Fall 2016: Weeks 3 & 4

**Note: Due to personal events that happened last week, I was unable to write about the season. As such, this entry will be about both last week and this week.**

DRIFTERS

EPISODE 3

This episode is focused on introducing us to more characters and to better establish the show’s premise, which, while hinted at earlier, was left vague in the first two episodes. What makes this episode work is how it’s presented: this episode is just one long action set-piece. Given that I came to this series for violent spectacle, this means that this is my favorite episode thus far.

An evil group called “The End” are attacking a walled city/ The Octoberist organization, the white coat guys we saw in the last two episodes, are trying to flee with two Drifters in the city, Scipio (a Roman general) and Hannibal (the guy who crossed mountains on elephants to attack Rome). Their escape is aided by two other Drifters: Butch Casidy and the Sundance Kid. And a new Drifter, Naoshi Kanno (a Japanese WWII fighter pilot) enters and aids them due to PTSD (not kidding, it’s framed like that).

Oh, and “The End”, pictured above, is led by a mysterious hooded figure and includes in it’s ranks Hijikata Toshizō (a Meiji-era general who can summon ghosts here), Giles de Rias (a French nobleman who acts as a spearman for another person), Rasputin (who summons magical talismans because Rasputin), Anastasia Nikolaevna (the killed Russian aristocrat who has ice powers (cool)), and Jeanne d’Arc (the woman who believed she heard God who now has fire powers (hot) (no, I’m not apologizing for that)). And by how I’m describing this episode, it seems like I’m just giving a recap.

The one downside to writing about an action spectacle is that when you are given the spectacle you desired, it becomes hard to write critically about it. That’s my dilemma here: I got the violent showcase I wanted, but there’s not much to say except to tell you about the cool parts, which would make some people not want to check it out because they already know what’s going to happen.

That said, the last thing I want to discuss is the after credits scene, where we meet out three leads finding the Octoberist girl who was spying on them (and looks almost exactly like Seras Victoria with glasses). I bring it up because the scene is just them tormenting her, played as a joke. Considering how much lame humor is in this series, this scene was refreshing becuase it was actually funny. This was easily my favorite episode so far and hopefully the rest of the series can give more spectacles like this one in the coming weeks.

EPISODE 4

After the action spectacle that was episode 3, episode 4 reconnects us with Nobunaga, Toyohisa, and Yoichi, who are questioning Olminu (the woman who looks like Seras Victoria, but with glasses). Te episode is mostly an exposition dump to set up the next couple of episodes, which is all well and good, but this series is at it’s best when the characters are trying to kill each other. This episode also suffers from major tone whiplashes, with the lame comedy returning in full force and popping up usually after a scene that was actually effective and serious. The major problem this show has so far is tonal, but hopefully, the elves’ rebellion against the Orte empire is enough to keep me invested.

Now, while I could stop there, there is one important revelation this episode provides that I must comment on. Now, I heard about this before I saw the episode, but it is very hard to avoid: I think the Black King (the leader of the Ends) is supposed to be Jesus. The scene with him reveals that he is acting as the savior to the demihumans because humans rejected his salvation (very direct Jesus connection there), one of his subordinates refers to him as merciful (a common description of Jesus), he can heal people (the miracles of Jesus), and his hands have holes in them, almost as if he was nailed through his hands (can’t et more obvious with the connection than that). My question is: why? Why is the villain Jesus? I don’t know, but I’ll grant the episode this: it left me intrigued and the premise amuses me to no end.

YURI ON ICE

Episode 3

Oh my God, we managed to go one whole episode without anyone making fun of Yuri for having been fat! I’m serious, that was really starting to get tiresome and was just coloring Victor as a large jerk. I know that we still get shades of “look, he’s a little piggy” with his choice to use a piece of food as his initial source of eros, but that we finally lasted a whole episode without a fat joke seems like real progress.

Speaking of progress, while the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet in figure skating, we finally get to see both Yuris grow as a result of Victor’s instruction. Yurio is assigned to skate to agape, or “unconditional love”, which is difficult for a hormonal and angry teenager who’s trying to push himself beyond his own limits. Yuri, meanwhile, is assigned to eros, or “selfish love”, a concept lost on the emotionally immature and unconfident person like himself. The episode’s first half covers the two trying to come to grips with their assigned subject. Yurio must learn a more passive and kind love, while Yuri must learn a more passionate and selfish (and sensual) love.

