Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 3

Makoto goes on a date with the almost sickly-cute Ryuushi and really enjoys himself (although dude…you can’t handle fizzy drinks? wtf…), but he finds himself distracted by thoughts of Erio. What is her deal? Meme tells him (in a rather awkward bedroom scene) not to pry, just leave Erio be, like she does – she just wants to be left alone. While that may be true – Erio is in a futon most of the time – Mako simply can’t let her be. He wants to snap her out of it.

To crush her delusions, he decides to go on a bicycle ride with her in the same bike she rode off a bridge, essentially repeating the incident that caused her present trauma and memory loss. He makes her promise to renounce her claim of being alien if she can’t make them fly in the bike. Not surprisingly, they fail to fly, though they fall spectacularly into the sea and the bike is lost. This seems to awaken Erio a bit; her manner of speaking is much more normal, and she concedes defeat. Mako and Erio re-introduce themselves, as Mako believes this is the true beginnning of their friendship. Even though he didn’t mean to take the game of chicken so far (physics had other ideas), he seems quite happy with the result.

This series is really good with close-ups, particularly those of the female characters of the show. But I noticed some really crappy animation mixed in, as well as lots of poorly proportioned limbs, still shots and other instances were corners were clearly cut, which is a shame, especially when Puella Magi Madoka Magica looked consistently superb throughout. Also, the opening theme is easily the worst I’ve ever heard, and the ending isn’t much better (Etsuko Yakushimaru’s songs all sound the same to be now). Depsite these shortcomings, I’m confident the story and characters will continue to do the heavy lifting here. Rating: 3.5

AnoHana 3

A step backwards and a few forward for Jinta week, as he can’t quite make it to school, but is at least out in the world, talking to people besides Menma. Most importantly, the entire crew is reunited thanks to a proactive Poppo, who organizes a barbeque with the theme of searching for Menma, the ghost of whom he saw while taking a piss. It’s inevitable that among these six friends, people will start picking favorites. But I’m having a hard time, as they’re all really complex and full of subtle emotions and mannerisms.

I will say I’m leaning towards Anaru as my early favorite. Her tiny smile when she spots Jinta in his school uniform is great, but she can’t quite fight off her “friends” whose taunting scares Jinta off. This frustrated me to no end, as did Jinta’s turning tail when he saw Anaru on the way to the barbeque. While that latter attempt fails, it exhibited that he’s still a little uncomfortable interacting with other people. His walk to school muttering to himself is another example.

But baudy Poppo, who won’t take no for an answer and has a nice backpacker zen vibe going on, isn’t the only architect of the reunion. It’s Menma. Either spotting her ghost or having her occupy their thoughts, she’s the key. I’m glad the group is back together again and can talk to each other casually, especially when there are only eight episodes left. The series is still moving at a good pace, and yet isn’t feeling rushed. Rating: 4

Sket Dance 4

Maybe I just wasn’t being all that observant in earlier episodes, but this week’s Sket Dance seemed to break the fourth wall a whole lot more than the previous three combined. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; pointing out cliches at least shows an awareness of those cliches, and attempting to subvert otherwise stale tropes by basically talking directly to the audience is hard to pull off convincingly, but here it works.

The first part made good use of the fourth wall by introducing an old school anime girl who often slips into a kind of drunk-glasses mode where she sees Bossun as a charming prince, and a lollipop-branded towel as a puppy. Seriously, if I was this person, I wouldn’t go out at night; a rapist or murderer might look like a banana parfait and ladybug. It’s also cheeky that Bossun is a much better draftsman than a member of the manga club, and furthermore he’s the one who ultimately realizes he’s the guy she’s looking for, just by hanging out with her enough.

The second part is a lollipop caper, involvoing the baddie from the first episode. I don’t really remember him, but he was more memorable here, exhibiting more depth and range of emotions. As it turns out, he also happened to be wrongly accused of theft by Sket-dan, and he was just lucky that day because his horoscope said he would be. No matter; no matter how silly and absurd Sket-dan’s missions get, they always get their clients results in the end. They also keep you guessing, and keep you entertained with rapid-fire banter and excellent chemistry. All without resorting to fanservice or harems. Not a bad deal so far. Rating: 3.5

It’s 2PM, and 2PM is stuck in my head…thanks to Bach

A German dude who died 261 years ago is still influencing Korean boy bands.

I’ll explain: I have a bit of a problem. The ending theme to Ao no Exorcist has been firmly lodged in my head. Despite a strict regime of drum-and-bass Pandora, I can’t escape the four-on-the-floor beats and capable, if cheesy, vocals. I’ll also admit to being quite surprised when I learned that the music track, a single called “Take Off”, wasn’t by a J-pop group, but a South Korean boy band called 2PM. They also happen to be the first Korean band to reach the Number One spot on the USEN’s J-Pop Chart, whatever the hell that means. It’s three releases also ranked 1, 2, and 3 on the Tower Records Japan pre-order chart. To translate: I’m not the only person who thinks this is a catchy tune.

