Puella Magi Madoka Magica 7

Because I’d only ever seen the Magical Girl genre parodied or lampooned (most recently in Zetsubo Sensei and Panty & Stocking), I was weary of what this show would be about. But it’s good, serious, dark stuff. Even though Sayaka loves her friend Kyosuke, whom she healed with her wish, she can’t even approach him after learning what the bastard Kyubey has done to her. And her friend Hitomi has decided to stop lying to herself and will confess to Kyosuke unless Sayaka stops her, which she doesn’t; at least not this week.

This is kind of the quid-pro-quo Sakura warned of while talking calmly with Sayaka in her father’s church. She gains a lot more depth this week by revealing her whole family was destroyed by her impulsive wish to net her dad – a “radical” cleric – more followers. After that, she learned that Maho Shojo can’t help anyone but themselves. If they try, people will get hurt, or killed. By the end of the episode, Sayaka seems to be warming up to that idea as well – rather than shouldering her pain and anguish, she lets the magic absorb it so she feels nothing – not even the attacks of her first bona fide witchhunt.

This series keeps getting better. I even decided to watch it before last week’s Index or this week’s Fractale, because I’m so engrossed in the story. I daresay this is my favorite of the season so far. There’s a lot to like: complex conflicts, ridiculously-flawed yet endearing characters, really awesome and often trip-tacular animation, kick-ass battles, and a rippin’ good soundtrack from start to finish. Bottom line, its just plain entertaining, and I can’t wait what new developments next week will bring. Rating: 4

Star Driver 19

Most of this episode is fairly quiet slice-of-life; specifically Wako’s birthday. She is clearly at her happiest when she’s with Sugata and Takuto, and this day is no exception. They also each give her priceless personal possessions as gifts (Takuto’s idea), which she thankfully denounces as a little lame. In fact, her comfort and contentness with these two leads me to conclude she’s not all that interested in making a decision about who to court. She doesn’t like change, and deciding would cause lots of it. So she doesn’t chose.

Of course, creeping around the fringes of this episode are Kou and Madoka, who possess Sugata and Takuto’s bodies while Wako steps out briefly. When she returns, Kou/Sugata immediately gives herself away by cursing, while Madoka/Takuto tries to kiss Wako, leading her to pull Sugata’s gift (his dagger) on him. She knows they’re first phasing, and she isn’t going to take their shit. Madoka relents, and they return the bodies.

The next we see Kou, she’s in her Galactic Pretty Boy, which can turn into a jet! But wait…Tauburn can do anything as long as Takuto has the will and heart for it, so he can turn into a jet too. Kou’s cybody is thus destroyed without her being harmed. Despite being defeated three straight weeks, Kou and Madoka remain troopers, who seem to just want to have fun more than accomplish anything. Rating: 3

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 5

Oh man, things are moving quickly now. Kent has decided to go ahead and try to scoop up Sadako after filling her head with confusion and doubt, then taking hold of her at her most vulnerable moment. The hapless Kazehaya can only arrive too late and gaze upon this scene in horror. This is one triangle I find myself not minding at all, and I have no reason to believe the best isn’t yet to come.

The fact of the matter is, Kazehaya is just as much at a loss as Sadako about how to take the next step with one another. A brief advice session with Ryuu and Pin finally shakes him out of inaction with the realization that he needn’t know absolutely everything about her to approach her; he can only learn about who she is if he actually talks to and spends time with her. Seems like a no-brainer, but these are high schoolers.

So yeah, Kent’s plan seems to have gone off without a hitch. He even goes so far as to mislead her into believing Kazehaya likes another girl. This is his most malevolent move thus far, but he’s looking out for himself, so it’s not unexpected. Finally, all this solid drama was preceded by a very sweet act with Ryuu and Chizu going to his bro Tooru’s wedding, including Yano having to make her over and a really nice scene where we’re to believe – for a moment, at least – that Chizu leaned over and kissed Ryuu. Cheeky bastards! Rating: 4

Level E 6

No matter what random situations Level E puts its characters in, it has thus far always ended up both entertaining and hilarious. This week the grade schoolers are seemingly free of the Prince’s mischief and their Color Ranger bracelets. However, once gathered in class they are warped to a distant planet, and to the next phase of the Prince’s mission to harass and annoy.

