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Three-Episode Test: Alex's Winter 2017

Returning favorites and a new letdown.

Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why. In this entry, disappointment in the new is contrasted by returning and continuing favorites.

Masamune-kun’s Revenge

Streaming on Crunchyroll
True to its title, Masamune-kun’s Revenge centers around Masamune Makabe, a teenage boy seeking revenge on those who bullied him for being overweight as a child. Thanks to a strict diet and obsession with being thin, Makabe has “matured” into a vain high-schooler whose fixation on his appearance is rivaled only by his thirst for revenge against a girl named Aki Adagaki, who called him "pig's foot" when he was a chubby youngster.

I wish I could say the first few episodes lay the groundwork for an insightful story about the struggles of youth, eating disorders, and the harmful effects of bullying, but the unlikeable characters and tasteless fanservice leave me feeling otherwise. The one interesting narrative twist that suggests the show may have something meaningful to say is Adagaki’s binge eating habit. It serves as a foil to the actions of the now weight-obsessed boy she once bullied and hints at underlying emotional issues that, if handled properly, could explore how one’s food obsession can be an unhealthy coping mechanism. Will it deliver? I’m not getting my hopes up.

Will Makabe’s plan to win and then subsequently break Adagaki’s heart take an entirely predictable turn as a romance blossoms between the two? Almost certainly. Will he end up learning a valuable lesson and become a better person for it? No doubt. Will I be keeping up with high school-set harem every week to see how it all plays out? Probably not.

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga (sequel)

Streaming on Crunchyroll
After just three episodes, it’s already clear to me why Blue Exorcist manga readers have been so excited for an anime adaptation of the Kyoto arc. Ignoring the last nine episodes of the anime’s first season, which strayed from the manga with entirely original content, Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga picks up right after the events that transpire in Episode 16 following Rin’s classmates’ shocking discovery that he’s the blue flame-imbued son of Satan.

I really appreciate the time taken during Kyoto Saga’s first few episodes to dive deep into the psyche of its core cast to explore how each of Rin’s peers process and wrestle with this unsettling revelation. I found Konekomaru’s outright fear of Rin and concern for the rest of his friends to be particularly effective in driving home the disturbing implications of Rin’s origins and its effect on the overall group dynamic. After all, one can’t forget about that fateful night sixteen years ago when blue flames swallowed the lives of Bon’s grandfather, Konekomaru’s dad, and many more.

I’m equally intrigued to see how Kyoto Saga’s overarching plot plays out. The season opens with the betrayal of a now demon-possessed exorcist who’s stolen the Left Eye of the Impure King. There’s undoubtedly a greater evil at play, with plans to unite the two eyes, which I can only assume would result in some horrifying threat against humanity. Suffice it to say, I’m eager to see how it plays out and plan to watch Kyoto Saga every week.

March comes in like a lion (continuing)

Streaming on Crunchyroll
March comes in like a lion feels like it was written explicitly for me. I already gushed about the show when it debuted last season in my Three-Episode Test writeup for Fall 2016, so I’ll keep my initial thoughts on its second half short and sweet.

This coming of age tale about an emotionally distraught seventeen year-old professional shogi player speaks directly to me through its bold portrayal of the crippling effects of depression. Its use of contrasting visual styles and color schemes, which complement the show’s diverse cast of realistically flawed characters, beautifully capture the broad spectrum of struggles that we, as broken humans, all face. While the abrupt tonal shifts and sometimes awkward pacing of the show’s first eleven episodes pervade the second half as well, I’m so engrossed in Rei’s personal journey that I see these shortcomings as trivial missteps rather than glaring structural flaws.

While the circumstances that led to Rei’s tortured mental state in no way mirror my own, the way in which it informs his lifestyle, actions, and relationships with others does to a uncanny degree. It’s certainly not a show for everyone, but as someone who can relate to March comes in like a lion’s troubled protagonist and his desperate struggle to keep from drowning in an ocean of fear and self-doubt, I’m committed to seeing this emotionally exhausting 22-episode journey through to the end.

Yowamushi Pedal New Generation (sequel)

Streaming on Crunchyroll
Despite having no interest in real-world cycling, Yowamushi Pedal is far and away my favorite sports anime. Its humble and endearing otaku protagonist Onoda is one of the many reasons this show holds such a special place in my heart, and I’ve been eager to see his story continue after witnessing the climactic finale of Grande Road.

Now that the inter-high is over and the school year is quickly coming to a close, a lot of changes are in store for the bicycle club of Sohoku High. The club’s senior climber, Makashima, parted ways with the team prematurely, which understandably dampens the spirits of Onoda, who looked up to his fellow climber as a mentor and friend. Additionally, second-year teammate Teshima has been made captain in preparation for the departure of the team’s other two seniors.

I was admittedly a bit concerned the show might suffer from a drastic shift in focus under the weight of all these changes, but I’m relieved and pleased to find that New Generation (so far) retains what I love about this series and feels very much like an extension of the previous two seasons. I’m excited to see how Teshima’s role as captain will change dynamics of the club as well as how his childhood friend, who is now the ace at Sohoku’s rival school Hakone Academy, adds some dramatic tension in the episodes to come. I look forward to catching each new episode as soon it arrives every Monday afternoon.

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