Puella Magi Madoka Magica 3

Madoka and Sayaka tread deeper into the world of maho shojos and witches as they happen to encounter a grief seed while walking around. By this point, we learn that Sayaka will most likely wish for her ill friend to recover, while Madoka’s wish is simply to become useful and be good at something.  It’s also hinted that she has the potential to become an extremely powerful maho shojo.

Mimi warns her that being a maho shojo (at least in her experience) isn’t any picnic, as there’s pain, anguish, suffering, no time for boys, and no one to talk to about the weird shit going on in your life. Mimi puts up a brave front, but inside, she’s a mess. Madoka tells her not to worry; they’ll be a team and she won’t have to wallow in her loneliness anymore. Mimi is heartened.

But Mimi also underestimates the witch (despite some really slick gunplay) and apparently gets eaten. Madoka and Sayaka are moments away from contracting with Kyubei when Homura steps in to clean up the mess. Homura hopes this is a lesson to the girls to not enter her world, but with Mimi apparently gone (and “miracle” in the next ep’s title), I’ll bet Madoka’s wish will be to bring her back. Rating: 3

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 2

Kimi ni Todoke was a lot more tolerable this week, probably because it didn’t involve Valentine’s chocolates and (as much) futility. Still, Sadako and Kazehaya still have their issues. They’re barely able to face each other and talk. Yano is as frustrated as I am, while Chizuru is kind of a non-factor.

As a guy, I think I have to blame Kazehaya for this extended impasse. Sadako is so introverted and shy, and he’s done nothing to try to earnestly reach out to her. He’s kind of stood at the periphery, exchanged the odd smile or words of kindness, and just not properly made his feelings clear.

As a result, Sadako has to try to work things out on her own…in her head. This is a bad idea, in the same way it is bad to “cross the streams” in Ghostbusters. She’s like that bookish girl in the last arc of God Only Knows, only without the books – she quickly becomes lost and confused, asking and re-asking herself questions she can’t possibly answer. I just wish this show would do a better job making it more entertaining than excruciating. Rating: 2.5

Level E 3

Another triumph of quickly-paced, well-timed humor with a little MiB style interstellar relations blended in for extra flavor. I love how the apparently extremely aggressive rival aliens are baseball fans and so agreed to help Prince with a very convoluted scheme to piss people off. They do this because their race just happens to know Tsutsui is a rising star and want his autograph.

Apparently that’s what Prince does: cause suffering in extremely convoluted ways. He’s a genius, but he only wants to screw people over and make them regret ever knowing him. The film insults just about everyone we know so far, and despite essentially being a recap, it’s remixed nicely and littered with hilarious slogans and narration, as well as funny reactions from Tsutsui, Miho, and Craft.

So now Prince has been put in charge of security on earth, which is not part of Dogura’s domain. Most of humanity is unaware of their protectorate status, but that’s okay, as it isn’t as if they can do anything about it. Just like that, the introduction arc concludes. Rating: 3.5

Fractale 2

Fractale doesn’t break any ground in its second episode, but it’s enjoyable enough. Picking up where it left off, it introduces Nessa (voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who plays it like a caffeinated Kobato), a lifelike doppel that you can touch. Clain shows her around, showing us around in the process.

The city he lives near is all but deserted, while the few citizens around live in RVs. We ask ourselves…why? Where is everyone, and why don’t they want to live in such a gorgeous, Ghibli-esque place? Clain says he likes his home because “he likes old things.” Will technology make us all nomads like this?

What is obvious is that Nessa had a profound effect on Clain, though he doesn’t realize it at first. Her friendly, affectionate nature and inquisitiveness are a tonic of sorts, and when she’s gone, she misses her. When his doppled parents scold him for “not acting normally”, he shuts them off. Clain can’t go back to the way things were. He wants to know what Nessa – and Phyrne – are all about. Rating: 3

Star Driver 15

Ooo…nice change of pace. I’m a fan of the cybody battles, but finally, Star Driver decides to omit it from the episode formula, replacing it with the drama of the You sisters. Mizuno has fallen hard for Takuto, who is predictably dense about it. I want to wish he’d just choose which girl he wants already (s0 does Sugata!), but I don’t think he adequately understands his choices enough to make one anyway. His “popularity” can grow thin at times.

In any case, when the sisters learn their deadbeat mom has returned to the island, Marino and Mizuno , all but twin sisters, finally disagree: the former wants to at least talk to her, while Mizuno’s reaction is of extreme repulsion. She can’t talk to her mother. She doesn’t want her to be back. So she does something a maiden shouldn’t: she tries to leave the island.

