The Roundup: Winter 2015 Volume 2

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In this week’s installment…

Good times all around as Roundup vets Shirobako and Garo deliver some fresh perspectives and the new shows continue to deliver on their potential. Earth Defense Club is somehow still funny, Death Parade expands its emotional range, Maria stays as sharp as ever, and Yatterman delivers one of the first get out of your seat and cheer moments of the season.

The Roundup is a weekly guide to all the “other” shows we’re watching this season. Check out our full, weekly coverage of:

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders / Gundam: Reconguista in G / Assassination Classroom / The Rolling Girls / Gundam Build Fighters Try / Kamen Rider Drive / Yurikuma Arashi / Parasyte – The Maxim / Your Lie In April / Durarara!! x2

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Cute High Earth Defense Club LOVE!
Episode 3

Fridays 1:40 am EST on Funimation

Watching: ArtemisJel, Marlin

Artemis: I really think that this show would work much better as a series of sketches rather than as a longer narrative – I just don’t think there’s enough decent material to be spun out into a full story as such, and many of the gags are too few and far between to keep my full attention even for the duration a single episode. As with last week’s offering, there were a couple of pretty good moments there (I especially enjoyed the bathroom scene with Io showing off his… ah, size, to the guy at the next urinal), but the episode as a whole just wasn’t strong or innovative enough to make me care that much. The jokes in this show, when they land properly, are amusing, but not so outrageously funny that I feel they’re worth spending at least half an episode waiting around for.

Jel: I’m with Artemis in that this would probably make an amazing 7-12 minute short, but even so it’s still a solid comedy a few episodes in. The way they’ve handled the innuendo has me thinking this show might be a little smarter than I’m giving it credit for. They seem to know just the right moment to pump the gas, whether it’s the glowing “bank account” or the sheer madness of the bad guys’ overall plot to make everyone too gay to reproduce. The monster of the week is going to wear thin on me fast but this week’s villain was so disturbingly goofy that I can’t complain too much.

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Shirobako – I don’t know what’s happening here but I do love halftone shading

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Shirobako
Episode 15

Thursdays 11:30 am EST on Crunchyroll

Watching: Aquagaze, Gee, Marlin

Aqua: Contrary to last week’s voice acting-themed episode, Shirobako ambles along on autopilot this week, framing a bunch of short skits around the introductions of some fun new characters and the various meetings that precede the production of an anime. It’s more educational than the show has ever been, though its nuanced, geeky portrayal of how anime is made remains effective as ever. Starting halfway into the production of Exodus! and devoting its second half to the pre-production of a new show opened up what would have been a formulaic, scholarly drone setting out all the steps of anime production in chronological order, and Shirobako trusts viewers to figure out who does what when using their own brains instead of narrating them to it like a kindergarten teacher. Shirobako looks like a documentary, but miraculously manages to make viewers genuinely empathize with its characters when the incompetence of one egomaniac threatens an entire project once again. It is a welcoming look behind the scenes, rather than a boring guided tour, using the correct balance of information, slice-of-life, satire and drama to craft something wholly unique.

Gee: With so many staff members abandoning ship after Exodus! finished production, it was inevitable we’d meet our new cast. So far they seem to be largely inoffensive, though not super engaging right off the bat. Losing Honda does not seem to have been a fair trade so far, but it took me a few episodes to grow attached to the cast I came to love, so I’m willing to give the newbies some time to catch up. Overall, this episode was a fun look at the kind of work that goes into pre-production. Even for something as blatantly commercial as not-Strike Witches requires a ton of research, planning, and time. Which makes the cliffhanger at the end all the more painful. Anyone who’s worked in production can tell you that the lack of communication with the original author was going to become an issue. Despite the author’s manager’s lack of attention to the project being a notable problem, it was a cardinal sin on Musani’s part to not press the issue more. Communication issues kill in this industry and they paid a heavy price. Should be interesting to see if Aoi’s sanity manages to hold together.

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Garo – Old dudes and mecha? How is Iro not watching this?

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Garo: The Animation
Episode 15

Fridays 12:23 am EST on Funimation

Watching: Aquagaze

Aqua: Long-running science fiction and fantasy franchises occasionally do this thing where they make an episode in which the main characters barely even show up, and it often results in some of the most interesting episodes of the show’s entire run. This week’s episode was Garo‘s attempt at such a ‘bottle episode’, featuring the chronicles of a group of town craftsman dedicated to create another Golden Knight out of admiration for the original one… using steam engines, gilded metal and pig intestines. The result is a far cry from the usual low fantasy, character-driven epic we know: A hot-blooded homage to mecha series of old — rocket punch included! — filled with bear wrestling, nonsensical engineering and the burning power of hard work and determination. Even if you haven’t been keeping up with Garo, you should totally check this episode out.

