Durarara!!x2 Ten – 01

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It’s appropriate that I watched this particular episode of Durarara!! x2 on a national holiday like Independence Day, because this week pretty much everyone in the Drrr!! universe has the day off as well, as befits the day after all that excitement transpired.

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It’s a lazy, sprawling episode that checks in on almost everyone, even a few people I didn’t expect. It not only explores what it is to have a day off. Normal people go out and do something to experience something “abnormal”, while people who are abnormal every day (like most of the characters in this show) either don’t have days off or try to find even more abnormal experiences than they normally would.

Then we have Shingen warns CEO of Yagiri about getting too close to the likes of Yadogiri Jinnai, who may be shaping up to be the big bad after stabbing Izaya. He certainly seems to have his hands in all things abnormal. They’re just glimpses of these peoples lives, resulting in a scattered but eclectic “character flight” upon which to nibble before things get started in earnest.

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Fittingly for a down episode, we’re introduced to a character who considers her plight and her mission to be of the utmost importance, but to everyone else is about as insignificant as one of the extras walking Ikebukuro’s streets. This girl, who holds a murderous grudge against Izaya for getting her involved in that suicide business under his alias “Nakura”, learns about Izaya’s stabbing from The Great Connector—local TV—and decides tonight’s the night to exact her revenge.

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Izaya joked during his long and boring time recovering in the hospital that with enough properly placed rumors about Shizuo, some less informed individuals with bones to pick might get the idea that he’d be vulnerable to attack. Thanks to the news report, it’s Izaya who is the “sitting duck”, or at least appears that way, but even if this disgruntled girl prepared her body and mind for this night, she’s still no match for even a recently-stabbed Izaya.

But even though the girl fails, the fact she saw the news and came to Izaya’s hospital room to murder him inadvertently serves as the latest example of why Izaya loves the humanity he observes so much. Even with everything he’s seen and experienced on the superhuman or non-human side of the world, sometimes ordinary humans can surprise him too.

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Working!!! 3 – 01

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I’m not going to do a First Impressions on this, because it’s the same show with the pretty much the same cast as the last two Workings!!, all working in the same restaurant. The only difference is the stories and situations they find themselves over the particular few days of their lives the episode covers.

Working!! has been a favorite of mine and of RABUJOI in general for its earnestness, simplicity, and a quirky brand of comedy that gets better the more you know the characters. The show’s following of unusual people with unusual traits working in an otherwise normal, even generic family restaurant has been a winning formula, and I’m glad it’s back for a third season.

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Working!! isn’t deep, and it’s not meant to be deep. Like the food served at Wagnaria, it’s simple, tasty, and comforting fare. Both the restaurant itself and its employees lends a distinct feeling of being welcomed home after a long hiatus (which included the run of Servant x Service, which may as well take place in the same setting. A crossover would also be fun.)

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It hits all the familiar beats: Everyone is eccentric in one way or another. Takanashi likes small things and little girls, but not in the wrong way, and maintains his senpai-kohai relationship with Popura. The would-be romance between him and Inami remains obscure, but that’s not altogether surprising either.

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Working!! is the kind of show that could probably go on far more than three seasons, whether or not it punched up the serialization level (such as having relationships grow and progress). It’s just got that kind of formula. And it never fails to surprise a couple of times a week, such as when Inami and Kirio find a housewife in the woods. As it’s developed its shorthand and gradually built up its dynamics and fully organized its quirks, the show has gotten better and more refined.

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Charlotte – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it? Otosaka Yuu abuses his power to possess another person (for just five seconds at a time), which has twisted him into a kind of Yagami Light Lite, with troubling megalomaniacal and sociopathic tendencies and poor moral fiber. He cheats at both tests and in love, until he’s caught by a camcorder-wielding silverhair named Tomori Nao.

Nao, who can become invisible (but only to one person at a time) insists Yuu join her and her colleague Takajou (who can teleport, but never knows where he’ll stop) at Hoshinoumi Academy, a school specially suited to people with special powers like them. Facing expulsion at his present school and getting dumped by its idol Yumi, and faced with the enthusiasm of his little sister Ayumi, Yuu grudingly agrees to the transfer.

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Why should you watch? P.A. Works’ last effort that I watched, Glasslip, was a huge disappointment. Charlotte is much livlier, funnier, and flat-out better right out of the gate. Unlike a kid just dealing with teenage angst or longing, Yuu is a pretty confident dude, but also unprincipled, and selfish, literally causing traffic accidents to get a date with a girl. He’s the kind of swine you love to hate, like Light or Kanie from Amaburi. Yet I can’t help but root for him as I hope his new colleagues will work to reform his character somewhat.

The episode efficiently lays out the possibilities and limitations of his power, and the fact that if he could possess people as long as he wanted without them knowing, then he might be able to act so high and mighty and godlike. But he doesn’t. His power is half-baked, and so are those of his colleagues, so things can never quite get that out of control.

