My Hero Academia Episode 16 Review

nonense 4Despite the stakes being comparatively lower, episode sixteen of Hero Academia may very well be its high-point, where the series quite literary hits its stride.  This latest episode is a free for all race, where recent life and death struggles are replaced by a battle for fame, fortune, and recognition. Theoretically, less is on the line. And yet, it is because of this reduced tension that the episode feels truly compelling. In every other conflict we’ve encountered, the outcome was written in stone. We know our hero will not fail the entrance exam, or be expelled, or ever killed. He is our hero after all. And the same stakes apply to his friends, who would never be eliminated so soon into this sort of Shonen narrative.

But now there is a real uncertainly to how the show will develop, since we’ve reached a challenge that our hero can believably fail. Also, the show has finally found a way of using its sprawling ensemble cast without the show feeling crowded or unfocused. In previous arcs, the structure felt scattered, struggling to keep all the tertiary characters interesting while focusing on the journey of our main characters. But this most recent challenge lets Hero Academia showcase everyone’s eccentricities and powers in interesting ways, while still developing its core narrative. The way the episode achieves this feat in rather clever, having Deku lag behind for most of the race, letting the spotlight wander elsewhere.

This episode of Hero Academia also solves another issue of the show, which is having an episode that feels reasonably full and complete. In other arcs, I was astonished when an episode ended, since it felt like only ten minutes of content. Meanwhile, I thought the halfway point in this episode was the end, since I was so used to episodes leaving conflicts unresolved. But instead, we get the entire race as one, self-contained event, without it ever feeling rushed.

In short, I can distill this episode into a single word: fun. Fun was what I had expected and yearned for from the very first episode, but only gotten in concentrated doses. This episode was the first time I found myself totally entertained every single second, and wishing for more so badly by the end. In summary, I can only hope that this episode is an indicator of what is to come.

 

Naruto Shippuden Episode 500 Reviw

Casual_HakuLike many kids growing up with Toonami block, I was indoctrinated into the cult of anime without even noticing it.  For me, Dragon Ball Z was no different than Edd, Ed, and Eddy or Johnny Bravo.  It was not until a late night marathon of Naruto that I started to make a distinction. In fact, I consider Naruto my first foray into anime, where I started to see anime as distinct from other cartoons, and as something I would be interested in. Even back then, over a decade ago, Naruto’s formula was the same– a slow moving arc that builds up to a few episodes of insane animation, with plenty of emotional payoff.  But more than that, this was the first time I had ever encountered such a relatable hero. Sure, Goku is awesome and iconic, but he’s not the kind of guy I can relate to. He’s like a friendly wall of muscles. But Naruto’s struggle for acceptance really resonated with me – he felt like an actual kid, not some overpowered god.

And now we reach the end. As I grew older, I started to lose interest in Naruto, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the series. It’s like the flagship show of those who are a little quirky. So many of the people I know – even those who don’t watch much anime – watch Naruto. It seriously astonishes me how many times I’ll overhear someone talking about the show – how many people take time out of their week to tune in. And now we finally conclude, with a filler arc of all things. In a way this feels fitting, given how much of the show was filler. But oddly enough, the filler works well. While the manga ending always felt underwhelming and rushed, this ending feels like what we deserved all along.

For one thing, this episode comes full circle, dealing with the relationship between Naruto and his first teacher, Iruka. The opening scene features a flashback of them in the very first episode, and we deal with the issues that first made the show interesting – being accepted, and building relationships. There’s something splendid about seeing our heroes enjoy peaceful days, eating ramen and goofing off. This goofiness is particularly interesting, as the tone shifts to near parody at times. Neji’s ghost shows up and gives the peace sign, and Orochimaru (you know, that guy who murdered a bunch of kids) is just hanging around, congratulating Naruto on his wedding. In that way, there’s something almost surreal about the episode.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine it’s all over. But I do believe this is a wonderful way to end it all. And I appreciate what was left out. We never see Naruto become Hokage, and we only get a few seconds of Sakura and Sasuke (thank goodness). Instead we focus on Naruto, and on some very beautiful backdrops – we get to see the Hidden Leaf village enjoy a little peace, and we get to see our hero finally reach the end of his journey. While the ride could be bumpy at times, the final destination is a worthy one, and it’s great to finally get a conclusion to one of Anime’s most iconic epics.

