Bakuman 21

Shounen Jack’s Golden-State-Future-Prize-whatever is up for grabs, and Mashiro finds the artists he worked with are now in direct competition with him; that is, they are impediments to the realization of his dream. We haven’t had much indication of what hardships or competition Miho is enduring at the same time; in fact, we know about as much as Mashiro knows, which isn’t much.

So Mahsiro and Takagi strike out and bump into Nakai, who is clean-shaven and now doing the art for Aoki, a she-mangaka who is the first person to say she didn’t like “Money & Intelligence”, and for that, I already like her (they need to learn to take criticism, even if it’s harsh.) Nakai seems a bit smitten with his new partnet, perhaps to a fault, but I’m sure glad he’s not lying on some tatami mat somewhere sobbing himself to sleep anymore. Sheesh…

Anyway, neither Nakai and Aoki, nor Fukuda are the real problem here. All of them will in all likelihood lose out to a friggin Rock star who is taking a break from music to draw manga…and asked his legions of fans to vote for his manga in the Jack questionaire. The deck is stacked; and this leads to a coalition of Mashiro, Takagi, Nakai and Fukuda. They’re not taking this sitting down. I wouldn’t…shit ain’t fair at all. Rating: 3.5

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 20

This week Accelerator escapes with Index from his Hound Dog captors, who hound him the whole rest of the way as he tries to get a bead on the situation via a phone chat with Dr. Frogface. Meanwhile, Touma, protecting Last Order, is first chased by the same Hound Dog, until Vento of the Front shows up. Meanwhile people all over the city are starting to collapse.

I’ll admit I like Vento’s cavalier attitude and zest for mayhem, and the way she attacks, striking the cross at the end of her long tongue chain with her mace to shoot a missile of light. Naturally, cool as it is, it just gets canceled by Touma’s right hand. I fully expected this chick’s face to meet Touma’s fist, but she coughs up some blood and splits in the middle of their fight.

Tsukimikado also returns, apparantly recovered somewhat, since he’s got the moves to dodge several iron spikes that pop out of the ground, which he surmises will be used to kill the passed-out, and hence paralyzed, cityfolk. This is a full-on assault on the city, and both Judgement and Antiskill seem hapless to the task, especially when Accelerator is running wild on his own agenda. But the episode still manages to keep things interesting shifting from one situation to the next and providing lots of peppery action. Rating: 3.5

Fractale 6

This week we learn that there are more factions of Lost Millenium than the one Sunda heads up. We also meet a very interesting individual who is strongly hinted as being Clain’s real father, who wants to restore Fractale to what used to be a beautiful town, stating his belief that humanity can’t live without the system. He even shows Clain and Phryne a projection of the town in its prime, which is possible during the new moon. I really liked this guy, but the fact that he seems to be dying (cough-cough) probably means he sadly won’t achieve his goal.

His wishes run totally counter to Lost Millenium, but neither Sunda or the other leader, Dias, interact with him. Instead, Sunda and his crew simply wait and watch as Dias leads the refugees to a tent village to get food, shelter, and ahem…”vaccinations”, claimed to boost the immune system of the Fractale-coddled bodies. Clain sees this and is immediately impressed with the kindness and generosity of Dias’ group. Phryne (and I) are rightly suspicious. I like how Phryne is not only less naive than Clain, but as good a runner, too!

Sure enough, the vaccines destroy the refugees’ Fractale terminals. Dias lets them know in a very evil “By the way” manner, and when one hapless guy tries to run for it, Dia’s henchmen fill him with lead without hesitation. Thus Dia’s crew isn’t so much a family like Sunda’s, but one that preys upon helpless hopeless people and forcably conscripts them to join the fight against Fractale, which most of them want nothing more than to return to. Pretty nasty, but not surprising. Almost deja vu, in fact, but at least they make Sunda’s group look better. Rating: 3.5

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 8

Wherein Sayaka loses her hope, her mind, and what’s left of her humanity, and falls, apparently transforming into a witch. This was a stark and cruel end for Sayaka, who never recovered from Kyubey’s scathing words that her soul was in the gem she bore. That gem continued to degrade, and Sayaka gave her first grief seed to Sakura and rejected it from Homura.