Gee: I love me an episode about the power of the human spirit, and Garo delivered in spades. As Aqua said, these kind of episodes often end up being the highlights of a show’s entire run, simply because they manage to get away with introducing a ton of unfamiliar concepts and characters. Garo benefits hugely from this since honestly, while I love the show, Alphonso is kind of a dork and León is too busy brooding at a farm. We could stand to have some more lively characters. Highly entertaining mecha shenanigans aside, I was quite impressed by just how optimistic the entire episode was. A show like Garo had no obligation to have things end well for our aspiring heroes. They could have been killed, the pilot could have failed to escape in time, or one of them could have been consumed by Horrors. There are so many bleak possibilities for this episode that I was genuinely surprised by its resolution. It’s immensely satisfying to see an anime show that at the end of the day, it’s not the scale of the heroics that matter, it’s the intent and willingness to do the right thing.

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Death Parade – It’s no secret this show is really good.

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Death Parade
Episode 3

Fridays 1:30 pm EST on Funimation

Watching: Aquagaze, Artemis, Euri, Iro, Jel, Marlin

Artemis: Yet another surprising episode from Death Parade this week. Faced with the same basic formula as in the first episode, I had expected to be hit with something equally as brutal and macabre – most likely with a game that once again involved physical pain, followed up by some twisted revelation about the true natures of its players. Instead, viewers got something much softer and far less dramatic, with a rather nostalgic feel and little to no theatrics. Even the bowling balls, which struck me as pretty damn creepy at first, ended up coming across as symbol of genuine trust; both characters literally holding one another’s hearts in their hands, and no horrific secrets or hidden agendas behind their actions. It’ll be interesting to see how many episodes take this kind of route, and how many go down a darker path.

Aqua: Death Parade is an exceptional show that has consistently managed to defy expectations and increase its quality for three episodes in a row now. Last episode, a look behind the scenes of the Quindecim bar provided all new context to the pilot’s traumatizing events, and this week the nail-biting tension of the bar’s games of life and death was turned upside down. Yuzuru Tachikawa’s sombre direction made me do in ten minutes what most anime struggle to achieve throughout their run: It made me care about Death Parade‘s characters, minor victims of the week even, their relationship and their feelings towards one another; waiting in agony for the inevitable skeletons to fall out of the closet. Yet there were no skeletons, only genuine, human emotions, and a heartwarming ‘twist’ that will make you look at the show’s premise from an entirely new perspective. It’s a trick that will only work once, but it sure as hell worked well.

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Log Horizon II
Episode 16

Saturdays 7:30 am EST on Crunchyroll

Watching: Gee, Iro, Marlin, Timmy

Marlin: I’m glad this episode didn’t waste too much time on Sheroe. The biggest fear coming out of last week’s preview was her appearance railroading the fun that could be had from the kids adventuring out on their own. Their antics are fun to watch, and Rudy continues to be the best character in the show. His level of ham works for a scenario where every character is already very colorful. I do wish they would develop the relationship between him and Isuzu, as the “haha, she treats him like a dog” thing is getting a little old. As for Sheroe’s appearance, I’m still pretty wary of this development. For one, it seems kinda fishy that these kids wouldn’t notice anything amiss about a player that looks and dresses exactly like Shiroe. I also don’t get her personality. Is it like a mirror to Shiroe’s desires? She seems to role play much more than Shiroe ever has, and her personality is much more forthcoming. We’ll have to wait before anything will become clear.

Iro: I’m quite glad to have the focus back on the kids and their antics. I enjoy Shiroe’s machinations and plans a lot, but it’s nice to have a change of pace and have the younger characters go questing; that’s what MMOs are ostensibly about, after all. Rudy still brings a great energy to the crew, and I enjoy seeing the reminders that he was once a Lander who traveled around Yamato alone, meaning he has experience that none of the others do. On the less exciting side of things, I’m not super thrilled about the appearance of Roe2 (or as Marlin has dubbed her, She-roe). I’m chiefly worried that she’ll distract from what I was hoping would be a sick covered wagon adventure for the kids, particularly since the next episode preview seems to be teasing that Nureha will crash their party. I’m much rather we just have a straightforward quest that allows the kids to gain experience as Adventurers and as people rather than something that leads into a bigger plot.

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Maria the Virgin Witch – What are they doing to Kana Hanazawa???

