Kokoro Connect – 15

Iori rejects another boy harshly, drawing the ire of another girl who likes him. Rumors of her worsening attitude spread across the school, and she doesn’t help her cause. Taichi meets with Inaba when her thought about disbanding the club reaches him. He decides Iori’s rejection of him was his fault alone, and he’s going to move forward. Nobody knows what to do about Iori, who stops coming to club. Yui’s talk with only makes things worse. Heartseed visits Yui, who stands up to him, boring him. She chastises Taichi for his inaction. Inaba confronts Iori, who calls her selfish and blames her for ruining things with her and Taichi.

Everyone’s an emotional train wreck with this emotion transmission business, but they all seem to be keeping it relatively together, with one exception. Nagase Iori has gone off the deep end. Thanks to the phenomenon, her heart has been exposed like everyone else’s, and she cannot hide behind her cheerful, friendly facade anymore, so she doesn’t bother. Both the writing and the acting by Toyosaki Aki do an excellent job giving Iori this new dark edge without pushing her into emo angst or evil villain territory. Everyone feels betrayed by her, and she is being nasty and short with everyone, but what choice does she have? To her the gig is up: those are her thoughts and she can’t change them. It’s a stark transformation, but not unexpected, considering she’s always had identity problems.

After visiting Aoki last week, Heartseed comes to Yui, but she’s steadfast and defiant like he was, irritating him. He should really just go to Iori, since she’s the one being affected most negatively by his works. Meanwhile, Inaba has been absolutely killing it this week in her adorable interactions with Taichi. But the notion that loving the same guy Iori once loved at the same time was perfectly okay goes straight out the window, and Iori confirm’s Inaba’s suspicions that she’s partly responsible for what Iori’s going through. Iori is merciless in the way she turns Inaba’s argument around on her. While everyone’s worried about what’s gotten into Iori, no one stops to think it was always in her to begin with, and it’s done hiding. So…what’s gotten into them?


Rating: 9 (Superior)

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Kokoro Connect – 14

It is Valentine’s Day, three days after Heartseed started a phenomenon that allows the thoughts of one person to be transmitted to a random assortment of the others. The sender will know who hears their thoughts, but the receivers won’t know who else heard them. When Taichi confesses to Iori, she rejects him. Word gets back to Inaba, who is upset. Hearing one another’s thoughts only seens to make things worse, but when Heartseed confronts Aoki, calling him “the most useless”, he hears Yui thinking of him, and vows to keep fighting for her and everyone else’s sake, by being himself.

Three months after the last episode broadcast, Kokoro Connect is back and man, this newest phenom by Heartseed (or is it “Balloon Vine?” we’ll stick with the former…) is a doozie. I mean, having your thoughts, which are supposed to be private, transmitted to others, including the one person you don’t want hearing them? People may not always say what they mean, or say what they’re thinking. They can bail themselves out by saying they misspoke, or were only joking. But isn’t the very definition of thoughts “what people mean,” without any pretense? We have no choice but to “mean what we think,” right?

Things better left unsaid are being said, and it’s wreaking havoc on Iori’s psyche. She believes that she, more than anyone else in the CRC, hides her true self in her thoughts. The Iori she lets the others see – the one Taichi fell in love with – isn’t really her. When Inaba tells her their decision-making process is impaired during this phenom, Iori puts it to her: what’s so different about the phenomena and other external influences? The experiences they’re going through under Heartseed’s spells are no less real than others. On the positive  side, the phenomenon seems to be strengthening the bond between Taichi and Inaba, as well as Aoki and Yui. Go figure.

