Muteking the Dancing Hero #2-4 – As Muteki settles into his new life in Neo San Francisco, he starts to embrace his role as the city’s newest hero, even despite the awkward attention that comes with fame. Bigger problems lurk in the background, but he’s focused on the things that matter to a 14-year-old, like what his friends think of a new look and just what his relationship with the nice waitress at the local diner is.
These episodes are mainly focused on building out the ensemble around Muteki. He now has a friend group of oddballs hanging out in a literal underground arcade and a possible girlfriend who is possibly also a robot under OctiNQ’s control. He’s found out what his dad and sister are up to these days.
We also learn that Neo San Francisco’s mayor has been missing for some time, and no one seems terribly concerned about it other than DJ and Muteki’s grandmother, partly because OctiNQ is right there with an offer to run the city instead. OctiNQ’s tentacles are already nearly everywhere anyway; even people who don’t sign up to be
Prime Life Members have to use its payment system, are exposed to its ads, and so forth.
So far the monster-fighting aspect follows the same formula every week, where a trendy new thing appears and starts turning people into sludge, DJ saves Muteki from it, and then Muteki transforms and kicks monster butt. But it is still done with more visual creativity than it demands; in fact, my only complaint so far is that Muteking himself is stuck with the exact same animation every episode, while no other animation is ever reused.
The Heike Story #2-6 – Taira no Kiyomori grows ever more bold in the use of his power. Having married his daughter into the royal family, he pushes harder and harder to bring the entire government under his control while ignoring the problems of the populace. The opposition to the Taira clan gathers around the Minomoto clan, known as the Genji, and urges it to fight the Heike.
These episodes race ahead through several years to the first battles of the Gempei War. Here the pattern starts to be set for Japan’s shogunates: an emperor in the prime of his life forced to retire, a child placed on the throne, and the real power being held by a member of the samurai class.
It also becomes very clear here that the keepers of the epic poems this is ultimately based on were Buddhist monks. The one happy conclusion to anyone’s story is when two rival dancers decide to give the middle finger to the entire system and become best friends in a nunnery. One of the noblest characters is the one who tries very hard to spare monks from being slaughtered at imperial hands, and he is the person who has his prayer answered, though it turns out he should have been careful what he wished for.
This is a show to be watched with historical reference material handy, but it does a fine job of keeping all the characters individually recognizable as it hurtles through the years. And the art and presentation are still great.
Ranking of Kings #2 – Bojji’s apparent excellence at fighting is dismissed by the nobility because kings in this world cannot be dexterity-based fighters; meanwhile, Kage looks back on his life so far and determines that he is going to help this kid.
Kage’s backstory includes first finding out that he’s been born into a clan that will kill absolutely anyone if ordered to and which has no recourse if any of them die; the entire clan being killed and their corpses dangling from their enemies’ lances; poverty, hunger, and another round of betrayal by an unscrupulous criminal. But it also includes allies who helped him at his moment of greatest peril, who will no doubt be turning up again later, and it shows why pity for Bojji finally breaks through his cynical exterior.
This is a show with emotional manipulation turned up to 11, and yet it executes so very well that you can’t help but come back for more. Watch this and you will want Bojji to strike back at the mean people, the cruel people, and the well-meaning idiots in his life somehow.
Rumble Garanndoll #2-3 – No sooner is Hosomichi spirited back to the rebel base than the True Country military is scoping it out for an attack and he is urgently needed for another stint as a pilot. While the base does have some defenses of its own, they only seem to buy time for Hosomichi to fail and fail again.
These episodes show that there is a method to Rumble Garanndoll‘s madness. There are reasons why Hosomichi has been given a hosting background, why his loan shark is in the story, and even a use for the victory poles scattered randomly about town. It also definitely has underlying thoughts about Japan’s militaristic past which show through here and there, like the reveal that the enemy mechs, which are easily defeated by the rebels when their own mech is pumped up with fannish feelings, are merely motivated by patriotic fervor.
The rebels themselves are a wholly likeable bunch of weirdos. Hosomichi isn’t entirely sympathetic, but by the end of episode 3 he has begun to see and understand the flaws he needs to come to terms with. There is a solid story underneath all the crazy which is worth following.
