End-of-Month Rundown – April 2013

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We’re firm believers in the notion that variety is the spice of life. One can’t go too long eating or drinking or watching the same thing, or one will get sick of it. Which is why whenever one batch of anime ends an a fresh batch begins, it has a revitalizing effect on us, especially here in the Spring, when the world around us is also coming back to life. This month brought us a lot of new faces and places, but also many familiar ones. Here’s how they’re shaking out a third of the way through the season:

10. Toaru Kagaku no Railgun S – 3/24 (6.333) –  As is expected of a Railgun/Index series, it looks great and there’s ample action, but it’s also lagged a bit while trying to get out of the gate, and nearly all the adults present remain comically evil/dumb/both

9. Oregairu 4/- (6.500) – The ridiculously long and stupid title belies a series that so far isn’t quite as clever as it thinks it is, but nevertheless has some interesting things to say about high school social dynamics. Also interesting is that while the club is 2-to-1 girls, the guy seems more interested in another guy, albeit a very i effeminate one

8. Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince 4/24 (6.750) –  We suspect the two “Gundamesque” mecha series will be trading paint all season. MJP features Gundam SEED-style character design and lots of side banter along with the usual technobabble. It focuses on a motley crew of talented pilots who’ve struggled with teamwork

7. Kakumeiki Valvrave 3/12 (7.000) – So far Valvrave is the more serious one, with Gundam 00 style character design, warring human factions on a dyson sphere, a hero struggling with his new supernatural powers and an antihero whose people might have turned on him due to a misunderstanding

6. Oreimo 2 4/13 (7.250) – The sequel is mixing things up nicely, giving Ayase an episode after she got the short shrift, unmasking the beautiful Saori, and then introducing Kirino’s American rival. We’re waiting for more Kuroneko, even though we’re probably setting ourselves up for disappointment considering Kyousuke’s track record with her

5. Aku no Hana – 4/13 (7.500) – It took a couple weeks to get into with its rotoscoped animation, but once we did we haven’t looked back. This has the potential to rise to the top of the ratings if it maintains its unique-for-this-season blend of cerebral-ness, grittiness, darkness, and seething claustrophobia. Every moment slithers and drips with dread, as the would-be good guy is pulled into deviance by a femme fatale

4. RDG: Red Data Girl – 4/13 (7.500) – A week, meek girl must find her strength as those around her risk their lives to protect her from harm until she does. She’s a vessel for a god, so there’s lots of potential for conflict with other monks, sorcerers, and rival gods. After the non-magical Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha, this P.A. Work’s supernatural elements should spice things up

3. Hataraku Maou-sama! – 4/13 (7.750) – A really random but clever premise puts mythical, iconic beings smack dab into the mundane modern world of Tokyo. The demonic Maou and heroic Emi may have been arch-nemeses in their dimension, but here they find themselves teaming up for m mutual survival and to prevent other baddies from doing harm to the innocent

2. Chihayafuru 2 16/25 (8.667) – Recent recap aside, the series is in full Final mode, with Mizusawa up against their toughest foe yet. The show draws a lot of parallels to the players who’ll be facing off, while beyond their game Shinobu finally gives in and watches the team match after seeing how upset Arata is at not being able to

1. Suisei no Gargantia 4/12  (8.750) – Absolutely gorgeous settings both in space and on earth made this an immediate season favorite. Like every series that starts strong, it will have its work cut out for it keeping up such a high level of quality, but we have no reason to believe it won’t. All the eye candy is supported by a basic but strong story of a fish out of water, or in this case a soldier out of space

Suisei no Gargantia – 04

Bevel, Red

As Gargantia welcomes a new ship to their fleet, Red and Chamber are put to work moving and storing cargo, partially in payment for the collateral damage they caused as itemized in Ridgett’s invoice. The organizational nature of the people on Gargantia as inefficient and undisciplined, but when he meets the fleet “sage” Dr. Oldham and Amy’s brother Bevel, he learns that they’re not a strictly military organization. Bevel realizes Red has fashioned a flute, and when he plays it Red gets a flash from his childhood that brings tears to his eyes.

