Samurai Flamenco – 12

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The more time separated us from the eleventh episode of Samurai Flamenco, the less we liked it in retrospect, and the more we worried about whether we’d even recognize the show when it returned from holiday hiatus. After all, it did kinda jump the shark back there, even if it did so with a wink and a nudge, making the sudden appearence of a murderous guillotine-gorilla seem like a tame development by comparison.

This episode slowly but surely allayed our fears and restored our faith in the future of the show, by putting the new Flamengers out of the cartoons (partially, at least) and back down to earth. Part of that earth we missed was Gotou, whom Masayoshi checks in on in a great little scene that takes us back to the early episodes when they used to just goof off. Gotou quickly picks up that Masayoshi’s having trouble keeping the Flamengers in line and tells him to stay strong, but doesn’t bail him out by joining as Flamen Yellow.

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He takes a similar approach to Mari, letting her to hide in his closet to think about things, but rejecting her advances. In both cases, Gotou’s always there to help his friends, but also knows when to leave it to them to help themselves, as Mari and Masayoshi must. Speaking of friends, by allowing a measure of democracy in the strategy and tactics of their battle against From Beyond, Masayoshi is gradually gaining the respect of his Flamenger teammates, to the point they’re hanging at his pad eating curry rice, which is what friends do.

The episode kept us in real world while maintaining the crazy From Beyond plot by framing it all through the lens of a TV documentary. The Flamengers aren’t just heroes, after all, they’re celebrities (which is probably why Sumi is okay with it). It’s a tidy mini-arc in which we learn more about them as they overcome adversity. The villains are emphatically ridiculous-looking and the action is clumsy, but it works. When the dust clears, MMM34 (a grotesque parody of AKB) are on ice, and the giant robots are put away, the mutual respect and comeraderie between the Flamengers feels well-earned.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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Sakura Trick – 01

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First off, what we have here is a silly school romance comedy that’s far better-looking than you’d expect, like Love Lab last Summer. A typical shortcut is employed (not coloring in the extras), but we liked the clever use of symbols to preface actions and lines by characters, be it Yuu’s flower, Haruka’s ribbon, or Yuzu’s…a yuzu for Yuzu. That frees up animation resources for when they counted the most, like when Yuu and Haruka are in close physical contact, which is surprisingly often.

Any hopes of this being a subtle Yuri show along the lines of Aoi Hana or Sasameki Koto surviving past the cold open were were promptly, cruelly defenestrated by the off-putting OP, which was a bit too exhibitionist for our taste. But once that was over, things settled down nicely. There’s no trick to Sakura Trick; it never comes close to anything resembling drama or peril. It’s just a pleasant slice-of-life about two girls starting high school who are Pre-Into each other. Their exploits probably wouldn’t be too scandalous except in more conservative high schools. We’re not sure whether this is one such school, but it can’t hurt to not get caught regardless!

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The episode is split into two stories (a la Kill Me Baby, mais contrairement Kimi ni Todoke). The big event of the A-part—Yuu and Haruka’s first kiss—informs those of the B-part: Haruka is worried Yuu forgot about it, but is ultimately proven otherwise. Yuu (Iguchi Yuka) is the shorter, peppier, more naturally popular one while Haruka (Tomatsu Haruka. Haruka Matata!) is the taller, bustier, clingier, more jealosy-prone one. And even though the A-part is mostly from Haruka’s POV, there’s a good overall balance to their interactions and banter. They work as a couple.

We enjoyed how a big reason Yuu and Haruka got to be alone so early and often was essentially because their school is failing, because there aren’t enough kids to justify keeping it open another year. That means there was a vacant, lightly-guarded classroom to retreat to. They eventually end up in a spot of playful danger when teachers notice the door ajar and lock them in, but Haruka’s initial clumsiness is neutralized by Yuu’s surprising strength and athleticism. Hey, we’re talking about them jumping between verandas—get your minds out of the sewer! On that note, we’re pleased to report that there wasn’t a single panty-shot in the whole installment, which is…kind of amazing.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Kill la Kill – 13

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In the previous episode, things went too far for Ryuko. She allowed her rage consume her, and were it not for Mako, she’d probably be dead. So for much of this episode, she’s out of commission; skulking in the dark, refusing to put Senketsu back on not because she fears him, but because she fears herself while wearing him.

Satsuki is not so idle this week: she’s mobilized Honnouji for war against the Kansai academies, moving at breakneck speed with a laser-focus on her goals while Ryuko stands still, defeated and paralyzed. When a free-speech-loving former school newspaper editor gets beaten badly enough in front of her to stir her to action protecting the weak from the forces of oppression, it looks for a moment like she’s got her groove back. But even that proves to be a deception.

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The show’s trend of having Ryuko falling victim to the machinations of others continues, with devastating results. Even with Satsuki paying a personal visit to her rainbow-haired mom Ragyo asking about Nui, we didn’t expect the newspaper guy to be Nui, and we certainly didn’t expect Ryuko’s rehab to be so quickly “cut” short by the destruction of Senketsu. By the time Satsuki collects the scraps for R&D and Mako is conscripted into Raid Trip service, Ryuko has hit rock bottom…which just means she has to stage an even more stunning comeback!

But while Satsuki sits high and mighty in her double-rotor helicopter, it’s clear she’s being played too. Her mother is obsessed with Kaizen and the notion 99% market share is a defeat; only 100% is victory. Satsuki is tool in Ragyo’s quest for world domination, and by letting Nui harass her, she’s hoping to witness the extent of a kamui’s power, so that they can harness and control it. Whether Satsuki is being the dutiful daughter or secretly vying for her mom’s throne top the World of Adults, it’s clear she won’t have to worry about Ryuko anytime soon.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)