Sakugan #2-3 – Memempu and Gagumber set out on their quest to follow the map and find the tower haunting Memempu’s dreams. But they are barely out of the city when another kaiju attacks, and after that Memempu’s overconfidence nearly gets her eaten by a swarm of giant bugs.
The big question after episode 1 was, is the coolness of everything else in this show going to be blotted out by Gagumber’s aggravating incompetence and immaturity? And I’m happy to say he has been toned way down, and even turns out to be a little useful. Granted, his competencies so far consist of driving a mech slightly better than a nine-year-old and making instant noodles, but it’s enough to get the focus where it should be, on Memempu and her fantastic adventure.
Not much is filled in about the overall world, but the details we get are intriguing. Though the Labyrinth is a wilderness in many ways, it’s full of working electricity and abandoned artifacts. The kaiju and other creatures are definitely homing in on Memempu somehow. And something is causing more and more earthquakes and landslides. It all suggests a world in the final stages of collapse, and Memempu having to find the way to an entirely new life.
With the pacing settling down and Gagumber no longer an impediment to enjoying the show, this is looking good.
Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut #2-4 – Lev becomes Irina’s constant companion, putting her through her paces in training, showing her around town in her downtime, and sharing thoughts with her about what brought each of them into the space program. Irina sails through almost everything effortlessly, but turns out to have one very human weakness.
It becomes clear that Irina is more than competent enough for spaceflight, and the main threats to her come from the people who’d like to see her quietly gotten rid of afterward and the rushed program which may result in her not even surviving the flight. Much like in its real-world counterpart, the UZSR sets its deadlines more by political considerations than engineering ones. In the background of one episode, it’s covering up its own version of the Nedelin disaster. Lev himself notes that their government doesn’t recognize the word “failure”, just “accident” and “purge”.
There are a few moments of tedious light-novel tropes, like the vampire researcher getting unnecessarily handsy with Irina. But the show more than makes up for it by nailing its high notes, like Irina’s first experience of flight. It is yet another one worth your while.
The Faraway Paladin #2-3 – As Will approaches the age of adulthood, his training intensifies, and he starts having to fight real enemies. And then, on the eve of his adulthood ceremony, he finally learns the whole story of his guardians and the dead city they watch over.
The Faraway Paladin continues to minimize the elements that are played up in so many anime portal fantasies these days. The world isn’t overtly gamelike, and Will continues to build up his skills mainly through hard work, with memories of his previous life hardly affecting his current one. There are points here and there where the RPG-like fantasy world substrate shows through, but this continues to feel refreshingly different.
One of those points is when Blood and Mary finally spill their backstory. There was a Dark Lord, and they and Gus almost managed to defeat him— but they finally had to settle for temporarily binding him and accepting an agreement from the god of the undead that would let them watch over the binding far beyond their allotted lifespans.
A side effect of the agreement is that none of the heroes knows what’s happened in the outside world since their battle. They believe there must be a human settlement nearby that Will was stolen from as an infant, but when Will sets out on his adventures he will be armed with geographical and political knowledge which could be centuries out of date.
At this point, one can believe that those adventures will be as familiar and yet as much better than most other anime fantasy adventures as this show has been so far.
The Vampire Dies in No Time #2 – Having a vampire camped out in his office is bad enough, especially when the authorities take an official interest, but Ronaldo has other problems that he can’t blame on Draluc. Like the fact that he’s been promising his editor volume 2 of his memoir, hasn’t written anything, and the editor has decided to take this very seriously.
The editor’s visit and its horror framing are the high point of this episode. The other half is much like the first episode— still funny, but a tier below everything else in this week’s post. There’s nothing wrong with keeping on watching this, but this is going to be the first show crowded out of the lineup.
At least The Vampire Dies in No Time is easy to cut, but that leaves us with seven shows to fit into a maximum of five blogging slots. And those seven shows are all so good that I can’t make the final cut on quality and will have to pick them so as to get a variety of stories, settings, and styles.
So here’s the final decision: I’ll follow Ranking of Kings, Sakugan, Rumble Garanndoll, Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut, and The Faraway Paladin. Muteking and The Heike Story will go on the list to be revisited the next times I’m travelling and need to write a column ahead of time.