With no battles to fight for the interim, Red gets restless, and the longer he observes the people of Gargantai around him, the more frustrated he gets with their lack of organization. He’s come from a society (if you can even call it that) in which even children are put through drills and conditioning immediately to become useful fighters in the war with the Hideauze. The purpose of humans where he’s from is to fight the Hideauze, and the war stimulates their development. The frail and weak are “culled”, as Chamber coldly puts it. Red can’t help but initially view someone like Bevel as useless, it’s just the way his worldview developed.

What Red still needs to fathom is that the Gargantia doesn’t exist solely to fight their enemies, in this case pirates. Their mission is to simply survive and do everything they can to live in peace. Again, Red’s from a place where it’s understood that the only way to survive is to be of use to the Alliance and to fight the Hideauze, but that isn’t the case on earth. Red starts to understand this when he watches Gargantia mobilize to to fight, but to catch precious rainwater, crucial to survival. And in the absense of orders, he’s on standby, just like Gargantia when there’s no emergency. Bevel also teaches him there are other ways to be needed beyond military service.

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Rating: 8 (Great)

Oreimo 2 – 04

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Ria, Kirino’s old roommate and track rival from America, comes to visit. She’s very lovey-dovey to Kyousuke, irking Kirino, who constantly calls him a lolicon. They go to Akiba to sight-see and shop, but both Kirino and Ria are dressed to run, and the day ends with a race. Kyousuke cheers Kirino on, but Ria still wins by a nose. Ria admits she not only came to Japan for revenge, but to learn how Kirino summoned the speed to beat her in the first place: her friends, her eroge, and her big brother.

After a couple of episodes focused on Ayase and Saori, we return to the Kyousuke and Kirino dynamic, picking up where the end of the last series left off. Kirino went to America to run, but learned she couldn’t be herself there, and wasn’t willing to throw away everything that made her who she is in the service of running. Her rival Ria, on the other hand, is singularly committed to running, and it shows. Just as Kirino surpassed Kyousuke, Ria surpasses Kirino. Having experienced what Kirino’s going through, Kyousuke can’t help but sympathize and cheer for her when they hold a rematch at the school track.

As is typical of Oreimo, there’s a lot of petty noise from Kirino to get through. One simply has to tune out the scolds and insults lobbed at her brother every time he deigns to interact with Ria. Refreshingly, Ria is very affectionate to Kyousuke, exhibiting a wisdom beyond her years in not taking the horrible things Kirino says about him at face value, seeing through the surface to the love Kirino actually harbors for Kyousuke. As if the first race in America wasn’t enough to convince her, this second race confirms that Kyousuke’s love and support really does make her faster. That, and eroge.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Hearing Kirino and Kyousuke’s dad try his hand at English was a highlight of the episode.
  • Clearly the Kousaka family’s bathroom could use a lock.
  • Kyousuke and Kirino’s exchange about the availability of new anime in America was very meta.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun S – 03

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Mikoto confronts Nunotaba Shinobu about what’s going on, but Shinobu is tight-lipped, telling her there’s nothing to be done about it. Mikoto hacks Shinobu’s school database and learns of the location where she could find more answers. After changing out of her Tokiwadai uniform, she sneaks into the Higuchi pharmacy and gains access to a secret lab where she finds bio-pods and learns about the Railgun Mass Production, or Sisters Project. Right after she leaves in relief after learning the project’s been frozen, her clone arrives to delete all the data Mikoto just got done reading.

It’s only the third of twenty-four episodes, so we’re not surprised that in her aim to get to the bottom of all those railgun-cloning rumors, Mikoto only ends up scratching the surface of the mystery. When finally learning of what took place after she was swindled out of her DNA map as a youngster by a totally unethical doctor, her reactions are all normal and understandable – up until she learns the project was frozen. She stops digging and just nonchalantly peaces out; apparently convinced there’s nothing to worry about anymore, a notion she may have just invented to comfort herself. It’s denial to wrap herself in like Kuroko wraps herself in Mikoto’s giant teddy.