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Maria The Virgin Witch
Episode 3

Sundays 9:30 am EST on Funimation

Watching: Aquagaze, Gee, Jel, Iro, Marlin

Marlin: I know I gave this show quite the lashing last episode, but I feel I’d be remiss to judge the entire story by that one episode. I find the idea of this virginity depowering thing coming from God weird, considering if Maria really is such a problem it doesn’t make sense that there would be a condition on limiting her powers. The idea of her actions not being visible 100% of the time, combined with the divine intervention early on, seems to imply that God and the angels are not directly connected. Does this mean they do not directly speak for God? The idea is strange, but it’s the only thing I can think of. This episode also seems to be a bit more forgiving of its portrayal of people of the faith. Brother Bernard was perfectly polite and willing to meet with Maria even though she is a sinner. It’s Maria who is shown to have her own faults, as it seems she lets her pride get the better of her. I can accept she does not want to partner with the church, but to insult someone who came to her in good faith was unmistakably rude. I hope this incident doesn’t somehow turn him into wanting to murder her or something nonsensical like that, as that would just be a terrible development.

Jel: I want to fully embrace what Maria is trying to do but I’ve having some trouble taking it seriously. It’s raising some really meaningful questions but stapling them onto a pervy anime comedy core. The one example that I’d use to sum up my thoughts is the question of Ezekiel, a supposed pious servant of God, showing up in a micro dress. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt because the show is smart enough to address it, but when the answer is “I don’t play by human rules” are they trying to say something or did they just want to add another scantily clad character? I’m still impressed overall with how bold the show has been and like I said, it raises some important questions that I think are worth discussing, but I fear it’s trying to play both sides of the issues.

Aqua: Y’all are ridiculous, this show is great. Like Marlin pointed out, this show seems to be taking the deistic point of view, i.e. God actually does exist, but He does not intervene, and in fact, relies on His angels to keep an eye on the world and take care of any problems. The interesting part is, however, that nothing indicates that the angels actually know what God wants — as they seem mostly hell-bent on maintaining the status quo and the show has been rather vague on whether its God is a fundamentally benevolent one, or one just as self-righteous and uptight as His servants. The ultimatum Michael imposes on Maria is a lot more unambiguous, however — He shows her mercy because she uses her powers for good, even though she is a heretic and disrupts the order God has created, because she is ‘pure’. Only if she stops being pure (i.e. loses her virginity), she’ll start posing a problem. By Michael’s logic, when Maria is no longer ‘pure’, her intent cannot possibly be altruistic anymore. This development adds another creative layer to the juxtaposition of ‘pure’ as in ‘pure of heart’ and ‘pure’ as in ‘chaste’ the show has been exploring from the beginning. Maria’s new angel supervisor, Ezekiel, is ‘pure’ in the latter meaning, but she’s rude, arrogant, spiteful and self-righteous, while the succubi, though promiscuous and ‘deviant’ by nature, really do care about Maria and want to help her make a better world. Maria the Virgin Witch has no shame in the slightest, but it frames its pervy (and actually pretty funny) jokes in a satirical, meaningful context that I can’t help but love.

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Yatterman Night – Giant robots provided courtesy of Dr. Wily

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Yatterman Night
Episode 3

Sundays 10:30 am EST on Funimation

Watching: Gee, Iro, Jel, Marlin

Gee: Yatterman Night continues to prove that robot shenanigans and genuine heart make for a winning combination. In addition to Allouette, we meet Galina, a seemingly callous man who leaves his fate to the dice. Overall, I feel this episode is a good indicator of the kind of show Yatterman Night aspires to be. It has some of the grit and drama that Casshern Sins brought to the table, but it replaces its bleakness with a pure optimism and energy that makes it refreshing to watch. I’m not even sure which moment I enjoyed more: Leopard’s inspiring promise to protect the innocent from the Yattermen, or her crew piloting a giant robot, leading to what might be the first occasion of the “villains blasting into the sky” trope being used as an offensive maneuver. If nothing else, this episode is a great display of the various elements that work toward making its whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Iro: It’s not often that a show manages some proper emotion while still being humorous. Yatterman Night‘s bizarre, bleak, post-apocalyptic world lends a certain weight to even its most ridiculous moments, like Galina striking a silly pose to greet the robotic Yatterman troops. In other shows, Doronbow’s crazy antics would cause too much contrast with the rest of the tone, but Yatterman manages to play them off as defiantly optimistic in the face of adversity; as Doronjo says, winning isn’t important as long as they don’t lose, Hopefully the show can keep up both the heart and the humor.

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2 thoughts on “The Roundup: Winter 2015 Volume 2

    • Probably not, we’re not really big Precure fans here, and it’s coming pretty late in the game as far as First Looks go. If I have some free time I might check it out, but no promises.

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