This results in a really nicely-done, creepy Groundhog Day-esque timeloop that quickly scares the shit out of Mizuno. Fortunately fellow maiden Wako senses the disturbance in the Force (for lack of a better term) and comes to her aid, helping Mizuno return to reality. But it’s still clear the island isn’t big enough for MIzuno and her mom. Will she be tempted to figure out a way to leave, ruining all of her sister’s efforts to protect her? Who knows; but the secret is definitely out. Mizuno is no more safe than Wako now. Rating: 4

Bakuman 15

Bakuman continues steadily progressing as a year has passed in the series timeline. Moritaka and Miho have both made strides toward achieving their goals. Miho doesn’t believe herself either pretty or a good singer, while Moritaka is well aware that there are better artists out there than himself. Still, they work hard, and both are gradually getting results.

I like how Moritaka didn’t immediately reciprocate Niizuma’s invitation to friendship: he’s their rival, after all. He is honest and forthright and makes his position clear: his goal is to surpass Niizuma. Niizuma, who became a much more interesting character last week, reacts exactly as I’d hoped: nothing petty or immature, just a firm, enthusiastic “you’re on.” Even in private, he says he liked their work (proving he wasn’t patronizing them), and probably likes the idea of a direct challenge.

Then again, Niizuma and Moritaka/Takagi’s approaches can never be the same, so it will be intriguing to see how both attain success with their wildly different methods of creating manga: Niizuma’s visceral, spontaneous, freeform style, or Moritaka and Takagi’s calculating, precise, by-the-book style. The latter will have to get a move on though, as Miho has entered the world of voice-acting. Rating: 3.5

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 14

The second season of Index II starts out as a bubbly Venetian excursion for Touma and Index, and then somewhat coincidentally bumps into Orsola and Amakusa and even thought Amakusa is just helping her move, you know that their mere presence portends a fresh confrontation between the churches.

This is soon confirmed when catholic assassins attack Touma, Orsola and Index. Some quick thinking and incantations from Index combined with Touma’s fist seems to pacify the situation, until, well, something strange happens. An enormous green glass/ice ship pops out of the water. I don’t quite get this, but I guess if you have magic, you can do anything.

Orsola and Touma are along for the ride, but Index is left behind as the ship goes out into the water and joins an armada of identical ships. Then Agnese shows up again, apparently to again get punched in the face in a future episode. Rating: 3

Level E 2

Level E delivers laughs from start to finish, with surprisingly late timing and great physical comedy and wordplay. Even the emotional final scene of the first episode, in which the alien reveals his true self, turns out to be a lie/joke. Without trying, the guy drives Yukitaka up the wall.

It’s also great to see other aliens in action. Like Men In Black, they are all over the place, and they’re all from different worlds, and aren’t all exactly buddy-buddy. But I like how so far things never get too serious, and just when you think they do, the punchline arrives. It makes sense that this guy is a prince too…I mean look at his hair.

Even better is the fact that despite this series is so funny and lighthearted, there is the threat of interstellar war if Prince doesn’t show up at some galactic conference. Yukitaka (whom Miho figures out was once was, maybe still is, a chivalrous punk) doesn’t like it, but the fact remains, Prince has killed someone. Not a human, but an alien of another race. That’s worse. And it probably means more trouble for Yukitaka and the humans around him. It should also be hilarious. Rating: 3.5

Freezing 2

After a fast-paced first episode, Freezing slows down a bit, having introduced a lot of stuff to digest, then re-starts the battle between Sattelizer and Ganessa Roland. The latter slaps Aoi when he gets in the way to stop them, causing some of his blood to spill on Sattelizer’s face. Then she activates her pandora mode to counter Ganessa’s and takes her out in one blow.

