One thing I’ll say for this new incarnation of Lupin III – it absolutely drips style from every pore. It’s swimming in cool, this one – from the music to the wardrobes to the dialogue, the show just plain gets it when it comes to the vibe it’s going for. Not a huge surprise given that Okada Mari and Satou Dai are writing for it, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
Episode two is a different sort of caper than the first, as Mine gets herself caught up in a war between a strange casino owner named Ciccolina (Tanaka Atsuko) and her ex-bodyguard – and Lupin regular – Jigen Daisuke (Kobayashi Kiyoshi). It’s interesting seeing the Lupin-verse (which I know only casually) reimagined from Fujiko’s POV, and she’s almost a sort of facilitator here, as Ciccolina tricks her into owing her a big favor when she loses a winner-takes-all bet at the roulette wheel. It was clear from the beginning that there was a lot more going on between Ciccolina and Jigen than she was letting on. Ciccolina, death-obsessed and somewhat twisted, was a weird kind of anti-heroine – but it was Jigen’s world-weary ruthlessness that carried the episode. That, and the overwhelming cool factor – I especially loved the insert song that ran in the B Part of the ep.
My only complaint about this episode – and indeed the series, if things progress as they seem to be – is the lack of Lupin himself. I knew he wasn’t the MC here, but my favorite moments of the premiere were still the ones where he was on-screen, thanks in no small part to Kurita Kanchi. Still, there’s an awful lot to like – Fujiko is undeniably sexy as hell, and this series is really subverting the notion of “fanservice” in general – it’s not fanservice, it’s just sex. It’s altogether less naïve but much more honest than what usually passes for service in anime. In a different season on a different schedule, I’d be spending a lot more time on Lupin III – it’s that good. But Thursdays this Spring necessitate some hard choices, and covering this show with brevity is one of those choices.
Kore wa Zombie desu ka? Of the Dead – 02
I’m very conflicted on whether to continue to cover this series, as I very much fear what happened in the first season – the jokes cycling and getting repetitive and losing their punch – will happen again. There are a few small differences – Saras in obviously going to play a larger role, there’s Chris the Booze Fairy, and maybe (hopefully) Yuki will be more of a factor as well. But basically the shtick seems about the same – Ayumu crossdresses, Ayumu gets abused, Sera is a chore, Haruna is genki. I’m not sure there’s going to be enough here to keep this feeling fresh, but we’ll see.
My favorite part of this ep was indeed “Tomonori”, mostly because unlike the rest of the main cast apart from Eu she treats Ayumu perfectly nicely. Saras is also interesting in that she seems to be an interesting twist on the tsundere trope, in that she takes it 100% literally – she’s totally tsun and dere simultaneously. The bit with Ayumu’s schoolmates deciding he was actually cool instead of pervy and pathetic was amusing briefly, though the whole Youtube thing never reached even that level. And interestingly, Kyoko showed up at the end, in the company (though unwillingly) of Dai-sensei. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a callback to that so early in the season.
Ginga e Kickoff – 01
When Erika told Shou, “You wore me down with your persistence”, that pretty much captured how I felt about Ginga e Kickoff.
Listen, I’m under no illusions that many Westerners will watch this series. But that’s their problem, not mine, and if you’re someone who can appreciate really well-made kids anime, this should be in your rotation. It’s definitely a kids series, but Ginga e Kickoff packs so much energy, determination and cheerfulness into 22 minutes that anyone capable of having fun themselves should be able to enjoy it. The pedigree here will surprise you, too – Tyo Animations brought in Uda Konosuke (One Piece, Galaxy Express 999 Eternal Fantasy, Lovely Complex) to direct, James Shimoji (Redline) to do the music, and Yamada Takashi (Onegai My Melody, Shion no Ou, Yumeiro Patisserie) to adapt Kawabata Hiroto’s manga.
Ginga e Kickoff – like its hero Ota Shou (Kobayashi Yuu) – knows only one speed, and that’s full-steam ahead. It’s the story of a sixth-grade soccer player whose team is disbanded, and his quest to find a coach and teammates to bring it back to life. Along the way he meets transfer student Takato Erika (Nakatsu Mariko) – a much better player than he – and her soccer-playing dog. They also cross paths with Nadeshiko team member Shimizu Misaki (Kuwashima Houko), rehabbing from injury, and she befriends the kids and inspires Shou to go forward. There’s also Hanashiro Masaru (the always great Koyama Rikiya) who appears to be a drunk in the park but seems destined to coach the kids eventually. Shou’s Mom Haruka (Neya Michiko) owns a restaurant, at which the boy ably helps out when needed. The excellent cast is also going to feature Hosoya Yoshimasa, Rie Tanaka, and Kenn, among others.
With a cast and staff like that, you’d figure this would be more than a generic kiddie show – and you’d be right. The pacing is relentless, the cast amped up and energetic (no one does amped quite like Yuu-san), and the animation is excellent – the soccer scenes are artfully staged and well-animated, and the facial expressions hilariously over the top (think Avatar: the Last Airbender). The triumph of the Nadeshiko in the World Cup seems to have sparked a new peak of interest in soccer in Japan – that great moment is referenced here – and this looks like a show that will celebrate achievements of both girls and boys. And the fun part is, because this is sixth-grade, Shou and Erika can be teammates – I haven’t seen a sports series featuring grade-schoolers on this level since S1 of Major. Shou states the nature of his ambition in the very first scene, imaging his Predators team at no less than Camp Nou, challenging F.C. Barcelona and Lionel Messi. I don’t have expectations that lofty for Ginga e Kickoff, but I do expect it to be a lot of fun to watch.
Finally, I did watch Medaka Box this week, and felt pretty much the same as I did after the first episode. I think the word that best sums up that feeling is “generic” – whatever game Nisio is playing here, it isn’t really working for me. I’ll check back after the legendary genre change, and see if I like it any better than. In another season I’d give this a little more time based on GAINAX, but this is not recognizably GAINAX in any way I can see and there’s just too much good stuff this season.