2014
02.28

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to circumstances involving a certain “Last One Until He Makes Another One”-movie, Marquis is unavailable to provide this week’s installment. Happily EclecticDude volunteered his time to act as substitute.]

Why isn't it NEXT Thursday already?!?

So, we have entered the endgame at this point,  or at least we have been since the end of episode 18 and its  fantastic twist. Ryuuko has finally reached the point of no return, which is evident in the fact that Mako’s tension breaking goofy moment doesn’t diminish her fury or rage.

Ah, but here comes Nui and Ragyo come to taunt our (heroine). I like how Nui and Ragyo are presented as these otherworldly spiral like horrors connected to each other, both equally as sinister and evil. Urged on, Ryuuko goes back to where the series began, the Academy, to confront her mother and seek justice for her father’s death. Her previous allies get turned down one by one as Ryuuko finds her alone, with only her rage and sadness as companions. A sad soft ballad playing in the background, as she moves toward her destiny, is thus very fitting.

Meanwhile, Nudist Beach along with the Elite Four go about to rescue Satsuki. Senketsu naturally feels , along with some of the rest, that Ryuuko can be saved. So, with the help of Osaka remnants and the Nudist Beach’s secret weapon (a giant knife battleship) with a somewhat appropriate name heh. On a side note, this episode has some of the best music of the entire series, with Hiroyuki Sawano giving it his all. Granted, the music for this show is fantastic but it truly shines here.

So, Ryuuko has reached the Academy. But instead of wanting to fight her, they convince her to join their side. The initial skirmish between Nui and Ryuuko seems a bit similar to their previous fight (like how the use of limited animation to depict their fight is done). Nui play head games and while she might seem wrong, what she says is in fact true or at least a grain of it is. Of course, the reveal of her true nature is something I did see coming. Nui Harime is in many ways a dark shadow of Ryuuko, what she could have been if the circumstances were different…..More on that later. Also, talk of the ‘threads of fate’ which are in keeping with the visual motives and symbology throughout this series.

Nudist Beach likewise come in and try but fail to pick off Ragyo. Fortunately, Satsuki escapes with relative ease, though at the moment she is relatively powerless. A reunion is in order for sure. What a grand entrance indeed for that!

So, after fighting Ryuuko directly and playing head games with her, Ragyo just forces Ryuuko into Junketsu, effectively making her a weapon whether or not she wants to. What follows is a sequence far more distributing then Ragyo’s actions toward Satsuki in the previous episodes. At first, I was utterly floored by this, just about to the point of heart break, then I realize that what should be heartbreaking, is instead insidious; that early mentions of wedding dress takes on a whole new meaning with this sequence.

In the end, Ryuuko becomes that dark shadow of herself that she dreaded and yet was forced into and Satsuki, either for justice or to save her sister, dons Senketsu and is ready for a rematch long anticipated.

Thus, realignment has occurred and the balance has been restored, it seems. Kill la Kill, you just love playing with the expectations of the audience and just when you think its played out, Kill la Kill comes in and says ‘You can know everything huh?’. Based on the preview, I surmise that the next episode will be a rematch since in terms of open conflict, the two haven’t duked it out since episode 3. Except, the roles are reversed: Ryuuko as the harbringer of the apocalypse and Satsuki as the savior of humanity, ready to do what she must to fend off this otherworldly menace.

2014
02.24

In 1968, writer Ikki Kajiwara (or whatever his real name is) and artist Chiba Tetsuya teamed up to create one of the most influential and critically-acclaimed manga of all time. It was a gritty, and at times surprisingly dark, manga about a young man from the slums who slowly rises to fame in Japan as he pursues a career in boxing. The story itself sounds basic enough from that description, which unfortunately does it absolutely no justice since what you actually read on paper is far more captivating and endearing than anything that I can transcribe with my limited writing talent (or complete lack, thereof) would fail to properly convey just how truly great this series is. Yet, I’m shameless and have nothing better to do at the moment (or I do, but am choosing to neglect it for some reason), so I will persist with this endeavor, anyways.