The fact of the matter is, even if there were no clones (and there are), Mikoto is still the victim of a severe violation. Even if the clones they produced were only Level 2s and 3s, they still produced frikking clones. We know this is the future, but we suspect it’s still not cool to play God in this fashion. Doesn’t Mikoto think for a minute about what became of the clones they did make? We’re of the view that even clones have human rights, and even if Mikoto was too young and stupid to realize what that doctor was asking for, as one of the few people with real knowledge of this Sisters Project, it now falls to her to follow through, learn the truth, and uncover those researchers’ crimes.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • This adds yet another level of intrinsic obligation to Mikoto’s character: as a Level 5 she’s charged with protecting the weak; as the original subject of a dangerous large-scale eugenics project, she’s charged with determining the truth and eliminating any resultant threats.
  • We liked Shinobu (a high school junior)’s insistence that Mikoto respect her elders. Frankly Mikoto’s been so burned by adults thus far in her life, she should be as rude as she likes!
  • Mikoto doesn’t often change out of her uniform, but when she does, it just feels special.
  • Hot strawberry udon? We gotta get us some of that…

Oregairu – 04

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As group field trips loom, hurtful chain texts begin to propagate, leading Hayama Hayato to seek the help of the Volunteers Club. Yui tries to investigate by asking girls, but gets severely sidetracked. Hikigaya is distracted by Totsuka, but realizes that Hayama’s three friends aren’t as close when he’s not there to anchor them. As such, he recommends Hayama decline to group with them, so the three of them will grow closer. Instead, Hayama groups with Hikigaya and Totsuka.

There are episodes that are “bad tidy”, resolving everything a bit to neatly and perfectly, and “good tidy”, in which multiple problems are solved in an elegant and satisfactory fashion. The club’s mission is to find out who’s sending mean texts around as a result of the tense situation in which groups of more than three friends will have an “odd man out” for the field trips. But Hikigaya forgoes that investigation altogether to resolve the underlying problem: Hayama’s friends are only friends with him, not each other.

Simultaneously, he solves the problem of who to group with. He has to group with someone, after all. Yui and Yukino seem like an obvious choice, but apparently the groups must be three people of the same gender, so Hikigaya does the next best thing and selects Totsuka (on whom he still has a serious man-crush) and, in the more inspired choice, Hayama, taking him out of the equation with his three friends and leaving them to their own devices. With this course, the texts should stop, eliminating the need to drag the original culprit into the light.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Naturally there has to be a fujoshi in the class, and Yui just happens to set one off: Ebina Hina.
  • Yukino and Yui are pretty cute, but the only person Hikigaya has crushed on so far in this series is Totsuka, whose cuteness is enhanced by his kind personality and apparent vulnerability.
  • We’re wondering if hitching his wagon to Hayama, who is far higher up the high school ladder, will result in social boons to Hikki, or if it will just be a hassle to him.
  • We meet Hikgaya’s sister Komachi, voiced by Yuuki Aoi. Pretty standard fanged imouto.

Car Cameos:

Aku no Hana – 04

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Saeki praises Kasuga for sticking up for Nakamura, lifting his spirits. Nakamura seems to know he’s hiding something from her. He writes a poem and seals it in a box with her uniform, never to be opened again. The next day the class is all atwitter about him and Nakamura, but the ice is broken when Saeki says good morning to him. Before meeting with Nakamura after school, Kasuga bumps into Saeki, helps her with boxes, and asks her out on a date. She accepts, but Nakamura appears and knows everything. She meets him before his date and makes him wear Saeki’s gym uniform under his clothes for the duration of that date, while she stalks them and watches.

We won’t mince words: this show is good, and it’s only gotten better with each passing week, to the point where it’s the show we look forward to watching most. In a season full of vague and sprawling conflicts, Aku no Hana is incredibly intimate, introspective, and claustrophobic. The art style definitely took some getting used to, but now that we have it is perfectly suited to the tense, unnerving story. There are movements, gestures, and expressions that simply can’t be drawn by hand. Whatever detail is lost in wide shots is gained in extreme close-ups, in which both Saeki and Nakamura’s faces appear more real (and more beautiful).

