Sword Art Online – 07

The energetic blacksmith Lisbeth meets Kirito, who requests a custom weapon, accidentally breaking the finest she’s ever made in the process. To forge a sword that will meet his needs, the two venture to the alpine 55th floor, where a crystal-eating dragon lurks. Kirito fights it off, but the wind from its wings throws both Liz and Kirito into a deep pit – the dragon’s nest. After spending the night, the nocturnal dragon returns, and Kirito grabs Liz and they ride the dragon out of the pit. Liz develops feelings for Kirito, and when she forges an excellent sword, she’s about to confess to him when Asuna arrives. She’s dejected to learn they know each other and runs off, but Kirito finds her and thanks her, promising to end the game for both their sakes.

What’s that? Another love interest who’s dead meat by the end? Nah, they wouldn’t do that again. Still, our scrawny dark knight is proving quite the lady’s man, though this romance starts out a little rough, with him destorying her prized creation right before Liz’s eyes. Her first impression of him as a haughty, arrogant little prick is well-earned – Kirito looks down upon her from a great height. She also insists she’s not an amateur in battle, than pulls an amateur move by coming out of hiding before the battle is over, nearly getting them both killed. Even so, Kirito isn’t one to let someone die alone, so he joins her down in the dragon’s pit, where they eventually engage in some pretty heavy hand-holding.

Kirito shows Liz that he has a softer side, and he quite literally sweeps her off her feet after collecting the dragon poop. Liz is a girl who’s found a niche in this imaginary world, but has been longing for something real, and she finds that in the warmth of Kirito’s hand. He shows her his prowess in combat, survival, and excitement, and she shows him her skill in, er, smithing by forging a kickass new sword, Unfortunately, after learning Kirito knows Asuna and listening to what could be construed as a lover’s quarrel, she gives up all hope of winning his heart, which is a bit of a needle scratch, but overall Liz is reasonably well-acted and well-voiced (by Takagaki Ayahi) at least she’s still alive. Perhaps they’ll reunite in the real world, when and if he beats the game.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Kokoro Connect – 07

At first, the unleashed-desire episodes seem mostly harmless, like Taichi oversleeping or Iori shouting “Yahoo!” during a pop quiz. But gradually the effects of the episodes take their toll: Aoki must fight the urge to take revenge on Heartseed for hurting Yui, Iori suddenly snaps at a classmate who asks about Yui, and Yui herself has holed herself up in her room and won’t leave. The club visits her, but while reprimanding her Inaba goes to far and makes it worse. Later when Inaba doesn’t show up for club, Taichi confronts her and he too goes too far.

If we didn’t know he was so hard to please, we’d say Heartseed is quite happy with the way things are turning out. The club’s unleashed desires are causing unpredictable outbursts of far higher entertainment value than, say, simply observing them with their self restraint intact. Moments of interpersonal tension and drama are accelerated with the lack of any filters. There’s a lot of shouting, but it isn’t of the bawdy Sket Dance or Binbougami type – nobody is capable of pulling back before their words cause deeper wounds than they intended. The mood of the episode deteriorates rapidly as the club starts to come apart at the seams.

The body-swapping and subsequent suicide attempt brought Taichi and Iori apart. We like how their affection for one another is out in the open (at least amongst the other club members), but Inaba makes a good point about Taichi: he was and still is willing to die for Iori, so he has to watch his step, or he could end up dying. Similarly, while she is ultimately too harsh on her, Inaba is right that if Yui stays in her room, Heartseed will punish her and probably everyone else for trying to deny him his entertainment. There’s no sitting on the bench with this: everyone’s in the game, and that game will go on as long as Seedy sees fit. How severely will it affect the club’s friendships?

Rating: 8 (Great)

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – 01 (Retro Review)

Originally posted 6 Jul 2011 – Like Bakemonogatari, Puella Magi Madoka Magica immediately establishes itself as a very stylish enterprise. Very architectural, too. Ordinary settings like a house and a school are grand, impressive postmodern cathedrals. The polarizing Akiyuki Shinbo reminds me somewhat of Wes Anderson; with the tendency for his ‘camera’ to hang back and dwell on things and the careful attention to minute visual details. We like it.

We’ve never watched a pure “Maho Shojo” anime before, and it seems with Puella Magi, we still won’t; it’s obvious Shinbo wants to put a spin on the genre to shake it up a bit, while adding his signature (and very noticeable) style(s). The character design is simple, but clean. As discussed, the architecture is awesome and the entire world is bright and hopeful…until a witch shows up and starts bending everyone’s perception of it. The animation used there reminded me of the frenetic, freewheeling opening of (Goku) Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei.

Our protagonist Madoka (Aoi Yūki) and her friend Sayaka (Eri Kitamura) are faced with a choice right off the bat: continue their regular high school lives, or step into the world of magic. It isn’t for the faint-hearted: Homura Akemi (Chiwa Saito), who shows up both in Madoka’s dream and at her real-life school, warns her not to partake it if she loves her family and friends. But of course, she will enter the magical world. That’s what this is all about. We’ll see where this goes.

Rating: 8 (Great)