In case we weren’t already well aware, Kyubey is the villain here, at least so far. He seems absolutely hell-bent on making Madoka a maho shojo, and she actually asks him, but before he can oblige, Homura kills him just in time. Of course, he comes right back, the bastard; any entity that can cause miracles to happen won’t go so easily.

If Sayaka is indeed gone, Madoka’s choices have multiplied, and none of them are easy: she can contract with Kyubey, and trust that he speaks the truth that she’d be such an unparalleled magician as to be able to perform any miracle she likes. He could well be lying, but then again, it’s telling that someone so unwilling to become a maho shojo would happen to be the one with the most potential. Now that she has not one but two friends to try to save from oblivion, the temptation to contract is as tempting as ever.

But there can be no doubt, that a contract with Kyubey is as good as a deal with a Faustian devil: whatever wish Madoka will have, there will be a heavy cost – just as there was for Sayaka, Sakura, and Homura – that could not only leave Madoka wishing she’d never contracted to begin with, but wishing she’d never been born. This series is rapidly becoming my run-away favorite this season And the main character is still just a whiny ordinary girl! Rating: 4

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 7

First off, Kurumi is awesome in this episode. Secondly, so is Kent. Yano and Chizu had a lot of great lines last week but this was more of a Kurumi and Kent episode. Kurumi isn’t lying anymore, and Kent doesn’t know how (he too was confused about who liked whom). Kurumi tells off Sadako for being so mousy (as if that was anything new), while Kent is eager to fix things between the hopeless couple, but is stopped at every turn by Yano/Chizu.

Sadako has gotten so ridiculous even Ryu, the quiet one, came out and told her she’s not saying enough. She isn’t, and neither is Kazehaya, but like Yano and Chizu, Ryu will only interfere so far. On the other hand, Kent thinks he’s God’s gift to humanity, while Kurumi is simply pissed off that the girl Kazehaya rejected her for is being such a pansy.

Finally, I can’t forget Kazehaya interpreting his encounter with Sadako as her rejecting him. Honestly these two have squandered so many opportunities to understand each other’s feelings, it doesn’t surprise me that they both think they rejected one another. They both need either medication…or nosier friends. Rating: 3.5

Oreimo 12 (True Route)

Like the vast majority of RABUJOI reviews, this contains spoilers, so if you didn’t watch Oreimo last fall, don’t read this.

I ended up liking Oreimo far more than I expected going into it (it enjoys a healthy 3.500 average rating for its 12-episode run). Rather than just a horribly-made, unoriginal, just-plain-painful excuse for edgy comedy – like so many anime with similar premises – Oreimo was refreshingly earnest in exploring the issues a big brother and little sister can have. I also found that you bring your baggage to the table with this show: either you’re a little sister and identify more with Kirino, or you’re a big brother and you’re nodding your head at Kyousuke’s troubles.

There’s also this constant question flying around: could someone this into big-brother eroge really not cultivate any romantic feelings towards her real-life brother? The answer is a clear “Yes” here; sorry pervs, this series doesn’t go there, nor should it. Kirino isn’t just defined by her otakuism; she is many other things. Similarly, her prim, proper, button-down overachiever surface betrays nothing about her passion for dirty anime and video games.

By the series’ end, Kirino and Kyousuke have been through a lot and gained mutual respect as a result. The last episode also marks what is most likely Kirino’s most selfless act performed in deference to her brother – even more selfless than dressing as a maid and serving him. That is to turn down a trip to America to train for track. While this episode starts the same way, there are many differences that I feel worked better; the most important being, Kirino does leave for America – without telling Kyousuke beforehand.

Mind you, they’re on very good terms the early morning before she leaves. She has entrusted him to protect her collection, and she even showed him her track evaluations and badges, almost as tacit hints. Yet there’s no screaming match or scrum this time; they say good night, and then she’s gone. And frankly, her leaving for America is huge for Kyousuke. He can have his own life now, something he didn’t have the whole series. He was always worrying about Kirino, and always sacrificing his time, money, and dignity. Because of that, Kirino can now do alright on her own, without his constant doting.