One of the things that I wracked my brain about was this: what is that electronic arpeggio running the whole course of the song? It sounded so familiar. That’s because it was. But from where? I traced my media steps. Did it play on Buffy? No…Hanna? No, that was all Chemical Brothers. King’s Speech? No; Beethoven’s 7th. Puella Magi Madoka Magica? BINGO. Sayaka’s would-be boyfriend plays the Romantic violin half of Ave Maria, whereby Charles Gounod superimposes the strings over Prelude No. 1 in C major by who else but Johann Sebastian Bach, part of his Well-Tempered Clavier. When a pal of mine from Cali came home for Christmas, he also played this Bach prelude on the ivories. It’s one of my favorite Bach pieces, and it definitely augments the hopeful energy of “Take Off.”

Mind you, it isn’t just the music that makes Ao no Exorcist’s ending a great one in my books. The visuals consist of a straight-up to straight-on, 90-degree vertical pan to a first-person drive along an extremely straight road that traverses a sea and passes under True Cross Academy Island. The sky also quickly but smoothly transitions from day to dusk to calm night. Characters from the series can be seen on video billboards doing the same choreography as 2PM, a clever touch, while other billboards display static images of other characters. The camera finally stops its relentless push forward on an isolated, grassy island, just before a blue-glowing katana.

It’s a great concept, very nicely executed. And even scoring the Bach reference, it remains firmly implanted in my head, likely impervious even to the auto-tuned stylings of Fraulein Black. Damn pop music.

The World God Only Knows II 3

And so we finally meet another demon in Haqua. She seems more mature and accomplished than Elcee at first, but all it takes is for her to ask Elcee how many loose souls she’s captured to reveal that she’s all talk. Loud and annoying as Elcee is, she likes red fire trucks (so do I) and is honest, which is more than I can say for the so-called “section chief”.

This episode also laid out exactly why cute girls refer to themselves as demons from hell. See, there was a brutal, savage hell way back when, but the demons who lived there split in too, with Elcee and Haqua’s half starting up a new Hell based on order and logic, whatever that means. So the girls are new demons fighting old demons. And this is the first time we see a loose soul gaining enough power to become a true threat.

I like how Keima doesn’t flinch in the midst of Haqua’s self-importance or her threats and teasing. He sees right through her almost immediately, but because she possesses knowledge he hasn’t been able to pry from Elcee, her presence is fortuitous. Now she’ll surely have to work with Elcee in order to defeat the soul she let escape and become more powerful. Derp derp…Rating: 3

Ao no Exorcist 2

Let me get one thing out of the way. When Rin (voiced by Nobuhiko Okamoto) starts screaming in that shrill, high-pitched tone, it isn’t pleasant. And unfortunately, he screams a lot. When he’s confused, angry, sad, pumped up…it seems like he’s going to scream a lot. I hope it doesn’t ruin my experience with this series, because I really dig the ending sequence, and it otherwise looks to be an interesting series. But the screaming isn’t helping. No it isn’t.

Anyway, in the midst of Rin’s shrill screaming, things actually go down this week; serious things. The monastery Rin was living in? pretty much leveled by demons. The dude he fought returns, and he’s 10x powerful; so much so that a whole brace of exorcists have trouble bringing him down. And when they finally do, things get worse: Reverand Fujimoto, Rin’s de facto father, is possessed by the devil, and has no choice but to stab himself to protect Rin. Thus Rin’s father dies, literally moments after Rin cursed his name and disowned him for keeping his demon ancestry from him.

Full of guilt, Rin, now part-demon in body as well as blood, and in possession of a glowing blue katana that embodies his strength, he sets out on is own, carrying nothing but that sword and a phone with one number; the number for Sir Pheles. Besides resembling the dude in Control, he allows Rin to join the ranks of exorcists, despite his standing orders to dispose of Rin now that his demon within has awakened. Now the story truly begins with Rin sent off to True Cross Academy, shown in both the opening, closing and preview as a Minas Tirith/Dead City style whimsical metropolis. There, hopefully he’ll learn a more dignified scream. Rating: 3

Hyouge Mono 2

Another episode of Sasuke’s inner conflict between the aesthete and the warrior. He resolves himself to be a full-on warrior from henceforth (didn’t he do that last week too?) only to fall off the wagon at a crucial time. The strengths from the first episode: eminently watchable characters, addictive fancy-pants dialogue, a curiously satisfying pace, anachronistic soundtrack, and a whole lot of novel ideas about the self.

