October 14, 2016

Wow. I guess Teekyuu has been so crazy and successful that not only spawning so many seasons that ran for a year and even a spinoff of one of their characters weren’t enough that they had to do another spinoff of their rival school tennis club, Usakame. I suppose this is a chance to see their equally crazy counterparts and what goes on over their side of the story. Oh heck. There isn’t really going to be some sort of crazy plot to follow, right? Just mindless fun within 3 minutes that we can all laugh for today before the disappointments of tomorrow come, right?

Episode 1
Kinako Tanaka is waiting for the train. In order not to fall asleep she slaps her own cheeks. But they become swollen after slapping too hard. On the train is also her friend, Ayako Suzuki. When the train brakes, Kinako’s face falls onto Ayako’s boobs like a cushion. When they enter class, Kurumi Satou pops out from the cleaning cabinet to introduce herself. She didn’t even know how she ended up there. The girls go practice tennis. Kurumi wants to learn a technique that will kill her opponents so Kinako suggests taking away all the racquet strings and strangling someone using the racquet. Noticing Kurumi’s extreme motivation today, she explains that she and Ayako are retiring after the next tournament. That’s why she wants to enter the next doubles tournament with her. Kinako is so touched that they hug each other and ignore Ayako cleaning the tennis court alone.

Episode 2
Nishi Nishiaraidaishi arrives at school via scooter. When Ayako mentions her intention to ride one, Nishi becomes a human scooter for her to ride. For some stupid unknown reason, Kinako slides down the stairs railing and this scares Nishi. Then they do something random in which Nishi won. The quartet eat lunch together and Kinako seems to be trying to promote her gourd. It tastes horrible. Kurumi wants to trade boiled beans for omelette but Ayako gets embarrassed as she didn’t think she meant feeding each other. But Nishi has no qualms being fed.

Episode 3
Ayako tries to touch a cat but it bites her. Kurumi and Kinako laugh at this blooper. Ayako gets jealous since they can touch it with ease. The quartet walk home together and stop by a temple. Kinako and Kurumi wrongfully name the temple parts as some sort of foreign landmark. After they make their prayers, they noticed a beckoning cat shrine nearby. The cats are staring at them and they think it isn’t polite. On the way home, Kinako treats everyone with hot potato. Nishi shows her gratitude by giving her a rock. They stumble into that cat again. Once more, everyone can touch it except Ayako. They teach her to let the cat know she is her friend. Time for the acid test. It still bites her.

Episode 4
Sora Shibakusa, the advisor for the tennis club is already having a hard time with her hangover. Now she has to put up with the girls making a human pyramid for who knows God what reason. I don’t know how she ended up joining their human chain. Then she goes to watch the girls practice tennis but falls into their pit trap they dug. The school didn’t pay her enough to put up with this sh*t. Shibakusa then pairs up Ayako with Nishi, dashing Kurumi’s dream. She pleads to work hard to be partnered with Ayako but Nishi insists she too wants Ayako as her partner. So what about Kinako? Nobody cares about her. As she has them practice, they practise doing a human pyramid.

Episode 5
The girls play Old Maid but Ayako always keeps losing. Shibakusa then has them in a practice match with their counterparts from Teekyuu. They spend more time trying to decide who plays who than actual practising. Hoheto Irohani then enters the scene. She is Shibakusa’s ex-student and the girls’ senior. She tries to give all the girls a hug but Nishi beats her down. The practice begins with all the weird moves you’ll never see in tennis. We won’t know who win. Does it matter? It gives Usakame girls motivation to head for the Nationals. Setting their sights too high?

Episode 6
After another of practice, everyone argues for Ayako to carry them. Kurumi invites everyone to her house which is in the middle of the shopping district so it is no surprise everyone is friendly with her. Kurumi’s dad is weird because he’s complaining about a peanut stuck in his ear and thinks Ayako is a robot. Kurumi serves her friends zunda (some sort of beans) instead of coffee as she explains who she met Ayako and joined the tennis club together. But Ayako doesn’t remember all those good memories together… Kurumi has everyone join her dinner. What’s on the menu? More zunda…

Episode 7
Nishi is not motivated for PE but when she thought Ayako was looking at her from the classroom, suddenly she is able to do her best. Maybe Ayako wasn’t looking… Kurumi passes funny notes to Ayako during class. The teacher catches her but she is able to answer his question correctly. Kinako thought all that was just a dream so she pinches the cheek of her friend, Miyako Baba and gets slapped. Together with Tasuku Kodaira, the trio do a weird greeting together. Kinako then introduces them to Ayako and Kurumi but takes the liberty to shorten their names. Later Kinako wakes up and again thinks everything is a dream. Then she could feel it… The sleepiness, that is. Then she does a weird greeting with Tasuku that turns out to be just goodbye.

