Never fear, Marina is here with the start of her summer reviews! I may have skipped out on my usual set menu at the start of the season, but there’s no way I was going to miss out on my final thoughts for the surviving shows on my list. As a whole, I found this summer season a bit lackluster in content, but there were still a few shining exceptions to keep me going until the fall. Included here are a couple of surprises, one disappointment, and a reliable win of a show. Let me know what you thought of these series!
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.
One of my biggest surprises this season was Harukana Receive, a show about girls playing beach volleyball. While there isn’t anything particularly unique about what this show offers, what it does present us satisfies where so many others in its genre do not. There are shortcomings, yes, but the positives vastly outnumber them.
Take, for example, the sport itself: beach volleyball. While the activity has its place in plenty of staple beach scenes, I can’t recall any sports anime specifically centering on it. The closest title we have feature indoor volleyball, like the extremely popular show (for good reason) Haikyuu! We are reminded of the differences between the two, the literal obstacles an open environment creates for the players like wind and sand. I get the impression the original creator and the anime staff honestly enjoy the sport and respect the athletes. Sure, beach volleyball means swimsuits, and this being a girl sports anime, you can be sure to see a steady stream of mild fan service in the camera angles. I never felt the tone to be overly voyeuristic.
Then there are the players themselves, all young women with a love for the game. There are scenes between different girls meant to indulge a viewer’s fantasies, and the player pairs all have their own memorable monikers, like Claire and Emily being referred to constantly as “Eclair.” I don’t harbor any hopes for romantic pairings, but I do appreciate the friendships that form between all the girls. We also receive a healthy dose of “rivals make you stronger” that is all too common in sports and shonen anime, a viewpoint I very much believe.
At its core, Harukana Receive is a simple underdog story about two girls, one new to the sport but excited to learn, and the other a veteran with trauma to overcome. The story pushes us through training and matches at a wonderfully steady pace with hardly any slowing down or overdone back story. By the time the show was over, I was left grinning and hopeful about all of the girls and their futures as beach volleyball players and friends.
Rating: 1 dango
There’s no end in sight for the love Japanese hold for baseball, and it’s a fandom I’m glad to partake in…when it’s in anime-form. There’s something irresistible about the pitcher’s mound and the thwack of a ball as it hits the catcher’s mitt, or the sight of a homer flying far beyond the confines of the field. So many of my sports anime involve baseball, and I’m proud to include Major 2nd among them.
While this particular review centers on Major 2nd, it’s important to note that this is actually the child to an older, longstanding classic from whence it received its name: Major. That story ran a full course from grade school all the way to adulthood, and we see a bit of the same here in the continuation. This time its the next generation, the children of the previous athletes, taking up the bat.
One of the many reasons for why I love this series so much is the flip on roles by the children of the pro athletes. Daigo wants nothing more than to pitch a ball rivaling that of his father’s, but reality falls short of his expectations—and he’s not the only one. We see quite a few children hailing from baseball households dealing with history and experience in different ways.
Another aspect about Major 2nd that really impressed me was its treatment of female athletes. Daigo’s mother once played, and his older sister pitches for her team. Then there’s Sakura, a classmate who grew up playing with her brothers, never expecting to step into an official game as an athlete in her right. I loved seeing her progression as a player and a lover of baseball.
The show certainly wasn’t perfect as there were plenty of areas I would have liked to see removed or handled differently. One prime example is Daigo’s family. His father being a pro player is obviously absent for a good majority of the series, and I can’t help but feel a bit of resentment on Daigo’s behalf for the lack of guidance. Then there’s his mother and sister who practically forced him into an activity he no longer wanted to do. Another place I found weak in the show was the twist near the end. The shock factor didn’t really serve any real purpose for storytelling, and any claim to character growth falls short.
If Major 2nd plans to follow the example of its predecessor, then we will hopefully see continuations in the future as our characters progress through school. This first step grounded their expectations and set us up in a wonderful place for development and fierce competition.
Rating: 1 dango
Holmes of Kyoto
Antique shops have always exuded a magical aura to me, the whisper of a promise of wealth and fame. Some places seemed impeccably organized into rows of fragile glass, perfume bottles of women long dead and gone, jewelry boxes faintly glimmering under layers of time. Others seemed more like funky gift stores, with that odd wooden cat carving that doesn’t seem to hold any purpose other than gathering dust on a random shelf, or a feathered hat no person would wear even if attending a horse race. But that possibility made antique shops all the more exciting.
When I first heard about Holmes of Kyoto, I was obviously intrigued. Here was a show proclaiming not only a mystery genre and title, but also clearly set in an antique store, a Kyoto antique store. I wouldn’t have mattered who the director, studio, writer, or staff were; I was all in right from the start. Perhaps its that unshakable determination that made the reality of the series too difficult for me to acknowledge.
Holmes of Kyoto may call itself a mystery, but it really doesn’t know what it wants to do. Much of the the time is spent considering romantic relationships, both past and present. Then there are the episodic mysteries themselves, which turned out to be far less interesting than I had hoped. Just like one of the show’s protagonists repeatedly explains, “Holmes” has nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes and everything to do with an interpretation of his surname. There are scenarios, yes. Our characters are called in to puzzle out answers. But each case has a very normal, boring explanation.
Despite my disappointment in the storytelling craft and characters, I stuck with the show in the hopes of a change, a raising of the stakes, so to speak. This never happened. Instead, we tread further into romance territory between our two protagonists. I wouldn’t have minded had this been handled well, but I just didn’t feel the chemistry between them. A large reason for that was his way of repeatedly referring to Aoi as a child, or describing her attempts as “growing up” (he’s 22 and she’s around 15). Anime has this way of warping ages and appearances of characters. I would have preferred this show not taken the romance angle at all given reality and their wishy-washy treatment of the characters.
Rating: 0 dango
Encouragement of Climb Season 3
When I dropped the original Encouragement of Climb three seasons ago, I had no way of knowing how much I would end up loving this series. The crazy me of the past was turned off by the original 5-minute episodes of what seemed to be cute girls simply walking through nature, but I was so, so wrong. Thanks to the praise by several of my peers, I returned to the series and finished it within the hour. When the second season was announced, I was overjoyed to hear about the increase in episode length. The third season continued the 15-minute examples of the second series, and delved even further into the characters’ motivations and connections to one another.
While the second season is still my favorite installment to date, this third installment increased the focus on our main characters in wonderful and unexpected ways. We already started to get a glimpse of conflict in Aoi’s struggle with Mt. Fuji, so the later misunderstandings and jealousies between her and Hina felt like a natural progression of the story. What did surprise me was the equal attention paid to both girls; I didn’t expect to experience so much confusion through Hina’s eyes, a girl who for most of the episodes seemed impervious to doubt. These past several weeks reminded me of her sensitivity not only as a friend, but as a person separate from Aoi. The show may have been a bit heavy handed with the drama from time to time, but I appreciated the overall direction.
With all of the physical and emotional growth we’ve experienced over these past few seasons in Encouragement of Climb, I’m excited to see what the future brings: a fourth season with more mountains, revenge taken on Mt. Fuji, and even more delicious hiking food?
Rating: 1 dango
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