Accel World – 21

Haru and Taku meet up with Yuniko in a maid cafe, where she grudingly agrees to give Taku a crash course in the Incarnate System. While she trains him in an arctic wasteland, Haru returns to the real world, and Yuniko’s underling Blood Leopard takes him to a neutral underground duelling hall in Akibahara where they’ll investigate Dusk Taker’s ability to stay off of the lists.

The Red King Scarlet Rain proves a valuable, if reluctant, ally to Haru and Taku in their quest to defeat who’s likely the final boss in this series, the insufferable Nomi Seiji/Dusk Taker. Not only does she welcome them into her Red Legion’s prominence base and give Taku a personal lesson in how to use the Incarnate system, as a bonus she lends Haru the services of one of her subjects to aid in his investigation of Nomi. It’s good to be strong, but they won’t beat Nomi unless they know as much about him as they can; no more surprises.

We liked Yuniko’s sudden shift from her cheerful facade to surly grouch when Haru mentions Incarnate in public; but we’re glad she knows she has a debt to pay and is willing to do so. We also like Blood Leopard’s very matter-of-fact manner with Haru (we too thought at the time she was pretty stiff for a maid waitress!) Plus, her bosozoku motorcycle with voice-activated ignition is freakin’ awesome, and riding it in a maid costume really helps them blend in with the colorful Akiba rabble. The underground duelling bar is another nice touch.


Rating: 6 (Good)

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Eureka Seven AO – 18

Ao is a “guest” aboard the USS Ronald Reagan as the carrier group sails to San Diego. Tanaka wants him to sign a contract that will formally end his relationship with Gen Bleu and begin a new one with the Allied forces. Cristophe Blanc and Rebecca are in New York for a UN inquiry. When Fleur and Elena learn about Ao defecting, Fleur gets upset; Elena scolds her for never seeking the truth, then tries to launch Kyrie on her own to get Ao. When the cheif mechanic sees the third engine levels of Elena and Fleur’s IFO’s rising, he gives them the ok to go retrieve Ao. Ao admits he truly wants to go back, and they all return to Gen Bleu HQ. However, after the act of aggression, America declares Gen Bleu a terrorist organization.

These are dark days for Generation Bleu. Once respected and lauded for being an international rescue operation, their concealment of vast quantities of quartz has given their detractors all the ammo they need to alienate them and turn global public opinion against them in the media and diplomatic circles. After the events of this episode – which on a basic level amounts to two girls going after their friend they know doesn’t want to leave them – Gen Bleu finds itself without a friend in the world, and soon, cut off from outside funding. Their alpine refuge may even be at risk. Despite all this, Cristophe Blanc seems amused and even proud that his daughter and Elena got Ao back.

In light of all this misfortune, it makes perfect sense that Ao would want to spare his friends and colleagues by going over to Tanaka and the allied forces, which, after all, outnumber and outgun Gen Bleu. He’s also scared of what the quartz gun may do, while the Americans are more than happy to take it off his hands. But everything about his arrangement with Tanaka stinks. An emotional Elena kicks the blissfully-ignorant-for-too-long Fleur in the butt and they go after Ao. And to his credit, Ao doesn’t turn them away. He knows this stinks too. Damn the consequences, Pied Piper is a team, and he doesn’t want to leave them. But now this means Gen Bleu is an enemy of the world – the “bad guys.” The road ahead will be tough, but they’ll walk it together.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

End-of-Month Rundown – August 2012

We’ve been notoriously inconsistent with when we do rundowns or rankings, but from here on out, we’ll be doing it at the end of each month. Wherever we are on that last day, that’s where we’ll take stock of what we’ve watched, as we’ve done here:

11. Sket Dance – 65-71/- (5.857) – Many episodes are simply all right, but once in a while a great one comes along that has us laughing the whole way through. The series is very self-referential at this point, so much of the humor requires prior understanding of the vast flurry of characters who bow in and out.

10. Accel World – 14-20/24 (6.000) Nomi Seiji is one nasty villain. Kuroyukihime’s little seaside-quest was pretty lame. We’re looking forward to seeing how Haru defeats Nomi without Hime’s help.

