Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend: Second Episode Syndrome

The second episode of a new anime seems, in many cases, to be the hardest. Similar to how hotshot artists need to justify their often critically-acclaimed debut with a sophomore effort, it’s here that the writers must prove that the first episode was not a lucky shot and that the obligatory plot elements introduced in the first episode are actually leading up to a compelling story. Usually it’s the second episode that finalizes the main characterisation of the protagonists; if the first episode didn’t make entirely clear who the heck we’re dealing with here, episode 2 sure will.

On the other hand, episode 2 is also charged with the duty of explaining every single plot point and introducing characters that didn’t make it into the first one, because actual characterisation and plot progress is often strictly off-limits in most first episodes. This is however not a bad thing. No one wants to watch a pilot episode that does nothing but shove bits of info and characters down your throat, hoping you’ll still remember all the names and lingo the following week.

It’s here however that a problem comes in: most writers and directors don’t seem to realize that the rules that apply to first episodes also apply to every other episode. Because of this, a lot of second episodes turn into infodump hells, doing the exact same thing the first episode tried not to.

Not even Ferris Nyanyan can break the barrier of grey shadiness.

Steins;Gate managed to avoid this trap pretty well by actually dividing all the knowledge required for following the story amongst its two first episodes. Last week, we got the (enormous) infodump and this week we are introduced to the rest of the cast, once again at a breakneck pace. It’s painfully obvious Steins;Gate was adapted from a visual novel, given from the massive amounts of estrogen present in this episode. It’s quite funny to see all the harem/moe archetypes in an otherwise serious sci-fi thriller, especially since Hanasaku Iroha is the only thing that comes close to a contender this season in terms of sheer d’aaw.

It’s still like searching for the light switch in a pitch-dark room trying to figure out just what any of these girls is going to have to do with the time-travelling plot. However, the same thing could be said about any aspect of Steins;Gate. For some reason, John Titor, the famous self-proclaimed time-traveler Okarin admires so much, has suddenly vanished from history and nobody seems to remember anything about him and his ‘contributions’ to the dubious field of time travel-ology.

Okarin’s own scientific achievements seem to border on the completely random though. Last week, he managed to send a text message to the past and turn a banana into green booger and this week, he achieved something even more ‘wait did I really just do that?’ by teleporting a banana using the very same microwave. If it goes on like this, Tokyo is under severe threat of a bananuclear meltdown.

Too soon?

Just how strange does it get when the wacky alien is your most normal-looking character?

On the other hand, [C]: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control’s second episode fit this syndrome rule to a T. The first 10 minutes were quite the drag to sit through, seemingly wasting precious time –remember, as a noitaminA show, [C] will have only 11 episodes- with protagonist Kimimaro Yoga’s extremely uninteresting daily and love life. Most of this introduction was marred by some occasionally hideous off-model character design and animation that made Fairy Tail look like a Studio Ghibli movie in comparison. While most of the character designs themselves are great, seeing them stand completely still next to each other talking is not, especially in a scene that is supposed to be emotional.

Things change for the better though with the introduction of the Financial District, where candidates in ‘the game’ battle each other using virtual monsters summoned through cards. It’s painfully obvious where the entire budget went, and the Financial District looks absolutely brilliant. It’s also here where the soundtrack starts to shine through, bringing us a weird mix of Durarara!!’s jazz and electro.

Nevertheless, [C] sure is showing a lot of potential. While initially, the characters and main premise may look a bit dull, I absolutely refuse to believe that a noitaminA show with the screenwriter of Baccano! and Durarara!! behind the wheel will turn out to just be a slightly more serious Yu-Gi-Oh! spin-off. The arrival of Manshu (voiced by the ever-lovable Haruka Tomatsu), a strange horned creature similar to the one accompanying the presumed main villain Soichiro Mikuni (voiced by newcomer Daisuke Hosomi) sure brought a twist to the otherwise mundane plot. Even the OP and ED alone are enough to keep me coming back. Just bear with me calling it [Q]: Quality: the Lack Of Money of Soul and Animation Quality from time to time.

And that wraps Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend up for this week. Sorry for the low number of shows covered (Jon’s Battle Girls segment is missing as well because that guy is even busier than I am) but hey, blame my parents for a) giving birth to me on the 16th of April, b) organizing a lot of activities in honour of this birthday around the 16th of April and c) dragging me to France for a whole week. Yup, I’m in yaoiland again. The French Dinosaur King dub sucks.

Next week, a full-fledged schedule again!