I appreciate that the students at this academy have a tough job to do and they have to steel themselves to be fighting machines in order to face their foe and not immediately get wasted. Still, this Roland girl seemed a bit over-the-top in her hatred of Satellizer. It went far beyond rivalry or jealosy. She got way too worked up. Maybe it’s because the last show I watched (IS) also featured a bratty English girl who picked a fight… She also said “Sattelizer el Brigitte” waaay too many times : P

Anyway, this episode established that Aoi and Sattelizer are a match pair, just as Aoi’s roommate is Roland’s limiter. So this rivalry is sure to continue, or possibly evolve into cooperation, considering they both share the same enemy. But considering how much was packed into the exciting premiere, this episode felt a bit lacking, in everything but fanservice, which remained ridiculous. Rating: 3

Infinite Stratos 2

Infinite Stratos definitely has its flaws: all-too-nebulous protagonist who needs more personality; the childhood friend who can’t make up her mind; the annoyingly brash foreign rival, and the constant reminder that Ichika is the only male in the school, essentially making it a superharem. It already seems like way too many girls will be smitten with him throughout the course of this series, much like Leyfon in Chrome Shelled Regios.

Ichika brought a knife to a gun fight, but he soon finds a weakness in Cecila’s sniper IS with support bits (a la Gundam) and his IS soon formats to his specifications. The fact that Cecilia had a technical victory rather than pounding him into submission didn’t deal the blow to Ichika’s public image as I had hoped. Infinite Stratos may not excel at characters or realistic social situations (Houka’s sister just happens to have invented the core of the IS? That’s a handy Coincidence!), but there is at least one thing it does do well: aerial macha battles.

It is here where he finally shows that he can do something. Though his little speech about ending his need to be protected was kind of silly and obvious, the battle itself was kinetic and fun. The backgrounds and music were also noticably decent. IS isn’t deep, but so far its pros are standing up to its cons. This second episode was also better in almost every way than the first, which is encouraging. Rating: 3

Fractale – First Impressions

I immediately took to this series’ first episode. Sure, it seems to shamelessly ape three or more Studio Ghibli films in its first five minutes, but I don’t have a problem with that as long as it tells its own story. The variables are there, though: an era somewhere between the past and the future; an earnest kid (Clain) who saves a eccentric princess-type girl Phyrne), an amulet of some unknown power, and a trio of hapless “villains” who don’t come off as evil so much as crafty and enterprising.

The look is very Ghibli, too: great vistas of what looks like Ireland; very clean and simple yet emotive character designs; and airships. Underlying this world is a strange network called Fractale that basically allows people to create whimsical “doppels” of themselves, including Clain’s parents and dog.

There’s also a very nice tender romance brewing between Clain and Phyrne. She books it in the first episode, but I’m sure she’ll be back, while a third character, Nessa, just pops up at the end, so we’ll see where this goes. Whether it has anything truly original to offer is definitely up for debate, but there’s no doubting this show looks and sounds great, and has immediately captured my interest. Rating: 3.5

Yumekui Merry 2

This week sets up what’s going to go down for this series: Yumekui wakes up in “reality”, at Yumeji and Isana’s house. She experiences their kindness and some of what life in the real world is like (like donuts). It’s nice, but she knows she needs to go back to the dream world.

She’s convinced that the only one she can depend on for this is herself, she doesn’t want help. But Yumeji, doing a fair impression of Kamijou Touma (albeit with a less extreme power), resolves to help her all the same, even though he doesn’t even know what to do. Seems a little hasty of him, but he does have that dream-predicting power. There’s definitely a use for him; he just has to convince Merry.

We’re also introduced to Chizuru Kawakami, the mysterious, aloof transfer student, as well as Yumi, a girl who has allowed a dream demon, Serio, to “possess” her, only to see Serio callously destroyed by the hands of another demon. I got the impression this was Chizuru’s demon, but we’ll have to see. So far, Yumekui is off to a good start. Rating: 3

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 2

By episode’s end, Madoka and Sayaka understand a lot more about how a Maho Shojo operates, and so do we. We also learn that Homura wanted to snuff out Kyubei so he(she?) wouldn’t create more competition for her. Maho Shojo may all be hunting witches, but inherent rewards can make the competition fierce.

Mami expertly shows them both the tools of the trade (soul gems, grief seeds) and how to find and destroy a witch. The abstract, surreal, downright unsettling way in which witches are depicted is particularly well done here: the different animation doesn’t come off as a gimmick, but rather a strange and alien world a witch creates to discombobulate and weaken their opponent. Still, this particular witch, while powerful, isn’t a match for Mami’s awesome rifles. Everything about their duel oozes style, originality…and confidence.

So Sayaka and Madoka need to come up with an ultimate wish that will be fulfilled by Kyubei in exchange for risking their lives to the witch hunt. They live great lives, so it isn’t immediately apparent what to wish for. After witnessing Mami in action, however, Madoka essentially wishes to be like her: someone “useful” who is strong enough to protect the innocent. Rating: 3.5