Samurai Jack Season 5 Episode 2 Review

jackThe last episode of the Samurai Jack had one job, and it did it well – reassure us that this won’t be another case of the Power Puff girls or Teen Titans Go, where the sequel lacks any of the magic of the original. We had to be reassured that when Jack came back, he brought all the coolness of the original. And yes, Jack is back. But with this most recent episode, we know that Jack is not only back, but perhaps better than ever. It would be no exaggeration to say that this episode is one of the best things I’ve seen in a good long while. And I’m not one for hyperbole – in fact, I’m usually rather skeptical of whatever I’m reviewing.

But as soon as this episode started, I knew we were in for a treat. After wandering across a post-apocalyptic wasteland last episode, full of death and trauma, we start with the source of all that evil – the mighty Aku – putting on his eyebrows. It’s a little detail, but it creates such an immediate contrast. And then it’s time for a therapy session with himself, in a “safe space,” where troublesome samurai are never mentioned by name. I’m really happy to see the show commits to Aku’s cartoonishness. Having the literal incarnation of evil be a goofball adds something special to the show, and was part of what made the original so distinct.

I’m also impressed by how cohesive this episode is. For instance, we have a sequence of scenes that appear to be a parable, where a white wolf is confronted by a trio of weird, lizard-tiger creatures. The wolf’s path mirrors Jack’s in many ways, and offers an ominous take on how our tale may end. But there’s also the contrast between Jack’s inner monologue and Aku’s, or between the single man in white fighting the seven women in black. The whole episode feels tight and well thought out. Additionally, the whole experience has a rather cinematic quality. Despite being only two episodes into this final season, it feels like we’ve already reached the climax – or at least, the first of many. The fights were intense, the stakes were real, and the ending truly haunting. I’d like to have more to say, but sometimes incredibly cool things simply leave me speechless.

 

Konosuba, season 2, Episode 10 Review

blopEarly on in the episode, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. Given the episodic structure of Konosuba, I was worried it would have a hard time pulling off a satisfying conclusion.  The show doesn’t build up to something so as much as it runs around in circles each week, flailing its arms and talking shit. But Konosuba surprised me. Despite its generally comedic approach, it managed to have ten straight minutes of coolness followed by a brief but touching afterword. At first, I was surprised such a derpy show could manage to end on such an epic note. But as I thought about it, it started making more and more sense. Some of the coolest moments in anime are when the uncool character – the one everyone overlooked – suddenly cranks it up to a ten and saves the day. Now, imagine if it weren’t just one lame character, but a whole cast of losers.

In essence, this was the payoff for nine whole episodes of our heroes being swallowed by frogs, harassed by the state, and generally failing at life. Each got a moment of high animation budget and good old fashioned heroism. Perhaps most satisfying of all was Wiz losing her cool – or if we want to get technical, finding her cool (ice magic, get it). She turns out to be quite fearsome when there are actual stakes. In fact, everyone gets a moment of cool this week, becoming the badass trope their character is an inversion of. Darkness has a moment of non-masochistic self-sacrifice, Megumin gets to deliver a truly effective explosion, and Aqua wields truly godlike strength.

My favorite part of the episode would have to be when Aqua delivers the finishing blow. In fact, I think this is one of the best moments of anime in a long time. As she charges her final attack, her followers gather around and chant an inspiring speech – we’ve seen this all before. But the speech is truly unique, with such marvelous lines as “it’s society’s fault that things don’t work out” and “if you’re going to regret it either way, do what’s easiest,” or “at least be happy now.” This speech may be a perfect summary of the whole show. Yes, it’s silly, but there is also something strangely sweet and honest about it. Konosuba makes a good case for the heroism of being a mediocre person.

But after this remarkable moment, we are back to the status quo. Our heroes are lame again, and everything they did had no impact – in fact, it made everything worse. But they are happy, back home, and enjoying their unexceptional lives. They’ll drink, deal with the plumbing, and just goof around. Konosuba turns out to be a rather special show. In fact, it reminds me of what Space Dandy often tried to be – a show about normal, untalented people who get caught in a loop, occasionally finding a little glory. It is one of my favorite anime from this past year or two, and was a rare sequel that improved upon the original.