9. Binbougami-ga! – 9/13 (6.111)Rindou Ranmaru is a bit of a walking cliche, but we find her butch voice amusing. Momiji’s rival, however, is a dud so far. The comedy has yet to return to the highs of the first episode, suggesting they used up all their best firepower there.

8. Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – 9/24 (6.222) – This funnily-named series started strong but then regressed, but at the moment the relationship between Yuuya and Yui is getting more interesting…or rote, depending on your POV. We’d like to see more battles and chaos, but we loathe the Beta monster designs. When blood is spilt it’s over-censored.

7. Rinne no Lagrange Season 2 – 13-20/24 (6.875) – A great reintroduction of the series that resolves the La Garite/De Metrio conflict without typical good-vs.-evil cliches and stayed true to its likable cast. Something big is on the horizon.

6. Sword Art Online – 8/25 (7.000) – The first third of this series has been set-up and adept world-building combined with Kirito meeting girl after girl and forming various bonds with them before moving on. It seems like he’s settled on Asuna for now, so we’re hoping he/they face more challenges relating to clearing the game – admittedly something still pretty far off.

5. Tari Tari – 9/13 (7.222) – Once we sorted out who was who, we started ranking our favorite characters: Wakana, Sawa, Taichi, Konatsu, Wien. Granted, those first two have gotten the most development, but the last two are still irritating so far.

4. Kokoro Connect – 8/17 (7.375) – This was the opposite of Muv-Luv in that it had an uninspiring start, but it has a solid 8.000 average since week 3. It owes that to the strength of its talented voice cast, increasingly textured characters, a nice understated romance, and generous helpings of powerful drama, borne out of the antics of the trickster Heartseed.

3. Eureka Seven AO – 14-17/24 (7.500) – We still don’t know what the heck’s going on half the time, but it doesn’t matter, and we’re not sure we’re even supposed to. Ao doesn’t, after all. And Ao’s proving far more likable lead than his dad Renton. Also, EXPLOSIONS.

2. Hyouka – 14-19/21 (8.000) – The festival arc was epic in its scope, complexity, and conclusion, never neglected the little details, and gave the whole cast something to do. The standalone episodes that have followed have maintained the quality. We’d love some kind of payoff vis-a-vis Oreki and Chitanda, but we won’t get our hopes up.

1. Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 9/11 (8.444) – Truly Noitamina as it was meant to be. Brilliant writing, incredibly vital characters you care about, and a powerful, grown-up story of loss, grief, and the difficulty of moving on. Easily the best series of the year, with only Nazo no Kanojo X and Sakamichi no Apollon approaching its level of excellence.

Natsuyuki Rendezvous – 09

Atsushi and Rokka and up hiking to the highest place he ever went, a forest where he intends to plant his snow-in-the-summer plant containing some of his bones. Rokka encounters him and realizes it’s Atsushi, who tries to flee, but fails. Rokka collapses in tears at the realization. Meanwhile, Hazuki ends up in a Snow White-style scenario with Rokka in a glass casket. She breaks out to talk with him, and the moment she refers to him as “the prince”, he looks in a reflection and sees Atsushi’s face.

At long last, Rokka finally sees Atsushi through Hazuki. Atsushi made it extremely easy for her, saying and doing things only Atsushi could do. We’re glad this finally happened, because now it’s less of a torture for Rokka trying to parse what the hell has been going on with Hazuki, because he’s been acting awfully strange. Now she understands. After witnessing her overflowing of emotion, even Atsushi admits that he maybe went too far. But what’s done is done.

Is their rendezvous in the same spot of the same forest at the same time awfully tidy coincidence? Perhaps, but it also makes sense in that there weren’t many parts of nature Atsushi ever ventured out to in his life. He was a sickly city boy, after all. This was the one place he got to before the end. Going over their last hiking trip in her head – a painful, beautiful memory –  it made sense that Rokka ended up finding him. But with that final scene, could it be Atsushi got what he needed and has switched places with Hazuki? Maybe??

