Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail 2

This episode is little more than build-up. Roberta stays on the periphery once more, but she’s growing more and more insane as she downs bottle after bottle of mysterious meds. She also sees someone who isn’t there, evidently someone she killed in the past who torments her. Her few scenes demonstrate that despite her prowess taking lives, she isn’t a soulless monster – there’s a lot of pain built-up in that drug-laden body.

As for Lovelace asking for Black Lagoon’s help, Rock is the only one enthusiastic about helping them track down Roberta. This is exactly what Rock needs: a mystery to unlock by exploiting all of the informational channels of Roanapur (having Revy as his “gun” doesn’t hurt, either). I’m not quite sure what he wrote all over the wall or why, but he’s obviously figuring things out.

Plotwise, this episode isn’t much more than the investigating those who last Roberta and connecting the dots. It ends with the investigators finally determining who would be hiding her, and steaming off to go get her. But it also touches on Rock and Revy’s rather complex relationship. They’re not lovers, and they may not even be in love with one another, but they are a pair, to be sure. Rating: 3.5

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 12

Well, after about 39 episodes of hand-wrining neurosis, I really couldn’t have asked for a better finale to Kimi ni Todoke. The two lovebirds finally know about their feelings for one another, and couldn’t be happier that they both feel the same way. They’re far more comfortable around one another, and no longer care what other people think (or at least, can live with what other people think).

Sawako and Kazehaya aren’t the only ones who’ve made progress. Kurumi and Kento are left to lick each other’s wounds – even if from the looks of it Kurumi isn’t all that interested. Chizuru has some really thoughtful things to say (I love it when this show treats her like a human rather than a clown), and Ryu’s confession to her – and her reaction to it – are just about pitch-perfect. Good luck, you crazy cats! Also, if Yano ever had a thing for Pin, it doesn’t amount to anything, but that’s okay, as Yano seems to like her independence.

Oh yeah, can’t forget: Sawako finally gives Kazehaya his gifts! Continuity, FTW! And while I thought it was silly that she didn’t give him these gifts at the proper times, but better late than never, and heck, from Kazehaya’s perspective, his girlfriend is already showering him with gifts. Nothin’ wrong with that. Nothin’ wrong with this ending, either. It wasn’t cheap, and it tied most everything up in a neat little bow. One last thing: Pin getting annoyed by the couple’s “sparkly aura” and shooing it away? Frikkin’ hilarious. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.346

Level E 12

Wherein Prince’s royal duties finally catch up to him. His extremely conservative, polite, courteous younger brother arrives on earth. He’s a prince to, but he won’t allow his brother to shirk his responsibility to marry the princess of another world, a tradition that goes back generations and maintains peace and galactic balance. He wouldn’t even think of taking his brother’s place as Doguran King; he just isn’t wired that way.

Similarly, the princess, despite never having met Prince, is ready to marry him on the spot, having prepared for such a thing all her life. She loves him deeply, despite the distance between them, and it’s pretty clear she wouldn’t be the woman she is were it not for the encouragement Prince unconsciously instilled in her to be the best damn princess she can possibly be.

Yet again Level E proves it can present us will all new characters and they can be iimmediately deep and interesting. I also find it awesome that Craft is 100% on Prince’s side, because there’s nothing he’d like more than for his more sensible younger brother to take the throne. And the massive alien fleet in Earth orbit lends some nice gravity to the festivities.

Tsutsui and Miho are also in top form trying to be on the Princes side while becoming just as endeared with the lil’ bro and betrothed as we are. This is definitely a tough one: the Prince doesn’t want to be hemmed in by marriage; but he doesn’t seem to have a lot of options with all the political stuff at stake (and all those ships in orbit who came to witness the wedding). The finale should be something. And, oh yes…Craft’s yellow Camaro puts this episode over the top, ratings-wise. Rating: 4

Star Driver 24

Another seal bites the dust, as Keito reveals herself to both Crux and Takuto/Wako as the East Maiden, while Sugata too removes his mask and prepares to drive King Samekh. It’s a chilling moment when Keito essentially offers herself to the cause, having already been fulfilled by Sugata in a previous meeting with him at the Eastern Shrine. She has nothing left to lose. Everything goes dark and all of the swirling Zero Time psychedelia we’re used to changes with frightening speed and permanence.

For the island and its ordinary inhabitants, this is very bad news. With only one seal left to break (Wako) and the means to do it (Head has a new cybody, and who knows what Sugata will do with his new phase), the resultant shockwave will probably destroy the island with a combination of earthquakes, tsunami, and erupting volcanoes. Crux has been striving so long to break the seals, one wonders if any of them have cold feet, or if its simply too late to turn back. Kanako for one exhibits sympathy for the “civvies” by having her massive yacht (it’s a cruise ship, really) prepared to take on evacuees.

