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

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[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