First Impression – Medaka Box Abnormal

Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but Unzen knows the secret: lots and lots of sweets.

Medaka Box was a bad show. It had a good enough cast of characters and a premise that intrigued me, but its production quality and direction were so awful that it was barely watchable. Yet I found myself genuinely looking forward to this sequel, and I’m not sure why. One part of the show that did excel was its voice acting, with some well known actors like Aki Toyosaki (Medaka Kurokami), Romi Paku (Myouri Unzen), Daisuke Namikawa (Kouki Akune), and Emiri Kato (Hansode Shiranui) putting in great performances in lead roles. And Abnormal promised to tack on even more big names like Kana Asumi (Mizou Yukuhashi), Hiroshi Kamiya (Kei Munakata), and Miyuki Sawashiro (Youka Naze). Another point in Abnormal‘s favor was manga fans’ insistence that it would be based on a more entertaining section of the manga. But good voice acting is nowhere near enough to carry a show, and the first series’s failings had little to do with the source material. Maybe I’m just a Gainax fanboy at heart.

In any case, the god-like student council president of Sandbox Academy is back with her all-welcoming Box, and maybe those manga fans were on to something.

First of all, many thanks to Fosh for providing the screen caps for this post. He will continue to do so throughout the season.

What immediately stood out to me was the complete lack of exposition in this opening episode. It continued right after the climactic fight at the end of the first series, with no explanation of the fight that was responsible for part of the school being under construction. I think Medaka went to the hospital in the last episode, so some time must have passed, though not too much, since Unzen was still healing, leaving a space for Medaka to get recruited to take his spot in a mysterious project run by the Academy’s headmaster. This was when the covers finally started to come off what might turn out to be a main theme of the series: the classifying of people into different categories based on their abilities.

I recall the first season exploring this somewhat with Medaka’s response to the constant praise she would get as the impossibly talented and impossibly popular student council president, but now the show is codifying it. Anime loves doing this, of course, with notable examples like the Dragon Ball series of the 80s & 90s or the Index series of the 00s. Medaka’s unique position as an apparently perfect person and the burdens and responsibilities she carries due to that was a topic that had interested me, so I’m glad to see it coming to the forefront, even if I don’t like this technique of splitting people off into castes. It’s lazy writing; it’s much tougher but also more rewarding to explore the characters as individuals. I do like that Medaka is discovering this Normal/Special/Abnormal distinction at the same time as us, letting us see how such a pure hearted person responds to the revelation that she’s an Abnormal.

Which, based on Unzen’s explanation and demonstration with the dice, seems to be Nisio’s version of the badass coefficient, a running joke between me and my friends describing a physical property which determines the likelihood of someone performing incredibly unlikely but cool feats. It’s as good an explanation of Medaka’s superiority over everyone else as any, and it still leaves plenty of room to explore why Medaka’s attitude towards life is as naively positive as it is. It’s also a convenient way to explain the existence of such crazy students like Nekomi or Unzen or all the characters introduced in this episode, which makes it easy to pivot into the fighting action-type series it seems to be turning into. I’m not sure if that will work to the show’s favor, though, since the action scenes tended to be painfully bad in the 1st season.

But it did improve toward the end of the season, and what we saw in this episode wasn’t bad. The fight between Myouga and Nekomi was shot well enough for us to make sense of the relative positions of the combattants in the room, which is actually praise in this show. And it featured some great pointless touches like the boys watching and egging them on (perfectly natural, but where are the teachers?) and Myouga’s numbers language which Medaka managed to figure out within seconds. Is speaking unintelligibly a moe factor? Anyway, Medaka and Myouga yelling numbers at each other while the students watch in fear and confusion was so absurd that I was laughing pretty hard through it.

I also liked Nekomi’s role as prankster/cheater – you’ll recall she managed to lead her team to victory in Medaka’s multi-club competition at the pool by taking advantage while the student council and the swimming club were distracted. There’s a saying: “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” Nekomi clearly follows this principle, allowing her to win against an enemy much stronger than her, in contrast to Medaka, whose honesty lets her lose to an enemy much weaker than her. Combat pragmatism is a well known trope, and one that I’m a fan of; in combat, the only thing that matters is who is left standing in the end, and whatever means to achieve that is fair game. It’s unfortunate that the dialogue was so heavy handed, though I guess I’ve come to expect this of Nisio by now. Subtlety is not that writer’s strength. I would have prefered to have seen Nekomi’s philosophy revealed through her actions and conversations instead of explained to us explicitly by a knowing observer.

I get the feeling that this may be the most we see of Nekomi for a while, considering the large number of new characters introduced in this episode. Oudo really stole the spotlight with his wavy collar and hair (the only person who got to remain animated during the character stats shot), but I’m interested in seeing just what the others are capable of, particularly Miyuki Sawashiro’s character with the knife coming out of its face. These fellas are obviously being set up as the villains, and I hope they’ll be as fun as Unzen and Onigase were last season. And if we’re lucky, they being Abnormal like Medaka will act as interesting foils of her.

Nisio is a tough writer to make sense of. Shaft’s Monogatari shows were wild successes despite his authorship, while White Fox’s Katanagatari anime was wonderful in a large part thanks to it. Gainax’s Medaka Box was horrible mainly due to Gainax, and maybe his overt and hammy philosophical writing will save its sequel from suffering the same fate. This episode was a good start, with plenty to build on. I guess I’m an optimist.


