Posted on 11 August 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

We’ve reached the midpoint of the summer season, and while plenty of new shows have started spinning their wheels already, Mix has managed to stay steady. Think of all the sports series that enter tournament mode, and suddenly it’s nonstop matches until the starring team either makes an early exit or wins the whole thing. Now consider Mix’s approach in these two episodes. One of them abbreviates a spectacular no-hitter by focusing on the series’ ensemble cast; the other divorces itself from the summer tournament entirely by dialing in on a middle school romance. This will be uncharted territory for some baseball anime enthusiasts, but even those of us who watch for the character drama could be thrown by these decisions. Mix doesn’t care one whit about expectations, though, having been written by a man with a time-tested formula. Though Adachi’s characters often seem to be mirror images of those from his past works, he clearly cares about all of them, since he’s willing to sacrifice tournament time to shine a light on even minor players in the overall story.

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Posted on 29 July 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

How distracted does a middle schooler have to be to forget his own birthday? For adults, birthdays can get lost in the shuffle of occupational challenges, financial woes, and/or parenthood, but for kids they’re like a second Christmas. The gifts, the attention, the perceived bump in social standing – how could a fifteen year old boy forget such an event? And yet, that’s exactly what Ryou Akai does, only recalling the date when an admiring girl gives him a present before class. Prior to this episode, I’d have said that only his fractured relationship with his brother could have pushed something so special as a birthday from his mind. But Mix steadfastly refuses to shed additional light on their feud, opting instead to bring a new distraction into his life: a newly-minted crush on Otomi Tachibana.

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Posted on 20 July 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

I’ve got to lead with a gripe: Mix’s new OP is worse than the first. I haven’t got anything against Porno Graffiti as a band, but Akihito Okano’s vocal performance is too deliberate and modern for a show this committed to naturalism. What’s ironic is that Sumika, who provided “Equal” for the first opening, have a much simpler, more nostalgic sound than a band that predates them by nearly 15 years. It’s the string arrangement in “Equal” that I miss most of all, now that it’s been replaced by Porno Graffiti’s wailing guitars. The visuals are entirely centered around baseball now, as well, with cuts to stunned crowd members stinking up the final leg of the OP. The disappearance of Little Glee Monster’s ED is a disappointment, as well, but the downgrade isn’t anywhere near as large as this one. That’s just one man’s opinion about the very beginning and end of the episodes, though – read on to hear about the juicier bits.

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Posted on 29 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

I missed last week’s post due to a temporary Hearthstone addiction, so here’s a doubleheader for you. These episodes stepped away from the show’s recent focus on romance and character building, opting to broaden the cast in preparation for the East Tokyo summer tournament. Episode 13 actually covers the opening innings of Meisei’s first game, and I have to acknowledge some disappointment at the return to the baseball diamond. It’s a sweet sort of disappointment, though, as I’d been afraid near the start of the series that sports would be the show’s greatest strength. Knowing that the characters are carrying things can propel me through some of the less impressive baseball scenes, which are plagued by static shots and oppressive lighting. Mix’s visual limitations become even clearer when you realize that it refuses to depict characters running the basepaths, cutting directly to the moments when they’re called out by the base umps. Cross Game wasn’t much of a looker either, if I recall – guess I’ve become more critical since then.

The rest of these two episodes make up for the show’s so-so presentation, though. The Tachibana brothers (or Tachibros, as I’ve taken to calling them in my notes) were in fine form for both installments, particularly Souichiro, who’s becoming one of my favorite characters despite the show’s clear Touma bias. His secret desire to pitch may be temporarily squashed as we enter sports anime mode, but the show’s commitment to the story is clear at this point. Coach Goro directly encourages him to pursue the position in episode 12, but Sou is convinced that his brother wouldn’t lose the ace spot so easily. His previous observation that Touma’s ability was buoyed by his own skill as a catcher speaks to his confidence, but that’s one challenge he’s not ready to face yet. Still, he’ll challenge Touma to rock-paper-scissors to use the bath, then offer him the spot without even looking at the result; he’s not above pushing his brother’s buttons regarding their RPS history. The brothers’ reaction to Haruka’s scouting report in the following episode was also quite entertaining. One couldn’t be bothered to read the hefty document, while the other instantly memorized it and used the opportunity to flirt. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which was which.