Kasuga’s torture is alleviated when Saeki “absolves” him with her kind words, and she does seem to exhibit attraction to him now that she’s aware of his existence. But not surprisingly, Kasuga’s relief is short-lived, as Nakamura is determined to mold him into a deviant with whom she can “burn down the town,” both figuratively and possibly literally. Kasuga lets pride go to his head when he accuses her of jealousy – as if she would admit to that even if it was what she felt. No, until we’re proven otherwise, we’re considering Nakamura as a sufferer of psychopathy, as thus defined:

a personality disorder identified by characteristics such as a lack of empathy and remorse, criminality, antisocial behavior, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity, and a parasitic lifestyle

Yup, sounds like her.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • On the Sunday of his date, Nakamura is dressed in black from head to toe, setting off her fiery hair. On the other side of the spectrum, Saeki opts for an angelic heavenly white one-piece.
  • This is the most interesting love triangle (if you can even call it that) we’ve seen from an anime in a long time.
  • Kasuga’s mom continues to be a bit of a scold, but his father seems to understand his recent behavior perfectly.
  • “How do you know where I live?” Really, Kasuga? Don’t you know who you’re dealing with?

Car Cameo: Honda Stream

Kakumeiki Valvrave – 03

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ARUS forces led by Senator Figaro prepare to evacuate Module 77 and take L-elf into custody. Haruto learns he has hundreds of millions of friends, but nearly attacks one of them when his powers briefly awaken. L-elf escapes easily and begins wreaking havoc, foiling ARUS’ plans to evacuate the module. While searching the school Haruto runs into Yamada, who wants his robot. Shouko goes back into the school to find Haruto, but finds Akira hacking away. L-elf kills Yamada and confronts Haruto, proposing they form a contract to “bring revolution to Dorssia.”

The loudspeaker. Earthquake. Panic. 3:14. The answer is behind you.

This seemingly random jumble of words turn out to be a very accurate foreshadowing of the sequence of events Haruto will experience in the episode that follows. Either L-elf is some kind of prognosticator or he is very good at planning out his actions to the minute. We wouldn’t put either past him, as he proves just how dangerous he can be. Tied up in a chair surrounded by armed guards, he takes advantage of small details (his hands are free enough to unscrew a screw; the light above him is made of glass he can shatter) and makes the ARUS forces look silly.

So L-elf is strong and smart, which means he’s not going to try to kill Haruto, whom he already tried and failed to kill once before. He considers Haruto an anomaly – one that caused a significant change in the course of his already distinguished existence. He is now technically a Dorssian defector, and so rather than fight Haruto, it looks like he means to request his aid. Aside from L-elf’s escape and eventual meetup with Haruto, the episode does lag a bit, showing way to many helpless people milling around, taking time away from people with the power to move things along.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • This series is going to have its work cut out for it juggling the enormous cast it has amassed.
  • Unfortunately ARUS probably won’t lean any lessons about properly handling L-elf, as he killed any ARUS personnel who got near him.
  • We’re wondering how a slap to the fact snaps Haruto out of his vampiric rage, but if it works it works!
  • We’re also wondering if L-elf will continue the practice of presaging what’s going to happen in future episodes. They could have him do the previews!

Ginga Kikoutai Majestic Prince – 04

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The Princes engage the Wulgaru and fight hard, but they eventually run low on ammo and power and must retreat. In the process, Izuru sticks his neck out to protect both Tamaki and Kei. With everyone’s  suits heavily damaged, the Princes return to Gurantseere Cosmopolitan Academy. On the way they meet Team Doberman, the older pilots who helped bail them out.

The Princes are unable to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat – the odds are simply too stacked against them – but in the end they exhibit good teamwork and most importantly, they all survive the battle. This despite an incompetent dick of a commanding officer, Komine, who would just as soon leave them out there to get slaughtered. Rin and Simon have to step in to ensure the Princes’ lives aren’t squandered to satisfy Komine’s pride.

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Aside from their retreat and subsequent hanging out in their rec area, the Princes don’t do all that much. This episode decides to focus more on Suzukaze Rin, who carries the burden of having to train a team of young pilots not originally suited for teamwork, but who are also incomplete individuals due to their childhood memories being erased. While getting drunk under the table by her childhood friend Reika, Rin-Rin laments the Wulgaru’s superiority.

