It’s been a strange week of blogging for me, cobbling together whatever time and resources I could to try and keep up with the barrage of new premieres and the continuing flow of old series while dealing with illness, visiting relatives and yowai-fi at a hostel. Well, I’m writing this one from the Shinkansen (with no wifi at all) and i have one day before my friend from the USA arrives and I’m back at square one, so I’m going to try and catch up as much as I can.
We start out with Donten ni Warau, one of the odder premieres of the season. The trend so far this season has been interesting but flawed first episodes that don’t give much clarity about long-term prospects, and this one is certainly no different. I’m not quite sure just what to make of it, to be honest – it wavers between slapstick, melodrama and action seemingly at will and with varying degrees of success. There’s a certain goofy charm to it, to be sure, and the combat scenes really aren’t bad. But some of the humour is pretty awkward and it suffers from a noticeable case of clumsy exposition in the first episode.
The plot centers around the three Kumoh Brothers, inheritors of a Shrine and seemingly a school of swordsmanship. Their parents are dead, and they make a living helping the government capture and transport criminals to a fictional island prison in Lake Biwa – and business is booming, with Ronin everywhere in the dawning of the Meiji Era. Eldest brother Tenka (Nakamura Yuiichi) has stepped into the parent role and also provides the muscle and skill in the group. Middle brother Senmaru (Kaji Yuuki) longs to earn his brothers respect but is a bit of a crybaby, and youngest Chutaro (Yonaga Tsubasa) is a genki bozu who ends every sentence with a cheerful “-su!” and relies on his speed to be useful to Ten-ni.
I like stories about the relationship between brothers, and there’s the making of a good one here. I like Meiji stories too. But right now I’m not sure just what kind of show Donten ni Warau is trying to be, and whether it has the chops to pull it off. Reviews of the manga seem pretty mixed, and anytime you give Kaji Yuuki (who’s depressingly omnipresent again this season) emotional moments like he has in this ep your credibility is going to take a hit. The cast and the way the three brothers slot into archetypes leads me to believe that this might be a show like Hakkenden which is aimed primarily at a female audience – but that’s really just a guess. I’m not close to a decision on this one, so there’s nothing for it but to stay the course.
Shingeki no Bahamut – 01
This one was sort of on the fringes of my awareness going into the season (primarily because it’s a relatively rare MAPPA production) but it seems to have generated as much positive buzz as any premiere so far. Going in I knew basically nothing about it apart from those two things, and that it’s based on a card game I also know nothing about.
My verdict is that the premiere is indeed pretty good. It’s a bit of a thrill ride, loading up the action, pratfalls and fanservice pretty much non-stop from the starter’s pistol. It also errs on the side of explaining too little rather than too much, which I much prefer as a rule – rather than clumsy exposition I’d just as soon be left to guess and put the pieces together in time. The cast is good – Yoshino Hiroyuki has some nice comedic moments as the protagonist, the bounty hunter Favaro. MAPPA as ever delivers some nice visuals, though nothing like their best. And I rather like the soundtrack with it’s old-school creepy chorale leanings.
Still, truth be told I’d be hard-pressed to go past “pretty good”. The execution is solid but not brilliant, and there’s no indication yet of anything truly exceptional in either the premise or character dynamics. I won’t say I don’t get what all the fuss is about, because I sort of do – this was an episode that was confident and competent, very clear on what it was trying to accomplish and doing so with aplomb. But for me it’s another in the long list of Fall premieres that fall into the grey area between truly compelling and mediocre. I’ll certainly keep an eye on it for at least another week – which seems to be the case with almost every new show I’ve watched.