Sasuke has a relatively nice life – one could even say luxurious for the time frame. He has the favor of his lord, a sublime wife of ideal disposition for her time and place, a cute young daughter, a decent crib, and a smart wardrobe. His scenes with his wife – exchanging apologies to each other before getting it on – only to be interrupted by news of a rebellion – are resplendent in their austerity. Despite everything he has though, he remains deeply conflicted. His humbling meeting with a tea master – someone, to his mind, far better at this than he – reveals that it isn’t just his warrior side he doubts, but his aesthete side as well.

His true love of the way of tea clouds his judgment as a warrior. His bluff of all bluffs – threatening to kill his wife (the rebel’s sister) unless his brother-in-law surrenders – is a desperate attempt to show those around him he’s a serious warrior. But when he corners another escaping rebel, he is bribed into sparing him by, what else, another legendarily exquisite piece of ceramic. Had there been other witnesses, Sasuke surely would have taken the rebel’s head…eventually. But to possess the mettle of a warrior, one must do things of one’s own accord, without outside influences bending him either way.

Thus Sasuke falls of the wagon and we, the audience, still question his credibility as a warrior. But that’s why we love him. Better luck next week. Rating: 4

Hanasaku Iroha 4

The school trimester starts, and Ohana ends up in the same class as Minko and Nako. There she quickly learns how a school full of teenagers from the boonies react when a “Tokyo Girl” arrives. She never gave it much thought before now, and neither did we. She even seems to have a boyfriends – of sorts, though she’ll always deny it. That said, all her little inner retorts to the rapidfire comments of the classmates are quite funny…and true too.

A beautiful girl comes to release her from the oglers. She turns out to be Ohana’s sworn enemy, Yuina. Well, not really, just another heiress to a profitable bathhouse, Fukuya. She’s the first to approach Ohana as a regular girl. Ohana learns a lot at school, between the classes: Minko is very popular with the fellas, but rejects them all before they can even get their confessions out.

In her resentful interactions with Ohana throughout the episode, she ends up slipping up, attributing the same qualities she sees in her ideal man to Tohru. This shocks Ohana, who has always seen Tohru as a tiresome tease. But Minko is serious, and Tohru likely has no idea, especially when the twist arrives: Yuina is dating him! All this human drama is nicely punctuated by the presence of a very bold grey heron who is always bumping into Ohana. I’m not sure if there’s some symbolism in that, but it’s intriguing all the same. Rating: 3.5

[C]: Control: The Money and Soul of Possibility 2

This week Yoga is acquainted with his “asset” (Mashu, a cybernymph, of sorts) and has to fight in his first “deal” (duel) with another fellow player of the game. Losing means going bankrupt, which isn’t pleasant, either in the financial or real world. Fortunately, Mashu is an extraordinarily strong asset, and with her guidance he’s able to win. Also fortunately, while she’s scantily clad, she’s not a squeaky-voiced goofball, but actually quite surly, and fanservice is kept to a minimum.

Winning means a payoff. A considerable one, as when he returns to the real world (the whole ordeal was like a dream), he finds more than 33 million yen in his bank account and starts spending a little freer. His friend Hanabi notices his unfrugal-for-him behavior. He’s also able to talk with Mashu just by talking to the funky card he’s been given. He also suddenly sees banknotes that look normal to everyone else as strange, sinister, black notes from the Midas Bank.

One of his potential rivals, Mikuni, is the only other person his asset Q can recall winning his first deal. She also points out that it was while he was trying to save her, just as Yoga was treating Mashu like a human. But while Mikuni’s gained ambition and rises to challenges, Yoga still wants a normal life with normal pay, and no more. It’s pretty clear that aiming that low could get him hurt in the financial world. While not nearly in as dire a situation as Deadman Wonderland’s Ganta, Yoga nevertheless has stepped into something much bigger than himself, and must adjust to survive. Rating: 4

Deadman Wonderland 2

It’s more horror and peril than wonder at Deadman Wonderland. What I find very interesting so far is that at least part of the audience of normal Japanese citizens seems to think that inmates aren’t really being torn apart, shot, burned, boiled, or otherwise killed; they think it’s all special effects. Since we’re right with Ganta the whole time, we know otherwise.

This week he meets a couple more friendly faces: the prison nurse, and Yoh, a fellow inmate. He also meets some new not-so-friendly ones, including Kozuji, an MMA champ doing time for killing his girlfriend. Naturally, he has a posse too, and Ganta is punished for not showing proper respect. But after all the threats and ridicule and actually going through a hellish obstacle course and reaching the final stage, it’s the final straw for Ganta. No more worrying about how he’ll die. He can’t control that. He’s going to focus on survival, not fear of death.