That aside, this is a phenomenal and moving payoff to everything that had been built up since Atsushi jumped into Hazuki’s body, and even before when he repeatedly pleaded for permission to do so. This is the episode where we’re finally totally okay with that fact that right here and now, Hazuki is just a vessel, and it’s all about Atsushi. He may have pulled some unethical stunt or two to get here, but he had to get here. He needed Rokka to acknowledge him, if only for this one brief time.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Binbougami ga! – 09

In the first half, Ichiko and Momiji have a duel in doubles tennis. Their respective male partners – the prince-like Adenokouji Shion and the gorilla-like Gorihara, are quickly taken out of the game of increasing magic and firepower wielded by the girls. The match ends in a tie and a destroyed tennis court. In the second half, Ichiko tries her hand at cooking, but fails miserably each time. Her experimentation is interrupted when Momiji appears with her rival and colleague Kuroyuri, a fellow god of misfortune. Their pincer attack fails, and when they hold a cooking duel with Kuroyuri as the judge, Ichiko’s attempt meat and potato stew sends her into a vomiting fit and she books it back to base, defeated.

We must warn you: if you can’t stand episodes in which almost everyone is yelling at or near the top of their lungs pretty much constantly, you probably won’t enjoy this episode. Having watched 71+ episodes of Sket Dance, we consider ourselves inoculated against high-decibel hijinx. This is an episode of fierce competition between Ichiko and Momiji, in which mundane activities like tennis and cooking are ratcheted up to absurd levels of aggression.

A lesser series would have spend the whole 20 minutes and change on one challenge, but this one made the correct choice of presenting at least two, while introducing new characters in each segment who will likely show up in the final episodes…though we hope those episodes don’t feature a lot of them because they’re not very interesting. Adenokouji Shion is your standard big-haired bishie, while Kuroyuri is a yuri cliche…though her monocle is kind of cool, she poses no threat to Ichiko. Other notable guests included Ichiko’s exploding cake and wailing stew. Of course she sucks at cooking.


Rating: 5 (Average)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 05 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 8 Aug 2011 – Well, with Ringo visiting the Takakuras so often, it was only a matter of time until she was exposed to the survival strategy. The ball starts rolling when, desperate for answers, Shoma asks Ringo point-blank to study her “fate diary.” He lets on that he knows more than he should about it, triggering a faceoff with Ringo that is interrupted by Himari, under the control of the penguin headdress.

We love how Ringo essentially fills in for Kanba here, shaking up what had become rather repetitive sequence by painting outside the lines and going after Himari. But she isn’t aware the hat is keeping her alive – not until she tears it off and throws it out into the street. There, it gets caught on the tailgate of a frieght truck, and boom: you have your Splendidly Over-The-Top Pursuit that proves this series can be every bit as adept at quick action as it is with slower stuff.

There’s a lot more going on though. Kanba isn’t around for the survival strategy because he’s off making sure he and his siblings can keep living in their house. He receives a bundle of cash from an unseen stranger – perhaps the same guy who threw his ex-girlfriend down the steps. Meanwhile, the anti-Kanba plotting proceeds apace, coming to a head with Asami Kuho about to get a face-full of red nerf ball.

Both the cash envelope and strange balls bear that omnipresent penguin insignia, seen in so many places, it’s hard to know what is or isn’t related more directly to the survival strategy than previously believed. Also, are the siblings’ parents dead, or just missing? We’re enjoying all the mysteries that are cropping up, and with 24 episodes, this series has plenty of time to build up a rich web of them.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Shiki – 07 thru 09 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 8 Sept 2010 – So just about all the cats are out of the bag: this village has a nest of vampires, and they’re sucking everyone dry. We feel even worse for the poor tortured doc after his piece-of-work wife and battleaxe mother stop by and tell him to wuss out and let someone else handle the ‘epidemic’. Great advice, gals.

We also feel pretty bad after he does everything he possibly can to keep a bite victim alive (and actually succeeds for a time) but it’s all for naught, as the blue-haired daywalker intervenes. This marks the first time the doctor has had direct contact with his pointy-toothed nemeses.