With that in mind, and after so many generations of the maidens maintaining balance, breaking all their seals and unleashing that power will likely have global, and not just local, implications. Takuto has won every single fight he’s fought in as Tauburn. Many were victories pulled from the jaws of defeat; victories that would not have occurred had outside forces not acted on Takuto’s behalf. Now that he’s essentially the only thing keeping Wako safe, he’ll have to win one more battle, and it will be the toughest. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 24

The excitement continues to snowball as Niizuma’s original prediction comes true: there’s a tie for first place in the Golden Future Cup, between Ashirogi and Fukuda. Koogy’s grin at the end of last week was a red herring; he lost out big, finishing fourth in the running. I suppose some of his fans didn’t want to be seen picking up a copy of Jack; either that, or they simply didn’t show up to vote in the numbers he’d hoped for. It would have been easy, lazy even, for Koogy to win, but thankfully they didn’t go down that road. Still, he’s down, but not out; I wouldn’t rule out him showing up sometime in the future, even if it’s next season (I haven’t read the manga, so I don’t know). If he’s sincere about “changing manga” being his dream, that is.

Anyway, Aoki and Nakai’s manga got third place. Predictably Aoki doesn’t flinch at the news, and Nakai would have been happy anywhere but last. In any case, the three manga will move forward for another round to determine which will be serialized. The results, rather than bumming everyone out, seems to have reinvigorated and energized them to a man (or woman, in Aoki’s case). Jack has a difficult job on their hands: all three entrants in contention are good manga; even the readers couldn’t quite decide who to vote for.

News of their win garnered a response from Miho in the form of a phone call to Takagi, which marks the first time I can recall hearing her call a boy. I’m glad she got some minutes in this episode; especially her exchange with her mother proves how dedicated she is to Mashiro, and how resolved she is to properly wait like they promised. These two lovebirds must be kept apart for them to be productive. After all, if the prospect of Miho on the other line petrifies Mashiro (Miho bails him out by hanging up), imagine what having her hanging around the studio will do to his work ethic? Rating: 4

Fractale 10

Clain and Nessa tear after Phryne in the dinghy (why did Sunda leave it there for them, anyway?) while Phryne tries to reason with her mom, the Grand Priestess. As the battle between Lost Millenium and the Temple continues, I continue to be unimpressed with it; huge sky battles should be more exhilarated, but I fear this isn’t the animators’ forte. The CGI models just look like rubber duckies floating around with slapped-on particle weapon beams.

The rather dull battle aside, the psychological stakes couldn’t be higher. Phryne’s mother isn’t any more pleasant than her father, as her syrupy platitudes ring hollow when she coaxes Phryne to her lap, only to strangle her half to death. Apparently her mother is also her sister (in a way), because when she was young she was Phryne too, only she wasn’t up-to-snuff enough to serve as the key to the world. She’s bitter, hence the choking.

Basically, Clain kinda fails hard in the Protect-Nessa-and-Phryne department. His first slip-up was not keeping an eye on Phryne, leading her to run off again. Nessa follows him to Temple HQ, so now both parts of the key are in enemy territory. Finally, he’s on the wrong side of a plate glass window when Phryne’s pederast father sniffs her out and grabs her. That’s three strikes in my book; it’ll take a miracle (or deus ex machina) to get the love-lovin’ trio out of this spot… Rating: 3

Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail 1

So yeah, it’s been a while since this first episode of Roberta’s Blood Trail aired – I had actually learned about it from a billboard in Akibahara more than a month earlier. I knew another Black Lagoon was forthcoming; I just didn’t know it would take the form of an series of OVAs and not a third 12-episode anime. That said, I just haven’t gotten to it until now. The fact that many anime on this winter’s list are being delayed for obvious reasons means now I’ve gotten to it…and I liked it.

Black Lagoon’s two seasons were always good for some ridiculous bloody action, and made for really quality underground crime action, as long as the characters laid off the Engrish. Roanapur is a thick, rich, and highly-seasoned setting, and it’s great to return there. It’s like Durarara’s Ikebukuro, only far seedier and more dangerous. One reason I hadn’t gotten to this was, I was never a huge fan of Roberta. I liked it more when the episodes focused on Revy, Rock, Dutch and Benny. Roberta is kind of a one-dimensional monster. Yes, she’s a great fighter (and the various standoffs and fights are a key part of why I enjoy Black Lagoon), but there’s just not much else there.

Fortunately, this first installment has her only on the fringes of the frame, where she’s most interesting. She’s hardly in the half-hour at all, rather her fellow maid Fabiola Iglesias has a prominent role, serving as her master, Garcia Lovelace’s messenger. They’re looking for Roberta, whose revenge against those who killed her Master, Diego, is leading to the titular blood trail. They seem to think Rock can find her. Of course, she’s already in Roanapur. Rating: 3.5

To Aru Majutsu no Index II 23

The war for Academy City apparently experienced a false start, as Kazakiri’s angel transformation is halted and the Right Hand of God temporarily withdraws. No sooner does Accelerator regain consciousness is he recruited by some prettyboy in suit who apparently has a fake name and face.