Ashita no Joe roughly translates to “Joe of Tomorrow” or “Tomorrow’s Joe,” with either title being either meaningful or ultimately irrelevant depending on what you get out of the series. The way I interpret it, the “tomorrow” of the title has more to do with how the series is a metaphor for the lower-class of Japan at that time (many of who would read manga of this sort for the sake of escapism….only to be bitten by the harsh reality of how close to home this manga would hit for them), and how Joe represented these people as the model post-World War II  Japanese lower-class delinquent citizen. Yet his struggles and rise to fame throughout the series are representative of how Joe is the hope for the people of the slums, and consequently is meant to be a symbol of hope for the readers as well, though that’s touching into things that I have absolutely no expertise in, so it’s just theory on my part, but it would certainly help to explain why this manga was as big of a phenomenon as it was at the time. Of course, there is one other reason that it was such a big hit and still continues to be insanely popular to this day (in Japan, anyways; it’s ridiculously obscure almost anywhere else): It’s just really, REALLY fucking good. That certainly helps its memorability out as well, I would assume. However, that just begs the question: What exactly is so good about it?

And I mean besides half-naked men beating the shit out of each other. That goes without saying.

Well, in the interest of keeping things spoiler-free to attract some potential new (and much needed) fans, I should probably just get to a general synopsis of this manga’s basic set-up. You see, what works as both a huge strength yet potential detriment to this manga is the beginning act. What I mean is that, it’s something that those who respect a very well-constructed story over just getting to the action would appreciate, but unfortunately that description doesn’t encompass quite that many people who are known for reading shounen manga, let alone sports titles. Indeed, you may be very surprised to find that, despite being manga known for boxing, there isn’t a single boxing match to be found until well into the 4th volume. What precedes this is a little something that I like to call “character building” (as in: something that more manga should probably do more often). You see, Ashita no Joe doesn’t feature characters who are a vehicle for a sport that it’s trying to promote. It features characters, and just happens to have a lot to do with this sport, but it’s not really ABOUT this sport, but rather it’s ABOUT these characters, first and foremost.

So then, when the story does start, and we are introduced to our star Joe Yabuki, we don’t find out that he’s some seemingly nasty ass-hole jerk with a heart of gold who’s destined for great things. We instead find out that he’s JUST a nasty ass-hole jerk….and even that might be a bit too nice of a description. He wanders around the slums of some obscure and unknown town, getting into fights with Yakuza, and beating up some towns-folk in the mix as well (namely little kids, but to be fair those fuckers are pretty vicious for little pip-squeaks):

And child abuse isn't the only touchy subject that this manga toyed around with....it was a very different time....

It’s through one of these fights (the one where he fights against opponents that wouldn’t get this manga pulled for promoting child-abuse) that Joe’s incredible fighting-prowess and great potential as a boxer is discovered by a washed-up homeless old man, Danpei Tange, who was none other than an ex-boxer himself.

Throughout much of the beginning of the series, Danpei tries his best to convince Joe to train under him. At first Joe is uninterested, until he sees that he can use the old guy for some shelter and a little bit of money on the side. So, he pretends to go along with Danpei and trains under him, but constantly uses what little money he gets from him to go gambling and perform other shenanigans behind his back. Eventually he starts getting into more risky schemes, like stealing items from stores and selling them to townsfolk as an unlicensed street vendor for incredibly cheap prices. This naturally attracts the attention of the police, and once Danpei catches wind of this, he shows off some of his boxing skills to Joe first-hand, knocking him out and turning him into the police for his own good.

After spending some time at a Tokyo correctional-house (and acting like a complete wise-ass in front of a psychiatric evaluator), Joe is sent to court where he pretty much provokes the Judge into sending him to jail. It’s at this point you get an idea of just how mentally troubled this guy is, to an extreme that no other shounen manga would intentionally be willing to go to. Yet at the same time, it makes him so much more fascinating since, while you’re probably used to seeing the continual progression of the main character in a series of this nature, Joe first has to come head-to-head with his self-destructive behavior, and essentially must sink to his lowest point before he can truly be open to any change. There was another series from recent memory that tried something like that, but I remember it kind of sucking at following through with that point. Needless to say, this series is a MUCH better example of how to do that the right way.