Having watched a lot of True Blood, we believe the solution to the village’s problem is fairly simple: stake the daywalker(s) and burn down the nest(s) in the daytime. PROBLEM SOLVED. Of course, there’s the matter of getting them all, and with thirteen episodes left, doing so will be no simple task. Still, now that things are moving and all the important people know the score, I’m enjoying this dark and unrelenting series, goofy hairstyles and all.

Special mention to the OP – “Kuchizuke” by Buck-Tick – an angsty, twisted J-rock ballad filled with despair and longing, fitting the series rather perfectly.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 05 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 3 Feb 2011 – As Madoka continues to weigh whether she should become a Majo Shojo for a surprising fifth week, Sayaka reaps the benefits of doing so right away, as her friend is able to play the violin beautifully like nothing ever happened. But the price of doing what Sayaka did, according to Homura, is too high. She tells Madoka she can’t hope to protect Sayaka, and she should give up on her.

Majo Shojos all seem to be resigned to losing their lives at any moment, because, as Mimi demonstrated, they can. Their cute, cheerful outfits belie a tortured, ephemeral existence. Contracting with Kyubei is almost like dying itself; you just stick around to fight witches until you have a bad day, and then…pfft. I can understand Madoka’s reticence, especially since her wish isn’t as specific or clear-cut as Sayaka’s was.

Madoka obviously wants to protect Sayaka, but that isn’t a proper wish. Furthermore, when a new, hardened Majo Shojo appears and tries to shoo Sayaka off, provoking her into a duel, Madoka is moments from contracting when Homura shows up, to do just what she said she wouldn’t: keep an eye on Sayaka. She must really not want Madoka to become a Majo Shojo. Perhaps she knows, somehow, that if she did, there’d be no stopping her.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 04 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 29 July 2011 – One of this series’ many strengths is its excellent, almost neurotic attention to detail. Every frame is replete with incidental sights, sounds, symbols and conversations, some of which turn up later (or earlier, in awesomely-presented flashbacks). Case in point: Ringo’s friend mentioning Kanba dumping an actress “like she was no big deal” last week. Not only do we meet this actress, but learn that Kanba has been set up for an ambush by her and two other women scorned, which hell hath no fury than.

But Kanba and Himari make only brief appearances on the periphery of this episode. This is primarily a Shoma and Ringo affair. Kanba orders him to tag along with her and sneak a look at her diary – stalking in plain view, as it were. And naturally, Ringo’s day plans include a birdwatching date in the park with Tabuki. Much to her chagrin, Tabuki has invited Yuri, his gorgeous blonde actress friend (lotta actress love interests in this, innit?), and with Shoma by her side, it’s practically a double date.

She and Shoma even swap clothes after a skunk attack – a skunk that was reported on the news on tv in the background earlier in the episode. While I was initially weary of Ringo’s stalking craziness (and her multiple elaborate daydreams that end with her screaming), I really liked her in this episode, and I’m fully behind her quirky, obsessed, but basically sweet character. She’s gonna make happen what’s written in her diary, and she does not give a shit who or what stands in her way. And just when I thought Yuri was too perfect, she reveals her other side, calling Ringo out and warning her she doesn’t have a chance with Tabuki. Mwrow!

Of course, while things that are written in her diary have always ended up happening, they hardly ever do quite in the way she envisions in those daydreams. It was written that she’d kiss Tabuki by a certain time, so she cheats by jumping into the drink to warrant rescue and mouth-to-mouth. But it’s Shoma who rescues and “kisses” her, not Tabuki. It matters not; she believed it was Tabuki, so in her mind, the fate written in the diary was realized.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 04 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 29 Jan 2011 – Booyah! This was, in our opinion, the most powerful episode of the Winter 2011 season so far. The fact that Mami “bit it” but no one in the normal world knows, and she didn’t leave a corpse, really puts into perspective just how harsh and merciless it is to be a maho shojo. The dark undertone of this series so far is exactly what we was hoping for; the girls can’t just automatically contract with Kyubei; there has to be a deep, heartfelt reason to do so.