The episode’s second half shows us the competition between the two and it is one of the best showcases for what this show can do with it’s characters. Yurio’s performance, despite trying to stay faithful to agape, loses that drive when he learns partially through the performance that he can’t think about it and the routine at the same time, causing him to return to his regular style of skating. With his appearances so far, Yurio has been characterized as a guy who sees a brick wall and keeps trying to overpower it, which comes at odds with Victor’s desire in a pupil. He’s definitely talented, but he still has much to learn before he’s ready to go toe-to-toe with the pros.

What’s more surprising, though, is Yuri’s performance. This is finally the first time in the series where he is able to, not just stand out, but prove himself. Up until this point, Yuri was defined solely by his low self-esteem and his idolization (and unrealized crush) of Victor. I brought up that he seemed like a non-presence in episode 2 besides the goofy Victor and the angry teenager Yurio. This performance, as well as his thought process to putting it together, actually helped establish him as a character in his own right. Despite everyone else in the show clinging to the goofy and ridiculous metaphor that people were trying to understand him with, he managed to change his performance to become a more perfect embodiment of eros (and seduce Victor, who gave a whistle in response).

The big takeaway from this episode is that Yuri has finally managed to blossom as a character, a fact even stated in the show. While I was kind of leary about how he continue to be in the last two episodes, this one put those worries to rest. I’m glad the show is finding it’s groove and letting Yuri rightfully come centerstage in his own story.

Episode 4

After the last episode finally established Yuri’s presence in the story, I’m glad that this episode finally let us explore his headspace as a lead character. As much as Victor is the more entertaining (just by his more goofy nature) character and Yurio is a much more engaging character (his presence was felt, his personality strong, and his underlying conflict interesting), we desperately needed Yuri to finally step up to facing his demons.

Luckily, his demons, while not literal or overly dramatic (this show is kind of a lighter affair for a Saya Yamamoto gig than her previous shows), they are quite compelling. The first two episodes established Yuri’s problems with self-esteem and in his own skills (a problem not helped by Victor effectively spending all of episode 2 negging him about his weight and not being a strong skater), which episode 3 answered beautifully by having Yuri face those issues directly by embracing seductiveness (which requires both good self-esteem and a control over one’s skills). This episode, which is the first one where Yuri is both the center focus and the compelling dramatic element, finally decides to answer an underlying problem that him embracing eros presented: his problems with intimacy. It was hinted at with Yuri’s reactions towards Victor’s more sexual nature (this dynamic is pictured above), but this is the episode which finally delves into this issue with Yuri.

Key to this issue, however, is the actual plot for the episode. Victors assigns Yuri to decide on a piece of music for the free performance. Yuri revisits a piece his old coach rejected that was composed for him, which Victor promptly rejects. This leads Yuri to re-evaluate his career so far, as the piece was composed specifically for him based on his career a year ago. While Yuri is going through a crisis trying to figure out his music, Victor is trying to get Yuri to further embrace the more sensual performance style that Yuri has much more of an aptitude for.

This is all played against Yurio’s renewed fervor for practice. Yurio gets instruction from his coach’s ex-wife, a ballet instructor who keeps pushing him to embrace the styling of a ballerina. Where Yuri is trying to embrace more feminine performance on Victor’s behalf to better suit his strengths, Yurio is embracing it to push himself further than before.

What really stood out to me about this episode is the music on display. I didn’t mention it before, but the opening and closing songs are fantastic, providing the perfect mix of more classical performance (I’m not even a figure skating novice, so I just assume most figure skating performances are done to classical pieces) with the show’s modern sensibilities that just meld together into a glorious crescendo of dance and joy. However, I’m bringing it up because of the most obvious element of this episode: a composition is the eponymous element of the show! The piece appears at the end, a new composition  by the same composer who made Yuri’s earlier composition. It’s played during a scene showcasing the progress both Yuri and Yurio has made and it is magnificent. Much like this show, it’s understated, but powerful, a good mood highlight that knows where the high points are and knows how to get there. That Yuri then names it Yuri On Ice is either a stroke of egoism on his part (in which case it represents a small sense of character growth that Victor has helped cause) or a more meta-joke (the piece is much like the show, so naming the piece after the show could represent the story that Yuri is building this performance to tell). Either way, I loved it and cannot wait to hear if the show will ever get other compositions to match it.

