Tari Tari – 05

Konatsu, Sawa, Wien and Wakana attend Taichi’s badminton match. He loses and fails to advance to the Nationals. Wakana is preoccupied by memories of her mother’s last days, in which she wasn’t the best daughter she could have been. She has her dad arrange to have the piano in her room removed, along with boxes of other junk and a memento her mother made her. She regrets having never said goodbye, sorry, or thank you before her mother passed.

Thanks a lot, Condor Queens…thanks to that  letter, you made Wakana – already a walking frown – descend into despair this week. This episode gets good marks for plumbing the depths of grief and guilt Wakana bears, while getting us to feel a bit of it with her. In her mother’s last days and weeks, Wakana’s frown was a perpetual scowl, as she was that age when her mother was suddenly no longer her best friend, but an annoyance and eyesore. Little did she know that she’d never have a chance to make up for all that harsh treatment – she took her mother’s love for granted and is almost lost without it.

Wakana can’t stand the fact she was a self-centered brat more concerned with getting into a good school than her mother’s illness. Right up to the point when she got the news of her death – while in the middle of her school interview. Now it’s as if Wakana doesn’t want to let herself have fun or be happy anymore, which is why she avoids Konatsu and the others. Maybe she thinks she doesn’t deserve happiness as punishment for her past transgressions. But from what we saw of her in memories, her mother was a joyful person who wouldn’t want her daughter to waste her youth wallowing in despair.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Car Cameos: On Wakana’s sad walk home, the background traffic includes a 5-door Suzuki Swift, a first-generation Honda Fit, a Nissan March, and the Audi A4 sedan we’ve seen before.

Hyouka – 15

After briefly celebrating their Wildfire win, Fukobe, Chitanda and Ibara bring the Juumoji mystery to Oreki’s attention. Chitanda uses her catch phrase, and Oreki grudgingly agrees to participate. They determine that the pattern of crimes indicates the use of the ten first characters in the hiragana alphabet, and that the final theft could occur in the Classics Club. Chitanda reports this to the Newspaper Club, who are already on top of it, while Fukobe tries to catch the thief in the act, wanting to solve the crime without further help from Oreki.

So we were a little off: this episode didn’t comprise the third day of the festival in which the mystery is solved. Instead, the second day continues with the start of the investigations. It’s a day that concludes with a pretty solid theory in place for what’s going on, and whoever the thief is, he’s pretty clever. Chitanda takes Irisu’s advice amusingly literally, but beause the Classics Club could be the last target, the mystery nets them more free publicity anyway, which is good, because there’s a lot of anthologies still on that table.

In the meantime, Fukube starts to show signs he may be sick of playing second fiddle to Oreki. He stops himself when about to suggest something involving the case, then goes off on his own to catch the thief in the act, which he believes is the only way he or she will be caught. Mayaka’s Manga Society troubles continue, being teased by her clubmates and retreating to mope beside Oreki and at an isolated bridge where her prez tries to console her. But the overarching question is, who will catch the thief? If it isn’t Oreki, will he care? We think he will.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Rinne no Lagrange – 16

Dizelmine and Villagiulio arrive at Kamogawa, and Asteria wastes no time luring them into an elevator rigged with cameras that gets stuck between floors. Asteria, Todokoro, the Vox pilots and the two Kings’ delegations watch as they talk things through. In the middle of their chat, an Ovid makes an unauthorized launch and nearly crashes into BWH. The pilot aboard is Yurikano, who escaped her handlers. Dizelmine rescued her from the Militia Zodia calamity, and she’s reverted to a childlike state, and has no memory of who she is of her big brother Villagiulio. She returns to the La Garite mothership with Dizelmine; Lan, Muginami and Madoka tag along.

Former buddies Dizelmine and Villagiulio have a nice, cordial little discussion (not that they have a choice, falling victim to another Asteria scheme), but it doesn’t solve anything this week; war is coming as long as Dizelmine is convinced the only way to save his planet is to destroy De Metrio. The sudden appearance of Yurikano is almost the cherry on top that enrages Villagiulio to action. His sister may not recognize him, but that doesn’t change who she is, and he probably doesn’t appreciate Dizelmine being the sole source of her recovery.