Sayaka finds it, as she can no longer live with the injustice of her friend – a violin prodigy – losing the ability to move his hands after an accident. His life of music was taken away, and there’s nothing a normal Sayaka can do about it, which crushes her. However, magic and miracles, she has learned, do in fact exist, and she decides to make that contract, in exchange for her friend recovering his gift and hence, his life.

Equally moving is how she realizes that she isn’t just doing this for him; there is a part of her she detests that wants to be the one to save him, and for him to fall for her in return. This personal stake makes the situation a selfish fairy tale in her mind, but it also happens to be perfectly doable. Considering the good her wish will do, though, we think she made the right choice.

We also like how we don’t actually witness Sayaka’s contracting and transformation; but she shows up in the nick of time to save Madoka, who is still too scared and indecisive to contract, and trapped in the middle of a group of people (including a classmate) charmed by a witch into poisoning themselves in a warehouse, possibly for nothing other than the witch’s amusement. This is dark stuff, and the suspense around Madoka’s peril is very well presented.

We’re really enjoying how witches and the creepy, crazy, messed-up way they futz with reality and perception. They’re so far removed from conventional reality, and yet know exactly how to manipulate humans, including Madoka, into wishing they had never been born, or to kill themselves at the drop of a hat, or whatever. To anyone who thought Sayaka’s decision was rash: Madoka and those innocent people would be dead if she hadn’t made it.

Anyway, Sayaka is now a maho shojo. Will Madoka follow suit? Obviously; I’m really looking forward to how. I’m guessing for now that Sayaka will start facing challenges from rival shojos wanting a piece of Mami’s former territory; and the rookie Sayaka unable to hold them back without Madoka’s or Homura’s help. But even though our main character isn’t a maho shojo yet, this episode rocked.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Mawaru Penguindrum – 03 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 22 July 2011 – Shoma and Kanba still don’t quite believe Himari when she bursts into Survival Strategy mode, but when the penguin hat returns her to her dead state, they start believing pretty darn fast. And like last week, they do things they normally wouldn’t do for her sake: namely breaking into Ringo’s house to snoop around and then tailing her again.

Meanwhile Ringo exhibits more of her mad ravings as she prepares curry for her unwitting future husband, Tabuki, who it turns out is only seven years older than her, and a friend of the family. This girl takes curry very seriously (I even had to make some after watching this). But her carefully-crafted plan to woo him with food backfires when she is met at his door by his gorgeous, age-appropriate girlfriend. I must say at this point we felt pretty bad for Ringo, despite how scary crazy she can be…although Tabuki knocks on the door to his own housethat’s pretty nutty too! ;)

But what with the apple (ringo) imagery in the OP and ED, and Ringo’s fascination with “executing fate as it was written”, it’s pretty likely either she or her diary are the Penguin Drum. Or is that too obvious? Either way, on her way home, in a ludicrously complex sequence of events, she encounters a cat whom she sees as Tabuki’s girlfriend and yells at; the cat then bumps into Himari’s penguin. The two animals fight for a fish as Himari chases them, and they barrel back into Ringo. The pot of curry she’s carrying is sent flying and lands all over her face. Thus she and Himari meet. Now that’s fate!

Now that the thre siblings are properly acquainted with Ringo, it may be easier to coax the drum out of her, whatever it is. One interesting dynamic would be if Ringo knew the bros were in her apartment and were tailing her, and isn’t letting on for whatever reason (they weren’t that stealthy). Whatever the case, it’ll be at least another week before the drum is discovered. Not that we’re complaining; this gorgeous and hilarious series is as addictive as curry.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Tari Tari – 09

Wakana decides to ask Sawa’s mother if she knew anything about how her mom wrote songs. Konatsu decides the club will put on a musical drama for the White Festival, but it will require a lot of money to produce it. At the Western shopping district association meeting, Shiho proposes they boost business by using “local superheroes” in costumes to bust moves and hand out flyers. She conscipts Sawa and the other club members for this purpose, and Wien gets serious about it. So serious, Tanaka asks why. All of Wien’s letters to his friend in Austria – who shared his love of the “Gambaraijers” – were sent back to him, but he still yearns to be a hero, and this is his shot. The club catches the Vice Principal when she’s distracted and troubled, and she grants them permission to work an after-school job to raise funds.

