proven true when she is unable to send a route she thought she had in the bag. Now, here’s where Iwakakeru tries a little too hard. Nono is short; we know this; she knows this. It is due to her stature that she cannot reach the hold she needs to complete her climb. However, there is a moment where Nono’s internal monologue simply questions why she can’t reach the hold. We know the answer, but the reason I bring up the weirdness of her seeming uncertainty is that the episode doesn’t discuss height in climbing until after this occurs. For some reason, the episode plays this incident off like a mystery we’re supposed to solve—in the same way Konomi was unsure why her arms gave out early when she first began. I understand explaining the finer details of climbing—I myself know nothing of the sport—but it seems odd to even try and make us wonder why Nono couldn’t reach a far-off hold. Still, I’ll take whatever character development I can get at this point, as the series is still rather flat when it comes to characterisation. With that in mind, it is sad that the deepest we’ve gotten in learning about a character comes from seeing them curse their own body. Poor Nono.

As for the rest of the episode, we are given the chance to see other prominent climbers, well, climb. If their character designs weren’t enough to let you know they were important, their epithets will. We’ve got Black panther, who is fast and nimble; Muscle Maxima’am, who is buff; Ballerina of Rock, who is graceful; Princess of Lead, who is the captain of our protagonistic team; Climbing Spider, who is tall (and creepy); Lackey Data Climber, who uses collected data to plot her moves; and Crimson Stormtrooper, who persists with simple manoeuvres. Though these characters personalities are pretty one note, I at least appreciated the variety in their styles. After all, I’m fairly certain at this point that climbing is going to receive far more attention than those doing the climbing; although, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Also, that routesetter character was a jerk. I know his incredulity with people beating problems in ways he didn’t foresee was to show us how cool all the climbers were, but it did leave me confused as to if he knows what his job is. He’s not competing with the climbers; his job isn’t to beat them. Also, his hair is dumb and I don’t like him.

Cat-Tired – Haikyu!! To the Top (Episode Eighteen)

*Sigh*

Once again, we find ourselves focused on Nekoma and, more specifically, their setter, Kenma. Having been driven to the point of exhaustion, Kenma presents a facet of volleyball that Haikyu!! somehow manages to avoid for the most part: being driven to the point of exhaustion. Sure, matches have dragged on before and characters have gotten tired, but this is the first instance I can recall of tiredness being the focal point of an episode. This might sound weird, but it does make a certain kind of sense when you think about it; namely, that Karasuno and their most dangerous opponents are full of over-the-top talents. Normally, episodes—and therefore we—focus on the dramatic plays and emotional moments; this time around, the plays are basic. Avoiding quick, dramatic scoring is the point this time around. Heck, even bad plays are a deciding factor in this match. As part of his strategy, Kenma asks his team to receive the ball poorly a few times, to throw their opponents off. Though I claim no knowledge of volleyball—beyond watching Haikyu!!—I have never considered that intentionally sloppy plays could be a viable strategy, which I think is the point. Playing badly on purpose isn’t something that would enter into most teams minds, making it a surprisingly effective strategy. This decision also adds some surprise into the episode, since both teams are/were aware of the “tire out Kenma” strategy. It also makes it satisfying when Nekoma pulls one over on the team whose entire game plan was to gang up on a single player they perceived as weak. Which might be a valid strategy, but they were still jerks about it.

Honing in on Kenma, our glimpse into his thought process shows us why he is the “brain” of Nekoma. Believing himself incapable of using “guts” to persevere, Kenma relies on his more logical approach and the fortitude of others to secure victory. Of course, the irony this episode wishes to convey is that Kenma is showing guts by refusing to give up, despite his constant cries of wanting to give up. Though he never realises the extent of his own fortitude, Kenma does have something of a breakthrough when he refers to his teammates as “friends” and wonders why it’s strange he would make an effort for them. It’s a cute moment. Still, this divergence from Karasuno was seemingly a preamble to an upcoming match; a way to remind us who Nekoma is. Sure, we’ll still want Karasuno to win, but we won’t necessarily want them to destroy Nekoma. It’ll be a nice change of pace from Inarizaki and Sarukawa, who are jerk teams filled with jerks.