He’s helped from death literally dozens of times from Shiro. We still don’t have any answers about who she is, and no officials seem to care that she doesn’t wear a prison jumpsuit, is a girl, and is always doing what she wants. The series meets us halfway with our doubts that Ganta has any chance against larger, more athletic inmates in this race by having Shiro help him. In return, rather than catch her tossed ball to win money to buy candy in the future, he uses his free arm to save her from a Sonic-like spike put. While I thought his sudden change of heart and summoning of courage seemed a bit rushed, at the same time, under such conditions, kids grow up fast, and become hardened to their plight. Rating: 3.5

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 12

And so, the best series of the Winter 2011 season ends – in late April – not with a whimper, but with – what else – the re-making of the entire universe. Madoka can make any wish, so she decides to wish for there never being any witches. This pisses off Incubator, but it happens. Of course, there’s a price to be paid. That price is, no more Madoka. Aside from episode 10, this is the only time the heroine is a maho shojo, and she’s nothing like any other; as her newly-gained godlike powers allow her to free the souls of maho shojo from soul gems all over the world, so they’ll never become witches. No maho shojo, no witches.

Of course, even though Madoka makes sure to be as explicit and detailed with her wish as possible, the universe proves just as devious as Incubator. The new universe she creates still has Maho Shojo, but they fight “magical beasts” rather than witches. Ah well, close enough! Kyubey is still around, but it seems he’s more of a friend than a trickster. Also, in the realm/void between the end of the old universe and the birth of the new one, Madoka and Homura say their goodbyes, and Madoka gives her her hair ribbon. The result of this is, Homura is the only person who remembers Madoka. Even for her brother, Madoka is just an imaginary friend. While Madoka is now free of her fate, Homura can’t be all that happy her best friend had to sacrifice her entire existence in order to eliminate witches.

While this series has never been shy about highly abstract settings, especially when dealing with witches, the whole end-of-the-universe transition was a little sudden and overwrought, with whispers of End of Evangelion. The naked space Madoka and Homura bordered on silly-looking, and their tearful goodbye, while earned, bordered on sappy at times. Despite these issues, the series ended strong, and now complete, I can count it among my favorite anime series due to its highly original and entertaining twist on the maho shojo genre. It’s also perhaps Akiyuki Shinbo’s finest non-comedy series. Don’t be put off by the girly opening and frilly costumes; this series has true grit. Rating: 3.5

Series Mean Ranking: 3.750

Puella Magi Madoka Magica 11

I feared the month-long hiatus would have killed most of the momentum gained after the milestone tenth episode that chronicles Akemi Homura’s odyssey through time and space to protect Madoka. Those fears were mostly allayed by yet another episode that may not have been as action pack as last month’s, but was certainly full of crucial information and more startling revelations. Kyubey figures out Homura’s power, but is never worried about it, and in fact is congratulatory towards Homura. This is because he believes by pressing the reset button so many times, Homura has allowed Madoka to become a more and more powerful magical girl, and thus her karmic burden grows more and more immense.

This is one last ef-u for Homura, who has apparently been working so hard to avoid exactly what her actions have caused: a ridiculously-powerful Madoka. Worse still, even in this timeline, there is no way Homura can prevent Madoka from contracting. Everyone else is dead; Madoka is responsible, and even though she knows Kyubey is up to no good, she is compelled to lend Homura a helping hand, even if it means abandoning her family. Madoka’s mind is made up once Homura finally opens up to her about what’s going on and why.

Homura initially tries to fight Walpurgisnacht herself, but not surprisingly fails, despite some impressive pyrotechnics (which seemingly destroy a fair amount of the city). Bloodied and beaten, Homura lies amongst debris, and for once, hesitates to turn back time; doing so would only hurt Madoka more, in her mind. With Homura down and out and no more magical girls extant, Madoka has to step in, stand tall, and make a bad deal with a cold, logical alien; taking her mother’s advice to stop being so good and do something bad for once. Rating: 4

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 2

Makoto wants to make the most of his new start in a new home and school, and he seems to be off to a good one so far. After all, he is in the “springtime of his life”. Meeting and hanging out with pretty girls is his priority, and its not a bad one. While Erio is his cousin, the next two ladies he meets – Ryuushi and Maekawa, aren’t. Ryuushi strikes me as a “Minorin” type (from Toradora): super-optimistic on the surface, perhaps hiding something deeper in; while Maekawa is a more demure, Senjogahara-type. Both are as weird as they are beautiful, and both are fine additions to the cast.

As for Erio, she keeps spouting apparent nonsense about alien abductions and whatnot, and Makoto humors her by listening and not being too judgmental. Maekawa professes to have known Erio, who is “famous” for having dropped out of school, claiming abduction at first, then changing her story to becoming an observer. When her mom comes home and Makoto asks her about it, she tells him Erio has a half-year gap in her memory. We don’t know which is true…yet. But the truth will be verrry interesting. Rating: 3.5