“Lightly” was most notable for its focus on Meisei High’s past. We finally got the story of Sou and Otomi’s father, the man who took up the mantle of starting pitcher after the school’s miracle run 30 years ago. Though his career was cut short by injury, I can’t say I felt much for the guy, as I’d rather follow the story developing in the current day. It was nice that Otomi got to talk about her dad with a classmate’s mother for a bit, though, especially in the wake of her regret from two weeks ago. As for the story developing in the here and now, much of it centers on Tomohito Akai, power hitter for Kenjo High and older brother to Ryou (the heartthrob of Otomi’s ninth grade class). Tomohito has a massive chip on his shoulder, shooting down Arisa’s attempt to give flowers to his brother and criticizing him for taking too long to deliver a package to Kenjo’s campus during after school practice. It’s Touma who steps in during his terrible treatment of Arisa, setting up their rivalry both on and off the field, but I’m more interested in Ryou’s side of things here. There’s a scene between him and Otomi where she broaches the subject of their difficult relationship, but his reluctance to respond informs us that there’s a bigger story there. I’m looking forward to learning the details of that story in the coming weeks.

Posted on 17 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

Good news for all you Mix fans out there: the show is likely to be two cour, as the Wikipedia page for its timeslot doesn’t have a replacement listed until October. That means three more months of baseball, romance, and mystifying Japanese puns before Hero Academia S4 kicks Mix off the air for the fall season. I’m very glad for the extension, as the show has settled nicely into its high school phase, and is dedicating entire episodes to character work before kicking off the baseball season. Fans who got into this series for the home runs and double plays might be disappointed with its simple, conversational style, but I find every scene to be rewarding, both taken on their own and viewed as groundwork for the future.

Take Haruka’s character, for instance. After breaking out of love interest hell last week, we learn plenty more about her in the follow-up: her folks are living apart, she’s still in contact with her mom (who slips in and out of their apartment before Goro comes home), and she feels blessed to have two parents who follow their dreams. The scene where she and her dad discuss the surprise visit is funny, as Haruka repeats her mother’s claim that she could only write comedies while living with Goro. Then there was his attempt at subtly asking whether Mom left any money behind – another in a long series of jokes about his mooching ways. But it wasn’t all laughs, either. The scene also played host to a touching daddy/daughter moment, as Haruka affirms that she’s proud of her single dad for doing what he loves. On top of that, it’s worth noting that she turns away from him and back to preparing dinner before “I feel blessed” passes her lips. Though the music is placid and the mood sincere, you can read that she still struggles with her family situation, which I’d bet my bottom dollar will resurface in the future.

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Posted on 9 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

Love is in the air for seemingly every teenage character in Mix’s growing cast, and with no baseball game to distract them, this episode is entirely dedicated to complicating the show’s relationship chart. Even the cold open is a miniature romantic farce, with minor characters Nishimura and Arisa deluding themselves into viewing a conversation between their rivals as something sinister. Arisa proves far more adept at this deception, especially when you factor in the cluelessness of every male character to make it on screen before the OP. Honestly, I don’t remember the names of all Otomi’s would-be suitors, but when [Touma’s friend] and [Otomi’s classmate] came sliding down the hill and into an already crowded scene, I was kind of apprehensive. Sure, I got a chuckle out of the various characters’ desperation and exhaustion, but this felt like the opener to a lightweight episode – or so I thought. Thankfully, “Just aa Walk” ended up being one of Mix’s best episodes yet, and it’s all thanks to Haruka Oyama.

Until this point, Haruka hadn’t done much except fill the role of girl next door, but this episode gave her much more to do than that. It’s not as though this episode changes her proximity to the main characters’ house, or makes her any less attractive to Souichiro and Nan-chan (who’ve been frequenting the ramen place where she works part-time). But it does give her a lot more personality, and reveals her past acquaintance with Touma, who she met at a funeral at age three. Turns out she’s got a killer memory, having recalled their encounter from all those years ago – and she likes how he’s grown up. This sheds new light on her cryptic question to Otomi several episodes ago: “Are you worried?” Haruka was feeling her out even then, probably suspecting their shared crush on Touma, and now she’s making her move. Her method of sending him an invitation he can’t refuse was too cute, to the point that I started laughing when Touma automatically greeted her with the go-ahead phrase “good morning,” and she responded with a salute. Their date poses a problem for the hapless kid, as he understands the significance of Sou’s sudden ramen addiction, but after falling into her trap, what choice does he have?