Samurai Jack, Season 5 Episode 1 Review

jackLast night I went out and watched John Wick, followed by the season five premier of Samurai Jack, beverage in hand. Needless to say, it was a good night. I bring up John Wick because it (in conjunction with Jack) got me thinking about the action genre. I’m usually more interested in good dialogue than strong fight choreography, and I’ve caught myself wondering, “Do I not like action, or do I not like poorly done action?” After last night, I can safely say it’s the latter. I sometimes forget what action shows can be, since they’re so often done poorly. Action is difficult for a few reasons. On the one hand, there is a real skill to shooting good fights, and it can be hard to tell a story with sparse dialogue – if your characters are busy trying to kill each other, they shouldn’t be talking (unless it’s an anime I supposes). Also, there is something very simple about action, and the simple things are often the hardest to pull off.

Jack is one of those rare gems that demonstrates just how amazing action can be. Like John Wick (or other successes in the action genre) the scenery is gorgeous, the hero soft spoken, and the world filled with zany assassin types. In particular, I loved Scaramoush, the musical assassin with one of the corniest voices I’ve ever come across. He’s quintessential Jack – hilarious and campy, but also legitimately scary. Yes, he’s not the kind of guy (robot) you’d expect to find perched on a pile of charred corpses, but he works. He also makes a good foil to Jack. Jack himself may be brooding and dark, but the forces of evil still have a strong a sense of humor. Our first exposure to Aku this season is a phone call, where he sounds anything but threatening.This strange humor, in conjunction with the dark atmosphere, is what makes Jack so special. The tone is almost indiscernible.

But beyond sheer atmosphere, the show is so wonderfully watchable. Brooding normally bores me, but Jack’s existential despair is theatrical and flashy, making each PSD style flashback compelling. And I could listen to Scaramoush’s witty banter all day. Jack feels artistic and inspired, but also serves as entertainment. No, this isn’t the wildest episode ever, but what a wonderful way to start a new season. If this first episode is any indication, Jack may be one of those rare, successful reboots. I can’t wait for his final tale to unfold.

Konosuba Season 2 Episode 9

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I was recently talking to a friend about Konosuba, and he was telling me how he “loved every second of it.” And a I couldn’t help but overanalyze these words for the next few days, since they’re such a perfect way of describing the show. I can think of anime where I enjoy almost every episode, but to enjoy every second is a different matter altogether.  Konosuba is so densely packed with material. And like any good comedy show, it mimics the structure of a comedy routine. A good comic keeps the audience engaged constantly, with a series of small jokes and asides, which all build up to a general theme or overarching punch line.

But I doubt I have to tell you how awesome Konosuba is. The show has been all the rage recently, with anime commentators of all stripes singing its praises – especially in these past two weeks. But why has it taken so long for anime fans to show their full support? I can’t help but feel that the anime community is reluctant to have a comedy serve as its flagship show, especially one so derpy. After all, anime are often seen as childish and mediocre by those on the outside, based primarily on their looks. Better to promote anime with a sleek art style and tight plot than a parade of troll faces. And whenever I show Konosuba to a non-anime person, their first impression is always “damn, this looks weeby.”

But their second impression is most often “oh, this is actually pretty awesome.” So while it took some time to realize that Konosuba is great, we finally got there. Part of Konosuba’s recent recognition is simply good timing, as its second season happened to premier in a relatively dry anime season. There are plenty of fine anime airing, but nothing mind blowing that could compete with Konosuba. Now imagine if it had aired next season, competing with the premier of Boruto, or with the sequels to Attack on Titan or Hero Academia. Yikes!

Konosuba is rare amongst recent anime, as it managed to gain acclaim while still being super silly. This may seem like a small point, but think of other big anime from recent seasons – a great many are either rather serious, or have remarkable animation. But there is nothing on the surface of Konosuba that insists we take it seriously. I’m happy this show has gotten some time in the spotlight – it’s good fun and surprisingly creative. Just take today’s episode, where a goddess descends upon her people, only to have them decide to burn her alive. And somewhere in between she cries holy water and nearly vaporizes her undead friend.

Yes, Konosuba has its flaws – not every joke is funny, and its intellectual depth is on par with the nutritional value of Cheetos.  But I am happy to see the show thrive, if not for a few moments before everyone’s attention is taken by Attack on Titan season 2.