-Luke-

Dai Hard With a Vengeance – Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai (Episode Five)

Adventure of Dai just went all in, and boy oh boy was it something special. I thought the shocking turn of events in episode four was something to behold, but episode five really turns things up to eleven in an epic confrontation with Dark Lord Hadlar that has set the tone for the series, going forward—as we have now reached the climax of the series first story arc.

We left off last week with Master Avan, who we learned was the hero of legend, jumping in front of the spell cast by Hadlar to save his students, Dai and Popp. From here, Avan casts a protective spell on Dai, Popp, and Brass, which turns them into a magic repelling metal; however, they cannot move in this state. He gifts Dai and Popp each an insignia of Avan—the sign that he considers them to have graduated from his training—and bids them farewell. Avan knows he has to go all out to defeat Hadlar, and what happens next is a battle of epic proportions. Hadlar and Avan go absolutely mental in what ultimately feels like a very Dragon Ball-style fight here. Knowing that there is no other way to defeat Hadlar, Avan makes a final request of his students: defeat the Dark King Vearn. With that, he casts the ultimate self-destruction spell Megante—sacrificing himself to defeat Hadlar. Or so we think.

After the commercial break, we learn that somehow Hadlar has survived the Megante spell; Avan’s sacrifice seemingly was in vain. That is until once again Dai suddenly transforms, as we had seen him do earlier in the series, to which Hadlar begins to effectively freak out at the sight of the symbol appearing on Dai’s forehead: the fabled Dragon Crest. Hadlar realises immediately that Dai must be a Dragon Knight and cannot be allowed to live. Dai and Hadlar unleash on each other in what is reminiscent of the Gohan and Cell fight from Dragon Ball Z, with Dai ultimately ending things with an ode to his fallen mentor: hitting a colossal Avan Strash attack, almost killing Hadlar—who has no choice but to teleport away with a Chimaera Wing to safety.

The episode ends with our heroes holding a funeral for Master Avan, with Dai resolutely declaring he will fulfil his master’s dying wish: he will seek out the Dark King Vearn and end him. With that, it looks like the “Dermlite Island Arc” has concluded; Dai will truly begin his adventure with the next episode, as he will set out with Popp on his quest to slay the Dark King and his army.

The battles in this episode—with Avan against Hadlar, then Dai against Hadlar—were a sight to behold, and a great look at what we can expect in the future from this series. We are now well and truly in the thick of things, and I can’t wait to see Dai finally begin his titular adventure.

Them Bones – Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon (Episode Five)

I think it is safe to say, at this point, that Yashahime has been nothing short of an absolute disaster of a sequel to what many consider to be one of the most beloved anime series of all time: Inuyasha. Yashahime has been an utter mess since its baffling first episode and now, five episodes in, the series has abruptly decided to become a “monster of the week” show and just about completely abandons its serialised plotlines—that it has haphazardly carved out in the preceding four episodes. Every week, I open up the latest episode of Yashahime and find myself shocked that it somehow manages to mess things up more.

This weeks episode picks up where we left off last time, with our trio of leads awakening at the Tree of Ages. Lucky for them, a cavalcade of familiar characters and friends rock up at just that very moment to greet them. We skip ahead to see Towa and Setsuna reading from some books and learn that the butterfly that cursed her resides on a particular mountain. I thought to myself, “Okay, so the story will focus on them going after this butterfly now.” No. That was not the case at all, because—as mentioned in my previous weeks Writings—this sleep curse that Setsuna has is of absolutely no concern to her. Despite the girls discovering where the butterfly is, Setsuna essentially says who cares about that and asks for some demon bounty for her to hunt. So, that is what the girls do. On top of that, Setsuna has now accepted Towa as her sister, despite not believing her for the preceding episodes and nothing really happening to ease her scepticism.

On top of that, the girls just kind of go on their merry way, with Moroha going to tackle her own bounty and Towa tagging along with Setsuna because, well, she doesn’t really have anything else to do and, come to think of it, only came to the past to help her lift the butterfly curse—but no one seems to care about that, so why is anything happening? Why am I trying to make sense of this narrative mess?