The episode starts with a brief flashback to when Simon first assigns Rin to the Rabbits. Simon reveals that he’s invested in making sure that the kids’ potential is fully realized. He knows it won’t be easy to train them to be a better team, but is willing to give them the chance to prove themselves. So far the results have been mixed, but there have been flashes of greatness and progress is steady. So maybe it was just the sake talking.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Various character interests: Izuru gets lost in his manga drawings and their accompanying stories. Both Rin and Kei enjoy sweets. Tamaki likes boys. Ataru likes girls and geeks out on military equipment. Asagi likes antacids. Reika enjoys booze. Theoria likes picture books (we think).
  • Reika’s boobs…how can we put this…they’re just too big.
  • Will Team Doberman be friendly and eager to lend their wisdom to the Princes? Or will they be arrogant bullies? We’ll see…

Hataraku Maou-sama! – 04

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Thanks to Maou, there are no casualties following the earthquake that caused the underground mall to cave it. Emi recalls how she was taken from her father to train to become the Hero, and how her village was destroyed and father killed by Maou’s general Lucifer. After spending time with Rika, the next morning she visits Maou to pay him back, and falls down the stairs. He helps her, and his kindness irks her, considering what he did in their world. Chiho walks in on the two of them together and misunderstands. Maou, Emi and Shiro chase her down, but she’s already been confronted by Lucifer, who wants to surpass Maou.

It must be something about the new world he finds himself in, but at the moment Maou is…just not acting all that evil. He rained death and destruction upon the world he comes from, earning the eternal hatred and loathing of all who survived his ruthless attacks. Emi, the daughter of an angel, has lived her entire life for one purpose; to face and defeat Maou. And now that they’re in a new world, nothing makes sense anymore. Maou is kind and heroic and cares for people, even Emi, and it’s driving her crazy. Being a hero is supposed to be her job, for one thing.

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Her friend Rika also suffered in the past; having been in Kobe during the horrible great earthquake there. In Emi she finds someone she can embrace and talk to without being pitied as a victim or otherwise judged. In Rika, Emi finds someone else dealing with a lot of pain over tragic events of the past. She’s convinced she can never forgive Maou for what he’s done, but you can tell she’s struggling with her certainty.

Meanwhile, Maou inadvertently got the spunky Chiho tangled up in all these supernatural affairs, and his general Lucifer is in this new world to usurp his former lord. If anything can bring the bad old Maou out, it’s insubordination by an underling. And since they have a common enemy, Emi will likely put aside her reservations about continuing to interact with Maou rather than killing him in order to save innocent lives around them, including Chiho.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • We thought at first that Emi, like Kotoura, got herself into a spot when she went over to Rika’s place; but it doesn’t seem that Rika is a villain pretending to be a friend.
  • “May I unleash the Dullahan” is probably the geekiest way of asking to borrow a bike imaginable. So naturally, we’ll be using that line the first chance we get.
  • Emi’s the sole member of the “good guys” in the world at the moment, but two of her compatriots are on their way. They seemed to have a bit of trouble speaking their own language ;)
  • Maou’s landlady has a bit of a Witch of the Waste thing going on.
  • We don’t see much of Lucifer, but he’s the one directly responsible for Emi’s father’s death, and he seems like a bit of a cocky brat, so we look forward to Emi and Maou going at him with gusto.

RDG: Red Data Girl – 04

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Prior to her first day of high school at Houjou Izumiko meets her roommate Mayura’s triplet brother Manatsu, as well as the first year class’s top student, Takayanagi Ichijou, who takes note of her long hair. On the first day. Izumiko decids to forgo her glasses, and as a result sees dark inhuman shadows among her classmates. One such shadow asks her tomeet him in the A/V clubroom after school.

When she goes there, Takayanagi ambushes her, believing she’s a demon. Sagara intervenes, destroying Takayanagi’s homonculus. Izumiko, Sagara and Mayura check out a support website classmates recommended to her; one made by Yakayanagi. Logging in causes the computer to explode, injuring Mayura. Later that night Manatsu and Sagara agree to go get back at Takayanagi. Manatsu and Mayura summon Masumi, their deceased triplet sister, to aid them.