Four episodes in and Yuri On Ice still has yet to really disappoint. While the episode is not as exciting as episode 3, it’s no less engaging and I think it’s fantastic that we are finally starting to see Yuri begin to embrace the talents and passions kept deep within.

IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH

Episode 3

If anime has learned anything from Gundam, it’s this: all WWII-inspired war anime must have an episode which goes into the horrors of war. This episode decided to spend half of it’s runtime on said horrors by following a low-ranked soldier in the trenches as the not-Nazis come in to slaughter them. This would be effective if this soldier was given a character, but he isn’t.

The rest of the episode, until the third act, is meant to be buildup for when Izetta finally goes to join the fight. Unfortunately, the show’s direction is still bland and it’s just going between scenes of people talking, discussing either military tactics (yawn) or the princess explaining that Izetta is a special friend who shouldn’t risk her life (which is weird, given that the last act occurs without any intervention from the princess).

I said, earlier, that this show would be done sloppily and be kind of schlocky. Well, this episode completely indulges in that. While the episode doesn’t give us the more Yoshino-esque schlockiness that we’re all expecting, I can’t help but feel that this episode is a complete missed opportunity. Where the episode finally seems like it’s going to sink it’s teeth into something (like the idea of the soldier’s family, or how the princess and Izetta are reacting to the war and Izetta’s desire to fight in it), it turns in the opposite direction into dull cliches and weak-to-bearly-there characterization. I’m bored watching this because I have nothing to latch onto besides a setting that has never interested me.

In previous weeks, I brought up Yoshino’s manga Seikon No Qwasar, a manga that I highly recommend to no one. My reason for this is two-fold: because it’s funny and because that manga is probably Yoshino’s magnum opus as a creator. When he works on an original anime series (Guilty Crown, Vividred Operation, Code Geass to a lesser degree), he tends to deal with other creators who are equally as powerful in production as he is (Code Geass was more of a Taniguchi and Okouchi gig that he assisted in, Okouchi and Araki had more of a presence in Guilty Crown despite largely being Yoshino’s show, Vividred Operation was more of a passion project for the director who had Yoshino help structure it). Yoshino is more of a structural writer than an idea writer, which shows here. While the episode failed to connect with me, it’s not an out-of-place episode. For a series that’s about a witch joining the war efforts, this episode is the first high point of “she’s now fighting for us”.

Not that the structure is too well-composed. Much like his manga, Yoshino has trouble following a structure when it involves his own ideas. As a story, Seikon No Qwasar is sloppy, inconsistent, switches tones at the drop of a hat, and has a general disregard for character. While nowhere near as bad, Izetta is starting to show some of those same traits. It makes me worried because, especially now, any major tone shift would completely shatter the series and render it an unwatchable mess (as it is, it’s a watchable mess). I can hope that the tone won’t change to drastically in the coming episodes, but I’m starting to suspect that this show won’t be able to handle it’s own plot.

Episode 4

This episode would be interesting if it was used to actually establish any characters, but it doesn’t. This episode would be entertaining if it had some good action, but it doesn’t. This episode would be intriguing if it played up the political angle, but it doesn’t. Instead, this episode gives us the outlive of Izetta’s body.

While I wasn’t a fan of the first three episodes, at least they had some life to them. At least they were mindless schlock that had some entertainment value. This episode doesn’t even have that. The episode is, supposedly, about the aftermath of the battle last episode, but this aftermath isn’t interesting. The characters have all completely flatlined, having the same speaking voice (not literal, auditory voice, but in terms of word choice and cadence), which makes distinguishing them difficult all throughout the episode. The direction has also flatlined, going from bland to “we just put these cells together in a sequence”. There’s no direction or vision in this episode. I was expecting the show to get bad, but I wasn’t expecting boring.

KEIJO!!!!!!!!

Episode 3

I’m reviewing a series that, without any sense of irony or shame, includes an attack called Vacuum Butt Cannon. I feel like that’s all there is to say, but there isn’t. It just bears repeating how ridiculous this series is.