Don't be too upset, Korra, most shows look like shit compared directly to this series. At least you're still better than Thundercats (2011).

After this point, Joe Yabuki is sent off to jail, and then….this manga actually begins. Yes, it is in fact best to think of everything that happened up to this point as a prologue. The most famous aspects of this this manga, and the reasons for why it’s so highly regarded, start from here on out. At first, the other inmates at the juvenile prison beat the crap out of Joe and the other guy sent in with him, Nishi. Despite being a big guy, Nishi is a bit of a pussy at the start of the series, and thus clings behind Joe who is much tougher and really ends up dominating the other inmates in almost no time at all. Hell-bent on a ridiculous escape-plan of his, he attempts to leave when he has the opportunity and then gets thwarted by another inmate, Rikiishi Tooru, who not only prevents his escape but also knocks him out in one punch. It’s shortly after this that Joe finds out that Rikiishi was an ex-boxer who was ranked 6th in Japan in his weight class, and was sentenced to some time in prison after getting into numerous street-fights. Now, all of a sudden, Joe has someone who is far stronger than him, and has a goal to work towards. It is then that he starts accepting visits from Danpei (who had been trying his hardest to get to see Joe in prison, as to the old guy’s credit, he was still hell-bent on teaching him how to be a boxer).

From this point on the manga becomes a non-stop read, and would surprise anyone with some of the most emotional and heart-wrenching story developments and character moments that have ever graced the finest works of fiction out there. What really wins me over, though, is the character development. It is by far some of the most convincing that I have ever seen in any manga or comic book, and it features something that you rarely see in these types of a series: a fluctuation. That is to say, if this manga is indeed about the life of Joe Yabuki, we see both the highs and lows that he comes to, and no, going to prison is not the only low he ever sinks to in this series. Indeed, for as many times as he rises up, we also see him sink to new depths, and at one point this manga portrays one of the most well-written depictions of depression in a fictional series that I have ever seen (coming from someone who has known many family members who have undergone major depression). That isn’t to say that it’s realistic, but rather that it is very good symbolism for what some can go through during that period of their life if they truly succumb to it.

Ashita no Joe 77 Page 17

Being allowed access to an elusive night-club to get drunk off your ass when you're clearly underage not withstanding.

What truly captivates me about the character of Joe Yabuki, however, more than anything else, is just how damn human he feels. Despite how much he develops throughout the series, he is always far from perfect, and in fact is a man who very much creates many of his own problems, either through his irrational and hot-headed behavior, or through his iron-willed determination which is not always depicted as a good thing as it is in most other shounen series. At the same time, he is a surprisingly likable character by the second half of the story, as readers would really gain an understanding of just how the character thinks by that point in time, and it’s almost as if one could grow an appreciation of his attitude by then in the way that Kajiwara effectively writes for the character.

One such trait that I myself have come to respect in particular is just how cynical Joe is. It’s not necessarily a good thing, but like many things about Joe’s characters, his flaws can actually make him more appealing. You see, Joe is someone who has been a loner for most of his life, and thus doesn’t trust people. In one scene, he has an outburst toward Danpei at his own trial, claiming that he’s just a washed-up has-been who only wanted to use Joe to relive his glory days, saying this as a defense for why he has no regrets about having used Danpei early on in the series. Another character, Yoko, is a rich woman and philanthropist who had donated a large sum of money to Joe after falling for one of his schemes. Upon showing up to his trial, Joe remarks that she’s just a spoiled princess who doesn’t truly care for the poor, but only donates large sums of money as a form of publicity for herself, in order to make herself feel better. It is this very aspect of the character that probably changes the most over time, but for as long as it lasts, it is a rather refreshing flaw for him to have, especially as a protagonist in a shounen series, and it makes it all the more interesting for him to overcome.