Which brings us to a quasi-cliffhanger~Kuroneko is now an underclassman at his school. As soon as Neko was introduced in this series, I immediately became a fan, since she was the only person to point out Kirino’s flaws and hypocrisy. But beneath her sardonic exterior, she turned out to be a very sweet and caring person who would be a great match for Kyousuke – especially since she’s not related by blood! Her arrival on the scene is bad news for Manami, but it’s been painfully clear for a while now that Kyousuke isn’t interested in dating his childhood friend. I’m hoping the future episodes being released as OVAs will explore this further. Rating: 4

Level E 7

All in all, week 7 of Level E was a great wrap-up to the Color Rangers arc. It didn’t stick with the same formula as last week, as the kids have arrived at the castle to hear the King’s pleas for aid: the show also continues its penchant for misleading its audience. It would have had us believe a girl one of the rangers likes has been kidnapped, but the damsel in distress is just the Prince in princess drag.

They keep running with this too, as the Prince has designed the game so even he doesn’t know whats next. This leads him to aquiescing to the evil General Luci’s demand for marriage, including S&M and role-playing. The fact that Luci’s AI needs to bone up (no pun intended) on wedding night practices is a useful and hilarious stall. The fact the all-powerful “demon lord” is a kindly mini-Prince is also a nice touch.

So even though this group of kids got into the spirit of Prince’s game, while learning how devious and insincere he can be, they still let him get the better of him, as he lulls them into false security by returning them to Earth – only so they can reunite in the classroom and be transported right back to the RPG world. You can really taste the anguish and misfortune of the Prince’s victims…and it tastes great. Rating: 3.5

Star Driver 20

Glittering Crux is not one big happy secret society. Everyone has their own ambitions and motives, and designs for how they’ll achieve their goals. And Crux is frought with alliances and butting heads; not surprising, since there’s no official leader. That’s because to become leader, one must destroy Tauburn. And goshdarnit, Tauburn just won’t die.

This week, Tauburn is challenged by Camel Star, who wants to hurry up and break Wako’s seal, against Head (and others’) wishes. Doing to would kill anyone on the island who doesn’t have a cybody. If someone’s cybody was wasted by Takuto, they’re SOL until they regenerate, which could cost them their life anyway. But the main story isn’t about Crux’s political problems, or Tauburn’s fight-of-the-week. It’s about Takuto showing signs of jealosy towards Wako and Sugata, and also about Head’s past.

Head used to be called Tokio Tsunashi (same last name as Takuto, hmm?). He met Ryousuke and his betrothed, Sora, and they formed a triangle not unlike Takuto/Wako/Sugata’s. Tokio painted Sora, who fell in love with Tokio, and he got her pregnant; but when he sought a mark to pilot a cybody, he abandoned her entirely, the bastard. She left the island, and Takuto returned, with the same watch with a picture of Sora in it that Ryousuke had given her years ago. Verrry interessting. Now we know Takuto’s parents, and the guy he came to the island to punch in the face. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 20

With Ashirogi Muto whole once more, Mashiro and Takagi are pleasantly humming away at their new detective manga. Miyoshi is legitimately helping out by going through the six boxes of detective anime and films sent by Hattori to help Takagi find his groove. When they go to Hattori with eight names, he admits he’s been had, but is excited they reunited on their own.

He also agrees to submit their manga, “Shady Detective TRAP”, for serialization if it’s accepted into the Golden Future Cup. They also have to bang out chapters at the same pace they would if they were already serialized; a rehersal, if you will. This is a lot of work Hattori is asking of a couple high school kids, but if they can’t do it, they can’t be high school mangakas, period.

This makes me wonder: if they are in high school, how in the hell are they ever awake for class, let alone ever have time for studying and homework? I know, that stuff’s boring to show, so they don’t, but considering how ramped up the level of manga work is getting, It’s almost as if their high school duties are an afterthought. I know Takagi is an academic ace, but Mashiro isn’t. In any case, when the random classmate approached Takagi and Mashiro asking about Miyoshi, both their cool responses and her frightened reaction were priceless. Rating: 4

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 6

Kazehaya sees Kent’s hands on a tearful Sadako and does what anyone in that position would do: push Kent aside and ask him what’s going on. The three all get on the same page, some classmates show up in this “warzone”, and it’s not long before the whole school knows what went on (or think they do). That includes Ume.