Masume Kun’s revenge Episode 9 Review

 

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I was starting to run out of things to say about Masume-kun’s revenge, as it’s the sort of the show that rarely evolves. Or rather, the show sees no reason to change, given that its initial premise could carry it through a season or two. But this ninth episode is something of a game changer.  It’s nothing revolutionary, certainly, but the tone is drastically different than what we’ve come to expect.  The color scheme is darker, the music moodier, and the characters more honest. And unlike most Harem oriented anime, it feels like the crowd is being whittled down.

Though unfortunately, this episode serves as a classic example of what this anime season is lacking – memorable moments, characters, and episodes. For me, an anime is worth watching even if there are only ten minutes of truly amazing content by the end. After all, the most I’ll remember of many shows is ten minutes, give or take. I think this phenomenon explains the success of shows like Naruto, which generally have a low quality level. These shows remain popular because, every so often, the animation team pulls out all the stops and the story arc reaches its climax. These moments are rare but awesome, and worthy pay off for long stretches of mediocrity. At least, they make it worth watching for many.

The issue is that Masume-Kun never has any questionable scenes. Some moments are more impactful than others, though the quality level never falls through the floor. But in exchange for never offending me, the show never really impressed me either. This episode did nothing that really made me feel sad. The sentiment is certainly nice – that the girl may like you for some shallow reason, or you were a better person when you weren’t so superficial. The show makes some fine points, but nothing that happens here is sad, perhaps because it is so predictable.

For me, the sad moments are the unexpected ones. You know what I mean – those weird, unexplainable moments that leave you with nothing to say. Perhaps the problem is that we’re so busy convincing people that anime is not bad. And indeed, this show is certainly not a bad one. But even being good feels like a low bar in a world with so much to watch. And again, all that this show needs is maybe a single memorable scene or two – something that will likely stick with me. Hopefully we will get something like that before the end. But probably not. And thus passes another show I wish I could like more than I do.

Konosuba Season 2 Episode 7 Review

zomAs someone who likes to overthink cartoons about magical schoolgirls, I can’t help but notice how little there is to say about anime this season. This is not to suggest that our current crop of offerings is bad – far from it, this is a perfectly solid anime season.  In fact, it is probably a good sign that most of theses anime episodes feel like five minutes of content. As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun. Most anime this season are focused and low energy, so I can summarize each episode in a sentence or two – “boy meets girl and they fall in love” or “this guy fights this guy.” But what I like about Konosuba is that it is an enigma. There is no single sentence that could summarize this episode.

I believe the reason Konosuba is so amusing is because it does not see a need for seriousness. When most shows want to raise the emotional stakes, the music becomes subdued and the characters become quieter. We may have a scene of two characters simply talking, with most of the animation budget being spent on their faces, making their expressions as human as possible. But the faces in Konosuba are anything but, and the show never slows down – it never feels the need to be mundane or down to earth.

And this constant forward movement is part of what keeps Konosuba interesting. Long ago, I feared that the show would begin to bore me, as we got used to the character stereotypes. But this thankfully never happens, as the dynamic keeps shifting. Yes, the characters are all built around distinct stereotypes, but there is a great deal of complexity here. For instance, Kazuma and Aqua start this episode getting along surprisingly well, fantasizing about how they’ll slap people in the face with fat wads of cash. Just a few episodes ago they were wallowing in poverty and threatening to burn each other’s stuff. And for a brief time, Kazuma actually started to convince himself Aqua was noble and useful. The character relationships are all over the map, but never feel random. They are always inline with the established archetypes.

In short, I am surprised by just how good Konosuba is. This may be a strange episode to solidify that fact for me, but there is something so wonderful about the facial expressions, countless callbacks and evolutions of old jokes, and genuinely compelling character relationships. As I have said before, Konosuba is dumb, but it’s very smart about how it does it.

Masamune-kun’s Revenge Episode 6 Review

 

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While discussions about “best girl” and “mai wifu” may feel pointless, there’s a real art to cute girls in anime. After all, harem anime are not simply about titillation, but about some level of emotion fulfillment. They depict a world of soft colors and Skittle tinted hair, where feelings are always little bit simpler. Now, don’t get me wrong  – I don’t get much out of harem anime, nor do I consider them the slightest bit “artistic.”  But I suspect the appeal has something to do with the emotions, and the idea of being loved by cute, simple minded girls. After all, Masume-kun’s Revenge is decidedly asexual, focusing more on puppy love than the “down and dirty” variety.