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Izumiko is no longer in a small town isolated in the mountains, but attending a school populated in part (if not in full) by ‘people like her’ and Sagara; that is to say, humans who have supernatural talents. Her roommate decribes herself as a kind of monk like Sagara, and the class valedictorian is a potentially malevolent sorcerer who uses homonculi and takes an immediate interest in Izumiko. Sasami and Kamiomi would fit right in here, and the Kagami sisters could probably hold their own quite well.

Just as trimming her hair had a significant effect on her supernatural abilities, so to does not wearing glasses on her first day; her glasses are a charm that keep her from seeing “too much”. Because of this slight change, she’s able to find out about the nature of her new environment far sooner, and quickly learns that it’s essential to have friends around to protect her, and the more powerful the better.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • To be honest, Takayanagi is a bit of a boring dick so far, but we liked the understated roll-out of the Souda triplets. We would ask why they’re being so nice to Izumiko. Perhaps they realize who and what she is and simply want to help.
  • This series has so far proven adept at nicely building up supernatural events. Sagara’s spirit bow and the exploding computer, for example.
  • After Wamiya turned out to be a real threat, Sagara is now far more willing to hear Izumiko out, and no longer dismisses her concerns out of hand. When Mayura suggests they’re “a pair” though, Izumiko demurs.
  • Izumiko’s a bit of a damsel in need of constant rescue at the moment, but we’re sure she’ll kick some ass once she gets settled.

Suisei no Gargantia – 03

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After eliminating the pirates, Red is reprimanded by Amy and later Bellows, who explain to him human lifes should not be taken so needlessly. When the famous pirate “Empress Lukkage” and her fleet are spotted heading towards Gargantia, Fleet Commander Fairlock and Ridgett decide to ask for Red’s help once more. He engages the Lukkage fleet, first as a diversion, and then disabling their weapons without causing casualties. When Lukkage herself attacks Gargantia with her eyes on Fairlock, Red plucks her and her two consorts out of the sea and flings them out into the night. The other pirates retreat. Amy meets Red with a basket of fish as thanks; he thanks her back in her own language.

Unsurprisingly, Amy and all of Gargantia aren’t so much upset that Red saved Bellows’ salvage fleet from pirates as they are upset about the means by which he did so. Basically, he went too far. In space, against the Hidauze (or whatever his foe is called), there is no quarter, and no room for error, so Red’s been trained to ruthlessly slaughter all enemies. Utterly. Here on Earth, he can afford to eliminate a threat without killing everyone involved in it. It’s a quickly-learned lesson, and one in which he’s tested shortly thereafter in a fantastic night battle that makes use of fleets of ships, gliders, submarines and yunboroids. There’s a great sense of chaos, and that even with his superior technology, he has his work cut out for him.

Red may be from a completely different culture, but after hearing Amy and Bellows make their case to him about never killing unless it’s necessary, he subscribes to their philosophy, something that to be fair, he hadn’t heard before, which is why he executed such a vicious scorched earth assault on the pirates that led to more pirates taking revenge. But he’ll find there’s also a price for not killing the right people: he didn’t finish Lukkage off when he could have, but instead embarrassed her and her fleet. He protected Gargantia and won the day, but the pirates won’t stop coming until a way can be found to appease them – if there even is one.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • We assume Lukkage’s two “consorts” serve many roles for the Empress: they have her back in battle, but also sit around looking pretty, providing her with companionship. We wonder if they were once her prisoners.
  • Ridgett’s dad Chevron was the former commander of Gargantia, but he died, so now it’s Fairlock, whom we imagine was his XO. Ridgett, in turn, is his XO, so Gargantia’s command is not hereditary.
  • Bellows gives Red another animal carcass, but eating all this meat doesn’t seem to be bothering him so far.
  • Thanking Amy in her language is a nice way to end the episode. If it wasn’t for Amy and Bellows, thinks might have turned out very differently.
  • The ED is a lovely sequence starting with Amy windsurfing at sunset. Chamber swoop down over her and the camera follows them as the scene changes to a starlit night. It’s a scene full of joy and contentment, and looks damned fun. The music’s just okay, though.