Of course, Ashita no Joe, despite its name, is NOT a manga about just one character. What of the other characters:  Danpei, Nishi, Rikiishi, and Yoko being the other 4 most prominent characters throughout the series. Well, Danpei is certainly more than just your typical old mentor-type character. He is very much a character just as flawed as Joe. When we initially meet him, he is an alcoholic, and we find that when he used to work as a trainer, he lost his license after constantly abusing his fighters when he was displeased with their lack of success (and of course because he kind of….you know, got drunk and made an ass of himself all of the time). Throughout the series he repeatedly attempts to kick his drinking habits, though as is the nature of this series, he is highly prone to relapse. Still, that doesn’t at all take away from the fact that this character has a lot of heart to him, and you never question that he really does care for Joe, and even changes himself as a person for this sake. Nishi is initially introduced as Joe’s enemy in the Tokyo correctional house, but after becoming inmates, he starts to follow Joe and become his support, and eventually his best friend upon getting out of prison. Rikiishi is Joe’s ultimate rival. The goal that truly causes him to change his life just for the sake of reaching it. While Joe is uncivilized, which his fighting style as a brawler is very much a metaphor for, Rikiishi, despite having had his own issues to land him in prison in the past, is portrayed as a more refined individual, who has a far more technical fighting style, as one would expect from a guy who belongs the Shiraki family’s boxing gym, namely owned by the grandfather of Yoko Shiraki. Yes, that same rich girl who donated money to Joe under false pretenses….also just happens to be Rikiishi’s boyfriend, which believe me does not get wasted when it comes to her many, MANY confrontations with Joe throughout the series. I feel bad that, since this particular review of the series is meant to be spoiler-free, I then cannot truly delve into Yoko’s character. All I can say is that she is a very naïve yet well-meaning woman who mostly antagonizes Joe during the beginning of this series, while eventually supporting him during the second half. The circumstances of how their character dynamic changes and evolves over time is something that I cannot explain without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that by the end of this story, Yoko is actually my second favorite character next to Joe himself, and I will say that the chemistry between these two characters is easily the most pronounced and volatile throughout the entire series.

stomorrow_s_joe_v009_p122

I mean REALLY volatile!

There are, of course, many other supporting characters that come up throughout this story, none of which are lacking in the depth and nuance that you would expect from this manga. Yet, they will have to be the subjects of future articles, as each one of them would deserve far more focus than I can afford to give them in this very generalized piece. I will say that when it comes to these characters, this manga is constantly unapologetic to them, and nobody is safe from having to undergo hardships. This is especially true for Joe’s opponents, who undergo tragedies of varying degrees, which in most cases lead to an early retirement from boxing . These circumstances can range from irreversible physical injuries to fucking brain damage to flat-out death. So yeah, Kajiwara is not the least bit afraid to delve into grim territory, and in fact not only does it come up frequently throughout this series, but if something of that nature comes up, the guy goes far towards EXPLORING that entire theme through his writing. Now that’s what I call a dedicated mangaka (and it does help that every theme he explores in this manga is explored thoroughly and actually written well….WELL).

Now, as far as my endeavor to convince all of you as readers to give this series an honest chance and check it out, there are a few points which I absolutely must address: Namely the massive influence of this series. Yes, it is VERY hard to convince almost anyone to check out an older series unless they are specifically interested in checking it out of their own accord. I cannot fault anyone for that myself, because even I have deluded myself into thinking that something 40+ years old may not be very good just because it’s of a much earlier generation than my own, but if there is any manga that is just as timeless and appealing to a universal audience on the level of Osamu Tezuka’s finest works, it would be Ashita no Joe. So then, my best bet to peak anyone’s interest is to explain the influence of this show, and how you may have been exposed to it without even realizing it by just how many manga and anime constantly reference it, and how many great moments that you have seen from other works were in reality just paying homage to the true king of the medium. For example, how about this iconic scene:

Yep, I just went there.