Basically, one thing leads to another and they find this demon that essentially rips your skeleton straight out from your skin. It is pretty messed up, but Yashahime barely pays it any mind—even treating it for comedy in some moments which felt very tonally off. Eventually, the girls confront the demon and, coincidentally, it turns out that Moroha was given the same bounty and, even more coincidentally, it turns out that the demon has a grudge against Moroha. A fight breaks out and, if I’m honest, the animation quality fell through the absolute floor here. It’s a shame because this battle was seemingly meant to be important, given the fact that Moroha makes her grand “transformation” into her “Beniyasha” demon form. The fight is over pretty quickly, and the girls comment that this demon was a minion of the Beast King that the Tree of Ages had asked them to kill. They seemingly decide that they will find the Beast King despite refusing the request of the Tree of Ages in the last episode for no reason whatsoever. The episode ends with them concerned, remarking that if they kill the Beast King they will then have to kill their father Sesshomaru. This seems to concern them and I don’t quite know why, considering they both made point to mention in the previous episode they have never met him, have no idea who he is, and have no attachment to him at all.

The preview for next week seems to indicate there will be more “monster of the week” shenanigans before we can get onto some kind of main plotline. It really is hard to see what the through point for this series is. We still don’t know the fate of Kagome or Inuyasha after inexplicably seeing them in the first episode for reasons unknown. Sometimes, having no idea where a show is going is a good thing because it means the show is keeping you guessing with its narrative twists and turns; with Yashahime it is only a bad thing because I quite honestly have no idea what is even going on half the time in this series, and I have no idea who any of these characters really are, what motivates them, what their goals are, or why should I even give a damn. Yashahime, please do better.

Count Your Blessings – Ikebukuro West Gate Park (Episode Five)

Continuing off the back of last week’s fantastic episode, IWGP hits back with yet another incredible episode—tackling some serious real-world issues in the process.

This week’s episode’s overall theme is outlined well by Makoto in the cold open, when he ponders that—even for all its problems—he may have been blessed to grow up and live in a country like Japan. While we have seen the darker side of Japan in the episodes preceding this one, this episode argues that youth gangs, corrupt businesses, social media scams, and drug dealers are issues that pale in comparison to the truly horrific crimes against humanity that occur daily around the world. This is where IWGP zeroes in and focuses on the human rights breaches of modern day China and it’s corrupt government that enables such an environment of abuse.

We learn that the city of Ikebukuro is potentially being targeted by the Tokyo Metro Government to become a new Chinatown district, re-establishing the city and hopefully erasing its troubled reputation. Through this, we discover the severe human rights violations taking place with the Chinese organisations who essentially hold poor Chinese workers as indentured servants, dangling the hope of Japanese citizenship over their heads—all the while forcing them into insane labour work for miniscule pay.

It is revealed that the businesses in China target rural-area civilians for these jobs and ship them around the world into this kind of work; we also learn that one of these workers has done a runner and Makoto is tasked with finding her, else the rest of the Chinese workers will be deported back to China—where a rather grim fate likely awaits them.

Makoto eventually discovers—with the help of newfound Chinese friend Lin—that the girl, who is named Guo, is working at a hostess bar in town. Eventually, they track her down and Makoto explains the circumstances to her. She decides to return to indentured servitude to prevent everyone from being deported back to China. Before that can happen, though, Makoto takes Guo on a day out, to show her all the amazing things of life she has never been able to see. It’s a nice moment of kindness from Makoto, one that is compounded by Makoto’s mother making another act of kindness: hearing Guo’s story and situation—and with the help of Lin—Makoto’s mother decides to adopt Guo as her daughter, which would gain her Japanese citizenship. As she has become a citizen, the organization can’t threaten or manipulate her any longer. While the other workers remain in servitude, the episode ends with Makoto pondering that there may still be hope yet and reflecting on his blessing for being born in Japan.

Overall, this was a really well done episode that has left some thread to be picked up again in future episodes. I loved the way it explored this idea with nuance and subtlety, and treated the situation with the appropriate level of seriousness it demands. I really have been enjoying these past few episodes of IWGP; I hope the show continues this hot streak because these are proving to be some truly thought-provoking episodes to say the very least.

-30-

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