However, when they get a little out of control, such as when Takajou races around the city like a bull in a china shop chasing Yuu, or Yuu makes someone do something that causes a chaotic chain reaction, it’s great fun to watch. It’s also a just episode, in which Yuu gets all the misfortune coming to him…but doesn’t overdo it.

We see all the sides of him, like the side that sees Ayu as his only family and loves her so much he won’t tell her his omelette is too sweet.

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Why shouldn’t you watch? Like all previous P.A. Works, this show is gorgeous, and it got off to a great start, but if you still feel burned by Glasslip, I won’t begrudge you passing on another high school drama…is what I would say, only the drama so far is pretty pretty understated; in its place is just comeuppance and a healthy helping of comedy. If we’re just talking about Charlotte in a vacuum, its flaws are few.

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The Verdict: Charlotte gave us colorful, dynamic, flawed characters with clashing personalities, punchy dialogue, justice, and the usual P.A. Works dreamily beautiful yet everyday setting. It lured us in and held our attention throughout. Its superpowers are in-your-face and impactful without dominating the proceedings.

It also smartly set up the introduction of the fourth main character as the next target of the other three: the J-pop idol Nishimuri Yusa must be using her power in some underhanded way in order to achieve fame. I’m looking forward to the reveal of that power and watching Yuu clash with Yusa. This is a definite keeper.

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Aoharu x Kikanjuu – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: Tachibana Hotaru, a girl who many mistake for a guy, is StuCo president at her school and obsessed with defeating evil as a hero of justice. Her first day living on her own, she meets Matsuoka Masamune, a handsome but brash man she pegs as an evildoer. When her friend Kaoru reports she was hustled out of her money by a host, Hotaru races to the club to confront him, and it turns out to be Masamune who Kaoru met with.

Masamune, who has a huge following at the club, accepts Hotaru’s challenge to a duel, but only if its with airsoft pistols, with him having a handicap of only one pellet. Hotaru ends up losing when she uses all her ammo, and she now “belongs” to Masamune, i.e. must join his airsoft team. All the while, Masamune didn’t hustle Kaoru after all (she merely spent all her money gorging herself after she was thrown out of the club for being underage). Also, Masamune is unaware Hotaru is a girl.

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Why you should watch:  Well, first of all, because Hotaru is awesome. The way she dealt with those “toughs” at school was a real eye-opener (I was worried she was all bark/no bite) and she can handle herself in a variety of combat situations; it’s only her inexperience with airsoft that let her down here, and she’s sure to overcome that before long.

Komatsu Mikako (a RABUJOI fave) nicely bridges the vocal gap between male and female, and I’m glad Hotaru isn’t overly hiding her gender, but is the regular victim of external misunderstandings and “classic” Japanese gender archetypes.

You shouldn’t just watch because of Hotaru, though; Masamune is a pretty interesting guy, too. While I don’t doubt he’s a playboy, he’s not the evil scoundrel Hotaru believed he is. I even liked Hotaru’s friend Kotaru, whose omission of certain facts actually got Hotaru in this whole mess. That being said, Hotaru’s many punches, leaps and kicks this week prove she’s do fine in the world of airsoft.

There’s also the whole romantic angle of Hotaru suddenly being in the cross-hairs of her beautiful neighbor…if only he’d shut up long enough for her to tell him she’s a girl.

Finally, it’s hard to beat the scene of a whole swanky host club full of elegantly-dressed patrons suddenly donning airsoft goggles, like this happens there all the time.

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Why you should watch:  If you’re familiar with survival games and airsoft, either in anime or real life, you might find the ample explanatory dialogue a bit tedious (“Pull the trigger to fire the gun.” …ORLY?). It could grow more tedious still as Hotaru leans the ropes.

Hotaru seems like a pretty direct person who’s not trying to harbor a secret, so if her real gender remains a secret too long, those who mistake her for a guy will seem increasingly dumb.

Finally, there’s the whole matter of these toy guns looking exactly like real ones. Something tells me just walking around in public with one wouldn’t end well…

The Verdict: A surprisingly clever and fun first outing for a show with a tough, but naive young lady just starting to strike out into adulthood, who has essentially been tricked into starting a hobby she had no interest in before, but may help further her overarching desire to become a better hero of justice, both in terms of combat skills and people skills. I’ll keep watching for now.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 14

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Nagato Yuki-chan’s last episode was so awesome, it would have made a fine end to the series, and part of me kinda wished it was, as I’ve got a full Summer plate. This week didn’t reach the dizzying dramatic highs of last week, it did make me glad after all we got three more episodes.

It was worth it just to see Ryoko welcome Yuki home, with a blend of joy and sadness in her eyes even a dope like Yuki can pick up on. Indeed, she doesn’t remember anything about the time her other self took over, or even the dream in which her other self explains things to her.

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But Kyon remembers, and he hasn’t been able to help but act differently around Yuki ever since. He also stares at the call log entry, as if it’s the entry of someone deceased. In a way, it is; Kyon wants to be able to believe New and Old Yuki were separate people with separate sets of feelings, but he can’t. Like Ryouko, he’s found he likes both equally, and the more they think about it, the more confused they get.