And of course, there are a plethora of other manga and anime that have continued to reference and pay homage to this gem of a work. What’s that, you don’t believe me? Well then, fine, I’m not even going to bother closing out this write-up properly if you’re not even willing to take my word for it. Instead I’ll just be a nasty ass-hole jerk (in true Joe Yabuki fashion!) and just post these pictures up instead:

20th Century Boys 11 Page 17

Naoki Urasawa, the shamelessness of your fanboy-ism knows know bounds, does it?

20th Century Boys 11 Page 18

Nope, skipping out on more than half of the series does not earn you the status of Joe Yabuki. It just doesn't work that way, bro.

Bakuman 3 Page 10

Tsugumi Ohba, just admit it already: Kajiwara is your MAN-GOD.

And of course, let’s not forget the most obvious one:

I’m pretty sure it’s an official Japanese law that if you’re going to write a boxing manga, you pretty much have to deliberately acknowledge this one.

This will by no means be the last time that I write anything about this beloved series. You can look forward to me tackling it several more times in the future, but for now, I hope I have increased awareness of this title at least somewhat. In a time where we currently have anime juggernauts like Attack on Titan, Kill La Kill, and Space Dandy clogging up most peoples’ interests, it may be especially hard for me to accomplish that task, but if you see fit to put your instinctive expectations for works of this nature aside for once, I think you’ll be able to see why Ashita no Joe is THE juggernaut series that almost all others aspire to reach. The series is such a classic, that it’s no wonder that even the sleaziest of companies in Japan would refrain from trying to exploit it with shitty, needless sequels or spin-off projects that completely miss the whole point and artistic value that this series has to offer to both Japan and the rest of the world (even if most of us don’t know it….yet).

Shameless marketing plugs not withstanding.

2014
02.21

And the ship sails.

I could swear that the Covers agents are basically the D-Reaper entities but in nice suits. They even have the cord that connects them to the main source. So like the D-Reaper, I’m theorizing that the Life Fibers are like an Old One, in that its terms and morals cannot be comprehended by normal man. Mankind may try to mold life fibers into something palatable like clothing, but that’s only superficial recognition to the monstrous guise beneath. They’re living suits that eat people who can’t defend themselves. It sounds like those dream fevers people have, but then you remember that Old Ones and Elder Gods get their power from the clouds of dreams.

Which ties into how Ryuko was in a coma for the majority of the episode, and she escaped in hellish fury of solitude after waking. She doesn’t see herself as human, and thus cannot act like what she once was. Ragyo’s revelation made her go mad, as mad as the prophets who see Old Ones in the corners of their eyes. She’s been touched by chaos, unable to go back to her previous life now that whatever that remains has either been forced into hiding or covered by the eldritch. But then, her whole life so far has been madness. She’s clinically dead up until being saved by her mad scientist of a father, who turns into an old man just to hide only to get killed by a Lolita with a blade. After all, some origin stories are penned in blood.

So because her life has tumbled down, she’s went full circle in the Go Nagai protagonist scale by transforming from a Kouji Kabuto into a Violence Jack. At first, she could let kids off easily. But now, her eyes are those of a killer. She hasn’t killed yet, but those eyes have seen enough blood to equal a slaughter. By the end, she’ll have someone’s blood on her hands. Someone she cared about. And that’s what shifts Ryuko’s character; she’s become one of the monsters she wished to destroy. And that’s why she can’t ally herself with Senketsu anymore. He reminds her of what she’s become, of what she’s lost, and of what started her turmoil.

And that’s the indirect goal of all Old Ones; to turn their victims into the creatures they fear the most. What was a fighting show has turned into a quest to overcome insanity and rediscover identity. This really made a good shift into the Lovecraftian through the new Life Fiber drones. They play the harps that signal a new era. They turn everyone they absorb into featureless, shrunken faces. Unlike with Honnouji, they’re not going to theatrics or sass to whoever they face. Instead, they’ll just consume and kill. They are the new flesh, praise be to them.