Now that the secret of Yurikano being alive is out, another secret remains: why she talked to Madoka at the end of last season, and appeared in her cockpit in the previous episode. Madoka doesn’t get any answers, and neither do we; Asteria remains tight-lipped. The solution is to go aboard Dizelmine’s ship (in hilariously half-assed disguises) and try to find out more. Rinne’s second season’s first five episodes are reminding us of Eureka Seven Ao’s first five – all very competent, entertaining, fun outings, but nothing that’s categorically wowed us. But we’re confident that wow episode is coming. That’s right…we just used wow as a verb and and adjective!

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 05

Yuuya begins training in his new Type 94 Shiranui Type 2, and is just as frustrated with it as we was with the Type 97. Lt. Takamura tells him ‘a man and horse must be one’, and Vincent reiterates that fighting the natural tendencies of the TSF won’t get him anywhere. After a belated welcoming party, Argos Flight goes on another training mission, which is interrupted by Takamura herself. She quickly takes out everyone and spars with Yuuya, who adjusts his piloting style and manages to knock her sword away. On her way back to HQ Yui encounters Inia, who greets her and then runs away.

The battle of wills between Yuuya and Yui continues next week, and was just on the verge of becoming stale when Yui decided to go out and teach Yuuya a firsthand lesson in how to handle one’s TSF. As Vincent astutely points out, they’re actually pretty alike; in that neither back down when they should, and neither are totally honest with themselves. Deep down they probably both see themselves in one another, which pisses them off even more. Yui may go on about how useless he is, but as her shower scene makes clear, she’s irked by his fast progress and potential for greatness.

This isn’t surprising, since Yui probably blames herself for not being able to save any of her friends years ago. Ever since then she’s built up a thicker and tougher armor around herself, but that trauma still festers. Still, her job is to polish the rough ore of Argos into a shimmering gem of BETA-killing, and so her surprise crashing of their training mission also made sense. Her goal was to either beat the hell out of him, or get him to trust his TSF enough to defend himself…and it worked. Now, if only we knew what the heck Inia is up to, and why she keeps showing up and calling people nice…

Rating: 6 (Good)

Sket Dance – 68

Remi has been going on a lot of dates with Chuu-san and his daughter, Suzu, and Remi thinks she’s fallen in love with him. She and Suzu got to the Sket-dan seeking advice on how to bring Chuu-san around. Suzu suggests they use her dad’s love potion, but it comes in three parts: a solid, powder, and liquid, that must be ingested in order in a certain way within a specific time.

Bossun devises a ridiculously pie-in-the-sky plan, but Remi and Suzu manage to pull it off, except when it comes time for Remi to finish the procedure. Both she and Suzu agree that it wasn’t the right way to go about it. But later, when he overhears her feelings on the balcony, Chuu proposes. Remi says no, but only not yet; she wants to date first.

The idea of Chuu+Remi has been teased since the two first met, and now something concrete has finally happened: a proposal has been wrested from Chuu, and while it is respectfully declined by Remi, her’s is more of a postponement than outright rejection, since she’s said on numerous occasions she wants to be Chuu’s wife and Suzu’s new mom.

The episode is spiced up by a very entertaining, convoluted plan for drugging Chuu, which relies on many factors – including the existence of a restaurant that serves everything (which is somewhere we’d like to go sometime). And in fitting Sket-dan fashion, things don’t go as planned, but it’s okay…everything will eventually work out. And no, Sket Dance, we don’t believe for a second you’ll ever have Bossun fall in love with someone. 

Rating: 5 (Average)

Sword Art Online – 04

Kirito saves the life of a middle school-aged player named Silica who had reently left her party. Before he arrived her familiar, Pina, takes a blow for her and dies, but he mentions a flower on Floor 47 that can revive a pet within three days, and agrees to accompany her. With his help she’s able to make it to the Hill of Memories and retrieve the flower, but they’re ambushed by thugs led by Rosalia, one of Silica’s former teammates. Kirito easily thwarts them and sends them all to jail. Silica revives Pina, and the two go their separate ways, hoping to meet in the real world one day.