This episode actually follows our heroine as she realizes that, not only did she perform the attack I mentioned earlier, but that it’s a dangerous move that can cause severe hip and lower-back problems. As such, in order to learn to use the attack responsibly, she spends the episodes in a swimsuit designed to both cling into her and restrict her movement. Meanwhile, Miyata, after seeing an elite-class member who is faster than her, tries to get faster with her butt strikes.

Oh, there’s also a part involving their roommate giving butt messages to gather intel on the competition for the class-change event.

Honestly, the word of the day for this series continues to be “silly”. That’s good, since this series would fall apart without the nods of “Please don’t take us seriously” this show gives. Between the fact that the elite class now has TWO girls whose personalities outside of their fighting style is “likes to grope other girls”, the way the camera focuses on Nozomi in the swimsuit, and the way of showing Miyata’s progress (butt marks on the wall), this is still silly as hell.

Luckily, that silliness also translates into fun. This series, possibly because it never gets serious, is just joyous and stupid in all of the good ways. This episode may be meant to show how serious the stakes in this sport really are, but it fails because the camera still focuses on Nozomi’s butt and the swimsuit on top clinging really hard to her. It may not be the most intelligent, but this show is continuing to provide a good time.

Episode 4

I’m pretty sure giving yourself a wedgie would not make you that much faster. If anything, I’d assume it’d slow you down. Not that I have much of a problem with this development, but that is a weird line of logic to follow.

Granted, that isn’t the weirdest part of this episode, hard as it is to believe, thought, contrary to what you’d think, hypno-boobs (or titty hypnosis, as the subtitles call it) are not the weirdest moment either. No, that goes to Non’s butt apparently being so soft that it completely cushions and almost wraps around a butt whose muscles are almost excessively tensed up. This show is weird and I don’t know how to explain my reactions to this silliness except for saying “that’s weird”.

The episode follows the first three matches in the class-change competition. As I mentioned, each match has a weird moment. It’s hard to imagine this episode being anything besides the staff going “screw it, let’s do some of the weirder stuff in the manga this week”. As fun as this was (titty hypnosis had me almost die from laughter), it does worry me that much of the appeal of the show will start to go downhill (read: they’ll try to get serious and weirder) when they have such a good tone set already, but I’m hopeful that the stupid fun will continue for the remaining eight episodes.

OCCULTIC;NINE

Episode 2

This is clearly this writer’s take on Durarara. With this second episode done and more explained (in a way I can comprehend), the parallels to Durarara are striking. Granted, there are worse things to aspire to be than Durarara, but if that’s the goal, it still has a long way to go.

If anything, this episode gives a good case that this and episode 1 should’ve been aired together as a 1-hour premiere. The two episodes, individually, do not flow well separately, but act stronger as one cohesive story. This is partially because, where episode 1 is all questions and no characterization, this is answers with characterization for Miyu and Shun, who seem to be the most active characters in the story thus far. That we actually get that much is refreshing, because, otherwise, the episode is just really ham-fisted setup for the upcoming episodes (like the tooth key).

Unfortunately, unlike Narita, Chiyomaru Shikura is not interested in character writing, which is in contrast to both Durarara and his previous works. Instead, this is more plot focused, which is definitely the show’s weak point, still. Miyu and Shun are only given characterization because it’s necessary for the plot, while the others still lack characteristics because they aren’t important to the plot yet. And when the plot, much like Durarara, is purposefully convoluted and obscured, we need characters to latch on to (this tends to be the number one thing most prophecy-story light novels like Tokyo Ravens tends to forget: if we aren’t allowed to be privy to the plot, then get us invested in the characters).

I can tell that the show is getting better, but the episode is still stilted and, worst of all for a genre story like this, we still have no characterization for Yuta (you know, our supposed protagonist). The overly nerdy and dual-faced Shun and the put-down and troubled Miyu are good starting points for this to finally get started, but we still haven’t pulled out of the driveway.

Episode 3

I mentioned before that this is Chiyomaru Shikura’s take on Durarara, but I’m not sure I got into what I meant by that statement.After all, he and Narita have vastly different voices as writers. However, it took me this episode to figure out the main spin Shikura gives this idea: where Narita explores the characters exploring the situation in a complex ecosystem, Shikura explores scientific (or pseudo-scientific, in the case of this show) concepts with his characters interacting around that concept (even in his most praised work, Steins;Gate, the characters don’t exist as people, but as catalysts for figuring out the time travel puzzle that needs to be solved).

