This indeed looks to be turning into the very strong anime season I suspected it would. But among a stellar tier of standouts, it’s BokuYaba and Tengoku Daimakyou which stand above the others so far for me. The way these two series, airing almost simultaneously, keep firing broadsides across the other’s bow reminds of the gold standard for that – Mob Psycho 100 and Dororo (or any number of combos in Spring 2012). So different yet so superb, both of them – each delivering an utterly satisfying anime experience that does justice to a great source manga.
I’ll talk more about this in the season check-in post in a week or so, but how I rank those top two series is an interesting dynamic. For me, Tengoku has basically pitched a perfect game to this point, while with BokuYaba the heart of the order hasn’t even come up to bat. The thing is, Tengoku is a finished product – it’s been reliably reported that production had wrapped before the season started. I know the manga remains great, and there’s no reason to expect the brilliance of the adaptation to wane in any way. So while I may not hold the manga in quite the same stratospheric regard as BokuYaba, the possibility of a perfect game is very real, even if we’re only in about the fourth inning.
Part of perfection is immaculate consistency of course, and this show sure has that. I’d have a hard time ranking the first four eps, except to say they’ve all been platinum. This time we got just about an even mix of the two main storyline, with Harukiriko and Maru taking on the maneater, with all kinds of trouble breaking out in the children’s “paradise”. Kuku, if you remember, is bound and determined to show Tokio real babies – unlike the “silly” ones Kona drew (which had faces). She leads Tokio to one of the large walls and proceeds to climb it like a spider, which Tokio is roundly unable to duplicate. But thanks to some clever thinking (by Taka, originally) Tokio manages to follow their friend on a strange odyssey.
The babies themselves are pretty freaky, to say the least. They do indeed have no faces – and even stranger lower halves – but seem aware of their visitors. Tokio’s reaction is “so this is a baby?” – clearly indicating she’s never seen one before. It’s well-worth noting that when an alarm is set off it initially sends the adults to the wrong place, and though Tokio is clearly in the incubator room they don’t show up on the security cameras (which are everywhere, watching everything) – which didn’t seem to pick Tokio up on the wall, either. After they flee the room one of the babies quite clearly calls out Tokio’s name.
Meanwhile, Shiro is literally fit to bursting with feelings for Mimihime, who’s utterly at a loss about what to make of them (these two seem straightforwardly male and female, unlike some of their classmates). And Tarao (Shindou Kei), very ill in the sick bay, tries to kiss Tokio (who flees, and eventually goes to Kona for solace and winds up confessing). I think the takeaway from all this is that kids will be kids. They’ll get in trouble, they’ll give in to their hormones, they’ll take reckless chances. No matter how sanitized and supervised the environment, you can’t stop them from being what they are forever.
The parting shot from that setting this time is Tarao, apparently close to death, apologizing to Tokio and urging them to flee because “this place is dangerous”. That certainly applies to the boat back in the A-plot, where Harukiriko and Maru are facing down an utterly creepy monster, and the former uses their last Kiruko beam in a non-fatal shot. The maneater has very human-looking hands that act as suction cups, and cushions itself in a pillow of water it can also turn into a projectile. Nee-san professes to have a plan – to use the “Maru Touch” (even in the midst of crisis he takes the time to rail at Nee-san’s naming sense) to kill the beast, but that involves luring it into a storeroom below decks that’s marked “off limits”.
Kiruko’s resourcefulness is really off the charts, which is why they’re such a good bodyguard. This being a yakuza ship, they’ve figured out what was probably in the secret storage area – marijuana – and the maneater becomes desiccated in short order. Kiruko refuses the senior mobster’s offer of payment, in exchange for info on the area and any ideas about the bird logo. The junior thinks he recognizes it as Mitsuba – a home center – though in point of fact that’s just a different logo with a bird. Kiruko and Maru do find food there, however – youkan, which provides Maru the opportunity to prove that his naming sense is no better than the one he loves to mock.
It’s pretty stunning how well all of this is put together – every element of the production is pretty much maxed out for impact. I keep flashing back to stuff like Eureka Seven and Bounen no Xamdou here – both of which happen to Bones shows, though you could insert any number of other sci-fi classics from that decade or the one prior. What elevates Tengoku Daimakyou to the level of the best of that group is Ishiguro Masakazu’s offbeat sense of humor and fearlessness as a writer. You don’t always know where he’s headed, but you’re sure it’s going to be someplace really interesting.