This isn’t just any planet; it’s an weird RPG planet, and I’m actually surprised how much I enjoyed watching the rangers go through the world and level up their powers. Reluctant and apathetic at first, they quickly get used to their costumes and start to have fun, rather than constantly mouthing off to one another. It’s great to see characters we’ve only known for two episodes to develop so much so rapidly and yet so naturally.

This arc looks to have one more episode left, in which the rangers face the game’s boss in a goofy-looking rainbow castle on a hill. Meanwhile, their alien teacher Tachibana worries about them, perhaps hinting she’ll have a more active role to play next week. For now, I’m just enjoying this bawdy, clever comedy. Rating: 3.5

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 6

The more we learn about the world of Maho Shojo, the more twisted and messed-up it gets. While Sayaka didn’t think about it at the time, she’s come to the realization that most Maho Shojo aren’t like the kind, gentle Mami, but more like Homura and Sakura – in it for personal gain and for self-ingratiation. Mami was the exception, not the rule. Maho Shojo aren’t good people.

Still, strong in will and ideals, Sayaka refuses to back down. She’ll fight whoever threatens what she holds dear even if they aren’t witches, but other Maho Shojo. The only problem is, living a good pure life means living as a weak Maho Shojo; grief seeds must be collected to gain the power Sayaka desires. It’s a vicious cycle, and the weight on her slight shoulders is palpable when Sakura corners her outside her boyfriends house. Sakura isn’t weak or inexperienced. If they fought seriously, Sayaka would be toast.

Meanwhile, the more Kyubey says to Madoka, the more her reservations mount about becoming a Maho Shojo. She wants instead to be the angel on Sayaka’s shoulder that will tell her not to fight. But this insistence on peace leads Madoka to carelessly toss Sayaka’s soul gem over a bridge. Sayaka, in turn, goes unconscious and limp, as if dead, revealing one more tidbit: A Maho Shojo’s soul resides not in the body, but in their soul gem.

This is something even Sakura didn’t know, and when she learns of it, she’s devastated, putting her petty fight with Sayaka on hold.  I swear this Kyubey is quite a trickster; stirring up trouble in everyone’s life he enters, and putting them on paths he sets up. I wonder if there are other Kyubeys out there, and if they’re such cold, calculating bastards as this one is. There have also been numerous situations in which Madoka could have contracted and saved the day, but this has yet to happen. Kyubey has to be growing impatient with her at this point. Rating: 4

Bakuman 19

I kinda had a feeling this would happen. The dilemma that caused the rift between Mashiro and Takagi – a mere misunderstanding – wasn’t going to be enough to keep a writer and an artist who need each other apart. Hattori meets both separately and can’t believe what’s happening, but rather than get the two back together at once, he tries to manipulate both into doing the words and art separately – at the pace he’d prefer.

The problem with that is, Miho has made it clear to Mashiro that they have no future unless he gets serialized. True, she has her end of the bargain to maintain as well, but there it is. They made a promise to each other, and it won’t change. Mashiro briefly considers doing the art for the second-ranked Story King, but when his good times with Takagi flash back in his head, he just can’t do it. Similarly, Takagi refuses to let Hattori stal Mashiro’s progress while he carefully crafts a name – doing so would torpedo Mashiro and Miho’s dream.

So just as we knew last week that they had zeroed in on the same new idea – a mystery manga – we knew that this week that if the group fractured, all it would take would be a couple steps back and some explanations to bring the group back together. It would have been awfully cheap for a group that’s been through so much to remain split up over nothing, especially when they’re both on to something but can’t do anything without the other’s skills. Rating: 3.5

Star Driver 18

Madoka was defeated last week, so she now has to sit in the corner, right? Wrong. I expected her partner Kou to have a go at Tauburn, but instead, Madoka tries again, this time with her first phase. This phases is much like Kaname Tosen’s or Grampa Nurarihyon’s ability: all dull or confuse the senses in one way or another.