And in this regard, Masume-kun’s Revenge makes some very interesting choices, like addressing the root of the issue. It may be a small thing, but at several points in the episode, the girls point out that Masumune is a very lonely person. Now, this fact is pretty obvious, given what we’ve seen of Masumune so far. But for an anime of this variety to admit as much is a strange move. But this is the truth – outside of his wifu hoard, most harem protagonists have no human relationships, aside from some pervy guy in their homeroom. Masumune-kun’s Revenge is very honest in its mission to be a tonic for loneliness – a piece of light, feel good fluff.

However, this episode demonstrates a fatal flaw of the show. While it was a warm, cozy experience, that’s only because our “best girl” – the woman destined for Masume at the end of all this – is simply the worst. She’s terrible. In fact, Aki-Sama is totally antithetical to the show’s feel good approach, and I dread going back to her next episode. But the other two girls, the obligatory rich girl and deadpan minion, are both what they need to be – simple and adorable. Are they bastions of feminism or character development? Hell no. But they are cute, kind, and they wear their feelings on their sleeve. For a show like Masume-Kun’s revenge, that’s all they ever need to be.

Masume-Kun’s revenge is frustrating because I want to like it, but it makes that task so difficult. This is not my genre of preference, nor is it particularly ambitious, so I know I’ll never love it. But it’s not a bad show either. Between the visuals and the vibe, it has plenty going for it. In this episode, we get to see what Masume–Kun’s revenge could be – nothing new, but successful at what it wants to do. The problem is that we can only have a finite number of these episodes, thanks to the dreadful character at the helm of the show. Maybe Masumune-Kun’s revenge will find a way to work around Aki-Sama, but I’m still baffled why she’d ever be the focus in the first place.

Konosuba season 2 episode 5 Review

blaLike any good episode of Konosuba, this one was a culmination of many small things – a series of little, hilarious details that made twenty minutes fly by. For instance, my first big laugh came when Aqua was commenting on the little exploding dudes at the entrance of the dungeon – “these masks piss me off.” I think the reason I found this line so funny is because it’s true. Those half masks that villains wear really do bother me, for reasons I can’t fully articulate. And then Aqua warms up to the little masked man, only to have it literary blow up in her face.

And there are other fun details, like how the characters discuss how dangerous the dungeon is, only for Darkness to nonchalantly walk towards it. And then there was the episode’s peak, where Darkness has her body fused with the mind of one of the Demon King’s generals, Vanir. Vanir was an unusual character, who worked best when he was controlling Darkness’s body. Their body melding sequence amounted to one of the most bizarre comedy routines I’ve seen in anime, as the two exchanged threats and declarations of masochistic passion. Unfortunately, Vanir feels like an otherwise forgettable character. He only exists briefly, and his wild gesticulation and speeches don’t feel quite over the top enough. I like the idea of his one goal in life being to troll some adventurers, but the joke didn’t quite hit the mark. I think the reason is that Vanir did not build himself enough as a particularly interesting and imposing villain.

Otherwise, the most notable aspect of this episode is the ending. The conclusion is optimistic on the surface, but I can’t help but fear that it’s setting us up for even more dysfunction. I can’t imagine Kazuma being happy for too long. That being said, I appreciate that the show is giving us a breather, rather than milk the “death row” plot line for too long. Did you even remember that execution was still a possibility? I had certainly forgotten  for a while. In a way, this episode’s questionable pacing and abrupt conclusion feel like a way of burying that plot line. But I don’t think that’s such a bad move. A good show knows when to cut something short, rather than pretend that it’s working and bore us into oblivion. I’m not saying the show was boring – rather, Konosuba changed direction before boredom became a real issue.

The ending was abrupt, and the villain was a bit underwhelming, but all in all, this was a fine episode of Konosuba. It’s also interesting to see how this season splits the characters up, letting us see different group dynamics. Kazuma and Darkness have a particularly fun chemistry, and it’s been great to see them be terrible together these last two episodes.