Chihayafuru 2 – 15

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The national final between Mizusawa and Fujisaki is about to begin. Fujisaki’s Coach Sakurazawa switches out third-year Suzuki Manata with second-year girl Yamashiro Rion. Rion will play Chihaya. Porky will play the other Suzuki twin, Kanata. Taichi will play the other captain, Emuro Ryoga. Tsukuba (replacing Kana) will play Ichimura Mitsuki, and Desktomu will play Yamai Makoto. Meanwhile Hokuo will play a third-place match against First Akashi. Retro tells Arata that Mizusawa is in the final, but he won’t defy his punishment. Reluctantly, Shinobu takes it upon herself to sit in on the match.

Every match in Chihayafuru is a web of many smaller stories about the dynamic between individual players and their inner thoughts, on both sides. This episode, while all set-up, is nevertheless engaging and perfectly whets our appetite for the match itself. It pull out all the stops to methodically lay out more sub-stories than could ever be elaborated upon in one more episode. Never once did we grow impatient or long for the match to begin. There had to be proper preparation for a match of this magnitude, and there was.

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On the Mizusawa v. Fujisaki front, we learn a huge amount about the team and its coach. The episode is very efficient in sketching quick outlines of their personalities and temperaments  and quirks. And every Fujisaki player is matched up perfectly with a player on Mizusawa for the most engaging interactions. Chihaya and Rion are both second-year girls aiming for greatness, but Rion seems more emotionally detached  like her Ice Queen coach more concerned with the future success of the team than meting out glory to her players. We say “seems” because her quick little evil smirk may portend an inner fire to match or exceed Chihaya’s.

Nishida and Suzuki are both emotional players, but Nishida is playing to avenge his anguish over his past losses, while Suzuki is playing to avenge his twin brother’s. Taichi going after the other captain is his way of stepping up his game. If he loses, he won’t be surprised, but if he wins, it may change his luck, not just with karuta, but with Chihaya, who he may believe loves Arata more because he’s a better player. Ryoga also resembles Arata, but is obsessed with boob size, lamenting that the busty Kana-chan isn’t playing (she jammed a finger in her last match).

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Tsukuba and Ichimura are perhaps the least interesting match-up (both seem proud, strange, and have fox-eyes), while Tsutomu, who doubts he can win, nevertheless has a bunch of research against his emotional opponent Makoto to at least be able to shake up his game. Makoto has also just realized that while he used to believe the third-years loved Rion, in fact he’s the only one who seems to be, which irks him.

So that’s where we stand. A lot of possibilities for great action and drama await us in the episode(s) that cover the final itself. All we ask, ultimately, is that Mizusawa wins. Call us greedy (like Chihaya!), but we want a reward for following the show this far. Anything less than a national championship will be a huge disappointment…and will annoy us.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • There was so much to cover with the match setup, we nearly forgot to mention the Arata/Shinobu B-plot. Arata wants more than anything to watch something Shinobu thinks is a silly waste of time. She even looks down on mighty Fujisaki, who are goofing off in the hall. The episode has us believe she doesn’t care and is headed home until the last minute, when she appears at the match. We kinda doubt she’s doing this to encourage the other teams and players present, but rather to try to understand better what Arata is so keen to watch. She also strips down to her skivvies, which…isn’t as exciting as it sounds.
  • There’s something desperately cute about Kana reciting poetry at the moon, then asking a poetic question to her coach in a super-sobby voice.
  • For the match, a Level 7 Certified Reader will read. She sounds awesome, and the show makes sure we understand how awesome with the visuals that accompany her voice. But will subtle nepotism come into play, as she’s Rion’s grandma? Coach
  • Sakurazawa  may seem cold, but she’s doing what all great coaches do: keep an eye on the future and play the long game. It’s because of her and people like her that Fujisaki has its reputation. Will Mizusawa’s team endure after its members graduate?
  • The ep was replete with great close-up shots, some of which we’ve posted to our Tumblr.