Sachi’s death and final message to Kirito really changed him for the better. He now knows firsthand that SAO is not just a game, and that there are more important things than levels, rare items, and power. Blessed with a natural knack for the game and a high level, Kirito is now doing his part for everyone below him, soloing on the front lines. But he also wants to give back by helping in more direct ways. In the case of this episode, that’s helping a young player get her familiar (and confidence) back, while simultaneously using her as bait to capture a “bad guy.” We believed his protcetive big-brother attitude toward her, and Silica does a good job not punching or yelling at Kirito for catching a glimpse of her upskirt. In fact, her spasticness is kept to a pleasant minimum.

That’s right, conflicts in SAO go beyond mere bickering over items: there are now genuine murderers preying on their fellow players, either deluding themselves that no one’s really dying (like Rosalia does), or simply not caring either way. But even small-time baddies who toil on the lower levels aren’t safe from Kirito’s judgment. It’s pretty satisfying to see him get jumped by seven guys and not even flinch as they hack away at him – as well as his demoralizing, by-the-numbers explanation of why they can’t beat him and never will, and should just go quietly to jail. This isn’t just about winning and ending the game for “The Black Swordsman”, but making sure the SAO world is a civil one where the strong protect the weak.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Kokoro Connect – 04

Inaba turns out to have only suffered a dizzy spell, as she’s been under the weather. When they escort her home, she tells Taichi to help Iori with her trauma, like he did with Yui, even though she promised Iori not to talk about it. Iori tells Taichi that even before the swapping, she didn’t have a good grip on who she was, and had no idea how to live her own life. Taichi promises no matter who she becomes down the road, he’ll still recognize her.

After Taichi and Inaba swap, then swap back, he presses her on what’s bothering her. She tells him she has no trauma; only that she doesn’t feel she can trust anyone – especially him and the others with her body. He tells her it’s okay, that she’s fine the way she is, and she should accept it and make it known to the others. They both exchange intimate secrets to help get the weight off her shoulders. When she confesses to the others, they’re fine with it too.

We were trying not to like this show (as one among many club-based school dramas), but if it’s going to pump out episodes like this, we’re not going to bother. Taichi, the “selfless freak”, builds upon his success with Yui last week and gets to know the other two ladies this week, offering them advice so they can move forward without fear or doubt. Iori had been acting a little odd since the swapping started, and now we know why: she is and always has been a chameleon, and now she’s deathly afraid of “fading away” altogether. Taichi assures her that won’t happen, but doesn’t tell her the real reason; he loves her. The question is, was that something he was just thinking of saying in that situation, or is he truly in love with her?

Before we can contemplate the answer, he’s moved on to Inaba, who is exhibiting worrying physical ailments. It turns out she’s just a worrywart, and her girlfriends can relate. But Taichi’s perseverance in getting to her deep-seated troubles was a very well-done scene, full of complex emotions. Their brave exchange of ‘lethal’ secrets (that they’ve both masturbated to one another) definitely deepens their relationship. This isn’t an ecchi series, but these are high schoolers, and they’re horny. With all the intimate exchanges and shared experiences that come with body-swapping, it’s inevitable that they’e going to start falling for each other…and perhaps not for who they thought.

Rating: 8 (Great)

Eureka Seven AO – 15

Nirvash is fixed as Generation Bleu tries to plan their next step. Han and Pippo are in Japan witnessing Nakamura’s continued parading of the Secret head; they report they’re getting close to communicating with it. When a dormant scub coral reawakens, Pied Piper goes after the secret, which has human form and shoots Ao down. Corals all over the world start to reawaken. Han and Pippo smuggle Georg into a server farm, and he is ‘hacked’ by the secret.