On top of all that (or rather below, because it doesn’t seem like that big of a dilemma compared with the other stuff), they’ll have to fight the jazz club (which is really good) if they want to keep Gotou, their faculty advisor, and thus their club autonomy. Now they’ll have to justify the club’s existence with a presentation that includes actual cultural research. Their ultimate idea sounds pretty bland; we think if they made a presentation based on the crap Heartseed’s put them through, they’d beat the Jazz club handily…or get referred to psychiatrists.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Kamisama Hajimemashita – 13 (Fin)

Tomoe sends his fox flames to scour the town for Nanami, but she’s wearing a concealing talisman. When she hears two girls excited about the upcoming shrine festival, she races back to the shrine. By then, the seals around a box are dissolved by Otohiko’s miasma, unleashing the even larger, more powerful misasma of the Earth Spider, defeated by Mikage centuries ago. With a little help from Mikage himself, she uses a Kagura dance to re-defeat the spider, and the shrine is restored to pristine condition. Humans and spirits alike amass at the night festival to watch Nanami’s Kagura dance. After it’s over, Tomoe praises her and “contracts with” (kisses) her, this time from the heart.

Last week we wondered why Nanami totally ran away so suddenly, but then we realized she’s still very young and prone to rash not always rational action. Tomoe also could have been a little more tactful in telling her to sit tight, so she wouldn’t feel useless. Fortunately, she snaps out of it before the earth spider totally levels the shrine. And as it turns out, there’s a lot more power within Nanami than anyone imagined. Everyone except Mikage, of course, who chose her (and left the spider in the box behind) for just this situation. Is the shrine and its grounds fully restored a bit too easily? Sure, but these are supernatural forces at work, so we’ll give it a pass.

What’s important is that Nanami came through in the clutch. Her Kagura standoff with the Spider shows that she’s willing and able to face and battle threats to the shrine rather than cower and let others save her (though she still trips). The festival is a nice way to end, with cameos by all the other deities, spirits, and classmates whose lives she’s touched. And in the end, Nanami gets what she’s always wanted from Tomoe: a nice long kiss that expresses his love for her, not just his obedience. Her deadbeat dad may have abandoned her, but in doing so, Nanami was able to find a purpose and a home that are truly her own.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Whether you see (or saw) the first sunset from the horizon, or from the top of a nearby building, or sleep right through it, doesn’t matter; it’s still pretty. The people who misrepresented the Mayans were wrong, dattebayo! Anyway, here’s hoping 2013 is an even better year for anime than 2012 was.

End-of-Month Rundown – December 2012

Well, that’s about it for Fall, the final season of 2012. It’s been an entertaining and at times awesome season. There was a lot of solid romance, a fair share of darkness, and far more tanks than we initially expected.

12. Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse – Complete (6.091 ▲) – The Red Shift fiasco is dealt with satisfactorily, but the Beta threat, numerous human enemies, and the love triangle remain, suggesting a sequel in the future

11. Girls und Panzer – 10/12 (6.300 ) – Most surprising to us is that even when tanks weren’t front-and-center, this was still a very decent, watchable slice-of-life, in which the main circle of friends/colleagues have mini-arcs parallel to the tank action

10. Btooom! – Complete (6.750) – Like Muv-Luv, a lot of loose threads remain, and no one’s off the island yet, but Taira finally gets a half-pathetic, half-noble death, and Ryouta and Himiko commit to leave the island together

9. Jormungand: Perfect Order – Complete  (7.000 ) – A series in which we root for the supervillain, whose master plan for world domination has been hinted at and slowly built up since the beginning. A compelling reinforcement of the truism that information trumps ammunition (but having both is even better)

8. K – Complete (7.385 ▼) – The city is saved and the mad Colorless King defeated through the sacrifice of kings – Weismann/Shiro and Mikoto. A neat and tidy end to a series that looked good but for better or worse didn’t take any big risks

7. Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun – Complete (7.538 ▼) – What started as a strong, well-paced romance started wandering in circles a bit with Shizuku and Haru, which you could say is realistic considering their personalities. The Yamaken factor didn’t accomplish much, and the side character romance was cute but ultimately a dead end

6.  Sword Art Online – Complete (7.667 ) – Kirito scores a total victory over Sugou in both the virtual and real worlds, finally meets Asuna in the flesh. The  final episode allows ample time to say goodbye to everyone

5. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! – Complete (7.833 ▲) – Stuck with its guns by keeping the focus on Yuuta and Rikka, which was the right move. Rikka dumps her Chuunibyou cold turkey, but Yuuta vows to help her find a balance between the real and the fantastical

4.Kamisama Hajimemashita – Complete (8.000 ▼) – Adorable, but never sickeningly so, this was a very nice little rom-com with generous helping of the supernatural. Nanami excels as the relatively normal, earnest girl with hidden strength

3. From the New World (Shin Sekai yori) – 13/25 (8.308 – Ends its first half with the reveal that Saki is being groomed for leadership, and is thus learns more of the dark truths about humanity, fiends, and karma demons. Starts its new half with the fallout from that knowledge: her friend Mamoru may be the next victim of the system

2. Zetsuen no Tempest – 12/24 (8.583 ▼) – Things lagged a bit for a while, but at least all the conversation going on for those two and a half episodes was necessary information. Hakaze is finally back for the second cour, and must now try to control the dual threats of Exodus and Genesis

1. Sukitte Ii na yo. – Complete (8.615 ▲) – Ep-for-ep the strongest and most consistent series of the Fall. Many obstacles in the main couple’s relationship are set up but overcome one-by-one, the procrastination is kept to a minimum, and the solid supporting cast plays a crucial role in the couple’s growth, while growing themselves

★. One Off (OVA) – Complete (8.750) – Short, sweet, pretty, charismatic, surprisingly deep, and full of Honda motorcycles

One Off – 04 (Fin)

Having formed Poco Poco, Haruno, Anri, Sayo and Rie aim for their first official concert in the Spring. But when Cynthia announces she’ll be returning to Australia in just a week, they accelerate their plans, and finish the song in time for Cynthia to watch them perform on the stage at the inn. During goodbyes, Haruno tells Cynthia she’ll be the one to visit her next.

Support is not really something you ask for. People give it on their own when they see you working hard. Strangely, the one being supported ususally doesn’t notice. But that kind of invisible strength is very important.

That’s sage advice from stargazer/children’s book author Kageyama to Haruno, who didn’t want to ask for support when she isn’t even sure of her goal. That support comes in the form of Cynthia leaving, motivating the initially lethargic Poco Poco into creating a song, practicing it, and performing it in the limited time they have. As Haruno says, no matter what happens, the short time they spend crafting the song and singing it is a memory none of them will soon forget.

The important thing about climactic songs is that with all the build-up, they’d better be good, and the one Poco Poco sings is very nice: a light, breezy song about starting something and trying hard, and isn’t too sugary. It’s also very nicely performed by the four seiyus. One Off was a great end-of-year surprise that we decided to bite into, and we weren’t disappointed. It turned out to be much much more than just a showcase for Honda motorcycles – though it excelled at that too.


Rating: 9 (Superior)


Motorcycle Cameo:
The owner of the Motoya bike shop and cafe gets his vintage CB750 running again, using some parts he had to build. It’s regarded by some as the first “superbike”, and certainly looks an absolute treat in yellow and black.

One Off – 03

A large group of stargazers arrive at the Niwa inn, and Anri, Sayo and Rie volunteer to help out. Haruno is open to singing Anri’s song when she finishes it, but balks at an all-out concert. After being browbeaten by Cynthia, she changes her mind, only to drop the issue again. The night of the stargazing, her friends ask her about it again, and after chatting with one of the stargazers, she agrees to do a concert after all.

The overall theme of this episode is “little by little” – taking small steps, taking your time, being patient in order to achieve achievable goals. Take the picture of the Rosette Nebula Haruno’s dad hangs on the wall. It’s a long-exposure photo, taken under ideal conditions. The village is ideal for stargazing, but the brilliant red color is not visible to the human eye, ina telescope or not. It’s just a dense cluster of stars. But even that can’t be seen in the city.

