Rule of Three Review, Dark Horse Digest: PUNCH LINE, Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches – Episodes 2-3

Well, this is unexpected.

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I didn’t expect either of these shows to earn a full meet ‘n’ greet, never mind this Rule of Three Review. More surprising still, both are staying on the watch list for now, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing where they take their stories.

The “how” and “why” of it mostly boils down to solid writing, something that other shows which looked better on paper have struggled with this season. Likable characters and engaging (or at least bizarre) scenarios go a long way all on their own; throw in some energetic animation/direction, and you’ve got yourself the two most pleasant surprises of the season. Both could fall off a cliff at any moment, and I’m halfway expecting it to happen, but they’re still with me for now, and in a season this sparse I’ll take whatever I can get. Hit the jump for details, concerns, and early praise.

PUNCH LINE

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Yes, it’s the panty show. Except it isn’t that so much as a bizarre, hyperactive video game with engaging dialogue, surprisingly good character writing, and a surreal world and plot that’ve got their hooks latched deep in me. I like our observer protagonist and his four flatmates, and I reallywant to know what’s going on in this apartment complex and with this world, from the ghost possession to the Super Punch (snicker) hero team and that possibly-but-maybe-not terrorist organization they’ve been battling. Also, while the humor doesn’t always work (particularly the physical gags), I confess there’s a certain juvenile silliness to it that leaves me smiling more often than not (although based on other people’s reactions, the comedy here is even more subjective than usual).

And the panty nonsense doesn’t really bother me because… I’m still trying to put my finger on it, but I think it’s a matter of tone. PL is more ecchi (playfully naughty/sexual) than hentai(pornographic/fetishized), tongue-in-cheek and farcical in a way that keeps the creep factor at a minimum. And, since seeing panties can spell the end of the world itself, the “fanservice” moments become almost tense, putting the audience in Yuuta’s shoes so they inhabit his “don’t look!” mentality. It’s become a kind of “Where’s Waldo” game for me, to the point where it rarely feels like the panty shots are intended to be arousing at all. It also really helps that the fanservice is already starting to taper off as the story becomes more defined, giving me hope that there may be an overall point to all of this. Not only am I still watching, but I’m actually kinda… looking forward to the next episode? And… enjoying… it? Like I said, you guys. This season is weird.

Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches (Yamada-kun to Nananin no Majo)
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Calling a show “competent” feels like I’m damning it with faint praise, but that’s Yamada-kun for you: It’s a competent series that doesn’t do anything all that great but does everything pretty well. Likable characters, a fairly straightforward central, budding teen romance, and just enough cleverness to keep the body-swapping elements amusing and occasionally insightful. More equal-opportunity fanservice would be much appreciated, and I’d like it if the series did more to explore or critique gender roles, but it does have its moments, such as when the boys try to act “feminine” in the girls’ bodies (as opposed to the girls, who don’t really attempt to change their personalities to “match” their forms), which highlights the huge gap between male expectations of “girliness” and the actual girls in the story.

If there’s one major pain point here, it’s the plot. According to manga readers, we’re cramming a fair bit of story into each episode, but so far very little has happened outside of character introductions. There’s a StuCo antagonistic force introduced in the third episode that could prove intriguing, but it’s ill-defined at this point, and frankly I was hoping for a lot more in the way of the supernatural. There’s a certain charm in how the kids use their body-swapping powers for totally mundane activities (taking tests, facing down bullies, etc.), but I’d like to see Yamada-kun’s fantasy elements expand, both to help explain why these body-swapping powers exist and to give the characters more to do. Build a strong world and story around these people, and we could have a solid gender-bending rom-com on our hands. We’ll see how it goes.

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