With all the recent doins’ transpirin’, it’s starting to look more and more like a crossroads is coming for Fukai Ao. It also seems like as brief as his mother Eureka’s presence in his timeline was, it was definitely some kind of catalyst. The scub corals are behaving like they never have before, the secrets are getting less and less secretive, and, as we said, Ao is torn between believing his mother’s insistance they’re not his enemies, and his comrades at Generation Bleu insistance that they are.

Ao isn’t the only one facing a tough choice (though it’s wearing on him to the point he needs pills from Gazelle to sleep); Fleur’s dad Cristophe Blanc needs to decide who to fight: the scub coral, the secrets…or both. There’s a sense of hesitation in Ivica’s talk with him: what if the secrets are allies simply protecting their dimension? Blanc’s ultimate decision is to use the massive stockpile of quartz they’ve extracted from scub corals as secret bait. We’d probably just maintain a high-alert wait-and-see position before going after one side or the other, but maybe Blanc knows something we don’t. He’s the boss for a reason.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Accel World – 16

Haru begins his training with Sky Raker, who tells him the secret to his powers of flight weren’t his wings (they were just for show), it was his willpower, overwriting the reality of the virtual world. Raker nudges him off the pillar of stone, making him climb up, but after a transition it becomes solid metal, so he must use the “incarnate system” to slice handholds and footholds into the metal. On the seventh day, he reaches the top. Sky Raker tells him how she became wheelchair-bound, and lends him her “gale thruster” to help him get back into the habit of flying, in hopes he won’t follow her path.

Obsession is a dangerous thing. Sky Raker (not Laker) developed one when she could never jump high enough; she wanted to fly. So she took the drastic step of having her legs cut off – and she made her only friend – Black Lotus – do it for her (perhaps to make her avatar more like the real-life Raker, who has artificial legs). Even two legs lighter, she could still only jump, and not fly. Haru’s different. Hime knew it when she recruited him, and Raker seems to sense it too. He can fly, wings or no. And so she gives him a crash course in Neo-like “hacking” of the virtual reality of Accel World. It’s a program with rules that can be bent..and broken.

In training to restore some semblance of his flight ability, Haru has the advantage of Accel World’s extreme time differential – since one  real world day equals three Accel World years. We wish there’d been a more clear indication of how brief a time his seven Accel days actually were when he logs out and meets the real Raker, because Nomi wasn’t around to bother him. In any case, it’ll be his willpower – and Chiyu’s – against Nomi’s sly trickery. We’re looking forward to Nomi getting his comeuppance!

Rating: 6 (Good)

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 04

Hazuki goes on a date with Rokka to Hanayashiki with the mission to get her to smile and laugh like she used to when Atsushi was still alive. While they proceed to have an okay time, Rokka is distracted by memories of when she came here with her late husband, to the point where she even spots his ghost in places. Defeated, Hazuki gets very drunk before returning to Rokka’s for late night tea, and consents to let Atsushi borrow his body. Atsushi rejoices, now able to touch and speak to her.

Thursday’s lineup this summer is a Yin & Yang affair: Binbogami’s the fire, earth, bubblegum soda pop and Red Bull; Natsuyuki Rendezvous is the water and gentle breeze and a fine red wine…or perhaps a cool, frosty Asahi Super Dry. This is Hazuki’s Big Day, and if he can’t get her to laugh – or at least consent to sex – he’ll consider it a failure and he won’t know what to do next. Well, to his surprise (and horror) he does make her laugh by asking if she’ll have sex with him. Her answer – “out of the question” is as devastating as it is vague (and nicely punctuated by a low piano string strike and a pool of blood-like water ice syrup). “Hey, Rokka, I didn’t mean right here and now. I meant in general!

Hindsight is 20/20, but it turned out to be a mistake to bring her to a place that evokes such vivid and powerful memories in Rokka, who hasn’t been there since Atsushi’s death. He could have made her laugh somewhere else, but at Hanayashiki it’s as if Atsushi’s there, only invisible and thus even more insidious. It would have been just fine if the episode ended when the date did, but the show does us one better and has a thoroughly boiled and desperate Hazuki lets Atsushi possess him. This is his plan. Perhaps he feels damned if he does or damned  if he doesn’t. Regardless, this should be interesting!