And while Mako’s still wacky, and Aikuro’s still being a tease, the story is shaking. Sides are being scrambled so villains are now out-and-out heroes. It’s like a thread through every stitch. Characters from all over are now uniting against the common enemy, and she’s merely planning as the endgame nears. It’s all reforming for the crescendo in a few weeks, where Satsuki will be dying to wear her new dress. And this rings poorly for Satsuki, who always put herself one step ahead no matter what was taken away from her. She’s being downgraded from king to pawn, and she’s got only a few moves left from delaying that case.

2014
02.14

And you thought the bath scene was parental abuse.

I’m finding the process for this article to be harder than usual, because I just couldn’t stop smiling from the beginning to end of this episode. It left me in a trance because of how amazing all twenty-four minutes of it was. Harime gets the shit slapped out of her. Satsuki reveals where her true ambitions lie. And on top of it all, Ryuko gets a heart-wrenching reunion with her mother. It all feels like payoff from start to finish and you really get the sense that this show is in acceleration mode. This show’s in the same kind of speed that Gurren Lagann was at this point, but even more so. I want to yell at the computer screen in the misled hope that I’ll get the new episode sooner rather than later. When 2014 winds down, and we count the pieces of spectacular anime that have run, this will be recognized as one of the best moments.

It felt like being a kid watching the Cell Saga, with all the tension driving up to its peak as you wondered how Gohan was going to beat Cell. I know some people will talk about how Kill la Kill doesn’t have any depth, like it’s junk food for the mind or something. But the thing about junk food is that on one rare occasion, you’ll eat a burger that’ll drive your senses crazier than any rib eye steak could. That’s what Kill la Kill did this week, by transmuting normally boring fights in any other anime into pieces that delve into the characters.

Take that fight between Satsuki and the mind-controlled Ryuko. It’s like the fight from a few episodes where Satsuki was trying to snap some sense into her, but Ryuko learned from that incident. She focuses in to make her spirit ascend from the Life Fibers’ grip. And when it ends, you see Ryuko and Satsuki as warriors who utmost respect each other in terms of ambition, but show utter hatred in how they dictate their aspirations. Both sides understand that the other is fighting for what they see as the greater good, and only have to overcome past squabbles in order to achieve a unity against the real enemy.

And the real enemy treats her fight with Satsuki like a girl playing dollhouse. Ragyo lets Satsuki believe that she has the upper hand, but the young woman’s pride stops her from killing her mother at the first second. Even though she demonizes being dominated by superficial clothes, she leads her actions with twice as many speeches. That proves her downfall, because Ragyo doesn’t let speeches get in the way of putting her foot down on her daughter’s rebellion. Ragyo might be dressed up as Kefka and talking about REVOCS’s domination, but she drops that act immediately and lays the punches fast and firm. And when you take away the bravado, all that stands is who can be who up more. No club presidents. No Elite Four. It’s just Satsuki planning her way up until she could strike, but realizing she brought a knife to a gun fight. And that misplaced cog stings her like nothing else.

"It's like poetry. It's sort of-they rhyme."

Then there’s how Ragyo fights Ryuko, but there’s no equal ground. Ragyo tears out Ryuko’s heart like it was nothing. And in that second, she also rips out Ryuko’s idea of herself. Everything Ryuko ever knew about her life, as the rebellious daughter of Isshin Matoi, is now torn apart by the revelation that she’s been a Kiryuin all this time. All of that wildfire that led her life has been snuffed out, and a woman who couldn’t care less about a dying baby was the prime reason she’s been living like this for the past seventeen years. She was a breath away from being just like Satsuki, and that has to cut worse than anything anybody else has done to her so far. How do you get back up after realizing the people you’ve been fighting could’ve been your loved ones if the right moment happened?

2014
02.07

God, just imagine if this episode aired on Mother's Day.

War has been declared. Sides have been shattered. Dresses have been ripped. Truly, we are at the breaking point. This episode is like a pinwheel that rips the sky with glorious hellfire. And I was expecting a breather with the cultural festival hook. But instead, I get Trigger’s version of the Eclipse (which will probably have that title taken by the eventual penultimate episode). What’s a better way to show your villain means business than a mass human sacrifice? Ragyo gets to do that while being a corporate executive and an alien ambassador. She makes me want to find out how she got to that position.