Instead of getting sappy, Mix maintains its wry sense of humor even as the two go out; Touma’s impatience with their multiple train rides leads him to make several comments about the “walk” they were supposed to take. Said walk is mostly uneventful, but the show threads together Haruka’s admission of recognition with a separate funeral story, which depicts three year old Touma as a cheerful kid who had trouble processing his mom’s passing. This detail launched me back to a related one from early in the episode, where Touma remarked to his stepmother that Sou and Otomi were “depressed and unsociable” when he first met them. Connecting these dots was my favorite part of this week’s Mix, as they indicate that Touma still may not have grieved for his mother’s death. To have held on to the idea that two children mourning the loss of a parent were “unsociable” paints a picture of repression, at least in my view. Suddenly Touma’s isolated outbursts on the baseball field make a bit more sense, as well… I really do love Adachi’s character writing, and episodes like this one are great vehicles for it. Now, if only I knew how many more episodes we could expect before the show takes a hiatus.

Posted on 5 June 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

We may have entered the high school phase of Mix’s story, but the show is still having fun at every opportunity. The opening of episode 8 celebrates the Japanese tradition of glancing up women’s skirts when the wind blows, while a terribly misused ska song plays in the background. Institutionalized sexism has never been so appealing! Then there are the references to a past incident where Coach Oyama saved Nan-chan’s life, with both men pensively staring through rain-soaked windows at different points in the day. In any other series these thoughtful moments would set up a lengthy flashback, but Mix just cuts away and laughs at our expectation that the trope would be fulfilled. Even the main story of these episodes – the practice game against Toushu High – is dotted with the ridiculous banter of the pitchers’ younger sisters. The show is certainly enjoying itself, but it often feels as though it’s winking at us. Be it the show’s self-referential nature or its tendency to speak directly to the audience, these moments run counter to its natural dialogue and simple design work (in one man’s opinion, anyway).

Talking about the practice match versus Toushu, it’s a chance meeting that creates that possibility (as is often the case in life). The new sibling pair of Arisa and Hiroki Mita both find themselves at a family restaurant with Souichiro, where the proud Arisa introduces her brother the star pitcher to Sou. The younger sister is only interested in making herself look impressive by proximity, but she ends up instigating a rivalry between Hiroki and Touma once their game gets going. Mix draws some very clear parallels between the two boys, the biggest of which is their tremendous talent even as first year high schoolers. Hiroki managed to lead his team to the quarterfinals of the Koushien as a freshman, and though he’s older now, Touma matches him pitch for pitch once he enters the game. Toushu is the third or fourth school that Mix has raised as a potential opponent for Meisei, but the similarities between their pitchers puts Toushu first in my mind. After this game, Touma’s spot as the starting pitcher is all but assured, though I don’t know if his first year of high school will be the one that the series ultimately focuses on.

The younger Tachibana’s ascension is big news for nearly every character in the show, as the title of episode 9 would lead us to believe. It’s a seismic event for every baseball player in the cast, and a matter of pride for Otomi, who has all the faith in the world in her stepbrother. Even their father, who dreads the extra visits from Touma’s alcohol-jacking coach after such a performance, is impacted. Despite all these changes, however, the fact remains that Meisei lost the game, and their youngest pitcher isn’t happy about it. After the game, he sulkily regrets the netting that prevented Hiroki from confronting a disrespectful spectator, as a violent act would have disqualified him from the summer tournament. Otomi beats him about the head with a bucket for that remark, then ditches him to accompany her class heartthrob to the hospital. It’s here that the show returns to a type of comedy that I love: understated humor meant to mask displeasure. Touma turns to his pet dog, bucket now in hand, and remarks that even if he takes a larger-than-average dump, they’ll be covered. Hopefully you’ll pardon the extensive recap of a minute-long scene, but boy, did Mix manage to impress me right as this episode ended. The next one ought to give us a little break from baseball, so let’s hope the show’s pleasant subtlety carries over!