Episode 8
The girls go shopping for new swimsuits. But because this season isn’t the right one to go out to the beach and thus they cannot show off their swimsuits, they head to the indoor pool instead. Don’t have to worry about freezing inside here. So we see them having lots of fun like hugging Ayako like a lifesaver. At the end, they reflect how this is their last year they can play in the tournament together. But Kinako cuts the sad talk because it’s not like they are going to stop being together. Even after Kinako and Kurumi graduates, they can still play tennis and hang out together. Then she reminds them how they are doing with their entrance exam studies. Looks like Kurumi isn’t so fond to hear that…

Episode 9
Ayako and Kurumi patron Kinako’s store. Kinako is trying to sell them stuffs she doesn’t want to them. They don’t need it either. Marimo then visits and brought along Nasuno. To show how rich she is, she buys the entire shelf. However Marimo warns her about getting diabetes so she drops it. After Kinako throws a mini prank bomb at Marimo, Nasuno also wants to try. She’s doing the exact same thing like throwing it at her and wiping off Marimo’s arms. When Nishi enters the store, Kinako offers her to play the lottery in which a video game console is the first prize. She wins but Nishi doesn’t want it and trades it for ice cream instead.

Episode 10
This episode focuses more of the relationship between Kurumi and Nishi. In the clubroom, they compare their lunches and Kurumi feeds her at lightning speed. Ayako has a committee meeting so she can’t come for practice. Kinako? World meeting. WTF. So Kurumi and Nishi practice together. Then it starts to rain. Nishi has no umbrella and intends to dodge all the raindrops. Well, we won’t get to see her do that as Kurumi shares her umbrella. Kurumi asks her why she likes Ayako. She replies she saw Ayako playing tennis before and the reason she joined the club. Even more so when Nishi came from a distinguished school just to come to a normal school to play with her. Thus this is her first and only chance to play doubles with Ayako. Since this is also Kurumi’s last chance, she isn’t giving up too. Then she asks if Nishi likes her. More or less. Okay, acceptable.

Episode 11
Shibakusa is bored so Kinako is here to eat her snack. She then thinks about the singles and doubles team she needs to put. She thought of putting Kinako as the captain but her delusions has her thinking about some corporate-like stuffs. She warns the tennis club will have to shut down if they don’t find any more new members. So Kinako brings back an old man and a cat. Not going to cut it! Shibakusa then has the girls practice as pairs to prepare for the tournament. They will play for the right to pair with Ayako. Nishi and Kurumi face off with each other with Ayako as the referee. Shibakusa and Ayako have genuine comments on their play but Kinako’s comments are about turtle soup… In the end, Nishi wins and Shibakusa makes her announcement who will pair with Ayako.

Episode 12
Flashback shows Ayako and Kurumi are the only one left in the tennis club after their seniors graduate. Kurumi vow they will always be together and hope to recruit more members. Shibakusa is upset because she has been thinking for 10 days and can’t seem to find who should pair with Ayako! Kurumi is then seen skipping ropes for 10 minutes. Something about she missed her own chance to get out of the skipping loop. Shibakusa’s answer? Run away! Kinako devices a plan to break out Kurumi. Throwing a cat certainly didn’t work. Nishi then jumps along with her. The great synchronicity has her snapping out of it. Time for an emotional group up. Ayako notices Kurumi depressed since this is the last time they’ll be together. Ayako reminds her that she was the one who said it first that they’ll always be together. But just this once the 4 of them will only play together. They all toast over ice cream that they’ll do their best at the next tournament.

Uso Kamo?
I don’t want to believe it but I had to. So sad to say… It is just boring. Perhaps this is a reason why this series never got renewed for another season. Because by the time this series ended, Teekyuu already got renewed for another season! OMG. It just shows how hard it is to live up to the craziness of Teekyuu and at this rate, Usakame will always be in its shadows. Forever. Uh huh. The series even ended without even us getting to watch them play in the tournament. It never mattered anyway.

Firstly, I can understand how this series isn’t trying to become like Teekyuu and that it might be trying to differentiate itself although keeping a bit of something familiar. While it is good so that we viewers don’t condemn it as a poor clone of Teekyuu because otherwise we would have just watched that show instead, there is nothing really likeable in this series. After you watched the first few episodes, you kinda wonder where the heck this series is going and what it is supposed to be. I know that there isn’t supposed to be any kind of plot (like Teekyuu) but it isn’t as crazy as Teekyuu. Maybe that is where it fails.