This time Takuto’s wild slashings are all for naught; he’s slashing at shadows. Sugata, who apparently has no patience whatsoever, decides to toss out his trump card to quickly end the fight, putting himself in another deep slumber and nearly burning Madoka (and bystander Takuto) to a crisp. Speaking of burning, a utterly stupid and ridiculous fireworks battle ends in Takuto’s dorm going up in flames, yet not one eye falls victim to the veritable hail of bottle rockets, sparklers, and roman candles. Lucky peeps, these.

Anyway, to get back to Keito, while she no longer hangs with fellow maiden Wako and maintains a stoic, aloof exterior, the fact remains she loves to sing and pretend to be an idol. This results in perhaps the best comedic moment of the episode: when Takuto, just hired by Keito’s mom, busts in on Keito right in the middle of a big karaoke finale. This is just another step  to humanize characters and keep things light and breezy, so when things go awry, we actually care who’s affected. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 18

Mashiro’s confidence in his own abilities as a mangaka swell just at the time his patience with Takagi is growing thin. From his perspective, Takagi has been goofing off with Miyoshi all summer long. Meanwhile, he’s been assisting Nakai and Fukuda on Niizuma’s manuscript, gaining new insight by the day into how the system works.

Once Niizuma is on-track and focused, the entire team is pumped up. Fukuda openly questions Shonen Jack’s publishing policies to Niizuma’s editor, while reiterating his determination to get his own stuff serialized. So inspiring is the young combo of Niizuma, Mashiro and Fukuda, even Nakai snaps out of his melancholy and starts naming again. It’s great to see how far this group’s come in seemingly so little time. They’ve also become increasingly fun to watch as they debate and collaborate.

But once Mashiro grabs hold of an idea – to do a mystery, not a battle manga – he decides he has to quit assisting Niizuma. The team – Niizuma included – gives him their best wishes. So determined is Mashiro to get this off the ground, he decides if Takagi doesn’t finish a name by the set deadline, he’ll go it alone. This, following their most uncomfortable phone conversation yet: Takagi can’t deny he’s with Miyoshi, and his name isn’t done. What is Mashiro supposed to think?

Furthermore, he refers to Mashiro and Miho’s relationship as not normal. This triggers him to send another inquiring text to Miho, who sends back exactly the reply he needs. It’s the same reply as before, but seeing it repeated, and containing the words love and joy (rabujoi?) have a big impact on Mashiro. Rating: 3.5

Star Driver 17

One of the worst, most overused anime cliches out there is the random beach party, and Star Driver doesn’t disappoint (or rather, does) by presenting us with one right here, complete with the volleyball match with Takuto as the prize. We get it: women are attractive in swimsuits, and all the women love Takuto. Move on already!

Fortunately, this episode does, as we’re introduced to two new characters: Madoka and Kou. The former has a very cutesy voice and big hair; the other has short green hair and frankly sounds like a man, baby. With two of the four maidens’ seals broken, things get a little more interesting in Zero Time, as well. Madoka challenges Tauburn with a Galactic Pretty Boy of her own.

She tries to capitalize on Takuto’s reluctance towards killing his opponents, but she fails when he devises a missile-like attack that rips her cybody’s core – with her inside – right out, without hurting her. So once again Tauburn wins. Oh yeah, we now know who the last maiden is: Keito, interestingly enough. I know this because she sings a song at the end; and that can only mean one thing on this show. Rating: 3

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 17

With week 17 comes a new OP (I wasn’t immediately sold but it’ll grow on me), as well as a fresh Academy City arc. The first one was excellent, and after all the religious war and magic mumbo-jumbo, it will be nice to get back to some scientific conflicts Touma must smash with his fist. The change of scenery immediately re-peaks my interest. Touma also has to deal with Misaka, who is so enthusiastic about being able to order Touma around that she’s dreaming about it, much to Shirai’s chagrin.