A math/science geek and a self-dubbed cynical optimist. I don't care if it's deep, if it can make me feel something or laugh, it's fine in my book. @lvlln
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14 Responses to “First Impression – Medaka Box Abnormal”

  1. Highway says:

    Unfortunately, the trajectory of the show is losing me, and I think I’m about done with it. I actually LIKED the beginning of the first season, with the ‘solve people’s problems’ setups. But since about 2/3 through the first season (and from what I hear continuing forever now), it’s been “Hey, you defeated that bad guy, here’s the next stronger bad guy to defeat” fighting show. Yawn, not interested. At all. I find that type of plot line stupid and unfulfilling, because it just doesn’t have anywhere to go.

    Basically, I can’t get past the premise that it’s morphed into.

    • lvlln says:

      The student-council story is certainly more interesting than the typical battle-powerup-battle shonen structure, but I must admit that I don’t mind it, despite having outgrown shonen way back when Dragon Ball was still a thing. If the plot can be used as a vehicle to tell something interesting about Medaka and/or the other crazy figures surrounding her, I’ll be happy. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of faith in Nisio to pull that sort of thing off. The philosophical musings in the Monogatari series and Katanagatari were mainly window dressing with little substance, so I don’t know how capable he is of making it THE focus of a story.

  2. Zaphan says:

    Please somebody just burn it with fire already.

  3. Andmeuths says:

    Medaka Box mocks the “next strongest bad guy concept”, mind you. It does not play that straight – it actually is a Meta parody and critique of the very phenomena you avow to hate.

    • Highway says:

      If it’s so meta that you can’t figure that out without being told, then that defeats the purpose. And doesn’t change the fact that the presentation is still one that’s just “next strongest bad guy”.

      For whatever flaws it had, I thought Hagure Yuusha put a nice twist on that genre: Akatsuki was so overpowering that even he didn’t know how strong he was. He just proceeded to beat down everyone that showed up, usually without breaking a sweat. And that was evident in every fight he had. Medaka Box hasn’t shown any of that kind of genre twisting to me, and even if it did, the series just isn’t that interesting.

      • Andmeuths says:

        The problem is, Medaka Box sets up a case first, then proceeds to subvert it. You really don’t think that a 160+ chapter manga would begin subverting everything with the very first chapter of a new arc, would you?

        Your judgement here is extremely premature, given you are taking a sample size of one episode, and arguing that it’d continue on the same trajectory. You might as well argue that Madoka Magica’s first two episodes hinted at a show as cliche as any other magical girl anime, and then conclude that the remaining ten would be just as cliche.

        • Highway says:

          Well, it’s not a sample size of one episode. This was the 13th episode, and the show has followed a trajectory that I have not liked – from things I did like to things I did not like. And from what I’ve heard from other people, it keeps going in the direction that I do not like. And even if you are correct and it decides to make fun of this well-worn plot style, there’s no assurance that I’d even like the way it changes then. And it’s pretty much the definition of masochism to sit and watch something you dislike to get to something you might or might not like later.

          And the bald fact is that even if it subverts it later, I’d still have to sit through umpteen “Next biggest bad guy” storylines, which is the problem in the first place. The key thing you are missing with your comparison to Madoka Magica is that that show was always interesting, whether it was the magical girl stuff or the despair. If a show is interesting, then you watch it. I don’t find Medaka Box interesting right now.

          You’re free to like the show. I have no problem with you liking it. It’s not my style, so I’m not going to watch it anymore.

      • nyancat says:

        I will have to bahaha at this post. It isn’t obvious on the first chapters, but starting minus how it isn’t blatantly obvious to anyone is beyond me, there are hints already on the abnormal bit and its just spit on your face chapter/chapter starting from Show ▼

        Also not so sure you understand the bad guy concept here, Unzen was not really bad at all, he is just as extreme as Medaka so they are both equals, Oudo isn’t bad either, he genuinely seeks for that which will make everyone in the world happy, his way isn’t the best but again Medaka is no saint so yeah where is this “next strongest bad guy” at? I only see fight of ideals among monsters <.<

  4. HannoX says:

    I also prefered the solving everyone’s problems over the fighting in the first series. I’ll probably watch another one or two episodes, then most likely drop it if it doesn’t get away from the “fighting the next strongest bad guy.”

    Medaka was an interesting character if they had chosen to build upon her impossibly powerful abilities and her personality, but they haven’t really. Nekomi is actually the most interesting character with her trickster personality and win by any means philosophy, but she seems relagated to being only a minor character. Way too bad! And damn that I can’t remember her name, but the tiny girl with the appetite of a blue whale was funny and also interesting, but they only used her as a two-note character–information broker and bottomless pit of a stomach. None of the other characters are very interesting.

    So, I’ll give it another try or two, but I suspect I’ll be dropping it. Too many other animie to watch and only so much time.

    • lvlln says:

      Shiranui is a wonderful character. I did love seeing her eat. 24 minutes of just her eating different things would probably have been more fun to watch than what the show turned out to be.

      • Highway says:

        I like Shiranui’s bald self-interest. She knows why she wants or doesn’t want to do things, and that’s what she’ll do.

  5. Foshizzel says:

    I kind of liked this first episode! Finally the action and fighting is back and I know the story is poor overall, but I like to shut my mind off and enjoy Medaka for the comedy and over the top action xD

    • lvlln says:

      Yeah, the fighting in this one was much better than most of last season’s, though it’s not unusual for shows to have 1st eps that are much prettier than the other episodes. Still, that numbers conversation was hilarious. I hope it can continue to be that over-the-top nuts.

      • Andmeuths says:

        It will be. To the point it very much pushes the “next guy is strongest” to the most absurd extent you can imagine, mock it, subvert it, argues its complete meaninglessness and examines what it really is like to be “perfect”. The OP and ED are spoilertastic (very, very, very), but really, the Thirteen Party is the case, and what happens to the case is pure Nisio Trolling, in a very interesting way.

        Shiranui is MORE typical of the kind of characters that will dominate the end of this arc, and the next arc, and beyond.

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