So, Satsuki’s mom is a real darling, ain’t she? Contrary to people saying there’s no foreshadowing in the series; Satsuki was definitely looking forward to going against her mother at the very moment she was mentioned. Like, you never see her being cordial to Ragyo. A few of her speeches are about overthrowing the incumbent command to craft her own world. And of course, there’s the bath scene from last week. Even with any of that aside, anybody who thought Satsuki had at least a soft spot for the woman was mad. Satsuki’s the eagle, who takes no shit from anyone and wants command over the highest nest on the tallest mountain.

However, Ragyo’s wish to cover everything from her view defies that notion. She wants Satsuki to be Mommy’s Little Soldier, doing her dirty work while she can sit in the background and commit to chit-chat with her fabric overlords. Even her Kefkaesque dress makes her look like the final villain waiting on her minions to do what needs to be done, but not knowing when to strike before they can. It goes into the idea of a chain of command, and how one wrong bend can lead to the rest of the link shattering. Frankly, I’m surprised as to how Harime hasn’t betrayed Ragyo already. What’s that connection linking those two together? How does Ragyo keep Harime from being a vicious predator to anyone who entertains her? Really, this is the episode that brings about as many questions as it does answers.

And in terms of answers, we know that Tsumugu has a grudge due to his sister dying. That will probably lead to something down the line, especially since his sister and Ryuko share the same hair style. We know that national conquest is on the list of REVOCS’ demands, with the damage done to Osaka only being a fraction of what could happen to other dissenting realms. They’re planning on covering the world not just with fabric, but with blood. To that, we ask another question: How will Ryuko and Nudist Beach stop that from happening? They’re a mere splinter on Ragyo’s finger.

Of course, the more cynical crowd knows Ryuko’s going to win. She’ll save some people. Perhaps some others will die, and that may or may not include Mako’s family. But in the end, she’ll rise triumphant. The real question lies in how. How do you pierce nigh-unbreakable cloth with a single scissor? It’s the stuff you see in works like Flash Gordon, where Flash has to stop one of Ming the Merciless’ plots. You know a happy ending or bittersweet ending will sprout, but you’re not watching for that. You’re watching for how the plot will zigzag as the action dazzles you off your seat. And Ryuko’s our Flash, while Ragyo’s the Ming (the latest shade of color to her outfit can attest to that).

And don’t mind the pun, but by the next episode, can the Ming stay the King?

2014
02.05

Those who know me are aware of how Archer is not only one of my favorite animated series currently airing, but is one of my favorite animated series period. I’ve been casually watching the show since its premiere, catching new episodes on and off, enjoying what I was seeing, but not really sticking around, yet didn’t become a lifelong fan until catching the last 2 episodes of the second season basically back-to-back. This prompted me to marathon season 1 on Netflix and keep an eye out for season 2 repeats on FX, and ultimately come to this decision- Archer is one of the smartest programs out there.

Here we have a show that’s readily able to reference X-Men comics, as well as Herman Melville, sometime almost side by side. The main cast of characters are deliciously layered, each with their own vices, desires, and depressingly accurate pathos which not only help to define each person, but explain how their friendships toward each other stems beyond their work duties. It’s consistently fascinating that despite how goofy each of the characters act, from ditzy Cheryl to overweight nympho Pam to… however the hell you can describe Krieger, they’re all rather competent at their jobs. And this is merely the tip of the iceberg of Archer‘s strengths, but I’ll save this for another article.

As much as I love the show though, I can’t say that it’s perfect. In fact, all things considered, while I highly enjoyed the third and fourth seasons, the show has been suffering from some stagnancy over these years.

