The digging out process continues…
Amaama to Inazuma – 01
Let’s face it: anime doesn’t tend to do too well with stories about children this age. There are exceptions of course, like Usagi Drop, but a whole lot of saccharine treacle for every one of those. But we don’t get many series featuring parents in prominent roles – especially fathers – and director Iwasaki Tarou made an awfully good impression with Isshuukan Friends. So my anticipation level going into this premiere was mixed.
My reaction is a little bit mixed, too, though mostly positive. Tsumugi (Endou Rina – she’s 10, you may remember her from Barakamon) is cute, but you don’t have to try too hard to make four year-olds cute so that’s not a revelation. There is a little too much fixation on her mugging for the camera, but it stays just on the “giri giri seefu”side of intolerable – for now. And Tsumugi’s relationship with her father Kouhei (Nakamura Yuuichi) is fairly natural and appealing. He’s a widower, and balancing taking care of his daughter with his duties as a high school teacher. The biggest problem is that Kouhei is a hopeless cook, which means Tsumugi suffers through konbini and takeout bentos for pretty much every meal.
Enter Iida Kotori (Hayami Saori) one of Kouhei’s students who has a chance meeting with him and Tsumugi during an o-hayami at the park. He doesn’t recognize her, but Tsumugi breaks the ice and eventually the pair walk away with a business card from Iida’s family restaurant and an invitation to come dine. The scene at the restaurant (at the far end of a winding alley lined with paper lanterns) where Kotori struggles to figure out how to make rice is easily the best of the episode – slow, uncomfortable but very real. Rice is such a huge deal to the Japanese, so much more than a simple food item, and the very spiritual way in which Kotori approaches her first solo attempt at preparing pot rice is evidence of that. It seems like a lot of fuss over a pot of simple rice, not even a meal in itself – but it’s true to life.
I’m certainly more than interested enough to sign on for now, though just what the half-life of Amaama to Inazuma is I can’t yet say. Tsumugi’s act might wear thin, and if the show tries to romantically pair Kouhei and Kotori that would be pretty icky. I’m thinking there’s more to this story than what we’ve seen so far, and it’s just how good that “more” is that will determine whether this series has staying power or not.
Tales of Zestiria the X – 01
So, usual disclaimer here – I know little of the game this series is based on, and I didn’t see the first series from 2014. I guess it doesn’t seem that surprising, then, that I found the first episode pretty routine. But that’s certainly not always the case with shows like this. ufotable certainly delivers impressive visuals, and they do an admirable job of blending their CG in with their drawn animation. But the story seems about as generic as it comes to me. Might give this one more ep, but if the season is as packed as early returns indicate, I might not be able to allocate the time.
Cheer Danshi!! – 01
I guess the decision to preview and cover the first episode of this one most obviously comes down to two things – loyalty to Brain’s Base, and the sheer oddity of the premise in anime terms. But there are a couple of more important factors that made this show just a bit more interesting than it might seem. First, the staff is very solid – the director is Yoshimura Ai, who helmed two series in Ao Haru Ride and Yahari where the direction was better than the material, and writer Yoshida Reiko is hugely experienced and often excellent. Then there’s the fact that the source material is an actual novel with the word “light” nowhere to be found, and its author Asai Ryou has garnered considerable acclaim in Japan and even abroad – his Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutte yo was adapted into a film which won the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture, and the respected British magazine Granta named him as one of its “Best Young Japanese Novelists” (he’s 27) this year. Finally, the setting is a college – and why the hell doesn’t that happen more often in anime?
So – underdog series figuring to get little attention, Brain’s Base and an intriguing pedigree, that’s more than enough to stamp the ticket. And I did like the premiere of Cheer Danshi!!. Yeah, the animation is pretty middling, but one can tell that more than the premise is not at all standard for anime here. The character designs for one, especially protagonist Bandou Haruki (Yona Yuki), who’s mousy-haired and rather plain, not fitting into any standard visual trope. There’s also a rather deliberate style to the storytelling and a very conversational tone in the dialogue. Cheer Danshi!! (perhaps ironically, given the premise) never seems to be trying too hard.
It remains to be seen whether the story is going to take off, but there are some nice elements in the premiere. I liked the hints at the strong emotional connection between Haruki and his older sister Haruko (Fujimura Ayumi), who’s inherited the family’s vaunted judo genius which has eluded Haruki. Sugita Tomokazu has some very funny moments as the very odd Mizuguchi Wataru (that bit with the window cracked me up) the first guy Haruki’s best friend Hashimoto Kazuma (Okamoto Nobuhiko) manages to recruit to the men’s cheer club he forms to try and give Haruki a new passion in life.
To be honest, I have no interest in cheerleading itself either in real life or as a subject for fiction. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be part of an interesting story – we’ll see. I like the sense that everyone in the cast has their own story to tell, and there’s a good deal of emotional subtlety at work in the premiere if you look for it. Plus, Asai gets points for acknowledging that for most college dudes, being on a cheerleading squad would at least initially be embarrassing. There’s potential here, though for the moment it’s mostly just that. Lets give it a few weeks and see how it goes.