But to Kageyama, one of the stargazers, it’s enough that she can see a hint of it and get lost in thought under the stars. Even after her ride to the sea, Haruno is a little more receptive to trying things like singing, but is still afraid of exerting energy if it will only result in failure. Her daydreams are overambitious, but none of them are as impossible as she mopes about. Ultimately, she decides to give a concert a try, and the group she and her friends form has the appropriate name “poco a poco” – little by little.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Motorcycle and Car Cameos: Rie’s brother has a PCX Scooter. Kageyama rides a Shadow 750 (pictured). There’s a third-gen CR-V in the Niwa garage (that D-pillar is unmistakable), and one of their customers drive a Stepwgn.

One Off – 02

Haruno is having trouble getting along with Cynthia, overwhelmed by her “scale” and annoyed that Anri, Sayo and Rie are so easily influenced by her. The mechanic tells her not to worry and simply take her time. Cynthia has other ideas, spontaneously planning a night tour to the sea for the two of them. Haruno is dubious until they make it to the beach as the sun rises. Cynthia tells her that it’s okay to rely on people.

The first episode basically introduced everyone (and everybike) and set up the tripping point in any potential friendship between Haruno and Cynthia: Haruno’s pessimism clashing with Haruno’s optimism; Haruno’s cautiousness versus Cynthia’s gusto. Haruno compares the “scale” of difference between them in motorcycle terms. If Cynthia is a sport bike like her CBR, Haruno is a scooter. Some things are just impossible, and that’s that.

But Haruno wasn’t always this way. Anri is into writing songs. Sayo is into writing stories. Rie dreams of a life of adventure. Haruno was once into singing, with the motto “you never know until you try”, but delivering eggs has jaded her, and she gave up on it. Now her motto is “why try if it can’t be done?” And as beautiful and amazing and grand an experience their nighttime ride to the beach is, Haruno still finds a thorn in the rose: she needed help to get there.

But Cynthia tells her everyone needs help to get anywhere or do anything. Whether it’s the skilled designers, engineers and craftsmen at the Honda Motor Company or the love and support of friends and family, no one accomplishes anything alone. This sticks with Haruno, just like this episode bursting with gorgeous imagery – from the first-person driving views to the sea at dawn to the bike shop with a cafe and a friggin’ tree growing inside – will stick with us.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Motorcycle Cameos: At the bike shop Motoya, a PCX scooter and a Goldwing are two of the models on display inside, and a CB750 is serviced in the garage. For their night tour to the sea, Cynthia dusts of Haruno’s dad’s Z50 Monkey minibike, and barely fits on it!

One Off – 01

Shiozaki Haruno lives at the Niwa inn in an picturesque but small village, enjoys riding her Honda scooter, and dreams of one day living in the big city. She and her high school friends meet Niwa’s new hire, an Australian woman named Cynthia B. Rogers who has traveled the world on her sport bike. Haruno envies Cynthia’s adventurous spirit and laments her lack of motivation or will to do what she did.

At first we thought this OVA series would be one big pretty advertisement for Honda Motorcycles…and it is, but thankfully it’s also more. (Side note: being owners of three four-wheeled Hondas ourselves, and having family with five more, we can attest to the quality and dependability of their wares. Where’s our sack of cash, Honda?) This is by the director of Tamayura ~Hitotose~ and it’s one big pretty slice-of-life, with the lovingly-rendered Honda machines complementing rather than overpowering the proceedings.

This episode oozes quality from start to finish: the backgrounds, character design and voice work and music are all top-notch and pop through the screen. And the message is simple: “amazing is relative”. Haruno is impressed and even jealous of the action-packed life the eccentric gaijin has led, while Cynthia finds awe in simple things Haruno takes for granted: the beauty of her village, the tea, or a bowl of rice with a fresh egg. Both are right, but while Cynthia is experiencing both worlds, Haruno feels like she’s on the outside looking in. We’ll see where her restlessness and Cynthia’s influence takes her.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Motorcycle Cameos: First of all, everyone rides Hondas. Haruno rides a Giorno, a European-styled scooter. Her friend Sayo rides a Little Cub, a version of the most-produced motor vehicle in history, the Super Cub. Her friend Anri rides a Benly. Rie rides a bicycle, but dreams of owning the cute-but-tough Zoomer, also known as the Ruckus (114 mpg!). Cynthia rides a red CBR250R (pictured). A CB1100 is being tended to outside the cafe.