There are brief moments with Index, Last Order and Misaka, but the majority of the episode is one last taste of school slice-of-life before the war starts in earnest. Touma has lunch with Hinamori, who starts to choke on a potato. When he rubs her back, it breaks her bra. Then Fukiyose takes her place, and before you know it, the entire class elects to hit up a sukiyaki joint. I have to say, after so much needlessly convoluted intrigue and saber-rattling between the magical and scientific factions in this impending war, this kind of calming episode suits me at this time.

While this isn’t a complete break from all of the political shit, it’s enough of one. I also didn’t mind Awaki Musujime returning, if only briefly. Still, I’m wondering if the climactic battle will make any sense, or the layers of muddled intrigue will collapse like a kind of anime souffle. One thing’s for sure: Touma will be punching a few more baddies before all’s said and done. Rating: 3

Puella Magi Madoka Magica Postponement Update

“Due to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the broadcast of episodes 11 and 12 have been postponed, though [a producer] mentioned the delay will allow extra time for the animation studio to improve the drawings for both episodes, with the staff aiming to have the final episode released by the middle of April 2011.”

Fractale 9

The chips all go on the table in this very solid episode of Fractale. The Temple launches a propaganda war against Lost Millenium, forcing all its various branches to band together and launch a last-ditch assault upon the Temple. Sunda drops Clain, Phryne, and Nessa off at Granitz so as not to lead them straight to the lion’s jaws. A fleet of Lost Millenium airships floating in the azure sky was a regal sight.

What I first thought was, oh great, Clain, the somewhat dull lead, is stuck at the village just hanging out while the airships do battle offscreen. Indeed, there’s not much airship battling – at least nothing approaching Last Exile impressiveness – but that turns out to be okay, as this episode is primarily a poignant portrait of the triad of Clain, Phryne and Nessa – and how they’ve come to love one another. I’m surprised how much development has taken place between these three, and their chemistry has benefited greatly from it.

Then Phryne ruins it by running off again – which just seemed a bit like Deja Vu to me. I share in Clain’s rage upon waking up to yet another farewell note – especially since the three of them just promised to be together forever. Phryne has her reasons – mostly pride and responsibility – but she should also realize by now that she can’t go anywhere on her own and not expect Clain to come to her rescue. All the more so now that he knows what an effed-up dad she has! Rating: 3.5

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season 11

Wow, a lot cleared up this week: first of all, Sawako and Kazehaya’s classmates are not only incredibly nosy, but incredibly thick as well. Kazehaya has to repeat himself several times in order to make it clear who Sawako is to him: namely his girlfriend. Sawako can scarcely believe it herself. It’s great to hear both Kazehaya and Sawako speak so clearly about these things at last; without all the cryptology and misunderstandings.

This is an episode packed with catharses; Kent confesses that he misled Sawako; while Chizuri admits she also unwittingly discouraged Kazehaya. A drunk (and rather pathetic) Pin steps back and gazes at the relationship he has helped to forge, while reminding Kazehaya never to rely on the benefit of doubt. The best line of the episode was Pin’s: “Does she really look like someone who would just somehow understand things?” Kazehaya is too punch-drunk in love to realize she really isn’t. Rating: 3.5

Level E 11

Level E finally returns to the life of Tsutsui and shows the Kisaragi baseball team in action, and hilarity ensues. The show rebounds after an episode that lacked almost any comedy. The whole team is swallowed up by the concentration of one teammate; they end up in a dream world consisting of a baseball stadium.

Naturally, Prince tagged along to see if anything could be done to destroy team cohesion through caustic mutual suspicion, but he fails to entertain himself in any meaningful way, as Tsutsui has a shorter fuse then ever, and is more than happy to toss the blonde Doguran around before he can finish his insidious sentences. The team is a bit stumped about what to do, until a rival team appears, then it’s game on. The goal is no longer to escape, but to play some friggin’ ball.

As most of the episode unfolded in this dream world, there was a really eerie and surreal light and droning sound to the place; it was sold really well as a kind of mind prison for the team. The overzealous captain was good for a laugh or two, and Craft crashing a perfectly good third-gen Honda Stepwgn when he hears that the Prince is involved is also pretty alright. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 23

After the fruitless-yet-fruitful mangaka meeting, everyone improved their stories and art and submitted manuscripts for the “Golden Future Cup” on schedule. Even Koogy got his manga finished, despite waiting until the last minute to belt one out after an exhaustive PR campaign.

If this cup is all about votes, he may not have even had to put that much effort into his entry; at the end of the day, he has legions of loyal fans, and name recognition that many are eager to latch on to. His wry grin at the episode’s end suggests that he did well with both early and real deal results.

The thing is, so did everyone else. The results somewhat mirrored Niizuma’s prediction of a two-way tie for first, but otherwise, everyone was asked to write a serialization name. This looks to be a fierce battle. And the show does a great service in showing a taste of everyone’s manga up close; Koogy’s overwrought, pretentious, dialogue-less effort was particularly funny. Rating: 3.5