As soon as Shiho brought up superheroes at the shopowners’ meeting, we knew it was just a matter of time before the Choir and Sometimes Badminton club were being given Power Ranger costumes. We won’t waste time asking silly questions like “Why is Wien so obsessed with the simplistic idealism of the Power Rangers well into his high school years when he should be into girls?” or “Why does Wien have a seven-year-old pen pal?” Suffice it to say, this is his time to shine. He’s going to whip the club into world-saving shape so they can earn that 30,000 yen. Which brings us to another obvious possibility: that the musical drama the club will perform follow the same Power Ranger theme. Why not?

They already have the costumes, so they can spend more money on sets and props. We’ll see. The only snag may be Wakana, who is mired in a songwriter’s block that’s far worse than not having an idea for a song – she’s not even sure what a song is or what it is to write one, as she’s never done so. Her dad isn’t any help, but Shiho tells her to try to ask the mean ol’ Vice Principal, who as it turns out co-wrote that song with her mom. There’s a great moment when her cat lands on the piano, and the tune her paws play isn’t that bad for something totally random. Perhaps a superhero song is a good place to start: full of big, bold ideas and pure, unadulterated emotion.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Hyouka – 19

After school, Oreki is irked by Chitanda classifying his ability to form cogent theories as a talent and not luck. So he challenges her to come up with a situation, and he’ll prove he can make a theory up about anything. A strange, specific, cryptic P.A. announcement is made, and she asks him to come up with a theory about that. He theorizes that a “student X” is being called to the staff room to for the crime of using a counterfeit ¥10,000 note to purchase stationary, then writing a letter confessing his crime to the owners. By the time he completes his theory, he forgets the original purpose of the “game.” He declines Chitanda’s suggestion they try to deduce that, and goes home. The next morning, his theory is proven in the paper.

Such is the chemistry between Oreki and Chitanda, and the snappiness of their discourse that they can carry an entire episode by themselves, in the clubroom, without a single cut elsewhere, aside from the neat diagramatic visual aids in their minds. At the start, Chitanda wants to prove to Oreki that he relies on innate talent, not merely luck. Oreki wants to prove the saying that “a theory and ointment will stick to anything” – even his theories. The perfect opportunity presents itself when a seemingly innocuous announcement is made over the P.A. But there’s enough in that message to get the two going in a rousing, ingenious bit of investigative work that isn’t gussied up with any exterior parties. It’s just Oreki, Chitanda, and their constantly-churning brains.

Before their investigation game began, however, we paused the show and came up with a theory of our own, predicting the P.A. announcer was summoning an eyewitness to a crime. We came to this conclusion based on the exacting structure of the announcement: almost like how a trial attorney would ask a witness “Where were you on the evening of the 31st?” We were more or less as right as Oreki, though we gave “Student X” the benefit of the doubt regarding whether they committed a crime or merely witnessed one. It would seem both are true: the student was given the fake cash by an older person, couldn’t turn it down, used it,  confessed, then reported to the staff room as ordered and aided in the apprehension of the counterfeiter. Case closed.

Despite having a good idea where Oreki was going, watching HOW he got there, and all the details that led him there, indeed makes for a rousing spectacle. Factor into that Chitanda is on the edge of her seat the whole time, rapt and ready to spring to action should anything he says not match the facts they have or strain credulity. On more than one occasion, this leads her to draw very close to Oreki (one time, as seen above, even close enough for a kiss). Yet each time both blush and recoil. This behavior – combined with Chitanda’s nervous invitation for Oreki to join her at her uncle’s grave – adds to the already compelling body of evidence implicating them both with barely-repressed mutual attraction and romantic tension in the first degree. Will that potential ever be realized? Regrettably, with a scant two episodes left, we predict not. But we’ve been wrong before.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

P.S. Perhaps part of why Oreki is hesitant to acknowledge his talent is because he wouldn’t be where he was today – with so many investigative feathers in his cap – were it not for Chitanda getting in his face, prodding him, and giving him those maho shojo eyes. She compels him to act, which more often than not leads to success. She’s like his reluctant muse.