Teekyuu prides itself for being so wacky it parodies almost everything at a fast paced rate that it doesn’t give you a chance to breathe and digest what is going on. This isn’t the case for Usakame as the pacing of each episode is moderate. Comparing both series, it is like Teekyuu is put on fast forward or in more extreme terms, high on drugs. Usakame is so toned down that despite not having a proper plot, it makes you question where it is all going. You see the girls doing random stuffs and their brand of antics but at this point it is hard to separate and not compare them with their Teekyuu counterparts. I can’t. Every time I want to say something good about the girls here, I can’t help but fall back to Teekyuu as reference.

Another failure for this series is the characters although each have their own distinctive personality. Again, I can’t help but compare them to their Teekyuu counterparts. Combined, they might not even come close to one tenth as wacky as the Teekyuu girls. Even the wildest and craziest girl with no logic whatsoever goes to Kinako. I believe her role as the idiotic joker is to keep the series funny but she alone couldn’t save it. She is perhaps the reason why she makes a few crossover cameo in Teekyuu but that is a different story. Ayako is supposed to be like Yuri since she is the most rational of the lot and also the target of their idiocracy. But other than that, she is boring. I don’t even know where to begin with Kurumi and Nishi because sometimes they confuse me. Nishi might come off as the mysterious type since she doesn’t show emotions and Kurumi is just lively. They’re both idiots still. In the end, I fail to see the bond connecting them. If I may call it that. Shibakusa? Boring too despite making only very limited cameo. Irohani? You still remember who the f*ck she is? She’s not even relevant at this time. Same case for Miyako and Tasuku too. Not even the Teekyuu’s cameo for that episode could save the series.

On a trivial note, it made me go WTF learning the kind of episode titles that this anime has. Not that I really care what my titles of each episode for every anime. But again, I have to compare it with Teekyuu. While Teekyuu’s titles are parodied after famous Hollywood movies, Usakame’s titles are like lines and words taken out from some philosophical novel or poem or wherever they come from. Not that I can understand or see its connection to the episode. Maybe it is just to screw with our minds. Because of that, I can’t help feel annoyed that with everything already so lacklustre, the title now is as WTF as ever. Yeah, it aggravated me first world problems ;p.

Trying to differentiate a little from Teekyuu is the art and drawing department. While everything is still as colourful but it is not as bright and flashy. Mainly because you’ll notice that they look like they were drawn using colour pencils. If you watched Senjou No Valkyria, you can see the same art style. However Usakame’s art is poorer. It’s like sometimes they purposely do a rush job and thus the colours feel like they lack that colourfulness and thus looking somewhat dull. So personally, even if the character designs look less cartoonish than their Teekyuu counterparts, this kind of style makes them look like they have poor quality drawn all over them.

Voice acting is pretty decent and nothing to shout about but at least they are all talking in normal pace. All of the main quartet are newbies and this is their debut role. Izumi Araida as Ayako, Hikaru Koide as Kurumi, Maria Tanijiri as Nishi and Yuki Nakashima as Kinako. In fact, they are part of the all-girl idol group, Earth Star Dream. The other members of this idol group helm lesser roles such as Eri Sogabe as Miyako, Kanon Takao as Tasuku and Arisa Aihara as Irohani. Of course this means they sing the opening and ending themes too, Hashire! Usakame Koukou Tennis-bu and Promise You respectively. Typical idol pop song. Nothing that attracts me. Yeah, you can see a real live action performance of them for the first episode’s ending credits animation and a blatant promotion of their group right at the end of the second episode. The only non-Earth Star Dream member part of this cast is Sora Tokui as Shibakusa (Nero in Tantei Opera Milky Holmes).

Overall, Usakame disappointed some but there are others who find it as funny as their Teekyuu counterparts. So it all boils down to preference and perspective on how crazy and wacky you want your tennis club girls to be. At least this show proves Einstein’s theory of relativity because it really makes the 3 minutes drag out to feel like the longest 10 minutes and you’re glad when it is over, it is over. And for Teekyuu it is like the fastest 10 seconds in a 3 minute episode and you’re shocked it is over and begging for more. Teekyuu already advanced and won Wimbledon without having to pick up a racquet and they only did nothing but fooling around. Usakame on the other hand no matter how hard they practice they can never get past the first round. Just sad…

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