Rating: 8 

P.S. So, Japanese for “chicken” (as in scared) is…chicken! Sweet!

Binbougami ga! – 04

Momiji avails herself of the aid of her masochistic dog god pal Inugami Momou. She stimulates him into the form of a tiny, cute puppy for Ichiko to pick up. Once inside her apartment, Momou is to use a gadget to drain Ichiko of her fortune. However, when he sees the good, gentle, sensitive side of her, he can’t bring himself to do it, especially after he activates another gadget that causes her treasured box of Suwano’s letters ends up in a landfill and she searches through the night. While washing Momou in the bath, he returns to human form, and he sees the side Momiji was talking about.

This week Momiji gets some reinforcements, and we get a fresh perspective on her, not from another misfortune god, but from a dog god. We didn’t think much of Momou, especially when Momiji broke out the S&M routine. But his inner dialogue when observing Ichiko reveals a clearer head than Momiji, who is extremely jealous of her fortune, no matter what she says. He also realizes one night that Ichiko’s fortune is an almost Perfect Defense, even helping her foil his plans in her sleep.

The punishment Momou receives never ascends to Ren Höek-esque lyricism, but this series definitely knows how to toss its characters around. The worst he gets is when he reverts to human form – in her naked arms. She rips the bathtub off the floor and beats him with it, which is just plain nuts. Still, his time with her wasn’t in vain: he learned that Momiji wasn’t telling the whole story, only half of it. Ichiko most definitely is a short-tempered, violent brute, but when it comes to family (Suwano), she’s a big(-boobed) ol’ softie.

Rating: 6 (Good)

P.S. The priest/exorcist guy just kinda took up space this week…

Summer 2012 OPs and EDs

None of the OPs and EDs of the shows we’re reviewing have knocked our socks off, but there are certainly good ones and bad ones. Let’s explore:

Tari Tari
OP: The cast running around like they’re on a sugar high to forgettable music. Rating: 2
ED: The cast sitting on a ledge, followed by panning closeups, accompanied by muzak. Boring! Rating: 2

Accel World
OP: Goofy techno beat (there is good techno, this is not it), generic action/character montage, and naked Haru flying around. Guh. Rating: 2
ED: Similarly underwhelming. Rating: 2

OP: One-way Two-way Three-way Four-way No way this is a great opening. Kinda catchy though. Rating: 2.5
ED: Shots of the two leads in various outfits. Well-drawn, but random. Rating: 2.5

OP: Very well-animated, but paired with uninspiring music, and the whole “Oreki stuck inside reflections” thing…it’s just bludgeoning us in the heads with its symbolism. Rating: 3
ED: Corny Sherlock/Watson cosplay. We get it, they’re like, detectives! Rating: 2.5

Kokoro Connect
OP: We like the flying logo, but the rest is your standard high schoolish opening, much like Tari Tari. Rating: 2.5
ED: We like how the ending theme plays over the next episode preview, then segues seamlessly into the ED; a novel approach. The music is nice and funky and complements the ‘winding down’ sunset visuals. Not too shabby! Rating: 3.5

Eureka Seven AO
OP: Great Animation, so-so music. Overall, not bad. Rating: 3
ED: In no danger of supplanting our favorite EDs, ‘Tip Taps’, but not bad either. Rating: 3

Sword Art Online
OP: Comely visuals and a theme that gets us pumped up without getting irritating (though we don’t really dig the dissonance in the last sung lines.). Nothing extraordinary, but competently done. Rating: 3
ED: Nice slow, graceful vertical character pans, so-so music. Rating: 3

Rinne no Lagrange 2
OP: We loved the first season’s OP. We just like this. Rating: 3
ED: This actually improved last season’s ED by expanding on it and making it weirder. Very catchy theme. Rating: 3.5