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New Yuki’s words let something in Kyon out that he can’t put back in or compartmentalize behind his stoic surface. It’s plain to see, especially from the newly-returned Haruhi, whose return I thought would be a pain but turned into a wonderful change of perspective, a marvelous use of Haruhi’s character beyond mere comic relief, and a resumption of the love triangle. Haruhi, like Kyon, is dealing with feelings she has for someone who doesn’t remember the same things about him that she does.

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The day they hold Tanabata celebrations is the fourth anniversary of Haruhi meeting Kyon, helping her paint messages to aliens in the schoolyard, and telling he he has no reason not to believe aliens are out there somewhere. He came into her life at a time when she was starting to feel the “senselessness” of her earlier youth give way to more and more common sense, leading to despair.

And he saved her from that despair. She hasn’t forgotten, but he has. People don’t need random car accidents to forget moments that are important to the ones they love. All it takes is time. It’s kind of heartbreaking: even if Haruhi brought up that day to Kyon and he remembered, it wouldn’t change the fact that he forgot in the first place.

But here’s the thing: that past Kyon wasn’t in love with Haruhi. Both Yukis love/d Kyon, and Kyon loves/d both Yukis. They’ve got two episodes to figure out what to /do about it!

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Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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GATE – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: “Otaku First, JSDF Soldier Second” Itami Youji is on his way to a doujinshi event when a mysterious gate opens in the Ginza, and an army of warriors and beasts from the fantasy world pour out and start attacking civilians. Itami saves a woman from being killed and further participates in getting everyone to safety before the Police and JSDF eliminate the enemy army.

Itami is promoted to second lieutenant and hailed as a national hero, but is unprepared and undesirous of all the attention that takes time from his precious hobby. But when his unit is chosen to enter the gate to investigate the “special region” beyond, his priorities start to shift as he realizes he may be able to have his cake and eat it too.

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Why you should watch: This show is built around a solid, fascinating, and clever idea: What if your real and fantasy worlds literally collided? It’s also built around a similarly solid and intriguing character in Itami, who could be called the ultimate Japanese Everyman, with the most serious of jobs and the most serious of hobbies.

The promo art and OP spoiled the fact that he was a soldier, but I enjoyed how he not only kept his job and his hobby separate, but at least initially, considered the latter far more important. His genuine distress at not making the doujinshi event, and later interest in the loot his comrade scored since he did get to go, all add a welcome levity that sets us at ease.

That ease is welcome, because things could have gotten very dark, very quick with that surprise attack by an army from the other side of the gate. What also struck me was that, as a real-life solider, Itami and his comrades are far closer to the world of war games people play on their phones, just as Tokyo is closer to the cities in those games, since it has an Imperial Palace where the people can—and do—seek refuge.

Itami’s pal’s line while they’re on their way in—”Think there are any catgirls on this side?” followed by Itami’s assertion there damn well should be—is a lovely microcosm of a great premise.

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Why you may not want to watch: I know this show probably runs on a family-friendly time slot, but the peril of the sudden attack and its aftermath were somewhat undermined by the almost total lack of overt lack of blood or violence. If a force like that were to burst into the middle of a crowded Ginza crossing, it would be a goddamn bloodbath, not anything that could be honestly portrayed with a PG-equivalent rating. Considering the lighter tones of the episode, I guess such a spectacle had to be sanitized to avoid tonal dissonance.

Perhaps more disconcerting, and possibly not a problem for many if not most, is the same problem Franklin and I debated at length with Kantai Collection, only brought into the present: parts of this episode, particularly the bright, shiny glamour shots of military equipment and personnel on the march to the sound of stirring orchestral music, had the somewhat unseemly whiff of…er…nationalist propaganda. Itami himself felt, at times, like an avatar carefully-crafted by the creators to deliver the message “Join the JSDF: Otakus Welcome!” Not that they shouldn’t be (they should), or that there aren’t otakus in the JSDF (there most certainly are).

While frightening, pale, mute monsters stood in for Americans in KanColle, the fantasy horde stands in for any invading enemy force, be it of state or non-state actors, and the entire episode is a flattering commercial for the JSDF, showing them at their very best. Not that they don’t deserve to be portrayed in this light (I’m, generally, a Might-Makes-Right kinda gal, with veteran relations), it’s just that it was laid on pretty thick, and I’m watching an anime, not a JSDF recruitment video.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for an anime military not being portrayed as dependable, virtuous, and capable, rather than the usual evil, corrupt, and/or incompetent.

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The Verdict: As with KanColle, I’ll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t meant as insidious nationalist propaganda, because at the end of the day there’s still a very neat premise in play. I’m looking forward to seeing where GATE takes us, and how Itami befriends the real-life elf, sorceress, and gothic lolita he once only saw in media, and briefly hallucinated after hitting a subway pillar.

This was a solid first episode with plenty of exciting action and well-placed humor, and is even able to summon some solemnity, pathos, and gravitas, as Itami is well on his way to no longer thinking of being a soldier only to support his otaku life, but to protect, defend, and avenge his countrymen.

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