This is very apparent in this episode, where we spend the first five minutes going through a roundabout questioning of Ririka by Shun, followed by him questioning the murder victim’s son, Sarai. The second half follows the origin of the black magic girl, Aria, followed by following Yuta as he tries to find out what the key opens. None of these segments exist beyond Shikura wanting to explore a concept (unconscious precognition, skepticism, delusion, and paranoia respectively) that feed into the show’s theme (the occult and the it’s effects). Ririka is a dojin author, but for no reason other than to give her an outlet for her visions. Sarai is a skeptic, but only because Shikura wanted someone to question everything in the show. Aria is delusional and may have had incestuous intentions towards her brother, but her backstory is only used to explain the dark side of her black magic and curses she does. Yuta is the only character exempt from this, but his treatment is to be put on the back burner for most of the episode because he’s not in a position to look into the occult at this point in the story. Their roles do not feel natural, but forced in order to get to a point.

With that out of the way, this episode actually has some compelling moments, believe it or not. Aria’s backstory, while forced and clearly an attempt at shock value, is actually done convincingly, keeping me interested all throughout the tale. Ririka’s back and forth with Shun revealed some good chemistry between the two and actually played a lot into revealing more about both their characters (Shun is a trickster who will keep the curtail raised until he gets what he wants, while Ririka is aloof and concise, preferring to remain secretive and in control). While this show is definitely flawed (like I said, I can see the strings), there are some well-done elements hidden in this series, enough that I may actually be growing to like it. I’m still trying to keep my hopes up for this (after all, it’s still be the guy who made Steins;Gate, which I find insufferable and unwatchable), but I am leaning more on giving this a recommendation.

Episode 4

Well, this episode brings us back, tonally and structurally, to episode 1. No, not because there is no characterization, because we do get some. No, it’s not because it’s boring, though it does come dangerously close to there at points. No, it’s not because I couldn’t follow it, because I could (the series is getting more straightforward as it keeps going). No, it’s because the episode is spent asking new questions and doing so in the least interesting way possible.

A mass suicide has occurred, with 256 bodies being found at the lake, though not identified yet. While we do get three short interesting vignettes, the majority of the episode follows Yuta, Miyu, and Ryoka in the cafe discussing the mass suicides (much like how episode 1 was mostly them in the cafe discussing Yuta’s skepticism of the supernatural). And that’s our biggest problem: these cafe scenes are not interesting. Ryoka is most responsible for making these scenes borderline unwatchable (her childlike demeanor makes her annoying and distracting, while her general design makes the show look worse and somewhat lazy, so why we have to spend time with her is lost on me). In short, the episode suffers from a ton of boring filler that just spins their wheels.

Now, for the big thing from this episode: that opening scene. Toko comes into her office as the news is reporting on the mass suicide. She tries speaking, but her co-workers don’t notice her presence, no one ever answers her, and she checks her reflection in the mirror, which DOESN’T SHOW UP, even though she doesn’t realize her reflection isn’t showing. I bring this scene up because of this. Yes, the show is also bringing in another supernatural plot: Toko (and Miyu, possibly) are dead. I don’t know why Shikura wanted to bring up referencing what many consider the only good Shyamalan film, but I hope that it will actually build to something, because this is now starting to make me question the goodwill I’ve started building up for the show so far.

FINAL SCORES:

DRIFTERS ep 3: A

DRIFTERS ep 4: B-

YURI ON ICE ep 3:A+

YURI ON ICE ep 4: A

IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH ep 3: C

IZETTA: THE LAST WITCH ep 4: F

KEIJO!!!!!!!! ep 3: B+

KEIJO!!!!!!!! ep 4: B+

OCCULTIC;NINE ep 2: B-

OCCULTIC;NINE ep 3: B

OCCULTIC;NINE ep 4: C+

These shows are all available streaming on Crunchyroll.com
Drifters, Yuri On Ice, Izetta: The Last Witch, and Keijo!!!!!!!! are all licensed by Funimation.
Occultic;Nine is licensed by Aniplex of America
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Author: criticoffilm

Amateur film and anime critic, animation enthusiast, hopeful writer

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