Sukitte Ii na yo – 13 (Fin)

The day after a long walk with Mei, Yamato catches a cold and stays home from school. Nagi also plays hooky to take care of him. Mei’s friends make her leave school early, but when she calls Yamato, Nagi answers, telling her he doesn’t want to see her. Asami calls her and the guys encourage her to see him. Meanwhile Hayakawa calls Yamato, telling him he has a new girlfriend. Yamato gets it in his head it’s Mei, and races to the bakery, just missing Mei. When she calls him his battery is dead. She wanders to a sculpture where they met up for a date, and he appears just as she’s composing another text.

Was this going to be an indulgent, feel-good epilogue showing Mei and Yamato, Yamato and Mei, the perfect little couple skipping around town having adventures and taking things nice and slow? Uhhh…no. Instead, “Say ‘I Love You'” put both Mei and Yamato and us through an emotional spin cycle for twenty-two minutes and fifty-five seconds. There’s drama. There’s despair. There’s suspicion, regret, and doubt. There’s a whole lot of unfortunate coincidences. But then there’s one more coincidence that works out: Yamato and Mei meet by that sculpture, and all the confusion and exasperation melts away with one big ‘ol hug and in this exchange:

– Sorry for what happened earlier. Nagi had my phone…
It’s okay.

We’re not so sure it was ‘okay’ back when Mei thought Yamato was mad at him for pushing him away when he tried to get lovey-dovey, or when Yamato, possibly delirious, got worried Mei thought he was gross and got with Hayakawa instead. These two lovebirds still clearly have much to learn about handling their love for one another, but with help and support from their friends (Asami, Kenji, Aiko, Masashi and Kai all provide nice assists), they’ll doubtless muddle through just fine. They’re already in love with one another, after all. All the jealous sisters and dead batteries in the world won’t alter that fact.

Our only teensy gripe with this otherwise great finale? It’s ambiguous whether Mei actually said “I Love You” out loud to Yamato. The reverb suggests it was in her head. C’mon, Mei! Ganbatte!


Rating: 8 (Great)

 

Top 10 Car Cameos of 2012

In no particular order, here are some of the more interesting car cameos we’ve spotted in all the anime we’ve watched this year. We’re unsure as to the real car content of Winter 2012 series, and to be perfectly honest, we haven’t been Johnny-on-the-spot as we’d like with every cameo in every episode, but we’re only human-youkai hybrids. But this post isn’t about regrets, it’s about the celebration of horseless automotivation!

The Principal’s Ferrari F40Girls und Panzer – 02
Later in the series, we learn that Ooarai is in financial trouble and will be shut down due to a lack of accomplishments. Apparently that pain isn’t being felt by the principal, who is wealthy enough to afford one of only 1,315 F40 supercars ever built. In an act of prescient karmic retribution, it is flipped then crushed by Chouno Ami’s surprise tank-drop.

Shrade’s Ferrari CaliforniaAquarion Evol – 07
Shrade is by all accounts a very privileged, cultured young man who comes from money. As such, he drives a red Ferrari despite still being in high school, and tailgates fellow travelers of the road, to boot. “Out of my way, PEASANTS!”

Evangeline Yamamoto’s VW New Beetle Zetsuen no Tempest – 03
Evangeline is friendly, cute, and curvy on the surface, but all business underneath. So too is her tomato-red Volkswagen New Beetle (let’s make it a Turbo, because why not?), which is really just a Golf in retro clothes.