I actually quite like Touma and Makoto as a couple, and I wish the series would do a little more than just dangle them around each other. Their chemistry is great, and their pretending not to like each other when they do was really sweet and entertaining. The new OP almost seems to revel in all the pairing possibilities involving Touma and practically every other female, but most of those are pointless in my view. Touma and Makoto have been through so much together, and they both carry the burden of unbelievable powers. They’re made for each other. Any time the series wastes time with Touma and someone else, I grow disinterested fast. Touma and Misaka are just plain fun to watch.

This episode was also practically crawling with MISAKAs, who seem to be gaining personality. Their dialogue is initially amusing, but it grows tiring after a while, though I appreciate the voice talent and skill necessary to say all that crap so precisely. When a MISAKA pulls out a large rifle after having her visor stolen by the ‘lil MISAKA, it’s certainly foreboding, especially when she talks of “revolution.” But I do like the prospect of Real Misaka and Touma having to fight side by side to fight off whatever new threat is coming. Rating: 3.5

Level E 5

The Prince of Dogura continues his quest to hassle, torture, and annoy people for his own amusement. This time it’s a quintet of middle schoolers. Once again the series does and excellent job introducing a group of people in a hurry and they all have distinctive and interesting traits, and none of them act like your typical anime school kids. One looks like he has graying hair already, which is just plain odd.

Anyway, the series also toys with the mood by presenting the kids – now saddled with Power Ranger-style powers by the Prince – with a seemingly serious an deadly threat: their teacher is an alien assassin. This turns out to be true, but the fact she does it to earn money to travel the universe is just…hilarious. So too is her little remark about babies. Frightening, but funny.

Anyway, these kids weren’t just around for this episode; they’ll be back next week, to jump through more hoops for the Prince, who’ll be laughing all the way to the…Dogura bank, or some such. I wonder if we’ll ever see Tsutsui and his cute neighbor again, or if they were merely part of that first arc. Whatever the case, this series seems to know exactly what it’s doing. Rating: 3.5

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 4

Nice mix of interactions this week: Kent meets with Kazehaya, telling him very gently if he’s not interested in Sawako, he should stop stringing her along; Chizuru and Kazehaya actually have a serious discussion for once (I was starting to worry whether Chizuru was still a human being or just a goofy charicature); and Yano scolds both Kazehaya and Sawako to grow a pair and get a frikkin’ move on already.

Particularly in his unpleasant little chat with Kent, Kazehaya is really starting to show a pulse; it’s pretty clear now what his flaw is: he is unable to express his feelings to Sawako in a way she’ll understand. In fact, everything he’s said to her thus far this season has been so cryptic, I doubt any girl would be able to make sense of it. Despite this, he gets irritated when anyone – Kent or Yano for instance – try to butt into his business. It’s something he feels he needs to work out.

But time’s-a-wasting. Kent’s intentions are crystal clear, and he’s starting to make his move. Either Kazehaya or Sawako need to figure out how to look at each other and communicate normally – and soon – if there’s going to be any chance of a relationship there. Spot-on episode where seemingly every character seemed human and made a solid contribution. Rating: 3.5

Fractale 4

Things are moving at a very brisk pace indeed, as the raid leads to the successful kidnapping of Princess Phryne (albeit with lives lost on both sides) and a return to the village. It isn’t long until the Temple declares Sunda’s entire family wanted criminals (even the little kids and elderly!) and send an airship to the village to kill them, so once again Sunda, Enri, Clain & Co. are on the move once more.

I’m liking this pace, as we don’t stay long enough in one place to get bored. I am still a bit bemused by Phryne; she is apparently against Fractale and the Temple, despite being the Grand Priestess’s daughter, and yet doesn’t seem to want any help from Clain or anyone else. Her feelings toward Nessa, and vice versa, are also a little cloudy. What exactly is the issue between them?

Whatever is in store for our young heroes, Fractale puts on a good show with its immensely rich and pleasing setting and some well-placed and well-animated action and chase scenes. I just need to wrap my head around some of the quirks of the various characters. Rating: 3.5