For once, Kazehaya says something clearly – that he likes Sadako – but as usual, he muddies up the intent of those words by phrasing things so Sadako thinks he turned her down. Facepalm. This guy is seriously the worst at expressing himself. Fortunately for him, Yano and Chizu know the real score, and try to make Sadako understand that she’s mistaken and that she shouldn’t think of herself as a burden to all her friends.

This is tricky, since she’s so conditioned to believe she’s different and an outcast worthy of pity and concern at best, not genuine love. I really need to lay into her parents a bit at this point, who did nothing to stop this conditioning from making her into such a neurotic mess. But I love how all the characters are really coming alive in the last few episodes, including Chizuru’s and Pin’s emergence from caricature status. Rating: 4

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 19

Heavens, the managed to cram a lot of people into this episode. Sasha Kreuzhev and Vassilisa, whom I only vaguely remember from the earlier series, appear in the prologue. Then, while on their way home, Accelerator and Last Order are cornered by Amata Kihara and his “Hound Dog” group. A member of “God’s Right Seat”, the pierced Vento of the Front, crashes Academy City with plans to destroy it. Finally, the upside-down Aleister Crowley makes an appearance, shooting down Vento’s threats as nothing but talk.

The sudden inclusion of all these bad-ass characters at once is a little overwhelming, but at the end of the day, it’s all about science versus magic. Or even more simply, it’s about Touma punching all these guys in the face to defeat them and return normalcy to the city. I mean, there’s clearly a lot going on here, but if we’re honest with ourselves, that is all Index II has been about this series (with the lone exception of Misaka’s mini-arc): Touma punching out the enemy, and the enemy going away. I’d like to think there will be something more interesting in store for us, but since this episode was all just set-up, we won’t know till next week. Rating: 3

Fractale 5

Their escape thwarted, Clain and Phryne are put to work on the airship doing menial labor – closely following Pazu’s path in Castle In the Sky. The rest of the ship’s compliment mercilessly riffs off the young couple’s obvious romantic tension, while the tsundere Enri constantly accuses them of debauchery. Meanwhile, Nessa is nowhere to be found. Clain thinks it’s because she’s mad; Phryne thinks its because she doesn’t like her.

But as the airship functions gradually go haywire, Clain crafts a new theory: Nessa isn’t angry anymore, and has forgotten why she went away, so now she’s just having fun playing hide-and-seek. After trying to get the crew to do fun things in order to draw her out, it is ironically Phryne who convinces her to end the game, ceasing the ship’s malfunctions.

I always like airship slice-of-life, but the whole time there was the feeling this could have been a ship at sea; not enough of the majesty and freedom of the skies was explored here (something as simple as performing maintenance from a precarious perch on the ship’s exterior would have sufficed, as was used in Castle). Still, with no safe harbor and enemies circling them, there’s no doubt that when the airship inevitably needs to land, there will be considerable hardships, contrasting with the lighthearted time-killing that takes place this week. Rating: 3

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 18

A somewhat transitory episode is made nonetheless watchable by some neat interactions as Touma ends up hanging with MISAKA and Last Order while Index bumps into Accelerator. It’s amazing how un-annoying Index sounds when compared to all the self-narrating MISAKAs. The normal-sized MISAKAs also seem to be gaining more in the way of personality, which is nice.

Dialogue styles aside, Accelerator and Last Order have a relationship almost identical to Touma and Index: a big brother protecting the little sister. Only Index has saved Touma’s life on numerous occasions. Now that Accelerator is weaker, Last Order vows to be the one to protect him. I’m not quite sure why she stole goggles and ran off (beyond setting up this episode), but it’s nice to know there are thoughts in her head and not just impulses.

This series is always best when it focuses on Touma and Misaka, and not all of the shallower characters – on both the scientific and magical/religious sides – who really just take up space and time. Since the series is poised to introduce yet more new characters in the magical conflicts ot come, I’m weary that the solid core of characters will get lost in the soup of peripherals and jargon. But I hope I’m wrong, and the new stuff that’s coming will be interesting. Rating: 3.5

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