Malloy’s Lancia Delta HF Integrale 16v Evoluzione II  – Aquarion Evol – 15
Like we said when we saw it, it’s probably no coincidence that this same, very specific model of car has shown up both here and in another one of Shoji Kawamori’s works, Macross Frontier. No matter where it shows up, it’s one of our all-time favorite cars.

Ao’s Flying Piaggio ApeEureka Seven AO – 01
Okay, it’s not exactly an Ape (Italian for Bee), but it’s pretty clearly inspired by it. Not quite a car, not quite a motorbike, but damned practical all the same. Making one that can fly is the next logical step.

Sakura Ichiko’s Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow – Binbougami-ga! – 01
It’s only seen in for a moment as Ichiko is dropped off at school, but it’s the perfect car for her: something not to drive, but to be driven in, and ruinously expensive.

Mayor Bacchus’ Toyota CenturyMirai Nikki – 19
Bacchus travels in style in perhaps the quirkiest executive car money can buy: a brand-new car that looks thirty years old. It’s still hella cool.

Mr. Tatsuji’s Volvo 240 WagonAnother – 12
Aside from the fact that old boxy Volvo wagons are the mainstay of educators (and cool moms), there’s a certain morbid irony in a Tatsuji driving a car that’s the paragon of safety in a series where no almost no one is safe from a grisly death.

Koko’s Armored Volvo S80Jormungand
We can’t remember if she called it by name (she gave up on “V” trying to name a new car she bought for Ugo, which was incidentally a VW), but one thing’s for sure: while other arms dealers roll in Mercs and BMWs, Koko prefers Swedish Volvo S80s, and while she had to grudgingly abandon one in South Africa, it wasn’t long before she procured another.

Unyuu Rintarou’s Car Collection – Sket Dance – 74
Student Council Treasurer Unyuu Mimori’s family has more money than many developed nations. Among her father’s many possessions is a formidable collection of model cars, along with a collection of the real things. It’s an eclectic, even eccentric mix…but that’s par for the course when you own an underground city. Also, it’s apparent the cars in this episode were hand-drawn, with no shortcut CGI; a nice touch.

BONUS: All of the Background Traffic in K – 01 
It may take teams of video editors years to discover every car cameo in the shiny first episode of K, but it’s not just the volume of vehicles, it’s the quality of the models. They’re shiny, detailed, not all the same color, and add a lot of richness to the background. Sure, they’re mostly CGI models that may have been modeled by a third party and inserted in the animation, but when they’re this pretty, who cares?

Jormungand – 24 (Fin)

Two years after Jonah left Koko, the entire world has been set ablaze by wars and sits on the brink of WWIII. Koko hires Kasper’s men, including Jonah, to guard her as they launch the completed quantum computer into orbit in Kazakhstan. Kasper knows her plan, but he tells her it won’t stop him from selling weapons. Jonah decides to quit, and wanders on his own. Two days later he is in Baku, where Koko and her team are waiting for him. She’ll stop an impending New Soviet attack on the oil fields by activating Jormungand. Jonah agrees to return to her side.

Well, unless there’s a film or another season to follow up, we’ll never see the new world Koko Hekmatyar created, with the help of her hot female scientist friends and merry band of bodyguards. But we’re okay with that. Ending things the very moment she activates Jormungand still leaves open infinite possibilities. Will her way work? Conventional wisdom says no; and so does Kasper. He makes the argument we made last week: people will fight with rocks and sticks if they have to. But Koko is surely well aware of this and any other arguments.

Bottom line: rocks and sticks can’t cause the same mass death and destruction as bullets and bombs from the sky. She also believes putting a proverbial leash on humanity will humiliate them into submission. If they are as nasty, brutish and short as Kasper (and Hobbes) think, there may be nothing Koko or anyone else can do to stop the human urge to wage war. But it’s nice to think that just as two years of watching the world ignite taught Jonah that Koko’s plan is worth a try, perhaps a few years without the use of the skies will convince calmer heads that peace is worth a try.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)