I don’t want to be too harsh on the show, since some of its best episodes came out over these two seasons, but my problem with the series as of late seems to have stemmed from creator Adam Reed- the man has apparently become tired of the show’s format. Even though there has been some damn fine espionage tales as of late, Reed has gone record stating that he’s become bored of making such stories, and his attempts at overarching storylines conversely are flat. Barry worked as a side nuisance to Archer, one who had every right to hate the dickish agent, but as a seemingly-endless Big Bad, the character just isn’t fit. Similarly, while Pam’s endeavors as a field agent worked surprisingly well in the fourth season, the show’s attempts to have Cyril join the action hasn’t been as successful in either a narrative or practical manner.

So naturally, when word was coming around town that season 5 was going to shape things up, I was conflicted. On the one hand, if there’s one thing the show could use, it’s a change of pace, yet often, changes in format are for the worst. I had faith in Reed and the Archer staff, however, so I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and came into this season with open arms.

As you can tell by this post’s title, I was right to do so. Four episodes in, and this has got to be the best season of the show since season 2. Why? Let’s discuss it. And yes, there will be some spoilers here.

The first episode kicked things off with a deceptively excellent idea- by revealing something observant viewers have likely been speculating for ages, that ISIS is a non-government sanctioned organization, the members of the agency have been acting illegally for years. It takes Malory some weaseling to get the core ISIS members out of jail time, but one thing’s certainly clear with her bargain- the agency is no more. But that’s okay, because it turns out they’ve been stashing a buttload of cocaine the whole time. With everyone now relocating to Cheryl’s family mansion, the group’s current plan is to make money of their own, while Miss Tunt shapes herself up to be THE great country singer of our time.

After this twist, we get a little preview at the end of the episode showing some footage that’s expected to roll out over the season, and yes, a good amount of clips have shown up in the following three episodes, confirming that there is an endgame planned to this season.

It’s a little early to write about the storyarc, since we’re only up to four out of thirteen episodes, but since the show’s on hiatus for the next few weeks, why not reflect on what we’ve got?

So far, every episode since the premiere has worked wonderfully towards building up to a new kind of arc for the show. There’s no impending Big Bad; Barry and Katya have indeed been MIA since around the half-point of last season, while the closest thing we’ve had to a menace is FBI Agent Hawley, who resembles pre-Agents of zzzS.H.I.E.L.D. Coulson more than anything. No more straight spy stories, either. Now there’s a new playing field of narrative for Reed and his crew to explore, which they’ve begun here. While the call back appearances that have shown up so far in other shows may have very well set up potential for a big blow out in the next few episodes, Archer has a smart way of making each appearance count without directly making its reappearances become too on-the-nose. In other words, while this probably isn’t the last we’ll see of Ramon, Charles and Rudy from “Honeypot” or Pam’s yakuza team, and each of these returns certainly mattered, they aren’t the driving force of their episodes. Hopefully, I’ll have more to say about these appearances later on in the season, but it’s safe to assume that there’s more to talk about.

But you know what really has mattered so far? The main cast, and yes, their development has occurred for the best over these episodes. When you take away the top-paying jobs the ISIS members have become accustomed to, we slowly begin to see the paper unravel behind each of them. Even Cheryl, who’s deceptively wealthy, is cracking as she practices her country twang with Ray. This most recent episode is the best example of how everyone is doing without ISIS. Especially for Pam, whose recent cocaine addiction is in the center of the episode. “House Call”, the most recent episode to date, is among the show’s finest, keeping the action entirely in the Tunt Mansion, as the gang tries to hide their stash of blow from Agent Hawley, meanwhile dealing with Pam’s addiction. It’s not a secret that Pam has an addictive personality, which we’ve seen bits of her struggling with such previously on the show, but here, it becomes an essential part of her not only her character, but the show in general. It was a bit of a controversial decision to not instantly cure her when there was a possibility that they could, which is a move that will eventually make for a fascinating  turn over the next few episodes.

This isn’t a full review of the season thus far, but rather a look at what we’ve received, and a plea that the rest of the season turns out this strong. Archer had the chance to change things up before becoming stale, and the move has worked to its advantage. If the show keeps this up, it could easily stay strong for a few more years, if not another five. Let’s just hope that the best has yet to come, however.