Posted on 19 May 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

What’s with all the A-list seiyuu in Mix? The four main characters are voiced by some of the biggest names in the industry right now: Yuki Kaji, the Uchida siblings, and Kana Hanazawa as new character Haruka. I tend to dodge a lot of the shounen and harem series that feature Mr. Kaji, and the Uchidas haven’t made a big mark on my anime consciousness yet, but there’s no denying their popularity. HanaKana is a favorite of mine, though, and I’m a bit worried about how Mix is set to utilize her. Haruka is the show’s girl next door, and she seems totally aloof regarding the boys’ fixation on her. They all rush to chat her up on the first day of high school, and even after they’re beaten back by her childhood friend Nangou, she maintains a puzzled facial expression. The camera even creates opportunities for the Tachibana brothers to do some ogling, from a relatively tame upskirt shot to a fresh-out-of-the-bath pose when Touma walks in on her. The pleasant ring of Hanazawa-san’s voice is wasted on assurances that he “barely missed the show,” or not to worry because she’d already put on her panties.

Maybe none of this is really important, and I’m just reaching for things to talk about regarding this episode. It’s certainly light on baseball and heavy on juvenile romance, with Haruka’s appearance cementing a love square between herself and the mixed Tachibana kids. The title of this episode comes from a conversation between Otomi and Haruka, when the older girl asks whether Otomi is worried that she might steal one of the boys away. It’s a subtle but effective way of cutting right to the heart of the younger girl’s crush on her stepbrother, but it comes a bit too soon in their relationship. Sure, the kids’ parents are longtime friends, but Haruka has only just met the Tachibanas. Adachi’s characters are usually too mature for their age, but for a girl to banter with a new acquaintance about her incestuous feelings just a day after meeting her is preposterous. Did we skip a bunch of chapters from the manga here? It doesn’t help that their whole visit feels strange, from the convenient bath breakdown to the peppy guitar and recorder-led tune that overstays its welcome.

It’s not enough that the high school hormones are flowing in tropey fashion, either, as Otomi has to pull double duty as a romantic interest in a middle school story that felt superfluous. The next episode preview indicates that the new middle school girl has a baseball-playing brother, so maybe Mix will leverage this new love triangle in order to get back to the diamond soon. It’s funny, though – my favorite parts of Cross Game were always those spent away from the baseball field, and now I can’t wait for Mix to head back there. Everything to do with the new middle school characters felt like a distraction, though I can see where we’re headed. Some of the younger kids need to age up before the definitive Meisei comeback year, so the story is biding its time until then. I just wish that sense of playing the waiting game wasn’t so evident in the show’s pacing and choice of subject matter.

Posted on 11 May 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

Two weeks ago, I wondered how long Mix’s middle school arc would stretch, given that its ultimate destination was the Koushien tournament. Apparently the show had a similar question on its mind, as these two episodes pushed through an entire year’s worth of story. In fact, it was episode 6 that did the majority of the time skipping, with its focus on the changing seasons. I much preferred episode 5 for its comparative calmness and light foreshadowing, though it also concluded the first Tokyo Tournament with some haste. After making a late appearance on the mound, Nikaidou quickly lost the game for his team by giving up five runs in a single inning, and the show didn’t even mount an attempted comeback for the home team. This was all in service of the later reveal that Nikaidou was dealing with a potentially fatal heart condition, thus explaining his father’s doting behavior and his coach’s bullheadedness. The narrator provides even more context near the start of episode 6, detailing the friendship between the two men and the father’s past as a pitcher. Personally, I would have loved to witness a conversation between those two, rather than being fed a bunch of secondhand information about their relationship.

Thankfully, the narrator wasn’t as involved during the rest of these episodes. Perhaps my favorite part of either one, and the one involving that “light foreshadowing” I mentioned above, dealt with Nishimura’s fixation on the Tachibana brothers. He went so far as to visit their house and coax them into visiting the high school where his dad coaches baseball. As the boys biked to their destination, Nishimura named another team – Kenjyou High, formerly Sumi Tech – that served as the opponent in Touch’s Koushien final. Since they’ve been introduced at this early stage, both schools are likely to appear as obstacles in Meisei’s modern day path to glory. There was also a flashback from Nishimura’s father, who was reminded of someone named “Uesugi” after watching Touma pitch. You might expect Uesugi to be some unbeatable ace, given the prodigy to whom he’s compared, but he actually gave up a walk with the bases loaded in that flashback, losing the game for Meisei. Could this be a clue that Touma will experience a similar loss in the future? If Adachi ever wanted to mix things up, dealing the protagonists a loss on a grand stage would be the way to go.

