Yozakura Quartet ~ Hoshi no Umi ~ OVA

Yozakura Quartet was a nice, safe, pleasant little supernatural action-dramedy that aired two falls ago. It had an endearing core of vibrant characters with diverse powers, but it never seemed to reach its full potential. This new Yozakura Quartet OVA exhibits that same promise, and even though the episode is mostly reintroducing the gang and building things up, it’s hard to overlook how beautifully made this OVA is.

The animators clearly stepped up their game, as they render both humdrum slice-of-life scenes as lovingly and expertly as combat scenes where all hell breaks loose, while faces and bodies move very fluidly. Similarly, the chemistry between characters and the excellent voicework hasn’t skipped a beat even after a two-year hiatus.

With so many different interpretations of “youkai” anime of late, Yozakura seems the most down to earth: youkai basically all look just like humans, and the town is a place where there’s a delicate balance. But Yozakura also never lets you forget how terrifyingly powerful and destructive a normally mild-mannered, cute youkai girl can become if manipulated by those who wish to stir up trouble. There’s at least one more episode to see if the OVA can best its predecessor. This was a great start, and I see no reason as of yet to believe it won’t. Rating: 4

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru 5

Part one takes a break from Hotori’s life and shows us slices of her friend and fellow maid Yukiko’s. Something as minor as asking a guy out for a movie date proves impossible, for despite all of Yukiko’s confident inner monologue, she simply can’t muster the courage to get the words out. The scene where she steps on the history teacher’s foot after a shounen-like leap from the stairs is a knee-slapper.

Part two provides an accurate slice of fourth grade life, from the perspective of Hotori’s little brother Takeru. He hangs out with the geeks of his class, playing the equivalent of magic cards, and isn’t interested in girls. But a girl is interested in him, and they end up spending a day together. The next day at school, he seeks her out, but she acts like they’re not friends, leading him to lament how baffling women can be.

Both parts breathe life into these characters, with Hotori, already full of life, dancing around the periphery. While she’s certainly the anchor of this show, this episode proved that in can focus on just about anyone else’s life and still excel at earnestly portraying it. Rating: 3.5

Shinryaku! Ika Musume 3

Much like countless reality show participants, Squid Girl didn’t come here to make friends. She came to subjugate humanity. Squids are extremely arrogant and have a superior attitude; the only thing they fear is whatever is above them in the ocean food chain: orcas and sharks.

This episode deals deftly with two more aspects of Squid Girl: her fears, and the fear she wants humans to feel for her. When a surfer girl, Nagisa, shows up wanting a job (so she can be close to the ocean, natch), she doesn’t react to Squid Girl like everyone else has. Nagisa’s afraid. Afraid of the prehensile hair. Afraid of the unknown. This is a natural reaction. She’s the voice of reason: why is no one else freaking out about the Squid Girl?

Even more priceless is how Squid Girl reacts to Nagisa’s reaction: rather than taking offense, she’s delighted someone is taking her seriously. I initially thought Eiko would be Squid Girl’s main foil, but Eiko accepts her. Nagisa is very concerned with her presence. Their future interactions should prove most entertaining. Rating: 3.5

MM! 6

Leave it to Tarou’s mom and sister to make him and Yuuno appear downright levelheaded and normal. In fact, if it weren’t for their realistic interactions throughout, this episode would’ve been a total loss. MM! would do well to give them the lion’s share of screen time in its second half.

I don’t like his mom and sister; they simply don’t work as characters. They both harbor unnatural feelings for their brother/son. That’s the only thing that defines them both. They’re not interesting; they’re just drab caricatures. And their elaborate, multi-stage plan to scare off Yuuno fails, because it doesn’t have any rhyme or reason to it. Yuuno just shrugs it all off.

But even their hi-jinx weren’t as bad as the beginning of the episode, when Mio continues to attempt to cure Tarou of his masochism by…dressing up in sexy outfits and hurting him. Hasn’t this strategy already proven futile? Isn’t it really turning Mio into more of a sadist? He likes getting hurt, so try something else already! Rating: 2.5

Panty & Stocking 6

This time, the whole episode was dedicated to one story: Angels & Demons. P&S return to school to learn they’ve been replaced as School Queens by a couple of demon sisters: Scanty and Kneesocks, who’ve turned the school into a military academy of sorts full of rrrrules. They’re also the mayor’s daughters.

When a rogue ghost shows P&S to a secret ghost factory in the bowels of the school, run by S&K, a long, fantastically manic battle full of form and color ensues. Panty duels Scanty, Stocking fights Kneesocks, and Chuck fights his counterpart, Fastener. Even the angels’ convertible Hummer fights the demon’s ride: a stretch G-wagen.

All this dichotomy ultimately results in the destruction of the factory (and school), but neither side defeats the other; it’s a tie. The mayor punishes his daughters for failing. After so many short, inconsequential episodes, going full-length with an enemy that’s actually a match for the angels was definitely a welcome choice. Rating: 3.5

The World God Only Knows 5

This week’s target girl with the loose soul is a rising idol who starts attending Keima’s school, to everyone’s delight except his. In fact, he doesn’t even believe real girls can be idols; they grow old, or get caught in scandals, or move on to other things. But the idols in his games aren’t only timeless, they’ve also improved immensely with time (as video games have done).

But Kanon (the idol) is very quickly and very-well rendered in such a short space of time: there’s a montage of your typical idol’s life squeezed into the length of one song. There’s a lot of idol singing in this, but it has a purpose: the slightly neurotic Kanon has targeted Keima as well: anyone who isn’t her fan is her enemy, and she’s committed to converting him. Meanwhile, Keima’s game wisdom tells him that whenever a girl chases a guy (instead of vice versa), it’s usually a trap…so he steadfastly ignores her, no matter what cute outfit she dons.

And then…something unexpected happens. I knew this arc wouldn’t be resolved in one episode, but I didn’t think Kanon would simply…vanish like that. Huh. New kind of loose soul, I suppose. It was a bit of a head-scratcher at the last moment, but so far, this series has earned a pass or two, as long as threre’s a good payoff. Rating: 3.5