Natsuyuki Rendezvous
OP: Pleasant enough visuals (we liked the multi-burst character portraits) paired with fairly generic music for the genre. Rating: 3
ED: Gorgeous visuals and better music. Rating: 3.5

Muv-Luv Alternative
OP: It’s not the prettiest, but the quirky pulsing techno-rock sells it. Rating: 3.5
ED: Pretty standard visuals, but again the music steals the show, progressing from a smooth and breezy ballad to more urgent battle music appropriate to the series’ harsh setting. Rating: 3.5

Mimi wo Sumaseba

During summer vacation, lazy bookworm Tsukishima Shizuku observes an cat riding on the train. Intrigued, she decides to follow him. The chase leads her to Amasawa Seiji, a boy who dreams of becoming a violin maker, and The Baron, a cat figurine who, along with Seiji, inspires her to explore her own creative pursuit: a fantasy novel. Shizuku and Seiji fall for one another just as he’s headed off to Italy for two months, and Shizuku contends with the loneliness by burying herself in her novel, affecting her marks and leading to a family meeting. When her trials are over and she delivers the draft of her novel to Seiji’s grandpa, The Baron’s owner, it evokes in him memories of his own lost love. Seiji returns, and he and an elated Shizuki take his bike to the highest point in town to watch the sunrise together.

We’ve wanted to review this film for a while now. Directed by the late Kondou Yoshifumi (who died before his time) with storyboards by Miyazaki, It’s a classic and perhaps our favorite Ghibli film (our top 3 tend to fluctuate), one that focuses on the real-life struggles of young people and limits the fantasy elements to their imaginations. We take an instant liking to Shizuku, remembering the endless possibilities of summer often boiling down to goofing off (or in her case, reading books indoors) until it’s suddenly gone. It’s full of brilliant moments like the transition from the dark clouds encroaching on a summer afternoon to the first day of school when it’s pouring, enhanced by Nomi Yuuji’s stirring, soaring orchestral score (gives us goosebumps every time). Meeting Seiji requires some degree of coincidence – call it fate – but their budding romance is straightforward and expertly handled. There are times, perhaps, when a kiss is called for, but the lack of overt gestures of affection doesn’t detract from the romance here. It’s understated, mature, and feels very real.

The film takes place in beautifully-rendered, intricately-detailed, sprawling West Tokyo in 1994, which is a character in and of itself. The hum and pulse of the city, with its engines and horns and sirens, people weaving around trains and bikes and cars, it’s all so vital and alive. Shizuku’s various moods as she walks and runs through the twisting streets are all perfectly accompanied by Nomi’s score, and there’s great contrast between Shizuku’s crowded, cave-like apartment (God, we love that apartment) and the gorgeous vistas of the dramatically-perched antique store (the vistas from the deck are superb!). We also enjoyed the side characters, from the very cat-like cat Moon to Shizuku’s pushy big sister and progressive parents, who let her do what she wants as long as she takes responsibility if she fails in her creative pursuit.

We could frankly muse about how much ass this film kicks all day. It transports us back to nineties West Tokyo and drops us right in the middle of the life of a girl tentatively striking out on her own road and, while on it, meets someone she can share the journey with. Whenever we watch it, it always lifts our spirits. It even inspired us to write our own novel, while being mindful not to expect instant perfection, but starting with roughly-hewed ore from which gems can be polished through hard work and patience.

Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Car Cameos: In a word, tons. There are cars, trucks, buses, and bikes zooming every which way, and Shizuku has some close calls while crossing the street or walking alongside it with Seiji. Recognizable models we spotted include a BMW 5-Series (E34); Honda Legend; Hino S’elega bus; an old Mitsubishi Delica; an original Mini Cooper; a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter truck; a Toyota Corolla (E80) multiple Toyota Comfort and Nissan Cedric Y31 taxis; a civilian Toyota Crown (S130); and a  Volkswagen Golf III. We’re not sure what kind of kei van Seiji’s gramps putters around in…or the makes/models of the myriad motorbikes buzzing around.

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