Visiting another high school was an effective way to follow up Touma’s interest in leaving Meisei, but that lack of attachment was probably due to the snubbing he received from his old coach. After playing for a new one during his final year of middle school, the only thing that held Touma back from a deep playoff run was a sliding door that he slammed on his own fingers. Yes, this is the actual excuse that the show used to skip its ninth grade baseball season. The show manages the transition with some grace by introducing two new characters meant to carry us into the high school era: Goro and Haruka Oyama, a father and daughter pair who move to Tokyo in preparation for dad’s new job as the coach of Meisei High’s baseball team. Souichiro meets Haruka by chance on moving day and stares after her, obviously smitten. His eventual pursuit of the girl next door may be complicated by his stepdad’s existing friendship with Goro, however. That friendship was formed at Meisei 30 years ago, which is where most prior events in this series seem to have taken place. I’ve got to say, this style of connecting most characters and plot points to a shared past isn’t in keeping with the naturally-evolving web I was expecting. I do like Mix, and I’ll probably like it even more once we get into high school territory, but I’m ready for it to take another couple steps out from under Touch’s shadow.

Posted on 30 April 2019 with categories: Currently Watching:, Mix

How long is this prologue going to last, I wonder? Not that I’m complaining – Mix is probably my favorite spring series so far, even if it’s not the boldest or best-looking of the bunch. My current assumption is that the bulk of the story will be spent chasing the Koushien dream, but with Meisei’s middle school having qualified for the Tokyo Tournament, that goal seems a long way off. And the main characters are only in their second year, so we’re likely to get a full season with Touma as a starting pitcher before he even enters high school. This is all sort of worrisome, as Mix has just 80 chapters under its belt, and 9 have gone into these first four episodes. I’d hate for a series like this one, which takes its time in peeling back the layers of its cast, to run out of material too quickly. But perhaps I’m thinking too long term, as before the story can move forward, Nikaidou’s stranglehold on the title of starting pitcher will have to be loosened.

Something is clearly up with Nikaidou, despite his winning streak. The Tachibana brothers are quick to make light of his pitching ability, but this is owed more to their prodigious talent than anything else. Souichiro’s head isn’t so high in the sky, though, that he can’t sense when his battery mate is having an off day. At a practice shortly after their victory in the prelim finals, Sou remarks to his brother that there’s even less juice behind Nikaidou’s pitches than normal. This doesn’t set off any alarm bells for the boys, but it should for the viewers at home. Coupled with his early departures from practice and his absence from the early innings of the team’s current game, it’s clear that Nikaidou is hurt. In fact, he may be dealing with a lasting illness, which would totally recontextualize the preferential treatment he’s been given thus far. His obnoxious father and nepotistic coach may simply want him to experience as much playing time as possible, before his sickness advances too far.

There are a handful of intriguing baseball moments here that don’t involve Meisei’s ace, such as the introduction of new rival Nishimura. He gets a freeze frame for his first appearance, signaling that he’ll be important down the line (an opponent lasting into the show’s high school years, perhaps). Nishimura takes an interest in Touma after watching him throw a bullet from third to first, which was one of the episode’s better moments from a production standpoint. I nearly felt first baseman Imakawa’s recoil through my screen, making Touma’s rocket arm a tangible trait rather than a subject of much conversation. Most of the non-athletic moments weren’t animated nearly as well, but they were a delight to watch anyway, as has been typical of Mix so far. My particular favorite was the teasing between Otomi and Touma, where she feigns surprise at his preparation for a big interim exam. The secret ingredient to this scene is that she enters the room twice: once to get homework help from Sou, and a second time after the reality of her stepbrother’s uncharacteristic studiousness kicks in. Their banter is kept light for now, but we’ll be in for some stepsibling romance down the line if this keeps up. Despite the taboo, that’s the element of the show that most piques my interest, so I hope none of it is omitted in the transition from page to screen.

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